The London Diary from Leicester*

After a day like that, anyone could be forgiven for staying in bed for a while the next day. But, creature of habit that I am, I was awake at 6, and out of bed a little later. The other occupants were still asleep, of course. I crept out and spent a couple of hours relaxing in the dining room. Then I realised that if I wanted to get anything done, I’d better get going. I had an 11.30 bus to catch at Victoria Coach Station, and of course I didn’t know where that was or how to get there. All the same, I thought I would sneak in a quick trip to the Tower of London on the way. It wasn’t on the way at all, as it happens, but when you’re in the Tube, the only difference that it makes is the debit on your Oyster card, which was significant.

Still, I went to the Tower of London anyway, and as soon as I clapped eyes on it, I was so glad I’d made the effort. It was beautiful, lovely, gorgeous, fairy tale and all those things that I’d expected Buckingham palace to be. It wasn’t horror inspiring at all.
Tower of London

I didn’t go in, though I know there’s a lot to see. I didn’t have time, it wasn’t open, and it was 22 GBP for adults, which was much too much to even consider spending at this stage. I find that money decreases in value towards the end of the trip, as your last opportunity for sightseeing draws nearer. After all, you’re going to keep on earning when you get back home the next day, but who knows when (or if) you’ll ever find (or make) the opportunity to come back here. And by then the traveler’s philosophy has firmly taken hold: There’s no point spending so much and coming so far if you’re not going to spend the last 22 bucks that will take you in to actually see the sights you came halfway across the world to see.
But this was still early days, when you convert every pound to INR and shudder at the thought; days when you have days and days ahead of you in an unbroken stretch, and very little idea of how far your meager funds will take you. So a 22 GBP entry fee was prohibitive at this stage, and in any case I had no time. “But if I have time when I pass through London later in this trip, I’ll give in and spend the money,” I promised myself.
Tower of London

I eventually found the coach station, which was nothing like the bus stands we have in India. There was actually a building with multiple gates, more like an airport, with flat screen displays everywhere telling you which gate you should go to for which destination. I got on to the right bus and reached Leicester bang on time.
It was raining. The map, GPS this time, said it was over three miles to my B&B (bed and breakfast to the uninitiated) and would take about an hour to walk. I’d already carried my luggage around for two whole hours in London and didn’t fancy a one hour walk in the rain with my luggage hanging from my shoulders. But I also didn’t want to spend time figuring out the local bus system. So I walked.

Leicester is quite different from the posh area of London that I’d seen so far. It’s smaller, poorer, more down to earth in the kind of shops you see. Fewer people walking. On a Sunday afternoon, you’d expect people to be out and about, the light drizzle notwithstanding, but I barely saw half a dozen people in the long walk to my B&B. Not much evidence of public transport either.

I’d almost reached, when I glanced at my watch and realised that it wasn’t there. The watch, I mean. It must have fallen off. It did have a tendency for the clasp to come open. Weighed down by my luggage and even more so by the rain, I just couldn’t face the prospect of walking all the way back looking for it. So I dejectedly came to the conclusion that it was good and gone, and continued toward the B&B.

But, immediately after I’d checked in, I left to look for it. It was a wedding gift from my paternal grandmother, how could I just give up on it like that? In India, the chances of finding it would have been so remote as to render the effort not worthwhile. But here it was different. There weren’t so many people around and very few obviously poor people. Even if someone saw it, they might not bother to pick it up, I thought. So I went out looking for it.

And, sure enough, I found it! I had stopped at a bus stop to take off my jacket at one point. It must have fallen off at that time and was lying quietly on the ground. No one had taken it and no one had stepped on it. I picked it up, tenderly wiped the dust from its face, and tucked it safely into one of the many pockets of my cargo pants. This particular pocket was tiny and closed with a zip. I rarely used it for anything. My watch would be safe enough there.

I spent some time in my room, relaxing and sorting out my stuff. It was a cozy little single room, a small single bed, a mantelpiece above, a chair, a small single cupboard, a wash basin, a tiny television (which I didn’t turn on even once) and a light that I almost never needed to use. Jammed in between the cupboard and sink and behind the chair, was a window with a window sill. It wasn’t broad enough to sit on, but it offered a narrow shelf which was invaluable for keeping stuff on, and it allowed in all the natural light one could possibly need. It was, on the whole, quite a lovely room.

