Bank Holiday

Keep-Calm-from-Conde-Nast-Traveller

The Bank Holiday is a quintessentially English institution, it came into being in the Victorian era when it was deemed necessary by the powers that be to legislate certain days as national holidays rather than allow a hotchpotch of unregulated saints days.

Now it has to be said that the very description Bank Holiday is something of a misnomer, it was not as one might be excused for imagining to give exhausted bankers a bit of time off to spend their ill gotten gains, after all what’s the point of giving a bunch of arseholes who spend their working lives fleecing the rest of society a break?  No, in fact Bank Holidays were put on the statutes to give the population as a whole a few days holiday and as we British like to do, make a rule out of it in the process. The law of 1871 (revisited in the Banking & Financial Dealings  Act of 1971 ) continues to this day and is as required backed up each year by a Royal Proclamation of the said dates. 

This has the added advantage of giving the Queen something to do and in turn promulgate the idea that she is at least of some use & thus worthy of the humungous amounts of cash Her Madj. and the other hangers on of the Royal family gets from the British Public (once the bankers have creamed off their take ).

Thus we have a few days splattered through the year when bankers and the staff of many other institutions as well as the wider population as a whole are not obliged to work. 

Two days in May are set aside for Bank Holidays thereby extending weekends by an extra day. And on those bank holiday weekends the great English public go about their Bank Holiday business while involved in no business at all.

This spectred isle, described in old songs as a green and pleasant land is that because for most of the year it pisses down relentlessly with rain, thus should a mayday bank holiday be blessed with clear skies and sunshine the entire population goes into a whirl of activity. It is considered amongst the most heinous of sins to do nothing on a bank holiday when the sun is shining, it’s tantamount to saying you don’t have a life. Thus people with friends do stuff, those without or preferring their own company do stuff, DIY stores & Garden Centres are packed to the gunnels with earnest men & women filling shopping trollies with all manner of DIY home improvement products to be transported home to transform their homes into castles. Others with friends and a garden will often organise a daytime food fest, inviting guests to share in the bank holiday spirit & celebrations.

Before any kind of food fest can begin there are a number of prerequisites to be adhered to. If invited to a do the most important necessity amongst a swathe of English womanhood is to fly into panic and then cultivate a pervasive and all encompassing state of extreme angst. This state of affairs is brought about swiftly with one simple act of inwardly directed self inquiry, what should I wear?

This is quickly followed by frantic scrabbling deep into the recesses of wardrobes & drawers  unvisited through months of winter, in pursuit of summer clothes. 

As outfits are tried on boyfriends and husbands are questioned by usually gentle English Roses who turn into psychotic harpies who act with the forcefulness of Gestapo interrogators when asking their men for opinions on outfits (this is in itself is a futile exercise as none of the opinions voiced regardless of what is opined satisfies the women involved). 

Arguments and/or tears typically  follow and grown men turn to quivering wrecks abject in their guilt for saying the wrong thing.

Resolution is often found through pair bonding trips to high street stores, with the male attending to the females needs whilst visibly displaying a deferential and subservient demeanour.

The female drags the fellow from one emporium to another on a quest  for the perfect dress, shoes or outfit. This activity may go on for many hours, in the course of which the male can slip into a trance like state (the most visible aspects of which may present as a glazed over expression, vacant eyes & the inability to express any form of free will). The process draws to a conclusion once approximately fourteen stores have been visited at which point the female returns to the first store visited and the first outfit tried on. The male demonstrates his suitability as a mate by carrying purchases, uttering affirmative calls towards the female telling her how good she looks in the outfit & as a final act of contrition and supplication to a creature greater than himself by whipping out his wallet and paying for the purchases. 

Males as a rule are less likely to suffer angst over the clothing worn for Bank Holiday outings, though may on occasion be lambasted by females for “not making an effort” or for general lacks of taste in the clothing they select, most typically they remain defiant and ignore the remarks made, occasionally they will exhibit a semblance of self determination, though more often than not this results in nothing other than wearing loud and garish shirts.

