27 March 2015
To understand quite why Richard III, this long defunct, somewhat controversial king of England has such a hold for many in Leicester, it helps to come from there.
Those of us who grew up in the city found him difficult to ignore. If, like me, you knew people who went to King Richard III Infant School (apparently named without a trace of irony), had your fillings done by a dentist on King Richard’s Road or enjoyed a pint at the Last Plantagenet pub, you couldn’t help but be steeped in the legend of Bosworth Field.
In my case “doing” the play Richard III for A-level English converted curiosity into enthusiasm for the “poisonous bunch-back’d toad”.
Yet the Richard thing is not universally popular, despite the genuine affection and enthusiasm of the crowds who turned out for the procession on Sunday and yesterday’s reburial service.
One council worker out enjoying her lunchbreak vividly typified the attitude of many people I encountered yesterday. “Abusive; horrible; made people’s lives hell,” she said of the monarch being laid to rest. The whole thing was a “waste of funds”, she added. There were “more deserving things” to spend council money on.
Her view was echoed down at the Cradock Arms pub in Knighton, a little way south of the city, by retired lens designer Bill Jones: “I’ll be glad when it’s all over. Pomposity at its highest. Who cares, really? Really? Who’s paying for it? We are. Dunno what [Benedict] Cumberbatch has got to do with it. Sure, it is good for the city, but it’s all la-di-da. My mother’s funeral took 20 minutes.”
Serving us the Everards Tiger ale, an excellent local brew, barman Dave Allton concurred. “I can’t work it out, mate. Why all the adulation? Why, 500 years later?” He told me one punter put the late monarch in the same bracket as the child killer Ian Huntley.
Michael Kubala, also behind the bar, came from Slovakia three years ago and, for that reason, felt “it doesn’t really affect me… but the city seems to be renewing.”
So what about the city’s large Asian community? No better place to discover it than on the “Golden Mile”, Belgrave Road, a long strip of curry houses, jewellers, sari shops and a branch of the Bank of India.
“Good for Leicester”, commented a breezy Rukamani Patel at Belgrave Florists, even though the ceremonies haven’t seen a marked increase in their sales of (Yorkist) white roses.
Her husband, Parbhu, felt “something in the atmosphere had improved”, and is glad he’s learned more about Richard, but saw this Saturday’s Hindu festival of Ramu Navami as his main focus for floral sales.
A few doors down, at Deepam, a sari store, Chhya Pantal didn’t know anything about the reburial, explaining she had no time to watch TV. Her fellow worker Chhya Parmar was similarly unaware.
Maybe Richard is a bit tainted. In fact, he is only one of an unusually large number of grotesques to emerge from Leicester. There was also John Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man, whose full tourist potential remains untapped, and Daniel Lambert, unknown outside the city but celebrated as the fattest man in history by the time he died, at 52 stone, in 1809.
Lambert is buried in nearby Stamford, but Merrick’s deformed skeleton remains at the Royal London Hospital, in Whitechapel. I think Leicester should get him back too, also to be buried in dignity and honour. Merrick was a nice man by all accounts.
Just so long as the council and mayor don’t spend too much money on that project.
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