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The St George's Day Diet: patriotism on a plate

Friday 22 April 2003

On St George's Day – the patron saint's day that time forgot – our countryside commentator John Sheard raises the flag, a glass and a knife and fork to toast the English farmer.

IF YOU are reading this today, Friday, April 23, you may not realise that it is St George's Day, the patron saint’s day that we English – unlike out Scots, Welsh and Irish cousins – have virtually forgotten.

If you fall into this legion of the forgetful, you are forgiven because the results of a survey published earlier in the week showed that only 18% of Englishmen and 25% of English women actually know when their patron saint’s day is.

The survey was paid for by the Country Land and Business Association and they coughed up the cash for hard business reasons as well as a welcome dash of patriotism (see News).

Patriotism on a Plate

For the CLA want us all to eat English produced food today to give our farmers and growers a bit of a boost in times of radical change in the countryside. They want the Government to raise the red crossed flag by ordering all schools, hospitals and armed services installations to serve locally produced food too.

Other news this week added a shrill note of emergency to this ploy. Last weekend, the Soil Association, arbiters of our organic food industry, complained that some supermarket chains imported up to 80% of their organic produce from abroad.

And on Wednesday, Tesco, the biggest of them all, announced record profits of £1.6 billion – much of which is used to open new stores to put even more shopkeepers in small market towns and villages out of business.

Now I am rather fond of saints' days. Any excuse for a celebration is a good thing, and I have spent St Patrick's Days in both Dublin and New York. I have been in France on Bastille Day, too, and at none of these ceremonies are Englishmen truly welcome.

Because we have no Independence Days nor revolutions to celebrate, we are left more or less with Bonfire Night. And now that the do-gooders have made fireworks virtually illegal, that has become much of a damp squib at the truly worst time of the year: Can any out there remember a November 5th when it didn’t rain?

So let’s raise the flag for St George and if we can put a bit of brass into Dales’ farmers’ pockets, so much the better. Sadly for the family Sheard, however, today is a Friday and that raises other problems of tradition.

You see, although my family is common or garden C of E, I was brought up by a strict grandmother who, Low Church though she was, insisted on fish on Fridays. As my wife and I love fish, and have brought up our children to do the same, this is no problem and you can buy Dales-bred fish from the famous trout farm at Kilnsey.

However, today we are going one better because I recently gained access to a stretch of the River Aire between Gargrave and Skipton and in our freezer is a plump pound and a half trout I caught on fly last week.

Just how this puts money into local pockets is a bit roundabout. The angling association I joined pays the farmers near the river for access and coughed up a fair few bob for the fishing rights; I bought the flies and other tackle I used locally and I did call in that the pub for a celebratory pint (just one, sadly) afterwards.

We will eat it with some spinach I have grown under cloches in my allotment over winter and although the veg might seem free, I spend a small fortune at the Twin Locks Garden Centre at Gargrave over a year’s gardening.

And although I have yet to find any Dales-grown wine, we shall have it with a very dry cider from down Somerset way – which puts some cash in another part of rural England which has suffered hard times of late.

And in a week when it seems we will finally get our chance in a referendum to thank French farmers for ripping us off these past 30 years, we shall raise a glass for England and St George.

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