Saturday, 24 October 2015

Luton: still exploring multiculturalism

My wife and I went to see Suffragette last night. Not seen it? It’s a good way to spend an evening, with a great lead performance by Carey Mulligan, as a working-class suffragette – a refreshing break from the usual focus on the far wealthier ones. The history’s pretty accurate too, even if it dodges a few issues (like did the “militant” tactics achieve much?) Still that’s not the point of this post, so I won’t say any more about it for now.

Before the film, we went for dinner. Danielle and I both like Tapas – well, with two-thirds of our sons living in Madrid, not to like Tapas would be a heresy – but this is Luton, so the Tapas were Indian. Good though. And a lot spicier than the Spanish variety.

On the way to the Tapas place, we crossed the central square in the Town. There were some young guys there kicking a football around. Rather well, as it happens. Along the ground, or with high balls through the air, they were impressively accurate in the dim light of the street lamps. Calling to each other in Polish.

We were an hour over a dinner, and we came back out, they were still there, still playing. In fact, they’d been joined by a number of other twenty-somethings, men as well as women. In fact, I watched one of the women chase a ball that had gone outside the ring, and sending it back with a kick that dropped it back at the feet of one of the players.

They were all Polish too.

We had a while to kill before the film, and Danielle had spotted a newly opened Polish delicatessen.

“Let’s pop in,” she suggested, “and find out if they do the bread I liked so much, when we got it from the bakers which has now shut down.”

It was an impressive place, compared to the old bakery – which was fun and sold some great products, but a little seedy, run-down, or in a word, old. This new place was sparkling, well lit, welcoming – and beautifully clean. In fact, one of the staff was at work with rag and spray can, wiping down the display cabinets. It also had a bewildering variety of products, including the very bread that Danielle wanted.

Bewildering array of Polish delicacies
Great for the taste buds, not so good for the arteries
That’s not atypical of Luton. There are more and more Polish shops here these days. It seems that Poles living in London have taken to travelling here (the rail connections are good) to do their shopping.

Luton has two well-established traditions.

One tradition has been to accept, and absorb, wave after wave of immigration. Irish, Italians, West Indians, Pakistanis or Indians, and now Central and Eastern Europeans, mostly Poles.

The other tradition is represented by the English Defence League, the far right group founded here. It exists to try to resist immigration and to maintain some kind of ethnic homogeneity in England, one of the great mongrel nations in the world.

Having had an Indian meal based on a Spanish approach to food, stopped at a Polish shop, before going to watch a film about English women (one played by the American Meryl Streep), written by a Welshwoman and directed by someone with the fine Jewish surname Gavron, it may be no surprise that I’m far happier with the more multicultural of these traditions.

And delighted to see Luton maintaining it.

No comments: