Clear As Daylight – The clocks are going back!

Posted on October 23rd, 2015 by

Picture of hands on a clock

In the UK the clocks will “go back” at 2am on Sunday, October 25th. This marks the end of BST (British Summer time) – in case you hadn’t noticed it was over – when we Britons return to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and get lighter winter mornings; plus an extra hour in bed (or a shorter night out clubbing if that’s your thing!).

This year, October 25th has been designated “National Sleep-In Day”.  The Sleep Council has issued some tips to help parents and young children adjust to the time change:

  • to help adapt to the lighter mornings, use thicker curtains to darken bedrooms
  • over a few days beforehand, delay bedtime in 10 minute stages
  • keep to routines: get ready in the same order, pyjamas on, tooth brushing, toilet, bedtime story
  • turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime to help reduce distractions
  • give milky, warm drinks to encourage sleepiness
  • avoid energising drinks and food in the lead up to bedtime

For adults, the main tasks associated are the adjustment of all those clocks and timers around the house. When do you do it? My mild OCD usually kicks in on Friday night/Saturday morning – so we often spend a day out of sync at the start of this particular weekend…

All this is rendered extra stressful by the fact that many items like the heating and oven don’t do it automatically, like your laptop (roll on the Internet of Things!). There’s even the paranoia about getting the direction right: but at least there’s a helpful mnemonic for that: “Spring forward, Fall back”.

At this point, it’s time to ask my biannual question: why do we bother? Well, even though the nights draw in and out gradually, there is a quite a “light deficit” built up by BST. In the UK, the maximum 16 hours and 50 minutes of sunlight on the summer solstice (the longest day in June) fades to a mere seven hours and 40 minutes by the winter solstice in December.

The argument for getting some light back in Summer and Winter is usually based on safer school journeys, the reduction in traffic accidents, energy savings, the boost to tourism and the health benefits of more outdoors time to exercise. For just one example, back in the 1980s, golf industry researchers estimated that one extra month of daylight savings generated up to $400 million (£246.6 million) a year in extra sales and fees.

Naturally, there are just as many critics of the adjustments and the debate about time has consumed a lot of its subject over the years, with divisions along industry sector, political and national lines all involved (the Scots are especially against changing the current system, which has been in place since 1972 – with a lot of confusing variations since it was first implemented nearly 100 years ago).

Picture of a man looking sad with a pillow and alarm clock

Remember that what we’re doing on Sunday is going back to the “proper” time – GMT. So why did we “go forward” to BST in the first place? and when? (relatively speaking).

The idea of British Summer Time, also known as Daylight Saving Time, was originally introduced in England by William Willett, from Bromley in Surrey, as a way of preventing people from wasting valuable hours of light during summer mornings.

Willett published a pamphlet in 1907 called “The Waste of Daylight” to advance his case that we should all get up earlier on long Summer days. He proposed that the clocks should go forward 80 minutes during April, in four incremental steps; then go back the same way over September.

Supporters for Willett’s proposal argued that his scheme could reduce domestic coal consumption and increase the supplies available for manufacturing and the war effort. Nevertheless, it took a long time to convince us it was a good idea. Britain didn’t get round to setting the clocks forward – at 11pm on May 21st 1916 – until a month after the Germans; and a year after Willett’s death from influenza at the age of 58.

His efforts are variously commemorated: there is a memorial sundial set to Daylight Saving Time in Petts Wood, near Bromley – where there is also a road called Willett Way and a pub called The Daylight Inn. Meanwhile, on Coldplay’s 2002 album “A Rush of Blood to the Head” (bear with me) there is one song called “Clocks” and another called “Daylight”. The singer Chris Martin also happens to be William Willett’s great-great-grandson.

The main reason we finally adopted Daylight Saving Time was, of course, the First World War, which we had been fighting against the Germans since 1914. It created conditions in which any system that would make people available to join the home effort for longer hours was worth a go.

Picture of a digital clock

When the Summer Time Act of 1916 came into force, clocks were commonly built so that the hands could not be turned back (as a few still are). Indeed, like today’s “advanced” digital clocks, the adjustment was only forwards – so when Summer Time came to an end, most people had to put their clocks forward by 11 hours. As with the Sleep Council this year, The Home Office at the time issued advice (in the form of posters) telling people how to reset their clocks to GMT, with national newspapers also making a feature of it.

Things don’t change much after all, when it comes to the hassle… But the benefits are dramatic and many countries in the Northern Hemisphere now observe DST. According to David Prerau, author of “Saving the Daylight: Why We Put the Clocks Forward,” daylight saving “affects everything from Mid-East terrorism to the attendance at London music halls, voter turnout to street crime, gardening to the profits of radio stations.”

EU countries which synchronise their DST include the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Bulgaria, Norway and Switzerland. A few countries don’t use DST at all: Russia, Iceland, Georgia, Armenia and Belarus.

In the UK the clocks will next “go forward” to BST at 1am on Sunday, March 27, 2016. Until then, I hope you find the adjustments comfortable – and enjoy the lie-in!

How do you intend to use your extra hour?  Get in touch and let us know!