Tag Archives: help the aged

High Wycombe

Decorating High Wycombe, used under a creative commons licence. Photo by bertieboy70, click pic for link.

Decorating High Wycombe, used under a creative commons licence. Photo by bertieboy70, click pic for link.

Buckinghamshire and the Chilterns in particular is one of my favourite places to spend the day. I’ve had profitable excursions in Gerrards Cross, Chalfont St Peter, Amersham, Chesham and Beaconsfield, and still plan to visit Tring and Berkhamsted to tick them off the list. More than this even, it’s a beautiful part of the world, largely untouched by the presence of the metropolis on its doorstep and filled with charming village greens, Georgian old towns and rolling, English hillsides. High Wycombe is the big name in the locality and as such definitely warranted inclusion.

Sadly, Wycombe seems to be the sinkhole for the region into which everything less desirable drains. It starts promisingly enough: the drive into the town from Beaconsfield presents you with a wonderful view of the banks of trees and the massive King’s Mead and The Rye parks. But by the time you get to the town centre itself, you’re left with a different impression. Firstly, try and find your way around – if you don’t end up on the way out of town you’ll be stuck at the vast Eden shopping centre. Once you’re in, little improves. On a warm August Saturday, High Wycombe town centre retains that bleak feel that you get in semi-planned communities like this commuter town. The wind always seems stronger in these places, like the right angles and concrete expanses funnel it in unexpected ways, which doesn’t happen in the patchwork of older towns.

A few of the charity shops had closed up by the time we reached there – earlier than their scheduled hours, possibly in advance of the bank holiday weekend. Among them were British Heart Foundation, Scope and Help The Aged, so of course I can’t comment on these (other than whoever was manning the shops clocked off early this weekend). The latter two are situated on Oxford Street, close to the large, semi-pedestrianised centre. On this same stretch was a fairly reasonable Oxfam, but the experience took a turn for the bizarre when a (slightly odd) customer was demanding a refund for a £2.99 CD that he’d bought in the Chesham shop. It raises the question firstly, how do you deal with someone so irate about three quid? But more importantly, when is it right to take anything back to a charity shop? Certainly one has ones statutory rights etc., but morally it’s pretty low to demand a refund off a charity. Our only guess was that the CD was his annual treat, and when it wasn’t right, three pounds was a big spend out. I dunno.

That left a large but odd-smelling Cancer Research, and a huge South Bucks Hospice shop on White Hart Street. This was a split level affair, with an upstairs snug for books and things, and a big open plan downstairs for clothes, nicknackery and the rest. A good selection, though I left with nothing.

Google maps informs me that there is also a Save The Children, a Marie Curie, and and Ian Rennie Hospice shop (I’m kicking myself for that – in Beaconsfield I’d stared at a sandwich board down the road for ages trying to guess whether Ian Rennie was a charity shop or a DIY shop – I wrongly thought DIY): I don’t feel like I’ve missed out by avoiding these places. Maybe I’m being unkind, but Wycombe offers little attraction to warrant a return visit. I plan to leave it to the hordes of bored-looking, loitering youth that littered the place.

Find: High Wycombe @ Google Maps
Best buy: old hard-backed books will always grab me.
Consume with: plenty of chain coffee shops and pubs, you won’t go hungry.
Visit: save it for the annual drama of the ‘mayor-weighing’.
Overall rating: two saucepans



Filed under 2/5, Buckinghamshire


Walthamstow Legs, under Creative Commons, by Andy Howell. Click pic for link to photostream.

Walthamstow Legs, under Creative Commons, by Andy Howell. Click pic for link to photostream.

