Europe is seriously mulling terminating the practice of moving the clock forward by one hour in spring and turning it back in autumn. The time changes are having detrimental effects on health and agricultural practices involving animals, it is said. A survey of European citizens, answered mostly by Germans, revealed that 80% of respondents prefer to keep the same time throughout the year – either “summer time” or the standard astronomical “winter” time.
I’m not sure I like the idea of doing away with the time changes. I would probably have voted to keep the present system. I’ve become used to summer evenings being sunlit till late, and to an early onset of darkness in winter while snuggled up on the sofa watching TV. I wouldn’t wish to give up going out for a long walk in the countryside on a balmy summer evening, starting at 8.00 pm, safe in the knowledge of a full 2 hours of daylight still to go. Much of the attraction of spring is that daylight lasts until late for the next six months. Neither do I like the idea of sunrise at 4 am during summer months, which will be the result of keeping the same “winter” time throughout the year. Discarding putting the clock forward by one hour during summer is not a good idea, as far as I’m concerned.
Could we have the cake and eat it, then? Stay one hour forward the whole year? Bad idea, again. This would mean the sun will only rise in mid-morning, around 9.30 am or even later, in the dark months of December and January. Too late, if you ask me.
And yet, it seems we’re going to have to opt either for permanent summer time or permanent winter time to avoid the harmful effects of two changeovers every year. A traumatic experience, it seems, for most of us manifesting itself in sleeping one hour less in the last Sunday of March, when we move the clock forward in the middle of the night between Saturday and Sunday, and sleeping one hour extra in the last Sunday of October, when we turn the hour back.
Such is not the case for me, however, either in March or October. The solution is quite simple, in fact. I just delay switching the time. Officially, the switch occurs at 2 am early Sunday morning. Most people move their watches and clocks by one hour before going to sleep, which does really imply they’ll sleep for one hour less during the March changeover. But for me it’s different. I don’t move anything. I avoid any morning appointment on the last Sunday of March. I wake up as my body and the ambient light dictate, take the obligatory coffee, et cetera. Later, during Sunday, I move the clocks and watches forward by one hour. Rather than sleeping one hour less, I will be staying awake for one hour less.
I repeat the same trick in late October. This time, changing the hour back during the day means that I’ll be staying awake for an extra hour. In practice, it means that I will feel tired earlier than usual on Sunday evening. An early “good night” will be followed by an early and sprightly good morning on Monday.
Coming to Denmark on the eve of the change back to winter time I had a bright idea. As we all know, winter time means that all of a sudden we have to get used to darkness by 5 pm. Not very convenient if you wish to explore a country, like Gianluca and I had decided to do. But did we really have to move our clock back? Well, no! While the rest of Europe moved their clocks and watches back by one hour, these two European citizens defied the rest of the continent and refused to change the time. We all know that one tends to wake up late while on holiday, so it would be more convenient for us if the sun rose late in the morning (while we were wasting time – in my opinion – in bed) and stayed above the horizon for an extra hour in the evening before all-consuming darkness pushed us back inside.
We kept this up for two to three days. In the meantime, our smart phones were too smart for our own good and automatically switched themselves back to GMT+1 hour. So did my good old GPS, the best GPS in the world if you exclude Google maps. So did, of course, the rest of Europe including our loved ones in Malta, with whom we were in contact through a thousand apps. So did the Danish shops, restaurants and so on. Whereas inside our own bubble, time, an artificial construct if ever there were any, was defined as GMT+2 hours, in the rest of our universe it was GMT+1, and we were far from isolated from the rest of our universe. So for two to three days we maintained a sort of parallel dual time regime – our own time, Gianluca’s and mine, carried over from summer, and the new winter time adopted by the rest of Europe. A transition period, if you like. By Wednesday I had to give up the pretence and go along with the flow. This was a strong indicator of the nature of keeping time: a humanity-wide exercise in synchronicity. It’s very difficult if not impossible to interact with the rest of the world while straying away from agreed convention. Just look at the UK trying to extricate itself from the European Union.
What we have done this last week, in Denmark, is similar to my trick of delaying the time change into the day after, with the difference that this time the delaying tactic was extended into the following week instead of just the following day.
So I woke up at 7 am (or should I say 6 am?) to put my trick into practice the first morning on Sunday, following our arrival in Kollund, just across the border from Germany into Denmark. While Gianluca languished in bed I went out for a bracing, chilly walk heading east to look for a nearby hotel that might be serving breakfast. A path from the side of the road led to a small beach. As the sun was rising from behind Germany across the water, I came across this view.
Hardly anyone else was able to appreciate it: they were busy enjoying their “one hour extra” of sleep. I gave up on the hotel and walked back to Gianluca at the Airbnb.
Breakfast could wait.