Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Mince Pie Round-up

I think we must get better quality electricity up here on Kingsmere than we did at Chapel Street, as I have noticed something very unusual this year whilst heating up my mince pies.

At the old house, in order to get my mince pies to the optimum temperature - nice and hot but not enough to burn my tongue, I used to have to do them for about 21 seconds in the microwave.

Here, 15 seconds is more than enough to nuke them and I have burnt the aforementioned tongue on more than one occasion in recent weeks.

Now on to the mince pies. As I believe I mentioned on Facebook, I have a free hand in this house to consume as many mince pies as I like. This is because none of the other gannets around here, who eat everything else in sight, like them. Therefore I have had free rein to sample a few different ones to see what's best this year.

It's important to do this every year, as I reckon they change the recipes every year. It's a bit like drinking fine wines. The 2016 vintage may not be a patch on 2015's offering, so it's a case of starting from scratch each time.

What have we got then, let's see...

1) Sainsbury - 6 Deep Filled Mince Pies.

Described as deep filled, as if there were any other kind. Anyone ever heard of shallow filled? I digress.These are pretty decent. Pastry is a bit flaky in places but the filling's good. Only a quid for a box of six, so no complaints there.

Does what it says on the tin, or should I say box?

2) Aldi Specially Selected 6 Crumbly All Butter Mince Pies

I suppose I should have heeded the warning in the description. Crumbly is the optimum word and it's virtually impossible to eat these without them falling to pieces somewhere between hand and mouth, distributing crumbs far and wide. I wouldn't have minded so much, but I'd just done the hoovering after Jamie had dropped crumbs all over the carpet so I had to do it again. So be warned, if you can eat one of these without dropping at least 25% of it on the floor, you'll be doing better than me.

Create your own Christmas snow scene by eating one of these

3) Tesco Finest All Butter Blah Blah Blah...

Actually not bad considering they are Tesco's but a bit pricey at £2 a pop. Their standard ones for a quid are just as good, though, I'd stick with them and spend the other quid on some crisps or something.

Bah, humbug. 7 out of 10 is all you are getting Tesco, due to your past sins.

4) Sainsbury's Gala Pie.

This isn't actually a mince pie at all but a pork pie with some egg in the middle. I included it as I was walking past the deli counter while I was shopping for my mince pies, spotted this was half price and decided to buy some. Absolutely delicious, so much so that I've decided to make it this year's winner. I still don't know how they get the egg in the middle, though.

Jason Ayres Mince Pie Gold Award Winner 2016

So, that's all for this year's round up. Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, 18 December 2016

I'm dreaming of a grey Christmas

It falls in every Christmas movie you've ever seen, is in every TV Christmas special and advert. It's all over Christmas cards. We sing songs about it and even spray fake stuff all over the windows.

But as I approach my 47th Christmas, there is one burning and ever more desperate question on my lips.

Where the **** is the snow?

A ridiculously over optimistic Christmas card scene

Quite honestly, I have never ever seen what I would class as a White Christmas.

I don't know what you call a White Christmas but I don't agree with the bookies definition, which is a single snowflake falling on the roof of the weather centre in London on Christmas Day. Sorry, one snowflake does not a Snowman make. A few bits of left over grey slush by the side of the road from a snowfall a few days earlier also doesn't count.

For me, a proper White Christmas, like the ones you get in the movies, happens when snow starts falling after it gets dark on Christmas Eve so you wake up to a huge blanket of snow on Christmas Day.

You would think, with the law of averages this would be bound to happen sooner or later. A few years ago, things looked good. Remember that run of snowy winters we had between 2009 and 2012? Oh, we came close, really close in 2010. I remember, because I was working as a DJ then, and had jobs on the Friday and Sunday nights the weekend before Christmas.

I drove, or rather slid home from Buckingham on the Friday night in temperatures of -12c. It had been an incredibly cold autumn that year and the coldest December I can ever remember. On Saturday morning, the 18th December, it was clear that a massive snowfall was imminent. I drove round to the White Hart and dropped off all my DJ equipment, ready for Sunday night. It was a good job I did, because shortly afterwards we had one of the biggest snowfalls I have ever seen, about a foot deep in places. I couldn't move my car for nearly a week afterwards.

But it was all a week too early. Despite remaining cold, what snow was left by Christmas Day was old and dirty.

In the last three winters we have had no snow at all, let alone at Christmas. My six-year-old, Jamie, said to me the other day he was sad because he had never seen snow and he wanted to build a snowman. Short of flying him to Scandinavia, there's not a lot I can do about that.

You'll be lucky, mate

Don't take any notice of Granny at Christmas if she tells you "when I was young, it snowed at Christmas every year. because that's bollocks". And you can tell her that, though perhaps don't use the word "bollocks" as she might be offended. I did look back into history as research for this blog (you see how much I do for you people!) and as far as the last 100 years go, this is as good as it gets:

1927 was amazing - a massive snowstorm swept the country on Christmas Day. If your granny is very ancient she might remember that one.

1956 was also a true White Christmas, with snow falling across the whole of the UK between the 23rd and 26th. That's probably the one Gran remembers that happened every year!

And that's about it really, apart from lots of near misses. 1981 was another with a snowy December, but the snow all fell a few days before. And lots of people bang on about the winter of 1962-63 but that didn't start until Boxing Day.

I blame pop stars as well. I don't know where you were Shaky when snow was falling all around you in 1985 but it certainly wasn't England.

One of many Christmas singles that I would
 class as "meteorologically inaccurate"

And this year? At the moment the BBC are predicting most likely mostly wet and windy, but a few computer models say it might snow. Can't say I'm confident.

I am beginning to despair of seeing either a White Christmas or an England World Cup victory before I die. It's not looking promising on either front, even if I get my telegram from the Queen. Which will be remarkable in itself, as Her Majesty will be 143 by then.

R.I.P. Greg Lake, the only musician who was honest with us about Christmas in his yuletide offering...

"They said there'll be snow at Christmas / They said there'll be peace on earth / But instead it just kept on raining"

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A Christmas Story

As Christmas is almost here, I thought that you might enjoy a sneak preview from my latest time travel novel, Rock Bottom, which is set during the festive season.

I must make one small disclaimer. Although I have now completed the novel and been over it several times, this snippet is not quite the final version. The final draft is currently with the editor and proofreader, therefore please forgive me if you find any grammatical errors or typos in the sample below. These will be corrected before the final version is released.

This is the opening chapter, which properly introduces the lead character of Kay, who previously had a minor role in my novel, Midlife Crisis. As you'll see. she is somewhat down on her luck, hence the title of Rock Bottom. All I can say is, things do get better as the book progresses!

Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!

Chapter One

December 2018

Kay was so drunk that she practically fell out of the front door of the pub. Just about managing to stay upright, she instinctively clutched at the clasp of her small, black, leather bag, desperate for a smoke.

It was chucking out time at The Red Lion on a bitterly cold December night. The wind was howling all around her as she tottered around on her cheap, high heels in a forlorn attempt to light her cigarette.

