Red Leicester

Although I am now Somewhere in the Tropics, I previously lived in many places in the cold and damp U.K. Oh yes. I went up and down the A1(M). And so it was that I ended up doing a midnight flit in 1997 from Stratford Upon Avon to Leicester. Death-threats from assorted lowlifes have a marvelous way of sharpening the resolve.

So I made a random leap to a town I didn’t know too well, taking up the offer of temporary shelter from the storm given by my big, gay cousin when we were both off our heads. When I rang him to say I needed to stay, he nearly had a hissy fit, but to give him his credit pulled through and helped me out. That’s family, I guess. I ended up trapped in the city for nearly three years. That’s a long time but somehow seemed even longer.

Leicester, to the uninitiated, is one of England’s less pleasant cities. Describing it would cause me great anguish and a pain not unlike jabbing myself in the eye with a pencil, so I’ve borrowed (i.e. nicked) this description from the now-defunct craptowns.com:

“The city’s Latin motto ‘Semper Eadem’ translates as ‘Always The Same’.

“The town seems to be smothered by a blanket of utterly unyielding blandness. It’s in the buildings, it’s in the town planning, it’s in the atmosphere, it’s in the unenthusiastic response of the crowd at gigs, it pervades every hour and day of Leicester life. A stultifying sense of unchanging, unimaginative, comfortable existence.

“You don’t even need to visit the place: check out the Leicester City Council website and see for yourself this place has no history apart from a biography of the mayor.”

The flat we lived at was on arguably the worst street in Leicester. I say ‘arguably’. It depends on what your attitude to having a crack house two doors down, then schizophrenics and drug-addled prostitutes on every corner is, I suppose. To me, a good, clean-living (hmmm, well…) lad from Warwickshire, it was an eye-opener.

We used to taunt the prostitutes out my cousin’s skylight, I’m sorry to say, shouting, “Give it up, darling, you don’t stand a chance!” and the like.

One day I got offered a fuck for twenty quid, then a tenner. When I still wouldn’t budge (something about her withdrawal shakes put me off) she dropped it to a fiver and said she’d walk me to the bank for the cashpoint. I politely declined.

I was supposed to be allowed a space in which to go completely off the rails, have my nervous breakdown, whatever. Then my cousin decided, childishly I thought, that he would have the nervous breakdown instead, having had enough of being psychiatric nurse to some of the very worst patients in Britain.

He went on long-term sick leave, but we needed something to pay the bills. I got a shit telemarketing job for a withered old trout ODing on her HRT injections; my cousin naturally turned to hosting Hotdog, the most successful house club Leicester had ever seen. Wearing a bloody big dress. All of which I will return to, at some stage. Here’s a video of how we used to rave. I’m not in it, thankfully, but my cousin was interviewed in character as Ms Gaga (years before that Lady Gaga thing):

Ms Gaga was a divorcee mother of three on a medical prescription of base amphetamines and Prozac.

I lie about the bills, actually. For twelve months we paid hardly any bills at all, but went out and got smashed on the money instead. So eventually we had to do another bunk, which is another story.

By the way, if you check my credit file now it says ‘satisfied’ although I never paid back a penny of my bank loan.

Here’s how it works- rather than take you to court, they sell the debt to a collection agency for a fraction of the face value. Said agency, calling itself Something-or-other Solicitors, sends a letter advising you that if you don’t reply they will ‘consider’ legal action. These letters can appear intimidating and obviously that’s what they’re meant to do. Written in red ink, they tell you ‘ring this number immediately’ or some such rubbish. Throw it in the bin.

If you throw the letter away, they send another one a little down the line. Repeat the process. Maybe you’ll get three from them in total. Then they sell the debt on to another agency for an even smaller fraction of its face value, so as far as they’re concerned, the debt has been paid for.

The agency they sell it to has even less at stake and, knowing it’s high risk to collect in an area teeming with crackheads and nutjobs, gives up quite quickly and sells it on again. By this stage you have no worries. Apart from your original creditor, you don’t owe any of these companies anything, unless they get you to admit to it. So keep schtum. You don’t even have to sign anything, a verbal confession is good enough. So they sometimes ring you at work, giving you the bad cop routine, trying to embarrass you in front of the boss. Put the phone down, I say. Don’t talk to these guys at all.

