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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Loo means toilet or bathroom/washroom
- Ta means thank you as does cheers
- Chips are french fries and crisps are potato chips
- Petrol is gas
- The Boot of a car is the trunk
- Fag is a cigarette
- A biscuit is a cookie
- A hole in the wall is a cash machine or ATM
- The underground or tube is the subway or metro
- 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.