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A shorter history of Saturday afternoon.

A long time before the ugly visual numeronym '24/7' became a commercial boast, the end of each week signalled a day and a half of rest. The period of time from midday on Saturday until Monday morning was a welcome release from the endless scheduling of daily life.

But there was a frantic price to be paid for the pleasure of being unhitched from the tyranny of the clock for thirty-six hours. On Saturday mornings I stood, a nine-year-old and several years either side of nine, at the back of a throng of jostling shoppers in a blue-tiled, glass-fronted butcher shop in Moonee Ponds. Amid the smell of sawdust, blood, and raw meat, the butcher signalled the start of his weekly meat auction by waving his knife through the air, as if he were cutting through the stench. Frenzied bargain-hunting shoppers pressed forward and all but fought each other for the trays of weekend-sustaining bounty: chops, scrag-ends, roasts, flaps, oxtails, heads, innards, smallgood end-of-rolls. Moonee Ponds was a suburb to which southern Italian migrants had flocked after the war; the robust bargaining was innate and natural to them. My mother on the other hand held back from the crush, relying instead on her stature, her blonde hair swept back idly under a gay silk scarf, and her smile. The butcher gazed clear across the sea of scrabbling black-clad arms and our weekend meat feasts were guaranteed.

Then noon was heard to be struck from the big octagonal green-neon-outlined clock hanging off the second floor of a building a few shops away, and fifteen minutes later the awning-darkened street was empty following a discordant round of motor engines cranking to life, and then fading; and the shops would sleep until Monday.

Sometimes that sense of quietude - the serenity of nothingness - sweeps back for an (ironically) fleeting moment. One early Saturday afternoon some years ago, I drove north out of Griffith into the great rolling interior of New South Wales; destination hours and miles away, time stretching out like the horizon, and nothing to do except ride the undulations until the sky started to colour with sundown. At some time on that endless afternoon I had driven out of a low mountain pass, gazing down like an explorer over a whole new vista, as violins jousted with electric guitars on some Procol Harum track on the radio. Time had stopped. Nothing to do for thirty-six hours? You should be so lucky.


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  1. As a medical student I spent a month in the UK doing a rotation in plastic surgery. (I cannot think of any way I carried that experience into my current practice, but it was fun.) This was the spring of 1990 and the stores there still closed on Sundays at that time. It was quite an adjustment for me, as the US "blue laws," as they were called, prohibiting businesses from opening on Sunday had been repealed years to decades before. I was chatting with one of the scrub nurses one day and she mentioned that she had worked in the US a year or two back. I asked her what she thought about stores being open on Sunday. She replied that at first she enjoyed the convenience, but after a while she started to miss her quiet Sundays.

    I have to agree. If you want to see what Purgatory is like, shop at a "box store" like IKEA or Costco on a Sunday. It's just awful.


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