Cursing as the wind extinguished each attempt in a fraction of a second, she made for the doorway of the shop next door to seek some shelter. Cupping her hands around her mouth as she leant into the doorway, she finally managed to get the damned thing lit at the ninth time of asking.

Turning, she began to make her way along the town’s main street, brightly lit by the same gaudy old Christmas lights that the council put up every year. There were drunken revellers everywhere, celebrating finishing work for the holidays. It was the last Friday night before Christmas, a night that she had heard the landlord of the pub refer to earlier in the evening as “Mad Friday.”

A group of sexy, young women dressed up in Santa outfits passed her by, laughing, followed by a group of young men, clearly hopeful of some action. They would all doubtless be heading for the town’s only nightclub, keen to continue the festivities, but Kay had had enough. She had suffered enough humiliation for one night already.

 Things had not gone well in her attempts to chat up various men in the pub and she couldn’t face the likelihood of more rejection in the club commonly referred to by the locals as the “last chance saloon.” It was said that if you couldn’t pull in there, you couldn’t pull anywhere and failure would be the final nail in the coffin of her already fragile confidence. Besides, she had work in the morning. Whatever else had gone wrong in her life lately, at least she still had a job.

Kay was so lonely that she had sunk to the stage where she would give herself to anyone who wanted to take her home. She did it in the hope that they would make her feel wanted for a few hours and with a vague hope that it might lead on to something more.

In reality, these liaisons rarely extended to even a few hours. Most of the men she managed to entice back to her flat were in and out in a matter of minutes. As soon as the deed was done, they were off back to their wives and girlfriends, satisfied now they had enjoyed their little bit of extra-curricular fun.

Her conquests, if she could call them that, were hardly trophies she could proudly display on the mantelpiece. They were pretty sad characters for the most part, fat and ugly middle-aged men who were only interested in her because they couldn’t pull anyone else. Aware of her rapidly growing reputation as the “pub bike”, they were drawn to her not for her fading looks but because they knew she was an easy lay.

She was just as aware of this as they were but her self-esteem was so low she still allowed it to happen. The whole sorry situation had been going on for months.

But now, the offers were drying up. Kay knew she had let herself go to the point where even the desperadoes were looking elsewhere. She was forty-three years old but looked at least fifty. Years of excessive alcohol consumption to help her get through her miserable marriage had taken its toll. She had also taken up chain smoking again since her husband had kicked her out, after nearly two decades of being smoke free.

Living alone, she had seen her diet go rapidly downhill. With no motivation to cook any longer, most of her meals were takeaways and she couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten any fresh fruit or vegetables. All of these things had contributed to a rapid and premature aging process. Her skin was blotchy and looked unhealthy while her body was overweight and sagging in all the wrong places.

These were just the physical signs, but a lack of grooming and personal care had also contributed to the downward slide in her appearance. Things she had once taken for granted like having her nails done or a trip to the hairdressers were now things of the past. She couldn’t even afford to dye her hair anymore to keep the ravages of time at bay. Consequently, in a very short time her once beautiful blonde locks had become unkempt and greying.

She could see all this every time she looked in the mirror but tried to at justify it to herself as being down to the inevitability of aging. She couldn’t say the same for the state of her teeth, however. She had been meticulous in looking after them over the course of her life, with electric toothbrushes, regular dentist visits and lots of flossing. She had prided herself on reaching her forties without ever having to have as much as a filling.

Sadly, no amount of care could have prepared them for an extremely unpleasant incident that had taken place a couple of months ago. The wife of a man she’d taken home for a one night stand had turned up the following day, hammering on the door of her flat.

When Kay hadn’t answered, the woman kicked the front door in, easily shattering the flimsy lock, and then proceeded to beat the crap out of her, screaming obscenities as she went. Kay had no chance to explain that she hadn’t known the man was married before the woman attacked her.

The man had conveniently forgotten to mention that he had a wife, but then they rarely did. Kay doubted that even if she had been given time to protest her innocence that the woman would have taken any notice. Saying she didn’t know was a pretty flimsy excuse after all.

By the time her assailant had mercifully departed, she had left Kay minus most of her front teeth. With no money for dental treatment in her impoverished state, she now had no choice but to go around looking like some horrible, toothless old crone. To top it all, her landlord, despite witnessing the woman smashing in the door downstairs, still made Kay pay for a new lock.

Since she had lost the teeth, she had found men very hard to come by. Perhaps that in itself wasn’t such a bad thing. Deep down, she felt quite disgusted with herself for taking men home with her to the extent that she had. There had been at least a dozen in the past eight months and none of them had satisfied her need to feel wanted in any way. All they had done was selfishly and emotionlessly thrust away inside her with not the slightest consideration for her needs.

They had been using her and she had been letting them do it. Kay knew things had to change, but she didn’t know how. She was stuck in a rut and seemed incapable of breaking out of it. Most days she started with good intentions but nothing ever seemed to go her way. When every night was spent in the pub with the same old people, one day just merged into the next in one long cycle going round and round again. After a few drinks any good intentions soon went out of the window.

For the past six months she had been working in the town centre for a branch of a high street chain of stores. She had started out on the tills but she had been moved into the stock room not long after she had lost her teeth. Her job now consisted primarily of locating and bringing out items that customers had ordered. Her manager had said she had been reassigned due to a reorganisation but nobody else had been moved.

One day she was out of sight behind the back door on a cigarette break when she heard a couple of the other girls gossiping about her. They were joking that she wasn’t allowed on the tills anymore because she was frightening the children. This had been incredibly hurtful but she didn’t let on that she had heard them. She just wept quietly on the inside and got on with her work. She had thought the two girls were her friends, as they were always as nice as pie to her face, but it just went to show that she couldn’t trust anyone.

Ever since then she had felt paranoid about what people might be saying about her, leading her to live an increasingly reclusive lifestyle. She went to work and she went to the pub and that was the sum of her life. The first she had to go to or she would starve, the second was the only public place she felt comfortable in, and even then it took several vodkas before she could truly relax. At least in the pub she was among those of a similar ilk, other losers and alcoholics, all drowning their souls together. If not exactly friends, at least she knew where she was with them.

Her job was minimum wage, soulless work, which barely paid her rent, let alone anything else. Unable to face the world, on her days off she spent most of the day holed up in her flat until it was time to go to the pub. Recently, most nights had ended alone with her crying herself to sleep trying to figure out how and why her life had gone so wrong.

When she was eighteen, she had seemingly had it all. She was one of the brightest girls in her class and put it to good use in her exams, achieving three straight A’s in her A levels. She had stunning looks too, having been blessed with a natural beauty and a lovely, hourglass figure.

Not only did she have brains and looks, she had an easy-going, bubbly personality too. It was rare for people to have all three of these things in abundance and it didn’t go unnoticed. She was popular among the girls at school, all of whom wanted to hang out with her, but never abused that popularity by acting like some sort of queen bee.

As for the boys, they were swarming all over her in her later years of school. Most would have walked over hot coals if it had given them a chance to be her boyfriend. She resisted all offers, though, wanting to wait for the right one.

