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.

Jabbed

Jabbed

Last Wednesday Mrs Preen and I were talking idly about when I might get a Covid vaccine. I’m 66 and in Group 5 and the general consensus was, with a bit of luck, I should get a jab around the end of February. Next morning, I turned on my phone (28th January) and a text was waiting saying today was jab day for Jim. There were various vaccination stations on offer but a nearby community hall was offering a tempting 14.40 slot. Reader, I booked it.

I seem to be one of the first in my age group to be offered the vaccine. I wonder if I was seen as vulnerable having contracted prostate cancer a few years ago. My cancer treatment has now finished but I guess I was still seen as having ‘underlying health issues’.

At 14.30 I wandered round to the vaccination centre to find the place buzzing with anti-Covid activity.

An electronic temperature gauge was aimed at my forehead and in I went. A young man, armed with a clipboard, approached and asked me if I needed help filling out the form he was proffering. It was name, address, email address and date of birth. I said I was probably OK with that and I must have passed as I was led into the next room where a nurse was waiting, needle in hand. My vaccine of choice was the Pfizer/BioNTech model and bang, in it went. I was given a leaflet about possible side effects and, more importantly, a sticker.

I then had to wait ten minutes in another room. I guess this was to see whether I was going to faint, develop a desperate need to buy Microsoft products or fall under the spell of 5G telephone masts. Having apparently dodged those bullets I was released back into the wild. The whole thing took around 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The common side effects are:

  • pain at injection site
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • joint pain
  • fever

I have a very small amount pain where I was jabbed, but it’s really nothing. Now I have to wait for a week or two for the vaccine to build up protection. It’s unclear when I get the second, booster dose, but it should be in about 12 weeks.

Thanks to all the NHS staff who were without exception friendly, efficient and lovely. Hope it’s your turn soon.

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.

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

‘Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like, when doves cry’. Prince

The culture wars, from Brexit to Trump and beyond, have driven deep wedges between different sections of society. We now communicate on cultural and political issues with the caps lock PERMANENTLY ON. This is most obviously played out in the snake pit of social media, but it can also result in a cab driver screaming at a bicyclist (me). We seem to operate on a very short fuse or in many cases on no fuse at all. We blow up in each other’s faces.

Whether social media has caused this or whether it just provides the perfect forum for abuse is tough to say.

I remember when we first came back to London having lived in Asia for eight years, being struck by the latent anger that everyone seemed to carry about with them. Asia is quite different, and people don’t tend to lose their shit in a microsecond. If you start screaming at people out East then their reaction is generally no reaction and if you are screaming at them to get something done, then good luck, because you’ll get nothing. Unfortunately, the anger I noticed in London on my return is still there, but now I just take it for granted.

Perhaps social media has jacked us all up to screaming pitch, but I wonder if there is any way we can disagree with a little more courtesy.

If you go back to my second Little London Life blog titled ‘Hey Londoners: Be better’, I was talking about something similar.

It’s embarrassing to admit that there are many people in my part of London who I meet and interact with on a regular basis, but about whom I know absolutely nothing. I may well see them more often than I see my friends, but I don’t even know their names. It works like this.

 Perhaps you’ve found a café that sells a decent flat-white close to your office, you generally get served by the same bloke who becomes ‘your barista guy’. You are starting to behave like an aloof millionaire not wanting to interact with the servants – despite only having £10 in your bank account to last you to pay day. You are morphing into that person you hate, the one who is unpleasant to waiters.

I ended the piece by saying: Be better, be courteous.

Recently, I was listening to Politics on the couch, a podcast by Rafael Behr and he came up with an interesting analogy. Global warming has heated the seas and when the water becomes too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. It’s called coral bleaching and the coral will likely die. Our public discourse, and yes, I am thinking of President Trump, is now so heated that it’s bleaching out our ability to have civil conversation.

I may profoundly disagree with your politics and you with mine, but we have to find a way to have a conversation without screaming at each other. When you scream nobody is listening and the culture war wedge is driven that little bit deeper into our already divided society.

It may seem incredibly old fashioned but courtesy and civility lie at the heart of a decent society. Why do we scream at each other? Let’s talk instead.