Friday, 27 September 2013

Bangers 'n' Cash

I may have to rename this blog and my twitter account Bicester Banger soon, such has been the huge response to my recent excursion to Shropshire in my newly found role of sausage taster.

In the meantime, in an attempt to come up with an amusing title for this blog entry you can see that I've come up with Bangers 'n' Cash - this is in recognition that I was delighted today to receive my first offer of a paid interview for my story - I won't say who from or how much as that would be inappropriate, however, it's very pleasing for me that all the time I have invested into my writing career is finally beginning to come to fruition.

Speaking of inappropriate things, I went all through the alphabet thinking of words that rhymed with "Mash" whilst looking for my blog title, which produced some amusing combinations! I shan't lower the tone but I have been trying to think of a title for my going around the world eating a sausage in every country TV idea, but I can't see the BBC approving of the one I came up with.

In case you missed it, here is a link to the Oxford Mail story that I appeared in yesterday - on Page 3 of all places! I am surprised no-one has made any jibes yet regarding Page 3 and "Moobs" so I guess I had better get it in here first, in true self-deprecating style, if I say it myself first then it gets it out of the way!

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/10698336.My_new_sausage_tasting_job_is_bang_on/

The coverage I was getting from the launch of my books was already fantastic, but the additional publicity that the sausage awards have brought really has been the icing on the cake.

The Oxford Mail thing all happened very quickly, we got in touch with Lewis's in town and mid Wednesday afternoon there I was for a photoshoot, dangling bunches of sausages from my ears like some bizarre new Pat Butcher (geddit?) earrings! I must thank young Miss Lewis for her co-operation and allowing us to use the shop for the photoshoot.

The phone and email have been ringing off the proverbial hook the last few days with people asking me to get involved in all manner of things. One that has particularly piqued my interest was a message from a restaurateur named Maxwell Mason who runs the "Big Bang" restaurant in Oxford - no prizes for guessing what they specialise in. We are looking at doing some sort of promotional event, in fact he invited me there this weekend, but sadly I cannot make it. Despite all the excitement of everything that is going on, I still need to keep my feet firmly grounded in the real world and earn my money in the way I have for the last five years and that is as a DJ. Tomorrow I have a big wedding over at Hopcrafts Holt (for my friend "Tash") and of course my regular Sunday night karaoke slot at the White Hart.

Speaking of which, this morning we had the excitement of having the Radio Oxford Breakfast Show being broadcast live from the pub. Sadly due to the school run I was only able to get there for the last few minutes but I listened in with interest to the story of the ancient well recently discovered on site, which now serves as a suitable receptacle for my karaoke books on a Sunday night! I was there to hear the story of a couple who got engaged last year on New Year's Eve, a story I was involved in as I had the honour of announcing the happy news over the microphone just after midnight. I managed to get a quick few words in with Jo from Radio Oxford about it and also about the sausages which will hopefully show up in this afternoon's news bulletins.

Despite all this, I still managed to take time out to meet with a friend for coffee this morning and we had plenty to talk about - in fact I could have chatted all day. I was asked how I came up with the ideas for my blog and to be honest I have to say, I don't really know, they just sort of come to me. An idea forms in my head, I try and mould it into a story and bang, down it goes on paper, or on screen if you prefer.

This one has been a bit of a mixed bag though, just an update really of all that is happening. One interesting thing on the book sales is that I have started to shift a few copies in the US, in fact nearly as many this month as in the UK, and Austerity Dad has just got it's first review stateside - a 5* one come to that, so I am more than a little pleased. Perhaps this is the next thing, I need to make it big in America!

That's all for the moment, I shall keep you posted on any new exciting sausage news via twitter and facebook and shall be back here with more updates soon! I am looking forward to being able to tell you which sausages won the awards but it is all top secret at the moment! The winners will be announced in early November, and you can rest assured, I'll be on the spot to report back on all the news!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason




Monday, 23 September 2013

Home Made Crisps

When I come to think about it, it is amazing that the idea of making my own crisps never crossed my mind before.

As readers experienced with my work will know, I have more than a passing acquaintance with crisps. In fact when it comes to crisp and snack products in general, I am considered somewhat of an authority on the subject. Yes, my love affair with them goes right back to 1974 when as a four year old boy I was thrilled at buying my packets of Walkers from the off sales at the pub for the princely sum of 4 1/2p.

For younger readers, there used to be a 1/2p coin up until the early 80's. Excessive inflation rendered it unnecessary by then, but 40 years ago most things cost around one tenth of what they do now, so the half penny was of quite significance. Here's a piccie of a supermarket window poster from the 1970s.

