Sandy’s Garden ... Sunrise, Sunset

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I wonder, gentle reader, if you are aware of a matter concerning the rising of the sun?

During the past summer, the European Union conducted a poll among all of its citizens … including us here in the United Kingdom … to ascertain our views on daylight saving time? No, neither was I during the summer. And I wonder if you are aware of the result? Well, if not … and I suspect that a great many people are not … then I will tell you. In the public consultation, 84% of 4.6 million respondents called for ending the spring and autumn clock change, meaning that we would no longer set our clocks forward one hour on the last Sunday in March, to what we call British Summer Time (BST) and then set them back one hour on the last Sunday in October to what most of us still call Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), although international time zones are now reckoned by their deviation from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). But more of that later.

“British Summer Time was first established by the Summer Time Act 1916, after a campaign by builder William Willett. His original proposal was to move the clocks forward by 80 minutes, in 20-minute weekly steps on Sundays in April and by the reverse procedure in September. In 1916, BST began on 21 May and ended on 1 October. Willett never got to see his idea implemented, for he died in early 1915,” to quote Wikipedia. Canada, then a member of the British Empire quickly followed suit, followed by other countries in the British Empire and by countries in what was then called the German Empire. The argument was that the scheme made more sense for farmers, enhanced the lives of working people by giving them more time to enjoy summer evenings and, presumably as a result of a happier work-force, increased productivity in factories and offices.

It was not until the 1970s that Daylight Saving Time (DST) was standardized across the European Union (EU), with a reversion to GMT every autumn, although the UK had experimented with year-round BST between 27 October 1968 and 31 October 1971. During these three years, as a result of a consultation involving 180 national organisations, Britain remained on GMT+1 throughout the entire year. The results of this experiment were inconclusive and we returned to the practice of changing the clocks twice yearly. Today, clocks throughout the European Union must be moved forward by an hour on the last Sunday in March and back on the last Sunday in October, although this does not mean that all EU countries set their clocks to one standard time. Western European Time and Greenwich Mean Time are the same as UTC. Central European Time is UTC + 1 hour, Eastern European Time is UTC + 2 hours and Further-Eastern European Time is UTC + 3 hours.

And in future? By far the biggest response to the EU poll was in Germany where 3.79% of the population voted – yes, that’s one person in 25. Here in the UK 0.02% of us expressed our views – uh-huh, one person in every 500! And on this basis EU President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “Millions believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen.” It seems very possible that, at 3.00 a.m. on 28 October, Europeans will turn their clocks back for the last time. If, post-Brexit, we stay with DST year-round, the sun won’t rise in Falkirk until a quarter to 10 on Christmas Day 2019 and will set at quarter to 6. In 2020 it will be the middle of March before someone who leaves the house at 8.30 to go to work will see his or her garden lit by the first rays of the sun. I remember those days between 1968 and 1971 when everyone who worked a 9-5 day went to work in the dark for months on end. Yes, it was later in the afternoon before the darkness came down – but I much prefer my garden in the morning light. Could our ability to ignore this EU proposal be a Brexit blessing?