Chiswick Book Festival – Vanity Fair

Vanity Fair will be the theme of the opening night of the 2018 Chiswick Book Festival on Thursday 13 September. 

ITV’s ‘new sexed-up period drama’ (The Telegraph) hits our screens next Sunday, 2 September at 9.00pm and has all the makings of a huge hit. The screenwriter is Gwyneth Hughes, (Dark Angel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood). the director is James Strong (Broadchurch, Doctor Who) and the production company is Mammoth Screen, who made Poldark.

The star-studded cast includes Michael Palin, Frances de la Tour and Martin Clunes but the lead roles are all played by actors in their twenties: Olivia Cooke (24) plays the heroine Becky Sharp, Tom Bateman (29) her husband Rawdon Crawley and Claudia Jessie (28) her best friend Amelia Sedley. 

The production is designed to appeal to today’s audience. ‘In the social-climbing Becky Sharp, it has a heroine in tune with today’s materialistic, self-obsessed world’ says the Daily Mail. “She would be so self-promoting and she would love social media,” Olivia Cook tells The Telegraph. The soundtrack includes Madonna’s Material Girl. 


 ITV production of Vanity Fair, pictures courtesy of ITV

The Chiswick connection

Director of the Chiswick Book Festival Torin Douglas is very astute at picking up on current TV drama series to launch the festival at Chiswick House. Last year the theme was Jane Austen, with actor Imogen Stubbs. The year before it was Victoria. Queen Victoria we know visited Chiswick House, the Austen connection was a bit more tenuous but Vanity Fair is right on the button, as William Thackeray went to school in Chiswick and the book’s first chapter is set in Chiswick Mall.

Places in Old Chiswick associated with William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair  – Walpole House, Chiswick Square, and a plaque marking the garden where Thackeray describes Becky Sharp throwing the dictionary  

The evening is already sold out but there is a waiting list, so it is worth emailing if you would like to see writer Gwyneth Hughes and actor Claudia Jessie with Thackeray scholar Professor John Sutherland talking about Vanity Fair, chaired by Torin Douglas on Thursday 13 September. 

You can read more about the Chiswick Book Festival and the Director Torin Douglas in the This Is Chiswick pages of The Chiswick Calendar website.

Chiswick’s Festival Month

That’s it, summer’s over. Back to work, back to school, no more sea, sand and sunshine. But all is not lost for just as the holiday season comes to an end so Chiswick’s Festival season begins.

Starting with Fuller’s Open Day next Saturday (1 September) and Tidefest next Sunday (2 September), we look forward to the Chiswick Book Festival, this year celebrating its 10th year, from 13 – 17 September and for the first time this year the Cook Book Festival from 12 – 16 September.

We have our own Chiswick In Pictures exhibition from Monday 10 September – Saturday 27 October, with the Private View on Wednesday 12 September (NB this is a change of date – see below) and our autumn Jazz season starts on Thursday 27 September at George IV with the UK’s leading exponents of Gypsy Jazz, Trio Manouche.

Last but not least the Chiswick House Dog Show on Sunday 23 September, in honour of which we will be featuring a Dog of the Day each day on The Chiswick Calendar website, starting on 1 September.

So if you’re shaking out the sand and putting the beach bag away for another year, fear not for there is plenty to look forward to here in Chiswick. And if you haven’t got round to getting a Chiswick Calendar Club Card yet and would like one, collar me at any of these events for a card which will give you access to all sorts of deals and discounts from quality local businesses. (Or just sign up here and we will send you one, whether you’re a new subscriber or already a subscriber who just needs a card).

This is one woman you might prefer to email

Emma Bache, the UK’s leading handwriting expert, lives in Chiswick and she can tell everything about you from your handwriting – almost. “It’s easier to describe what I can’t tell than what I can” she told me, so if you have contact with this woman and you’re planning a murder, don’t write her a note, send her an email.

Emma’s interest in graphology sprang from a chance weekend course in the subject in the 1980s, which led to her her studying it herself and building a career partly as a newspaper columnist, partly as an entertainer at parties, where she reads the guests’ handwriting and analyses their personalities for the fun of it (Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson have employed her in this way) and partly as a consultant in the corporate world, analysing the personality of candidates for big jobs.