Bargains!

But inflation rendered the half penny redundant, prices rose rapidly back then, in fact I remember the shock of the crisps at the pub going up from 4 1/2p to 7p in one foul swoop. Might not sound a lot to you now, but in 1976 to a boy on 10p a week pocket money it was catastrophic!

In case you were wondering what I was doing buying things from pubs at such a tender age, well I bought them from the "off sales" as mentioned above. This is another throwback to a bygone era. Back then the pubs in my village (and presumably elsewhere) used to be set up so that you went through a central door and could then either turn right or left - to either the lounge (the posh bit) or the saloon (working class bit). I believe the prices were even different between the two - i.e. higher in the lounge, presumably to keep out the riff raff. Sounds quite outrageous doesn't it? But that's the England of four decades ago.

Anyway, if you did not turn left or right, you had a little window in front of you, almost like a little post office window. There would be a little glass case with various confectionery and crisp items in it, and here anyone could come in and buy, including small boys with their pocket money already developing a crisp fixation in 1976. I believe beer was also sold here to thirsty drinkers at closing time, and at other times too. There was much less beer on offer in supermarkets and off licences than there is now, and also not the price disparity there was then. Few people would buy take away beer from a pub these days, if it is even still allowed, but back then, for many, there was no other option.

So, in a blog entry which is about making my own home made crisps, why have I just written all that? Well I see my purpose here to be to entertain and stir a few nostalgic memories rather than just write a blog about making some crisps. As buyers of my books, which I am sure you are, you will know the routine by now. I like to set the scene before I get to the point. But fear not, those of you who aren't entertained by my ramblings from yesteryear, the crisp bit is coming up now!

I had been thinking recently about how crisps are made and about the possibility of making my own. I mean, how hard can it be? Well, not hard at all it seems.

I had a little fish around on the internet for a bit of advice, read a few pages and decided to give it a whirl. I used Maris Piper potatoes, peeled them as usual, and then put them through the Andrew James meat slicer at a thickness of about 2mm.

The Andrew James - every home should have one

Now I know I have gone on about this Andrew James meat slicer on many previous occasions, but it really is an amazing bit of kit to have in the kitchen. There is no way I could have sliced the potatoes this thinly using a knife.

They sliced up beautifully. I only used three medium sized potatoes (probably about 40p worth), but once sliced up they seemed a lot more. I've noticed this with food a lot. Take cheese for example, a small block of cheddar can produce a sizeable amount of grated stuff.

Once all the slices were prepared, I soaked them in water to get rid of the starch - twice. Essential because if you don't do this, they will all clump together.

Second soaking in the sink
After that I took them out of the water, put them in a colander to shake them dry, left them for a bit, then dried them out on kitchen roll. This took a while but it is essential to get them dry if you don't want them to go soggy.

So, eventually they were all set to go, and awaiting in the chip pan. I thought about doing them in the Actifry, but decided to go with the fryer on this occasion. So I heated the (sunflower) oil to 190c, and got them ready to go in.

Raw crisps
I didn't really know exactly what I was doing at this point, I had no idea how long they would take. I was worried I might have overfilled the chip pan, it is only a mini fryer after all. I put them in for about 5 minutes and then took the lid off to check. What I initially saw was not encouraging. They had all seemingly clumped together and look sodden with fat, incredibly unappealing. So I put the lid back on and left in again for another 5 minutes. Then I took them out again. This time things looked a little more promising. A little less anaemic, and a little less soggy. 5 more minutes and out they came again, and this looked a lot more promising. Crisp, golden, separated, well here is the finished article for you to look at.

"Jason Ayres brand crisps"
But the proof of the pudding and all that. What did they actually taste like? Well I had made enough for Claire, Ollie and Jamie so I served them up, with a sprinkle of salt, still with low expectations, and this was the result.

They were amazing - exactly like crisps but incredibly fresh. Now I know that these days crisps are all foil packed for freshness, but this is nothing to to the freshness when they were made literally 5 minutes ago. The family were full of praise! Absolutely delicious and I cannot believe I never thought of doing this before! The amount was about what you would expect in a £2 bag of kettle chips.

Now - the next challenge is to wonder about how to flavour them. I wonder how smoky bacon and the other flavours are done. Added afterwards, perhaps. I shall investigate.

