Category: Parks and Recreation

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.


 

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.


 

Vauxhall Park Lavender Harvest

Vauxhall Park Lavender Harvest

Walking down Fentiman Road SW8 and the smell hits you. Suddenly you’re not in Lambeth you’re in Provence; the smell of lavender is everywhere. Turning into Vauxhall Park there’s a hive of activity with locals harvesting great rows of lavender plants.  Almost twenty years ago an unused bowling green that sat on the west side of this much-loved local park, was turned into a lavender field.

One of the hottest London summers on record means this year there’s a bumper crop and this weekend the locals are bringing it in under the watchful eye of Ruth and Polly from Friends of Vauxhall Park. Usually you are encouraged not to pick the flowers; this is the exception.

Volunteers are cutting down the plants and then snipping the flowerheads into baskets. These will be taken to the distillery tomorrow and turned into lavender oil and ironing spray, which will be on sale at Italo on Bonnington Square. A 10 millilitre bottle costs £8 and all proceeds are ploughed back into the upkeep of the park.

Distillery owner, Laurie from Carshalton, who’s in charge of the distilling process takes out his magnifying glass and shows me where the oil is contained in the flower buds. Last year the crop produced 5 litres of lavender oil, but he tells me excitedly that this year could see almost double that amount.

Ruth explains the old lavender plants must be replaced. So, pop into Italo and buy a pot, you’ll be part of making sure that we all enjoy the lavender harvest next year.

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.

10 Tips for tourists in London

10 Tips for tourists in London

  1. Buy an Oyster card for each person in your group. An Oyster card gets you on the underground and busses. It’s a plastic card that can be topped up at any underground station and most news agents. Beware, the tube is quite expensive, but thanks to the tube map very easy to navigate. Buses can be a bit more of a challenge but are far cheaper. To figure out bus rides click here for the very handy Transport for London route planner. You may have already done this but download the City Mapper app on your phone, it’ll drain the battery but will help get you around. Tube etiquette: stand on the right when riding the escalators and let people out of the carriages first. If you don’t you will be subjected to a drive-by of tutting.  London is a great walking city, but it is very spread out and there are places you will likely want to visit that are not in the centre.

  2. The City of London is not the city of London. The City of London or Square Mile as it’s sometime known is home to the financial sector and not the city centre. The tourist centre of London radiates out from Piccadilly Circus.

  3. Ask a Londoner. If you know someone who lives in London, ask them where they would take someone on their first visit and be clear you don’t mean Madame Tussauds or Buckingham Palace. Now you may want to go to those two places but there are a lot of hidden gems out there that are not always in the tourist guides. My suggestions? The Courtauld Gallery and the Brick Lane Bagel Bake.

  4. London can seem very expensive, but there’s lots of free stuff. Most of the major museums and art galleries are free and just ask for donations, which if you are poverty struck backpacker you may eschew. But of course, you’ll make up for that in later life when you have a job, right? Tate Galleries, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A, National Gallery and many more – all free.

  5. West End theatres are very expensive so check out local theatres such as The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. If you want to see a West End show, then try the Tix app where with persistence you can see shows for a little as £15. Top tip: At the Old Vic you can often get standing tickets for less than £10. An usher will usually allow you to take a seat as inevitably someone won’t show up or the place is not sold out.

  6. Despite what some people think, Londoners are friendly. Ask for directions and advice and you’ll be surprised how forthcoming people are. Just check to see whether they’re wearing earphones. Having said that don’t be dumb as pickpocketing and other scams do exist and there’s been an epidemic of kids riding mopeds, snatching phones from people’s hands. Use your common sense, watch your valuables and you should be fine.

  7. Go to the parks, they are free, provide us with air we breathe and are beautiful. My particular favourite, which most tourists don’t visit is Battersea Park, but right in the centre you have Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Green Park and St James’s, plus a host of smaller green spaces. As much as I love the place this is where we beat New York hands down as they only have Central Park.

  8. Time Out, once the great listings magazine, is a shadow of its former self but still a handy resource. It’s now a free publication (available in print on a Tuesday) go here for the online version.

  9. Don’t eat at chain restaurants, though I have to admit I’m quite often found inside Pret a Manger at lunchtime. There are thousands of small eateries waiting for your custom. Seek them out in the neighbourhood you are staying in. And at least once, eat a Full English Breakfast.

10. Speak English! Here’s a quick guide.


  1. Loo means toilet or bathroom/washroom
  2. Ta means thank you as does cheers
  3. Chips are french fries and crisps are potato chips
  4. Petrol is gas
  5. The Boot of a car is the trunk
  6. Fag is a cigarette
  7. A biscuit is a cookie
  8. A hole in the wall is a cash machine or ATM
  9. The underground or tube is the subway or metro
  10. Queuing up means standing in line

    Readers very kindly sent in some of their own tourist suggestions

    Dawn: I would check the walking distance in between tube stops as sometimes it is far quicker to walk between stops than catch a busy tube! Here’s a handy map.

