Author: Jim Preen

Hold the phone: Rusty is a Patterjack

Hold the phone: Rusty is a Patterjack

Crossbreed dogs are incredibly popular these days and cost thousands of pounds, but you can keep your cockerpoos, your spandoodles, labradoodles, puggles and schnoodles because our dog Rusty is a PATTERJACK!

Sometimes when out walking, fellow dog owners ask what sort of breed she is. I just laugh and say she’s a Heinz 57 rescue mutt from Battersea Dogs and Cats. But not any more I won’t.

Mrs Preen was at the local farmers market which does contain actual farmers and not just hipsters selling artisan yogurt. The lady from Marsh Farm (they’re from Essex and sell delicious meat and eggs) took one look at Rusty and said that’s a nice Patterjack you’ve got there. Cue an astonished wife. Apparently Patterjacks are a cross between a Patterdale Terrier and a Jack Russell and are bred by farmers to go after rats.

We all know Jack Russells, but I’d never heard of a Patterdale, so I did some in-depth research lasting minutes and found out the Patterdale originated from the North of England and is a descendent of the Fell Terrier (never heard of that one either). They were used to hunt and control foxes and eliminate vermin in homes and stables. The Patterdale was recognised as a breed in 1995, but are very small so were mixed with a JR to make them slightly bigger and the Patterjack was born.

One website describes the Patterjack as a ‘handsome dog, small yet muscular and stocky’ that’s Bucket to a tee. The only thing we knew about Rusty for sure was that she was brought up on a farm and there’s nothing she likes better than burrowing, Patterjack-style, into the sofa.

We’ve often wondered what ingredients went into making Rusty and even considered getting one of those dog DNA tests, but not anymore, because, let’s face it, if you own a Patterjack life can’t get any better.


 

Cable Café: Must try harder

Cable Café: Must try harder

I love to support local businesses; goodness knows I blog about them enough. Like many people I’m worried about the future of the high street and want to do my bit to keep our local stores alive and thriving. Figures just released show the number of shops lying empty soared by more than 7,500 last year, with one in ten shops in UK town centres now unoccupied.

Retailers, especially small retailers, have to be at their best to attract and retain customers; service has to be tip-top. So, for all kinds of reasons, it really grates when it isn’t.

We usually buy our coffee from a small coffee roaster in York. The quality is excellent but in our continued efforts to buy local Mrs Preen suggested I pop into the Cable Café on Brixton Road and buy some of their coffee. They roast their own and we’d heard good things about it.

I went in at around 2pm when the place was just opening up. There were three staff putting out tables, sweeping the floor and generally getting the place in order. I called out and asked if I could buy some coffee.

A man at the sink said: “Sorry we’re closed, but you can buy it from our other café down Camberwell Road.”

Now here’s the thing, I was looking at the bag of coffee I wanted to buy which was sat just the other side of the bar. So, I persisted and said look it’s right there, it’ll take a second for me to pay and go.

One massive sigh and eyeroll later the bag of coffee and cash machine are banged down in front of me. I tap the card on the reader and receive not a word of thanks.

I was so surprised and irritated by their behaviour that I actually said: “What’s going on here?” But answer came there none, just glum silence.

Perhaps they hate their jobs, perhaps they just hated me, but where is the incentive for me to return? I paid £12 for a bag of coffee and the transaction took perhaps thirty seconds. What was so hard about that?

Anyway, I went home fuming and made myself a cup of their coffee. It was delicious. But do I love it enough to overlook the utter contempt with which I was treated?


 

New London Scam

New London Scam

I may be naive or just stupid, but I’m damned if I can figure this out. It’s obviously a scam, but what’s going on?

Mrs Preen took the mutt for a walk last Saturday at around 7.30am. Realising she needed some cash to go to the farmer’s market she went to Vauxhall overground station which has a cash machine conveniently located inside the station.

She withdrew the cash and turned to leave the station.

Now pay attention as this is where it gets interesting. A reasonably well-dressed young man then approached her and said: “I need some help counting this money.”

Mrs Preen looked down and saw he had a large sum of cash in his hands, mostly in twenty-pound notes.

Not knowing what’s going on but sensing something iffy Mrs P. says, “I’m sure you don’t need my help.”

At that point a middle-aged woman took my wife by the elbow and said, ‘you don’t want to get involved with that’ and led her away.

The woman left and said no more, but it certainly appeared as if she’d seen this little slice of London life before.

Now I know what you’re thinking but no, my wife did not get her pocket picked or have her purse stolen. And of course the money was probably fake.

But what was the scam that seems to have been interrupted?

