St George lived in Libya, 1700 years ago. The locals had run out of sheep to feed to the local dragon and had started substituting virgins into the monster's daily diet. The shining figure of St George rode into town, slew the dragon, rescued the doomed maiden, converted the locals and rode off again. You can tell George wasn't English. The flabby figures of Englishmen now fly into the Mediterranean, drink from flagons, shag the local maidens, piss off the locals and fly out again with sunburn a fortnight later. It's therefore a mystery how brave, courageous St George ever got to be the patron saint of England. Certainly his personality has had little impact on the national character.
There are a numberofcampaigns to make St George's Day a public holiday in England. It seems only fair, given that we have a pathetic number of bank holidays in this country. We have only eight a year, compared to the European Union average of 10.8. Those Italians take 12 public holidays off a year, while Spain and Portugal each grab a mammoth 14. It seems that some Latin countries will take the day off at the drop of a hat, for any old saint who maybe one thousand years ago helped a sheep across a river or something feeble like that.
Surely an additional day off would be warmly welcomed by the British public, and also by companies keen to see their employees return to work refreshed and revived after 24 hours of rest, recuperation and heavy drinking. The extra day for the Queen's Golden Jubilee went down particularly well last year, and the bonus holiday for the Millennium in 1999 was another roaring success. A St George's Day bank holiday would give the English a regular extra day off each year to, erm, wear roses, watch morris-dancing and increase the size of their beer bellies. But, despite all the campaigning, it hasn't happened. And there's a very good reason why not.
We've had a lot of bank holidays recently. A quarter of British bank holidays occur either side of the Easter weekend, and another quarter occur in May. This year we get barely a fortnight after Easter before we're all being turfed out of work again for the May Day holiday. In 2011 we'll actually get days off on consecutive Mondays. The last thing we need is another bank holiday for St George on April 23rd, slap bang in the middle of all this enforced laziness. UK bank holidays are appallingly spaced, with only one day off during the entire six months from June to November. Americans very sensibly fit five public holidays into that time, and five into the other half of the year.
How much better it would have been if the English had picked a different patron saint, one whose saint's day was positioned in one of the long holiday-free gaps. St Ethelburga, perhaps (July 7), an incorrupt English nun from the mid 7th centrury, or maybe St Crispin (October 25th), an obscure Roman missionary and martyr. In fact St Crispin would make the perfect patron saint for England and the English. Not only was the entire French army crushed at the legendary battle of Agincourt fought on St Crispin's day(Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.” Henry V, Act 4 scene iii), but St Crispin is also the patron saint of cobblers. Spot on, I reckon.
In the meantime, let's just celebrate St George's Day as best as we can. Patriotism without prejudice perhaps. England's World Cup run last year pretty much reclaimed the cross of St George from its previous thuggish hooligan image, meaning it's now possible to drape one in your window without looking like a rabid BNP supporter. So, let's Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' (Henry V, Act 3 scene i). Hmmm, with all these stirring quotations, it's sounds as if William Shakespeare's birthday would be an even better day for an English bank holiday. Except, bugger, that's today too...