Thursday Doors in Leicester



Many of the older properties in the city centre which survived the cull have been turned into apartments. This hasn’t happened in the second photograph – yet. Faded glory and leaking drainpipes.

The Secular Society is a grade II listed building, constructed in 1881 and occupied by the society ever since (now sharing with the delightful Sweety Shakes and the ABC ballroom). The purpose of the society was “to provide the members with such means of recreation, amusement, instruction and social intercourse as have a tendency to elevate the taste and contribute to their intellectual improvement, without being dependent for these purposes on the public house.” This is because the society was banned from holding meetings in the local inn, the Three Crowns.

Leicester has a long tradition of self-reliance, independent thought and progressive ideas. In the words of Thomas Paine, “To do good is my religion”. Religion is broadly defined as “the simple creed of deed and duty, by which a man seeks his own welfare in his own way, with an honest and fair regard to the welfare of others” in contrast with theology.

“In the first place, its essential principle is that of self-reliance. It calls upon all the best elements of human nature to assert themselves and cooperate for the spread of truth, justice and peace. There is in this principle a stimulus which supernatural religion fails to supply. The one works from within; the other feebly appeals from without. Rationalism relies upon the moral judgment, while theology depends upon the commandments of God. In the second place, the Society’s platform is an open one. Heretic and believer, mystic and social reformer, the scholar and the shrewd but unlettered working man, are all alike welcome to set forth their opinion of our teaching. In this clash of though with thought the spirit of liberty delights. Out of this free and manly interchange of ideas the society will gain suggestions for its own moral and intellectual improvement.” (FJ Gould)

I like the orange busts on the capitals of five pillars (the photograph only shows four – Socrates, Jesus, Voltaire and Paine, missing out Owen). The grey stone is from Darley Dale and the red bricks were made locally in Coalville. The architect, WL Sugden, in the style of the Flemish Renaissance.



Thursday Doors – Graffiti

Leicester has an annual graffiti festival each Whitsuntide called “Bring the Paint”. You can read all about the festival on this link. I was in Kenya for the 2018 festival but went on a walking tour of the main sites last month. Here are some of the doors and window frames which caught my eye.


I really like this Indian lady dressed in shalwar kameez, with hightops and a flowery skateboard, but carrying a traditional pot. Interesting placement of the padlock.


This is the Sound House live music venue in the Cultural Quarter of the city. The blue and white design looks like a repeating wave motif from Hokusai. It refers to sound waves, of course. There are more murals around the back in the carpark.

IMG_4769 Makers Yard is a location for artists and designers to make stuff. The mesh door on the right conceals another great graffiti mural.



These are roller doors for small industrial units. Proprietors are often happy to provide a canvas (their dull doors) for the artists. They take from 2-6 hours to do.


The white door at the top of the fire escape looks like it might be trompe l’oeil.

The remaining photographs are of door-like window frames in St James’ Street.


The Dress

As he was going back to Europe in a week, my colleague asked me about presents for his children. I suggested he buy something typically African, and definitely not plastic. He agreed with me and asked if I had any ideas. For his young son, I recommended he buy a toy vehicle made from wire and strips of rubber. He thought this was a great idea, but what about his daughter. “Does she like dresses?” I asked. “Oh yeah, she loves dressing up,” he replied.


On the trek back from the market, we passed some clothes shops. “Now those are cracking frocks if you had twins,” I said, pointing out two gorgeous neon-pink dresses on display at the side of the road. The bodice was fitted and made from a cheap satiny material with a diagonal of purple flowers from top right to bottom left. The skirt part was frilly stiff gauze, like a ballerina’s tutu. I think it is called tulle.


“No, no, no!” he replied. “I like this one, it’s much more classy.” He examined the stitching on a smaller dress, much less ostentatious. It wasn’t frilly. The skirt part had pleated broad bands of dark blue, light blue and silvery-grey and the bodice was dark blue. I think it was fake organza. But, like John Snow, I know nothing.

The mannequin looked like a female version of the horror-doll, Chuckie.

Well, yes, it was more classy, but would she like it? “Why not take a photo of both and message her? Get her opinion. Better than buying something she will never wear, yes?” I asked. He dispatched photos of the dresses on his phone and then started worrying about the size. “It is probably too small for her,” he said.

