When I buy a pint of milk

There’s some interesting architecture where I live: it’s a substantial patch of Edwardian or late Victorian brick terrace houses. Unremarkable in many respects, but here and there newer houses or small post-war three-story blocks of flats have sprung up – filling gaps caused by bomb damage, perhaps. A small set of industrial units exists, overshadowed by an even more incongruous Victorian warehouse, now converted into flats of course. But most pertinently, the corners of most of the terraces, and some short stretches of houses in-between, have houses with built-up frontages that were evidently once shops. Many look long-closed, though some have awnings on them and large, modern-ish windows: perhaps restaurants until a few years ago.

In the whole area, there is now only one corner shop, which looks a little bit Open All Hours. I don’t generally use it: while there’s something to be said for supporting local communities and all that, the fact is that supermarkets offer superior choice and value; and the range of big-name brands stocked by the corner shop suggests there are no ethically superior choices to be made by shopping there. Supporting local shops can wait for a set of shops that is more distinctive and provides books, records or something else interesting.

I generally only buy two things in there: stamps and milk, the latter only when Sainsbury’s is closed. Like today. Now, it’s partly my fault: when I was there on Friday, I mis-read the opening times outside the store, although why they felt the need to put Sunday March 16th on the poster, when the shop was open as normal, is beyond me. But I wasn’t alone: even as I walked past today, a steady trickle of bemused looking people (in fact, I’ll give you this: mostly men) were wandering up, looking quizzically at the sign and then peering desperately into the store as if they couldn’t quite take it in. Sainsbury’s. Shut. For the love of God, why?

Well, obviously I know why: it is indeed, very literally, for the love of God. It’s Easter Sunday. But that begs a further question: why close on Easter Sunday? It’s not as if they’re not inconveniencing a lot of people – the flow of willing punters wandering up to the doors and nearly walking into them before realising they weren’t actually about to slide open attests to that.

Would it be going too far, I wonder, to see this as just another incidence of political correctness – indeed perhaps a rare instance of genuine political correctness, and not the sort of “political correctness” that racist comedians complain about for deservedly ruining their careers? Supermarkets fearing a backlash, rather than actually being unwilling to open for religious reasons?

Personally, I can’t see any justification for the closure. We live in an essentially secular society: were all the people who weren’t at Sainsbury’s down the church attending services instead? Of course not – I don’t know what proportion of the population attends Easter services, but I’d be surprised if it was as high as 10% (if anyone has any figures, I’d be interested to be pointed towards them). While a majority of people in the UK still style themselves Christian if presented with a blunt choice, the proportion of people who rely on religious belief to frame their view of the world is low, and shrinking. Those who see themselves as Christian often adopt the style in a cultural sense, not on the basis of their beliefs: would they take a sufficiently strong view that they would object in large numbers to a supermarket opening on Easter Sunday?

Of course, the shops close on Christmas and Boxing Day, but I think there is a clear contrast. The nation has largely embraced Christmas in a secular way: it is a generally-celebrated winter holiday. There’s no need to call it Winterval or any nonsense like that: it is a winter holiday called Christmas, and there is no need for excessive political correctness in relation to it, any more than there is for religion. But Easter is not so widely embraced; it’s nothing more than a double bank holiday, and all the guff in the shops is bought generally by families with children. There seems to me to be no justification for the Easter closure.

But I was left recalling Arkwright’s complaint about Christmas as he ruefully shut the shop for two days: “Lord, why did you have to be born on a b-b-ber-bank holiday?” Bloody inconvenient time to rise from the dead too.

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