x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Time waits for no man - but man is certainly kept waiting

As one grows older, delays can start to feel like cruel and unusual punishment.

As the passing of years accelerates, certain advantages appear. Even though I can still dart around a badminton court to moderately useful effect, and become as excited at football games as a schoolboy, I also qualify in the UK for "senior" travel passes. That means free bus and Tube travel in London and discounts for nationwide rail travel that often mean a first-class seat, with free access to the internet, is hardly more expensive than second.

Better still, the passes are issued to men before pensionable age to ensure equality with women, who in Britain retire five years earlier. And they can sometimes be used to obtain concessionary prices for admission to cinemas, museums and other places of entertainment or enlightenment; a restaurant owner flattered me by saying I would need to produce mine - which I did not have with me - before she'd accept that I was entitled to choose from her cut-price "pensioners' menu".

There are aspects of growing old I could well do without: declining physical powers, occasional forgetfulness and the acknowledgement of mortality that comes with having to attend rather more funerals than seemed to be the case in earlier life. And there comes a time when a four-hour delay, whatever the reason and whatever it is you are kept waiting for, feels like a cruel and unusual punishment. I have just experienced two such delays, each independent of the other, within the space of 16 hours. To be stranded, helpless, in a train stuck behind another for most of the evening is bad enough. If you are kept hanging around in a garage next morning for a service that you were told, when phoning to book the car in, would be done "while you wait", implying an hour at most, it seems fair to assume fate has it in for you.

The details of each inconvenience are unnecessary to relate and I cannot deny that unexpected delays cause irritation at any age. But when you have not long ago become closer to 70 than 50, it is hard to overcome the temptation to reinvent yourself as Basil Fawlty and scream at someone, anyone: "Don't you realise how much of the rest of my life you're using up?" The trouble is that the someone, anyone you choose to shout at might make everything seem a lot worse with the reasonable reply: "Calm down, old man."

And the sensible response to all these annoyances is, indeed, to remain calm and philosophical and, where possible, make intelligent use of the time. I tried that on the train. The service promised free wi-fi, I had my laptop with me and there was some unfinished work I could do online. No such luck. The connection was "temporarily unavailable". If only I could have found a member of the railway company's staff - a mission rendered impossible by the sheer number of bodies occupying every space, corridors included, of a crowded train - I might have asked the question: "Is it worth waiting for the connection to be restored?"