Friday, April 24, 2009


So it was St George’s Day yesterday and the whole occasion hit me as a bit of a paradox.

Firstly – unless I went around in a zombiefied state yesterday (perfectly possible) – I seem to have totally missed any notification that it was St George’s day from the news media. This seems to me to be entirely wrong. I think a little bit of national pride can be a good thing and we should justly celebrate our Englishness one day a year just as the Irish quite rightly enjoy a good rave up on St Patrick’s Day. It’s about time the English stopped mooching around in their hoodies and behaving like the cross of St George is some kind of criminal brand.

OK. Soapbox dispensed with.

And then on the way home from work last night I came across a huge bunch of people obviously doing the above with unrestrained gusto outside a town centre pub. And I promptly went back to wishing my fellow countrymen would spend the entire day mooching around in their hoodies and trying not to be picked up on the local CCTV cameras.

It was ugly. It was bullish. And it made me feel ashamed.

Can we English not exhibit national pride without making it look xenophobic, aggressive and something akin to football thuggery?

And what or where is this “Eng-er-land” of which they so raucously chant?

I don’t want to live in Eng-er-land!

It sounds, well to be honest, unappetizingly Neanderthal. A bit backwards and inbred. A land of beer gutted, ruddy faced pie eating brutes who discordantly sing “God Save The Queen” while at the same time giving anyone with a home counties accent a good kicking for being “a bit of a sneering toff”.

I know, I know. I’m being a snob.

Why shouldn’t the common people (of which I am one) celebrate St George’s Day the common way (10 pints of ale and a gristle pie)? After all England isn’t just about Ascot, the Boat Race and Vaughan Williams, is it? It’s also about football and darts and fish & chips. And chavs. And underage pregnancy. And Big Brother. And men who walk around shirtless at the first sign of sunshine in April in a desperate attempt to get a fast-track tan only to succeed in making themselves look like pigeon-toed irradiated sides of beef.

But for Lord’s sake, where is the sense of pride in our pride? Where is the sense of self respect? Where is the noble aspect, the aspiration? The inspiration?

Surely celebrating our national identity should be a chance to hold our heads up high – not merely to lift our beer bellies up out of the gutter while we spew several cans of Special Brew and a hastily masticated kebab down the drain?

When on earth did St George become synonymous with Bacchus? Or worse still, the BNP?


Owen said...

Here, here, bottoms up, I'll drink to that ! A pint o' Guinness please !

Ah, these are very valid questions you pose with your habitual scintillating style. . . are the masses doomed to descend to the very lowest common denominator of the football thug? Although not English, I did live in London for six months a while back, and everything you said here rings very true... Well, all I can say is : Keep The Aspidistra Flying !

PS Perhaps becoming a Somalian pirate captain isn't such a bad idea after all... and you could proudly fly the Cross of St George on your ship. Speaking of which, I found a portrait of you just the other day, and have posted it on the blog, it's just a few posts down from the top...

Steve said...

Owen, your scintillating praise of my verbose prose style is much appreciated and gratefully received. I must admit, I often wonder how other nationalities view "the English" and wonder if they find their baboon behaviour just as distasteful as those on the inside so to speak. Sometimes a life on the ocean wave doesn't sound a bad thing if it removes me from Wetherspoons pub-ery and football terrace tantrums... By the way thank you for the photograph. I have to say I wasn't sure which one it was at first (the spare tyre on the boat perhaps? Were you being cryptic?) but then saw the fantastic pirate. Now that is a proper pirate. If I were to ever be a pirate that's how I'd want to dress. Yes, even if I were captaining a rusting iron hulk off the coast off Somalia...

Owen said...

All I can say from my limited experience, is that England certainly has no monopoly on boorish louts for whom debauched displays of insolent idiocy in public is the norm rather than the exception. I lived in a state named "Kentucky" for a few months once, where the sub-species known as the "Crosseyed Inbred Shotgun-Bearing American Redneck" is all too common, and here in France, sad to report, drunken boors are not unknown either, in French they are known as "Ploucs, Soulards, Ivrognes, Connards" and so forth... so, bottom's up, as I said, the best remedy is to open a bottle of cool, crisp chablis, and reminisce on the days of Byron and Yeats and Kipling... cheers !

Steve said...

Owen, that's both reassuring and disturbing in equal measure. Reassuring for me as an Englishman that this isn't just an English problem, but disturbing for the human race as a whole that this kind of boorish behaviour is so prevalent and commonplace... I may have to drain that bottle of Chablis whilst reading Don Juan...!

Anonymous said...

Oddly I have spent all but two of the last 13 St George's Days out of England. I only know because it is also my son's birthday.

I don't see a lot of that kind of behaviour in the UK (well, unless I read some crappy paper like The Daily Mail) but that's probably cos I don't go out much in the evening.

The vast majority of English people are very pleasant and civilised.