Was the guy hoping my wife would become flustered and put her bag down so he could nick it? Perhaps I’ve been watching too much ‘Line of Duty’ but was he trying to get my wife’s fingerprints on the money?

Can anybody help me out and explain what was going on?


 

Northern Line Library

Northern Line Library

The book-drop at Oval underground station

Deserves nothing less than a standing ovation.

My last three books have come from there

A Harris, a Wodehouse and a JM Coetzee.

Crime, romance or the latest thriller

Or maybe the Hungry Caterpillar.

Leave what you’ve read and take what you need

You’re moments away from another free read.

With your nose in a book; in no time

You’ll forget you’re riding the Northern Line.

Growth on the high street

Growth on the high street

Debenhams just announced they’ll be closing 22 stores next year putting more than a thousand jobs at risk. House of Fraser survives on a wing and a prayer and HMV has already closed a plethora of their shops. The cold hand of digital retail is slowly strangling the high street.

M&S, long the bell-weather of UK retail, are not having an easy time, though buying Ocado and partnering with British Airways to supply food on their flights looks to be a canny move.

I went to Moscow in 1991 just before the big switch from communism to capitalism got underway and I remember what struck me most was the complete absence of shops. Their showpiece was the dreary GUM department store on Red Square where if you queued long enough you might get a loaf of bread. Russia has long since changed from communism to turbo-capitalism, but I’ve always had a soft spot for shops and think of them as the most benign form of capitalism.

Yards of newspaper space is now taken up with hand-wringing articles on the future of the high street. Should Amazon be taxed more aggressively? Should bricks and mortar stores stay open at more convenient times? Should business rates be cut? These pieces usually feature a comment from the retail guru Mary Portas, but however well-meaning these efforts, the high street seems to be dying on its feet with little sign of a vision that could turn it around.

Whatever the answer is I don’t have it, but there is an interesting experiment going on in our neighbourhood. I’d hardly call our little row of shops a high street as there are in total just eleven stores. We have the usual betting shop, taxi service, optician and estate agent, but there are three shops together that might just point to a direction of travel.

Around a year ago a new restaurant opened up called Oval 24, you can see this blog’s review here, it’s a fine eating establishment which has garnered excellent reviews. To the right of the restaurant the shop has been turned into a flat and is now no longer retail space, but living accommodation.

But it’s the shop next door where things get interesting. Oval 24 has taken the space and uses it to grow vegetables for their kitchen. Just recently they erected huge tubs filled with lettuces and carrots out front of the shop. I saw these going up and was worried they’d be vandalised; this hasn’t happened. Inside the shop other vegetables are being grown using horticultural full-spectrum LED lights.

There’s long been talk of the high street offering experiences rather than retail opportunities, but I never thought shops could become urban kitchen gardens. Perhaps it’s this kind of innovation we need to counter the dreaded empty spaces, the blackened teeth of the high street, and turn it back into in a vibrant living environment.

Update: Just took the dog out and went past the street I’ve been talking about only to discover that what was once a laundrette will soon be a gym offering personal training, which kind of reinforces the point I’ve been trying to make. Good luck Damo.


 

Zen and the art of car hire

Zen and the art of car hire

As those who know me will testify, I’m not a violent person, maybe a little irritating at times but I don’t get into fights. The last time I laid a blow on someone must have been at school around 50 years ago. As a Frenchman I used to know once said: ‘I’m a lover not a fighter’. Well that’s the French for you.

Those paying close attention to the above paragraph will likely be expecting a connective but, so here it is, but on some occasions, I sure am tempted to sock someone on the jaw. Only last week if there had been a blunt object to hand, I’d have started laying into a certain person with both vim and vigour.

Let’s call him John, let’s call him that because it’s his real name and a more punchable person I’ve yet to meet.

The family went to the Isle of Wight over Easter, the weather was beautiful, the scenery was beautiful, but as the hymn I was forced to sing at school had it: ‘Every prospect pleases and only man is vile.’ Not everyone by any means, most were kind welcoming and friendly but there had to be an exception and the exception in this case was the guy who hired us a car.

Hertz, Avis and the other big boys were out of cars so Mrs Preen got in touch with a small independent hire firm and booked a car so we could trundle about the island to our heart’s content.

We showed up and immediately hit a problem. John took one look at Bucket the dog and Bucket took one look at John and it was clear it was not love at first sight.

“You didn’t tell me about the dog,” said John.

“It’s a small dog, very clean,” I said.

Secretly I was hoping Bucket would take a chunk out of his ankle, but Bucket is a well brought up dog and contented herself with spraying urine around the car lot.

