23 April 2006

English

It's St George's Day and also the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and his death. St George, who allegedly slew the dragon, is the patron saint of England. So perhaps this is the best day of all on which to reflect about being English.

When I was a camp counsellor in Ohio during the seventies, I was at first gobsmacked to witness morning assemblies by the bandstand where children and counsellors sang patriotic songs before putting hands on hearts to swear the American oath of allegiance. The star spangled banner was hoisted and there it flew just as it flies outside thousands of patriotic American homes across the USA. This all seemed very alien to me. In England, patriotism is much more subtle and understated. Ironically, we celebrate St Patrick's Day more lustily than our own national day. St George's Day hardly ever raises a whimper of interest - no bunting, no oaths, no patriotic hymns.

English people have a contemptible habit of running down their own country instead of lifting their heads to recognise all the positives about our wonderful kingdom with its rich history, its beauty, its inventiveness, its musical, literary and artistic traditions. They should also be proud of our wonderful language which we have gift-wrapped for the rest of the world. Above all they should be proud of the essential decency and quiet goodness of English people who bore the very idea of democracy and gave this to the world too. It's too easy, too facile to deride Empire builders. There may have been some pillaging, some mistakes but England left a legacy of fair-dealing across the planet.

Sometimes I find myself hating the pomposity of the English upper classes with their snobbish tones, horses in the paddock, kids at private schools, Jag on the gravel but they are not really representative of the English race. The mass of us are closer to the base of the economic pyramid - working hard for a living, cherishing family and friends - getting by. We give generously to charities, we laugh at ourselves, we meet in pubs and chatter like monkeys in a troop, we tend our gardens and shake our heads at crime and injustice. That's the England I love and of which I am very proud. This is the mythical land of King Arthur.

So here on St George's Day, in this the green land of my ancestors, surrounded by the foaming ocean, I say stand up for England for all that we are and have been and will be. We are blessed to live here and we should sing out loud in the words of William Blake:-
I shall not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green & pleasant land.

10 comments:

  1. "O, to be in England, now that April's there!"

    I mean it.

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  2. I'll have ten bucks on the dragon in the rematch.

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  3. Ay, we're not all bad.

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  4. DAWN - You have been officially exiled to Canada but you are welcome back amy time as long as Jeff learns to speak with an English accent - preferably East Yorkshire.
    ALKELDA - What a long winter we have had in fair Albion but now the daffodils are out and the earth is waking. Bluetits build their nests and gleeful young ladies cast off their winter garb gleefully. Yes, April in England can sometimes be so lovely.
    DIRK - The dragon would be slain again and again by brave St George or are you speaking metaphorically? Is Australia now the dragon with its cane toads and rabbits, gay parades and baby-snatching dingos? When we sent the convicts over there, we didn't imagine it would all turn out quite so hellish! Oh and Michael Hutchence and Paul Hogan too! You poor poor thrusting dirk!
    JANE - Let's become Morris dancers together in Northampton market place - bells on knees - "Fol-de-riddle! Fol-de-roy!"

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  5. yesterday was also my son's 22 birthday. and yes I knew about Will but didn't know about St George.. which I should have!
    And while most might have been very patriotic here in the 70s I see a lot of people now days who don't stand for the flag or say the pledge. Sad. We American's have always been so "large" on patriotism. Maybe it's since Clinton was caught with his pants down and got away with it and of course Dubya might have a little to do with it.

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  6. what better way to depict England than with a picture of Swaledale

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  7. I bet everybody else secretly wishes they were English ;)

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  8. YP, I may come to this one a few days late, but ... well said, with you all the way on this one and, as you may well know, I'm not English.

    And anyone who quotes Jerusalem is definitely a top geezer!

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  9. May there always be - an England.
    Thank you.

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