Leading Article: When punctuality is next to godliness

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The Independent Online
PUNCTUALITY, like tidiness, is one of those minor issues that can bulk very large in the most civilised relationships. No doubt there was a certain crispness in the air on Monday at the St James's Palace residence of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. The Duke is president of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, aka Wimbledon. Anxious to be there on time to perform his duties, he reportedly told the Duchess that if she was not ready in five minutes, he would leave in his official car without her. She wasn't, and he did, leaving her to follow in a cab. She eventually arrived no less than half an hour late.

There will be some who sympathise with the Duke. For those temperamentally inclined - condemned might be a more accurate term - to be punctual, few activities are more psychically exhausting than waiting for a spouse or 'significant other' who is dawdling over their toilette. Such delaying tactics may result from a constitutional inability to be ready by an agreed deadline: one can only hope, for the Duke of Kent's sake, that the Duchess is not thus congenitally afflicted. On the other hand, it may stem from a profound and recurring difference of opinion over the best time at which to arrive.

Many people, probably a majority, hate to be the first guest at any social occasion, even though it is obvious that someone must. But to those addicted to punctuality, the thought of being late - or worse, actually making others wait for their dinner - is purgatorial. Rare is the couple that is in complete agreement over the moment juste to arrive.

In some countries, such as Germany, Denmark and Japan, the problem does not arise. Arrival on or even before the dot is mandatory in 'polite' circles. In Britain, attitudes to punctuality come somewhere between that extreme and the more relaxed norms of Latin (and especially Latin American) countries. So there is ample scope for marital wrangling.

In the case of the start of Wimbledon and the Duke's duties, the rights and wrongs are clear enough. Politeness demanded that he should be there on time; and for the punctuality addict, politeness is what it is largely about. To be late is to be inconsiderate and to cause others to waste their time waiting.

Another goal of the punctual is the reduction of stress. To leave a margin of time saves anxiety, especially in keeping business appointments or catching a train or plane. To those blessed or cursed with the opposite temperament, half the fun is in arriving at the last possible moment. For such people, nothing is more tedious than to have time in hand and be obliged to hang around. It is because the small drama at the Kents' highlighted this temperamental gulf that it has such resonance.