April seemed to be rooted in winter, but at last the cold has given way and daffodils are blooming.
It’s impossible to see the golden displays without that poem – you know the one – popping into your head. “I wander’d lonely as a cloud . . .”
William Wordsworth’s Daffodils is often mocked, which is a pity. His aim was to describe the everyday so that its supernatural splendour shone through: the fluttering crowd of daffodils became a vision of the motion that unites the universe, from the stars to the rippling lake.
The flowers that inspired the poet are different to the ones in our gardens. Wordsworth and his sister were in the Lake District, walking in the Ullswater valley, where they came across wild daffodils.
Smaller than our garden hybrids, the wild one, narcissus pseudonarcissus, is considered by many to be more beautiful. It’s not a native, though it has been here since Roman times. Wild daffodils are coming out now in Harwood Dale, Arncliffe Woods, and alongside the river on Farndale’s famous Daffodil trail.
England has no official national day, patron saints are out of fashion –St George certainly has his work cut out. In recent years the revival of his day has faltered, though events large and small are planned for April 23.
George’s flag, a red cross on a white background, forms part of the Union Flag. Yet it’s a familiar sight on its own as the countries of the flag re-assert their identities. The uniting of England and Scotland in 1603 meant a new flag was needed. The solution was to use St Andrew’s white saltire on blue as the background, with the red cross of St George applied over the top. The result was revealed in 1606.
England and Scotland were certainly united in one respect: everyone hated the new design. Finally it was agreed that each country would fly their old flag on land, while the Union Flag was used at sea. The flag as we know it was completed in 1801 by adding St Patrick’s red saltire.
Today the flags of St George and St Andrew recall the old discord. If the planned vote on Scottish independence goes in favour and the union is dissolved, what fate could await our red-white-and-blue?
Everyone calls it the Union Jack, though that’s not its proper name. This dates back to the time of Charles II when navy ships flew the Union Flag as a “jack”, the name for a small flag flown at the bowsprit.
Whatever we call it, it’s best to get it the right way up. At the side nearest the pole the broader white diagonal goes on top. Flying it upside down won’t help if you’re in trouble, because this is not a recognised distress signal.
But are we entitled to fly it at all? The strict heraldic view is no, but everyone has the right by long established custom.
So we can fly our flags for St George. On the weekend of April 20 and 21, English Heritage has a Family Fun Trail at Clifford’s Tower, York. But if you want to hear about dragon slaying from the man himself, you’ll have to trek to Conisbrough Castle near Doncaster.
Picture caption: Inspiring –wild daffodils in their woodland habitat