A very convivial lunch today at a friend's place - he's recently started renting a flat in Stepney Green. Dunstan Houses, to be precise. Top floor. In fact, the exact same flat where Rudolf Rocker - the leader of the influential Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement in the East End before the First World War - lived a century ago.'Yes, this was the Rocker residence', he declared, with a distinct and entirely justifiable sense of pride. 'There used to be a portrait of Malatesta on that wall, and of Bakunin on that wall.'
Hang on a moment - entirely credible but how does he know? Well, because Rudolf Rocker's son, the artist Fermin Rocker, wrote a wonderful memoir
of growing up in Dunstan Houses - graced by his own drawing of the building.
The family moved in in about 1910. 'Dunstan Houses', Fermin recalled, 'though hardly an abode for the affluent, nevertheless had its own class distinctions and offered a scale of accommodations for the poor, the poorer, and the poorest. ... No. 33 was in what might be termed the luxury wing of the building. We had such conveniences as a private kitchen and a private lavatory ...'
Fermin writes that he looked upon his father 'as a god' - a sentiment not entirely in spirit with the movement. Then again you could say that Rudolf Rocker's undoubted leadership of the Jewish anarchist movement (though he was himself a 'goy', a gentile) was also not entirely in step with the libertarian, 'no master, high or low', ethos.
Rocker's own memoir, The London Years, has a drawing of him by his son on its cover.
Heading back from Stepney Green, we drove along Jubilee Street - the site of the anarchist club, which thrived from 1906 for almost a decade and was the beating heart of the movement. Nice to have a sense of proximity to a culture, a movement, which has now so utterly gone.
A rebirth. Just by Tufnell Park tube station. Just over a year ago, the newspaper stall outside Tufnell Park station closed abruptly. And with it went part of the routine of my - and many others - weekday mornings. I still miss it, and the cheery old guy who used to call me 'young man' (I'm in my 50s).This week, the kiosk has come back to life. As a flower stall. 'Violet and Frederick', it's called. Open from lunchtime to mid-evening.
It adds a little life and colour to what is a fairly drab five-way junction. I'll be doing my best to keep the business afloat.And it's a good excuse to post again the picture which has generated far more interest than anything else I've put on this blog - Fermin Rocker's wonderfully evocative painting of the old newspaper kiosk. Enjoy!
Fermin Rocker, 'Newspaper Kiosk, Tufnell Park'
Every now and again, when I pop into a second hand bookshop, I buy something I've already got - just because it's a book I like so much, I can't leave without it.
Yesterday, at the Oxfam bookshop in Kentish Town, I bought this title - Fermin Rocker's lively reminiscences of his East End childhood before and during the First World War. It cost £1.99. I've already got a copy - indeed I also have a copy in the original German, a language I don't read or speak.
So, the first person to tell me as a comment on this blog that they want this book gets it. Gratis! I'll even pay the postage. And let me explain why you should want it.
Fermin Rocker's father was Rudolf Rocker, a German gentile who was the leading figure in the very influential largely Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement in London's East End in the early years of the last century. Fermin's memoirs cover the period when that movement was at its zenith.Fermin grew up to be a considerable artist - and his painting of the paper kiosk at Tufnell Park tube, which I posted here some time ago, attracted a huge amount of interest.
His memoirs have several of his drawings - including the one on the cover, of Dunstan Houses in Stepney where he grew up. There are also photographs such as the one below, Fermin with his parents, taken - at a guess - in the early 1930s.So, anyone interested?
This site achieved a milestone yesterday - more than 500 page hits on a day. And all thanks to Twitter!Yesterday morning, someone I have never met, Alex Smith - though
I am now following him on Twitter and he's in pursuit of me too - tweeted about a blog entry I wrote
five months ago. It was a lament about the abrupt closure of the newspaper stall at Tufnell Park tube station - more than that, it was illustrated by a very fine painting of that stall by Fermin Rocker
. I am posting that again below.Anyway, Alex (part of the Ed Miliband posse, which has adopted Tufnell Park - see here)
has a large social media footprint, he was quickly retweeted, and by the end of the day the blog post had, almost, gone viral.Alex wants to know when Fermin painted this city scape, and whether any prints are available. And I'll be putting that about on Twitter too!STOP PRESS: Fermin's son Philip believes this painting was much later than one might imagine, and was sold at the Stephen Bartley gallery in Kensington in the 1980s or '90s. 'As everyone says - it looks more like the 1950's - but then my dad's work froze at about 1960 and if anything went slightly backwards in his last years.' And the amount of interest sent traffic to thie site soaring on Saturday to not far off 1,000 page impressions in a day! But then it is a terrific piece of art.
Fermin Rocker - 'Newspaper Kiosk, Tufnell Park'
Fermin Rocker 'Newspaper Kiosk, Tufnell Park'
Not many newspaper kiosks feature in works of fine art. The painting by my old friend Fermin Rocker
- who died in 2004 - captures the wonderful paper stall outside Tufnell Park tube station. A stall I patronised every weekday on my way to work. Until the end of last week.The stall is now closed - 'until further notice', says the forbidding notice. The staff at the tube station say it has gone for good. Every morning, I handed over my pound coin for a copy of the 'Daily Telegraph'. "There you are, young man", the older assistant would say when on duty. No one else calls me young these days. And indeed, his tune had changed of late to "there you go, old mate", which is a touch more intimate but less motivating.You can make out the stall in its modern incarnation in the photo below. They never said it was about to close. It's a sudden death. Part of my routine lost. A much larger part of the stall holder and his colleagues' lives gone. I grieve its passing.
Photo: Sunil 060902 CreativeCommons