Tuesday, 24 April 2018

It's that time again...

Yes, it's that time again. The release of my latest time travel novel is upon us and as on previous occasions I've a little sneak preview to whet your appetite.

The good news is that you won't have to wait long for the main course. The paperback edition is available as of today and ready to order with the Kindle edition going live this Friday (27th April).

So what's this one about? It's another spin-off novel in my Second Chances series. Unlike my Time Bubble series, all the books in this series can be read standalone. If you've never read a book of mine before, you can pick this one up without having to have knowledge of what happened in any of the other books.

I know that many of you that have eagerly devoured all of my earlier books enjoy the way that characters and situations cross over between the different stories and this one is no exception. In my most recent release, Splinters in Time, you'll recall that Josh, the main protagonist, created multiple universes after a time travel accident in a hospital room. At the time of the accident, there were two other people in the room. One was Thomas Scott (deceased), whose story was told in My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, and the other was a nurse, Amy, but we never found out what happened to her - until now

In this book we pick up on the story told from Amy's perspective. Caught up in the accident, she finds herself thrust back in time, in a strange Groundhog Day style loop which sees her reliving every New Year of her life over again in reverse. What happens? Well you'll have to read the book to find that out, but in the meantime, here's a sneak preview from the second chapter. Here, we pick up with Amy, just before the accident, as she discovers Josh in the hospital room.

As I opened the door to the private room I was taken aback to see a very oddly dressed stranger inside, peering intently at the chart of the bottom of Thomas’s bed.

He was dressed in outdoor clothing, but with an old-fashioned medical white coat draped over the top. If this was some attempt to disguise himself as a doctor it was a pretty lame one, particularly as he was also wearing a large hiker’s rucksack over the top of the coat.

My first thought on seeing the rucksack was of terrorism. It was a reaction I always had now when I saw anyone acting even slightly out of the ordinary wearing a rucksack. It was an irrational fear brought on by decades of terrorist attacks in London and elsewhere.

This man didn’t look like your average terrorist, whatever that was. I suppose my fears had conditioned me to imagine some young man of Middle Eastern origin. This was prejudiced, I know, but too many images in the media had imprinted this cliché indelibly in my mind.

This man was white and middle-aged – in his early fifties at a guess. Not only did he not look like a terrorist, but also it was illogical to even think that he might be. Why would anyone want to blow up an empty hospital room with nothing but a dead body and a cheap, plastic Christmas tree in it?
Whoever he was, he ought not to be there, and I had no hesitation in challenging him.

“Who are you?” I demanded, determined not to show any fear despite the distinctly uneasy feeling flooding through my body. “What are you doing in here?”

“I’m Doctor Gardner,” he said, in a ludicrously posh accent that just had to be put on as he cast his gaze down at my name badge. “I’m a specialist, visiting from Harley Street. I’m delighted to meet you, Amy.”

I wasn’t convinced for a moment by his overblown acting. Who did he think he was, Hugh Grant? I was also not impressed by him ogling my breasts during his laughably poor performance.

“Don’t give me that,” I replied, “and stop staring at my tits. None of the doctors in this hospital or anywhere else wear white coats anymore. What they do wear is ID, so where’s yours?”

“Ah yes, one of the chaps down on security was going to print it off for me earlier this evening,” he ventured. “I must pop down and pick it up at some point.”

I just looked at him with a face that said, “Really?” I didn’t even have to utter the word. He could see I didn’t believe a word of it and changed tack.

“Look, I’ll come clean,” he said, reverting to a normal accent. “I’m not a doctor, I’m a scientist attached to the university carrying out some research here. I just need a couple of minutes, that’s all. Then I’ll be out of your hair.”

Was he telling the truth? With his backpack along with waving a strange metal, wand-like device around in front of him, I guess he could pass for a scientist, but not a lucid and bona fide one. He looked more like some crazy character from a sci-fi movie. All he was lacking was the wild, Einstein-style hair.

