Cry, God for Harry, England, and Saint Bede?

Shakespeare and our other saints

1599: A Year in the Life of William ShakespeareIt’s St George’s Day again. Last year I was startled to be presented with a synthetic rose (made in China) on behalf of Tameside Council to celebrate England’s patron saint. Today in The Guardian, Ian McMillan reminds us that April 23rd is a deadly day for poets, marking as it does the deaths of not only Shakespeare but also Wordsworth, Cervantes, Vaughan, Brooke and others. He’s staying in today, just in case.

Alice in SunderlandA more cheerful celebration might be to read James Shapiro’s fascinating account in 1599 of the year the Globe was built, Shakespeare completed Henry V, Julius Caesar and As You Like It and drafted Hamlet. Those who are rather troubled by the pushy patriotism of today’s flag wavers should enjoy the reflection by Michael Goldfarb on last night’s Night Waves (BBC Radio 3), in which he points out just how many other countries claim St George (he was Turkish, for a start). For a more appropriate patron saint, he suggests Bede, who died on 26 May 735 – though his feast day, confusingly, is May 25. Sometimes it takes an outsider such as the American Goldfarb, to remind us of the oddities of our customs. (His short contribution isn’t listed on the Night Waves page but starts about 38 minutes into the programme.)

For a quick and colourful account of Bede and much else, take a look at Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot, which featured in an earlier post.

Alice in Sunderland: or, I stole my wife’s birthday present

As Alice herself said, ‘what is the use of a book without pictures?’

Alice in Sunderland
Yes, I have to confess that for once I read the book before she has. And it was the one our dear boy bought his mother for her birthday! Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot is sub-titled ‘an Entertainment’, and it certainly is. As Alice herself said, ‘what is the use of a book without pictures?’ This book consists entirely of pictures – with accompanying words, of course. And what a terrific range of styles he uses! The epigraph quotes some fine chap called Edmund Miller: ‘Reality is not enough; we need nonsense too.’ Quite right, of course.

So if you want to find out about the history of the Sunderland Empire (no, it’s not like the British Empire – it’s more fun, even if 191 children did die there in a tragic accident in 1883), the origins of ‘Mackem’ (and why they hate the Geordies), and what it all has to do with Lewis Carroll, get hold of a copy of this book and find out for yourself. There are even pages by Hogarth and Leo Baxendale, creator of the Bash Street Kids. The title is so good it must have been used before, I thought – and it has, as the book tells us, in 1965 by the Shadows.

You don’t have to have Sunderland connections to enjoy this book, though of course it helps, nor do you need to be a Carroll enthusiast. But don’t just take my word for it – see the review in The Observer, where it’s described as ‘one of the most exhilarating books I’ve read in years…. a minor masterpiece’. Then add your own comments right here!