Category Archives: winter

Dark at 9:03am in London – or why I like the clock change

Ok. Stand back. Let me explain. The hour shift only actually makes a difference for eight weeks a year.

What??? You all say.

Let me explain. Be careful now, this will involve science.

In the UK, the times of sunrise and sunset change by about 15 minutes a week or about an hour a month. So though we have a big jump this weekend when the clocks change, all that’s happened is that we’ve shifted Sunrise a month to when it was at the end of September, and shifted Sunset a month to when it would be at the end of November. There’s nothing in the clock change in October that we haven’t already had or wouldn’t have in a month’s time anyway.  It doesn’t make the daylight hours any shorter, though to listen to the grumpiness and ill-informed comments at this time of year, it seems that is what people think.

With me so far?

So the eight weeks which have sunset and sunrise times which we wouldn’t otherwise have are from Nov 22nd to Jan 22nd or so – ie a month either side of the winter solstice.

So here are the sunrise and sunset times and the length of the day for 21st Nov, 21st Dec and 21st Jan for London

Sunrise Sunset Daylight hours
07:29 16:03 08:34
08:03 15:53 07:49
07:53 16:30 08:37

Without the clocks changing, these numbers would be

Sunrise Sunset Daylight hours
08:29 17:03 08:34
09:03 16:53 07:49
08:53 17:30 08:37

I don’t know about you, but 9:03 is pretty late for sunrise and I hate actually going to work in the dark. So to my mind the clock change is worth it for those two months at least.

But guess what – even with the clocks changing, here in Edinburgh I do have to go to work in the dark.

Even though Edinburgh is only about half way up the UK, that is sufficiently further up the planet for those numbers to be inaccurate.  In January and November the daylight hours in Edinburgh are about 40 minutes shorter than daylight hours in London. and by December they’re about 50 minutes shorter. (Though of course, our daylight hours are longer by the same amount in midsummer).

So here are the sunrise and sunset times and the length of the daylight hours for 21st Nov, 21st Dec and 21st Jan for Edinburgh:

Sunrise Sunset Daylight hours
08:02 15:55 07:53
08:42 15:40 06:57
08:25 16:23 07:57

Without the clocks changing, these would be:

Sunrise Sunset Daylight hours
09:02 16:55 07:53
09:42 16:40 06:57
09:25 17:23 07:57

If it sucks when it’s dark at twenty to nine in the morning, it REALLY SUCKS if it’s still dark at twenty to ten! (I spent a couple of winters in Sweden – I know).

As I said, the specific eight week period between 22 Nov and 22 Jan are the only time when the sun rises at times it wouldn’t if we didn’t change the clocks.

I hope this helps explain

  1. why it’s not that much of a deal
  2. why you’d miss it in December if the clocks didn’t change and
  3. why I’d REALLY HATE YOU if they didn’t

Style, set and match

Why are sets of things so much more soothing than hodge-podges that don’t match? Sometimes it seems that anything is better in identical sets, from crockery to triplets to Christmas tree decorations.  It’s so fundamental it seems odd to ask ‘why’?

We discussed this as I decorated the tree last week with my very un-matched collection of decorations acquired a few at a time.  It’s been one of my pre-Christmas tasks to buy attractive or unusual tree decorations each year since the mid 1980s.

Some of my very un-matched decorations

If you read decorating magazines, then you’d think that Christmas trees had to have a theme. Thus:

Winter Frost Collection

Winter Frost Collection – follow link to Christmas Central

That makes perfect sense for corporate trees, but I have a friend whose tree is always that coherent. She’s the sort of gal – she’ll paint her nails on Thursday so it will match the shoes she’s going to wear on Saturday. There is no denying that Christmas trees like hers look much better than ones like mine, which is full of random stuff bought on my travels from Sainsburys to China and back. Mine’s not stylish: it’s barely in focus. But that’s phone cameras for you.

The question I’m asking though, is WHY do we find my mish-mash disquieting? What is it that makes us prefer sets and themes? We do, oh we do; it’s infuriating for example when a publisher changes the style of an author’s book covers when we are half way through buying their books.

At the far end of the un-matched aesthetic there lurks surrealism.

Q: How many surrealists does it take to decorate a Christmas tree?


