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Nick Mason - Article for "Tatler", July 1997 Print E-mail

ARTICLE BY NICK MASON for Tatler Magazine, July 1997

For the "Life's A Bitch" column (each written by a guest writer)

All people can be punctual if they choose to be. Any evening at the cinema or theatre will prove the point that out of a sample of a thousand or so people, only about 0.03 per cent will fall foul of events sufficiently to make them grovellingly, apologetically late.

Regrettably, any social or business meeting that does not involve the selling of tickets for a predetermined time is more likely to have a lateness quota of about 25 per cent and, as soon as one's partner is involved, the ratio of the punctuality-challenged can rise to a frightening 50 per cent. Exactly why these people are late is a mystery. It may be revenge, an attempt at a controlling device or a sad overconfidence in how much they can achieve in the time available, but it's still maddening, and arouses about as much sympathy in the punctual as the Bolsheviks felt for the Tsar.

Part of the problem is that lateness has become part of the fabric of western civilisation. The airlines set a frightful example. What should be a hi-tech, stainless-steel chronograph of an industry is little more than a fantasy schedule based on a theoretical world where passengers don't get lost in the duty free; the crew isn't stuck on the M25 and the aircraft has actually arrived from New York. When some passengers are expected to wait for 12 hours attempting to sleep on horribly uncomfortable seats (if they're lucky), but others can be refused boarding because they arrived only 30 minutes before take-off, it is little wonder that the airlines are so anxious to prevent passengers carrying weapons.

Trains don't even qualify for this discussion since they not only run late but frequently fail to reach their destination at all. To be deposited at Watford or Wolverhampton instead of one's chosen destination is unforgivable. Buses are hopeless, ironically because of all the people who don't trust public transport and therefore prevent it from functioning. And using your own car has become a lottery - ensuring a choice between a crisis of lateness or an hour to kill, usually in that limbo period of early closing.

Restaurants have become inured to lateness, and punctuality may find you herded to the bar by a surprised manager. Gone are the days when if you were half an hour late the maitre d' would be glaring at his watch and tutting; nowadays you have to be extraordinarily drunk and disorderly to get that response. In the good old days the kitchen closed, the chef went home and that was that. But the cult of the unpunctual has triumphed; chefs are now working the same hours as junior doctors. As for those diners who do turn up on time, their purgatory will be to sit alone, trying to look relaxed while gently simmering under the pitying looks from other tables. The trick is to retain a welcoming, but hurt, expression while hissing all those carefully thought-out resentments just out of the hearing of other diners.

Some occupations are particularly renowned for tardiness. Show business thrives on it, with rock music taking the major awards. I recall a Paris recording studio in the early Eighties with a resigned - and punctual - Bill Wyman explaining that Charlie would be on time, Mick maybe a few hours late and Keith perhaps a week. Small wonder he quit to concentrate on the restaurant business.

Punctual habits are encouraged by consultants who charge by the hour. If the clock starts at the appointed moment, it seems foolish to spend the money being somewhere else. On the other hand, if you, the client, are being kept waiting, you can fight back. If you are corralled in a waiting room, I recommend requesting access to a phone. Start dialing long distance. If offered a coffee, ask for croissants as well - with butter, jam and freshly squeezed juice.

Try and get to the copier and the fax machine. Anyone who can capture and hold these commanding heights should be able to negotiate an early end to the wait. If this is impossible, a visit to the bathroom to steal the soap might help. A delay of more than 30 minutes calls for an accident with the plumbing.

It's time for a change in attitude. It's time both bride and groom arrived early enough to greet all their guests at the church door. The dentist should be standing expectantly outside his waiting room 10 minutes before the patient is due, and the National Health Service should be advertising the need for hip-replacement patients to keep the empty beds full and under-employed surgeons in work. Then maybe we'd have time to solve the mystery of why the more expensive the watch, the less punctual the wearer.

 
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