To be born English is to have won first prize in the lottery of life.
To be English is to be part of the world’s richest culture. From this sceptred isle sprang talents as diverse as Orwell and Chaplin, Kipling and Shakespeare, Nelson and Joe Strummer.
In every field, in every era, the evidence of English greatness is there for all to see, from the enduring genius of Elgar to the magic of Michael Owen’s goal against the Argies. As Ian Dury once sang:
OK, not many of us know more than the first two lines of There’ll Always Be An England, but we do know that our country gave the world football, cricket, rugby, tennis, the Beatles and Dickens.
As a people we are not given to chest beating. Reserve and restraint are as much English qualities as inventiveness and enterprise. But we do resent the way Englishness is sneered at by the chattering classes. For them, the cross of St George is tainted by memories of empire (even though the Royal Navy smashed the slave trade). It has been like this for decades. More than 50 years ago, George Orwell wrote that “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their nationality.”
These sniggering fools don’t even know the roots of their own radicalism. For every Francis Drake in English history there was a Wat Tyler. For every Wellington there was a Captain Swing. Military achievement understandably shaped our self image. The stout Yeomen of England have been beating off invaders for centuries. We saw off Bonaparte and smashed the Spanish Armada. But England gave the world parliamentary democracy and the trade unions too.
We are strong-willed people, rightly proud of our traditions of free speech and tolerance. Our defining national characteristic is “constructive bloodymindedness” according to Keith Waterhouse, one of the greatest living Englishmen. Illustrated by the phrase “thus far and no further”, it is why most of us refuse to take Europe seriously. European? Never. I was born English and I will die English, (unless Teesside achieves independence).
A soggy croissant will never replace egg, bacon and buttered toast. Whether your England is summed up by a bowler hat or a pith helmet, punk rock or Morris dancers, there are few national tapestries as rich as our beloved Albion’s.
My England is bubble and squeak and foaming pints of Boddingtons. It is Les Dawson and Barbara Windsor, Max Miller and Page Three. My England is pie and mash and Aston Martins, Derby day and Arfur Daley, Mods and Suedeheads, Lennie McLean and Carry On films. My England stretches from Dennis Skinner to Roger Scruton, from Peggy Mount to Beki Bondage. It’s Blackpool beach, Charlie Drake, roast beef, imperial measurements and vindaloo. It’s defiance. Whether it be King Alfred standing up to the Vikings, Colonel H at Goose Green, or the Metric Martyrs giving the finger to Brussels. No-one likes us! We don’t care!
And of course it is a national disgrace that TV gives St George a blank.
But what do they know? How often do they get anything right?
If you are English turn off the TV on April 23rd and get down the pub, preferably in a fine Longshanks shirt. As Chesterton wrote:
Enjoy yourself this St. George’s Day. And remember, there will always be an England.