Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Blog Archive Volume Two

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.

  • 19 Apr 2007
Deal Or No Deal?

Current mood:good

Despite having left the cut and thrust of the business world two years ago, I continue to be pursued for jobs in my old field, for way over what I earn today.

For example, today I received the following email:

"Hi Jason

We are currently working on 3 Senior Account Manager roles in Buckinghamshire and an Account Manager role in Oxfordshire which we felt may interest you. They are with three different agencies, all well established, one being focussed mainly on Sales Promotion - the other two being full service with some great clients.

Senior Account Manager x2 - BUCKS - £32k - £35k - Integrated
Senior Account Manager  - BUCKS - £36k - £38k + car allowance - Promotional marketing
Account Manager  - OXON - £26k - £30k - Integrated

If you're interested in finding out more about any of the above please don't hesitate to contact me at" (name of recruitement consultant – for the purposes of the joke at the end let's call her "Noel".

The thing is I could probably get those jobs if I wanted to, but for the reasons stated before, in terms of work/ life balance I do not want them.

My full time job with the government pays around half the salary of those jobs above, but the benefits far outweigh the cash demands.

For example, we have a fixed 37 hour week and that is what we do. People do their hours and that is it. When you have a highly paid job, you are expected to put in the hours. I doubt whether those Senior Account Manager roles would be happy for me to go home dead on 5:30 every day. I know Nielsen's weren't – a key way of getting on there was to be seen to be dedicated and working late. Even though in my view the people working late were doing it either to look good, or because they couldn't cope with their work in the allotted hours due to being not up to scratch or messing about and chatting all day. Laughably these are the people who got promoted most of the time, and a bit of ass kicking and being well groomed always helped.

So let's say that on average they would want another 5 hours a week at least for one of those highly paid jobs.
Then let's take travelling time. I don't know where those jobs are but I would imagine with the traffic these days we can assume at least a half hour drive away. So that is another 5 hours minimum added on to the week. As opposed to here where my travelling time is virtually non existent. I leave my house at 2 minutes to 9 every morning and I am never late.

Then of course – there is the question of lunch breaks. I enjoy the luxury of a full hour at home every day doing whatever I want – eating, sleeping, playing on the PS3, watching Neighbours, or sitting in the sunshine out the back. If I am in an office out of town I don't have that luxury. Sure I can take a break but it is not really the same. In fact when at Nielsen the only thing to do really was go out for walks. I used to walk up the hills in the woods behind the building. There were endless rumours about things that went on up there, people getting up to all sorts, but I never saw any of that. I did have this fantasy that I might meet a couple of lesbian/bisexual beauties who might want me to get back to nature with them behind a tree, though in fact the only time I ever got molested was by a dog who covered my suit all over in mud. In any case most days my shoes ended up caked in mud or dog shit but I used to wash all that off in the sink behind the canteen when I got back.

So anyway, there is another 5 hours gone when I could be at home. Then there is dress code. I doubt whether a company paying me 32k a year is going to want me sitting around in jeans and trainers.

So already that's 15 hours extra a week, not far off  50% plus from what I have now, having to wear a suit probably, and lots of stress. Then there is the fact that I do not own a car any more, to get a job like that I would need a car. Even with a company car, there's still petrol, that could easily amount to 200 quid a month alone, so that's more money gone out of the pay packet.

And I would not be able to go home and eat and drink food at supermarket prices, I'd have to pay 60p for a can of coke out of a machine rather than my mutipack can out of the fridge at home for 25p. It might sound like peanuts but these things all add up.

Some people may think I am lazy – well all I can say is I work very hard at my job and probably have more energy to put into it than if I've been sitting in a traffic jam for an hour before I even get to work. It amuses me to think that when my alarm clock goes off at 8:10am every morning, all the commuters out there are sat in their little metal boxes in a queue or rammed together like sardines in the tube or whatever. Me, I have a leisurely cup of tea, get ready at my own pace and leave at 8:58am on my bike in the fresh air to arrive at my desk for precisely 9.00am, fit and ready to go for the day's work. And in the evenings I'm not so worn out by it all that I can still have a life.

And let's not even get started on the types of tossers I would probably have to be dealing with, I could write a whole day's blog on them, and probably will at some point.

Suddenly my 16k a year is looking quite attractive by comparison don't you agree?

So Noel – I am ready for the question.

"Senior Account Manager x2 - BUCKS - £32k - £35k – Integrated. DEAL or NO DEAL?"

Thank-you Noel, it's a great offer, and a nice sum of money. But life's too short. NO DEAL.

6:29 PM
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  • 18 Apr 2007
The Great British Mixed Grill

Current mood:chipper

Before I left Nielsen two years ago one of my last projects was to launch "Pubtrack Food", a data service to measure the sales of food through various pub chains. This provided many headaches as trying to quantify a portion of food is not quite the same as measuring something like pints of beer which come in fixed and recognisable units.

There were many hurdles to overcome with clients and internal politics within the company, but thanks to my dedicated enthusiastic and professional approach the service was eventually launched and was up and running.
I did not get any real opportunity to present any data to clients as I left shortly afterwards which was a shame really as I would have enjoyed standing up in front of the board of Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle etc to put a positive spin on the attributes of adding more steaks, chips, breakfasts to the menu. This is in preference to horrible sloppy curries and lasagnes which I personally do not like so therefore I believe they should be removed from all menus.

I was however able to be influential on a rather smaller scale last year in my role as Aunt Sally supremo. Now one of the many enjoyable facets of playing Aunt Sally is the post match food. This ordinarily takes on the form of some sort of buffet, with items such as chips, sausages, sandwiches, chicken nuggets etc featuring heavily.

