Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Blog Archive Volume Three

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. The reason they are on here is I am moving everything across from Myspace - which has had its day. But I don't believe in editing or sanitising things - so here they are, complete in their original form.
  • 5 May 2007
Aunt Sally Update 

Current mood:rushed

Here is this week's Aunt Sally newsletter:
There are some unfamiliar names sitting up at the top of the individual stats tables this weekend, thanks to the lower division teams playing one more game than those in the top flight.

Andy Burman heads the rankings for the Fountain - he is best known for reaching the final of the singles competition two years ago. His dolls helped his side to a 2-1 derby victory over the Prince of Wales B.

Henry Young's dolls led the Sow & Pigs to a stunning upset in the cup, turning over stalwarts Bull & Butcher B. The Sow & Pigs did not achieve much last season but are now becoming a force to be reckoned with and have earned themselves a second round tie against one of the big guns from the top flight, the Bull.

Also upsetting the applecart were the Crown B, another improving team who scored an amazing win over division two pacesetters Prince of Wales A, in what looked, on paper the toughest task in the round. But the match of the night was undoubtedly that between the Angel and the Hobgoblin which saw the Hob get their first win back in the league in style, winning 3-0 with their new secret weapon Sophie Taylor's dolls helping them on their way. I'm also pleased to say that the Hob now under new management have revamped the kitchen and are doing some excellent food. As guest of honour at the match I was permitted to sample the after match fare and I have to say the pizza was superb, my compliments to the chef. Just as well really since we have drawn them in the next round and I can't say I was looking forward to what we had the last team we played there under the old management, where my request for sausages was met with Tesco value hot dog sausages uncooked out of a tin.

I did not receive two cards - the one from the Crown A match which I am told is on the way and the one from Croughton vs Six Bells A. I have been told Six Bells A won, but I don't know by what score so I have put it down as 2-1 for now. Remember that to get individual stats credited I have to get the card.

Anyone who has got the technology can scan and email the card - I had one sent that way this week.

The remaining first division teams caught up their fixtures this week which leaves us with 3 teams sharing the top spot on 5 points each.

The draw for the second round of the cup has been done and is on the results sheet. Remember that the losers from that round will join those teams that were knocked out this week in the first round of the Plate, which begins in June.

Finally congratulations to Eddie Gordon of Bicester Town FC, our latest "sixer". It is a good job we have plenty of money in the account for trophies as we are going to be handing plenty out for sixes this year if we carry on at this rate.
3:40 PM
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  • 3 May 2007
Decade without a cause

Current mood:thoughtful

It seems hardly any time ago that we were eagerly awaiting the dawn of the new millenium, wondering if the millenium bug was going to lead to planes falling out of the sky and visiting the over-rated tourist attraction and white elephant to be that was the Millenium Dome.

Amazing is it not then, that at the end of next month we will already be three quarters of the way through this decade. Where did it all go? Well in my case, in the pub mostly, but it got me thinking about how we will look back on this decade when it has gone.

When you think back to the decades of the past, each conjures up its own images. The 1940's of wartime and rationing. The 1960's was about the Beatles, flower power, JFK and men on the moon. The 80's was the age of the yuppies, home computers, new romantics, and Maggie Thatcher. I could say the same for any decade, apart from this one. What sets this decade apart from the others? Well it has to be said, very little.

To start with, it does not even have a proper name. We all talk about the 80's and 90's but what is this decade called? I have heard it called the "Noughties" a few times but this is hardly a term that has fallen into daily use, and to me it just does not sound right. So what are the alternatives? The 2000's? Hardly trips off the tongue does it.
It got me thinking in fact that we have the same problem when talking about the opening two decades of the 20th century. Yes, everyone talks about the twenties and thirties, but what do they call the decade from 1910 to 1919? You never hear anyone talk about the "teens" do you? Most people invariable associate that decade with the 1st World War, so word references to that decade around that topic, I guess. Rather than saying "in the teens" they will say "during World War 1". Likewise the decade from 1900 to 1909 does not have a name either. People talking about this decade usually refer to it as "Edwardian Times" which roughly covers that period. So what's the equivalent for our decade? "Blair Times?" I cannot see it myself?

So what are we going to call our decade? Answers on a postcard please…

It is not merely the lack of a name it is the lack of an identity. For me the one thing that defines a decade is its music. From the excitement of punk in the seventies through to the Brit Pop of the nineties, they were defining moments in our lives, Depending on when we were born, this music provided the soundtracks to us all, it was the backdrop to which our generation drank, smoked joints, and lost their virginity to, every key moment of our young lives defined by pop music.

15 years ago they were doing all this to Nirvana but what is there today? What is this decade's defining music? Pop idol winners, boy bands, cover versions of old hits it is hardly stuff we are going to look back on in 20 years time. And what else is new in this decade? Inventions are slowing down. Yes we have PS3's ipods and DVD's, but they are only upgraded versions of what we had in the 80's when it was Spectrums, Walkmans and Videos – and those things really were knew.

So come on world we've got two and a half years left to make this decade worth remembering. And to come up with a decent name for it because we will need one for all those nostalgia shows they will be making about it in fifteen years time. And we need something to be nostalgic about.

Apart from the Aunt Sally update on Saturday the blog will be taking a break over the bank holiday weekend and will return on Tuesday.

2:12 PM
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  • 2 May 2007
Getting blood from stones

Current mood:angry

Much as I enjoy writing my blogs I am finding it difficult to maintain the level of intensity by writing a daily entry and am concerned that I may be diluting the quality somewhat. Therefore I have decided to reduce my blog to 4 days a week from now on, to be published Monday to Thursday (excluding bank holidays).

Today's blog is on the subject of refunds, cancellations and insurance. Or to put it another way, "getting blood out of a stone". It seems there are certain organisations who once you sign on the dotted line (or even don't sign in some cases) they will take your money as long as they can and make it impossible for you to cancel.
When you ring any company these days you are presented with a multitude of choices on the automated answering system. Average wait times for the various options usually go something like this.

