I spent the penultimate weekend of January at Kensington Olympia attending the massive annual Adventure Travel Show. It is essentially an exhibition where travel agencies large and small as well as tourism boards showcase their services, but what interested me most were the specials: talks, seminars and the Adventure Film Festival.
It is Valentine’s Day 2016, 10 am. We are standing in the street of London’s Soho, waiting in the cold. All around us thousands of people are pointing their cameras at something about to emerge from around the corner.
First we hear it: drums, singing and some other unidentified instruments. And then we see it an open mouth of a giant golden and red dragon coming our way, carried on the shoulders of several people. All of a sudden everyone lining up on the pavement along the road pours to the street to take a closer look and snap a photo, ignoring the pleas of helpless security guards.
The East London borough of Hackney is one of the most diverse in the city. It has grand Victorian townhouses sitting next to drab-looking blocks of social housing. Trendy cafes are full of young and beautiful hipsters in oversized glasses and circulation-restricting jeans sipping flat whites. Former warehouses are being converted into bohemian lofts at eye-watering prices. Next to all this women in burkhas pass by like shadows.
In the heart of Hackney, at Stamford Hill, lives one of the most secretive and closely-knit communities in London: the Hasidic Haredi Jews. Around 20,000 people inhabit an area just over one square mile, where you can find as many as 74 synagogues and 32 Orthodox Jewish schools. Their way of life bears no resemblance to the 21st century – they are permanently suspended sometime in the 19th century, somewhere in Eastern Europe.