Friday, 16 September 2011

Blog Archive Volume One [2007]

This is the first set of archive blogs from my old Myspace Blog

DISCLAIMER: Some of these blogs were written over 4 years ago and are presented here completely unabridged. Quite frankly a lot of things I wrote then I may no longer agree with, and some are downright embarassing. I'm not the same person I was then.

But I don't believe in editing or sanitising things - so here they are, complete in their original form.
  • 6 Apr 2007
Bank Holidays

Current mood:happy

G's was absolutely rammed last night, I have never seen it so busy. With today being a bank holiday, the phrase "Thursday is the new Friday" has never been so apt. In fact, the karaoke had to be wound up a little early as there literally was no room for people to sing. It was still packed out at quarter to three and I think people would have happily have drunk all night if George had let them. The girls behind the bar were under immense pressure and I found myself helping out. It seemed everyone wanted to pay with a 20 pound note, luckily the pizza place across the way was happy enough to accomodate my requests for change to keep it going.

I don't know if it is just me but there seems to be a national shortage of fivers at the moment as well. Every time I pay for anything with a tenner I get a handful of pound coins in return.

There were a lot of very drunk people, and the number of broken glasses on the floor, and vomit in the gents was testimony to this. It seemed half of Bicester had finished work early for the holidays and gone out early to get as drunk as possible. See my previous article on binge drinking for my views on this. Anyway, I was pretty much getting there myself in the end and rolled home about 3am, managing to avoid the allure of the kebab shop en route, admittedly though I did then empty the fridge on returning home.

G's has been in Bicester about 15 years now, nearly as long as me. When it first opened it advertised itself as a wine bar and restaurant with Caribbean cuisine, which was upstairs. The restaurant thing never really took off and instead they went for the club thing upstairs and got the first late licence in town. This was before the refurb when things were a lot smaller than they are now. The karaoke was there from the early days as well, and has been a regular feature of Monday and Thursday nights for well over a decade.

A lot of people thought that once the Litten Tree opened and other pubs got late licences that G's unique selling point i.e. being open late would see it go downhill, but in fact it has gone from strength to strength. A facelift a few years ago, door staff who keep everyone in line and a great team behind the bar mean it's more popular than ever. It's great for me too, being only a stone's throw from home, I can roll out late at night without having to worry about taxis and getting home. All we need to do now is persuade George to get Strongbow on tap!

Well, today being a bank holiday, I have just done one of those little jobs that bank holidays were designed for. I have been up a ladder behind the cottage pulling down all of the ivy which has covered half of the house now, including some of the windows. We actually have some natural light coming in upstairs now. This was done with the help of Liz from next door who was also doing hers. It has been great moving in here next door to friends, I have not always had neighbours I could get along with. I absolutely love living in this little cottage, I hope if my landlady ever decides to sell it she'll give me first refusal.

Claire and I are off into Oxford for a day out together, in the spring sunshine. A romantic walk around the parks, maybe down to the Cherwell, and then a drink or two at one of the University pubs, The Turf being a good possibility. What could be a better way to spend a bank holiday? I know one thing, there is no-one I would rather spend it with than her.
12:15 PM
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  • 5 Apr 2007
Annual Appraisals

Current mood:hopeful

At the place where I work we will shortly be conducting the annual review process. For the uninitiated this is where you sit down with your manager and discuss how you have performed over the past year.

Having been with my current employer less than a year this is the first time I shall have enjoyed this process with them. However, I have to say, I have reasonable hopes of a fair process. It appears that refreshingly people are judged on their performances and not on how good they look – more of that to follow. Plus, the regular feedback sessions we get throughout the year do give us an indication of where we are going right and where we are going wrong.

In my past jobs however, I found the process both pointless and demeaning. The problem is that in an office, performance is not an easy thing to measure. And in a commercial environment where everything is about money, and one-upmanship it can be downright unfair.

Now in the olden days, performance measurement was a relatively simple concept. After a hard days graft in the mines, if you came out with eight bags of coal whilst your neighbour had only managed seven then it could be reasonably assumed you'd had a more productive day than he had.

But over the years, as more and more of us have left the fields and the factories, and entered the office environment it has become more and more difficult to measure performance. Those in commercial environments may disagree and point to yardsticks such as sales targets as a good measure of performance, but are they really? In my experience, hitting or not hitting sales targets is largely a matter of luck, dependent on a wide variety of factors. If you're unlucky enough to find yourself saddled with a huge target in the middle of an economic downturn, when your key client has just laid off a third of its work force along with issuing ominous profits warnings, it's a sure fire bet that he isn't going to be throwing money in your direction. Even if you can sell snow to Eskimos, you aren't hitting your target this year. Whereas your inferior (in your opinion) neighbour at the next desk's key client has just made the most successful product launch in the last decade, and his phone never stops ringing with the next sales opportunity. Unfortunately that is the way it goes.

It always seemed to me that whatever team I was in during my time in sales performed badly. Now some cynical souls might think that I had something to do with that but I maintain I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Since the bags of coal measurement was no use in the modern world, companies came up with the idea of performance appraisal. The idea of this was twofold. Firstly to give employees clear measurable objectives, which in itself was no bad thing. Where it falls down is in the second part which is in the actual measuring.

It is no point spending hours understanding how the scoring process works as it's a cast iron guarantee that a) it will have completely changed by the following year, and b) 99% of employees will receive the middle rating regardless of performance. For example, a system which ranks employees on a scale from A to E will see 99% of employees achieve a C.

In order to make this seem a little less obvious, the reviewer will normally give a range of marks designed to come out almost exactly at the mid point. So out of 6 goals, you will find two will be marked B, two will be marked C, two will be marked D. You will normally be asked to prepare and say what you think you should have got for each. Do not spend hours preparing this, as the reviewer will normally listen to what you have to say and then give you the mark they were going to give you anyway.