Unfortunately some pubs have seen fit in recent seasons to replacing the traditional buffet with great big nasty sloppy pots of curry or spag bol. This is most unwelcome. Therefore I decided to conduct a survey of all teams to determine what the preferred choice of food was, the plan being to publish the results in the weekly blurb that goes out with the results.

However due to an administrative error, the survey was never in fact sent to any of the pubs, and the final results were based on a representative sample of one – me. I neglected to mention this when publishing the results which were as follows:

The top 10 favourite foods to have after Aunt Sally are listed as follows:

1) Sausages
2) Chips
3) Sandwiches
4) Pork Pie
5) Scotch Eggs
6) Roast Potatoes
7) Chicken Wings
8) Sausage Rolls
9) Spare Ribs
10) Cheese

The least favourite choices were as follows:

1) Curry
2) Chilli
3) Any other sloppy food.

So there you have it - pretty conclusive stuff it seems. The message is clear - sausages are the way forward.
Personally I had written the email in such a tongue in cheek way that I did not think anyone would believe what I had written, but when I later had conversations with both the landlords of the Black Bull and the Hundred Acres, two of the main curry providing offenders, it was clear that they actually believed me. In fact one memorable comment was "well, if they don't like my curry, f**k em they can have sandwiches next time".
So it seems I had the desired effect!

Anyway, to get back to the main thrust of the piece, after leaving Nielsen I left Pubtrack Food in the capable hands of my former colleagues, confident that it would soar to ever greater heights of excellence despite my absence. However, a call for help has come from one of these esteemed gentlemen, who have brought it to my attention that the Great British Mixed Grill has gone into a decline and they have asked if I can champion its cause via my increasingly widely read blog.

It appears that the Mixed Grill, like Lard and the Deep Fried Mars Bar, has fallen foul of the backlash against Britain's obesity crisis. As pub chains across the country update their menus to embrace the healthy eating conscious, the Mixed Grill has either been disappearing, or being diluted, either by reducing the number of items, or by removing the less healthy options e.g. sausage and replacing them with lower calories options e.g. skinless chicken fillets.
Indeed in some areas of the country the liberal, woolly-minded, sandal wearing 'Health Police' have all but removed this Traditional British Classic Menu Dish from the Managed Pub Sector.

Let me state this now – this must not happen! This should be a high profile issue and far more important than many other so called "issues", like the closure of rural post offices and the like. I have canvassed a selection of carnivorous friends and we agree that the mixed grill should contain at a bare minimum 5 different meat items, selected from the following list.

Steak, Lamb Chop, Pork Chop, Chicken, Gammon, Sausage, Bacon, Burger, Liver, Kidneys, Black Pudding.
It goes without saying that items such as Chips, Mushrooms, Onion Rings, etc should be automatically included, and where possible also a fried egg. And absolutely no green vegetables – they will be taking up valuable room on the plate which could be occupied by another meat item.

So, as of today, the official "Bring Back The Great British Mixed Grill" campaign begins. Happy eating!

2:31 PM
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  • 17 Apr 2007
The Mustang

Current mood:annoyed

I think it's time for another Bicester pub review, and today we'll take a look at the pub formerly known as the White Horse, today known as "The Mustang".

You will recall how I noted in my earlier ramblings how I started off drinking in the Six Bells when I arrived in Bicester back in 1991, primarily because this was the first pub I found. Well the Six Bells was quite a trek from Southwold, and eventually after a little exploration, I discovered the White Horse, which was the nearest pub to home, though still a decent ten minutes walk.

At the time, it was still a traditional old Morrells pub with the standard red plastic seating that characterised such pubs throughout the 1980's. The basic shape of the pub was as today but it was not open plan as now, with walls and doorways separating the two bars.

Most of the older people went in the left hand "public" bar whilst the younger crowd went in the "lounge". To the far right of the pub was the large function room, which over the years has changed function several times. When I started going there it was a pool room with 3 tables but over the years it changed frequently with each refurbishment. It went from being an open plan pool room to a dining area with pillars back to a pool room and back again. The pool tables can't seem to decide which bar they want to be in, as they keep swapping back and forth.

Anyway it was a real old fashioned community pub back in the early 90's and the place where I made my first real friends in Bicester, many of whom are still with me today. We would always start off their on a weekend night, much earlier in those days when you had to be done drinking by 11pm. We would often stay all nigh, staging elaborate and lengthy pool competitions, or we'd get a taxi up to "The Shaky", at the time, the main night spot in Bicester.

Other nights me and the lads would be gathered around the golf machine or the pinball machine. By 1993 I was in there most nights with my mates. But in 1995 the management changed and although the pub stayed more or less the same, I did not get on so well with the new regime and diverted away to The Plough and later the Hobgoblin. I hardly went in there at all in the second half of the 1990's.

However a move to St Annes Close practically on the doorstep and a change of management in 1999, brought about a renaissance in the pub's fortunes and a drastic upturn in my attendance. I got on very well with Jill and Richard, the new incumbents, and a revamped and refurbished White Horse was very much to my taste again. Of particular enjoyment was the Sunday Night Quiz which ran from 2000 to 2003 and at which myself and a select team participated at regularly including one memorable evening when we won the "jackpot" round which had been building up for several weeks, and myself Janina and Russell shared £240 quid between the 3 of us after I had correctly identified "Clarence Birdseye" as the man who invented frozen food.

I even ended up running the quiz for a while for which I was handsomely rewarded in Strongbow. Sadly though, things took a rather sour turn in the Spring of 2003, when the brewery which had bought the pub after Morrells demise decided they wanted to turn it into a theme pub. This effectively spelt the end of Jill's reign as they were basically forced out. The pub closed and was refurbished and then re-opened under the new guise of "The Mustang"(a ridiculously pretentious name). Everything that was friendly and cosy about the old place was removed and the place became cold and clinical. The new younger management team seemed to have no interest in the customers other than in taking their money, for example, after a month they had no idea what my name was, if they even cared. The quizzes were stopped. When I enquired why, I was told that "quizzes don't bring in the type of clientele we are trying to attact".

