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Save our daylight


Why do they call it Daylight Saving Time? Time is one of the many things, like youth, beauty and opened bottles of wine, that cannot and should not be saved; and in any case, saving things is positively un-American. Daylight Borrowing Time would be more appropriate. All through summer we took that extra hour of daylight on credit, adding it to the end of the day to give us those long summer evenings. “Spring forward” sounds happy and hopeful. “Fall back” sends us tumbling into the chilly pit of winter.

At the beginning of November, when things are stressful enough already, what with Thanksgiving, and the Holidays, and winter all coming up, our borrowed time is suddenly and arbitrarily snatched back. Darkness falls in the middle of the afternoon, and half the population sinks into the depressed state called SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder — which is not a disorder at all but merely a commonsense reaction to the months of gloom and darkness that lie ahead.

Darkness is not good, which is why we try to push it away with 24-hour electric light. Out in the countryside, the darkness on a starless night is absolute and quite daunting. It takes us back to ancient times, when the worst fate that could befall a traveler was to be “benighted” — trapped by the coming of darkness. We almost never experience real darkness the way our ancestors did, and how quickly we have forgotten it. Before the 19th century cities and towns were scarcely lit at all except by the moon when there was one. Curfews were common, and night watchmen patrolled the streets. Night was a frontier that you crossed at your peril.

Electricity changed all that, starting in the 1880s, but not as fast as we imagine. I can just remember my grandmother’s house in London that was lit only by flickering gas lamps, and some aunts who lived in an authentic thatched cottage way out in the country who still relied on candles — and this must have been in the 1950s.

Some people like darkness more than others. For those of us who are past the age of indiscretion, darkness is unpleasant and potentially dangerous. We close the doors and switch on all the lights, and try to pretend that the darkness, like the national debt, is not real and can safely be ignored. like those strange sounds in the garden as nocturnal creatures get on with their hidden lives.

Young people, on the other hand, are naturally creatures of the night. They flock to night clubs, not day clubs, because nothing interesting can happen in the daytime. Night is a separate world, a place of fun and liberation when the boring old people are asleep, and anything is possible.

You grow out of darkness and the romance of the night, just as you grow out of Halloween. Now I love light, the more the better and I counted 48 lovely light bulbs around our house. Thank you, Mr. Edison, for your brilliant invention. They can’t defeat us with their miserable, gloomy Daylight-Saving Time — at least not until the next storm brings the next power outage and sends us all back to the dark ages.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.