Councillors from Hampshire, where I live, will deliberate on whether to ban lorries from driving in the county on a Sunday. If they do so, this part of southern England will join Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and other parts of what was the Holy Roman Empire in banning HGV movements on the Sabbath.
The plan to give us a day of rest from the juggernauts is prompted by environmentalism, not Catholicism. – Colin Brazier
Of course, any comparison is entirely accidental. The plan to give us a day of rest from the juggernauts is prompted by environmentalism, not Catholicism. But, for the many millions of Britons who have despondently watched the erosion of what made Sunday special, this will be – if agreed by politicians – a welcome fillip. What makes it all the more remarkable is that it could mark the moment when the demands of business to liberalise Sunday are put into reverse gear.
As such, it perhaps falls into a pattern. Earlier this year the British government ditched plans to extend Sunday trading hours. At the moment they are shorter than those which apply Monday through to Saturday. That’s a throwback to the 1980s, when efforts to allow shops to open on Sundays were fought by a parliamentary coalition of Christian MPs and trades unionists.
There are exceptions. Parts of the West Coast of Scotland, where I’m heading with the children for a week’s holiday tomorrow, still cleave to the old idea of Sunday as the Lord’s Day. If you want milk with your cocoa on a Saturday night in the Western Isles, you’re likely to be waiting until Monday morning until you can buy some.
This all strikes some people of no faith as doollally. Though, it’s worth remembering, such weekly rhythms are part of the warp and weft of life in other countries. I remember my first visit to Jerusalem and being admonished for my failure to understand why the Shabbat elevator stopped on every floor (the injunction to avoid all labour on the Sabbath sometimes even extends to pressing a button to select a floor to stop on).
But perhaps the idea of a Sunday ban on Heavy Goods Vehicles might make more sense to Godless Britons, for whom coronavirus has been a catalyst for change in behaviour and outlook. Certainly, even if all of our churches were open on the Sabbath, there would be many more bums in Hampshire on bicycle saddles than on pews. Sunday is peak-peloton day for many of these recent converts to the joys of cycling. For them, the bike has become a key part of a strategy to escape the ennui and claustrophobia of lockdown. Many of these cyclists would welcome roads freed from the intimidating presence of 44-tonne wheeled behemoths.
Such weekly rhythms are part of the warp and weft of life in other countries. – Colin Brazier
And, more broadly, I think Covid-19 may have given people an appetite for the week to be more demarcated. One of my daughters recently asked if it was Saturday (it was Wednesday): she was lost without the rhythms of the week that were once provided by school.
In reality, the ban on HGVs – which would also include the outlawing of lorries overtaking on Hampshire’s motorways – is unlikely to happen. The logistics lobby is used to getting its own way. And the economy is, increasingly, reliant on just-in-time deliveries; we are a society in which online consumerism has usurped visits to the shops. All those goods would, let’s face it, also find a way from docks to warehouses and from warehouses to homes and shops, like water finding its way to the lowest topographical point. It would simply mean more lorries on the roads on the remaining six days of the week. And for the poor lorry drivers (as a long-distance road commuter, I have a particular respect for the hauliers who sit in a cab and traffic, hour after hour, day after day), it’s likely to mean more anti-social hours. More driving through the night.
And given that one of the arguments for keeping Sunday special is that it’s the day families need to be together and share time and a meal, the idea of being forced to do more night-shifts is not conducive to happy family lives. But at the very least, Hampshire County Council’s proposal does remind us that our Anglo-Saxon work ethic is not universally shared. Many countries still hold to the view that the week needs a punctuation mark, a pause before the working weeks starts again. And a pause that we all share.
As coronavirus has shown so many of us, the idea of ‘Coronoa-o’clock’ – not knowing which day it is because each day feels the same – is one of the most unmooring aspects of the pandemic.
Colin Brazier is the author of Sticking Up For Siblings: Who’s Deciding the Size of Britain’s Families? (Civitas)
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