Saturday, 27 October 2018

Changing the clocks

Just a reminder to UK folks that we put the clocks back an hour tonight.

In case you are one of the many people who get confused every six months about what that means, I had an experience that has always helped me remember.

A couple of decades ago my life crashed big-time. At that point, what I called "normal" stopped abruptly, and nothing has ever been the same again. That doesn't mean my life has been unhappy, just different. The things that happened then have conditioned everything since, and go on making a difference. My job is to turn that persisting influence to joyous peace, and I have.

In the initial turmoil of the crash, as part of what happened — which took my job, my family home, my income and my marriage — I had to find work, any work, real quick. It was September.

A dear and lovely woman, faithful and wise, who ran a nursing home for dying and chronically sick people, made room for me to work night shifts.  These were 12-hour waking shifts. 

Chronically charged up with adrenalin by the frightening circumstances into which I'd been plunged, I started out okay. I was probably awake all night anyway a lot of the time! But then, stressed and worn out, I found it harder and harder to stay awake all night.

By the end of October, I was so weary, and I was working the night we changed the clocks. This meant that a whole extra hour insinuated itself into the night, so that when the morning finally came and it was time to go home, it actually wasn't — not for another hour. What made it worse was that we worked in pairs, either two care assistants or a care assistant and a qualified nurse, and the nursing home had a policy of regularly breaking up the teams to stop us settling into comfortable patterns (yes, I can't see why, either). I had been moved from an excellent situation with another care assistant where we'd got the work down to a smooth and effective operation, to work with a nurse who longed to be paired with a young, handsome, male care assistant who was just superb at his job. She bitterly resented being saddled with me, and refused to speak to me. All night. At all. Every night. It was the only year I watched the curling on the Winter Olympics, which they show through the night — it's on at 3 o'clock in the morning. And I read Eckhart Tolle's The Power Of Now (very good).

I tried to console myself with the reflection that when the spring came, if I was on duty for the night shift when the clocks changed again, I'd have a short night that time.

By the time Christmas arrived — and because I was new, I had to work Christmas Eve, Christmas Night, Boxing Day Night, then the nights of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, because the old hands had booked their leave long since — I was exhausted. I had begun to be ill but I couldn't stay at home because there weren't nurses available to work those nights. So I got through, and when my duty nights were over I collapsed in bed.

It was the first time (and the only time, it lasted a mere matter of weeks before everything changed again) in my life that I'd had a place of my own, a two-roomed apartment that I loved. On my bed I had a beautiful traditional Welsh wool blanket in grey-blue and deep Burgundy red and black. I loved it. And I'd bought a 4ft fibre-optic Christmas tree that I had in my bedroom. I lay in bed, lost in fever, so glad at last to rest, watching the beautiful changing lights on my tree, loving my wooly blanket, enjoying the frosty air and the ice-flowers on the windows.

And one night it snowed. We have very little snow here on England's south coast, so I thought it might be the only snow we'd see that year (it was). So at 6 in the morning, still pitch-dark, I got up and went down the street and rang the doorbell of the place Alice and Hebe were staying until I woke them up — because they, like me, love the snow. They eventually emerged, got dressed, and we walked down into the valley of parkland, exulting in the moonlight and starlight and gradual lightening of dawn, every tree and plant clothed in a light shawl of sparkling snow, so magical. 

And then I was too tired to walk back up the hill! I had to sit on a bench for a while, and just didn't know how I'd make it home, but I managed in the end.

Such a strange wild time, but blessed by colour, by light, by frost, by stars, by snowfall, by the love of family and the kindness of friends.

Come February I could no longer stay awake at night and had got overweight and too tired to think straight. I moved to day shifts for a bit, but was just too worn out to cope with staff dynamics (not all care assistants are nice people, and some can be a bit . . . primitive) as well as heavy and deeply stressful work. Dressing the wounds of a woman whose cancer was breaking through her abdomen until there was hardly anywhere left to stick the dressings down; helping a middle-aged man whose life had been destroyed by stroke paralysis come to terms with his new situation, sitting with dying people through the last quiet hours of their lives, watching the descent of a neat and reserved elderly lady into the drooling collapse of aggressive motor neurone disease, feeling her horror and fear at the involuntary groanings she made and at the advancing weakness robbing her of the ability even to point at the pictures of what she wanted on the little board. Terrifying to experience, terrible to watch. By the end of February I'd come to the end of myself, worn to a frayed thread, gave in my notice and left in March.

So I never did work that short night.

And that's how I've always remembered which way to change the clocks. In October, you get a longer night, an extra hour in bed. Tomorrow morning when it feels like 8 o'clock, it'll still be only 7 o'clock really.

As the old Indian said: "Only the government would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket, sew it to the bottom of the blanket, and have a longer blanket." Ain't that the truth!


Jenna said...

What a story about your working ordeal. My, oh my.

I despise clock changing, which here is next weekend. (I had to look it up. They screwed that up, as well. When I was a kid, my father worked on traffic lights that ran on actual clocks, and had to manually go change the county's worth of them twice a year and I went him as it involved an exciting ride in his big work truck. So I easily knew when that was--but then they modified it to some inscrutable system that I can't--or possibly won't--remember). I actually have some clocks that are my time change rebellion pieces--I refuse to change my Kindle, the range-top, and my car clock. There's a large wall clock in my living room that's a devil to change so visitors must also get used to that. They similarly must know that I'm on 24-hour time--(so learn to subtract 12 at 13, a'ready).

greta said...

here in the states we won't set our clocks back until the first sunday in november because . . . well, halloween. can't have the children out in the dark! i won't be getting an extra hour of sleep anyway; my cat can't tell time. she will get me up at the usual time only it will be 5:00 a.m. instead of 6:00 a.m. thanks, cat! thanks, government! why can't we simply stay on standard time all year round?

Pen Wilcock said...

Jenna — I can just imagine you, a little girl, going round with your dad in his big work truck that annual adventure. And what you say has reminded me, I am thinking a big wall clock would be a helpful thing in this house.

Greta — yes, I wholeheartedly agree! Our animals (the crow, the gulls, the fox, the cats) know time, but not clock time; they work on a dawn-and-dusk principle the year round, when it comes to breakfast and supper.

Buzzfloyd said...

I always know which way the clock goes, because the October one changes on or just after my birthday, so it was always my birthday present to have an extra hour in bed.

A friend's father told me that the government experimented with not changing the clocks one year in the 70s, but it caused a huge spike in depression, because the UK is so northerly and dark.

I like changing the clocks, it's just another thing to make life exciting.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes! That's how I remember which weekend we have to change the clocks!

I find that spike in depression thing extremely strange, because of the thing the old Indian said (end of blog post). You don't get any more light by changing the clocks. But I'm glad you find it a positive experience — nice to know *somebody* does!

Buzzfloyd said...

Well, I think the key thing is that we have a society dominated by a 9-5 schedule. If you were free to just change your behaviour to fit nature, there probably wouldn't be any issue at all. So it's not the measurement of time per se, but how rigid we are as a society about timekeeping for work. It would be all right if you could just say, yeah, it's dark at this time in winter but light at this time in summer, but so what?

Pen Wilcock said...