1)         If you would like to make a purchase press 1….(normally answered within 30 seconds).
2)         If you are thinking of cancelling your account press 2…(might be answered within 30 hours if you are lucky.

The company I would single out as the worst offender in my history of such problems is NTL with whom it took several months to stop them taking money from my account long after I had changed my number back to BT (a case of come back BT, all is forgiven) and cancelled their cable service which worked about as often Arthur Fowler in Eastenders. But there have been many other incidents over the years that have made my blood boil, including:
A travel insurance company who refused to refund me the cost of my holiday because they said the cause of my cancellation was a pre-existing medical condition. This was based on one slightly elevated blood pressure reading months earlier, prior to being hospitalised on the eve of the holiday. Result – despite trying to get the ombudman involved - loss of £1,000

The inland revenue who taxed me in full for the 2005/2006 tax year even though I only worked 3 months of it. When they asked for evidence I got a statement from the job centre and photocopied it and sent it to them. They refused saying they must have the original. When I sent the original they claimed never to have received it. They said I should have sent it recorded delivery. In fact the snotty woman on the end of the phone actually said "oh well it you didn't send it recorded delivery it's not out fault – you can't prove we ever received it". It was actually said in a tone that implied they had deliberately lost it, knowing it would screw me over. The jobcentre refused to issue a replacement as well, so I had no evidence left. Result – loss of £1,000

I could go on and list more, but the real reason why I've raised this issue today, is that something happened this morning that absolutely incensed me.

A year ago whilst I was comfortably settled in St Annes Close with no concept of the storms that lay ahead in my life, I decided to take out a subscription to Setanta Sports. I had SKY at the time. I did not want to pay monthly by direct debit so rang up to take advantage of an offer to pay for 12 months in advance. I authorised this as a one off payment through my credit card, with a commitment for 12 months.

Unfortunately due to my relationship break up and subsequently leaving the house, I was gone by the end of August but having paid for a year in advance reluctantly bit the bullet and realised I was going to have to pay for 8 months I was not going to be able to watch. I did not bother to cancel because the contract said that you had to pay the minimum 12 month period then you could give a month's notice to cancel. I cancelled my subscription with SKY and informed them of my change of address, and then thought nothing more of it.

Imagine my annoyance then on receiving my credit card statement today to find out that Setanta Sports have charged a further £180 for another full year, as of the beginning of April. Now forgive me if I am wrong, but I gave them my credit card details once for one payment. At no point did I sign anything to say they could take another payment a year later. I don't believe this to be acceptable, not without informing me. When I rang them they said they SKY had given them my new address, yet they have not sent me any correspondence not even a reminder.
They also say that because I have paid this £180 up front I have also committed to another 12 months. Well nowhere does it say that in any paperwork I have. The ludicrous thing is I do not even have SKY so how can they justify charging me for a service I cannot even watch.

I have written a stern letter requesting a refund. If this is not successful I am going to contact my credit card company and tell them that I consider this to be an unauthorised transaction. I know no-one ever replies or comments on these blogs, however if there is anyone out there who knows anything about this sort of thing please can you offer some advice now.

There is no way I am going to let them get away with this. I will take legal action if I have to. £180 is a miniscule sum of money in the scheme of things but it is the principle here, I am fed up with losing money to companies like this.

8:18 AM
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  • 1 May 2007
The Hobgoblin

Current mood:energetic

It's time to continue our occasional series on the pubs of Bicester with a look at that old favourite the Hobgoblin.
This was a pub I frequented a fair bit on my early days in Bicester when it was known as "The Bell". It really was not a great deal different to how it is today, except perhaps a bit cleaner. In the mid 90's it was taken over by Wychwood breweries who re-branded a whole chain of pubs as "Hobgoblin". Unlike some re-brandings which generally I don't agree with, they got this exactly right and completed captured the mood of the pub's regulars.
I remained an infrequent visitor, however the arrival of new management, Pete and Sue Thornton in the autumn of 1997 heralded in the Hob's golden age, and it quickly became my local.

As management go, they were just great, and put on many events and theme nights as well as quickly ensuring the place had the best jukebox in town. In the late 90's there was no where else I wanted to be, and I formed many long term friendships with people at that time that are still around today.

Memorable highlights included the 1998 Halloween party, at which I won the "who looked the stupidest after having a custard pie stuck in their face" competition, and the 2000 New Years Eve party at which I did an 80's set in my hour stint as DJ – we all used to take it in turns in those days.

We formed a golf society known as the "HOGS". This originally stood for Hobgoblin Golf Society but was later changed to the "Heavily Overweight Golf Society". When it started this was great fun and all of us would go out about once a month throughout the year playing various competitions. I never really troubled the judge in any of these, as my golf as anyone who knows me well is poor at best and absolutely diabolical at worst. I never managed a birdie yet, but I have probably killed a fair few ducks and fish with the number of balls I have hit into lakes over the years. The number of comedy golf tales about me are many, but I shall leave those for others to tell. Anyway I was not the worse player by any means there were one or two who were there purely for amusement value, bringing back cards full of double figure scores.

We had a Captain's Day weekend away at some hotel in Hertfordshire which was the scene of some of the most drunken bad behaviour I have ever seen from the people in question. Apart from the usual vomiting and lecherous behaviour – the young female waitress in the hotel was given a very tough time by some individuals, and various other incidents, the highlight for me being one indivdual who will remain nameless who decided to urinate on the club captain's sign.

Although being great fun, the golf society was run by a committee which contained one or two very strong willed individuals and over time this led to several arguments and clashes. Holding endless meetings listening to certain people droning on and on and on and even attempting to discipline people – holding a kangaroo court in the back garden of the hob to tell somone off for swearing was one I remember, and the whole thing was becoming ridiculous, so I quit, in a blaze of glory, sending out a spectacularly damning (and I thought amusing) email to the rest of the committee. Another year or two and various arguments abounding and the whole thing fizzled out.
Pete and Sue really looked after us all, and did food for us when we got back from the Golf Society days. They usually made a curry which as you know I do not like, but Sue, bless her, used to make a few sausages and chips just for me. The pub did do food in those days, mostly some rather nice pizzas if I recall, but later food was dropped.

