Here in Cork we get half an hour extra daylight in the evening, though our mornings are dark. That’s because we use the same time zone as Britain whilst lying half an hour west of Greenwich. So the gloom and darkness complaint that arises at this time of year affects us less acutely. What gloom and darkness complaint? This one, articulated in The Observer’s editorial last Sunday:-
For the next five months, the nation can again anticipate evenings marked by their gloom and darkness, thanks to Greenwich Mean Time, which was reintroduced early this morning.
Few welcome the abandonment of British Summer Time, one of the least appetising events of the calendar, and opinion polls in England and Wales make it clear there is a healthy support for the halting the practice of putting clocks back in autumn so that we have earlier sunrises and sunsets and darker evenings.
The editorial goes on to suggest that retaining British Summer Time in the winter, with the addition of an extra hour to clocks in March (Double Summer Time), would save money and lives. Lives on the roads because the evening rush hour wouldn't be so dark, and money because there would be less need for electric light in the early evening. This kind of scheme is always referred to as daylight saving.
|Greenwich Observatory. Where midday really is midday.|
If we feel so strongly about dark evenings, the answer is clear. Bed at 8. Up at 4. Standard working day from 7 am to 3 pm, which even in midwinter finishes in full daylight. Outlandish? Of course. But only because sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries our forebears did something called nocturnalisation. Staying up half the night and sleeping till half way through the morning. The daylight saving that The Observer is calling for amounts to this: to monkey with the clocks so as to wind this nocturnalisation back, nearer to the way things once used to be.
I'm not really against monkeying with the clocks. I just want to get it off my chest that the whole thing’s mad. We’ve nocturnalised our society and now we want to unnocturnalise it. Just why nocturnalisation occurred is a puzzle I wrestle with from time to time. I touched on the history of it a couple of years ago in a piece called How we colonised the night.
As a postscript I should add that the foregoing is entirely a parochial mid-latitude issue. In Scotland monkeying with the clocks probably wouldn't work. And in Luleå no amount of jiggery pokery is going to stretch out the three or four hours of watery light that’s the midwinter ration. In the tropics on the other hand, the Sun never rises and sets far from 6 o’clock. I remember when I was in Trinidad in my youth observing that the earliest sunset was 5:45, and the latest sunset was 6:15. Here's a flavour of the conversation you would have sitting on the porch sipping rum and coke and the crickets chirping. “You noticed the sun’s setting much later now?” ... “Yes, tonight it was 7 minutes past. Two weeks ago it was 4 minutes past.”
Finally, here's a useful short history of daylight saving measures. Double Summer Time was first used in Germany in the First World War, quickly followed by Britain and many other countries.