A more likely explanation was that he was some sort of escaped mental patient and if that was the case, I could well be in danger. Mindful of last year’s incident on the ward, I decided the best course of action would be to call for some help.

“I’m sorry, that’s not good enough,” I replied. “People don’t go around hospitals in the middle of the night wearing dubious disguises unless they’re up to no good.”

“What can I get up to in here?” protested the fake Doctor Gardner, gesturing towards the body on the bed. “It’s not as if I’ve come to bump him off, is it? It’s a bit late for that: the Grim Reaper’s already been and gone.”

“I’m calling security,” I replied, moving towards the telephone on the wall beside the door.

“No, don’t do that,” he protested, and began to move to cut me off. That was all the provocation I needed. Issuing a silent prayer of thanks for the recently improved security measures, I headed for the panic button on the wall behind the bed instead, reaching it just before he was able to stop me.

His attempt to block my path had been more than a little unsettling. I really hoped that whoever was on security was paying attention and not snoozing on the job.

Doctor Gardner, if that was his real name, backed off once he saw the flashing red button on the wall.
“Since when have hospitals had panic buttons?” he asked, looking unsettled.

He was on the back foot all of a sudden which gave me a chance to seize the initiative. I had no intention of showing him any weakness so, keeping my voice as level as I could, I spelled out the situation in black and white.

“Since last year when a patient assaulted a nurse on this very ward,” I replied. “Do you have any idea how much abuse we get from the drunks that get hauled in here every weekend? Now you’ve got less than two minutes until security arrives from downstairs to escort you from the premises – and that won’t be pleasant. They don’t take too kindly to women being threatened and can get quite heavy-handed. If I were you, I would scarper now, while you still can.”

This was a blatant lie. The aging head of security, Barry, spent the vast majority of his time sitting in his office drinking tea and eating biscuits. He hadn’t seen any action since his Army days, decades in the past. Most of his colleagues were no better. But this stranger wasn’t to know that.

“Fine,” he said, “but I’ll be back and you won’t even know about it.”

I assumed that meant he was going to leave, but he didn’t show any signs of departing by the traditional method, i.e. through the door. Instead he pointed his weird device in front of him and started pressing buttons on it. It was the first time I had seen it and it looked like something out of Doctor Who.

“What are you doing?” I asked, becoming increasingly convinced that he was some sort of nutter.
“Nothing for you to worry about,” was his reply.

This man had seriously lost the plot. What did he think he was going to do – teleport out of there with his home-made remote control TV aerial?

Ironically, outlandish as that idea had seemed at the time, given what happened next I may not have been far off the mark. Because this was the moment when the weird sci-fi shit started happening, leading me to realise that he was more than just a weirdo after all. Of course, it was too late to do anything about it by then. I was caught up in whatever was going on and it was too late to avoid it. I was well and truly over my event horizon.

What happened was all over very quickly. Suddenly there seemed to be two of him in the room, the second one seemingly appearing out of nowhere. He hadn’t come through the door, that’s for sure, as I would have seen him from where I was standing.

This other version looked exactly the same, right down to the white coat. Could they be twins or was it some kind of visual trickery? There was no time to figure it out as something else was already happening.

They had both been pointing their wands across the room, close to Thomas’s bed. Then I heard a long-drawn-out cry of “Nooooo!” from one or possibly both of the men, in the style of some overly dramatic movie scene. I might have found this amusing if I had been watching from afar, rather than being an unwilling participant.

Then everything descended into a kaleidoscopic, whirling maelstrom of colour and noise. As multiple mirror images of myself, the stranger and the body on the bed swirled all around me, I felt myself being sucked by a hugely powerful force towards the centre of the room.

Like a spider in a bathtub being drawn towards the plughole, I flailed my arms helplessly, completely powerless to escape. It was the last thing I remembered before I blacked out.

And that is how all of this began. 

Happy New Year is released on 27th April 2018 and you can get your copy by clicking here

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Evesham goes to the polls in Meowxit referendum!

