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Why we're banking on getting a little extra break from work


Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn says we need more bank holidays. Ahead of another precious day off this Monday two of our writers explain what the break means to them.

Una Brankin: 'We'd have a flutter on the horses down at the bookies'

The idea of more bank holidays is lovely and possibly the most welcome proposal to have been dreamt up by Jeremy Corbyn. As they say, who dies wishing they'd spent more time at the office?

Even if, like me, you're self-employed and sometimes must work regardless on those precious Mondays or Fridays, there's a different atmosphere in the air when the rest of the country is off.

It's more relaxed; nothing seems as urgent. And bank holidays are good for staff morale, which can run perilously low at the hands of employers who don't value their workers sufficiently, or pay them adequately.

Corbyn, like the late Tony Benn, recognises the Marxist analogy of capitalists sucking the nectar from the proletariat, and - the red flag's flying here - working them into a state of alienation, isolation and self-estrangement. He wants to give us a break, literally.

My dad and brother, however, are dairy farmers, whose cattle don't recognise holidays. The cows must be milked twice a day, regardless.

And because the work never stopped on the farm on any bank holiday when I was younger, the day would often pass us by unmarked. We'd be out pulling scallions, or peas and beans, or 'stooking' bales of hay while our friends were at the seaside, or Barry's Amusements in Portrush, (above).

But the big one was always Easter Monday. That time of year wasn't as busy and I remember rolling boiled eggs down a hill in one of our fields. We didn't bother painting them; it was enough fun simply to run after them with the lovely teenage girl, Anne, who used to mind us.

We'd all have a flutter on the horses on Easter Monday and any other bank holiday when there was a good race on, such as St Patrick's Day. You'd meet all sorts at the bookies and there would be great excitement and good humour among people you'd normally only see solemn-faced on a pew on a Sunday morning.

Aunties from town would visit us then, too, and bring big bags of sweets. And if the weather was good and the work was done, we'd stroll down to the nearby pier and take a dip in the lough.

In later years, I worked for Sunday newspapers in Belfast and Dublin and I'd have Mondays off, anyway. We'd get a day in lieu, which was appreciated when I had to work Saturdays. It was only when I was working in a public relations business in Dublin that I began to value the bank holidays fully.

Those long weekends were much needed breaks after hectic, stressful and sometimes hateful weeks of drudgery, tied to an office desk, dealing with demanding clients and sometimes fractious colleagues.

Hell is other people in a communal office, to paraphrase Jean Paul Sartre. Absolutely Fabulous, it wasn't.

If you love what you do, the workplace is an arena whereby you get to interact with like-minded people - grown-up playtime, which pays your bills. But you still need your bank holidays to stop and stare at daffodils and such like.

These days, I spend most bank holidays in an ancient cottage in the medieval village of Carlingford, Co Louth. Visitors flock in and the local cash registers ping non-stop. The only hole-in-the-wall regularly runs out of cash and live music blares from the pubs.

Endless girls in stilettos wobble on the cobbles. Squads of youngsters march from the adventure centre HQ up to the mountain trails and revellers puff at every public doorway.

The restaurants put tasting tables outside their premises; the local oyster-catcher charges €2 a pop for his quarry, giving all takers a lesson on how to savour them properly: have a good sniff; hold the slimy flesh in your mouth for 10 seconds and do not spoil with Tabasco sauce.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the sort of thing I learn - or have time for - on bank holidays.

The more, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

Alex Kane: 'A day to laugh, talk, and have some fun together'

There aren't, in fact, all that many bank/public holidays in the United Kingdom; and there weren't any at all until the Bank Holidays Act of 1871 designated Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day/St Stephen's Day as days of "national rest".

Good Friday and Christmas Day were already long regarded as "traditional days of rest" and weren't included in the Act.

The majority of our current bank holidays were specified in the very unrelaxing sounding 1971 Banking and Financial Dealings Act (changing the first Monday in August to the last Monday and replacing Whit Monday with the Late Spring Bank Holiday), although it wasn't until 1978 that May Day became an official holiday across the UK.

I loved bank holidays when I was young. I still do. I remember packing up the car on a Friday afternoon in the early-1970s and heading off to Portrush, Portnoo, the Fermanagh lakes or Sligo, with my mum and dad.

There were times I didn't actually know where I was going - and I'm not sure they did, either - until we were all in the car. They had a list of guesthouses they'd been visiting for years and many of the owners and fellow guests, who turned up on the same holidays, had become friends.

Those were the days when dogs were welcome, in bedrooms and kitchens. Children and teenagers played in barns, beaches, front gardens and back parlours (I don't actually remember a guesthouse with a television) while their parents took it in turns to dander down to the pub (there seemed to be an unwritten rule that all guesthouses had to be within walking distance of a pub).

When it became darker and the smaller ones had been sent to bed and settled with "whiskey milk" (two or three drops), the adults and older children played charades and cards until an enormous supper was served. You arrived on the Friday evening and left around teatime on Monday. It was bliss.

I remember the year my dad bought an Austin Maxi, around 1971 or 1972. They were the first of the hatchback generation (I was the envy of many friends) and seemed to be enormous.

They also had a notoriously difficult fifth gear, which usually required two hands to shift to or from (a scary experience if you were in the back seat); a process often accompanied by both my mum and dad - who didn't approve of "gutter language" - doing their very best not to swear for most of the Spring Bank Holiday trip from Armagh to Sligo.

But the car proved to be a great hit with the other children at the guesthouse, because he could put down the back seats, create a huge boot, and squeeze about eight of us into it for a run to the beach. And it was on that beach that he gave me my first driving lessons - one of the happiest memories I have of him.

One of the reasons I've always liked bank holidays is because they're just the right length: long enough to have fun and short enough not to get bored, or worse, crabby with the children.

But I've never understood why so many people still think it necessary to head off to a beach, or theme park, or holiday town that they know will be bunged to the gills. Have people forgotten the joys of a family picnic? Don't they know we have some of the best public parks and open spaces in the world? Haven't they discovered guesthouses and campsites?

Actually, one of the best ways of spending a bank holiday weekend, especially when the children are young, is at home. We used to have "clear up" days around the house and garden (believe me, they are far more fun than you think) involving all of us; followed by a barbecue and a trip to the cinema.

Quite often we'll invite friends and family around, because a bank holiday is still one of those rare occasions when the children, parents, family, friends and neighbours are all off at the same time. And it's always a much more relaxed day than Christmas Day.

For me, a bank holiday has always been a family day: which means a day of being together, laughing together, talking together and doing things together. As the pace of life has changed and so many people in the same house tend to be in their "own space", doing their "own thing", we need a few days a year when we can rally around each other and just have that most old-fashioned of things - fun.

I agree with Jeremy Corbyn (a sentence I never thought I would write): we need a few more holidays.

But I would designate them as family days, rather than bank/public holidays.

Belfast Telegraph


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