Living on Borrowed Time
It was 1.43 am on a Sunday in October, and
the Chief Executive of the Borough Council knew disaster was at
hand. On previous years when the clocks had been put forward by
one hour in the spring the time had been stored centrally in a
vault under the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. This year, for
the first time, locally devolved government had led to the
borrowed hours being kept at town halls up and down the country.
The Borough had a population of 100,000 so
an hour contributed by each resident amounted to 595 weeks. It
was found that these could be comfortably accommodated in the
small room adjoining the Chief Executives office.
At first his illicit use of this time had
been limited. Perhaps the odd hour when he had missed lunch or
the occasional day when a report was required to a deadline. The
constant pressure from his wife to spend more time with her led
finally, however, to him taking two weeks for each of them for an
additional holiday in the Bahamas. Even this might not have been
missed as some residents of the Borough spent the winter abroad
and a lesser number of hours were often required to allow clocks
to be restored in autumn.
It had been the delay in completion of the
new shopping centre that led to the officers of the Council
considering their options. There was either to be a huge
financial loss to the Borough, which would result in a vastly
increased council tax and, very probably, scupper their re-election
chances, or some time could be borrowed to bring the
Centre back on schedule. They chose the latter. They had failed
to properly calculate, however, the number of people involved in
the construction project, and the time now left in reserves
allowed the clocks to be put back by just seventeen minutes.
The overall situation was worse than the
Chief Executive could have imagined as there were similar
occurrences nationwide. The total deficit ran into hundreds of
years. The country had 824 time zones.
Train timetables were meaningless, and the
British rail network virtually ground to a halt. At first,
therefore, no one noticed anything unusual. As the days passed,
however, more and more people began to question where their
coffee breaks had gone, why the wages for hourly paid workers had
fallen, why food was always undercooked, how so many athletics
records could have been broken, and why it was getting so dark
during the day?
The government was forced to act quickly
and introduce temporal taxation for all those with more than ten
hours per week of spare time. The rate was on a sliding scale to
a maximum of 40% for those in the idle layabout band.
This was sufficient to restore order, and more radical plans to
move the International Date Line half a metre to the east in
order to regain time were, fortunately, not required.