The main reason no-one ever gets a D, is that the reviewer wants an easy life and marking someone down means a resentful employee and possible repercussions if they complain to HR and no-one wants that. Occasionally a golden employee (usually a butt licker) may get a B, to demonstrate that the performance related pay policy is working. What this in effect amounts to is that they end up getting a 3.1% pay rise as opposed to the 3.0% pay rise that the union has already negotiated for everyone else. This 0.1% wouldn't even buy one decent extra night out down the pub. Ask yourself - was it really worth busting a gut over all year?  And in the end the people who kissed the bosses ass the most always get the best grades, failing that they are dished out to those with the nicest suit. Trust me, get out of the rat race and go and work somewhere where people are actually judged on their merits. I did, and I feel valued and appreciated by my bosses, who I believe judge me on the work that I do. Well I must be doing something right because they have just given me a new contract.

Right enough for now, Easter's here and the sun is shining. Till next time.
5:53 PM
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  • 4 Apr 2007
Food Glorious Food!

Current mood:full

Today we had a team lunch at "The Hungry Horse" next to Tesco. This was a
pub which started life as "The Acorn" about 15 years ago and has always
been a food themed pub. It was also the first in Bicester to ban smoking
since which they have really flourished as a family food place. This seems
as good an opportunity as ever to continue my review of Bicester's pubs, so
here we go.

It's not a pub as such though, in the traditional sense, I couldn't really
imagine going there for a drink. More of a restaurant these days.

They have a menu that is quite daunting in size not merely the menu itself,
but the size of the portions which could satisfy even the likes of Homer
Simpson. I was exceptionally hungry today and decided to go for the all day
breakfast, a beast of gargantuan proportions which more than puts Little
Chef's "Olympic Breakfast" in the shade. It is unusual for me to eat meals
of such large size these days, but it was a colleague's birthday so I
decided to push the boat out for once.

In my past life cruising up and down the motorways and A roads of Britain
to clients and back, I made frequent use of the Little Chef's, to the
extent that I soon came to resemble the Chef himself who symbolises the
group on the signs you see outside the establishments. I particularly liked
the Olympic Breakfast as it enabled me to maximise my use of the company's
£7.50 a day lunch allowance when out at clients. The Olympic Breakfast, at
£7.49 was the perfect way to make the most of this particular benefit. In
fact at one time it was my proud boast that I knew the location of every
Little Chef in the south of England and how to navigate to them. I had
pre-installed in my head the equivalent of a modern day satellite
navigation system, except in my case it was less a case of "Tom Tom", more
like "Tum Tum".

Anyway, to get back to today's all day breakfast this was quite a
challenge, but readily acomplished. It was not quite up to the level of the
infamous "gut buster" breakfast as discovered at The Talk Of The Town in
Corralejo, Fuerteventura earlier this year, but not far off. My colleagues
had similar sized portions and they were mostly the smaller things on the
menu.

It certainly doesn't look as if eating at this place regularly is going to
help in the battle against Britain's obesity crisis. I did notice some sort
of healthy option labelling in the menu, but avoided that bit.

All went well and I had almost finished when my colleague next to me
mentioned something about burgers and I suddenly recalled that my breakfast
was supposed to contain a burger. Despite the fact I was stuffed fit to
burst with beans, bread, mushrooms, chips, bacon, eggs and sausages I still
saw fit to complain and received my burger promptly. I didn't really want
it to be honest, I was full up by then anyway, but I still ate it. Well
it's the principle isn't it.

So - the Hungry Horse, cheap and cheerful but the place to go if you really
want to fill your face. Just don't blame me when the buttons starting
popping off your trousers.
5:31 PM
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  • 3 Apr 2007
Bicester Girls and Boys

Current mood:thoughtful

I have spent much of my adult life pondering on the nature of
relationships, and having been through a fair few myself feel reasonably
qualified to offer advice on the subject.

And there are no shortage of people asking - it seems that I have been an
agony uncle to a never ending stream of girls over the past decade or more.
For some reason, they seem to feel that they can trust me, or think I am in
touch with my feminine side. I am not entirely sure about that, I guess it
can be seen as a good thing, though last year when I was single, a number
of people perhaps took this a little too far, and somehow got the
impression I was "batting for the other side". Without wanting to sound egotistical I could name plenty of people who could vouch for me otherwise but that would not be appropriate in this rather public place!

I do enjoy the company of women, and around 80% plus of my friends are
female. Like I said I am seen as safe, though safe is not what many women
want in my experience - they are attracted to the bad boys, sadly I have
seen so many come to grief because of it. Not that I am generalising here
in any way, but the large army presence in the town can present its
problems, as these young lads come here for a few weeks and literally charm
the pants off these naive girls, promising them the earth, when in reality
they'll be long gone soon. Like I say, don't get me wrong I am not tarring
all "squaddies" with the same brush as is popular amongst the "townies"
here, because I have some good long standing friendships with some of the
guys who have been stationed here for some years. And for the record, many
of the "townies" are just as bad.

The problems for these girls is that they get their hearts broken and
progress into a pattern of repeat behaviour. Many will convince themselves
that they are happy this way, and that they are only behaving in the same
way the men do - but conversations I have had with many over the years
suggest otherwise. But it is often hard to sympathise, when they complain
they can't meet a nice man, and they only ever meet bastards but then get
drunk and go on to do the same things over and over again. Often they are
so out of their heads on drink they don't really know what they are doing.