Once clothing choices have been made there are other unwritten but nevertheless sacrosanct rules for Bank Holiday back garden get togethers. One dictates that you bring along a dish and something to imbibe to any event to which you are invited. Now the dish thing can and does quite often get out of hand. It becomes competitive and each attendee vies with another for the plaudits of those attending in having prepared the best dish. 

Cookbooks on shelves not used for an age are dusted down and opened, signature dishes trotted out, new recipes found. Arriving at the event there are many ways of presenting the dish you’ve brought, some embarrassed by their results slip the dish quietly onto a table when they think nobody is watching, others unveil theirs with flourish, others with faux dispassion and false modesty, placing down a dish they’ve spent hours making as if its just something they’ve knocked up in a flash. 

But the thing is almost everyone bringing along a dish wants theirs to be the most popular. And sometimes it all gets a little out of hand. At one bank holiday do I witnessed a friend of mine, a shrink by trade, force feeding other guests her dish. At another a broken woman in tears  at the end of the afternoon when she realised nobody had tried her dish. 

But bank holidays also involve men who equally have an important role to play. Broadly speaking there are several options for men on arrival at a do. If the order of the day is a barbecue it is considered socially acceptable for a man to hang around the barbeque area in a kind of man huddle. Typically up to four or five men may congregate around the burning meat and offer advice to the Barbequer (even if advice is not needed ). Permissible subjects of conversation may  include football & cars or power tools, if the barbecue is far enough away from wives & girlfriends to be out of earshot the conversation may cover the female anatomy (and any striking examples that have been encountered of late)

The number of males hovering around the Barbie should never exceed four or five, any more is socially unacceptable, though individuals in the area may be swapped, with men taking turns around the smoking grill.

It should be made clear that any women in close proximity to the BBQ is at best superfluous but in reality unwelcome. (the gift of fire having been given directly to Man by Prometheus it remains a closely guarded male preserve ). Thankfully the vast majority of British womanhood is clear on this given.

If not involved directly in the BBQ as either a cooker or advice giver then any other men are typically to be found occupying a comfortable chair near the food on the table and within reach of the booze, or if a wag holding court over the ladies. There are also wise males, usually of more advanced years who have learnt over time that by lurking around the BBQ there is a remote possibility of actually having to do some work and therefore avoid the entire vicinity.

BBQ meat it should be mentioned in England must only be cooked  in one of two ways, either charred to an unrecognisable black cinder resembling anthracite or a form of coal or otherwise it must be undercooked and liable to give the consumer at least a mild form of food poisoning. Fish is optional and for those with delusions of grandeur or copious quantities of cash, champagne Socialists, Guardian readers & Corbiniites may attempt to grill exotic vegetables as a nod to any veggies in attendance or god forbid vegans that may inadvertently have been invited in error or through necessity.

It should also be mentioned that under no circumstances should the people holding the event eat as they are required to spend the entire time racing around looking after everyone else. At many events too much booze is consumed by at least a few attendees which results in a high rate of absenteeism from work the following day, many people calling in with food poisoning (genuine) & rather a lot that use it as an excuse rather than the honesty of a splitting head. Others simply need another days holiday to recover from bank holiday exhaustion.

For those with few friends or a lack of invitations or indeed space at home for hosting  a good alternative is to head to a public park. When the sun shines they are packed, it is thus necessary to arrive at 8 am to bag a premium space. By mid morning every decent patch of grass is filled with every shape and size and hue of humanity. And there in those public places you can picnic, or play or just lie on the grass & soak up the rays. It should be made clear that on arrival at the park one should consider it a territorial declaration and any given patch of grass should be squatted and jealously guarded with a demeanour bordering National Socialist or Brexiteer fervour. 

For the energetic or Billy No Mates type there is always sight-seeing or a festival on somewhere. 

This particular bank holiday I fall into this category & with the guilt quotient racking up at the thought of staying in on my own on a Bank Holiday I have no alternative but to go out sight-seeing.

