Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Damn stupid time

There's a curious need to believe that your countrymen must have invented every important thing. It's particularly strong among imperial powers. The British emphasis on their own achievements has waned noticeably, as the British empire fades into history; but America and China are both insistent and singleminded in teaching their children that their country did everydamnthing.

Take submarines, for instance. The first working submarine was built by a Dutchman living in England; the first one to be of any practical use in war was invented by an American living in France. Dutch, British, American and French schoolkids each hear about whichever invention fosters their national pride. Later in life, adults who like to think of themselves as well-rounded Renaissance Europeans point to the fanciful drawings of Leonardo da Vinci, who is sometimes claimed to have invented practically everything - despite never having built any of it. Then, inevitably, some idiot Chinese historian pops up and announces that China was developing them in the 13th century.

Or electricity. Every American schoolchild learns that Ben Franklin invented electricity by flying a kite in a thunderstorm. Britons may hear that story in passing, but it's not nearly as important as the contributions of William Gilbert (who invented the word, roundabout 1600), or Michael Faraday. Danes learn the name of Ørsted, Germans of Siemens, French of Ampere, Italians Volta, and practically everyone claims Tesla for their own.

And so I wasn't surprised to find an American website claiming, in all apparent seriousness, that Ben Franklin invented the idea of daylight savings time.

But I acquit Franklin. He thought he was joking. The fact that some people took him seriously says more about his ponderous sense of humour than any active ill-will on his part.

I am ashamed to say that this particular invention can be more convincingly laid at the door of a New Zealander. George Vernon Hudson was an entomologist, who wanted more time after his shift to go bug-hunting.

Independently, a few years later, an Englishman strolling through the streets of Croydon one summer morning was appalled at how everyone was still in bed. With the unfailing paternalistic instinct of the Victorian do-gooder, he devoted the rest of his life to campaigning to force everyone else out of their beds to enjoy the morning quiet.

It took the Great War to make people listen to him.

Of course "total war" justifies a lot of things. In terms of the impositions made at such a time, setting one's clock forward an hour seems pretty mild. But ninety years later, we still have this idiotic institution. Every year at this time, an hour gets stolen from our lives, to be returned in autumn when we will least appreciate it.

And that's why Susan is now getting up in the dark (again) and walking around like a zombie all day; that's why I'm trying to force myself to go to bed while my body is still screaming that it's wide awake.

It's not really Hudson's fault, or Willett's. They lived in a very different world from ours - a world of mass employment in factories, shift working, and where artificial lighting was an expensive luxury.

Today? We have no-one to blame but our own politicians - the same people whose idea of an early start is getting out of bed before 9 a.m.

Why, oh why, can't we just forget the whole thing?


HiStandards said...

Huh! I'd completely forgotten about the time change. As it happens, I'll be on vacation when we fall back this year, so I'll get an extra hour of all-inclusive, pre-paid holiday. I guess I won't grumble.

Eric Lester said...

Thanks to GeorgeII we don't change til 1 November, an adjustment which is somehow supposed to save energy.

Daylight saving time is one of the stupidest non-lethal practices of modern so-called civilization.

Anonymous said...

What everybody said. Put together.


Nodressrehearsal said...

I thought daylight savings had something to do with farmers and crops and the milking of cows and needing school-aged children home to help with the chores...

It's amazing how darkness seems to suck the energy out of us... a few months ago we'd be finishing up dinner at 8:00 and going back out to putter in the gardens. Now we're practically ready for bed by 7:30.

vet said...

HS, you know it's just the same hour that was stolen from you back in spring. Good on you for getting it built into your holiday, though.

Eric: "saving energy" is the alleged rationale for the whole mess. And there are indeed studies showing that this happens. But those studies date back to about 1976. More recent ones show the opposite effect.

SC: I thought I'd strike a chord with this one. Thanks for stopping by. :o)

NDR: As I understand it - and I have to admit I'm a bit hazy on this - farmers, in this country at least, are in the forefront of the movement that says the whole thing is a complete waste of effort. They work to daylight, not the clock. The milk lorry coming an hour earlier - does them no favours at all.

The worst kind of darkness, as far as I'm concerned, is the kind you get up in. I have no problem with dark in the evening, but dark in the morning is downright depressing.

Anonymous said...

Hear, Hear!

btw, you just reminded me ... this is the time of year to migrate to your hemisphere for better daylight.

Deadlyjelly said...

Yanno, if you feel that strongly about it (and evidently you can generate a fair amount of passion on the subject), why don't you campaign for daylight standard universal time? I would endorse your petition. I don't have the same depth of feelings on DST, but I don't have anything else much on, and I would be happy to support you cos you're cool. Just let me know where to sign.


Deadlyjelly said...

BY the way, I never knew William Gilbert invented the word 'roundabout'.

Great word.

He should be more widely renowned. Go Billy.


vet said...

bahumbug, you are of course most welcome to visit our lovely hemisphere sometime in the next six months. If you can afford it, what with the unstoppable yeasty rise of our dollar...

DJ, thank you for your endorsement. I think, if I'd started the petition this week, pretty much everyone I know would've signed up straight off. But now I'll probably have to wait another year to get the same sort of opportunity again.