It was with some trepidation that we headed out for a stroll along a soggy Walthamstow High Street this Saturday past. Not because of the usual fears, that the vast hordes of market shoppers would infuriate and aggravate us, or that we’d have so much choice of bowls of fruit that our heads would explode; rather, this being the first time I’d ventured out for a proper shop since I broke my hip in May, that I would keel over from fatigue before scenting the perfect bargain. It didn’t happen, obviously, but Walthamstow is at best a proposition and a half on a Saturday. The mile long market (the longest in Europe) becomes a magnet for the bargain hunters of the whole of East and North London and whether you’re after knock-off perfume, fabric, fruit’n’veg or rare reggae, you’re bound to find it here between Tubby Isaacs‘ jellied eels and various roti or kebab stalls. Diamondgeezer‘s not keen, but I have to confess I find the place kind of fun, when I have the energy – there’s not many places like it.

With my limited mobility, we only perused the top half of the market, which was still enough for me – from Palmerston Street up to Walthamstow Central station and back. If you’re interested, there’s a huge Asda and a huge Sainsburys up here, but Walthamstow High Street is really about the little independent shops – there’s relatively few large chain stores (outside of the mall in Selborne Walk), and a lot of these are your Percy Ingles, Greggs variety. For such a lengthy stretch there’s also relatively few charity shops, and you won’t get a proper review of the whole lot here for the simple reason that I didn’t go to them all. There is a couple worth a mention though, so we’ll continue.

First up is YMCA, a beast of a shop with (I notice now) a ramp in the middle. There’s a good selection of clothing here, and I came away with a short-sleeved summer shirt (Primark, I think, which probably means YMCA are selling it for more than it was originally…) and an Idlewild album. At the top end of the High Street (approaching Walthamstow Village, which I still have a hard time believing exists), there’s two British Heart Foundation stores: one a normal, well-stocked shop (if nothing worth buying), one a vast furniture and electrical emporium. These places are always worth noting: this shop has beds, suites, and all sorts of furniture as well as a range of white goods and electronics, TVs and hifis, you name it. At this juncture it seems appropriate to mention the Sally Army Thrift Store on Forest Road: a bit out of the way for a trek along the High Street, but again a furniture shop, as well as plenty more besides. It’s up opposite the William Morris gallery.

At the end of the High Street is Hoe Street, and there’s an Islamic Relief shop there: I’ve not been, so we trek back down the market to the other side of Palmerston Road and we have a couple more, which I didn’t get to this time round: there’s a Scope, Help The Aged and CREST, and a slightly forlorn Oxfam right at the bottom.

While Walthamstow is not generally for the fainthearted, especially at the weekend, for the brave/foolhardy there’s plenty to see here, or come just for the experience of such a huge, bizarre market – with plenty of thrifty choices as well as coffee shops, you should be able to grab a bargain too, which always helps.

Find: Walthamstow @ Google Maps
Consume with: There’s plenty of cafs and coffee shops, but for something a little more traditional, I might recommend the aforementioned Tubby Isaacs for jellied eels, or Manzes for pie and mash.
Visit: The William Morris gallery is worth a look: set in the former home of the painter, decorater, writer and social reformer, it’s mostly dedicated to Morris‘ famous patterns.
Overall rating: four old bits of underwear


Filed under 4/5, London East


Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

There must be hundreds of small market towns around the country filled with historic churches, market stalls on a cobbled square, community charity shops (natch) and a bustling, be-corduroyed local crowd. I could talk about Hitchin, Hertford, Saffron Walden, and the like, and I could go on – and the nice thing is, I’ll never get tired of visiting these places. They’re so unfailingly English, even in this day and age, that they feel like a tourist’s day out for me, sat on my convalescent’s chair here in sunny Haringey, perhaps one of the least English places in the country.

Romsey’s not far from where I grew up, so it was a good place to take the companion when last visiting my family. A town of butchers, market stalls selling unusual herbs or flavoured oils, coffee shops situated in low-beamed old houses, a historic abbey, and the rare option of medium-stay car parking, though quite what the point of the latter is, I’m still undecided. Parking in said medium-stay car park pops you out next to Bradbeers, the town’s own department store next to the River Test, then straight into the genteel melee of the marketplace (held on Corn Market, rather than the more expected Market Place) – you’ll reliably be able to find herbs and oils, fruit and veg and artisan bread here, although it’s not a large arrangement. This echoes the town centre itself: compact but classy.