By now the shop assistant had sniffed out a possible sale. “How old is she?” “Six, but she is the size of a five-year-old,” he replied. “How old does the girl mannequin look to you?” I asked. “Is she about your daughter’s size?” He wasn’t sure. “Do you have a photo of her on your phone?” He did, but it wasn’t much help. The shop assistant wanted to see. “Yes, that will fit her,” she said. We weren’t as sure.

“Do you know how tall she is?” I asked. “About one metre, one metre ten,” he replied. The shop assistant came out with a tape measure. “Can you measure the mannequin?” he asked. The assistant measured the length of the dress instead, shoulder to hem. “How much is that?” he asked. “Seventy inches,” she replied. “Seventy inches? That’s as tall as me,” I said. “It must be centimetres. But measure the girl.” The mannequin was about a metre high from her beige boots to her balding pate.

The phone vibrated. “She says she likes the pink one,” said my colleague. “But I hate it.”

I said that I detested My Little Pony but that’s what my girls wanted and that’s what they got at Christmas. You have to respect a child’s choice, even if it rankles.

A little boy came out of the shop and gawped at the mzungus debating the relative merits of two dresses. “How old is the boy?” my friend asked. “He looks about six. Let’s get him to try on the dress.”

“That would be torture. You can’t do that,” I replied.

“Well, we could just hold it up against his body,” he said.,

“Sorry, but that is almost as bad. How about you hold it up against your body instead?” I said.

He laughed and said that he would need to get precise measurements from his daughter’s mother so he could get a bespoke dress made. “Any colour you like, as long as it is pink,” I prompted, as we walked up the street.


Post script: He took the measurements to the seamstress who made a beautiful bespoke dress, not quite as lurid as the first dress, but more frilly and pink than the second dress. When he gave it to his daughter, she was so delighted that she refused to take it off for the rest of the day. Result.


I enjoy looking out for interesting slogans in Embu.

A school bus had the slogan “Grade Grabber” printed onto the rear mudflaps.

One of the boda-boda drivers had “Invisible” written on his windshield, hardly good for custom. Another had “Sir Stain” and “Loverboy” written on his.

But my favourite was a small plaque fixed onto the handlebars saying, “Why worry? Telephone God in prayer.” I asked the driver what was the number to call. He said, “JESUS 1000”.


On a matatu: “Thug Angel”

On a car rear window: “Glory be to God” and underneath, “Thanks God”.


On a hearse “Bye Bye Funeral Services”

How about a slogan on the side of a van, promoting white processed bread?


Occasionally it is difficult to work out exactly what a slogan means.


Or a roadside sign shop?


Weddings and bath mending?

Finally, what men want:



Thursday Doors in the lost gardens

Twenty-five years ago, Tim Smit and John Willis decided to untangle the willow trees of the gardens of Heligan, a beautiful spot near Megavissey on the south coast of Cornwall. A century ago, 22 of the gardeners tending the gardens went away to fight in the First World War. 16 were killed and the gardens went into decline. The restored gardens are now a major tourist attraction.

During the restoration process, a privy was discovered with an old “thunderbox”.

  A motto etched into the limestone walls in barely legible pencil still reads “Don’t come here to sleep or slumber”, with the names of those who worked there signed under the date – August 1914.  (

The story of the gardens is displayed on doors.


Nice Rice

Twenty kilometres west of Embu the land is flat. It is perfect for growing rice. Rivers flowing south from the slopes of Mount Kenya provide plenty of water for irrigation. I prefer to cook the Pishori variety of rice, as it is thin-grained and fragrant, almost as good as Basmati rice. For small quantities, I buy the rice loose in the market. However, when buying sacks of rice to take to Nairobi, we call in at the Nice Rice Factory.



Farmers also grow sugar cane and vegetables in the rich, black cotton soil. At the entrance to the Nice Rice Factory, there was a kiosk selling crushed sugar cane juice, sometimes flavoured with beetroot, ginger and lemon juice. An advertising billboard extolled the medicinal virtues of the juice.



Four girls promoting the sale of cane juice were listening to music and chatting. They called me over to try a sample. Unsurprisingly, it was sickly sweet. The price of 500ml of the full strength cane juice was a very reasonable 100 Kenyan shillings. It was very popular with wasps. The girls would only agree to a photo if I bought a drink.

Other outlets dilute the juice by soaking partially crushed canes in water and squeezing them through the rollers again. They also add lemon juice to offset the sweetness.