Saturday, 24 October 2009

So what time is it exactly?

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?


  1. It is four minutes past four will be dark at half six, ghastly. My entire childhood winter was in the dark. It used to get dark at three in the afternoon there!

    But still, it is the season for horror films, sweet potatoes and stew, gallons of red wine and bicycle runs.

  2. Think of the poor Lapplanders, who have to contend with daylight varying between 24 and 0 hours. Or the folks living near the Equator, who get no variety at all, twelve hours all year round, God that must be boring, can't imagine how they put up with it down there in Tobago ...
    Not sure about the horror films, Hollywood musicals for me at the moment (High Society last week, Guys and Dolls coming up).

  3. I worked out once that, what with the hunting around for the clocks, the times you get it wrong by overshooting the digits, the sheer number of things to change (though the pool heating timer wasn't one of them - no that can continue in its belief that it's summer, even though the water temperature tells it otherwise)..where was I? Oh yeah I worked out once that it takes the british population a long time to change all its timepieces twice a year. Using extensive use of the statistical evidence available to me, I reckoned it was about 7 years. Don't ask me to prove it, & I can't recall whether that was 7 years each or 7 per year. But you get my drift I'm sure. Anyway time waits for no man so I must get on..

    But hang on a mo, that can't be right. If there's about 20 million homes in Britain(there's more but some will only have a sundial) with several timepieces & in each home it takes an average of 10 minutes to change them each time, that's about 3.3 million hours spent doing it, which, divided by hours in a year (8760, forgetting leap years) is 380 years.
    Is there something going wrong here? Am I a decimal point short of an algorithm?

  4. Well, I didn't understand a word of what Soaring said but I will be halfway across the Atlantic tomorrow..Amsterdam this time tomorrow. Landing eventually in Toronto where it will yet again be a different time and a different temperature...and a different accent.
    And Tim...I remember the birds singing at three in the morning in Scotland and an upside down moon in Cuba...and I saw the stealth bomber gliding silently across the stars in Cuba before it even appeared on the cover of time magazine.Ooops, I'm rambling.

  5. Oh Rosie, you must have understood the word sundial.