Hold back the night
The myth of evening leisure
Ask a pro-daylight saver why they like/would like daylight saving and a common response will be 'It gives me more time in the evenings'.
This overrated benefit comes under the dubious paradigm that extra daylight equals extra time. Strangely, I have never seen the logic of this paradigm put under any scrutiny. It is simply accepted by the mainstream as psuedo-fact - the same mainstream that ridicules daylight saving opponents for supposedly thinking it confuses cows.
Alternatively, people may claim that daylight saving gives them the opportunity to 'do more in the evenings' or 'get more out of the day'. If you drill deeper to find out what they do (or get) more of, the usual examples follow - a round of golf after work, gardening, time with the family, trips to the gym, a walk in the evening, going out without fear of being attacked, a twilight chardonnay on the deck, more chance for children to play, not having to go to bed early... and variations on the same theme.
The scenarios differ but the fundamentals are the same. More daylight after work means more leisure, more relaxation, more freedom and generally getting more out of life. When SOCOG (Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games) first announced that daylight saving would start two months early in 2000 to prepare for the Olympics, a reporter covering the story on television told us it meant 'more fun for everyone'.
Like most dreams, however, the 'more daylight equals more leisure' and the 'more daylight equals more time' fantasies fade in the cold light of day. No matter how much daylight is shining outside, an often dreary, stressful and tiring domestic routine dominates the early evening hours and cannot be put off. In both summer and winter, commuting time is usually between 5 and 6.30 pm. Most dinner preparations get underway between 6 and 7 pm, and then dinner has to be eaten, cleared away and washed up.
Then there are dozens of miscellaneous after-work chores that vary from household to household - food shopping for dinner, picking up children from social activities and after-school or day care, housework, children's homework and bath rituals, feeding animals and generally preparing the household for the next day (on daylight saving, you lose an hour for such preparation in the morning). Even in one-income households, the day's most labour-intensive period for the full or part-time homemaker, falls between 5 and 8 pm.
Over many decades, clever marketing of the long, leisurely daylight saving 'twilight' has soaked down into the water table of public consciousness. Yet, having lived in Sydney for fifteen years, I observed little anecdotal evidence of people regularly using their last hours of saved daylight for daylight-related leisure.
Whenever I drove through Sydney suburbs after 7 o'clock of a daylight saving evening, the streets were sunny but deserted - the only consistent sign of life being the glow of televisions through living-room windows. Would-be gardeners were missing from their yards, perhaps too tired or too busy indoors. Parks were devoid of children, perhaps in fear of stranger danger. Women who claimed daylight saving made them feel safer seemed reluctant to venture out alone after 7 pm. A rare power walker, dog walker or cyclist could be seen, but far more often the people using the streets at that time were either returning home late from work, going out early for the evening or engaged in some form of shopping activity.
Even in the harbourside and beach suburbs, hardly anyone was engaged in a leisure activity that directly required daylight. While there was usually some life on the beaches, footpaths and walkways between 5 and 7, these were all but empty by 7.30. On the other hand, restaurants, pubs and shopping centres were usually full, but this was also the case during winter.
For part of our time in Sydney, we stayed at a mid-northern coastal caravan park each Christmas holidays. Again, it was the same story. The spectacular January beach sunset at about 8 pm was watched by a trickle of isolated fisherfolk and occasionally a child or two collecting pippies.
Meanwhile, in the caravan park about 200 metres away, hundreds of families huddled around their televisions - even the tent dwellers who had brought their TVs from home. Those who weren't watching TV were usually sitting indoors talking around the table after dinner. If ever a communal game of twilight beach cricket or football got underway, it occurred before dinner, i.e. 6 to 7 pm, when people were more available.
Wherever you live, daylight saving does not seem to make much difference to how people spend their early evening hours. Yet daylight saving takes the credit for recreational activities that, on closer inspection, are really the result of a naturally extended summer twilight. Each summer in New South Wales, TV stations report a drop in early evening ratings, which is put down to daylight saving. Yet, the same drop also occurs in the standard time states. With or without a clock change, and with or without a drop off in viewer habits, the 6 pm TV news bulletins still boast the highest summer ratings.
