From the Smell of Dope to Drug Dealing with Some Highs in Between
Sunday 12th July 2020
It's at least seven years since I burned a joss stick but by 8pm I'm compelled to light one, hoping it will overpower the sweet, sickly smell of dope insinuating itself through my home from a nearby house in multiple occupation (HMO). Tenants there turn over frequently and I'm used to the occasional distinctive waft drifting through but the current occupants seem to have a rota for smoking in the garden so it seeps in continuously, through the night too. I'm not sure this is why it's sold where I bought it – at the Neasden temple. Are people smoking more or is the reduction in pollution making it more obvious?
At best, the scent is a distraction from the main task of the day: sending journalists the Chiswick Shops Task Force policy paper “Ensuring a Thriving Retail Economy in Chiswick”. Producing it has been a-long-time-coming labour-of-love for four of us (Hounslow Cllrs Patrick Barr and Gabriella Giles and Ealing cllr Anthony Young plus me) and now we must lobby hard for its recommendations to be taken on board nationally and locally so our wonderful independent shops, cafés pubs and bars can recover from the tricky retail climate that existed before COVID-19 made it even worse. I'm so impressed by the measures our hard-working traders have put in place to ensure social distancing and good hygiene. Please support them if you can. It's the only way they'll survive.
Monday, 13th July 2020
Still doggedly working through a list of people who should have our retail report. I've allocated time to join a webinar on high street recovery. I Zoom in only to be interrupted by an urgent phone call so I have to Zoom off. There's just enough time to prepare for our councillor group meeting. The 10 of us have been meeting twice a week during the pandemic, the first to prepare for and agree questions to ask of the council's Gold crisis team and the second on general group issues. The traffic management schemes dominate our discussions just as they are dominating our email inboxes, the Chiswickw4.com forum and exchanges on what used to be the much gentler, kinder NextDoor.
A resident emails about an oversized tree. This is the first of four oversized trees that I'm contacted about this week. They are all getting high.
Tuesday, 14th July 2020
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has kept me busy during the pandemic. It started with his 11th March budget announcement of a business rates holiday and other business support measures: that required a long and detailed email to all the traders I'm in touch with through the task force. Today I send the fifteenth COVID-19 email, informing them that the Eat Out to Help Out registration process has opened. I've sent them a few non-Coronavirus-related emails in between and I worry about overload but each one brings in a few comments, always from new people (“ Just to let you know that the emails are actually a very useful summation of advice/policy, etc. Thought you should have that feedback and keep up the good work!”) which let me know I'm helping.
Hounslow's cabinet meets to consider the council's climate emergency plan, the quarterly performance report (for the fourth quarter of 2019/2020) and the financial monitoring report. From the start, council leader Steve Curran is eager to Get Cabinet Done, rearranging the agenda so that Cllr Shantanu Rajawat (cabinet member for finance and corporate services) can leave for another commitment, and saying that he will propose each of the reports to speed things up
It's the usual litany of embarrassing-to-watch self-praise. There is no real scrutiny of the reports or the climate emergency action plan. It's a rubber-stamping exercise. There was a rare moment of questioning when Cllr Tom Bruce (cabinet member for education and children's services) asked Cllr Katherine Dunne (cabinet member for communities and climate emergency) about the initial cost of the air source heat pump that is due to be piloted at Cavendish School. By his own admission, the climate emergency will be a bigger crisis than Brexit or COVID-19 – so surely spending money now to off-set the long-term effects of this crisis is a worthwhile investment? If you would like to experience its lows – and highs – yourself, you can watch it here on YouTube.
Wednesday, 15th July 2020
The day goes by in a flash – I'm still pushing out the retail report and following up on actions agreed at our group meeting on Monday. Whoever said that being a councillor is a part-time job needs to tell me how they do it.
One task is to start the process to recruit a new political assistant for the group. If you know anyone who might be interested, please contact me for the job description and background information. It's a dynamic and busy role roughly equivalent to a London-based parliamentary assistant on the IPSA (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) pay scale. And, yes, the salary is far higher than a councillor's allowance.
Thursday, 16th July 2020
I miss the weekly webinar run by the Hounslow Chamber of Commerce for something even more crucial. A haircut. Kevin has cut my hair since 1980, always in South Kensington and it was several years after I moved to Chiswick that he revealed he was born here, in Duke Road. Anyone who shopped at Tots & Teens in the Terrace (sadly long gone, but now Zen Maitri) will have met his sister Cathy. And if you had tea at The Copper Kettle (now Avanti) at Bedford Corner well, that was his sister Jo's business. It's no surprise that our hairdresser chat always takes a sweeping look at what's going on in Chiswick, with muffled-by-masks voices this time. As I clutch my mask to my nose and mouth so my ears can be free of elastic, I worry about the mountains of additional waste Covid-19 has brought us including strange disposable towels and single-use plastic gowns. Regardless, I leave feeling renewed, very much on a high.
Using the tube for the first time since before lockdown, I get off at Turnham Green and drop in on traders along the Terrace then Devonshire Road. There is only one topic of conversation. If you haven't yet commented on the road access and parking schemes, whichever one or all (there's a drop down menu listing various schemes in the borough) here's the link:
I queue for the wonderful E3 outside M&S and as I get on I spot Cllr Guy Lambert at the back. We give each other a strong, masked-up, lack-of-smile-acknowledgement nod. I'm grateful we have to social distance (I expect he is, too). We exchange a similar word-free head-bob as he gets off.
Home to emails from the government's High Streets Task Force responding with warmth to the retail report.
I log into MSTeams and the council's first-ever virtual cabinet question time. There is an astonishing level of outrage afterwards. We suspect the audience was dominated by Chiswickians but council leader Cllr Steve Curran was as hard-hearted and disinterested as ever. “There's life beyond Chiswick!” he declared, dismissing yet another traffic scheme question. He tries to bring in every member of his cabinet to answer questions and it's painful listening to their tortured attempts to sound relevant, while reading from their notes.
Afterwards I meet a resident at a fly tip hotspot. We also discuss an oversized tree (2). As we walk towards it, the resident indicates that things are slightly awkward at a nearby household. Holding two fingers to her lips and sucking in air, it's clear she means they are fans of marijuana. I walk round the corner and bump into someone smoking a joint. It is hard to escape it, wherever you are in Chiswick.
My phone pings with a message. It's another resident about another far too high tree (3).
Friday, 17th July 2020
Another high street recovery webinar. An email about yet another far too high a tree (4). And an email from a resident asking for help to stop the drug dealing taking place along his road. Our police teams are responsive, despite the dispiriting knowledge that for the most part their actions achieve displacement – the dealers simply move elsewhere.
It's been one high after another this week. I sink gratefully into another Zoom session, this time with five friends in Battersea, Vauxhall and Chester and a couple of glasses of red wine.
Cllr Joanna Biddolph
19 July 2020