Britain

Make Britain Tolerant: Leicester Is British

What exactly is British? Winston Churchill? Cups of tea? Rain?

‘British’ means anything you want it to. I had hoped that too would be the message of Channel 4’s Make Leicester British documentary which aired on Monday night – yet it wasn’t to be.

From the introductory seconds, the programme started on with the anti-immigration attitude I quietly dreaded. Several clips positioned at the front of the documentary insinuated that Leicester had been conquered by settlers, that ‘British’ identity was being vanquished in the city and that Britons, white, black and Asian alike were all amalgamated in their derision of the new economic and crime scapegoats; the Eastern Europeans.

It appeared that the documentary was loaded from the start, with the ostensibly biased casting including an unemployed Somalian Muslim on benefits, a Polish woman whose very slight toil with the English language was opportunistically latched upon by the sensationalist eagles at Channel 4, and of course, two sympathetic White Britons who were not once publicised in a damaging light, unlike the other six participants. The programme went on to explore how these people could co-exist together, continually emphasising Leicester’s afflicted obligation to verify that multiculturalism is a feasible reality in modern Britain. The viewer was afforded a few moments of modest redemption in which the participants from diverse cultures were able to enrich the lives of the others with their alternative lifestyle. However, those peeps in to multiculturalism at work were habitually misplace in between the near single-mindedness on division, in which the documentary was even left on the note of two women of differing religions re-entering in to an irreconcilable conflict.

The researchers led the spectator to believe that Leicester is a city of tribal conflict, that citizens from every sub-culture were left fighting a silent war of acrimony on the city’s very streets. However, the real experiences of the people of Leicester generally rejected that opinion. In a small poll I ran on my social media page, 78% felt the show misrepresented the city and only 29% of Leicesterians felt there was any sort of ethnic tensions in the city whatsoever. In truth, growing up and living in Leicester is for many people a very heartening experience. It’s a city where Christmas and Diwali hold similar status in the eyes of the council and the locals alike. Growing up in the city’s suburbs, I was educated on the city’s varied population and given the opportunity to visit Gurdwaras, Hindu Temples, Churches, Synagogues and Mosques, all of which were hospitable, enlightening and crucially, integrated.

Regrettably, the tone of the piece is very much indicative of the climate of xenophobia that has spread across the country. As mentioned, the documentary was profoundly dependent on migrant typecasts such as immigrants being benefit thieves when in fact research shows the contrary. Immigrants are 45% less likely to claim benefits and recent settlers have made a net contribution of £25bn to the national tax fund; £8.8bn more than they withdrew, 26% of NHS doctors are foreign-born. The programme demonstrated an impassioned row with plenty of xenophobic rhetoric was – it seems the recipe for media viewership at the minute is to villainise and segregate the ‘other’. Yes, experiences within the city will fluctuate but any difficulties are few and far between.  The programme’s subservience to the far-right tabloid agenda was incredibly disheartening and particularly insulting to the wonderfully harmonious city that I call home.

It is thoroughly inappropriate for Channel 4 to stir the pot of neophobia with loaded titles that intimate a city is not authentically ‘British’. ‘British’ to me means tolerance, respect, diversity and equality. In those terms, Leicester is as prototypically ‘British’ as you can get. The same cannot be said for the British media, works like Make Leicester British continue to fail and insult the British public.

It always puzzles me as to what people’s issues are with immigrants. I want to close this post with what’s hopefully a sobering thought; your hometown, no matter where you live, is full of strangers. Why does it matter what ethnicity those strangers are?

False Widow. False Problem.

Recently, the British media has been in a frenzy (when are they ever not?), over the apparent surge in the UK population of the false widow spider. Several newspapers, particularly the Daily Star have been running stories about the spiders attacking and severely injuring unsuspecting citizens. Typically, people up and down the country are now petrified of this new frontier of deadly arachnids, because quite simply, they’re being sold a bunch of striking lies.

Here’s what the media has been saying about the false widow spider and with it, the truth;

  • “The false widow spiders can kill humans”

No one in the UK has ever died from a false widow bite, in fact, no spider of any sub-species has every killed a human being on these shores. Even so, the false widow spider isn’t even likely to attack unless provoked.

  • “The false widows have recently landed in the UK”

Incorrect. False widow spiders have actually inhabited Britain for over 100 years. Scientists suspect that climate change is the major contributor to their modestly swelling population.

