Stan Hey: A rancid way to spend a Bank Holiday Monday

So how are you spending the Bank Holiday weekend?
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Did you do a bit of crowd-surfing in the concrete jungle tent at the Reading Festival while Rocket From the Crypt were playing? (They're a post-punk band from San Diego, m'lud, comprising Speedo, Apollo 9, N.D., Petey X, Atom and JC 2000. For retro-punk, try Rancid).

Or did you dance in the drizzle with a jolly policeman at the Notting Hill Festival, the safe bit of it that is, before the police put their body-armour on? Perhaps you headed out of town for the fresh air of the seaside, joining twenty-mile tailbacks of cars, all wheezing carbon monoxide into the atmosphere while they crawled along the motorways? And today, you're probably going to a shopping mall to take advantage of those sofa sales.

There are thousands of things we can do on Bank Holidays, and a million more ways to spend your money. The figures speak for themselves. Fifty thousand young people packed into the open-air site at the Reading Festival, 2 million on the seething streets of London W11, and so many visiting Weston-super-Mare, that the police had to seal off the town to any more in-comers. The word "crowd" is an established suffix to "Bank Holidays" these days, along with others such as "jam", "queue", "crush" "delays" and "breakdowns".

News bulletins frequently lead off with any Bank Holiday crowd related incident, as when 45 fans were caught in a surge towards the stage at Eminem's "Gig on the Green" in Glasgow on Saturday night. The white-trash, chain-saw waving, foul-mouthed American rap-artist might seem like the sort of person you would surge away from rather than towards (okay, I have a personal animus towards him because of his song "Stan") but here he was blameless. It was the crowd and the Bank Holiday that conspired to create the incident.

Why do families and individuals suddenly become "crowds" during a Bank Holiday? There is obviously an element of compulsion to join in, or to do something. This stems from commercial pressures and the feeling that it would be a waste to sit at home and read a book, or stare out of the window.

You could go further and wonder if "public holidays" have now become a means of exploitation and control.

Where I grew up, in Harold Wilson's constituency of Huyton, both the public and industrial holidays were celebrated as time away from harsh drudgery. "Wakes Week", a holiday for the workers in the clothing mills of Lancashire, often involved a communal charabanc trip to Blackpool, while May Day demanded a parade. The factories closed down completely for holiday periods, and on Bank Holidays, they would organise sports-days for the workforce and their families. Even so, despite this paternalism, holidays were taken on the bosses' terms.

Wilson's constituency agent, George Rogers, was both a neighbour and work-mate of my dad's, and on one of his drop-ins at our house for a cup of tea, I can remember him defining Bank Holidays, with a chuckle, as "days off for capitalists so that they can count their money".

What's changed is that a regimented industry-based economy has been supplanted by an anything goes, "24-7" service economy. Bank Holidays don't exist for the supermarket workers, or restaurant staff or sofa-shop sales-forces. Instead, we're compelled to travel and shop and spend, whether it's on an Eminem gig or an Ikea flat-pack.

There are plans for even more Bank Holidays, to bring us into line with Europe. Next year's Golden Jubilee holidays will be a prime occasion for Cockney street-parties and other manifestations of monarchial boot-licking. Why can't we just be given a 35 hour week instead, and the freedom to choose time off? Now that's my kind of crowd-surfing.