25 Aug 2023

A bank holiday bonanza

The August bank holiday dates to 1871 and was seen as a chance for us to make the most of the summer. Until 1971 it always took place on the first Monday of August, but it was moved to the last Monday because it clashed with the traditional two-week factory shut down in the first half of the month. In the early 19th century, the British enjoyed a generous 33 holidays per year, mainly comprising saints’ days and religious festivals, but in 1834 the number of holidays was brutally axed to just four. In 1871 the Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act, which made these four bank holidays official. Today, most of the UK now has eight bank holidays per year.

The August bank holiday is bittersweet: it signals the end of the summer holidays and, with the new school term on the horizon, a “back-to-school” feeling permeates the celebrations. It is also seen by many as a last chance to grab a break, so it is notorious for being extremely busy, with traffic jams, standing room-only trains and overwhelmed airports being the norm. While it takes place in late summer, British weather does not always oblige: many August bank holidays are marred by grey skies and torrential rain.

All these factors can create a certain amount of strain, especially for frazzled parents who have been juggling work and childcare for the past few weeks or providing counselling and consolation to traumatised teenagers who have received disappointing exam results. But a final relaxing long weekend before the rigours of autumn is beneficial to us all and it is important that we maximise the benefits of this bank holiday and don’t fall victim to over-ambitious expectations or unrealistic plans.

Bank Holiday Transport

If you are planning to get away, accept that public transport will be extremely overcrowded. If you haven’t managed to secure reservations in advance, allow plenty of extra time because terminals and stations will be extremely busy. Travel with plenty of food and drink and make sure you have packed supplies of entertaining toys, books, games consoles etc for young children.

If you are driving use online journey planners to anticipate roadworks and delays and try and time your journey so that you are travelling at off-peak times (very early morning and mid to late evening). Avoid the mayhem of motorway service stations and instead pack a delicious picnic, which you can enjoy in a scenic spot away from the crowds.

Provide in-car entertainment if you’re travelling as a family. Restless children might appreciate travel games, colouring books and pencils, or an electronic device on which they can play games or watch films (beware travel sickness). Or you can fall back on old favourites such as I-Spy. A well-chosen playlist or entertaining podcast will make the journey more pleasant. If possible, share the driving and take plenty of breaks – the desire to reach your destination can be overwhelming, but it’s foolish to overdo it. Nobody wants their bank holiday weekend to be marred by epic rows or bickering brought on by transport pressures.

Bank Holiday Entertaining

If you’re staying at home, you may well be entertaining friends or family over the bank holiday period. Because it is a holiday weekend, and you want to make it extra special, you might have set your expectations unrealistically high. Think carefully about numbers and don’t overreach yourself: filling your house with guests, many of whom will have to sleep on sofas or in children’s rooms, may feel like a hospitable idea, but remember there will be a great deal of mess and disruption as well as laundry and food preparation, and only take on large numbers if you have a day or two free at the end to recover and tidy up.

If you’re having friends round for meals over the weekend, you will ideally want to exploit the late summer and eat al fresco, or enjoy a garden barbecue. As always in this country, it is wise to plan for contingencies and to ensure that you can move the whole party indoors if there is rain.

If you’re entertaining large groups of people, it’s always a good idea to accept offers of help. Whether they’re bringing a salad or pudding, or simply offering to come early and help with last-minute food preparation, having a helping hand can really help to relieve the strain.

Strive for conviviality, rather than perfection. As at Christmas, bank holidays can bring unrealistic notions of lavish meals, happy families, delightful dinners, sunny garden parties – all much aided and abetted by tv advertising campaigns. Accept the August bank holiday for what it is: an extra day off before the Autumn term and the Christmas break.

Bank Holiday Relaxing

There should be no feeling of obligation to see family and friends over the bank holiday weekend – if you feel that the long summer holidays have worn you out and that you need a bit of down time before the return to the school or work routine, this is the perfect time to switch off, lounge in your garden, eat easy picnic food and enjoy local and easy-to-access attractions. Don’t let other people guilt-trip you into social commitments that you really can’t face.

If you have small children, now is a good time to gradually introduce routines back into their lives in preparation for the school term, which is just a week away. Focus on bedtimes and regular meals and discuss the upcoming term and new starts – this is a good time to fill your children with a sense of excitement and anticipation about what lies ahead.

Above all, recharge your batteries, relax and enjoy the last days of summer…


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