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About A Week: Sunday, Sweet Sunday

Peter Hinchliffe pines for quiet Sundays.

Sunday, quiet Sunday. The whole village deep in Sabbath sleep. No miners' clogs clomping down the road in the pre-dawn. No sounds of traffic.

The three people in our village who owned cars were abed. Arid the buses didn't start running until 1.25 pm. The brief clatter and thump of newspapers coming through the letter box shortly after nine o'clock got us up. To sit down half-an-hour later to a monumental breakfast of bacon and eggs. Always eggs, plural. One egg on a breakfast plate looks more forlorn than a car without wheels. There was always fried bread, of course. Plus mushrooms picked in local fields.

"If you want to find mushrooms, look for sheep," my mother told me. "You are bound to find them where there are sheep."

Indeed there were sheep in my favourite picking field, where mushrooms grew so thickly it was hard not to tread on them.

After breakfast, it was a case of lounging around and filling in time until dinner (or lunch, if you happen to come from south of Doncaster). To say that dinner was substantial is as inadequate as describing a dinosaur as a large animal. There was enough food served up to feed a football team. And never a mouthful left over.

Yorkshire pud to begin with. Smothered in onion gravy. Then more Yorkshire pud served up with the main course, just to keep the roast and two veg company. If it wasn't roast beef, it was lamb. And if it wasn't lamb, it was chicken. Then apple pie and custard. Or a rice pudding big enough to swim in. All of it eaten in solemn silence. Sunday lunch was a serious business. Almost a religious ritual. Jaws were far too busy to assist in forming words.

Not surprising that within half-an-hour of pushing back from the table, Dad was asleep in an armchair, snoring loudly, the News of the World fluttering over his face. There was no 40 winks for me. I had to go to Sunday School.

"Make sure you come straight home, Mother said. "Remember you're wearing your Sunday best. If you kick the soles off those shoes, your Dad will kick you." She said the same thing every week.

"Yes Mam," I'd say grinning. She would grin back, knowing I would steal an hour's fun on the way home

The Parish Church's Sunday School teacher was a local farmer. We talked a lot, us boys, while he was telling us a New Testament story. The farmer's face would turn red, then purple. When his forehead was the shade of a ripe plum, he would single out a boy and bang him soundly oh the head with a large Bible.

I received my share of Biblical knocks, but they did not sour my opinion of the farmer. I still remember him as a kindly, upright man.

We rushed out of Sunday School roaring like lions set free, hastening down to the gorse bush hill for a game of cowboys and Indians! Then we ran all the way home, hoping no one would notice we were late. I always hid my scuffed shoes behind the washing machine in the kitchen, then went soft-footed upstairs to wash my face before my mother could see me.

The company would already have arrived. Aunts. Uncles. Family friends. All of them gathered in the living room, chattering away as though they hadn't seen each other for a hundred years. I could make neither ash nor coke of the conversation, but the grownups obviously thought it was the best entertainment of the week. I welcomed company though, even if the chat passed over my head. Company meant an even more lavish Sunday tea than usual.

The best plates were brought out, The ones with a silver band around the rim. The Apostle tea spoons were in the saucers. Three double-deck cake stands were lined up in the middle of the table as we hurried through salmon salad and thinly-sliced brown bread and butter. Naturally, because company was present, the salad cream came in a fancy little cut-glass jug rather than a Heinz bottle.

As soon as the salad was downed, we fell upon angel cakes, coconut macaroons, chocolate crisps, iced mincemeat tarts, jam tarts, lemon curd tarts, custard tarts, fruit cake, sponge cake, jelly and trifle.

From time to time, I would leave the table and go into the kitchen to see if I could help carry in more plates of sweet stuff. Seizing the opportunity to cram another couple or tarts into my mouth at the one go while no one was looking.

Sundays then were comfy, cosy family occasions. Folk were content to entertain, and be entertained, in their own homes. Few dreamed of going any further than the next village.

Now we all have cars. And Sunday has become a noisy bedlam. We are no longer happy to stay put. We must have a little outing. So where do we spend our Sundays? DIY shops and garden centres. How thrilling!

"Here Mary, just look at this light-embossed Anaglypta. Isn't it nice?"

"Which paint's best for the kitchen? White with a touch of lemon, or white with a touch of almond?"

The Sabbath bustle may well increase. Some folk are lobbying for all shops to be open on Sundays. If this happens, pity the poor shop assistants, apart from the minority who are desperate for cash. And pity all lovers of peace and quiet.

If the bored and restless do finally succeed in burying the traditional Sunday, I'll stay at home.

Snoring beneath a copy of The Observer.

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