    Jester: Visit some of the smaller art galleries and museums such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery or the Geffrye Museum in Hackney. For something different there is Hackney city farm about two streets from that museum. Another good city farm is at Mudchute on the DLR. If all else fails, go to Manze’s Pie ‘n’ Mash on Tower Bridge Road.

    Dawn:  Visit Box Park in Shoreditch and have a drink upstairs in the fresh air! It’s a shopping arcade built out of shipping containers with an open top bar that sells lovely Caribbean food.

    Margaret: Whilst visiting the George pub at London Bridge see also Borough Market , Southwark Cathedral and walk alongside the Thames up to Tate Modern.

    Barbara: The Coram Foundling Museum is fascinating.  As is the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow.

    Tony: I’d suggest St Paul’s Cathedral – the inside is incredible and you can climb up to a small platform at the top of the dome with fantastic views over London. It’s just over 500 steps up so it’s a tough climb. They do guided tours which are well worth going on. You get to see places like the stairs used in the Harry Potter films and hear lots of stories about the history of the cathedral. If you keep your ticket you can go back for free up to a year later.

Hampstead Pond: Taking the plunge

Hampstead Pond: Taking the plunge

It’s one of those places you have a vague idea exists, might be fun to visit, but can safely be put off until some unspecified time in the future. In reality it’s stuffed in that bulging file at the back of your mental filing cabinet marked ‘never’. Could be a laugh, but never going to happen, not in this life.

And then it does. Last Saturday I went for an invigorating dip at Hampstead Pond.

When I moved to London some time during the late 70s, I lived in Camden Town and with Hampstead Heath up the road, rumours of pond based aquatic activity came our way, but somehow when you’re in your twenties swimming isn’t right up there on that pressing list of ‘things to do’. In those days, verbs ending with -ing were usually prefaced by the words pub and club.

A close neighbour, he lives two doors down, waxed lyrical about Hampstead Pond life at a drinks party last Christmas, but with snow on the ground and ice on the water I said thanks, but no thanks. Ice has its place, in a gin & tonic, I don’t want to be encased in the stuff. Then came this long hot summer and with the mercury locked on 30c, I finally decided to take the plunge.

The four swimmable ponds at Hampstead Heath, which were originally reservoirs, are set aside for: Mixed bathing, Women, Men and Dogs. Yup that’s right, if your pet pooch fancies a doggie paddle walk this way. It’s mixed bathing for dogs, but the place I came to visit was the Men’s Pond, which officially opened for business 125 years ago this year.

Right from the outset it was very popular and started to attract hardy year-round swimmers. The Times, at the time, called the pond ‘A heroic form of the Englishman’s morning tub’ and said winter bathers were ‘an inoffensive kind of lunatic, who harm nobody but themselves.’ They were known as ‘The Barmy Club’.

Eccentricity still prevails with one set of regular visitors, mostly comprising American bankers, calling themselves ‘The East German Ladies’ Swimming Team’. They meet at 9am every Saturday and Sunday, take a brisk trot round the Heath and then descend on the Men’s Pond for a swim. They are easily spotted on account of their natty, branded togs and their boisterous behaviour.

The neighbour and I pitched up at 8.30am on a warm, bright, blustery day when there were perhaps fifteen people present. Apparently, during this tropical summer, the afternoons get mobbed which is why the old-timers I met, turn up early.

The Pond is looked after by the Corporation of London and they don’t exactly splash the cash on the facilities, which are basic in the extreme. The showers are cold and there are no lockers to secure your valuables. But such was the amiable bonhomie of the place, I find it hard to believe that pilfering takes place at that hour of the morning.

There’s a jetty and diving board that juts out into the pond from where I took the plunge. The water was a balmy 25 degrees and felt more like a warm bath as I bobbed and swam around the pond. To enjoy the place, you need to be a reasonable swimmer. The pond is deep, there’s nowhere to stand and there’s no pontoon on which to lounge, but not exactly being Mark Spitz myself I occasionally hung on to some strategically placed life savers that mark out the swimming area.

We swam for around twenty minutes in idyllic surroundings, changed and showered (brr!) and then a bunch of us, the neighbour knows everyone, repaired to Bistro Laz on Highgate Hill West where the coffee is excellent and the wild swimmers a kindly bunch to engage in conversation for the first time.

It looks like the bug has bit. I’m going back tomorrow.

Pond update 4.8.18

Diana sent me this great little Pathe News film from the 30s of the Women’s  Pond. Click here to watch.