Thursday, 17 December 2015

A grand day out

Because of the relocation of the school, we have a longer Christmas holiday than usual with several extra days tagged on to the beginning and the end.

Fortunately the weather has been kind so with the mercury nudging up towards the mid teens in recent days we've not had to be confined in the house as can happen in the winter months. Just as well really as there's over a week until Christmas still and I do like to get out and about when the weather allows - just as we did in October when we made it on to the beach at Skegness.

Today Claire was working and I didn't want to be cooped up at home all day so we decided to go to Towcester for a day out, one of the places we've been considering moving to if we don't make it up to Louth or can't get a decent place near the new school.

We got there late morning and went for a walk up the Bury Mount which is the remains of an ancient castle, now just effectively a big green hill. You can wind your way round this reading the metal plaques in the ground that tell you the history related to it and the town. The kids love this sort of thing. At the very top are a collection of stones you can sit on and admire the view - or in our case, eat our picnic. Despite it being quite windswept up the top, it wasn't cold and we were able to sit and eat quite comfortably - remarkable for the time of year.

On top of Bury Mount

As usual the kids didn't want to eat their crusts - not a slight on my home baking skills but just kids being kids. However, at the base of the mount is a river full of ducks who were only too keen to munch on them. Well most of them anyway. The Dairylea spread crusts from Jamie's sandwiches went down well, but Ollie's Marmite smeared leftovers produced an unusual response. A couple of the ducks were almost fighting over them, but a couple of the others turned their noses up completely. In fact they swam away. I can only conclude that the whole love it or hate it thing about Marmite also applies to our feathered friends!

In the afternoon we did one of my favourite things and went to the races at Towcester. I've long extolled the merits of a day out here because it's completely free to get in and most of the entertainment is free - providing you don't gamble or drink that is. It was packed out today and that was hardly surprising. In addition to the horse racing there was a Christmas market there, a beer and cider festival as well as entertainment for kids. Not that there were many kids there as most of them haven't broken up yet. There was giant Connect 4 and Jenga, and also a very funky bouncy castle. This one was more like a cave, only a small entrance into a fully enclosed play space, but it was the coolest bouncy castle I've ever seen - it was like a disco inside with lights and music. Even adults were allowed in and like everything else at Towcester, it was free.

When it came to the betting, I was not very successful with my modest investments on this occasion. In the first chase we walked along to the fence by the furlong pole where you can get right up close to the action. I told Jamie to look out for No. 6, my horse, as it jumped the final fence, and true to form, it jumped the last magnificently. Unfortunately there was no jockey on it, he had been deposited somewhere over the other side of the track but we were so far away from the grandstands, commentary and big screen we hadn't realised this until the horses actually reached where we were standing.

Later on I picked out what I was convinced was a sure fire winner, a nice price too. Unfortunately this time I had some difficulty getting the kids off the bouncy castle and then Jamie struggled with putting his shoes on. By the time we got to the betting ring the race was off and it was too late to get a bet on. This horse of course romped home! But never mind, these are minor considerations and make for amusing anecdotes. The fact was we had a lovely day out in the fresh air and the kids loved it. There was not a cross word between them or a hint of misbehavior all day and they were polite to everyone we met. I did not have to tell them off once and that's a result. Happy kids is worth any 5/1 missed winner.

We didn't stay right to the end as it started raining about 3pm so we missed the after racing fireworks display but we were happy to go then to beat the traffic. We rounded off the afternoon with a trip to McDonalds and the kids, completely unprompted both said "Thank-you Daddy for a lovely day out" in the car on the way back.

You can't buy that...

 Jason Ayres is the author of seven books, including his best-selling time travel novel, My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday, available here:

Thursday, 10 December 2015

State Of The Art

Yesterday, Claire & I walked up to the new Kingsmere estate to see the brand new school. It has been built to accommodate children from the new estate and to replace the 150 year old St Edburg's site, the oldest school in Bicester.

A random picture of some houses on Kingsmere
(I couldn't find a picture of the new school).

As long term readers will recall, I was an opponent of the original plans to do this. Not only from the selfish point of view that the old school was practically on our doorstep and the new one is half an hour's walk away, but from a traditionalist point of view too. The thought of the lovely old building , which so many generations of Bicester children had passed through being sold off to become offices or something filled me with sadness.

We've known this was coming for a long time and it's been a major influence on our long term plan to move home, but here we are, still here deliberating about where we are going to live and the new school is up and ready to go. The children will walk out of the gates of the old building next Tuesday for the last time.

