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, 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.