Oh dear - you can tell I have been away from Blighty too long, can't you. Usually I drone on about how irritating the chavs are but now I have forgotten!

Brits abroad - in Spain or wherever- are always very embarrassing though. I always pretend to be some other nationality.

Steve said...

Gina, pretending to be a different nationality entirely is the common pasttime of all "classier Brits" who find themselves erroneously in horrible Brit-spot destinations across the globe... I've been known to try Congolese, Bengali, Atlantean and even, on occasion, Belgic. When I'm feeling particularly misanthropic I plump for Martian.

The Joined up Cook said...

The English have, throughout history, had a reputation for drunken loutishness.

Even the upper classes do it.

Only the repressed middle classes frown on it.

It is an extension of a rough and tumble boisterous attitude that we, as a nation, tend to have.

Get people like that drunk and you can get brutishness.

But that boisterous approach is what has made us good at dominating much of the rest of the world for much of our history.

For the lower orders part of it is also cocking a snook at authority.

A kind of "f**k you, I'll get pissed if I want to"

A way of showing those in charge, those who wish to set the standards of our society, that they cannot have it all their own way.

In a wierd way it celebrates our freedom.

Individually a lot of these people are fine.

Think on this too; much of their behaviour is ritualised; football grounds; city centre weekend nights; etc.

They rarely invade the space of those who don't want to be a part of what they do.

I think Wellington's peninsular army illustrates the quality perfectly.

Sober, they were the best army of their day; well disciplined and aggressive.

Allow them near alcohol and they lost it and became, in his words, "the scum of the earth"

Those qualities, I think, may go together.

Steve said...

"Only the repressed middle classes frown on it." I'm basking in the glow of my achievement. I've made it up into the next class not just financially but also emotionally! This is probably not the response you were wanting.

Seriously though, I must admit I did have the Wellington quote to mind when I wrote this and also Shakespeare's "Once more into the breach..." speech. And you are right, this bulldog do or be damned spirit has served us well in terms of Empire and global status over the years... but only when it's been harnessed and directed to a higher cause (usually by very sober if possibly power mad individuals)... this is rather different to undisciplined self serving displays of drunken and therefore sentimental patriotism and bonding which quickly dissipates once the hangover kicks in.

I guess I'm just (a) a snob, (b) middle class and repressed, (c) plain miserable or (d) all the above. ;-)

English Rider said...

So, to sum up: provide vocational training schools for pirating, increase the cost of travel so that only "we who deserve it and know how to behave in public" are exported, build underground houses with tunnels to go to work so that "those people" disappear from view and we no longer have to face the commoners in the street. That would simultaneously solve pollution and parking problems too. Prince Charles could be in charge of architectural design. Make his Mum proud.
Did I miss anything?

The Joined up Cook said...

Steve, I didn't have any expectations as to how you would reply.

That's why I enjoy your blog ;)

Mind you, I've always thought of sentimentality as being a Victorian invention - a middle class victorian invention ;)

Steve said...

English Rider: you didn't miss a thing. You're hired.

AWB: funny you should say that; my wife often comments on my Victorian notions of parenthood (sending the kids to work up chimneys, etc). I'd like to get a dog and call it Bullseye.

Reginald Hugh Smythe said...

Well as St George was believed to be born in Cappadocia (now Eastern Turkey) and a Kebab could be a fitting tribute but not sure with regards to the Special Brew.....

Anonymous said...

I thought about your blog post today actually as it was Anzac Day here and everyone is madly waving Australian flags. My children kept their mouths shut at the parade cos they didn't want anyone to know they were not Australian.

At the end of it all Jack said to me "I'd much rather be Australian than English".

When we go to the assemblies here (school ones I mean) the children all sing the national anthem (none of those boring religious hymns - they aren't allowed thankfully) and every morning, ironically, my son raises the Australian flag, on the school field.

I dunno. Is that what we want in England. Certainly the Australian children are proud of their nationality without being jingoistic. And there is not the obsession with one sport here - footie I mean - they follow a range with equal enthusiasm.

But I still love England and the English people - and I actually miss the yobs and chavs a little. It's nice to have someone to sneer at - and I'm sure they sneer at me and my pathetic middle class hypocrisy too.

Happy Anzac Day! Get yourself in that kitchen and make yourself some Anzac biscuits. perhaps that's where we're going wrong with St George's DAy - we need a St George's Day biscuit or something, a gingerbread Dragon or something that we can devour with pride.

Steve said...

Hello Reg: I've heard rumours that St George was some kind of European hero too rather than English and if the Cappadocia link is true I'm sure St Georgio will be satisfied that lamb meat is being mightily speared in his name and in memory of the great worm that he once slew...!

