Although this upcoming Easter Friday and Monday bank holiday was established by the 1871 Bank Holiday Act, these two holy days for England have basically existed since records began. Or at least a little further back in the mists of time than that. In the middle ages, boatsmen lay down their hoary oars in the April mists of early morning and failed to take any Londoner upstream on the Thames. The City billowed itself down in dreamy quietness, for the remainder of the festivities. I am not sure why – someone died, someone rose again – why?! – but we stopped. And everyone loved it. Except they got confused by the change in the Sainsburys opening times.
Not that this four day break was the most important bank holiday of the calendar way back in the Middle Ages. You see, in those days there were a total of 33 Saints Days, so plenty of time for rest and relaxation. These days we are de-sainted and de-sanctified and, as Blur reminded us in the mid-90s, “Bank holiday comes 6 times a year and bank holiday comes with a 6 pack of beer”. I bet that one had Shakespeare spinning in his grave, as nothing quite captures and ruinous liberty of a four day bank holiday than Colchester mockneys scraping around on a back lawn in Adidas tracksuits pretending to be working class and salivating over the nearest greyhound. Now, it’s no longer the 1990s, so now we are supposed to spend our bank holidays fetishizing over a grim hobby that has the word “British” in its bunting-esque title. “Great British Bake Off Bank Holiday Victoria Sponge Fest” or “Great British Sewing Bee Knitting Festival” or “Great British Allotment Feng Shui” in which we all download our 1950s gingham dress iMac apps and pretend we live in a world where no one has invented the contraceptive pill yet and that the one thing that a lady really requires is a pair of nylons. The way to our Great British hearts is to spend our leisure time avoiding a soggy bottom.
Soggy bottoms are one thing, but a lie in is quite another and Bank Holidays tap into the Great British Suspicion of Decadent Liberty. We are a nation marinated in the Protestant work ethic, a needless and stinky Victorian hangover. That is why the kind of things the Great British Bunting Lifestyle schtick would have us do revolve around healthy activity (cooking, sewing, knitting, gardening); sober, homely and hearty activities that keeps peoples hands busy and stops them doing what they really want to do on a day off which is get drunk and play with themselves. Great television though that may be, you can’t actually broadcast a programme that sings of the virtues of getting drunk and masturbating although – if we all put down our garden trowels and gardening gloves for a moment and were honest with ourselves – that’s mainly all human beings really want to do for pleasure anyway. Not that you can tell BBC2 that on a Tuesday night of course.
The Queen certainly won’t be doing it, because she’ll be in Blackburn Cathedral today handing out Maundy money to those precious 88 pensioners who will be in receipt of the sovereign’s gift of a red bag and a white bag filled with coins. It’s rather War of Roses colour scheme, there, and liable to get the Lancastrians up in arms looking for a Yorkist to kill, but I take it the Queen knows what she is doing. The amount of pensioners selected to receive Maundy money are the same number as the sovereign is old. And they don’t get much. But they can sell their Maundy money on Ebay for a much higher price at a later date. Not that it makes much difference if you’re a pensioner, whether it’s Easter or not. Once you get past 70 every day’s a bank holiday as far as I can make out, a long hazy cluster of days clad in shades of taupe and punctuated by Countdown and a lot of trips to the bathroom.
But those older people are old enough to remember when New Year’s Day wasn’t even a bank holiday (only a recent addition, started in 1974, and dedicated solely to St Crippling Headache, the Patron Saint of Hangovers). In 1965, they moved August Bank Holiday from the first Monday in August to the last one, and also abolished the “Whitsun” and turned it into the imaginative and totally romantic title of The Late Spring Bank Holiday on the last Monday of May. In 1978 they went absolutely mental and gave us another Bank Holiday at the beginning of May, failing to realise that what we really needed was a break in the Bank Holiday drought between September and Christmas, and the nation could do with five days off in October. The Scots manage to break this drought by cleverly arranging a Bank Holiday for November 30th every year. The English are not so lucky.
The Cornish unofficially take St Piran’s Day off (5th March) although it isn’t recognised by royal proclamation, as a Bank Holiday by law has to be, it is a local tradition throughout the whole county. Nothing is open in Cornwall on 5th March. The Welsh are yet to establish St David’s Day as a proper Bank Holiday, and St Patrick’s Day has only been recognised in Northern Ireland as a Bank Holiday as recently as 2008. The English have never been successful in their occasional calls for St George’s Day / Shakespeare’s birthday to be recognised on April 23rd, but this is mainly because it falls too close to the Easter break / May Day bank holiday glut to actually be of any benefit. Calls for a Trafalgar Day Bank Holiday for October 21st have generally been met with a lack of enthusiasm from Parliament. Instead Parliament ram occasional Bank Holidays at us to confuse us – we’ve had several of them in the last few years. Royal Wedding, Queens Diamond Jubilee (two days for that) and even the day before the Millenium – 31st December 1999 – was decreed a one off bank holiday to help people prepare for their Millenium parties, missing the point that what we actually needed was a week off afterwards to clear up.
Whatever you are doing, dearest hard working people of London, enjoy this four day break by doing precisely what you want. In London, it’s Berwick Street’s Record Store Day on Saturday for vinyl covers lovers, the Urban Food Fest opens in Shoreditch on the same day, and those of you who want to engage in drunken Christianity can join the Christathon pub crawl (biblical dress compulsory) that starts in Borough High Street. The Moscow State Circus are here, for their last weekend, at Alexandra Palace, and Kew Gardens has a Roald Dahl themed fortnight where you can create your own chocolate bar. The Waterway Charity Thames21 is offering sketching classes on a Thames narrow boat (see The Londonist), and the Feast of St George will take place on Monday in Trafalgar Square, which sounds like a combination of a Monty Python sketch and an EDL day trip, or if you prefer something high-falutin’ you can heard to Shakespeare’s Globe on Monday for a family fun day of puppetry, stage craft and free drama for the kids. If you really want to depress yourself you can have breakfast with the Easter Bunny at The Hard Rock Cafe (I kid ye not) for the bumper cost of £11.95 pre book. Price includes one of Bill Wyman’s Sticky Fingers. The V&A is also bringing out its puppets for children, but this usually makes the under 5s cry so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Then again, you could just stay in and listen to Blur and drink 6 packs of beer and bring yourself off to The Great Allotment Challenge. I don’t care. It’s your holiday.
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. The blog is updated fortnightly so we will next update on Thursday May 1st. See you then, The London Bluebird x x x