androktone: (old)
[personal profile] androktone
When I moved to Luton, it was an awful shithole. The Marsh Farm riots (dead policemen; blood everywhere) were still in recent memory. I moved there because I had got a job straight out of university; and living there cost about the same as living in Nottingham (which should have rung alarm bells). I stayed because shortly after moving there I managed to get impregnated by a local anarcho punk.

At one point I tried to move out to London, but I could only afford to live near Bruce Grove, which was exactly the same as Luton but a lot more expensive, and much further form my kids, so I moved back. When you've been seeing your kids every day, seeing them at weekends only is painful. There was no question of my ex husband moving out of Luton with the kids; he loved it.

I've had some terrible times in Luton. I've lived in some of the worst areas. Friends have had their arms broken and their faces mashed up. Friendly local newsagents have been stabbed. My house/flat has been broken into several times and there have been some amusing-in-retrospect incidents where people have tried to break in while I've been asleep, or in the bath, and have been repelled by me flailing nakedly towards them screaming "get off my land!" or similar.

I have spent many wakeless nights listening to sounds of inappropriate behaviour from near neighbours and promising myself that when I had enough money I would move the fuck out of this godforsaken shithole, and take my children with me.

In between times, I made some good friends; Luton has a lively band scene and a history of punk and socialism. Some of the people we met were really awesome. It was a bit of a pay off for living somewhere so dangerous. Every now and again you'd exchange a smile with a neighbour or somebody in a shop, which would reassure you that the place wasn't entirely evil.

Three years ago we had saved and borrowed a small deposit; enough to buy a house. But the only place within 50 miles we could afford to buy a house was Luton. Because of the awful image, the constant news of terroist plots and EDL marches and riots (and I am waiting for a child grooming revelation a la Rochester), houses here still cost the same as a house in Nottingham or Wales. So we got the smallest house in the nicest bit we could manage, and tried to settle in. The area still wasn't very nice. The houses are very small little coronation street terraces. Most of the Neighbourhood Watch pamphlets were about prostitution. But our little bit was OK, we felt safe letting the kids go to buy pie and chips, and people put window boxes and hanging baskets outside their houses, and they didn't get vandalised. I thought when we first looked around the area that this was somewhere normal people lived normal lives and tried to make the best of things, and I was right. Our neighbours are not exciting people but they are friendly and supportive. I began to be able to sleep at night and walk down the street without having a big bunch of keys clenched in my fist in case I needed an emergency weapon.

Steve got a job in Richmond, I got one in Central Bedfordshire, and the kids went to school in St Albans - the good thing about Luton is its transport links. None of us went near the town centre if we could manage it. For three years. We had one pub we went to, sometimes, where all our friends went.

But in those three years the little bit of Luton where I live, High Town (and Round Green) has been undergoing a gentle revolution. There has always been a decent pub there - the Bricklayer's Arms, which opened in 1824 and sells nothing but ale and crisps - but for ages that was it. First Marjorie's Kitchen opened. A little cafe selling home made bread and posh coffee and pizzas and salad, and in the evening they'd have some music nights. Then a hat shop opened. An antiques shop. Shop 33, which is where artists (including me) get to sell all their home made stuff to open minded locals. Another restaurent, the Mediterranean cafe, with a little basement pizza bar. Houses have had For Sale signs up and the people who buy them have been replacing their nasty looking old plastic and aluminium front doors and windows with things that look nicer on their little terraces (ours is still nasty plastic... we're saving up..).

A couple of weeks ago I saw a chap in hipster uniform walking down the street. I thought he would get mugged.. but he didn't.

The band scene has moved from pub to pub and it's still lively, there are still things to go to every night where you'll see nice people ineptly creating stuff. There was a Fun Palace and a High Town Festival last year. Nobody got stabbed. The council pedestrianised a few places and knocked down the nasty bus station.

The rest of Luton is still a bit scary but this bit has become a nice place to live. It's still cheap but I wonder how long for..

I think what I'm trying to say, is that in some places, a bit of gentrification goes a long way. I like living here for the first time in fifteen years. I see elderly people walking about looking.. not miserable. People are talking to each other in the street more. I hope it carries on.

I realise what's happening in London is way off the scale with existing nice neighbourhoods being taken over by rich people leaving no room for normal people. But for normal people living in a ghetto, seeing little cool businesses starting up and nice people moving into the neighbourhood who care about where they live, seeing a reduction in nasty fuckwits brutalising the place, it's a breath of fresh air. And that only happens because nice peopel are being pushed out of central London and seeing an opportunity in places like this.

So, you know, it's not all bad.

P.S. the subtext here is: You should all move to High Town and buy a 2 bed house for £150k and go to the pub with me. Or buy a shop for £200k and start a business. And go to the pub with me. It'll be awesome. I promise.
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