Daylight Saving Time? 3 Reasons to think again

A close up of a clock

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Twice a year, the United Kingdom goes through an utterly pointless ritual. The country is not alone, 70 other nations, also follow this ritual. In the small hours the last Sunday in October, we put the clocks back one hour. And, reverse the routine on the last Sunday of March. Fiddling with the clocks does not save time and makes a significant impact on society. So, here are three reasons to reconsider Daylight Saving Time (DST).

Reason 1: Changing the clocks is messy

The European Commission proposes to end seasonal changes by 2021. If ratified, member states will decide for themselves whether to opt-in. Here in the UK, there is as yet no sign of the UK Government making a response to the proposal. Even though the UK is likely to have left the European Union by then, the project will prompt a response from the UK Government.

I am old enough to remember when the UK decided not to change the clocks at all. From the Autumn of 1968, the clocks stayed on British Summer Time for an experimental period that ended in 1971. An hour was sliced from the mornings and returned to us at the end of that day. In the winter period, that is significant. It meant I went to school in the dark, but it also determined that it did not get dark in December until 5 pm. Effectively the summers stayed as they had always been; the main effect was to shift an hour of winter daylight from the morning to evening. I heartily approved of keeping the clock fixed through the year; it makes sense.

Back then, in the dark ages, the public made a mixed response. The further north one is, the more significant the impact. For example, in the far north, the Scottish Orkney Islands sunrise on the Winter Solstice is 09:05 and sunset is 15:16. I suspect that the UK Government will hesitate to conform to adopt the European proposal to dispense with seasonal clock changes for fear of provoking the Scotts independence claim.

It is an inescapable astronomical fact that the further north one is and the further south one is, seasonal clock changes gradually lessen their impact. The most significant effect in the Northern Hemisphere is between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer; similarly for the Southern Hemisphere. For a full list of who does what and when click here.

Reason 2: Changing the clocks affects mental health

Shifting an hour of daylight may seem like a small matter. But, there is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that it makes a decisive impact on mental health. I am one of those for whom the shifting hour is likely to plunge me into a hearty bout of winter depression. At first, when the clocks change, nothing much happens to me. The only exception is that I can feel that I am suffering a mild form of jet-lag for a few days.

Then as Christmas approaches, I start to tumble out of control into my very own black hole. I show all the classic signs of depression, sleep disturbances, low mood, loss of emotional energy and worst of all, my self-talk becomes black and accusatory. Black accusatory self-talk erodes my self-worth, and I sink further into the hole. Before long, I can’t sleep at night, and can’t stay awake in the day.

Fortunately, I have harnessed several defence mechanisms. The first of these is an obvious choice. When the sun shines; get out and walk. The second line of defence concerns shining a very bright light into my ears. Yes, you read it right!

Research from the University of Oulu, Finland in 2007, suggested that when the ears receive trans-cranial light, the brain uses the light in the same way as when full-spectrum lighting enters the brain through the eyes. Published in 2018, researcher Antti Flyktman, submitted his doctoral dissertation that verified the original research and extended our understanding of the processes to include evidence that light shone through the skull, albeit in mice, provides beneficial stimulation. At a future date, it may be possible to subject our heads to light treatment and receive the benefits enjoyed by in-ear applications.

Based on the research, I purchased a “Valkee” light-pod. I place ear-pieces into my ears, in the same way as ear-pieces for audio, and apply a preset light treatment from the iPod-shaped unit. The procedure takes only twelve minutes.

Since I first started using the treatment, I have been less depressed during the winter months than the awful depression that I experienced before I used the remedy. There are many detractors about the use of light in this way, but I can say that I feel that I have had fewer symptoms than when I have not used it. There is no doubt in my mind that changing the clocks plays a part in the winter blues.

Reason 3: Changing the clocks increases road deaths

The most vociferous proponents of abolishing DST come from road safety organisations. Over the years, a substantial body of data demonstrates that fewer lives are lost in accidents when the evening is lighter than when the clocks go back each autumn.

When the evenings are lighter, there are fewer deaths caused by road traffic accidents. According to the British organisation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), following the 1968-1971 UK experiment with all year round BST, roads were safer. Fewer deaths, (-11.32%) occurred in the two weeks following the change of clocks to BST and an increase of (+18.83%) deaths in the two weeks after the return to GMT.

More recent research suggests that all year round BST in the UK could save an estimated 30 lives.

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When a friend is not a friend

This post addresses the changing meaning of friends and how I interpret friendship as my life has changed. At the turn of the century, keeping in contact with friends came down to see them face-to-face, phone calls, email, or, regular mail.

