Brighter Breezes Blowing at TaboosCategory: Leisure
Nowadays, only a small proportion of British people regard Sunday as a day which must be confined to religious purpose. Times have changed. Housewives who once may have frowned at the neighbour who put her washing out on a Sunday today join her in the local 24-hour-Sunday-opening launderette. Some, who still wouldn’t be seen “carrying a shopping bag in the street on the Sabbath,” now compromise by driving with their husbands to the local super- or street- market. There is a brighter breeze blowing away the Sunday taboos — although fresh air remains outside most churches. The great majority of the British public are out and away, laughing at the confused laws, if they stop to think about them at all.
On Sunday it is a sin, for example, for David Kossof to wear an old raincoat in a sketch on the stage for a charity show. (He was allowed to show it to the audience and drape it across a piano!) It is not a sin to watch anything you like to name — from Shakespeare to the kitchen sink — if it is on television, or staged in a private theatre admitting members only. On Sunday it is a sin to pay young men to play football for their fans to watch.
One obsolete law, hundreds of years old, would like to prevent you from travelling from one parish to another if you are going there to indulge in “sport or pastime” in “assembly” with your friends. The Sunday trading laws are also unenforceable. No one, traders or customers, are sure what they are supposed legally to sell or buy. Sweets can be sold, firewood cannot, unless you live on a smallholding where this is part of your stock-in-trade — even then you would probably need special consideration of your case. The most hardened Mrs Grundys have had to give way before the Sunday-working army of doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen and all their necessary administrative workers. In fact, if to work is necessary to the “economy” of the Government of the day, then the “Lord’s Day” is soon forgotten in the interest of profit.
How did all this Sunday Observance business start?
For us in Britain it really began with the Sunday Observ-, ance Acts of the 17th century. According to these Acts, nearly everything you could do on a Sunday was labelled “entertainment” and therefore considered wicked and sinful. The idea was to encourage church-going and any “assembly” among the lower classes was thus channelled into the confines of religion and under the eye of authority. On Sunday we are supposed to go to church. That, strictly speaking, is still what the time off from our labours is for — not for doing sinful things like playing bingo or bowls, or watching a football match. It was always the workers who suffered from,, these various laws because the rich could get away with it by having the space and the wherewithal to organize if their drinking, card-playing and general roistering in рrivate.
The proposed new look for Sundays is frightening the Lord’s Day Observance men, although no one is stopping them from going to church or observing Sunday in any way they wish. But it appears they do not like to see other people enjoying themselves, and the Lord’s Day Observance Society is the spear-head of the opposition to brighter Sundays. What is it they want? — these “sardine men” as Lord Willis, the latest campaigner for new look Sundays, calls them. “They want to force us all into the same tin,” he says. “Their zeal frightens me.” The much-quoted “six days shalt thou labour” must have been greatly needed at a time when work was not so much a way of life as a way of keeping alive. He doesn’t appear to have stipulated which six days. There’s a case for staggering our rest days — as indeed they are already among permanent Sunday workers. In fact — and this is a greater anomaly — it is the Sunday worker who gets the best of both worlds. On his day off “in lieu” he can enjoy himself just as he pleases, not having to cope with any restrictions at all. In any case, the Church, and the peers currently debating the question, seem not much concerned about those who cannot even labour four or five days, with the Government freezing them into . ever-increasing unemployment.
Let those who wish to spend Sunday in a special way do so, but why enforce their wishes on everybody else? The Government should do away with these out-dated “Thou shalt not” laws. They always were imposed from above, and they are certainly not serving the community now.
Why should we remain shackled by the narrow-minded bigots — and their modern counterparts — of the 17th century?