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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

Living on Borrowed Time

It was 1.43 am on a Sunday in October, and the Chief Executive of the Borough Council knew disaster was at hand. On previous years when the clocks had been put forward by one hour in the spring the time had been stored centrally in a vault under the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. This year, for the first time, locally devolved government had led to the borrowed hours being kept at town halls up and down the country.

The Borough had a population of 100,000 so an hour contributed by each resident amounted to 595 weeks. It was found that these could be comfortably accommodated in the small room adjoining the Chief Executive’s office.

At first his illicit use of this time had been limited. Perhaps the odd hour when he had missed lunch or the occasional day when a report was required to a deadline. The constant pressure from his wife to spend more time with her led finally, however, to him taking two weeks for each of them for an additional holiday in the Bahamas. Even this might not have been missed as some residents of the Borough spent the winter abroad and a lesser number of hours were often required to allow clocks to be restored in autumn.

It had been the delay in completion of the new shopping centre that led to the officers of the Council considering their options. There was either to be a huge financial loss to the Borough, which would result in a vastly increased council tax and, very probably, scupper their re-election chances, or some time could be ‘borrowed’ to bring the Centre back on schedule. They chose the latter. They had failed to properly calculate, however, the number of people involved in the construction project, and the time now left in reserves allowed the clocks to be put back by just seventeen minutes.

The overall situation was worse than the Chief Executive could have imagined as there were similar occurrences nationwide. The total deficit ran into hundreds of years. The country had 824 time zones.

Train timetables were meaningless, and the British rail network virtually ground to a halt. At first, therefore, no one noticed anything unusual. As the days passed, however, more and more people began to question where their coffee breaks had gone, why the wages for hourly paid workers had fallen, why food was always undercooked, how so many athletics records could have been broken, and why it was getting so dark during the day?

The government was forced to act quickly and introduce temporal taxation for all those with more than ten hours per week of spare time. The rate was on a sliding scale to a maximum of 40% for those in the ‘idle layabout’ band. This was sufficient to restore order, and more radical plans to move the International Date Line half a metre to the east in order to regain time were, fortunately, not required.