I must admit, I never did like Coventry.
After completing my O Levels I opted to take a one year pre university course in Law as opposed to doing 2 years of A levels. I applied to several universities in the UK and I was particularly excited when I received an acceptance letter from Warwick University, an institution with an excellent reputation. Interestingly that is where our Finance Minister at the time, the late Professor George Saitoti, got his PHD, not to mention the fact that I had close friends at Warwick. And so my fate was sealed, I was headed to Coventry in the Midlands.
Lets talk about Coventry:
As I recall, the sun does not shine from October to March;
Coventry has a rich history, legend has it that one of it’s founders, Lady Godiva, the wife of Leofric Earl of Mercia, rode naked on horseback through the city 900 years ago to protest the oppressive taxes her husband imposed on the peasants. Her audacious ride forced her husband to concede and granted victory to the masses. The story goes that out of respect and solidarity with Lady Godiva the public agreed not to look upon her nakedness, but one fellow called Tom could not resist a peek, hence the origin of the term Peeping Tom. Some say he was struck blind but others say to punish him the people decided they would not speak to him and he was ostracized, there are those who believe this to be the origin of the phrase sent to Coventry;
Coventry bore the brunt of the German blitzkrieg during WWII and between 1940 and 1941 over 1,200 lives were lost, many more were injured and 4,000 homes were destroyed. Many parts of the city, including the grand St Michaels Cathedral in the city centre, were left in ruins;
…I do believe that in Coventry the sun does not shine from October to March;
After WWII the economy developed around various industries such as bicycle and munitions manufacturing and the city eventually grew into a motor vehicle industry hub but the downturn of the eighties saw Coventry take a major economic dive;
There is some good news – William Shakespeare lived half an hour from Coventry in Stratford upon Avon… But I suppose in those days, without any automobiles, the journey would have taken much longer… Ok scrap that.
Did I mention the sun does not shine from October to March?
Oh, and Coventry has had one of the highest suicide rates in the UK.
Well, tucked into my books and trying to keep warm I got through that winter in Coventry and it was around early April when the sun started to slowly tease us, coming out for a few minutes every day. What a joy! My friends and I decided to visit a fair that had set up on the outskirts of the town. Three of us were strolling down the street to meet with a bigger group at the fair on a chilly but sunny afternoon when I heard some men yelling behind us and my heart froze.
Heart pounding and scared I tried to keep calm. “Just keep walking, and don’t look back.” I advised my spirited West Indian classmate, she was always up for a verbal brawl and I didn’t think it would be wise. She listened but it didn’t help.
“You can’t run away from what you are, you are just niggers!” they kept on shouting and trying to goad us.
We walked on but it took just moments for them to reach us, the streets were fairly deserted and before I knew it one of them was right by my side. I stopped and caught a glimpse of my friends running in different directions each chased by one attacker. They were young caucasian men. It seemed so futile, running – how on earth could we outrun them? Plus, they expected us to run, they wanted to intimidate us, I must admit there was an element of pride and dignity that did not allow me to flee. And then I suppose, there was also the instinctive fight or flight reaction. Mine was not flight.
I can’t quite remember what the man was saying but in that moment it’s like everything went into slow motion. And all I could see was his fist heading towards my face, he was standing right next to me about to hit a woman for her colour. I looked right at him, he was so close. I remember his eyes, they were so angry and full of hate and his face was tight and twisted. My eyes quickly welled up with tears and I asked the simplest question,
“What have I ever done to you?”
… To be continued …