A silent revolution began in 2004 when Facebook launched. Facebook went world-wide in 2006. YouTube started in 2005, Twitter in 2006, and the tools to use them came with the iPhone in 2007, and Android in 2008. What’s App followed in 2009 and Instagram in 2010.

The advent of Android completed the foundations of the social media revolution. With these introductions, our concept of a friend started to change. Participation in friendship before 2004 was likely to be face-to-face and after 2008 less so. Since 2008 a new kind of friend has emerged.

Friends who were acquaintances are now friends. The ease with which we could now add friends ushered in a more open and immediate sharing of one’s life. From a users point of view, it soon became fashionable to have as many friends as one could collect. We now count our Facebook friends, almost as a badge of importance.

With an unprecedented level of access to our lives, Facebook and marketeers soon exploited the abundant harvest of personal data we unknowingly gave up. We may think that we are the customers of Facebook, but nothing could be further from the truth. Facebook’s customers are data harvesters and the marketeers who reap from our posts.

With our lives exposed, we now consider it the norm to live this way. Native webbers find it hard to understand what life would be like without phones or tablets. The easiest way to make a Millennial depressed is to take their phone away for a week. Now tell them to write or call their friends. Expect a tantrum.

But conversely, having an exposed life can cause pressures. The young feel that they have to keep messaging or posting, and if they don’t, then they think that they ought to. Similarly, some are dangerously exposed to conform.

I am defining a friend here as someone I see face-to-face at least some of the time. Yes, my time-tested friends will have access to social media and this is a superb way of supplementing our relationship. The critical point here is that such contact is supplementary to person-to-person time together. I want to look into their eyes, see their gestures, smell their presence and feel their touch, all denied by social media friends.

My troubled recent past caused me to think deeply about who my friends were. Were they those that listed on Facebook? Or, were they those that I had a face-to-face relationship?

In 2017, I experienced deep depression. You can find out more about that time in my post on Retirement recalibration. During that year, I decided to have a Facebook cull to resolve my inner conflict. I had become troubled, and my real need was for real friends. I was dismayed that I listed over 200 people with whom I may once have had a connection as my friends.

My retirement caused me to examine much of my life, and I no longer had any reason to continue listing these folk. If I retained a friend, then I would choose those who are meaningful.

Since I did not know what “meaningful” looked like in retirement, I started with a select group who I would make a special effort to see from time to time. I noticed something else; that some had stared out as work colleagues, but in a few cases, we had transitioned to become personal friends somewhere along the way. A friend who can transition with you and you with them is a friend of great value.

Pruning, reduced numbers to about 50 names, the chosen few. The trimmed 150 or so belonged to somewhere in the past. Each one was a worthy friend in another life. It might seem rather ruthless, but I was hungry for a new kind of meaning in my friendships.

For me, it represented progress and formed a part of the emerging clarity I was seeking for my life. And, I am not suggesting that those who did not make the final cut were terrible people; actually, they are good people with much to offer.

These matters are very personal. I had to face an uncomfortable truth, that because of my abrupt changes through my burn-out and breakdown; I could no longer sustain satellite people in my life without guilt.

Once I had made the cull, I wrote a post on Facebook to say that those who remained were my chosen ones. I was surprised at how many people responded positively, and I received some encouraging responses. These responses made me feel that I had done the right thing. What the process achieved was to create my standard selection criteria – a set of filters through which I examined who I was and what I wanted in a friendship.

To diagnose if a friend was a true friend or a Facebook friend, I asked questions of myself “What do they contribute to me?” and “What do I give to them?” More importantly, I asked my self if I wanted to have these friends in my life.

Of course, this analysis probably says more about me than it does about my friends. I fear my ENTJ worldview is poking through my edited veneer.

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The Value of Time Tested Friends

Recently, I have been considering the value of time-tested friends. As I have grown older, my need for secure and lasting friendship has also increased. While I have a large number of acquaintances, I crave for my inner circle of closest friends. Somehow, I need friends to complete me. I want to spend time with them, though I may not necessarily see them on a daily or weekly basis.

In this post, I write about the character of the relationship I have with my long-lasting friends. At the end of this post, I offer a seven-point checklist detailing the main characteristics that are important to me. As my thoughts unfold, I hope that you will identify the components that you consider essential for your friendships and that you will be encouraged by what you find. I invite you to share your insights via the comments.

In our lives, there is a natural turnover of friends with each passing decade. In a decade, we may turn over multiple friends. As an experiment, I spent a few moments recalling those who were in my life, ten years ago, and ask “Where are they now?” Those who have retreated from my circle of friends tell me that one or both of us have changed. 

