Thursday, 23 April 2009

Day of Days

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There are only two hours left of today, and this date (23rd April) is so special in the annals of English history that I want to celebrate.  In 1415, the English were at war with France; a decisive moment was the Battle of Agincourt, not perhaps remembered by the populace at large, until you recall the historic drama of William Skakespeare (Henry V). On the eve of the battle, Henry (in the words of WS) rallies his troops with the immortal battle cry, "God for Harry, England and St George!" 

Emotive language - and so significant today - day of days: for April 23rd is not only St George's Day (patron saint of England - with no disrespect to the Welsh, Scots or Irish) but also the birthday of William Shakespeare, that most gifted of wordsmiths, and that of his death also (born and died on April 23rd; 1564-1616). I recall the time as a teenager when I would memorise whole chunks of Shakespeare plays; and on one magical occasion sat late one night in the moonlight on the steps outside the Royal Shakespeare Theatre by the River Avon contemplating words, words, words. (My parents and brother and sister with me, a whirlwind, drama-besotted 15-year-old,  were driving from Leeds to Cornwall, then a seven hour drive - no motorways - on a camping holiday).

So to celebrate England, so many years later, I recall on this days of days all my love of this beloved land - without an accompanying illustration. I ask all my dear followers to comment on what they regard as being quintissentially 'English'. Once I thought I knew and could easily select words or images. But as a country, as a nation, we have lost our way and have to delve deep and off the beaten track for what once was ' this precious stone, set in a silver sea' - also Shakespeare (Richard II).

Early this morning on the radio I listened to two Shakesperean protagonists discuss some recently discovered portrait of WS which is evidently currently on display at this year's Stratford Literary Festival. Professor Stanley Wells and Sir Roy Strong were a breath of fresh air in the present climate of political doom and gloom; for what does it matter if we know exactly what WS looked like? We have his plays and his sonnets, and they will surely survive no matter what.

18 comments:

  1. I'm not in England but my two grand mothers were from there so how about A cup of tea, the Angel of the North, the FA Cup and London buses?

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  2. I agree with the cup of tea - but very few people know how to make tea properly these days; come join me by the fire, or in the garden, for how it should be; and thanks for all your English images -and your speedy input.

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  3. The Heritage Crafts Association is a wonderful site to support and I'm sure you, if you haven't already looked, would be very interested in the work they are into. Also, Robin Wood has a blog in which he shows the crafts that are being lost.

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  4. Qunitissentially English? Apple trees in full blossom, chips eaten out of paper at the seaside, candy floss, rainy summer days, roses, Chelsea Flower Show, glorious flower borders...

    (And April 23rd is, first and foremost my friend N's birthday!)

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  5. Quintessentially English? How about queueing and complaining about the weather? Being a nation of whingers according to others? Being too slow to praise ourselves or not even finding anything praiseworthy?
    All negatives but there are lots of positives, including afternoon tea, Gertrude Jekyll and English cottage gardens, Wimbledon and strawberries and cream, Devon cream teas, fish and chips and builders tea, red telephone boxes, the WI, country pubs and small hamlets of only a few houses, the sound of leather on willow and cricket matches on village greens, maypoles and Morris Dancers, seaside piers.
    Just found your blog, interesting read, thank you.

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  6. I'm not English so I'm not qualified to comment. However it is a great question and I hope more people answer as the ones so far are interesting. Then Ann, it would be great if you gave us your thoughts and Raymond's. We love the British and England.

    Do you remember any of your memorized Shakespeare? My dad likes to memorize him to keep his mind sharp!

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  7. Well a hard question,that one. I have found it much easier coming to Wales, with a Welsh grandmother, to have a sense of what it is to be Welsh than to explain Englishness. The beauty of the Welsh language helps that hugely and the fact that, although Welsh nationalism can include a miserable, aggressive, resentful Welshness, it is a tiny strand compared to the generous majority and as nothing set against the BNP approach which is trying to hijack Englishness for its own ends. I love pfg's examples and would add self deprecation, tolerance, courtesy as the best of Englishness.

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  8. and the other thing about St George's Day, only not so well known, is that my Grandfather, who I never knew, always planted his beans on this day. I do the same in honour and they always do so well!

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  9. As someone who grew up in Virginia, hearing my parents read to me from classic English children's books, I would offer love of language as deeply English.

    Having been lucky enough to travel to the UK many a time, I would also offer beautiful landscapes, great wit, patience, fantastic tea and cakes, an ability to appreciate the country's great history while trying to go forward. Oh, and wonderful visual art, too!

    Best wishes.

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  10. Its quintissentially English to be able to enjoy a day at the beach or out in the Lake district even though its raining .

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  11. Hello Ann, if you would like to join in with a meme I've tagged you on my blog... come and see!

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  12. Yes, let me see - definitely a cup of tea (properly made!) Wellie boots, queues, "The Vicar of Dibley", toast, and days out at the seaside.

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  13. I would say a good cup of strong afternoon tea (with milk!), and the feeling of many, many years of history and tradition. Definitely, having a well-known and beloved monarchy. Very old, lovely castles and gardens, and a good strong glass of Guinness! (sorry this American sounds SO cliche!).

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  14. When I think of England, I think of tea. Dickens (because I think of A Tale of Two Cities). And The Beatles!

    I went to England once when I was in high school and I fell in love with the idea of teatime. I wish we had it here. The cookies and little sandwiches-yum!

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  15. Thankyou for all these fascinating suggestions as to 'Englishness'. Afternoon tea is certainly a highlight of our day here - properly made (pot heated and water boiling, cups heated as well, fresh whole milk, china cups and saucers). I have to make sure there is home-made cake and sometimes scones with home-made jam. Wouldn't it be lovely to be sharing this?

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  16. P.S. Home-baked bread with marmite or honey also features; and sometimes flapjacks and toffee-crisp when the grandchildren arrive.

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  17. definitely a day to celebrate - thank you for the interesting facts - obviously you get a double whammy with this day!

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  18. I have dual nationality (Irish-British) and have lived in Wales for 19 years so find it hard now to describe what is 'English'. Could describe Welshness more easily.

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