  • “They are extremely venomous”

Again, a misconception. The false widow’s bite is usually only dangerous to those who are allergic to its venom. Otherwise, it would have a similar effect to that of a bee sting.

  • “They are engulfing the entire nation”

Now, it’s true that false widows are commonly spotted in the south of the country. There have been a fair few sightings in Essex, Hampshire and London for example, but north of Birmingham, sightings of the species are very much a rarity.

  • “Now the winter is here, the false widows are coming in to our houses”

This is partly true. Apparently, false widow spiders don’t like houses but prefer sheds, conservatories, garages and places of the like. So, while they are moving indoors now the temperatures are dropping, don’t expect to be sharing a bed with one any time soon.

2013-10-13-Falsewidow.jpg

In honesty, this pandemic really is nothing to worry about. It’s just the media’s way of selling papers, by preying on an already common fear in arachnophobia. Has anyone noticed that they never report that twelve people are actually killed by bees and wasps every year? That’s because people aren’t usually fearful of bees. Maybe, when the entire nation recovers from the swine flu we all contracted back in 2009, we can focus on this ‘killer’ spider problem, that’s assuming we’re all not wiped out by yet another ‘killer’ freeze this winter…

Culture Clash : Things Americans do that Brits hate

To start, let me say that Britain and America are bezzie mates, at least politically. We like you, we really do, I mean we don’t like you as much as your cooler Northern neighbours but that’s a different story. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that this post is purely for fun and nothing is really meant by it. Please still be our friends. 

1. Aggressive patriotism

Now, don’t misunderstand. Most Britons love their country. In fact, patriotism was at an all-time high during the Olympics and the Queen’s jubilee celebrations last year but Americans’ love for their country is a different kettle of fish. The average Brit won’t take kindly to you using phrases such as ‘greatest nation on earth’, ‘God bless, America’ or chanting ‘USA! USA! USA!’ repeatedly. In the States, you see the star-spangled banner hung from every other building. Here, you’ll only find a Union Jack on the beach front of Skegness. Maybe, we’re just jealous of how much pride you have for your country. Or maybe, we still feel a little awkward about the whole ‘Empire’ thing.

Proud… Your love for your country upstages ours.

2. Mispronunciation of UK place names

Get an American to look at these two place names; Leicester and Loughborough and then ask them to pronounce them. They probably will be unable too. While we know they’re pronounced as LES-STER and LUFF-BROH, some and I stress some Americans have been known to refer to them as LAY-SESS-TER and LOO-GUH-BUH-ROO-GUH. I suppose we can’t be too hard on you though, we do like to pronounce things completely differently to how they’re spelt. And in fairness, I’d imagine those from the north-eastern states are quite apt at interpreting the pronunciation of British place names, seeing as we creatively named every bleeding town up there after one of our own.

Sad… I wish everyone knew how to pronounce the name of my hometown

3. Therapy 

Americans love their therapy. They use it liberally and why not? It’s an effective way of raising issues with a mediator to allow all parties the chance to voice concerns. Us Brits don’t understand this, we’re more for repressing our issues and deep-seeded anger and letting it bubble up later in the form of sarcastic quipping.

Open… Even America’s favourite family uses therapy

4. The hatred of ‘Jaywalking’

This is more of a personal one. When I went to America last summer, there was nothing the average pedestrian was called up on more than ‘jaywalking’. For those of you that don’t know; ‘Jaywalking’ is walking to the other side of the street when the road is clear but traffic has not been halted by a red light. In the UK, it is called crossing the road.

Absurd… Americans like to make crossing the road a difficult experience

5. American Sports

People of all nations will be reading this bit and in their head shouting ‘YES!’. We hate your sports and everything about them. We hate the cheerleaders, the pop stars doing the half-time show, the silly commercialised names, I mean what is with the ‘New York Red Bulls’? The local derbies of the MLS are even sponsored by car manufacturers, for goodness sake! We hate the paegantry, sports in the UK are for getting merry and singing amusingly hurtful songs to the other team not for catching a sneak preview of Miley Cyrus’ latest single. We’re driven insane by the fact baseball’s prime competition is called the ‘World Series’ despite the fact all but two of the world’s nations don’t bother to compete. But, most of all we hate what you call ‘football’. You have tainted our favourite creation. This will always be a blip in American-British relationships, one for which we will probably NEVER forgive you.

