If we'd saved more daylight, we'd have lost our minds

Adjusting the clocks by an hour may be a drag, but some other proposals were real nightmares, says Jonathan Sale
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If you arrived at work an hour early today, it was probably because you didn't notice that the clocks went back yesterday. You failed to register that marvellous moment in the early hours of Sunday when 2am became 1am again. This gave us all an extra hour to play with, which was almost as good - or bad - as being Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. (He was doomed to relive the same day again and again until he broke out of the time warp by winning the love of a good actress - or, failing that, Andie MacDowell.)

Thanks to Seventh Directive 94/21/EC of the European Parliament and Council, this is the last year that the other EC nations finish their summer time three weeks earlier than us. We all, already, put our clocks forward on the same date in March. From 1996 Eurosceptics will be pleased to see that the rest of the EC follows the British date (not the other way round) in putting them back.

All that this means is that we all have our body rhythms disrupted at the same time. The clocks shift twice a year and every time it throws us. Cyclists discover they have no batteries for the lamps they suddenly need for going home after work. It is the real end not only of British Summer Time but of Britons' summertime.

The living ain't easy. Even if we adjust our bedside alarms, our body clocks fail to co-operate and we end up slightly jet-lagged, wanting to go to sleep early in November evenings and stay in bed longer on April mornings. It could be worse. During the Second World War, the introduction of "double summer time" forced everyone to get up two hours earlier than they would have done under Greenwich Mean Time, and in winter one hour earlier.

It could have been a great deal worse. In 1907 William Willett, a Chelsea builder, came up with the first serious proposal for "daylight saving" in Britain. His suggestion was that we shift the clock forward a total of 80 minutes - in stages of 20 minutes during spring and summer. In the autumn a baffled nation would presumably have had to put its watches back by 20 minutes a go until it could greet GMT again like a long-lost friend. This would have meant eight readjustments during the year - eight opportunities for trains to run late and people to become temporally disorientated.

At first the general feeling was that Willett should push off back to the building site where he belonged. But during the First World War it occurred to a government committee that if the nation's workers got up an hour earlier in the summer, they could put in an extra hour of war effort without having to waste fuel by turning the light on. Then, on 1 May 1916, the Germans struck: they put their clocks forward by 60 minutes.

On 21 May the plucky British timekeepers hit back and the hands of our clocks shot forward in response. This would have pleased Willett, except that the adjustment was, as now, a mere 60 minutes - and in one stage. Also, his own time having run out, he was already in the Great Building Skip in the Sky.

British Summer Time has been with us ever since, more or less. More, in the case of "Permanent Summer Time", which turned out to be not that permanent; in the winters of 1968, 1969 and 1970, British clocks remained resolutely an hour ahead of GMT to give lighter evenings. This benefited children coming home from school in the south of England, but people in the north of Scotland failed to see the point of spending half the morning in complete darkness.

Yet it could have been much, much worse. I once spoke to a man with a radical scheme called "Gloritime", which involved putting the clock forward by 15 minutes every Saturday night during the spring and early summer. Eventually we would find ourselves staggering up at what is now four in the morning, which would leave us an extra 367 hours a year of light evenings in which to recover. After an interval we would start cranking our clocks back by 15 minutes a week, until we returned to dear old GMT.

The time lord was explaining to me the details of how all this would be enforced throughout the EC, when he abruptly rushed off. He had already taken to living by his own Gloritime, getting up 15 minutes earlier every week, and it was for him practically suppertime - although it was only mid-afternoon by my watch. Time may have been on his side but no one else was.

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