In this blogposting…* AGM XXXVI
Our next AGM will take place at 1100 this upcoming Wednesday 19 September at Pret a Manger, by Grey’s Monument.
Those who refuse to plank or tango should come prepared to make a fool of themselves in some other way.
Only joking. Not.
A splendid time is guaranteed for all.
At last I have someone to blame. And his name is - or was - William Willett.
William Willett. It sounds innocuous enough; almost playfully imaginary, like the name of the lovable, tousle-haired rascal in a Billy Bunter story - Willy Willett. Or perhaps a pre-war Music Hall star who sang songs like Whoops! She Slipped Upon The Grass! or All I Had Was Me Knick-Knacks In Me Hand.
Willy Willett. It could almost be the name of one of those ineptly accident-prone story-book characters from Listen With Mother - like Tolly Titpuddle or Willerby Wobble.
But don’t be fooled. If you think like me - and you do - you will reserve your most vicious and bile-laden invective for William Willett. People who are normally the focus of our contempt and loathing - Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, Jeremy Kyle - are models of praiseworthy conventionality compared to Mr Willett.
If there was a list of the people who have ruined people’s lives the most, then William would be up there at number two, almost - but not quite - matching the achievements of Thomas Midgley, who (according to Bill Bryson and Stephen Fry, amongst others) has had a greater catastrophic impact on the Earth’s environment than any other single organism in the entire history of the planet.
The redoubtable Thomas Midgley
It was the unfortunate Mr Midgley who - in his role as a chemical engineer in the 30s - decided it would be a pretty good idea to add lead to petrol, thus killing and maiming countless millions of people and poisoning the atmosphere, probably for ever.
Not content with that, he then headed up the team that developed CFCs for use in refrigeration equipment - chemicals which, within a few decades, had thinned the ozone layer that stops us all from being fried where we stand.
Only two good things can be said about Thomas Midgley. Firstly, he did what he did in ignorance; he had no way of knowing what the long-term effects of his inventions would be. And secondly, he died before he could invent anything else.
By now, you must be wondering what William Willett did that was awful enough to merit all this opprobrium.
Well, legend has it that he was out riding at nine o’clock one winter’s morning and noticed that, because it was still dark, people had lamps burning and curtains drawn. He deduced that it would be a whacko! idea if the whole country put its collective clock back an hour so that, by the new nine o’clock, it would be light and people could switch their lights out and open their curtains an hour ‘earlier’.
It didn’t seem to occur to him that what you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabouts. That is, instead of getting dark at, say, five o’clock in the afternoon, it would now get dark at four - and people would have to switch their lights on and draw their curtains an hour earlier.
Sensibly, this ludicrous idea gained no support at all in parliament - at first. But slowly, more and more MPs decided that ‘Daylight Saving’ (as it was quite wrongly called) would be a Good Thing. Inexplicably, it passed into law in 1916.
And now the whole world does it. It has infected virtually every country on the planet, to no known benefit to anyone and to everyone’s irritation and confusion. Daylight Saving has thus joined the other innovations of doubtful value that the English have given to an adoring world - like concentration camps and cricket.
And although it’s true that Thomas Midgley did a lot more physical harm to the Earth than our Mr Willett, he at least had the excuse that he didn’t know what he was doing. William, on the other hand, inflicted Daylight Saving on us on purpose, with all the maddening inconvenience and potential loss of sobriety and even sanity that has ensued.
So, after all these years of pointless whingeing twice a year, I now know the identity of this, the second-most loathesome man in history and will henceforth direct all manner of colourful curses on his head each October and March.
There is a curious footnote to Willy Willett’s story. He is the great-great-grandfather of Chris Martin, the lead singer with Coldplay, who has children called Apple and Moses. There’s a defective gene there somewhere.
I hereby undertake and promise that I will never, ever go on about Daylight Saving again.
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