Saturday, 23 April 2011
Happy International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day
We've been spared the usual arguments this year. This is probably due to the fact that St. George's day falls on a Saturday this year, coupled with the lateness of Easter which means it is book-ended by two bank holidays. But I think it is a point that needs consideration; what of England's national day?
Of course the Irish, and pretty much everyone else, celebrate their national day, which also falls in line with a patron saint with great gusto. The Welsh make a show of it on David's day. The Scots seem to be more fussed with Burns Night rather than St. Andrew. I like that, for reasons I shall go into later on.
The French and Americans celebrate the removal of an arrogant and thoughtless monarch, in South America the national days are centred around their independence from Spanish or Portuguese imperial control, in Europe it is independence from Moscow which takes centre stage in the east of the continent.
The Italians celebrate the unification of their country, although I doubt the Liga Nord are quite so enthusiastic. The Greeks celebrate both the day they declared independence from the Ottoman Empire and the day they told the Axis powers to bugger off in 1940 (The Day of the No - now there's an idea).
But what of England?
I'm not fussed about St. George's Day. That isn't to say that I don't think England should have a national day; quite the reverse, I'm just not sure St. George should be it. Firstly, St. George is almost like a default patron saint, with Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Greece, Portugal, Serbia and Russia also claiming him as a patron saint in Europe alone. Secondly, because he was Palestinian, not English. Thirdly because the stories about him are fantastical at best - are we really supposed to believe he killed a dragon? It is a simplistic story about the conversion of a tribe to Christianity, I'm not fussed.
Of course, a simple solution would be to adopt the same day as a national holiday in celebration of a English figure. St. George's Day happens to be the supposed birthday of Shakespeare, it is also his supposed date of death as well (I just hope he got his presents and favourite birthday dinner before he popped his clogs), there is no doubt that Shakespeare as he is commonly thought of is probably the most important English cultural figure of all time. It sits nicely with the Scottish observance of Burns. Here's the controversial bit, I don't actually think Burns is that good a poet, but I like the way a tradition and ceremonies have grown up around the celebration of his work, the whole thing is great fun. He's a very important cultural figure for Scotland, but importantly, Burns Night isn't a holiday. Although I get the impression that many Scots would welcome it as a formal national day in place of St. Andrew's Day, because as with St. George, St. Andrew is not Scottish in the slightest.
I dismiss Shakespeare as the cause for a national day, though. There are too many unanswered questions about the provenance of his work, about him as a person. Too much of it too close to the border of myth for my liking, I think we need something to hang our hats on. With Burns the Scots have that, the English cannot be anywhere as sure with Shakespeare.
We have no indpendence to celebrate, until the EU and despite a brief episode under the house of Anjou, we've been free of imperial domination since the Roman Empire, and then England was some way from coming into being. I'd like to celebrate something that England has done.
November the 5th is a day some people would choose, but the weather in November ain't great, and do we really want to celebrate the torture and death of a Catholic who was prevented from doing away with a corrupt and rotten establishment? I don't.
Many people propose the birthday of Wilberforce or the day we became the first country to outlaw slavery. A fine proposition. Whilst we should be ashamed of our country's role in being one of the leading perpetrators of the slave trade, we should also be fiercely proud that we were the first to outlaw it. It sits very easily with the left, and as a Liberatarian, not celebrating the end of slavery is a bizarre position to take, but it cannot be that, because this was a British policy, not an English one.
Similarly, we cannot as the English alone, celebrate VE day, Trafalgar or Waterloo for these were not purely English triumphs.
Some advocate Agincourt. No doubt an English victory, but it is also a little imperialistic. This was a battle to take the French crown, unlike VE day, it did not mark our survival in the face of a ruthless and evil aggressor or like Waterloo celebrate our part in ensuring the liberty of a whole continent. No, I don't think Agincourt is right.
So, I propose 8th August. We can move the existing August Bank Holiday in England. So on an administrative level, it is easy. It also falls in the month with the best weather, so it should be a day most people can be enjoying the weather. I also remember a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the date when I was younger, with some really cool events.
What happened on the date in question?
The 8th August 1588 was the day the English navy defeated the Spanish Armada. We were not the aggressors. We were standing up the greatest power in the world, determined to impose their belief system upon us, to rule us with a puppet monarch, to force us to accept their way of life. A huge fleet was defeated by a much smaller force, led with flair and skill by Howard and Drake - Drake was an amazing character, not perfect, but he's a cracking story behind him. I remember the 400th anniversary, the re-creation of the beacons, I grew up in a location a couple of miles away from one of the original beacons. Just imagine the parks on a warm August evening, with the beacons blazing away, picnics and fireworks, it would be fantastic.
On 8th August we defended ourselves with honour and came out victorious. We have (until recently) been a naval power since then, and despite credible threats from Bonaparte and Hitler, have never looked like being conquered again. Surely that is better than some Palestinian bloke on a donkey stabbing a crocodile?