11 Days to go

I’ve never liked the winter. It’s not so much the cold that gets me but the disappearance of daylight. It has always put me in a bad mood, and learning to recognise this recurring pattern made me more aware of it – which in turn has made me even more miserable over the years.

Appropriately this phenomenon is called SAD and puts millions of people every year into varying degrees of depression by December. I feel it as a total lack of energy: all the things I can do in the summer are extra difficult and take twice as long in the winter, or in the period leading up to it. It’s like my body is going into survival or hibernation mode.

Fiddling with the clocks every now and again really does not alleviate this much.

Having said that, this year I have felt that the change from summer time to winter time was a godsend. I started getting up later and later ever since September, 9:30 or 10am wasn’t rare for me. In the summer I can rise at 5am or 6am without problems, but it becomes really hard in the winter.

When we switched our clocks back this weekend, my getting up time didn’t change – but what it said on the clock matched more what it felt like, which made me feel much better. Come to think of it, had we not meddled with the clocks in the first place, there would have been no need for me to feel bad since September.

I have never liked the clock changes in my life. I always thought it was a ridiculous idea, one that doesn’t do anything other than confuse people.

We give up a fictitious amount of time during the last weekend in March, we don’t earn interest on it while it’s gone, so we’re practically being legally robbed. 7 months later we get it back (by which time we’ve forgotten that the hour was ever gone). And it’s not “half the year” either: summer apparently lasts for a long 7 months, while winter is only 5 months short and hence “not so bad at all”.

Who came up with the idea that in the Northern Hemisphere summer is longer than in the Southern Hemisphere? Idiotic desk jockeys, that’s who!

It took me years to figure out when the clocks change back and forth, something that may have partly been related to less streamlined rules for those arbitrary dates in the past. I’ve heard great stories of ancient times in the eighties and nineties where Britain, desperate to be different, would change a week or so later than the rest of Europe.

I finally worked it out: we change clocks forward on the last weekend in March and back on the last weekend in October. As a rule of thumb, as my wife taught me: spring = forward, fall = backward (it’s OK do use an Americanism when you’re remembering something – but drop it into a British conversation and you get mocked… go figure).

In Germany we change to summertime at 2am Sunday morning, skipping ahead to 3am. Then we change back to wintertime at 3am, going back to 2am to relive that hour.

When I told my wife these times she wouldn’t believe me. She was adamant that the change would occur one hour earlier, at 1am and 2am respectively. I could have sworn all our newspapers had hammered it into us from a young age that my times were correct, but my wife doesn’t make these things up – so which one of us was right?

Turns out we both were: our times change at exactly the same moment, which of course is one hour later in Europe and one hour earlier in the UK. Who would have thought, ey? Another big mystery solved. Phew!

But why are we changing clocks in the first place?

“Well it’s for the farmers you know, they get more daylight” I remember hearing, not that I can name witnesses here. They’ve probably been taken away to faraway places by now. What a load of rubbish: by fiddling with the time we’re creating more daylight, are we? By that assumption we could have periods of 24 hour sunlight and never experience nights anymore if we didn’t want them.

I suppose what they mean is that by turning the clocks forward, it slightly evens out our perception of when the day starts (ie the sun rises). To be honest, I”m still trying to figure out what exactly they mean and how the farmers are benefitting. For all I care they can get up and go to sleep anytime they like.

As I understand it, here’s why we have daylight savings time in a nutshell:

Over 100 years ago some people observed that by fiddling with the clocks the stupid people of earth would be forced to experience more daylight in the morning. It would magically be light when they get up and they wouldn’t sleep through the early summer mornings. Likewise it would be light by the time they left their jobs, meaning less need for street lights and hence a saving of money. More daylight would also improve public happiness and – more importantly – build better weapons with which to kill people.

Governments were always thinking of people first. I like that!

Fact is that we are losing between 2 and 4 minutes of daylight every day from July to December in the UK. That’s huge! In only 15 days we can lose as much as an entire hour of daylight. At the height of summer we get 16 and a half hours of daylight, compared to not even 7 full hours at the depth winter. Check out these links if you don’t believe me:

No wonder many of us suffer from SAD: we’re being robbed of half our sunlight! The sun is the giver of life, so we’re practically getting killed here. We have to get by on 50% of the energy as before, compensating with more food and Eggnog Latte at Starbucks (which I don’t touch it anymore since I found out it’s delivered in white unmarked packets from the Dharma Initiative).

The older I get the more aware of what the lack of sunlight during the winter months does to me and my wellbeing. Therefore a drastic change is in order.

Let’s compare the UK day length with Florida, where the difference between summer and winter days is much smaller: In the summer the average sunlight period is just under 14 hours, and in the depth of the winter it’s still 10 and a half hours:

It’ll be interesting to see how that makes me feel once I’ve experienced it for a few years. Maybe I still get those bouts of energylessness. My hunch is that less drastic changes will be better for my wellbeing.

I’ll hang in here for a few more days and then I’ll find out.

And I’ll let you know what an Eggnog Latte is like at the beach.

As to why we actually do it I think nobody really knows. Take a look at this article on Wikipedia with all the facts about when it started, why people proposed it and that it may have been a good idea in late 1800.

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