I’m a week out. Last Saturday I was lying by the pool at the Hotel San Gorg in Malta. Today, on St George’s Day itself, I am back in Blighty, home of Shakespeare, Darwin, Churchill … in fact, lots of people other than St George himself.
I won’t be taking up the invitation from my local pub (the George and Dragon, naturally) to celebrate St George’s Day. I’m not particularly unpatriotic as such, but I certainly wouldn’t count myself as a patriot. I’m not exactly sure what I should be celebrating anyway. The slaying of a dragon? The life and times of a largely mythical character who is also the patron saint of Portugal, Catalonia, Venice and Genoa amongst others at the last count? Englishness itself? I don’t think I’ll bother.
I am quite happy to count myself as English, this despite the fact that the majority of my relations are Scottish. I just see my Englishness as being more a quirk of fate than a source of pride. There are things Anglian that do stir my spirit – the sound of leather on willow, a wattle and daub country pub, Greensleeves – but St George himself doesn’t really do it for me.
I am not criticising those who will be celebrating today, that is up to them; it is rubbish to equate such festivities with racism. Sure, the racist will be celebrating tonight, but they also commemorate Christmas and birthdays; they probably like eating steak and chips and playing monopoly. Just because some racists engage in an activity clearly does not make that activity racist in itself; just because the BNP will be having a hot pot supper tonight doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also mark the day. Indeed, if this day is reclaimed as a genuine source of English pride, then so much the better. I will also sympathise with anyone who is prevented from flying the cross of St George today by some politically correct council; although actual, genuine and bone fide examples of such actions by local authorities often proves to be about as thin on the ground as real facts about St George’s existence.
It is often said that the English do not celebrate their patron saint, but this is not strictly true. In my youth it was usually marked by letters to the editor of the Daily Telegraph bemoaning the fact that no-one makes a fuss about St George’s Day. More recently, there has been a growing move to observe the event as a reaction to the ever expanding St Patrick’s Day celebrations, with the argument that “the Irish celebrate their saint’s day, so why shouldn’t we?” I don’t see that a load of plastic Paddys downing Guinness in O’Reilly’s Autentic Oirish Bar is something to aspire to, but never mind. The effect is the same; more people seem to celebrate St George’s Day by way of a complaint; a complaint about other nations having better national days that we do, a complaint that we English don’t mark the day appropriately.
Well go on, celebrate it, please. Do whatever it is one is supposed to do to commemorate the life of a dragon slayer. What are you meant to do? Eat a dragon pie? Wear the traditional English dress of , err, jeans and a t-shirt? What? In the absence of anything else, you could just acquiesce to the marketing men’s wishes and go to a pub with a “Celebrate St George’s Day here” banner, and drink some lovely English lager. Good luck. All I would hope is that if you do commemorate the day, do it for a positive reason; because you are genuinely proud and happy to be English and to be toasting St George, and not out of anger and resentment because other countries seem to do these things so much better than we do.
Myself? I will stay in with a bottle of wine; probably Californian or Australian I’m afraid. I suppose I could best be described as English, and ambivalent.
PostScript: If you want a rather more celebratory post about St George’s day, then Tim Worstall’s your man.