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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Sad St George's Day on Ealing Broadway

On Sunday morning in front of Tesco's in the shopping precinct in Ealing, a blonde woman behind a lone market stall announces rather timidly, "it's free." Nobody pays any attention. I feel a bit sorry for her and walk over to the stand. "What's free?" I ask not quite believing that the cucumber sandwiches, scones and cream, digestive biscuits, tea and juice are being given away. "All of it," she says. "What would you like?" It's eleven o'clock in the morning and I don't really want anything. "Why is it free?" I ask.
"St George's Day," she replies. "Ealing Broadway are doing it to celebrate St George's Day."

A Jamaican approaches. "I'll have a tea and biscuit." An Indian arrives behind him and takes a sandwich. Then the stall goes quiet again. There are blossoms on the trees but this weekend a freezing east wind has been blowing in, carrying in the smell of manure from pig farms in Germany. This morning, the smell has let up and the sun is out but shoppers scurry past, looking alarmed when the blonde calls out, "it's free. We're giving it away."

Then I notice the hand-painted poster. There's St George and the dragon and someone has written "for England and St George. English high tea - Free" But nobody in the shopping centre cares. There are so many sandwiches on the stand, so many carefully buttered scones - it all looks so forlorn that I take a sandwich.

I walk away feeling exasperated. If Ealing Broadway has decided to celebrate St George's Day then they should do just that- celebrate - not be so timid and embarrassed about the national day. I'm not a fan of patriotism. George Bernard Shaw had it about right when he said "Patriotism is your convinction that your country is the best place on earth because you were born in it." But a bit of Elizabethan exuberance - remember the Elizabethans? - wouldn't hurt on a day like this.

Later in the afternoon I walk down to take a picture but the market stall has folded up and gone. A man dressed as a pantomime St George with a horse's ass tied around his waist is talking to a couple of Sikhs.

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