Thursday, 28 October 2010

At War With Time

A friend once gave me a rather random Birthday gift – a wall clock with a homemade inverted face whose hands went backwards. Although somewhat perplexed but appreciative of this pointless gift, I didn't use it much - after all, twice a year life gets confusing enough, causing my body to go into revolt. Generally the clocks going forward is less traumatic. I'm aware this statement may sound a little strange to any SAD sufferer but it's the truth. The clocks going forward always seems to coincide with my sister's Birthday which means we're often out somewhere arguing over when the taxi is actually coming. One year was particularly disastrous but in an attempt to avoid completely embarrassing myself I'll avoid going into that one.

As the time draws near for the clocks to go forward, I find myself for the first time ever contemplating where this ritual comes from and who observes it. Why I have never pondered this before I have no idea. My rich friend google is quick to tell me that we are one of about 70 countries who utilize daylight saving hours – the Chinese and Japanese do their own thing and equatorial/tropical countries have no need for DST due to daylight hours remaining fairly constant regardless of season (see for maps for country lists).

Although ancient civilisations flexibly adjusted daily schedules and Mr Benjamin Franklin anonymously suggested something similar back in 1784, modern DST wasn't actually proposed until 1895 by the Kiwi Etymologist, George Vernon Hudson. The combination of his shift job and insect collecting hobby made him aware of the value of after-hours daylight and lead to several proposals to the Wellington Philosophical Society suggesting a two hour daylight saving shift.

A decade after Hudson's idea a British builder by the name of William Willett came up with a similar suggestion in 1905 after his dismay at the amount of Londoners sleeping through a large part of the summer day. Rather selfishly he also wanted to extend the day in order to avoid having to cut short his golf round at dusk. He drafted and published a proposal two years later that went to a Liberal MP but was repeatedly rejected right up to his death. It wasn't until World War One when the Germans introduced DST to try to conserve coal that Britain and the allies followed suit and countries across the world gradually wanted a piece of the action. Sure there have been plenty of readjustments since then but essentially the Germans are responsible for our biannual clock alterations.

Despite a yearly muddle, I am not complaining. I am just immensely grateful Benjamin Franklin's suggestions weren't too influential – taxing shutters, rationing the light source of his time and ringing church bells/ firing cannons at sunrise to wake the public. I'm far too much of a night owl to appreciate that last kind gesture. Pretty sure my dad wouldn't mind though!

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