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.

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