Man in the Middle – Chapter 29: Mother’s birthday

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No.29: Mother’s birthday

I’m wearing black leather driving gloves and carrying a plate of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. It’s Mother’s birthday. I’m taking her breakfast in bed as a surprise treat. I knock on the door. There’s no answer.

‘Room service,’ I shout and knock again.

I don’t usually wear leather driving gloves because they make me feel like Alan Partridge. But we’ve run out of the blue disposable hygiene ones and her health trumps my self-esteem. I must do everything possible to reduce spreading the virus. Even wearing black leather driving gloves.

‘Actually, they’re not that embarrassing. Are they?’

I’m admiring my gloved right hand as I rotate it around in that way the Royal family do when waving from a carriage.

‘A bit Alvin Stardust,’ replies my wife, grimacing.

‘You should buy those police tactical ones, next time. They’ve got the best grip and they only cost £12,’ says my son.

My wife and son are behind me on the landing at a socially responsible distance. They’re wearing face masks and yellow washing up gloves. They’re primed to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ when Mother opens her bedroom door.

‘Jeeves here,’ I shout again, my lips almost kissing the door.

Once the breakfast tray is safely landed on her bedside table, I plan to pass over her three birthday cards. Giving her the cards by hand risks coming within two metres of her, so I’ve decided to slot the cards into the stiff bristles at the end of our long-handled yard broom. Then my son will feed the broom into her room and she can pick the cards from the broom without having to come too close to us. It’s a little Heath Robinson, I know. But, last night, I experimented with a spatula, barbecue tongs and the broom. The broom was the most effective, by far.

Mother opens her door with a sleepy look. We burst into Happy Birthday. She is bewildered. Perhaps she thinks we are the council’s deep cleaning squad come to give her bedroom the once over?

When the song ends there is a bemused silence. Embarrassed, I try to lighten the atmosphere.  Before I can help myself, I’ve slipped into the voice of the late Australian cricket commentator Richie Benaud.

‘Great innings. Ninety-six not out. The century’s there for the taking. Just need to be careful not to play any rash shots, now.’

‘Are you trying to impersonate an Indian or an Australian?’ asks Mother.

‘Happy Birthday, Gran. Your birthday cards are on the end of the broom,’ says my son, extending the broom towards her.

‘What a novel way of giving me a birthday card, darling. Are you training to work on a barge?’

‘Dad’s idea to keep you safe from Covid-19, Granny.’

Her eyebrows twitch upwards.

‘Do you know what I’d like to do after my breakfast,’ she says to my wife.


‘Ironing. If you could set the ironing board up, please.’

Since the mental health charity MIND said ironing is good exercise for old people locked down by covid-19, she has become obsessed by ironing. It’s her way of staying useful in the lockdown.

‘Ironing and friends,’ Mother says.

‘Friends? We can’t have friends around at the moment. It’s against the rules.’ says my wife.

‘The TV series, I mean. I love Phoebe and Joey reminds me of your husband: well-meaning but a little dumb.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 30: Has Covid made pants pointless?

Read the previous one – Chapter 28: Covid-19 didn’t ruin Mother’s Day

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

Read more on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

See also: Chiswick Calendar Blogs & Podcasts

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.



Still working on the Flower Market

We are still working on the Flower Market idea, though obviously the original intention of starting it in May has gone by the wayside. One thing we’d like you to do, if you would be so kind, is to fill out a brief survey, which will help us with the next stage of development.

Read what we’ve done so far and what our next steps will be, aided by the feedback we get from the survey.

Update from the Chiswick Flower Market Team

An update from the flower market team and your jobs for April!
1. Fill in our survey
2. Send us your kids’ artworks
3. Stay safe and socially distanced

Once upon a time, in a previous life, on 20th February BC (Before Coronavirus) we held a large public meeting at the George IV, attended by many Chiswickians including many traders from the High Road and surrounding shopping streets. It was lively, positive and very encouraging, and we felt there was a real sense of community and excitement.

Things have of course been delayed, but we are using the time to hone our plans and get ourselves ready for the Great Re-Opening.

The team – led by local residents Karen Liebreich of Abundance London, Bridget Osborne of the Chiswick Calendar and Ollie Saunders Chartered Surveyor – gave a short presentation. From a palette of possibilities we had selected two ideas to run with – a Chiswick Flower Market and a Property Forum to help kickstart the revitalisation of the High Road. We emphasised that these were not exclusive ideas – others were more than welcome to run with other ideas, but perhaps the Flower Market could act as an icebreaker for many more, easing the path for other initiatives. Food, vintage, arts and crafts were other popular ideas and we look forward to seeing their development too.

As a result of the meeting and the strength of feeling from the floor, along with the feedback received afterwards, a Tenants and Landlords Forum has been set up, led by Ollie Saunders, with help from local Chartered Surveyors Jeremy Day and Andy Cole. CPD sessions were already planned, along with ways of providing help and advice to existing tenants and those looking to open on the High Road.  The Forum would also provide more information about rental levels in Chiswick so that the property market worked better for everyone.

It was all looking very promising with government initiatives on rates and green shoots popping up in the Chiswick crevices before everything fell off the Corona Cliff. The Forum is now helping tenants in discussions with landlords and is striving to help keep as many businesses solvent so that when it is safe for us to emerge blinking into the light once more and we can again say that ’Chiswick is Open’, as many of our shops will have survived as is possible.  

The Flower Market plan was (is!) for a monthly Sunday morning market on the old Market Place, the area in front of the police station currently used as a car park. The idea of creating a Columbia Road for West London was received with great enthusiasm.

Before even whispering the idea we had approached the existing flower sellers and the traders who overlook the area. As Nature Intended, Chateau and Foster Books were supportive. Dukes Meadows Trust which runs the weekly Farmers’ Market was also positive and has since been generous with advice. All seemed set with a fair wind.

In the days that followed the meeting the Flower Market team set to work with huge enthusiasm. Our inbox was full of support – ‘a wonderful idea… a fantastic idea… an excellent initiative… ‘ and this was accompanied by offers of support for which we are very grateful. We will be in touch shortly. We will be needing help pretty soon, both administrative and on the ground help on Market Days. Like the glamorous but redundant brain surgeons currently finding themselves fighting Corona virus by filling out boring drug charts in spare basement wards, some of the jobs may not be exciting but we will need help – and Chiswick will probably need this Flower Market to help us revitalise our High Road even more than before!

So, to bring you up to date with progress so far:

We strengthened the team. We now have a top finance director, a market manager from the events world, a designer, a surveyor, and a pool of talent to dip into as we get closer to launching.

We embarked on a major consultation exercise. It seems we are not obliged to do this for licensing purposes, but as we personally are of the area and for the area we would like everyone’s input and to listen to any issues beforehand. We dropped letters off to all the traders along the nearby part of the High Road, Devonshire Road and Turnham Green Terrace. These went in BC, and we were about to mailshot all the residents in the flats above and the houses in neighbouring roads. For obvious reasons that hasn’t happened. We provided our councillors with an early sight of our business plan, and met with several of them.

We have a survey ready that we would encourage you all to fill in. Which hours should we open? What should we sell? And any other comments you have to send us. We are listening… Please respond here – there’s a free box for you to add your comments.

We sorted out our constitutional status: We have applied to become a CIC, a Community Interest Company. We started to sort out our bank account but this has also hit the Corona Skids for now.  Likewise our insurance policies.

We met with London Borough of Hounslow. They were wholeheartedly supportive of our project and while they won’t be able to put any money into the Market, they will help us navigate the exciting issues of licensing, traffic management and waste disposal. Our learning curve is steep!

We worked out our Traffic Management scheme. We needed somewhere to park the flower trucks and we think we have found this, tucked away out of sight of the High Road and not near any residential properties, but near enough that the traders can sprint over to collect more stock.  We worked out where the disabled bays could go temporarily on the Sunday mornings. We planned out how many stalls we could have and where they would be positioned.

We started the licensing procedure. This is really boring, so we won’t thrill you with the detail. Just trust us, it’s really dull, so we are definitely taking one for Team Chiswick here!

We set up a website and twitter and @ChiswickFlowers.

We started approaching flower traders to see if they would be interested. There was an excellent response, and then… So now we have time to curate our offering, approach the best flowery people and prepare a fabulous market for west London.

We need your art. If you are locked up with your kids please get them to create us flowery pictures. We want to use these for our banners, website, tweets and… to cheer ourselves up. So please, don’t murder your children: give them some paints, coloured pencils, i-pad, plasticine – whichever medium you can and get them to create for us. What does the Chiswick Flower Market look like? What do they want at the market? Which flowers can they see there? (We accept grown up flowery art too.) Send them as jpgs to or via twitter to @ChiswickFlowers

So – your Flower Market jobs for April:
1. Fill in our survey
2. Send us your kids’ artworks
3. Stay safe and socially distanced

With best regards
Chiswick Flower Market Team

Save Our BBC

In times of crisis people turn to the BBC. That’s a demonstrable fact. It’s not perfect but I know from 30+ years working there that BBC News is full of hard working people trying to present facts.
Last month the Government launched an attack on the BBC, leaking that it intends to scrap the licence fee and make it a subscription service, like Netflix. This month the BBC is proving useful, offering dedicated education programmes for children whose schools are closed, and factual News coverage with medical experts giving us the facts we need about the current crisis.

To sign the petition to save the BBC, click on the link below.

Attack on the BBC

In February a plan was leaked from ‘Government insiders’ which proposes replacing the annual TV licence fee with a Netflix-style subscription service. The plan also suggested the BBC should be forced to sell of the overwhelming majority of its 61 radio stations and scrap some of its 10 TV channels.

Tory backbencher Damian Green described the proposals as “cultural vandalism.”

“Destroying the BBC wasn’t in our manifesto. Vote Tory and close Radio 2. Really?”

A Sunday newspaper quoted a senior Government source as threatening a “massive pruning back” of the BBC.

“We are not bluffing on the licence fee. We are having a consultation and we will whack it”.

The consultation, on the narrowly drawn issue of whether non payment of the licence fee should be decriminalised (not the BBC’s idea to make it a criminal offence in the first place by the way) will be used as an excuse to end the licence fee. That consultation comes to an end on 1 April.

