Living round the clock
So last week we put back the clocks by an hour. Who ordered this to be done in times gone by and how far back into history this bizarre practice went, I really don't know.

But by the time we had remembered to do this heavenly bidding, so much time had passed since the order of the day had been handed down, we were not quite certain whether we had to catch up with time or wait for an hour for it to catch up with us. It is as confusing as trying to unravel the thought processes of President George W.Bush
It must have been some time during the last world war when wise men (and women, too I suspect) put their heads together and decided that this was a splendid way of saving one thing or another, though I don't know precisely what. Maybe it was to see whether their wristwatches worked. Some of those watches that some here wear, must surely come from Norman times.

I know some former colleagues of mine in Colombo who would have loved to see such idiosyncracies carried out on a daily basis.

It would come as no surprise to many, if not all, that many were journalists of some standing.

Now those were types of persons who would liked to have seen the clock put forward daily by an hour at 10 am and the same clocks turned back two hours at 6 p.m.

And they had, I suppose, as good a reason to do so as the intellectual heavyweights who originally thought of the idea. The great merit in this scheme was that my colleagues, unlike the great thinkers who came up with the idea, did not have to wait for this annual turn of events to gain a couple of hours.

Had their idea been put to the test, as it were, it would have solved some major national problems of the day-or so they said. One of them who had a penchant for mathematics, coming as he did from that side of the cadjan curtain which began at Elephant Pass and continued north, had made some quick calculations on the back of an unutilised petty cash chit.

After we had each drowned what must have been something like six arracks- adulterated or not it was too late to say- he was determined to go to the finance ministry to convince the man holding the money bags what an excellent scheme they had hit upon.

He didn't have far to go in those days. We were in a hole in the wall in Canal Row and the finance ministry was in the Old Secretariat building across from the Army grounds at Echelon Square.

Now Hotel Galadari and the World Trade Centre occupy the grounds where once we used to watch the army on parade and uniformed policemen creep out of a dilapidated building that housed some important branches of the police.

To cut a long story short, as the chap at the rewrite desk used to say before surgically removing several paragraphs of purple prose, my friend from the north failed to reach the finance ministry. Not for want of trying or even persuasion, rest assured. It was simply that the Dickensian darkness that surrounded the steep wooden stairs of the York Club was not entirely conducive to sudden and expeditious departures.

His precipitous action in wanting to impress the finance minister brought the stairs into collision with him and my northern friend catapulted into Canal Row and was observed by passers-by emulating a corpus delicti, not for the first either.

The scheme that had been hastily put together in one of those moods of national ardour was really very simple. If the clocks were advanced an hour in the mornings, the pubs and other watering holes that infest the country would open an hour earlier. Putting the clocks back a couple of hours in the evening would mean the pubs will remain open longer.

In those extra hours each day the people of Sri Lanka will rise to their national responsibility and duty and drink enough of the local brew- actually any brew at hand- for the finance minister to be able to slash his budget deficit.

What is more he could double his earnings by increasing the price of liquor as finance ministers do annually.

Unfortunately before the idea could be further distilled-and no pun intended either- President Junius Jayewardene's government in a moment of extreme unction and a bow to its dharmishta policies decided to close Colombo's watering holes at 2 p.m. and reopen them at 5 p.m.

The government wanted to turn the clock, metaphorically speaking, on public employees who were thought to be spending their time at the bars drinking instead of working at their desks like all good public servants should.

So the world-well it was a rather small world then as American imperialism had yet to take root- applauded and Junius Jayewardene's dharmishtaness was firmly established.

But in their own genius these advocates of closure forgot to factor in the native cunning and perspicacity of the Common Man, a fault of politicians who believe only they have been anointed with wisdom.

So from the KKS-as the peons of British colonialism came to be known- to the subject clerk and head clerk, they turned the clock back on the false prophets of dharmishta. Instead of returning to work some of them decided stay on inside when the pubs closed their doors at 2 p.m. until the doors reopened at 5 p.m. and continue as usual.
Were President Jayewardene and his advisers putting the clock back, metaphorically speaking, as some people thought? Or did the public service do it?

Apocryphal or not, the other day I heard a gardener has been posted to one of our embassies that does not have a garden. Some might say that this is to put the clock back, that this denotes lack of accountability like in the old days.

But who can say it is not putting the clock forward? Maybe this gardener will grow rows of trees creating a new Berlin Wall and some of our politicians who cannot see the wood for the trees will feel so much at home and will applaud the wisdom of those who would lead the public up the garden path.

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