Residents of a picturesque Worcestershire town were preparing to go to the polls last night to decide an issue that has divided the town like no other. In fact, one local historian went so far as to say that tensions had not run so high since the Battle of Evesham in 1265.

The issue that has caused such a huge rift all revolves around local celebrity "Cooper", a seven year old cat who has been greeting visitors to the local Morrison's supermarket now for several years. Whilst bringing delight to some shoppers, others are not so keen. The situation has now escalated to a point where only a local referendum to decide whether Cooper should stay or leave can decide the issue.

Souper Cooper's deal of the day!

Fans of Cooper have been gathering outside the store, bringing him treats, and holding up banners in his support. One lady we interviewed said.

"Coops is lovely and the reason I come to Morrisons each day for my shopping. He's a little ray of sunshine. I can't believe people are offended by him, but then, people seem to be offended by just about anything these days".

A local councilor also came out in support of Evesham's most famous cat, saying "There is no doubt that Cooper remaining is very important for local trade. Many people come here specifically to see him and spend their money while they are here, helping to create new jobs and boost the local economy".

Other were opposed, though. One man with a shaven head and a union jack T-shirt identified himself as a member of one of Britain's far right parties. He said "You may say he's doing no harm sitting on the kitchen roll in the foyer, but that's the tip of the iceberg. Before you know it he'll be in the store then bringing all his friends and family in and they'll be taking over".

The councilor who had spoken up in support of Coops dismissed this man's words as bigoted rubbish, but there are others with less inflammatory motives who want Coops to leave too. Many believe that allowing Coops near food products in the foyer of the store presents a health risk, despite the fact that the products in question are all sealed in packaging.

One young mother complained that Coops had brushed against the outer wrapping of some kitchen roll and it might trigger an allergic reaction in one of her children if she bought a product that had come into contact with the kitchen roll. She said she had invited an environmental health team to investigate.

Another Meowxiteer we spoke to, a middle-aged woman from Hampton welcomed the investigation, making the following claim:

"It's a little known fact that the Black Death which spread across Europe in the fourteenth century was not caused by rats and fleas at all. It was actually all started by a man from Weymouth who went across to fight in the crusades in the late thirteenth century. When he came back he brought a Persian cat as a souvenir. With no army pension in those days, he opened a shop on the seafront selling ice-creams to Medieval tourists and his cat used to sit on the counter when he was serving. A few decades later the plague broke out in England in this very spot. Co-incidence? I don't think so!"

When our local historian pointed out the numerous inaccuracies in this statement, the woman stomped off in a huff muttering something about emailing head office and that she would be getting her potatoes from Tesco from now on.

It's clear that Cooper has polarised local opinion more than the great love it or hate it Marmite debate leaving the referendum too close to call. But what does the great 'man' himself have to say on the issue? We caught up with Coops outside the shop and asked him if he intended to abide by the decision of the people. All he had to say was:

"I'm a cat. I do what I want".

Jason Ayres is the author of seven novels, including the Amazon bestseller, The Time Bubble. You can find out more here.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Gift Vouchers - the gifts that keep on giving...(grief).

I am sure I am not the only one sitting around post-Christmas with a stack of gift cards wondering how/ what to spend them on.

Before I commence the inevitable rant, let me just qualify that I am in no way having a go at the kindly folk who give gift cards as presents. After all, in principle, they are a good idea. They are the perfect half-way house between gifts and cash.

The problem with gifts? How do you really know what to get someone? It applies to people of all ages. Grandad likes his allotment so let's buy him a trowel. Even though he's got a perfectly good one already. The kids were into Lego last we heard so let's buy them some of that. No - that's no good - Lego is old hat now and has been superceded by Minecraft. What about a nice bottle of wine for Dad? What? He doesn't like Malbec? Well how were we to know? Fussy, ungrateful bastard!

And so on and so forth...

