I resurrect this, one of my earliest blogposts, every year at this time


The clocks went back at 2:00 this morning, making it 1:00 all over again. The reason is that we have been on British Summer Time for a few months and are now reverting to Greenwich Mean Time. The arrangement of British Summer Time is also known as ‘Daylight Saving Time’. This is a misnomer, since it ignores the time uselessly taken up in schools as entire classes learn the chant of ‘Spring forward, fall back.’ Interesting that this chant evolved at all in the UK, since we correctly refer to this time of year as autumn, not as the more transatlantic ‘fall’. Also, you can’t save daylight. Try this on for size.

‘Hmmm, I need to put that shed up at the weekend, and I want to finish in daylight. I know. I’ll work really hard on Wednesday and Thursday, put a couple of hours of daylight in the bank, and spend them on Saturday.’

When Britain was top dog, we beat the perfidious French to the drop, and the Greenwich meridian, instead of the Paris meridian, was established as the baseline for time measurement worldwide. This was a side effect of being a nation that breeds obsessives who spend their entire lives working out how to make a clock that’s accurate at sea. See Dava Sobell’s book Longitude if you doubt me. But whatever happened, Greenwich became the world centre of time. Everywhere else took its chronologic lead from a small leafy suburb of London. Well Greenwich was then, now it’s just down the road from the Millennium Dome*, which also shows we haven’t quite got it right when it comes to making significant decisions about time.

The rest of the world had little say in this British Imperial diktat. Since we had all the aces in the pack, we could pretty well do what we liked. But then, then, we relinquished this vital grip on world commerce by allowing British Summer Time, and worse still, in WW1, went even further and introduced Double Summer Time. Please, somebody, tell me what is the point of inventing an arbitrary world timescale, based on British time, then mucking around with it? No wonder the Empire fell.

‘Those Brits. They couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery,’ said leaders of subject countries. ‘If they don’t even know what time it is, why are we letting them rule us?’

You can see their point was a valid one. The rest is history.

I am told that one of the reasons we still adjust the clocks is to mollify farmers, who object to getting up in the dark. What does that have to do with it? The average tractor now carries a big enough lighting rig to shame the main stage at Glastonbury , and as farmers always bleat that they work 26 hours a day anyway, what does it matter when it gets light? If you’re a sheep farmer, a hardy race for whom I have profound respect, during lambing the idea of sleep is a dim and distant memory, so it’s academic when it gets light.

Apparently in Scotland farmers are in a state because, if we don’t revert to GMT, it would mean that it wouldn’t get light till 10:00 am. So what? There are only 24 hours in the day anyway, so if it gets light later, just get up later. You may have to work till 5:00, but then if you overdo things in the pub that night you have a lie-in till 10:00 the next morning. Try pulling that stunt in the Square Mile.
‘Sorry I’m late, but because BST makes the evenings a bit longer I went for a drink while I could sit outside and got off my face before it got dark.’
I think not. You’d be escorted from the building with all your private possessins in a black bin bag

In the US, the changing of the times allegedly trims ‘…a significant but small amount’ of the country’s electricity usage ( http://www.WebExhibits.com ). It’s actually less than one percent. That’s the first time I have heard ‘less than one percent’ described as significant. In the scientific world in which I used operate, at an experimental level looking for changes, 5% or more is significant, anything less thanthat isn’t. (Although a less than 1% reduction in the energy consumption of the most profligate country in the world is not to be sneezed at. Used properly, that amount of power could make Mauritius into a tiger economy.)

Further, some of the ‘savings’ arise because ‘…studies show that 70% of Americans get out of bed before 7:00 am during the working week.’ Americans get up early in order to work long hours. This is because working long hours, or ‘presenteeism’ as it has become known, is seen as a sign of machismo. If the Americans could get their act together, and not have to get out of bed at some unearthly hour to compensate for a fanatical working hours culture, the rest of the world could stop having to bugger around with their clocks.

America is also a nation that until the late 19th century was so parochial that the railroad operators allowed individual stations to set their own local time, so Dullsville Arizona was several minutes adrift of Tapwasher just a few miles to the west. Bear in mind that GMT was established some 50 years beforehand because of pressure from the railway companies, to avoid the problem that Bristol, for example, was some six minutes behind London. The local time differences made the timetables more difficult to follow than even Railtrack can manage.

Back to the idea of ‘daylight saving time’. Let’s delete the word ‘daylight’. Then we see the fallacy of the whole argument. The amount of time spent twice a year by the households of the UK resetting video timers, alarm clocks, and other electronic gadgetry represents a loss of productivity about the size of the GDP of Burkina Faso. Think of the economic implications this has in the US.

So let’s stop mucking about. Back to GMT is the answer.

As an aside, it’s worth noting that when the UK abandoned changing the clocks in the early 70s, road deaths of children going to and from school fell by a significant amount, ie a bit more than ‘less than one percent.’ But who cares as long as the Scottish farmers are happy?

*Yes I know the dome is now the O2, but then the joke would be lost.