With offers from both Oxford and Cambridge she seemingly had a glittering future ahead of her, but she wasn’t in any hurry. Before leaving school she had already decided to put off going to university for a year to fulfil a desire to go travelling. Not only was this going to be an amazing adventure that would broaden her horizons, it also fitted in nicely with her long term plans. Unlike many her age she had very clear ideas about what she wanted to do with her life and how she was going to make it happen.

She was going to travel the world, then return to do a degree in media studies. That wasn’t something Oxford or Cambridge specialised in, but she had no qualms about going elsewhere in order to get the degree she wanted, even if those other universities didn’t quite have the same prestige. She wasn’t one for standing on ceremony.

She planned to work hard and make sure she graduated with the top honours. Afterwards, she would forge a career in television, making and presenting travel documentaries around the world.

She could have undoubtedly achieved all of this had it not been for one fatal flaw in her character. Despite her high intellect, common sense and clear ambitions she had a blind spot when it came to men. Waiting for the right one to come along had not worked out for her, and eventually her hormones overcame those good intentions. From that point onwards her judgement in that area had been terrible, and she knew it.

Looking back, she could pinpoint the precise moment it had all started to go wrong. A bad choice of date for her end-of-term school ball had set in place a chain of events that had led to her being married with a baby by the time she was twenty-three.

Even that she could have overcome and still forged that career later if she married the right man, but she hadn’t. Her choice of ball date had been unwise, but she didn’t learn from that mistake. Her subsequent choice of husband had been nothing short of disastrous.

Dark, despairing thoughts swirled around in her mind as she struggled up the street, just like the few, final, stray autumn leaves blowing around her ankles. The wind was from the east and directly in her face as she battled on through the bitter cold. Her attire of short red skirt and skimpy leopard skin top provided scant protection against the elements. She had bought both cheaply in a charity shop, items that less than a year ago she would never have dreamed of wearing. They made her look like a slag and she knew it, but then everyone thought she was one anyway so why bother to hide it?

 The plastic advertising board for the local paper outside the newsagents was being severely buffeted in the wind and looked like it might blow over at any moment. “CHRISTMAS KILLER STRIKES AGAIN” screamed out at her from the board.

She passed a police van, the occupants uneasily keeping an eye on the noisy crowds emerging from Ye Olde Chapel, a chain pub at the other end of the town. From there it was only another couple of hundred yards, past a rocker’s pub and an old man’s pub, to the chip shop, above which lay her home of the past nine months.

The thought of yet another night ahead in the grubby little flat with its yellow-stained walls and constant stench of fish filled her with gloom. The flat had been intended as a temporary stop gap but there didn’t seem to be any hope of her finding anywhere better any time soon. Not with the way her estranged husband was deliberately dragging his heels over the divorce.

Although she had long reverted to her maiden name and referred to herself as a divorcee to anyone who might ask, she was technically still married. Her ex was making things as difficult for her as he possibly could, even by his standards.

The divorce proceedings which she had instigated several months before were dragging on and on. He had painted a very convincing picture of her being an unfit mother during the negotiations, not only to his brief, but also to their daughter. He had even gone to the extent of having a private detective follow her to rake up mud. Despite their separation, he was still making her life just as much a misery as he had when they had lived together.

Her heart sank when she saw how busy the chip shop was. There must have been at least twenty people packed into the relatively narrow customer area. There was no external entry to her flat – she had to go through to the back of the shop to a door marked “Private”, the very door that her enraged assailant had kicked in before removing Kay’s teeth.

Thankfully there was no sign of the owner, her hideous, obese and slug-like landlord, Mr McVie. His fish and chip empire stretched to two shops in the town and three others between here and Oxford. Mercifully he must be at one of the others tonight.

She had no desire to run into him. On top of her other woes, she was suffering serious financial problems, made worse by the extortionate amount of rent he charged her. She knew for a fact that there hadn’t been enough money in her account this month to pay it and it had been due three days ago.

She entered the brightly lit shop, relieved to be out of the cold, and started to make her way through the groups of revellers who were eagerly clamouring for fat laden protein and carbohydrates to soak up the alcohol they had drunk.

From the front door she had to go all the way to the far end of the customer area, which took up the whole of the right hand side of the shop. There were two doors at the end – the right hand one of which led up to her flat.

The counter ran the whole length of the left hand side of the shop. Kay herself felt hungry after her nightly skinful of booze, but the food in the glass displays didn’t look particularly appetising. There were a couple of dried up fishcakes that had probably been there for hours, a couple of battered sausages and a single, crusty, old pie.

Behind the counter, two or three young men busied themselves serving the drunken customers with their orders. Most were ordering kebabs which were always popular at this time of night. One of the men was busy slicing meat off what Kay always thought looked like a slowly rotating giraffe’s neck. Another was taking a Hawaiian out of the pizza oven. It wasn’t just a fish and chip shop. You could get almost every sort of fast food you could ever want in McVie’s.

She had almost made it across to the back of the shop when she stumbled slightly, right in front of a group of rough-looking lads. Fearful of falling, she grabbed one of them for support but far from being helpful, the lads cheered at her clumsiness. They were five or six of them, all in their mid-twenties. As she looked up at the face of the one she had grabbed hold of she recognised the face. She had spoken to him earlier at the bar in The Red Lion.

One of his mates, a tall lad with spiky blond hair and an earring laughed and said “Hey, Dave, isn’t this that old slapper you were trying to chat up in the pub earlier?”

Dave, a fit, muscular looking guy who looked as if he seriously worked out, looked embarrassed. “Err, no I don’t think so…” he said.

His denial didn’t do a lot for Kay’s self-esteem.

“Don’t fancy yours much, Dave” shouted another one of the group.

The others all chortled, as Kay fumbled in her bag for the key to the newly installed Yale lock on the door. There was no way she wanted to get any food now; she just needed to get out of here. But the lads were blocking her way.

“Do you mind?” protested Kay. “I’m trying to get to my flat”

“So that’s what the fishy smell was in the pub earlier”, said the blond man. “Dave here said he thought it was your fanny.”

“Go on Dave, give her one”, shouted out another of the horrible men. “Maybe you’ll get crabs – this is a fish and chip shop after all.”

“Why don’t you get her to give you a blowie, Dave?” shouted out yet another. “She’ll probably be really good at it with no teeth to get in the way. I can’t stand a woman that bites, can you?”

Laughter rang out all around, and not just from the men. The other customers were joining in too. Her humiliation had been was well and truly complete. Finally locating her key, she forced her way through them and with relief managed to get the key to turn in the lock.

“The dentist isn’t that way, love” said the blond man. “They’re two doors down.”

Everyone was laughing now, even the workers behind the counter. Not a single person in the shop had stood up for her. They had been like a baying pack of wolves, picking on the weakest.

She opened the door and rapidly closed it behind her. Then she staggered up the stairs, desperate to put distance between her and the sound of the men’s laughter, still ringing in her ears. Entering the one-room bedsit, Kay sank down on her bed and wept. How could the men have been so cruel? How could her life have gone so wrong? She had never felt so alone.

She reached for the half-empty vodka bottle by her bed and took a swig. It was the only way she knew to blot out the misery.