What about cash? Well it seems a bit crass doesn't it. Besides how do we know they won't spend it all on sweets (kids), or drugs, fags and booze (grown-ups)? Or just paying next month's credit card off after the Christmas excesses? We don't.

So that leaves that old standby - gift vouchers/ cards. Like I said, a good idea in principle but why do the retailers make it so hard to spend them? They of course love them because it's as good as money in the till. In fact, it is money in the till, money that might never be redeemed, particularly if today's experience is anything to go by.

In the past, I've had vouchers and cards that have gone out of date, a real bone of contention. I recall getting some many years ago for some clothing retailer and by the time I went to spend them, only a year or so later, they had expired! That's money straight in the coffers for the retailer. And then of course you have to hope the retailer in question doesn't go bust before you get round to visiting them, a real possibility on Britain's beleaguered high streets these days.

Vouchers for some places are better than others. For example, this Christmas we had some for Argos and for Gap. Now Argos, I don't have a problem with. Why? Because you can get a huge range of things at Argos as everyone knows. Sooner or later, there's bound to be something I need, so off I pop and get it - very handy. Plus there are Argos stores everywhere so you don't have to travel far.

Gap? Now there's a problem and here is where my tale of woe begins in earnest. I don't mind Gap clothing - like every man, woman and their dogs I walked around in a Gap hoodie back in 1999 or thereabouts. I don't really need any new clothes right now, but I figured Gap would probably have something I could use.

So off I trotted to their website to see what I could find. Thankfully I could find some clothes to fit, being a somewhat larger gentleman at the top end of what major retailers offer, particularly after the annual Christmas overindulgence. Fortunately online clothes retailers seem to cater for us bigger chaps rather better than the actual stores which don't appear to offer much in the XL+ or 38+ waist jeans range. I can only assume this is because they don't want fat people blocking the aisles in their shops and putting other customers off. Either that or it's because they haven't kept up with Britain's fashionable obesity trend and have drastically under-stocked on all the 40 inch waist trousers and XXL shirts causing them to sell out.

Not a problem for me - being someone who basically hates setting foot in a clothes shop I just buy all my clothes online. But what's this I find in the small print? My Gap gift card can't be used online. I have to go into a store. A sense of impending doom began to wash over me at that point. I had already clocked that the items I liked on their website were marked "online exclusive".

I discovered that my nearest store is in Cheltenham, fifteen miles away and scheduled in a visit as part of my day travelling around visiting family etc. By the time we got to Cheltenham and finished queuing for the multi-storey car park, it was almost dark. And bloody freezing. Eventually, after much wandering around slipping on the snow, I managed to find the store.

And the result? Nothing. I can't find hardly anything in my size, and what I do find I don't like. Gap's not a patch on the store I remember last time I set foot in it about fifteen years ago. By now I'm getting seriously hacked off. The wife has already had exactly the same problem trying to spend her  River Island vouchers. In the end we give up and go and have a large KFC to get over it, in the process pushing me ever further away from high street waist sizes. It's a vicious circle, I can tell you.

I'm moaning constantly on the way to KFC so eventually she buys the gift card off me to shut me up, saying she'll use it "at some point". I pay for the KFC as a thank-you, even offering to go large - well it's the least I can do, and we both sit there in moody frames of mind at our failed (and frankly unnecessary shopping trip). I make a mental note that however well husbands and wives get on most of the time, they should never be allowed to go clothes shopping together.

We can't go anywhere else because the shops are all closing so we drive back to Evesham in the dark reflecting on a job badly done. Thank goodness I stocked up on wine this morning is all I can say.

A couple of glasses of wine later and it's all better. Now I just have to hope that the relative who bought the Gap vouchers doesn't read this...and if they do, can I have Argos next year? You never know when the toaster's going to blow up!

Jason Ayres is a former Oxford Mail columnist and the author of the bestselling Time Bubble series and numerous other novels. His New Year's resolution is to give up clothes shopping.

