Saturday marks the end of Western European Summer Time. Or Irish Standard Time as it is officially known here. We don’t call it that of course. If we were on Irish Standard Time we would all be half an hour late, ‘stuck in traffic’, because ‘we got delayed’, ‘something came up’ or ‘we couldn’t get away’.
More often than not, we say British Summer Time – it’s one of those things we are happy for the British to organise for us, like British Airways, the BBC or the Dine-In-For-2 deals at Marks and Spencers.
The sight of nature going to sleep and the darkness encroaching from either end of the day can induce some melancholy. But as winter comes, here are three wintry things that are not all bad.
The extra hour
Every March, the argument rages about the point of British Summer Time. It was brought in originally during the war to give people something else to talk about twice a year. Ever since then there have been calls for its abolition. However that would remove one huge boon from the population: the knowledge that there is an hour extra in bed this Sunday morning. People look forward to it for weeks in advance – the free hour. Ironically, the knowledge of the extra hour will cause many to stay up far later, thus completely negating its effect. Knock on any family’s door in the early hours of Sunday morning and you will find toddlers watching a crap Steven Seagal film while in another room their parents are glued to Euronews – fascinated by the latest export figures from Belarus.
Before people travelled so much, changing the time was a big deal. Getting up on a chair to adjust a clock that hadn’t been touched in six months felt thrilling. Like you were meddling with something bigger than yourself. Now there’s no thrill. Grandfather Time has lost his venerable position and is being looked after in a home as his subjects change the time and date on their computers to avoid paying for free software.
Despite the fact that it only happens twice a year, and there are only two directions in which a clock can go, some people can never remember whether the clocks go backwards or forwards. Here is a simple rhyme to help you remember:
“The clocks go back in October
Seriously, like, how hard can it be?”
The Open Fire.
Winter. Cold. Heat needed. Man provide fire.
Lighting a fire is extremely good for a man’s mental health. It is the ultimate male job; but not because we’re better at it. It’s just that when we do something, we love to tell the world about it. And a fire is the ultimate “Look! Look! Look what I made!”. Huge fuss is made. Wood is now ‘timber’. When you go outside to fetch it from the shed, somewhere in your minds ear, you fancy that you can hear a wolf. The words are powerful. Axe. Saw. Logs, Polish coal. Hearth. Grate. Chop Kindling. I am Man. Hear me roar. I’ll fight a bear. Punch a horse. Meanwhile, while you’re ranting at the wall, you haven’t been tending the fire and it has gone out. Now you’re on your knees blowing on it as the cold room fills with smoke.
“How’s the fire darling?”
“GET OUT, It’ll be grand in a while!”
Finally after going through a box of firelighters and some unspecified fire accelerant and having phoned the neighbours to apologise for the smoke alarms, there is a nice healthy orange flame in the grate and a promising red glow underneath. You can’t bate an open fire.
Some people can wear T-shirts and shorts and skimpy clothes. Some can’t. Walk past a changing-room – male or female – during the summer and you can almost smell the despair. The waifs who work there cluck sympathetically while us lumpy proletariat scowl at our reflections. Harsh lights and mirrors-angled-against-mirrors combine to allow us to see what our inner pessimist sees. Winter clothes are different. Shopping for a new coat is like shopping for a new you. Stroke the big substantial lumps of new-smelling fabric. You can try your Winter coat on out in the main shop floor. You can stand at a distance from the mirror walking towards it, collar up, imagining others’ reaction. “’Tell me, ‘oo is that gentleman?” “Why it’s young Master O’Regan marm. Quite the swell ‘e is an all”
There are also the accessories that you cannot wear in summer: scarves, hats and gloves. Now the only part of your body visible is your face. And in the half light of winter, what is normally a pasty complexion is now merely enigmatic and wistful. Like Sinead O’Connor in Nothing Compares To You.
On Sunday morning, if spending the extra hour swanking around in your new coat, scavenging for timber or wondering why you haven’t gone to bed yet doesn’t grab you, don’t worry. Summer time is just five months away.