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They sat in a semicircle at a black iron table, glancing across the square, then at the two vacant chairs. An ill-assorted combination, waiting. Des, dark suit, dark moustache, black attache case, green shirt, loud tie. Charles, restrained in white shirt and cream tie. Petra, red shirt and grey face, yawning. The sun was out, now that summer had ended. The pigeons clustered expectantly at a respectful distance.
Petra yawned again.
"Not sleeping?" Charles asked.
"Jet lag," Petra said.
Des sat up. "Been OS?" he asked. "Bangkok? Borneo? Barcelona?"
"Nowhere." Petra growled. "Somebody’s been frigging with the clocks."
"It’s only by an hour," Charles said. "You’ll adapt."
"I might." Petra yawned again. "But will the cat? Nobody’s told it that seven a.m.’s suddenly become six a.m. and it’s not supposed to jump up, yowl or get fed for another hour."
Des leaned forward, sales pitch gushing. "They should have," he said. "It’s a Government responsibility. They changed the clocks. However, we do have some courses ..."
Petra looked at him as if he’d just escaped from a madhouse. "Courses? For animals?"
"Our horological awareness course is highly popular," Des said. "It features a special feeding bowl, whose shape changes with time. Like a sunflower. When it is fully open, it is feeding time. Your cat is trained to understand that. You adjust the clock in the bowl when you adjust the other clocks."
"Not my cat," Petra said. "Salami understands technology. She’d assume that the bowl’s batteries were flat."
"Then you might try our stimulus substitution course, in which we teach your animal to ignore the primitive cues of light, warmth, birds screeching and people moving for something more subtle."
"Like opening a tin?" Petra asked, voice heavy with irony.
"You might prefer your temporal adaptation course," Des said, "which is a one week residential course in which we slowly move the times of simulated sunrise and of feeding to encourage the animal to adjust to the new time regime."
"Don’t waste your money," Charles said, rather abruptly. "We’re looking at better solutions."
"We?" Des said.
"Emma’s giving evidence to a parliamentary committee."
"The one Kathy’s on?" Petra asked.
"You’re not going to have a referendum?" Petra said. "Actually ask the people?"
Charles shook his head. "Doesn’t work. You get 51% for, 49% against, or the other way round, all for the wrong reasons. That way, nobody’s happy. We’re looking for solutions that actually solve the problem."
"Such as?" Des said.
"The reason why people say they want daylight saving is for the long evenings," Charles said. "So they reckon daylight at 4 a.m. is a waste. But they don’t like getting up in the dark. So, we’ve got this enormous fudge where we change the clocks by an arbitrary amount twice a year, but because it’s a fudge, we can’t agree on when, or if we do it at all."
"It’s dangerous, too," Petra said. "There’s some Canadian figures that say there’s eight percent more road accidents the Monday morning after the clocks go forward, because everybody’s sleepy."
"But we do wake up earlier in summer," Charles said. "because it gets light earlier. I do, anyway."
"So what’s wrong with gearing the system to our natural rhythms, and saying that the sun rises at six o’clock in the morning, every day of the year?"
"That’s not possible," Des said.
"Only because we’ve said that midday is the thing that stays constant," Charles said. "And even that doesn’t, really."
"You’d have to change your clocks every day," Petra said.
"Mechanical ones, perhaps, but how many of them are left? We can build electronic ones that are bright enough to change automatically." Charles smiled. "Think of the boost that’d give to the electronics industry."
"How’d you know what time it was anywhere else," Des said. "Times’d change as you went north and south, as well as east and west."
"They do now," Charles said. "Northern hemisphere’s on daylight saving when we’re not, Queensland doesn’t have it, Tasmania starts at a different time from the mainland. Nobody knows where’s when, and it’s damned hard to find out. This way we’d have square time zones that wouldn’t change, so they’d be on maps, same as borders and postcodes. Anywhere pretty close’d be on a similar time to you. No sudden jumps of an hour. And your watch’d tell you what time it was, anywhere in the world."
"The airlines won’t like it. Or the TV stations," Des said.
"They’ll manage. And if it stops the broadcasters networking everything from Sydney, great."
"I think time should be privatised," Des said. "That way, if you want it to be eight o’clock in the morning, you go to a provider that says it’s eight o’clock in the morning. No hassle. No argument."
"How do I know what provider you’re using?" Petra asked.
Des grinned. "I tell you. Or I don’t. Whichever I prefer."
The sun was blotted out for a moment. Emma thumped down in one of the spare seats. "Bloody committees. Kathy’s on her way."
"Did they decide on anything?" Charles asked.
"From the tone of the questions, they’re going abolitionist," Emma said. "If you can’t agree on what time it should be, then get rid of it altogether. And all the associated clobber. Criminal sanctions for owning a watch. Gaol for selling them. Life for slogans like ‘It’s Time’."
"It has its merits," Charles said. "Flexible work patterns, reduced stress through no deadlines, no mid-life crises, ..."
"We’d miss Emma’s birthday parties," Petra said.
"I wouldn’t," Emma said. "At my age, they’re an act of defiance."
The pigeons scattered, then began to regroup. Kathy stood for a moment by the table, swaying, then sat down. "They changed their minds," she said, looking at Emma. "After you left."
"You mean, we still have time," Emma said.
"They realised, nobody would know when to pay them," Kathy said.
"So what are they doing instead?"
"Compromise," Kathy said. "Purely for local use. They’re going to floodlight the place, so the days are the same length, all year round."
Copyright © D.W. Walker, 1996
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