Also, it might be a good idea to not apply for credit for at least three years. And move several times.

As for applying for a mortgage further down the line- face it, that’s not gonna happen in any case.

Not these days.

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9 Comments

  1. You lucky git, Ron. Tropical climes are even more appealing to a U.K. dweller in December.

    As for your choice of description for Leicester, whilst I can’t disagree with its mediocrity, I suspect you haven’t been to many a northern town.

    Hartlepool, Stockton, Scunthorpe, Grimsby etc – hopefully you get the picture. Not just Northern towns as well, I might add; I recently happened upon Tipton in the W Mids – what a dive, I can tell you. Leicester is like Beverley Hills comparatively.

    With regard to the debt issue – I think that the bloodsuckers are a lot more savvy now – at least since the credit crunch. They seem to go to farther lengths to get back their pound of flesh. There’s even a reality series on Channel 5 called, ‘Can’t pay – we’ll take it away’. I guess it’s supposed to simultaneously glamourise the life of a bailiff and shame those who have the cheek to have (generally) fallen on hard times. I’m not promoting taking what you clearly can’t afford. Some of the debtors are chancers, but in the main, the programme just reinforces the point that bailiffs are lowlife scum. Watching them trying to exert their faux-authority and then cry to the rozzers when they get breathed-on is infuriating.

    What is clear from the programme is that the UK is in a bad way – the poor are screwed over continuously. Been like that since the beginning of time though, I suspect. Probably won’t change anytime soon, either.

    Thatcher may be cold, but her legacy lives on.

  2. Yep, point taken. In the 90s it was fairly easy to do a runner. My knowledge of the UK these days is based on everyone telling me not to bother going back. Maybe I should edit the above to reflect the fact you can’t get away with it anymore.

  3. Just want to apologise if my posts seem critical – not meant to be at all. The blog is a great read. I guess I’m sometimes on a downer reminiscing about the 80s and 90s. Oh, and a tad jealous about not living inter tropics!

  4. No, doesn’t seem critical. To be honest, I wrote the above over 10 years ago when probably the advice was still sound. These days, I guess it’s either

    a) suck it up

    or

    b) leave the country

    It’s winter in the tropics also so a lovely 27C in the daytime.

    Exile means you’re always stuck in the time frame of when you left. My friend Simon left shortly after the poll tax riots (he had been a member of Militant but now doesn’t give a shit). His musical references begin and end with Richie Blackmore. Mine are stuck in the late 90s / early 00s.

    Socially, I didn’t like what was going on in the UK at the time, could see the way things were heading and decided to get the hell out. It wasn’t easy at all in Korea (as I will detail very shortly) but I don’t regret leaving.

    No worries about sounding critical, by the way. Am happy you leave comments. Not many people do these days.

  5. Glamorise the life of the bailiff. Jesus fucking Christ. Glad I am no longer subjected to this social programming. I was always a contrary thinker. I’d probably be arrested in the UK these days just for having an opinion.

    • Glamourise may be a slight exaggeration, but they do lay it on thick.

      The bailiffs are given their own talking heads, where they usually spout how well trained they are and what an important job they are doing.

      The worst bit is that the EPG description of the programme calls them, ‘britains best-loved enforcement agents’. I kid you not.

      A lot of the cases featured are evictions, where tenants are turfed out for not paying rent to an unscrupulous landlord who thinks that an annual 10% rent increase is fair game. The landlords then turn up on screen giving a bleeding heart story about how they can’t afford to pay their mortgage on the property.

      I often watch the programme (one of my vices, sadly) and seldom at the end do I ever feel anything but an intense loathing for the bailiffs.

      It sounds like you’re close to your sis and also it’s nice to come back to remember what you’ve left so I guess a return every so often is required, but I’d deffo say well done and enjoy the Far East (or anywhere warm).

      I always appreciate an alternative thinker (or even a thinker – most people are zombies incapable of critical thought) as they are few and far between. They/we are definitely outcasts, but it won’t be long before we’re rounded up…

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