Parting is such sweet sorrow and other rants
1st June 2021
“Gilly Oh golly, how I love my lolly,
Down to the very last lick,
But when you are through with it, what can you do with it,
All you have left is the stick.
When you come to the end of a lollipop,
To the end, to the end, of a lollipop,
When you come to the end of a lollipop,
Plop goes your heart!”
Hitting the right note.
So, we come to the end of this particular lollipop. I am not sure how many hearts will go ‘plop’ but I certainly think I have nothing much left to lick.
Indeed, as we come to the end of this particular iteration of the pandemic I feel that continuing to blog ‘My Corona’ would be a bit like chewing the end of the lolly stick. While it is clearly far too early to say we are anywhere near the end of the covid crisis, any more blogging about it and my proverbial mouth would taste just like it had chewed the end of a particularly stale stick. No, in Ravenscourt Park my favourite Egyptian geese have grown up and are ready to leave the roost (if that’s what geese do), the tadpoles have seemingly disappeared from the nature reserve pond and when it is raining I can drink my coffee inside a café instead of sitting on a wet park bench. It’s time to move on.
And what a year!
In some 320,000 words in160 plus blogs over fourteen months I have described how I coped with each wave of Covid and the short periods between them. I have generally tried to put them in the context of my physical space: being confined in my flat during lock downs and contained within my West London locality at other times. From March to July I blogged nearly everyday with a daily readership of about 300 to 500. Major issues like BLM attracted about 1,000 hits. However, after the first lock down eased and people had more to do with their time, as did I, I reduced my output to one or two a week. Average readership also fell to some 250 a blog with double that for a more popular topic and I have been at that level ever since.
In the summer I was honoured to be asked by the excellent, local ‘news and views’ website Chiswick Calendar to be a guest blogger on their weekly newsletter. This meant I did stick to more local issues, though sometimes to The Calendar’s editor Bridget’s trepidation, I wandered into the political, both in a local and a broader sense. How could I not? During the period I have been blogging the world has seen the OrangeShitGibbon prized from his populist throne in the White House, my second home of Nigeria suffer judicial slaughter during the EndsSARS protests and the murder of George Floyd (amongst others) by American police sparking world-wide protests by Black Lives Matter and others. Here in the UK that helped catalyse the Colston Statue incident and stir the establishment media into the gammon inspired culture wars. I even attended and wrote about Chiswick’s own BLM demonstration. Meanwhile, the strawhairedspaffbymouthspaffbynaturemakeitallupaswegoalongbullingdoncontractdonorwatermelonsmilegoon’s government, dubiously incompetent at best, deeply elitist and corrupt at worse, has been mismanaging the UK’s response to the pandemic. At the same time, the perpetually looming and visible signs of a planet near breaking point: wild fires from Australia to California via the Amazon and South Africa, Caribbean island destroying hurricanes, Texas freezing storms and platitude spouting politicians bigging up their environmentalist qualifications while signing off climate destroying policies and programmes has been a constant televisual backdrop.
Yet, to the frustration of anyone locally with a social conscience or a modicum of desire to protect our ailing environment, the good Tory burghers of Chiswick are upset, not by the pandemic, the corruption in high places nor the looming extinction event. No, what steams them up is that their rat run to their favourite cappuccino has been blocked off and they can’t park in the way of cyclists anymore. Chiswick is the last bastion of Conservative councillors in a Labour Borough, Hounslow. These councillors ally themselves with some deeply unpleasant people who go to literally any lengths to keep Chiswick as some mythological 1930’s Utopia. This, of course only existed for a tiny minority, who lived, in Chiswick’s case either in large riverside houses or in the Bedford Park area: the world’s first ever ‘garden suburb’ and much loved by John Betjeman. My earliest memories of the area (I am truly a local having lived and gone to school in Hounslow and Isleworth and my sister was in the first ever intake at what is now called Chiswick School) are of council estates, the feared Devonshire Rd gang and a High Road of rough pubs and kebab shops. I was recently told there was a club down Turnham Green Terrace that if your house was burgled you could arrange to go there and buy back your stolen possessions. The W4 of my youth was not the desired neighbourhood it is now.
