It is fair to say that I am never one to take the Polly Toynbee approach to things – or indeed, that of this magazine’s cover article this week – that in the sunlit uplands of secular liberalism, Things Have Never Been Better. But some news strikes me with greater force than most as being proof that we’ve arrived at the end of the world as we knew it. So it was when I found out today that the tradition of families eating a Sunday roast dinner – well, if not antique, it has been around for a century or so – is in freefall. There have been fifteen million fewer roast dinners – or lunch, if you prefer – in the last year, while the number of weekday and Saturday roasts has gone up.
So what, you may say. A roast dinner is a roast dinner and you’re lucky to get one, whatever the day. Well yes, except that the gist of the Sunday roast dinner was that it was a way for the family to get out to church while the rib of beef or pork crackling joint got on with cooking itself in the cook’s absence. And when you returned, it was to the business of boiling up the veg before the family sat down to a shared meal. It may or may not have been a festival of harmony; it may have been part and parcel of the blessed dullness that characterised the day of rest until about twenty years ago, but it did imply two things: one, the notion that people ate together, and two, that they ate at a time when everyone would be off work, and not doing much else. A bit like the notion of your Sunday best then; the idea that you dressed up for church on a Sunday rather than being more slovenly than normal, as per now.
It was the Tories, as you might expect, who killed the Sunday roast. Mrs Thatcher introduced the first bill to allow for Sunday trading in 1986; then the change ultimately happened under John Major, when Sundays more or less ceased to exist in all their luxuriant dullness and became the second busiest shopping day. So, when it comes to the end of civilisation as we once knew it, we can, as with so much else, blame Mrs Thatcher.