Keith Richards, writer and resident of Chiswick, documented his Corona lock down, living on his own, in a weekly blog from 24 March to 7 July called Chiswick Confined – My Corona. Now he’s free to roam at will, the blog has mutated into Chiswick Unbound.
Image: Bell & Crown pub closed during lockdown. Photograph: Joanna Raikes
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
From Confined to UnBound and maybe back again?
People often ask me ‘how do you think of things to write about?’ That’s a good question but possibly not for the reason that a casual questioner might be thinking. Unless one walks around with earplugs and a blindfold – and no, don’t worry, that’s not the latest advice from SAGE – it’s impossible not to be stimulated into some form of response to what is going on all around us.
So, I have no problem coming up with potential subjects. What I find more difficult is not obsessively covering the same topics that particularly set off my Grumpy Old Man reflexes or my increasing fears for the mental, political and environmental health, not just of the London suburb I live in but of the entire planet. It is increasingly difficult not to constantly hark back to the big existential issue
I enjoy the feedback I receive whether by email or the pub conversation that contain, “I didn’t know that….” or, “such and such made me laugh”. However, the greatest pleasure comes from suggestions that I have somehow articulated what someone was already thinking about. The original ‘Chiswick Confined’ blog was dedicated to a very particular set of circumstances and, though the post-lock down ‘Unbounding’ has freed me to comment more widely, I am beginning to feel we are heading towards ‘Confining’ again.
I could very easily, at this point, slip into a polemic about the government’s handling of the crisis but I will rather restrain my observations to how I see myself and those around me change their behaviour in response to the move from ‘Rule of Six’ to the ‘Tier 2’ restrictions. As I write this on the Sunday after the midnight Friday start, it is possibly too early to tell and people’s attitude will become more pronounced after the next few weeks, but already I sense some early indications of the way things will pan out.
Will pubs survive Tier 2?
As is obvious, I am a habitual user of pubs and that is a great place for studying human behaviour. The ‘Tier 2’ single household rule is absolutely the worst-case scenario for publicans. The close by ten and rule of six was already bad enough. The premature closure obviously hit revenues. Although clearly many people have been going to restaurants in particular earlier to eat, the later drinker trade has gone.
The bar and waiting staff have taken the impact. Some publicans have kept the same number of staff but given them fewer hours, reducing the bar-staff’s income but spreading the pain. Others have let some staff go and just continued with a reduced number, often doing more of the basic work themselves. Having to serve fewer people, now seated for table service, has increased the workload for those bar-staff still employed. Throw in extra cleaning duties and the stress of asking beered-up customers to stick to the rules and their job has become significantly harder. I note too that pub patrons do not automatically tip for what is now effectively waiter/waitress service. Restaurant staff are also seeing a reduction in tips as well as having less in their wages.
Now, as the ‘single household’ rules kick in, publicans, café-owners and restaurateurs have even more decisions to make. They are in completely unknown territory. They have no idea how customers will react – do they order food, drink and other supplies in the hope trade continues? Should they maintain their subscription to ‘pay per view’ sports channels if groups can’t come in? How do they enforce a rule they have almost no control over?
A friend of mine was telling me that her three sons and their girlfriends were still going out for a birthday meal having just told the restaurant that they are a single household of six. Does the proprietor challenge this and lose his income or just accept it? Either way, how does he know? Is he responsible in the eyes of the Law? If separate households book tables, as long as they are two metres apart, is that allowed? Apparently not, as a friend of mine witnessed a landlord telling two tables of people that clearly knew each other but had arrived separately that they were not allowed to talk to each other.
I am of an age that tends to be naturally more socially conservative. Many of my friends in their 60’s and beyond take pride in that we still feel young at heart, listen to same music as our kids and even go to gigs with them, socialise actively and regularly and refuse to ‘act like OUR parents’. We have disposable income and are significant spenders for the hospitality industry. Yet we are still more socially conservative than we once were and than our kids are.
Some of us feel more vulnerable than others and even if not for ourselves are very conscious that some of our age mates may be medically vulnerable and some also have to consider parents and older relatives who are still alive. Some of my mates have been concerned, even quietly critical, as they see from my blog that I am out and about and potentially taking more risks than maybe I should. This group have already reduced social spending and we are likely to be the ones who follow the new lock down rules. The loss of our spending power is a major part of the hospitality industry’s economic difficulty.
