Sunday, 28 April 2013

Loose Ends

As the title suggests, this entry is to tie up a few outstanding loose ends to nicely round off the month of April.   Then we start again next month with a whole new world of adventures in the mysterious world of Bicester Blogger.

First the back - very painful again this morning, but then the morning's are always the worst. It's like an old car, needs a bit of time to get going. A combination of paracetamol and Ibuprofen should do the trick and get me through to this evening in order that Bicester's No 1 Sunday night karaoke entertainment can reliably take place at the White Hart as it has done since time immemorial. Well 2009 to be precise. A bit of heavy lifting to do but I have plenty of offers of assistance in place should I need to call on them, so thank-you to those concerned.

New to Bicester

Last night we checked out the Brewers Fayre up on the new Kingsmere estate. With the kids away and it being our wedding anniversary it was more than overdue for us to go out for a meal. OK, our anniversary was actually Thursday but we didn't get round to celebrating until Saturday, in fact I did not even get a card and flowers until yesterday. Which sounds bad, but being flat on my back and not able to leave the house between Tuesday and Friday this fell under the category of "exceptional circumstances". So yesterday it was. We decided to walk up to the Brewers Fayre, partly because I am not one of those lazy people who gets taxis everywhere, and partly because I wanted to gauge the route for future purposes. The new school is to be built directly behind the Brewers Fayre, and I wanted to get a feel for how far it really is to walk.

In fact - it was not anything like as far as I had envisaged. I had been thinking about the road route, whereas as the crow flies, it's definitely achievable. From our place, cut diagonally across Pingle Field and you are at Big Tesco in no time. After that it was a bit tricky. There are no footpaths in place at all at the moment so you have to double back to the lights to cross, and then walk along as if you were going to Wyevale, risk your life crossing the A41 and then walk all around the Premier Inn and then back on yourself to get to the Brewers Fayre. So that bit was quite a trek - however when the new road system is all in place, presumably you'll be able to cross safely by the Esso garage and then straight into the footpaths to the new estate. About half a mile in total - and definitely achievable. So perhaps we won't have to move after all. So the 18 month plan may have to be revised.

The restaurant itself was perfectly adequate, we were seated straightaway in a nice table by the window, menu was pretty much as expected. Whitbread were one of the pub groups I signed up for the ill-fated Pubtrack Food service which I launched at Nielsen before I left - and I still have nightmares about the coding up of their menus from the tape data they sent in. So standard pub fayre. I was not impressed by the buffet option despite Jane's recommnedation. Only because the place was so packed, when I went up to look at the buffet there was practically nothing there. The greedy super-size me clientele of the evening were wolfing it up faster than the chefs could cook it. So I opted for a T-Bone Steak in the end, while Claire had the smothered chicken. All washed down with a bottle of wine. Perfectly adequate for the price - the steak wasn't the best I have ever had, though I have had a lot worse. The sirloin side of the T-Bone was a bit chewy in places but the fillet side was spot on. No problems at all with service etc. Only us two went - the kids were away for the weekend, it was quite nice to be able to chill and actually have a conversation, I can't say the same for some of the other stressed out looking parents around the other tables looking jealously at us, but hey, we're all entitled to a night off.

And take it away they certainly did.

So overall can't complain would probably rate it 3 out of 5, not as good as Maba obviously, but an improvement over the Hungry Horse.

Due to my back issues I decided to temporarily become one of those lazy people who gets taxis everywhere so we got ferried back to the Kings Arms for the extortionate sum of £6 where we popped in to see Duncan and Eric doing the disco. And lo and behold who should we bump into but my old friend "Raymondo" who I haven't seen for years. He was out with Nathan who I do still see from time to time as his kids are at St Edburg's. Anyway, Raymondo wasn't massively impressed by my opening gambit of "Blimey I haven't seen you for years, I thought you were dead!" but the ice soon broke and we got reminiscing about the good old days. Myself and Raymondo, many moons ago (in 1998 to be precise) went to Rhodes for a week's holiday in the infamous "Faliraki". And what a week that was, all I can say is, well we were a lot younger then.

