Sunday, 16 March 2014

Leicester - Day Two

On day one of our visit to Leicester I defied my natural aversion to science lessons to visit the National Space Centre. It was a great decision as it turned out. The National Space Centre is entertaining, informative and, to all but most stubborn of bible thumping fantasists, persuasive. Day two is the encore. For my next trick I am going to meet my disdain for the monarchy head on and visit the Richard III exhibition.

I hate the monarchy. Not the individuals within it, obviously. I don't know any of them, although I did meet Princess Anne when I was about seven. I remember complaining about having to go to school that day. A photograph still exists somewhere of me and a group of my friends waiting around for the dubious honour of a handshake or the exchange of a few words with the Queen's horse-faced daughter. To describe the look on my face in that photograph as unimpressed or apathetic would be playing it down a little too much. I was seconds from either throwing rotten fruit or slipping silently into a boredom-induced coma. I can't even remember why the school were taking us to meet her. Possibly because, this being the 80's and the education of disabled people being fairly low on the agenda, they thought it would be something nice for us to do while the 'normal' children carried on learning their times-tables. They were wrong. The very idea that someone can be given all those riches and privileges just because they have been born into a certain family is repugnant. I believe in equality, not deference.

The history of the monarchy is of far greater interest. In years gone by the kings and queens of the day had real power. They had to fight, quite literally, to hold on to that power. All of which was a bit too much for some of them and they ended up either succumbing to madness or traipsing around Britain psychotically beheading anyone who didn't agree with them. Power corrupted well before Mr Blair came along. You can't condone this sort of behaviour but it is more interesting than the waving and er...more waving favoured by this current crop of unchallenged, buck-toothed parasites. Avoiding the pointless debates with royalists about whether or not they generate or cost money in modern Britain, the most compelling reason for getting rid of the whole lot of them is that basically, they don't do anything. They're like the reality tv stars we're all so obsessed with nowadays. Sitting there doing absolutely rock all while the idiot nation hangs on every bit of that nothingness, discussing it with their friends in lieu of any real life of their own to talk about.

But as I say that has not always been the case, and it certainly was not for Richard III. Old Richard was the last English king to be killed in battle on British soil. And it just so happens that the scene of his slaying was the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire. In 2012 archaeologists were arsing around at a car park in the city hoping to find bits of an old church choir and cloister. They wanted to piece together the artefacts they would find to give them an idea of what the friary in the city would look like. In turn this would tell them more about how the friars would have lived. While doing so they stumbled across what they thought was the remains of the last Plantagenet king. Our man Richard. The Richard III exhibition recounts the story of their find, and their subsequent quest to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Richard buried there under that car park.

It also tries to shed more light on Richard's character. There are some who would brand him a ruthless, child-killing tyrant. A total bastard made of piss. He came to the throne in 1483 after the death of his brother, Edward IV. Within a suspiciously short period of time thereafter Edward's two sons (and therefore the only two humans ahead of Richard in the queue to be Edward's successor) were whisked away and locked into the tower. Richard claimed that both were illegitimate in any case, making him the true heir. Some say he had them both killed to avoid any doubt as to who should take the crown. Others deny this tale, painting Richard as no more villainous as the next psychotic bully with designs on the throne. No angel, but never capable of slaughtering his two young nephews to further his career. An audio feature at the exhibition presents the two sides of this argument in greater detail and probably does so more efficiently than I just have.

This being Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard we are always looking for a disabled angle. Brilliantly, we have one in the fact that Richard suffered from scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. It was this curvature which first led the archaeologists to believe that the skeleton they found underneath that Leicester car park could be that of the former king. It was already well known that he was a scoliosis sufferer. That's right, Richard III was a biff. Of sorts. The most powerful man in England between 1483 and 1485 was a disabled person. What do you think about that, you able bodied shitclown? And not only him, but also the ill-fated early 90's grungemeister Kurt Cobain had scoliosis too. And most startlingly of all, world-record-breaking fastest man in history Usain Bolt too. Finally, after all my years of drum-banging for the disabled we have inherited the Earth. Not before time. If we must continue with the monarchy we should probably sack the Queen right now and move Hannah Cockcroft into her place. Fuck that. I don't even like Hannah Cockcroft, but you get my point.

Richard was a man who never let his scoliosis get in the way of a good dust-up. As we know he died in battle, and at the exhibition you can read about some of the gruesome details of his violent ending. He was doinked on the head with a sharp blade numerous times, causing severe brain trauma. For the nutjobs among you who it is also said that a blind beggar woman had predicted that Richard, having bumped his spur on crossing the bridge on his way out to battle, would bump his head in exactly the same place on the way back in. And that he did exactly that, though it would have been hard for him to take care not to on the way back since he was very definitely an ex-person at that point. If it is true then the blind beggar was a wise woman. There are two things you need to know about the wise woman. First, she is wise. And second, she is a woman....

Yet it is the wounds that Richard suffered after his death which are the most wince-inducing. When the skeleton was found it was without any feet but worse than that, there was evidence that he had sustained a 'humiliation wound'. In short, someone stabbed him in the anus. When the body went on display after his death to convince the doubters that the king was dead it was also important to someone to graphically demonstrate just how dead he was. Tsk, those 15th century japesters....For those of that kind of persuasion there is a digitally interactive impression of the skeleton in the exhibition where you can push buttons, touch panels and fiddle with knobs to reveal more about the king's ruined, rotted form.

After a leisurely amble around the Jewry Museum in the afternoon it was time to explore more of Leicester's social delights. We settled for Bella Italia in the end but before we got there I was collared by a lagered-up half-wit just desperate for his fix of inspiration porn. Scott just can't resist coming over to tell me that he thinks that those people in the Winter Paralympics are fantastic for just 'having a go'. I have no patience with this sort of thing but I tried my best to explain to him that they weren't doing it to 'have a go' and that it was the bloody Paralympics. You don't just sign up for it or get a go because you have won a viewers' competition on the Alan Titchmarsh Show. But try as I might I couldn't get him to understand the idea that these athletes train and compete constantly to a professional standard, and are not just coming together for a few days for another misleading Channel 4 documentary on disability.

To his credit Scott could sense my irritation at this point, even through his alcoholic fug. But rather than just leave us alone and get on his way he decided instead to re-direct his focus from inspiration porn to piss poor comedy banter. When I told him that I come from St.Helens he came out with a line that is so old that even the archaeologists who dug up Richard III wouldn't be able to find its remains;

"I went there once, and it was shut" he chortled.

"Yeah. We knew you were coming." I answered with as much pompous disdain as I could muster.

Several glasses of red wine later I was all but burned out. Lenny Henry had blatantly lied to me again about the quality of sleep you can expect to get at the Premier Inn. Lenny Henry is a liar and Tiswas was shit anyway.

We retreated to Room 101 to prove him wrong again.

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