Whether on daylight saving or standard time, the advent of dinner usually disperses outdoor social leisure activity by about 7 pm as people withdraw into their homes. By the time dinner is over and cleared away, only the very long twilights experienced on latitudes over 40 degrees S (which, except for Tasmania and to a lesser extent Victoria, do not exist in Australia) are likely to motivate people to come out again to engage in a 'daylight' leisure pursuit.
Even on high latitudes, there is a limit to how much daylight related activity can encroach into the evening without compromising what is, for most people, the main purpose of the late evening hours - winding down from the day and preparing for sleep. Using extra evening daylight to 'cheat' on time - by putting off dinner or staying out late - has a way of coming back on you in the form of stress and sleep deprivation. When living in London, I found that people had well and truly stopped doing daylight related activities by 7.30 pm, even though they still had at least another two hours of daylight to enjoy.
Still, Queensland's daylight saving lobby pushes the evening twilight leisure fantasy for all it's worth, vigilantly reminding us of what we are 'missing out on'. A few days after the 2000 clock change in the southern states, the Brisbane Courier Mail gave a front page spread to the subject of 'Our sunshine city left in the dark'. In this article a Brisbane restaurateur wistfully commented on how nice it would be to play tennis after work or have a wine on the deck on 'your day off'.
Considering Brisbane's summer standard time sunset allows full or partial daylight until about 7.00 pm, both tennis and wine-sipping are not only possible, but regularly engaged in during the early evening hours. Even so, no matter how much daylight is up their sleeves, sooner or later all twilight revellers have to go home, or indoors, and meet the demands of the evening domestic routine.
Yet quotes like these, accompanied by images of much more 'fortunate' families living in southern states, emotionally bonding on their sun-drenched decks or at the beach after 7 pm, have been appearing regularly in the south-east Queensland media for decades - with no counter-arguments to question their validity. They create a false sense of deprivation that is totally at odds with the reality of recreational life in Brisbane and the rest of Queensland. No amount of darkness would ever deprive a Brisbane resident of the chance to enjoy a glass of wine on the deck - or a beer on the verandah - either before, during or after sunset. And, if it is on one's 'day off', what possible difference does a clock change make to when, where or how, we enjoy our glass of wine?
So too, this rhetoric ignores the fact that, unlike in temperate climates, many Queenslanders welcome the onset of darkness to relieve the build-up of heat and humidity throughout the summer day. In fact, much summer social activity is left until after the sun goes down. For the most part, Queenslanders prefer to conserve the mild, early morning hours - the most pleasant, and least mosquito-ridden, time of day.
Some pro-daylight saving arguments attempt to portray extended evening daylight as throwing off the restrictions of winter. Liberating as this may sound, it's a little misplaced in the context of Queensland's seasonal daylight patterns. Brisbane and the rest of Queensland enjoy among the longest, sunniest and most pleasant winter days of anywhere in the world. For most Queensland residents, the overall transition from winter to summer conditions is about as liberating as taking off a cardigan.
Rather than being an object of derision for not having daylight saving, as is commonly portrayed in the media, Brisbane's relaxed, sub-tropical culture is the envy of southern capitals. To say that we don't allow ourselves the luxury of social or leisure interaction, simply because we don't change our clocks, is absurd.
As a final consideration as to why daylight saving's 'evening leisure myth' retains such a powerful hold over our thinking, one has to consider who or what drives it. Contrary to popular belief, daylight saving (either its introduction or its extension) has never been the result of a grassroots lifestyle movement. Rather, throughout its century-long history, it has been overwhelmingly driven by the business sectors of the developed world - and Queensland is no exception.
One does not need sunglasses at 7 pm to see that daylight saving extends the daylight hours of the working day, which in turn obliges people to work a longer average day, particularly the self-employed. What's more, extended daylight after work induces people to go out and spend money, rather than stay home and relax. One could very well argue that daylight saving's true agenda is to stimulate productivity and profit - neither of which have ever been the natural companions of leisure.
Sadly, however, far too many Brisbane residents have been educated by the media and the daylight saving lobby to believe otherwise. According to pro-daylight saving rhetoric, it seems that Brisbane and the rest of the state is doomed to spend our summer evenings huddled miserably indoors in the dark, or worse, 'behind the times', until we finally 'see the light' and put our clocks forward.
In an increasingly time-impoverished world, daylight saving gives us an illusion of extended time and leisure. But an illusion is all it will ever give us. No amount of clock changing will grant us more hours in the day.