Today is one of those days when nice people don’t know what to do.
If you mention it’s St George’s Day there are some who would call you jingoistic. There will be a few who’d worry you’re one of those badly-spelled English Defence League morons. There’ll be many who would say it’s not worth bothering with.
It tends to be the shouty types who mark the date of St George’s martyrdom – the ones who want to score a point about political correctness or the modern world or voting UKIP, and the borderline-deranged ones who just want a scrap and think Brighton Pavilion is a mosque.
None of these people want to know he was from Palestine rather than Preston. That he was beheaded for refusing to abandon his faith, and never even set foot in England. He was invited to join our national story just like the Windrush migrants, and like them has been ignored and belittled by a country who think he is no longer useful.
But by disavowing the lunatics we could gain ourselves a day of national celebration for a bunch of stuff which is pretty brilliant, from Beatrix Potter to the wind-up radio by way of the Royal Society.
England and her people have done amazing stuff for thousands of years, and it’s time we took St George back from the haters.
If nice people started shouting about Englishness too – if we all flew the flag, and marked the day with the national dishes of chicken tikka masala and sticky toffee pudding, washed down with real ale – then maybe we could drown the racists out.
We could shout about Queen Victoria and Richard the Lionheart, Good Queen Bess, princes the whole world wants to go for a pint with, the fact we’re about to get a mixed race, imported princess and that what’s more she’s not the first one we’ve had.
We could talk about Charles Dickens writing the wrongs of slum London, and William Makepeace Thackeray going to a hanging so he could tell the centuries how grim it was.
We could invoke ska, northern soul, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Beatles, buttered crumpets and Old Father Thames.
We should shout about the fact Tower Bridge has gold widdly bits on the top, that we egg politicians (but let’s not tell Donald Trump before he arrives), and of all the wonderful things we can do with custard.
England can boast Winston Churchill, the Venerable Bede, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Darwin, Turing, Wren, Hawking, Tim Berners-Lee, Trevor Baylis, and Edward Jenner whose smallpox vaccine has saved more lives than have been lost in every one of humanity’s wars.
We would go on about Gainsborough, Stubbs, Turner and Reynolds, Lucien Freud, Henry Moore and the genius that is Banksy.
Let’s shout about world-beaters Johnson, Marlowe, Spenser, Shakespeare, a different Jonson, Geoffrey Chaucer, Byron, Keats, both Shelleys, Blake, Wordsworth, Auden, Tony Harrison, Orwell, Woolf, Tolkien and Blyton, not to mention Julia Donaldson and her Gruffalo and the dear, departed, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.
And just think of the food! Warm scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, brown sauce, Kendal mint cake, piccalilli, the mighty pasty, Branston pickle, gammon steak with a slice of pineapple on top, Yorkshire puddings served any one of a thousand ways BUT NEVER DEAR GOD NEVER WITH CHRISTMAS DINNER, a full English breakfast, bangers and mash, fish and chips, coleslaw, and the dish I had for dinner every single day of my childhood which was called Wait and See.
Lasagne’s ours too, and so are Scotch eggs.
Then there’s the drink. We’ve actually got good wine these days, as well as champagne, warm beer, bitter, lager, mild, brown ale and stout.
We invented the Sopwith Camel and the Spitfire, the cat’s eye, steam engines, jet engines, tarmac, the rubber band, computers, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, the hovercraft, the seat belt, the atomic clock, the Spinning Jenny, the sewing machine, tin cans and the tin can telephone, the Mini (car and skirt), Christmas cards, shorthand, cinematography and even the humble pencil.
Calculators, the ZX Spectrum, DNA fingerprints, the adjustable spanner, gas turbines, steel, the light switch, the pram, fire extinguishers, mousetraps and toasters – English, all.
In the great race of human endeavour, the England first team includes Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Emmeline Pankhurst, Beatrice Shilling, James Dyson, the entire Monty Python squad and the Monster Raving Loony Party, a good chunk of whose policies actually worked.
