Are we a bunch of stress monkeys? It seems so. Life in the UK seems to be one of unceasing speed, drama and activity. We all seem to be stressed. Or if not stressed, angry. Or if not angry, a little sad. We seem to find it difficult to relax. As a nation, we’ve never been more in need of a time when we can just take it easy. Maybe we have it a little better here in Cumbria with the fells, the lakes and the coast. Yet even here, I’m guessing quite a number of people find it hard to switch off. Even here, the pace of life is greater than it was.
For me, one of the key events was the relaxing of the old Sunday trading laws. When I were a lad (he said putting on a flat cap, smoking a pipe and stroking me whippet), very, very few shops opened on a Sunday. The Co-op, the corner shop and the newsagent (and even then they closed at lunchtime) and that was about it. Fish and chip shops didn’t even open on Sundays. Supermarkets did great sell-offs on Saturday night. Sundays was a time for church (for some) or for families or for television. We used to go and visit relatives for Sunday Tea. It was the one day in the week when it was guaranteed that the whole family were at home together. All that changed in 1994 with the introduction of the Sunday Trading Act.
I think this was a shame, not on religious grounds necessarily but because we lost something that we will never have back – a proper rest day.
In the Jewish Tradition (which is where the roots of our Sunday came from), they have the Sabbath. One day in every week where no work was allowed and the Jewish people would spend time worshipping their God. The Jews didn’t consider this to be a bad thing. All around them, the various other nations were working seven days a week without any rest. The Sabbath was a good thing, it enshrined a time for rest and recuperation within their society. It was a gift from their God. So when the early Christians (who were mostly also Jews) came along, they adopted his practice but changed the day to Sunday (it’s an Easter thing). And so a day a week of rest, a time for families, for spiritual matters, became enshrined in Western culture. Obviously, people like farmers have always had to work and, of course, people in the emergency services. And, historically, people were paid more if they did have to work on a Sunday, in recognition of just what they were giving up.
We’ve just come back from a week in Carcassonne in the south of France and there the supermarkets were closed on Sundays, as were most of the other shops. What did we do? We did our shopping on Saturday or waited until Monday.
At The Coffee Kitchen, we decided from day one that we would not open on Sundays. This was primarily because we realised that in the early stages of a business, you need time off. You need time to recharge the batteries and a time when you don’t have to worry about the place. Now often we’re in there baking on Sundays but it’s still a time when I don’t need to worry about staff, about supplies and about the general running of the place. Of course, quite a few of our regulars would love us to open on Sundays and maybe it’s something for the future. But for now, no. Sundays are for other things than work.
Do we, as a country, buy more things because we can shop on Sunday? Not sure. We can buy a car six days a week, do salesrooms really need to be open on Sundays too? Wouldn’t it be better if parents were both home with the kids spending quality time together?
I know that this law won’t be overturned. I’m sure the power of the supermarkets would be against it. And I’m sure there are quite a few people reading this who will be saying, ‘I like shopping on Sunday. I want to shop when I like. I’m not having anyone dictate to me when I can shop.’ Well, you can put your fingers in an electric socket too but it’s not necessarily good for you. You can eat nothing but crisps and burgers if you like but it won’t make you healthy. Maybe not shopping on a Sunday would be good for you, mentally. Maybe it would give you a day to do nothing. A gift of a day once a week in which work and all the things that make us stressed and busy are forgotten about.
I’ll leave the final word to a BBC article from 2009 when we celebrated 15 years of the Sunday Trading Act 1994. There are so many opposing views on this and I don’t expect everyone (or anyone) to agree with me. But I’d quite like my boring old, family-focused, non-shopping Sunday back. I’m sure it would make us feel better.