Basically they were trying to turn it into a young person's venue as it is known in the industry (YPV's). And indeed the first few days it was packed out by youngsters attracted by the new layout and novelty items such as an L shaped pool table. But it did not last. Maybe if the pub was in town it would have worked but you cannot put a YPV in the middle of an estate it is never going to work. Alienated from the place I took my custom elsewhere.
Several changes of management later and it appears the lesson has been learned and they have turned it back into a locals pub. They've even started having a quiz again on Sundays. But the damage is done as far as I am concerned. I have been in once this year with some mates and had a reasonable time, but now I'm living in town I have no real reason to ever go there.

But I have the good old White Horse from the early 90's to remember, and I am thankful to the place it was and all the people in it for making me feel so welcome in Bicester and being the first place that really made me feel like I belonged here.

2:12 PM
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  • 16 Apr 2007
Global Warming

Current mood:cynical

There was yet another programme on TV last night about global warming. This topic seems to be being done to death at the moment. It seems any hot day or freak storm is hailed as another example of global warming. Forgive me for being pedantic, but isn't this just what we all call "weather" which happens every day?

It seems barely a week goes by without some sensationalist headline on the front of the Daily Express. Today it was a large 80, symbolising the fact we are going to have 80 degrees at some point this week. That's Farenheit by the way, which is interesting in itself as whenever it's a headline about cold weather it's always in Celcius, e.g. -10. Presumably because Celcius is lower than Farenheit so it has more dramatic effect if they do it this way.

Anyway warm temperatures in April are nothing unusual, and very welcome after the winter we have just had. Rather than making headlines and making doom and gloom predictions why can't we just go out and enjoy it? After all it will probably be raining in a couple of weeks and then everyone will be moaning about that.

If it is global warming then we might as well enjoy it. OK I suppose we should worry about the future of the planet and all that but by the time it gets really bad I will be long gone or too long in the tooth to care. As long as I've got my nice air conditioning system pumping all that horrible hot July air out of the window so i can get a good night's sleep I will be happy.

I quite enjoy the extremes of weather we get in this country, it's what makes living here so varied. It is all very well living in the Canaries or wherever but all that sunshine might get boring in the end. The fact we get snow so rarely makes it a novelty and for all those people moaning about travel etc well that's their lookout. You wanted a highly paid job in the city you got to drive to, well it goes with the territory. I may earn peanuts but at least it only takes me 2 minutes to get to work, rain, snow, or shine.

Snow's rarity making it a novelty also causes people to moan, they go on about how our country grinds to a halt whilst the likes of Norway, etc seem to cope fine. Well get real people - Norway and other cold countries have months of lying snow every year so it is only right that the Government is going to invest lots of money in dealing with it. And I speak with experience because during the winter of 1999 I spent quite some time in that very country - first in Oslo and later in Lillehammer so i do feel qualified to say I know what I am talking about. Whereas here we might not get a heavy snowfall for years at a time. So what is the point in buying loads of snow ploughs and letting them sit idle in a garage somewhere, just on the off chance we might get enough snow for them to be needed once or twice a decade?

It makes me laugh, how every year we see the same tired old stories in the news, and same old arguments from people in the pub etc about it. From pictures of cars abandoned in snow, to high streets under water, to pictures of Bournemouth beach with barely a grain of sand not covered by sunbathers, it's not new, and it's not news. Like I said above it's called "The Weather" - we've always had it and always will, so try and deal with it.

Or even better, you might even try enjoying it.

7:17 PM
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  • 14 Apr 2007
Ducks reunited

Current mood:contemplative

Did a good deed for nature last night. For the past few days we have had a duck and her 3 tiny chicks swimming up and down the Bure out the back of the house, and have been feeding them bits of bread. But last night after work she was rather distressed as 2 of them were missing.

They were found wandering about in the road, and some neighbours managed to get them into a shoe box but still had the problem of getting them back into the water as it is protected by railings. We took them in through the house and were able to lean over the low wall and release them back to their mother. There was something really satisfying about the whole thing, like I said it really felt like we had done a good deed.

Later in the evening we went to Banbury on a whim. One of our friends who has just split up with her boyfriend and has been having a bad time in general offered to drive us so the four of us got out of Bicester for a night and a change of scene. Went to JT's, Yates and The Flyer, 3 of my favourites. In the end though we decided to come back about 11 and have a last drink at the Hob.

Now the hob is my local and has been for many years but I cannot help but feel a little out of place recently. There are one or two people who I won't name but they are girls who don't seem to have taken to me and Claire being together at all. Why this is, I do not know, because we don't have any such problems in G's. Claire thinks it may be down to jealousy, but I don't think it can be as these people aren't women that have ever shown they have any interest in me, whether they be single or in a relationship, so why would they be jealous? One in particular who already has a boyfriend has made it blatantly obvious she does not like Claire, and for no apparent reason. Perhaps she is getting her own back, after all, the guy she is going out with and me have hardly been best of mates either now or in the past, but at least I respect that she likes him, and make the effort, even if he rarely does.

Perhaps people just prefer seeing me on my own, I don't know. I have had similar problems in the past when Janina was along with me, but that was different people altogether. I can kind of understand maybe, as I have had friends who have been single and one of the crowd and then when they bring someone else into the equation, it changes the dynamic of the group. But that's life, things don't stay the same, and the regulars in the pub are much like the characters in a soap opera, in that they change over time.

Like I said we seem more accepted in G's but I think that is because that is where we met, and the people we see there knew us both before and after plus many of them are relatively new on the scene, compared to some of the hob crowd who seem to have been around as long as Ken Barlow's been in the Rovers.

