Wednesday 16 March 2016

Never on a Sunday - Sue Purkiss

A week or two ago, the Sunday trading laws were in the news. There was an attempt to extend the hours for which shops can stay open on a Sunday, and on the radio people discussed seriously whether it would be a good idea or not to open at, say, 9am rather than 10 am.

Purely by chance, someone on Facebook mentioned on the same day that they were going to Barmouth. Instantly, I was transported back to Barmouth on a certain Sunday in the mid seventies. (So now Facebook can do time travel? Well, of course it can!)

My flat mate had recently passed her driving test and was keen to test out her skills - and her tiny Citroen - on a long journey. She'd found out about a special deal at a pleasant looking hotel near Lake Bala in North Wales. (How, without the internet? No idea. An advert in a paper maybe?) The journey was not without its thrills - it was February half-term, the coldest there had been for years; the sun shone, but there was thick snow on the ground, and the little Citroen had to struggle valiantly on the mountainous Welsh roads. 

We were teachers, and it was half-term, so we decided to tack on another day and go to the coast. We would go to Barmouth, we decided, after the Sunday lunch which was included in the hotel deal.

I know this doesn't show the actual town, but it's such a lovely picture I thought I'd use it anyway. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

We found a B&B, then wandered along the beach shivering and marvelling at the sight of snowflakes drifting down and settling on the sand. Then we headed back, and asked the landlady if she could recommend a pub where we could get a bite to eat. The house had high ceilings and cold rooms, and the idea of a cosy fire in a convivial bar appealed. 

"Oh, no pubs open at all," she said cheerily. "Not on a Sunday. It's chapel here, you see. No drinking on a Sunday. Oh no." 

We flinched. "Oh. Well, how about a cafe?"

"Oh yes, there's lots of lovely cafes in Barmouth. But not on a Sunday, oh goodness me no."

Could she - would it be at all possible for her to do us a sandwich?

"Oh no. I'll do you a lovely breakfast in the morning, but I don't do food in the evenings, no. And it's Sunday, see? I'll be off to chapel."

We wandered the streets disconsolately, looking for a rebellious corner shop that might be prepared to sell us a bar of chocolate or a packet of biscuits. But no. In 1970s Barmouth on a Sunday night, all doors were closed. Except, obviously, chapel doors. The snow fell, and our stomachs howled. 

But it was certainly a lovely breakfast. 

Scroll back a few more years, and a typical childhood Sunday before Sunday opening came in went like this. Sunday morning, Sunday school. (Which I resented. My parents didn't go to church, so why did I have to go to Sunday school?) At home, the radio would be on - Forces Favourites, then The Clitheroe Kid (unaccountably voiced by a grown-up) and The Navy Lark or Round The Horne. Then Sunday dinner: usually roast beef, occasionally roast lamb or pork. Never chicken, because that was expensive and only for Christmas. Then apple pie and custard, hopefully thick. Dad worked shifts at a power station, so he wasn't always there - but we still had dinner at dinner time and his was plated up for when he get home.

The wonderful Fred and Ginger

In the afternoon, if it was summer and Dad was home, it was off to Shipley Wood for a walk. If not, then it was the Sunday matinee - an old film, obviously in black and white, because everything was. And films on television then really were old - they were films my parents had seen in their (to me) far distant youth: George Formby, Bob Hope, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. 

Then it was time for tea: salad, tinned fruit and cream, fruit cake or Victoria sandwich. The good old days? I don't think so. Except for Round The Horne. And my mother's delicious apple pie and custard. And of course, the incomparable Fred and Ginger. So maybe not all that bad. And better than a day spent traipsing round shops? Well, that would depend on the shops...


Sue Bursztynski said...

Chuckle! What a delightful post! I was a child during the "never on Sunday" era, so I'm not sure what I would have done if I arrived at a B&B on a Sunday then. If you knew beforehand, you could be prepared and bring some food of your own, I suppose. I do remember pubs closing at six. And my Sundays were quite special. We lived near the sea(I still do) and we used to go down to the port, where we enjoyed going on board for a wander around whichever cruise ships were in. Then my parents would buy freshly-caught fish and we'd go home for a fried supper while watching "Disneyland" on TV.