But, and this is a big but, having now had a tour of the new school I have to say, I'm absolutely blown away by it. Lovely, spacious and modern, the interior is light years ahead of the old building. The lovely "Round" room, a very attractive shared area and superb classrooms are only part of the story. There are now kitchens, with catering run by a local firm who provide incredibly good quality food on a budget, I know because we've tried it - for example there is none of the awful gristly meat I remember from my school days - all the meat is sourced from high quality local butcher Peter Goss and it's a similar story for the other ingredients.

Not that my kids are planning to indulge, Ollie informing me that despite the high quality fayre on offer he will continue to require a Marmite sandwich on a daily basis. Still, maybe that will change when they see for themselves what's on offer. At least they have a choice, we didn't even have that in my early days at Primary School where you got what you were given, some of which was quite inedible. Of course, being the devious little scamp I was (and still am, probably) my pals and I created plenty of innovative methods of disposing of the horrors.

A scraggy bit of lamb could conveniently be coughed into a tissue and placed in ones pocket for later disposal. Very handy if hiding in the toilets during a game of "Hunters" at playtime when we were meant to be outside. The dinner ladies used to come in and check but a well timed drop of the offending article into the toilet behind a locked door would create a sufficiently audible plop to convince them you were having a poo so they would go out again.

If you didn't like something they would insist you tried a "bit". The worst horror of all was the semolina. I would ask for a bit - which would be one tablespoonful approximately. Then I'd swirl it round and round the bowl to make it look like I'd had a full bowl. This never failed. As for the mashed potato, complete with black bits, we had an even more creative way of getting rid of that. By placing some on a spoon and creating a catapult across the edge of the table, great lumps could be flicked up in the air and if you got it right, they would stick to the ceiling and not come back. I'm not sure what was in this potato, some sort of superglue I reckon, because it would stick hard and fast. I'm pretty sure we never got caught doing this and it became a school tradition. Many years later I went back to the school for my younger brother's school fete and just happened to glance upwards to see that the mashed potato was still alive and well and forming its own ecosystem on the ceiling.

Back to the new school: outside the school there are acres of open space. You could fit a full sized football pitch on the field and watch all the action from the banks on the side. The school even has it's own home and away changing rooms. The inside gym is similarly impressive.

All in all, I'm hugely impressed and pleased that despite my earlier reservations they are going to such a wonderful place. Of course none of this helps much with our ongoing dilemma about when & where we are going to move - all is certain is that we are going to move out of this house in 2016. The number of considerations that have to be weighed up changes and piles up on a daily basis - schools, jobs, house prices, family & friends. It's pretty much all we've talked about on a daily basis for most of the past year and still the research goes on. If it sounds like we're procrastinating over the decision, then so be it - a decision that affects the rest of one's life isn't to be taken lightly. A final decision will only be taken when we've examined every possible angle.

Louth remains an option - I do love it up there, but it's not the only option, but in the past few weeks we've checked out Brackley, Towcester and Kingsmere itself. If we can pull the funding together to be able to make a realistic stab at moving there then it wouldn't be out of the question, The books are selling well, so who knows? As new estates go, it's got a lot going for it and if we could get in there, at least we wouldn't be tearing ourselves away completely from our family and friends and at least it's sufficiently far away from Bicester town centre to feel like we're in a new place. And there's nothing to stop us moving again if it doesn't work out.

If we do stay here my new year's resolution is to become more sociable because since I've been working from home I've become incredibly reclusive and it's easy to become isolated. This carries over to when I go out, lately I've found myself standing alone on the playground too often. I need to make the effort more with people I already know and make new friends too. I love interacting with people and I'm not doing anywhere near enough. Had coffee with a friend this morning and meeting another for a drink tomorrow night, that's a good start but I need to do more wherever I end up living. Parental loneliness is something I'm sure many of us have experienced at one time or another and it doesn't have to be that way. I have found most people to be friendly and approachable if I make the effort - so I will be more in future. So watch out if you see me heading your way in the playground, I may be planning to start a conversation :-)

Decisions, decisions. The aim has always been to reach a decision by the end of February so we still have a little time. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing - researching areas and cramming as much information into my overloaded brain as I can. You can never have too much information, especially when it's such a life changing decision as this.

The fantastic new school has certainly put some ++ points in the staying column. I seem to constantly have The Clash's "Should I stay or should I go?" running through my head these days.

Jason Ayres is the author of a range of bestselling time travel novels as well as three non-fiction humorous diaries. Find out more here: Books by Jason Ayres