Monday is 23rd April, that’s St George’s Day. It’s also Shakespeare’s birthday and death day. None of which I usually celebrate in big style, except when the children were younger and I would read them a version of the St George legend. Why the Patron Saint of England is a knight from Turkey famous for slaying mythical creatures, I don’t know. I suspect it’s another example of the British/English ability to integrate ideas from other cultures, and give them an English gloss before handily forgetting they were borrowed in the first place. Like pyjamas and bungalows.
This year I have bookclub at my house on Monday, and there’s a Royal Wedding coming up in less than a month. I’m considering combining the two an ddecorating my little hygge nook appropriately with bunting and a flag. If England go to the World Cup, I might well leave it up for that, as well.
To a certain extent it’s become difficult recently to celebrate the feast day of England’s Patron Saint without looking a bit susp… you know, a little nationalistic, Little Englander, or at least being made to feel it by cosmopolitan Citizens of the World who hold no country dear to their hearts and see any pride in one’s country as misplaced because… duh… the history, dear boy, the history is so dark. England flags come out for use during the World Cup and European Football tournaments only, and then only until the team ignominiously crashes out. Usually in the group stage. England is a country full of eccentrics, but excessive support for a team no longer in a tournament is beyond eccentric.
I think that’s a shame. Surely it must be possible to have a feeling of National Pride without being Nationalistic? I don’t see Irish, Welsh or Scots having trouble celebrating their days and saints? Blooming heck! In March, everybody seems to be Irish, or at least to claim Irish ancestry! It can’t just be that the traditional English drink of mead just can’t compete against whisky and Guinness, can it?
I am proud to be British, and to be 50% English (on my Mother’s side). I recognise there’s much wrong with my Country, and that there are many who abhor what they see as flag-waving patriotism blindly backing an idea of a country that they would happily leave behind. They are entitled to their opinions, but so am I. Here is my list of reasons why, despite popular intellectual fashion, I am still proud to be English.
- We have a lot of good stories in our past, whether they are true or not. King Arthur, Henry V, The Spanish Armada, The English Civil War. They’re all tales that deserve to be told. Even if you then subsequently as an adult dissect them and dismiss them personally. They’re still part of your personal mythology. Every child in Primary school should be able to tell you the tale of Robin Hood, or explain how Edward I fooled the Welsh with the ‘King Born Speaking No English’ trick. And definitely how King Arthur/Sir Francis Drake/ Nelson will arise and come to the Country’s aid at its darkest hour. In 100 years, Winston Churchill will quite possibly be on that list, unless we are so totally factual rationalist by then as to forget myths and the role they play in life.
- Most things considered, England is still quite a polite country. We join queues, we let people out into traffic and we say please and thank you. And we always have something to talk about, even if that is just the weather.
- We laugh, and often. Often at ourselves and our silliness. We shouldn’t lose that ability, but we should make sure we laugh often and much at those in charge. There’s a great tradition of poking fun at the Parliament and King, at any authority figure, as a way of keeping them accountable. That shouldn’t be lost in a tidal wave of PC po-facedness or belief that anyone is above being laughed at.
- We have a democracy that gives everybody, regardless of wealth, race, creed or many other things, a vote. That’s universal suffrage. Part of my history O level was on the history of Parliament and how it was one long struggle to get equality of opportunity for everyone. We’ve got that now: Parliament is still not a representative body by gender and race, but that’s not because women or minorities are barred from standing. Solving that is a whole new ball-game.
- We have had two elected female Prime Ministers. (whether they were any use or not, I don’t care: my daughter lives in a country where not just once, but twice, a woman has made it to the top of the elected pile)
- We have had Queens of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales who ruled independently of a man. Without having a bloody civil war since the 12th Century. And we’ve changed the rules about inheritence so that male/female heir won’t matter. Equality starts at the top.
- Deep down, our culture is built on the idea of fair play and following rules. That works against us when the rules are applied without a heart (jobsworths can be found in any branch of life) but works in our favour if we can consistently show that we don’t do bribes, don’t do favouritism and do do promotion by ability and skill.
- We (together with the other Home Nations) believe in a National Health Service that doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t demand payment up front and does provide the level of treatment most people need. Questions of organisation and funding, well, they possibly need sorting out soon, but that should be a cross-party parliamentary decision. Generally, if you’re a citizen and you’re ill, you’ll be looked after. That’s good, and we need to celebrate that even as we push to make it work fairly and without it costing the earth.
