Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dirty old town

If ever there was a love-hate relationship, it's the one I have with Luton. I'm not a Lutonian and I have only lived there briefly but it's loomed large in my life over the last few years. I instinctively dislike it - dirty, sprawling, dodgy in parts and mainly unattractive, it's never going to win any prizes, except the one it frequently wins for 'crap town'. Yet like a rough friend who you know underneath has a good heart, but doesn't know how to show it, I keep wanting people to see its worth. I feel defensive of the good people I meet in my work who are trying their best to make a go of it, attracted by the multi-cultural vibrancy and sheer brazenness of the place, intrigued by the little pockets of beauty that point to a rather more attractive past when it was the home of hat making and fascinated by its history of righteous insurrection (the people burned down the Town Hall after the First World War in the Peace Day Riots).

Today I went to the profoundly ugly Arndale Centre (recently redubbed The Mall - not that that's made much difference). As I walked down the damp steps from the car park to the market, my senses were assailed by the pungent fragrance of dope lingering in the stairwell mixed with food smells from the market and an unpleasant pissy background odour that never seems to fade. Into the market I went, where I was greeted by a riot of colour, noise and sensation: Caribbean food, Asian clothing, Irish music, tattoo parlours and shoe menders. Wild colours and strong tastes abounded in an intoxicating mix that seemed at odds with the plebeian, municipal setting.

I went from here to work with one of the town's young people.; a young woman representative of the town's extraordinary ethnic mix who was full of hope, ability and ambition. Despite the terrible image, ugly town centre and a certain edgy unpleasantness, there are a lot of good people there trying to make the best of their lives. There lies, I suppose, the root of my love-hate relationship with Luton.

Keep it up, unlovely Luton.

Monday, December 7, 2009

No animals have been harmed....

The weekend before last saw Sara and I travelling like Thelma and Louise in a Corsa up to Shrewsbury for Violet's birthday party. In the weeks preceding the party, Sara and I mused on what we should buy for the birthday girl.

It's a well-known fact among Violet's friends that she fancies herself as a taxidermist manque. So a taxidermic present seeming apt, I went on to the website of a taxidermy supplies company with a view to buying an instructional DVD.

I thought the beginner's guide to stuffing birds might be a good one. People put stuffing into chickens so how hard can it be? The DVD came with a couple of important caveats. The first was that you need another video for owls and ducks as they require specific techniques (this DVD was more for your average pheasant). The other was that you should view the DVD at least once before starting your own specimen.

At least once. So no flicking through the DVD for the best bits and then starting erroneously on your own owl, which at the end would look oddly pheasanty. Visions of Violet mangling a duck because she fast-forwarded to the good bits flashed before my eyes.

I gave up. The DVD was not a good idea. We bought her a book by Nick Cave instead in which a man sucks a lady's knickers. Far less potential for damage there - except maybe to Violet's smalls.