Anyway, I am not sure what it is, but last night didn't quite feel right, particularly after I came back from the toilet to find that we had been booted out of our seats. Perhaps we would have been better off staying in Banbury and going on to a club. We left in the end and went off for what was once a regular Friday night treat for me, but now happens rarely, that being a kebab from the the Broken Fork, by far the best kebab in town. I would never ever buy kebab meat off either of those vans again that is for certain.

As always, nice though it was, it had repercussions this morning, which were unpleasant for anyone within a half mile radius of my bathroom, but when it comes to eating and drinking to excess, once you've comitted the crime, you've got to do the time, and I had read a good half of the paper before I felt able to vacate the premises.
Well there is no sign of the ducks today, perhaps the mother's not letting the little ones out in case they wander off. I have put some bread out though, just in case.

I have put a bet on Ballycassidy in the National today, an outsider so not a great deal of hope, but you never know, perhaps I shall be rewarded for my good deeds for a change.

2:02 PM
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  • 13 Apr 2007
Pets

Current mood:sad

I had a message last night from my ex informing me that her dog had died. I can only imagine that her and her sister must be devastated, as losing a family pet can feel as great a bereavement as that of a family pet to some people.

Although I never personally lived with this dog, I did get to know it well as we frequently took it out for walks in places like Stoke Woods, and I could see how attached they were. It was their first real proper family pet, and was about 10 years old which is quite a young age for a dog really.

I know how they feel, because I too have felt the pain of losing a much loved pet. Although I grew up with various pets, the first one I could really call my own was a cat which I acquired during my first year in Bicester.
Regular readers will recall in a previous flashback episode how I recalled my early days in Bicester, drinking in the Six Bells. Well during that first year, I got settled in to my little house in Southwold with Emma, my partner of the time, and we decided it would be good to get a cat. We knew this place where they had lots of kittens and went to see them. Well to cut a long story short, we came away with a 4 week old kitten who had been rejected by her mother and needed bottle feeding at first.

She wasn't actually my first choice of the kittens there, I was keen on a small black one. However this other tiny tortoiseshell kitten came running out of the little pen they were kept in and ran right up to me and sat down on my foot. It was kind of like an omen, saying take me, so I did.

We named her Susie and she was full of beans like any kitten. However she quickly developed a very noticeable personality. Unlike most of the other cats I have had who have been pretty placid, Susie really was incredibly feisty and soon stamped her authority on the neighbourhood. She also would not suffer fools gladly among any human visitors and anyone who teased her or stepped out of line went home with an armful of scratches. She was also incredibly intelligent and loved to play at hiding games, sneaking behind a bush in the garden and expecting me to come and find her. Also she was incredibly curious about where I was going, and frequently would follow me when I set off on foot, usually to the pub. On a number of occasions she followed me to the White Horse half a mile away and waited for me to come out.

Throughout relationship breaks ups and house moves and all the other upheavals that characterised my life between my early 20's and mid 30's, she was the one constant companion throughout, and during the bad times, she was always there to offer affection, a side of her that others seldom saw. Some people may think this is sad, being so devoted to a cat, but I don't think it was – she was my loyal companion and never deserted me like others did.

But, as we know pets live such shorter lives, and inevitably she grew old and became ill with a feline cancer in 2003. We treated her as best we could and she bore her illness with immense dignity even if stubborn to the last, she would not take any medication. No matter how you hid tablets in a dish of food she would find them and chuck them out. Eventually the day came when she had to be put down, one sunny spring morning in 2004, much like today in fact. I could not bear to see them put the needle in her in the end, and ultimately it was Janina who had to hold her, just as she has just done so with her own dog.

I don't know if I will ever have another cat – I can't imagine Susie being replaceable and in fact I did have another cat for a while last year, called Marmite, who was perfectly nice, but she just wasn't Susie. She is quite happily re-homed now so there are at least some happy endings. It's devastating for Janina and her sister to lose their dog, as I understand it all happened fairly quickly so they did not even have time to prepare, in the way I did with Susie.

But life goes on, and with spring time here there will be thousands of new puppies and kittens out there bursting with new life, ready to find new homes and families. And so life's rich cycle goes on.

4:51 PM
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  • 12 Apr 2007
Memories from 1987/ 1988

Current mood:nostalgic

I thought today we'd have another flashback episode and I would continue with my reminiscences from my college days back in 1987 and onwards.

I'd been there a couple of months and I plucked up the courage to ask Emma out for a date and I was amazed when she said yes, as my self-esteem wasn't particularly high at the time and I thought she was a bit out of my league. We started going out in November 1987 and we had some great fun together. She was fun, happy, very sexy and just a great person to be with, however by Christmas it had fizzled out. This left me single for Christmas and we had two brilliant end of term parties, one at Coven II and one at The Set on the final Friday of term. The Set was the sort of place I loved, really dark and dingy with skeletons and bats hanging from the ceiling. It was behind the Apollo theathre and has long since disappeared. We all sat around that afternoon and got totally slaughtered. The Christmas holidays were deadly dull by comparison to college, and unlike when I was at school I was actually looking forward to the new term. On New Years Eve, my friends Pam had a house party and I stayed there for the night. It was mostly our college crowd and inevitably everyone was drunk long before midnight when we ended up doing the conga around the garden. When I woke up the following morning I found myself fully clothed on a camp bed with about three other blokes and a horrendous hangover. I went to many such teenage house parties and I always seemed to get a raw deal when it came to the sleeping arrangements.

We started the new term as we left off, down at The Duke of York. To make lunchtimes more interesting I organised a drinking league. There were 16 of us in this, playing a total of 30 matches over the season. This took place usually on Friday and one other day. The games were played just as in the football league with direct head to head games, e.g. Stuart vs. Gavin. and encouraged some fierce competition. On the very first day two of our crowd, Reuben and Anne-Marie seriously went for it on the shorts and neither would give in. Reuben won 13-11 but paid the price by spending the afternoon in the toilets being sick. Meanwhile Anne-Marie recovering in the fresh air fell into the freezing January river and three of us had to rescue her. This did not go down well with our tutors but this did not deter us in the slightest, and so the league went on.

