Ian McMillan: A short but timely history of very, very Early Man

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Right, it’s ten to eight and I’m ready for the off. I’ve got my briefcase. I’ve got my apple. I’ve got my phone. I’ve got my house keys. I’ve got my shoes on. I’ve got my coat on. I’ve got my gentleman’s purse full of jingly change. I’m standing by the door like somebody with a walk-on part in a play waiting to walk on.

My wife comes into the kitchen and asks “What time’s your taxi coming?” I blush redder than a ketchup sandwich. “Quarter past eight” I mutter, as though I’m a kid who’s been found out doing something daft. In fact that’s what I am, a big kid who’s been found out doing something daft. I’ll leave my coat on, though, in case the taxi gets here early. Well, he might.

Years ago I used to stay a lot with my mate Bob Mole in South Wales and he was always ready at the last minute; if we were going out of the house at five to he’d appear at six minutes to, ready for the day, even though I’d not heard him get up. I came to the conclusion that he must go to bed fully dressed, prepared to pop up the next morning like toast. I can’t do that. I have to be ready well in advance. Really well in advance. And it’s getting worse.

I remember when it began, this “Premature Preparation” as scientists call it. Once, when the kids were little, I had to get a taxi very early on to get to the station to go down South; I went to bed late and I forgot to set the alarm that I needed in those days to get me up. I fell into a deep sleep, as they say in novels of The Uncanny.

I was having a dream. A dream in which somebody was revving an engine right next to my ear and at the same time somebody was playing a Buddy Rich-style drum solo on my door.

I woke up and realised the engine was the taxi and the drummer was the driver. I got dressed like a character in a speeded-up film and rushed from the house as fast as Hermes The Winged God but I still missed my train and from that day on I vowed to always be ready, to never have the humiliation of waddling down a train platform with my shirt buttoned wrongly and my trousers half open and my shoes on the wrong feet again. Not until I win the lottery, anyway, and then it won’t matter how I look.

But I really am getting worse. I used to get my coat on about a minute before I was due to go out of the house, and now it can be up to half an hour, so when I eventually open the door I’m sweating like a horse.

Sometimes I get a lift with my mate Luke who is always late, so that means I’m standing there with my coat on for an hour. I’ll be clutching my briefcase and gazing out of the window anxiously at the appointed time and he’ll text me to say he’s “running late”.

Not that he’s late, mind you: he’s running late. In his head that’s different. But I still stand. And wait. And sweat. And jingle the change in my gentleman’s purse.

There’s nothing else for it: I’ll have to adopt the Bob Mole method and go to bed with my clothes on, and use my briefcase for a pillow. Then I’ll be ready. Really ready.