Wednesday, December 1, 2021
HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: Back to the Dark Ages

Notes from the Sticks: Back to the Dark Ages

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DID you enjoy your extra hour of sleep last night? Or, like me, did you wake at 6 instead of 7 and have an extra hour to wait for the papers to arrive? Do you feel that one hour is a decent trade-off for the forthcoming five months of dreary dark evenings? These are particularly dismal in the country with minimal street lighting.

Greenwich Mean Time was devised by John Flamsteed in the 1670s and came into widespread use in Britain when the railways adopted it in 1847. It was during the First World War that it was decided to put the clocks forward one hour so that evenings were longer and (allegedly) productivity would improve. The first switch was on May 21, 1916. They called it Daylight Saving Time – odd, because the period of daylight can’t be changed or saved, simply moved around a bit. Now it is called British Summer Time.

The mystery is why they returned to GMT in the winter. One argument is that if BST applied in the winter children in the north and Scotland would have to go to school in the dark. But apparently it is OK for them to come home in the dark. I don’t see the logic.

I really can’t see in these technologically advanced days why we are sticking to a system devised more than a hundred years ago. If schools wanted brighter mornings, they could change their hours from, say, 8.30am to 3.30pm to 9.30 to 4.30. With flexitime and home working it should be possible for parents to adjust too.

Anyway let’s look on the bright side – it’s only 147 dark evenings before BST returns.

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On Monday I heard the distant sound of geese calling. I looked up to see the largest formation (skein is the correct word, I believe) of birds I have ever seen. They were flying east, very high. I took a picture which is not very good but I think it gives an idea of the large numbers.

Although there are only a limited number of goose species in Britain, I could not tell what they were so I emailed the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, of which I have been a supporter for about 40 years. I had a pro forma reply which said: ‘Due to the ongoing coronavirus situation, we are dealing with a high number of inquiries. Please bear with us and we will get back to you as soon as we can.’ By Friday, five days later, I had heard nothing so I emailed again, saying I would have hoped for more courtesy and asking how coronavirus was causing a high number of inquiries, as their email implied. I did get a reply quite soon from an operative who apologised for the delay and said she was forwarding my request to the wardens at Slimbridge. It seems to me that the ‘pandemic’ has provided a readymade excuse for a lot of people to take it easy.

While on the topic of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, which was founded by the great naturalist Peter Scott, I had an update the other day on barnacle geese, one of which I have ‘adopted’. (I started this after seeing great flocks of them wintering at the Trust’s reserve in Caerlaverock, near Dumfries – I can warmly recommend a visit. Barnacles, like most geese, are long-lived birds and in all that time I have had only three or four adoptees.) It said that ‘in response to climate change’ the geese have successfully altered their migration route to take in different feeding stops, then added that this was ‘an excellent example of why conservation work is needed at an international scale’. Do these people listen to themselves? This is how nature works – it adapts as it has been doing for hundreds of millions of years without any help from us.

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A little puzzle: I have planted some pots with violas which usually keep going pretty well into the autumn then come back early in the spring. As you can see in this picture, the mustard-coloured ones on the left (which I particularly like as they seem to have rather cross little faces) are getting chewed to bits (I assume by slugs) while the other colours are untouched. Any ideas?

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I have also planted some bulbs in pots and I was surprised this week to see shoots appearing already. I have to confess I can’t remember what I put in which pots, so it will be a glorious surprise in the spring. Life goes on!

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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