City 21: Leicester


Space...the Final Frontier!!! The National Space Centre in Leicester.

Space...the Final Frontier!!! The National Space Centre in Leicester.


It’s 28-mile drive from Lichfield to Leicester. En route I pick up Steven Darlaston, an old rugby buddy from his home in Tamworth. It’s 8.45 on the 28th of December. 2018 is taking its final few labored breathes, prior to expiry. I have refuelled in Fazeley, by the wood yard, prior to pickup so we can just motor. The streets are deserted so we make quick progress along the A5. On into Leicester we roll, the home town of Richard Attenborough no less. And of Joe Orton, my favourite dramatist, murdered by his lover Kenneth Halliwell with a claw hammer. After which Kenneth took 22 Nembutal. Hit on the head countless times, Joe’s brains were splattered all over the walls and ceiling. Oh well. No worse than listening to American TV advertising I guess or Nigel Farrage.

Come on the Machine!

Rolling up to Point 1, Tescos, just off New Park Street, we take our first snaps and I nip in to use the facilities. Darly has brought his old rugby top to show me. It has his number, Number 15 emblazoned on the back. He was the Full back and the smallest guy on any pitch. By his own admission he could never kick a ball but he could catch and run and he was undaunted by the size or the number of the opposition bearing down on him

Love, Peace and Harmony?

Heading south down the A5460, past the Devil’s own Tattoo and Body Piercing Studios, and then west down the Hinckley Road, Point 2, we get our first taste of what you might call the authentic Leicester. The city is a smorgasboard of multi-cultural delights. It’s like doing the World Travel Market on acid. I really dig the range of colours on offer here whilst barreling down the streets. Some people only like a bit of red, white and blue, but that ain’t me. Anyway, each to his own and live and let die, eh, eh? Every culture seems represented here, be it Lithuanian, Somalian, Pakistani or Russian and it seems to hang together nicely. The 2011 census claimed that Leicester is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the UK and the evidence is all around us. Its like a real life social experiment. Can people live together in peace and harmony, united under a single flag, whilst honouring the countries and cultures that brought them into the world? Answers on a postcard. BNP members need not apply.

Splitting Hairs

The Hinckley road, as it unspools, is largely devoid of people but there is a dark blue, security van parked on double yellow lines and a palpable sense of paranoia about the behelmetted guard as he nips in and out of a windowless doorway, clutching a bag of swag. After delivery, the van speeds off and we are left looking around for inspiration and finding it, in the local Gent’s Hair Dresser, the Nix Hair Lounge, Point 3. Whilst not for the follically challenged, like Steve and I, it is a site of outstanding natural interest, due to the decor and the clientele who are by turns shifty, intimidating and colourful.

Listening Ear or BT Engineer

Listening Ear or BT Engineer


Cutting down Fosse Road South, we leave the delights of the Hinckley Road behind us, slice left onto Westcotes Drive, over the Narborough and onto Briton Street.  It’s a patchwork grid of streets reminiscent of where my Grandmother used to live in Alum Rock. The terraced houses, back in Brum, have become terraced exhibits owned, maintained and run by the National Trust for both educational purposes and for profit. Lest we forget even charities are businesses. A steeplejack is up a lamppost, possibly fixing a faulty wire, possibly spying for the Home Office or the Fuzz. This is Point 4.

Strength and the Lion

Walking on we find the sky emptying of colour and interest. The red brick houses and the lurid green of those shutters provide a little colour relief, as welcome as a sugar or a caffeine hit. Everywhere there are double yellow lines and why? Because the Council can. On a street corner, Point 5, Darly poses for the camera leaning up against a 20’s plenty sign. Boy doesn’t know his own strength.

The Bulldog's Balls

Over a footbridge we pad, into the Tarragon Road and from thence into Point 6, Bede Park, no doubt named for the Venerable Bede, 7th and 8th Century monk, writer and historian. In the 1990s the park and its surrounding was subjected to urban regeneration with questionable success. Here local streets are named after herbs and spices… eg. Sage Road, Thyme Street, Mint Road and in light of all the (possible) local drug activity this seems strangely apposite. We round the park like Kenneth Williams rounded the Horn, with false bravado and a little light innuendo. Avoiding the beer swilling purveyors of pills and pushers of powder Steve and I reminisce about drunken kickings and the treachery of so-called friends, in deserting us in our hour of need.

