Sunday, 8 July 2018

It's coming home - but I don't want to watch it at home!

For those of you that hate football look away now. I haven't posted excessively about it. so you're just going to have to forgive me this one post when it pops up on Facebook.

It's only fair, after all. I mean, the World Cup is only once every four years, and England doing well at it is only about once every quarter century. Compare that to the endless shite that has dribbled down my news feed year after year about The X-Factor, Love Island and Strictly Come Wanking or whatever it's called, and I think you can cut me some slack this one time.

Actually none of that stuff does come down my news feed anymore as I automatically unfollow anyone who mentions it. So if I haven't liked or commented on any of your statuses since about 2013, that's probably why. Sorry about that.

Now I find myself in a bit of a quandary. Thus far, I have watched the England games mostly in the comfort of my own home and with my family, but now things are getting serious, the stakes are being upped. Today I was at Eynsham Carnival in Oxfordshire with family, and we had a good get together at my Dad's house to watch it. Even my sister, a confirmed non-football fan joined in. Everyone's getting in the spirit.

So where do I watch from here on? Well in England's not so glorious past, before I had children, I invariably spent every agonising failure in some pub somewhere, drowning my sorrows at various missed penalties with the other desolate souls. Now things are different - I have children (7 and 10) so I can't just bugger off to the pub for the semi final and, dare I say it, a potential final.

Well in theory I could - most pubs allow kids in these days so I could take them with me, but I am not sure my two would cope with an absolutely mobbed football pub crowd. I'm not sure even I would, come to that.

Equally, I don't want to watch it at home, just the three of us. Not such a historic moment as this might turn out to be. I need to be in shared company.

So I've got two ideas - one is to see if we can get some of the neighbours together and have a bit of a street or garden party - entirely possible in our street which is end of a cul-de-sac and mostly off road. Providing we can rig up some sort of visible outdoor TV it's a possibility.

Or alternatively, maybe Wychavon council could spring into action and set up some sort of big screen mass event in Evesham in Abbey Park or Crown Meadow. What an experience that would be - especially with the amazing summer we are having.

That would be an amazing experience and not too difficult to organise at short notice, I would hope? After all, Eynsham Carnival managed to get some big screens today, only a few days after they found out England were playing. I've seen plenty of footage on the BBC of such events taking place all over the place so how about it? Let's get families and their kids out there on the field to celebrate this fantastic adventure together as it enters the final stages.

Come on England!

Jason Ayres is the author of eight time travel novels including his latest release, Happy New Year. You can find out more by clicking here

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Class of '92

Hi all! I hope you are enjoying Happy New Year. It's going great guns and ranking high in the Kindle store so thank-you for your continued support.

Now it's time for me to start thinking about the next novel and the rest of May will be taken up with the planning process. As you can imagine, with time travel I have to map everything out very carefully to ensure it all ties up - not only within the current story but also with all the others. It's quite a task keeping track of it all!

Here's what I have so far. It will be book #5 in The Time Bubble series and will be set predominantly in 1992. Nostalgia always seems to be about a generation behind in my experience. When I was a kid, everyone used to go on about the fifties. In recent years, it's all been about the eighties. So I think it's high time for an appreciation of that somewhat overlooked decade, the nineties. This book will give me a good opportunity to kick-start that.

Cornmarket Street in 1992. Remember when you could 
hardly move for all the buses?

It will focus on two main characters. One of these will be Peter, who we've only ever previously met in middle-age. In 1992, he'll be a twenty-one year old University student in Oxford, and we'll get a chance to explore the culture of the times through his youthful eyes. This shouldn't be too difficult for me, as I was that age and living and working around Oxford at that time.

The other main protagonist will be Josh, who you'll recall at the end of Splinters in Time was heading back to 1992 in the hope of finding a way back to his own time. With several months to kill before he can attempt to get home, he'll need to integrate into the nineties culture from his twenty-first century perspective, which should prove interesting. I like the idea of pairing him up with Peter from their altered places in the timeline - Josh now middle-aged with a youthful Peter, who was once Josh's middle-aged teacher when Josh was at school.

Of course, there will be a big time travel conundrum for them to deal with, and this time I want to explore a concept that I touched on twice before, that of people from the past coming to the present. In Global Cooling there was the sailor who went missing for several months before popping up in the cave in Cornwall. Then in Splinters in Time, I wove the old English folk tale of The Mermaid of Zennor into the story, providing a time travelling explanation for the mysterious disappearance of Matthew Trewhella all those centuries ago.

So, what if a malfunctioning Time Bubble started sending people from the past into 1992 Oxford? And how will Josh and Peter handle that? I don't know yet, I haven't figured all that out, but that's what this planning process is all about.

My provisional title? Class of '92 - which I think has a nice ring to it.