There is an alternative survey, which aims to demonstrate how much people value the BBC, especially at this time when our national, public service broadcaster is coming through for us.

If you value the services the BBC provides, please take a minute to take fill out the survey form.

Sign the petition.

Have your photo taken for posterity

Images above: The Coming Storm, 2013; Julia Fullerton-Batten

Photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten has started a new project documenting Covid-19. An internationally recognised fine-art photographer, Julia lives in Bedford Park and what she proposes takes very little time and no face to face contact.

“I have received several requests recently for images documenting the reaction in and around my home to the COVID 19 pandemic, illustrating the community spirit that is helping us all cope with the situation. I have thought of a very simple but powerful idea involving your cooperation if you are willing. I would love to photograph you standing at the window in the front room of your home, either individually or as a group”.

The session, she reckons, will take at the most about ten minutes and involve a few gestures and actions.

“I would photograph at each home in turn in the evening at the same time. I feel it would be a great idea for the time to be around eight o’clock to encompass the hopefully now daily tribute to our NHS and care workers. The images could be used around the world to illustrate our local solidarity to the crisis”.

Julia often has commissions from magazines and shows her work in galleries around the world.

“As well as print and online magazines in the UK who have approached me, I have also had a request from the International Center of Photography in New York. Possibly, when all this is over, I can create an exhibition in Chiswick of it all”.

She’s like to know what you think of the idea, whether you have questions or reservations and, most of all, whether you are willing to take part. I asked her if everyone had to be as good looking as the woman in the photograph above, posing at her window. The answer was: “men, women, kids of any age, size and ethnicity.”

Contact Julia at:

See her work here:

Julia has taken part in two of The Chiswick Calendar’s Chiswick Through the Camera Lens exhibitions (and was to have taken part in the one which was meant to be on right now, at the Clayton hotel, closed until further notice).

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Profile of Julia Fullerton-Batten

See also: Chiswick Through the Camera Lens 2019

Keep Calm and Grow your own

Image above: A daily average harvest from Rose & Steve’s allotment last year

Rose Lewis gives some pointers on how to start a vegetable patch

As Covid-19 accelerates, many of us are fearing that our food supply might be disrupted. Visiting the supermarkets you would think it already has! There has been a massive increase in people buying seeds in the last few weeks as many of you decide that now might be a good idea to start a vegetable patch.

But where to start ?

My friends ask me because I have growing fruit and veg on my allotment for a few years now and despite my rather lack of enthusiasm when my husband suggested it, I love it. Growing your own fruit and vegetables has undergone a transformation – it is no longer just the preserve of the older generation. It’s for anyone who is interested in eating locally produced food that hasn’t been shipped (or worse flown) from miles away and is free of pesticides. And even better, it saves you money and you can control its supply (well almost – weather is quite important). We do get a lot of fruit and vegetables from our plot (see photo above) and we often share our excess. I have only just finished my last fruit that I froze last year and I eat it every day on my breakfast.

Questions that I am being asked are mainly around two things – what can I grow and how long will it take? So here are some tips to start you growing along with 6 recommended vegetables to start with. They include super-fast growing veg that you could harvest within three weeks and super easy vegetables that literally anyone can grow.

Key things to know before you start

Its really easy, if I can do it anyone can. You don’t need an allotment, a small sunny patch in your garden, your balcony or even a windowsill will do. You can even grow some indoors especially herbs, sprouting seeds and small leafy greens (rocket).

You don’t need much to start – a few old plastic pots will do if you are growing on a balcony or keeping them in pots; the seeds and some compost to start them off. Some veggies do work better if you start them off in pots but some you can just put straight into the ground with the compost giving them a good start in life. (The latter two are not quite as easy as it used to be – I hear Sainsbury has sold out of their seeds and the garden centres are now shut. But you are able to order online from places like Marshalls. It make take a little longer so order without haste! Morrisons in Brentford also has compost earlier this week. Here are my pots that I have grown a few herbs that can just stay in the pots but the veggies I will transfer when they have grown for a few weeks.

It helps to have a sunny spot too and you will need to keep the seeds moist as they germinate (begin to grow). Water them regularly doesn’t mean everyday although it the sun keeps shining, you might have to. The key is to keep them moist – touch your hand to the soil (remembering to wash them thoroughly afterwards) is the best way to check this.

Four super-fast growing vegetables

Here are four super-fast growing vegetables that you can plant anywhere and harvest within 30 days.

Radish – those lovely pink fiery little vegetables can be grown within 20 days. Yes that fast! The seeds are tiny so sow thinly in a pot or in your garden and keep moist. You will see the seedlings within about 7 days – good for your motivation. Grow successively – ie a small amount of seeds every 4-5 days to keep you from having too many and keep on sowing right through the season.

Rocket or any lettuce actually – super easy and fast growing and you can add to so many things. You can be eating rocket within 20 days especially if you pick when the leaves are small. Cut the leaves when they are ready and the plant will keep on growing. You can grow them in pots on your windowsill or straight into the ground but use the compost to create a good basis for the seedlings

Spinach is fast and also keeps growing and like lettuce – you won’t need to keep sowing seeds. You just pick what you want and come back when it has grown back. You should be able to harvest this super healthy veg within 30 days. I picked spinach today from stuff that I planted last year  – it even survived our winter.

Another of my favourite is Pak Choi.  Yes you can grow it very well in an English garden and in pots. It grows quickly and abundantly so sow a very small amount in succession. We have been left with a glut of it and although delicious – finding things to do with it every night is hard. Again you can grow this straight in to the ground or in pots.

Three more that are easy to grow

Three other vegetables that are super easy and so lovely. These take a little longer to mature and are best in a small patch in your garden. You can start them off in pots, which work especially well for vegetables that need warmer weather to survive outside.

Peas and Broad beans are very easy and if you plant them now – you can be harvesting the best peas you will have ever tasted by mid-June. You need a bit more space for these as they grow tall and need some support – so a garden is definitely best. You can start them off in pots in your house and then transfer them when they are about 5 cm tall. Or you can grow them straight into the ground

My last vegetable will be courgettes. These are good seeds to start off in pots before you transfer them to the garden in late April/early May. They need space so more difficult in pots but a good one for the garden – easiest vegetable ever to grow. If there are just two of you in the house, or your kids hate them – just plant two seeds as they produce a lot of courgettes.

Rose Lewis



The New Normal

As my daughter lays out her yoga mat in the living room and goes off to find her laptop, the cat makes himself comfortable, naturally thinking its been put there specially for him. In fact it’s for the daily House Party gym session she holds with her mates in East London and Sydney. Part of the new routine our household has settled into. Surreal and frightening though this past couple of weeks has been, life on lockdown is already becoming the new normal.

Can it really have been only a week since Boris Johnson instructed us to “stay home to save lives”? Our household has settled into quite a comfortable existence. I’m aware how complacent that sounds. There are women trapped with their abusive spouse, families with young children and no access to a garden, others working long shifts. I and my two housemates, in their 20’s and 30’s, are able to stay home and work online. I got to number eight in the queue for hip surgery before all elective surgery was cancelled, so I am quietly grateful that I don’t have to rush around and go out and meet people. I’m quite happy sitting about, glued to my phone.

My daughter, recently home from travelling, had just settled into a pub job before the pubs were all closed, so she has reinvented herself as an online English teacher. “Hello, how are you?” she trills as we creep about, not allowed to use the bathroom or the loo or create noise of any sort during her sessions. Our lodger, aka ‘the intern in the attic’ is a software engineer, so he was self-isolating at the best of times. For him life hasn’t really changed, though of course perversely he now longs to go out.

The cats can’t believe their luck. Three people on hand to talk to them, stroke them and make a fuss of them. Three people each suckered into feeding them each time they enter the kitchen and fall for their plaintive meowing, which would have you believe they’ve never been fed in their lives before. Only when we compare notes at the end of the day do we realise between us we’ve fed them five times.

We’ve established daily coffee with the neighbours, to gossip over the fence. We’ve set up a street WhatsApp group, and doorstep drinks at 6.30pm has been mooted, though the dip in the temperature may put paid to that idea for a little while. I’m sleeping more, staying in pyjamas later, and meet-ups on Zoom tell me other people are also less well groomed than they usually are, with the men getting more scruffy and beardy and the women looking pallid and a little more dishevelled than usual. I tend to wake up early, read all the news feeds, realise it really is grimmer if anything than it was the day before, and retreat under the duvet for another hour or so.

It’s interesting how various friends have reacted. One, after the inital urge to turn out cupboards and organise her books in alphabetical order, seems to have settled into a torpor. Though she and her husband go for a daily walk and devour the news constantly. Another couple, with typical spirit, have organised themselves a schedule of online learning, one determined to have acquired a new language before this is all over, the other happily learning a new magic trick off the internet each day. They’ve also had ‘dinner with friends and family’ – in Chiswick and Sydney respectively – by Skype and play Scrabble online with friends in Scotland.

Our world is becoming smaller and slower. Another friend (who is normally like a whirling dervish) reports that she has discovered the joy of stillness, ‘sitting in the kitchen in silence without moving long enough for the fox to come and dig in the window box’ and getting satisfaction from the small things in life: ‘picking all the bits of peel out of a jar of marmalade’.

We have talked about death, in passing. I saw some pundit on the TV saying we should, because if you get the virus badly, its progress can be swift. My daughter was horrified, but she now knows where the essential paperwork is. Mostly I enjoy the contact. The phone calls from people I haven’t seen for ages, the odd bag of potatoes or bottle of wine which has appeared on the doorstep, and the constant exchange of funny videos (some of which I pass on in the newsletter) and home grown humour.

I leave you with the comment of one friend (she of the magic tricks) who’s passed on the advice of a TV psychologist.

