EH YUP ME DUCK. That is Leicester-speak meaning "good day"or "how are you"?
Leicester is the tenth largest city in the UK. Although it was one of the country's oldest cities, it has lost much of its stature. When I told a colleague that I lived in Leicester, she smiled and said. "Oh yes, I've been to Leicester in London." She was thinking of Leicester Square!
During Roman times, about 1,800 years ago, it was known as Ratae Corieltauvorum. Our row of terrace houses was built along the old Roman road - Via Devana - that connected Chester in the north to Colchester in the southeast via Leicester. And the spouse is very proud of his discovery of a 272 AD Roman coin while walking along New Walk some years ago.
People do make fun of Leicester (nicknamed Leccy/Lesta) and that includes Leicesterians especially. Leicester makes a big effort to promote its credentials - like the Roman Jewry Hall, Melton Mowbray's pork pies, stilton cheese, the National Space Centre and the Leicester Comedy Festival. It's hard work because uncomplimentary perceptions of poor old Leicester persist.
Here are some examples, from the website "Nowhere", quoted verbatim except for my remarks in bold letters in brackets.
1. Leicester isn't famous for anything ..... it's a good all round city but it lacks an overall image. Nottingham has Robin Hood, Sheffield has steel ...... in the 60s a lot of historic buildings and features were ripped out and replaced by ubiquitious concrete office buildings.
2. There's rubbish everywhere. Chewing gum splats all over the pavements. Buses that don't run on time. Bad tempered bus drivers. The foul-mouthed language of the locals ( both natives and Asians. As for the East European newcomers, they don't speak English!). The dog mess on the pavement. The cars parked on the pavements, ..... The cars with stereos pounding out.
3. Too many trendy cafes. The flipping repeating panpipes CD playing in the shires (Leicester's main shopping Mall). Dustcarts and men standing in the street - always doing bugger all but giving people dirty looks.
4. If you're a tourist sort of person the Cathedral is nice and so are all the statues about Richard III who spent a night in Leicester before getting his butt kicked at Bosworth (the locals are pretty proud of that for some reason).
Well, three cheers for Leicester! On 4 February this adopted city of mine ( been here for 29 years) , finally hit the world's headlines when it was confirmed that the 500 year old skeleton excavated at Greyfriars Carpark in the City Centre was that of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England. At last, the locals of Leicester have got something to be proud of. And of course it will be a Tourism Honeypot - like Stonehenge and Buckingham Palace.
|The Blue X marks the spot of the excavation. The Market in the centre is my 'Wet Market" and the blue spot marked CHIPS is my chip stop whenever I do my marketing, about 2-3 times a week.|
|Every Lestarian's meeting place, just north of my Chip stop|
|The 600 year old Guildhall is one of the best preserved timber-framed hall in the country, just next door to the cathedral where Richard III 's remains will be buried.|
I won't bore you with the details of the discovery. Loads of stuff relating to the find will be on the internet. But I shall attempt a brief summary of the historical context. Richard III ruled England for two years (1483-1485) before he lost his throne and his life (aged just 33) in the 1485 battle of Bosworth, located to the southwest of Leicester. His enemies then strapped his naked body on to a horse and it was dragged to Leicester. His corpse was mutilated with multiple wounds and was finally thrown into a coffinless grave in the church of the Greyfriars.
His death marked the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty with rulers like Henry VIII ( the one with 8 wives, who dissolved England's connection with the Catholic Church, so that he could divorce his Spanish wife and marry his then paramour, which he later beheaded to marry another filly .... and so on and so forth). He was the father of that famous Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen. After the Tudors came the Stuarts (from 1603) followed by the present Windsor Dynasty. Interestingly, the name Windsor was a makeover of the original German name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Understandably this German name had to be anglicised during World War I when Britain was fighting the Germans. Also, the family of the Imperial Queen Victoria and Empress of India (1819-1901)- like some immigrants in this country, did not speak English at home. They spoke German.