Mark got a cheque at the start of each term from his dad. He set the early pace in the league but ran out of money at the end of January and tumbled down the table. From then on I was always fighting a rearguard action against Stuart who just had too much financial resource at his disposal for me to make a serious challenge. Every time someone tried to beat him, he'd just keep buying more pints until the other person ran out of money.

However, there was one memorable day when we bought 2 pints for his opponent Dec just before last orders and hid them behind the fruit machine. When time was called Stuart thought he'd won by one pint, but then we revealed the two pints and Stuart gracefully admitted he'd been had to raucous cheers from the crowd.

I started seeing a girl called Jess who was older than me, in her early 20's and she had her own flat. She supported herself through college by working every night at The Brewhouse in town (now the Goose), at the time one of our favourite haunts for a Friday night. We met through our Maths A level class. Our friendship grew into a kind of love but it wasn't physical or romantic love, it was companionship and mutual understanding. She gave me a key to her flat in Botley and I would frequently wait in there for her during the evening and we'd spend the night together. We used to sleep together in the same bed, but there was never anything physical between us and we never questioned the relationship, it just seemed natural. Eventually she went to work in Kenya and never came back. I often wonder what happened to her and regretted losing touch, but it's far too late to do anything about it now.

February 1988 marked my 18th birthday and I passed my driving test the same day. A couple of weeks later I had my official 18th birthday party in the room upstairs at the Swan in Eynsham. Several of my friends had come from Oxford and Dad had said we could stay at his house. However I don't think he realised how many there would be, there was about 8 of us. Having made our way loudly back to the house, which included stealing some traffic cones, wearing them on our heads and singing at the tops of our voices, we then proceeded to party in my Dad's living room. Eventually he came downstairs and bellowed at Emma, Mark, Russell, Dec and the rest of us to shut up. This was perhaps unsurprising considering we had spent half the night bundling people on the settee and jumping on Emma who was always game for a laugh.

There were many nights like these during the college years, and sometimes I didn't go home for days. We used to book a B and B for two people down the Abingdon Road for about 15 quid, then go out drinking. When we got back, the two would go in and then we'd let all the others through the window and sleep about six to a bed. In the end Emma and Carey,  got their own flat and they used to have an open house policy on Wednesdays and we all used to head around there for a few beers. I had a season ticket at Oxford United at the time so it was quite handy for me as I'd go round after the game. Again it was a case of too many people for too few beds and I often ended up on the floor and even in the bath one time.

Needless to say with my social life in full swing my studies were not going particularly well. I began to really struggle in Maths and I realised it was not for me. I didn't want to drop to doing only 2 A Levels so I looked around and found a course on Media and Communication Studies. Dad was not pleased when I swapped to this course halfway through the first year. However it was to prove to be a very important move a few years later when I went for a job interview in market research armed to the teeth with knowledge about the industry. This course was basically a doss, analysing newspaper articles and watching the telly. You could skive as often as you wanted, particularly the Friday morning class which the lecturer rarely turned up to, allegedly according to some other lectures due to him enjoying his drink even more than we did. I was taking my other courses a bit more seriously as my tutors would have had no hesitation in throwing people out of French and Psychology respectively if they weren't up to scratch. Fortunately my French tutor was an excellent teacher and got the best out of me. Psychology was a bit haphazard with different teachers coming and going. The people were not so nice in that class either, it seemed to have attracted a lot of the snobby public school element I was trying to get away from.

The end of term finally came and we again had a party at The Set, which was just as good as the Christmas one, if I can remember correctly. Which isn't easy, most of that term was an alcoholic blur.

Again, it's hard to believe all this was nearly 20 years ago, but life has a way of passing by before you realise it. At least I am still having just as good a time now.

11:57 AM
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  • 11 Apr 2007
Shares etc

Current mood:productive

I am in the process of making my first tentative steps into the stock market. This is going to be my new hobby to satisfy my gambling gene now that I have given up the horses.

The bank arranged some investements for me before the tax year ended, but I am not going to tie up all of my money in their funds as the fees they were charging were horrendous. Had I followed their recommendations I would have been about two grand down in fees on day one. So I am only taking a small porfolio of their recommendations and I am going to invest the rest myself. It costs much less to do a share transaction – it varies by bank but you are looking at about a tenner to make a trade, no matter how much you buy or sell. Much better than percentage based fees.

I am pretty much a novice at this, but then I was also a novice when it came to horse racing at one time, and I many years of success at that game, even with the odds stacked against me, because I learned the game inside out and understood the concept of value, which is something that most betting shop punters do not. The last few years on Betfair saw some spectacular gains however, my tried and tested methods began to suffer from the law of diminishing returns in the end, and I gave a big chunk of my winnings back, so I decided to retire gracefully in the end whilst I was still in front.

Now the stock market is a brave new world, but I figure that if I could make money in an area in which most people usually lose, i.e. the horses, then making money in an arena where most people gain over time should be a lot easier. Doubtless there may be experienced people reading this chuckling at my naivety, as I really am a complete novice, but I am a quick learner and I have already absorbed a lot of information.

The question is what shares do I buy? Do I buy into areas that I know about? What about the bookies? Having seen how much money some of their customers pump into those roulette machines it seems like a licence to print money. Or what about the Brewers? If I were to buy into the manufacturers of Strongbow, then I would in theory be boosting my shares every time I buy a pint.

There are certain old British companies that I admire – for example Marks and Spencers, who seem to be on the up these days, thanks to their current very successful advertising campaigns. Or what about internet retailers like Amazon and such like – surely they will continue to grow and grow as the internet becomes increasingly a way of life.