Later, drugged by the massive amount of alcohol she had consumed, she slept. It was poor quality sleep that would only leave her feeling worse in the morning.

She may have felt alone, but she was not unobserved. As she slept, there was a presence in the room, unseen and undetected by her. A spirit, one that another of the town’s residents had once called an angel, had been watching over her.

Kay needed help, and the following day her angel would be waiting to start her on the road to recovery.

Rock Bottom will be released on 27th January 2017 and you can pre-order it here: Rock Bottom

It is a sequel to the novel Midlife Crisis, which was released in July and can be found here: Midlife Crisis

Saturday, 19 November 2016

What if you could go back?

Imagine if a friendly angel popped into your life and offered you the chance to go back and relive any six days of your life over again.

There's a catch - you can't do anything to change history. So it's no good going back to last Saturday and picking the winning lottery numbers.

Which days would you choose?

You could go back and spend a day with a much loved, deceased family member and spend one last day with them.

You could go back and relive a special moment in your life - your wedding day, the birth of a child, your first kiss.

You could spend a hedonistic day, eating, drinking and indulging your every whim, knowing there would never be any consequences.

Or  you could do what Richard Kent did in the first book in my new series and go back to get revenge on your evil boss by shoving the head of a large rubber dinosaur up his arse!

Such is the premise of my new Second Chances series of books, featuring characters and situations from the original Time Bubble books.

Midlife Crisis features Richard Kent, forty-three years old, made redundant, and depressed over his lost youth and ever-expanding waistline.

Rock Bottom tells the story of Kay, forty-two, kicked out by her husband and reduced to living in a grotty flat above a chip shop, seeking solace in vodka and one night stands.

It could have all been so different if they had got together at the school leaving ball twenty-five years earlier. But someone else got in the way. In their respective stories, both Richard and Kay decide to revisit that day to make amends.

Midlife Crisis is available now and can be found here:

Rock Bottom will be released in January and is available for pre-order here:

Monday, 29 August 2016

Best summer ever!

What an amazing summer it has been.

Not just in terms of the weather or the things I've done and places I've been - but in the way that I've done them.

I've broken out of an early middle-aged rut which was in serious danger of developing into terminal couch potato syndrome into a new outdoors lifestyle. How has this happened? Well a number of reasons really.

Just moving to Kingsmere was a start. The open air and space made a huge difference. An increasingly positive mental attitude also helped. And I could name any number of other little things. Things like the kids both learning to ride their bikes without stabilisers and their growing independence - all of these things make a huge difference. There are other things too. I haven't been to the gym for years - it's impractical when looking after children full time which in itself is also very exhausting. Now we have the outside gyms on Kingsmere - perfect for me! I can go down there with the kids on our bikes and do a work out en route. When they go back to school I can be down there every day.

We've also been out and about doing all sorts of other things. Stuff that could fill half a dozen blog entries but that in itself is an issue. I'm spending so much time out doing things that I don't have any time to write about them. We've had trips out and about to Bourton-on-the-Water and other such places. I've taken the kids for their first experience of golf - watching me play as appallingly as ever around Kirtlington's 9 hole short course. Not that I've been deterred by that - I am considering becoming a member.

We've also been out exploring public footpaths and bridleways, all round Bicester and Oxford and the list goes on and on. I don't have time to document even a quarter of what we've done.

Day out in Oxford - one of many gorgeous days we've had this summer.

For years I've lamented that I haven't made the most of the summer - I certainly can't say that this year!

And now here we are in the final week, here in The Lake District. This is our second week away this summer having visited Tenby in July.

We got here on Friday and have already had three superb days. On Saturday we visited Cartmel for the races. This track is quite unlike any other I have ever been to. The racing is low fare stuff, you certainly wouldn't see a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner here, but the atmosphere is amazing. It's a tiny track, almost woven into the fabric of the village and when the races are on (only a few days each summer) the tiny village turns into one huge festival. Unlike most courses, everything is inside the track - not just the usual stuff you find at a racetrack but a big fairground, caravans and pitches where anyone can roll up and have a picnic, bring their own booze, have a barbecue, anything goes. It is just one big party. That party spills over into the village which is rammed with people. The village itself is impossibly lovely, with pubs, architecture and some amazing shops, including a cheese shop, microbrewery and other selling Cartmel's famous sticky toffee puddings. The local farming community is also woven into the village and there are fields of sheep encroaching almost right into the centre.

After the races we went into the village and into a pub garden where there was a band on and a barbecue and it was pretty much just about perfect.

Whether you like racing or not, Cartmel is definitely worth a visit - if you don't like racing, well it is only on for around eight days a year between May and August.

After racing Ollie and Jamie decided to play horsey and jockey!

On Sunday we visited Kendal for the afternoon, a lovely town. We finished off with a Sunday dinner at Romney's, a restaurant I found on Trip Advisor and it was absolutely awesome. I had already had the most amazing meal at another restaurant on Friday night and after these meals it struck me more than ever how much better a pub restaurant is if it is independently owned and run by someone who genuinely cares about their business than some formulaic chain run by some charmless managers. These two meals and the people who served them really show up the likes of Hungry Horse, Toby Carvery, Brewers Fayre for the shoddy places they are. It's just little things really - like being personally greeted by and chatted to by the owners, or eating chips that have been hand cut and cooked from real potatoes rather than coming from a catering sized bag of bland frozen chips. I could list more but do I really need to?

This picture doesn't really do it justice - it was huge for a start (that's a large
knife and fork on the right). Everything on this plate tasted amazing! 
It puts the likes of certain "pubs" I could mention in Bicester to shame!

I'd go so far to say that I am going to vow that from now on I am going to avoid ALL chains when eating out unless there's no alternative.

Today? A trip on the Ravenglass and Eskdale steam railway and a walk up into the hills to see a waterfall and the views. Another simply awesome day! We sat in the first open air carriage behind the guard and he was very entertaining. They are all volunteers and do it for the love of it.

Another train passes as we head towards Dalegarth station.

The walk itself was amazing. I understand that the weather is pretty lousy in this part of the world more often than not but we've been blessed with three beautifully sunny and warm days. The views from up in the mountains were against a backdrop of perfectly clear blue skies.

On our way down back from the waterfall - with the mountains in the background.

We have a few days left here (watch this space), but I'm painfully aware that September is looming. I want to bury my head in the sand and believe that this summer will go on forever, but the best I can do is carry forward the new found energy it has given me into the colder months and keep up the good work I have started. I have not felt this physically or mentally fit for years.


Friday, 29 July 2016

Fun not in the sun

One of the bad things about holidays in the British Isles is that generally the weather tends to be crap. You head off to a nice seaside resort dreaming of gorgeous sunny days on beaches, but rarely does it turn out that way. To summarise:

The dream

The reality

Once again, this is how it has turned out this week. Why oh why must the British weather always tempt me in this way? Chuck a 30+ degree heatwave at me a few days before we depart only to replace it with 17c, cloud and rain as soon as we arrive wherever we are going.

