I don’t believe that I have ever had work that recognised such a thing as the weekend. If I did, it was a long time ago. The idea that a Saturday or a Sunday is something profound, or sacrosanct is as foreign to me as it is to anybody else who has ever worked in tourism, or catering, or transport, or a million other occupations that you expect to find functioning normally on your weekend.
Except falling sick, of course. Then you must understand that sickness is something that should occur during ‘normal’ working hours, during the ‘normal’ working week – it is not the same as an electricity supply, or a telephone, a policeman, or the lifeboat; all services that one takes for granted operate round the clock, every day of the week.
Sickness propels you into a world where you must understand that it.is.the.weekend. – and you must comprehend that the skeletal service you are receiving is only because the NHS.is.the.envy.of.the.world and thus a few low level staff have been forced to come into work on these two days owing to your inconsiderately falling sick at the weekend and you must not expect anything more than being ‘made comfortable’ whilst the week-end is observed.
Imagine going to MacDonald’s on Saturday lunchtime and being told that there is only bread and dripping available until Monday, and that if their chefs were required to work at the weekend ‘it would mean no chefs available on a Tuesday or Thursday’. This, in effect, is the NHS response to Jeremy Hunt suggesting that sickness should be at least a 7 day service if not a 24 hour service.
Where did this idea of an entitlement to ‘a weekend’ come from, and who decreed that it was a Saturday and a Sunday? Let’s start with the week.
‘One year’ measures the time between the first grains of wheat ripening – and the next time it happens, one year later; no difficulty in understanding that. A month is the time between one full moon and the next, we have preserved medieval man’s observance of that fact. A day even – the time between one setting sun and the next. But a week? What could have occurred once every seven days that needed its own description? If you can answer that one you have beaten learned academics who have been arguing over the week’s origins since the time of Dion Cassius.
It is believed that the Jews invented the seven days aspect of the week, by insisting that Jehovah had given them the seventh day, the sabbath, Saturday, as their own special day, for their own use. Naturally, the Christians decided that they should have a special day too, and so they selected Sunday. The notion of a weekend comprised of two non-working days appears to have been the result of an early example of multi-culturalism in America whereby mill workers of mixed religious beliefs demanded both Saturday and Sunday as days of rest. If that is so, we should shortly be including Fridays in the weekend…
Once upon a time, man and woman worked for so long as there were daylight hours, and stopped when darkness fell. Hence they worked longer in the summer than in the winter. Mr G, and thus I under marital enforcement rules, still observe this ancient custom. People try to phone us at 9pm in the evening and are surprised that we are fast asleep – dark innit? We in turn create confusion and panic by calling on friends at 7am on a summer’s day when we’ve already finished our tasks for the day. We may not be popular, but our electricity bills are so small, the electricity board come to our house specially to double check our meter…
When the rest of the world decided that they didn’t mind paying humongous electricity bills, it became necessary to limit the hours that employers expected a man to work by means as artificial as the daylight created by the new fangled electricity. 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week – neatly working out to be five days labour, and two days of rest – the weekend. Around the time that the NHS was dreamt up, as it happens.
That still doesn’t explain why the two days of rest have to be Saturday and Sunday – what’s wrong with Tuesday and Thursday?