“Heard a Dr. on TV say to get through the boredom of self isolation we should finish things we start and thus have more calm in our lives. So I looked through the house to find all the things i’ve started but hadn’t finished … I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Chardonnay, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of wum, tha mainder of Valiumun srciptuns, an a box a chocletz. Yu haf no idr how feckin fablus I feel rite now. Sned this to all who need inner piss. An telum u luvum x

Oh to have had shares in Zoom

Images above: More – The 10,000 Year Rise of the World Economy; author Philip Coggan

Two weeks ago I’d never heard of Zoom. Up till now there’s not been much call for international video conferencing with large groups of people on The Chiswick Calendar. Now at least once a day I find myself summoned to a Zoom conference. I am slightly handicapped by the lack of a camera on my PC, but at least have spared myself the embarrassment of the woman whose video has done the rounds when, forgetting she was on camera, she nipped to the loo mid conference.

When I’m not indulging in group gossip sessions, I’m reading Philip Coggan’s book More, a history of the world economy. Reading how populations have been decimated by famine and plague at various points in history and picked themselves up and continued, and even flourished, is oddly consoling. In 1000 AD life expectancy was 24 and a third of children died in their first year of life. It’s amazing we’re here today at all really.

Time and again we have invented technology to overcome adversity and prosper. The Chinese not only invented paper, but the stirrup and the wheelbarrow, which were both game changers in their time. They also developed printing 700 years before Gutenberg produced the printing press in Europe. As Philip says, it’s ironic that we (the West / America) now accuse the Asians nations of stealing Western technology.

Interview with Philip Coggan, author of More

There are seventeen ingredients in a typical tube of toothpaste, from titanium dioxide to xantham gum.

‘Its journey to your bathroom involves thousands of people and hundreds of processes. The titanium dioxide  that whitens your teeth has to be mined, probably in Australia or Canada, the calcium carbonate that acts as the abrasive has been extracted from limestone, and the xanthan gum used as a binding agent  comes from grinding up plants. The toothpaste in my bathroom lists 17 different ingredients and that doesn’t count the plastics used to make the tube’.

Then there’s the packaging, the manufacture, the transportation, the distribution, the retailing …

Philip Coggn traces the history of how the world has become so completely interdependent, from the earliest trading in prehistoric times to the modern economy ‘of dizzying complexity, and vast interconnections’.

‘If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes the world to stock your house with goods’.

10,000 years of economic history

More is a fascinating read. Written by a journalist rather than an academic, it is very readable. It is not one of those books, that expounds a grand theory, like End of History  by Francis Fukayama or  Why Nations Fail  by Daron Acemoğlu and James Robinson. It deals in facts rather than theories: a meticulously researched history of how the world economy developed from ancient societies, coastal tribes exchanging fish for fruit gathered by those who lived inland, through the ancient empires, the trade routes of Asia, the ‘silk road’, the growth of Europe, the impact of manufacturing, of immigration and so on.

“There are a lot of books on economic history” Philip told me “but there hasn’t been one which attempts to tell the whole story like this one”.

More is a scholarly work. The appendix takes up quite a chunk of the book, showing just how much work went into it, all of which he did himself. But it wears its scholarship lightly, skipping along from one interesting fact or development to the next with his enthusiasm for the story. Most of his research was done online but he did get the odd trip out of it, to Felixstowe and Singapore to see the container ports, to Grand Central Station, a pilgrimage to a technological marvel which moves millions of people from their homes to their workplaces and back again each day, to factories in Malaysia and farms in California.

His chapter on the development of agriculture starts with a trip to the ‘Hanging Gardens of Boston’, a converted container growing lettuce, kale, flowers and wasabi inside it, in a carefully temperature-controlled environment which he trudged through deep snow in a blizzard to see. Freight Farms, the company behind the idea, have set up the container farm to be as efficient as possible, capturing moisture from the air and using less than five gallons of water a day while producing as much as two acres of farmland. Hydroponic farms are designed to grow food in the world’s most inhospitable climates. Philip uses it to demonstrate how human ingenuity can find new and more efficient ways of producing food.

Optimism for the future

“I think we can put Malthaus to bed” he says, in reference to the English economist whose book An Essay on the Principle of Population, published in 1798, predicted that an increase in a nation’s food production would improve the well-being of the populace, but only temporarily because it would lead to population growth, and food production wouldn’t be able to keep pace.

For him, the complexity of the modern economy and ever more ambitious growth in our expectations is no bad thing.

‘There’s a school of thought that belittles economic growth and the obsession with GDP statistics. Of course there is more to life than goods and services. But to understand how modern humans have benefited from economic growth, think back 600 years to the early 15th century. The typical European peasant would have had very little in the way of furniture but the odd stool to sit on (no upholstered armchairs) and a straw bed to sleep in (probably infested with fleas and lice); no privacy (all would sleep together, close to the fire, the only source of warmth); little in the way of cutlery (knives but not forks or spoons); and very little light at night (candles were very expensive).

Even within his own lifetime he remembers his mother on ‘washday’ spending ages doing the family washing and having to feed everything through a wringer before hanging it out to dry.

“I’m very suspicious of people who dismiss materialism. If you look at the invention of the washing machine, for example, a lot of the drudgery has been taken out of life, particularly for women”.

Life is easier and life is longer. In 1800 no country in the world had a life expectancy higher than 40. Now the world average is around 70.

“We value human life more now”

What of the current crisis? More went to press before the Coronavirus emerged, the last changes being made in October before being published in this country in February and in the US this week. I asked him whether he’d have to write a sequel Less, as the world economy shrinks and we all have to get used to being able to afford less.

Philip’s four years of research and writing have enabled him to view the current situation with equanimity. Taking the long view, by no means dismissing the seriousness of the situation now, he thinks within three or four years we’ll be back on our feet economically.

“Some things will have changed, but most things won’t” he told me.

Is it the first truly global pandemic?

“The Black Death spread from China to the UK, though it took five years”. (better not tell Donald Trump that. The Chinese will never hear the last of it). “Smallpox worked its way around the world, and so did the Spanish flu”.

“The way we’ve reacted shows how much more we value life” he said. “That we are prepared to disrupt our economies is an encouraging sign of the way we value human life now”.

Philip Coggan is the author of several books: The Money Machine, a guide to the City, which is still in print after 33 years, and Paper Promises, which was Spears’ business book of the year in 2012. ‘One of the most respected economics journalists on the planet’, according to Tim Harford, author of 50 Things that Made the Modern Economy. Philip writes the Bartleby column for the Economist and lives in Chiswick.

More is available to buy online

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Can the big shopping malls survive the Coronavirus?

See also: Businesses in limbo


Can the big shopping malls survive the Coronavirus?

Images above: Retail analyst Richard Hyman; Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush

One of the UK’s largest landlords in the retail sector, Hammerson PLC, announced yesterday that their tenants have only paid around a third of the total rent due for the March quarter.

‘We have received a variety of requests for rent deferrals, monthly payments, and waivers, which we are reviewing on a case-by-case basis’ they said.

Hammerson also announced that it would not be paying the final dividend of 14.8 pence per share for the financial year ended 31 December 2019, presumably as they look to preserve cash. Their share price is now a third of what it was at the beginning of March, and many of their shareholders are pension funds, which is bad news.

They own shopping malls in the UK France and Ireland, including Brent Cross shopping centre, the Bullring & Grand Central, Birmingham and Bicester Village, Oxfordshire, which are occupied by well-known national chains. Bicester Village was particularly hit as many of the shoppers used to be tourists from China.

Before the Coronavirus crisis hit the UK, Hammerson sold a number of their retail parks to Orion Real Estate Fund for around £400m which was more than 20% less than their book value.

What are the prospects for Westfield?

It makes you wonder how Westfield is faring. Europe’s largest shopping centre, Westfield Shepherds Bush has had a big impact on Chiswick High Road and High Street Kensington. It cost £1.6bn to build when it opened in 2008, and was then significantly expanded in 2018.

The shopping mall in Shepherd’s Bush is substantially closed, except for grocery stores, including M&S Foodhall and Waitrose and pharmacies, including Boots. M&S Foodhalls and Waitrose at Westfield are offering reserved shopping times for the vulnerable and key workers. Waitrose is also protecting batches of hard to find and essential stock exclusively for NHS workers, and providing them with a priority checkout process.

Westfield was taken over by European company Unibail-Rodamco two years ago. The company published a statement on 18 March saying their liquidity position was strong, but as the lock down looks like being longer than we first thought, times could be testing for landlords as well as tenants.

‘In light of this evolving situation, URW has taken all precautionary measures needed to ensure its access to liquidity. The Group now has €10.2 Bn in cash on hand and undrawn credit lines, which provides it with the liquidity needed to cover all expected funding needs even under an extreme “stress test” scenario’.

It has also implemented a programme to actively reduce non-staff expenses and defer non-essential capital expenditure, but it said: ‘The duration and extent of the situation and its impact on the Group’s earnings remain uncertain’.

“We’re looking at a blank sheet”

Richard Hyman is a world-leading expert in the retail industry, having done research and dispensed advice to some very big companies over the past 40 years, including Tesco, John Lewis, Primark, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Debenhams. I asked him whether Westfield is likely to survive if the lockdown continues for six months.

“It’s very hard to predict low long this will continue” he told me, “but rental revenue will be fundamentally impacted, and this follows on from some extremely hard trading conditions. Before the Coronavirus there was Brexit and before that we’d been grappling with structural issues. We’ve had 15-10 years of relentless growth in online shopping and no diminution in the amount of floorspace, which has adversely affect trading economics”.

The landscape has changed fundamentally, he told me. The situation is unprecedented and when we come out of the Coronavirus emergency, we will be “looking at a blank sheet of paper. Almost anything you can think of that we’ve built up over years of experience has gone.”

Westfield – crème de la crème

“Generally speaking, Westfield is the best run, financially strongest operator of shopping malls in the UK. If Westfield doesn’t survive, then none of the others will” he said. “Westfield is the crème de la crème of shopping malls, so I think they will survive. They will just look rather bruised and battered. It will depend on consumer behaviour and their propensity to spend”.

That is the biggest uncertainty, what consumer spending will look like at the end of all this.

“If the Government lifts restrictions on a Wednesday, people are not going to go out shopping on the Thursday. Everyone will have debts. And when you print money on the scale our government has, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that money will have less value. Consumers’ money will go less far and there will be pressure on retailers to cut prices, but they too will have debts”.

When things return to normal, he said there will be a new ‘normal’.

