Sunday 29 March 2015

Glorious Daylight Saving Time

As any fool knows, the world is run by people who get up early in the morning [citation needed] so it is surprising that Daylight Saving Time has lasted as long as it has. It is 99 years old in the UK but there are still those who object it, including farmers, Scottish highlanders and Peter Hitchens. The latter recently described this "mad annual ritual" as "lying about the time".

They will say that it is 9.00 a.m. when it is in fact 8.00.

Churches, shops cafes, railways, buses, TV stations and everyone else will join in the mass deception. You can stand aside if you like, but unless your life is totally private, you will (at the very least) inconvenience yourself.

Over the years, supporters of DST have made various empirical claims about energy conservation, road accidents and efficiency to defend their position. Opponents have countered with claims of their own. Some of these arguments are pertinent and can be debated sensibly. Others—such as saying that DST involves "lying about the time"—are preposterous, but they have a long pedigree.

There is a wonderful little book called Roads to Ruin by E.S. Turner (out of print these days, but secondhand copies are easy to find) which looks at fallacious and reactionary arguments made against sensible reforms in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The last chapter looks at Daylight Saving Time, a policy that many regarded as dangerously irresponsible and close to lunacy.

Amongst the dire warnings and hysterical objections made against moving the clocks forward were the following:

  • People wouldn't go to the theatre in broad daylight.
  • Cricket matches would finish too late for close-of-play results to appear in evening newspapers. 
  • It emulated the Germans.
  • Country squires would refuse to put their clocks forward. 
  • Few people would be awake at 2am to change their clocks.
  • It would encourage the working class to eat breakfast in the pub.
  • People would still wake up at the old time because they "know instinctively what hour it is."
  • Firework manufacturers would be put out of business (because firework displays would have to start at an inconveniently late hour).
  • It would harm the lighting industry.
  • People who used the sun to tell what time it was would be disadvantaged.
  • Likewise, people who used sun dials.
  • Businesses would "lose thousands of man-hours through workers forgetting to alter their clocks and arriving at their factories late."
  • It was "a plot to get the working classes out of bed earlier".

The commonest argument against DST, which is still heard today, is that if people want to see more daylight they should get up an hour earlier. There are two responses to this. The first is that it is more appropriate and practical to enjoy leisure time after work, not before it. The second is that the beauty of DST is that everyone can benefit from it, whether they wake up early or not.

Rather than complaining about people getting up too late, it could be argued that opponents of DST get up too early. Here's Peter Hitchens again...

If you are, like me, a habitual early riser who has been enjoying the steadily increasing amount of light in the early morning, the change will be an annoying nuisance. It was fully light around six. Now you will have to wait till seven o’clock for the same amount of light.

One man's meat is another man's poison. In my view, the fact that there is any sunlight, let alone full sunlight, at six o'clock in the morning while the night draws in before 7pm is proof of the need for DST. How many Britons are up and around to enjoy sunlight at 6am? Not many, I suspect, and for good reason.

A further objection is that supporters of DST believe that moving the clocks forward magically creates more hours of sunlight. Needless to say, we believe no such thing. It is just a question of whether you want more sunlight in the morning or more sunlight in the evening. Call me an old-fashioned utilitarian if you must (I'm not) but it seems fairer to have it when everybody is awake rather than when lots of people are asleep.

The campaign for DST was a one-man crusade by a man called William Willett (fun fact: he was the great, great grandfather of Coldplay's Chris Martin, who wrote a song called 'Clocks'). For the reasons given above, he was ignored and ridiculed for many years until a young(ish) Winston Churchill took the cause on as his own.

It is well known that Churchill was fond of a snooze. Willett, by contrast, was an early riser. As E.S. Turner recounts, he was... the habit of rising on horseback at seven in the morning - 'the most joyous hour of the day' - in the woods near his Chislehurst home. On his rides he met no one, except the odd labourer, postman or chimney sweep. As the years passed he became obsessed with the absurdity of the nation lying slumbering behind shutters during the brightest, freshest, most wholesome hours, and in the evenings striving, by artificial light, to catch up with the pursuits they had been unable to overtake through their tardy rising. Mankind had wandered far from the natural hours of sleeping and waking and was trying to fit its life to an artificial pattern of clocks and timetables. Over the generations the urban populations had tended to sleep in later and later, thanks to the invention of gaslight, the increasing range of amusements and the natural indolence of man.

Did this revelation lead him to cajoling his fellow man into rising earlier? Did he try to turn the clock back on modernity? As you already know, he didn't. He decided to turn the clock forward and, as far as I'm concerned, hallowed be his name.