Still, it's not all bad. It hasn't been as bad as the picture above to be honest, just not warm enough to spend days on the beach. We did manage an hour or two on Monday afternoon, when the kids enjoyed swimming in one of two natural swimming pools that forms on the south beach when the tide goes out. Tomorrow morning looks cloudy but dry, so we are determined to go down and build a few sandcastles. Timing is everything when it comes to sandcastles - the biggest fun for me has always been building them just below the high tide line and then valiantly trying to defend them as the tide comes in. High tide here tomorrow is just after lunch, so we will be down there building in earnest from mid-morning, providing the BBC weather forecast us accurate for once and the fucking drizzle doesn't descend on us for the umpteenth time this week.

In one of the natural high tide pools. I even had a paddle myself.

To be honest, it hasn't been all that bad, mostly cloudy. Not being able to hang out at the beach has given us the opportunity to visit a few places. On one of the more clement days, we took a boat trip over to Caldey Island, a few miles offshore. What a lovely find this was! The island is owned and lived on by monks, but there is plenty to see and do there. A lighthouse, some ruins that you can actually walk around in and explore without the usual restrictions, and even a chocolate factory! It's a lovely little island, only a mile or so in length but well worth a visit. We walked all around it, and as on a few days this week, I reached 20,000 steps on my Walkmate.

Exploring the ruins on Caldey Island

Yesterday we went to Oakwood Theme Park. This is one of many regional theme parks we have visited around the UK which whilst lacking perhaps the glamour and high speed thrills of the big name Merlin parks, make up for it in other ways.

One of the less exciting rides, but the kids loved it anyway!

These regional parks usually have a good selection of medium sized rides, plus a few larger ones, though not in the same league as Alton Towers, obviously. But that's more than made up for by the more agreeable entry fee and also the fact that you don't have to queue for more than a few minutes to get on anything. We managed to do pretty much everything that was available, and yes, I did get soaked - again. This time I fell off the raft at the bottom of the water slide. It was actually a pretty decent day weather wise - about 18c and a fair bit of sunshine, but I felt more than a little chilly with my whole left side soaked. If you find yourself out in West Wales, I definitely recommend a trip to Oakwood.

We also took a trip to an evening meeting at Ffos Las, one of Britain's newest racecourses and another one to tick off my list in my attempt to visit them all. It's a small course with low grade racing but the Welsh crowd were in high spirits and I had a pretty decent burger off the van in a small window when the rain stopped so we made the most of it. Managed to back a couple of winners too, though they weren't anything to get excited about, price wise.

The only disappointing day was when we went out exploring in the car around some of the other towns in the area. Maybe we just went to the wrong places, but we didn't find anything of note in Pembroke, where we ended up eating our lunch on a dilapidated bench next to a boarded up shop by a roundabout hoping we wouldn't get mugged by some of the rum looking characters hanging about. As for Milford Haven, described by no less than Admiral Lord Nelson as "the finest port in Christendom", all I can say is "what a dump". Perhaps we weren't seeing it at it's best in the inevitable rain, but after a few minutes there we hurried on back to the sanctuary of Tenby.

Overall impressions of the holiday? Tenby? Great - a lovely town. Probably the jewel in the crown of Pembrokeshire. Surrounding area? Not so brilliant. Would I come back? Most definitely, I feel we could easily get another good week out of this place.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Next Doctor

In a shock announcement today, the next actor to play Doctor Who was revealed at a hastily assembled press conference at a secret location in Wales.

A spokesman claiming to be from the show said "Rather than go through all the speculation that normally follows a lead actor announcing that they are leaving the role, we thought we would get the new man on board before Peter Capaldi actually leaves. As let's face it, he's coming up for his third series and bound to quit soon, just like all the others do just as we are starting to get used to them."

The new actor was truly a surprise, as he is better known as a novelist than an actor. Oxford born Jason Ayres, 46, rebuffed claims that he had no acting experience at the conference, listing a number of TV and film appearances over the years.

We checked him out on IMDB and found that he had played the following illustrious roles:

Man in Pub - Eastenders (2 episodes) - 2015
Man in Kebab Shop - Emmerdale Farm - 2013
Fat Bloke singing on the karaoke - Benidorm - 2012
Man in Chip Shop - Coronation Street - 2010
Pork Pie eating competition contestant (as himself) - Man vs Food - 2008
Man ringing in work putting on a pathetic voice to try and pull a sickie - The Office (2002)
Man standing behind John Mcrirrick waving (as himself) - Channel 4 Racing 1999
Man playing golf very badly - Happy Gilmore (1996)
Man feigning broken ankle to get out of going to wedding - Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)

Some early publicity shots have already been released, here's one of him getting the keys to the Tardis taken today:

The new Doctor on his way
to an exciting adventure!

There is no news yet on who the new Doctor's companion will be, however it seems rumours that Noel Edmonds is being drafted in to play The Master may well be true.

"I'm really looking forward to getting the keys to the Tardis" said Ayres. "And I'm gonna wipe the smug smile off that beardy face, you wait and see. He'll be going straight to the 1p club when I put my sonic screwdriver where the sun don't shine!"

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Treasure Trails

It's the first week of the summer holidays and I'm writing to you from Tenby, here in the south-west corner of Wales. And what a lovely little spot it is too.

This isn't my first visit here. I stayed here in 1975, a trip I have some vague early memories of. I also stayed here in 1992 with my then girlfriend, but oddly, I can't remember a single thing about that holiday or the town itself. That's very odd for me as I have a pretty photographic memory and can recall the finer details of many of my other trips. Yet Tenby in 1992 has somehow erased itself from my hard drive. Where I stayed, where I ate, even what I did remains a complete blank. I can only assume that being 22 I must have spent the whole week drinking and lost the memories because of it. It is a bit worrying that entire chunks of my past can simply disappear like this, though. If only I had had a blog then, I could have written it all down for posterity.

Never mind, we'll just have to start again. All I can say is, what a lovely place. The town itself has very Cornish feel to it, and reminds me a lot of how St Ives used to be twenty years or more ago. It is also  very different to traditional seaside resort in the vogue of Blackpool, Skegness or Yarmouth. Tenby is just a pretty little town by the sea that's managed to stay true to its roots without becoming either run down and shabby, or upmarket and elitist.

The beaches here are amazing, they simply have everything. Lovely golden sand with not a hint of seaweed, or other rubbish on them. A tide that when it runs out leaves rock pools and also natural salt water swimming pools. And best of all, caves! And I mean proper caves that you can actually go in and explore. Here's a couple of photos of Jamie exploring them.

We've eaten out twice already and had two lovely meals, both which ended with a bill of around £40 for a family of four, and that wasn't skimping. I had steak both nights. The town is really lively and there are plenty of places to eat and lots of old fashioned sweet shops and the like. There's also a harbour, cliff walks and stunning views. Tenby really does seem to have it all. I can say this with some confidence as I managed to reach 20,000 steps on my Walk Mate today, the first time I have ever reached that total. And it wasn't from playing Pokemon Go either. Much as this town is loaded with Pokestops and Gyms it's almost impossible to take advantage of them. I don't know if it's just Vodafone, but 4G is practically non-existent in this neck of the woods, 3G is also very hard to come by. In fact, if it wasn't for the apartment we are staying in having Wi-fi, you'd be lucky to get this if I tried to send it via text message.