Monday, 16 October 2017


The subject of today's blog entry, as the title suggests, is the humble potato. At first glance this might appear a somewhat mundane topic. What on earth can he say about potatoes to fill a few hundred words, I hear you ask? Well, quite a lot. believe me!

As a member of the potato buying public, I have become increasingly frustrated of late by the ever declining size and quality of my potatoes. As an old-fashioned chap at heart, I like to keep a lot of the traditions I grew up with alive and one of those is cooking the great British Sunday roast.

Sundays aren't what they were when I was a lad. Much of what made Sunday special has now gone. You can't even listen to the Top 40 any more - not that you would want to considering the crap that's in it these days. Radio One in their infinite wisdom have moved it to Fridays. Bit that's another story.

But no-one can stop me making my Sunday roast. Except when we have it on Monday, which is quite often, because Claire often works Sundays. But I still call it Sunday dinner, regardless. This caused the kids a bit of confusion when they were younger and learning their days of the week, but they've figured it out now. I don't see a problem. Munich have their Oktoberfest in September and no-one complains about that.

One of the key ingredients of a Sunday (or Monday) dinner is of course the roast potatoes. 26 years after leaving home, I feel I've pretty much got them down to a tee. At least I had until the supermarkets started making things difficult for me.

The first issue I have is that the potatoes seem to be getting smaller. My preferred choice of potato is Maris Piper, which is widely sold by most supermarkets. They are generally sold in 2.5kg bags which I find is enough for two meals - a roast on Sunday/ Monday followed by some home-made chips later in the week. Back in the day you might get around 12 decent sized potatoes in a bag which was great - peel them, cut them up, job done.

Now, I get incredibly frustrated rummaging around the bags in Tesco to discover there are as many as thirty potatoes in a bag and most of them are way too small. To make decent roast spuds you need to cut them in half so you've got a flat surface. They are never as good if you do them whole, but some of these potatoes are so small it's not worth cutting them. They look more like new potatoes. Why are the farms that produce them digging them up so early? Let them grow to a decent size for goodness sake!

A typical modern day bag of potatoes,
which I argue, are too small.

Not only do you waste more by peeling (the smaller they are, the more you cut out), but it also takes bloody ages. It's a hell of a lot quicker to peel six big spuds than twelve small ones and peeling spuds is bloody boring, to be honest, even if the end result is worth it.

The second problem? The quality of the produce which at the moment is the worst it's ever been. When I peel a potato I expect to find some nice white flesh underneath, the odd eye perhaps that needs to be cut out, but generally a decent, fresh potato. I accept that I am bound to get the odd dodgy one, that's part and parcel of buying fresh produce, but recently it's been far more than that. Among the problems I have been encountering constantly are:

a) Horrible brown mottling all over the potato, so you have to peel each area two or three times to get beneath it.

b) Eyes/ yucky bits deep inside the potatoes where it looks like a collections of grubs have buried their way in and set up home.

c) Whole rotten areas extending right through the middle of the potato, leaving me having to cut at least half of it away or in many cases, abandon the whole potato.

These problems have been getting steadily worse for months now and reached a peak these past two weekends when I have had the two worst bags of potatoes ever. They came from two different shops (Aldi and Tesco) and were two different types (Maris Piper and Tesco own brand) so can't just be one bad batch. Last weekend I had to throw over half the bag away. There was barely enough to eek out a Sunday dinner for four and it meant I also missed out on my midweek chips. This Sunday it was just as bad. I would have taken some photos but the whole lot is in the bin and I'm not rummaging around in there now, you'll just have to take my word for it.

So what is going on? Is there a particularly bad crop this year or some sort of blight we don't know about? Are supermarkets cutting corners, not storing stuff properly or leaving it in warehouses for months? The public needs to know. Or I need to know anyway. When I used Google to find out if anyone else was having these problems, I found absolutely nothing. This means this is either just a problem I have by being incredibly unlucky or fussy and I need to get a life, or I'm the first to champion a cause that needs highlighting.