Your story reminds me a bit of when I went to a science fiction convention near Staines, while on a visit to England. It was happening at a beautiful old hotel, but I'd missed a place there and on the Saturday night, most of the attendees had gone off to see a play with one of the guests in it. I'd had to pay the hotel fees in cash(hotel is a fancy word - it turned out to be a rather grubby pub! For hotel rates. I'd booked from Australia), as they wouldn't accept travellers' cheques - this was the 1980s. So until Monday my money was limited. And there was nowhere close to go for dinner and the hotel dining room was closed. Fortunately they did serve bar snacks, though it wasn't quite the same.

Sunday, nearly everything was closed, but my mother and I did find a small grocery store which was open. We bought rolls, cheese and other fillings and made our own lunch. Mum wasn't attending the convention, but it was a lovely day and the grounds were beautiful gardens, do she sat happily reading in the sun till Insrrived for lunch. It turned out better than it might have. Certainly better than your experience!

Sue Purkiss said...

Sundays in Australia back then sound much nicer than Sundays in the industrial East Midlands - or Barmouth!

Penny Dolan said...

Barmouth does sound bleak, Sue. I think that, back then, B&B's sent their guests out at 9am, and didn't let them back in till evening - or was that earlier?
Watching "Back in Time for the Weekend" on TV, with their new family, there's no doubt about the constant toil that housework and those Sunday meals involved for women, before all those labour-saving machines we have now. Think I'd want a quiet day before the Monday wash.

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

Loved the post Sue!
I definitely remember the Sunday School experience - self and brother were always pushed off there by parents who never attended. I guess it was almost like sending us to the childminder so they could have a couple of hours off. At 7 years older than my brother, I always had to take him and watch out for him too, which I thought hugely unfair. In other ways my parents were a bit on the wild side. We always ate our main meal in the evening!

Susan Price said...

Oh Sue, this brought it all back! Great post.

Anyone who wants to experience Sunday as it was - and have a good laugh - listen to the Hancock's Half Hour episode, written by Galton and Simpson, called 'A Sunday Afternoon At Home.'

The Sunday School Ordeal explained... My father endured Sunday School too, despite his parents never ever going anywhere near a church, but one day it dawned on him and some of his friends - their parents packed them off so they could have a few hours of empty house for some bedroom action. I once put this theory to my partner, who had also endured Sunday School in mystification. He looked stunned for a moment, and then said, in realisation: "Oa-a-a-ah!"

My father had a fixation with Wales, so I was dragged there on Sundays throughout my childhood. Llandudno - cold, wet, entirely grey - grey sky, grey slate, grey sea, grey slanting rain - and even the lavatories were locked. Heaven forbid that any bursting bladder should be emptied even in the dubious comfort of a 70s public loo on a Sunday! - Apologies to Wales, land of my fathers - but these Sundays gave me a prejudice against the place which kinda makes me feel that my fathers are welcome to it.

Ann Turnbull said...

This all sounds so familiar - except the Sunday school, which thank goodness we were spared. I think one of the main differences between then and now is that food is now available just about everywhere, anytime. Back in 1962 I went on holiday with a boyfriend to the village of North Creake, in Norfolk. A friend dropped us off there in her car. The landlady of our B&B said her heart sank when she saw the car drive away. She did not do evening meals, there were no cafes, and only one bus a day which left from a bus stop two or three miles away and went to a different place every day of the week. I think Norwich was Thursdays, and everyone in the village went; and they all went to a nearby cinema on the day the bus went there. She offered us our money back, but we said no, we'd stay. And it was great! She did brilliant breakfasts; every evening we went to the pub and had a glass of beer and a little package containing a triangle of soft cheese and a couple of small biscuits. And every day we went wherever the bus was going and visited the seaside, Norwich of course, a stately home, etc... We got fish and chips or whatever was on offer, and then walked back through total darkness along country roads to the B&B. (Oh, and the other difference between then and now was that we booked two single rooms...)

Anonymous said...

Being born and brught up in South Wales I know first hand about the Sunday Trading Laws. The only thing I was allowed to do on Sunday was to go to Sunday School which was so dreadfully boring.

Catherine Johnson said...

Oh god yes - no scissors even on Sunday and my Mum didn't like the thought of me going to the cinema on a sunday even in late 70s....