I don't normally ask for any feedback, dear reader(s) but do you have any suggestions? What would you invest your money in?
6:46 PM

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  • 10 Apr 2007
St George's Day

Current mood:pensive

As St George's day approaches, I keep receiving an email from various people regarding a campaign to make April 23rd a National holiday in honour of the patron saint of England. There seems to be a general feeling in the country that we do not celebrate our national day to the same extent as other nations. However, I think there are a number of reasons why this should be so.

Take St Patrick's Day for an example which is often quoted as a comparison. The argument goes that everyone celebrates St Patrick's Day to a greater extent. However, you have to look at the driving force behind this. The vast majority of this St Patrick's day paraphenalia such as hats, t-shirts, flags etc which adorn the pubs of England during mid March every year, comes from one source and one source only. Guinness. Basically this day, and all that goes with it is nothing more than a huge marketing exercise to get people to drink more Guinness. And it's effective, believe me. How many people have you heard who don't drink Guinness normally on the day in question saying "well, you've got to have a pint of Guinness on St Patrick's Day, haven't you?" I know it's true, because I have done it myself. I've gone the whole hog, drunk the Guinness, adorned the silly hat you name it. And enjoyed it at the time, so "hats off" to Guinness really, you cannot fault their marketing.

On the St Patrick's Day just recently passed, I did over-indulge somewhat. I was given towards the end of the evening one of those Guinness big hats to look after for a friend, and on my departure from the pub it remained upon my head. I also managed to keep it on in the kebab shop despite some attempts to steal it by some similarly inebriated souls, and made it all the way into Chapel Street unscathed. Unfortunately here is where I came unstuck as i stumbled over the kerb on crossing the road, tripped over a lamp post and nearly went head first over the wall into the stream. Fortuantely I managed to save myself, but the hat was gone, carried away by the Bure, along with most of my kebab. Any attempt to rescue the hat would have been foolhardy to say the least, so I picked myself up and staggered the rest of the way home.

So that's St Patrick's Day. What about the other countries that celebrate their National Day with pride. How about Australia Day - well that celebrates the birth of a new country. Or July 4th, Independence Day? Well they have every reason to celebrate the day they gained their independence. These are important historical events which shaped the future of their nations. Now remind me again, what does St George's Day commemorate? Ah yes, the slaying of a dragon. Forgive me for being cynical as the last time I checked, I understood that dragons were still considered to be fictional characters. And if this mythical event really did occur back in the mists of time, it would be accurate historical research indeed that pinpointed the event to the exact date of April 23rd.

All of that aside, I am all for more bank holidays - the fact that we have only eight in a year puts Britain in a very poor light compared to the rest of Europe. What is also particularly annoying is that these holidays are not spread out across the year very evenly. We have 3 over Christmas and New Year - well that is fair enough, that is our biggest festival over the year. Then we have two for Easter which can fall anywhere between late March and late April. But then there are two more in May, the timings of which I have always questioned. That just leaves the one in August.

It seems ridiculous to me that in the 5 month period between the end of December and the end of May we should have seven out of our eight bank holidays, and then we have just one to last us the following 7 months, including the peak summer period. Yet those campaigning to make St George's day a bank holiday would have us slap another one in right in the middle of a period where we have four in the space of a month or so already. It would be far better in my mind to campaign for another holiday where we really need it, perhaps in the middle of July at the height of summer when we could really enjoy it. Or maybe even one in November to ease us through the never ending depression of the run up to Christmas when it gets colder and darker day by day. After all, the Americans have thanksgiving, maybe we should have something like that.

This is all academic really, as nothing is going to change. Like campaigns to move the clocks in line with Europe so we can have lighter evenings that are similarly doomed to failure, these things are pretty much set in stone.
1:59 PM
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  • 9 Apr 2007
Eating out

Current mood:cheerful

Well the bank holiday weekend sure seems to have flown by. At least the weather has been decent.
Yesterday my Dad came to visit bringing me a dalek Easter Egg and today my Mum will be coming over for lunch, presumably also with an egg. It is good to know that no matter how old I get I still get Easter Eggs from my parents. One of those traditions I am glad I am not seen as "too old for".

I think we may go out for a spot of lunch, haven't decided where yet. Probably out to one of the villages as to be honest, the pub food offering at lunchtimes in Bicester doesn't exactly set the world alight.

I have been thinking that although we have a lot eaterie's they are very samey. I mean we have a lot of chinese and indian restaurants which is all well and good but it would be nice to see a little more variety. Sure we have Denis's and also Pizza Express, but there is nowhere really you can go out for a good steak. Sure there are places that do steaks but these are more your Hungry Horse type places, quantity not quality.

I am talking more of the type of food you would have got at Rigoletto's, such as the famous "Filletto Rigoletto". Quality steaks with sauces, fine cuisine. Is there room in Bicester for such an establishment? I would like to think so, but you would need a pretty good business plan and lots of capital to get it off the ground. Somewhere like the vacant building which Ashmore's occupied would be ideal, town centre location with good footfall. Possibly a bit too big though. I have no idea what this building will become but have a dreaded feeling that it is going to end up as a McDonalds or Starbucks or some other big global brand. I really hope not.

One place I would not open a business is Crown Walk. People ask why the Oven Door has been vacant so long, well, I think it is all to do with footfall. The fact is, even on a Saturday, it seems that no-one ever walks through Crown Walk any more and if there is no one walking past, you are not going to get a roaring trade. Sheep Street is the place to be, clearly, or Market Square. It will be interesting to see what effect this new development has too, assuming it happens. I am talking about the one behind Tesco's, the one that's going to completely re-vamp the town centre. They say it will have a cinema and bowling alley, well let's hope so, because it's wrong that in a town of this size these type of leisure facilities don't exist. It's no wonder people get bored and want to leave when there is nothing to do other than go the sports centre or the pub.

