Idle Thoughts about Bank Holidays

I love Bank Holiday Mondays.  Even though I now work from home, so weekends and Bank Holidays are of little consequence to my timetable, I nevertheless get out of bed with a sense of anticipation, of mild excitement, at the thought that it's officially a non-working day.  I feel very virtuous when I sit at my desk on Bank Holiday Monday, and only moderately guilty when I decide to take the day off.

 

Bank Holiday Mondays.  Here in Britain, these three days are tacked on to the weekend.  Why risk a holiday in the middle of the week, when people might also take the days in between off?  Still, a long weekend is eminently practical for all concerned, I admit.  Bank Holiday.  I wish there were names for these days, rather than something decreed by the closure of cold and now not very popular institutions such as banks.  It's always made me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable.  A day when banks don't trade, when there is no financial speculation, instead of a day to celebrate something or someone – be it a saint, the First of May, or the anniversary of independence.  I wonder if any other European country has nondescript, apparently random days off.  When I first arrived in the UK, I asked where these Bank Holiday Mondays had originated.  Were they former saints days? Pagan festivals? Historical anniversaries? No, people replied.  They're just Bank Holidays.  It seems that in this country we've been ruled by banks for some time now... I can't help but wonder if this is why Britain has among the lowest number of holidays in Europe.  Economy in all things! Waste not, want not.  A penny saved is a penny earned, etc.

 

My favourite Bank Holiday Monday is the August one.  I can't really say why.  Perhaps because it's the last Bank-sanctioned day off before Christmas Day, nearly four months later.  In Catholic European countries, there's at least All Saints Day in the middle.  But we, with our staunch Protestant work ethic, work valiantly till Christmas.  

 

Perhaps, also because, having been brought up in Catholic countries (although I am not myself a Catholic), where 15th August, Assumption Day, is a major religious holiday, I feel cheated unless I have at least one day off in August, albeit at the very end of the month.

 

People change, I guess.  When I was young, living in Italy, I would dread the approach of August.  The month when, just because of that one Assumption Day, the country seemed to sink into officially-sanctioned torpor for a whole month – and still does.  Ferragosto.  Why do you stand in the crushing heat, waiting for a bus for forty-five minutes? Because it's Ferragosto.  Why are so many shops closed? Because it's Ferragosto.  Why are all your friends away, either at the sea or in the mountains, leaving you to be bored to tears in a ghost city? Ferragosto.  My family could not afford holidays, so as a teenager, I hated the month of August with a purple passion.  The intense heat, the lack of social life and entertainment, the nationally-approved inefficiency of the City of Rome.  I couldn't wait for the traditional, violent thunderstorms in the second half of the month, that heralded the end of this unbearable inertia.

 

In a way, something similar happens in the UK, when the end of November signals the start of general laziness, inefficiency and incompetence because it's Christmas. 

 

Now, nearly thirty years later, I find myself longing for Ferragosto in Rome.  As a freelancer who, noblesse oblige, never turns down work, I yearn for a government-approved month of quiet, of sleep, of doing absolutely nothing.  A whole month of lounging about, reading, writing, dozing in the sun.  I remember with unexpected fondness the streets outside the tourist-infested city centre almost totally deserted, the blocks of flats with the blinds of almost every window shut tight, the bliss of not hearing the neighbours' TV because they're away.  I long to have a lengthy afternoon nap, with the blinds half down, listening  to the maracas of a dozen cicadas rhythmically lulling me to sleep.  I have fond memories of lying on a reclining sun lounger on the balcony, until past midnight, staring up into the black, starry sky until I was no longer sure if I was falling into the stars or the stars falling on me.  And counting shooting stars.  Blink and you'll miss it. 

 

I miss being in a climate hot enough to eat watermelon.  Bright red, sweet as sugar, with large, black seeds I can then crunch – not the pathetic rubbery white ones of under-ripe fruit.  

 

Above all – and especially in view of these three months of grey, wet, chilly transition between last spring and next autumn in Norwich, that you cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, call summer – I long for bright light in my eyes, and hot sun on my skin.

 

Scribe Doll

Comments 8

 
Rosy Cole on Friday, 01 September 2017 16:04

I forgot to say that August 1 was historically the time of Thanksgiving for the wheat harvest and was known as Lammastide, or Lammas Day. In Gaelic:Lughnasa This was when there would be feasting and dancing. I believe that's how the original August Bank Holiday evolved. All the rituals celebrating the turning of the natural year were marked in diaries and calendars even when I was young, as were the phases of the moon, an understanding of which was essential to successful planting and reaping. These days were remembered in church as well as the workaday world and continued long after Britain became Protestant. However, I do take your point about early Protestantism and have long believed that, for all the man-made distortions of Catholicism, ordinary life in Britain was never so richly organised, nor its citizens fulfilled, as in the decades prior to the Reformation. There was such a common sense of priority.

Increasing urbanisation and consumerism have well and truly severed us from our roots. There are children living (not just in inner cities) but in the South Downs of England who have no idea that vegetables are grown in soil and are amazed at how planting can multiply a yield.

With all your moves, I don't wonder the article went missing, but I do hope you happen upon it sometime.