Gina: now that is the kind of thing I'm talking about. A quiet pride. A pride that allows you to keep your self respect and respect in the eyes of other onlookers. And biscuits. Biscuits I feel are very important. You are right. St George's Day is all the poorer for not having a special biscuit that we can all bake and munch upon in his name! Mr Ramsay? Ms Lawson? are you listening? Something needs to be done!

The Sagittarian said...

Haha, a couple of years ago a friend and I were at Hanmer Springs for a night and bumped into a drunken crowd of Lions supporters. They had just been to Christchurch where the All Blacks gave them a traditional hiding. However, I digress.
They were fun to a point but we felt it was more to do with the "away from home" thing. I think most cultures these days seem to have a firm grip on the booze and be damned attitude. Thats not to say we shouldn't hanker for something better. I reckon it has a lot to with loss of national identity, there are so many foreign influences on Joe Aveage these days, the measuring sticks used to be one's Dad or Grandpa etc and now we have Beckham and maybe evn Ms Boyle. Its disheartening to be odinary but the majority of us are that. We should reclaim the glory of ordinary.

KAZ said...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace ....

This has lots to recommend it eh?

Steve said...

Amanda, I like where you're coming from and I agree: ordinary should be celebrated. But it should be elevated too. Who says ordinary can't be composed, respectful, graceful and sparklingly intelligent?

Kaz, Mr L was a wise bird and in his spirit I'd like to burn every national flag the world over. They're more trouble than they're worth. People would be better off without them.

Anonymous said...

People here constantly ask me questions about 'The English' that I find so difficult to answer. Their image of Brits, by which they mean the English,because they've never heard of Scotland, Ireland or Wales, is one of afternoon tea, rose gardens and always always 'The English Gentleman'. The amount of women who tell me they'd love to marry an 'English Gentleman'. Well wouldn't we all, I cannot tell them he is a mythical creature rather like a unicorn.
Then the food questions, tell us, tell us please of 'English Cuisine'!! How? How do I begin?
I've been gone 20 years now, and you have Jamie Oliver so maybe things have changed, but back in the day, I was trying to explain a cornish pasty, a sausage roll??
I always feel other countries' cultures are so much more colourful so much more cohesive than ours, like they have been able to hang onto something through the years where we have lost it.

Steve said...

"other countries' cultures are so much more colourful so much more cohesive than ours" - that's certainly part of the problem, Missbehaving, that and what they've hung onto seems more noble and worthy of advertizing than ours. Pie, booze and yobbery might be common in all languages and nations but it refuses to travel well...

The Joined up Cook said...

Maybe other countries' cultures seem so colourful because we see them as outsiders, as novelty.

Perhaps if we lived in these cultures they would start feeling restrictive.

I think ours is colourful through the sheer variety and changeability we have here.

We have adopted so much from other cultures which some feel has swamped our own.

I think they are wrong.

The original Englishness is still there as a foundation for all the rest.

Yes we have yobs but we produce music, art, writing, and lots more that are the envy of others. We accept other cultures and have a tolerance that is hard to equal elsewhere.

And if you look we do have a fine cuisine - as well as a chines, asian, italian and the rest.

I like to visit other places but I still want to live here.

The Joined up Cook said...

Oh, and before I forget, let's not forget that glorious part of our heritage that brings us all here.

Our language.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Of course you can't celebrate St George's Day without being a paid up member of the BNP.

National Pride? Perish the thought!

Just to make sure we forget all such foolishness, successive British governments have systematically dismantled and sold down the river everything that we ever had to be proud of as a nation.

Some say this (and bringing this once-proud nation to its knees generally) is in preparation for an uber-state or the EUSSR, but perhaps that is taking paranoia a tad too far, I don't know.

Mind you you've only got to look at how our police have changed from servants of the people to servants of the state and we are watched by cameras on every corner and chips in our wheelie bins to know that something sinister is afoot.

Anonymous said... should I or shouldn't I wish you a belated Happy St. George's Day...

I'm torn...

So instead...I'll just wish you a Happy Happy Steve Day!


Steve said...

AWB: you're right of course. There are lots of wonderful things about England and I couldn't imagine living anywhere else (despite various daydream dalliances with Wales, New Zealand and Australia). The country is great. It's just the people! ;-)

Laura, paranoia or not... it sounds frighteningly accurate to me.

Sweet Cheeks: A Happy Happy Steve Day sounds great - in fact it should be a national holiday!

French Fancy... said...

When I read posts like this I feel so glad that a) I'm out of the UK and b) that I gave up reading the Daily Mail online. I wish there were a way of celebrating St George's day that made one's heart swell with pride, not quake at the thought of the potential bother that might suddenly escalate around one.

Mind you I'm off to London in about 10 days and I'm quite excited about it.

Steve said...

FF: "I wish there were a way of celebrating St George's day that made one's heart swell with pride" - yes, that sums up what I was trying to say exactly! I don't want us to not celebrate St George's Day I just want us to celebrate it in a style that is in itself worth celebrating...!