She says she can tell from a person’s handwriting if they’re depressed or angry, alcoholic or even sexually violent. When in entertainer mode she’ll pick out the positives and keep her own counsel about the bad stuff, but in the corporate world it’s the bad stuff she’s paid for – is this person honest, hard working, someone who works well with other people? Do they have an addictive personality?

She’s analysed the writing of thousands of well-known people, from Donald Trump to William Shakespeare. She liked Rupert Murdoch by the way. “He’s intelligent, quick-witted, hard-working. I didn’t see anything negative” she told me.

Emma’s book Reading Between The Lines is published on 6th September by Quercus books – not an academic book but a fun and family friendly book, she assures me, explaining how to read handwriting – the significance of each facet: the size, the shape, the spacing, the way in which the letters are connected and so on. She’ll be conducting a workshop on the subject at the Chiswick Book Festival on Sunday 16 September, 2-4pm at Arts Ed.

The three things she can’t tell from a person’s handwriting might surprise you: their gender, their age and whether they’re right or left handed.

Book tickets to the Chiswick Book Festival here.

Thinking about getting back on the bike?

A new scheme is starting in Chiswick in September to enable nervous cyclists who may like to get back on their bikes to cycle with their kids. Hounslow Cycling Campaign, in conjunction with the London Borough of Hounslow and Ealing Council, has organised accredited trainers to provide the classes.

The pilot scheme – completely free – will run over four Saturdays, starting on 15th September, in Chiswick. There will be two adult-centred classes (2 hours each), followed by two classes for adults and children. Tabards will be supplied, bikes and helmets are being sourced to try out. Lessons will include safety, courtesy and road legislation. The course will be fun and safe. For those who complete the course there will be rewards and gifts (mainly for the kids!)

Courses are tailored to the participants. The trainers are accredited with the Department of Transport and have carried out thousands of hours of training, with adults (eg. lorry drivers), primary and secondary school pupils. Hounslow Cycling Campaign hopes that this will become a regular feature, so if you fancy getting back in the saddle and can’t make these dates, get in touch with them anyway.

For further information, or to book your place, go to
or email:

Maggie & Rose expands to China

Maggie & Rose, which currently has branches in Kensington, Chiswick and Hong Kong is expanding to China. Since China has relaxed its one child policy, nursery schools and clubs for children and families are suddenly very good businesses to be in.

The first of the upmarket family clubs to open in mainland China will be in Hangzhou on 24 September and it will be swiftly followed by new clubs in Hong Kong in November and Singapore in December, with more planned.

Maggie Bolger, the Maggie half of Maggie & Rose talked to me about how her concept – a private club which caters for children and their parents, where the children can be inspired and have fun and parents can also relax and enjoy a meal without having to eat soggy pizza or processed sausages and baked beans in a drafty church hall – has become an international brand. 

Read her profile in the This Is Chiswick feature section.

End of an era for the houseboats at Watermans Park in Brentford

The last remaining houseboat owners at Watermans Park in Brentford are packing up and leaving this week, having lost their appeal in June to remain at the moorings. The scenario is being replicated up and down the river as the riverside is being developed, houseboat living is becoming more popular and the lucrative possibilities in the gentrification of the riverside are recognized. Susan Penhaligon, the actor who lives in a houseboat in Chiswick, says the time has come for river dwellers to have some rights in law. What the Brentford example highlights is that unlike land-dwellers, a community which has been established for decades can be evicted with no legal redress if they don’t own the land on which their boats are moored.

Photograph above: Houseboat owner Paul Mendoza, preparing to leave his mooring at Watermans Park


Photographs above: the few remaining houseboats at Watermans Park in Brentford, fenced off from the land and surrounded by abandoned and rotting boats

A long and bitter fight

In the case of Watermans Park there are legitimate arguments on both sides. The protracted legal battle which is reputed to have cost Hounslow £750,000 of our council tax money can be presented as the story of a bunch of squatters trespassing on council owned property and holding up the development of the whole area with their fight to stay there with their scruffy looking boats, or as the decimation of a legitimate community who have lived there for decades in their houseboats, made homeless by a heartless council.

The fight has been long and bitter. As far as the boat owners were concerned they were there quite legally, as they had been for years, and they were subjected to a campaign of harassment by the council only after it had decided to create a £5.45m new marina. The council took action to evict 25 houseboat owners initially. Most decided to move on rather than face a court battle. The case went ahead against eight, the decision going against the houseboat owners last November. Five of them decided to appeal and on some points the judge agreed with them, but not enough to avoid eviction. The key point was that the council was held to own the River Wall and the land on which the boats were moored.

