Saturday, 15 November 2014

A morning in Tower Hamlets

Reading the media coverage about Tower Hamlets over the last couple of weeks I wondered this morning whether it was safe to leave the Stepney home I've occupied for the past 11 years. Wandering down to my local shops I was shocked to discover that they were still open and selling stuff. As I handed over the money for a pint of milk to the shopkeeper, a man of Bangladeshi heritage, he smiled at me and asked how I was. To my surprise he was actually talking to me, and in English! Given that we've known each other for many years and this was the usual routine I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, but then the papers, you know, seemed to suggest Tower Hamlets is not like that.

On the way home, I passed Stepney City Farm. Families from all backgrounds were heading in - some of them were even talking to each other. A little taken aback by this blatant mixing of people from different ethnic, cultural, social and religious backgrounds I asked them if this was a special event or day organised for social cohesion. Weirdly, they seemed genuinely surprised by my question - 'no just a normal Saturday' one of them said. Odd that.

Could it be true? Could this be a real snapshot of Tower Hamlets life or am I mistaken? I was amazed, too, that the streets seemed swept, the bins had been collected and the grass verges were mown. The church was still standing, too, and it didn't have an Islamic flag flying from the tower. 

I'll be honest I'm confused. I mean I read the papers and Twitter and they say one thing and then I have my own real, everyday experience and it tells me something else. They both can't be right, surely.

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