Unfortunately towards the end of 2001 Pete and Sue broke up and she moved away. Pete continued on his own for a while but eventually moved on, and was then replaced by a succesion of short term managers, before one of the former assistant managers returned to take over in 2003.

Despite still being a great pub, this period marked the start of a steady decline. It just was never the same again after Pete left. The pub become dirty and grimy, and the garden neglected. It was hard to believe this was the same pub that used to regularly win "Bicester in Bloom". Food became non-existent even after some pool and aunt sally matches. One manager felt that buying 16 spring rolls from the Chinese was sufficient, and we have already covered Swin's efforts in an earlier edition.

But my Friday nights continued and I still had a great time, as my friends were there. Some invariably fell by the wayside and now there is a new generation making its presence felt. The management has changed again recently, this time for the better, however with me spending increasing amounts of time in G's my time in the hob has reduced considerably. I have also found a lot of difficulty with certain people in the pub's attitude to Claire, they have made both her and myself feel unwelcome to the point that I feel I cannot go in there with her as part of a couple as people don't want to see me like that – they prefer me to be on my own. I don't really know why.
Despite these problems – it is still my local and it still my first choice.

2:12 PM
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  • 30 Apr 2007
Share dealing

Current mood:annoyed

For the last few weeks I have been studying and learning all about the stock market, with a view to making some investments. Unfortunately all of my money has been tied up with the bank and getting hold of it has been proving highly problematical. Basically I took out 3 investments with them before the end of the tax year, but decided to cancel one of the 3 and get the money back to invest myself.

However this has taken an inordinate amount of time. Everything has to be done in writing and it has to be to exact specifications and it all takes ages. I had to write two letters to get this thing cancelled and then when they eventually did get round to it, I was told it would take 9 working days to get the money back into my account. So here I am waiting with my money goodness knows where.

In the meantime I have been playing on a site called "Interactive Investor". This enables you to keep track of all your investements in real time so you can see how your shares are doing. You can also create "fictional" portfolios and see how they perform which is exactly what I have done.

And the result – my fictional portfolio has done spectacularly well, which is leaving me feeling mightily annoyed, as of course I don't have a penny of real money invested. It is the equivalent of fancying a horse, not backing it and seeing it romp home at 12/1. Most annoying of all was that if it had not taken the best part of a month to get my money back from the bank I would have actually made some of those investments and now be enjoying the fruits of my rewards.

Of course with my accursed bad luck as soon as I do make some investments some catastrophe is bound to occur to wipe out whatever I invest in. This is what I reckon would happen if I were to invest in say the following 10 companies:

1)         Ladbrokes – The Government will ban gambling.
2)         Imperial Tobacco – Everyone will give up smoking
3)         British Airways – Some air disaster will occur (like when that concorde crashed)
4)         BP – some middle eastern oil crisis will develop.
5)         HMV – Amazon will put them out of business
6)         Bernard Matthews – major bird flu outbreak in Norfolk
7)         Any US company – Yellowstone erupts
8)         ITV – Nick Berry returns to Heartbeat
9)         SONY – The PS3 is a complete flop. Highly likely since I have already bought one and it seems nobody else in the world has.
10)       Virgin Media – formerly NTL. They commit commerical suicide by stopping showing SKY ONE over some pathetic row where SKY wanted a huge 3 pence more a month, and VIRGIN refused, saying they were championning the rights of their customers whereas in fact they were hacking off the very people who had only subscribed in the first place to watch the Simpsons and LOST which are the only decent shows on SKY in the first place. Oh hang on – that's already happened.

Like I said the companies in my virtual portfolio like Amazon, EMI, Tate & Lyle and Scottish and Newcastle to name a few have all shot up.

The other annoying thing is that all the other companies I am interested in seem to be at an all time high in their share price, and it looks like the value has gone. It is really annoying to look at a major brewer or supermarket and see their share price at a 12 month high of 700 when they could be bought less than six months ago for 400. I think I have missed the boat on all of these now.

Maybe it's better to take a chance on struggling companies at the bottom and hope they recover. Time will tell I guess. I've just got a horrible feeling that the "sods law" rule will come into operation as soon as I start investing any money. We shall see.

2:53 PM
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  • 28 Apr 2007
Aunt Sally Update

Current mood:energetic

As usual as it's Saturday here is the latest news from the world of Aunt Sally.

Good afternoon everybody, and what a nice one it is too.

I am pleased to say that I have now managed to track down all of the results for this week, and I am only missing one card, the one from the Crown B team which I will credit individual stats for once I receive it.

The weather held good again which I was pleased about as some people have questioned the wisdom of starting the league in April, well the weather the past two weeks has been as good as we normally get in July.

I must take this opportunity to congratulate KEN JONES of Launton Sports Renegades who hit a magnificent six in their match this week. This was the first six recorded in our league since as long ago as September 2005 when Toby Gough was the last man to achieve the feat. Ken's six helped Launton on their way to a 2-1 win which kept them on top of the table, level with the Hundred Acres who have also won.

At the other end of the table, both the Black Bull and Six Bells B are struggling with a point apiece from two matches. When your luck is out, it is out in this game, and from our point of view, we have come up against two sides playing well above form in our first two games. In fact we have scored an average of 12.7 dolls per leg so far against the Hundred Acres total of 11.5 yet as previously stated we have acquired just 1 point out of a possible 6, whereas the Acres have managed 5 points.

It could all prove crucial at the end of the season! Next week, there are two catch up games and the Bull & Butcher A could find themselves most unlikely league leaders if they can beat the Bull 3-0.

In division two, Prince of Wales A and Crown A both maintained their 100% start to the season with comfortable wins, and the out of town teams are putting Bicester's 3 sides to shame as they find themselves propping up the division.

