“The nights are fair drawing in” is a well-known Scottish phrase, usually uttered with a slight wistfulness given it heralds the approach of winter and shorter days. The annual practice of putting the clocks back also tends to bring this into sharper focus. So, why do we turn the clocks back in autumn and put them forward in spring?
I found an interesting article on BBC Bitesize which explained that far from being done for a scientific reason, the idea was first entertained because some people thought that by sleeping throughout daylight in the summer, the day was being wasted.
Benjamin Franklin - inventor, philosopher and American political heavyweight - first proposed the idea in 1784, but it didn’t actually resurface until 1895, when New Zealand scientist George Vernon Hudson unsuccessfully proposed to his government that the clocks should go forward by two hours every summer.
The concept really took off when a builder called William Willett (who just so happens to be the great-great-grandfather of Coldplay frontman Chris Martin) campaigned in Britain to change the clocks. However he failed to get it through Parliament, and it was actually in spring 1916 during World War One that the German army turned the clocks forward, as a way of conserving energy. Many European governments (including the UK) then adopted the practice.
Today opinions are mixed on the benefits of changing the clocks. Some people say that changing them twice a year upsets the natural rhythm of sleep, which can lead to health problems. Certainly in Scotland the argument is made that darker mornings in winter would be more unsafe, particularly on the roads. Also the agricultural industries rely on sunlight to optimise their efficiency and productivity.
I heard the other day about a man in Ireland who never changes his clocks, and everyone just works round this.
As a child I remember an old family friend who lived in a remote rural cottage. I was fascinated by the grandfather clock in her living room. She always kept it running fast – and I have abiding memories of my dad’s parting refrain which was always “How fast is your clock Peggie?” Her response was usually “Oh about 15 minutes or so.” I never found out why she did this, but wonder if rural life is more attuned to daylight hours rather than specific hours on a clock.
"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
On a not dissimilar vein, I confess to not adjusting the clock in my car. I have two clocks – one linked to the audio system which changes automatically, but the other one needs to be adjusted manually. Somehow this always escapes my attention but for the next six months at least it will be accurate!
Time has also played a keen role for me in the past month, with three family birthdays – my grandson’s my elder daughter’s and my own.
"Our birthdays are feathers in the broad wing of time.”
Jean Paul Richter
My gift from the family is a beautiful 16-year-old Fruiting Chinese Sweet Plum Indoor Bonsai. At approximately 40cm it is a stunning example of bonsai art, and has already taken pride of place on a table which came from my childhood home.
I did my research before deciding on the type and size, and also looked at the various ethical pros and cons of bonsai cultivation.
Happily, it seems that the time and care needed to look after a bonsai far outweigh any ethical concerns around harming the tree. So I have no qualms that I am somehow trying to manipulate time or constrain the growth of my miniature tree.
The Sweet Plum symbolises protection, health and wishes. It also signifies new life, renewal and creativity, so it feels like the perfect birthday gift.
"None are as old as those who have outlived enthusiasm."
Henry David Thoreau