Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

On the seventh day God ended his work ... so why don't we?

One can understandably have a soupcon of sympathy for the retailers of Northern Ireland who stand to lose out on a Sunday tourism spend of what is said to be around £3m every week during the Titanic Centenary celebrations because the folk on the hill will not relax trading restrictions.

Retailers, as we know, are only allowed to let money cross palms between 1pm and 6pm on the Sabbath - and Stormont has said there will be no let-up during the commemoration of the maritime tragedy.

University of Ulster retail commentator Donald McFetridge has urged the Executive to reconsider its position.

"Northern Ireland's economy is really struggling to get back on its feet," McFetridge says. "With the Titanic celebrations in April expected to kick off an extremely important year in tourism here, it is important to be as open for business as possible.''

Sympathy for the hard-pressed retailers aside, and given that our faltering economy could do with any injection of cash, let alone £3m a week, I think I am with our legislators on this one.

Surely, the current five hours is adequate enough?

Enough for even this modern world where we seem to work frenetically 24/7 and where women have got an equal shot in the work-place and where they, because, let's face it, they still have to do all the other work that constitutes running a home and raising a family, might need to go shopping on a Sunday because on Saturday they are running here and there with carloads of children to swimming and dance classes and all that extra-curricular stuff. That's if they, and the men who seemingly, superficially at least, share this frenetic workload and family rearing, are not actually working on a Sunday in this 24/7 world that we have so willingly, and of economic necessity, embraced.

I well remember a time when Sundays were sacred, when there wasn't a shop open the length nor breadth of this land - bar, perhaps, the corner-shop for the Sunday papers.

Yes, there was a time once in the province when the public house was closed and certain parks, to which you could, if it was your want, take the kids, were not open. Old-fashioned, extremist and almost laughable now.

But it seems, and I accept I am of that generation that is unfortunately heading toward - what Fionola Meredith so eloquently (I don't think so) put in her Wednesday Belfast Telegraph column - a scenario where there's a "culture of entitlement; a bitter, resentful sense that the world owes them something", that we have come from one extreme to the other and, that apart from not much else in life being sacred these days, Sunday certainly no longer is.

Not so long ago BBC4 did a TV documentary on the vanishing Sunday of yore and showed, there was a genuine hankering, not just among the older folk, after what was the traditional Sunday.

The one that was spent with perhaps a wee lie-in, then a leisurely fry-up and then off to church to meet God and neighbours alike.

The smell of the Sunday roast wafting in from the kitchen - with mothers doing all the leaning over hot stoves while fathers read their Sunday paper that did not come with a half-tonne of 'extra-value add-ons' that, nowadays, do little to enlighten us where it matters but only add to the world-wide onslaught on proud and mighty trees.

Then in the afternoon, weather permitting and for those lucky enough to have small 'family' car, it was a drive to the countryside when the countryside still existed, before they paved paradise and put up the goddamn awful shopping malls, to which, today, it's compulsory almost to go visit, come Sunday.

What did you do on Sunday?

We went to that great new shopping mall off the new motorway.

Did you actually buy anything?

Och, no, it was just somewhere to go.

And so it goes.

Surely, in my books at any rate, Sunday should be that one day a week, after the hustle and bustle of the other six, when we sit back, take stock, regroup, give thanks and, even, converse with each other.

In short, take a deep breath and relax.

Maybe it's just me. But then I'm of that generation that remembers Sing Something Simple.

The show featured the most popular melodies of the last 70 years, performed by the Cliff Adams Singers. Intended originally as a six-part summer 'fill-in' programme, it was an immediate success with the listeners and ran for 42 years - it didn't actually cease till 2001 - earning itself the title of longest-running continuous music programme in the world.

It came on the radio at six. Just as we were sitting down to Sunday tea.

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