IN THE WAKE of 2012 – the proclaimed golden year for modern Britain – you’ve probably noticed a lot of chat about Englishness and how ‘English’ people are, or how English they feel, as well as how proud they are to be English. I suppose we need these experiments and surveys because whoever conducts them doesn’t really have much of an idea how the nation feels about itself. We don’t shout about our nationality – oh, how crass. How very un-English. In fact, we don’t really mention it at all. Not at the dinner table, at muddy football matches or even in our most intimate over-the-fence neighbourly natters. We go about our lives with a silent acknowledgement of who we are, with very few opportunities to cheer (and of course get drunk) about it. But strangely, almost magically, during things like Last Night at the Proms or anything that involves brass instruments, a Royal and adorned horses, there is for many a stir of (dare I use the word) patriotism – that suddenly reminds us of our national resplendence with goosebumps and teary eyes. Strange; it appears as though being English, or indeed British, does make us proud. All right, we might not compare to our flag-waving, anthem-reciting American cousins, but I, for one, see no reason why we shouldn’t stick our chests a little more, too, on this designated day of Englishness.
More or less every other country in the world has its own national holiday, so I want one, too. Yes, we might be a bit Bank Holiday-ed out at this time of year, but I still want one. Even if it’s naff day of wearing white and red and watching BBC4 documentaries about royal weddings, with a glass of lukewarm Pimms with out-of-season strawberries, finished off with a fireworks display in the drizzle, I’ll still take it. I wondered earlier today – which, by the way, is in the eyes of the Stock Exchange just another working day – why we don’t make a song and dance about who we are. Perhaps it’s because we try not to remind the world of the megalomaniacal days of the British Empire. Perhaps it’s our innate fear of making a scene and upsetting the internationals that also call our island home. Frankly, I say sod it all. Take a day off caring about the rest of the world, you worrying folk, and enjoy England. If people want to take offence, they have 364 other days to do so. 23rd April is a day to be English and if they don’t like it, they can hibernate for 24 hours. Or go to France.
For today is St. George’s Day! All hail the dragon-slaying St. George! The patron saint of horses, Georgia, Moscow, chivalry, the Bulgarian army, butchers and, amongst other things, England. Perhaps people forget that bit – not the dragon-slaying – but the fact that he represents England, and not, per se, being English. St. George is a metaphor not for the people of this green and pleasant land, who vary so much in height, political belief, accent, age, colour, musical tastes and shoe size, but for the green and pleasant land itself, something that nourishes and unites us all. Surely England, that little chunk of Great Britain drifting somewhere between France and the Arctic Circle, is something to celebrate? Like no other it is a land that has seen and started change: a place of inspiration and innovation, of movers and shakers, of thinkers and doers. I just couldn’t bring myself to leave it. I’d feel like a man leaving his heavily pregnant supermodel wife for the girl who sells knock-off perfume in nightclub toilets if I did. Of course it has its flaws, but there’s so much to love about England. I love motorway service stations and the bizarre names of certain pubs, and the love-hate relationship I have with The X Factor. I don’t mind that I don’t understand the slightest thing about cricket, because they wear woollen jumpers and play on village greens in the height of summer and that more than makes up for it. I love Waitrose, the fact that elections and exam results still take place on Thursdays and the hardiness of Sunday league football. I love our ridiculous plural system that baffles non-native speakers, I love that we’re told every year without fail to expect heavy traffic on the roads on Bank Holiday weekends, I love the “Salt and vinegar on your chips?” “Yes, please,” conversations with the staff at fish ‘n’ chips shops and I love that ponies have the right of way in the New Forest. I love buy-one-get-one-half-price crumpets, that I never want to go to Blackpool, the fact that biscuits aren’t taxed, Bonfire Night, the familiar sight of the NHS logo and even the confusing dreariness that is Wuthering Heights. I could go on, but my point is that there is so much to celebrate about England that it really does deserve to be recognised, even if just for one day in the inevitably damp mid-spring.
In case you didn’t already know, St George’s Day coincides decorously with the birth of Will Shakespeare, who was recently voted England’s greatest cultural icon. That sayeth all, me thinks!