Today, 23rd April 2010, is, as I’m sure you’re aware, Saint George’s day. Now I’ve always felt that it has never really been in the nature of the English or by extension, the British, to wave flags and do the public patriotism thing. It’s just not our way – traditionally, we Brits have generally been an understated bunch. In recent years, it seems there’s a movement toward a more public celebration of nationality and Englishness, which I welcome. It’s good to see Saint George reclaimed from the extremists and those that strive to divide, and placed securely back in the hands of the ordinary people.
What readers may not realise is that the day following, Saturday 24th April 2010, is the 78th anniversary of the Mass Trespass on Kinder Scout, in Derbyshire’s Peak District. This momentous event – little mentioned outside the circles of ramblers and lovers of the great British outdoors – was a catalyst and key trigger to giving the ordinary British citizen access to the common wealth of countryside we all share. For that which we now have a legal right to explore and enjoy, back in 1932, those pioneers were assaulted and later jailed for nothing more than wanting to share the best that their country had to offer, with those who saw the landscape as their own private playground. To those trespassers – and the subsequent millions of walkers, artists, cyclists, twitchers, fell runners, photographers, geocachers, botanists and all-round enthusiasts for our unique land who have marvelled at the wonders of the country around them – you are the spirit of England and the United Kingdom.
My feelings about England and all that Saint George stuff have been wonderfully summed up by a song I first heard on the ‘A Quiet Eye’ album by June Tabor. Written by Maggie Holland, June does an excellent job of covering this song, full of incisive, but affectionate sentiment about our shared heritage. It’s not the first time I’ve dipped into the work of June Tabor for a blog post, nor indeed this album. If you like it, please do hunt it down.
Remember that many of the rights we take for granted today were obtained through the selfless sacrifice of others. Beware of anybody who clings to the national flag and preaches division. We’ve always seen the best of times when we stand together. I think Maggie Holland summed it up in the line, ‘England is not flag or Empire, it is not money it is not blood. It’s limestone gorge and granite fell, It’s Wealden clay and Severn mud.’
Best wishes to all, and happy Saint George’s day.
(Sadly, June Tabor’s version is no longer available on youtube, but this version – by Simon Jackson – joyous)
I rode out on a bright May morning Like a hero in a song Looking for a place called England Trying to find where I belong Couldn’t find the old flood meadow Or the house that I once knew No trace of the little river Or the garden where I grew
I saw town and I saw country Motorway and sink estate Rich man in his rolling acres Poor man still outside the gate Retail park and burger kingdom Prairie field and factory farm Run by men who think that England’s Only a place to park their car
But as the train pulled from the station Through the wastelands of despair From the corner of my eye A brightness filled the filthy air Someone’s grown a patch of sunflowers Though the soil is sooty black Marigolds and a few tomatoes Right beside the railway track
Down behind the terraced houses In between the concrete towers Compost heaps and scarlet runners Secret gardens full of flowers Meeta grows her scented roses Right beneath the big jet’s path They bid a fortune for her garden Eileen turns away and laughs
So rise up George and wake up Arthur Time to rouse out from your sleep Deck the horse in the sea-green ribbons Drag the old sword from the deep Hold the line for Dave and Daniel As they tunnel through the clay While the oak in all its glory Soaks up sun for one more day
And come all you at home with freedom Whatever the land that gave you birth There’s room for you both root and branch As long as you love the English earth Room for vole and room for orchid Room for all to grow and thrive Just less room for the fat landowner On his arse in his four-wheel drive
England is not flag or Empire It is not money it is not blood It’s limestone gorge and granite fell It’s Wealden clay and Severn mud It’s blackbird singing from the may-tree Lark ascending through the scales Robin watching from your spade And English earth beneath your nails
So here’s two cheers for a place called England Sore abused but not yet dead A Mr. Harding sort of England Hanging in there by a thread Here’s two cheers for the crazy Diggers Now their hour shall come around We can plant the seed they saved us Common wealth and common ground