This used to frustrate me at one time when I was single and could have gone
out with any one of those girls but in time I learnt that if they could not
recognise what I truly had to offer rather than just being after money or
sex, then they probably had little to offer me in return. I bided my time
and found first Janina, with whom I had a long and mostly happy
relationship, and now Claire who has made me happier than ever. Neither of
these relationships would have come my way if I had let myself get
sidetracked into something with someone selfish who would have made my life
miserable, and believe me there were plenty who tried, last summer being a
prime example.

However I've known plenty of girls who did go off the rails who got it
together in the end and are perfectly happy now. Whether my advice has
helped anyone I have no idea, in my experience, most people who ask for
advice generally go off and do their own thing anyway. Still for what it's
worth, if you stuck in a lifestyle of getting drunk, having one night
stands, and generally waking up in the morning thinking "what the hell did
I do", here are my tips to get things under control.

Drinking. Develop a more sensible drinking strategy. I would never suggest
anyone give up going out on the lash, it's one of life's pleasures, but
there is a difference between getting nicely oiled and totally paralytic. I
would rather spend £20 on a good night's drinking than £40 on one I can't
remember.

Firstly I recommend cutting out or down on all shots/ spirits etc and stick
to lower alcohol stuff such as beer or cider. I know its got more cals but
you don't have to go mad.

Secondly, never drink during the day - start as late as possible. e.g. 9pm.
If you must start early, try & drink more slowly. A pint every hour is
sufficient, you can always up the tempo later. I can't undertand people who
go out in the afternoon and have to go home plastered by 10pm. Let's face
it those last couple of hours are the best time, that's when it livens up.
I prefer to go out as late as possible and stay out until the end.

I am not going to comment on drugs because I don't do them, so I don't feel
qualified to comment.

In the past when I felt my life was going off the rails I would try and
fill up my time with other activities. For example the gym if you become a
member you can go as often as you want without it costing any more money.
There is loads of stuff you can do at the Sports Centre. By going in the
evenings at 7pm, I felt physically couldn't get to the pub any earlier than
9pm so it was keeping me out of trouble. Also fill up weekend days with
doing stuff with friends. Last time I was single I arranged to go out for
lunch, or do other activities with family and friends, like e.g. karting,
bowling etc. Admittedly we usually ended up going to the pub afterwards,
but the right intentions were there.

Long term, in order to find a decent partner, you have to learn to avoid
going to places where you know you are going to be putting yourself in
dangerous situations. If there is a wrong crowd in a particular place and
you feel drawn there, then go somewhere else. Easy for me to say I know, as
I know what it's like to be drawn somewhere under the influence of drink
and to develop bad intentions, we have all done it. In the end I took a
good look at the people I was with, and identified which ones were having a
negative influence on me. Once you realise there is no future with them you
remove them from your life. Harsh I know, but if they are bad people, which
chances are they will be, then they will deserve it. Then you can focus on
your real friends and on meeting new people. Then you will have time to
really think about the people you know & the sorts of traits that you
really want in someone if you are going to have a long term and meaningful
relationship. You may not see them all in anyone you know right now, but at
least you will know what you are looking for. What factors are more
important in the long run - a good sense of humour & warm & caring
personality, or good looks and a fit body masking a bad person underneath?
You may feel a strong physical attraction to them but ultimately they may
only bring you unhappiness.

The more attractive a person is, the more they can afford to pick and
choose, and whilst obviously not all take advantage of this, many do. The
ones that do can afford to break as many hearts as they like, because there
will be plenty more waiting in line.

Well, perhaps I have made a few controversial remarks here, and not every
one will agree, but there is no point writing this thing if I do not say
honestly what I feel.

9:56 PM
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  • 2 Apr 2007
Bicester Village etc

Current mood:happy

Was up quite late last night playing on the PS3. I have been playing
Formula One on Career mode, and have just managed what Lewis Hamilton
couldn't and won my debut Grand Prix, driving for the Toro Rosso team. Hmmm
- not very realistic I know but I am playing on easy mode with all the
driving aids turned on and the car practically drives itself.

This was my second attempt at career mode - the first being rather less
auspicious. With damage turned on I managed to wreck a fair number of
Midland F1 cars first time out and was on the verge of getting sacked when
the game mercifully crashed. Rather like most of my cars to be honest. The
most tricky part seemed to steering the car into the pits. In one race I
was comfortably out in front when called into the pits and for some reason
mistook a solid concrete wall for the pit entrance. Result - a car with
somewhat less than the required 4 wheels.

Where the game - and the PS3 really comes into it's own is in the field of
on-line play. Using the wireless LAN I can easily hook into a worldwide
network of other players. Last night I took part in an eleven car race
featuring players not only from the UK but also Spain, France and Germany.
It's much more fun than driving against computer opponents. If anyone out
there gets a PS3 and wants a race look out for me - my username is
"Bloaticus" - an old nickname from my more dimensionally challenged days.

I did not spend all weekend playing on the PS3, I took a break yesterday
lunchtime and took Claire out for lunch at Carlucio's in Bicester village.
The food in there is really nice, if a little pricey, and we did not have
to wait too long for a table despite the centre being packed. Afterwards
had a look round their little shop and deli which was all very nice, but
somewhat overpriced - e.g. £5 for a jar of olives that you can probably get
for £2 in a supermarket.

Which is indicative of Bicester Village in general really. It sells itself
as a discount outlet centre, but my experience suggests that a lot of the
merchandise is still overpriced, particularly in the more upmarket shops.
It's all very well selling a garment that was £250 in London, for half
price but is it really a bargain if the thing only cost a tenner to make in
the first place? That aside the more down to earth shops offer seemingly
good value, and I buy a lot of my shoes and clothes from the likes of Vans,
Tog 24, Quicksilver etc because these are the kind of clothes I like to
wear. Not because they are the "in thing" as I have never been a slave to
fashion trends. To be honest I would not know if they were in or not and by
and large I do not care. I just like them - they are good quality and
reasonably cheap and that will do for me. What really annoys me about
designer labels is people who spend ridiculous amounts of money on
something with a name just because they think it makes them look like
someone. Let me tell you, it doesn't. Anyone who comes into my line of
vision clutching a 500 quid handbag and thinking it makes them "somebody"
let me tell you - it doesn't. What it makes you is an ars*hole, and the
people who suckered you into buying it are laughing all the way to the
Bahamas.

