Posted by: J M | May 3, 2010

E is for England

St George’s Day has to be one of my least favourite days of the year. Much more so than a birthday spent covered in cold sores or Christmas Day with flu or two weeks in summer stricken by chicken pox. While St George’s Day has no adverse effect on my health, it seems to do something strange to a significant number of English people. In short: it turns them into idiots.

April 23 is, of course, the feast day of the patron saint of England, St George. A supposed dragon-slayer and almost definitely not English, St George is not so much celebrated as staunchly defended by his admirers. Quite what he has done to earn this unwavering respect is unknown, mythical lizard-murdering aside, of course.

National saints’ days have always struck me as rather odd. They were roundly ignored, as far as I can remember, at any school I attended, and when I lived in Edinburgh, very little remark was made on 30 November, which is the day everyone is supposed to get excited about St Andrew. The most national pride I ever saw the Scots display on that day was perhaps the wearing of a tartan tie or brooch. Certainly nobody roamed the streets singing ‘Flower of Scotland’ draped in the saltire and swigging a bottle of Buckfast. The Welsh, as far as I know, mark the occasion by wearing a daffodil or leek on 1 March, the special day for St David, but don’t really go any further than that.

In England, however, there’s an increasing urge by some people to mark St George’s Day and to give legitimacy to the idea that having a national day for some character out of a fairytale is the only way you can show pride in your Englishness. And whose fault is that? Why it’s that Guinness-swigging, foam hat-wearing, big-gobbed twat St Patrick, of course.

The Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day as a national holiday. People actually get the day off. They thus do what most people do on a day when everyone is off work: they get drunk. It’s as much about St Patrick as it is about Daz washing powder. It’s just a national holiday. It’s become a worldwide industry, with sponsorships worth millions and just as many millions of ‘revellers’ globally toasting a snake-charming saint.

St George and his minions have observed this for quite some time, and has a touch of the green-eyed monster with peepers of a shade more emerald than a plastic shamrock hanging from a drunk’s hat. St George wants a piece of the action. Why don’t his English get the day off on his feast day, he wonders. Why are there parades and events in London to mark St Patrick’s prowess with pythons yet St George — who slayed a big, ferocious dragon, people — gets barely a mention, except in news reports about racists running around with English flags setting fire to mosques or whatever? Well, the answer is simple: a large number of those who do care about St George have reappropriated his flag and his name to raise that old chestnut about immigration and non-whites.

The myth goes that because non-white people living in England feel persecuted by the English flag, that it can’t be flown. Some white people, usually racists but otherwise just hopelessly misinformed, then use this oppression of their national saint to moan about non-white people living in England. It’s like a vicious circle; it’s a process so dull, predictable and laborious that it makes one want to forget how to read just so you don’t have to digest both sides of this dreary argument over a flag nobody really, if they’re honest, cares about.

What troubles the English is that they don’t really have a national identity. Their national song, God Save The Queen, has to be shared with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the national anthem of the UK. They have no national dress to compete with Scottish kilts and, more importantly, a huge amount of English people don’t care. As England has been the dominant country of the UK for so long, they haven’t had to maintain traditions or reinforce their identity as a means of retaining some sense of culture. England, in trying to oppress the ‘other three’ for so long, has actually had the reverse effect and has almost voided its own national identity.

There’s something about the English flag and national pride that brings out the worst in people. A few years ago, during a World Cup, a primary school in my mother’s neighbourhood encouraged pupils to wear some kind of football strip or garment on the day of an England-Brazil game. My mother’s sister sent her dark-haired, dark-eyed daughters to school in the football shirt they had chosen in the shop: that of Brazil. The girls, aged 10 and 8 at the time, were chased round the playground by rabid England fans for supporting Brazil and even teachers castigated them and upon collecting them, their mother was told that it was ‘inappropriate’ of them not to support the national team or flag.

I do have a friend who takes every St George’s Day off work and spends it with her friends in the pub. They dress up as knights of the realm and other English icons and just have a laugh. They fly a flag and manage not to oppress any ethnic minorities and I think that’s great. But if only more people were like that.

This year’s St George’s Day lived and died for me on the pages of that nosey neighbour of the internet: Facebook. Facebook is the online equivalent of being talked at by a succession of people wittering in the post office queue. Trivial information, casual racism and ingrained prejudices whirr around it like a buzzing hive of mediocrity. On 23 April 2010 the site seemed to emit a red and white hue of seething anger, bitterness and resounding stupidity.

One Facebooker commented on the fact that her daughter had been called a ‘racist’ for waving a St George’s flag on her way to school. But how was she waving it? What was she saying? Why do people think you’re racist if you carry the flag? Is it because seven times out of ten, you usually are?

Another lamented they were the only person on their street to hoist a flag outside their home, while a commenter who had clearly sent his brain on a very long holiday remarked ‘Careful, it will offend the Muslims, LOL’ to which the flag-waving harpy replied ‘GOOD’.

This is the problem isn’t it? As it has been reported that the flag has been known to make non-whites uncomfortable, some people liked to use the cloak of ‘equality’ to antagonise and provoke a reaction. These England-lovers want to be branded a racist so that they, in turn, can project back at their accusers allegations of racism and unfairness. See, I told you it was boring.

I’m all for the celebration of Englishness and England and reclaiming the day of the national saint, no matter how bogus he may be, seems like a sensible option. But the use of it provoke or instill fear and hatred makes me realise that perhaps the English don’t deserve a patron saint. Maybe St George should tender his resignation.

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