Starting at this point, turn left and immediately you’ll find an Oxfam bookshop – as usual, an excellent range of stock but Oxfam always know how to price their sales, and you’ll rarely find a bargain. On passing a couple of excellent butchers (get your faggots here…), turn right past the town hall cum makeshift cinema to the old market place and progress up Church Street past one entrance to the Abbey. On this stretch we have three charity shops in close proximity. I have to confess that I was slightly distracted at this stage due to being followed around by a man in a lion costume (if only I were joking…) so the three blur in my memory, but we have the Tenovus cancer charity (I think this gave us a posh frock for a wedding (not for me obviously)), Cancer Research and Marie Curie Cancer Care. It’s probably a little glib to label this the cancer quarter, but you understand what I mean.

Back down to The Hundred, the main drag, we have a second Oxfam and British Red Cross, both worth a visit, and on the other side of the road, Wessex Cancer Trust, looking lost away from its kith and kin around the corner. The remaining trove is Help The Aged, along the charming Love Lane – another decent stop-off.

I didn’t end up with a massive haul from Romsey – being a well-to-do sort of a place, it’s hard to find genuine bargains, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Aside from the obvious draw of eight charity shops, there’s plenty of history, other shops, and olde town charm here.

Find: Romsey @ Google Maps
Consume with: Caffe Nero operates from a charming little old town house right on the market – busy, but cute.
Visit: This depends on who you’re with and what you like: the gentlefolk amongst you will enjoy Broadlands, seat of Palmerston and Mountbatten; outdoors types might enjoy the Hillier Arboretum; kids would be better off plonked at the Rapids, the big draw round these parts when I were but a lad.
Overall rating: four sandwich tongs

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Filed under 4/5, Hampshire


Didcot Power Station, under creative commons from Joe Dunckleys photostream. Click pic for link.

Didcot Power Station, under creative commons from Joe Dunckley’s photostream. Click pic for link.

Oxfordshire is about as scenically (did I just adverb a word? did I just verb adverb?) England as you could imagine: undulating countryside, market towns with squares and churches, the upper reaches of the Thames lazily wending its way through peculiarly English-sounding villages and towns: Abingdon, Sutton Courtenay, Goring, Shipton Under Wychwood. The Thames doesn’t meander as widely as the elevated Didcot and instead the bucolic idyll is replaced with the significantly less pastoral cooling towers of the iconic power station, and the sizeable railway junction and station complex.

The lack of beauty is evident within the town centre as well, or what there is of it. On approach to the town, one circles around a huge, cubic building which turns out to be a hangar-like shopping/entertainment centre. A mall, for want of a more English word. Alongside this runs a peculiar one-sided high street, the Broadway: one side a rag-tag selection of charity shops, video rentals and cafs, the other council-built semi-detached homes from the 1980s.

As it turns out, the place has a deserted, windswept air. Maybe it’s more alive on a Saturday but even during a half-term weekday afternoon there’s just no-one here. We were in and out of the charity shops in record time, despite there being a substantial quantity. Action for Children in Conflict and Oxfam were sadly closed, and an Oxfordshire Animal Sanctuary was a little too far out to warrant the rush. So we popped in and out of the remaining four, but left with nothing to buy.

A Shaw Trust, a British Heart Foundation, a Cancer Research and a Help The Aged all left me underwhelmed, and I won’t be coming back in a hurry – whilst there’s numerous charity shops here, the place itself is a detour too far for me.

Find: Didcot @ Google Maps
Transport: the infamous Didcot Parkway
Consume with: No! Get out of Dodge! (there’s probably a Greggs if you’re peckish…)
Visit: Didcot A? Didcot Railway Centre?
Overall Rating: two lame DVD boxsets


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Filed under 2/5, Oxfordshire


ricky!!!!, under Creative Commons from Moonezs photostream. Click pic for link.

ricky!!!!, under Creative Commons from Moonez’s photostream. Click pic for link.

