What time do you call this? Alison Healy on punctuality

The Just Missed It Club

Some people make a virtue out of being late. Photograph: Getty Images

A Christmas tree sailed by me in Raheny a few weeks ago, perched on top of a car. The driver looked as though he was having a perfectly normal day, parading around north Dublin with a Christmas tree at a time when some people were thinking about dusting off their flip-flops.

I thought of it a few days ago when I passed a house in Kildare that was still displaying a generous Christmas garland, complete with festive baubles. I know climate change is messing up the seasons, but this takes the biscuit – the cinnamon spice one, if we are still being festive. Unless they were getting in well ahead of the rush, it looks like they were particularly late with their post-Christmas chores.

Of course, some people make a virtue out of being late. Vladimir Putin is a case in point. The Russian leader is notorious for keeping world leaders waiting for him. All that bare-chested horse-riding and spearfishing must play havoc with his timekeeping.

In his pre-pariah days, he kept Pope Francis waiting for almost an hour on two separate occasions while Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe had to fiddle with his watch for two hours on another occasion. Some people have described his tardiness as a mafia boss power move. But it also extended to his personal life, according to his ex-wife, Lyudmila Putina, who said he was always late for dates. She has written about being left in tears at the metro station after he regularly left her waiting for more than one hour. “After 90 minutes you are just drained of all emotions,” she wrote in her memoir. And then, dear reader, she married him.


Perhaps his lateness is an effort to thwart assassination attempts? And it is true that being late can save your life. Haven’t we all heard of someone’s relative who should have boarded the Titanic at Cobh but missed it because their pony and cart was too slow? In fact, in the weeks after the 1912 disaster, the numbers of people claiming to have just missed the Titanic was so large that newspapers dubbed them the Just Missed It Club.

The Smithsonian magazine found a few tongue in cheek articles in US newspapers remarking on the phenomenon. Just days after the sinking, Michigan’s Sault Ste. Marie Evening News reported that two boats the size of the Titanic could not have held the crowds who said they had just missed the sailing. It claimed the Just Missed It Club had 6,904 members and quoted a “Percival Slathersome” who declared that if everyone who had just missed the boat had actually boarded, she would have sunk before she set sail.

But the number of lucky escapees continued to grow. A few days later, Ohio’s Lima Daily News observed that 118,337 people had escaped death because they either missed the Titanic or changed their minds just before sailing time.

We don’t know how many members of the Just Missed It Club were Irish, but I’ll wager that it is similar to the number of people whose ancestors were in the GPO during the Easter Rising.

But we do know one person who definitely missed the boat - Edgar Selwyn, one of the founders of Goldwyn Pictures, which later became part of MGM Studios. He had been visiting Paris and wanted to read the ending of a new novel, The Regent, from his friend Arnold Bennett, before he caught the Titanic at Cherbourg. However, like all good writers, Arnold Bennett was late meeting his deadline. On hearing that the story would not be ready for another week, Selwyn cancelled his passage on the Titanic.

As for the book that saved his life? Unfortunately, it sprung a metaphorical leak. “The middle sagged, and the end was not memorable”, reported one underwhelmed reader on Goodreads book reviewing website.

Don’t feel sorry for the author though, because in the year the Titanic sank, Arnold Bennett was earning today’s equivalent of £1.8 million (more than €2 million) a year from writing, according to his biography Life of Arnold Bennett: Lost Icon. He published 34 novels, including The Old Wives’ Tale as well as short stories and plays.

He also had an eggy dish named after him. The Omelette Arnold Bennett, which contains smoked haddock, was created in his honour by London’s Savoy Hotel after he stayed there.

Reviewing his biography last year, the Daily Mail declared perhaps a little harshly that the almost forgotten writer was “only remembered because he is an omelette”.

But being remembered for an omelette is not the worst fate to befall anyone.

It’s certainly better than being remembered for leaving your Christmas decorations up until May.