Blackpool Council announced last week that inspectors are to carry out spot checks on the beach to ensure that the ‘employment rights’ of working donkeys are being properly respected. The 200 tourist-carrying animals are not allowed to work on Fridays and must have at least an hour for lunch in their 10am to 7pm working day.
Human beings also need regular rest periods. In the Old Testament, the Sabbath is set aside for such recuperation. It originated in the story of creation where God rested because his work was finished. One of the reasons why many people find real rest hard to come by these days is that they never feel their work is finished – there is always more to do. This makes it even more important to be disciplined about taking regular breaks.
We need to stop working; just shifting to a different kind of work won’t have the same effect. For most of us, it’s only when we stop doing that we have a chance to be. Donkeys may not need time to just enjoy being donkeys – though that may be what they do during their breaks from the unnatural task of carrying people up and down a beach – but human beings do benefit when they can just enjoy being who they are.
A spokesperson for Blackpool Council said that whilst lunch breaks were new, a donkey’s Friday off had been customary for, well, donkey’s years. The tradition of making space to enjoy being alive without the demands of work is also an ancient one, and one worth applying to ourselves. If when our allocated time off is over, it’s to the same old chores that we have to return, it’ll be with a new vigour and joie de vivre.
Now, after a long, hard day, a cat can tune in to its favourite programme for the purrfect end to the day. Pet TV is a service provided all this week on BBC digital television. It will consist of a looped series of images and sounds, including clips of rolling snooker balls, flying Frisbees and cartoon characters such as Top Cat.
But don’t let your pet get too excited. This is not just the new opportunity to relax that it sounds. It’s an attempt, says the BBC, to find out what sort of television programmes, sounds and images animals respond to, so pets will be under the microscope. Do they pick up messages from TV? Do they respond to dogs barking or wolves howling or parrots talking? Does the sound of running water attract fish to the screen, or the sight of fish swimming around a tank attract a cat? There’s even the chance to put your pet through one of six IQ tests on the BBC website. Just when your goldfish thought it could put its tail up and swish on the TV for a bit of R and R, its boss is watching and it’s expected to think.
Animals may not really need rest but human beings certainly do need time when no demands are made on them at all. Our daily lives are full of the pressure to perform well, to think clearly and to cooperate with others. Opportunities for the kind of relaxation which requires nothing of us at all give an appropriate balance to busy lives. Bank Holidays provide just such an opportunity but it’s good to make sure there are regular occasions when we can just flop, even if only for a few minutes. Watching mindless TV may not be everybody’s way of doing it but when we return to routine tomorrow, let’s make sure we make space to really relax.