Will NobleLondoners Sit On Park Bench, Tell Photographer How Covid Has Affected Them
On Clapham Common, by Mount Pond, you will find a bench dedicated to 'Honest Tom'.
It's in honour of the man who ran the nearby 'Honest Tom's' food wagon for 30 years — and passed away last year. During August 2020, photographer Jim Grover came to Tom's memorial bench almost every day, taking pictures of the people who sat there, and asking them how the pandemic had affected them.
Says Grover: "It was, deliberately, a random process; whoever sat down on ‘Tom’s bench’ became my subject for the day.
"On one day I had to wait for three hours for someone to sit on the bench (it’s not the only bench!). On another day, despite going twice no-one sat on it, so the empty bench became my mute subject that day."
Grover's unsuspecting subjects turned out to be incredibly open with him. Some, like electrician Matt, admit to losing most of their work. Dave, owner of Dave’s Paws, a professional dog walking, cat feeding, and pet sitting business, has had business shaken to the core, too.
Theresa's is a similar story — she moved to London in January to start her new job in travel sales, and soon after, found herself made redundant.
For others, the pandemic has had the reverse effect, spurring on the opportunity to make a little more money. Victor and his friends keep themselves on call for food delivery bids, so they can courier for Deliveroo and Uber Eats. A 'really good day', he says, is worth £100-£150.
His companion on the bench, Harvey, laments being too young to cash in on the action.
For others, the pandemic has offered the chance to step back from work, and contemplate life. 'Honest Tom's' granddaughter, Holly, admits that while the food wagon was closed down earlier in the year, she enjoyed the 'holiday' — although she also experienced pangs of guilt, owing to her partner, a police officer, feeling the extra demands during lockdown.
Other Londoners Grover spoke to didn't seem too worried by the pandemic at all. His first subject, Timothy, told Grover: "It didn’t really bother me because I know that I can’t get [the virus]. I take certain things to prevent getting it… guava leaf and soursop leaf in the morning, and when I go home in the evening…and I make special teas with them…".
Says Grover: "Everyone who sat on Tom’s bench bench has been through what we’ve all encountered over the past few months. But the impact on individual lives has been so varied, from surprisingly rewarding to absolutely harrowing, and everything in between."
On the very last day of his project (it comprises 28 photos in all, as Grover had "a brief ‘staycation"), the photographer met Yvonne. Her story is certainly on the 'harrowing' end of the scale: she lost her husband to Covid-19, and was unable to say goodbye before he passed away. The whole experience, she confides, has been a 'nightmare'.
Says Grover: "Yvonne’s moving story, on the last day of my month-long project, put all the others into context; hers was life-changing."
Like many of the subjects, Yvonne is no stranger to Honest Tom's, and has by her own admission, been coming here 'donkeys years.'
It's testament to Honest Tom's that the snack bar is open once again — cheering up locals with pies, sandwiches, burgers and cups of tea.
Nadine, who has worked at Honest Tom's for 27 years, replenishes the vase behind the bench with fresh flowers each week: he obviously remains much missed.
Grover's photos form an exhibition — Covid Tales from Tom's Bench — which runs at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, from 30 September-31 December. Entry is free.