Division three looks like it could be wide open this year, any team could win it, going on the leg scores to date. I had some very positive feedback from the Hobgoblin about the hospitality at Croughton this week which reminds me to remind you all that every year we vote for the "Hospitality Cup" in each division. This is where you tell me where you had the best night out over the season and they get a trophy. You can base this on any criteria you wish. Personally I base mine purely on the quantity and quality of sausages provided, however I have come to realise that I may be in a minority on this one, as it has been brought to my attention that not everyone else in the world shares this particular obsession. Anyway the Bull & Butcher are ahead on my personal vote at the moment thanks to a nice tray of Sausages and Roasties - cheers for that.

Now then - next week it is the cup and a chance for some Premiership sides to catch up some postponed games. The other Premiership sides get a rest, which I am sure will please Gary and Dave Brock, who will be sending me their thanks I am sure for arranging the fixture list this year so they did not have to face the gut-wrenching decision of whether to play Aunt Sally or watch Man Utd's semi-final against Milan.

Remember that if you get knocked out of the cup in this round or the next one you will go into the hat for the first round of the plate which starts on June 13th.

Right that's all for today - and remember - GET THOSE CARDS IN!

See you next week and good luck in the cup. I am not playing next week so may turn up at a random venue to watch and scout for new talent.

Jason
4:10 PM
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  • 27 Apr 2007
Public Convenience Catastrophes

Current mood:nauseated

I think the cleaners must have gone on strike at work, because the toilets have not been cleaned for about 3 weeks. Everyone is up in arms about it. I am sure we all know the pleasure some people seem to take in fouling work and pub toilets in the worst way possible and if you can imagine it being left untreated for a long amount of time it makes for a very unpleasant situation indeed.

There are only about 8 males in this building out of around 50 people, so I dread to think what the ladies must be like. Judging by some of the graphic comments not good. In fact I have just heard that one of the managers has been taking pictures as evidence to present to the cleaning company – not pleasant.

I have had my fair share of public toilet horror stories over the years. One early experience that springs to mind was on a lovely May bank holiday Monday back in the 70's when our family went out for a day in the car, and found ourselves at the Falkland Arms in Great Tew. This is an award winning pub, full of character, and has I believe been voted pub of the year on more than one occasion. However back in those days they did not have a proper toilet which I discovered to my horror when opening the door to discover rather than a normal toilet a steaming slop bucket, complete with circulating fly colony. I recall that the pub got into trouble for this some time later and it became quite a local news story, with the threat of closure unless the situation was rectified which it was. Anyway when I related my tale on returning to my family, they found it hilarious, particularly my Gran who had grown up in a time when such things were probably the norm and could not see what all the fuss was about, and for some years later the incident was humorously recalled under the topic of "The Great Bucket of Tew".
It is not just this country in which I have encountered toilet horrors. I recall one particular occasion at a French Railway station when I had urgent need of the toilet following a disastrous experiment into eating L'escargot's which did not agree at all. On entering the cubicle. I mistakenly thought I had entered a shower cubicle, since all it contained was a hole in the floor, however, a closer inspection of the stains surrounding the hole revealed the hideous truth. There was no option but to squat and hope for the best.

The toilets at school were always a bit of a lottery, there were six in a line, and which one to use normally involved a complicated process of elimination. By taking into account all of the following factors one could normally work out which was the least of the six evils. Factors to take into account included the following:

No lock
No light
No paper
No seat
Fouled

Sometimes you could minimise the damage by say taking paper from a fouled cubicle into one without paper and then enjoy some comfort reading the many and varied items of graffitti relating to teachers, dubious sexual practices and Oxford United.

But there is one particular incident that sticks in my head above all others. During my later years at Nielsen in the Foodservice department, myself and a few colleagues had got into the habit of visiting the Harvester in Wheatley about once a month on a Friday lunchtime. Their menu had a third off at lunchtime and what with their various deals you could end up with "Spitroast" Chicken & Chips (Spitroast being the source of endless amusement), soup and as much as you wanted from the Salad Bar for about a fiver. Tremendous value for money, probably cheaper than using Nielsen's canteen where prices had enjoyed a boom over the years that puts the housing market in the shade.

Anyway all went well, until the occasion when I decided to have the Mixed Grill rather than my usual Spitroast. Unfortunately as I am sure you will know, there is only so much room inside one's body for food, and the high volume consumed on this occasion, had necessitated a rather urgent need to create some space.
I headed for the toilet but when I got there the only cubicle was locked. However, most oddly there was a large hole in the lower half of the door about the size of a dinner plate. I wondered if there was anyone in there, so angled myself so I could look through this hole to see if there were any shoes/ feet in view. Needless to say there were not. What was there slap bang in the middle of the floor was a giant turd the likes of which I have never seen before or since. I can only assume that an elephant had backed up against the door and dropped it through the aforementioned hole.

Such was the size of this monster after returning to my table after a short detour (thank heaven for disabled toilets) that I began to wonder if I had imagined the whole thing, and got a colleague to go and confirm it. His return to the table, pale faced and shaking confirmed the truth that he too had seen the monster.
Funnily enough, we never went to the Harvester again.

2:12 PM
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  • 26 Apr 2007
The History of the Grand Annual

Current mood:thirsty

It's time for another trip down memory lane as we look back today on the phenomenon that was to become known as the "Grand Annual". This legendary drinking contest grew from humble beginnings to become a national event by the late 1990's. But now, like cock-fighting, fox hunting and other barbaric sports it has been consigned to the history books, it having no place in 21st Century Britain.

Readers with good memories will recall my memoirs of "The Drinking League" which ran during several terms of my 2 year sojourn at Oxpens from 1987 – 1989. Well once my time at that particular establishment had come to an end, competitive drinking events became harder to come by. Seeing who can down a pint the fastest in the White Horse on a Saturday night, or who can drink 5 shots lined up on a bar the fastest retain only limited appeal. We needed a new outlet for our sports.