I alight the Tube at Westminster, march up the steps and into the daylight where the first thing I spy is Big Ben, or rather the entire edifice of where Big Ben should be which today is a massive forest of scaffolding. Big Ben is being repaired you see and in England we like to do things properly, so fixing one single clock is expected to take four years & cost £61m, God how proud it make a person. 

The street beyond is a sea of milling tourists all eager to view the scaffolding.

My idea of crossing Westminster bridge and taking a stroll along the south side of the river crashes and burns at the sight of the multitude of humanity stretched out before me covering every walkway and footpath in sight. Instead I make my way through the crowd and walk along the slightly quieter north side of the river. This perambulation takes in pleasant public gardens alongside the rear of the government buildings in Whitehall, past New Scotland Yard & the iconic three sided sign that is always trotted out on TV bulletins when something terrible has occurred and is featured on the evening news. As I continue my walk I become aware of how many statues are dotted along my walk. Every few metres one statue or another, nods to imperial splendour and British history, generals, soldiers, airmen etc, all of the statues of course are male and I think of an article I read recently where it explained that something like 94% of the statues on public view are male, less than 6% historic female figures. whilst I am a man I find it rather lop-sided that the balance is thus. Is it so difficult to come up with women worthy of a statue? I head back to Whitehall past the leviathan Ministry of Defence building, grey concrete monstrosity, the main doors are massive and hewn in metal, they are firmly closed and nobody appears to be  home. It’s rather comforting to know that there is clearly no need to defend the country today, any potential aggressors must also be taking a day off. Jolly nice of them to join in. 

I wander over to Horse Guards parade and pause for a while at the two sentinels of the Household Cavalry astride their mounts, uniforms spick and span, sabres & ironmongery glittering in the sun. How young the soldiers look, how pissed off too by the stream of tourists taking selfies and getting too close to the horses. As I pause for a while I hear the one soldier hiss time and again through gritted teeth and chin strap “Don’t touch the bridle. Don’t touch”…… . 

I wander through the arch into the parade ground and on to St.James Park, find a free patch of grass in a quiet spot & lie in the sun. It’s rather pleasant soaking up the rays. In fact it’s so pleasant that I drift off to sleep there in the sun. At some point not long after I am deep in a nightmare, or is it a daymare? In my dream I have had to resort to becoming an insurance salesman, no other possible work being available, whilst the insurance industry no doubt is a laudable profession in my nightmare it is a low-point of despondency for me and I feel like one of life’s ultimate failures. I wake up in a sweat to the sound of noisy children screaming and shouting. 

The bucolic sojourn irreparably damaged I continue my walk. All along my perambulation I find points of curiosity and interest, a blue plaque down a little street with Herman Melville’s name on it, I think of the author, his travels, his struggles to be a writer. I step into & out of curious little shops, wander down back alleys I’ve never noticed before. people watching continuously interesting characters all over, passers by speaking in a plethora of languages. 

Later I stop at a pub in Soho for a beer. The place is crowded, but I find a solitary space at an outside table. I ask the other people if it’s ok to take a seat, there are three guys, all of a similar age to me. They appear to be buddies, one a Geordie, one South African, one French. They tell each other jokes and drink their beers. The camaraderie is rather jolly & amiable until I overhear the Gerodie piping  up and realise that he’s talking about immigration. We just let too many of them in he says, you see it everywhere now in towns all across the country. There are places we can’t go……  his mates voice their agreement, “Vor Shore” says the South African, the white South African. I wonder which we the Geordie is talking about, my hackles rise and

