Monday, May 31, 2010

Holiday Monday

There has been a notable lack of suitcases on the bus to the airport these last few days.

Traditionally Whit Sunday marked the beginning of Wakes Week for many towns & villages in the north west, the week when all the mills & factories closed & the workers got their only chance to go away – most likely to Blackpool. Rhyl was also popular, with Llandudno, Southport or Scarborough attracting those who wanted something more refined. In more recent years the fixed date Late May Bank Holiday has tended to replace the movable feast of the church calendar, & workers have more generous & flexible holiday entitlements, but the tradition lingers on, even in this age of the sunseeker & the package holiday.

This year however I have not seen any family groups setting off at all. A worrying sign of recession, perhaps.

Whitsun too used to be a very popular date for weddings, partly no doubt because the happy couple could then have the luxury of a honeymoon. I also think I remember that there was some particular financial advantage to do with the way that the Married Man’s Tax Allowance was operated, but have not been able to confirm this.

I remember the distinct shock I felt on reading Philip Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings. Somehow I had forgotten all about that commonplace scene of Saturday afternoons, particularly Whit Saturday, as the wedding guests saw off the bride & groom at the station. Even more hilarious was the sight of a couple who had said their good byes to their guests at the reception & would be sitting on the platform trying to look as if they had been married for years.

The last time I can remember such a Saturday afternoon sight (though it wasn’t Whitsuntide) was in 1970 on a train from Swansea to London.

Larkin captures so well the less than romantic view of England-from-a-train which unfolded before the couple:

Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: & now & then a smell of grass
Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new & nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars

There is a reading by Larkin of his own poem on the Poetry Archive.