A tale of two supermarkets.

It was the best of shops, it was the worst of shops…

Thurrock  Thurrock voted Leave in the EU referendum by 72% on a 72% turnout. The second highest Leave vote in the country. 

If you go to the Morrison’s in Grays Thurrock, the walls by the tills are dominated by  gigantic black and white photographs of the past. In pride of place is one of Tilbury “A” Power Station from the 1950’s or 60’s. It overlooks the shoppers, solid and dependable –  fueled by vast quantities of coal dug out from under “native soil” and hauled in on the river – just as those of us old enough to remember it can recall it in those corners of the mind in which the past seems solid enough to walk through – its tall slender chimneys pouring out its carbon emissions like a banner. Warming our homes, powering our industry, over heating our planet. Power before we knew the full extent of the damage.

It creates a perverse sort of elegiac pride in nostalgia. Coal, cement, the Docks, heavy industry, hard graft, breathing in the smoky air. This is who we where when we knew who we were. Who are we now? Who are we becoming?

This speaks unequally to the shoppers. There are other old photos of people who are – I think without exception – white. The shoppers in the aisles are now much more mixed than that. Seeking to define a place only by its past threatens to keep it there.

A contrasting set of photographs could lift eyes and hopes.

Alongside the old black and white coal fired station – a similar sized photo in full colour of the London array – the 175 turbine 630 MW offshore wind farm just down the Estuary, in all its elegant enormity – not quite so local but almost, and the second largest offshore wind farm on Earth – something to give some pride in the present and hope for the future.

This is what we used to do. This is what we do now.

Alongside the picture of people in the late 40’s sunbathing by the riverfront at the Wharf pub – all baggy shorts and summer frocks – a full colour picture of people as they are now playing on the beach playground, running on the galleon, climbing the rope pyramid, digging in the sand, drinking tea and eating chips – as you do.

This is who we were. This is who we are.

A montage of self portraits of children from local schools.

This is who we are becoming.

Kingsbury

Brent voted 60% to Remain in the EU referendum on a 65% turn out.

Being a German owned supermarket, the Aldi in Kingbury has a Union Jack the size of a Shankill Road gable end overlooking and dominating the tills. The queues are as diverse as any in the country. Go along any one and you will find several home languages.

You will also find the same lined, hard working faces as you do in Thurrock.

Brent has the largest Romanian population in the country. Evangelicals outside the Tube station often have texts entirely in Eastern European languages. None of these people had the right to vote in 2016, despite working here and paying more into the system than they take out. They have no right to vote for national government either, whatever deal is come to on their rights to remain.

The message of the flag – that someone thought it a good idea to put it up – and to put it up on such a huge scale – seems to be that our future is sufficiently uncertain that overt and in your face expressions of loyalty to traditional symbols is needed to prevent our future becoming more than our past.

The news that, on the day of the EU summit that kicked the UK’s prospective exit six months down the road, some five Brexit supporters swathed in Union Jacks blockaded the Aldi distribution centre in Cheshire by parking camper vans across the road – while shouting “We don’t want German” and “This is Brexit at its best” – might make the company’s attempt to brand itself as a local shop for local people more understandable – but also underlines the self defeating futility of it.  The blockade included several continental made vehicles. One of them German. Sometimes the news reads like satire.

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