Daylight saving, opting out, and a nudge from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Looking for a lead out of the UK’s measurement muddle? The last government showed no desire to become involved, and now the present government appears to be following in its footsteps. Metric Views recently came across a comment elsewhere which prompted speculation on a way forward.

A reader recently wrote this:

“The campaign to shift the UK onto a sensible time zone is back in the news. I see this as a very similar campaign to our own, and one which may give us some pointers to how to (or not to) influence the government and achieve change in this country.

Today’s rhetoric from the UK government may not be comfortable reading. They are effectively opting out of all responsibility for leading, and claiming that the government’s role is to follow public opinion on this issue.  If they take the same approach on metrication, then we proponents have got a steep hill to climb.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said any plans to give the UK brighter and longer evenings will only become a reality if it’s clear that the country is behind it.”

So, how can proponents gain and demonstrate public support for issues such as daylight saving and ending the measurement muddle, when these have been pigeon holed by government as ‘too difficult’, ‘ideologically unimportant’ or even as ‘wait and see’?

Metric Views is not qualified to offer advice to those promoting daylight saving. But on the measurement muddle, we will continue point out the consequences of current policies. Our hope is that progress will become a reality before it becomes clear to the country that continuing damage to the UK economy can no longer be sustained.

So what has this to do with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?

‘The Dragon Tattoo’ is the first of three thrillers written by Stieg Larsson and originally published in Sweden in 2005. The Times book critic wrote of the English translation: “A publishing sensation, an accomplished crime writer who seemingly came from nowhere … A gripping crime novel that lives up to the hype”. Several themes in the first book, including cyber crime and the ethics of investigative journalism, place it firmly in the 21st century, and the measures used in the English translation (by Reg Keeland) are , with one exception, metric. All three books became worldwide best sellers.

Partly as a result of the pervasive US influence in Britain, for example in TV, in film and even in the description of lap tops and notebooks, kids and their parents might be forgiven for thinking that metric is for school, and feet and inches rule elsewhere. ‘The Dragon Tattoo’ shows otherwise, and also links metric measurements firmly to this century. Some of its readers may infer that Imperial measures really do belong to the heyday of empire and the 19th century.

Of course, these three novels, no matter how popular, will neither change public perception and attitudes nor bring the country behind metric measures. But they will have nudged some of the public in that direction. We just need a stream of other examples, not only in books but also in broadcasting, film and the press.

Perhaps as a start, an Australian author could produce a few worldwide best sellers.

16 thoughts on “Daylight saving, opting out, and a nudge from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

  1. I believe that an English-language version of the trilogy is being filmed for the American market. What more need I say?


  2. It doesn’t have to be an Australian author! Scots author Iain Banks (who also writes sci-fi as Iain M Banks) tends to use metric in both his fiction and sci-fi books.

    “I am not answering these questions anymore,” I said to him as I took my plate to the sink. “We should have gone metric years ago.”

    Iain Banks (The Wasp Factory)


  3. Henning Mankell is Sweden’s most prolific crime writer I think and I am pleased to say that Vintage publishers have kept the UK editions in metric. It is so refreshing to read fiction books with metric references.

    In the wider world, I have heard several references to metres and kilos’s on the BBC today. The England v France coverage is mainly metric, with players weights shown in kgs and the commentators referring to distances in metres. This is despite complaints from the Daily Wail a few years ago about the BBC’s ‘obsession’ with the ‘European metric system’.


  4. With reference to the proposals for switching to double summer time, today’s Mail on Sunday (I don’t subscribe to this awful paper, but happened to see the copy that someone else was reading at the next table when we were having lunch out) was claiming credit for having saved Britain from ‘Berlin Time’ – complete with references to Hitler, and a headline in old German typeface.

    I personally think double summer time is a great idea – not only because of compatibility with Europe, but also because I prefer sunshine at 11 pm rather than 3 am, which is what we get in the north east. But the Mail seems to delight in making every proposal to drag Britain into the 21st century an evil EU plot, and while that continues, fully converting to metric is not going to happen. A poor future for our next generation, for sure.


  5. Derek’s reference to the pervasive influence of American TV, films, etc. in the UK, using feet and inches and the like, makes me wonder how other English-speaking countries that have converted to metric have managed to somehow contain the backsliding influence on metrication of such “entertainment” (most of which I as an American am not overly impressed with, quite honestly — in our household we tend to favor British cinema, for example).