I think about saying something, but really it’s pointless, instead feeling rather miserable I sup the remainder of my beer and head off. A little later I am once again close to the Thames. I pause and look at the water. The tide is racing upstream at a rate of knots, the current is remarkably strong  and the waters bubble and boil & swirl in shades of muddy browns as my thoughts drift with them, I think of how much time I’ve spent next to water these last few years, how much I enjoy being close to it or in it. And then the idle thought comes into my head as I look at the Thames rushing by that the richest waters anywhere in the world, those with the most life are always where different streams or seas meet and mingle. And in a curious way that’s exactly how I think of London, why I like it. London is  a confluence not of water but of people, streams of them meeting, different & diverse, it’s what makes London rich. The memory of the unpleasant Geordie recedes, as I continue to bask in my simplistic thought process & amble through central London. I cross over the river south on a footbridge, along its length are three fold up tables each manned by swarthy Albanian or maybe Romanian types,  each hosts an ad hoc  gambling table with three metal cups, they are working that age old method of separating the careless or the idiotic from their money. It’s a little bit of street theatre to watch the plays, the countrymen & women of the tricksters working the crowd. Once my interest wanes I continue walking,  as I go I hear the snippets of a dozen different languages on the lips of the passers by, and all through the sun continues to shine. I pause at Trafalgar square, wander through China town, circle though Leicester square and pause at an ice cream stall off charing cross road. 

I fancy a 99, a vanilla ice cream in a cone with a flake of chocolate in it. As I give my order to the lady behind the counter I notice myself checking her out. She’s pretty, long dark hair, dark eyes, actually she’s really attractive, I am staring, then I begin to realise that she is looking back at me rather intently. Hang on, is there something going on here I wonder? Is she giving me the eye? As I continue to look rather too intensely at her I feel like she is doing the same back, its feels as though her eyes are really sparkling, I make conversation with her after ordering my ice cream. Because lets face it I fancy her, meanwhile I check out her right hand for a ring, no sign……. Theres a guy at the back of the stall busy doing something, I try to work out if the two of them are an item, I don’t come to any conclusion. The woman continues to look at me and I am enjoying the whole process. I glance back at the guy, who seems to be totally disinterested, are they together? I can’t figure it out. To be honest though I don’t really care, I have learnt that sometimes being in a relationship is a description rather than a reality, alternatively you might describe me just as a bit of a shit, if I met a woman who was in a relationship would I spirit her away If I wanted her, the answer if I thought we both wanted it would be absolutely yes.

Ms. 99 asks me what I’m doing in town, all the while I’m certain, or at least I think I am certain that she is into me, she keeps looking right at me, not in a kind of omg what an ugly man kind of way, but more with what I can only describe as come to bed eyes. She heads to the back of the stall & returns a few moments later. She wraps a serviette around my cone, decants vanilla & a stick of chocolate into it and all the while the whole exercise feels like foreplay, she passes me the finished product and tells me she gave me an extra large, I thank her and trundle off, still wondering, was she interested? I have over the years realised that I really have an uncanny ability to miss picking up on when a woman might fancy me, usually they’ve needed to more or less jump on me before I’ve clocked it (this sadly has been an all too  rare occurrence). 

I cross the road and once on the other side I can’t help but to take one more look, is she looking back? Yes I think she is.

I make my way to Covent Garden and sit on a bench and munch the remainder of my ice cream whilst watching the world go by, as I finish when I take the serviette to wipe my lips ( a moustache with ice cream in it looks very silly ) As I do so I notice ballpoint pen scribbled writing, as I unfurl it there is a phone number and the name Maia. 

Well there you go, she is interested, I think of calling her up immediately, of secret assignations and hot sex in Soho. But then a cold blast of reality hits me, I have a whole pile of things to get on with and I have been doing nothing at all about any of them. That on top of this I have had unfailing ability to get into to messy situations with women for far too long and that really its all rather ridiculous. 

The only thing that does appeal to me in any way at all is writing something decent, but I have a fear of coming out with a load of old tripe. But maybe I should just write that book I have been threatening to, after all there’s plenty of tripe published & some of it even sells?

With renewed conviction I head to the Tube station, that’s it I am off to write my novel immediately. 

On the way home I stop at the Pub, for a quick drink, strangely one beer follows another & another until I decide that today is after all an holiday, maybe its better to start writing tomorrow. 


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