On Sunday we will ‘gain’ an hour’s sleep as the clocks go back. But beyond the bonus of a one-off lie in, for many it’s unlikely to be viewed as a good thing. ‘It’s dark at four o’clock!’ will be the accompanying cry next Monday as office workers look through newly opaque windowpanes.
But I have a guilty secret. I love the shorter daylight hours. Perhaps it’s a Viking thing; my half Danish heritage being comfortable with the cooler air at the end of a working day and the darkness that makes night of the late afternoons. But non-participation in complaining about the hour shift seems somehow un-British.
‘Daylight saving’, the brainchild of William Willett, was implemented in 1916 to prevent people wasting the light first thing in the morning during the summer. But its benefits can also apply in the winter months. The change is not simply one to colder temperatures and shorter days. It also provides us an opportunity to reconfigure our daily routines. Darker mornings and evenings don’t have to limit our activities. The particular pleasure of a run after nightfall is the achievement of doing what only the summer months would seem to permit. And it’s doing exercise out of choice, rather than a sense of obligation.
Autumn gives permission for countless hours of television and box set watching. Binge-watch new dramas under cover of darkness post 4pm and nobody’s going to judge your choice to do so ‘because it’s a lovely day outside’. Netflix positively clamours, from the new Stranger Things to the second season of The Crown – assorted Royals will rush about, vexed over the Suez Crisis and Profumo; you can stay on the sofa.
There are new books to get lost in, too. John Le Carre’s A Legacy of Spies and Philip Pullman’s long-awaited, The Book of Dust Volume One: La Belle Sauvage, are both out now, while Ali Smith’s Winter, a follow-up to the Man Booker Prize-nominated Autumn, captures the coming season in beautiful prose, as a time to see things clearly.
Food at this time of year fulfils Oliver Twist’s keenest wish: somehow you can have more of it. Gone is the summer ritual of standing around, sipping mediocre rosé, waiting for the barbecue to spark. Welcome copious amounts of red wine, warming spices, hearty casseroles, hefty sausages and rich puddings. In winter, generosity (and gluttony) is part of the deal.
‘Spring forward’ but ‘fall back’. The language suggests something negative about autumn and winter, but these are seasons in which we can make more time for ourselves. Spring, and the sunshine will come again. Until then, let’s lighten up.