Category: Dogs

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.


 

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.


 

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.


 

Sparrows are back

Sparrows are back

I remember reading articles a few years back about the disappearance of that most common London bird, the sparrow. No one seemed to be able to account for their disappearance, but one day they were here in their millions and the next day they were gone.

I don’t know if it’s just my advancing age, but I never gave birds much thought in my youth, but I do now; they seem like little packets of magic. I grew up in rural Northamptonshire so can name all the common species, which always comes as a shock to my family as they only know me as a metropolitan type with little love for the countryside.

Just over a year ago we lost our cat Ziggy to some vile feline disease and we now have Bucket the Battersea Terrier. Sad as we were to lose Ziggy, it meant I was able to place a bird feeder in our small south London garden a few weeks ago. It hangs from a potted maple tree just outside our kitchen window and we waited to see who might stop by.

I don’t know where the little buggers have been hiding but we are now awash with sparrows. It’s quite common for there to be ten of them in the tree above the feeder, where they sit stropping their beaks, acting like meerkats keeping a lookout while a couple of them dive down to feed. These avian hoodlums are tough guys and the pair of blue tits that nest close by are given short shrift when they duck in to feed.

The winter has been so mild so far that birds don’t really need a free feed yet, but I’m happy to make their life easier as I have a guilty secret.

I’m ashamed to say, and this is genuine shame, that when I was twelve, I begged my parents for an air rifle. They didn’t like the idea, but I persisted and eventually got my way. And what did this vile twelve-year-old do? Why, he went shooting and killing sparrows in the family garden. I’m now a reformed character.

I mourned the apparent passing of these most London of birds and am delighted so many can be seen from my kitchen window. No guns this time little sparrows you’re safe with us, but watch out for the neighbour’s cat.


 

Barking Mad

Barking Mad

Do you think Brexit is Barking Mad? Are you against being hounded out of the EU? Do you refuse to roll over and demand Walkies not Porkies? Well the chances are you were on the Wooferendum March with Bucket, me  and a bunch of terrible puns.

It was the most English event I’ve ever attended. As English as rain on a bank holiday and guessing the weight of the vicar at a village fete. It was Mr Bean or for those with a longer memory, an Ealing Comedy: Passport to Pimlico with dogs.

All of which was odd because the whole point of the march was an attempt to reverse our current little England tendencies and stay in the EU.

Bollocks to Brexit
Bucket and me on the way

Leaving the tube at Charing Cross we made our way to Waterloo Place where the dog pack was gathering. The organisers had organised pee stations, with pictures of the Bad Boys of Brexit taped to bollards at doggie height.

There was a surprising number of snappers present and you could tell they really relished the moment when a bulldog unloaded a quite spectacular amount of urine over Boris Johnson’s head. This is where you need a large male dog, that lifts its leg and lets go a Niagara Falls of piss. Bucket is female and quite small, so she just made Dr Liam Fox MP a little damp. Good effort though.

And of course being English everyone was incredibly polite scolding their dogs if they got a bit snappy and apologising profusely. This is entirely unscientific, but I’m going to hazard a guess and say there were around 5,000 people on the march and slightly fewer dogs.

Making for Trafalgar Square we were suddenly caught in the cross-fire of a Brazilian demonstration. Brazil is in the middle of a very hard-fought election campaign with the far-right candidate, Jair Bolsonaro stabbed during a recent election rally. His supporters were on our right (well of course they were) and those of his rival the Workers’ Party candidate, Fernando Haddad were on our left. In total I suppose there were about two hundred protesters, but I have to say they put us lot to shame.

We were all shambling along politely with our mutts, while they were screaming shouting, singing, gesticulating and generally tearing the lid off the thing. Us Brits, we’re just not good at being demonstrative, which is kind of a pity when you’re on a demo.

Walking on down Whitehall past Downing Street I came across Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor and fervent anti-Brexit activist, who had brought along his five-month-old King Charles Spaniel Skye.

I asked him if he missed being at Number 10. He poo-pooed the idea but looked a little wistful, I thought.

Our final destination was Parliament Square. There were various speakers including Campbell, actor Peter Egan and Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy. Frankly, by now Bucket’s heart wasn’t in it and so opted for a poo on Parliament Square. I thought this might have been a pawlitical act on her part but on balance I think she just needed a dump.

So there I am bag in hand cleaning up the mess when out of nowhere a march organiser descends and says don’t worry I’ll take care of that and scoops up Bucket’s poop and departs. Bet you don’t get that in Brazil.

Plogg Blog

Plogg Blog

I’ve started plogging. Actually, I’ve been at it for a while. I guess like any addiction, at first you think you’re in control and you can take it or leave it. Initially I’d go for a while without plogging then suddenly I’d be back at it again until I realised I was doing it every day. My name is Jim and I’m a plogger.

Plogging came from Sweden and is a conflation of the Swedish words ‘plocka uppa’ which means pick up and our word jogging. What you’re picking up is garbage and you’re doing it while exercising.

Environmentalist Erik Ahlström started the craze in Stockholm when he noticed that even in squeaky clean Stockholm, garbage was lining his jogging route. As night follows day a Facebook page appeared and a hashtag (#plogga) was born. Plogging now has a world-wide presence in countries as far-flung as the US, Thailand, Ecuador, and Canada.

As exercise trends go it’s a bit odd as inevitably there’s lots of stopping and starting involved, not to mention a fair bit of bending. Think of it as environmental interval training. I often plogg when I walk the dog which you might call dogging, until you remember that’s a very different kind of outdoor activity.

Research carried out earlier this year by Keep Britain Tidy revealed that one in five visitors to London’s Royal Parks leave litter on the ground contributing to more than 3,000 tonnes of waste collected by park teams every year at a cost of more than £1.7m. So, if you fancy a go, don’t worry there’s plenty of junk to plocka uppa.

So far, my plogging has been rather solitary with just Bucket (the dog) for company, but that’s all set to change. Plogging is coming to our neck of the woods in South London. On Sunday 16th September a ploggathon is happening at Battersea Park. You can walk or run for between one and four miles picking up the trash as you go. Bring a bag, some gloves and enjoy a picnic afterwards, just don’t bring any single use plastic. Sign up here and I’ll see you on the day.