The great moorings grab

Who owns river moorings is often ambiguous. The riverbank is often unregistered. The Port of London Authority has registered a lot of land in the last few years along the length of the tidal Thames in order to clarify what is owned by them. Successive court cases have shown that it can be quite hard to prove. Even defining what is land and what is river can be tricky. (Anything above mean high water of medium tides is considered land, everything below that as river).

House boat owners have to have a license from the PLA to moor and communities which have lived peaceably on the river for decades are realizing that they have very little in the way of  legal rights, whether they pay the Port Authority for a license to moor or not. If the landowner decides to take back the land and use it differently, it’s time to sling your hook.

Chelsea houseboats given notice

River dwellers in Chelsea, whose colourful boats have been a part of the landscape for many years, recently found their community under threat when 15 houseboat owners received termination notices on the basis that they had failed to carry out dry docking safety inspections, after the Chelsea Yacht and Boat Company was acquired by property developers. “It’s a bit like a village being bought and suddenly you’ve got a new landowner” said one.

The major difference is that river dwellers have fewer rights than people living in a static caravan on land. Susan Penhaligon (known best for TV series A Bouquet of Barbed Wire and A Fine Romance and films such as Count Dracula) says that’s because a boat is considered to be a ‘chattel’. She thinks it’s time the law was changed. She sold a  house twenty years ago which would be worth more than a million pounds now, to move to a Dutch barge. “It’s a lifestyle choice” she says, “it’s joyful, peaceful.” She enjoys the constant changes with the tide and the weather, fish jumping; the spiritual nature of living by water and being surrounded by nature, as does Pepper, her Patterdale terrier rescue dog.

Photographs above: Susan Penhaligon aboard her boat, rowing on the River Fal in Cornwall as a child and her dog Pepper enjoying the view

The gentrification of the riverside a ‘moral issue’ says Susan Penhaligon

She rejects the characterization of river dwellers as a bunch of hippies and ne’er-do-wells and loves being part of a community which includes both million pound boats and tiny narrow boats. “For me the gentrification of the river is a moral issue” she says. Many residents like Susan don’t see why the council could not have come to an arrangement with the houseboat community at Watermans rather than evicting them. A Labour council turfing out people who have chosen to live on the river as a low cost option, in the middle of a housing crisis, does not sit well with her.

The river is more popular she says, there are some hugely expensive boats upwards of a million pounds and the councils and the PLA have noticed that they can get more money for mooring rights. Because houseboat owners have very few legal rights it is far too easy to throw them off their moorings. “I believe that houseboats which don’t have an engine should at least have the same mooring rights as a static caravan” she says. Living on the river is “evolving” she says and it’s time for improvement in their situation.

Meanwhile the last few houseboat owners, including Paul Mendoza, one of those who appealed the decision at Watermans Park, are spending their last few days preparing to leave, separated off from the riverside walk way and public park by huge fences and surrounded by the rotting debris of boats abandoned by those who gave up the unequal struggle a year ago. A sad way for a community to end.

Chiswick In Pictures exhibition

Come and see the work of some of Chiswick’s best artists all together under one roof. The Chiswick Calendar is organising another of our periodic exhibitions of pictures, celebrating the wealth of artistic talent in Chiswick and seeing the place where we live through their eyes.

From Monday 10 September until Saturday 27 October, 18 professional artists who live locally will be showing their pictures of Chiswick in the atrium of the Clayton Hotel Chiswick at 626 Chiswick High Rd, W4 5RY.

Among the artists taking part are Jon Perry and Anna Kunst, whose photography is regularly seen on the pages of The Chiswick Calendar website

Also taking part are digital artists Keith Davidson and Rennie Pilgrem and print maker Rachel Busch, whose latest work focuses on the famous Voysey building, home of the Sanderson wallpaper company.

Allotment by Rennie Pilgrem

The delicate watercolours of Hugh Bredin, such as his timeless painting of Hogarth’s House reflect the history of Chiswick, while images such as Cranes by Jason Bowyer P.P.N.E.A.C., RP, PS show how the area is changing – a constant building site for new development. Christine Berrington‘s watercolours observe people relaxing and enjoying the green spaces of Chiswick, while Arabella Harcourt-Cooze focuses on the constantly changing panorama of the River Thames.