In the Spring of 1991, I had a bet with my mate Francis that he could not go round every pub in Kidlington and drink a pint in each. He was well up for this. To save time I decided to drive, and therefore speed up our time in each one. The event was planned for a Sunday evening and time was limited as the pubs only opened from 7pm to 10:30pm on a Sunday back then.

In the event he failed by one pub, chundering out the side of my 1978 Austin Allegro's window en route to the Kings Arms which was to be the last stop on our tour. However, a young lady by the name of Sheree who we brought along for the ride showed she had what it takes by completing the task in which he failed.

This got me thinking that some sort of more organised one day event to bring together some of Bicester and Nielsen's most hardened drinkers might be worthwhile organising. It took a while to get off the ground though. Unfortunately the first hastily arranged attempt to hold the event in Oxford in 1992 had to be abandoned due to snow. The following year, I focused on the ideal day to hold the event. I had got into the habit of taking the whole week off in mid March to watch the Cheltenham Festival, as had my mate Kev who I worked with. Well with the racing starting on Tuesday we had nothing to do on the Monday and that was the date set to become the traditional home of the Grand Annual for the next few years.

Just Kev and I attended that first Grand Annual, and we set an ambitious route of 12 pubs and we did manage to complete the course calling it an honourable draw. By drinking only the session type bitters which had around 3% to 4% alcohol this was quite achievable over a 7 hour period. There were no major mishaps along the way, apart from an argument in the Bulldog over the food we ordered. When I order a Gammon Steak I expect to get something of a reasonable size, not something that could easily be mistaken for a rasher of bacon. It still riles me to this day, thinking about it.

For 1994 we repeated the experiment and this time I won because Kev could not finish his last pint. We had company part of the way with a girl called Clare from Nielsen's. Confident that we had hit a winning formula, for 1995 we decided to launch the event to the public. Such was the enthusiasm that numerous friends from Bicester joined in for the day, and the rules were changed so you could drink as much as you liked within a certain time limit in each pub. Each pub was given a title, like a race time at the Cheltenham Festival, so for example we would have to be in the Turf for the 3:30 which would be titled something along the lines of "The Turf Tavern Handicap Hurdle". We also allowed girls to drink spirits as an alternative to beer, with a double being equivalent to one pint.
In the end a 12 strong field went to post and it proved rather more difficult to keep control of so many people and things went a bit pear shaped in the Kings Arms when some local thugs decided to try and start a fight with two of our party who of course were completely blameless and behaving perfectly well despite having 8 pints inside them. The idea of travelling on piggy back from pub to pub also proved an unwise one, which left me with a few bruises the next day not to mention a torn shirt. The event was won by one of Kev's mates called Andy who had flown in from South Africa just for the occasion. Truly we were becoming a global event.

The following year's Grand Annual looked set to be the best yet. A number of Nielsen's core drinking fraternity including the legenday triumvurate of Andy Pill, Steve Jones and Jason Byles were keen to get involved. Billed as an "Oxford vs Bicester" showdown, those 3 looked a formidable combination up against myself and Kev. However we had a secret weapon on our side – the landlord of The Plough, Tim Stuart, universally known as "Boycie". This is the man who can boast tales of drinking 30 pints in a session – and it is true because I have seen it. At 37 years of age, Boycie was at the peak of his drinking career and the Oxford lads went pale when they saw him, all 20 stone of pure drinking machine. The Oxford lads also faced a late setback when Jason Byles failed to turn up at the last minute owing to an alleged broken window.

However we had problems of our own. Unwisely I had decided to go out with Michael, another grand annual participant the previous evening for a couple of "warm up pints". Unfortunately a couple turned into eight, and a dodgy chinese on the way home contributed to my problems the next day. Also I took the unwise decision to drink Guinness, such that by the time we reached the seventh pub, I was so bloated I could not drink any more, and was last seen staggering up the alley alongside the Chequers clutching my stomach.

Fortunately Boycie came good for us and easily outdrank Pilly and Jonesy to stake Bicester's claim as the drinking kings of Oxfordshire. A change to the handicapping rules on the drinks meant that somehow Lisa Cairns was able to sneak into second place at huge odds, but no hope of catching Boycie who was the only odds on winning favourite in Grand Annual history.

The following year was a bit more low key and from 15 participants the year before we were back down to just two and it ended up being not much more than a leisurely few pints around Oxford with myself and Michael. But the following year we were back with a vengeance.

We decided to handicap people according to weight for the 1998 renewal, which did not help Boycie's cause at all and he ended up being a late non runner. This year there were several participants who were determined they were going to win and went all out for it, with no regard for the consequences. To say that things got a little out of hand was an understatement, and news of our travels around town became known on Oxford's new pubwatch scheme. Neither of the two main contenders managed to complete the course. Craig was disqualified after collapsing sending a table flying in the Gloucester Arms and failing to make the last pub. He had to be physically put back on to the bus to Bicester. We were not even meant to go to the Gloucester Arms originally but when we got to the Eagle and Child a large man on the door blocked our way and told us he had been told "not to allow entry to people from Bicester". We even made the Oxford Mail the next day under a heading which read "Pub Landlords hail success of new pubwatch scheme".

However the worst accident happened to Michael. He was knocking back quadruple Southern Comforts in the White Horse in an attempt to get a decent lead, and on departure found himself quite unable to walk straight and hence fell into the middle of Broad Street and was run over by a taxi, ending up in hospital. The main damage done was to his teeth which necessitated several hundred pounds of dental work which he later estimated had worked out at about 50 quid per shot of Southern Comfort.

With so few runners finishing the course, there was a shock win for a young lady called Sarah who was a complete unknown in the drinking world at the time, and had not even reached her 18th birthday at the time of the event, being less than half the weight of the main participants she took full advantage of the handicapping concession. She started as a 25/1 outsider, in an event in which only 3 of the 13 runners finished.