I also have my doubts about certain merchandise. I bought two pairs of
501's from Levis in Bicester village last year for £40 each. Within six
months they were gone between the legs. I attempted to contact head office
with a letter of complaint, but they just fobbed me off and told me it was
the store's responsibility and to take it back to the shop with the
receipt. Well who keeps receipts for things like jeans after six months?
Not me, that's for sure. So I decided not to bother and just write about it
on here instead. Caveat empor.

I'm glad I don't drive any more because I could rant in depth about the
number of times I have got caught trying to get past Tesco's roundabout at
the weekend and get stuck owing to the hordes of people trying to get into
Bicester Village, but thankfully now I rely on pedal power this is no
longer an issue.

10:00 PM
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  • 1 Apr 2007
The PS3 and the Litten Tree

Current mood:cheerful

Hello,
No blog entry yesterday, as I was hooked on playing the new PS3 - it really is out of this world.

Spent most of the afternoon hooking it all up, getting it registered etc. Then loaded in Formula One and had a good bash at that. I've also got a couple of other games to try out as well.

Can also watch DVD's etc on it, which is good as my cheap old DVD player really wasn't up to much. I'm going to give it to my Dad, it's his birthday next week, and he hasn't got a DVD player yet. In fact I think he only got a video a couple of years ago.

Anyway, did not get out to the pub last night until about 11pm when I went to the hob. It was packed in there, and one of those nights when all of my friends were scattered around the pub at different tables, hence it was necessary to circulate around the pub. It was incredibly smoky in there again last night, still only 3 months now until the ban comes in.

Sat with one of my best friends, Lil for a while who was in a good mood as she's secured a new job. I'm pleased her life seems to be on the up. Liz, another best friend who lives next door was also there, and gave me some positive feedback on these blogs which she has been reading, thank-you! Other people in the pub worthy of mention included Carolyn, Pinky, Baz, Matt, Bex, Fliss and Mel.

After finishing at the hob went over the road to the Litten Tree. It was absolutely rammed in there last night, it must be the end of the month. Saw lots of other friends over there, it really was a good night to pick to go out. The DJ was playing pretty much the same music he plays every week though, in the same order. I don't know why he doesn't just record it all and stick a tape on each week it would be far easier. In fact I am not convinced he doesn't already, because you can guarantee that if "Out Of Space" is played, then "On A Ragga Tip" will directly follow it.

Don't get me wrong, I like the music in there I just think a little more imagination is called for. When I am DJ'ing down the road, I play different music every week and I play to my audience. I could do that gig in the Litten Tree, no worries.

This seems to be turning into a review of the Litten Tree, well to fill in the gaps here's my other views. I have to admit when it first opened I was not keen at all and didn't go in, preferring to stay in the hob. But I have warmed to it over time, and to be honest it is quite a decent venue. In fact it is the only large night club style place we have. I know that that there is G's, but that's quite different really in design, and style, and the other large venue is the Penny Black, but let's face it, you can hardly enjoy yourself in there. More of that at a later date.

One other thing that is somewhat annoying is having to queue outside to get in - ok fair enough when it is full, but they even do it when it is half full. Presumably to make the punters think it is busy and therefore the place to be. Well, everyone seems to fall for it so must be a good tactic. It is slightly annoying having to pay, and to add insult to injury, certain people are on a priviliged "guest list" which means they can waltz up to the front door and go straight in, enraging the already booze fuelled tempers of the more volatile members of the queue. Speaking of which, if you are a fan of live boxing, this used to be the place to go at one time, but it seems to have quietened down a lot now. Either people in Bicester are becoming better behaved or the bouncers have got things better under control, I don't know which.

I have to say though on the whole, Bicester night life has benefitted from the addition of the Litten Tree, and I think perhaps there may be room for more such venues as the town continues to grow. Let's see what the new complex behind Tesco's brings.
7:38 PM
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  • 30 Mar 2007
Money

Current mood:accomplished

Finally managed to get to the bank today and sort out my finances. Having such large sums of money sitting on deposit where it can be got at easily quite frankly scares me, given my past record, for shall we say, dubious financial decisions.

I've seen plenty of other people over the years who've had large sums of money on their hands piss it up the wall and I don't want to be one of them.

Anyway I have pretty much tied up the lot now in various stocks, shares and corporate bonds. Most of these are reasonably safe conveyances but I couldn't resist putting a small percentage (basically about £7,000) into some higher risk areas - which could spectacularly succeed or fail. Maybe I will get lucky and invest in the next Richard Branson. Then I could fulfill my ultimate dream of taking over the hob and banning all townies.

Now that I have given up conventional gambling i.e. the horses etc this at least gives me a little speculative excitement.

The whole point of tying my money up like this is that I cannot get at it very easily. I am not intending to buy another house in the short term for reasons stated in an earlier blog and can afford to live pretty cheaply renting so it seems the best way for me. Doubtless knowing my luck some global catastrophe will occur tomorrow and wipe it all out, but never mind, it's only money, and money has never brought me happiness.

I'm way happier living in my little rented cottage with my low paid job and my simple life style than I ever was poncing around in a suit at conferences with all the other arseholes.Though admittedly if I hadn't done that for all those years I would not be in the happy position of relative wealth that I am today. But I am never going back there, would rather live in a cardboard box, as long as I've got the trust and respect of my family and friends that is all I care about.

