The filing system in my grandparents’ farmhouse seemed to be two drawers in the kitchen sideboard. A diverse range of paperwork seemed to be stored in them, from the brown card tags that were fastened to the milk churns each morning, identifying the source of the milk, to accounts from feed suppliers, the vet, and the miscellaneous other businesses upon whom the farm depended.
Amongst the paperwork there was always the easily identifiable copy of Old Moore’s Almanack. Neither of my grandparents would have given a moment’s thought to most of the Almanack’s content which seemed to be a collection of charlatanism and quackery. My grandfather was a rationalist, a firm believer that this life was one’s lot and that one should make the best of it. My grandmother was a woman of faith, but was very clear sceptical about anything that did not accord with her hard-headed view of the world. So why, when every penny was carefully counted, did she buy a copy of the Almanack every year?
Among the silliness of the astrology and predictions for the year, there were things that were measurable, scientific and universally true. The Almanack was my grandmother’s source for the sunrise and sunset times for every day of the year as well as phases of the moon. In a deeply rural community, the availability of light, whether solar or lunar, was important to the tasks of the farming year. A clear full moon on a summer’s night would offer enough light to continue the work of the day. Undeniable realities of everyday life were expressed in very precise times and dates.
It seems unlikely now that anyone would buy a book to know at what time the sun would rise or set on a particular day of the year. Such information is no longer critical, and if it is sought, then it can be found in an instant by checking online. No longer do most calendars include details of whether the moon is new, at first or last quarters, or full. The decline in the need for such information has been part of a disengagement from the physical universe.
It is hard to imagine that those whose lives depended on the light would have comprehended the world wide web and the instant availability of information. Looking up at the moon this evening, it looked almost full. Taking out my phone, I discovered the full moon is not until Thursday morning. My Nan would have know without checking.