Boats on the River by Arabella Harcourt-Cooze

We held our first Chiswick In Pictures exhibition last autumn and it was a huge success. Artists returning from last year include Joanna Brendon MBE, MA, Jill Meager, Francis Bowyer P.P.R.W.S., N.E.A.C, and Glynis Porter.

Artists joining us for the first time this year include George Christie, Humphrey Bangham, Louise Kaye, Sophie Ashdown Coady and Isobel Johnstone. Some have always been professional artists: Humphrey is a successful film and TV set designer as well as commercial artist, with a career spanning 30 years. 

Strand on the Green by Humphrey Bangham

Others have drawn and painted all their lives but have earned their daily crust doing something else: George Christie as an architect, Louise Kaye in marketing. They’ve gone on to develop a new career as an artist in retirement. Isobel Johnstone was for many years Curator in charge of the Arts Council Collection at the Hayward Gallery at London’s South Bank Centre.

Sweet Chestnuts by Isobel Johnstone

Come and meet them at the (not so!) Private View on Thursday 13 September and enjoy their pictures of Chiswick. 

Read more about the artists taking part in the exhibition on The Chiswick Calendar website

Meeting Anthony Horowitz

I had the pleasure of meeting Anthony Horowitz this week, to do a video interview with him for the Chiswick Book Festival. I first came across him through his children’s books, delightfully scary stories such as Groosham Grange and Granny, then his teenage fiction, the Alex Rider series, with a hero who could easily be the young James Bond, though set in a different era.

His writing is fast paced and funny; his characters larger than life, and with some 40 books under his belt as well as TV and film scripts for well-known titles such as Foyles War and Midsummer Murders, not to mention all his journalism and theatre work, who better to write the prequel to Ian Fleming’s James Bond series?

The Fleming estate has asked several authors to continue the James Bond oeuvre. Kingsley Amis, William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks have all written Bond books. Anthony Horowitz openly admits to having lobbied for the gig. Trigger Mortis was published in 2015. Forever and a Day is his second Bond book and in it he gets to shape the character of the great spy and fill in a little of the background of what made Bond the cold, ruthless charmer he is.

He talked to me about how he approached the delicate task of writing a well loved hero and fleshing out the character a little without upsetting the fans. See the interview below.

Energetic and prolific as Anthony Horowitz is, although Forever and a Day was only published two months ago and is as yet available only in hardback, he proudly showed me the finished manuscript of his next book Another Word for Murder (sequel to The Word is Murder) which he finished writing just two weeks ago. Another Word for Murder will be published in the autumn and he will be talking about it at the Book Festival.

Anthony Horowitz will be appearing at the Chiswick Book Festival on Saturday 15 September. You can buy tickets here

Good books to read this summer – All Quiet in the Western Suburbs by John H Grigg

Imagine being stuck in Belgium in charge of a bunch of boy scouts when war breaks out. Such was the predicament of Chiswick’s District Scoutmaster Mr H.S. Martin in August 1914. He managed to get the camp packed up and the boys on the boat train from Brussels to Ostend; ‘there was pandemonium in Brussels where shops were closing and soldiers were commandeering every available horse;’ but when they arrived at Ostend the connecting boat already had 1,400 passengers aboard and left without them. They slept overnight on the quay and waited for the next boat, which came at 08.30 the following day. They were among 2,000 waiting for it; ‘soldiers with fixed bayonets were sent down but the crowd was too great for them … the fights were indescribable but the deck was eventually reached and at 10.00am the boat steamed out of the harbor amidst a volley of cheers’.

His account of their hasty return to England was published on 7 August 1914 in the Chiswick Times and is one of many such accounts collected by local historian John H Grigg into a new book ‘All Quiet in the Western Suburbs’, a chronicle of how Chiswick and the surrounding neighbourhood was affected by the First World War, as seen through the letters sent home by soldiers and the articles in the local press.