The money's out of sight, out of mind now, it can do it's own thing. Just knowing it is there in case I really do need it some day is enough. I have arranged a deal where I will get paid some in dividends, the rest will be re-invested into growth hopefully.

Of course - I haven't salted it all away. Kept enough back for a PS3, a good holiday and an up and coming summer on the beer! (well cider probably). Cheers!

7:33 PM
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  • 30 Mar 2007
Bicester Pubs

Current mood:mellow

Bicester has its fair share of pubs, though it has not changed much in the years that I have been here. I think there is more than enough room for further development.

I have views on a few of the pubs, based on my experiences over the years I have been here, and thought I might kick off tonight with some thoughts about the Six Bells.

The reason I start with this one, is that it was the first pub I ever went into in Bicester. On my first night here back in 1991, once I'd moved in my house was just full of boxes and the cooker had not been connected. So I walked into town, got some chips from the chippy on Sheep Street, which I believe to now be an opticians and then walked up through Market Square and sat on the wall by the church and ate my chips. Then saw the Six Bells and Swan and decided to go for a pint.

Well the Six Bells struck me as quite an old fashioned place, but quite friendly and with a good selection of beer. Those people who know me now as the Strongbow swilling bloke that I am will probably be quite surprised to know that Real Ale was my tipple in those days. The locals were friendly and they also had a bar billiard table. You don't see many of them now, they'ev all been replaced by pool tables. Anyway, I soon discovered other pubs and moved on.

But I still called in the "Bells" occasionally. And in 2003 we decided to move the Aunt Sally team from the Hob to the Six Bells. Why did we do this? Well, it was because to be quite honest we were not happy with the treatment we were getting since Pete's departure from the pub. Having endured weeks of at best indifference from the incumbent landlord, it all came to a head one night in August of that year.

On the evening in question, we had once again suffered the ritual humiliation of attempting to hold our home match in the Hobgoblin. The first sign of trouble came approximately half a mile away when we first heard the moronic thumping racket that indicated that the pub had a band on. Having managed to purchase a warm and flat pint of cider, and having successfully forced my way through the army of leather clad Satan clones into the garden it transpired that we had no sticks. In fact the sticks were hundreds of miles in the bag of Eggy's car. Eggy being our captain, who had decided on a whim to go to Alton Towers for the day taking a significant part of the team with him, but without telling the remainder of the team. Unfortunately the bag also contained the doll, rendering the away team's offer of allowing us to use their sticks rather academic. An attempt to borrow a doll from the Angel was unsuccessful.

I had asked Swin at the start of the season if he could provide sausages and chips for us. However his interpretation of this was not really what I had in mind.

So rather than hang around and wait to see if he was going to provide his usual platter of delicacies i.e. Egg Sandwiches, Onion Rings (the crisps that come in a green packet from Tesco's), Chips (also crisps from Tesco's called "crispy sticks") and Sausages (cold hot dog sausages from a tin), we decided to go and play the match at the away team's venue instead (Rodney House). They were surprisingly alright about it considering, though they did win 3-0 including the beer leg so they were bound to be happy).

Anyway I was supposed to be talking about the Six Bells. What happened was that in the end the following season we moved the team to the Six Bells which has a much nicer garden, cheaper beer, decent food and to top it all they show the At The Races channel all evening and never have crappy bands on. In fact our resident host Dave provides us with a dazzling array of food which he never accepts money for. We can look forward to a buffet of pork pies, sausages, scotch eggs, chips or roast potatoes, sandwiches, and more. Dave is one of the old school of landlords who will look after his regulars and believes he has the right to say what he wants in his own pub. We need more like him, not the faceless drones who run the ever prevalent chain pubs that are destroying our traditional pubs.

Well I will deal with the Hob more fully in a future edition, but for now, it's thumbs up for the Six Bells.
By the way if anyone is wondering what Aunt Sally is I will cover this in a future edition when the season starts.
1:53 AM
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  • 29 Mar 2007
Office jobs

Current mood:mischievous

I finally heard today that apparently I am getting a new contract at the place where I currently work. I have been there since last year on a temporary contract which runs out this Friday.

I am somewhat annoyed that it has taken so long to get confirmation, and I still have nothing in writing but it appears that they do want to keep me as I have made a good impression there.

I work for a large government agency, and whilst I do not earn anything like what I did in the past the job is quite easy and convenient for me. It can also be rather dull at times and I have had a number of run ins with people I work with, all whom are perfectly nice people, but the modern office environment where people are together in confined spaces for long periods of time invariably leads to problems. If you fall out with someone at home or in the pub you can walk away - in an office there is no escape! Fortunately I can go home for an hour a day at lunchtime which helps - in the old days when I worked in Oxford and elsewhere this was not an option.

In most modern offices there are very few places to hide. The tendency to herd people together into conditions that would be considered inhumane for battery hens, means that privacy is an outdated concept and sleeping is completely out of the question. Unless you are a smoker you have nowhere to escape to. Except for one. In past jobs I was so unhappy I remember a time where the only solace to be found was in the toilets.

Over 15 years I developed a good knowledge of the geography of the large building in which I worked and was able to plan my "rest breaks" accordingly. Here then is my free guide to making the most of office toilets.
When you begin at a new place of work, it is well worth exploring the building and getting to know the layout of the loos. Naturally some will be busier than others, and the number of stalls will vary.

Firstly you need to locate an area where the traffic is likely to be light. For example, if you work in a business where there is an imbalance of males and females in different divisions then all the better, as a male you want to be looking for a bathroom on a floor that is female dominated.

