27 October: Turning Back the Clock

The clocks slid back an hour

and stole light from my life

as I walked through the wrong part of town
mourning our love…

From: ‘Mean Time’ by Carol Ann Duffy (b 1955)

It's very autumnal here, or 'automic' as my other half sometimes says. We move the clocks back this weekend in the UK and from then until the last weekend of March 2013, we'll be on GMT - Greenwich Mean Time. So the nights will instantly draw in by an hour and for a little while the mornings will be lighter. Winter has begun.

But what exactly is GMT and when did we adopt it? Surprisingly late, as it turns out. The advent of the railways in the early nineteenth century meant that for the first time, the whole country had to adopt the same time for travel purposes and this was done in 1847. However it wasn't until 1880 that we all officially and legally started to follow the same clock for everything.  Britain is only about 1000 miles from top to bottom and less than 300 miles across, but until 1880 local time still prevailed, as it had done since - well....since the dawn of time. The parish church or town hall clock was the one each town or village followed and it might not have been the same time as the clock in the next town. 

And once upon a time of course we all followed sun time...

It is quite odd to us Brits to think of the same country having different time zones, but even in the UK, there is a significant difference in solar time from east to west. I once had to give my husband directions on how to find somewhere via his mobile phone (before it was illegal to have your phone on when driving). I was in Cornwall with the map and he was on the Norfolk coast in the car. Eventually I lost patience and said 

'You should be there. Can't you see it?' 

He said 'It's flipping dark out here' - but in the far west, I was still in broad daylight... 

GMT is the clock time at 0' degrees of longitude, which is the Greenwich meridian, an imaginary line of longitude adopted as the international starting point of time in 1884.  However these days, time is not longer measured at the Greenwich Observatory but by a number of atomic clocks across the world. Their average (mean) time is known as 'Coordinated Universal Time' and this was agreed as the international standard in 1972. It is actually same as GMT for all practical purposes but let's not go there..

The Queen's Grandfather, King George V kept all the clocks at Sandringham 30 minutes ahead of the rest of the country, because he had a phobia about being late - which just shows what you can do if you are a king - a bit like poor old King Canute who tried to make the even tide obey him...but thankfully time and tide are democratic, they wait for no man, not even a king.

Anyway we will all get an extra hour in bed this weekend. Very shortly it will be dark at 4pm, the central heating will go on, if it hasn't already and before you know it we'll be wrapping Christmas presents.

Here's John Donne who knew a thing or two about time...

        BUSY old fool, unruly Sun, 
        Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ? 
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run ? 
        Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide 
        Late school-boys and sour prentices, 
    Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride, 
    Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime, 
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. 

So don't forget to turn back the clock and make good use of the extra hour....

I've made pear and walnut chutney, because it takes time to make and even longer before it's ready to eat. A timely reminder that good things are worth waiting for.

The pears came from my espalier which I train alongside the fence near my front door and the walnuts I picked from the huge old tree in the garden of the schloss near where I was staying in Bavaria a couple of weeks ago. The recipe is an adaptation of one from 'The Complete Book of Preserves and Pickles', by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhew.

Pear and Walnut Chutney

2 1/2lb of firm pears peeled and coarsely copped

8oz cooking apples  - ditto
8oz onions - ditto
6oz sultanas
Grated rind and juice of one large orange
14oz granulated sugar
3/4 pint cider vinegar
4oz shelled walnuts
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground ginger
1tsp salt 

Try and cut all your fruit and onions to about the same size. Put the onion, pears and apples into a large steel pan with the vingar. Bring to the boil and then simmer slowly for 40 minutes. Soak the sultanas in the orange juice. After 40 minutes is up add the sugar, walnuts, sultanas and juice, orange peel and spices to the pan. Simmer for another 40 minutes until there is not much 'free' liquid left. It will thicken up as it cools. Decant into sterilised jars, label and wait a couple of months before eating. 

Autumn in a jar...and perfect with cheese...

...But time is tied to the wrist

or kept in a box, ticking with impatience...

From: 'A Martian Sends a Postcard Home' by Craig Raine (b1944)


Marmaduke Scarlet said...

I hadn't thought of walnuts . . . thank you for the tip! I shall be spending the afternoon scavenging in my garden for the very last of my somewhat misshapen windfall pears - chutney and pear puree here I come!

Mary Beth said...

Fascinating post, Liz! We "fall back" with the clocks this weekend here, but the US has four main time zones. Hard to imagine a single zone with so much variation.

Never having made chutney, why do you wait for a few months before eating it? (It sure sounds delicious as is- I'd have a hard time waiting.)

And- that flat basket the walnuts are in- gorgeous! What a lovely thing!

So glad your computer is well again.