We have had our lunch now, and I have just come back to finish our blog entry. We went to the Bull at Launton which was very enjoyable. This is a pub I have frequented regularly in recent years, not only is it on the Aunt Sally roster, but we were also regulars at the Sunday night music quizzes for a while. The guy that runs them does OK, but I used to run music quizzes myself at the Plough years ago, and it's the sort of thing I love doing/ organising, and I know for a fact I can do it just as well if not better than that guy. I often wonder whether I should give up the day job and go into the entertainment business full time. After all I have done enough DJ'ing, karaoke nights and quiz nights over the years to know what I am doing. I guess I enjoy having these things as hobbies though and doing it for a living, lugging equipment from pub to pub every night might not be such fun. I think I will stick with the day job for the time being and keep these things as hobbies.

Speaking of which it's karaoke night tonight at G's again, and should be a lively one, with plenty of people still out enjoying the Easter break. Back tomorrow I expect.

11:13 PM
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  • 8 Apr 2007
Aunt Sally

Current mood:busy

I haven't had much time for my blog this weekend as I have been putting together the final touches for this year's Aunt Sally season which starts next week. I know that a lot of people probably have no idea what Aunt Sally is, so I will make a brief explanation.

It's a traditional sport, played since medieval times at fairs, and in modern times, pub gardens. Players have six sticks with which to knock a doll off a post standing 30 feet away. Teams of eight players in each contest matches over three legs.

It's a game that is incredibly popular in Oxfordshire with over 200 teams in several leagues – but virtually unheard of outside of the local area. The Bicester League itself is a long established league, including 24  teams from Bicester and the local area, and it is growing every year

Matches are played every Wednesday evening from April to September each season. It is a real community activity that creates positive interaction between different social groups. We have teams of people in their 20's and teams of people in their 60's. Most importantly – everyone has fun! Well most of the time, as in any pub sport, things can get heated at times, and I've even seen men of pensionable age squaring up to each other over a disputed call!
I took over as League Secretary when offering to help out the guys who were previously running it, and pretty much run it single-handedly these days. Before each season, I send out registration packs to all participating outlets, and collect their registration fees. Once the final make up of the league is known I organise the fixture list, and communicate this and other relevant information to the teams.

During the season, each week I receive the result cards through the post. I then compile the results, league tables, and individual stats. These are then posted and emailed out to the teams. At the end of the season we have a finals night when everyone gets together and we present the trophies.

It's a lot of work, and I do it for nothing, but it is something I do to put something back in the community, and to bring people together. Some people think that playing Aunt Sally is somehow geeky or uncool, but it cannot be that uncool if one of the coolest pubs in town, the Hobgoblin, has a team made up of people who you would hardly think were uncool if you met them.

Last year my team pulled off a glorious victory in the Cup Final. We are not one of the best teams though we are in the top division. To use a football analogy, this win would be the equivalent of someone of the ability of Charlton Athletic beating Manchester United at Wembley. We played against the top team, who had already won the league for the third season in a row and started hot favourites. They had an even greater advantage with the match being held on their own pitch, over at Launton Sports and Social Club. But somehow we held our nerve and pulled off a historic win, and we celebrated long into that September night. On our return to the Six Bells with the Cup, Dave the landlord filled it up with a cocktail of booze and for me at least I really did feel like I was at Wembley lifting the FA Cup.

So for Wednesday nights from now on, it's warm summer evenings in pub gardens around Bicester and the surrounding area, drinking socialising and making the best of those fantastic British summer nights when it's still light at nearly 10pm and the beer flows freely.

If you are interested in going along to see what it is all about, here is a list of pubs participating this year.
LEAGUE DIVISION ONE

1 Bicester Town FC
2 Launton Renegades
3 Bull, Launton
4 Hundred Acres
5 Black Bull A, Launton
6 Bull & Butcher A, Ludgershall
7 Red Lion, Finmere
8 Six Bells B, Bicester

LEAGUE DIVISION TWO
9 Prince Of Wales A, Steeple Claydon
10 Crown A, Twyford
11 Fountain, Steeple Claydon
12 Angel, Bicester
13 Black Bull B, Launton
14 Bull & Butcher B, Ludgershall
15 Stars And Stripes (Star A Bicester)
16 Six Bells A Bicester

LEAGUE DIVISION THREE

17 Prince Of Wales B, Steeple Claydon
18 Crown B, Twyford
19 Hobgoblin, Bicester
20 RAF Croughton
21 Crown, Tingewick
22 Reindeer, Westbury
23 Slade Farm FC Allstars (Star B Bicester)
24 Sow and Pigs, Poundon
5:57 PM
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  • 7 Apr 2007
School Days

Current mood:nostalgic

Yesterday Claire and I went to Oxford for the day. We walked for miles and miles, all around my old haunts. We started off up by the castle and walked down through the area of the town where the Morrells Brewey used to be towards Oxpens. This area of town is practically unrecognisable today from how it was when I was at Oxpens doing my A levels almost 20 years ago.

Oxpens, or Cherwell College as it is now known, looks exactly the same as ever though, just slightly more run down than in my day. We walked across that little bridge by where the refectory used to be and waves of nostalgia flooded over me. There was no-one there yesterday as it was a bank holiday, yet in my mind I could almost see the ghosts of those friends and when I closed my eyes I could see them all, hanging around on the bridge, laughing and having fun and planning what we would be doing for the day, just like we used to back in 1987. It is absolutely unbelievable to me that almost two decades can have passed since then, and I felt a twinge of sadness and loss for those carefree times when drinking was the greatest fun and earth and sex was a vast unexplored adventure of teenage fumbling and uncertainty. I closed my eyes and memories flooded through me, as briefly, just briefly in my mind I was back in September 1987, a fresh faced and slightly naive 17 year old, freed from the shackles of school and ready to play.