In terms of size, the fewer stalls the better. The dream scenario is just one, particularly if it's entirely self – contained, i.e. sink, urinal etc all behind one locked door equals guaranteed privacy. However, if this is not possible, there are also other things you can potentially do to increase your privacy. For example, one of the bathrooms I used to use at one former place of employment had those sliding locks which you can lock/ unlock from the outside. What I would do was to go into the bathroom, lock all of the other doors from the outside then go into the one remaining stall. To anyone coming into the room it would look like all of the stalls were occupied and they would just go straight out again. For maximum effect you might want to consider taking along some shoes to strategically place in each cubicle just in case anyone becomes suspicious and looks under the door.

As for what to do in the toilet, well apart from the obvious there are a number of ways of keeping yourself entertained. A good choice is the mobile phone – this is an idea time to catch up with your text messages, alternatively you can work on beating your all time highest score on "Snake". The next step up from this is a Gameboy, the most recent editions are small enough to slip comfortably into a jacket pocket, and with their sleek modern look could easily be mistaken for a mobile phone or PDA. It's best to keep the volume down though as a precaution.

Then of course there is always sleeping, quite difficult to get into a comfortable position, but achievable. Possible positions include resting the head on the toilet roll holder or turning round 180 degrees and resting your head on the cistern, this does appear to make it look as if you are hugging the toilet, but since as far as I am aware CCTV has not yet been installed in office toilets, who is going to know?

If you are planning to spend a long stint in the toilet it is probably best to take some sort of folder or paperwork along, and make sure your colleagues see you leave, as they will naturally assume you are in some sort of meeting. For maximum effect you can put a half hour long appointment in your calendar and mark it private. If anyone checks to see where you are they will assume you are in some sort of very important meeting. If they ask you when you come back, just mumble something about "HR" and "confidential" and you should be left alone.

Well I hope that is useful. Fortunately I have not had to employ such tactics at my new place of work yet, though I strongly suspect that one of my colleagues is, as he seems to spend large periods of time "missing in action" so to speak, so perhaps I am not alone in my madness. Has any of this struck a chord with you?

Tomorrow I face a dreaded day of training, in of all places, Aylesbury. I do not approach the day with enthusiasm.
3:52 AM
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  • 28 Mar 2007
Karaoke
Current mood:tired

Last night was Monday night, which can mean only one thing. Yes, since way
back in the mists of time (about 1992 in fact), every Monday night has been
Karaoke night at G's wine bar.

I am pretty sure that this was the first venue in Bicester to get karaoke,
and probably one of the first in the country. It was run by "Big Dave", who
was just starting up his karaoke business, which is still going strong
today.

It has been run in a variety of guises and with a number of different
presenters including yours truly, but the basic format of the night has not
changed. Monday's quite a low key night in the pub trade, yet G's in its
heyday and sometimes still today can be packed out late in the evening with
pop star wannabes, confidence awash to the brim with the evening's alcohol
consumption.

It kicks off around 9pm and goes on until midnight. However it often can be
quite quiet for the first hour or two, only bursting into life later on as
the other pubs empty out. This can provide quite a headache for the
presenter with last night being no exception. Struggling to find singers
for the first two hours, there was then an influx of people coming in, all
wanting to sing with not much time left on the clock. I try and be fair to
everyone and rotate the slips as best possible, but sometimes there just
isn't enough time - the message to all is clear - get there earlier.

Karaoke attracts all sorts of different singers - from George with his
motown classics, to the young girls who want to sing the latest hits, and
my good friend Fliss who just wants to rock! You can hear a recent chart
hit, followed by a 50's rock and roll classic, with two generations between
the two singers. Karaoke seems to have a way of bringing people and
generations together, and it's great when there's a real buzzing atmos in
the place with everyone singing along.

It's also a good way to meet new people and get noticed. When I first went
in G's all those years ago I didn't know anyone, but after I sang a few
songs people knew who I was so it led to conversations and friendships,
many of which have lasted to this day.

99% of the time it is great fun and entertainment. As a karaoke host and
participant, however, there are pitfalls, and in no particular order here
are my Top 5 list of annoying behaviours seen at karaoke nights.

1) People who come in every week and sing the same song or songs -
sometimes for decades at a time. Be imaginative! I am always trying new
songs. Admittedly most of them turn out to be awful, but every now and then
you find an undiscovered gem.

2) People who come in half an hour before the pub shuts and write out 4
karaoke slips when they can see there are a dozen or so queued up and
expect to sing them all.

3) People who come up to you and ask you if you have a certain song. I ask
them to look in the book, but they just say well have you got it. As of yet
I have not memorised all 3000+ songs. These are also the ones who take the
presenter's book off the top of the telly and don't return it, then wonder
when I can't find their song when they've written an unintelligible scrawl
on the slip without a disc number.

4) People who come in drunk, walk  or leer in front of the screen when
someone is singing, interrupt the presenter when talking/ loading discs
between singers, even when in the middle of singing on occasions, or who
harass the female singers. These are usually males of a certain age and
occupation who are new in town.

5) People who sing anything by Westlife, Boyzone or Ronan Keating,
particulary the cringe-inducing "Words".

Other than that it's great!

1:30 AM
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  • 26 Mar 2007
Greek Holidays

Current mood:melancholy

I'm feeling curiously blue today, when I have no real need to. I have a girlfriend who is devoted to me, money in the bank, a job (at least until Friday - long story) and the sun is shining. So why am I feeling the blues? Probably due to spending and drinking to excess over the weekend and feeling guilty about it. Either that or it is just one of those days. According to a song by The Cardigans, we each have 30 "Black Letter Days", the opposite of "Red Letter Days" each year, and you just have to put up with them.