“Conspicuous consumption will be uncool, but there will be pent up demand”.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: No shopping except for basic necessities

See also: Businesses in limbo

Boris Johnson’s letter to us all

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written to 30 million households to update people on the government’s plans to contain the Coronavirus in the UK:

‘I am writing to you to update you on the steps we are taking to combat Coronavirus.

In just a few short weeks, everyday life in this country has changed dramatically. We all feel the profound impact of coronavirus not just on ourselves, but on our loved ones and our communities.

I understand completely the difficulties this disruption has caused to your lives, businesses and jobs. But the action we have taken is absolutely necessary, for one very simple reason.

If too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to cope. This will cost lives. We must slow the spread of the disease, and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment in order to save as many lives as possible. That is why we are giving one simple instruction – you must stay at home.

You should not meet friends or relatives who do not live in your home. You may only leave your home for very limited purposes, such as buying food and medicine, exercising once a day and seeking medical attention. You can travel to and from work but should work from home if you can.

When you do have to leave your home, you should ensure, wherever possible, that you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

These rules must be observed. So, if people break the rules, the police will issue fines and disperse gatherings.

I know many of you will be deeply worried about the financial impact on you and your family. The government will do whatever it takes to help you make ends meet and put food on the table. The enclosed leaflet sets out more detail about the support available and the rules you need to follow. You can also find the latest advice at

From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time. We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do.

It’s important for me to level with you – we know things will get worse before they get better. But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal.

I want to thank everyone who is working flat out to beat the virus, in particular the staff in our fantastic NHS and care sector across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has been truly inspirational to see our doctors, nurses and other carers rise magnificently to the needs of the hour.

Thousands of retired doctors and nurses are returning to the NHS – and hundreds of thousands of citizens are volunteering to help the most vulnerable. It is with that great British spirit that we will beat coronavirus and we will beat it together.

That is why, at this moment of national emergency, I urge you, please, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives’.

Boris Johnson

LB Ealing launches Ealing Together

LB Ealing has launched ‘Ealing Together’, joining forces with charities, local groups, businesses and concerned residents to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.

Councillor Jasbir Anand, cabinet member for business and community services, launched the new coaltion saying:

“Ealing’s community is its greatest strength and across the borough, people are standing together to help our most vulnerable residents. Ealing Together is designed to support the good work already going on in the borough and plays a vital role for the whole community in the recovery phase.

“We know that this is a really difficult time for everyone and there are lots of different things many workers are worried about, including the very basics such as feeding their families or paying their rent. Through Ealing Together we are committed to supporting initiatives that help our businesses and communities through this crisis.

Behind the Ealing Together website is a dedicated team that will put the people who want to help others, and people who qualify for help, in touch with appropriate local organisations.

“We know that some businesses will have food and time-limited stock that they are no longer able to sell through dropping demand.  We are encouraging businesses to get in touch with Ealing Together to see if they can offer vital supplies, volunteer their time, give cash donations to local charities or support in another way.

“We have already had hundreds of contacts from the community who need our help for either themselves, or someone else they know who is isolated and struggling. As you are aware, this is a rapidly evolving situation and the council is working with businesses and wider community in many different ways to manage services, meet emerging local needs and protect the vulnerable. I’d ask that businesses in the borough visit the Ealing Together website to see how they can help”.

If you would like to volunteer to help, sign up here: Working together for Ealing

Owners of the Roebuck go into administration

The owners of the Roebuck pub in Chiswick High Rd, Food & Fuel, have gone into administration. Its future now looks very uncertain as 250 staff at the company are made redundant and the owners look for a new buyer at the worst possible time.

The Steam Packet, which opened last summer at Strand on the Green, is in the same group, but looks at the moment as if it might survive. Operations Manager Ian Slater told The Chiswick Calendar that it was not on the list for permanent closure at the moment as it was a later addition to the group and is owned by Food & Fuel’s parent company, The Restaurant Group, one of the biggest names in the hospitality business.

Ian told The Chiswick Calendar: “The Roebuck is a great pub. It’s an awesome pub. I hope a business of that calibre and location will be picked up by someone, even in these uncertain times”.

Regular patron James Thellusson said: “I’m gutted. Friday nights will never be the same. It was my second home”.

The Restaurant Group also owns Wagamama, Chiquito  and Frankie & Benny’s restaurants. The company put out a statement on Thursday (26 March), saying 61 out of 80 branches of the Tex-Mex dining chain Chiquito would not reopen. It also said it would permanently close its 11 Food and Fuel pubs in London. The decision will lead to the loss of almost 1,500 jobs.

A spokesperson for The Restaurant Group said that it expected the two chains to make a loss during 2020, and stated that “Covid-19 has had an immediate and significant impact on trading across the group”.

Hammersmith & Fulham reopen parks

LB Hammersmith & Fulham have decided to reopen their parks from 2.00pm today (Friday 27 March). Playgrounds will remain closed.

The council decided to shut the parks last Sunday after London was full of people out enjoying the spring sunshine over the weekend, ignoring Government advice on social distancing. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged people to “stop social mixing”, saying “people will die” if they don’t.

Since then, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that people must stay inside, leaving home only to buy food and medicine, to exercise once a day and to travel to and from essential work. Emergency laws have been passed by parliament this week, giving the police the power to enforce social distancing.

Cabinet minister Michael Gove gave a press conference today in which he said there had been a dramatic fall this week in the numbers of people using public transport, and that the “overwhelming majority” of people are now following the lockdown rules.

There has been quite a lot of criticism from the public during the week that with big parks such as Ravenscourt park closed, there is nowhere for the public to go to take exercise. Announcing the change today, leader of Hammersmith & Fulham council Steve Cowan said:

“Last weekend, despite the best efforts of parks police, the COVID-19 contagion was potentially being passed on by people socialising in Hammersmith & Fulham’s parks. Because of that public health threat to many thousands of our residents, the parks were closed on Sunday night.

“Yesterday the government’s new emergency laws came into force which introduce a series of restrictions on people’s movement and gatherings and give the police new powers to enforce the new laws. Apart from the once-daily exercise, people are now obliged to stay in their homes and only leave for exceptional reasons.

“Because these new laws will enforce the social distancing regime, backed up by our highly-visible public information campaign, our parks can now re-open and will do so from 2pm today. This will be on a trial basis.”

Hounslow launches Community Hub

Hounslow Council has launched its Community Support Hub to match the army of people locally who are willing to do something to help with the most isolated and vulnerable individuals who need support.

“The Hounslow Community Hub is here to harness that fantastic community spirit, connect people with each other and ensure food, medical supplies and other support reaches those most in need” says Steve Curran.

“Thank you for wanting to help out – it’s through generous people, businesses and organisations like you that we’ll make sure Hounslow’s most vulnerable are looked after”.

To volunteer to help, fill out the online form here.

Who is the Hub for?

If you or someone you know has been contacted by the NHS as being classed as at serious risk, please contact the Community Hub and the Council will support you – call 020 7084 9697 or email They are also reaching out to these people themselves, as the NHS updates them on who they are.

Please also contact the Hub if you or someone you know are isolated and vulnerable and have no other support, and you’re not sure if the NHS has been in contact.

The Phoney war

Image above: Flowers outside Strand on the Green school – photograph by Jennifer Griffiths

It was lovely to hear the sound of clapping all over Chiswick last night as people came out of their houses to applaud the staff of the NHS. There’s a real war going on on hospitals, with exhausted medical staff already at full stretch in some places, but for many of us who are able to work at home, this must feel very much like the phoney war did, when Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany in September 1939. British people expected bombing raids immediately, but nothing much happened for eight months.

I’m beginning to know people who know people who are intensive care, confirmed Covid-19 cases, and plenty of people who think they might have it mildly. Nobody’s sure because the testing isn’t available.

Street by street mobilisation

For now, unless you work in public services, NHS staff, supermarket staff, transport workers (hats off to you, thank you), I’m guessing most people in Chiswick are able to work from home, are working less or are not working at all. The sun is out, a lot of us are lucky enough to have gardens and the full medical and economic impact hasn’t yet hit. I find it comforting that people have been using their time productively to think how they can help others. Street WhatsApp groups have sprung up, with the administrators organising leafleting door to door so people who aren’t tech savvy are included. 

Chiswick’s Covid-19 Mutual Aid Facebook group acts as an umbrella for many of these groups, sharing information. More than 900 people have joined it in the past couple of weeks. The woman who initiated it, Philippa Griffin, told me they are very careful about safegaurding, aware that ‘volunteers’ may not all be benign. They don’t give out members’ details, but are able to put people in need in touch with people willing to help.

Find the Facebook group here.
Offer your support here.

Images above: Rev Thomas Couper; St Michael & All Angels Church

The churches have been quietly organising. Each of the five Church of England parishes which cover Chiswick has a small group of volunteers and are getting in touch with the elderly and isolated they know about, checking on them. Rev Thomas Couper from St Michael & All Angels told me they haven’t had many calls for help yet, as neighbours are looking out for each other, and little local help groups are springing up.

Nextdoor is also really coming in to its own. The ‘hyperlocal social networking service’ was set up in San Francisco in 2008 and is currently available in 11 countries. You can opt to join just your immediate local neighbourhood group or set the radius wider. Until now it’s been a useful way to get recommendations of local builders and advertise that your cat’s gone missing,
Now it’s full of messages like:

‘We went shopping at M&S in Kew Retail park at 5pm yesterday. No queues, easy to distance yourself from most people and plenty of stock except for eggs and flour’.

It also documents the low level guerilla war going on between runners, cyclists and dog walkers – but that’s another story…

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Lockdown – Things to do

See also: Covid-19 Help & Information – The Chiswick Calendar directory of where to get help

Answering the call

Images above: Grove Park surgery; Dr Sheila Hunt

Sheila Hunt must have dealt with thousands of patients over the years. She set up Grove Park Surgery in 1988 and retired in 2017, so is forever saying hello to people as she goes about her business in Chiswick (although a good proportion of those who’ve seen her and nodded have actually befriended someone else, as she has an identical twin sister).

She taken up art in retirement and is the treasurer of Chiswick Choir, who had their first ‘virtual rehearsal’ this week, with mixed success. She has also signed up for a 5k charity run, having never been a runner in her life before. She knows it will be cancelled, but is using her one opportunity per day to take exercise, to persevere with the training regardless.

