Chiswick Confined – My Corona blog Week 15

Keith Richards, writer and resident of Chiswick, living on his own, has been writing a diary of his Corona lock down. Beginning on 24 March, he’s been documenting the experience from his last pint in a pub onwards.

Image above: Bournemouth beach, June 2020, once groups of six were officially allowed to hang out together outside

Day 97 – Monday 29 June 2020

So, it’s official! The end of lock down. Well, is it? Yes it is. Oh, no it isn’t. He’s behind you! Oh no, he isn’t. Oh yes, he is. The buffoonery of the coronavirus pantomime continues.

On June 23 Johnson said, “Today we can say that our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end… the bustle is starting to come back and life is returning to our shops, streets and homes…….and that is why we will continue to trust in the common sense and the community spirit of the British people to follow this guidance.”

Within a few days the news was full of police shutting down raves, beaches full of holidaymakers, Liverpool fans partying (congratulations by the way) and the Lake District covered in litter. Then this weekend the Home Secretary said, “As much as people do want to be out right now – the weather is amazing – stick to the rules, follow the guidance. We have made it quite clear that no-one should be gathering with six or more people.”

Make your mind up.

Clearly, when Johnson said how much trust he has in ‘the great British common-sense’ he hasn’t spent much time on Richmond Green. My blogs have referred to my distanced pints in Barnes and on Hammersmith’s Upper Mall, I have photographed families and small groups on Turnham Green and Ravenscourt Park but I was unprepared for what I witnessed in solid, dependable Richmond.

A friend of mine lives facing The Green and invited me to a distanced drink in his garden so I took my first journey on the Tube since early March. It all started so calmly, sitting there in my mask and ready with my hand sanitizer. I was impressed to see what appeared to be total compliance with hygiene and distancing guidelines. Arriving at my mate’s place about mid-afternoon I was surprised to see security fencing around his and his neighbours’ drive way. There were quite a few people in small groups and a buzz of conversation around The Green but when I left at around 7.00 pm there were clearly many more, larger groups and the atmosphere had changed.

He explained that every day, even in midweek, as the evening progresses the groups get louder and noisier and the barbeques get lit and music starts. The security fencing was to prevent the queues of people urinating, and worse, around their garage and back garden areas. The police, as under resourced as they are, are seldom visible and are unresponsive to local residents’ complaints. Still, it’s probably like that in Barnard Castle these days and the Prime Minister says it is good to see the bustle starting to come back.

So, is Lock Down over?

I suppose it depends on how you define Lock Down and your own response. There are sill those people that are generally staying in and many are still sticking to rules about bubbles and how many households they can be in contact with. I found it quite emotional watching news-clips of children hugging their grandparents and I still know of families enduring separation to protect vulnerable members. Clearly the age group from late teens to early 30’s is the one most frustrated by restrictions and is chomping at the bit to get back to a full on social life – as evidenced by the illegal raves and parties.

It would normally be full on Festival season now and the BBC showing highlights of old Glastonbury gigs makes it feel a weird kind of nostalgia like ‘those were the good old days’ when it was only last year. Perhaps there is a sense that these full on crowded music events will never quite be the same again, if only because the economics will have changed for ever. Theatres can re-open but only for ‘pre-recorded’ shows and not live acts. Watching the National Theatre, The RSC and The Globe streaming plays has been a treat but their funding is now in doubt and when will they be able to afford to begin the process of rehearsals and performance again? I am worried for the survival of all live art, particularly music and theatre. I cannot see how it will endure in its current form without some government funding.

Image above: TV coverage of Glastonbury highlights from previous years

I have mixed hopes and fears for the hospitality industry in terms of pubs, cafes and restaurants. Clearly, their business model allows for more flexibility though their biggest constraints are the size and adaptability of their sites and probably the terms of their leases and attitude of their property owners; their landlords. Where these have allowed there have been real examples of innovation and entrepreneurialism around different types of home deliveries and take aways. Some coffee shops are doing massive take way business and others have also turned them selves into speciality grocers. Surveys also show that the vast majority of people who used pubs and restaurants will be willing to return promptly. Sure, many will be put off by new rules and regulations but many people are gagging for a proper pint or to sit at a table and be served something other than their own cooking.

