Growing up near the equator in Bangkok, I was not exposed to seasonal lengthening and shortening of days. The sun rose sometime before I woke up, and set around dinnertime (6 or 6:30 pm), with no noticeable change throughout the year.
I eventually learned that other parts of the world go through this weird annual cycle in which days get longer in summer and shorter in winter, but I was never far enough from the equator to see this in action until the summer of 1984, when I made an unexpected trip to London (from Indonesia – long story, some other time!).
I wrote my friend Barbara for help finding cheap accomodations. She got me a sub-let in a classic bed-sit flat, and offered advice appropriate for a young woman alone in London. "How late at night can I safely be out alone?" I asked. "Til around two hours after dark," she replied. I was disappointed – not that I was a party animal, but this would mean coming home awfully early, I thought.
The trip from Jakarta to London was very, very long. At the end of it, I had to get a heavy suitcase from Heathrow to Shepherd’s Bush by train and tube and on foot. Finally, having found the place, I had to drag the suitcase up four flights of stairs (or was it five?). I was finally in the flat and settled sometime in the early afternoon. Completely done in, I went to sleep.
I woke knowing that I had slept a long time. But the sun was still in the sky. I was very confused. Had I actually slept the rest of the day, through the night, and well into the next day? That didn’t seem possible. My watch was still set to Indonesia time and I was too sleepy to calculate what that must mean in London time. Finally I located a clock and found that it was around 8 pm. And there was still plenty of daylight. The sky did not darken til around 10 pm: two hours after dark wasn’t an early curfew at all!
Now I live in Italy, far enough north that the change in the length of days is noticeable, and, after fifteen years, I have yet to get used to it. When daylight savings time went off in the fall, I was plunged into gloom, literally and emotionally. At least now we’re heading in the other direction: it’s still full dark when I wake up at 7 am, but the sun is rising by the time we go to catch the bus at 7:30.