John Vane: Evangelising on the 253

John Vane: Evangelising on the 253

I was on the 253, crawling up to Stamford Hill. Earlier, I had watched three small Charedi boys hanging over the back fence of the filling station, ringlets swinging, entertained by something on the forecourt, laughing, chattering, perhaps soon to be told off.

There was time to observe them thanks to the very slow progress of the bus. But by the time I reached Clapton Common, a fellow passenger had revved things up.

‘I’m not being Islamophobic, I’m evangelising,’ she said, very loudly, into her phone.

She was blonde and plump and wore black leggings and a lime green anorak. Her hair was wrangled into plaited bunches. Her accent was, I think, mildly east European, suggesting she’d lived in London for some time. Sitting beside her, looking neutrally through the window, seemingly well-used to proximity to foghorn mobile conversations, was a boy aged about eight. At her feet sprawled a big soft dog.

‘It is a witch hunt,’ she explained. ‘Someone saw what I did on TikTok. I’m only being a Christian.’

They were at the front end of the bus, a New Routemaster, in seats facing backwards, so she could see every other passenger looking at her – or as in my case, trying not to – and also hearing her, loud, unbridled and clear. I had already blocked one of my ears. Naturally, she had her speakerphone on, so the sympathetic noises of the man she was talking to were almost as audible.

On the street outside, the ultra-Orthodox were doing their Saturday thing. Charedi women, seemingly attired for a special occasion in swishy satin dresses – turquoise, mauve – above their flat shoes were conversing. Charedi men sailed past sporting shtreimels that seemed impossibly precarious, defying every expectation gravity devised.

‘They said I’m antisemitic too,’ complained the woman on the bus. The man on the other end, his voice coming through low, slow and sympathetic, seemed to be relating his own similar experience of being wronged. And this wasn’t just a moral issue, the Christian woman urged him to understand. There were productivity implications too.

‘I am going to take sick leave,’ she said, her exasperated yet, I felt, slightly self-satisfied umbrage rising like a sermon above the earthly judder of the bus. ‘I can’t perform to the best of my ability.’

It was big a relief when she, boy and dog got off before the crossroads at the top of the rise.

The combination of embarrassment in the face of her complete lack of it and the glimpse she had provided of a perhaps insoluble clash of workplace values and non-workplace free speech rights was overloading me both emotionally and intellectually.

Speculating about the unvoiced reactions to her of fellow passengers, an unremarkable example of London’s always remarkable human mix, produced in me an anxious pessimism, perhaps reflecting a broader mood of the times. And the buses are going slower too.

John Vane’s self-published a London novel Frightgeist – A Tall Tale of Fearful Times is a political satire set in an alternative version of the capital a few years ago. You can buy it from or from the Pages of Hackney bookshop. Go on. You’ll love it. X/Twitter: Vane Writer. Image from Google Maps.

Categories: Culture, John Vane's London Stories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *