This week sees the 75th birthday of the Speaking Clock in the UK and even in this modern age it still receives 30 million calls a year. Those people who dial 123 also pay 31p for the privilege. So that generates an income of more than £9m for BT. Imagine, all that money for someone who wants a posh woman to tell them the time. It almost borders on posh bird fetish to me, but as I’ve said before, to each their own.
Anyway the reason for this post is not simply to wish the Speaking Clock a Happy Birthday but it’s also to say that I have now learnt what the supposed origin of the phrase “passing the time of day” is. It is believed to have originated back in the days when time was measured using the Sun. As in the big ball of flaming gas, not the crappy UK tabloid hack sheet. In those days there were effectively different time zones in the UK. Bristol was 11 minutes behind Greenwich and Penzance a massive 20 minutes behind.
In those days one of the highlights was the visit of the Mail Coach to your town. When it arrived it would attract a large crowd who would gather around to listen to the Coach Driver. He would provide people with the official time for their city or town. Although I’m not sure how accurate he would have been. He also dished up a lot of political gossip, perhaps like a talking tabloid. Can you picture the Murdochs delivering their vile newspapers vocally from the back of a horse and cart. A pony and trap would be more appropriate as that is crap in Cockney rhyming slang! (lot’s of useless information for you today folks!)
Anyway by meeting up to receive the time and some gossip with the Coachman, the townsfolk were literally passing the time of day with him. Although technically I suppose he was doing the passing. On that note, if you’ve read the whole of this post then you were probably passing the time of day yourself. But obviously if you read it at work you were simply skiving!