Saturday, 1 September 2007

Jo Time

My partner Jo lives in a world with its own time zone which often bears little or no relation to GMT. I have just discovered that the middle classes of the 19th Century had their own time zone too. If they told their household servants to serve a meal at 7 o’clock it was desired that it should be served at 8.00 o’clock. If, however, they said 7 o’clock precisely the servants were supposed to interpret that as half past seven whilst ‘No later than 7 o’clock’ actually meant 7 o’clock..

Jo’s time may resemble that of the old middle classes and it definitely tends towards the royal. Jo has the kitchen clock set 15 minutes fast – something I cannot understand at all – but Edward VII could. He had the 180 clocks on the Sandringham estate set half an hour fast allegedly so he could have more time on the shoot. George V kept up the tradition and until 1936 Sandringham had its own unique time zone.

Personally I prefer to keep to Greenwich Mean Time (or British Summer Time) but did you know that until the 1830s most places in Britain had their own local time. Whilst travel and communications were slow, these local time differences were of little importance. The guards on the horse-drawn coaches carried timepieces and adjusted them to gain about 15 minutes in every 24 hours, when travelling west - east, to compensate for the local time differences, and, of course, vice-versa. It was only the inconvenience that local times caused to the railways, the telegraph and the post office that caused the government to eventually introduce a standard time in 1880 but for forty years previously the change had gradually been adopted from local time to Railway or London time. As always, it was a case of the Government being behind the times!

And yes, I do realise that with the clocks I use at home I am actually no longer on GMT but on Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). UTC has uniform seconds defined by International Atomic Time, with leap seconds announced at irregular intervals to compensate for the earth's slowing rotation and other discrepancies. Leap seconds allow UTC to closely track Universal Time (UT), a time standard based not on the uniform passage of seconds, but on the Earth's angular rotation. We’ve gone a long way from local time – except in our kitchen!

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