Sunday, 20 January 2008

Sunday's child

I like Sundays in France. I like that most of the shops - except the boulangerie and a few food shops in the morning - are closed, even my favourite DIY stores. I like that it is different to the other days of the week and therefore seems a proper day of rest. Paris is not France and London is not Britain, but the laws of the land are the laws of the whole land, and in France most shops are not allowed to open on Sundays. It makes a difference.

When I was young and we lived in the countryside, I hated Sundays. It seemed an agonisingly boring day that tick-tocked slowly towards evening bath time and the even more agonising Monday morning and school. Mostly there was nothing to do and, because we lived a long way from our school friends, nobody for my brother and I to play with or see. There were a dozen houses in our lane all owned by people who were either old or 'well-off'. We rented our house. This was not mentioned but was known, in the way such things are known and judged in country lanes. We were occasionally invited to play with the children of a neighbour, but even though I was too young to put a finger on exactly what was wrong, or not right, I sensed somehow the invitation was inspired more by charity than choice. When we had not been invited anywhere, my brother and I were sent to "amuse ourselves" in the garden. In those days we did not have a television, and even later when we did we were certainly not allowed to spend our Sundays in front of it "watching rubbish". I am not complaining; not having a television meant I developed a love of books. I can see my young self, curled up in an armchair, sucking my finger (I preferred it to my thumb) escaping into one magical world after another. In those days none of us, not even our rich neighbours' children - had Playstations or Nintendos or Gameboys. Amusing myself meant trying to climb a tree faster than my younger brother and making sure he lost by foul means or fair; usually by pushing him around (this was the all too brief brief window when I was bigger than him. Later he would get his own back). We used to fight almost constantly. The only time we declared a ceasefire was to gaze curiously and longingly between the wooden slats that boarded the air raid shelter hidden behind the gooseberry bush in a gloomy corner of the garden. We were banned from going in it, and we never did, mostly because we had been told it would fill with water and instantly drown us, or would cave in suddenly, or was deadly dangerous; the sort of fearful nonsense parents tell children to stop them doing something. Still, its mystery kept us entranced for a good part of our childhood.

Then, Sunday was a dull, interminable day when the world was closed and boring. Today in France they still shut up shop on Sundays. I like it that way.

No comments: