Notes from West London

The clocks go back

The clocks go back this weekend. It means that October is always the longest month of the year. It has 31 days, and an extra hour, on this last weekend of the month.

I always recall the equivalent weekend from my second year at university, back in the 1980s. The college library was only open for four hours on a Sunday, between 2pm and 6pm. During the week it was open till midnight. For the first time, and already in the fourth term of my three years of study, I decided that I would use those four hours as well as possible. I would arrive at the library just as it opened and stay the full 240 minutes, and get more work done than I had ever managed before on a Sunday. I had had lunch already. I crossed Great Court just before the hour, surprised to see that the clock was showing a minute or two before 1 o’clock rather than 2 o’clock. I carried on to the library and as the 1 o’clock chime rang in the next courtyard found the door locked. That’s when it dawned on me that the clocks had gone back. The Great Court clock was right. It threw me completely. In theory I had gained an hour. In practice I wasted the whole afternoon. I walked (well, trudged would be a more accurate description) the five minutes or so back to my room in Portugal Place, stopping to pick up a copy of the Observer and a Mars bar from the newsagent. I made a cup of coffee, ate the Mars bar, flicked through the paper. At this point I was, in theory, still ahead. But the afternoon drifted away. I couldn’t get back the determined feeling that I had had at 2pm British Summer Time (which, sadly, was 1pm Greenwich Mean Time).

I often say, not entirely seriously, that if the afternoon had passed as planned, with a whole afternoon of the most productive study I had ever managed, then my life would have been entirely different. I have never seen the Gwyneth Paltrow movie “Sliding Doors” all the way through (I’ve missed the start of it, or haven’t been in the right frame of mind, or it’s been screened too late) but I’m familiar with the premise. A single, seemingly minor incident changes the course of your life.

I have discussed this with friends, and they have more persuasive examples of seemingly minor things that changed the course of their lives. An old school-friend, with whom I did A-Level Maths, told me that he never recovered from the change of teachers in the second year of 6th Form. Our teacher from the first year of 6th Form took a sabbatical, to study Philosophy. His replacement was a less inspirational teacher, in our eyes at least. My friend got a lower grade than he expected and was unable to go to university as planned. Another friend had a more dramatic change in fortunes at the same time. His schoolbag flew off the back of his motorbike on the way to school and its contents were scattered somewhere between North Harrow and Hammersmith. Like me he carried much of his schoolwork around with him and couldn’t piece together everything that was lost. His university career was put on hold for years. It began, finally, after I had graduated.

Enjoy the extra hour in bed tonight and, if you still have analogue devices, remember to put your clocks back. It might be important.



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