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!


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The End Of An Era

We finally did it!

Yes, here we are, in our new home up on Kingsmere, a move that has been almost a year in the planning. During that time we've investigated all kind of options, been very close to relocating altogether, but ultimately decided to settle here.

Why move? Well. we had been living in our house in Chapel Street for 7 years, and for a further 3 years before that in the house next door to that. Over the course of that decade, life changed in all manner of ways that I could never have envisaged when I arrived there back in the summer of 2006.

Back then I was fresh out of a relationship break up and moved into the small cottage in an attempt to make a fresh start. I was 36, I had a thriving social life, and it's fair to say my new place was my bachelor pad for those first few months.

Within a year or so, things had changed. I met Claire, settled down, she moved in and less than a year later we were blessed with Ollie. The house we were in was barely big enough for two and certainly not three. There was only one real bedroom plus an attic room where baby Ollie went but it wasn't ideal by any means - for a start the roof leaked in wet weather.

But we liked the street. Out friends Russ and Liz lived on one side, and another family on the other. We got to know other people in the street, it was a nice place.

We got to know the family next door and mentioned we wanted a bigger place. When they moved on, we moved in.

Our home for the past 7 years in Chapel Street.

Now I loved living there, at least for the first few years. Later, things began to change. The house itself was lovely, but changes in the environment made living there not so pleasant.

New flats were built behind by Sanctuary housing and this led to a lot of problems. I needn't go into details, but it was often like watching a live episode of Shameless through the kitchen window. The noise, language and smell of dope drifting around made the garden a completely unsuitable environment for the kids. Once armed police with sniffer dogs started turning up I knew it was time to move on.

Then St Edburg's School, which we had a pleasant walk to each day through the churchyard, closed down and relocated to a new building on the Kingsmere estate. The new school itself was fantastic, but the relocation left us having to drive the children to and from school every day, something I'm totally opposed to.

It was nice living in the old house with it's open fires and wooden beams, but old buildings have there downsides too - no matter how much housework I did I could never win the battle against the spiders. cobwebs and dust. So we decided to leave. It took a long time to find the right place, but finally we did, a 3 bed town house came up, a mere stone's throw from the school. As soon as I looked round it, I knew we'd found the right place for us.

By the time we'd got our offer in and accepted, we had just five weeks to move. It seemed a lot, but as Claire had broken her ankle, it left me with the lion's share of the physical work - there was no way she was going to be able to lug furniture around.

Packing up seemed to take forever. I've moved several times before but it is amazing how many things we'd accumulated over the past seven years. I was a bit of a rolling stone before I settled down, gathering little moss but having kids had filled out the house with an incredible amount of stuff.

We were ruthless in sorting out and getting rid of things we no longer needed. I took at least a dozen trips to Ardley tip alone with rubbish and recycling. As far as the rest of the move went, I planned it all in meticulous detail (my strong point), only hoping I could make it all happen in practice (a weaker point).

Whilst all of this was going on I was acutely aware that I had not done any proper work since before Christmas and I was not happy about that. Whilst my existing novels are out there happily selling themselves and bringing in a nice income I am not one to sit on my laurels. I've worked really hard to build my writing career up to this point and don't want to let it slip now. At the moment I've got a local team interested in turning The Time Bubble into a movie, a seriously promising idea for a new novel burning away in my mind and to top it all, interest from Hollywood in My Tomorrow, Your Yesterday. But I have reluctantly had to put all of that on the backburner just to get through the urgent business of moving house.

With funds tight, I had to do the move myself as cheaply as possible but I couldn't do everything myself. I scrubbed the old place from top to bottom but had to get the professionals in for some things e.g. oven cleaning. To do the move itself, I hired a van, just for 24 hours. I was relying on a family member for some serious muscle on the day, but due to ill-health he had to pull out at short notice. Thankfully, the son of a close friend agreed to help out, and despite being just 16, he did a sterling job on the day and brought his girlfriend along to help out too. How did it all go? Well, this entry has gone on long enough, so look out for part two coming hot on the heels of this one!