Weekend Reflections – The Saturday Thing

Time is … money (so they say)

Time is luxury

Time is something we never have enough of. When we have no time we try to make time and when we do have time on our hands, we rush around uselessly trying to fill it up, labouring away at unfinished projects that we start because we think we have the time to do them. 

This last week, I had no time, but I found time to scribble down a few weekend thoughts, in the knowledge that, at the weekend I would have no time to write. So, in my weekend post, here are a few thoughts on the weekend.

For American readers, you’ll have to forgive the UK references.


Saturday morning. Vital, essential, never to be missed. What the hell if you’re out of bed early? You’re not getting up for work, you’re getting up for you, and Saturday morning is buzzing and beckoning. A thick wad of morning papers crammed in the letterbox, waiting to be read over breakfast – hot coffee, fresh baguette, perhaps even a croissant. The French call it petit déjeuner, but there is nothing small about Saturday breakfast, not like those fraught and frugal, Monday to Friday affairs – quick coffee, burned toast and bad news. This is Saturday, all the world is on a weekend. Nothing bad can happen today, not on a Saturday.

It is with hopes and dreams and a rush of good intentions that I pad into the kitchen. Must go to market, must nip to the DIY store and get some cement to plug up that hole in the cellar wall, must write an award winning novel, must do something with the offspring – bike ride, trip to the cinema . . . must, must, must . . . I must change the world, I must make everyone happy, and all this before lunch

In the kitchen, I flip the round coffee bag into our new streamline coffee maker. Press the button and seconds later, Bob’s your uncle, a perfectly dosed coffee.

I never had an Uncle Bob. I had and Uncle Oliver. He was one of Monty’s Desert Rats. After the War, he came home and started work in the family business – a toyshop in Petersfield (Hamspire UK). Before World War One, it had been a bike shop, but uncle Oliver’s Dad went into toys after the government commandeered all the cycles in his shop. Uncle Oliver was a tight-fisted, miserable old sod. He and his equally miserable wife, my aunt Cath (who ran the sweetshop next door) hated kids, which is probably why they never had any. Makes you wonder why they ever chose to work in those two places on God’s earth where children are going to come in droves. Right up until his death, Oliver and Cath ran their respective businesses as if the War was still on. You had to take what there was and you had to consider yourself bloody lucky to be getting what you got. Cath and Oliver lived well into their nineties. I get the feeling that miserable people tend to live longer than happy people.

Off at family tangents, and Saturday too is about to go the same way.

Open the bedroom window, give the duvet a good shake and leave it on the window sill. A very, continental practise. Once a day, we all throw open our windows and leave the bedding draped over the sill to air. It was thanks to this, that when living in town, I discovered that the woman in the flat across the way had exactly the same Ikea duvet as us. It became a subject of conversation between us, one Saturday morning whilst we were waiting in a long queue at the butcher’s. From that time on, I observed the neighbour’s airing habits on a regular basis, and found out in time that we also shared the same taste in bath towels.

And there I am, shaking the duvet cover out the window and looking down at the state of the garden. A sea of leaves that I didn’t suck up in the Autumn. So, thoughts of the cement and the market are set aside as a I nurture a new scheme – retrieving my blower sucker grinder leaf picker upper thing, from the back of the garage and « hoovering » the garden.

Saturday was always set aside for gardening when I was a kid, at least this was the day when the grass got cut. The garden of our semi was only the size of a postage stamp. We had one half Dead apple tree, that might have actually given some half decent fruit, had we bothered to look after it properly. The apple tree though, was just an inconvenience. Especially when it came to cutting the grass in late summer and autumn. Firth the laborious task of picking up the fallen leaves, then we would gather the apples. All would be piled into thick black rubbish bags and rammed right down into the bottom of main dustbin. Mustn’t let the bin men get the slightest soupçon of greenery. If they knew there was garden waste in the bin, they wouldn’t take it, and we’d be left with a whole week’s rubbish. Only one collection a week. YES, I suppose we should have done like everyone else, and taken our garden refuse to the local dump along Waldo Road, but we had better things to do than spend half of Saturday queuing in a long line of cars at the dump. Nowadays, I have no disposal worries. I suck up, grind and deposit my leaves on the compost. Twigs, branches and suchlike get put on the fire and windfalls are for the birds, who eat the bugs and the birds get eaten by the local cats who also eat the field mice and the whole garden is a joyous little eco system.

