Sunday, May 28, 2006

‘I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say "Hello." “Goodbye.” I'm late, I'm late, I'm late.’

In Mexico it is considered rude to be on time. If someone invites you to a party at say nine o’clock and you turn up at ten past nine then you are likely to find your hosts still getting dolled up and the snacks still wrapped up in cling film in the fridge. No, when they say nine, in Mexico the etiquette is to turn up anything between an hour or three later. I mention this because as I was flicking my way through my journal today I realised that in this green edition lateness has been a running theme. I am always late. I’m late for work everyday. I try; I really do, but somewhere between 7.45 and 8.45 chunks of three-seven minutes disappear from the space time continuum. I just don’t know how it happens. I’m late to meet my friends and I’m late for planes, trains and buses. I’m late for pretty much everything. So I was beginning to wonder whether this was a problem.

In some respects I blame my parents. Well my Dad, really. When he promised that he would raise his kids Catholic, what he actually raised me was late. Every Sunday without fail we were late for ten thirty mass. Sometimes we were so spectacularly late that we arrived for the midday Polish mass – or was that when the clocks went forward and we didn’t know? But in any case that’s when I think it started.

Sometimes it has actually caused me near heart attacks. When I first arrived in Paris, a grim grey February descended upon us. I hated Paris, I had no friends and Ian was away for the weekend and I just couldn’t face being on my own. So I dialled up the internet – oh do you remember those slow days of dial up connections – and booked a really rather expensive flight to Madrid for the weekend. Ian raised a few eyebrows when he found out how much the ticket cost, but I was probably sharpening knives at the time so that was as far as that discussion got. Anyway, the fateful Friday arrived and even if there hadn’t been a train strike that day I would still have been cutting it fine. If I had paid attention to the fact that there was a SNCF strike maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so stressful though. After being told that there were no trains from Gare du Nord to Charles de Gaulle, the ticket guy must have seen the look of absolute horror on my face, mixed in with a fair amount of desperation and hastily scribbled down where and how I could alternatively get to the airport. By the time I finally made it onto a bus at Opera I had run up escalators, down escalators, dodged tourists and run round the Opera building what felt like three times in search of the bus stop. By the time I got onto the bus I was knackered, but something was nagging at my brain. I got out the old mobile phone, checked the time did the calculations and realised I was going to arrive at the airport twenty minutes before take off. What the hell could I do? I was on a bus, I couldn’t make the bus go any faster, I couldn’t teleport to CDG, all I could do was sit and sweat it out. What I actually did was call Estrella and wail down the phone to her that I thought I was going to miss the plane. Then I made a nice kindly Japanese business man go through every single sheet of carefully organised paper he had to search for a phone number for the airport. Then I just stared at him in distress and he tried to reassure me that it wouldn’t be long once we got onto the A1. “But I haven’t even picked up my tickets yet.” I wailed. At which point he developed an increased interest in his paperwork and kept discretely waving his own tickets in my direction.

On finally arriving at CDG, the relay race began; I jumped off the bus at a sprint and burst into Terminal 1. Terminal 1, I reckon is loosely based on the futuristic world of Logan’s Run, a circular pod with underground travelators that lead you to the smaller pod/gates. But first you have to do a lap round the terminal to find your tickets. As I approached the desk, the hostess shouted out to me; “Are you Miss …?” I shouted back yes, somehow pulling my passport and booking slip without slowing down, I signed and collected the tickets at a trot and then I was told to run to gate 4, over there. Her voice was already disappearing as I skidded round a corner and began a steady sprint along the travelator. As it began to rise up to the pod I was cheered on by a group of boys who were obviously not late for their plane: “Run, run, run.” They cheered. “Wankers!” I muttered wasting precious difficult to draw breath. And then there was a light at the end of the tunnel and I slammed into the Lufthansa desk, waved my ticket and rasped: “I’m late for my flight.”

“Don’t worry.” The cheery hostess smiled at me. “There’s a train strike all the flights are delayed.”

I staggered away and rested on my knees trying not to cough my lungs up and trying to regain my composure then I went back to the Lufthansa desk. “I don’t have a boarding pass.” I pointed out.

“Oh.” The smile disappeared. “You are late.” I ended up getting a first class seat.

The two previous times that I’ve gone away with Jane I’ve turned up within minutes of the train leaving. When we went to Tunisia at Easter she came to my house to pick me up. We arrived three hours early for our flight and spent four and a half hours in various queues!

I was late for one of my friend’s wedding. Well, I thought I was. “Oh,” Sue smiled endearingly at me. “We always tell you to turn up half an hour earlier than you have to because you’re always late. Had you not realised? We thought you’d cottoned on that time you found us shopping in Covent Garden.” I frowned and thought back to that time in Covent Garden where indeed on an extremely rare occasion I had been on time, no one was waiting for me so I had wandered off to the market and found Sue and Will there. What they didn’t know was that in doing a flying leap to get onto the imminently departing train i hadn’t bought a ticket; I had got fined £25.

And then this weekend: I have been late for three out of the four meet ups. I am sure that I would have got four out of four if Lise hadn’t picked me up last night. When I arrived at the Cour Carré this afternoon a cool 20 minutes late Colleen shouted over at me: “Are your ears burning from us talking about you?”

“Why are you annoyed with me?”

“No, I’m starving.” She replied. We were having a picnic and I had brought a fair amount of the food.

“But I’m always late.” I replied.

“I know.” Siobhan interjected. “I told her; why are you leaving the house so early? She’s always late.”

I sat down and smiled. In the end the people that I now call my friends here are the people who are used to my constant tardiness, who just accept it as part of me. I suppose it’s a way of sorting out the real friends from the chaff.

Mind you when I do my language exchange with Cyrille every other week I do get pissed off with her. No matter how late I am, she’s always later!


Minx said...

Chill! Move to the south of whatever country you're in. Life gets slower the further down you go and nobody is ever late.
The Cornish have a saying 'I'll do it dreckly'- meaning 'you've got half a chance that I may possibly do that for you at the end of next week'.
Always remember that it's better to be five minutes late in this life than fifty years too early in the next - that's cheerful isn't it. Night, night!

maharal said...

to late...


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