October 22nd, 2003


I'm tempted to write 'Dead Schuls', so I have...

I've been living in Stamford Hill for about a year now. It's not an area I knew particularly well before I moved here; although for the previous year I lived in Stoke Newington, which is only a ten minute walk from here.

My first memory of Stamford Hill is when I'd just left school and I travelled down to Clapton with C______ on the 253 bus to visit Nathan, who was living down in Clapton with his mum. The thing that struck me was that people on the bus were chatting away in Yiddish and I'd never really heard that language before except in films. So, this is Stamford Hill, I thought.

Nathan's room was decorated with a number of curious paper and wooden sculptures. He was playing the Smiths a fair amount at that point in time and used to drive a VW Beetle inside of which he had attached a non-functional phone receiver to the glove compartment: wind the window down on the motorway, pull up next to other cars, hand it out the window, 'It's for you!'. The pre-mobile world. One of the intriguing Nathan facts was his familial relation to Aleister Crowley, which kind of suited his psychobilly/Bauhaus look of the time and I found the fact quite intriguing. Apparently, the Beast was not discussed by the family, although it could have been a possible avenue for Goth dates in those days. Not an approach he used, I think! He's ended up being a succesful art director out in Hollywood and, if memory serves me right, married Roy Scheider's daughter at some point. Mmm, maybe not Roy Scheider, that's a bit fuzzy, but some actor anyway. Looks like he's doing Batman 5 now. He was a good person, but not anyone I stayed in contact with.

One of the things I like about Stamford Hill is its non-nature. There's not so much to notice about it. It's a shallow hill leading up to a busy crossroads. Reasons that you might come to Stamford Hill are:

1. You're travelling through on a bus.
2. You're Jewish.
3. Someone you know lives in Stamford Hill.

There's no great Stamford Hill shopping opportunities, aside from a reasonable concentration of kosher delicatessens and similar Jewish outlets (hats, shoes, books). Stamford Hill is also unlikely to become as gentrified as Stoke Newington has slowly become - a kind of Islington Lite. Things that Stamford Hill could do with are:

1. A pub nearer the house.

What I have noticed is the increasing number of non-Jewish East Europeans who are moving here, chiefly because of low rents I imagine. There's a largish Polish community, but I've also noticed Bulgarians, Croats and a few non-elitny Russians. There were even some Roma outside Safeways last week. Given the size of the Orthodox population here, it makes it curiously like an inversed pre-1939 Europe. I'm glad that area has escaped any virulent outbreaks of anti-semitism as well. Some of the rabbis have been working hard with local Muslim leaders to ensure an understanding about their attitude to Israel and Zionism, but I worry. Maybe this casual entente won't survive. It will only take one ignorant fanatic and a crowded schul.

Down by the crossroads, there's an off-licence - Did I really see a bar called Costakis Anamnesis out the bus window last night? - that has been acting as a type of informal bar over the summer. It's next to a wide pavement area with a few benches and raised planters for people to sit on. When you're on low wage and conceivably alcoholic, you're not going to buy a pint for £2.50 when you can load up on superlager and cider for the same price.

Now it's turned cold, people have dispersed, but there was a brief flowering of continental street drinkers over the summer. For the most part, street drinkers in the UK go for the old purple tin (Tennents Super) or Special Brew; beers with a 8-10% alcohol content that are a pound a pop. The other drink of choice comes in a large green or blue bottle and claims to be some form of cider, although the original relationship with apples is unclear. These always seem to be called White Something or Another (but, curiously, not White Trash or, even, White Power). Unsurprisingly, there's an apparent lack of web resources on end-of-the-line alcoholic drinks, but there must be one somewhere, perhaps at www.yarghthfuarkingcrunt.com. A few weeks back, at about ten in the morning, there was a man mixing dark rum and Lipton's Lemon Iced Tea into two cups for him and a friend. I was very impressed with this. Not just the comparative stylishness of the drink (I was tempted to ask for a sip. It looked pretty good), but by the evident presence of manners. Maybe later that day they lay half-deranged in a park or squatted building and were incoherent with both themselves and the world, but then they seemed another world compared to your standard British street drinker. Class has pretty much gone out of street drinking since people abandoned VP wine (a noxious British sherry) for supercharged drinks - crack cocaine of the alcohol world.

My supervisor for Russan cultural history, Orlando Figes, took the title of his recent book, Natasha's Dance, from the episode in War and Peace where Natasha and Nikolai spend an evening with their uncle after a day's hunting. When her uncle starts playing the guitar, she starts dancing, not in a salon or western derived style, but as a Russian. The episode illustrates that for Tolstoy the European airs of the court and aristocracy go only so deep, Russia lies beneath. Natasha, even though she has no memory of doing so before, is swept up in something almost beyond her control. It's a moment in the book a number of people have commented on. Perhaps similarly, in that gesture of drink mixing and sharing, I noticed something beyond the simple act of getting drunk. There was a flamboyance to the drink, to the movement, that wasn't from here and spoke of another world. Then you'd blink and the moment was gone. It was just a noisy interchange in an unappealing part of north east London.

The presentation went alright, but not as smoothly as I would have wanted. The class is only just finding their feet and I was the only person in the room to have read Gogol aside from Figes so no one had much to say about him and I distinctly failed in getting people to rush out to the bookshop afterward. So forgive me Nikolai, I should have done better for you. Went to the bar with a few people afterwards. Two American students from the class came along, both from LA. One of them freely admitted to voting for Schwarzenegger. She was curiously pale for a Californian and I couldn't help but think that she was not only anaemic, but following some curious dietary plan (I'm naturally suspicious of people who don't drink. Okay, I can understand no alcohol, but no liquids? What are they, alien life forms? It makes me sad. A very different understanding of manners. For me, you refuse a drink/food, you insult the host/household. Maybe it's some kind of Californian anti-ta'rof she was practitising). The other certainly didn't vote for Arnie. Later, at the urinal, a man said to me 'Is that girl you're sitting with a Valley Girl?' The Republican one was. 'No, that was the one that just left. She voted for Schwarzenegger.' 'She looked kind of cute'. 'It's that sleeping with the enemy thing, gives it a frisson'. 'Schwarzenegger, eh?' ''Don't even think about it'.

Angelina Jolie news follows shortly.
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