Tempus Fugit

7 April 2022

Tempus Fugit

But which way?

By Robert Kilconner

His cows didn’t like it. That was one of the shots fired by a farmer in the perennial battle over whether or not the clocks should move forwards and backwards in spring and autumn or whether we should remain locked in perpetual summer time. I suppose he must have been a dairy farmer because beef cattle grazing at discretion are probably not all that aware of the time in any event. In fact if they were they would probably be all in favour of winter time since slaughterhouses operating by the clock it might extend their existence for an hour – and if not them, well, some of the friends. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls”. Moo.

No, it must be dairy cattle he had in mind and here you can see that there is a serious point. Milking time is clearly an important social event – just compare those queues of lady cows waiting in a field with those which form outside a local bring-and-buy sale just before it opens. All tension and adrenaline, eh? Move that forwards or backwards by an hour and it will certainly be noticed. Still, it is not entirely clear why the farmer had to follow the official change. He could adjust by moving milking time forwards or backwards to compensate. The cows probably would not notice unless their field overlooked a church clock and there would be a marketing advantage too. As well as describing his milk as organic he could label it “time-change free”. No one would know what he was talking about but, if he put the price up and a sundial emblem on the label, someone in north London would be prepared to pay extra for it. “No, Harry, I don’t know exactly what it means but any interference with nature ruins a product.”

Being in New Zealand at the moment I am very conscious of the time difference. Two weeks ago we were 13 hours ahead of the UK so that 9.30am there was 10.30pm here. That provided a useful cushion for businesses in the UK because if they didn’t answer their telephones till 10am it would become 11pm here, an hour at which angry calls asking why things haven’t been done seem less urgent. On the other hand, a 9am NZ breakfast call would hit the UK at 8pm, bang in the middle of dinner.  Well now it has all moved round. At 11 hours ahead 6.30pm in the UK is 5.30am here, the perfect excuse for ducking all those early evening committee meetings of which those arranging local events are so fond. Need to ring someone on a difficult topic? What about at 9:30am here? They will answer at 10.30 in the evening, making it possible to filibuster until they run out of energy – rather as they do in the American legislature.  But the best change is for calls to UK offices. Ring the Council at 9.30am and get the reply that they will come back to you in half an hour and, rather than setting an alarm to wake yourself in the middle of the night, you can simply drink another whisky while you read a book.

It’s all very satisfactory and the advantage lies with the country on wintertime. All in all, the farmer and his cows could not have got it more wrong.

Cover page image: Jon Tyson / Unsplash

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