Either that or something even more sinister is going on and there really is some sort of evil blight infecting our potatoes but somehow the superpowers of the potato world are managing to suppress the information. I can imagine the following scene at an emergency meeting in Downing Street:

"We can't let the public know the potatoes are all ruined Mrs May. Never mind all your other cock-ups, if the great British public thinks they aren't going to get their chips for tea, this Government will be doomed!"

Maybe this is all in my mind. I do hope it's not. If just one person that reads this blog comments "Yes, I've been having the same problem" then I'll feel reassured.

What's the solution? Try another shop? They all seem as bad as each other. Grow my own? Nice idea in principle but they won't be ready by next Sunday and the kids might protest if I dug up the lawn and turned it into a vegetable patch. I could try the greengrocers in town - they always say we should buy local and at least they'll be fresh. The one thing I absolutely refuse to do is go down the convenience route and start buying Aunt Bessie's or any of that rubbish. I tried them once in an emergency and they were horrible.

Anyone out there got any other ideas/ solutions? Cheers.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Blog 101

Panel shows aren't always my thing (especially if they involve Jimmy Carr) but you can't go wrong with Frank Skinner. Consequently, I'm a big fan of Room 101, currently airing on BBC1 on Friday nights. So much so, that I've been thinking about what topic I might choose in the unlikely event I ever find myself invited to take part in an episode.

As someone hurtling at high speed towards the Victor Meldrew phase of life, I find there are no shortage of things to irritate me on a daily basis. However there is one thing that is currently irking me more than everything else and so here we go.

My topic is...Downsizing

I don't mean making people redundant. Although undoubtedly an unpleasant experience for many, in my case it was a completely liberating one. No, I'm talking about the disgraceful habit of manufacturers of sneakily reducing the sizes of their food products and hoping we won't notice.

We've got 10 Jaffa cakes in a pack instead of 12. Multipack Crisps and snacks that were once 25g now at 18g with "only 88 calories per bag" proudly displayed on the front. Well that's not going to solve Britain's obesity crisis if everyone now has to eat two bags because one isn't enough.

Then there are chocolate bars are laughably small. Kit-Kat Chunky? Going by the ones in the last 4 pack I bought that title is a complete misnomer. Kit-Kat Dinky would be a more appropriate name.

Honey, I shrunk the pineapple!

Tropicana litre bottles are now 850ml, Toblerone have put bigger gaps between the mountains and the next time you find yourself on the bog with not enough paper left to wipe your arse properly you can blame Andrex. You no longer get 240 sheets per roll - it's now 221.

You could hop between peaks before.
Now some sort of mountaineering equipment is probably in order.

As for an old favourite of mine, Peperami, well they've been well and truly hammered. At one time the length of a standard Peperami would have measured up favourably alongside the dong of your average porn star. As for the current pathetic offering, well all I can say is they even make me feel well-endowed.

What annoys me is the surreptitious nature these manufacturers go about this. In the old days they just used to put the price up - fair enough, it was annoying but inflation is a fact of life we are all accustomed to. Prices go up - we live with it. So man up grow a pair and put the prices up. Don't try and treat us like mugs, shrinking your products and hoping we won't notice - we do!

This needs nipping in the bud now before everyone starts doing it. Before long it'll be three-quarters of a pint in the pub, pizzas the size of CD's and movies at the cinema that only last 55 minutes, with a scaled down box of popcorn to fit the running time. Is that what we want? Because that's what'll happen...

So Frank, please put downsizing (or shrinkflation as it has been dubbed by the media) into Room 101.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Life in a new town

Here I am in Evesham. Yes, I've finally taken the plunge and left Bicester after 26 years.

I've been here just a week and have so much to talk about, I hardly know where to start.

Let's talk about the town first. What a lovely place it has proven to be! First of all there is the river. It runs in a horseshoe shape through the town and you can walk all the way alongside it, as I have done so three times during the first week. The day after we arrived, we walked all the way along on what was a beautiful late summer's evening.