At least half of those steps came from something fun and different we all did as a family this morning. Before I came away, I chanced across a site called Treasure Trails which you can find here 

What's this all about? Well, what the good people at this site do is provide walking treasure hunts around hundreds of towns and cities throughout Britain. The one we did was like a cross between the car treasure hunts that my family used to do when I was a kid and a game of Cluedo. You walk around the town following clues to various landmarks e.g. gravestones, commemorative plaques, monuments etc, and from the answers you eliminate the suspects, Cluedo style until you are left with just one, plus a murder weapon. It's a great way to explore a new town, get some exercise, fresh air and learn a little about a place's history too. And all this for the princely sum of £6.99 which provided us with a good couple of hours of entertainment. If you have kids, you'll know that seven quid doesn't go a long way, so this is an excellent way to spend a few hours.

I will definitely be investing in a few more of these treasure trails as they will be a great incentive to get out and explore some more new places during the summer. Hot on the heels of Pokemon Go, I have to say, I've never been so active.

So that's the holiday so far, lots more to come, including a trip to Caldey Island, Oakwood theme park and an evening at Ffos Las races (a course I have never visited before). Thumbs up to Tenby, if you haven't been here, I highly recommend it!

Just before I go, I don't like to over plug my books (no-one likes being given the hard sell) but my new novel is released this Friday, and you can find out all about it here:

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Now it's The Bicester Grand Prix!

This weekend's British Grand Prix at Silverstone could be the last at the venue if those at the head of the sport get their way.

It has long been no secret that F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone covets holding a race around the streets of London. However the logistics of staging such an event have proved insurmountable thus far. There were a few glorified electric go-karts trundling around Battersea Park last weekend in the Formula E race, but that just doesn't cut the mustard with die-hard petrol heads.

Some Grand Prix cars having a race.

Now we have it on good authority that Bicester is being considered as a possible alternative venue. Our roving correspondent, Gerald Mincen, explains more.

"Silverstone is all well and good, but let's face it, it's not the most picturesque venue in the world. At other races you've got everything from medieval castles in the background to nice harbours with yachts and stuff. And what do we have here in Bicester, that attracts people from all over the world? Bicester Village of course! I am sure they would be only too willing to stump up the millions it will cost to put on a race here because think of the coverage it would bring them!"

Mincen went on to explain the route of the potential course.

A map of the proposed route.

"We would have the pit straight on Pingle Drive, for sure, using Bicester Village Car Park as the pits. Obviously customers wouldn't be able to park their cars there that day, but we'd just direct them into Langford Village or somewhere and then bus them in. From there we would go up Oxford Road as far as Kings End, then through Church Street, The Causeway, Market Square and back down London Road. Finally we'd turn right past the station to bring us back into Pingle Drive. It's very important that we feature Bicester Village as heavily as possible if we are going to persuade them to sponsor the event. I'm hoping we can get lots of the drivers and their girlfriends involved. Imagine that, Lewis going shopping and getting kitted out in all the latest of last year's lines. You just can't buy that sort of publicity".

Although Gerald seemed excited about the route, others were not so happy. One local F1 fan described the course as ridiculous, particularly the decision to place the DRS zone in The Causeway, claiming there wasn't room to overtake a bike down there, let alone another car.

Another resident claimed that the Grand Prix would cause traffic disruption in the area and make it difficult for her to get to Big Tesco that weekend to do a big shop.

Mincen dismissed these claims, saying "That's just Bicester residents, they're always moaning about something or other. They won't be complaining when the Grand Prix puts Bicester on the map and brings millions more visitors to the town, spending millions of pounds in Bicester Village. Think of the boost to the local economy!

Organisers of the event will be hoping that it is more successful than the last major sporting event that took place in Bicester. In 2015, a stage of the Tour De France descended into farce when the entire pelaton was held up for 25 minutes while they waited for a train to pass at the London Road crossing.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Cover Story

"That fat bloke on the cover looks vaguely familiar" writes reader Dave from Shillingford.

Indeed, he does. So how did I end up starring on my own book cover? Have I become so carried away with dreams of stardom that my massive ego has got the better of me?

Actually, it was more a case of needs must. I shall explain, but first let me introduce you to Daniela.

Daniela has been the cover artist for every one of my novels, from The Time Bubble onwards. She lives in Brazil and is one of a stable of artists who produce work for a site called It was on this site that I found the cover that I used for The Time Bubble. Since then I have got to know Daniela, working with her on the design of all my book covers since. I can't rate her highly enough. She seems to instinctively pick up what I'm trying to convey in my books. Here are a few examples of her work for me:

The Time Bubble trilogy - cover art by Daniela.
My favourite of these is Global Cooking which perfectly conveys what the book is about.

Daniela has also produced hundreds more customisable covers that are well worth checking out here.

As you can see, they vary in cost between $69 and $98 which quite honestly is a very small price to pay for a decent cover. It never ceases to amaze me the number of self-published authors who produce very polished novels but then bash out a cheap cover themselves and put it up on to Amazon hoping for the best. Fact is, people do judge books by their covers and getting it done properly is vital.

My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday - this cover is from the audiobook 
edition hence why it is square! A simple design using 
the backwards calendar which instantly intrigues the viewer.

Anyway, back to the story of the cover for the new book. My brief for Daniela was this, copied directly from the email I sent to her:

My new novel is another Time Bubble spin off about a middle-aged man who is down on his luck. He is 42 years old, has lost his job, is unhappy in his marriage and also has let himself go physically. He’s overweight, his hair is thinning and he is struggling to fit into his clothes.

Then he gets the chance to go back and live some of his life over again – back to the days when he was young, fit, happy and had his whole life to look forward to.

The rough idea I had for a cover was to have the man as he currently is (the unhappy 42 year old version) on the left looking into a mirror on the right and seeing his happier younger self, aged about 21, looking back at him. The younger one should be thinner, fitter, and have better clothes but be recognisably the same person."

What Dani does really well in her designs is to combine her own artwork with stock photos from Shutterstock. In this case, it was a little more difficult. If you go on the internet and search for pictures of fat blokes it's not hard to find them. However, in this particular instance, we needed someone looking in a particular direction and as you'll see from the cover, that's not an angle that people tend to pose for photographs in as a rule.

We found the young guy no problem - he looked great, young, good-looking, exactly as per the brief. But we couldn't find the older version. So in the end, I suggested to Dani that I filled the role myself.

Obviously in order to fit the profile of the middle-aged fat version of Richard Kent, the main character, I had to bulk up considerably, a bit like Renee Zellweger did to play Bridget Jones. It was a tough couple of weeks, but with plenty of trips to the Wimpy, doubling my crisp consumption to twelve packets a day and doing all my cooking with lard, I eventually built myself up to a profile I was happy with. Then it was simply a case of pushing out my belly as far as I could and posing at the right angle for the photo.

And here we have the end result!

Me as "Richard Kent", now and aged 21.