In the centre of the park the pusher’s bulldog takes a dump and I recall the scene in Trainspotting where Sick Boy and Renton are out with their air rifle in a local park looking for recreational opportunities whilst they come offa the skag. Rents shoots the dog in the balls and the agonised animal subsequently attacks its skinheaded owner, to much cruel laughter by the sadistic junkies. The Park and the surrounding Estate do not belong to us. We are simply passing through here.

Question. On the High Rise Estate what’s at the back of your mind?…. Safety. I answer

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Swan Ballet

At the eastern end of Bede park we hang a left and walk the Western Boulevard Northwards, then cross the Newarke over the River Soar, Point 7. The Leicester canal, an Off shoot of the River Soar winds round Bede Park on the Western Side, just to the east of the city centre. The Leicester canal as it rolls through the town centre is festooned with swans. Semi-derelict warehouses and mills can be found along the canal’s reach but it is these beautiful birds that catch and hold the eye.

A Horse, A Horse

Over the Mill Lane Bridge, we amble, up past De Montfort University where I last saw the Pogues with my brother and his friend Jock. This would have been in 1990 just before they kicked Shane MacGowan out. Up through the Castel gardens and out onto castle street. From there it’s a short hop, skip and a jump to Point 8, the King Richard III Visitor centre. Just to the Northwest, across the St Martins thoroughfare, is a statue of Richard clutching his crown and nearby a fascinating if perplexing tourist attraction called Escape Asylum, an interactive role play game requiring team work and puzzle solving skills.

But we are here to look at Richard, who famously cried, 'A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse', in that Shakespearean pamphlet of Tudor propaganda, so loathed and contested by the R3 Society. The museum is located on the site of a former school, a stunning Relic of Victorian Gothic, itself built on the former site of Greyfriars Church, in the heart of Leicester’s old town. Empty since 2008, it found its latter day role in August 2012 when a skeleton with battle wounds and a curved spine was confirmed as the dead King.

Of course the Cockerknees wanted his royal lowness for themselves and rapidly cleared a space in Westminster Abbey but the Leicesterians, scenting cash, and lots of it, said 'no' reinterring Richard in Leicester Cathedral just 100 steps away from the visitor centre. It's about £9 to go in and  well worth it. I can tell that, just by looking at the website. Just not today. 

Going to the National....Space Centre

No, my hard earned cash is saved for Point 9, the National Space Centre. As curfew is at hand and our two hour car parking at Tesco is set to expire we get back in the motor and speed down Exploration Drive to that High Rise Beacon of Hope that is the NSC. It cost oodles of cash but was worth every blue cent providing the City with an horizon to the future, not just the past. £3 to park and £15 to get in. Not unhappy about that. You pay £50+ to visit Alton Towers these days and after Galactica with its VR Roller Coaster Experience the rest is just stained pants. The NSC has loads of exhibits and info about humanities first fumblings in space with suits, rockets and live video feeds to Orbiting Stations, to keep the dream alive.

Steve and I are snapped on IR film and look like extras from a 90s U2 album sleeve. Then we hit the cinedome, an almost 3D experience without the nauseating necessity of goggles and learn about the beginnings of our Universe in the Big Bang. There is no mention of God so I'm not sure how well this would play in the Deep South of America but with just the right edit it could do very well. The film quite literally blows me away and we both agree that education has to take this route to be able to reach across the digital divide of the 21st century.

Back on the freeway we head for home and get snagged in traffic on the filter lanes onto Tamworth's retail park. Everyone's in a post Boxing Day feeding frenzy but I have no need for retail therapy. I've just returned from a journey to both inner and outer space and I'm content with that!

Latest comments

14.10 | 16:13

I know. I see that it's all over but concealed. Not part of a cities authorised biography or daily propaganda.

14.10 | 16:09

Ah thia latter letter reminds me of a man Iknew in Lichfield - now departed totally - he too was being hounded and oppressed and taken to court for nothing. See it isn't just Leeds!!

14.09 | 02:52

A joy to read Stu. Not only an expert tour guide (I have walked the Scottish Highlands with you twice) but a masterful storyteller who merges time and place into a kaleidoscope of imagery & metaphor.

13.09 | 17:29

Its so lovely to hear from you Mike and Jan. Your offer is very kind as are your memories of the trip we shared.

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