As part of the rash of wealthy commuter towns in the Three Rivers area (cf. Abbots Langley, Chorleywood, Loudwater), I held out high hopes for “Ricky.” Yet, as with these other settlements when you actually get there, there’s very little worth coming for. Looking on Wikipedia, it seems the town’s main claim to fame is being included on the first page of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which isn’t really saying a lot. Famous residents such as David Seaman, Tim Lovejoy or Alan Duncan may disagree, although you’d have trouble getting a similar statement out of William Penn these days, but it seems to me just another bland, Betjemanian sprawl of wealthy suburb.

Wending ones way into the town, it looks promising – a narrow high street with overhanging roofs, tight one way systems, free parking in the multistorey, a Waitrose towering over the hilly station. In reality however, it’s an imitation of a lovely high street; the majority of buildings date from the 1920s at the earliest, ranging through the numerous multi-storey parking of the 1960s to the modern, bizarrely placed, and huge Waitrose. It’s an attempt to capitalise on a small existing community (there’s a few C17 buildings around, the low ones) in a sympathetic way. Partially successful, but it doesn’t make much of a destination for visitors of any sort – least of all niche markets such as ourselves.

There’s just the three charity shops, and referring to our minimum standards, one Oxfam. This is the pick of the bunch with some curios, among them outsize red shoes (I was a bit tempted, even though my boat-likes wouldn’t nearly fill them), collectable first editions and expensive shirts nestling in underneath low ceilings. Further up the high street, Help The Aged offers a huge but sparsely stocked space, and back down the road, Sue Ryder has another large space but again, poorly filled. I wonder if the proclaimed credit crunch is really having the reported effect on charity shops by now. It’s difficult to genuinely tell, but Rickmansworth definitely offered a thrill-free hour of charity trawling, so maybe we’re onto something…

Find: Rickmansworth @ Google Maps
Transport: Rickmansworth station is served by overground rail and the Metropolitan Line
Consume with: Caffe Nero was as exciting as we can find, although there’s actually plenty of places to refuel.
Visit: One of Colonisation‘s classic founding fathers, William Penn was a Rickmansworthite; his house is still here, and his life is on display at the Three Rivers Museum.
Overall Rating: two red shoes

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Filed under 2/5, Hertfordshire


Dawn Mist on the Chiltern Line, under Creative Commons from Ellas_Dads photostream. Click pic for link.

Dawn Mist on the Chiltern Line, under Creative Commons from Ella’s_Dad’s photostream. Click pic for link.

Continuing in our exploration of the Chilterns while at the same time steering well clear of Slough, we head to Beaconsfield on a whim. As it turns out, it’s a well-placed whim as Beaconsfield is a very similar kind of town to Amersham, and a town like Amersham is a lovely thing indeed.

An ancient charter town like the latter, with an annual fair to match, Beaconsfield dates from, at the latest, 1185 when it was Bekenesfeld, the field by the beeches. Today, the old settlement is the most picturesque part of town, with the old A40 passing through grand Georgian townhouses, old coaching inns (the most exciting thing I’ve found about these is that the Royal Standard on London End was the home of the local inHot Fuzz, which definitely endears it to me) and country churches. Turn away from this very select part towards the station and you end up with a much more ordinary town – nevertheless attractive, pleasant and home to some tasty charity shop action.

The new town followed the railway station, around a century ago. Since then, old and new have merged into a single entity and as such, the whole town exudes the gentrified air of the olde market town. What this means, in a word, is money, and money makes for a good charity shop experience – for the most part (see FAILs on the part of Harpenden or Epsom, WINs on the part of Epping or Gerrards Cross). Here, I’m happy to say, local money is a definite win for the thrifty. Parking in the Waitrose car park (an early indicator), we make our way right down the high street to Cancer Research. A big shop, full of interesting junk including a set of antique planes. Not aeroplane planes, you understand, wood turning planes. These came in at a not quite justifiable £25 for the biggest, and though I know several people who’d like them, that would buy me a bag full of paperbacks, so the planes remained in the window, next to the glamorous Singer sewing machine.