We moved on over to the White Hart and took up position by the outside bar where I am partial to spending a few evenings during the summer months, it was freezing, but good company, and the drink flowed freely. Eventually with the temperature down to about 5c and the bar closing up we came home to warm up and had the luxury of a lie-in this morning.

As for my novel - well, got it all sketched out in my head - but will it ever get written? I really don't know. It's very hard to find the time to write - and when I do, all I want to do is write these blog entries. It's an instant hit, half an hour or so bashed off the keyboard and then launched to my ever growing audience which again I thank you for being part of. Were I to divest all of my interests into writing the novel the blog would more or less stop - and I don't want that. I could have invested this last hour on the novel - but quite honestly I would rather write this instead.

So perhaps I shall have to put the novel on hold for a bit. Perhaps when both kids are at school full time? Oh I don't know really, all a bit indecisive on this one. I'll go with the flow for now, blog blog, blog and see where that takes me. Maybe someone will snap me up for a newspaper column. Hello, anyone from the Bicester Advertiser reading?

Last night's Doctor Who episode was very good I thought. They have certainly redeemed themselves in recent weeks. And this leads me on to the next Doctor in my Top 11 Doctors of all time and here he is.

8) William Hartnell.

The man who started the legend

Old does not necessarily mean crap, but I think some would automatically dismiss his era as ancient history. You would have to be over 50 now to have seen any of his stories on original transmission, and for a modern audience, attempting to wade through some of the old black and white material now would probably be heavy going. Which is a pity really, as there are some true classics back then.

They went into history a lot in Hartnell's day, but unlike modern historical stories, there were no aliens in these - they would just get dumped in ancient Roman or Aztec times, get cut off from the Tardis and spend the whole time trying to escape and avoid being killed by the bloodthirsty natives of the times. All quite entertaining really though some are better than others. The futuristic stories however don't all work, but the Daleks were as amazing as ever and it is really down to their success in that second story that the show was assured the long future it has had.

As a kid growing up I didn't even know there had been a Doctor before Jon Pertwee so I was quite excited when I became aware of the earlier Doctors. I finally got to see him in 1981 when the BBC ran a series of repeats under the "Many faces of Doctor Who" banner. They showed the first ever story. I also started reading all the Target novelisations and bought the Doctor Who programme guide to learn all about him. And with the advent of DVD, and the BBC audios of the missing episode, finally in the last few years I've got to experience all these early shows.

And we owe Hartnell a lot - without him, everything that happened since would never have happened. But I don't think he's the best Doctor by any stretch of the imagination. I think many of his successors did it better, but then he was the first - and did the best with the part that he could, particularly considering his age and health problems - so I say, well done William and thank-you for getting the show on the road.

Jason xx

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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Writing to reach you

Hello all,

Been off the radar for a couple of days, as yesterday I had the misfortune to do my back in. I guess it was probably my own fault - not unexpectedly everyone's said about posture and lifting and such like.

Fact is - despite not being in the best shape in the world and having had various health issues, up until now I have been OK on the back front. Which is just as well when you consider that I am lugging heavy speakers and such like around for a living. I'm pretty active anyway - running around after the kids, shopping, housework and all the rest of it actually keeps you pretty fit. Yes I can see you Dogger, Dave and others guffawing away thinking about my famous shape and cheese ball and cured meat diet, but really I am not that bad for a man of my age.

And how good a shape are any of us meant to be in at 43? There's no professional sportsmen or women still around at that age. OK maybe in more sedentary sports such as golf and such like, you might get the odd occasion where an oldie threatens the younger generation in a major, but you aren't going to see anyone my age in the Premiership. Even the snooker players look young nowadays. Fact is, and a depressing one, is that it's all downhill from here. But we manage - as best we can.