After the mishaps of 1998, it was felt by some that things had got a bit out of hand and that we should start acting a little more responsibly. So the 1999 event was much lower key and held for the first time in Bicester on a Sunday evening, with a young man by the name of Dan Smith taking the prize.

In 2000 we were back in Oxford, now on a Sunday afternoon, with a shortened route and several controls put in place as recommended by the Government enquiry that took place after the events of 1998. But the event had lost its sparkle, and 2000 proved to be the last Grand Annual, won this time by Andy Pill on his home turf.
I myself decided to knock daytime drinking on the head after another heavy drinking session during the 2002 World Cup got out of hand, and I am quite glad that I did really. You will rarely see me with a drink before 8pm these days, that's not to say I don't still enjoy a fair few of an evening when the company is right.

So – here's a toast to the good ship "Grand Annual" and all who sailed in her. Thanks for the memories!

5:28 PM
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  • 25 Apr 2007
Pregnancy outbreak sweeps Bicester!

Current mood:annoyed

The beahaviour of various individuals in my social circle of late has shocked even me. OK, I am hardly in a position to go on any sort of moral crusade, but even so, compared to what some people get up to my halo is well and truly intact.

It seems quite unfair to me that some couples I know who have been trying for a baby for ages cannot conceive, yet pregnancies abound right now from various drunken liaisons and one night stands between people who are in no fit state to be parents, for reasons ranging from drugs, drink, and other wasters who are quite incapable of providing for the next generation. Yet in many cases this is a way out for the individuals concerned because of the laws of the way the system works.

To give one example. Someone I have known for many years who is a single mother of one child who is about to start school full time. She has not worked since the baby was born, shortly after that the father cleared off, never to be seen again. But she lives in relative comfort and has proudly boasted to me how she does not have to work until the kid is an adult. I've heard others joke that she should get pregnant again then, when she'll be nearly 40 and that will almost see her through until the pension kicks in. It is no wonder so many are choosing this "career" path. Live off the state for life in 2 or 3 bedroomed houses, no need to work and not even any hassle from the government to find work, seems like an easy life to me.

But wait – perhaps I am being harsh. Many will argue that this situation was "forced" upon them, that they were innocent victims. Well I am sure that is the case in many situations but consider the following tale, and tell me if these people are innocent victims.

This is a completely true story and all of the people are real, some of them very close friends so I will identify them by letters only. Here's a snapshot of the last few week's activities.

A has just started going out with B. In the past year A has slept with dozens of women and got at least 4 of them pregnant, let's call them C, D, E and F. He made all of them have abortions, in the case of E, this was while he was in the process of getting F pregnant. Meanwhile D has also slept with numerous partners in the past year, and is now onto her second pregnancy of the year, with G, who used to go out with one of D's best friends who we will call H. H finished with G because he was basically in the pub and drinking 24/7. Allegedly G also does drugs but has hidden this from D, and they are talking about playing happy families. With both G and D's past histories this would seem unlikely, since D has no concept of guilt or responsibility when it comes to cheating on partners and wrecking her own and other people's relationships

Meanwhile E's boyfriend, I, has decided to tell one of B's best friends, J, all about A's track record. But it turns out when I speaks to B that she already knows about the 4 pregnancies, but B has decided to give A the benefit of the doubt in a classic "I can change him" gambit which is doomed to failure. Hardly surprising really because C overheard B telling another friend K, in the pub toilets that she is desperate for a baby. She will be in good company because K is also pregnant but not by her current boyfriend, but by two boyfriends ago, L, who does not even know it seems. K has a new boyfriend who hasn't had a girlfriend for ages, he is called M and he knows she is pregnant by someone else but is still keen. Meanwhile J has a crush on I, but I does not want to get drawn into this sordid world because he is happy with E, having learnt from past mistakes when getting taken in by D and waving goodbye to a solid 5 year relationship in the process. Meanwhile another friend N, recently contacted E and I asking for help after also becoming pregnant this time by O with whom she had now split up. N felt second best to O because he always wanted to spend all of his time with H.

And that's just the last couple of weeks. Confusing isn't it? Where will it all lead? My prediction is one year from now, B, D, K and N will all be single parents, and cursing their "bad luck".

You won't be able to identify any of the individuals to whom I am referring, this is quite deliberate as I can't use real names when discussing the likes of above, much as I would love to expose the behaviour of some of these individuals. Anyway the point I was trying to make, is that is it any wonder there are so many single parent families and kids with problems when they are born out of activities such as the above.

Oh well, rant over I suppose, best leave them to it. I shall sticker to the simpler and safer pleasures in life and head over to Ludgershall for a nice relaxing Aunt Sally Match at which no-one is likely to get pregnant.

2:09 PM
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  • 24 Apr 2007
New innovation in the World Of Snack Products

Current mood:naughty

I was today going to try and move off the food-related theme which has dominated recent offerings, however, having analysed the stats on my hits, it appears that the food theme is proving popular as I am getting a lot more hits when waxing lyrical on the benefits of kebabs and sausages, than I am in other areas, for example my reminiscences of years gone by.

In fact, yesterday, I received my first fan letter, and it is reproduced here in full for your enjoyment, to be followed by my response:

"Dear Broken Fork Afficianado

Thoroughly enjoyed the latest blog on your personal 'journey' through the myriad fast food ethnic cuisine offerings of Bicester's finest late night takeaways. Just glad I don't live on North Street bordering your route home in the wee small hours.

And now......Dear Bishop I find myself in need of your intercession regarding a vexed debate within the team here at Nielsen Towers on a subject close to your own heart. Following your recent rallying call for the great British Public to rise up and demand the immediate return of the once proud Full Mixed Grill to the menus of this sceptered isle I may well have experienced my very own Eureka moment! Whilst analysing the Crisps & Snacks market trend for an unnamed brand leading manufacturer (Walk-Ears Lineker) I believe I may have hit upon a new flavour which will prove to go a long way towards  reversing the overall decline in savoury snack sales caused by the unwanted interference of the anaemic looking, pathetic do-gooders who pass themselves off as the  'Health Police' ........cue drumroll............The Mixed Grill Flavour Crisp!