DST came into effect on 21 May 1916. Sadly, William Willett had died the previous year. Winston Churchill predicted that a statue would be built to his memory some day. He hasn't got one yet, but there is a memorial sundial in his honour near Chislehurst.

In 1968, Daylight Summer Time was rolled out throughout the year, but the usual coalition of milkmen, farmers and Scots successfully lobbied against it and Greenwich Mean Time returned in 1971. Since farmers can get up when they want and the Scots want independence, and since there are hardly any milkmen left, perhaps next year's centenary of DST would be a good time to try again?


Christopher Snowdon said...

I'm a morning person rarely in bid after 6am, but I still like DST. When I was younger it meant I could play a cricket match after work and now it means I can play 18 holes of golf. When I lived in Yorkshire I used to love those few weeks when we could walk home in daylight after the pub closed.

I also remember the trial of all year round DST and I'm not convinced. It seemed odd sitting in a classroom in the dark in the morning whereas in the afternoon it seemed more natural, but its probably worth another go.

Christopher Snowdon said...

*It is just a question of whether you want more sunlight in the morning or more sunlight in the evening." Exactly, but I want to decide by myself, not be forced somebody a mass movement. There is no physical law that determines at what time daylight has to start, it changes even from day to day.

Christopher Snowdon said...

To my mind the current system is the best compromise. Those campaigning for BST all year round, or for Berlin Time, seem to ignore the fact that in most of the UK north or west of London it would mean people going to work or school for three months of the year in darkness. And, given that we already have long summer evenings due to our northerly latitude, we don't really need the extra hour from Berlin Time.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Exactly. You're never going to please everyone. Not least because Hitchens' line

They will say that it is 9.00 a.m. when it is in fact 8.00.

isn't true, unless you live on the Greenwich Meridian (which, given the shape of the country, almost nobody does). Even when GMT says it's 9.00am, in large parts of the country - Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol - it is in fact 8.45am or so. If we're going to standardize time across the whole country we might as well have DST too, because it's always a compromise.

Christopher Snowdon said...

I don't know for you, but in winter when I go for work or come back, it's always dark. DST doesn't alter the length of the day, it's the sun whot does it.

Christopher Snowdon said...

In Australia DST should be in the winter, not in the summer where it is already light late into the evening and very early in the morning. Never could figure that one out. Winter is when I'd love to finish work and still have an hour of daylight. In my state its even sillier as we don't have DLS, but most other states do. This means the time difference is now 3 hours, during DLS months, between the Eastern States and Western Australia. Makes for interesting times indeed.

Christopher Snowdon said...

I have no problem with DST / BST; we have the same system here in Greece and the clocks change on the same day as UK, albeit we're GMT / BST +2. My Problem is that with the proliferation of digital technology there seem to be more clocks than ever. (Frank Davis has written a post on this very aspect. And as he says, all these digital timepieces have a different system for altering the time. And six months is just about long enough to ensure that you've completely forgotten which system applies to which clock.

Now if some bright spark came up with a really cheap chip that manufacturers could include in the circuitry which would change the time automatically, like on computers, phones etc, I'm sure there would be a lot less resistance to the concept of putting the clocks back / forward. Because let's admit it, the business of tracking down every clock in the house and altering it is a real pain.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Now, with flexi time and digital tv and radio broadcasting, there is no barrier to the Scots just starting there day at a different time, if it suits them

Christopher Snowdon said...

We were given strips of hi-viz material material for our mothers to sew into bands (try asking them to do that now). One of the objections was morning road safety, I don't know whether there was good evidence.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Hang on, there's two distinct issues here
1. Is it better to have light after work or before (or both)?
2. Is it sensible to change the clocks twice a year?

The reason that the work day is broadly shared before and after midday is because historically it made sense to work in the times of maximum light. That generally remains true for agricultural work but not for office work. [I concede that people prefer to sit by the office windows].

We didn't have a national time at all until the arrival of railway timetables. Before then time was determined locally and varied across the country.

We could, notionally, achieve the same objective by us all agreeing to start work earlier and then company by company, post by post the start time being adjusted. However conventions take a long time to shift. When I was at school they talked about staggered work days becoming common during my working life as a solution to traffic jams and crowded trains. It hasn't happened yet.

Disregarding questions about why should the state determine the time at all, I would prefer the light in the evenings but I see little value in changing the clocks twice a year. I would vote for permanent summer time.