Magazine article The Spectator

Coventry Blues

Magazine article The Spectator

Coventry Blues

Article excerpt

A trip to the multicultural Midlands

He who would see England's future should be separated for a while from the better parts of London and sent (literally, not metaphorically) to Coventry. There, amid the hideous and dilapidating buildings of a failed modernism, he will see precincts with half the shops boarded up, where youths in hoodies skateboard all day along the walkways, the prematurely aged, fat and crippled unemployed occupy themselves in the search for cheap imported junk in such shops as remain open, and the lurkers, muggers and dealers wait for nightfall.

I stayed four nights in Coventry, in a hotel whose nearest architectural equivalent was the hotel in which I had once stayed in Makhachkala, in ex-Soviet Dagestan. At reception, there were three notices:

safe keys are not held on the premises overnight important notice: no cash is kept on these premises overnight the hotel does not accept responsibility for any items left in the hotel Thus encouraged, and in need of a drink, I went to the bar called Rogues. At the entrance was another notice:

no hoodies or tracksuits. no shorts or baseball caps.

Someone had applied the theories of Lombroso to modes of dress, no doubt correctly.

In the bar, a large screen relayed football and loudspeakers pop music. This meant that anyone who wanted to make himself heard - and there were plenty who did - had to shout. There is nothing quite like shouting to reveal the banality of what is being said.

There were two large banqueting halls (low-ceilinged and claustrophobic despite the size) on the floor on which my bedroom was situated. Every night they filled with hundreds of evangelical Christian Nigerians wailing their sins away, while downstairs in the Rogues' bar the white men cursed Rio Ferdinand, or some other great man.

Having been recommended a restaurant, I asked at the desk how to get there. 'You could walk, ' said the receptionist. 'It takes seven minutes, but I wouldn't recommend it at this time of night. You could take a taxi, that would be safer, but it also takes seven minutes.'

As it happens, I needn't have worried about restaurants. Round the corner from my hotel, right in the city centre, was a Chinese restaurant with no menu in English. Thank god for that, I thought, there must be decent food here, and there was, absolutely excellent, even if I had to order it more or less at random. …

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