Meet Rita, the 'heavy metal newsagent'Local cartoonist Simon Ellinas meets – and draws – a Barnet newsagent with a love for rock music
Many people in Barnet know Rita and Mo Chohan of Griffith’s Convenience Store, at 87 Wood Street.
The newsagent has existed there in one form or another for over 27 years, and was a sub-post office for much of that time. Rita and Mo took it over from Mo's parents 17 years ago.
Rita had previously been an IT trainer in Holborn. “Mo and I were born in the same hospital in Essex,” says Rita, “and both of our families lived nearby; it seemed fated that we would end up together.”
And so it was that they became the mainstay of Wood Street community life.
“I was virtually brought up in my mum’s newsagent in Bethnal Green. I worked there all the time, at least when I wasn’t in the swimming pool.”
Rita was part of Redbridge borough's diving team up until the age of 16. “I still love swimming but have always loved diving more. It’s just a shame that today’s health and safety rules mean that there are so few pools with high boards.”
That’s just one thing that Rita feels is lacking in Barnet.
“I love Barnet. It is so much quieter and peaceful than where I used to live in London, but the drawback is that there is much less to do here. There’s not so much music, dancing or clubs here as you get in other boroughs.”
Rita loves her music.
“Some people might think it strange for a nice girl from a Hindu background to be headbanging away to AC/DC, Nirvana or Deff Leppard, but those are the types of bands I love!”
Music plays a big part in both Rita and Mo's life. Mo used to run a recording studio and the couple frequently get asked to appear in music videos.
“The most recent one was in ex-Central Line keyboardist Steve Salvari’s solo song Everybody Needs Someone. I found it so funny being asked to dance outside our shop."
Steve is just one of many local characters that Rita has encountered over the years. She loves the mixture of artists, musicians and NHS professionals (from nearby Barnet General Hospital) who frequent her shop. In fact, ask Rita about any local person and she will probably know them! It is feature of being an essential part of so many people’s lives.
Of course, running a seven-day business like a newsagent is tough.
“It’s a very repetitive job and it’s sometimes very hard to stay motivated. Fortunately, the two people who inspire me the most – my mum and Mo – are really good at keeping me grounded.
"Third, but not least, I’m inspired by Hollywood actress Demi Moore! She’s taken roles ahead of her time and combines both masculine and feminine qualities in her personality.”
Certainly, Rita’s strength of character and can-do attitude is inspirational in itself but does she have any unfulfilled ambitions?
“Mo and I love travelling, so we’d like to explore more of the world, particularly remote and rugged places. Camping and getting back to nature would be ideal!”
Although that sounds tough, Rita didn’t enjoy being tattooed with a Hawaiian flower on the inside of her right arm: “I nearly passed out with the pain!”
What would Rita do if she won the Lottery?
“I’d buy a yacht and find an idyllic remote island where there are no rules!”
Simon Ellinas is a cartoonist and caricaturist who lives in Barnet. To find out more: