Sunday, March 25, 2018

Springing Forwards: Daylight Saving Time

Zoë Sharp

When I woke up this morning, my phone and my laptop both knew that the clocks had gone forward by an hour to herald the start of British Summer Time, or Daylight Saving Time, whichever you prefer. It's a novelty to have old-fashioned clocks you still have to reset by hand.

Only the British weather itself doesn’t seem to have cottoned on to the fact that we’re supposed to be heading for summer, with forecasts of more ice and snow for Easter.

I suppose the advantage of calling it Daylight Saving Time is that it doesn’t get our hopes up for an actual summer, which might include shedding our great coats and being unpicked from our winter underwear.

Sadly, most of us fail to look like this in our winter underwear.
And it's a sign of my age that my first thought it, 'Ooh, he'll catch his death, lifting his vest up like that!'
We have been fiddling with our clocks, spring and autumn, in the UK since April 1916, when it was part of an effort to save fuel for the war effort. Before this, it had been a localised affair, with the inhabitants of Port Arthur, Ontario (now Thunder Bay) resetting their clocks by an hour in July 1908.

Three years prior to that, a British builder by the name of William Willett suggested adding 20 minutes a week to the time on every Sunday in April, and subtracting it again on every Sunday in September.

William Willett
Member of Parliament, Robert Pearce, took Willett’s plan before the House of Commons in 1908, but it was opposed and didn’t make it into law until eight years later. Sadly, this was a year after William Willett’s death, so he never saw his idea make it into reality.

Robert Pearce, MP
The idea of altering time according to the seasons dates back to the Romans, however, who used solar clocks. A sundial shows the true solar time, because the earth’s rotation varies.

Human sundial. (human not included)
Around 70 countries currently switch to DST each year, and this alters the name of the time zone they happen to be in, usually adding the word ‘daylight’ or ‘summer’, which can have the effect of different time zones appearing to be operating on the same time. In fact, they are on the same local time, rather than the same time zone. Confused? You will be …

Time itself is calculated from the prime meridian at Greenwich in London, which is the starting point both for the International Date Line, and Co-ordinated Universal Time (UTC). For every 15 degrees of longitude away from Greenwich, the time should alter by one whole hour.

However, this doesn’t always follow, as various locations around the world use more specific time zones. North Korea is UTC+8:30, for example, the Chatham Islands in New Zealand are UTC+13:45, while French Polynesia is UTC-9:30.

Right, I’m off back to the scribbling. After all, thanks to a British builder, I’m already an hour behind today!

This week’s Word of the Week is haruspication, meaning the use of sacrificed animal entrails for divination. Also called extispicy.

For more information on anything to do with times and dates, check out


  1. I like my extispicy to be extra spicy. That's the only way I can stomach them.

  2. i love discussions of how history has dealt with time. What with travel east and west and DST, I’ve changed my clock so any times this month, my tummy asks me constantly “Isn’t it time for dinner.”

  3. I quite like the idea of everywhere in the world having the same time. So it would be 3pm in Cape Town and Minneapolis and Hobart, for example. No worrying about time zones, or Daylight Savings, or no Daylight Savings, etc.

  4. Thank you for being considerate enough to cut my head out of the photo of me in my underwear. Being as shy as I am, I'd have been as embarrassed as if caught in an extispicy (or is it extra-spicy) moment.