On the subject of money, I am getting more than a little annoyed with my bank, as I am trying to set up an ISA before the tax year ends but they are sidetracking me with trying to sell my life insurance, critical illness cover etc etc, all products on which they can earn a nice commission. I am determined not to let my nest egg be eroded, yet I do want to spend some money on myself, and I am in the process of booking a holiday, for Claire and me.
It would be easy to go mad, in the style of my round the world trip three years ago but I have decided to settle on a couple of weeks in Greece. Not for me though the big resorts of Faliraki, Kos etc - I have been there and done that, and following my last trip ahve decided I do not want to arrive in a resort again and be confronted with McDonalds and Burger King. I want to get off the beaten track and find the real Greece, what's left of it. So I have my heart set on 2 weeks in Skopelos, Alonnisos and Skiathos, staying on at least two and exploring all three. Only Skiathos has an airport, so the other islands will be quiet and going in September it will be all the better.
I have had a number of Greek holidays over the years, in fact my very first flight was as late as 1990, when we went to Paxos. Because Paxos was so small it did not have an airport, therefore we had to fly to Corfu and take a boat that took four hours to get to Paxos. It was a lot of travelling.That was about as off the beaten track you could get. There were not even any cars on the island at that time, and most of the restaurants seemed to be extensions of people's houses.

Most of the other Greek holidays I have had in more recent years have been in areas where mass tourism has taken off. Corfu, Rhodes, Kos and Zante were all disappointing. I am sure there were very nice places to stay in those islands we were just unfortunate enough to be lumbered in with either the lager louts or the chip brigade or both. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy myself because I did, but I yearn for the more traditional side of Greece, and having been all over the world now, holidays which are like Britain abroad no longer satisfy me.

However there was one place that was different and that was Crete. I went there with my long term girlfriend, Janina who I split up with last year. It was our first proper holiday together in September/ October 2001. We arrived in the middle of the biggest September heatwave for 40 years. The temperature was well over 100 degrees every day for the first week, and we only had a tiny apartment with no air conditioning – it was quite impossible to sleep at night. Apart from that it was a beautiful place with a lovely beach and what effectively amounted to a private pool, since there was no-one else there. It was out to the west of Crete in the Gulf Of Chania area where mass tourism had not yet arrived and it was very nice. Most of the tavernas seemed to be family run affairs and we were frequently offered extras such as cakes baked by the grandmother that morning. All of the food was home cooked and there was plenty of it - I was going through one of my larger phases at the time and that trip certainly didn't help.

These blogs are becoming like episodes of Lost. I start off in the present and then go into flashbacks about past episodes of my life. Perhaps it is a theme I shall continue.It's 7:30pm now and still light. I love it when the clocks go forwards, I wish they could stay permanently advanced one hour. In fact this light evening is beginning to significantly lighten my mood, perhaps it is not such a bad day after all. Till tomorrow then.
5:36 PM
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  • 26 Mar 2007
Thoughts on house prices etc

Current mood:hungry

Well, it's Sunday - a day of rest - or in most people's cases a day of recovery after the weekend. My eyes were a lot better by last night so I decided to vanture out for a few drinks with Claire, since we've been cooped up in the house all week.

Started off at my long term local "The Hob". I have been drinking in here for years. It is a rock pub which attracts a diverse range of characters, but always has a good atmosphere. It is not as good as it was in the heyday of Pete and Sue Thornton but it's still good and has recently got a lot better with Wilkie taking over.

We tend to move around the pub according to what tables are available but last night managed to get what would be closest to being called our regular table, the one down near the front under the blackboard. A lot of the long standing friends were in attendance, including Carolyn and Laura with whom I have long friendships which go way back. The place was packed and extrememly smoky but my eye stood up well to it. I cannot wait for the smoking ban to come in, it is going to be interesting to see how pubs like the hob cope, bearing in mind that the vast majority of its clientele are smokers (myself excepted). It has to be said that the smoke is something that gives the hob its unique atmosphere.

We went on to the Litten Tree afterwards where we bumped into a few more friends. Not many of the hob crowd joined us, they seem to prefer the Angel for a late drink these days, but it's not really my scene, I need something livelier. We did not stay long at the Litten Tree as unfortunately they ran out of Strongbow, so nipped down to G's for a last drink, before heading home to my rented cottage just off Market Square.

I recently sold my house to move here, and have attracted some criticism for coming off the property ladder, but I have my reasons. It's amazing to think that I have been in Bicester now for 16 years. I grew up in Eynsham, about 15 miles away. By the time I was 21, I working full time, and so was my girlfriend at the time (Emma) and we wanted to buy a house, which was quite a normal thing for people in their early 20's to do back then before house prices skyrocketed like they did.

In 1991 a recession had begun to bite and house prices were dropping like a stone after an eighties boom similar to what we have now. Despite this it was going to be quite hard to find somewhere decent, even with us both earning. One of the problems with living in Oxfordshire then is that the cost of living and of housing was nearly as high as in London, but wages don't reflect this. On what we were earning we could have comfortably afforded a decent 3 or even 4 bedroomed house up north, but we couldn't even scrape together enough for a flat in Oxford. The South of the county was just as bad, but further north there was a lot of house building going on in Bicester and Banbury. These areas were seen as less affluent than towns in the South such as Abingdon and Wantage which meant that we might just get enough money together for a starter home there.

Bicester seemed ideal and so we went to look around the new houses being built on the Langford Village and Southwold estates. The showhomes were very impressive. We also went to the estate agents and they showed us round some other suitable properties both on the new estates and in the town. Southwold looked quite smart in those days, and we found a nice one bed place up there, which we bought for  £46,500. I thought we were getting a good deal, especially when the estate agents told us that the house had been sold as new, only a year ago at £55,000. However we should have held on longer. We thought we were buying at the bottom of the cycle, that's what the estate agents kept saying, but in reality we were only half way down. By the time another year had passed we were in negative equity with the house valued at just £35,000.