Jason Ayres is the author of eight time travel novels including his latest release, Happy New Year. You can find out more by clicking here

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Ten albums in ten days


Music is such a personal thing, isn’t it? Some people will say they are into rock, others into metal, but the truth is that even if we identify with a genre each of us will have our own unique soundtrack to our lives.

I don’t have a particular genre as such, but objectively, if anyone was looking at what I have been listening to now and over the past few decades, they might define it as a cross between electronica and shoegazing (also known as dream pop). Neither of these are particularly popular these days in the UK (if they ever were) and they certainly aren’t fashionable but I don’t care one iota about that. I’ve always believed that one’s musical tastes should be true to one’s self and not what’s “cool” or to fit in.

I should add that I also like lots of other stuff that doesn’t belong to those genres. It’s why I go down The Red Lion most Fridays as they have all sorts of live singers on down there doing different stuff.

I started doing one of those “ten albums in ten days” things on Facebook recently but gave up because I didn’t see the point. One of the things about it was “Just post a cover, no explanation needed”. But why do that if you aren’t going to give an explanation? Surely that’s the whole point. Otherwise how will anyone be able to share in how you feel? So, what I've decided to do is stick ten albums on here in one big hit instead plus a little caption for each. That way you can look at them all together or if you're not interested it is only one post on Facebook you will have to ignore rather than ten!

One drawback of being into relatively niche genres is that it is very hard to find other people in real life who are into the same stuff. Therefore my music listening is an extremely solitary activity. I can read the comments under YouTube videos online to see what other people think but they aren't people I'll ever encounter in real life. Having no-one to share one's musical journey with is a great pity as I am incredibly moved every day through the music I listen to. My favourite artists talk to me about life, feelings, and situations in a way that I almost feel that they’ve written these songs personally just for me. Which I guess was probably the artist's attention as it is with all us creative types. I have had feedback from people describing how my books have touched them in a similar way.

Sometimes I am lying in bed and a song comes on and whether it’s a joyful or melancholy moment, I so wish there was someone to whom I could say “Listen to this song. Listen to the words. Then you’ll understand exactly how I feel!” 

There is a way to do this in the modern world simply by posting a link to the song on Facebook and asking everyone to listen to it. But I very rarely do this, because like I said at the start, music is a very personal thing. A song that I find incredibly moving, speaking volumes to me about my own life, may mean nothing to the vast majority of other people. They are likely to see a proliferation of such postings as self-indulgent, attention seeking twaddle. Eventually they will get sick of seeing them and unfollow me. Well I assume they will - because I've done the same to other people who post too much. Haven't we all?

So it seems I must keep my thoughts wrapped up and continue my long musical voyage alone. It’s sad because many is the time I’ve listened to a song that’s made me think about a particular friend and longed to tell them “Listened to this and thought of you” but most of the time I have held back.  In the past I used to make up mix tapes or CD’s for friend and girlfriends, and most times that went well but I haven’t done anything like that for a while. Most people are streaming music these days anyway so if I gave them a CD they wouldn't listen to it. What's the alternative? Spotify playlists? All very well if you're on Spotify but I'm not. I use Amazon Music unlimited.

For what it’s worth, whilst what I listen to changes from time to time, at the moment I’m listening to a mixed up playlist of around 100 tracks from the following six bands: Client, Garbage, Ladytron, La Roux, Lush and Saint Etienne. Some of these you will probably never have heard of. Client have spent a single week of their 14 year career so far in the Top 40, whilst Ladytron have not even managed that in nearly twenty years, though both have found greater success outside the UK. I’m not going to bother posting any links to songs for the reasons I’ve already stated, but here’s ten album covers in lieu of my failing to complete the Facebook challenge! 

Note that these aren't necessarily my ten favourite albums of all time but a mix of what I'm listening to at the moment with some old favourites thrown in. I could quite easily have given you 50 or a hundred but we haven't got all day, so ten it shall be...

The latest album from Client, still as good as ever despite
the departure of Dubstar singer, Sarah Blackwood.

Hard to believe this classic is
now twenty years old!

Pure pop perfection. I could never get tired of this
album - undoubtedly their best.

The second album from La Roux that was nowhere near as
 commercially successful as the first but just as good!

Pretty hardcore electronica, the sort that goes down well in
 Japan and Germany but not so well in the UK.

I'm a big fan of this band's early work,
particularly this debut album.

A shoegazing classic, before they embraced the Britpop movement
 for commercial success, though that was just as good!

Another great indie band of the early 1990s
 and an album that never gets old.

Sarah Blackwood's earlier band, with this slightly dodgy looking cover.
Is it just me or does the pencil case look like a fanny?

The band I have seen more than any other, and almost
 certainly my most played album of all time.

In the unlikely event that you are reading this and just happen to love one of those artists then get in touch! We’ll have something to talk about!

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

Potatoes

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.