- We have tea as our National Drink. That’s against Guiness for Ireland and Whisky for Scotland. That means our national drink will not make you drunk and can be downed at any time of day with no adverse effect, except the need for a toilet.
- We invented the modern toilet. Good old Thomas Crapper with his U bend, and the first sanitary ware showroom in the world. Elegance at all times, with the benefit of that feeling of relief afterwards.
- We invented a lot of things. Or we patented them. Or, like Tim Berners-Lee, we invented them and set them free in the world. I hope we never lose that inventing spirit.
- We have class. Both as in style-class and in social class. And we have pride in both. Getting a person to change their social class is harder than getting a tiger to have dots instead of stripes. We may live in a mansion and be a billionaire, but we’re still working class. Or be living on benefits, scraping by, but we’re still middle class. It needn’t even be the class we belong to is the class we were born into, but we choose our own class now. That’s how social mobility works.
- We don’t know when to stop. That’s the infamous Blitz Spirit. Bombs raining down on us, an invading army poised on the doorstep, and we just keep on keeping on. If only it had a dinky foreign name like Sisu, people would go mad for it. But it’s unfashionable to talk about British Stiff Upper Lip or Fortitude. We have it anyway, that will which says to us “Hold on!”
- We have a religion of self-deprecation. If it’s English, it must be bad, but if it’s from abroad it is to be held up, admired, honoured and worshipped. It is silly, because some of the time the foreign quality we’re looking at so longingly is one we already have, but don’t use. Hygge, friendship and cosiness, is English (Irish/Welsh/Scottish) Village Life as it used to be, before the shop closed and the village became a dormitory town, quiet during the week and packed at weekends. We lost it a little in the Industrial Revolution and never quite got it back, except in the back street slums where people watched each other and kept close.
- There is no such thing as English, born and bred. There is only a group of people with very mixed up parentage who live in a part of a nation and self-identify with the idea of being English. Truthfully, we can hold as many national identities as we want. And we can admire much more. Taking pride in being English once a year will not cause the EU to collapse, or the United Kingdom to implode. It doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) infer that anybody who is ‘other’ doesn’t belong here, or have a role to play. We share St George with Georgia (the country, not the state), Malta, Portugal, Spain, Catalan and thousands of cities, groups, societies and people for whom the “liberator of captives, and defender of the poor, physician of the sick” seems like a good patron saint to have. If I could put those on my CV, I’d feel good about myself.
There we go, my list. I’m sure if I wasn’t in work and had stuff to do I’d think through more points that make me proud. I’ll be celebrating on Sunday, with a traditional English roast beef dinner, and on Monday, when bookclub meet at my house. I’ve got my flags, my cake toppers and a bottle of something English to open. We’re reading a quintessentially English book (Reservoir 13) and yes, we may talk about what Englishness means in the modern world.
How about you? Do you have English ancestry? Do you like the English? Do you celebrate your own ancestry days? How Patriotic are you? I’d love to know.
My books on hygge are all available from Amazon. How to Hygge Your Summer, in Paperback and Kindle form, has lots of good ideas for the months ahead. Hygge is an all-year-round feeling, you see. 50 Ways to Hygge the British Way is available in Paperback and Kindle version and Have Yourself a Happy Hygge Christmas was released in September 2017 and is available again in paperback and ebook version. I’m currently working on my next book, (Ways to Be) Happier which I hope will be ready sometime during May this year.
If you purchase anything through the links on this page, I get a couple of pence extra per copy, and if you’ve already read my books and enjoyed them, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads.
****How to Hygge the British Way Blog isn’t monetised. I have taken the decision that I want to remain neutral and not to promote things just because. I will only ever review items that I have bought myself, or that I think will help to promote hygge in a busy life. To do this, I need support. Even just the price of a coffee adds up to a book over time, and it means I can stay independent. Would you help?
I have a Patreon Page that (I think) means you can pay me for products you have enjoyed. You can find me at https://www.patreon.com/hyggejem. I think you click through and then you can pay per blog post or page content. I’m still getting to grips with it, so please be patient.
If you’d rather make a one-off donation, please consider clicking through to my Paypal donation page, paypal.me/HyggeJem and leaving even a small amount. I’d be very grateful. Every penny I make from the blog and books goes towards books, films and homemaking to create a hygge home for me, the guinea pigs and the kids. Thank you.***