Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 29 October 2013

SAD now!

So, we’ve hit another milestone in the year, and it’s all down hill into winter.

As it happens, the autumn is a pretty one, and the sun is still shining, so I’m determined not to feel blue about it. Lots of us will, though, and soon, now that we’ve turned back the clocks.

Which kinda begs the question: Why in the 21st century do we still feel the need for daylight saving?

It can’t be anything more than habit now, can it?

As someone who tries to eat locally and seasonally, I’m one of the few who still feels the passing of the year, who still feels the slow down into winter, who still gains a little winter weight, who still responds to the natural urge to hibernate. With the invention of the electric light bulb and central heating and air conditioning, and with summer fruits and vegetables being shipped in from all over the World all year round, it’s virtually impossible to tell what season it is except that it gets dark out.

One William Willet was the first in Britain to seriously advocate for daylight saving way back in 1907. He was a keen horseman and resented the wasted hours of sumer daylight early in the morning before it was time to rise. He died in 1915 before British Summer Time was introduced in May 1916.

BST was introduced in an effort to save fuel and money, and in response to Germany introducing the scheme during World War I, and some version of daylight saving has been in existence ever since. During World War II Double Summer Time was introduced whereby the clocks were set two hours ahead in the summer and an hour ahead in the winter, making the most of evening sunlight throughout the year, but particularly during harvest time when older children were expected to help bring in the harvest. 

Between 1968 and 1971 the UK experimented with British Standard Time when the clocks were permanently set to British Summer Time, but the experiment was discontinued after a three year trial period.

I have no particular problem with British Summer Time. Those long, languorous summer evenings can be delightful, after all. The real jolt happens for me in October, when the days are already shortening rapidly. When the clocks are put back in the last week of October, darkness suddenly comes crashing in at teatime, and a pall comes over me that never quite lifts until the spring. There’s a name for it in our modern times; they call it S.A.D or Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s rife.

I wouldn’t mind so much, but I wake up in the mornings in the dark, too. It doesn’t seem to actually alleviate that problem either.

The fact is that a winter’s day is short this far north of the equator and a winter’s day is going to be short the same distance south of the equator, and moving the day back or forth by an hour isn’t going to change that, just as it isn’t going to change the length of a summer’s day when it’s summer a long way north or south of the equator. That’s the nature of our planet and the angle of tilt of its poles.

The shortest day of 2013 falls on December the 21st. In London on that day, sunrise will occur at 08:03, long after most of us are up and about, transit will occur at 11:58, and sunset will occur at 15:53. In total, daylight will span only seven hours and fifty minutes, and most of those will no doubt be overcast and/or wet; after all, we are talking about December. Does it make very much difference whether our lights are on for an extra hour in the mornings of those wintery days or for an extra hour in the evenings? I somehow doubt it.
William Willet's Sundial in Pett's Wood
Permanently showing BST

It might make a difference to mothers walking their small children home from school, though, that it gets dark at 5pm rather than at 4pm. I know it would have made a difference to me.

The biggest difference of all would have been not to shift time around at all. I realise that we’d very probably stick with Greenwich Mean Time and my winter evenings would be as dark as they’ve always been, but at least I wouldn’t get that sudden jolt into darkness that I suffer every October.

My children are all grown up now, but when they were small they suffered terribly when the clocks were changed. 

There’s a reason why the start of the autumn half-term holiday always falls on the weekend when the clocks change. It’s because it takes kids , and some adults, too, a while to adjust to that change. I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to expect young children to go through that change twice a year. I know my kids always suffered. I wonder how many good, productive school days are lost when the clocks change. I wonder how much teachers dread the weeks after those weekends at the ends of March and October. I wonder, too, how many working days are lost every year because of the clocks changing, because people arrive late to work, having forgotten to change their alarm clocks, because they’ve simply overslept, or because they take a duvet day to recover from the change over.

In 2016 we will have had a hundred years of British Summer Time. Perhaps we should mark the anniversary and then let this anachronistic practice die out.

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