There is a greatness to my lateness for trains and planes. I would go further and say my lateness counts as a superpower.
In many ways I see myself as the Hugh Grant character in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Well, in one way. There is a greatness to my lateness. I would go further and say my lateness counts as a superpower. You see, I’m never actually late. Not in the technical, missing the train, plane or ferry sense. I always make it. Just. Always the last person on. It’s uncanny.
Last Sunday, I was meeting a friend on the Eurostar to Paris. He, being boring, got there “on time” and so had to wait for me on the platform. I didn’t plan it this way, but I managed to get through passport control and security and on to the train with exactly 30 seconds to spare. The trouble is, I knew I would, because it always works out that way. I’ve never been taught the lesson I need to be about allowing enough time for journeys. I keep getting away with it. My internal chronometer never lets me down.
Of course, it is annoying for the people I am with. Don’t get my wife going on the subject. But the truth is, not only have I never been punished for my habitual “lateness”, I have actually been rewarded for it, as happened the time I arrived at the airport departure gate just after it had “closed” to be told my seat had been given away, but that there was one left in Business. Reader, I got an upgrade.
And take this thing I was getting on the Eurostar for, the Marathon de Paris 2012. When we got over there we had to schlep half way across town to register, but I made us late, so late that the organisers had turned off their computers and were packing away their tables.
A third friend, already there, was deployed to stall them. When we eventually got there, 40 minutes after entries had officially “closed”, the organisers applauded us — in an ironic way, it was true, but applause is applause. I was the very last person to register for the Paris marathon, out of 40,000 runners.
I think the trick is to make friends with your lateness, accept you are going to be late and then you won’t be – like Douglas Adams’s idea that flying is a matter of throwing yourself at the ground and missing.
It’s a Zen thing, like the way time seems to slow down when your life is in danger, allowing your brain to shift gears for a few suspended seconds and perceive the world at half speed. If time and space are dimensions, so is timing, and some people are simply no good at it, as Theresa May showed this past week with Abu Qatada’s botched deportation.
And I have a friend who is a vicar who is always late for everything, and knows he is, always running around like the White Rabbit. Even his habit of setting his watch 20 minutes ahead doesn’t help. It’s because he likes to chat with people and loses track of time.
Even when I misjudge it, the gods always seem to smile on me. I once went with a group of friends to a wedding in Yorkshire. We hired three cars between us and, on the way back to York station, I took everyone on a detour to see a country house. There were protests. There was stress. I did wonder whether I had finally pushed my luck too far.
After dropping off the hire cars at the station we had to run, which I don’t normally approve of because it’s cheating, but even by running it was clear we were going to miss our train. Guess what. The thing was five minutes late.