Why aren’t you taking the free stuff?

Why aren’t you taking the free stuff?

I was wandering around our local park with Bucket today picking up twigs and small branches that the high winds and that old enabler gravity have brought down to earth. Just then a small girl, she must have been around five or six as she had no front teeth, fixed me with a beady, disapproving stare and said: ”We must save the planet.” I agreed but she wouldn’t have it and said I shouldn’t take branches from the trees. I said I was just picking them up from the ground for my fire pit, but she fixed me with another look that said with people like you around, the planet doesn’t stand a chance.

Fire pit

Fire pits, they’re the new thing for old people. Last night I had a Zoom call with a couple of my similarly aged mates (mid-sixties) and it turned out all three of us had been given fire pits for Christmas. Funny you don’t realise you need something until you can’t live without it. I see my dotage as bottles of whiskey shared with chums around a blazing fire in the back garden.

Anyway, back to the park and notwithstanding the five-year-old, I got a few odd stares from people as I collected up my kindling. I guess I looked like a battered old hippy harvesting firewood for my lonely grate, where I huddled round the hearth to keep warm. Now I can’t believe that in our bit of London I’m the only one to be the proud owner of a fire pit, but no one else was picking up sticks. Which begs the question: Why aren’t you picking up the free stuff?

Blackberry and apple

Last summer we had to vacate our house at the Oval and legged it to Essex where we rented a house while workmen set about building us a new kitchen. We hung our hats for a few months in South Woodford very close to Roding Valley Park. The Roding river winds through it and if it wasn’t for the North Circular and the M11 it would be a pleasant, peaceful spot. Despite the din and dirt of the traffic, Bucket and I got to love the place. There some forward-thinking planner had planted orchards of apple trees some twenty years ago. The apples ripened in September and then very quickly rotted and fell from the trees. They were cooking apples that I used to harvest  along with wild blackberries that grew close by. Mrs Preen turned these into blackberry and apple crumbles and blackberry and apple jam. I never saw anyone else scrumping the apples as we used to call it. Once again: Why aren’t you picking up the free stuff?


Now back at the Oval, with a wonderful new kitchen, my wife took Bucket to the secret garden. The secret garden is set in the grassy area between two 30s council blocks and was put together and maintained by the residents. There is a little pool in the middle circled by plants, shrubs and rhubarb. More than a year ago Mrs Preen discovered the rhubarb and asked if she could take some. No problem take all you want she was told.  Rhubarb lies at the heart of delicious, stewed fruit, just check out the Jamie Oliver recipe. Mrs Preen went to harvest a few stems yesterday, only to find they’d all been dug up and removed as nobody wanted it.

Too posh to pick?

Are we now all too posh to pick up the free stuff? If we pick up free stuff is it only a matter of time before we’re caught scavenging through the bins? Or have we become so cut-off from the natural world that everything must now come neatly sealed in plastic? ‘Waste not, want not’ as my old mum used to say and you can be sure this battered old hippy will continue helping himself to what nature has to offer, even in the very heart of London.

7 thoughts on “Why aren’t you taking the free stuff?

  1. Rhubarb, sadly out of fashion for some reason, like whistling . Also, where is the humble gooseberry. Much loved by my Granny Le Jeune

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  2. We have a fire pit (& I have dreams similar to you, Jim – of evenings sitting around a lit one with some friends & a glass of something nice).
    However, I have plenty of twigs in my own garden – for which I vie with the bird life!
    Loved scrumping as a kid (& carrying berries in my upturned hem – from hidden bushes).
    I also pick the flowers off our elder tree (& pass to a friend for cordial/wine).
    However, I am in mourning for the rhubarb, which is my fave!
    Fortunately a friend keeps me stocked up (& I end up with lots of Tommy plants, too).
    When her apple tree starts bearing fruit, I’ll bring my blackberries over – for crumble.
    It’s good that you’ve got the knowledge – to know what’s safe (& a great cook to boot)!
    Glad that you & Bucket have these adventures, with Mrs P. serving up her delicious fare upon your return home.
    Take care of each other (& yourself).
    Carol Xx

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  3. We are lucky here in Wales to have a forest in the back garden as well as a river and waterfalls! We’ve been growing rhubarb, apples, pears and plums over the past few years and as luck would have it the edge of the forest is generally covered in blackberries. So we get out there over the fence and pick the blackberries and they get frozen or turned into a crumble or something delicious. Just for Trevor’s ears too – we have a couple of gooseberry bushes and a load of raspberry canes so we’re hoping for some fruit that endures this year.
    Wouldn’t it be great to get together again around a blazing fire with a whisky in hand and recall the best of days, soon enough we hope.
    Take care

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