I love Bank Holiday Mondays. Even though I now work from home, so weekends and Bank Holidays are of little consequence to my timetable, I nevertheless get out of bed with a sense of anticipation, of mild excitement, at the thought that it’s officially a non-working day. I feel very virtuous when I sit at my desk on Bank Holiday Monday, and only moderately guilty when I decide to take the day off.
Bank Holiday Mondays. Here in Britain, these three days are tacked on to the weekend. Why risk a holiday in the middle of the week, when people might also take the days in between off? Still, a long weekend is eminently practical for all concerned, I admit. Bank Holiday. I wish there were names for these days, rather than something decreed by the closure of cold and now not very popular institutions such as banks. It’s always made me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable. A day when banks don’t trade, when there is no financial speculation, instead of a day to celebrate something or someone – be it a saint, the First of May, or the anniversary of independence. I wonder if any other European country has nondescript, apparently random days off. When I first arrived in the UK, I asked where these Bank Holiday Mondays had originated. Were they former saints days? Pagan festivals? Historical anniversaries? No, people replied. They’re just Bank Holidays. It seems that in this country we’ve been ruled by banks for some time now… I can’t help but wonder if this is why Britain has among the lowest number of holidays in Europe. Economy in all things! Waste not, want not. A penny saved is a penny earned, etc.
My favourite Bank Holiday Monday is the August one. I can’t really say why. Perhaps because it’s the last Bank-sanctioned day off before Christmas Day, nearly four months later. In Catholic European countries, there’s at least All Saints Day in the middle. But we, with our staunch Protestant work ethic, work valiantly till Christmas.
Perhaps, also because, having been brought up in Catholic countries (although I am not myself a Catholic), where 15th August, Assumption Day, is a major religious holiday, I feel cheated unless I have at least one day off in August, albeit at the very end of the month.
People change, I guess. When I was young, living in Italy, I would dread the approach of August. The month when, just because of that one Assumption Day, the country seemed to sink into officially-sanctioned torpor for a whole month – and still does. Ferragosto. Why do you stand in the crushing heat, waiting for a bus for forty-five minutes? Because it’s Ferragosto. Why are so many shops closed? Because it’s Ferragosto. Why are all your friends away, either at the sea or in the mountains, leaving you to be bored to tears in a ghost city? Ferragosto. My family could not afford holidays, so as a teenager, I hated the month of August with a purple passion. The intense heat, the lack of social life and entertainment, the nationally-approved inefficiency of the City of Rome. I couldn’t wait for the traditional, violent thunderstorms in the second half of the month, that heralded the end of this unbearable inertia.
In a way, something similar happens in the UK, when the end of November signals the start of general laziness, inefficiency and incompetence because it’s Christmas.
Now, nearly thirty years later, I find myself longing for Ferragosto in Rome. As a freelancer who, noblesse oblige, never turns down work, I yearn for a government-approved month of quiet, of sleep, of doing absolutely nothing. A whole month of lounging about, reading, writing, dozing in the sun. I remember with unexpected fondness the streets outside the tourist-infested city centre almost totally deserted, the blocks of flats with the blinds of almost every window shut tight, the bliss of not hearing the neighbours’ TV because they’re away. I long to have a lengthy afternoon nap, with the blinds half down, listening to the maracas of a dozen cicadas rhythmically lulling me to sleep. I have fond memories of lying on a reclining sun lounger on the balcony, until past midnight, staring up into the black, starry sky until I was no longer sure if I was falling into the stars or the stars falling on me. And counting shooting stars. Blink and you’ll miss it.
I miss being in a climate hot enough to eat watermelon. Bright red, sweet as sugar, with large, black seeds I can then crunch – not the pathetic rubbery white ones of under-ripe fruit.
Above all – and especially in view of these three months of grey, wet, chilly transition between last spring and next autumn in Norwich, that you cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, call summer – I long for bright light in my eyes, and hot sun on my skin.