If we weren’t cutting the grass on those Saturday afternoons of old, we’d all pile in the car and head into Croydon – a south east London shopping Mecca and in the early seventies, the only place near home with a MacDonald’s. Mum would be in BHS or Marks. Big Bruv would be Reading the magazines in W.H. Smith’s (though he’d never ever buy one) and I’d be in the model shop wondering whether to buy a Spitfire or a Messershcmitt with my meagre pocket money. Those were the days when you could buy an Airfix Series 1 kit for just 25p. Must admit though, I gave up on planes eventually. I preferred helicopters, which is just as well, because now I have to teach people all about helicopters. Strange how the past floods back into the present. Last week I was sitting in the cockpit of a Puma helicopter, giving a lesson all about the instrument panel. First ever helicopter kit I made was a Puma*. I liked it ‘cos it looked how I thought a helicopter should look.

As day turned to dusk and the afternoon shopping lapsed into that twilight zone of « early evening », mum would buy us a hamburger from MacDonald’s. We’d sit and eat it in the car in the multi storey. After that it as off home to Watch Dr Who, while mum went down the launderette to do the weekly wash. We never had a washing machine, or a dishwasher for that matter.

As I stare down at the leaves, and think of Saturdays past, I get another good deed thought. Do the washing. I’m not bad at washing now. I separate the whites from the colours, turn the jeans inside out like it says on the washing instructions, then head down to the cellar and shove the coloureds in the machine on programme 5 (One hour wash at 40° with spin dry). AH, there is that gaping whole on the inside cellar wall. Cement. Must get some cement.

Better half buzzes round the house cleaning. Another Saturday morning tangent. Crumbs everywhere after breakfast, so, sweep the kitchen floor. Now it’s swept might as well wash it and the hall and the bathroom and then out comes the vacuum cleaner to hoover upstairs in the office.

Saturday morning is fast disappearing. If I want to get to market and then down the DIY store for cement . . . and don’t forget the bread.

Standing in line at the baker’s. Every other male in the queue is a blob in shorts, shaved head and they are all carrying those awful manbags – Does it have to be when you get to a certain age that you cut off all your hair and keep your vital possession is a horrible Burberry pouch slung over your shoulder? NOT ME.

Back home, time to hang out the washing. Yes, the skies are ominously grey, but on Michel’s side of the fence, Madame Michel is hanging out hers. It never rains when Elizabeth (Michel’s spouse) hangs out the washing. We reckon that she must have a direct line to God. She and Michel are very churchy. Stalwart and resolute regulars at Sacré Cœur – our local Parish Church (Church of the sacred heart), mind you, I don’t know if they’ll be going so much now. Michel and Elizabeth liked the old priest because he gave a good sermon. Always very thought provoking, something to chew on with the roast over Sunday lunch. Recently though, the Father Bertand left and now we’ve got a modern « wishy washy » priest. « Very pleasant but no substance » says Michel.

Sunday is actually the only day of the week that Michel takes the car. Five to eleven on the dot, the family climb in and drive own to mass. His bicycle remains in the garage. Perhaps it’s so as not to dirty his Sunday Best.

So, Elizabeth has been on to God and the Almighty has promised a rain check on the rain. It is safe to hang out the washing.

Thanks to Michel’s engineering genius, Elizabeth has a stout and sturdy multi level washing line.

Wire of military origin « borrowed » from the arms factory, fixed between two concrete posts of Michel’s construction. First line one metre twenty off the ground – towels, jeans, dresses and such like. Second line twenty centimetres above, for socks, pants, knickers and vestments of this ilk. On days when sheets need drying, they go on the top line normally reserved for socks and undies. This of course covers the first level, so Michel has added a spool to one of the posts, from which Elizabeth can unreel another line at a height of fifty centimetres above ground level for hanging out underwear and such like. Elizabeth proudly boats that she can get the content of three full machines out to hang when all her lines are deployed.

