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Olly Mann: Saturday Sabbath

BY Olly Mann

26th Jul 2023 Life

Olly Mann: Saturday Sabbath
With two young children at home, Olly Mann sings the praises of keeping one day per week for relaxation
My colleague, let’s call him Luke, keeps his weekends free for "family time". Or so I thought.
He does not reply to emails on a Saturday or Sunday, or answer the phone. If you text him, you’ll receive back the auto-reply: "Luke has his notifications silenced." Come Monday morning, he’ll regale you with tales of weekend exploits: long lunches with friends, rambles in the Gloucestershire countryside. All very convincing. 
Fair play. It’s not easy to keep two whole days of your life aside for leisure and relaxation, especially in this world of constantly-connected devices and international clients. Well done Luke, I used to think. 
"It’s not easy to keep two whole days of your life aside for leisure and relaxation"
But then, last week, Luke let the mask slip. He has not, as it turns out, actually been "off" on Sundays: merely "out-of-office". For a few hours each Sunday, Luke has been surreptitiously sneaking downstairs, logging onto his computer and scheduling emails for the following day. 
A chink in his armour! “It’s just much easier, working six days per week,” he confided. “There are so many people sending emails at the weekend! If I wait until Monday morning to respond, there’s a mountain to get through. This way, I have more laid-back weekdays.” 
His confession aroused in me a potent mix of sorrow (that Luke’s life is not as perfect as it seems) and delight (he’s as fallible as I!). And it got me thinking about my weekends. Since 2008, when I made my first appearances on Saturday night radio, I’ve hardly ever had two continuous, work-free days in my "weekend". Does that matter?

Where did weekends come from?

It's enlightening to discover that the two-day weekend only became ubiquitous in the late Victorian era—thanks to a combination of government legislation, the rise of trade unions, pressure from commercial leisure companies, and an inordinate number of staff turning up hungover each Monday morning.
Prior to this, the word "week-end", if deployed at all, was uncommon—and, when defined, was not considered to last 48 hours. The journal Notes and Queries, for example, related to its readers in 1879: “In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week’s work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance, he is said to be spending his ‘week-end’ at So-and-so.” 
Keeping saturdays free from work
So, for centuries, we Brits subsisted on one day "off" per week—and that, of course, was a day during which we were expected to be spending at least a couple of hours in church
Suddenly, my predilection for doing a small amount of work at the weekend doesn’t feel shameful. The crucial thing, surely, is to safeguard the quality of time one does actually have to oneself? And I definitely do ensure there’s one day per week on which I drink booze at lunch, read actual newspapers instead of Twitter, and go on pointless walks. But…maybe one is enough? 

In celebration of Saturdays

In my current schedule, this Day of Nothing (I hesitate, as an atheist, to call it Sabbath) has come to be Saturday. A little out-of-sync with the Christian calendar, but, hey, my ancestors were Jewish; and anyway many early Christians apparently also practiced a Saturday Sabbath until Constantine came along and aligned Christian and Pagan traditions together, some 1,700 years ago. Also, I prefer the Saturday newspapers. 
At my gaff, Saturdays are sacrosanct. Otherwise, with two young kids at home, it’s horribly easy to sleepwalk into a situation where life becomes an orgy of birthday parties, football squads, supermarket shopping and street markets: not work, of course, but certainly not relaxation either. In any case, our boys, knackered after five days at school, become diffident and tired when we try to organise a trip out. Actively ruling out planned activity of any sort is massively liberating. 
Our typical Saturday involves all the things you probably associate with Sundays: we lie in, the kids watch a movie, we make a late brunch, we do a spot of gardening, we play with the dog. That’s it. It’s so much better than darting around doing stuff. 
"At my gaff, Saturdays are sacrosanct"
Then, on Sunday mornings, we’re up with the lark, darting around doing stuff. Whilst everyone else is having their booze-fuelled lie-ins, we’re off to the swimming pool at 9am, beating the traffic. We’re early into the Toby Carvery, ahead of all those basic 1pm-ers. Then perhaps a visit to Grandma, back home for a spot of homework with the kids and—no shame!—a small blast of work for me. 
In fact, I’m writing this now on a bright Sunday afternoon; a time I can work more clear-headedly (having got a bit of rest the day before) than on a bleak Monday morning. Try it yourself! I appreciate, if your job involves working down a mine, or cleaning up blood and vomit, this advice will sound, at best, naïve. But my job, as for millions of others, is essentially sitting on the internet. 
However, if you do follow my advice, please don’t cause a traffic jam on my street, or near my local Tesco, on a Sunday morning. That’s my time. 
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