If this effect of liking things matching and orderly is not limited to the visual, then it is presumably the underlying reason why Mozart and Vaughan Williams are more sweetly accessible than Stockhausen and Penderecki.

When you stop to think about it, it is peculiar, this preference for things to match, and the almost physical disquiet when they don’t is really odd.  Every answer I’ve arrived at so far has been circular: we dislike it because it’s unsettling, it’s unsettling because it unsettles us, it unsettles us because we dislike it.  And so on. It’s intrigued me for years.  Ants and bees have a strong sense of orderliness of course, but when we consider primates do we find that chimps and orang outangs prefer their fruit the same size and arranged in straight lines? Maybe we do. I’d like to know.

Ach, I could draw unsustainable parallels between this desire for homogeneity and the drive for standards, this being a business-related blog and all, but they’d be tenuous.

Instead I’ll leave the question open, and take the opportunity to note the turn of the year with the solstice today, and wish you a happy break and a better, more prosperous and more peaceful 2010.

Reducing and Cropping

The earlier mornings and later afternoons are a daily delight, and when you add sunshine it’s bliss.

Here’s today’s photograph, reduced to 25% of it’s original size:

Samsung G800 - Reduced Landscape

And here is the mid-section of the photograph at full resolution, but cropped.

Samsung G800 - Cropped Landscaped

How wrong of me was it…

How wrong of me was it to be amused by the bloke carrying the 6′ x 5′ sheet of plywood who was almost blown down the street when the wind caught it this evening? He hung on like a good ‘un. Luckily the wind was on the plywood side, not the bloke side, but even so. I was deeply impressed. And amused.

Bad Aphra.


I’ve forgotten how to drive on ice.

I am not sure whether to put it down to global warming or post-recession efficiency with the gritting, but I am struggling to remember the last time I had to drive on ice. I really think it must have been the mid-90s.

So there I was, descending gratefully out of fog and blethering away with the phone on hands-free, when I lost traction on the front wheels. Not for long. In fact, by the time I’d squeaked “fuck!” into the phone I’d regained the steering and thought “Blow-out? No. Ice”. I then said “I’m ok but I’ll call you back” and started concentrating on the infuriating mixture of water and rime that I was driving over.

I am an irritatingly safe driver; the sort that always obeys urban speed limits and that will sit for as long as it takes – for three minutes, five minutes, seven minutes – waiting for a safe gap in traffic. The sort that will go round a roundabout twice rather than cut across two lanes and who will plan a route to avoid a bad junction.

I do however swear like a Big Brother contestant at anyone I think is endangering me and I run red lights on the basis that – where I live at least – every other bugger out there is running the reds which makes it more dangerous to go through on green. Actually, I prefer to run red lights than get rear-ended by the two vehicles behind me who follow me through. (Have I mentioned how much I hate tailgaters?)

It was dark as well as icy this evening, so I drove at 20 miles or so per hour in the middle of the empty country lane in case I found some black ice, skidded off to one side, ran out of tarmac and landed in a ditch, when I saw the rise and dip of another set of headlights a third of a mile or so away. So I pulled over by a farm and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Then a vehicle arrived behind me and also waited.

The headlights weren’t coming any closer and I’d got my new best friend behind me so I decided to set off again but this time with a nice friendly tailgater cosying up behind me. In fairness, he wasn’t outrageously close, but I still have no idea why he hadn’t gone past me when he reached me in the first place.

We went over the brow of the hill and saw a car facing us with one wheel on the road, two wheels on the verge and the fourth in the ditch and another car behind it also facing us but more or less in the right part of the road. Since I was not following anyone, they must have both been coming towards me when one lost it and tipped off the road.

Normally I’d stop and offer to phone the police or the AA or whoever, but my tolerance for people who drive aggressively on rural back-roads is fairly low at the best of times, and my sympathy for people who try to overtake on rural back roads at night when the temperature is hovering either side of freezing dips well below freezing itself.

So I didn’t stop; I didn’t offer to phone the police or the AA or anyone else; I just drove on by and 6 minutes later I was home.

What is really odd is that I don’t actually feel like a bitch.