    Perhaps an Irish, Australian, etc. reader can post their experience or assessment of this.


  6. Ezra’s reference to the pervasive cultural influence from the USA is correct. However, this support for the dishonesty of hidden metric units goes to a very deep level in otherwise metric countries.

    Consider the all-metric computers used in schools. These are designed — mostly in the USA — using nanometres for the internal chip structure, micrometres for circuit layouts, millimetres for the design of logic boards, cases, and screens. These are then described as something like the 13″ (13 inch) model and equipped with software with the page layouts using default inch margins for the tops, bottoms, and sides of pages.

    Every child in the UK who is preparing an assignment (say) on the invention of the metric system by Bishop John Wilkins in England in 1668 has to work – or fight against – page layouts in inches.

    This stupidity is at its worst in the USA, where all measurements are metric and are hidden behind “Olde English” measuring words; inches in the USA are metric inches, their ounces are metric ounces, feet are metric feet, pounds are metric pounds, and so on for all measurement in the USA. See a letter that I wrote to all Members of Congress for details at

    Pat Naughtin
    Geelong, Australia


  7. A minor point, but significant? The Sunday Times has always insisted on using ‘kph’ for kilometres per hour, in spite of the fact that I wrote a (published) letter to its ‘In Gear’ section pointing out this solecism, but which it has, up to now, ignored. Last Sunday’s paper talked about the proposed raising of speed limits on Britain’s motorways, and, when comparing them with European motorway speed limits, actually used the correct ‘km/h’. Hooray for small increments of metric progress!


  8. This is slightly off-topic, but there is a tenuous connection. I am surprised that some supporters of completing metrication should also appear to be supporting adopting Central European Time. The clock, rather like a system of measurement, should be a fixed, immutable standard that nobody dares tamper with. In principle, noon is the moment when the sun is at its highest point, and which time zone we are in should be dictated by that. Most of the UK is west of the Greenwich Meridian, and it is therefore entirely correct that the UK should be in the Greenwich Mean Time (or UT) zone – along with Ireland, Portugal and the Canary Isles Province of Spain.

    Messing about with the clock does not alter the total amount of daylight, and if people want to have more daylight in the evening, they should get up earlier and finish work earlier! And/or they should have separate summer and winter timetables (as some organisations already do).

    The consequence of being in the wrong time zone can be seen in Spain, which is also mostly west of the Greenwich meridian (except Catalonia and the Balearics). The Spanish have adjusted their timetables to reflect their true longitude, so that everything starts “late” (in terms of the clock). My experience (outside the main tourist areas) is that many shops do not open until 10:00 (CET), and it is difficult to get a meal in a restaurant before 21:00, and some football matches do not finish until almost 23:00. In fact these timings reflect their true geographical position, as they equate to 09:00, 20:00 and 22:00 GMT respectively – just as in the UK.

    As to the argument that business needs to be in the same time zone as our European customers/suppliers – you need only look at the USA, which has 5 time zones, yet still manages to cope perfectly well.

    So the message is: change your behaviour – not your system of measuring time.


  9. @ Erithacus

    As you gave the US as an example of a multi time zone nation, perhaps I should comment. Time zones are designed based on central meredians at multiples of 15° with transit of the sun averaging 12:00 there (it varies ±20 minutes throughout the year. Standard time is designed to be kept ±7.5° on either side. So the UTC time zone should apply from 7°30’E to 7°30’W. This practice is generally followed at sea, not so closely on land. Obviously this is not true on the Continent. France should (mostly) be in the UTC zone, not UTC+1.

    In the US, the above lines of demarcation would bisect many States. Most states reject this and push time zone boundaries to the state border, generally the western border, keeping the time of the easternmost portion of the state. There are execeptions to this general practice. The State of Indiana is entirely west of 82°30’W, yet is in the Eastern time zone, except for a small area which borders Chicago. Texas pushes the boundary of Central time well west of 97°30W, and in western Texas, all the way to 105°W, the central meredian of the Mountain time zone.

    While we cope with multiple time zones, we do so by adjusting the boundaries extensively to suit local preferences and place boundaries where (hopefully) they confuse a minimum number of people.

    From the coverage, I am unclear exactly what the proposal is for the UK. Is it to keep Central European time year round, or adopt “double summer time” in the summer only? You are so far north, I can see that double summer time might make sense, but if the proposal is to keep Central European time, be sure to check the time of sunrise on December 21.

