hidden europe 35

Timing matters

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The world clock on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz (photo © Patrick Poendl / dreamstime.com).


Russia's decision this year to abandon seasonal changes of clocks has prompted much media comment. Belarus has followed Russia's example. Ukraine, after much prevarication, has opted to stick with alternating winter and summer time. In this short piece for hidden europe, we take a look at the politics and time.

We have long subscribed to the view that little is gained from rushing to catch a film on its first release. Time softens the hype that so often surrounds a promising new film. So it is only this month that, more than a year after its much acclaimed debut, we have seen The King’s Speech, the multi-Oscared and much-acclaimed film that dwells on King George VI’s unfortunate stammer and the idiosyncrasies of Sandringham life.

Among the latter, the management of clocks must rate as one of the most sublimely idiosyncratic. Evidently King George V, following a precedent established by his father King Edward VII, kept Sandringham Time. Royal diaries of the Edwardian period use the abbreviation ST to denote this peculiarly regal time zone. Sandringham Time was precisely thirty minutes in advance of Greenwich Time, so ensuring that the British royal family was always one step ahead of its subjects. Quite why the royal household maintained its own time zone is unclear. Possibly it kept a closer affinity with their continental cousins, or perhaps it was merely a device to fool sunset and maintain an illusion of being able to hunt, shoot and fish until a little later into the evening.

If The King’s Speech is to be believed, King Edward VIII’s first major policy decision, following the death of his father in January 1936, was to turn back the clocks in Sandringham (and the other royal castles) by thirty minutes, so ensuring that both rulers and the ruled in the United Kingdom shared a common time zone. Although Edward’s tenure of the throne was but short-lived, neither of his two successors has shown any inclination to reverse Edward’s decision.

Such crisp, clear decision making on the matter of time might well be a lesson for the government of Ukraine, where time has become one of the most hotly-contested topics in parliamentary debate in recent months.

Related note

Rail update: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus

New rail timetables for the former Soviet Union come into effect later this month. There remains some uncertainty about some services, but for travellers heading east, here are a few thoughts on what to expect: the return of the Berlin to Kaliningrad night train, a new link from Riga to Minsk, a direct daily train from Berlin to Ukraine and more.