Pageantry… Brits dislike the showbiz nature of US sports

6. How much you love our accent

At first, we have to admit, it’s very flattering when you compliment us on our accents. In Britain, we aren’t very complimentary to each other’s dulcet tones. But you lot seem to love it – if you head Stateside you’ll be greeted by people asking ‘where is that accent from?’ before they politely pretend to have heard of a small commuter village outside of Huddersfield. But it does go a bit far when you then reel off lists of phrases that you want us to say in ‘British’, which isn’t a language by the way, nor an accent. In fact, some of our accents are as audibly offensive as some of yours. Also, do we always have to be the bad guys in movies? We’re not all evil.

Diverse… For a small country, we have many accents.

7. Geographical ignorance

Again, I think this annoys me more than most Brits. I like to know about geography and I’m sure many of you are very knowledgeable too but a lot of Americans seem to think that London is the be all and end all of old Blighty. You don’t know the names of our counties but I can name all fifty of your states (I’ve done it many times). Maybe, we don’t like that you don’t reciprocate our appreciation of your country’s geography.  Then again, if I’m honest, I’d probably be as ignorant as many of you, if my country had the wonderfully varied landscape yours has. Just know this, at least. We don’t all live in London and whilst we’re on the subject, we’ve never met the Queen either.

Ignored… There are more places in the UK than London

8. Taking credit for others work

Americans and Brits have learnt to avoid certain topics of conversation over the years and at the top of that list are the events of World War II. A tip for all of you, never say to a Briton that you ‘saved our ass in World War II’ or that we’d ‘be speaking German now if it wasn’t for you’. We appreciate your help and over the years, we’ve been great allies to each other but Brits see these sorts of comments as a huge mark of disrespect to our armed forces. We also don’t really appreciate your tardiness in said events either but hey ho. Another thing that grinds our gears is when the American flag appears next to the ‘English’ option on a language selector – we would probably settle for the bisecting half-flags of the States and the UK but ignore our flag altogether and we are not amused.

Irritating… It was our language first

9. Your chocolate

I think you’ll agree with us – our chocolate is better than yours. In honesty, ours isn’t even that good but at least it’s not Hershey’s! I’m not being melodramatic here, I once tasted a Hershey’s kiss and it tasted like vomit. Chocolate stateside generally tastes burnt and bland, not velvety smooth and sweet like we’re used to over here. Many Brits were actually appalled when Kraft bought Cadbury’s a few years back, I was simply happy for you.

Vile… There’s a reason they’re shaped like turds.

10. Your spelling

No surprises here. We hate the way you spell words. Why do you hate the letter ‘U’ and why do you love Zs (Zeds) so much? If we’re honest, this is one of the few reasons we prefer Canada. Although, they’ve fallen victim to your movement for excessive usage of the alphabet’s 26th letter, they at least know how to spell ‘centre’ eh?

Different… Americans have mutated the English language.

11. Your interest in our dental hygiene

Our teeth are not that bad. Yes, some of us have some dental issues but we’re not that bothered. You seemed to be more concerned about the alignment of our gnashers than we are! We care more about bad breath. I’m not really sure where this stereotype started – I for one don’t know anyone with horrible teeth. Maybe you’ve been watching too much of the Jeremy Kyle show? In fact, speaking of trashy talk shows, we get the Jerry Springer show here, we know your teeth aren’t always perfect either!

False… I don’t mean the teeth

12. Your politeness

Okay, we don’t actually dislike this, it just baffles us. It genuinely confuses the average Briton when in the US, a stranger stops to say hello or help you take a picture or carry something. When Americans in restaurants or shops are polite and compliment us for being good customers, or if any American compliments us in general, we immediately think to scour your face for traces of sarcasm and when we find nothing, our brains nearly explode. Your politeness is so wonderfully genuine that our overly cynical mindset simply cannot cope.

Okay… Google thinks this is a picture of ‘friendly Americans’

That completes my list. I hope nobody was too offended and thus, I invite any American to do the same thing for us Britons – we love to put ourselves down.

Leicester: England’s Forgotten City

I’m weirdly proud of my city. Most people up and down the British Isles don’t hold that strong a sense of local pride. Of course you hear people from places like Liverpool, Cornwall and Essex exerting their local pride but a proud ‘chisit’ is a rare sight to behold. Leicester often goes unnoticed on a national scale despite being one of the largest settlements in the United Kingdom. Many just see Leicester as a big town stuck between Birmingham and Nottingham, but it is so much more than that.

