Category: Oval

Rocking the vaccine rollout

Rocking the vaccine rollout

Along with thousands of others, up and down the country, I’ve been volunteering at local covid vaccination stations. I’ve yet to do one of the mega sites such as football grounds and usually attend local pharmacies. At these places you see a few hundred people a day. This week I was at the Montgomery Hall on Harleyford Road just outside The Oval cricket ground. There it’s a little different.

Monty Hall is a typical church hall with a large room and stage, various other smaller spaces, and a bit of green out the back. As I discovered it’s become a well-oiled vaccinating machine. On the day I was there 1800 people had registered for a jab and there were several hundred walk-ins on top. It may not be the same everywhere but if you’re over eighteen you can just pitch up and get your (Pfizer) jab and you can get your second dose just six weeks later. Note to all if you do show up on spec, you’ll need your NHS number and the name of your doctor’s surgery.

My shift was from 8.15 to 1.15 and we didn’t stop; lines of young people eager to get their shot stretched down the road. Almost without exception they were kind and friendly and some effusively grateful to get their vaccination.

Monty Hall

Volunteers appear to come from three different sources: The NHS, St John’s Ambulance and via the Good Sam phone app. The NHS mob have blue tabards, the St John’s brigade get natty name tags and I’ve got a very bright yellow hi viz jacket, which says Steward Volunteer from the Royal Voluntary Service. I may have inadvertently become a member of the royal family and the thing is so bright it frightens dogs. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think people can sign up for any of these groups.

On the Good Sam app, you get a whole slew of suggestions as to vacc centres that need help, with the ones closest to where you live at the top of the list. You then click on the location you wish to attend. When the jab rollout first started shifts were often as long as eight hours but it’s now quite possible to pitch up for half that time.

Some friends seem to think I’ve been jamming hypodermic syringes into people’s arms; sadly that isn’t the case though if this shenanigan goes on for long, I might get trained up. I generally opt for being front-of-house welcoming people in, taking their temperature with a thermometer gun and logging their details into a hand-held computer, but there are plenty of other roles.

A few felt faint

Mrs Preen did a shift in the post vaccination tent out the back of Monty Hall and had a few fainters. Apparently, side effects if there are any, kick in after a few minutes with the Pfizer jab and that’s why there’s a 15-minute wait before patients can leave. Apparently, side effects for Oxford Astra Zeneca come later. But I don’t want to put anyone off, serious side effects are very rare and following my two Pfizer jabs I had a mild headache and a slightly sore arm.

Volunteering has been a great experience and a reminder as to just how wonderful London can be. You don’t have to go overseas or on holiday; the outside world comes to you. We had three Harriets, my sister’s name, all lining up with Kathryn, Scott, Muhammed, Aoife, Jasmine, Jakub, Matilda, Adam, Promise, Praise and Penelope and of course hundreds more. I forgot how to spell Aoife, but I just looked and found the name means beautiful and radiant. So top name if anyone’s about to have a daughter.

The government is always trying to stake their claim to the success of the vaccine rollout, but from my experience praise should be heaped on the NHS and if there’s a bit left over, on to people wearing quite spectacularly ugly tabards. Maybe you might consider giving it a go.

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.

London: It’s only sleeping

London: It’s only sleeping

I just took Bucket the dog, or Nanuk the snow dog of the north as she is currently known, for a walk in the snow. People complain that we never get snow in London and that every day seems the same during lockdown. We can, at least, thank a dump of white powder to mix things up a little. Let’s have a six-foot snow drift I say. (Never going to happen). Nobody needs to go anywhere; stay at home and enjoy it, though I was a little confused by those who were jogging and cycling, not to say motor bikin’. Maybe some broken ankles presenting at St Thoms today.

I love the audio change that snow brings, how everything goes quieter. The sounds are muffled, and the mess of London is covered until the big melt happens which should be along in about an hour. Get out quick if you want to have fun.

Being outside with everyone acting like kids throwing snowballs and building snowmen got me thinking about London. Passing through the centre of town on my bike, as I did yesterday, and there it is: Shutdown, empty, dead, a ghost town. People don’t generally live in the centre; this is where we work and party and for now, at least, it’s gone. Many are worried about it coming back. While I miss it, I don’t share those fears. London is just sleeping but, when it does wake up, I know it won’t be the same.

For me, Soho has long been the centre of the universe where I’ve headed for more than 40 years to meet friends, have fun, misbehave and generally enjoy the cut and thrust of the greatest city on the planet. The writer Ian Dunt calls it the ‘riot of life’. Soho has been boarded up for almost a year with a brief reprise over the summer when the restaurants opened and we were able to sit outside in the streets, enjoy the sun, the food and the company. The pandemic forced this change, and it is to these sorts of changes we will need to look over the coming years.

The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE) recently published their findings on the effects the pandemic is having on the population. They estimate, with all the usual caveats, that London may have lost more than 700,000 people in the last year. They say that much of it may be temporary if non-UK born people return to London after the pandemic; but it may not. Brexit now means that many of those who lived here, but have returned to their home countries, would now find re-entry far more challenging. They have to apply for work permits and settled status and the bar may have been raised too high for many to return.