How one could achieve a noticeable distinction in the required minimum of 5 distinct meat flavours is a subject of considerable debate here in the Nielsen booth. SouthMeadow has suggested a foil-sealed bag containing an assortment of at least 5 different but individually flavoured varieties (eg Gammon, Pork Sausage, Lamb Chop, Steak, Black Pudding) whereas I favour patenting an industry leading technological breakthrough which uniquely combines all five distinct flavours within a single crisp. Your thoughts, input and potential for carrying out Market Research on this crucial issue whilst entertaining your fan base at G's would be appreciated.

Dogger
Stoke Wood Car Park (3rd car from the end)
Bicester"

Well, how does one begin to answer this tome? In order to do so I have decided to place myself in the shoes of a fictional marketing manager at the aforementioned Snacks company and reply in character…

Dear Dogger,

Firstly may I say what a delight it was to receive your letter. We here at Walk-Ears are always keen to hear from our customers and receptive to new ideas that help us remain at the forefront of developments in Snack Product Technology.

In fact our scientists here at our top secret establishment in the heart of the Leicestershire countryside have for many years been experimenting with the concept of several flavour sensations within a single crisp. We were first inspired many moons ago by that childhood favourite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in which you will recall they invented a chewing gum that could deliver a 3 course meal.
Unfortunately after years of experimentation, we have to admit it is in fact impossible. We have therefore in recent times been focusing on the concept of delivering an all-in-one concept where we combine a popular meat with a sauce that would normally be served with it. In our focus groups we found that Lamb & Mint, Beef & Horseradish and Ham & Mustard proved to be the most popular, from a selection of 25 options. Less popular choices included Faggots with Onion Gravy, Fishcake with Mushy Peas and Pork Sword with Fanny Batter. None of these made the final cut.

However, we are rather excited by your other suggestion for the Mixed Grill bag, that of having several different flavour choices within one bag. Indeed my colleagues here are already discussing how it could be done, and have assigned a working title of "Project Revel" to your idea, after the Confectionery based product of a similar design.
We believe the main problem we need to solve is how to prevent the different flavours from mingling, and it is possible we could provide them in separate compartments or bags. However as you will appreciate, the investment in technology this will require will mean that the product should it ever reach market, will command a premium price point.

I will keep you up to date with developments as they occur. Meanwhile on a separate note, please can you stop eating so many "Grab Bag" size packets of Cheese and Onion crisps while you are out on the road visiting clients. Not only is our factory in Leicester struggling to cope, but we have also had complaints from fellow doggers about the amount of empty packets littering the car park in Stoke Wood. Please desist forthwith.

Love,
Gary

2:15 PM
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  • 23 Apr 2007
After pub munchies

Current mood:okay

One of the great things about going out on the lash, is the after pub food. Kebab and Pizza shops up and down the land look forward to post 11pm every Friday and Saturday night as hordes of inebriated boys and girls come staggering in looking for sustenance to soak up the litres of alcohol they've washed down their necks.

The quality of the food on offer is seldom questioned at this stage. All that's required is a lot of greasy fatty food, it's hardly gourmet restaurant. A large proportion of this food will never make it through the digestive system, ending up on the pavement either where it has been dropped, or worse, vomited.

Let us not portray this habit in a negative light however. Having a kebab on the way home is a great British tradition and long may it continue. It is one of the few areas seemingly untouched by the health police, and even the health conscious among us will throw caution to the wind after 8 pints of cider. No matter how good you are at home, let's face it, at 1am you need meat and fat and you are hardly going to be asking the man behind the counter for low fat mayonnaise on your burger, are you? The salad can wait until tomorrow when the guilt trip, fuelled by an unpleasant toilet visit, will start to kick in.

I was actually quite a late developer when it came to kebabs and such like. This is partly due to my sheltered upbringing. Growing up in a village there simply wasn't anywhere to purchase food on the short walk home from the Queens Head, the pub where I served my drinking apprenticeship to my house. However even then the pangs of hunger did frequently strike on return home, however I would not have dared touch any of the meat in the fridge then, as my mother kept a tight inventory of the fridge and any missing packets of bacon etc would have been quickly detected. Instead in those days I contented myself with that old favourite, Marmite on Toast.
When I started drinking in Oxford, at the age of 18, I began to utilise McDonalds for a snack. My girlfriend lived in Headington so I would get a burger and eat it on the bus. My appetites were not as ravenous in those days and a 59p hamburger, (with gherkin removed of course) would suffice. Later I progressed on to KFC, a popular choice on the 100 route back to Eynsham between rival Witney and Eynsham gangs who would throw the bones at each other on the top deck.

Once I moved to Bicester, post pub food began to come into its own. In the early days of living on Southwold, the most popular venue was the Chinese chip shop on North Street, and many a happy evening was spent wending our way home up Buckingham Road, and seeing if we could throw chips over the railway bridge. This was back in my early 20's and believe it or not, I was still to even ever sample a kebab. From chips, I progressed on to Pizza, and my favourite snack in the mid 90's was a plain margherita, also consumed along the North Street and Buckingham Road route. I must say I feel sorry for the residents of that particular route. Now I myself of course am a model citizen and always find a bin to dispose of my leftovers, however, some of my less environmentally sound acquaintences would be more than happy to leave them on someone's garden wall or throw them over a gate.
I then had a burger phase thanks to the "Papillon" kebab van on Market Square. These burgers were simply gorgeous. I particularly used to enjoy the "Italian Burger" which was covered in lashings of garlic mayonnaise which absolutely stank the next day from both ends.This became a Monday night favourite after karaoke at G's and it used to amuse me going into boring team metings at work the next day and breathing this in the direction of my enemies, not to mention the polluting of the toilets.