Washing lines betray lives. You can read the lines in the gardens like the lines on a person’s hands. This weekend, Michel and Elizabeth have got the kids home. Son and daughter are both at medical school. White coats and green operating gowns billow and dance in the wind. On the underwear line bras and knickers also flutter gently, joining the joyous line dance. These aren’t Elizabeth’s, they look vaguely sexy and shop bought. Elizabeth »s bras look like they have been knocked up out of two tea towels – yes Madame Michel is a generous woman and more than just a stalwart of the Church, she is just stalwart. She never talks, but cries, shouts, even screams across the gardens at her neightbours. Even face-to-face, she bellows, but this is Elizabeth full of Joie de vivre. She undertakes everything with the red, fresh-faced enthusiasm of a Young Pioneer working for a higher cause. Baking, gardening, Church going, no matter, Elizabeth throws herself into it body and soul. This woman has the pioneer spirit. As she digs the garden, I can imagine her laying railway lines across some vast desert, then feeding the 5000, like the Good Lord himself. Maybe this is why her house, though pristine always smells of sardines.

I am no further in my Saturday plans to fill walls and change the world, and it is nearly lunchtime. We never do Saturday lunch. In our house we’ve only all just finished breakfast. Yes, I got up disgustingly early so I could « do things » and so far, I have actually done nothing, or nothing that I wanted to do. This is when Saturday morning gets stressful. I have set myself a certain number of things to do in an allotted time span. If I don’t get them done, I have wasted my time and that time is time that I will never have again – it drives my Better Half crazy but with middle age I am learning to rethink time.

The most precious thing that you can have in life is time for yourself and those around you, but you only get the time that you get and therefore must use it wisely. Time must never be wasted, so not to waste time, you must fill it up constructively . . . and here is the reason that I can’t sit down quietly and read a book. « Relax » says the Better Half. I can’t relax though, I have to be up and about and buzzing. It is Saturday, it’s essential, it’s vital, and it’s a moment of the week to be crashing around doing stuff.

And at the end, I’m tired, and what have I achieved? The cellar wall can wait until next week. I can go to market next Saturday and why did I want to go to market? I never go. Perhaps it is the idea, that the day you finally go, the market won’t be there anymore. Anther tradition, another vestige of the past that disappeared because no one frequented it enough, because the world is full of people like me « Oh yes, we’ll go there one day » and when you get there it is gone because no one ever went.

The Better Half says I’m stressed. « Take it easy. It’s the weekend. » So, I have decided to relax. Things that get done will be done. Things will be done the way they are done and things that don’t get done, will get done another day

As a kid, I never did anything on Saturdays. Homework was always for Sundays. Guess had I better managed my time as a kid, and done my homework on Saturdays, I would have had time to do stuff on Sundays. But what was there to do on Sundays in Britain over thirty years ago? Might as well do your homework.

And we now we are Saturday evening. Home from Croydon for the news, the football results and finally Doctor Who, and later there will be Bruce Forsyth or the Two Ronnies or Morecambe and Wise, and in our house we’ll all sit in out threadbare armchairs. A plate heaving with something and chips, balanced on our knees, and because it is Saturday, Mum will have bought a bottle of sweet cider from the off licence to wash down our sumptuous Saturday feast. I can still see us like it was yesterday. Mum had those armchairs right up until she finally moved. They had been Gran’s, and I’m sure that they had been bought when Grandpa was still around, so they dated room the late sixties at least. Covered, recovered, they lasted. What my mum called “buying quality” which was just another way of saying that we couldn’t afford new ones. So we on old chairs, eating our frozen food, watching our rented telly after mum had come home from the launderette. After we would do the washing up in our non dishwasher.

And as I sit here tonight, on our fifteen year old “quality sofa” (the one with a huge gash in the cover, hidden by piles of cushions), we are watching some variety show on our cumbersome, non-plasma, non HD telly, and when we feel cold, we pull on another sweater rather than turn the heating up. And I still don’t have a dishwasher. Some things never change, but I was happy on those Saturday nights of long ago, and I am happy now.

*A few words on the Puma; I now work for the French army, teaching English to (amongst others) the French army air corps.This last week, I have been teaching English to French army Puma air frame technicians.