I think you will agree that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. As for the guy in the mirror, did I really look that good when I was 21? Well Dave says no, but he takes the piss all the time and he didn't even know me then, so I think I'll just say I did and hope no-one that knew me as long ago as 1991 reads this!

And when can you read this latest masterpiece? It will be out on the 29th July and is available for pre-order here:

Thursday, 9 June 2016

HS4 comes to Bicester!

Bicester residents were reacting in shock today after plans for an ambitious new HS4 railway line were revealed by a new Government White Paper. Work on the new £20 billion line linking Bicester with Heathrow Airport could begin as early as 2018 if the man behind the scheme, local entrepreneur Gerald Mincen, 46, gets his way.

The new line would provide a direct link from Heathrow airport to a new state of the art railway station on the current Gavray Meadows site. Mincen explained “This new line will really put Bicester on the map. We don’t want visiting foreign nationals wasting unnecessary shopping time visiting Buckingham Palace or Stratford-Upon-Avon. Now they can forget about all of that and come straight here in less than half an hour”.

Coming soon, to an outlet shopping centre near you.

When questioned on how the project was to be financed, Mincen added “We envisage funding the entire project out of Bicester resident’s council tax contributions. Obviously these will have to increase slightly, but I am sure that the locals will be only too delighted to stump up for this latest enhancement to their town. We will unfortunately have to completely demolish the existing village of Wendlebury in order to complete the line, but that is a small price to pay in the quest for retail nirvana”.

Asked where the displaced Wendlebury inhabitants would live, Mr Mincen, who coincidentally is a shareholder in one of the many companies currently building around Bicester, said “We can reassure all residents that they will have first choice of plots on the next phase of development on the Kingsmere estate. Prices for one-bedroom starter homes begin at as little as £750,000”.

This is not the first time that Mr Mincen has been involved with a controversial transport scheme in Bicester. In 2014 he unveiled plans to build a large marina on land adjacent to the Wyevale Garden Centre. Provisionally entitled “The Bicester Riviera”, this ambitious scheme to attract rich yacht owners from Monaco and St Tropez foundered after a local resident pointed out that Bicester was nowhere near the sea.

Jason’s latest novel, Midlife Crisis is now available for pre-order and will be released on Friday 29th July.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Hold elections on Facebook

Here I am, looking at the local council election results and I see that all of the seats have been won with votes in the hundreds, not thousands by the same old party, with a mix of the old faces and some new ones. It matters not who they are, they are all from the same political party. I am not going to say the name of the party as I don't want this blog to appear politically biased, that is not the intent.

Yet there are so many issues locally that need addressing. Where are the independent candidates, the ones not aligned to a political party, the ones who will stand up and say "Yes, I'm pissed off about Bicester Village, yes I'm pissed off about all the traffic, yes I'm pissed off about the new warehouses!"

I think you already know the answer - they are all on Facebook complaining about it!

Then I see voter turnout in the Bicester North and Caversfield ward is 27%. And I think, really? Is this how things are now? Do we sit here on our phones, ranting and complaining and then leave the status quo to it? Seriously, most of the candidates elected at this election got in with around 800 votes, and these largely I believe down to those that did vote supporting their party rather than any particular allegiance to an individual and their views. (The 3 candidates voted in, all from the same party got 804, 797 and 790).

How hard would it be for a passionate advocate of the town and all of the issues that affect us all to gather 800+ votes as an independent candidate and actually represent what WE (us humble residents of Bicester) want? There's enough Facebook groups about Bicester with hundreds and thousands of members to make a difference.

Therein lies the crux of the problem. We are all happy to go on to Facebook and have a rant and express our views. It's easy, and it is how we all live our lives these days. Going off to some polling booth somewhere or talking to a candidate or reading their leaflet isn't. That is old hat and "so last century". If I was standing as a political candidate I certainly wouldn't waste my time going round knocking on doors annoying people while they were having their tea. I would do it all on Facebook.

So here's another thought - what if the voting was done via Facebook? Let's not make any bones about this, it is the currency/ opium of the masses. We could all have a mass debate with each other and then at the end cast our vote. I reckon we'd see 70%+ turnout, easily. They've managed to organise postal votes, so why not social media?

Those that aren't on social media could do it the old fashioned way.

I know what you're thinking, never gonna happen, The world of politics and government websites lag a long way behind the commercial and social world when it comes to the internet. But I think eventually something like this will happen. Imagine the hi-tech world of 50 years time - will we really all (27% of us that is) still be trooping down to the polling booth?

In the meantime, here's to another 4 years of more of the same and look forward to seeing you on Facebook for a good old rant and to put the world to rights some time soon!


Thursday, 14 April 2016

New Tesco store, same old Tesco.

A new larger Tesco has just opened in Bicester so I thought I would go and have a look. It's the first time I have set foot in a Tesco for some time, so disgruntled have I become by their modus operandi, I need not go into detail - it has been heavily documented in my past scribblings.

Maybe they've changed I thought, so I went to have a look round and see what the new store was like. Sadly, I was not impressed. I thought perhaps after their £6.4bn loss last year, they might have learned some lessons (i.e. don't treat your shoppers like mugs), but sadly it's still the same old Tesco. Yes, it's bigger, and yes it's clean and modern but it's still overpriced and full of "special" offers that are not special at all - e.g. Tuc Biscuits - was £1.29 now only £1. SAVE 29p!

Yeah, great, but Poundland sell them at two packs for a quid. So your "special" offer is actually double their price. I'm sure plenty of less savvy shoppers will be duped into thinking they are getting value, though.

The regular prices of many things are also way too expensive. £1.50 for six packets of Quavers/ Wotsits etc just is not the going rate! No-one should ever pay more than £1 for six bags of crisps, and even that is a lot when you consider that you can get 24 for £3 in most discount stores. And as for £5.59 for 12 cans of Pepsi, that is just a disgrace.

And this is why I shop around and don't put all my eggs in one basket. I shall be sticking to my usual Aldi/ Lidl/ Iceland/ Poundland/ Sainsbury's circuit as I do every week. I know exactly what I need to buy over the course of the week, what I can get in each store and how much it all costs. I estimate I save at least £50 a week this way, which amounts up to a tidy sum over the year. Put in this way, it more than pays for our holidays. As far as I am concerned, the old fashioned way of just going once a week to one shop and buying all the regular brands at normal price is a mug's way of shopping. Unless it's Aldi or Lidl, that is.

Of course, if you have a high paid job and don't have to worry about how much it costs or have time to go more than once a week then I suppose it doesn't matter much. The thing about me, though, is that I love a bargain. Even if I was a billionaire, I'd still get a kick out of buying something for 99p in Iceland, knowing that it costs £1.49 in Tesco. It must enhance some sort of pleasure centre in the brain, the same one you stimulate when you have eat chocolate or have sex. Perhaps it's some sort of fetish. In the same way some people like being tied up or dominated, maybe people like me would get a heightened sexual experience if they were to perform the act along the aisles in Poundland whilst simultaneously gazing at the shelf where the 2 for £1 sign is on the shelf below the Tuc biscuits. It's probably not a good idea to try and find out - people seem to get quite upset about that sort of thing and call the police.

