So. St. George’s Day.
I never know what to do with St. George’s Day, seeing as the guy was Palestinian and had nothing to do with England. But then maybe there’s something strangely English about that; we don’t like making a fuss about things, but we’ll talk about two world wars and one world cup forever more; we both invented and liberated concentration camps; we want a national saint, but we pick one that never got anywhere near our country. Being English is complicated.
It also doesn’t help that, for a good few years, our national iconography got co-opted by a bunch of neanderthal racists, making it vaguely unnerving to see England’s flag flying anywhere other than football matches. I know this is wrong, but it happened. Fortunately a sense of national pride has been reclaimed in recent years, which is a positive thing, and maybe in a couple of decades we’ll have something approaching St. Patrick’s Day. I wouldn’t like to make a prediction here – I’ve only ever actively tried to celebrate St. George’s Day once. We were in San Francisco, and we tried to find an English pub in which to celebrate. However, our taxi driver was unhelpful and we ended up in an Irish bar instead. Go figure.
We also share St. George with Spain, and I’ve got to say that I prefer some of Spain’s traditions for the day. For instance, in Catalonia, gifts of books are exchanged, which is something I’m always down with. Why do they give books? Well, it’s to remember that April 23 is also the birthday (and deathday) of that famous writer William Shakespeare. Who, of course, was English.
Yes, that’s right. On St. George’s Day, Spain has a tradition of commemorating England’s greatest writer. Meanwhile, England doesn’t. The whole thing’s messed up.
That’s also the reason today is World Book and Copyright Day, which I’m a little more inclined to celebrate. Only in the UK they moved it to March 1st this year because it clashes with our school holidays and, you’ve guessed it, St. George’s Day. The latter seems a strange decision to me, as I’d’ve thought England has produced enough famous writers to celebrate both books and the country that produced them, but never mind.
There’s another commemoration today – International Pixed-Stained Technopeasant Day, on which sci-fi writers are encouraged to post professional-quality work for free on the internet. Nothing to do with St. George’s Day, of course, but it’s worth noting that England has a fantastic science fiction heritage (H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Douglas Adams…), and the World Wide Web was invented by the English Tim Berners-Lee.
And talking of IT, today is also the 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum , one of the UK’s earliest home computers. I owned a couple of these during my formative years, a 48K with rubber keys and a 128K with a built in cassette player through which it took an age to load games… But it left a legacy among the country’s computing community, so maybe the humble Speccy is something else worth remembering today.
So yeah, I don’t know what I want from St. George’s Day. I want to be proud of my country – I am proud of my country, although not without reservations – but I’m not sure April 23rd helps me to do that. I suppose it’s just because I get most patriotic when I’m watching the Last Night of the Proms (ironically, my favourite part of that is ‘Jerusalem’, a song that tries to co-opt as a national treasure another notable Middle Eastern figure who never travelled here…). And the aspect of England that I most admire, that has moved me to tears in the past, is the underplayed, stiff-upper-lip, quietly defiant response to times of national tragedy. After terrorists bombed London in July 2005, the refusal to be beaten and the dry sense of humour on display was proof enough for me that England is still somewhere that can be admired.
Anyway, happy St. George’s Day. I’m going to have a cup of tea.