History… Leicester’s Roman remains

People had lived in the area for thousands of years, but Leicester began as a late Iron Age settlement set up by people from the Corieltauvi tribe. After the Romans fled British shores, the town’s urban function ceased to exist. Although listed as a city in medieval times, Leicester lost its city status for 800 years until 1919. Despite being one of Britain’s most important places for wealth, religion and trade, Leicester remained a borough. In spite of it’s lack of coal and iron, Leicester began it’s expansion and industrialisation in the 1700s.

Nowadays, Leicester is a superb example of a cross-cultural city owing to it’s large South Asian population. Despite this mix of ethnicity, culture and religion, little tension is experienced within the city between different groups. The city benefits from this influx of Asian culture in many ways such as; the locally known Golden mile on Belgrave Road, which provides some of the best curries in the country. Believe it or not, this obscure Midlands city boasts a lot of historical and social relevance. Leicester is home to the National Space Centre, one of the UK’s leading tourist attraction – I even know a family from San Diego who holidayed in Leicester for a week… really.

Picturesque… Bradgate Park in Summer.

Leicester is a massive sporting city too, being home to the biggest rugby union club in the country in Leicester Tigers, the oldest British basketball club in Leicester Riders, multiple time 20/20 champions in Leicestershire CCC and of course the mighty foxes, Leicester City.

The surrounding areas in Leicester are also stunning too, when you take in to account the charming county of Rutland, which if we’re honest is Leicestershire in all but name. The Charnwood area of the county is home to some of the best woodland areas for miles and home to the infamous Bradgate Park where the 9-day-Queen, Lady Jane Grey once lived.

National Treasure… Sir David Attenborough grew up in the city.

Leicester has actually been the home to many well-known names over the years. Famous ‘chisits’ include spud-flogger and England legend, Gary Lineker, as well as former City and England keeper, Peter Shilton. Successful band, Kasabian (who grew up a mile from my house), fashion expert Gok Wan (whose parents own my local chippy and Chinese takeaway). Engelbert Humperdinck, the Elephant man, Joseph Merrick, the world’s fattest man, Daniel Lambert and of course the legendary Attenborough brothers; David and Richard. You can even thank the city for the timeless classic that is ‘Return of the Mack’. Leicester is also famous for being the home of Walker’s crisps but many people are unaware that most of Britain’s beloved snacks are produced in the city or county, including Galaxy, Mars and Snickers in Ashby de la Zouch – you’re welcome.

The city also has its ties to the British monarchy due to the well publicised finding of Richard III’s body in late 2012. He was found buried in the Grey Friars area of the city following his death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 – the last King to die in battle. The Queen also personally chose Leicester as the first stop on her 2012 Diamond Jubilee tour and thanked the city for exceeding her expectations in welcoming her. The visit made such an impression on the locals that the council plans on opening a new complex called ‘Jubilee Square’ in the coming years.

To be clear, I’m under no disillusions. I realise Leicester will never be an iconic city of the world like Paris or New York but as far as Britain goes, Leicester, in my opinion is one of the best cities there is. Ask my Granddad – he’s compiled a comprehensive argument on why Leicester should actually be the country’s capital but that’s a different story altogether.

Interesting facts about Leicester

Rejuvenated… The city of Leicester.

  • Leicester is home to the biggest outdoor, covered market in Europe.
  • The city lies on the River Soar and on the edge of the National Forest.
  • With a total population of 329,600 Leicester is the tenth largest city in the United Kingdom.
  • As one of the oldest cities in England, with a history going back at least 2,000 years – Leicester appears in the Doomsday Book as “Ledecestre”.
  • BBC Radio Leicester was the first local BBC radio station.
  • Leicester has the largest economy in the East Midlands and one of the largest in the country.
  • Leicester hosts the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India, the largest comedy festival in the UK as well as annual Pride and Caribbean events.
  • Leicester was Britain’s first ‘Environment City’ and was singled out for special praise at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
  • The name for a person from Leicester is a ‘Leicesterian’ or ‘chisit’, the latter deriving from the locals of Skegness (a popular holiday destination for Leicesterians), who noticed that the phrase ‘how much is it?’ sounds like ‘I’m a chisit’ in a Leicester accent.
  • Leicester was the first place outside of London to have traffic lights and Tesco.
  • Experts have determined that Leicester is the birthplace of modern standard English.