Category: Parks and Recreation

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.

Blasting guns from a Thames barge

Blasting guns from a Thames barge

It was the kind of email I would have deleted in a microsecond in normal times. A scrappy piece of marketing bollox that found its way to my already crammed email in-box suggesting I shoot guns from a boat on the Thames.

Whoever sent me the ‘Clay pigeon shooting fun day on the Thames’ which promises guns, instructors, clays and beer probably broke GDPR restrictions. Not really the thing I could imagine myself signing up to given I have a deep loathing of guns of any kind. If this was meant to be targeted marketing, it missed the bullseye by a mile.

But wait a minute, (brain becomes feverish due to lack of activity) they’re offering bacon rolls on arrival and hold on, we’re in complete lockdown. Have these charlatans found a way that I can legally take a trip on a Thames sailing barge, blast a 12 bore over the side and drink beer for three hours? Well, of course the answer to those questions is no, no and no.

Close scrutiny reveals that the fun day is planned for May of this year and the beer and guns are not a cocktail that’s allowed to mix. Damn spoilsports they’re also depriving me of a ‘hot fork buffet lunch’ (not entirely sure what that is) while taking a breather from terrorising other boats  and wildlife just beyond the Thames Barrier and all for just £299 plus VAT. Now what am I doing in May? Looks at blank diary. Where’s the sign-up sheet?

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.

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.