This apparently local phenomena of a small group pushing a right wing ‘little Britain’ agenda is not of course unique. It has successfully appealed to UKIP and Brexit supporters across the country and spawned such toads as Lawrence Fox. In our case the group call themselves ‘OneChiswick’ but if you want to know anything about them, tough luck, unless you apply to join their secretive little club. They have refused my membership of their Face Book group, as an example, twice. They have backers who fund spurious surveys, filled in by their own supporters, to claim they are a majority who speak for local people. Funny then that the Labour share for the cycle positive London mayor went up 8% in Chiswick in the last local elections. Their tactics include tacit involvement with the scum who cut off all the wires for electronic traffic measuring devices in this area and parts of Ealing, chopped all the flower heads off in the garden of a supporter of a greener London and even ‘accidentally’ sent the home addresses of councillors that oppose them to someone who had made death threats. Unfortunately, they have been unwittingly aided and abetted by a disastrously incompetent Labour Council implementation of low traffic schemes and cycle lanes. These have been so appallingly mismanaged that it has made it almost impossible to defend them against the NIMBY complaints of the ‘I have the right to protect my freedom to drive my polluting gas guzzling 4×4 monster to pick up Tarquin from his prep school’ brigade.
It is possible to read this as a rant about irrelevant and minor local issues but these are examples of how the right wing have historically built populist movements while ineffective and badly led left wing movements dither or worse. This is exactly what we have happening in the UK at the national level at this very moment. I am profoundly disturbed by so much of what I see and read around me. At least, I can be proud of my sons and many of my friends’ children who are active and speak out for the future of their society and the planet they will be living on long after I have been planted with a tree growing out of my bonce.
Counting My Blessings
My argument is that much of my writing concerned with surviving a pandemic has been about the mental health aspects of this crisis. Certainly, all of these topics have directly impacted on my psychological well-being as well as many other people with a social conscience. After all, to quote Jiddu Krishnamurti: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Nevertheless, the vast majority of the words I have tapped out sitting in my Chiswick flat with the broad skies streaming in through the balcony windows have reflected the gratitude I feel at being where I was during these dystopian times. To be sheltering in a leafy West London borough with parks and green spaces is such a privilege and I acknowledge my great fortune.
Though covid separated from one son, I have been able to enjoy the company of the other and we have both benefitted from the sense of community the pandemic has engendered along our corridor of apartments. To develop from ‘nodding’ neighbours to supportive friends has been exceptional. On my daily shopping and exercise stroll the smiles and be-masked conversations in the independent shops and take away cafes have been like little jewels. If I have banged on about the importance of a proper local pub with a sense of community it is because I believe in the importance of proper local pubs with a sense of community. In the knowledge that these are disappearing under the steam hammer of the property companies, I cherish The Raven as one of the very few remotely within walking distance. As we opened up, to be able to go back in and sit at the ‘locals’ table is yet another privilege to be recognised.
And then there has been music
One aspect of the blog that has remained constant whether I have been in rant or ‘count my blessings’ mode has been the closing music video. Early on there was usually a connection back to Chiswick or West London but as it became harder to keep finding those geographical links they became more a reflection of the blog content itself. Funnily enough, I have had more mail and comments about the music from CC readers than anything else. A couple of regulars have sent suggestions, links and even recommended vinyl shops. By a long way, the issue that has had most comment on my website has been that of mental health. Anytime I wrote about how some people struggled or if I was open about any struggles of my own it seemed to strike a chord and someone would write to me of his or her personal battles. I do not believe we yet know the full extent of any crisis in the mental health of NHS and key workers, as well as the public at large.
