The Spirit LevelSt George’s Day again and the High Street is festooned with flags. We must be proud of our local saint – though as Judith Maltby points out, he probably wasn’t local at all, at least not to England.
Perhaps this excitement is a sign of election fever? There’s certainly been some here; for the first time I can ever recall, a Parliamentary candidate has come to the door – the kind of good old-fashioned politics that makes you proud to be British. Actually, first to call was a canvasser who said ‘I’m looking for Tories: are you one?’ I vacillated but added that since it’s a very close race in High Peak, I’d love to talk about the issues. He responded: ‘I’m a messenger, not a missionary!’ However, he did then bring Andrew Bingham, the Conservative candidate, to the door – and I didn’t even inquire whether the non-dom Lord Ashcroft was funding their campaign.
I forgot to ask whether he agreed with Shelley that ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ – that might have been an opening to ask his views of the current Poet Laureate too. (Should one select an MP on the basis of poetic preferences?) I did however have a question about inequality, prompted by my current reading of Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone. I should have quoted William Blake:
Is this a holy thing to see
In a rich and fruitful land,
Babes reduced to misery
Fed with cold and usurous hand?
There are sharp questions about this in a letter from Rev Dennis Nadin in today’s Guardian: ‘Where is the voice of the poor to be heard in this election?’
And now I see that the same Andrew Bingham can be spotted walking past the famous Café Royston (of League Of Gentlemen fame) in a short video about the constituency by John Harris called Hang Parliament! on the Guardian site. It seems from this that although the Conservatives want us to ‘vote for change’ that doesn’t mean any change to the voting system. Perhaps, as Lord Curzon found out, it will all end in tears?
It’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.
A 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.)
St George stalks the streets – with artificial roses
It is not only phonics that are synthetic these days – even the English rose is artificial. The one you can see here is an example. The English rose is not a reference to the daughter who is wearing it (delightful though she is, of course) but to the flower. Driving through Mottram in Longdendale on Saturday (19 April, so it was not even St George’s Day), we were greeting with the surreal sight of a man dressed as St George (that is, the St George of Daily Express mastheads and comic books) handing out red roses to drivers waiting at the traffic lights. Continue reading “Synthetic St George: is this the end of chivalry?”