Indeed, September 1987 marks a turning point in my life. I re-started my A levels at Oxpens, after basically screwing up the first attempt at sixth form at my school. This time I went for Maths (later replaced by Communication Studies), French and Psychology. Right from the start I hit it off down there and those two years I still consider to be two of the best of my life. On the first day I bumped into an old adversary from the bad days in Eynsham, Gavin. We had not got on at all well in the past, and the last time I had seen him when we were about 15 we had ended up knocking lumps out of each other with golf clubs. However we were all a bit older now, and at the Oxpens we quickly became good friends. On the first day we had an induction where we met two other guys, Mark and Stuart. Stuart was rather better off than us, with lots of money that he had a desire to spend on making friends, and that first day he took us all to the Queens Arms (since changed to  Rosie O' Grady's) for lunch. We had 2 pints of lager, a basket of chips and several games of pool, all paid for by Stuart. Unfortunately for me, the other guys were very much into playing fruit machines, and I got drawn into that scene, which unfortunately cost me a lot of money in the years that followed, fortunately I eventually grew out of them.
 Our group of friends rapidly escalated in the first few weeks as we met our new classmates and hung out in the refectory and the pub. The first few weeks we used to go to the Queens Arms at lunchtime, but soon we moved on to the Albion and then the Duke of York. I was working weekends at the time in the kitchens at a restaurant in Eynsham so I was earning a few quid, all of which got spent those lunchtimes at college. I didn't go out in the evening much, except on Fridays. We used to use our bus passes to get into Oxford where a fiver would last the night. Beer was only a quid a pint in those days. My god, don't I sound old?

My performance and attendance in classes was rather erratic. Maths was really boring, but French and Psychology were OK. Our French teacher was rather fierce and we lived in awe of her, but that first year we did have the advantage of studying French film producer Truffaut. We spent many lessons watching his films and I soaked up the sheer culture of it all. The subject I enjoyed best was Psychology. There was a high dropout rate in this class. We started with 26 but only 4 made it through to the exam two years later.

By the middle of October we had an established group of regulars in the pub. There was Gavin, Mark, and Stuart who had been there from day one.  Two girls joined us, Emma and Carey. They were from Buckingham and although only 16 had clearly seen more of life than I had. They were very streetwise and their favourite topic of conversation was sex which they talked about frequently and openly. As you may or may not know, I went to an all boys school, so I had not had much experience at that time. I know it will be hard for people who know me now to believe that I could ever have been sweet and innocent, but believe me there was a time, back then. This was the first time I had made friends with these type of girls and I was fascinated by them. I was also somewhat jealous as all the shagging exploits they discussed never involved me, though Emma and I did end up going out together for a while. Unfortunately for me there was a lad in the group who we will call Mark B who was extremely attractive, tall, muscular, and with long hair, all the things that women seem to go for. Women just used to fall into his lap, and he always got first bite of any action that might come along, seemingly without even trying.
Emma and Carey were doing a travel and tourism course along with three other guys who joined our group. These included Declan who was an aspiring professional golfer, his mate Russell who was one of the first of many to drop out of college, and James of whom I can remember little of note and whose character has long since faded into obscurity.

At the opposite end of the Spectrum to Mark was a bloke known universally as "Swing". He was very good-natured but also extremely eccentric and extremely gullible. Another member of our group, an arrant rogue by the name of Kieron took full advantage of this to make Swing's life a misery with practical joke after practical joke. Kieron worked in a painting and decorating firm and one day he told Swing he'd got a job painting a pub in Didcot and that he needed Swing to help him. He told him he'd be late and to get down there and start painting the outside of the pub pink. Swing duly obliged and had painted about half the wall before attracting the Landlord's attention who of course had never asked anyone to paint his pub. Kieron was always up to something dodgy and was one of these characters who either was hopelessly skint or waving a large wad around. He started going out with a girl called Pam who also joined our group and she became a very good friend in the years ahead.
Other characters included Sally who was heavy metal mad. She dressed like a heavy metal fan too and had long ginger hair. She was in my Psychology class, as was Alison, a small waif of a girl with beautiful long blonde hair. I fancied her from the start and we kind of got things together for a bit later on, but it never went anywhere. The character Claire in Lost reminds me of how she used to look. Not everyone was nice though. There was  one chap we shall call merely "S" who liked to try and impress everyone with his tales of his family's multi-million pound farming empire and his many sexual conquests, however like most such people he was ultimately exposed as a bullshitter. It just goes to show, lies will always find you out in the end, as this guy and many others have found to their cost over the years when they find themselves ostracised from their group of friends.

So that was more or less the core of our original gang, though others came and went as the terms passed. We soon established a routine at lunchtimes, playing pool, killer darts and fruit machines. There was also an ancient paint in the squares game called Amidar at 10p a time on which we used to play for hours and accumulate ridiculously high scores. If we attended afternoon lessons we used to have trouble staying awake. An hour and a half lecture is a long time to get through without going to the toilet after four pints of lager. Thankfully my bladder was quite strong at 17, there is no way I could do it now.

So where, oh where are those guys now? I have no idea. We had no mobiles in those days, or email. If you wanted to get hold of someone you rang their parents house. We all lost touch after college. The only one I have seen in recent years is Alison, who I met for a drink about 5 years ago, the others I have no idea. It is so sad how we all lost touch. But lives move on, people come and go, and you cannot relive the past. It is not like watching an old episode of Eastenders on UK Gold, it really has gone for good. Yet for a few brief moments stood on that bridge yesterday they were all alive and real and with me once again, and I was that teenage boy from 1987 with it all still ahead of me.

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4:09 PM
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