After I’d spent some time indoors, naturally I grew restless. It had stopped raining, which seemed like enough of a reason for another foray outdoors. I headed for the university, where I would have to report the next day for my course.
Leicester University

When I was done wandering around the university buildings and imagining what it would have been like to actually study there, I noticed a small, rather quaint little building across the road from the university campus. It was the Chaplaincy, it said. I initially had the term confused with something like chancellors residence. It was as I was walking past a tiny cemetery that it struck me that a chaplaincy was a sort of church. So then it might be open to the public, something that a vice chancellors residence was unlikely to be. I decided to check.

Well, it turned out to be locked, but as I walked away from the little building, I noticed a tiny gate into the cemetery, which stood open. Without pausing to think about it, I walked in.

The first few tombstones gave the date of death as 1900 or thereabouts. The path was damp and muddy, the graveyard completely overgrown. It looked as if nobody had been buried here for at least 50 years. Whatever dates I noticed were mostly from the first half of the last century. Some went back to the late 1800s.

I’ve actually never been into a cemetery before. I found it strange. It was entirely quiet, but not in the least bit spooky. It was open, still bright of course, very still, and oddly serene. Of course, I couldn’t help thinking of all the dead people resting around me. In my belief system, dead people are just dead, so that didn’t worry me. But it was a bit sad. So many dead souls, so many headstones with the words “in loving memory of” and yet, where was the love and where was the memory now? Many of the tombstones had fallen down. Judging by the undisturbed undergrowth, the unused path and the lack of people and flowers, very few people ever came here anymore.
Welford Road Cemetery

But that was not entirely true. Here and there, there were a few tombstones that were freshly made and the last date at the bottom of those showed an interment as recent as ten years ago. Not entirely unused, then.

What was surprising was the extent of the cemetery. From the road, it looked like just a small, cozy little place. But as soon as I started following the path, it led deeper and deeper and deeper into the graveyard and I could see tombstones extending away down the slope in front as well as off to the side as far as the eye could see. A few of the tombstones were extremely ornate. Still forgotten, though.

The next day was Monday and the first day of my dig. This was the first dig I’ve ever been on and likely the last as well. The drive to the site, Burrough Hill, was lovely, just absolutely lovely. The drive from London to Leicester had been nice too, but this drive was really, really scenic. At least I thought so. A German colleague found it boring. The countryside sloped up and down in graceful dips and rises covered with lush green grass and dotted with a few sheep and cows. There didn’t seem to be much farming, I wonder why. The drive only took about forty minutes and I would have been happier if it had gone on a bit longer. After the drive, there was a short walk to get to the site. The walk was equally pretty with equally fabulous views.
Burrough Hill

There followed about six hours of digging, with a lunch break at 12.30 and a short tea break at 3. As promised, the site offered neither food, nor water, and no tea or coffee either. There were two toilets – the chemical kind.

The digging? Well, it was just digging, somewhat like gardening. I wasn’t very sure about how to identify anything worthwhile and differentiate it from the mud. Others seemed to have more luck with that. In our trench, we unearthed bits of pottery, ash, tiny bits of animal bone, and the highlight of our week was a broken glass bead. None of the excitement came to me. All I got was mud and stone.
Burrough Hill Trench 3

Carrying lunch to the site was something of a challenge for me. I carried a mix of cold meats, oat cakes (unsweetened), salad, fruit, and yogurt. Most of the salads had a mayonnaise type dressing that contains egg. Luckily, the dressing was packed separately, so I could take it out. Doing so, however, made the salad somewhat less yummy. After a couple of days, I discovered gluten free chocolate biscuits, chocolate mousse, and plain dark chocolate, so after that my evenings were a lot happier.
*Well, I really wasn’t in London anymore, what can I say? The Leicester Diary doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

One Response to The London Diary from Leicester*

  1. Nish says:

    Fantastic! That university and the graveyard look so awesome.

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