Category: Dogs

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?

Rhubarb

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.

Church haul

Church haul

Well the dog has to be walked, so we trudge up the road past Holy Trinity church. Bucket starts to pull in and I begin to wonder if she’s had some kind of canine epiphany. Actually no, she just likes Holy Trinity because the daughter, who’s pretty dog-walk averse, brings her here when instructed: ‘For god’s sake it’s your turn to walk the damn dog’ and it’s the shortest distance she can get away with. Bucket likes to retrace her steps to see if there are any new doggy smells. Holy Trinity, surrounded by a patch of grass, is a vast old Victorian hulk, not a pretty church and surely far too massive for the spiritual requirements of the godless citizens of South Woodford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Sunday I went to visit the folks. They still insist on remaining dead and have done so since the early seventies. My wife and I sought them out at their grave in Ravensthorpe, a village, just outside Northampton. The Church is St Denys and frankly I’d never heard of a Saint called Dennis, so I’ve just looked him up.

Apparently, he was born in Italy around 210AD. He became a priest and in 245 Pope Fabian consecrated him and six others as missionary bishops to work in France, where the locals had been giving god-fearing Christians all kinds of hell. Unfortunately, they didn’t take kindly to Denys’ evangelical zeal and he too got it in the neck, quite literally as they chopped off his head. Legend has it that after martyrdom Den carried his head for six miles to the place where he was to be buried. Saved someone else the grisly task, I guess.

The church that bears his name is around 800 years old and is made from beautiful, deep copper, Northampton stone. In the churchyard old Yew trees creak in the wind. It’s a peaceful place.

There you have two Anglican churches, one in the suburbs of Essex the other in the rolling Northamptonshire countryside. One beautiful and one ugly, both almost entirely unused. St Denys has a communion service every second Sunday. Holy Trinity, as you can see from the sign, holds three services on the Sabbath. On all other occasions both churches are shuttered. Understandably they are locked to prevent burglary, but you do have to ask if the dear old Church of England needs quite so much religious real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose I’d better come clean. I’m not a praying guy. I was brought up a Christian and while the faith has lapsed, I still see myself as a cultural Christian. I love church architecture, well some of it. If anything bad were to happen to St Denys I’d be mortified and not just because the parents are residents. It is clearly a beautiful place and the residents of Ravensthorpe deserve some beauty in their lives. I still love some of the old hymns I used to sing at school and the King James bible is stuffed with poetry. I’m not some atheist zealot, but what are we to do with all the Churches that scatter the land sitting there empty, waiting for a purpose?

I visit the folks perhaps twice a year and I’ve never once been able to get into the church, which is just as charming on the inside.

Obviously, many churches are deconsecrated and turned into housing, which seems all to the good. But what about the ones with architectural merit that are locked up pretty much 24/7?  Can they be repurposed in some way so that they once again become central to the community they serve? Despite the Church of England’s inherited wealth, I worry that some will just slide into disrepair.

In the UK we have a haul of beautiful churches, there needs to be a national debate as to what to do with them. Anyone got a clue?

Robin’s nest

Robin’s nest

When we returned from living in Asia, we brought a Spirit House with us. It’s a bit of a leap for hard-headed Westerners, but most Asians believe we live alongside spirits, many of whom are malevolent. To combat these pesky intruders, houses are built on different levels as apparently ghosts aren’t good at stairs. And outside just about every residence and business you’ll find a Spirit House, neatly kept and with enticing food and drink, all in an effort to tempt the spirits out of your house and into their own cosy home.

I’m afraid we haven’t kept our Spirit House as neatly as we might, as we don’t seem to have spirits; only mice. The little wooden structure lay dormant until a few weeks ago when a pair of Robins started building a nest inside.

We watched as they brought sticks and grass to make a perfect cup-shaped nest. Then bewilderingly they vanished. We figured the location was too close to our back door and our comings and goings had persuaded them to find lodging elsewhere.

But suddenly they were back bearing grubs and worms, which could mean only one thing. It’s very dark inside the Spirit House, but Mrs Preen swears she could see three tiny beaks.

