Posted by: Ginger-snaps PJ29 JUL 2008
Those who search for symmetry in everything may care to note that this year (2008) sees both the 80th and 40th anniversaries of failed attempts by the UK Parliament to regulate time.
Perhaps this suggests that another attempt is due — particularly as we currently have a Government that seems keen to introduce new legislation affecting just about everything under the sun.
It was 80 years ago that Parliament passed the Easter Act, fixing Easter as the Sunday after the second Saturday in April. This simple formula was intended to replace the old dating system established in AD325 at the Council of Nicaea, by which Easter is to be held on the first Sunday after the 14th day of the Paschal full moon.
And if you have never heard of the Paschal full moon, that is probably because it does not actually exist, in that it is whichever full moon the church says it is. (This is also why it is perfectly possible for the Orthodox churches to fix a different date from the Roman Catholic church.)
You may well have noticed that the Easter Act 1928 does not appear to be widely observed. Indeed, this year Easter Sunday was as early as 23 March, causing problems for those who fix the dates of school holidays.
The nation’s continuing failure to observe Parliament’s 1928 wish is because a proviso was inserted in the Act at the last minute stating that it would not come into force “against the opinion of any church or other Christian body”. In practice, this meant not ever.
Then, 40 years later, Parliament’s second failure to regulate time was a decree that the practice of putting the clocks back an hour to Greenwich Mean Time in October would be dropped in order to determine, once and for all, whether the benefits of retaining British Summer Time outweighed the drawbacks.
The experiment was abandoned after three years, when it was decided that the increase in accidents involving children walking to school was unacceptable. (Yes, in those days many children really did walk to school.)
Even then, there were those who questioned this decision, suggesting that the lighter evenings had led to a compensatory reduction in accidents occurring as children walked back home. But you cannot prove a negative, so out it went.
So what might Parliament try to do this year? How about the introduction of an international “part day” to regularise the length of the year? For centuries, we have tried to accommodate the fact that the earth revolves around the sun 365.24 times as long as it takes for it to spin on its axis, giving us 365.24 days a year (or 365 days, 5 hours and 46 seconds to be more precise) — hence the introduction of the 29 February leap day every four years.
This formula would have worked if the ratio was 365.25 but, as it is not, it has required further refinements, such as “00” years only counting as leap years if the first two numbers are divisible by four.
How are we supposed to remember that? Why not do away with 29 February completely and have a 32 December instead — and have it each year for 5 hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds? That would allow just enough time for a lively new year’s eve party.
Has anyone got Parliament’s telephone number?