In my case, having a stress breakdown, becoming depressed and leaving my work made a significant impact on my ability to maintain my friendships. One or both of us has found it impossible to sustain what we had. Losing people from our experience of life is natural, if painful at times.

Keeping long-term friends is also natural, and I call these friends “sticky friends”. These sticky friends, once made, stay with us long-term. We share a resilience that enables us to build a loyal and robust relationship together. In a 2015 article, How relationships help us to age well, published by The British Psychological Society, authors Laura Soulsby and Kate Bennett consider the substantial evidence that relationships help us to age well.

What I am interested to learn about what creates and sustains friendships. So, how do we keep connected for the long haul? And what are the threats? 

In 2016, The Guardian newspaper published a thought-provoking article, “Do people start losing friends at a certain age?” The piece, curated by Sarah Marsh, begins with the idea that after the age of 25, we begin to see a decline in our friendship count as life changes around us.

A change of status, such as a relocation or illness, or a drastic upheaval, such as acquiring sudden wealth or committing a serious crime is frequently the main reason for the severance. Yes, I did have a friend who committed murder, but that is for another post, maybe. Significant sudden change rarely leaves our world untouched, and when it does, we must expect collateral damage.

At one time, I felt that I should have as many friends as possible. These friends were people I knew from our shared experience, perhaps through work or some other kinship circle. Some I saw regularly; others less so. For instance, I might see someone at an annual conference or when travelling. Friends I made in this way were easy to relate to, and with whom there was common ground. 

The common ground might be a shared history; for example, my school friends. I left school nearly fifty years ago, so there are not many left now. I wrote about losing a friend in a previous post, How Life Transitions Affect Us. Those that remain assume a higher value. 

Or, the shared experience might be a family connection. I’m proud to be part of a natural family that has stayed in touch with each other. My twelve cousins meet together once or twice a year, in what I call our tribal gathering. Our genes bond us.

Whatever the circumstances, bonding experiences will chime with our values and deepest needs. It is from these experiences that our sincerest friendships arise. Some of those with whom we share meaningful moments will become time-tested friends. Sticky friends emerge from what is shared.

My illness and eventual retirement caused me to think deeply about my friends. I wrote about my journey to peace after retirement, in my post, Retirement re-calibration. At the end of 2017, I asked myself searching questions about the nature of my relationship with my friends. 

Conversely, I suspect that the same queries arose about me. Was I toxic? Did they want to be near me with so many issues? Of course, most of my time-tested friends just hung in there, not knowing whether I would emerge from the ‘dark night of the soul’ or not. Change tests relationships. 

In a 2017 article published by Psychology Today, Temma Ehrenfeld writes about the health benefits of friends in our older years. Ehrenfeld postulates that local friends trump distant family in meeting our friend needs. Interesting.

To round off this post, here are seven characteristics that have shaped my understanding of our sticky friends:

  1. Sticky friends have travelled with me on the long road to today;
  2. Sticky friends are small in number;
  3. Sticky friends are mainly contemporaries;
  4. Sticky friends offer reciprocation, as I do;
  5. Sticky friends are low maintenance;
  6. Sticky friends can withstand long silences;
  7. Sticky friends stand by me, to encourage and support, in all weathers.

In my next post, I write about the importance of face time and how social media is no substitute for time together, though it adds a useful dimension to keeping in touch.

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Retirement re-calibration

At the age of 61, I retired from my work as a Church leader. My retirement was sudden though it had a long lead. Retiring after thirty years of leadership, I was utterly exhausted and in poor health. Since that crisis, I have had the opportunity to reflect on my work life and to consider what comes next.

Sudden retirement is less than perfect; a lot less than ideal. I had hoped to continue working until I was 66 years old, but illness intervened and forced my hand. Previously back in 2009, I had had a nervous breakdown. Frankly, I have always carried a fragility of health and found that I had not and could not recover sufficiently to continue as if nothing had happened.

My work was as a Baptist Minister and be can be surprisingly demanding. I felt like a distressed bi-plane meandering down the runway of life without sufficient power to take off again and battered by the crosswinds of culture. Largely, under-resourced in the work, I was utterly exhausted. I needed to abort another take-off attempt and consider my options. That did not happen. The future has a way of choosing you. I officially retired five years early on 31 May 2016, thirty years to the day since I started my work as a Church leader.

Although retiring in these circumstances added to my distressed state, it also provided me with a way out what was proving to be a toxic work experience for me. I did not have the personal resources to choose a new way forward for myself. I felt trapped by my role.

