The lid of the night is fixed firmly over the sky. The stars peer through like thousands of shiny, white eyes. The lights of Alakir burn in the distance, faraway lanterns rocking gently in a sea of pitch. And then it begins.The muezzins start the call to prayer, their voices wafting between the mountains; an audible morning mist. Too bad if you don’t live in a Muslim country. There’s nothing quite like their haunting dawn arias.
Back in 2011, when I was living in a tent, that potent pre-dawn awakening was a ritual. It changed the flavour of my entire day. But after a while I moved into my mudhouse, installed solar panels and light switches, and forgot all about dawn just like everyone else. I would smile when I heard the muezzin call, roll over and go back to sleep.
Yet nothing stays the same in life, does it? Which subconscious demon it was that drew me to the idea, I don’t know. One way or another fate conspired, and I did something I had said I never would. I adopted a dog, Rotty. I would kiss goodbye to those lazy, late mornings there and then.
All too soon, it became obvious. The call to prayer was Rotty’s cue. Before daylight had so much as stretched a finger over the horizon, she would begin to whimper, then howl, then bark – anything to get me out of bed. How I cursed her! I tried everything to restore the previous order of mornings; I reprimanded her, ignored her, put her close to my bed when I slept outside (she licked me to death in excitement), put her in the kitchen (she cried so mournfully I had to get up). I buried my head under my pillow. I moved inside my earthhouse to drown out the noise. She scratched my doors and wrecked my walls. Finally, I threw in the towel.
‘Agh! Have it your way, Rotty!’
I got up.
I remember that fateful first morning well. The muezzins’ chorus coiled around the valley. Rotty’s whines spiralled in sync. I groaned. I blinked and stretched. Then I began to fight my way out of my mosquito net. Now, the mosquito net is both an indispensable and simultaneously devilish contraption. It is designed for use by sober, fully-functioning individuals with 20/20 vision. For reasons known only to mosquito net makers, there is no emergency exit. And this is why, if you have to evacuate your net in a hurry, you will fail.
After much flailing about, I gave up trying to find the net's opening and slid commando-style under one edge. Bang! I rolled off the bed, onto the floor. Half of the web came with me. There was some bad language. I disentangled myself, pulled myself up and promptly tripped over Rotty’s lead. After all this, I staggered stroppily in the direction of the bathroom. The turmoil was all the more unbearable, because Rotty was leaping about squealing in excitement. ‘This is all YOUR fault!’ I grumbled, shaking my finger in my pup's face. She sat her bottom in the dirt and wagged her tail inanely.
It was a routine I was to enact every day from then to the present. Even now, each dawn call to prayer, I curse the day I got a dog. Then I fight a blind duel with the mosquito net, fall over a shoe, grumble at Rotty, and stomp off up the hill with her bounding along behind.
But after a few steps, everything changes. From way off east, light begins to pry open the lid of the night. The stars close their eyes one by one. Mountains appear from nowhere with cloaks of fur pulled over their jagged, old shoulders. Birds crank up their morning twitter. I can literally feel the
Earth coming alive. Rotty and I will have walked for no more than ten minutes before the sun pushes over the ridge of Moses mountain. And when it does, the entire valley is washed pink, and then copper, then gold. I turn to Rotty. Now it’s my turn to grin inanely. ‘Oh I’m so glad you got me up for this!’ I gush.
I wish I could say that Rotty winks smugly here. She doesn’t, because Rotty has no idea why I wouldn’t get up at dawn in the first place. Everything that’s not nocturnal gets up at dawn. It’s only humanity that has gotten out of the habit. And it’s true. Ever since I have been rising with the sun again, I have been feeling extraordinarily well, both in body and mind. There’s no doubt about it, we are designed for that rhythm. Sales of Prozac would plummet if people simply went to bed and got up a bit earlier.
Which brings me to Winter Time and the invidious reversal of daylight saving. Yes, it’s that time of year again. As if we didn’t have enough trouble rising with the sun, the government orders us to put the clocks back an hour. Am I the only one to find taking an hour of daylight from a highly productive time of the day, like between 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm, and then wedging it into a predominantly useless time, say between 6:00 am and 7:00 am, fundamentally flawed logic? From the groans I hear each year, it seems I’m not alone. ‘Ooh the nights are drawing in now!’ We say. There are scowls. ‘I hate it when the clocks go back, the days are too short.’
I’ve often wondered why we do it at all. Back in the UK, there are a couple of minority groups (farmers, and an extinct creature once known as ‘the milkman’ that only people of a certain age will remember) that dislike daylight saving, because it means darkness until 10 am. And on the basis of
those dwindling voices, the entire country puts the clocks back. Other countries like Turkey follow suit so that they stay in sync with European business hours. Yes, we on the Mediterranean are essentially reversing the hands on our timepieces, because a deliverer of milk in 1970’s Yorkshire wanted to see the sun rise before he finished his shift. On this basis, one might ask why we don’t put the clocks back eight hours instead of just the one, that way night-shift workers in Asda would get a fair deal on sunlight too.
Such is life in a centralised system. And that is why, this year, I decided to put an end to the tyranny and rebelled (nothing new there, some might say). The last Sunday in October came and went, and my clocks remained unchanged.
I wasn’t entirely sure how the experiment would unfold. But it soon became apparent that the advantages of holding on to daylight saving are many, and they multiply when you are the only one to do it. Not only do I still enjoy daylight until half past six in the evening, but the banks now open at ten and close at six, which is a lot more convenient if you ask me. No longer do I arrive in town and find the Post Office about to close for lunch. And whenever I meet up with someone, I’ve always got another hour to spare.
Yet now of course, out from the night of convention, another more profound truth dawns; the arbitrariness of clock time. Yes, be it Winter Time, Summer Time, or Greenwich Mean Time, do I really need a chronometer to schedule when I eat, sleep and work? Hmm. I’ll let you know the answer to that next year perhaps, when I throw out my clock instead.
Atulya K Bingham
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