Close by is a Shaw Trust hospice shop – this furnished me with Interpol’s Our Love To Admire, for which I thank it. I had to scarper before the boxes upon boxes of old National Geographics pulled me in, however. Next, the adjacent Oxfam and Help The Aged, both small but well-stocked. Oxfam, as you’d expect, is reasonably expensive but worth a poke.

My favourite of the five here was a little farther up the road, and a new one on me, the Helen & Douglas House hospice (I’ve since discovered another in Abingdon, of which more later, which was also nice, so I’ll have to investigate further). This was a beautifully appointed and furnished store, unusually for a hospice- fitted bookshelves, carefully displayed Valentines-themed clothes… we left with a variety of bargains: an Eric Newby book on the Trans-Siberian Express; three herb planters for a miserly £1 each; and a Noah’s Ark playset for my niece.

Beaconsfield was well worth the almost accidental visit, and we’ll certainly be back when we’re in the area again. There’s some nice looking coffee shops, including a Costa with outdoor seating that might just be the nicest-located chain coffee shop ever, and I’ve no doubt the pub grub in the inns of the old town is excellent. What with Amersham, Gerrards Cross and more to explore, I’m really growing to like this part of the world.

Find: Beaconsfield @ Google Maps
Transport: Beaconsfield station, on the Chilterns line
Consume with: Chez Pain (specialist coffee shop) looked nice
Visit: the Hot Fuzz theme continues with the world’s oldest model village
Overall Rating: four Dave Pelzers



Filed under 4/5, Buckinghamshire



The Main High Street, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, under creative commons from bestfors photostream - click pic for link.

The Main High Street, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, under creative commons from bestfor's photostream - click pic for link.

I warn you now, Harpenden is not going to be totally fairly covered, for several reasons. We found Harpenden through our logic that where money > sense, charity shops will be good; Harpenden is one of the most expensive parts of the country, and therefore the charity shopping must be excellent. Correct?


Equation fail. There’s just the four here. And to make matters worse, our visit was somewhat truncated because on the way there, we got stuck behind the hunt. That’s right, not 10 miles from London the barbarism begins – or at least, some sort of bizarre ritual which includes rich people chasing something along where I want to be driving.

Which means that we got to Harpenden lateish, and therefore didn’t make it to all the charity shops (which all seemed to close at 4:30pm). I can run you through the couple I went in (Cancer Research was a pretty big shop with some fairly nice clothes, and as usual in a poshish place, some decent books. I left with Round The World Again in 80 Days by Jean Cocteau, but declined the amateurish, but large set of Lord of the Rings themed paintings. Help The Aged was a fairly standard shop, next to the station – it didn’t seem as good as the Oxfam nextdoor). A schlep up the High Street brought us to Marie Curie… which was closing.

So, an unsuccessful jaunt. I should come back. But I probably won’t. Why? Harpenden has all the trappings of success and beauty: village green; Caffe Nero for gossip; expensive houses; fast train to London; there’s really nothing of substance to the place. As you promenade the High Street, it reads like an upmarket version of Green Lanes. Instead of greengrocer/kebab shop/gold shop/repeat, it’s hairdressers/interior design/estate agent/repeat. It’s a little frightening the sheer volume of hair salons, beauticians, etc. I didn’t find the people of Harpenden to be sufficiently attractive as to prove this is a good thing. It’s a little depressing that people aspire to this kind of lifestyle though. Where’s the vim and vigour? Where’s the variety? Where’s the life?

Find: Harpenden on Google Maps
Transport: Harpenden Station, on the City Thameslink line
Consume with: I don’t recommend the Caffe Nero (worst. service. ever.) but the chocolate shop looked nice: DeAngelis Chocolates
Visit: Get out, and have a gander at St Albans cathedral
Overall rating:
two ugly cufflink


Filed under 2/5, Hertfordshire