As the ESCoE point out, inner London lost more than 20% of its population during the 1970s and the picture of sustained growth driven by international migration is relatively recent. Arriving in 1977, I was bucking the trend.

But it won’t be just those from outside the UK who are leaving. The Evening Standard regularly publishes articles with headlines like: ‘Half of Londoners have considered leaving capital due to coronavirus, study finds’ and ‘Why I swapped Soho for Somerset’. I’ve long argued this is a good thing. Trapped in London, most likely because of your job, is no way to live. Don’t live in London if you don’t like it and the proliferation of home working mean that, if work means staring for long hours at a computer, many can do just that.

There were reasons to leave before the pandemic: ridiculously expensive housing, cramped studio flats, packed tube trains and the general hassle of city life. Now, why live in London when it’s shut, where accommodation is still expensive and there’s nothing going on?

In many ways I think those in the countryside during lockdown are better off. But London is just sleeping and one day it will wake up. There will be a lot of empty shops and offices and fewer Pret a Mangers, Costas and Cafe Neros, but there will be room for new ideas, new ways to live and grow. It may take a while but I’m betting on London to take us on a journey into the future in ways we can’t see right now. I was going to set down what changes I could foresee but futurology is a moribund sport and I’m bound to get it all wrong.

As John Lennon sang:

Everybody seems to think I’m lazy
I don’t mind, I think they’re crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
‘Til they find there’s no need (there’s no need)

Please, don’t spoil my day, I’m miles away
And after all I’m only sleeping

I’m looking out the window and the snow is beginning to melt. In a month or two Spring will be upon us, the vaccines will surely be making a difference and London will wake, take stock, shake itself and lead us into the future. The pandemic has forced a reset upon us. The future, no doubt with a few missteps, is beckoning and will take us all by surprise.

Perhaps you’re a young person wondering what life might hold for you. London may not look like much of a prospect right now but keep an eye on it and when the pandemic hibernation is over, if you have the inclination, the drive and the hutzpah then perhaps you should give it a go. It won’t be easy; you won’t be welcomed with open arms, but you won’t be rejected either. Come here and right away you’ll be another Londoner trying to get ahead.

All the things I love are shut

All the things I love are shut

Here are some of them:

  • Ronnie Scott’s Club
  • 606 Club
  • Tate Britain
  • My gym
  • Franco Manca (Victoria Branch)
  • Brixton Ritzy
  • Banh Banh (Brixton)
  • Natural History Museum
  • Clapham Picture House
  • St John’s Smith Square

Don’t worry this is no anti-lockdown, anti-vax, Bill Gates and 5G Networks control the world rant, it’s just me listing and missing what I love. Make no mistake I’ll be rolling up my sleeve to receive a vaccine as soon as one is on offer.

I’ve lived in central London for most of my life because I love it. I’ve always felt sorry for those who were forced to live in town, hated it, but had to do so because of their job. Then I’d say well at least you’ve got live music, theatre, museums to which many would reply well I don’t go to them much anyway. Now I hear several of my friends and colleagues are moving out of town because they’re working from home and will be for the foreseeable future. And those who had three-hour daily commutes are spared that grind and can remain rural. Covid has put rocket boosters on remote working and we’ll be living with the consequences for many years, many of which are not all bad.

As for me, will I be moving to the countryside? Not a chance. I like to take trips out of town on a weekend but come Sunday evening it’s time to head back to civilisation. The problem is of course that civilisation as I know and like it is pretty much closed.

First bike ride of 2021

I’ve just come back from my first bike ride of 2021. A 17K spin around Pimlico, Victoria, Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Chancery Lane, the City, over Blackfriars Bridge and home to the Oval. I’ve never seen London so empty, which is a big fat lie as it was just as empty in March when I was doing the same ride albeit in more pleasant early Spring weather. Despite there being virtually no cars, I still manged to give a Black Cab driver apoplexy with him shaking his fist at me for reasons I’m a little hazy about. One of the things he probably hates are all the new cycle lanes that have popped up all over town. They are a godsend to us two wheelers and another unexpected Covid bonus, though that’s not a view often shared by the four-wheel community. You can now pedal safely up Park Lane which used to feel like joining an F1 starting grid.

Low-traffic neighbourhood

We now live in a new low-traffic neighbourhood which means our streets have become virtually pedestrianised. I see families with very young kids pedalling around in safety in a way that could never have happened before. Once again car drivers don’t much like the look of LTNs, but to me they are another bit of lockdown luck. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-car, I don’t own one, but we use Zip cars on a regular basis.

I always detest January and February; they seem to holdout so little chance for fun. This year more so than ever. Mrs Preen is engaged in dry January which always seems such a poor month to stay off the booze. I’ll be endeavouring not to drink during the week but may get on the outside of the good stuff over the weekend.

This seems rather a bleak post to start the New year, but with vaccines ready to be jabbed into our arms things will hopefully improve and perhaps 2021 will be a Happy New Year even if it takes a little time for the happiness to arrive. I’m sat here waiting for London to wake up once again.