Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!
King Henry V – Henry V, Act III Scene 1
An especially apt quote, as today is both Shakespeare’s birthday and St. George’s day.
It’s a funny old day if you ask me. St. George is England’s patron saint, yet celebrations are usually lacking. You get none of the giant hats falling out of an O’Neills of the 17th of March, St. Patrick’s day being a celebration of Irishness so powerful that it can turn a man who has never seen the Emerald Isle into the most authentic of Irishmen, albeit temporarily. Nor any of the defiant ‘them and us’ mentality associated with St.Andrew’s cohort. Paddy’s day is perhaps a slightly different beast. An excuse for a day of drinking the black stuff, a fire stoked by a group of Diageo marketers. But the other patron saints of the British Isles are supported with a sense of pride, of loyalty, of patriotism.
But not St.George. Why is this? England is a nation of tradition, and there is a notion of ‘distinctly English’ things – pubs, rolling country side, tweed, food and drink. But the ideology of our national identity has also been radicalised in a sense, and this is perhaps where tension around celebrating ‘English-ness’ begins to emerge.
The ideology and symbolism of England have been adopted not by the people proud of the history of our country, but by those who wish to weaponise our tradition – to brandish the George Cross as a mark of purity, not inclusion. Those people for whom the Bulldog is an agressive guard dog keeping watch, rather than keeping people inside safe. The same people who talk about “protecting the English way of life”, protecting it presumably from the seditious effects of immigration and the venomous fangs of Brussels and the eurozone. But, what would England be without immigrants? No curry, no lager, that’s for sure. The Roman’s, The Vikings… if you go far enough back, we’re all immigrants.
Its sad that ignorance, aggression and anger has robbed a lot of people of a chance to celebrate. A chance to come together with people who call this place home and marvel at how a tiny island in the North Atlantic has been able to offer so many things to so many people. How we feel more comfortable drinking Guinness than we do celebrating our own national identity.
I’m pleased to be English, to work and live in a country which can be exceptionally tolerant and vibrant, a country of relative opportunity, of welfare; a country of mongrels, founded on the shoulders of the immigrants who built it. So, here’s to St.George.