31 October, 2010
The clocks "went back" last night, giving us the illusion that we could this morning enjoy the luxury of "an extra hour in bed" and still go about our business at our "usual time" although, if we could see it through the clouds, we might notice that the Sun was considerably higher in the sky this morning than it was at the "same time" yesterday. If we contrive to keep our wits about us throughout the day, we may also notice that "the nights are suddenly drawing in" earlier than we might otherwise have expected.
Readers of Cycles in Time will realise that the Sun sets the time for the entire Earth and that artificially attempting to depart from the Sun's time can result only in complications.
Every year at this time, "regular as clockwork", there is a clamour from various pressure groups and some Members of Parliament seeking to keep what they call "summer time" (ST or GMT-1 hour) throughout the winter and introduce "double summer time" (DST or GMT-2 hours) from April to September, supposedly in the interests of what they call "daylight saving".
Can it be that all such people have become so used to street-lighting that they distinguish night from day only when they wish to visit the countryside for recreational purposes? Have they forgotten, did they never know, or do they not care where their food comes from?
Of course, population density in urban areas is such that "clockwork" townspeople in the over-crowded United Kingdom are incomparably more numerous than "natural" country folk, and so have the collective power to exercise overwhelming "democratic" sway over the entire nation. To help them do this, they take advantage of a population which has long been indoctrinated in school with a clockwork psychology that enables the few in "authority" to exercise a sort of Pavlovian control over the many who have become too mechanical to think for themselves. This augurs ill for the future of UK "democracy".
Let us briefly consider the "reasons" which are advanced for persuading the people that it is good for them to make a habit of getting up an hour or two earlier in the morning:
There are many reasons why people might want to be out and about at any time, and I can think of no reason why any self-respecting adult should tamely submit to the tyranny of a government-constrained clock and thus be reduced to a robot.
We live in a world of relativity, and some standard of time is needed so that individuals may willingly co-operate with each other in an orderly manner. There is, however, absolutely no need for governments to impose an artificial time on everyone in the country regardless of their local circumstances and freely-negotiated contracts and agreements.
Before the United Kingdom was physically "united" by the railways, every locality had its own time. It was local noon when the Sun was at its highest point in the sky. No one could travel very far in one day using horse-drawn vehicles, but "high-speed" rail made it seem like a good idea to reduce time-confusion by adopting a national "clocktime". Thus Greenwich Mean Time was adopted as standard by the Railway Clearing House in 1847 and by the whole island of Great Britain in 1880.
Similarly, adoption of a standard time for the entire Earth helps make airline timetables more readily intelligible.
But real people do not enjoy being at the mercy of other people's schedules. This accounts for the universal popularity of the private motor vehicle which makes individuals less dependent on arbitrary timetables. The Internet further extends individual liberty by making it possible to transact business anywhere in the world without ever consulting the clock.
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is now generally accepted as being equivalent to Coordinated Universal Time (UCT) and people throughout the world have long been setting their clocks and watches by the "pips" of the "Greenwich Time Signal" broadcast on the BBC World Service. It defines noon as the mean time over the course of the year when the Sun passes over the "Greenwich Meridian", i.e. zero degrees of longitude, the dividing line between East and West. So I see no good reason why we Brits should ever depart from what we ourselves have made a universal standard.
GMT is one of the few remaining signs that Britain was once a Great Power whose writ ran large over the oceans of the world. See John Harrison and the Longitude Problem. Having Greenwich recognised as the Prime Meridian was a notable victory for London over its French rival, Paris. I suspect that it is not so much lack of pride in British history as total ignorance of it that makes so many Britons careless of their national heritage in this and many other matters.
It is regrettable that even BBC announcers are sometimes rather careless about temporal matters. Forthcoming programmes are often advertised to be broadcast at such-and-such a time "am" or "pm", apparently overlooking the fact that there are as many as twenty-four different "am"s and "pm"s in the world depending on where the listener happens to be. Giving all times in GMT would eliminate ambiguity.
Some announcers have even fallen into the absurd habit of telling the time as so many "minutes past the hour" without bothering to specify the "hour". This is extremely irritating for people who awaken during the night and wonder "what the time is". Even if some of the overpaid employees of the BBC have developed a taste for expensive Swiss watches, that is no excuse for their going "cuckoo".
I therefore strongly recommend that the UK abandon the anachronistic practice of arbitrarily fiddling with the hands of the clock every now and then, and that GMT be re-adopted as the Standard for the United Kingdom throughout the year.
Then those who have no other pressing business can relax and enjoy themselves in the afternoon or evening if they so desire. The workers who have started early in the morning in order to get the country ready for the activities of the leisured late-risers may join them for a noggin or a game of something before retiring. All that is needed is mutual agreement about time and place.
Let us never forget that Noon is the same time as 1 pm in ST or 2 pm in DST: so why should anyone think it necessary to pretend to change the time of Noon once or twice a year?
Let us end this boring war of words once and for all, and eliminate a pointless cause of division in what purports to be a United Kingdom.