It all goes to show, estate agents, building societies etc all like to paint a rosy picture of things, and as things currently stand I cannot see how house prices can possibly continue to grow like they have been. I don't know any people in their 20's now that can afford to buy a house. Even those with a decent wage, say £20,000 still need at least 7x that to buy the smallest one bed place in Bicester. I firmly believe there will be a crash and I have sold my house and put the money in the bank ready for the downturn. Don't believe them when they say it will go up forever, people used to believe that about the stock markets and then look what happened in 2001. The FTSE etc practically halved in a few months.

Estate agents, mortgage brokers etc they are all wanting to sell and the higher the price paid the more they make? Where is all this money coming from? The whole country is up to its eyeballs in credit, more people are going bankrupt every day, but we are being convinced that everything is rosy. It cannot go on like this, there must be a correction soon, no matter what the media might say.

Well I have ranted on a fair bit there. It is time now to go and check on the dinner, it's Roast Beef tonight, bought off the deli in Sainsbury. I usually get my meat from the butchers but this looked like a nice joint so we will see how it goes. I am certainly looking forward to it. I am still struggling to fully get to grips with using the Aga in my kitchen which seems somewhat temperemental and it not easily adjustable but everyone who comes in here raves about how great they are so it must be my fault things keep coming out wrong.

 A nice quiet night tonight with a glass or two of red wine and some more episodes of Lost, I am currently working my way through the box sets. Back tomorrow I would think.

12:26 AM
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  • 24 Mar 2007
Saturday Shopping

Current mood:bouncy

Today is Saturday, my favourite day of the week - I get to indulge in all of my favourite pastimes. That includes buying and cooking nice food, and then spending the evening with friends in various Bicester hostelries.
My lifestyle has changed somewhat in recent years, as I will go into more detail into in future blogs. However, as of last year I took the bold step to give up driving. I sold my car, moved into the town centre, got a job within walking/ cycling distance and decided to see if I could live life without a car.

Up until a couple of years ago I was a client manager in a global research company, and spent many of my days going up and down endless motorways in the company volvo, eating at Little Chef's, then having business lunches with clients. In a few short years I ballooned to gargantuan proportions, and then had a major health scare. And I was unhappy, and stressed all the time. After that I decided that life was too short, and took voluntary redundancy.

Sold my house, sold my car, found a nice place to rent in town at much less than I was paying for the mortgage on a house worth £200,000 and altogether downgraded my life. I have a full time job at present (though for how much longer I don't know), which pays less than half what I used to earn in my high flying days, but I have never been happier. I cycle or walk everywhere, I've lost 3 stone in weight and I am fitter than ever. If I had gone on like I was I would have had a heart attack by now.

So for all those enslaved to their mortgages and careers, think twice, you are only here once after all. I have a pretty easy life style now. I have made new friends of a like mind, people who just want to enjoy their lives. I will never again have to go to awful conferences and company meetings full of people trying to climb the corporate ladder, kissing the bosses ass, and all the rest of it. Believe me it is not worth it!

Now, today, I actually did travel somewhere by car - Claire's mother (Jane) took us to Sainsbury's in Kidlington to do a "big shop". This is something that I used to do on a weekly basis, but generally don't do any more due to the lack of car. In fact this was the first such trip since before Christmas. However, the opportunity was there so I went and we somehow managed to spend £105, though admittedly that did include 6 bottles of red wine and a slab of Strongbow.

Mostly these days I have got into the habit of shopping in town and it is something I really enjoy. I think we have all been so brainwashed into the habit of doing weekly superstore shops we have forgotten the simple pleasures of going into all the local shops. I like nothing better on a Saturday that wandering into the Butchers, Bakers, Greengrocers etc and buying things indivdually tailored to my needs, and enjoying the chat with the shopkeepers as well. You get a level of personal service you do not get in Supermarkets which are quite frankly soulless places. And at least in the case of the Greengrocers, it is cheaper too.

There has been a lot made in the press of how all of Britain's high streets look the same and how the big businesses are killing off the small local traders. I think Bicester has survived better than most, perhaps because we have only one out of town supermarket, but the signs are there. Both Hadleigh's and Ashmore's have gone, never to return, and more chains are moving in e.g. Costa Coffee. I have been in there and I did not enjoy it. Give me a toasted teacake and a coffee in the back of Nash's any day of the week. It's vital we support these local concerns because if we do not, give it another decade or so, and all you will see down Sheep St will be Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King etc. Just like everywhere else. Doubtless some would say that would be a good thing, but I certainly don't.

Right, off to watch a bit of racing now, and then I will be cooking tonight's meal. I have bought some lean steak mince and I am going to make some home made burgers according to my own old family secret recipe - which I may share with you some time, especially my own secret tip for dealing with the onions which as far as I know, nobody else does!

9:25 PM
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  • 24 Mar 2007
Bicester Blog

Current mood:creative

Well, here goes with the blog. My main aim in joining myspace was to find an outlet for my writing in the public domain.

I have done a variety of different writing over the years, including plays, an autobiography and various articles some of which on my love of racing were published in the Racing Post.

In this blog I intend to record my observations and experiences of life living and working in Bicester, my adoptive home town, to which I moved in 1991. Whether this will be of the remotest interest to anyone is beyond me, but we will have to see what develops.

I am currently confined to base with conjunctivitis, hence why I am on the PC at this time on a Friday night, when ordinarily I would be propping up the bar in the Hobgoblin, my local. With the level of smoke in there and the state of my eyes it really would not be a good idea tonight, and besides I have not been to work for two days so it's hardly a good idea to be seen out boozing.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

7:09 AM
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