The ridiculous thing about all this is that I wasn't even carrying anything. I had been out, got a couple of heavy bags of shopping, done and carried a washload and hung it out, hoovered all around, this was all before 10am. As usual the kids had left a load of stuff all over the place, and I bent over to pick up a pencil and a searing pain went through the base of my spine and I basically collapsed on the floor.


Dragged myself to the living room and realised I had to call on a few people for help. The most pressing need, with Claire away on a course in Banbury to find someone who could collect Jamie from school. Calls to family members went unanswered, but I managed to get hold of Duncan who sent Lynda to my aid. And did I need help, yes I did, could barely move.

This was Tuesday morning, and it is now Wednesday night, mobility is gradually returning, but it just goes to show how vulnerable I am. Have spent most of the day in bed - Claire being left with no choice but to take annual leave - not to wait on me, but for the kids. You see when you have kids, especially those the age of mine, you simply cannot afford to be ill or incapacitated in any way. You need to be 100% all the time.

I still can't stand fully upright or walk unaided for more than a few paces though. I'm praying it will be better again tomorrow. I am dosed up well on paracetamol - the only painkiller that has any effect on me. I did not waste my time upstairs, I had the laptop set up on a table next to the bed and was able to work up there and do what needed to be done, it also got me thinking.

I've never let a client down yet for a gig, and have no intention of doing so, but the thought this may have happened on the morning of a day that I was due to go and do someone's wedding disco doesn't bear thinking about. Makes me realise it's probably not the best idea to be lugging heavy equipment around for decades more to come, some contingency plans need to be put in place.

Planning for the future isn't something I've ever been that proficient at, after all we can all confidently say "This is where I want to be in 5 years time" but real life and random events have a way of scuppering that in the same way that anyone predicting what the weather will be like a month away from today will be indulging in sheer guesswork.

I want to make more use of my talents, in the first instance for my own personal satisfaction, but if there is a living to be made then all well and good. If I'd told my colleagues at Nielsen 10 years ago that I'd be giving it all up and instead making a living from doing discos and karaoke nights I'd have been laughed out of the office. As I frequently was. But I still did it.

I love my writing, and this blog has given me a chance to reach a wider audience in the way that would not have been possible in the pre-internet era. I'm approaching 30,000 hits on this blog and each individual entry these days more often than not gets over 100 hits. And it only counts each IP address once, so genuinely that's 100+ people who want to read what I am writing. So I do enjoy knowing that I'm not just putting this in some diary, and that as per the Travis song I am writing to reach you.

Years ago I toyed with the idea of writing a novel and sketched out a few ideas. Back then though, it was quite a daunting prospect to get a book published, especially if you were unknown and untested. We've all heard stories of how the likes of J. K. Rowling were turned down. I even wrote the first couple of chapters of a supposed "comedy" novel - showed them to a couple of people and just got a generally negative response which either meant it was crap, or they didn't get it. When I actually think who those people were now, well all I can say is, they were the wrong people. But the time was wrong for me anyway - I think I am a better writer now than I was then.

There was - and still is, a genre known as "vanity publishing" where you basically pay to have your novel published. Doesn't appeal and minefield to be ripped off

But the Kindle world has opened up new opportunities. Absolutely anyone can publish any old crap on there. I know because since embracing the Kindle world I've downloaded lots of books on areas that interest me, and although some were good, many were absolutely crap. Not withstanding the fact they were badly written, half of them couldn't even spell properly. It certainly led me to think - I could do this a hell of a lot better than these people.

And I don't think it would even take me that long - when I am inspired the words flow so easily. Maybe it seems some of these blog entries are well crafted and worked hard on - well they are not really at all. The basic gist of it forms in my head, and then I sit down here and the words fly on to the page, I hardly even need to go back and stop, in fact I barely pause for breath. My average blog entry of 1000+ words takes me about half an hour at most.