I finally graduated to kebabs in the mid 90's thanks to being introduced to the kebab van on St Giles in Oxford, by some of my more rotund drinking friends from Nielsen. This was at the time lauded by some as the greatest kebab van in the world. Indeed its fame spread to Bicester and at one point, one girl I hung out with actually used to drive us all the way into Oxford just to go to this van after the Plough (where I worked at the time) shut.
There are four main kebab outlets in Bicester, and for my preferred choice of "Doner" it has to be the Broken Fork. It is simply so much tastier from there. Bicester Kebab House meat is always too slimy and greasy, and the stuff of the two vans just does not taste right. However, the main problem with the Broken Fork is that it shuts at 1am, so sometimes you have to resort to the other places.

I have experimented with trying to eat kebabs at other times e.g. stopping off for one on the way home for work but for some reason they always look, smell and taste disgusting. It seems that eating kebabs is something that can only be done after copious amounts of alcohol. Perhaps it is a similar effect to the "beer goggle" effect where complete mingers miraculously transform themselves into stunners as the evening comes towards its close.

For some years, I used to go out every Friday and insist on a kebab, but I have actually cut back a lot now and only have one about once a month. The last one I recall having was on St Patrick's Day and a fair amount of that got dropped in the Bure after I had tripped over the kerb crossing Chapel Street. I am kind of going off kebabs at the moment, so I wonder what the next phase might be?

2:24 PM
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  • 21 Apr 2007
This week's Aunt Sally

Current mood:lazy

Ok, this is probably a bit lazy but one of my jobs in running the Aunt Sally league is in providing a weekly newsletter as well as pulling all of the results together.

This requires me to pull together a few anecdotes and gets mailed to everyone that plays in the league. However, since I am too lazy to write both a blog entry and a newsletter I have decided to post the newsletter here each Saturday as it is going to double up as my blog entry.

This will enable my fans around the world who don't play in the Bicester and District Aunt Sally League to feel part of the fun too.

So pasted straight from my email account, here is this week's newsletter.


Good afternoon.

It was an unseasonably warm start for the Aunt Sally season this year - let us hope it keeps up! We certainly had a good time up at the football club, and after their domination of last season were more than happy to come away with a point, even though we lost the first leg after setting 17.

I am also pleased to say that they did proper buffet i.e. sandwiches etc, rather than any of those horrible sloppy curries or Spag bols that some pubs insist on providing. My one disappointment was on discovering that what appeared to be a large tray of sausage rolls was actually "fools gold", as once I bit into one the cruel truth that it was a cheese and onion roll masquerading as a sausage roll hit me. So the quest for the first sausage of the season will continue into week two.

Please take note - not that being Bicester's Aunt Sally Supremo is going to my head or anything, but let's face it, when the top brass comes to visit you want to make sure you've catered for all their needs. Anyway we are off to the Bull & Butcher next week so there should be no worries there, they nearly always have some nice butchers sausages on the go.

If you find waiting a whole week between my ramblings a vast void devoid of intellectual stimulation, you can read more about my culinary exploits and my other musings on life in general in my publicly available internet blog. After only a month on line it has already had several hundred hits. You can visit it here

http://blog.myspace.com/jason_ayres
I think I may well include these Aunt Sally messages on their as well, saves me writing two articles on a Saturday.

NB: Only the last week or so's entries are shown but you can look further back by clicking in the archive.

Anyway, back to the Aunt Sally, and it is time now for me to don my Headmaster's Gown and Hat and adopt a stern tone of voice.

I have not received 3 cards. I have also received no notification of the result by email or telephone. I am assuming the matches took place because as you know, one of the rules is that I must be advised of postponements on or before the day of the match.

The guilty parties are the winners of these fixtures:

100 ACRES vs BLACK BULL A
STAR A vs CROWN A
BULL & BUTCHER B vs FOUNTAIN

If I do not receive notification of these results before 2nd May (according to the 14 day deadline) all teams involved will get no points. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I am going to get REALLY STRICT this season and persistent offenders will have points docked. I spend hours enough on this as it is and having to chase people up all the time only adds to it!

Thank-you to all those that did return their cards, much appreciated!

Well done to all those that won this week, special mention must go to the Sow & Pigs and Crown B, Twyford, who seem to have significantly stepped up their game in their second season in the league to share top spot in Division Three.

See you next week
Jason
4:07 PM
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  • 21 Apr 2007
Fight Night in Bicester

Current mood:pissed off

There was a massive punch up in the pub last night. It was one of those that reminds me of one those old comics where a fight would be represented by a cloud of smoke with just the odd arm and leg sticking out.

It's amazing how what starts with someone throwing a punch at someone else can escalate within about 5 seconds to a mass brawl as loads of other people jump in to the fray. Personally with glases flying and various items of furniture going over I would want to be as far away as possible, still each to their own.

As usual it was all over in seconds, with the main combatants being swiftly ejected through the door by the ever vigilant security staff. What went on after that I have no idea but judging by the amount of police presence on Market Square it was "one of those nights".

It was one of those nights inside as well. A new selection of army trainees arrived and discovered G's, and basically behaved exactly like every other new group has. I had to deal with several problem people including one who could not grasp the concept that the karaoke had finished, and it had all been put away.

One of my other friends also got herself wound up over an ex who has treated her and several others very badly, though many of them keep coming back for more. There was just an all round bad atmos really and I was glad to get home to Claire who was still awake.

Speaking of whom, she is making me very happy right now. When I think about where my life was 12 months ago and where it is now absolutely everything has changed. Though I am pretty much still the same guy I ever was.
In April 2006 I was unemployed, and living in St Annes Close, in the home I bought six years previously with my girlfriend and fiancee of five years, Janina. I was pretty settled and nothing much had changed for some time.
A stormy and temptestuous rollercoaster of a year followed, such that by the end of 2006 I was settled in a new home, with a new girlfriend and after various upheavals a new job and the prospect of more. The story of how all this came about is yet to be told, but I may have to go into details in a future edition.

Just a short offering today, with no real direction, it's been a busy day, I will attempt to elaborate more over the weekend, perhaps it's time for another flashback episode on my past exploits.

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.

2:01 AM
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