Tonight, the clocks go back. Every autumn this event triggers a chorus of complaints, from Guardian journalists and farmers, usually along the lines of 'why can't we keep British Summer Time all the year round?' - sometimes embellished with fancies about something called 'Double Summer Time' in the summer, so that we can preserve the biannual ritual of searching the house for those sneaky little clocks, watches or electronic devices which have to be adjusted even though we probably won't look at or use them for another six months. Oh yes, and don't forget the ones that craftily adjust themselves - but you need to know who they are, otherwise you'll go and reset them yourself and your microwave will get all confused and go into some kind of temporal denial ...
The whole thing's nonsense, isn't it? 'Noon' is the moment at which the sun is at its zenith at any given meridian, and no amount of faffing about with our clocks is going to alter that astronomical fact. Similarly, sunrise and sunset are determined by season and latitude, and are equally beyond our control. In Britain, until the 1840s, everywhere had its own local time (Cornwall is about twenty minutes behind Greenwich, I'm told). But that became impractical with the coming of the railways, which couldn't be expected to run to some kind of infinitely variable timetable as you moved east or west - so GMT was invented, and it seems most people were happy to settle for that. Then some clever civil servant invented 'British Summer Time', to give the farmers an extra hour of daylight in the morning (which they would, of course, lose in the evening). Nobody asked: why don't they just get up when it gets light? Then we go back to normal in October, and everyone moans because, guess what, it's darker in the winter, so we'd better bugger about with the clocks again ... It's robbing Eve to pay Dawn.
It did, however, strike me, years ago on an aeroplane halfway across the Altantic, to wonder 'exactly what time is it now, really?' I expect I could get an app to tell me this on my iPhone, if I had one.
Anyway, I need to get up early tomorrow, to do the great clock hunt ... gosh, is that the time?