TIMING is everything. It’s why the only piece of jewellery I voluntarily wear these days is a watch. It is always good to know exactly how late travelling by public transport has made me.
My own timing, of course, is abysmal. I cannot save a penalty or catch a ball. My career has been a succession of events which have placed me in the right location at the wrong time.
And I cannot tell the simplest joke without going off on tangents and making the listener forget what was going on at the beginning of the joke. My knock knock jokes can last up to five minutes. I appreciate this is not strictly a point about timing, but I had a joke about timing and I’ve forgotten what it was.
Nevertheless, the point is my timing is lousy and frequently gets me in trouble. The only time my timing was excellent was when I was walking up a road during high winds, and an entire window was blown out of the third floor of a building, landing just behind me. I think I used up all the good timing allocated to me in that instant.
This is all to explain how I came to be trapped in the Corridor Of Perpetual Thankyous.
I had been walking slowly, as a result of the recurrence of my policeman’s heel, which had been caused by a previous knee injury, which in turn had caused by running with an strained thigh on my other leg. Nobody had warned me that, when one reaches one’s forties, bodily injuries are like a series of toppling dominoes. You start with a hangnail and end up with your leg in plaster via sciatica.
I was heading towards a set of double-doors, and in the distance I could see a woman heading towards the same doors. My phone buzzed. If I had chosen to check my phone after I had gone through the doors, I would have been all right, but I did not. If I was walking at my normal pace, I would have been all right, but I was not. Timing is everything.
The woman reached the doors just before me and pulled them open. She nipped through, then held the door open for me. “Thank you,” I said, sealing my doom.
For this was a corridor with a succession of five double-doors, and I was brought up properly.
This means that I am physically incapable of not thanking somebody for holding a door open for me, no matter what the circumstances. If Satan himself held open the Gates of Hell for me, I’d greet him with a polite “thanks, mate” and a nod, as I passed through. And then I would sit for eternity next to the man with the armpits that smelt like onions, and the psst-psst-psst from his headphones, that I sat next to on the bus the other day.
We reached the second set of doors, her again before me, and she opened them again. Should I thank her for opening this door, I wondered? The form, apparently nowadays, is to thank once at the first door of a series and once at the last, which seems perfectly sensible.
But what if this WERE the last? I had no way of knowing. We might have parted ways after this set of doors. I had no idea who she was or where she was going. And I hate it when I open a door for people and they do not thank me. So I thanked her again, to be on the safe side.
Now we were heading for the third door. My only chance was to beat her to it somehow. But I was limping and she was nimble. I made a late lunge, but it was too late. She had the door open and was through. I styled out the lunge by turning it into a skip. “Thank you,” I said. “Again,” I said.
I was trapped now in the Corridor of Perpetual Thankyous. I thanked her again at the fourth. I could not stop at this point. It would have been weird.
And then we reached the final door. I accepted defeat. The woman stepped forward, opened the door, went through…
And somebody came through the other side, carrying a television, and blocking my progress.
By the time he had passed, the woman was in the distance. I had not thanked her, and she no doubt considers me rude. But it was just bad timing.