November again

I just realised today why this winter feels like such an endurance test. We’ve had one frost, but no sustained cold weather, no bright clear white mornings when your breath dances on the air in front of you, precious little sunshine, none of the crisp clear sharp invigorating weather you can walk out in and feel revitalised, and only two of the magical mornings when the mist is shallow and the sun is bright, so you walk out into a white world under a blue sky.

Instead we are, in the words of Bill Bryson, ‘living in tupperware’ while – to add injury to insult – being battered relentlessly by diagonal rain or just by horizontal air, day after night after day after night.

I don’t feel I’m having a winter at all – it isn’t cold enough. I feel like I am enduring four or five months of November.

In the words of Thomas Hood

No sun–no moon!
No morn–no noon!
No dawn–no dusk–no proper time of day–
No sky–no earthly view–
No distance looking blue–

No road–no street–
No “t’other side the way”–
No end to any Row–
No indications where the Crescents go–

No top to any steeple–
No recognitions of familiar people–
No courtesies for showing ’em–
No knowing ’em!

No mail–no post–
No news from any foreign coast–
No park–no ring–no afternoon gentility–
No company–no nobility–

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member–
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,

(PS, I know I said I wouldn’t post today, but I thought I’d share this wee epiphanette with you since the wind woke me early and so I have time this morning.)

We must wether the weather

Why do you think it is that some people luxuriate in the sun, and others hide from it?

Most people dislike rain, but I like everything from mizzle to fine rain. I don’t like cold, wet rain, straight from the heart of an ice-cloud, but soft rain is lovely. Gentle rain, blessing my skin, garlanding my hair.

Trains, too, it seems have a preference for one kind of snow over another.

Fog, I am not fond of but I am entranced by mist. I used to live just south of Swindon, and the low lying fields (presumably once water-meadows) between Swindon and Wootton Bassett would have mist lying three or four foot deep, the sun shining down on hedges growing out of soft white numinous fields.

The one who is exhilarated by wind is – as already mentioned – exhilarated by wind. But I fear wind. I dislike its relentless and random violence. Its noise. Its intrusion into my house.

When I was a wee thing, I remember seeing the fitted carpet on the landing in my parents’ house bulging up two or three inches in the middle. It surged like a restless sea.

Wind is a thief, stealing dustbin lids and deckchairs. It is a vandal, turning umbrellas inside out and tumbling rubbish down the street. It destroys trees and property.

I remember driving once down to Plymouth (or was it Portsmouth, or Portishead, perhaps) and counting the broken trees, overturned lorries and barns and houses with their roofs ripped off. We scored 1 for a tree, 3 for a lorry and 5 for a roof. I ended the journey with 87 but he got 93. A shocking desolation.

Winds have names. In Provence, men and women go mad because of the Mistral. And these are European winds. I cannot imagine the careless brutality of a typhoon or hurricane.

Perhaps the reason I like mist and mizzle so much, is that they form in stillness and in silence.

Living in tupperware

I’ve just had, what? 17 days off in a row. Much needed they were, an’ for this respite grateful thanks, an’ all that.

17 days.

The sun shone on three of them.

Still, I remind myself that the reason English women have such beautiful complexions is that we live in a cool damp climate. Our skin never fully dries out.

Twelth night, or what you make of it

For sale:

6 brace of game-birds (partridges) well hung

A perry orchard (one dozen trees)

A flock of pigeons (22 birds, mainly white)

A flock of fancy hens (30 birds)

Song-birds, (36 available in singles or pairs – cages supplied to first 9 applicants)

A large flock of geese, good layers (42 birds, will separate)

21 pairs of swans (only to homes with open water)

Herd of cattle (40 beasts, TB tested, from BSE-free herds, good milkers)

Available for hire:

Dairy operatives (40 available for reasonable rates, will travel)

Dance troupe (36 females, 30 males, fancy costumes included)

Military-style band (22 woodwind players, 12 percussionists)

Wishing you peace and joy at Christmas

The best thing I can offer you for Christmas, gentle reader, is something I found on Patry Francis’s blog. It is a quiet and loving story about her mother and grandfather one Christmas many years ago; it is a moving story, beautifully told.

The Secret Name – by Patry Francis

And all that’s left for me to do is wish you peace and joy at Christmas and happiness and prosperity in 2007.

Wishing you peace and joy at Christmas and happiness and prosperity in 2007