Tardiness and why it drives me mad

I hate being late. I don’t mean in the terminal, end of life sense, although I’m not keen on that just yet either. No, I just hate being late for an appointment or function. What I’m late for is of little consequence. It could be the most important job interview of my life or merely a casual, largely irrelevant social engagement. The thrust of overwhelming anxiety I feel at being late is the same regardless. It exists entirely within me and has no connection to the occasion in question.

There is no point in anyone chastising me for being late because whatever emotional pressure they’re putting me under will pale in significance compared to the monumental pressure I’ll have already put on myself.

But then again I’m rarely late. I was late for a wedding once back in the late 80s and the many years of psychiatric turmoil I suffered as a result has made me extra vigilant ever since.

Some people can casually arrive an hour or two late for something and waft into the engagement seemingly without a care in the world. Not me. I’d spend the first hour apologising profusely to everyone, my mind a tumultuous cauldron of guilt, shame, frustration and annoyance.

I’m not entirely unreasonable, even with myself. If I say I’m going to be somewhere at 14:00 and there’s a lengthy journey to undertake to get there, then I’d consider 13:55 to 14:05 an acceptable window. I can’t deny that 13:55 is infinitely better that 14:05 on such occasions, but I’d only gnaw one of my arms off if I were a mere five minutes late after a long journey. In all probability I’d aim to get there at 13:30 and just sit in my car for 29 minutes and 30 seconds before knocking on the door.

I’ll always be far harder on myself than I am on anyone else about this sort of thing, but when other people are late it bothers me too. If somebody — a tradesman maybe — is due to meet me at my place I’ll make my first judgement about them based on how close to the appointment time they arrive. I give others the same five minutes after the appointment time before I’ll cast them as late and I generally give them longer on the early side than I give myself; usually about 15 minutes. So, someone visiting me at 14:00 can get here anywhere between 13:45 and 14:05 and avoid my lingual venom.

I’m very generous like that.

I do appreciate that life isn’t perfect and sometimes the best-laid plans go awry, but then you absolutely must ring to say you’re going to cancel the appointment or arrive late. I sharpen my kitchen knives specifically for people who don’t follow this protocol.

There are genuine excuses for people being late or failing to turn up at all: sudden bereavement, nuclear war, the Sun exploding, for example. But those are about the only ones and if such a tragic event has transpired I’ll be quite understanding. If, however, you have just ‘cocked up your schedule’ then don’t expect any sympathy. Either un-cock up your schedule and get here or consider yourself persona non grata as far as I’m concerned — forever.

Deliveries are subject to the same rules. If I buy something with next-day delivery then it absolutely must be here the next day. If I’m given a one hour delivery slot then that’s when I expect it. Don’t bother giving me a slot at all if you can’t get it here within the allotted time period. And who amongst us hasn’t had the experience of staying in all day — maybe taking a day off work to do so — waiting for some tradesman to arrive only for them to phone at 17:10 to say they won’t be here after all? That’s the height of inconvenience and discourtesy and we must bring back the rack for such offenders.

Why does this bother me so much? Partly it’s about protocols and considerate behaviour in general but most of it — or at least my depth of passion about it — is because I’m a mildly OCD, routine-driven person. My routines keep me sane and if you work within them you’ll meet a friendly, affable chap who’s only too pleased to accommodate you. If however you break protocol, you’ll meet an irritable, fire-breathing psychotic who wants to make suffer in the most tortuous of ways.

So there you have it, my thoughts on tardiness.