Fittingly, his birthday is the same day as St George’s day, as he contributed so much to the richness of the English language – as well as doing his propaganda bit for unity under the Tudors by blackening the name of the last Plantagenet monarch and promoting feelings of English patriotism.
Ah, London. Galleries. Theatres. Ethnic enclaves. Parliament and Big Ben, tourist traps, and carnivals; the Tube; Black taxis and red buses; medieval streets and hideous 1960s brutalist developments. Finest city in the World (if you don’t have to live there!)
the English countryside
The English countryside is gorgeous. Across the Vale of Evesham in the spring, the beauty of the Yorkshire Moors, the Lake District, the Cornish coast, the Severn Valley in autumn, we don’t have towering mountains, glaciers, or rift valleys. The English countryside is varied, but moderate and dependable. Just like English people are.
Even the animals that populate our countryside are the same. You don’t get malaria from our bugs. We have no poisonous spiders, and no large animals which can eat you. Our single venomous snake – the Adder – is only as nasty as a wasp sting (and I’ve never seen one, ever).
The Beatles, Stones, Sex Pistols and The Clash
For a small country, we’ve produced a lot of world-changing music. We rock. Nothing more to say.
They’re chocolate box-perfect English towns. They’re a bugger to live in, as you can’t put a nail in the wall without someone from the local Council making sure you’re not damaging the character of the area, but they’re damn gorgeous. There are houses in Henley that are older than many countries.
Pubs and proper beer
Pubs – not bars. They don’t need to be all thatched roof or horsebrasses. They don’t need to be picturesque, but do need to be authentic rather than brewery-mandated “English Pub Experience”. They need a sense of community, a character behind the bar, some grumpy regular drinkers, proper beer and probably a resident dog.
People think English food is just fish and chips or curry – and there’s nothing wrong with either of those. But real English food can’t be beaten, and is rarely encountered by visitors. Take great cuts of meat, fresh vegetables like parsnips, sprouts, roast them all and lightly season, serve with a rich gravy and a pint of proper beer and you’ve got the best Sunday family meal in the world.
World War 2
We English bang on about the war a bit, it’s true – but it’s because it’s deeply embedded in our psyche. OK, it was sixty years ago, but the reason it stays there is because, for a couple of years until the yanks could be arsed to help out, England and our Gaelic cousins Scotland, Ireland, Wales stood alone: we mobilised our entire workforce, turned civilian factories to making armaments, ploughed up parks to grow food on, and tore down metal railings as raw material to make guns.
We evacuated our children, split up our families and sacrificed our men, while the rest of the world sat on their hands or laid down their arms, because fascism so repelled us. And why shouldn’t we be proud of that?
Jan 2 2007: It’s been pointed out to me that I may not know my history, and the UK may not have stood alone in quite the way I wrote. So don’t listen to what I say…
The National Health Service
I’m always astonished when I read that in other, allegedly civilised countries, health care is based on ability to pay. God knows, our NHS isn’t perfect, but get this: if you fall sick in the UK you will get treatment of the highest possible quality that the NHS can provide, free at the point of delivery, regardless of whether you’re a millionaire or a vagrant. Now that’s a civilised idea.
Jane Austen and George Orwell
Both used the English language perfectly to celebrate and satirise the England that they loved. Orwell, in particular, is a hero of mine with his fierce promotion of clarity of language, his love of fairness and his defence of the weak. I reckon he should be the eponymous St George today.
I’ve a mix of Scottish and English extraction with a dash of Italian too. My wife is a naturalised Brit, from Thailand, so my kids are utter mongrels, which is itself quintessentially English. Everybody is mixed race here.
We live next door to Naz, a British-born muslim of Pakistani background, and our other neighbours are the Murphys, of Irish descent. Across the road are the Singhs and the Cohens and the Smiths. It’s a crappy grubby urban English proper street, full of proper English people.
Hurray for England. Have a good St George’s day.