So which day of the week is it?

7th February 1997 at 00:00
Do you remember those tricks explained fully and regularly in the Reader's Digest that would let you work out which day of the week a particular date would fall on? Believe me, they were as nothing compared to what some of us had to contend with at school. The first week of each term was always the easiest.

Monday was Day 1, and the week ran by until Friday, which unsurprisingly was Day 5. It was the next week that the fun started. In Week 2, Monday was Day 6, Tuesday Day 7 and then on Wednesday we started all over again with Day 1. By the end of that week Wednesday reached Day 3, and so Week 3 commenced with Day 4 and so on.

Did you catch that? Many of us took considerable time to get used to a seven-day timetable running over five school days; but that is how it was in my secondary school of the sixties. It bred a particular conversational style. Are you going to the dance on Friday? Well, I would like to but it's Day 3 and I have to get back from an away match. You would wake on a dreary winter morning and panic. Mum, what day is it? And be told to get yourself together, because everybody knows it's Tuesday, when you needed to know whether it was Day 4 or Day 5's timetable you had to prepare for.

If you were lucky enough to have help in washing or even ironing your Aertex games top, you had to be very careful about explaining your needs to a parent. Perhaps that is why, as a mother, I have never taken on much responsibility for washing and packing games kit for my offspring. Just blame my schooling, kids. Few schools seem to have used this timetabling mechanism, and those are surely the reasons why.

There is something about the idea that continues to appeal. You did not get stuck with double science always being on a Wednesday which might be youth club night. Each weekend brought a different grouping of homework, so variety was on offer, but the timetabling benefits must have been the best. Instead of having five school days each with, say, six sessions, totalling 30, the curriculum could incorporate 42 sessions Those subjects where the school would like to allocate a little time, but not as much as a session a week, could be accommodated.

It seemed also to overcome the business of regularly missing Monday classes when there were bank holidays. We just returned on Tuesday to the next day of the timetable. I liked the idea that you could develop your own kinds of week, over and above the standard Monday to Friday variety, and yet they could coexist.

In the Middle East, during Ramadan, classes in some colleges are reduced, and the timetables run at half pace over the month. During Week 1 students attend the first half of the days' timetable, and in Week 2 the second half. This process is repeated over the next fortnight. When I learnt of this arrangement, it struck a chord with my old school timetable, and then other implications began to fall into place for me. In the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf week is used, and it runs from Saturday to Wednesday, so academics and scholars are busy at work while in the UK we are on weekend, and vice versa.

As the world shrinks, and we forget hourly time and space through using digital communications, we must be mindful of these weekly differences. Internet service providers notice that regularly they cannot deliver customers' mail to academic sites over the weekend or the vacations, because these institutions are probably working to a classic Monday to Friday on and Saturday and Sunday off model. For those who need to communicate over the weekend, it's awkward if the machines have gone down over the weekend.

So when my colleague in the United Arab Emirates said she had trouble sending e-mail to UK universities at the start of her week, it began to fall into place. Her week starts on Saturday, while UK university technical staff are probably enjoying a well-earned rest and their mail servers may not be at their best.

I advised her to try later in the week. Day 3 would be my recommendation.

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