I Am David

David Barlow

I am David
and I am from Leicester
and I am 80 this year.
My mother was from Yorkshire and you didn’t disagree with her
Especially when she said Leicestershire was a dreary county
mind you Leicester certainly was a dreary town
It had nothing to commend it
of any beauty that is.
New Walk was rather pleasant as I recall,
a quiet backstreet with trees and a museum
with a stuffed giraffe and the chair and walking stick of Daniel Lambert the famous grossly fat man
of Stamford.
(Nowadays he is seen leaning on a trolley in any Tesco you may choose to enter)
but the rest of Leicester was quite awful,
always has been.
It was even worse with the trams,
those noisy clanking machines,
so slow and clumsy and everything rattling away as though they were going to fall to pieces any
The only fun was to sit at the front at the top when the curve of the stairs looked like a steering
not that I was ever quick enough to get there
before my brother Jeremy.
It was always raining in Leicester
as I recall.
I remember George VI the Queen’s father visiting Leicester and we all crammed into my father’s
1 Berridge Street, and stared out of the window painted brown like everything else in the office.
What an anticlimax.
Through the narrow street came a black shiny car or two,
some waving of union flags,
some cheering,
and that was it,
we went home
on the tram.
it was raining.
that was Leicester
I remember someone told us Leicester was the richest city in the world or was that Europe or was
that England?
Whatever - it didn’t feel like it.
We always had to be careful to eat up not to waste things not to expect new things for Christmas.
I remember my favourite ever presents which were two or was it three electric little cars which
really worked,
unlike simply every other mechanical toy we ever had.
We weren’t a very mechanical family.
Everything we bought always went wrong within hours and we could never get it mended until
Uncle Roderick came round who could mend anything.
But Uncle Roderick was very unhappy because Aunty Bonny shouted at him and so we didn’t see
a lot of him.
One day my mother passed him in the street and he never saw her just looked at the pavement
and into his misery.
But these cars all worked
For weeks.
I loved them.
Where was?
Oh yes -
Boring boring Leicester.
Didn’t have a city centre just a rather small tower with a clock on it.
Didn’t have a concert hall exactly just bland De Montfort Hall.
De Mont it was called
(He was a Leicester man - in a way - Simon De Mont Earl of Leicester King Henry made him -
years later I discovered he was a bloodthirsty shit who murdered Jews and went on the Crusades
but reputedly he founded Parliament. What bullshit.)
Didn’t have a football team just eleven losers.
(twice miraculously we got to the FA Cup Final at Wembley but lost both times)
I have always followed them,
and so has Julian Barnes,
who would write somewhat better words than these.
as would Jonathan Swift, Philip Larkin, C.P.Snow, and Adrian Mole, and Aggers, all of whom were
in Leicester at some time
or other
and Miles Burrows the poet (who lived at Red Lodge Knighton Rise and his father was David and
his mother was Brenda a beautiful actress at the Little Theatre and he invented an entire world
where we would live for the day
with its own Lord Mayor police force and criminal fraternity
a sort of Platonic Leicester I suppose.)
Their cricket was abysmal - either the or Northants always at the bottom of the table.
I once saw Denis Compton and Bill Edrich put on a stand of 380 runs for the second wicket for
Middlesex at Grace Road.
Their rugger was not bad at all especially when my dad played for the Tigers in the twenties and he
was called the Sheikh because he looked like Rudolf Valentino, and the Leicester captain and
scrum half was the captain and scrum half for England.
But oh yes mother was right.
Not about Leicestershire which I later discovered was a fine county - not dramatic sure but gentle
and green and simple and genuine with rusty stone and I remember our mother would cycle with
us down Stoughton Road to find fossils in a little stream by Great Stretton which had two houses
as opposed to Little Stretton further round the corner which had around fifty.
And when we had a car after the war - a little black Austin 30 - ERY110 - we would drive out to
Bradgate Park which was certainly dramatic with its outcrop of ancient rocks and the view of
Leicester far away and picnic by Old John the crumbling tower where Lady Jane Grey had been
But Leicester itself?
Didn’t have a cathedral just a perfectly decent parish church promoted in some haste when we
became a diocese and not just a part of Coventry’s,
and had our own bishop,
(his wife wrote a book called “A bishop’s wife but still myself”.
Heavens above.)
Leicester was the centre of England but not in an exciting sense as in
The Centre of the Hosiery Industry,
which it was of course but what sense did that make to a ten-year-old Rudds schoolboy
(Rudds being what they called my prep school after a large county cricketing headmaster whose
son was my headmaster who disappeared to the bar of the Squash Club every day after Prayers..
Widowed twice, round as a beer barrel, he terrified and inspired us and made us laugh and died of
alcoholism too young.)
Leicester the centre of England meant as far away from the sea as you can possibly get
and everyone knows the sea is what matters,
the sea is beautiful,
the sea is freedom,
the sea is where we would really love to live
wouldn’t we,
we knew that,
our mother said so.
Like Scarborough where she was at school
all in all
you could say I’ve always had a major inferiority complex about Leicester.
Especially the accent.
Not sharp and funny like Yorkshire,
just kind of lazy - layzeh they would say -
especially the women in the tram
all that me dook and ay oop
and any road oop and ooyer booger ar.
Not very attractive
I thought.

And then

one day
at Manor Croft, Ratcliffe Road,
when my Uncle Arthur was living with us
(some years later faced insoluble questions and found it impossible to go on living)
his books all stacked in the old air-raid shelter
among which we found later the service sheet for the Coronation of King George VI at Westminster
He would help us with our latin prep - George Rudd would read the marks out to the school and
when he came to my brother’s name - “Uncle Arthur - ten out of ten” he would say.
He had also been to Rudds. And one day
he had a visit from two friends who were brothers.
Leicester didn’t have a University only a University College,
and their dad was Frederick
and he was the Principal.
And one of them went on the stage
(as my other brother did)
and one of them was
and David came across a fossil in Bradgate Park and found it was umpteen million years old
and one day the Jewish girl their parents had taken in gave him an insect in a piece of amber
which was fifty million years old,
and it is 2016
and David Attenborough is ninety years old this year
as is Queen Elizabeth II
and he is from
and if anyone can save the world he can.
And one day by a series of flukes and clever deductions
someone found the bones of a king in the car park,
and everyone said we can’t have King Richard III in Leicester of all place
Whoever’s heard of Leicester housing anything important
(even though Cardinal Wolsey died there and gave his name to some socks).
Yorkshire’s the place for a Yorkist King with his white rose
But Leicester having dug him up dug its boring heels in and said any road oop we’ve got his bones
and we’re bloody well going to hold on to his bones
and they did.

And no-one seems to realise that the really really nationally famous National Theatre of Brent was
founded by my brother Patrick
from Leicester.
And one day a very nice Italian with specs called Claudio with a mother in Italy
took on the eleven losers,
and they started scoring goals against everyone,
and everyone,
including Claudio,
it can’t last!
But it did and they beat Southampton and Newcastle and Swansea and Chelsea and Arsenal and
Spurs who beat them at Wembley in 1961 and Man City who beat them at Wembley in 1969 and
Man United
and they kept winning until in the end they were ten points clear
it was
but it happened!
and it was 2016,
and he went home to see his mother in Italy
and she said, “Ben fatto mio bambino”.

And then Leicestershire won a cricket match for the second time in two years.
And then the Tigers didn’t get to their final (but they’d been champions hundreds of times so no-one
really noticed)
and then Mark from Leicester won the world snooker championship.

I am David,

and I am from Leicester,

and I bet it’s raining