Saturday was a good day to go on a bike ride. What a great way to see the backstreets and alleyways of our city! I must admit, I was a little nervous as I signed up to join the "Let’s Ride Leicester Literary Tour" to visit the key sites and places associated with our great writers, Joe Orton and Sue Townsend. The scale of the ride looked daunting, but the pace was slow enough to enjoy it.
The University of Leicester’s Dr Emma Parker talked us through the relevant history and gave us a valuable insight into the life of Joe Orton from his humble beginnings, making plays in his garden with his sisters, to applying for a place at the Little Theatre. The subsequent demolition of his childhood home took away our sense of place as Emma read snippets from his teenage diary and his sister’s memoir (Leonie Orton, I Had It In Me). We also visited the University’s David Wilson Library that houses a ceramic pot made by Joe Orton’s niece, Rachel Barnett and a stencil artwork by street artist Stewy. We also stopped off at a local kebab shop that has been decorated by Leicester City Council with an image of Joe Orton to celebrate his success.
The highlight of the tour was the stop at the Pork Pie Library in the middle of the Saffron Lane estate where both writers grew up and visited in their youths. This magnificent old building has now acquired listed status and has retained some of the original interiors and fixtures. The head librarian Tracey Inchley was very keen to welcome us and gave us a fascinating talk about the library and its historical connections to the two writers. We saw the board game made by teenagers working on a 2017 exhibition about Joe Orton by Soft Touch Arts that reflected the struggles and pitfalls of growing up on the Saffron Lane Council Estate. Peter Simmonds talked enthusiastically about Sue Townsend as the reluctant writer, and creator of Adrian Mole, who never broadcasted her fame but remained faithful to her beloved Leicester all her life. He read snippets of Mole wisdom outside the buildings that were related to the text.
Combining gentle exercise with insight into two local literary heroes was a great idea and a tour that was well worth the effort. I recommend this event to the keen reader and the gentle cyclist alike. Many thanks to all those who were involved with organising and presenting on the day.
If you’d like to give it a go, this ride will run again during Leicester Comedy Festival / LGBT History Month in February.
Tracey Foster started off in a long career as an Art and Design teacher but wanted to refocus her creative energies into writing poetry and prose. After helping others find inspiration in the world around us, she has taken the MA course in Creative Writing at Leicester University and has not looked back. She finds inspiration in the past and the events that shape us. Previous work has been published by Comma Press, Ayaskala, Alternateroute, Fish Barrel Review, Mausoleum Press, Bus Poetry Magazine and The Arts Council.