“There’s a stretch in the days,” commented a friend this evening, “it’s after five and there is still light in the sky.”
Indeed there was.
“There’s starting to be a hint of light when I walk to school in the morning.”
When I first came to college in Dublin forty years ago, I remember the darkness of the winter mornings seemed strange. I think it was something to do with Dublin being six degrees west of London, and therefore twenty-four minutes behind.
Does the satirical website Waterford Whispers still run the headline each year at the end of January, “Stretch in the days upgraded to grand?”
It was always a headline that always brought a smile, a gentle teasing of people about remarking on the obvious, but also an acknowledgement that the days really were getting longer.
Analyzed, “a grand stretch in the days,” is an odd comment. Wouldn’t it be remarkable if there were not a stretch in the days? Yet every year around this time of year, it becomes an essential element of Irish conversation. Go to the shop, go to the petrol station, go to the post office, pass someone on the street between five o’clock and six o’clock, and the phrase is an acceptable greeting. It is an observation that requires no comment, other than an agreeable nod, or perhaps words to suggest how welcome is the return of the daylight, “isn’t it great to see it?”.
Once the stretch is upgraded to grand and the sunset goes past six in the evening, there is a noticeable change in people’s moods. It isn’t only about astronomical shifts; it is the crossing of a psychological bar. Winter has been defeated for another year.
It is hard to comprehend what a difference simple astronomy can make in people’s lives. As our hemisphere again tilts towards the sun, a year of potential opens up. Daylight will mean the chance for sporting or social activities, it brings the likelihood of seeing people who have been behind curtained windows for months.
On my internet browser, I have a link to a time and date website which tells me. Among other things, the website how much longer today was than yesterday (2 minutes 19 seconds), how much longer today was than the shortest day (27 minutes and 9 seconds) and how much shorter today was than the longest day (9 hours 3 minutes).
Perhaps it is eccentric, but there is an undeniable stretch