Anyway, I just love shopping and the good thing about being a shopaholic when it comes to food is that you can't get into too serious an amount of debt if you overdo it. I imagine it's the shopaholics who are into designer clothes, shoes, handbags and all that stuff who run into that sort of trouble. I can't see that being a problem for me, I'm not really into handbags, my old rucksack I got off the market does the job for most things. Fashionable it may not be, but then I've never been that, or even attempted to be so, and I'm quite proud of it!

I've totally digressed off the plot, so to summarise, I don't like the new Tesco, but that's just me, as Tesco stores go it's quite a nice place for people who like that sort of thing. Probably. If I'm trying to find something positive to say, I see it's got a proper cafe so that's one good thing. It was an absolute travesty when the old store did away with their cafe and replaced it with a Costa. Supermarket cafes should be cheap and cheerful, not coffee shops. There's enough of them on the high street as it is.

Oh, and I got a free bag for my troubles and there was some free cheese to try on the deli so it wasn't all bad. There you go look, balanced journalism from yours truly, with not a hint of bias...

The cafe was advertising a fry up at £3.99 but none will ever be as good as the old Asda 8 items for £2 breakfast that they used to do. I used to have 4 rashers of bacon and 4 sausages. Happy days!


Monday, 11 April 2016

Superfast Broadband - do we really need it?

Here's a thing. Such is the way of the world that we're always under pressure to upgrade and improve. We have to have the latest phone, the fastest internet connection and so on. Or do we?

Yes, we have come a long way from the early days of the internet when it took half a day to load a page on a 28.8k dial up modem whilst our parents wondered why they couldn't get through to Granny on the phone. But a recent experience has made me wonder, how fast do we need to go?

After all. there is no point buying a faster model of a road car that can do a top speed of 140mph rather than the 130mph of the next one down when the speed limit on the motorway in the UK is 90. Sorry, I mean 70. Unless you are planning to drive around the Nurburgring in it, that is.

So what about Broadband, how much do we need? Well, when BT Infinity came along a few years ago, like all good technology fans I welcomed it with open arms, ordering at the first opportunity and taking my internet speed up to around 40mbs. All well and good.

Imagine my horror then, on moving to Kingsmere and discovering that superfast broadband wasn't available here yet. There were articles all over the press about the "snail pace broadband up here". I was going to have to downgrade to boring old hat standard BT broadband! With an estimated speed of 2mbs - 7mbs. I was aghast! No more streaming! Slow page loading! What a nightmare! It was as if someone had just told me I'd have to give up my lawnmower and cut the lawn with scissors.

And the result? Well, to my absolute surprise, my broadband connection (5mbs) works just as well as the Infinity did. In a household of four with countless devices on the go, everything's working just fine, including streaming content. I have detected no drop off in performance whatsoever, and I'm saving ££s per month off my bill. Now they tell me BT infinity has just become available and I can upgrade again. Am I going to? I don't think so - what's the need?

I guess the lesson to be learnt is we don't automatically have to assume that we have to upgrade just because something new comes on board - something new that's primarily designed to make more money for the provider. I would never have realised this if it hadn't been for the move.


Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Onwards and upwards

So moving day finally arrived! So many things to think about, so many plans - would it all go smoothly or would the best laid plans crumble to dust?

Well, I think it all went pretty well considering. I picked up the van on Friday tea time as planned and was able to get the first load in on Friday night. The kids were safely away for the weekend with grandparents so we were up early on Saturday, all set to head for the new house to check in at 10am.

By the time I got there, Rhys and Charlotte, my helpers. were already there so we were able to get started nice and early. I was finding it pretty hard work, physically, but I was coping. One of my greatest fears in the weeks leading up to the move was that I was going to do myself a mischief. With Claire already crocked with a broken ankle there was no way I could afford to be anything less than 100%. Mindful of doing my back in three years ago and spending months under a chiropractor I had been incredibly busy in recent weeks with all the lugging about I had been doing.

Ultimately I was quite pleased with myself - it was a lot of heavy physical work going up flights of stairs with very heavy stuff but I managed it all without injury. I certainly worked up a sweat too, so must have been good exercise.

Not everything went completely swimmingly. The new place is a three storey town house and in order to get up to the top floor, it's necessary to negotiate a 180 degree turn around a stair bannister to reach the third floor. Not an easy thing to do with a king size mattress and the various bits of bed that come with it. If you can imagine attempting to maneuver a Boeing 757 around the hairpin bend at the Monaco Grand Prix that would be a fair analogy.

Despite all this and feeling knackered and stressed at various point, I soldiered on like the trooper I am, and Rhys and Charlotte were brilliant. I enjoyed their company all day and despite the hard work our spirits remained high and we go through it all. Our spirits were lifted during the last part of the move by listening to the Arsenal game on the radio - Rhys is a fellow fan and we were winning. We were finished by late afternoon, I dropped them off, took the van back and before dark, Claire and I were safely ensconced in our new home. Surrounded by boxes, knackered but with a sense of achievement. We'd finally done it!

It's three days on now and we are just about settled in and unpacked. There's been a few teething issues. For example, we had a new washing machine delivered on Monday but discovered to our horror that the standard space that it was meant to fit in was OK at the top but just a millimetre or two too narrow at the bottom! By swapping it over with the dishwasher we managed to get it all sorted but it was a pretty worrying moment. Another problem I had to resolve in a few hours on the phone was over the water supply - both SSE and Thames Water were adamant they supplied this house but they couldn't both be right.

Such teething problems are to be expected, but crucially what is the house like? Well it's lovely - new, modern and just what we wanted. We are close to the school and there's a real sense of community here. The neighbours are lovely - they have even brought round a card and a present to welcome us. I have met a few other people around who are equally nice. It flies in the face of what some say - that new estates have no sense of community in the way that older areas do. That's certainly not my experience comparing here to Chapel Street.

The new gaff!

As for the estate itself, it's amazing. I took the the boys out to explore yesterday and not only are there lots of little play areas, there is also a huge open adventure playground area with a zip wire, climbing ropes, tunnels and all sorts. Follow the path over a bridge and you come to a huge open field with a tarmac track running all around it. It's almost like a mini Grand Prix track - not a perfect oval but with lots of wiggles and twists and turns, It's 0.87 miles around apparently and the boys went round on their scooters.

All the fitness I've gained from the move and the joy of being out in this fresh air actually makes me want to get out there and build on it. As soon as the boys are back at school, I'm going to get my bike out on to that track and put in a few laps.

Out there on the field it's amazing how peaceful it is. We are close to the A41 and M40 but the traffic noise is very distant. Having lived in the town centre for years with all the noise pollution there, not only from traffic but loud music from other residents, this whole new place is so quiet by comparison. The only thing I could hear when I woke up this morning was birdsong and it's a long time since I have been able to say that. It's only now I am here I realise just how much we had to put up with before - making this move has been breath of fresh air in so many ways.

We have definitely done the right thing. This is a lovely place and all the hard work that went in to making this move happen was more than worth it!