Why we shouldn’t trade Sundays for Sunday trading

When I was a kid, there was absolutely nothing to do on Sundays.

(Well OK, that’s not strictly true. As a son of the Manse, I had to attend church in the morning, but that didn’t really count as ‘doing something’; it was more like the the spiritual equivalent of having to do the washing up.)

Apart from the newsagents that opened in the mornings, and perhaps the occasional petrol station, everything else seemed to be shut.

From a kid’s perspective – and probably an adult’s too – the net effect was that Sundays were truly boring. So I ought to be whooping with joy at the prospect of the Government’s desire to suspend Sunday trading laws to allow shops and businesses to trade during the London 2012 Olympics.

But at a time when our politicians are scrabbling around trying to work out what on earth Britain stands for these days, I’m not sure how the idea of spending even more time distracted by the lure of retail is going to help us gain a sense of equilibrium – especially when we appear to be enduring a general sense of restlessness through a loss of it.

As unutterably boring as it may have seemed as a youngster, Sunday undeniably felt like the nation had hit the ‘pause’ button. For one day each week – thanks to an absence of Sunday trading – our town and cities were deserted of people and traffic, and became momentarily tranquil.

Regardless of its association with churchgoing, the effect was that Sunday provided a distinctive kind of spiritual beat to the rhythm of the week. After all, when there is precious little to do besides contemplate things, you are bound to be just a little bit more contemplative aren’t you?

Of course I may be immersed in a sepia-tinted recollection of the Britain of my youth but, tell me, where is the public clamour for shops to be open longer on Sundays throughout the UK during London 2012? Did you write to your MP pleading for Sunday trading laws to be relaxed? (Come to think of it, for those of us who are old enough, how many of us pestered our MPs to relax Sunday trading hours back in 1994 – an idea that Parliament had rejected only eight years earlier?)

Had the Government pursued the idea of extending Sunday trading hours in places where Olympic events were being hosted, I’d have understood it. But I can’t help thinking that there is a lobby at work who may see the relaxation of Sunday trading laws as a milestone en route to a longer-term goal to turn Sunday into a normal working day.

And if that transpires, we will lose the last remnant of our nation’s weekly pause. I wonder if that’s something we’ll regret when we realise that some things worth cherishing don’t offer choice and aren’t necessarily convenient?

Postscript: 12:00, 3 April 2012 I was interested to see the remarks of Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King in the Daily Mail who doesn’t appear to see much demand from people for the relaxation of Sunday trading laws either. BBC News

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