Here we are at the start of May and it’s difficult to believe the year is a third of the way through already. So, what have I achieved from my to-do list? Frankly, not a lot. Whilst I’ve been busy with home stuff, creating the odd painting or two and pottering here and there in the garden, there is much I still want to achieve this year. But not today. Today, in England, it is a bank holiday: May Day – or as it has become called: the Early Spring Holiday, as opposed to the Late Spring Holiday at the end of May; what used to be called the Whit Monday Holiday. This early May bank holiday is a fairly recent introduction, only coming into being in 1974, along with the New Year’s Day bank holiday, prior to which most of us had to go back to work following a late night celebrating New Year’s Eve.
The idea of bank holidays, when all banks and finance institutions closed for business for a day, was introduced in 1871 by Sir John Lubbock: Easter Monday, Whitsun Monday, the first Monday in August (subsequently changed to the last Monday) and Boxing Day. The remainder were known as public holidays, being Christmas Day and Good Friday. These have also come to be referred to as bank holidays. Companies are not obliged to pay staff for bank holidays although many do; others include the bank holidays as part of the annual holiday allowance. Some crucial services that do work on a bank holiday pay overtime for those that have to work, although that is phasing out as more and more places, particularly shops, remain open.
In 2011 there was a motion by some members of Parliament to scrap the May Day bank holiday in favour of a national saint’s day, or VE day, or some such, but that appears to have died a death, although many are campaigning still for it. The same with the nonsense of the clocks changing every spring and autumn.
What has become traditional for English bank holidays is lousy weather. You can guarantee almost with certainty a British bank holiday will be cold, windy and very wet; never a good day for organising an outdoor event, although occasionally we do get fantastic weather. Today, here for the moment at least, it is dry, with sunny breaks in the clouds but the forecast is for rain on the way. Another certainty is lousy programmes on the television, so even as it’s pouring outside, you can guarantee everyone will be even more bored staying indoors with rubbish programmes to watch. Three cheers for the movie channels and on-demand TV. Still, the food can be cooked in the oven instead of the barbi should the rain clouds open up.
Another English tradition for bank holidays is to while away the time in the car, stuck in endless miles of traffic jams caused by roadworks, breakdowns, accidents, often caused by disruption on the railways as they deem these perfect days to carry out repairs and maintenance. All this means by the time you eventually reached the coast for a weekend at the seaside, you are fraught with temper, tired, and the kids irritable and wanting to go home. All jolly good fun. Not.
A further tradition is visiting the supermarket on a Friday and doing enough shopping to stock up for a hurricane or being snowed in or just-in-case visitors drop in; as if the shops are going to be closed for a month when, in fact, the majority are open all year (with the exception of Christmas Day), 24-hours a day in some cases. Still, what else is there to do on a wet, cold, miserable bank holiday other than eat, drink and try to be merry. Others make an annual pilgrimage to the shopping mall in search of things such as new furniture, particularly garden equipment in the hope of a hot, balmy summer; to the DIY store for paint and stuff to do decorating indoors; or more generally just for something to do that normally entails going round and round the car park for hours looking for an empty space to squeeze into, or being stuck there for hours trying to get back out but can’t because the roads are gridlocked because of the traffic standstill on the motorway and no-one’s moving.
So, what are my husband and I doing today? Not a lot. Certainly not sat in a traffic jam. Certainly not filling our shopping bags or trawling the shops. No, for us, it is a day to enjoy at home pottering in the greenhouse or relaxing and unwinding enjoying the spring garden, or doing nothing. Me? I’m about to get the paints out and create another masterpiece (she says in hope).
Whatever you are doing this Monday, enjoy.