Saturday, 15 February 2014

In England's crappiest town, we can do culture too. Multi-culture even.

Luton, we were told this afternoon, has been voted the crappiest town in the UK. 

Despite that, it seems that people are happy to live here, the air quality is great and – the ultimate accolade – it apparently has the fastest broadband connections in the country.

What’s more, it does culcher. Multi-culcher, actually. We picked up this intriguing information at a multi-cultural tea party this afternoon (no, no, not the Tea Party: that’s the US organisation which is decidedly mono-cultural, if not culture-free, except in the sense of a culture as the place to grow toxic microbes).

It was multi-cultural in so many ways. The majority group there was Muslim, if appearances could be counted on, but it took place in a Methodist church hall, with members of the congregations of the local Baptist and Church of England congregations present too (plus a scattering of other faiths, and ourselves: we marked ‘none’ down in that column of the attendance list, atheism or even free-thinking not being exactly a faith, after all).

There were at least three main ethnic groups represented. ‘British Asian’ was the biggest, and there were a few ‘Afro-Caribbeans’, as well as a reasonable representation of what we’ve come to know affectionately as ‘White British’. The arrival of our party of four increased its numbers by about 25%, which was ironic, since two of our White British group were French, a third was half Dutch and the fourth – myself – held French nationality as well as British, and was a native of Rome.

White British was far from the biggest group, but that was appropriate: Luton, along with Leicester and London, is one of the British centres where that ethnic group, while being the biggest, is no longer in the majority.

There were getting on for 100 people present, which is a bit weak in a population of 200,000. But still, if you’re going to build bridges between cultures, you have to start somewhere, and a few dozen is a lot better than none.

And the bridges were there. On the tables, there were samosas and pakoras alongside the scones (with clotted cream and jam: all done right, in the good British way) and the Battenberg cake.

The Afro-Caribbean element was more than adequately represented by two young women, full of enthusiasm, who were there with Djembe drums from West Africa, as well as other instruments from India and the Middle East, and gave the children present a dynamic and lively lesson in using them.

Djembe players in multi-cultural Luton
So a good time was had by all. The event may prove the seed for something bigger, with various people volunteering to launch further activities. Danielle, for instance, is going to set up a knitting group to produce multi-cultural socks, a concept which boggles my mind. I can’t wait to see what one of those looks like. 

We all filled in the attendance register faithfully. It did occur to me as I did it, ‘wouldn’t it be nice for the xenophobes in UKIP to have a list like that? They’d know straight away where to send their new Thought Police, if they ever got to power?’ An index of all those pinkos from the Churches and their fellow-travellers. The weidos who think we should get on with people from other cultures rather than kick them out to some other, much poorer part of the world. A real gift to them.

That just made me have another pakora. I clearly need to build up my strength to help make sure that UKIP in power is one of those nightmares that never happens.

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