A dry and fine bank holiday

The August bank holiday, the last shout of summer. The M5 motorway is filled with traffic, people searching for a bit of happiness, a bit of fun. A prayer said to have come from the wall of an inn in Lancashire seems apt:

Give us, Lord, a bit o’ sun
a bit o’ work and a bit o’ fun;
give us all in th’ struggle and splutter
our daily bread and a bit o’ butter.

Give us health, our keep to make
an’ a bit to spare for poor folks sake;
give us sense, for we’re some of us duffers,
an’ a heart to feel for all that suffers.

Give us, too, a bit of a song,
an’ a tale, and a book to help us along,
an’ give us our share o’ sorrow’s lesson
that we may prove how grief’s a blessing.

Give us, Lord, a chance to be
our goodly best, brave, wise and free,
our goodly best for ourselves and others
till all men learn to live as brothers.

It is a picture of contentment with the ordinary things of life – a job and laughter and food on the table, and a few shillings in the pocket and the company of friends for songs and stories, and a book to read so as to be quiet at times – and maybe a trip out on a bank holiday. It’s not all ale and jokes: there’s a wish for an understanding of sorrow and a wish to be a brother to all whom one meets.

An idyll of rural England? It finds resonance in A Month in the Country, JL Carr’s brilliant evocation of the summer of 1920 in a small village community. Tom Birkin, an atheist through his experience of Hell on the Western Front, comes to the village for a summer’s work restoring a wall painting in the parish church. He falls into company with the chapel people of the north of England village, because they are the ones who show him warmth and generosity. One Saturday, he finds himself with them as they travel on horse dawn wagons for their Sunday School treat:

There was a throaty smell blowing off the bilberry shrubs and withering heather when we disembarked on a sheep-cropped plain high up in the hills. There was no shelter from the sun, but it was dinner-time and the women and girls unpacked hard-boiled eggs and soggy tomato sandwiches wrapped in greased paper and swaddled in napkins. It was Mr Dowthwaite (for you laboured for your prestige amongst the Wesleyans) who built a downbreeze fire of twigs and soon had tin kettles boiling. Then he struck up the Doxology and, when we’d sung it, we settled to some steady eating.

Afterwards, most of the men took off their jackets, exposing their braces and the tapes of their long woollen underpants and astonished their children by larking around like great lads. The courting couples sidled off, the women sat around and talked. So eating, drinking, dozing, making love, the day passed until evening came and the horses were led from their pasture. Then, as the first star rose and swallows turned and twisted above the bracken, our wagons rumbled down from above the White Horse and across the Vale towards home: the Sunday-school Treat was over.

The unalloyed pleasure captured by the prayer in the Lancashire pub and Carr’s Sunday school treat, aren’t they our bank holiday dream?

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2 Responses to A dry and fine bank holiday

  1. The Blocked Dwarf says:

    I hate , loathe and detest Bank Hellidaze and all their (non)works! When the Great British Sheeple finally see sense and declare me King and Supreme Ruler Of The Universe, my first,my very first, decree will be the banning of all Sundays and bank holidays in perpetuity.

    That said, having been brought up in a foreign Ruralshire (ie Norfolk) in the 70s that Sunday School piece awaken memories of visiting my Great Aunt who lived 4 hours walk away in the next village but one. She was a Methodist preacher, who lived by the border stream (keeps the witches out, they can’t cross running water). That stream would flood her cottage opposite the chapel religiously and she’d roll up her sleeves, mop up and then settle down to a fun filled evening playing her little foot pump organ (electrickery being of the devil I think) and belting out the hits that had ’em rolling in the aisles in the 50s..the 1850s. Pretty sure the village chapel’s Sunday School Outing was her bailiwick -although they would have walked, singing pious hymns, as it was a poor Norfolk village and horses were too valuable to waste pulling the faithful to their sandwiches.

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