    Our Congress (stupidly) adopted earlier Spring and later fall dates for summer time (daylight saving time here) and on the chosen dates, there isn’t enough to “save.” Sunset still isn’t late enough to do much after work, yet sunrise is too late. We should have left the fall date alone (it was the same as Europe), and moved the Spring date a week to agree with Europe. We also tried year-round daylight saving time years ago. It was horrible in the winter.


  10. As a strong supporter of metrication I cannot agree with the suggestion above that it follows from this that I should be against the British adoption of CET.

    The issues and motivations surrounding metrication and that of choosing a time zone are not comparable. We all use the same “system” of measuring time regardless of which zone we are in. They differ only in terms of the midday reference point. They are otherwise compatible (like kelvin versus Celsius).

    On the other hand, with Britain failing to fully adopt the metric system we have a serious problem of incompatibility and losing the advantages that its consistent use would bring us.

    Personally I have mixed feelings about the objectives of the “lighter later” campaign but whatever the outcome I believe I could live with it.


  11. Today we heard that the proposal change the UK’s timezone has not been included in the tourism strategy, effectively dashing hopes that the change will be made in the near future. This is clear example of how difficult it is to effect change in this country. There were two interesting problems that the report cited which the metrication campaign needs to take into account:
    Firstly, public opinion was required to back this change. The main reason cited for not including the proposals was lack of support from the Scots. It would seem that the metrication campaign must change the public’s view of metrication to stand any chance of success.
    Secondly, the issue of safety was raised, with reports that the Scots were concerned that a change in timezone would make the roads less safe. This is a complete misrepresentation of the facts – all objective studies have concluded that the road safety case is more compelling in Scotland than it is in England. The lesson from this is that politics often has little to do with objective facts, such as the metric system being more rational. It seems to be more driven by emotion, image and vested interests. It’s difficult to see how the current metrication campaign can compete on these terms, unless we try to associate miles with the Roman invasion and metrication with “democracy” I suppose.


  12. David Brown is quite right. Said in a different way, the manner in which an argument is “framed” (in the sense propounded by Dr. George Lakoff of UC Berkeley and others) is the key joint in determine how the public perceives and interprets that argument.


  13. I do not see any link between supporting the completion of metrication in the UK and favouring a switch to CET. However, there is a business case for EU financial centres being in the same time zone so that employees actually have more office hours during the day when they are at work at the same time. A more pertinent question is whether summer time is at all relevant any more.


  14. Jake,
    There is no link between the content of the campaigns, but I see some clear parallels – they both require a change in government policy; they both face some public support and some opposition; they both almost achieved their aims in the 1970s, but not quite.
    I have just received an email from the Lighter Later campaign with an update on the status of the issue. Rather like the last big push for metrication, they have been let down by the best hope they had of success, but they console themselves with:

    “The fact that it even came close to being in the tourism strategy just goes to show how far we’ve come – this campaign has taken the issue further forward than at any time in the last 40 years”

    Apparently they generated 1,500 emails to the Tourism Secretary as a result of their last push. They also sent me a link to my MP’s office contacts and asked me to set up a meeting with him on the clock-change weekend. This is backed up with a “lobbying kit” to help you to work out what conversation to have with your MP. It’s all very similar to the UKMA campaign, just in a different phase; but I’m sure we could learn (or even share) some tips on how to approach the issue of persuading a government to do something we see as just common sense.


  15. Somehow I think that at this point only a campaign to enlist the support of the business community will turn the tide. If they become convinced finishing metrication is one aspect of improving the UK’s global competitiveness, then perhaps they can exert the necessary pressure on the government to change its policies.


  16. How on earth does double summer time get into this forum? I lived in western France for a few years, west of the meridian. The fact that mid-day arrived at 14:00 was a constant source of annoyance to me and I hated it. It was one of the few negatives of living in France. I certainly would hate it here in UK, (to be honest I would love to hate UK more, it may give me the push I need to get out for good). Our time, all time, is set by our position on the face of the earth, it should remain as the 12:00 clock time being as close as possible to mid-day solar time. No exceptions, no stupid summer time. This bringing us into line with mainland Europe in equally nonsense. France and Spain in particular has a totally different work routine to UK and no amount of clock face juggling will bring us even close, nor do we remotely need to. Funny I think that metrication is based on pure logic and this nonsense on …errr pure nonsense!!


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