‘Hmmnn,’ said John and left us to our own devices and went off to his shed.

Fifteen minutes later he came back from the shed, which I noticed he locked, though I was only 15 feet away.

By then I’d persuaded the family to leg it to a local Café, so unencumbered by dog I got down to the paper work.

I don’t know how often you rent cars, but one of the rituals is to go around the vehicle while the person from the hire firm notes down scratches and bumps on the bodywork. We ambled around with John pointing out the various marks, but what he wasn’t doing was noting them down, so very politely I challenged him on this.

This brought a swift response: “Look I’ve been in business on the Isle of Wight for 45 years, I wouldn’t have lasted 45 minutes if I’d tried to cheat people.”

Suitable chastened we went back to the shed and I signed on the dotted line.

As I was leaving, he said: “Oh the clutch is rather high and a red oil light comes on occasionally, but it’s nothing to worry about.”

In retrospect what part of that sentence made it seem like a good idea to drive the car away with my family for a few days sightseeing, but that’s what I did.

But my stupidity didn’t end there. On the way to our rental cottage, a massive electrical stink started coming from the engine and the clutch was slipping like an eel in mud.

Mrs Preen said: “I really think it would be a good idea to take the car back.”

I said well I can’t face seeing that bloke again, so I gave him a call and he said not to worry. I told Mrs Preen everything would be fine.

The next day we decided to drive to The Needles (see picture above) a picturesque spot on the western edge of the island.

En route the car was making pretty heavy weather and finally crapped out completely as we entered the visitors centre.

“You can’t park there,” said a man in a hi-viz jacket.

Scrabbling around trying to get a phone signal, I called John to tell him his lousy piece of junk was now an unwanted piece of street furniture.

Before I go any further, I want to add this. Until five years ago we lived in Asia and the one thing we learned there was that if you get angry, start shouting and generally reading the riot act to someone they just shut up shop and will have nothing to do with you. Since returning to the UK I’ve tried to maintain this sublime piece of Asian wisdom.

When I told John what had happened it was quite clear he was expecting the hairdryer treatment.

Something along the line of: “You’ve ruined our holiday, the wife is in tears, the daughter wants to go home, the dog’s been sick etc…”

In calm tones I made it clear we required another car as quickly as possible, but as the sun was shining and we’d inadvertently ‘parked’ in a prime spot we joined the rest of the tourist cattle and went about our tourist business.

John arrived with another clapped out piece of junk and said: “Thank you so much for not shouting at me.”

I said well I’m on holiday and don’t want to shout at anyone.

He said well, you’d be surprised most people do. (Bit of a giveaway there, John)

At the end of the holiday I returned the car and he was now my new best friend thanking me yet again for not screaming at him.

But let me say this, even with my Zen like calm just because I didn’t do it, doesn’t mean I didn’t feel like punching the little sod.


 

The Hard Yard

The Hard Yard

This is why I love London and perhaps it’s one of the reasons you do too. To be fair you may not even like going to the theatre and do you really want to watch a play written in 1953 that dramatizes the Salem Witch trials that took place in 1692 which is an allegory on the McCarthyism that was plaquing the US at the time the play was written? The answer to that tangled list of questions is actually yes, but let me explain.

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is currently playing at The Yard Theatre in Stratford and while I’m loath to do reviews on this blog, I leave that to others, I’ll just say this an extraordinary production that left the audience breathless the night I went. If anything, the director, Jay Miller packs too much into the show, hardly allowing the play to settle, but let’s not carp. The play starts with the cast sitting in chairs with their names on the seat-back. They start talking in British accents and I thought well OK, most would have just arrived in America and perhaps would retain their original accent whatever that sounded like in the 17th century. But gradually as the action gets under way their accents change to American and modern dress is replaced by period costumes. This is just one of the striking aspects of this production.

So why does this make me love London? Well it’s fairly obvious. This is a stellar production with a stellar cast, and everyone complains how expensive London is, but here in Stratford an evening at The Yard will cost you, top price £21. If you’re under 25 and turn up on the night and there are tickets available, then it’s yours for a fiver. I go to The National Theatre and the West End quite a bit and inevitably it’s full of middle aged, middle class people like me. Who else can afford it? Here at the Yard it’s stuffed with young people eager for a theatrical treat. And that is exactly what they get.

The theatre seats may be hard and made from plastic stacking chairs that have been torn apart and screwed into a wooden amphitheatre. The whole place was built out of salvaged material and has the feel of make do and mend, but don’t let that put you off. Twenty-one quid for a world class show; well you’d be foolish not to.

The Yard Theatre, it’s another London wonder.