The Times they are – – –

Jack fails miserably again to get his Wednesday guest post up on time – –

Wendy and I have been ‘zooming’ with a few friends weekly ever since the pandemic closed things down. The group consists of David and Susan in North Carolina, Beth and Brandon in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, ourselves in Wytheville, Virginia, and Barbara and Oliver in Edinburgh, Scotland.

We meet on Sundays at 9 am but because of the five-hour time difference that’s 2 pm in Edinburgh. Except last Sunday was an exception because the clocks in the UK had changed on Saturday night. They don’t change here until this Saturday, so for just one week the time difference is four hours! Being half American and half Scots I was vaguely aware of the anomaly so I checked on line and – yes, this was the week of the lesser hours! A hasty last minute e-mail to Barbara saved the day – and the meeting.

But it got me curious about the whole business of changing the clocks twice a year – Spring forward and Fall back. So I did a bit of research and found some fascinating stuff. Some countries simply don’t do it at all and in many that do there’s a debate about whether to continue with it. That debate is no more heated than in the UK, and the problem is that most of the population is in south or central England where they would not see much difference in winter, whereas folk in Scotland definitely would. The European Union has a plan to stop changing the clocks in a couple of years’ time, so a strange result of ‘Brexit’ is that, if the UK sticks with clock changing, then for six months there will be an hour’s difference between Northern Ireland (in the UK) and the Irish Republic (in the EU).

By now I was well and truly hooked on the history of time-keeping and how the world arrived at any notion of ‘standard’ time. It turns out that the arrival of the railroad around the world had a lot to do with it. Prior to that local areas kept their own time, often just within the sound of church bells or a day’s travel on foot or by horse. It was the arrival of trains and reliable clocks and watches, not to mention the telegraph, that brought the need for standardized time. Since Britain owned most of the world then Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in London became the default standard with all other time zones and/or clock changes measured relative to GMT. Although wasn’t it Mussolini who made the trains run on time?

Of course the arrival of the internet and the ability to speak to and see people on the other side of the world brings me back to what kicked off my interest in the first place – this Sunday we’ll be back to the usual five-hour difference!

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