Now she’s waiting to hear what contribution she will make to the Coronavirus emergency, as she is one of the many retired medical staff who have answered the call to help our in this national crisis.

“Most people who go into medicine want to make a positive difference” she told me. “That feeling doesn’t go away when you retire”.

Many of her peer group with whom she trained are also volunteering, and like Sheila are waiting to be told what to do next. When you apply to the General Medical Council (GMC) you are given the option of working directly with patients, or you can choose to non face to face work. She’s opted for the latter.

“There’s no point in going in and adding to the list of people who are sick” she says pragmatically.

The GMC has been waiting on the emergency legislation going through parliament to re-license former doctors. As soon as it becomes law (very shortly) retired doctors will automatically be re-licenced unless they have specifically opted out. You’d think after 30 years she would have absolute confidence in her ability, but she is slightly apprehensive.

“Telephone triage requires a very particular set of skills” she says. “When you meet a patient face to face they provide other clues you can work with”.

Having been her patient I’d be mightily relieved if I got through to Sheila for triaging, but with typical modesty she says “I have been out of it for a bit and doctors aren’t particularly good at tick lists”.

Her son is also a doctor and she is deeply concerned about the lack of protection for medical staff, which she says is “totally inadequate” in both GP surgeries and hospitals.

“The Government has had time to ramp up provision for both testing and personal protective equipment. They’re not testing anyone unless they’re admitted. The personal protective equipment is inadequate. It’s appalling. The Government should have done more testing much more quickly. They should have looked at what was happening in China and South Korea and reacted much more quickly. South Korea has had relatively few cases because they did widespread testing, they quarantined and traced contacts”.



Chiswick Confined – My Corona Blog Week 1

Keith Richards, writer and resident of Chiswick, living on his own, has started writing a diary of his Corona lock down. Beginning on 24 March 2020, he’s documenting the experience from his last pint in a pub onwards. Here are his first two blogs from this week.

Day 1: 24 March 2020

So, like most of you I am stuck at home – or at least we are supposed to be – since BoJo’s announcement of a semi-lock down yesterday evening.  Or, if you are a Nigerian reader currently in Nigeria, you will likely be learning about the whole social distancing phenomena and wonder how you can apply it to a ‘face me, face you’ society (though probably not from your local pastor or iman – more rants about them later). If you are reading this from my sister Anne’s community around La Herradura in Spanish Andalucía this may also provide you with some balance away from the more sensationalist British media. I do not want to utter those words “I am bored”, because I have so many things I could and should be doing but, as is all too often the case, replacement activity is far too distracting and, yes, blogging counts as a replacement activity.

Even so, this is an interesting and, I guess, historically and social-behaviourally (is that a thing?) important time and worth documenting (along with the millions already doing it). This will be the record of my time here in Chiswick, West London: how I cope and what I see round about me.  For the record I am a 66 year old male and since yesterday afternoon living alone. George, my 26 year old son, was with me but as of yesterday is staying with his Mother, Pauline. That makes sense as he can continue with his University projects while helping out in her garden or walking the dogs – Fortnum, Bentley and Willow. Oldest son Tom is living and working down in Bristol. I am a social animal so like so many of us – you – it is going to be interesting to see how we cope with social distancing, solitude, maybe loneliness, in emotional, psychological as well as physical terms. My normal day would be to leave the flat, just off Chiswick High Rd, at least twice a day, ostensibly to do daily shopping but inevitably to stop in one of my regular cafés/coffee shops either on my own or to meet up with the many friends that live locally.  In the evening the walk would often end up in my local boozer, The Raven by Stamford Brook tube.  I might take a book and sit quietly on my own to read or I might equally stay at the bar and chat with one of the fellow regulars I have got to know.  Reading quietly alone in my favourite café or pub is still a social activity because I am surrounded, can observe and have the choice to engage with the people around me. Clearly, all that has now changed!  Nevertheless, current guidelines are that we are allowed to walk out for necessary shopping and to take exercise and while that is still possible – because the shops are still open, the regulations still allow it and I am still free of symptoms – I intend to utilize that option – as I did today.

Up until BoJo’s announcement and despite his repeated ‘requests’ and ‘soft warnings’ Chiswick had been recognisable as itself. Clearly quieter than normal with pubs, cafes and restaurants closed for sitting in but mostly offering deliveries and take-aways but nevertheless busy enough to make physical distancing tricky. For example, the queues in some shops were standing a couple of metres apart but others were too crowded or badly organised. Today (Tuesday) I popped out around 1 pm as I wanted to buy bread and post a book.  ( A Swedish PhD student has asked me for his studies!) There were very few people around, visibly less than the weekend.  The pharmacy where last week I queued for 30 minutes was completely empty. Most non- essential shops were shut and had signs of varying quality and clarity taped to the inside of their doors.  Obviously the many High Road Cafes were shut though some had tables outside selling their wares for carrying away and others had notices on how to order take-aways and whether they did direct deliveries. There were a few Deliveroo riders lolling around on their bikes in the weak sunshine though I imagine they would be busy later in the evening.  It was a somehow ‘discombobulating’ experience to see the popular trendy places such as High Road House, normally always busy, so eerily silent.  The few walkers were pretty focused on keeping a couple of metres apart as they passed and quite a few had masks.

So, I had two chores and they exhibited the best and worst of how traders are reacting to the challenges. As I approached the Post Office (on Heathfield Terrace) I could see a couple of people in front of a clearly shut door, straining to make sense of a square of white paper crookedly stuck on it. I kept my social distance until I too could approach the door and attempt to read, let alone understand the scruffy and tiny notice. Despite the website saying the Post Office was open with normal hours the notice was clearly saying it would only be open part-time. But what hours?  I leave you to see if you can read it? Apart from being in a twelve if not ten point font the times have been badly scribbled over so as to be illegible. While I was there a pensioner came over and was visibly distressed and had her face just a few inches as she tried to understand. When I explained and offered to help she wandered off muttering. Many pensioners still collect their pensions and allowances in cash from this Post Office and that notice was thoughtless and unhelpful. I have no problem with them reducing hours or taking steps to protect their staff but they need to communicate clearly. I already have a low opinion of the service from this Post Office and this confirmed it but several in the vicinity have now closed and my only alternative is down into Hammersmith’s King St.

At the other end of the efficiency scale was my experience at Source – the slightly hippy, plastic free, eco shop where I re-fill various containers of product as diverse as porridge oats, olive oil and washing up liquid. This trip was for dried nettle leaves (a pleasant tea and a herbal anti-hay fever remedy – with thanks to Dhill for the recommendation) and my evening treat (if I am not allowed down the pub I need a reward) of broken slabs of various dark chocolate (in this case with a hint of sea salt). In contrast to the Post Office, Source had their act together. A sign saying they were allowing 5 people at a time in the shop with a member of staff enforcing a ‘one in, one out’ system with a squirt of hand sanitizer as you go in.  That’s the way to do it!  I felt like they knew what they were doing and actually gave a shit about their staff (and their customers) so credit to them.

One of the themes of this blog will be that we all need to remember those traders and services who did give a shit during the crisis and give them our patronage afterwards. Those that are not looking after their staff, that price gouge and take advantage should be boycotted thereafter.

So, I think that is enough for my first ‘Corona Blog’ – I suspect this will be a long season, assuming I have the energy and someone somewhere actually reads it.

Please stay safe. More tomorrow.

Day 2: 25 March 2020

So, yesterday after starting this blog I went down the pub.  “How dare you do that?” “That’s irresponsible!” I hear you say.

Well, those that know me at all will also know that my local is the excellent Raven run by landlord Dave Finan and his team. When all this is over do drop in – it’s just opposite Stamford Brook tube. I knew that they were struggling when he told that me on his usual heaving St Patrick’s Day (17 March) they had about 30% of their normal Paddy’s Day volume – and that’s a lot of pints of the Black Stuff left un-drunk. On Friday 20 the sun came out so George and I took ourselves for a riverside walk along Chiswick Mall.  On our way back we just thought if the Raven was not too busy we could pop in for a sensible socially distanced pint.  At the very moment we walked in the few locals that were there were glued to the TV screen and Dave did a ‘ssshhhhhh’ from behind the bar with a finger to his lips.  It was the actual BoJo announcement that Pubs and Restaurants were to shut from that evening.  We felt for a glum looking Dave with a cellar full of un-drunk pints and a kitchen full of food ready for the weekend, so were morally forced to stay – duly distanced from the other regulars who we conversed with from afar – and consume several of those pints and eat what food we could. Which brings me to the point – why I went down the pub yesterday. The answer was to collect some eggs! Dave had messaged several of his locals to say he had so many eggs that would go to waste so we were welcome to pop down and pick up a few. So I did – and I sho

uld point out that he came out and gave them to me outside the pub and I was not allowed to sneak in for a quick one. I look forward to an omelette over the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, having deciphered the rubbish Post Office signage I took myself down this morning to catch it before it shut at 12 (or was that 12.30- who knows?) Well, today they did have a proper sign outside (was that because I tweeted a copy of the photo to the @PostOffice twitter feed?) but they also had a queue stretching 50 metres down Barley Mow Passage. Given everyone was clearly 2 metres apart it was probably only 20 people but there was a member of staff telling them that they were closing on time and would not be serving even those people already at the back of the queue. Raise a glass to customer service!  I had better go down before breakfast tomorrow.

Overall, the High Road was significantly busier than yesterday with queues outside Boots and the banks – all orderly and socially distanced. M & S had a very well organised waiting system supervised by a member of staff and my local Sainsbury’s (by the junction with Chiswick Lane) had a less well managed and more informal system. As I wanted some milk * I joined the queue.  There are always some tossers though, aren’t there? One guy turned up and went to walk in. On being stopped as the queue was pointed out to him he swore at us and marched off. I exchanged glances, bonding with my fellow pavement dwellers.  In fact, I did notice generally there was more eye contact between strangers in queues and on the streets than we would normally see in ‘reserved’ Chiswick.  Long may that continue.

