Today I was 10 minutes late to my only two commitments. Those who know me will be unsurprised. For years the only quote on my facebook page was “Punctuality is the virtue of the bored”. I know it is a bad habit, but that doesn’t seem to solve the problem. It seems I am genetically programmed (and it runs in the family…) to leave at the last possible moment which still makes an on time arrival feasible (albeit unlikely). So I know that if I don’t have wait to cross the road, the bus arrives the moment I reach the bus stop and then all the traffic lights are green I can get to university in 20 minutes. So I allow 20 minutes. And, invariably, I arrive 5 minutes late, which my flawed consience considers permissible. But today 5 minutes slipped up to 10 minutes. Impolite slipped towards plain rude. And I didn’t get away with it. I’m writing this now because I was supposed to meet someone at 5:30 and I was 10 minutes late. I’d missed them, and to compound my crime, I left my phone at home. I couldn’t even call to apologise/check they weren’t even later than me (which, of course, I longed to be the case). As I stood in the cold waiting for someone who had already left I had the chance to ponder my crime, and my mind did what it has been trained to do from a very young age – found an excuse. And here it is.
It is cold here. It’s not very cold (that description’s reserved for when it goes below -25). But it’s cold enough (-13) to demand that as much skin as possible remains covered by wool, down or fur clothing. However, inside temperatures are verging on tropical. Once the general heating system (which pumps scalding hot water around a whole region of the city) is turned on in September residents can do nothing but strip down to their underwear and enjoy the heat or open the windows and let the freezing air flow in. Thermostats are nowhere to be seen. In my flat we go for the windows open option, which is easier on the eyes. But you still have to take a lot of clothes off to be comfortable. And that, in a very long winded sort of way, gets me on to my excuse!
Before leaving your tropical flat during the Russian winter it is necessary to put on a second pair of socks, which you tuck your long johns into, so that when you put your trousers on the long johns don’t ride up. Not forgetting to tuck your shirt into your underwear, you add as many jumpers as you see fit. My record so far is 4, which made me look like a veritable teddy bear. Next up, presuming you are still mobile enough in your many jumpers, are the boots. I’m reliably informed that trousers go in, not over winter boots, and that there is a special technique to tuck them in neatly which Russian men learn during military service. Not having had that 'privilege' I’m yet to master the technique, so I hurriedly stuff them in, tighten the boots so that no precious warm air can slip out and move on to the scarf. It also comes with a special technique I have not yet mastered. Once it is (un-)satisfactorily tied, the coat (fur or down) goes on and is zipped up to the top. Coats are serious business here. A good fur one costs well over a thousand pounds. But they are incredibly effective and beautiful attire, especially when topped and tailed with matching fur hat and fur lined boots. A well dressed Russian in winter is a sight to behold. I’m sad to say it isn’t such a privilege to see me in winter, with my sky blue puffer jacket, Quicksilver hat (made in China) and Quechua boots from Decathlon. But they keep me warm enough, and that’s the most important thing.
Anyway, as I ruminated on my repeated unpunctuality I realised that this dressing up palaver was making me miss my 5-minutes-late deadline. And so of course, from now on I will remember this and start getting ready to leave 5 minutes earlier… or maybe I can do it in 3…