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.

What’s Going On ?

Tuesday 21 July 2020

I don’t think we are going to become extinct. We’re very clever and extremely resourceful – and we will find ways of preserving ourselves, of that I’m sure. But whether our lives will be as rich as they are now is another question.

David Attenborough

These are indeed confusing times and with change and confusion comes anxiety. As has been noted on this website and by many commentators, the actual Lock Down was definite and specific whereas the transition towards (Argh, how I hate this phrase) – the ‘new normal’ is inconsistent, is applied differently wherever you go and relies on some sense of community and what BoJo calls ‘The Great British Common Sense’. This requires individual people to decide their own pace of conversion from a stay in private life to more of an outside public one. This would be manageable for most people but once outside in that public space the control anyone can have over their own environment is limited and therein comes the stress.

Generally, where there is a specific instruction based on a real need people will broadly comply. My experience of my first ride on the Tube seems to be a shared one. First of some anxiety, quickly followed by relief when it is clear that there is solid compliance in mask wearing and, outside the rush hour anyway, of compliance with distancing rules. However, because this government have abdicated responsibility and are such appalling communicators, vaguely saying it is down to the public, in most situations people do not actually know what the rules or guidelines are. The degree of uncertainty caused by ministers contradicting each other and wide variances between the science and the politics is damaging.

To take an obvious example: the advice is that the two-metre rule remains the guideline but in shops, pubs, restaurants and so on the one-metre space should be mandatory yet this appears to be totally unenforced. In fact, it is probably unenforceable. However, the point is: having determined your own approach, as soon as you are out there, you have no control over it. If you decide maintaining a two-metre distance is sensible but the person in the queue in the supermarket next to you doesn’t then you are buggered. This is challenging to many people, particularly those that see themselves as more vulnerable. I know for some the lack of control and the reliance on other people who then behave in a manner that threatens their space can cause real unease and almost a sense of panic. Under this pressure people can become upset and emotional.

Some may be able respond rationally and calmly with a polite explanation and request for distance. Equally, feeling vulnerable and under pressure many will react with a quick rant or more likely, a build up of resentment. I feel everyone is walking round with one of those little red bars that represent energy or ‘lives remaining’ under computer game characters. Each hit reduces the red until eventually the bar is exhausted and the space invader (yes, that’s how old I am!) dies. Except in real life we all seem to be walking round with our own little bar of tolerance, which eventually gets eroded until we implode. Many people carry that denuded bar home and a simple issue could trigger explosions of anger towards a loved one or even themselves. Collectively, I am not sure there has been such a threat to mental health – probably since the war.

Seldom has that smile or act of consideration been so welcome

However, just as in computer games, there are ways to replenish that little bar. Just as every computer game a hit removes a life so in ‘down the High Road’ life, every incident of lack of consideration drains the bar of tolerance but each act of kind-heartedness, each smile or thoughtful deed can top up the bar. Indeed, topping up someone else’s bar and receiving that thank you or responsive act of eye contact can top up your own. We need to be going out of our way to top up other people’s little bars. Seldom has that smile or act of consideration towards your neighbour and even to a complete stranger been so important and so welcome.

Due to several converging circumstances, Chiswick, that beacon of British suburban orderliness has become, frankly, a mess. Partly, this is again a result of poor government communication but a considerable part of the blame is just down to unfortunate circumstances. The government responsibility in this instance is local government, particularly Hounslow Council. As any reader of this blog would know I am in massive favour of pro walking and cycling measures, traffic restricting and calming as well as steps to enforce parking. Not mincing my words: there are too many NIMBYs and nay-sayers in Chiswick who are trying to create some mythical time bubble of 1950’s suburban utopia that actually did not exist, or, if it did was for a very privileged minority. If it was down to them traffic and pollution would continue to rise, choking our children, making outdoor life unpleasant and adding to the Climate Crisis all because they liked it the way it was.

Well, it never was like that in reality and, as we slide into an environmental meltdown, any semblance of the way it was is doomed. Having said that while I support the vast majority of the steps being taken by Hounslow around pedestrianisation of Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road, restrictions in Grove Park and the blocking of ‘rat runs’ (and Ealing’s plans to restrict Fishers Lane access) they could not have implemented it in a way more likely to piss off local shops and businesses and give oxygen to the whingers. The Hounslow Council cabinet seem to regard Chiswick as the home of entitled Tory moaners, and while there may be some truth to that, their lack of communication and transparency is almost vindictive. Traders and businesses are guilty of not taking earlier consultations seriously but that does not mean the council should not carry everyone along with them.

The unforeseen circumstances I referred to are the massive amount of disruptive road works associated with substantial and potentially dangerous gas leaks. It is just unfortunate that these coincided with the roll-out of the new traffic measures and have exacerbated the mess that is currently Chiswick High Road. Even so, the confusion caused by poor communication, inconsistent signage and an absence of enforcement is reinforcing the negative messaging.

So, Councillor Steve Curran and Hounslow Council. We are not all NIMBYs in Chiswick. Change is always difficult and even more so given the whole Covid stress. Please make sure that as the road works come to an end you take the opportunity to provide clear and concise public communication about the new measures, provide active support for the local traders effected and let us have some visible but consistent enforcement.

As I had mentioned in an earlier blog, as well as featuring some of my vintage Vinyl collection I will be taking the opportunity to present some of the music being produced by young friends of mine – actually often the offspring of my mates. One such is Charlie Chipchase, a local lad who went to Belmont and to Twyford. As the son of close friends since the 1970’s we are pretty much family and I can remember on a holiday in France when at the age of about seven he surprised his parents with an impromptu rendition of ‘Yesterday’.

Over the years Charlie has played jazz piano and indie guitar but is currently focussing on a pleasant and very easy listening electronica-pop style of music. Like many of his generation he is comfortable using the transition from having a full time job to being quarantined as an opportunity to be creative. He calls his current project WEST PARADE and his You Tube channel is fascinating for those wanting an insight into the world of these young musicians who create complex music from inside their bedrooms. The first Clip explains the process as “How I wrote a House Tune” ……………

The second clip is a song that was picked up by Spotify for one of their own Playlists where they feature up and coming young talent. The Playlist is called PEACH and Spotify described the track as “Sweet indie pop and up beat fuzz”. It is called ‘When the lights go down’ and you can hear it on …………

I get really excited when I see my mates’ children, and my own, going out there and doing their best to make a difference and put their stamp on the world. I intend to feature more of them in these blogs from time to time. #proudofourkids

Can I just say, as my concluding remark, that it is a truism that people like Charlie, his brother Bartley, my sons and my mates’ children are the future. It is earlier generations including mine and probably yours (I expect my readers’ average age is nearer mine than theirs) that have contributed to the present baking of our planet and the current phase of mass extinction. Many of this generation understand the need for a whole new approach to the politics of Climate Change. Too many old school politicians at Westminster or at the local level watering down the necessary Environmental programmes are, almost literally in the sense of their lack of ability to adapt, dinosaurs. Change is uncomfortable but it becomes a great deal more bearable with a little mutual consideration, compassion and a smile.