Thursday, 7 February 2013

The King in the Parking Lot

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.


Anonymous said...

wow! what a wonderful piece of writing, well researched and presented. i've been following your blog for quite sometime but this post beget a respond from me. congratulations.

- Hantu Siber -

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Hantu Siber,

I'm chuffed! - in Leicester-speak it means I'm delighted. Thank you.

I've always been interested in Leicester's Roman past. When you live in a country for this long, you should make an effort to learn more about "dimana bumi di-pijak" - a lesson for all immigrants!

Anonymous said...

Dear AsH... Salam perkenalan from just one of your many many followers and a very belated tabik spring and many thanks to you for all those engaging and informative writings e.g this Leicester piece, the Palestine one and other informative jottings which you must have obviously put a lot of effort anfd thought in...and generously
sharing with your appreciative followers. I have been enjoying and sharing with my
equally enthralled daughter, AsK(Anak
siKadir..hihihi..). I look forward to more! Bila lama tak ada posting rasa missing something my morning coffee tak cukup kick for the day...
- salam takzim from a friend of sumijah's :)

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Kadir,

Firstly thank you for your comment. I'm not a morning person and you really kick-start me into having a great day on this grey and damp Sunday morning.

A letter like yours assures me that I'm doing something right.

Maybe one day AsK will start writing about her old man and I could learn a thing or two.

As they say out here, I'm gobsmacked to learn you are a friend of my dear old friend Sumijah. I have completely lost touch with her. Could you please convey my love to her and could she or her eldest son 'Am contact me on this blog. I shall of course keep such information private.

Once again Kadir, know that you and Hantu Siber have given this LOL (Loopy Old Lady) a lot more gusto to carry on writing. When I have my morning fix of a cup of coffee, I shall remember you, a friend of my dear friend Sumijah.

Salam and thank you once again.

MAsK said...

Dear AsH,
Am delighted to get a reply! Now my morning coffee fix tastes even better! By the way, I am actually Mr Kadir's other half...our daughter being AsK and maybe you might refer to me as MAsK(Mak Anak si Kadir!)..yep..MAsK seems just about right to call me right now! Ha gleefully enjoying this!
As for our dear mutual friend Sumijah, it was from a group photo you posted quite a while back that I noticed her. Had meant to contact you earlier but then of course, ever the procrastinator that I am, it had to take Richard lll to get me started!
I myself have not been in contact with Sumijah since we left Brunei a decade ago..only kirim2 salaam bila2 ada siapa2 ke sana. But insyaAllah now with the significant other about to be based back on Borneo island (Sibu), I do intend to visit her. In the meantime rest assured I have already started to send out my feelers and let her know you are reaching out too.
I shall also get AsK to help me find a way to write to you directly. I do not have a blog of my own by the way. I enjoy reading enlightening ones like yours which I found via kak teh (who has sadly not posted for a while)
and then wondering why I myself have not taken the leap in embracing this platform that you have made a remarkable mark in.
Thank you so much
Salam from MAsK

anak si-hamid said...

My dear dear Mother of AsK,

I do apologise, most profusely for my stupid assumption that the comment was made by your other half.

Thank you for any attempts you will make to link me with Sumijah -it will be much appreciated.

To enable a direct contact you can send me an e-mail via the blog and I shall delete it as soon it has been noted.

My next theme will have to be Brunei - you have reminded me about that span of my life.