What to write about - well write about what you know, and what you are interested in. Well I am interested in science fiction (groan) and also apocalyptic scenarios (groan).

What were the groans? Well - it's all been done before - hasn't it? Well maybe, but in many cases badly. It seems to me that 99% of books about the end of the world seem to involve some sort of zombies, as for sci-fi well it can either be hard core or soft core.

What do I mean by that - well I think the sci-fi genre works best for me when it has a grounding in the real world. For example, a story involving strange happenings in a sleepy English Village will be of far more interest to me than some fantasy set on some future alien world. That's me, personally. It explains why I am not a massive fan of films such as Lord Of The Rings. Yes I have watched them, and found them mildly entertaining, but they don't relate to my world. Same goes for Doctor Who - I think by far the scariest moments in the history of the show are things such as the shop window dummies coming to life in the Auton stories and killing normal people in the street, as opposed to some blobby monster in a swamp on some alien planet somewhere - well it's no threat to me really is it?

When I say apocalyptic fiction, I don't mean zombies. I like the concept of global extinction, but let's take two examples. 28 Days Later - pretty horrific movie, everyone wiped out by a virus, but then just blood, gore zombie stuff. Survivors - the TV series (both the 1970s and 2000's), examining how things would unfold in the real world (i.e. no zombies). Some would say 28 Days Later is better because it is more scary, entertaining, and that Survivors is boring, but I much prefer the latter, because I can relate to it.

Here come the standard zombies

So what can I write about? Well I am fascinated by climate change, but there seems to be a lack of decent fiction on the issue. Movie wise we've had "The Day After Tomorrow", great and enjoyable film but a little far fetched in its concept - it is easy to pick holes in the science. I've scoured for books on the subject and found very little.

A little over the top I think.

When I was younger I lapped up the works of John Wyndham - he of Day Of The Triffids fame and many more. He died in 1969, the year before I was born, and I can honestly say no writer has every captured my imagination in the way that he did.

One of my all time favourite books.

No-one can write a totally original piece of work, there is so much already out there. But I can write a well crafted, well researched book, populated by real characters, and real facts, documenting how the effects of massive climate change would impact on their world - society would not break down overnight - it would be a gradual unravelling. I don't want a book where the world ends in the first chapter and everyone is running around fighting for the rest of the book - I want it to unravel slowly, little by little, with the British people changing from moaning about the weather to realising "this is serious" and the interactons between them taking up most of the book. No Zombies, no gun-toting gangs or any other audience grabbing gimmicks

Will it sell? Don't care really. I write for my own pleasure. It will be real though. Not glammed up for the Hollywood audience - as realistically I am not expecting to get that far! After all I do not make any money out of this blog but I still do it. Would you buy a book written by me? Only you know that. All I know is I have searched high and low for a brilliant novel written on this subject and I cannot find it. So the only thing left to do is write it myself.

Jason xx

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Friday, 19 April 2013

Razor Sharp

Not something I've ever asked any of my fellow male groomers about, but what do you shave with?

Up until recently I have been using Gillette Fusion Power. The best a man can get I believe used to be the adline from Gillette. Well this "Gold Standard" of shaving systems does not come cheap. About 25 quid for a pack of 8 blades. High value items in the supermarkets - they are tagged in security cases like bottles of Malt Whisky and CD's. Prime targets for nicking no doubt.

Expensive - but worth it?

These blades allegedly last "up to 3 months". The key words being "up to". Yes, a lovely smooth shave to begin with, but after a couple of weeks mine have gone scratchy. Perhaps I'm just so "rock" my facial hair blunts them quicker than other people, or more likely 3 months is extremely optimistic!

Why am I spending so much on these things? I used pretty basic razors when I started out. But over the years, I guess I must have been seduced by the advertising. I remember well when Gillette launched its sensor range back in the 90s, twin blades, "the first shaves you closer, the second closer still". A shaving system where you buy the handle and then replace the blades. A few years on and this was superceded by Sensor Excel, here's one of them. So we all upgraded.

