Yes, lateness. Dave suggests I’m guilty of it. True, I was usually the last one out when building was going on last summer, but that was because the Sage got the cement mixer going while I cleared away breakfast and got ready. If there had been a reason to present myself at 8.30 on the dot, I would have. Anyway, it gave the Sage a chance to tell Dave of all the decisions he had made or changed over the past few days, so that Dave could pass the news on to me, because he pretty quickly learned how infuriated this made me, and once I’d ranted for a few minutes to him, I was considerably more good-natured when the Sage came back. The Sage didn’t deliberately do this, it’s just that he thinks that I know what he’s decided and so doesn’t need to tell me. I am saying nothing about consultation.
My adherence to punctuality depends on the occasion. For example, if I’m meeting you at a restaurant, I will be on time – partly because a table will have been booked for a time, and partly so as not to keep you waiting (Dave arrived before me when we had our first meeting, but he was early. I was a few minutes early). If it’s a business meeting, I will be on time. If I’m a host or chairing the meeting, I will be early. If I realise I cannot be there in time, I’ll make every effort to contact someone to explain.
Having said all that, in social matters, I’m much more casual, but that’s usually expected, isn’t it? When first married, I was very unnerved each time we invited the Sage’s parents for a meal. They always arrived early and I was never ready. I confidently expected 10-20 minutes leeway for last-minute preparations, and it was at least a year before I managed not to be caught out.
Over the years, the Sage and I have become more considerate towards each other, and also more tolerant. There’s a general agreement that, if one has said an approximate time to arrive home, it’s wise to phone if one is delayed by more than half an hour. If we’re meeting at a time for a reason, that’s different of course. One Christmas Eve, some 30 years ago, we were expected for dinner with my mother and step-father. I was going to get there first, and the Sage would join us. He didn’t arrive. I went through mild annoyance to anxious irritation to indignation when he turned up safe and sound. Fortunately, I gave him time to explain. Simon the dog had stolen the Stilton cheese and eaten it, several pounds of it, on the hall carpet under the Christmas tree. He never stole – well, he never did before or afterwards – so I hadn’t been too bothered about stowing it away out of reach. As you might imagine, he had mashed it up pretty thoroughly, the Sage said. He had spent an hour clearing up and hadn’t thought to phone. When we arrived home, I found the hall was immaculate and he had cleared up most thoroughly – there wasn’t even a cheesy pong. Simon slept in the scullery for the next couple of nights in case his digestion went awry, but it didn’t – his coat and eyes shone as never before, in fact. Another time, the Sage was late, and it turned out that he had stopped to assist at a road accident. And so I learned never to complain until I had asked. And we both learned, because I wasn’t brilliant at time-keeping in those days, that it’s just as rude to be late for your partner as for anyone else, if a firm time has been arranged – but that it usually doesn’t matter.
It does annoy me when keeping one waiting is automatically built into appointments, such as hospital visits. The arrogant assumption that one person’s time is more important than another’s is something I find unacceptable. Of course, such things can’t necessarily be exact, and one delay can have a knock-on effect – but in that case, people waiting should be told and let know how much time they have in hand, so they can go and have a walk or at least stop worrying in case they miss an announcement. My splendid local doctors’ surgery is excellent in this regard – you register on a touchscreen, which lets the doctor or nurse know you’re there and says if the appointments are running on time or, if delayed, by how long. And then you get an apology if you’re kept waiting a few minutes. There is no reason for this not to happen in hospitals too or anywhere else. And pretending you’re not being kept waiting by doing some small procedure every 20 minutes and moving you to a different waiting room every half hour does not disguise a long wait, even if it does enable the punctuality box to be ticked on the government checklist.