The clocks went forward an hour today in the UK. Or maybe they went back an hour. I’ve already forgotten which.
Chris Snowdon has written a rather humorous piece about British Summer Time, and the objections raised against it, including those of Peter Hitchens, who calls it a “mass deception” which involves “lying about the time.” I wasn’t quite sure, but I suspected that Chris Snowdon is a true believer in BST, and maybe even in BST all year round.
Well, I’m not. And I’d like to set out my own objections to it.
First of all, it always catches me by surprise. And when it does happen, it’s a bit like stepping outside your home one morning, only to find that there are two steps down to the street rather then the usual one step.
But then, after the realisation that It’s Happened Again dawns on me, there’s the process of changing all the clocks in the house. There’s my wristwatch. And there’s a clock on the kitchen wall. And there’s the bedside alarm clock. And there are all the other secret, hidden clocks that I’ve forgotten about (e.g. the clock in my car, and in my electric oven, and on the central heating boiler). And there are the new clocks, like the ones in the new phone handsets I bought just last week.
Needless to say, the process of changing all the clocks is a bit haphazard. I change them as and when I notice that they need changing, and how easy it is to change them. The kitchen wall clock is about the easiest, because there’s just one little knob on the back to turn: the only tricky thing is fitting it back onto the screw in the wall. The next hardest is the bedside alarm clock, which has two knobs on the back, and I never remember which is which. Next up on the ladder of difficulty is my LED wristwatch. It’s got a number of buttons around its edge, all of which have different functions, which I have to rediscover every time I change it (the manual for it having long been lost). Usually after about 10 minutes I’ve re-discovered, by trial and error, in what order the buttons need to be pressed. But occasionally I inadvertently enable other features (e.g. its alarm clock, and even worse its nasty habit of marking every hour with a little beep (it took me weeks to find out how to stop it doing that)) . Fortunately my Windows PC updates itself automatically – which can also be a bit disconcerting when you haven’t yet realised that It’s Happened Again. And my car clock is never changed anyway. I never use it, and if any passenger asks “Is that really the time?” I just say that it’s a meaningless number that regularly appears on my dashboard.
But in the process of slowly changing all these clocks, often over a period of weeks, there comes a time when half the clocks say that it’s 3 pm or something, and all the rest say that it’s 4 pm. There’s no consensus opinion among the clocks. And you don’t know which ones are right, and which are wrong. During this dangerous Period of Confusion, quite often clocks get switched back to the wrong time (often on the fallacious grounds that the Kitchen Clock Is Always Right).
But all this assumes that you actually know that It’s Happened Again. Quite often you don’t know. Or at least, I don’t. And it can take days to find out. So the Period of Confusion is usually preceded by a Period of Ignorance, during which you find that shops are closing unaccountably early (a death in the family, perhaps?), and people you’ve agreed to meet fail to show up on time, and TV or radio programmes are over before they started. The Period of Ignorance can last for several days before the penny finally drops.
It was during the Period of Ignorance, a few years ago, that I went to have lunch with some people, only for them to show up an hour late. It was a good thing that they didn’t show up an hour early, as they would have been eating their desserts by the time I showed up. I often wonder how many romances have been wrecked when clocks go forward or back, and young lovers on a date inadvertently stand each other up, and it’s Never Forgiven.
My primary objection to putting clocks forward or backwards twice a year is that it makes for a lot of work, correcting all the clocks. That might not have been too much trouble 100 years ago, when people would only have one clock (or not even that), which could be easily corrected by opening the front, and using a finger to turn the hands back or forward one hour. But when you have at least 10 clocks, all with their own secret ways of being changed, it gradually becomes a nightmare.
I maybe wouldn’t mind if there were frequent reminders that the clocks were about to go forward. Prolonged ringing of church bells, police sirens, fireworks, that sort of thing. But there never is. There are never headlines on newspapers that The Clocks Are Going Forward Tonight. So how is anyone supposed to know when It’s Going To Happen? Is it done by word of mouth, between friends or family? All I know is that I never know when it’s going to happen. Perhaps there’s a rule, like for when February has 29 days, or when Easter is celebrated. And you’re either In The Know, or – like me – you’re not.
It’s called Daylight Saving Time, but this is a misnomer. Because there’s just as much daylight in any day, whether the clocks go backwards or forwards or perform little waltzes. You don’t “save” any daylight. None at all. Nada. Yes, really.
If people want children to go to school in daylight, then the simplest thing to do is change the times that school starts and ends. Same with factories. Each school or factory or office can set its own hours. They all set their hours anyway. Some of them have flexi-time. The one thing they shouldn’t do is get the whole country to change their clocks.
It’s also, like public smoking bans, another One-Size-Fits-All solution to something that was never really a problem. Or wouldn’t be a problem if people were left to their own devices. What happened before there was “Daylight Saving Time”? Was it a period of chaos and disorder, with schoolchildren being abducted and workers falling into potholes all the time?
Putting all clocks forward or backwards is also a way of debasing time. It’s really a bit like saying that when all the clocks go forward, a foot rule will also measure 13 inches, and there will be 17 ounces in one pound – until next October, when they’ll go back to having their usual 12 inches, and 16 ounces. Clocks, like weights and measures, should be sacrosanct: they should never be changed. Because our measures of time are as important as our measures of length or weight.
I could go on, but I won’t. Because I’m sure you’re convinced by now.