Over the weekend, our flat lost one of its number: Housemate Eddie (from here on to be referred to as Eddie) moved out. Having offered up my van driving skills, I arranged to meet him and Evil Joe (his housemate-to-be and also both of ours onetime former housemate) on Shoreditch High Street after work on Friday at the van hire company. On arrival I was greeted by the sight of a huge Mercedes Benz van parked outside the company’s office, of the sort where the distinction between van and truck becomes very blurred.
“Cripes,” I thought as I peered up and along it, struggling to get more than a small portion of it within my line of sight without standing 30 feet away. I’d never had the opportunity to drive a Mercedes before, but was unsure if I wanted to start at such a seemingly advanced level. “How the hell am I going to manage this bad boy?”
Mercifully, it turned out not to be our vehicle, and our transport was much more along the car-to-plumber’s-van distinction.
Later that evening, Eddie and I pulled onto Lynmouth Road in his new neighbourhood of Stamford Hill.
“Crikey!” I exclaimed, “Look at these lot!”
The streetlight lit street was lined with scores of Orthodox Jews, bearded men all wearing large furry Shtreimel hats and long dark coats, ushering their children to the synagogue.
“Yes, there’s quite a lot of them round these parts,” Eddie told me.
“Really?” I rather absurdly asked, ignoring what my eyes were telling me.
My experience of the area had previously been limited to quick glances out of the bus window, and I’d been totally unaware that Stamford Hill is home to a significant Jewish population, let alone an Orthodox one. I’d rather assumed that, since being driven out of the East End of London by the likes of Oswald Mosley in the 1930s (and, of course, later by the Blitz) they’d mainly decamped to the more palatial surrounding of Golders Green and Finchley. But no, not all of them. Stamford Hill is in fact home to 25,000 Jews of the orthodox Hasidic movement, a number swelled in the 1950s by Hasidim leaving Hungary after the 1956 Soviet Invasion, and thus represents the largest Hasidic community outside of Israel and New York. There are around 20 schools in the area catering for Hasidic children and over 70 synagogues (including those contained within people’s homes). So devout are these people that a significant proportion of the men work part-time or are completely unemployed in order so they can dedicate as much time as possible to studying the Torah. Often, the rest of the community subsidises these individuals so their study, considered to be of high importance, can continue. The community is a largely anti-Zionist one, especially the one hundred or so families in the area who belong to the Neturei Karta, a group who have been known to attend pro-Palestinian State rallies to voice their belief that a sovereign Jewish State, such as Israel, is a blasphemous rejection of the will of God.
By Saturday, the last of Eddie’s things had been transferred from N7 to N17. I felt a pang of sorrow as I surveyed his now totally bare room. But ever onwards, his replacement is due in the next couple of weeks; one Louise (for here on to be referred to as Housemate Louise) who I’m sure you will hear a lot more of presently. Housemate Louise is a graduate of St Martins School of Art, and actually has a job which is related to her degree. I was most surprised to hear this, believing that Art graduates beat only Psychology graduates in having to seek out jobs with scant relation to their studies. Housemate Louise is not previously known to Housemate Reggae and I. We decided it could be interesting to go for an random girl, not because we are cantankerous pervs (well, we are cantankerous pervs… but this wasn’t the reason) but because we thought it would offer up an exciting new flat dynamic. We shall see.
4 weeks ago