As for King Richard III, he is the only British Monarch with a Fan Club, the Richard III Society or the Ricardians - spread out all over the world. They were determined to search for Richard's remains, to prove that he was not the much maligned hunchback King portrayed in Shakespeare's Richard III, that he did not murder the rightful heir to the throne - his two nephews - that he was a brave warrior King and to give him a decent burial befitting a Monarch of England.
All the modern scientific tools of archaeology, osteology, carbon dating, DNA testing and craniofacial identification were utilised to prove this skeleton was indeed Richard III.
|The skeleton in the grave. Note the curved spine and the hands tied together.|
|Portrait of Richard III|
|The skull of Richard III|
|The reconstructed face of Richard III|
There were all sorts of jokes floating in cyber space about this discovery in the car park. This is my favourite. As it costs GBP 18.50 per day to park at Greyfriars Car Park, Richard III owes Leicester City Council GBP 3,564,006.50 in parking fees over the period of 192,649 days!
But at the end of the day, after the big Jamboree at Leicester University over Richard III, one cannot avoid other contexts of other histories. There's this one, for example:
India's struggle for Independence from Britain did not begin with Mahatma Gandhi or the Congress Party. It started with what the British cynically described as "The Indian Mutiny" of 1857 when both Muslims and Hindus rebelled to bring down their imperial masters. History of course was on the side of the victors, turning the British into suffering, courageous victims - not unlike the heroic Israelis and the 'murderous' Palestinians in present times.
Many Indians were killed as well but one man, Bahadur Shah II, a descendant of the Mughal Emperors of India, who was chosen by the rebels as their nominal leader, was convicted and exiled in Rangoon where he died in November 1862.
|A photograph of the last Mughal King of India, Bahadur Shah II (1775-1862), just before he was exiled to Rangoon.|
To make sure this emperor will be forgotten and his tomb does not become a focus for future rebellions, the British buried him in an unmarked grave - at the back of the compound where he was imprisoned - and scattered quicklime over him so that the body would quickly decay.
An almost similar situation occurred in Perak when the British Resident Birch was assassinated by Dato Maharaja Lela in 1875. The latter was sentenced to death by hanging. Sultan Abdullah and his courtiers were exiled to the Seychelles to remove a rallying point for another anti-colonialist rebellion. A more amenable royal was put on the throne by the British.
With Singapore, British manipulation re-configurated the lineage of Singapore's and Johore's monarchy so that they could claim the island as their property. Hard core anti-monarchists could scoff at the relevance of Sultans and Rajas in the history of Singapore and the Malay Peninsula and dismiss it all as insignificant tribal squabbles. The story of Maharajas, Emperors and Empress Dowagers are given due recognition and standing in the history of China and India. Likewise, the roles of the Singapore and Johor Sultans cannot be sidelined or discarded into the bins of history. Kampung Glam, Teluk Blangah, Bukit Larangan, even the posh Tyersall Park bear witness to this veiled history.
The British are masters of destroying, inventing and re-scripting history to suit their political ends. What they did to their kind would be applied with a vengeance to others not of their ilk. When Richard III's skeleton was discovered 500 years later in an unmarked grave it was not a one-off situation. Henry VIII destroyed the Abbey where Alfred the Great (849-899) was buried and left his grave to be vandalized. In 1660 the 'supporters' of the Stuart King Charles II, exhumed the body of the anti-monarchist Oliver Cromwell ( who ruled England as the Lord Protector from 1653-1658) and he was hung, beheaded and then dumped into a pit.
Today people tend to venerate UK as the fount of liberal democracy, a political system that maintains but keeps its Monarchy and the aristocrats under control. Do not be deceived by this very English diffidence and indifference to their Kings and Queens. They are as embroiled and regardful of their tribal leaders and tribal history as any others in the non-Judaeo Christian cultures.
Witness the Jamboree surrounding the unearthing of their last Plantagenet King Richard III in Leicester's Parking Lot.