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So there's no time like the present? Don't you believe it.

Byline: Steve Groves

TIME doesn't half fugit when you're having a good time, as Basil Brush used to say.

But whose time?

Before the railway system was established, time was different around Britain, so Aberystwyth might have been many minutes behind London. (I can't believe you said that nothing's changed. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.)

It was only the need to co-ordinate timetables that brought a unified time to this island.

Before the railways, local mean time was the time kept by local municipal clocks. From the 1840s railway companies started to keep London time - and that was their first mistake.

This early exchange was recorded at a primitive Paddington, 'Gad, sir. This train from Wales is certainly of the order of 17 minutes late. What have you to say, sir?'

'Lorks a mercy, Guv. This 'ere machine left Welsh Wales on time, and according to my timepiece which is set to Paddington local time it is right on the button in arriving here 14 minutes after you thought it was going to arrive because Welsh time time ain't what it used to be and certainly ain't what it is on your chronometer. Mate.'

Now neither railways nor any other form of transport can escape from the confounded expectations of the paying public.

But help is at hand, because time it is a-changing. Working Group 7A of the International Telecommunications Union's Study Group 7 is discussing time and how to define it.

Because there is more than one way to skin a second; the different ways of establishing time can be as much as 30 seconds apart and the gap is growing.

It's all because the earth is gradually slowing down (you've only got to watch Big Brother to know that) but clocks aren't catching up. Or something like that.

Anyway there's Coordinated Universal Time, International Atomic Time, GPS Time, Greenwich Mean Time and - I suspect - Public Transport Time.

Coordinated Universal Time is apparently 32 seconds behind International Atomic Time because one adds leap seconds and the other doesn't. And no-one, not even Big Ben, follows Greenwich Mean Time anymore.

Public Transport Time, on the other hand, is not governed by any universal law of physics nor by the movement of atoms nor indeed the movement of trains, boats, planes or cars.

The first law of Public Transport Time is simple: The speed at which a train shall move is in direct correlation to the number of people stuck in cars divided by what they're prepared to pay to get out of their cars multiplied by the cost of petrol minus their unwillingness to be inconvenienced by having to walk from a station to a bus to get home or to pay for decent rail services in the first place.

The second law of Public Transport might be: Never mind the timetable; since the different ways of establishing time can be as much as 30 seconds apart and the gap is growing who knows whether we're on time or not?

So it's not true that there's no time like the present, because it might have been that moment 30 seconds ago if you're on Coordinated Universal Time and I'm on International Atomic Time.

Or is it the other way round? Let's synchronise our watches.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 30, 2003
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