I was reminded more than a little of walking along the river in Oxford, from the Head Of The River pub, with rowers everywhere. The path alongside the river is sandy and lined with mature trees, similar to the main path through Christchurch Meadows. There are various play parks, tennis courts, a cricket pitch and all sorts of other things along the way. Each time I have been along there it has been a hive of activity, with people everywhere enjoying themselves. It's no surprise, experiencing this, that Wychavon (this corner of Worcestershire) was named the second happiest place to live in the UK recently (after the Orkney Islands).

And so in to the town. The main street reminds me a little of Sheep Street in Bicester before it was pedestrianised. It's lively and full of local businesses. There is also a pedestrianised street leading off and all the high street stores are here - including those that no longer exist in Bicester town centre, such as Clarks and Edinburgh Woollen Mills. The main square, surrounded by ancient Tudor buildings, is full of cafes where you can sit outside and enjoy a coffee.

Don't get me wrong - I am not attempting to score points against Bicester here - I'm merely comparing the two and liking what I see.

Shoppers are spoiled here. There are edge of town shopping centres that contain big retailer such as M&S, Next, Currys/ PC World and many more. There is also a Frankie & Benny's and a McDonalds within walking distance of my house. The choice of shops is just amazing - and all of this in a town that has a population only around two-thirds that of Bicester.

What it doesn't have is anything like Bicester Village and I hope it never will.

Speaking of things being two-thirds the size of Bicester, go on to Rightmove and have a look at the house prices. It really is quite unbelievable. I'm sitting here in a 4/5 bedroom house that has room to swing several cats, the price of which you might just about get a two bed for in Bicester. Why? Well it's not because we're in some scummy area, that's for sure. I think it's purely down to proximity to London. We're out of the commuter belt here which makes a huge difference. The number of houses up for private rent here is tiny compared to Bicester. That's because the locals can actually afford to buy them. Good, solid, well-built houses, not overpriced boxes chucked up on new estates for landlords to buy up as an investment which they then let out for astronomic sums. Sorry if I sound like I have a bee in my bonnet about this, but I don't think that helps a community at all.

What else? The pubs are fantastic - proper traditional places. We found one called Ye Olde Horse and had a couple of pints (also at a lower percentage) and some food there. It was a family run, traditional pub and the food was amazing. Claire had a home made burger and I had a steak - both of which were among the best we've ever had. The landlady cooked them and came out to chat to us too, as did many of the locals.

Since then we've explored further, enjoying this happy, prosperous little town where it seems there is always something going on. There are flowers everywhere (Britain in Bloom winners), and all sorts of events. The town even has it's own tourist office where we were welcomed as new residents and given all sorts of information about the many festivals and celebrations that go on around this town and the local area all year long. The locals here are proud of their town and it shows.

I honestly did wonder if I would ever manage to make the break from Bicester. It was a brave move to leave, but I've never shied away from these sort of decisions as you know. I may have been here only a week but already I believe this move is one of the best decisions I've ever made. It's just 40 miles away but it's another world.

But don't just take my word for it - come over for a visit! Just don't look in any estate agent's windows, you might be tempted to stay! I wouldn't mind if you did. The one thing that would make this town complete would be if I could uproot all my Bicester friends and plant you all back down here.

Down by the river in Evesham

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Bye bye Bicester

Next Wednesday will be a landmark moment in my life. For it marks the day, some 26 years after my arrival in Bicester, that I make my departure.

Looking at it another way, that's precisely 9,595 days. I found a website to calculate that for me in case you think I was sitting there like some saddo with a spreadsheet or calculator working out. Which I probably would have been if it hadn't been for the website.

9,595 days sounds huge and it certainly has been a long time. I was 21 then, I'm 47 now. Frank Sinatra sang that when he was 21 it was a very good year. For me it certainly was, as 47 is shaping up to be. The years between have varied in quality but there can be no denying there have been a lot of them. Suddenly I appear to be nudging middle-age.

Here's what Bicester looked like when I arrived...has it really been that long?