Shaving for me, 90s style

And then...a few years further on came Mach 3 - triple bladed razors...and then Gillette Fusion and Fusion Power. Each time I upgraded and it got a little bit more expensive.

It didn't even really strike me much that I had fallen for all this advertising guff, or to even question how much I was spending. Until recently. I have been watching the modern remake of Reggie Perrin, starring Martin Clunes. In this modern remake he does not work for Sunshine Desserts any more, but for Groomtech, no prizes for guessing who they are parodying. In the various conversations with his colleagues and boss they are forever trying to dream up new product ideas, and in one episode they are talking about a 10 blade razor. Sounds crazy, but if the manufacturers keep adding more blades we might well get there!

So there I was stood in front of the fixture in Wilkinsons and thinking about Reggie and how much these things cost when I have got to get nappies and other essentials, when I thought, hang on, maybe I should look for a better value option.

So I scoured the shelf to see what was there. Now by value I don't mean the cheapest option. There were some very dodgy looking bags of very cheap razors. Now not being particular keen on embarking on a campaign of unintentional self-harming i.e. hacking my face to pieces, I bypassed those. Certainly have no intention of being one of those idiots who goes around with little pieces of toilet paper stuck to their faces.

"I knew I shouldn't have got my razors in Poundland!"

Why do people do that anyway? a) It hurts, b) It doesn't work and c) It looks ridiculous.

One thing I did notice though is that our old friends Mach 3 and Sensor Excel are still with us, and you can in fact buy disposable versions of them now. And they have become cheaper now they are no longer the top of the range products. So what I actually picked up was a pack of 4 Gillette Sensor disposable razors, for the price of £2.99.

So what are they like? Well absolutely fine! I was a little perturbed at first that they were so small and light, being used to these big chunky shaving systems, but their small size actually makes them more maneuverable. Not only that but I am still on the first one after nearly a month with no noticeable drop off in performance. So I am pretty pleased with the way all this has turned out. Thank-you Reggie Perrin for opening my eyes!

Before I go, time we found out who No 9 is on my all time Doctor Who list and here he is, it's...

9) Paul McGann

Doctor Who back in 1996.

Now you might think it's hard to make an accurate judgement based on just one movie, but in fact Paul has done far more than that. He has produced a huge number of audio dramas on CD for Big Finish, several seasons in fact, and also several series that were broadcast on BBC Radio 7, with the great Sheridan Smith, one of my favourite actresses playing his companion. From these we can build up a great picture of what his potential could have been as a Doctor.

It's a great pity no future TV episodes were made with him after the TV movie in 1996, but at least we had that, and he helped bridged the gap between the classic and modern series and keep it alive during those long dark days when it was absent from our screens. Even in that one movie he showed his potential - and he has always said he would be happy to reprise the role at some point! And the story is already waiting to be told!

We have heard ever since the series came back about the unseen "Time War" that occurred before the regeneration into Christopher Eccleston. Now what a story that would be to tell! Imagine taking the current Doctor i.e. Matt Smith back into time to team up with McGann to give us that untold story of the last great war between the Timelords and the Daleks. Ending with the regeneration into Eccleston. It doesn't matter that Eccleston wouldn't be involved (he's not keen to do any more Doctor Who). They could just use a bit of stock footage and CGI at the end. It wouldn't matter that McGann would look older - that explainable by the years that would have passed since he became the Doctor. When I heard that there were plans for a multi-doctor story for the 50th anniversary I did wonder whether this might be what they were going to do, but it seems it's Tennant teaming up with Smith, rather than McGann. Still no reason why they couldn't do this as a story in the future, surely someone must have mooted it to the BBC at some point. A very nice way of tying up all the loose ends and giving us the one regeneration we missed. How about it BBC?

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