On Sunday I planted half of this year’s potatoes in the allotment. The gardeners amongst you will be aware that this is at least a week late (the traditional time for planting potatoes being Easter); given that in fact I only bought them this week and thus that they’ve barely been chitted, in practise it’s even later than that.
For the rest of the day, I’ve been pondering, off and on, on lateness. I remember, some time ago, someone (possibly my father) telling me that there are two sorts of people in the world: people who think that five minutes late is late, and people who think that half an hour late is on time. Historically, I was always been one of the former. I once turning up at an airport before check-in had even opened for my flight (this back in the day when 2 hours was considered ‘early’ for check-in, and one could still take such dangerous items as knitting needles and shoes on a plane). In theory, I still do consider five minutes late to be late; it’s just that these days I always am, by that measure, late.
One reason for the shift is that these days I cycle everywhere. When you’re on a bike, you acquire a firm belief in your control over your own travel. You don’t need to arrange your voyaging around timetables, or allow for delays. You don’t need to consider the traffic, because bikes can sail merrily past traffic jams (a deep and lasting joy). The problem is my consistent underestimation of how long it takes me to do get from A to B; and the fact that even traffic jams you sail past have a distinctly slowing effect.
There’s the Dog Effect, as well. When we first acquired Sidney, she absolutely had to be taken out into the square to pee before being left alone, and there was a fighting chance that as you opened the front door, she would dive out to cavort around the grass, necessitating a protracted chase scene and subsequent twenty-minutes-plus of lateness. These days she’ll inform you in plenty of time if she needs to pee, and only rarely zooms out of the door on her own recognizance; but the Dog Check for edible or otherwise chewable substances left within nose-reach takes non-zero time. Apparently it takes me more than a year to get used to something like this.
Then there’s the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the last couple of years hanging out with anarchist/activist types, for whom half an hour late is actually fairly early. It’s a choice between showing up on time and hanging around on your own for half an hour; or showing up half an hour late and accepting the tacit agreement that That’s Just How It Is. I fear the necessary adjustment to this particular cultural expectation has had a knock-on effect on the rest of my life.
I find myself wondering if it’s (another?) sign that I’m trying to fit too much in to the available space. That if I had more spaciousness in my life, I would be able to allow more travelling time and thus arrive on time; rather than squeezing just-one-more-thing into the space and then belting up the road at top speed to compensate. But then… there are just so many things to do, and so little time to do them in. Which am I to abandon?
Perhaps I should make a new promise, turn over a new leaf, and reinsert myself into the ranks of the five-minutes-early brigade. Or perhaps I should just learn to cycle faster. Better late than never?