Obviously the generation that I see of my sons and their mates and through my connections with the Rugby Club I chair is completely different. During the full lock-down this group, in my experience, did take it pretty seriously. There seemed to be relatively strong compliance with government guidelines while the full lock down was enforced but the reduction in restrictions released the catch on the lid. It is now proving far more difficult to force the lid down again.
It is this generation’s behaviour that seems to be getting the blame for the increase in cases of the virus, particularly in the UK’s northern cities but generally across much of Europe. I sense instead of a general recognition of the need for restrictions their conversation has moved on to how to get round them. The ‘Whatsapp’ group messages are now about which pub is mostly likely to allow them to sit on three tables next to each other and which one has outside heaters.
I hear anecdotally that the use of the dating apps that this generation relies on for sexual encounters and relationships are back to almost pre-Covid levels. I find it hard to be too critical as so many of the attractions of being young have been eroded. They have no reason to be anything but utterly cynical towards probably the most corrupt and self-seeking political class for a century and their economic future and the health of the planet is being destroyed in front of them.
I have a strong feeling that we will see a greater disparity in the behaviour of generations and a great deal less adherence to ‘single household’ hospitality restrictions. I see this cynicism increasing among publicans who are being put in a very difficult position on how far they enforce the spirit of the Tier 2 restrictions. I can see many of them being less rigorous and more willing to be flexible to keep hold as much of their younger custom as they can. I do not have confidence that this ‘Tier 2’ is going to make much of a difference and I am wondering if the government’s putting so much at stake on this policy means that they can’t see the wood for the trees.
Lock Down Man
Nigerians have a saying ‘Man no be wood oh!’ This translates according to the circumstances: from the male excuse for sexual proclivity to recognition that men have feelings. In a way that kind of sums up the emotions building up in young men who, having been Covid restricted for so long, are becoming desperate to play contact sport, socialise with their mates and indulge their hormones. It also allows me to create the most outrageous segway into the song I want to talk about.
I’m A Man is a much-covered (and well used in advertising, film and TV) song written by Stevie Winwood of and for ‘The Spencer Davis Group’ with their producer Jimmy Miller. Winwood of course has gone on to perform in his own right and in bands such as Traffic. He is also one of the most prolific and influential collaborators ever and can be heard on albums from Electric Ladyland (Jimi Hendrix 1968) to Old Sock (Eric Clapton 2013) with such contrasts as Toots & the Maytals, Vivian Stanshall and Paul Weller in between. However, it is The Spencer Davis Group that are more often on my playlists with Keep on Runnin a particular favourite.
In doing my research for potential links to Chiswick, though the band was from and started playing in Birmingham, I found two local venues that they played in frequently. One was a club I never heard of called ‘The Blue Moon’ in Hayes. As far as I can tell it was open late 50’s to mid 60’s and hosted Long John Baldry, Cliff Bennet and the Rebel Rousers as well as The Who. Closer to home ‘The Attic’ was the precursor to the famous ‘Rikki Tik Club’ in Hounslow and The Spencer Davis Band must have liked it because they played there three times in 1964 alone.
Their first album did not come out until 1965 so they must have played quite a few of the tracks from that album, which are mostly more classical Blues and early Soul than their later style and they still stand listening to today. I’m a Man was on the third album Gimme some Loving (1967). Winwood left about that time to join the start up Traffic. Who can remember the seminal ‘Swinging Sixties’ film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush with both Spencer Davis and Traffic providing songs for the sound track?
However, I am going to play a different track from the band. This version of Gimme Some Loving just displays the precocious Winwood at his best (he was probably still only 18 years old in this clip and had already written several hits) and the sound of that Hammond organ just takes me back to the days when I used to walk up Hounslow High Street wearing brown hipsters, an orange jumper and a blue cravat!
I have chosen my favourite version of I’m a Man by ‘Chicago Transit Authority’ because I did see them in December 1969 at the Albert Hall just three months after their debut album was released in the UK.
When they became popular they and bands such as ‘Blood Sweat and Tears’ introduced a jazz influenced horn section to the more traditional guitar based rock. Chicago later dropped the Transit Authority and became more commercial but I loved this first album for its driving bass and the extra harmonic qualities the horns brought in. This clip has the drum solo that went with their live performances – I am not usually a fan of drum solos but this one works for me. Enjoy.