Friday, 24 April 2009
Dead dragon in Leicester
I determined to cheer the dragon. Isn't there an English tradition of supporting the underdog? (Well, unless the underdog is poor, foreign, an asylum-seeker, a gypsy ...) And when the dragon arrived, the smallest children in the crowd agreed with me.
I was in Leicester Market on St. George's Day. I usually avoid St. George's Day festivities, though I've been known to celebrate 23rd April as Shakespeare's birthday. But when I heard about the Leicester festivities, I decided to take a look.
Leicester is good at festivities. There are lights and events to celebrate Eid, Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah and any other occasion that calls for a bit of a party. Apparently Leicester Market has a tradition of annual draogn-slaughtering but I only found out about it this year, when I overheard a conversation in a cafe and checked on the Council's website.
The battle started shortly after 11. A small crowd has gathered, some with England flags, hats, football shirts and wigs but most simply curious and willing to be entertained. Children from a nursery stood watching curiously in the sunshine. The actor playing St George took the microphone and told us what is known or guessed about St. George, pointing out that he was probably a Roman soldier of Turkish origin. "So he wasn't English," said the actor, "but then, neither am I."
We were instructed to provide suitable sound effects: to wolf-whistle at the maiden, provide the clip-clop sounds of St. George's absent steed, to cheer St. George's successes and boo the dragon. There wasn't much enthusiasm for booing the dragon, whose big eyes and soft green fur made him a target for affectionate cuddles from the children, but when the maiden screamed and the dragon pursued first the maiden and then St. George through the crowd, we all joined in with shouts of "Look behind you!"
Eventually the dragon was conquered and the maiden rescued but, while most of the crowd applauded, the small children had to be reassured that no damage had been done to the dragon in the making of the play. So the dragon sat up, then stood and spent some time shaking hands with worried children as St. George and maiden took their bow.
Then St. George distributed long-stemmed red roses. I bore mine back to the office, leading at least one colleague to assume I'd slipped out for a romantic assignation.