Clock Wise

Great Britain – emphasis, as always, on Great – is an island floating around about half way across the Atlantic. Indeed, if you look realy close, it’s probably not too far from Martha’s Vineyard. At least if you believe some Britons, the kind who seriously believe that Britain should leave the European Union and join the NAFTA.

I was reminded about this wackiness when reading some of the comments to this interesting column by Anatole Kaletsky in today’s The Times:

Why should Britain be one hour after the European continent, he asks, when this only leads to unnecessary problems? Companies can’t communicate with each other because they work different hours, especially when it comes to the question of when to have lunch.

At first, it seemed as if he had made a point. After all, a truthful map will reveal the horrible truth that my dear home country is not only that great in size after all, but that it is in fact – oh, perish the thought – more north than west of much of Europe. It is in fact east of Spain, which is one hour ahead.

Bah! sneer the commentators. Why should we adapt to that stupid European Union? Our ties with America are far more important; let’s not make the time difference with the US larger than it is already, they howl, instantly forgetting that the overwhelming majority of Britain’s business is done with other EU countries.

But then, as it dawned on me as I continued to read the comments, why do we mess with this shifting of clocks back and forth at all?

Twice a year, we all engage in this quite ridiculous event of all pretending that it’s A o’clock instead of B o’clock. In order to save daylight time, we are old, only to find ourselves quitting Daylight Saving Time during the part of the year when daylight is at its scarcest.

The question is simple: Why don’t we just change our active hours instead?

It’s such a sign of the arrogance of mankind that our immediate response is to decide to force reality to follow our lifestyles instead of the other way round.

Let the time follow the time zones that the Earth’s rotation dictates, even if it does mean that we have to accept the painful truth that we live across a globe, not a flat map where you could shine daylight on everyone a the same time. If you do need to do business with Seattle or Tokyo, adjust your working hours accordingly. And if you cherish daylight, make the effort of actually rolling out of bed a little earlier in the morning.

And as for the lunch thing, well, like I’ve said before, the real time difference across the EU is not between East and West but between North and South, and no clock-shifting could ever change that.

Lego’s Lost It

Iknow, I know, this has nothing to do with EU policies. But this week means Autumn (Fall) break in large parts of Europe, including here in Belgium. In short, that means that my two sons, four and six years old, are spending the week at home. The weather is as grey as you would have guessed, and consequently, they are already climbing the walls.

It is on those occasions that you have ample opportunity to ponder the quality of toys, which in their case happens to be a Lego car each, brought home from Luxemburg as a consolation by their Daddy for being away for two full days, talking fisheries and other EU Agricultural policies. Ample, I’d say, because of the tears and frustration Lego brings to today’s kids.

When I grew up, Lego was a set of pretty anonymous little plastic bricks with only two defining characteristics:

1) They hurt the living daylights out of our parents when they stepped on them bare-footed on their way to the bathroom at night.

2) You could build ANYTHING with them.

Today’s Lego bricks also have two defining characteristics:

1) They are so small and tiny that they either vanish or get sucked into the hoover by mistake before anyone gets to step on them by night.

2) Every piece is so specialised that you can’t build ANYTHING with them.

Including the one toy you are supposed to build with each kit, that is. The instructions for a tiny fire engine or police car are commonly two pages long, and so complicated that even Daddy would have had problems with it unless he’d spent the last decade assembling IKEA furniture every few months. Four-year-olds rarely have that experience. Consequently, they’re in tears after the first few moments.

Then comes the hard part. Today’s Lego toys are so aggressively poorly constructed that they fall apart by themselves before you can say Ole Kirk Christiansen. To be technical about it, they’re usually so scaled down that each joint is only held together by one single… what do they call those little round bumps? One and none more it is, anyway. Thus defying the laws of nature, there can only be one logical result: the toys come apart. Straight away.

The consequence of this is that today’s children learn about Lego toys falling apart, before they learn about Lego being something fun to build together. It used to be the other way around. Their only point of reference to Lego is that the Lego toys look and perform like some fifth-grade imitation of Playmobil.

And that’s probably the clue. Lego seems to have completely lost faith in its own business model, and decided to try to take ground from rival Playmobil. Problem is, they will never be able to make something designed to look and behave like one thing look and behave like something else. And judging from the heavy losses the Lego Group has been making during the last few years, the consumers have discovered, too, that Lego is basically making an utter fool of itself abandoning such a genial formula it once was in order to become a simple copy of something else it can never live up to.

There’s a lesson in there for all of us: Stay who you are… don’t become a bleak copy of someone else. You are unique; dare to trust being yourself.

I only wish I could explain that to the kiddies, though.