On the subs’ bench is the Beano, pirate radio, Hovis, St Paul’s, Vera Lynn, Wembley, Big Ben, the Red Arrows and the Shepherd Neame brewery. Not only that but we invented the Beautiful Game – along with darts, bar billiards, bowls, rounders, hockey, snooker, rugby, and cricket in which, Australians might like to note, ball-tampering is strictly forbidden.
We had human rights before everyone else, thanks to the Magna Carta. And we exported them via a system of law, justice, and parliament that has been copied all over the world. We taught a third of the globe how to make a decent cup of tea, and as a result our language is the main lingua franca of the entire planet.
Our newspapers have been so successful that Fleet Street has its diaspora in almost every country. We had William Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde, and without them and the journalistic model which started in a room above a pub in Fleet Street in 1702 there’d be no check on anyone’s power, anywhere.
England had the first schools on Earth and some of them are still going. It had the first railway system and most of it’s still with us, and we were also the first industrialised nation with, therefore, the first rise in the standard of living for the masses. That led to the Chartists, trade unions, and the employment rights that are so universal we tend to forget blood was spilled to get them.
We beat Napoleon on land and on sea, we beat Hitler everywhere, we beat the Germans when it mattered and we’re never going to let the French forget Agincourt even though we like their cheese.
We’ve got Twiglets, Marmite, pork pies, Guy Fawkes, Betty Boothroyd, the Grand National, greyhound racing, Morris Men and the Morris Minor.
Unlike every other nation on Earth we know how to behave on escalators, we’ve got a lion on Westminster Bridge, Greenwich is the centre of the world’s time, we invented Meccano and Pimm’s and Wimbledon and egg mayonnaise sandwiches.
In fact, all sandwiches; that was one of ours too.
We don’t cast a clout until May is out, there’s always a blanket in the car, and we have 100 different kinds of rain. We punt, we knit tea cosies, we shove ha’penny and we brought about the end of slavery long before the Americans managed it.
We stopped Julius Caesar invading us twice before Claudius managed it, and then we threw Boudicca at him and she burned his capital to the ground. If you dig down deep enough, there is a black line of soot beneath London – proof of why you don’t pick a fight with an Essex girl.
We’ve got the hoard of Sutton Hoo, the Crown Jewels which we nicked from everyone else and hid in a biscuit tin, we singed the king of Spain’s beard, we beat the Armada, chopped off the head of a king then decided we’d have kings back so long as they did as they were told.
We’ve got the Cotswolds, north Cornwall, the red-brick streets of Lowry’s Manchester, Stonehenge, Spaghetti Junction and the White Cliffs of Dover.
Accrington Stanley, Scalextric, Dinky toys, the boat race, Coleman’s mustard, the suffragettes, Chumbawumba, irony, the Dulux dog, the Britain in Bloom contest, the Ski Sunday theme tune, Hob-Nobs, the V-sign, spirograph, crossword puzzles, Plasticine, linoleum, Robin Hood, King Arthur and his entire Round Table – ALL OURS.
The Blitz was supposed to soften us up but instead it toughened our resolve. History shows that, despite our current spasm of rudeness, we usually welcome immigrants. Especially if they have interesting food or are a saint with a handy myth about slaying dragons.
We help people in trouble, and after 64 years we still have, and love, the oldest, biggest and best national health service in the world .
We are many things, as a nation. We can be lazy and dumb and outraged at the drop of a hat, we drink too much and we don’t tan well. We take all of this stuff for granted and do nothing to stop racists draping themselves in a flag which graces the shoulders of the best we can produce.
We are not perfect, as a nation, and there are many stains on our record. But for more than a thousand years we have left a mark upon the world and its culture that is much larger than a tiny country like ours could expect to leave, and by and large we have done good.
Many of those things we achieved we exported for free so others could benefit – printing, Victoria sponge, good manners.
But England’s greatest achievements are, arguably, the invention of the corkscrew and the electric kettle. Pretty much everything else would be impossible without them, so those two things alone are worth a party.
Whatever you do today, you could do worse than raise a toast to our immigrant St George in honour of everything that’s great about England – and flick a V-sign in the general direction of the ignorant racists who want to steal it from you.
That’s what Boudicca would do.
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