I forgot to say that August 1 was historically the time of Thanksgiving for the wheat harvest and was known as Lammastide, or Lammas Day. In Gaelic:Lughnasa This was when there would be feasting and dancing. I believe that's how the original August Bank Holiday evolved. All the rituals celebrating the turning of the natural year were marked in diaries and calendars even when I was young, as were the phases of the moon, an understanding of which was essential to successful planting and reaping. These days were remembered in church as well as the workaday world and continued long after Britain became Protestant. However, I do take your point about early Protestantism and have long believed that, for all the man-made distortions of Catholicism, ordinary life in Britain was never so richly organised, nor its citizens fulfilled, as in the decades prior to the Reformation. There was such a common sense of priority. Increasing urbanisation and consumerism have well and truly severed us from our roots. There are children living (not just in inner cities) but in the South Downs of England who have no idea that vegetables are grown in soil and are amazed at how planting can multiply a yield. With all your moves, I don't wonder the article went missing, but I do hope you happen upon it sometime.
Katherine Gregor on Saturday, 02 September 2017 08:06

Thank you, Rosy. I'd forgotten all about Lammas Day.

If I remember correctly, one of the points the books made (it was a Saturday Gurdaian article review) was that Protestantism had less of a sense of community and put more emphasis on the individual. Also, it discouraged confession which, as we know, can be (if not abused) wonderful as form of release. After all, what can be more of a relief than someone forgiving you your sins? As you know, I often go to Norwich Cathedral. But I also sometimes go to the Catholic Cathedral. The atmosphere is very, very different. Apart from being much more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, the Catholic Cathedral has a far wider age range in its congregation. I confess I love evensong at the Anglican Cathedral but find Sunday services too, too respectable and pillar-of-the-community. But I'm digressing...

Thank you, Rosy. I'd forgotten all about Lammas Day. If I remember correctly, one of the points the books made (it was a Saturday Gurdaian article review) was that Protestantism had less of a sense of community and put more emphasis on the individual. Also, it discouraged confession which, as we know, can be (if not abused) wonderful as form of release. After all, what can be more of a relief than someone forgiving you your sins? As you know, I often go to Norwich Cathedral. But I also sometimes go to the Catholic Cathedral. The atmosphere is very, very different. Apart from being much more multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, the Catholic Cathedral has a far wider age range in its congregation. I confess I love evensong at the Anglican Cathedral but find Sunday services too, too respectable and pillar-of-the-community. But I'm digressing...
Ken Hartke on Friday, 01 September 2017 17:18

Katia -- The few times I've visited "western" countries without a strong Protestant history I've felt a certain freedom of spirit that doesn't exist in the USA. They have other issues, perhaps, but there were fewer of those Lilliputian bindings holding everyone in place. There was generally a looming presence of the church...like every 50 yards in some towns...but there wasn't quite the same suppression of expression or rampant judgmentalism.

Katia -- The few times I've visited "western" countries without a strong Protestant history I've felt a certain freedom of spirit that doesn't exist in the USA. They have other issues, perhaps, but there were fewer of those Lilliputian bindings holding everyone in place. There was generally a looming presence of the church...like every 50 yards in some towns...but there wasn't quite the same suppression of expression or rampant judgmentalism.
Katherine Gregor on Saturday, 02 September 2017 08:17

That's a very interesting point of view and experience. I was brought up in Catholic countries (Italy and France) and had my run-ins with Catholic priests and nuns when I was a child and teenager. I remember a priest practically spitting at me with disgust when I tried to walk into a church with a sleeveless but in no way revealing or low-cut top in the summer. I snappped back at him, "God made my shoulders! Are you saying He was wrong?"

I must say that In Rome, I've encountered far fewer Catholic bigots than here in England. There's a historical reason for this. Catholics in England weren't even allowed to worship in public till sometime in the 19th century (Rosy will know the date). Oppression can encourage zeal. In Rome, people have witnessed first-hand the corruption of the Church for centuries, so – barring a few very old ladies who attand morning and evening prayers – there is a certain amount of healthy cynicism about religion. I've written before about this Roman joke: the Vatican car numberplate carries the letters SCV (stato Città del Vaticano = State City of the Vatican) but actually stands for "Se Cristo vedesse!" (= if Christ could only see!)

I have, however, encountered intense judgementalism and Mediaeval intolerance when at a very Evangelical Protestant college at my university at Durham, back in the late 80s-early90s. I remember feeling almost threatened by it.

Having said all that, I do believe that both Catholicism and Protestantism have made invaluable contributions to the Western world. For one thing, thing of all the art the Catholic Church paid for!

That's a very interesting point of view and experience. I was brought up in Catholic countries (Italy and France) and had my run-ins with Catholic priests and nuns when I was a child and teenager. I remember a priest practically spitting at me with disgust when I tried to walk into a church with a sleeveless but in no way revealing or low-cut top in the summer. I snappped back at him, "God made my shoulders! Are you saying He was wrong?" I must say that In Rome, I've encountered far fewer Catholic bigots than here in England. There's a historical reason for this. Catholics in England weren't even allowed to worship in public till sometime in the 19th century (Rosy will know the date). Oppression can encourage zeal. In Rome, people have witnessed first-hand the corruption of the Church for centuries, so – barring a few very old ladies who attand morning and evening prayers – there is a certain amount of healthy cynicism about religion. I've written before about this Roman joke: the Vatican car numberplate carries the letters SCV (stato Città del Vaticano = State City of the Vatican) but actually stands for "Se Cristo vedesse!" (= if Christ could only see!) I have, however, encountered intense judgementalism and Mediaeval intolerance when at a very Evangelical Protestant college at my university at Durham, back in the late 80s-early90s. I remember feeling almost threatened by it. Having said all that, I do believe that both Catholicism and Protestantism have made invaluable contributions to the Western world. For one thing, thing of all the art the Catholic Church paid for!
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