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 Argentina. As Ian Dury once sang: “There are jewels in the crown of England’s glory, too numerous to mention, but a few.” 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 put down 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.
What does England mean to you?
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 Rockers, Skinheads and Suedeheads, Lennie McLean and Carry On films. My England stretches from Dennis Skinner to Roger Scruton, from Peggy Mount to Beki Bondage, from Constable to the Bryant & May match-girls’ strike. It’s Blackpool beach, Ray Davies, Charlie Drake, Charlton Athletic FC, Casuals, roast beef, imperial measurements and vindaloo. It’s defiance.
Whether your England is summed up by a bowler hat or a pit helmet, punk rock or Morris dancers, there are few national tapestries as rich as ours. 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: “St George he was for England and before he slew the dragon, he drank a pint of English ale out of an English flagon.” Enjoy yourself this St. George’s Day. And remember, there will always be an England.