Wednesday, April 23, 2008


A Welsh friend points out that "yet again" the English are following the lead of the Scots, the (Northern) Irish and the Welsh (is there a word for all the non-English British? (yes, "barbarians" my grandfather might say)). This time it is the celebration of a national saint, St. George. Today, April 23, is St. George's Day. Historically not much of a day, certainly compared to St. Patrick's, or even St. David's or St. Andrew's. But with a resurgence of nationalism amongst the constituent nations of Britain of late, the English have apparently been feeling a little left out. Sure, they've got the Morris dancing. And there was the World Cup win in 1966. But pushed on by pubs (I suspect), some English are working to make St. George's Day into a day of national celebration.

The old English flag, the red cross of St. George on a white background, appears more frequently, usually at soccer, rugby or cricket matches. Unfortunately there's still a whiff of the unsavory around the flag, for ultra right groups co-opted the flag years go. That obnoxious association still lingers for some Brits, especially visible minorities. Musician Morrissey sang about this issue of the flag and Englishness on his song, "Irish Blood, English Heart" from his 2004 album, You Are the Quarry:
I've been dreaming of a time when
To be English is not to be baneful,
To be standing by the flag, not feeling shameful
Racist or partial
But UK media have associated Morrissey with anti-immigrant sentiment, which lead to him successfully suing one magazine for slander and winning an apology. A lawsuit against music magazine NME continues.
There are a number of recent reads about the English and the English character:
  • The Angry Island: Hunting the English by A.A. Gill (2007) Publisher's Weekly noted: "Rapier-wit social critic Gill wants readers of this provocatively perceptive dissection of English cultural mores to know he was born a Scotsman, thank you very much, and is most definitely not an "enigmatically indecipherable" Englishman. In 16 defiantly abrasive essays, Gill bristles with outrageous originality about cliched topics like England's class system; gardening; British accents; and kindness to animals. Gill's caustic ruminations often veer into over-the-top hyperbole, but these essays, brimming with incendiary certitude, also offer nuggets of truth."
  • The Evil Empire: 101 Ways That England Ruined the World by Steven A. Grasse (2007). A rather odd polemic by an American, pointing his finger at the English. From the publisher's blurb: "They invented slums. They invented child labor. They put Saddam Hussein in power. They burned Joan of Arc at the stake, and they enslaved the globe to get their tea fix. We're talking about England, of course, and the terrible evils they've set loose on the world." Meant as humour (I think) but the reception in the British media has been rather tepid.
  • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox (2004). Kate Fox explained the origin of her popular book of social anthropology: "Really, I don't see why anthropologists feel they have to travel to remote corners of the world and get dysentery and malaria in order to study strange tribal cultures with bizarre beliefs and mysterious customs, when the weirdest, most puzzling tribe of all is right here on our doorstep." - Kate Fox. A delightful exploration of Englishness, including why all the talk about the weather and proper pub etiquette.
  • The English: A Portrait of a People by Jeremy Paxman (2000). From Kirkus: "A deeply serious yet wonderfully lively, witty, and heartfelt study of the Mother Country.Who, really, are the English? At a time when Great Britain seems to be devolving into its constituent parts, it's not an idle question.... Journalist and broadcaster Paxman believes that it is the English--not the Scots, the Welsh, or the Irish--who have lost their own sense of who they are and how they fit into the United Kingdom. ... Paxman searches for the essence of Englishness in history, religion, geography, behavior, speech, and--well, just about anything that throws light on his subject."
  • Anglomania: A European Love Affair by Ian Buruma (1998). From Kirkus: "A breezy history of the political science of England-loving. ... Anglophilia's double appeal to both snobs and liberals propels his diverting tour of England-lovers (Voltaire, Goethe, Herzen, Mazzini, Baron de Coubertin), as well as some unreconciled haters, including Karl Marx and Kaiser Wilhelm. Anglomania's subtext ... is how England's national identity is changing at the century's close. Its approach to serious subject matter under cover of self-deprecating wit and mild eccentricity is ... typically English. As Buruma's colorfully drawn discursion illustrates, there'll always be an England, as long as there are Anglophiles."
Cheers! (more about the English travel subgenre (eg. Mustn't Grumble, pictured above) in a post to come)


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