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Ok, let’s be honest. If you live in London, within zone 4, then it’s unlikely that snow will massively impede your ability to get to work. Indeed I would suspect that a fair number of us have been a little economical with the truth, when explaining to our managers that the snow had made travel an impossibility – and that in certain lines of work, managers accept such explanations without questioning it too hard, so entrenched is this ritual.
And this, far from being am indictment of snow-related absenteeism, is precisely why the practice ought to be celebrated. Not only do snow days offer some consolation for the fact that Brits enjoy far fewer bank holidays than their European counterparts. They also remind us of a time when contracts, particularly labour contracts, we’re not the be all and end all, but were moderated by custom, and by informal expectations over which those who laboured enjoyed some control.
In centuries gone by, craft workers would be most pious in observing the holiness of Saint Monday. Or in other words they would, by implied consent, use the first day of the week to recover from getting bladdered on ale the night before (whilst singing such awesome 17th century drinking songs as Martin Said to His Man).
As one 18th century song put it
Brother workmen, cease your labour,
Lay your files and hammers by.
Listen while a brother neighbour
Sings a cutler’s destiny:
How upon a good Saint Monday
Sitting by the smithy fire,
We tell what’s been done o’t Sunday
And in cheerful mirth conspire
Sadly, over the course of the 19th century, this tradition, and others like it largely disappeared in the name of progress. Nonetheless, alongside snow days, a few work reducing customs exist today. Global manufacturing oligarch Rajan Tata was was famously butthurt when he discovered, amongst his British employees, a tendency to head to the pub at a certain point on a Friday afternoon. And yes, depending on where we work, and our gumption, some of us do still have snow days. However it is Tata’s grim vision that dominates the present and the future.
If all of this sounds like a rather rose tinted discussion of the pre-industrial epoch, let me assure you that it is no such thing. Life, for the vast majority in pre-industrial Britain, was fairly rubbish. Not only was it unequal and fairly despotic. We simply didn’t produce enough to satisfy many people’s wants. Yet, if we could combine modern productive forces with that same veneration for life-outside-work that once inspired piety towards Saint Monday – if we could sacrifice some productive efficiency in return for greater control over our working lives – then we would certainly take a leap towards the good society. In the mean time, let’s enjoy the snow.
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