However, it is not quite clear what the new rules will be exactly. Searching through government guidelines these state that details will be announced shortly, but ‘D-Day’ is only four days away. While premises can re-open restrictions include maintenance of the new social distancing rule of “one metre plus” and the surely unenforceable demand that no-more than two households can go together to a public space, including pubs, at any one time. There are vague noises about hygiene, sanitation and staff protection but several pub chain owners, including Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin, have complained about the lack of clarity.

A trawl through these pub chains’ websites show more generality than detail and this is clearly because pubs come in many forms. Modern open establishments, such as many of the aforementioned Wetherspoons will have different problems to country pubs. Smaller city pubs will be the ones to find most difficulty given the nature of their urban spaces with less garden and more dependency on customers standing at the bar. The bigger chains are opening some but not all of their boozers on 4 July so it will be best to check before turning up. In fact, many pubs will only allow customers who have booked a table to enter.

As I have said, my Lock Down will officially end when I have my first pint at The Raven. I spoke briefly to landlord Dave Finan and he was up to his arse and elbows getting ready for Saturday. He and his team are desperately putting into place what he says will be twenty new measures to allow him to open; including new outside furniture, an app for ordering for table service, a booking system, a one way system, new hygiene procedures for toilets, kitchen and the bar as well as training courses and PPE for the staff. Customers will need to register and will be limited to 90 minutes per sitting. He will be announcing the opening and how they will operate on Instagram as w6raven and on www.theravenw6.com.

I should add at this point that as far as I am concerned the end of my Lock Down is not the same thing as getting back to normal; let alone admitting to a ‘New Normal’ (Argh, I hate that term). I am definitely in the camp that believes that we have not managed the process of opening up well enough to have avoided the risk of a second wave, or subsequent waves for that matter. My trip to the Raven will be with caution and I will generally do as I do now, which is to avoid busy periods whenever going shopping, exercising or, from Saturday, down the pub. My socialising will still be mainly in people’s gardens and in small groups of people I know well enough to have some confidence in their responsible attitude. The Virus is still the villain lurking in the shadows of the pantomime stage. I can feel it behind my shoulder just as it ever was. Oh no, it isn’t. Oh yes, it is!

Images above: The Strawbs; Sandy Denny

When I was a youngster living in Hounslow and going to school in Isleworth I had a wide range of musical tastes, from Soul, Ska and Blues Rock but I was never really into Folk music, so bands like Lindesfarne, Pentangle and Fairport Convention really passed me by until I shared a house with my student mates in Brighton in the mid ’70’s. This was a shame because by then I had missed the best of almost certainly the best female voice to have come out of the UK’s Folk-Rock scene: Sandy Denny. I did see her play once, at a Brighton College of Education gig in March 1973.

Unfortunately, her tragic relationship with alcohol was so evident I remember her being so drunk she actually lay down on the stage for a while. She was a local lass, just about, as she was born in Merton, went briefly to Kingston College of Art and, this is where my Vinyl collection kicks in, briefly played with a real home grown band, The Strawbs.

I am not sure when or even why I bought the 1974 “Heroes and Heroines” perhaps it was nostalgia. Dave Cousins, the band’s ever present leader, was also born in Hounslow and went to the same school as me, Isleworth Grammar, now Isleworth and Syon and I certainly remember an early version of the band playing a mini gig in the school’s music room. At least one of the band’s other members Dave Lambert was also a Hounslow boy and I suspect also went to our school.

At the time quite a few pubs had small folk clubs attached to them and though it was not my favourite music they were often easier to sneak in for some underage drinking. One such was The White Bear on Kingsley Road by Hounslow bus garage and for some time that was The Strawbs base. I do remember a band called ‘Country Jug’ playing there on Sundays who played songs redolent of ‘Mungo Jerry’ another local band. I actively disliked their music but you could get cheap, warm pints of Fullers on a Sunday evening without being asked your name.

The Strawbs have a fine pedigree with several major artists having had stints with them over the years including Rick Wakeman and Sonja Kristina (of Curved Air fame). They are still performing and touring with many of the original players and have even played an Anniversary gig at Chiswick House.

But it is the hauntingly beautiful voice of Sandy Denny, who tragically died when she was just 31 that I want to leave you with. She wrote the melodic “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” in 1967 and though she recorded it, it is most well known as the title song of the award-winning album by Judy Collins. This clip of Sandy Denny singing starts with some reminisces of her including some references to Dave Cousins and The Strawbs.

Please comment by email to keith@outsiderinside.co.uk or on twitter @outsiderinside1 – check out the daily Blog on my website outsiderinside.co.uk