Tag Archives: Punctuality

Join the queue

Saturday afternoon.  Grey clouds hang low in the sky, releasing the rain.  A cool energising breeze blows away the hot dusty air that’s drained and dirtied the area for days.   I walk up the wet concrete steps to glass doors and enter the local cinema.  

I buy my ticket in the noisy, crowded foyer and join the meaty queue that will (eventually) let us into the screening area.  The river of people winds from the pimple-faced ticket collector’s podium (and plaited rope “barrier”) out to the damp street.  Parents hold the place in line so their youngsters can roam until summoned.

Children squeal, fight and scream.  Parents yell.  Leaving my earphones at home was an error I’ll only make once.  The school holidays are a joyous period.

After a 15-minute wait, a comfort washes over me and I come to life.  This is the first time I’ve properly queued in 16 months and it stirs a delicious fire in me.  This is not my first rodeo.  London has trained me for queuing.  I allow the irritation and indignation to build with a pleasant familiarity.  Let’s play this.

I tut.  I tut again.  I shake my head.  I let out a quiet but terse and tight-mouthed “For fuck’s sake!”, and follow-up with a much louder, exasperated “Oh hurry UP!!”

I try to lock eyes with my fellow queuers to get their facial agreement at what is clearly an unacceptable delay and borderline violation of our human rights, but no one’s engaging with me.  It’s almost as if they think I’m overreacting …

Strange.  In London, a mini middle-class riot would have started.

It takes all my will-power not to approach the ticket collector and instruct him to let us in.  It’s 3:12pm.  The movie starts at 3:15pm.  WTF?  Let us be seated!

In the motherland many others would have already done this, but not here.  And if I lead the army, these soldiers won’t back me.

I’m not ready to be a mutineer.  So I wait.  Finally we’re granted entry … so late that the people are noisily finding seats through the trailers.  My anger is sustained.

I take my seat.  Three rows from the front, on the aisle with a vacant seat next to me.  The only other spare seat I can see is in the front row.

10 minutes into the movie a couple enter.  In the dark, they make their way to my row.  They rustle and “whisper” like elephants next to me.  I deliberately put my finger to my ear so they can see I’m blocking them out.  I know what’s coming.

“Excuse me, but would you mind moving so we can sit together?”

I smile and speak politely.

“I’m really sorry, but I queued for half an hour to get a decent seat so no.  Sorry”.  (It’s an English sorry.  Translation: I’m not remotely sorry).

I’m triumphant.  Didn’t expect that did you, my late friends?  You didn’t suffer the crowds or the queue, and you can’t just saunter in and relegate me to another sub-standard seat.  Next time, get yourselves to the event on time.

The woman sits next to me and the man moves to the seat in the front row.  It’ll be an awkward couple of hours, but I’m up for it.  This little battle is mine.

I smile.  London is still in my blood.

In less than three minutes the woman gets up, gets her husband, and they both leave the cinema.

I nod in satisfaction.  And turn my attention to the person near me crackling their crisp packet too loudly …

“Few things alienate friendship than a want of punctuality” William Hazlitt

Boxing Day, Kildare, Ireland. Our frosty breath is visible in the cold as Lisa parks the car and we walk towards Murphy’s Lounge, the pub where we’re meeting her friend for lunch. As we approach we see that it’s closed.

Lisa: Oh bugger. We’re going to have a wait ahead of us. Niamh’s a late person.
Me (nodding in understanding): Ah. Right. What time does she think we’re meeting?
Lisa: Well I knew we’d –and I mean you and me – would want to meet at 1:00, so I told her 12:30.

I look at my watch. It’s 12:50. Lisa and I have a few friends who are “late people” and we’ve put in place systems to make it a little easier to manage them. We tell them we’re meeting half an hour earlier than the actual meeting time, knowing they’ll arrive around half an hour late. We also meet at a place where we can sit indoors. Before our system we’d accumulated many hours standing uncomfortably in the searing heat, or the biting cold. Though it’s often requested, we never arrange to meet standing outside a shop; that’s a guaranteed recipe for physical discomfort and a school-boy error. Unfortunately today the closed pub has thwarted us.

Without speaking we turn and walk back to the car where we can sit and be spared the glacial wind. Ireland’s a tough place in the winter.

We put the radio on and chat when Lisa’s phone beeps with a text. It’s 1:10pm. We both laugh.

Lisa (rolling her eyes and smiling): Here we go. I’m guessing it’ll say “Sorry, running late! Be there soon!”
Me: No, I’m going with “Running late. On my way!”

We read it. “Sorry, running 10 minutes late. On my way!”

Yep. We’ve read a lot of these messages over the years and they’re always minor variations on the same theme.

Lisa replies “No problem, see you soon”. Our replies are also minor variations on the same theme: “We’re perfectly happy to spend our time waiting for you because we didn’t have anything we needed to do before heading out to meet you – your time is obviously more valuable than ours, so don’t you go rushing yourself on our account …”

At 1:25 we see Niamh pull up, park her car and walk towards the pub. We exit our car, greet her and Lisa introduces me.

Niamh: I’m so sorry I’m late, it’s impossible to be on time when you have children!
Lisa (smiling warmly): Yeah, it’s hard. There’s always something they need at the last minute.

I don’t have to look at her to know what she’s thinking. She’d risen an hour earlier this morning to make sure she’d clothed, fed and organised her two young children so we’d be here on time. Niamh clearly hadn’t made equal arrangements and doesn’t recognise the inconsistency.

With the pub being closed we walk to a nearby café for lunch. Niamh’s lovely and we enjoy chatting about her Christmas family celebrations – complete with venting niggles that go hand-in-hand with family get-togethers. After an hour Niamh and Lisa exchange gifts. Lisa opens her present and I make sure I keep my eyes glued on the item rather than Niamh or Lisa. My face will give away my amusement and I’m also in danger of giggling inappropriately; Niamh’s gift to Lisa is a watch.

Afterword

Back at Lisa’s house we chuckled about Niamh’s ironic gift. Lisa reminded me of the Billy Joel concert we attended in 2006 (yes, Billy Joel – I’ve never claimed to be cool) at Croke Park, Dublin. The concert had commenced when some people arrived very late. As they shuffled leisurely to their seats, disrupting the audience around them, Billy Joel stopped speaking. Smiling and good-naturedly pulling up his sleeve, he looked at his watch, making a joke of the situation “Nice of you to join us … we’ll just wait for you to get comfortable and we’ll continue”. The pause in the concert while thousands of people all watched the latecomers was only made bearable by the collective laughter.

The rudeness of tardiness clearly bothers people from all walks of life and when it comes to punctuality I sit firmly in Billy Joel’s camp; timeliness is next to godliness.