How long must I wait?

Traffic lights in Thailand count down from 90 seconds, so that you know exactly how long you have to wait.

It strikes me that there is a lot to be said for this. Those of us not blessed with zen-like patience curse liberally at all the delays of modern life, but I don’t believe we really mind waiting: what really annoys us – what raises all those ulcers, trips all those heart attacks and tips us over into madness – is not knowing how long we have to wait.

I was in the waiting room at our local health centre the other day, and the time for my appointment had long passed. Had they overlooked my appointment? Had the doctor been called out to an emergency? What was wrong? What should I do?

I didn’t mind waiting. I understood that it might be necessary. But what I really need to know is how long I have to wait. And, if at all possible, why.

Is this too much to ask? Why is the bus not coming? Is it coming at all? Have I missed it, or has it been cancelled? How long must I stand in the rain?

There is a long tailback on the motorway. Nothing is moving.Well, it happens. But how long will it take to sort out? Will I reach my destination today? Should I ring home, and if I do, will a policeman pop up from nowhere and charge me with using a mobile phone while driving? Has it turned into a crime scene? I really need to know these things.

I am in the slow queue at the post office. Why is it slow? How long is it going to take for that young woman to post a second-class penguin to Siberia? Why does she need a receipt?

My book has not arrived from a retailer in America. How long is it supposed to take? What could go wrong? How long will it in fact take? Tell me, tell me.

It seems to me that we could take most of the stress out of society by simply informing people how long they have to wait, and why. The technology is there: it may be expensive, but think of the money the NHS would save.

They’ll do it in the end: just wait. I don’t know how long.