Alan Dee: If you want to know the time, why do you need Tim?

You’ll have doubtless heard the huffing and puffing about the Ministry of Defence running up a £40,000 bill because staff kept dialling the speaking clock.


Admittedly it may have been harder to make out the details amid the clatter of other government departments rushing to make sure that they weren’t going to get caught out by a similar small-time scandal.

But I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling my eyebrows rise higher at the realisation that the speaking clock still exists rather than the familiar spendthrift ways of public servants.

I’ve had a think about it, and I just can’t work out why anyone in this day and age would ever need to dial 123 in the first place.

Watches, apparently, are high fashion items these days and it’s de rigueur to have a variety of wrist-friendly timepieces to match your outfits, so you’d think that most people would be able to check the time at a glance.

But I’m not a watch wearer, haven’t been for years. They always seemed to conk out on me, so I just gave up on them, but I’m never at a loss if I need to check what the time is, particularly in a work environment.

I’ve had a think about it, and when I’m sitting at my desk I have no fewer than four time sources close at hand, and that’s without a watch about my person, or asking anyone else in the room.

There’s a clock on the computer desktop, a clock on my desk phone, a clock on my mobile phone and, do you know what, there’s even a clock on the wall.

If I’m out and about, time just jogs along with me. There’s a clock in the car, there’s a clock on the sat-nav if I need to make use of it, if I turn on the radio they tell you the time every five minutes and that ever-present mobile phone comes along with me, too.

At home, the cluster of clocks includes one on the TV, one on the microwave, one on the oven, and sundry wall-based and computer-linked devices.

Even if I’m walking down the street, there’s usually some sort of public clock within sight and if not, you can check your phone or, in extremis, buy something or take some money out of a hole in the wall – the receipt will tell you just what the time is.

But why, I’d like to know, do these people need to check exactly what the time is? What are they waiting for?

I can’t believe that in the corridors of the Ministry of Defence they are so short of things to do that they have to keep checking to work out how long it will be before the tea trolley comes round.

I realise that military types need to synchronise their watches before setting off on major operations, but that can’t be the reason for this rush to the speaking clock. Can it?