A way out of one life is a way into another life. This other life did not yet have a shape in my mind. The landscape I faced was featureless, or so it seemed. I did not know anyone else who was where I had found myself, and I don’t think I could yet speak the language of this new place. I was a stranger in my own body. I was, bluntly, blinded and disorientated by my plight. In a moment of desperation, I was able to write my resignation letter to my Church. I was no longer fit for work, no longer an asset to the kind people of the Church.

Despite my perilous state, two significant events propelled me towards a new outlook on life and have proved to be instrumental in defining my new world. The first thing that happened was that we needed to move house. My housing was attached to my previous role as a church pastor. Fortunately, a Charitable organisation was able to help find a new home for myself and my wife, Maggie. We moved into our new home some six weeks after my official retirement.

The following week, I had surgery planned. I needed a new knee. The surgery went well, and it took a few weeks before I could mobilise sufficiently to potter around the house. Happily, my knee continued to improve, and in less than a year, I could say with complete honesty that my knee was just like the old one but without the pain. The only time that I know that I have a chunk of metal in my leg is when the temperature falls to below zero then and only then does it feel like a chunk of metal. I count it a privilege to live in an age and in a country where knee replacement surgery is routine.

The first year of retirement consisted of long periods of physical rest. Physical rest opened the door to psychological and spiritual rest. All three kinds of rest are vital if I was to find renewal. For instance, the more I quieted my inner chatter, the more I heard. As one of my granddaughters said to me, “Sometimes granddad you have to shush yourself.”

I was, and perhaps still am, re calibrating. Thrust into a new environment takes time to familiarise with the new country. In this new country, the rules of life, the language, and the pace at which my new world unfolds are refreshingly slower. As a Myers-Briggs ENTJ, and a workaholic, I made my life more complicated than it had to be. I had to wean myself off being an adrenaline junkie.
In the three years since my immigration to my new country, I have found shape, purpose and meaning. I can now see many things that it was not possible to see when I furiously ran my Ferris wheel.

Here are six things that have emerged out of the tumult of three years ago:

  1. I write. Every day, well almost every day. In 2016 I started my Commentarium, my private view of my life. In my Commentarium, I write around 500-600 words a day on what I see and feel. It is therapy.
  2. I blog. As you may know, I have re-launched my blog Russ Parkes Live. Russ Parkes Live is an extension of me. I am writing once a week or so on a more thoughtful aspect of my experience of life.
  3. I research. I am keen to put my educational disciplines to work through researching my family history. To me, it is endlessly fascinating to discover the lives of those who have gone before. There is much to learn, both from failures of life as well as the successes.
  4. I invest. I like to invest in toilets. With the advent of the internet, I can invest directly to buy an individual or community a toilet somewhere in the world and feel that I have made a small difference.
  5. I walk. I walk for health reasons. One of my new found goals is to stay age-related fit. That no longer means pursuing athletics, cricket or the football of my youth, long since cast aside. It does mean that I can muse and reflect as I walk. Walking is good for my mental health and well-being.
  6. I garden. As part of the development of our house, I invested in a greenhouse. Pottering in the greenhouse planting seeds and watching them grow is therapeutic for me. I am reminded that God does a great deal of work in gardens. I feel close to God in the greenhouse.

I have now spent forty-three months in retirement. That is one month of reflection for each year I worked, and I have learned a great deal about my self. As Christ-follower, I have confidence in the future and increasingly so as I discover more about my new life. The six aspects of my life cannot ever be a static list. As time marches on, I expect other interests to emerge. I could have added others to my list but have decided to keep my powder dry for now.

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The Mystery of Sleep

Sleeping man with infant

Falling asleep is one of my great joys. It starts with the readiness for rest, usually lying down and closing my eyes to permit myself to slip from this reality and into another. As I do, I soon begin to silently move from the awareness of my surroundings. Without any effort on my part, I find that I am drifting into another world.

In this in-between state, I am gradually separated from my immediate thoughts and concerns. As I separate from usual reality, I enter into a different kind of world.

I embrace the arrival of the misty dream world of sleep. I’m in a peaceful state and move effortlessly into the unknown world of sleep. The change from the conscious and awake to sleep and the unconscious is calm, gradual and gentle where one gives way as the other laps in.

I can’t write about what happens next in a linear or conscious way since I am not there, at least not there as I am when awake. Somehow I have transitioned from one sort of reality to another kind of reality. But I also know that some features of this different world are truly amazing.

Science tells us that our bodies and minds are active during sleep. We know that our body repairs itself and our brains are busy organising such areas as memory. Toxins are removed, tissues repaired, memories made sense of and that some memories are transferred from our short-term memory to our long-term memory. Our breathing and heart rates slow. Our temperature changes through the night. The depth of our sleep can be measured by brain activity.

