Steve Connor: The dark nights return

Lab Notes

Everyone reading this should be aware by now that the dark, winter nights have "drawn in" like an unwelcome northerly breeze.

The clocks have gone back an hour and British Summer Time (BST) has transformed overnight into the dark evenings of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Living at the northerly latitude of the British Isles has its advantages in summer. The days are long, and twilight lingers on into late evening. But in winter, the northerly latitude inflicts short days, long nights and all the misery, both psychological and physical, that arrives with a scarcity of natural daylight.

How much better it would be if kept BST (which is GMT+1) through the winter, and put the clocks forward an extra hour in spring to GMT+2? This arrangement, known as "double BST", would mean more of our waking hours would be spent in daylight, both in summer and winter. We would also be in the same time zone as our European neighbours.

The arguments for abandoning GMT get rehearsed almost as often as the clocks are changed. The inhabitants of northern Scotland are said not to like the idea, although opinion polls suggest that Scots overall are evenly divided on the topic. In England and Wales, similar polls show that 75 per cent of the population would favour the change.

Time has never been the fixed entity that we often imagine it to be. Prior to 1916, Britain enjoyed – if that is the word – GMT all year round. Then in the midst of the First World War, where saving fuel and money was a priority, the British government passed the Summertime Act: the clocks were put forward an hour in spring, and back again in autumn.

The idea of making better use of summer's daylight had in fact been proposed several years earlier, but it had taken the crisis of a war to bring about the change. A Surrey builder called William Willett was incensed to find everyone still in their beds on his early morning horse rides through his local Petts Wood, and campaigned tirelessly for the clocks to be put forward in summer. A memorial to him can still be seen in Petts Wood in the form of a sundial set to BST.

During the Second World War, again to save fuel and money, Britain adopted "double BST", but it was abandoned after the end of the war and the Summertime system returned.

Between 1968 and 1971, the government again experimented with the nation's time. It introduced GMT+1 all year round (labelling this system, confusingly enough, "British Standard Time"). When the experiment ended, the Home Office carried out an exhaustive review of the pros and cons, only to rule that the costs of being an hour ahead of GMT all year long outweighed the benefits.

Safety campaigners and environmentalists want the experiment to be repeated with modern methods of evaluating the possible benefits of ridding us of GMT and moving either to BST or to "double BST".

Mayer Hillman, a retired senior fellow at the Policy Studies Institute in London, estimates that the change would increase the opportunities for outdoor leisure activities at the end of each day, improving the health and general wellbeing of the nation.

Getting rid of GMT would produce, in view of our sleeping habits, an additional 300 hours of daylight for adults each year, and an additional 200 hours for children, Dr Mayer says in the current issue of the British Medical Journal. Adopting this change to the clocks is a remarkably easy way of better aligning our waking hours with the available daylight, he says.

We cannot, of course, change the amount of total daylight hours we get in winter, unless we all relocate to a more southerly latitude! But at least we can make the evenings less oppressive – even if it is at the expense of darker mornings (when most of us are still in our beds anyway).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'