We've established, then, that I've given Bicester the best years of my life. So what has Bicester given me?

It has given me a place to live and a place to grow and I don't just mean my waistline. I thought I was all big and clever at 21, but looking back now, quite honestly I was practically still a kid. It seems crazy to think I was buying a house at 21, but the world has changed since then. Less people went to university so more were earning earlier. In fact people did everything earlier in those days - including getting married and starting families. Any couple holding down two average jobs could afford to buy a place back then. We called it settling down, but it wasn't a good idea in my case. I wasn't ready for it. I may have been earning a decent wage, but, well I was 21 and not that big on responsibility. More money was spent in the pub than on the mortgage.

Bicester was cheaper to buy in than elsewhere in Oxfordshire at that time. The M40 had only just opened, as had big Tesco's (mark 1). The road to the M40 was just a single carriageway each way and rarely got clogged up. But of course, there was no Bicester Village then (I'll come on to that later).

Bicester not only gave me a house to live in, but also a place where I felt at home, right from the first day. After unpacking my meagre possessions (mostly records and books), I wandered into town with my girlfriend of the time. We ate chips from the Lemon Plaice on a wall by the church and then went into The Six Bells which we found to be a happy, friendly sort of place. Soon after I found The White Horse, full of salt-of-the-earth, locals, who were only too willing to welcome a newcomer into their midst. In the years ahead, my local changed, to The Plough, The Bell, and The White Hart, making friends wherever I went.

So why leave now, after all these years? Well there are all sorts of reasons behind it, but the primary motivator is financial. I want to buy a decent sized family home for my children and due to the over-inflated property prices in Bicester, it's not possible. We are no longer the sleepy little market town where you could buy a starter home for 3x your salary with ease a quarter of a century ago. We are now firmly in the London commuter belt, something that can be seen on the billboards of many new building sites which scream out "Only 45 minutes from Marleybone", one of their key selling points it seems. There are no prizes for identifying their target market.

Then there's Bicester Village which we are told has put Bicester on the map. Now I've waxed lyrical on Bicester Village many times in the past and I'm not going to regurgitate it all again here. Suffice to say that my personal view is that it has been detrimental to the town for all manner of reasons.

Moving hadn't really been an option for me until recently. I was tied to a career in Oxford for my first 15 years here, then I had my local DJ business for several years after that. But switching to writing has opened up new possibilities - I can now work anywhere.

But where? Well, it took a long time to decide. We went all over the country looking for somewhere to lay down some new roots but nowhere seemed quite right. Then, we found the perfect place in Evesham. It's less than forty miles away but what a world of difference in house prices! Having spent some time there now, it sort of reminds me of how Bicester used to be. It's about 2/3 the size of Bicester currently, but has lots of facilities we don't have here. I have a McDonalds within walking distance of my new house for a start. That's something Bicester folk have been crying out for since I got here, to no avail. It's almost become a standing joke now on the Bicester Chat page on Facebook.

Just five days to go then until an exciting and fresh start for me in a new place. I've never had much difficulty making friends so I think I will be able to make the most of the opportunity. Even so, it goes without saying that I'm going to miss all of you back here awfully. I have made so many amazing friends here in Bicester that it is going to be a huge wrench knowing I'm not going to see you regularly any more. I'm not quite sure how Bicester feels about my departure, I would imagine there would be a range of reactions all the way down from "Bicester's just not going to be the same without him" to "Great, we've finally got rid of the bastard!"

You haven't completely got rid of me as I plan to pop back for occasional nights out, probably on a Sunday, since those of you who remember my karaoke nights will know that it has always been my night. It seems appropriate that I'll be saying goodnight this Sunday at the karaoke night I started at The White Hart nine years ago. It's still thriving four years after my retirement under the wonderful Charlee. If you want a last chance to share a pint with me, or even just the chance to tell me to piss off before I go, this is your chance.

When I think about what I'm really going to miss about this place, there's really only one answer. It's not the place at all - it's the people.