I suppose we are typical soppy Brit animal lovers, but we felt blessed to have them and would sit around watching the parents bring tasty tit-bits to the little ‘uns. A moments research revealed that once the eggs hatch there are only fifteen days before the chicks fly the nest so it wouldn’t be long before they were gone.

Last Sunday morning, at around 8.30, I was in bed sound asleep when suddenly Mrs Preen burst into our bedroom in floods of tears.

She had let our dog Rusty out into the garden and was pottering about in the kitchen when she heard the Robins tweeting in alarm and saw them dive bombing our dog. They were sending up distress flares.

Rusty had caught a fledgling and killed it. Bucket can’t catch a damn thing, she half-heartedly goes after squirrels and gives our mice a wide berth, but a little bird, probably on its first flight, just couldn’t get away in time.

I love our dog and I know nature is red in tooth and claw, but the death of that little bird left us feeling forlorn. It may be ridiculously sentimental, but we felt we had a duty of care to the Robin family and we flunked it.


 

What is the most loathed retailer on the high street?

What is the most loathed retailer on the high street?

As this blog now seems obsessed with all things retail I thought I’d share the answer to the above question along with findings from the latest Which? magazine shop survey. They asked more than 7,700 shoppers which high street shops are top of the pops and which are dangling in the dirt.

Say what you like about WHSmith, but they are nothing if not consistent and for two years straight find themselves bottom of the plie. Customers slammed them for their poor value for money, poor service, and criticised the ‘cramped and messy’ stores.

WHS responded: ‘This survey accounts for the views of only 586 Which? subscribers and is neither statistically relevant nor meaningful relative to our loyal customer base.’

I put their response into Google translate and it came back with this: ‘You can take your minuscule little survey and shove it up your arse.’

At the other end of the scale, home entertainment specialist Richer Sounds came top scoring an impressive 89% customer approval rating.

Customers praised Richer Sounds for its in-store experience, which included having purchases carried to their cars and the retailer paying for customer parking.

Specialist shops tended to score well with John Lewis, the only non-specialist making it into the top ten.

Other highly ranked shops include Apple, toiletries shops Bodycare (both 83%), women’s clothing store Seasalt and bookshop Waterstones (both 82%).

Shoppers told Which? that Homebase/Bunnings was difficult to navigate and that it was ‘hard to find anything in overcrowded shelves’ and it was ‘difficult to find staff for guidance’.

Sports Direct was described by one shopper as having ‘a very oppressive atmosphere’. Perhaps the atmosphere was created by the staff on zero-hour contracts.

Which? Magazine editor Harry Rose, vying for the most bleeding obvious quote ever to make it into this blog, said: “Giving shoppers a great in-store experience is more important than ever if brands want to thrive on the high street. Our findings go to show that, if retailers can deliver great value, quality products and first-class customer service, customers will keep coming back.” Way to go Harry.

Here are the scores on the doors.

Top-rated shops

  • Richer Sounds (89%)
  • Rohan (87%)
  • John Lewis (86%)
  • Hotter Shoes (84%) = Lakeland (84%) = Toolstation (84%)
  • Apple (83%) = Bodycare (83%) = Crew (83%)
  • Screwfix (82%) = Seasalt (82%) = Waterstones (82%)

Bottom-rated shops

  • Clinton Cards (61%)
  • Peacocks (59%) = House of Fraser (59%)
  • New Look (58%)
  • River Island (56%) = JD Sports (56%)
  • Sports Direct (54%)
  • Homebase/Bunnings (53%)
  • WHSmith (50%)

Massive outbreak of Pétanque in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Took Bucket for a quick lunchtime spin to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens today only to discover a major outbreak of boules or Pétanque or whatever you call it.

Has this been a thing for a while, and I’ve missed it or has there been a massive influx of Frenchman come to laugh at us about Brexit? There must have been half a dozen teams playing, all taking it very seriously. Bucket and I stopped to drink it in.