Talking of supermarkets. Why is everyone rushing to the supermarket and then complaining their shelves are empty when nearly all the small, local shops in Chiswick have plenty of stock? Apart from eggs, which I am told are in short supply everywhere (not for me though, thanks to Raven Dave) I saw just about everything you need in the small businesses that we should be supporting along the High Rd. I leave you with a few pictures and a strong recommendation of where to go for your provisions if you are local.  Even the little Italian Restaurant on Elliot Road, Tarantella, is making the best of it and I will certainly try their bread at some point.

So, this is just my second of this series of blogs. Much of my writing reflects the many years I spent in Africa, particularly Nigeria. I still have many friends in Lagos and elsewhere, many that still treat me as a member of their extended family, and I am very worried about them as more and more news is coming in of the spread of the virus throughout that continent. Some of my future posts will cover what is happening out there and how that impacts their families here in the diaspora. My sister is currently in Spain where they are in the midst of what is becoming the worst outbreak any where in the world. I am worried about her and her friends as they are now in their second week of isolation. We are suburban London dwellers – and lets face it, if you are reading this missive from a privileged member of the middle class you are also pretty much going to be middle class. Remember, for many, if not most of us there are going to be many, many in worse circumstances than us.

Meanwhile, how am I doing isolated from my family? Well, I will share with you how I am determined to eat healthily – I am mighty proud of my home made soups so you may just get some of my own recipes. I am doing my best not to descend into too regular use of my pretty substantial booze stock (I do have a little bar in my apartment) nor do I want to use up my marijuana chocolate too quickly. On the other hand, as my Nigerian friends would say “Bodi no be wud o” **  and this is just the kind of circumstance that a good glass of wine, a strong bottle of Nigerian Guinness or a puff on my little pipe was designed for.  Watch this space!

* In cereal and my porridge I am now an avid user of Oat Milk but in my morning ‘cuppa’ it has to be the traditional cow’s stuff!

**  Pidgin. Literally – ‘your body is not made of wood’ an expression that means we are humans and not devoid of emotion, of one kind or another.

Read more blogs by Keith

Read the next in the series – My Corona blog Week 2

See all Keith’s My Corona blogs here.

See more of Keith’s work on his website –

Feel free to post any comments or suggestions there or by email to

Read more on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

See also: Chiswick Calendar Blogs & Podcasts

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.


Coronavirus lockdown in Italy

Italy is ahead of us in the development of the pandemic. Here’s now Italians around the country have kept up morale from their windows and balconies. Video by Andrea Carnevali, Chiswick resident originally from Italy, who has family in Milan and Rome.


COVID Symptom Tracker

Scientists at Kings College London have launched an app which they hope will help slow the Covid-19 outbreak. They are asking members of the public to self-report symptoms daily, even if they are feeling well, a task which they say takes just one minute to do.

Researchers will use the data to study the symptoms of the virus and track how it spreads. From it they will be able to identify which are the high-risk areas in the UK, how fast the virus is spreading area by areas and who is most at risk, by better understanding symptoms linked to underlying health conditions.

The research is being led by Dr Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and director of TwinsUK a scientific study of 15,000 identical and non-identical twins, which has been running for nearly three decades.

“I was rather depressed as they were shutting down everything in the university and I thought that twins are the best studied people in the country, so how can we use that information in this crisis?” he told BBC News.

Initially, the app was made available only to the twins taking part in his studies, but the professor realised it could be scaled up to the general public.

You can download it on the App Store or get it on Google Play.

Your NHS needs you

Public spaces crowded

Image above: Strand on the Green, Monday 23 March

The picture above shows how young people particularly have been ignoring the advice on social distancing. At the weekend the river bank was full of people out for a walk on the first sunny day of spring, and the same was still true on Monday (23 March) when this picture was taken. 

Although the Prime Minister says parks will remain open, in London a number of parks are being closed because there are just too many people using them and not staying the requisite two metres away from the next person.

Parks closed

The Royal Parks have made the decision to close Richmond Park to traffic, though it remains open to cyclists. They have also closed the cafes in Royal parks ‘as people are not adhering to social distancing guidelines’.

LB Ealing has announced it is closing its play areas, playgrounds, outdoor gyms, tennis courts, skate parks and other facilities.

LB Hammersmith & Fulham announced on Sunday that all parks in the borough would close until further notice, including Ravenscourt Park.

Gunnersbury Park and Chiswick House Gardens open

Gunnersbury Park remains open seven days a week ‘for the community to exercise, walk the dog and enjoy the spring flowers’, but the museum is closed and all public programmes have been suspended.

At Chiswick House the Gardens remain open but the House, the cafe and the playground are all closed. The toilets outside the cafe are also closed. They ask that you stay two metres away from people who are not in your party.


Kew Gardens closed

Kew Gardens is also closed until further notice.  Director Richard Deverell issued this statement: 

‘There is no salve quite like nature for an anxious mind.

‘We wanted to keep our botanic gardens open for as long as possible, to offer our visitors a space of tranquillity and beauty at this stressful time.

‘However, our absolute priority is the health of our visitors and staff. 

‘Given the increasingly reduced number of places for people to go, we were concerned that high numbers of visitors would not allow for safe social distancing at entry points and we wanted to avoid any unnecessary travel’.

The Gardens have been closed since Sunday.

Resurgence in cycling

People are getting their bikes out and turning to pedal power as the safest way to get around during the Covid-19 emergency.

When I spoke to Chris Ghadder, owner of Fudge’s Cycles on Monday, (before Boris Johnson’s speech) the shop was open and he said they were planning to stay open as long as they were allowed to, as they were seeing a spike in demand for repair work.

Yesterday they were working with the door of the shop closed, only letting in two people at a time, and very few people were interested in buying bikes or accessories. Most had come in for repairs.

Chris operates a collect and repair service. He will pick your bike up in his van, repair it and drop it back to you.

Tel: 0208 994 1485

London hospitals expecting to be overwhelmed

The Prime Minister said last night:

“Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment where no health service in the world could possibly cope, because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses”.

“To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it, meaning more people are likely to die, not just from Coronavirus but from other illnesses as well”.

Leaked memo gives details of terrifying situation

Currently the group of London hospitals which includes Charing Cross, Hammersmith, and St Marys (Imperial Trust) is looking after 99 patients with the Coronavirus, out of 234 patients in London.

According to a leaked NHS memo, the rate of the infection is spreading, and the number of new cases is doubling every three days, so by next Saturday, 28 March, the expectation is that there will be 1000 patients with the virus needing to be treated as inpatients across London hospitals, 300 of them being looked after by Imperial Trust. It is likely that at least 60 of these will need to be on ventilators in intensive care.

The Trust has in total about 1,300 beds, and are expecting the intensive care units at Charing Cross, St Mary’s and Hammersmith hospitals will all be full of patients with Covid-19 by early April.

The epidemic is expected to peak mid-April, by which time London is expecting to have 32,000 cases. The Trust will have exceeded both their bed capacity and the availability of ventilators before the peak hits. Almost all other work including for cancer patients has already been stopped in the Trust’s hospitals, and all others across London.

Urgent Treatment centres

The Urgent Treatment Centre at Hammersmith Hospital closed on Friday. Urgent treatment centres are an alternative to A&E. They are centres that treat minor injuries and illness that require urgent treatment that cannot be seen by your registered GP.

The Hammersmith and Fulham Clinical Commissioning Group, which runs it, issued a statement saying:

“This is an unavoidable decision, taken as an emergency measure to help us deal with the developing major incident around COVID-19. We plan to return to business as usual once the emergency is over.”

The Urgent Treatment Centre at Charing Cross hospital remains open.

Wake up Ministry of Justice and start social distancing

Images above: Wimbledon Magistrates Court; Ann Crighton

Let’s hope someone at the Ministry of Justice was watching the TV at 8.30 last night, with the rest of the country. While major criminal trials have been cancelled, minor traffic offences were still being prosecuted last week. Twice Ann Crighton, Direct Access barrister and foudner of Crighton Chambers, had to to set off last week, to magistrates courts in Wimbledon and Cheltenham, to queue up and be searched, to represent her clients. ‘Not a sign of hand sanitiser’. She felt compelled to write to to her MP and the leader of Hammersmith (her local) council about it.

Not a sign of hand sanitiser

The Ministry of Justice (probably better named Ministry of Injustice) seem to know nothing about ‘social distancing’.  Let me give you some examples of my personal experience in the last week.

Monday I schlepped off to Wimbledon Magistrates Court – client up for drink driving. Got to Court and showed security my MoJ pass (I sit on the bench of Employment Tribunal so have one with a photo and that is supposed to grant me access to any MoJ building).  Security refused to recognise. Fair enough so I then showed her Bar Council pass on my phone (Wimbledon Court supposed to be taking part in that scheme). Security person couldn’t get her phone to work, therefore, could not verify pass but spent 15 min trying to.  So, Security make me queue up with defendants and witnesses to be searched (thoroughly). Not a sign of hand sanitiser etc. What are the chances of a middle-aged woman bringing a fake MoJ pass to Court and, along with that, a fake Bar Council pass?  Doesn’t matter – automaton decides I am not to be trusted so searched I must be.

Wednesday, my friend Julian, another barrister emailed Luton Court to seek an adjournment on basis his client was in Spain and could not get out of Spain. Response (twice) was that he needed to attend and apply in person. So, off he schlepped from Wimbledon to Luton and the application was granted in a couple of minutes.  He too had to queue up to get through security. Anyway, after that waste of time, off he went back home to his very young children.

Friday, I rocked up at Cheltenham Court. Searched (along with everyone else entering Court). No gloves or hand sanitiser in sight (but they are more pleasant than Wimbledon).  In the Advocates room I was joking with other barristers quoting Shakespeare ‘First thing we do is kill all the lawyers’ and I was told that the week before there were bottles of hand sanitiser around but this week a member of the Court staff had collected them all and placed them in the Magistrates retiring room.  Don’t know if that is true or not (hearsay) but fact is I could see none around let alone being used.

My friend Julian and I deal with traffic offences.  The offence I dealt with on Friday was a youth charged with no insurance.  He had fully comp insurance for his car but the problem was his car was in the garage and he drove his Dad’s car but, despite fact he paid £3.5K for insurance it did not cover him to drive his Dad’s car.  Technical and PC should have let him off with a warning but that is not how money is raised for the Government.