Time does not pass in the same way as it does when we are fully conscious. Take, for example, when we wake – we are not aware of the minutes or hours that we have slept. Sometimes, I wake sufficiently in the night and take a glance at my bedside clock. If I wake again later, I readily believe that I have dozed only for a minute or two, only to discover that two hours have passed since my last peep. My ability to gauge time is unreliable and does not work well when I am asleep. I can measure time internally when awake but not when I am asleep or if I hover between the two states.

As I begin to wake, it is as if I’m rising out of a submerged state. In the depths of sleep, my conscious world is suspended. Even time passes without measure and any sense of watching the clock of reality is lost. Time no has power over me as it does in my conscious day. But as I wake and draw closer to my wakeful state, my internal periscope is raised, and I begin to check in with my self and my surroundings. It’s a new day. I want to know where I am, the time, light through the curtains or a glance at the clock all to confirm my safe arrival to a new day. But how did I get there?

A good night’s sleep successfully punctuates my existence in the physical world. We accept this world as our ordinary human reality. But at times, I wonder whether this is quite the right perspective. If sleep is a temporary state punctuating my physical world, could it just as rightly be said that my physical experience is brief punctuation of my otherness?

On its own, this thought is intriguing. If sleep is part of a larger other reality, then it is possible to see sleep as the gateway to my otherness, an existence in another state. It is at this point we are aware that something quite beautiful has happened. If our sleep has progressed without interruption, we will wake refreshed and at peace in readiness for a new day. In this sense, our visit to our other reality punctuates the rhythms of daily life and is essential to our good health.

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Is it Possible to Lead a Balanced Life?

Finding the right way to balance my life is a huge and constant challenge. Deep down, I’m searching for a balanced life that can be sustained. Over the years, I’ve tried many different ways to achieve this. As I have observed others, I’ve noticed that people tend to be clustered at the far ends of the scale between too focused or too laid back. But it’s for the middle ground of balance that I yearn.

Where am I on the scales of life?

At one end of the scale, I’ve noticed that many I know are either too focused, too organised. These are the stressed and just little too close to workaholic. At the other end of the scale are those who take things much more as they come, enjoy moving between different things easily, perhaps too distracted, and just a little too close to chaotic. There are undoubted strengths and weaknesses of each position. It’s good to be clear and focused, just as it right to be available and flexible. Over my working life, I have tended to veer towards overwork.

Waking up to self-awareness

In the wake of a breakdown – I’m now recovering – I’ve had a huge wake-up call. As things stand at the moment I’ve become more self-aware of my own needs as a person and my significant need is to get and keep the balance I crave. I’ve found that I feel so much more fulfilled and at peace with myself when that happens. So how can I know when I’m in the red zone or running smoothly? And what’s more, how can I make changes or who do I call on if things are skidding off course?

Finding what works for you

I have come to appreciate the following model. I don’t remember reading or hearing about this from anyone else, and I certainly can’t claim it to be original but, it works for me. My plan is simple. I divide my days into thirds. In a balanced and satisfying day, I enjoy a ‘three thirds’ day.

Each third offers a different form of activity, and it is the balance between these elements that provide the inner harmony I need. Too much of any one part and I soon feel that ‘out-of-sorts’ feeling. ‘Out of sorts’ leads to ‘out of balance’. And, out of balance means I don’t live out of a peaceful heart.

Of course, I can stay in one area more than I would choose if the situation demands it, but not for long and before long the warning sign begins to appear. My capacity is much reduced these days and a wrong balance results in a quicker depletion than it used to. My safeguard is that I come back to my ‘three thirds’ rule.

Simplicity is the key

Here’s my simple approach. Ideally, each day should contain:

1 Some time on my own, writing, study, prayer, administration. I need to be on my own.

2 Some time with others, meetings, mentoring, visits, calls, prayer. I need to be with other people.

3 Some time relaxing, resting, exercising, doing something different. I need to invest in myself.

Making a balanced audit 

How did I better understand my need for balance? With the help of others, I audited my waking hours by writing down the things that I found replenishing or draining. I asked what makes me feel good or helps me give my best? Where and when do I make my best contributions? What depleting activities should I avoid or seek to minimise?

Getting support

By talking things through with trusted colleagues and friends, they helped me to rebuild my productivity around the things that where I contribute best. I have found that others were only too willing to take some things from me, sometimes because my draining activity was their replenishing activity. That’s the wonder of working and living with a great team of people. I’m blessed.

I can’t say that I have mastered pacing my life completely, but I enjoy the days when there is a ‘three thirds’ balance. On these days, I feel so much more productive, more relaxed and more fulfilled. And right now, that’s really important.