It’s taken John many years of scouring the archives to collate these first hand accounts and it makes a fascinating read, not just for researchers and would-be historians but for anyone with an interest in the war or in the history of where they live. It could be very dull, as many of the letters deal with the mundane, but it’s beautifully edited and contextualized by John. The troops couldn’t write anything too graphic as it would have been censored, so the reader of necessity ends up reading between the lines:

9 August 1918 ‘Had the misfortune to be taken prisoner of war. Very pleased to hear Polly Clements has joined the tanks. Pleased to hear George Mason has joined up and he should be a sergeant …’

And what was life like as a prisoner of war????? How did he come to be taken prisoner? How was he treated? While at times frustrating, John says ‘Nevertheless there are descriptions of the horrors of war and life in the trenches’ as well as a clear picture of what life was like for those back home. ‘Theses are accounts direct from the men in the ranks and give some insight into how they sustained themselves in the midst of the horrors of war, with thoughts of loved ones, music and happier times at home’.

All Quiet in the Western Suburbs’ begins with the months leading up to the war when spy fever gripped the land. There are accounts of ludicrous situations where blameless folk are accused of spying, just going about their ordinary business. One lad, 19 year old William Ellis, was shot dead while stealing walnuts beside the Great Western Railway. He ran away when challenged and was shot by a soldier guarding the railway, who was subsequently commended for doing his duty so promptly. John describes the panic buying in the High Rd as the war started and how the news of peace was received in Chiswick at the end.

The book, published in paperback by Youcaxton History Publications is available direct from John. Email him at
Price £14.99  You can read the first chapter here.

Good books to read this summer – The Killing of Butterfly Joe by Rhidian Brook

The Killing of Butterfly Joe’ by Rhidian Jones is a road trip book set in 1987; ‘a love letter to the America I experienced’ says the author, evoking the spirit of a different time and revisiting his ’23 year old, hedonistic, slightly selfish’ self.

Rhidian, who lives in Barnes, is TV and film script writer (Silent Witness, Africa United) whose first novel ‘The Testimony Of Taliesin Jones’ won the 1997 Somerset Maugham Award and was subsequently made into a film starring Jonathan Pryce and Ian Bannen. His book ‘The Aftermath’, based on his grandfather’s experiences in postwar Germany, has also been made into a film, starring Keira Knightley, which is due for release next March.

The Killing of Butterfly Joe’ is about a young Welsh writer who, as the result of a chance meeting, finds himself travelling 32 states of the USA selling exotic butterflies in glass cases. So far, so autobiographical. The Joe of the title is the based on the real life salesman and botanical explorer he met in Jamaica, where the man was looking for the world’s second largest butterfly, the Giant Swallowtail. An ‘iconoclast’, a larger than life character whose passion and belief led the real Rhidian and fictional Llew astray, on an epic adventure.

The book is hard to characterize. It’s kind of a thriller, in that you know something bad is going to happen from the outset, but it’s much lighter in tone. “I wanted to make people smile” he told me. “It’s an arm wrestle between tragedy and comedy.” The characters are fun and the style is original. When introducing Rhidian at the Hay Festival this year, Director Peter Florence described the book as ‘Brideshead Revisited meets the Dukes of Hazzard,’ which I think is a very apt description. It has the foreboding and weight and the carelessness of gilded youth of Brideshead and the comedy and zany, sassy, I-can-take-on-the-world Americanness of the Dukes of Hazzard.

It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, which has attracted comments such as: ‘A wonderful entertainment. A thoroughly readable and appealingly eccentric book’ (the Times), ‘a boldly unique … beautiful story beautifully told … with a brilliantly teased out sense of dread’ (Culturefly) and ‘An exuberant, coming-of-age romp … bittersweet comedy of sentimental education … larger-than-life fun’ (Daily Mail). Available in hardback from all good book stores for £14.99 (paperback due next February). It too looks set to become a film, so if you are one of those people who likes to boast ‘I’ve read the book; the book was better’, best run out and buy it now!

Are you paying over the odds for service charges?

Last week’s story about a group of leaseholders in Chiswick whose landlords were ordered by the London Residential Property, First Tier Tribunal to pay them back £48,000 in unreasonable service charges has inspired other leaseholders in Chiswick to get in touch.

Tara Doyle, who represented the leaseholders at the tribunal, is keen to help other in a similar situation, as she now has a certain amount of knowledge about the legal process and is happy to pass it on. Several people have got in touch with us through our email address: and we have passed these emails on to her.

Time perhaps for a Chiswick leaseholders’ association to share the pain?

You can read about the Old Timber Court residents’ case on The Chiswick Calendar website. The judge described Seloc Asset Management’s approach as ‘casual’ and ‘chaotic’ and praised the residents for ‘sticking to their guns’. The management company has said it will not appeal the decision.