So, minor traffic offences being prosecuted but if my client had been charged with murder, case would have been adjourned because of Coronavirus.

I am amused when I read those over 70 to be placed under (roughly) house arrest, bars closed, gyms closed and so on to ensure ‘social distancing’ whereas the Ministry of Injustice (a Government Dept) are intent on doing their best to spread Coronavirus (or given the state of the Courts any other disease).

Quite astonishing that you/the Government should shut parks but I am due in Brighton Court on Friday to represent a chief exec of a successful Co, a middle aged man who has never been to Court before, on a speeding charge. He will queue up to be thoroughly searched by security and, when the case is over, he will go home to his wife and kids and I will schlep back to London and cook dinner for my son and his friend who are off school because of Coronavirus.

Other friends/members of my family cannot believe this is happening but Secret Barrister and everyone else involved with the justice system knows that it is just typical of the MoJ BUT I thought I would write this long email to you because you ought to know because what is happening is just wrong & possibly dangerous.

Doesn’t seem to matter what madness the MoJ gets involved with e.g. sale of Hammersmith Court, endangering lives, etc. – they get away with it.

Interested in raising it?  It is controversial but can be corroborated and is definitely the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Man in the Middle – Chapter 28: Covid-19 didn’t ruin Mother’s Day

A middle aged man realises his elderly mother can no longer cope alone, so she moves in with them. Squeezed by the demands of the demographic time bomb and the requirements of the rest of the family, the Man in the Middle is bemused that life has become a hi-wire act, just when he thought it should start getting easier. How can he keep everyone happy and survive with his sanity intact?

If you’d like to begin at the beginning and missed the first instalment, you can read
No. 1: The Letter here

No.28: Covid-19 didn’t ruin Mother’s Day

The Sun and our cat are celebrating Mother’s Day together in the garden. The Sun is dry combing the grass and the cat is trampolining on it while shadow boxing with clouds of insects. He’s happy the months of muddy lawn are past, and the magnolia is flowering.

This side of the patio doors, Mother’s Day isn’t quite so carefree. We’re having a Family Emergency General Meeting to decide if we can salvage anything cheery out of Mother’s Day without breaking Government medical guidelines. This is proving harder than we thought. In many ways.

One of them is the Mother’s not been able to follow the cut and thrust of family chit-chat as clearly since she gave back her hearing aid, last week. She believes her decision is an historic act of self-liberation and calls it her Unilateral Declaration of Hearing Independence. We think it’s the equivalent of ‘Sakoku’ the Japanese trade policy which isolated the country from foreigners for 200 years. The fact we now have to stand six foot away from her because of social distancing rules hasn’t helped, either. Which is why my wife is having problems trying to explain to Mother the difference between a lock-in and a lock-down.

‘Why does the Government want us to lock ourselves in the pub?’ asks Mother.

‘Lock-down. Not lock-in,’ says my wife, slightly ruffled.

‘His father enjoyed lock-ins. They had them at our local pub in the Seventies.’ replies Mother.

As I wait for my wife to work her way through this Gordian knot of semantic confusion, I gaze out at the cat. He reminds me of my father’s favourite Edward Lear’s poem ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’. I start whispering:

‘The Sun and the Pussycat went to play,
On a beautiful pea green lawn’.

‘What?’ says my wife, in a voice like weed killer.

‘Dad’s favourite poem,’ I turn to my Mother hoping the memory will kick start her reminiscing and distract my wife from the lawn mowing coming my way.

‘Did you behave like this in business meetings when you were a grown up?’ asks my son. Actually, I did spend one business meeting pretending to be a mouse for a bet. But I’m not going to admit it, now.

‘Let’s just focus on the issue at hand,’ says wife, calmly.

‘Don’t worry. Social distancing is something that happens to you inevitably as you get older. Your friends die, the phone stops ringing, you can’t go out much. I’ve been living with it for years. Today’s no different,’ she says, staring out at the garden where the cat has just done the most extraordinary somersault from the fence into the middle of the lawn. He thinks he’s caught something but it’s only the shadow of a passing cloud.

Only a sociopath wouldn’t be worried right now. We’re scared that being locked down at home with Mother for the next three months means one of us may expose her to Covid-19 with fatal consequences. It’s the unavoidable irony of our situation: she moved in to have a safer, more sociable life in her last years but now it could be a death sentence.

‘How about making today ‘Mothering Day Movies’? Granny binges on her favourite movies this afternoon. This evening, it’s your turn, mum.’

I almost tear up with admiration for my son. My favourite embodiment of XY chromosomes has smashed it. We’ve just installed a new, super powered Wi-Fi system, TV, speakers and super-woofer which could blow the roof off Wembley stadium. She’ll be able to watch and hear some old classics all day long. What better way to spend Mothering Sunday?

‘Brilliant. Better than spending the rest of the day, wiping down the bannisters and washing the floors like a Dutch housewife,’ says my wife.

Covid-19 is sulphuric acid to social bonds and rituals. It forbids hugs and handshakes. It separates marriage beds and turns families into disconnected passengers stuck in the same railway carriage. It scowls at fun and laughter. But it can’t control the TV remote. Covid-19 hasn’t cancelled our Mother’s Day!

Mother installs herself in front of the outstretched TV, a plate of Belgium chocolates nearby. The BBC ‘I Player’ is loading up Noel Coward’s war time classic ‘In Which We Serve’.
‘I worked on that,’ she says, a smile wrinkling her cheeks. ‘This is much better than going to that noisy pub you normally take me to.’

Read more blogs by James Thellusson

Read the next in the series – Chapter 29: Mother’s birthday

Read the previous one – Chapter 27: Can’t Hear, Won’t Hear

See all James’s Man in the Middle blogs here

Read more on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

See also: Chiswick Calendar Blogs & Podcasts

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.

Supermarket chaos

I reported last week that the supermarkets had started rationing goods and opening for those over 70 only for the first hour. That was the theory. Several people reported to me that the scheme hadn’t quite gone to plan.

‘The so called special hour for elderly and vulnerable people in Sainsburys was APPALLING’ said one, who wishes to remain anonymous.

‘The few elderly there wandering aimlessly with  empty trollies while hundreds of mostly young people trashed the place. I was of course one of the elderly but more incensed than disconsolate! I arrived at Sainsbury’s in Chiswick at 7:15 AM, to find the car park completely full with barriers generously open, and the whole store heaving with people of every age, mainly young.

Over half the store had already been plundered as clean as the vulture-picked bones of an antelope on the plains of the Serengeti. The queues for the tills already stretched to the back of the store, consisting of people with trolleys crammed full, hardly any of whom appeared to qualify by the age criterion.

‘A relatively small number of elderly people, some of whom did appear quite frail, wandered the store, pushing empty trolleys, and looking like the souls of the dead thronging the banks of the river Styx, longing for oblivion. I neither saw nor heard of any indication that the management of the store either knew or cared about the ‘first hour’ promise.

Certainly there were no signs, and as far as I know no attempt by staff to protect the elderly and vulnerable. Neither did I see any sign of customers being limited in terms of the number of items purchased. Even a dedicated queue for us would have helped, as standing in a queue for over an hour is bound to tax the resilience of even the toughest pensioner.

‘I have to say I saw no examples of bad behaviour or micro-aggression, but the whole situation was entirely unacceptable and Sainsbury’s should be ashamed of themselves’.

The store in Essex Place has apologised to elderly customers. They were overwhelmed by the demand, which has been unprecedented, and say they have now taken on more staff.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: No shopping except for basic necessities

See also: Row over Councillor’s ‘go shopping’ advice

‘That’s when good neighbours become good friends…’

I swear I’ve never watched Neighbours, but you can’t help knowing the lyrics. Never have their saccharine and sentimental words been more apt. I’ve taken to meeting the neighbours for coffee every day. I’ve discovered one side has loo rolls and the other has pasta, so we’re good for a bit.

Whatsapp groups have sprung up street by street so neighbours can talk to each other and keep an eye on each other. If your street doesn’t have one, set one up.

Images above: Fr Kevin Morris, vicar of St Michael & All Angels Church; Fr Simon Brandes, vicar of St Nicholas Church

Churches organising volunteers

“The upsurge in community spirit has been fantastic” says Fr Kevin Morris of St Michael & All Angels Church.

I asked him what they were doing to support people who were isolated. “We’ve rather had the wind taken out of our sails” he told me. They’ve been busy organising the live-streaming of services, since the C of E announced last Friday that there would be no more public services. (The first time churches had been closed since the Black Death, he told me cheerily). “We’re on a very steep learning curve” he said. “By the time we’d sorted that out and started to look at who needed help, all these little self-help groups had already formed”.

That is not to say the churches won’t be providing support, they are. The five churches I spoke to all had groups of volunteers ready to help, taking calls and emails through their parish offices. At the moment they are using the people they know, conscious of the issue of safeguarding, but they are keen to get new volunteers DBS checked as swiftly as possible (anyone know how that can be achieved quickly?? Answers to – and potential volunteers, who we will pass on).

Fr Kevin told me he was touched to find that one person had delivered a piece of cake and flowers to a number of people who they knew lived on their own.

Fr Simon Brandes at St Nicholas Church in Chiswick Mall found himself with an embarrassment of daffodils on Sunday, ordered for the Mother’s Day service which was cancelled. They distributed them to nearby houses and left the rest on the church steps with a note saying ‘give a bunch to someone you love’.

“The Church has always been involved in community” he told me. “If the Church can support the community in any way, that’s its role and its function”. The Crosslight debt advice centre based at St Nicholas is no longer meeting people face to face, but continue to offer advice and help over the phone. Tel: 0207 052 0318. Director – Michele Rooney.

Images above: Martine Oborne, vicar of St Michael’s, Elmwood Rd; Nicola Moy, vicar of Christ Church, Turnham Green

Nichola Moy, vicar of Christ Church told me she and her volunteers are busy contacting the 500 or so people they have on their database, offering help to elderly and disabled parishioners. They have the freezer stocked with ready meals, and are poised to deliver them.

