Brian and I were discussing recently how Sundays have changed since we were children, not to mention how Sundays have changed since we were PAYE workers. Regarding the latter, Sunday was either a day for decorating followed by a dinner in a local pub or a day to head to somewhere like the New Forest for a pub lunch and a long walk. When I was a student in the UK, I got a job in Sainsbury’s on Sunday mornings, Sunday opening had just started in supermarkets and was limited from 10-4. I was delighted as got double pay. Things have probably gone a bit crazy now re shops opening on Sundays but I guess workers get time off on other days in the week.
When we were kids, our Sundays were quite similar which isn’t that surprising given that we’re of the same religion and similar backgrounds. Sunday involved the farm jobs of milking cows and herding, followed by the family excursion to church and a Sunday lunch – usually roast chicken or roast beef. Sunday often involved visitors too – either going to see people and have dinner/tea in their house or visitors coming to our homes. We often tell our children how lucky they are, as we don’t drag them off in their best clothes to the homes of great aunts. To be fair, many visits were to aunts and uncles who had children but let’s just say, life became much better when I was allowed to bring a book with me and sit in peace to read if there were no children in said house. The autumn was a particularly busy time for visits as people used to attend the afternoon Harvest Thanksgiving services in each other’s parishes and then go to relatives or friends in that parish for tea.
Doing unnecessary work on a Sunday was frowned upon when I was a child. For example, if it was “your month” to put flowers in the Church, there was no way you could arrange and deliver them on a Sunday morning. That had to be done on the Saturday. I remember asking to be allowed to knit on a Sunday, arguing that the woman in the Riordans (shown on a Sunday around 6:30) knitted furiously for most of the programme. Once a year, we attended the local “Sports Day” in the priest’s field within view of our house. The highlight for me was always the “bottle stall” where we swopped 5p for a chance to win a bottle of beer, a bar of soap or that elusive prize of a giant teddy or something similar. My father always reminded us that he and his siblings were never allowed to attend.
When my father was a child, unnecessary work wasn’t permitted on a Sunday. In many ways, it was a good thing as it meant a total or almost total day of rest. Cows were milked and animals were fed and watered but that was it. Even if rain threatened during the harvest, they still didn’t work. One year, the weather had been changeable, and within a couple of fine days, the corn had been cut and was stacked in stooks in the field. Rain was threatening for the Monday. My dad remembers himself, his brother and his father going out at midnight to bring in the stooks onto the haycart, bringing them into the shed to thresh them out of the shed on a later day.
When my great grandfather was alive, a neighbour came up on a Saturday evening to ask for a loan of a paddy rake (it was used to make haycocks) and my grandfather gave it to him. My great grandfather was cross with him for lending it to the neighbour saying “they’ll be working tomorrow now”. Before they moved up to Garrendenny, a contractor was cutting their corn and didn’t finish on the Saturday evening. “I’ll come back and finish it tomorrow” he said. By the sounds of it, my grandfather nearly had a fit and told him not to. He decided then and there that, by hook or crook, he would have his own binder for the following year.
Some people may have had a cold meat dinner on a Sunday but my gran stayed at home from church to keep the fire going and get the dinner cooked. Apparently she sang hymns, probably enjoying the solitude from the 9 kids! All baking was done on the Saturday; this included brown bread, soda bread, spot o dick, eight apple tarts and ginger bread. They were accustomed to receiving visitors every Sunday afternoon. Not a crumb was left by Sunday evening apparently.
Our Sundays are quite different. Although we do try to do the minimum of work on a Sunday, there’s still quite a lot of it to be done. On the occasional Sunday when something happens to disrupt the afternoon off, it definitely does affect our energy levels on the Monday and Tuesday. Even though it’s only a few hours off, the body and mind still needs it. When the kids were small, having dinner out followed by going somewhere for the afternoon was enough for them. Brian didn’t mind milking a bit later than normal and I’d get them ready for bed etc. Now that they are both teenagers, they’re perfectly happy to stay at home lazing about and indeed, prefer that. We did get them out for lunch yesterday and out for a picnic and walk around Altamont Gardens for the bank holiday today though!
Something happened last Sunday that made me cross. You might remember my rant a while ago about how Teagasc and the farming media seemed to think that after the busy calving/lambing season was a good time to chastise farmers for the long hours they work, that they should know better etc. There have also been reports in the media about how large companies are now not permitting the sending of emails between employees within certain late hours or at weekends. Having designated time off is seen as important to mental as well as physical health. Then, last Sunday at 6:20, I received a text from a large company informing me that an online flash sale for teat dip and other products would end at midnight. I was cross because
- There are six other evenings in the week to end a flash sale and text us about it.
- I had no interest in thinking about teat dip or similar products on a Sunday evening and I think I’d be a pretty sad individual if I was to be honest.
- One farmer replied to one of my ranting tweets by saying it was a good deal and only took 3 minutes to purchase. Okay, his broadband signal is obviously better than mine but what about situations when children or a partner are suddenly ignored about this “important” order has to be made. Family time is important and when Sundays are often the only family afternoon and evening together during many months of the year, it’s not good enough. Plus, it makes a farmer think about work, it pulls him or her out of a relaxed zone and thinking about what other jobs need to be done.
- I’d give a small company some slack over this. Large companies need to cop on. It’s really not good enough.
- The media need to take these large companies to task over this (rather than berate farmers for working long hours on necessary work).
I fully appreciate that farmers were under no obligation to act on the text. But the fact it was a text means it was an intrusion. If I want to go “offline”, I switch off notifications on my phone or may even delete apps. If it had come as an email, I wouldn’t have noticed it until the next day. However, texts to my phone make a loud noise – deliberately so. I don’t get many texts but when I do, it’s often a query or request from Brian or another family member.
Life seems to get busier instead of calmer so it’s important to have down time – whether it’s with friends, family, a dog or a book. We may not take the “no necessary work” as stridently as my grandfather did but perhaps he wasn’t so wrong after all.
I’d love to know what you think. Even if some of us are less religious than our ancestors, should Sunday still be sacred as a rest day as much as is possible?