The clocks go back tonight, as the United Kingdom switches back to Greenwich Mean Time for the winter.
This human, cultural manipulation of time reminds me of the idea of the International Fixed Calendar. This is a thirteen month calendar, with each month having 28 days. This means that days and dates always match up (the 1st of the month is always a Monday, &ct). As well as making arrangements (or any date based task easier) the International Fixed Calendar makes rent, interest, mortgage, salary and other monthly payments consistent and therefore fairer.
13 times 28 equals 364, one day short of a solar year. To solve this problem, the calendar adds an extra day that sits outside the seven day week or the thirteen month system. Since 366 day leap years would still be required to keep the calendar in sync with the Earth’s orbit, every four years you would get not one but two extra-calendrical days.
Late last year, researchers at Johns Hopkins University scored a bit of a media hit with their Hanke-Henry Calendar. They solved the 365 problem by saving up the extra days and the leap days, and then scheduling a leap weak every four or five years! I prefer the International Fixed Calendar however, because we like to compare seasonal and weather conditions year-on-year. It is important to be able to compare the same date over several years and know you are also comparing the same point in the Earth’s orbit too.
When the Hanke-Henry calendar was published last year, I recall reading a response which discussed the psychological and societal benefits of extra calendrical days that sit outside the seven day week. I cannot find that article now (irritatingly) so I cannot quote it, but the author made the point that such days would have a very different feel to other days of the week. A time for taking stock, similar to the pause for reflection before Rosh Hashana in the Jewish calendar.
In turn, this makes me wonder whether we British aren’t squandering an opportunity with our switch back to GMT. The extra hour in the day tomorrow will be at 2am, when everyone will be asleep. We experience the change only as the extra hour in bed – a gift that is at its most useless at weekends, when we (well, most of us) are not required to get up for work anyway.
Why not make better use of this hour? Once a year, we could celebrate an extra hour of the day when we are awake, and harvest some of the psychological and spiritual benefit that happens when you stop your busy life, and pause.
When to schedule this extra sixty minutes? Well, my vote would be at 11am on 11th November, Armistice Day. Instead if a two minute pause, the moment could be stretched to a whole hour. We could begin and end the hour with a minute of silence and the traditional ceremonies. But instead of the brief pause to consider the fallen, we would have an entire free hour, outside the working week, where we might consider the political and social freedoms we enjoy, hard won by those who went before us.