Last Monday was the last Monday in August and being England, that means that it was a Bank Holiday; in other words, an officially sanctioned excuse for having a day off. Bank holidays — of which there are several annually — are public holidays in the United Kingdom (and in some other countries that have cherry-picked British customs). It’s not as if there’s an automatic right to taking time off on these days or receiving extra pay if you’re working but most people seem to regard it as a holiday nevertheless.
In these days, there are Bank Holidays in England & Wales on New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, the 1st Monday in May (Early Spring Bank Holiday), the last Monday in May (Spring Bank Holiday), the last Monday in August (Late Summer Bank Holiday) and then, sob-sob, nothing for four whole months — until the end of December, at which point, there’s Christmas Day and Boxing Day. And there’s special dispensation for the unfortunate takers off of time when the designated Bank Holiday (e.g., Xmas or New Year’s) falls on a Saturday or Sunday, in which case, believe it or not, the following Monday becomes the day off.
It all seems to work quite well except, of course, if you’re on the roads and attempting to get away or — more than likely, and — return home along with several million other people at the same time. For someone who has [sort of got] used to living in Israel (but not really), secular holidays (yes, even Easter and Christmas have, for most, become strictly secular) have something of a novelty value.
Of course, what a secular god gives with one hand, she takes away with the other. One of the ironies of having the day off on Bank Holiday is that public transport tends to use the day see to “essential maintenance”. In London, that means that sections of the Underground are affected, i.e., shut down — at which point the dreaded yellow signs appear at bus stops opposite Tube stations, informing the hoi polloi that a replacement bus service is operating. In this part of London, that means that the 5 km between Hampstead Station in the north and Euston Station in the south — and beyond — becomes a long stream of elderly red double-decker buses taking the place of the august Northern Line trains, each with a young employee of Transport for London explaining to the potential travellers which stations the bus would stop at.
Not that everyone is happy with this temporary replacement service, such as the old (I have to be very careful these days what adjective I choose to use for these situations) biddy standing directly opposite Hampstead Station who, in the broadest Dublin accent I’ve heard for a long time, screamed “Dey tink dat dis is a fuckin’ replacement service? So woy can’t they fuckin’ put the fuckin’ bus stop roit besoid de fuckin’ station, den?” So I explained to her, in an almost equally broad Dublin accent, perhaps influenced by seeing a wonderful performance of Seán O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at The National Theatre the other evening — I really couldn’t quite match it, try as I did — that “if dey did dat, der would be a joygantic traffic jam so that nutting would move and nobody would be able to go anywhere”. Apparently, she’d been waiting there for over 20 minutes for a bus to stop for her. So what could I do except to point to where the buses were actually stopping, disgorging and consuming passengers about 150 m away, obvious to everyone but the blind? At this point, she thanked me (tanked me, actually) politely and made her way down to the bus stop so that she could waste her good money at Brent Cross shopping centre, which was open on Bank Holiday, presumably because it’s not a bank and was laughing all the way to it.
Anyway, the Bank Holiday gave me another opportunity to stroll around Hampstead village and Belsize Park again and see what I’d missed on the hundreds of other times I’d been through. So I walked up to Church Row and photographed a white and pink house at #5, which I must have seen many times but missed. However, I think that the door and shutters might have been recently repainted, making it stand out a little more.
At the end of Church Row stands Hampstead Parish Church with its graveyard and overflow graveyard in which several worthies are buried, including in a prominent place by the street where everyone can see him, Hugh Gaitskell, erstwhile Leader of the pre-Harold Wilson Labour Party. There’s something I always find romantic about church cemeteries although I can’t for the life of me think why. Perhaps it’s the seeming stiffness of the tombstones or perhaps those stiffs underneath pushing them up at odd angles. They certainly contrast with the industrialised burial landscape of Israel, which I would never dream of photographing, even if I got permission.
Approaching the church, I followed a laneway to the left called Frognal Way and found myself on an urban street with a very un-urban look to it. Perhaps the residents can’t afford to have the road paved although the houses and the cars rather suggest a certain eccentricity on their part.
This reminded me, that once upon a time — in another life, it seems — I had lunch with Gaitskell’s son-in-law Gordon Wasserman who, at the time, was a senior Home Office mandarin in charge of British police. I remember that particular conversation because although I could detect his Canadian accent, he informed me that he thought he was probably the only senior British civil servant whose education had begun in a Peretz School in Western Canada, a school in which instruction was through the medium of the Yiddish language — and that when he liaised with his Irish counterpart and members of the Gárda Síochána in the 1990s prior to the Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish governments, his exotic accent and origins probably served British interests better than any lah-di-dah Oxbridge one could have.
The hot weather (though not as hot as last week’s 34ºC) brings all sorts out on to the streets — accordionists, singers busking Sondheim and so forth.
The cafés are full, too, but sometimes it more interesting to see what the people are eating than the people themselves!
There are some other reminders of the hot weather, too.
And if one keeps one’s eyes open, one can see other reminders that summer here is not yet over.
Finally, I ask myself a profound question. Is half a century is a long time or not? I used to think it was ages; today it seems like a few weeks long.
For the fun of it, I wondered what important events occurred on August 31 1966. Google brought up the staggering[ly trivial] information that on the day in question, Referee Leo Horn whistled his last soccer match (Ajax-Bulgaria), that Jan Einar Thorsen, an Norwegian Alpine skier was born and that Kasimir Edschmid, a.k.a. Karl E Schmidt, a German writer, died aged 75.
However, I wasn’t really paying much attention to all of this at the time as I was a principal participant at a wedding ceremony. How the other principal actor at that event has managed to put up with all the nonsense that issues forth on a daily basis from yours truly is beyond my ken but I am forever thankful that she has.
We made it!
Happy Golden Wedding, Vee!