St George’s Day Flags are out around Great Missenden; including on the Church, where I knew it was going up because Lucy is tower captain, and got the call as usual last week. The whole effect was, well, as the Roald Dahl Centre proclaimed, Flushbunkingly Gloriumptious.
The English Church has done St George in style ever since he came onshore to England during the Crusades.
About 600 years ago, for example, an unknown artist painted this gentleman on the walls at Little Kemble — one of my favourite medieval small Churches around here, where I had the great honour of reading the passion on Good Friday, and sometimes snicker out and take a Prayer Book 8.00 servce.
In American movies the English make good conmen, toffs, idiots and butlers. Here at home, if you get the flags out, it conjures up lager louts, flags in cars during the World Cup, Reliant Robin drivers in pork pie hats, old maids cycling to early communion through the mist, and warm beer. You could add fondness for animal charities, language and literature, poor customer service and toy plumbing.
There’s also Fleet Street patriotism — essentially unhistorical, churned out by the yard and presided over by sleazy old hypocrites who bang on about patriotism whilst pretending to live abroad so that the country itself can run on everyone else’s taxes.
I hope people also think being English is something to do with fairness, scientific curiousity, a quirky passion for personal freedom, amateurism, tolerance, justice for the underdog, tradition and evolution, pragmatism, and creativity.
Attempts to define England in racist terms are ludicrous, because the basic fact about this island is that its culture and languauge have been made, and are still being made, by wave on wave of foreign immigrants — Romans, Germans, French, Jews, Dutch, French, Russians, Chinese, Afro-Caribbeans and Asians to name but a few of the most obvious and prominent since 54BC.
We are all what Draco Malfoy would call Mudbloods. I speak as a Hungarian Scot with only a mere dash of English: This qualifies me to be be fervently patriotic about this country in a way others may aspire to, but only Hungarians, and perhaps Ugandans, actually achieve. I was brought up on George Mikes (“Continentals have sex: the English have hot water bottles....”). It’s surely a good thing to feel rooted and confident about who you are, especially if that gives a platform upon which to be generous, just and creative. If opportunity presents, I may be able to ask the children I’m seeing in a Bucks school later today what it means to them...