In consideration of those in India
I thought quite a bit about my final music selection. I almost went for one of my all time favourites, listened to in Hounslow High Street music shop booths, which would have pushed me towards Jimi Hendrix or Otis Redding. However, I have gone for something else. I have long been a fan of Indian music prodigy, the bassist Mohini Dey. Touring since she was just 11 years old, now in her twenties she is already a ‘maestro’ of the bass guitar. So, it was following her that took me into this 2014 clip of Berklee Music Academy honouring Indian musical genius A R Rahman. Born as A S Dileep Kumar in Madras in 1967, Rahman is probably the pre-eminent composer of Indian (particularly Tamil) film soundtracks music combining western, Hindustani, Carnatic and other styles. This video is of a version of one of his apparently better known tracks ‘Thee Thee’. I know very little about Indian film music but the breadth of this composition and the little matter of Mohini Dey’s unbelievable bass playing just blew me away. I believe she is still just 18 in this performance!
I also chose it in solidarity to the ordinary people of India suffering from the terrible wave of what has become known as ‘The Indian Variant’ and in the knowledge that Chiswick is in the borough of Hounslow with many people of Indian Sub-continent background who will be fearful for their loved ones back there.
My Parting Musical Gift
Before I once again say thanks for reading and even commenting as I focus on more creative forms of writing I will leave you with one last musical selection.
I am quietly an opera fan, inspired my father’s passion for that musical oeuvre and all things by Giuseppe Verdi. So far, I have not posted any in my blog because clips of an opera require full context without which the whole emotional core of the music is missing. However, I recently came across this film of Dmitry Beloselskiy, the Russian bass, singing the aria “Ella giammai m’amò” (She Never Loved Me) from Verdi’s Don Carlos in a concert performance. The clip seems to be from 2013 when Beloselskiy was at the Bolshoi but it appears to be in Turin. In any case, while it is a marvellous performance by him, it is the focus on the orchestration that makes this clip so special. I am sorry I do not know the orchestra (possibly The Bolshoi’s?) or the conductor.
A little more background. Our father’s passion with opera was never shared by our Mother and similarly, my sister Anne has never been a fan, yet, for me it was one way to bond with him. Don Carlos was a shared favourite, so much so that a couple of months after Mum died I took him to Paris to see it at The Paris Opera. The emotion displayed in many of the bass and baritone roles in Verdi’s operas we both found particularly moving. The apparent contradiction between strong masculine figures with deep manly voices and heartfelt, tender sentiment has always twanged my heartstrings. My Dad’s own father died when he was just seven and there are several poignant scenes of father/son relationships sung this way in Verdi, which I am sure are significant. A father/son relationship is also core to the plot of Don Carlos. In this scene, the curtain opens with the king sitting alone in his study. The weight of the affairs of state, the breakdown of his relationship with his son and the knowledge that his wife does not love him have banished sleep. The aria charts the growing realisation that she has never loved him and he will never rest until, still sleeping alone, he is buried deep in the royal vaults of the palace, ‘El Escoriel’. In this clip, the orchestration builds that emotion as violins join the cellos’ refrain and listen to the chorus of the oboes that seem to portray the thin morning light through the window that coincides with the dawning of that knowledge that he is destined always to be alone. Play it loud. Seriously.
So, that’s me done: the last music clip of an aria that would be my last Desert Island Disc’s selection, and my last Blog in the ‘Chiswick Confined/My Corona Series’. Thanks for reading. Please do send me your parting comments. Stay safe.
Over to Pete and Dud:
Wipe the tear, baby dear, from your eye-ee.
Though it’s hard to part I know, (I know)
I’ll be tickled to death to go!
Don’t cry-ee, don’t sigh-ee,
There’s a silver lining in the sky-ee!
Bonsoir old thing, cheerio, chin-chin,
Nah-poo, toodle-oo, goodbye-ee!
- A shorter and less aggressive version of this blog appeared in https://chiswickcalendar.co.uk/ It has been a pleasure to work with Bridget and her team. Obviously, these views are my own and not necessarily those of The Chiswick Calendar. They run a business dependent on advertising and are obviously more exposed to legal action by small minded people where as I do not give a toss what they think. Tee Hee.