Janet Street-Porter: St George: the patron saint of cashing in

Click to follow
The Independent Online

St George's Day was celebrated yesterday in the usual way we mark these events – by linking them inextricably to sport. Instead of bunting, bright red England football shirts were festooned the length of Carnaby Street, and could be won by entering a newspaper competition.

Meanwhile, in my neighbourhood, a couple of white, overweight, middle-aged men lurched down the street wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the flag of St George, clutching cans of beer and singing "Jerusalem". They probably chanted "INGERLUND!" at full volume in the pub during the World Cup and flew our national flag from their white vans for weeks on end – the kind of people who aren't embarrassed to display the plastic bulldog that features in the Churchill insurance adverts on the rear shelf of their motor car.

Another reason why many patriotic citizens weren't keen to follow the Prime Minister and fly the cross of St George from their balconies yesterday was because the date had been hijacked by crafty entrepreneurs. It was simply another chance (like Mother's Day, Father's Day, Halloween and Christmas) to flog us T-shirts, umbrellas and mugs, not to mention plates of roast beef at participating branches of Beefeater Restaurants. For festivity read shoppertunity.

In London, stallholders from Borough Market sold produce – from oysters to cheese – in wet and windy Trafalgar Square, and a floating theatre marked Shakespeare's birthday by sailing down the Thames to the Globe. The promotion of St George is closely linked to the marketing of theme-park England, where visitor targets are the holy grail and tourists' cash a vital contributor to our leisure-based economy.

One of the most attractive characteristics of an Englishman is reticence– a tendency to be self-effacing and non-pushy. That's why there has been a reluctance to mark St George's Day with the kind of drinking, exuberant fancy dress parades, singing and dancing that the Irish and the Scots excel at when their turn comes around.

True, St George is the patron saint of the scouting movement, and hundreds of boys and girls marched in their uniforms in towns around the country last Sunday. But calling for St George's Day to be turned into a public holiday is doomed to failure. Up to 40 per cent of us have no idea how to celebrate it.

English Heritage cleverly exploit the commercial aspect of our past by selling everything from tea towels to seeds to key fobs in their gift shops at historic houses all over the country. I logged on to their online St George's Day guide, hoping for inspiration, but even that turned out to be sponsored by Wells Bombadier Beer. One of the traditional recipes featured fish in beer batter, another was chicken tikka masala. It seemed to be a marketing ploy encouraging us to visit attractions run by English Heritage – after all, that's what they are in business for.

The poem they commissioned from Brian Patten was a bit feeble, waffling on about larks and violets. With our mixed-up weather (sun in March, snow and hail in April), you'll not have seen much of either lately.

Nevertheless, festivities continue this weekend: asparagus will be driven from the Vale of Evesham and served to the St George's group of parliamentarians. There'll be a longbow archery competition in West Yorkshire, and a medieval feast at Lindisfarne Priory in Northumberland. If you don't mind, I plan to give it all a miss.

I'll be planting out my Italian cabbages, my Swiss chard and my leeks from Robinsons of Lancashire. That's what I call an English vegetable garden, a healthy mixture of the traditional and the tasty incomer.

Reality bites, even in fashion

Is there a natural trajectory for fashionable dress designers? Stage One, leave college, have first collection bought by small boutiques, worn by hot new models and featured in Vogue. Stage two, design wedding dresses for pop stars and royalty. Stage three, be deemed worthy of a retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Finally, the need to make a decent living kicks in – even if that means coming up with uniforms for size-18 women flipping burgers in suburbia.

Bruce Oldfield might have dressed Diana, but he's nothing if not adaptable, and this week McDonald's proudly unveiled his new look for their staff. I'm not too keen on that dodgy neckscarf, but the top and skirt are really stylish.

* Cosmetic manufacturers get away with making all sorts of ambiguous claims about expensive creams that they market as being anti-ageing because most of these products contain extremely diluted active ingredients of retinoic acid, for example, in order to avoid side-effects like irritation and dryness. This means that the creams will have a limited effect, but it doesn't stop women paying a fortune in the hope of banishing wrinkles and lifting sagging chins, and as a result the "cosmaceutical" industry is booming.

Boots Protect and Perfect cream enjoyed massive sales after a television programme seemed to prove that it did make a difference to skin, and now scientists are carrying out controlled clinical trials on the cream to evaluate the true picture. It could mean that in future cosmetic companies rely on laboratory testing to validate their claims and market their wares – but don't hold your breath.

Meanwhile, models are using cheap baby wipes to remove make-up and a £2.49 nappy cream, Baby Bottom Butter from Waitrose, is the latest must-have moisturiser.

Comments