Sue Hearn told me St Paul’s Grove Park also has a group of helpers on call to do shopping for those who need it.

Martine Oborne, vicar of St Michael’s Elmwood Rd, said:

“We are doing regular phone calls to anyone who would like that and urgent food deliveries where we can”.

See details of their live-streamed services here.

People coming forward through social media

There have been lots of offers in social media from people wanting to help out. As people are wary of con artists preying on the vulnerable, it’s best to get in touch with one of the organisations which regularly operates with volunteers. Have a look at our Volunteer Chiswick directory for inspiration (though of course the charity shops listed are now closed).

A Facebook group has been set up to help those who may be quarantined due to the COVID-19 outbreak and to support vulnerable Chiswick residents.

The local councils are in the process of setting up Community Support Hubs to provide help to the most vulnerable.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Community Hub being set up by Hounslow Council

See also: Churches live-streaming services

Community hub 

LB Hounslow is setting up a new Community Support Hub to provide support and advice to our most vulnerable residents in the light of the Coronavirus pandemic.

In the latest Coronavirus Update from Council leader Steve Curran, Monday 23 March, says:

‘The Council will be working with voluntary and community groups to ensure that vulnerable residents have the support they need. There will be a dedicated email address and phone number alongside webpages to direct people to support and advice as well as a resource for those that want to provide help and join a local community or voluntary group.

‘In addition, the intention is for the hub to provide the co-ordination and distribution of supplies to those extremely vulnerable residents which the government has identified should be ‘shielded’ and self-isolate for at least 12 weeks. The NHS is currently contacting those residents and once we have the relevant guidance from the Government we will be able to provide further information’.

Watch this space, in other words. See his latest newsletter and sign up for update from the council here.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also:

See also:

Businesses ‘in limbo’

Restaurateur Michael Nadra closed his restaurant on 15 March.

“Over the last two weeks business had been slowing” he told me. “If we were the cause of an outbreak because of  a staff member or another customer that would have been a disaster”.

The award winning chef, who gets a mention in the Michelin guide, decide to close before Boris Johnson said all restaurants, cafes and pubs must shut, on Friday 20 March. Now he is now sitting back and considering how his business model might have to change once the current crisis is over.

Michael Nadra studied Naval Architecture & Ocean Engineering. As a student in the 1990s, at Glasgow University, he had no intention of being a chef. ‘When Michael walked into The Canteen in Chelsea Harbour he thought it was only going to be a summer job. But within two weeks he was cooking on the garnish section for up to 200 covers in a Michelin starred restaurant and was hooked’ according to the profile on his website.

From ocean engineer to top chef

When he graduated as an engineer he went to work with Nick Nairn, the Scottish celebrity chef who became the youngest Scottish chef to win a Michelin star in the early 1990s. He was opening his new restaurant and Michael got a part time job with him, as a Chef de Partie. He moved to London to work with Stephen Terry at Frith Street as Pastry Chef a year later, joins Petrus as Senior Chef de Partie and began baking for both Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road and Petrus, St James.

In 2000 he joined Bruce Poole at Chez Bruce, Wandsworth Common and soon became Sous Chef. After a spell at The Square in Mayfair and The Glasshouse in Kew, he joined La Trompette in Chiswick as Sous Chef, from there to Putney Bridge with Anthony Demetre. The Oak in Notting Hill and The Hempel in Lancaster Gate. He became Head Chef at The Waterway in Maida Vale for Tom Etridge in 2003 and moved to The Atlantic in Piccadilly for Oliver Peyton as Head Chef in the same year (who has recently set up Exit Here by Turham Green).

After such a meteoric rise Michael was ready to start his own restaurant. Fish Hook was his first venture, in Elliott Rd, a modern European seafood restaurant which he opened in 2005, but after a while he missed cooking meat, so he refurbished his Chiswick restaurant under his own name, Restaurant Michael Nadra in 2010, opening a second in Primrose Hill in 2012. His philosophy is to offer ‘high quality and great value, contemporary food, served in a relaxed and vibrant environment’.

Michael Nadra restaurant in Chiswick

His entry in the 2020 Michelin guide for his Chiswick restaurant reads:

‘Half way down a residential side street is this intimate little place where the closely set tables add to the bonhomie. Dishes are modern, colourful and quite elaborate in their make-up; it’s worth going for the sensibly priced set menu and the chosen wines’.

Closely set tables are of course the last thing that’s wanted at the moment, but Michael Nadra doesn’t seem to be the sort of person to throw in the towel quickly. He is trying to foresee how the economy will change once the current emergency is over, and how he should change his business model accordingly. They do say ‘every crisis presents an opportunity’ and he is trying to work out how his business can adapt and survive. They are, he said ‘in limbo’.

I asked him what he thought of the Government’s package of financial measures to support businesses. He welcomed the decision to cut business rates for a year. “That helps straight away” he told me. Premises with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will have no rates to pay in the coming year: an immediate saving of £10,000 on a property with a rateable value of £30,000. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement last week that the Government would pay 80% of the wages of workers unable to work because of the Coronavirus emergency, was “great” he said.

“It’s a guessing game as to what people might want”

I wondered if he would consider doing takeaway meals, as many restaurants which haven’t previously are beginning to do. He is considering a ready meal service – providing “nice meals which can be cooked or reheated at home” but is waiting to work out the ramifications before he jumps to that decision. Before he closed last week he was offering a £69 six course tasting menu as well as a £20 express menu.

“We wouldn’t be making anything really” he told me. “We wouldn’t be making money on drink or a service charge and if I employ my staff to prepare food for deliveries, the Government wouldn’t pay 80% their salary” so he prefers not to take any risks at this stage. “In parts of Italy they did deliveries, but then they stopped it. I don’t want to start something and then find it is stopped”.

“After the initial reaction (to the Chancellor’s announcement of financial help) you think who is going to be paying for this? The Government has to do it, but there might have to be more taxes. And how is the economy going to work once this is over? Everyone will be cautious”. He will use these next few months he says to really consider how his business model should change to react to the changed environment. “It’s a guessing game as to what people might want”.


No shopping except for basic necessities

The Prime Minister issued the instruction last night “you must stay at home”.

Announcing that shopping would be allowed only for basic necessities – food and medicines, he also said people would be allowed out only once a day for exercise. Other than that only for medical care or to get to work if absolutely necessary. Weddings and baptisms are cancelled for the time being. Parks can be open for exercise but gatherings will be dispersed. The police will have powers to enforce this.

The leader of Hounslow Council, Steve Curran said on Sunday that all shops should close except pharmacies and those that are selling food or takeaways.

“The government guidelines are quite clear, residents at risk should not be going out shopping especially those with underlying health issues” he told The Chiswick Calendar.

All weekend there had been rumours that Boris Johnson would close shops and put London into lock down. He announced the closure of restaurants, cafes. pubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and spas on Friday.

“Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment where no health service in the world could possibly cope” he said. “So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease”.

Images above: Insider Dealings; Greige

Shops closing and adapting

Many shops in Chiswick have already closed of their own volition; some sell online and others are offering free delivery to the Chiswick area.

Sally Price, who runs the interior design shop Insider Dealings on Chiswick High Rd told me yesterday: “I am expecting them to tell us to close because people have been really stupid, just not listening to government advice. Watching everybody on the beaches at the weekend was just ridiculous”. She has been seeing one customer at a time in her tiny shop, with hand wipes at the ready. Hers is not the kind of business which can be conducted purely online, because people need to see the fabrics and she needs to go to their houses and measure up, so she has been finishing up existing orders and looking at the government financial help package with her accountant, in expectation of closure.

Greige, the home furnishing shop on Bedford Corner, closed on Saturday. Their shop is also not very big. “It was morally the right thing to do” co-owner John Farrant told me. Griege sells online through its website  and John is offering free delivery to anyone in Chiswick, though he says nobody is interested in home furnishings right now, quite understandably.

Images above: LA Menswear; Lizard ladies fashion

Clothing shops Wild Swans and Damsel on Devonshire Rd had already closed before the announcment, as had Jigsaw, which has cleared the shop of stock.  Lizard women’s fashion on Turnham Green Terrace was open yesterday. Owner Kambiz Hendessi was also expecting to be open “probably only for a few more days”. They have been letting people into the shop one person at a time and wiping down the clothes hangers and rails every few hours. Lizard sells online at and also delivers locally for free. LA Menswear was open on Monday but fully expecting the government to close shops. “Half the street is closed already. It’s quite weird and very sad” said owner Henrik Henson. LA Menswear sells online “but people aren’t going to buy new clothes until they get really, really bored” he said. They will also deliver locally for free.

Foster Books closed on Saturday. Stephen Foster told me he would continue to do mail order and would do free delivery locally.

Chiswick Lighting had also closed its doors. Penny Ledbury, who runs the business said on Saturday: ‘We at Chiswick Lighting have also decided to close the shop door. We are answering calls and emails and will deliver locally if we are able and it is safe to do so’.

Honest Burger were giving away bags of onions outside their restaurant over the weekend, rather than throw away food they couldn’t use, as they shut down.

Chiswick Cameras was planningn to be closed after today (Tuesday 24 March). Owner Andy Sands told me on Monday he would be there until 6.00pm sorting out existing orders, but after that would not be opening the shop and would not be able to fulfill online orders either.

Windfall Natural on Turnham Green Terrace was also open yesterday, but not letting people into the shop. Their staff were taking orders at the door and bringing goods to customers there.

Fudge’s Cycles was open too. Owner Chris Ghadder said they would remain open until they were told to close. He told me their main business now was repairing bicycles, which they have always done, but they have been seeing far fewer sales of bikes and accessories in the last few days and a surge in the repair business, because people are realising cycling is a safe way to get about, in terms of the Coronavirus at least. In the shop they have been operating a closed door policy, letting two people in at a time and wiping down between customers, but because most of their business has been doing repairs people haven’t been handling products and putting them back on the shelves much. Chris operates a collect and repair service. He will pick your bike up in his van, repair it and drop it back to you. Tel: 0208 994 1485 / Email:

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Row over councillor ‘go shopping’ advice

See also: Government help “far more than anyone was expecting” says pub manager


Row over Councillor’s ‘go shopping’ advice