Perhaps this shall be my next career option. In addition to DJ'ing, blogging, selling books, perhaps the next thing in the development of brand "Jason Ayres" is the production of my own brand of crisps. It would seem to be the next obvious step!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A Butcher, Two Bloggers, and 300 Sausages!

I have just come back from the most amazing day out at Harper Adams University where I have been hugely privileged to have undertaken possibly my most inspiring role to date - that of 2013 VIP Taster for this year's British Sausage Awards.

"Let's get stuck in!" -
"No Jason, they have to be cooked first!"

That may sound like an exaggeration to those who don't know me well, but long term readers, friends, past business colleagues and employees who work on the deli counter in Sainsbury's will know only too well my love of all things pork related.

It is highly appropriate then that this coveted role should come to me through the Love Pork facebook page, a page whose title needs no further explanation - but please check it out. Myself and 85,000+ others can't be wrong.

So - what actually happened today? Well I arrived this morning at Harper Adams in Shropshire to be ushered into a large conference room where approximately twenty people were seated in groups of two's and three's around the table. There were a combination of people here, students from the University, many wives of pig farmers who have their own association and various journalists, PR people and others involved in the event. I was given a warm welcome from Aarti from the Good Relations team who introduced me to Keith Fisher, Master Butcher, and Laura Liberty, food writer and fellow blogger, known as "Foodie Laura". Laura was to be my tasting partner for the day.

I instantly felt at home in the company of these very welcoming and nice people. Keith is a very experienced butcher who has been doing this for "more years than he can remember" as he described it. He explained to us how the process would work.

Me with Keith Fisher, Master Butcher
During the day we would have 300 sausages to try. 300! Even I, with all my well documented gluttonous exploits behind me found this prospect daunting! However, he went on to explain that we would not actually be required to eat 300 sausages. There were around 10 teams in the room so they would be split between us and we would examine and taste them as they come. So, doing the maths, I guess this meant that over the course of the day, I would be trying about 30 sausages.

So how did all of this work? Well the 300 sausages were all kept in a large storage area, sealed under lock and key and heavily guarded overnight from would be sausage saboteurs. The kitchens would then take several packs of sausages in turn, cook one from each pack and then wrap it in foil (so we could not see it) and send it back in to the room along with the uncooked sausages. It would be then up to us to examine the uncooked sausage first, followed by the unveiling of the cooked one. It goes without saying that strict hygiene practices were applied throughout to keep the two separate, and of course with different coloured utensils for handling them.

The sausages, in the top security holding area, awaiting cooking.

Each sausage would be marked out of 100, with overall scores in most cases being over 90, as they could only lose marks for certain defects. They then would be categorized as either Gold (95%+), Silver (90%+) or Bronze (85%+). The uncooked varieties were assessed on five categories:

Appearance: Nearly all scored very highly in this category. We were to deduct marks for any that appeared dry, faded or pale, but all were presented in an excellent condition.

Consistent size: Quite a few fell down in the category. It is expected that all the raw sausages should be of similar size in the Foodservice industry. For example, if you went out for a meal with your partner and ordered a mixed grill and your sausage was significantly shorter than theirs, you might feel peeved. I know I would. Not that it would be a problem in my case because I would just distract Claire in some way and do a quick swap while she wasn't looking.

Filling: Some sausages can be poorly filled - if they don't fill out the skin properly they can be floppy, it can also create air pockets which can cause them to split.

Internal Faults: This includes things such as the ends not being sealed off properly or containing lumps of hard fat or gristle, thankfully we only found one like this.

Texture: Not too hard or too mushy with ingredients distributed evenly. For example if it was marketed as having a specific ingredient, it should be reasonably distributed throughout the sausage.

In order to judge the last two categories efficiently, we cut open each sausage lengthways.

Cooked and raw, side by side for comparison
Once the raw sausage analysis was complete, it was time to unveil the cooked product. This would again be judged in five categories:

Appearance: Similar to the above really and I have to say once again, virtually every one that we had looked really appetising.

Shrinkage: An area where quality varied quite considerably - obviously there is always going to be some small amount of shrinkage due to the nature of the product, but excessive shrinkage would require some marking down.

Splitting: A big no-no in the sausage world, splits across are bad, and lengthways even worse. These would often be a result of problems we had already highlighted in the raw sausages.

When sausages go wrong - this one shrank and split quite badly,
possibly due to its compact shape. It still tasted nice though.
Texture: Not too smooth but not too crumbly either, and you should be able to slice them cleanly without them disintegrating.

Taste & Smell: The fun bit! We had a huge variety of flavours. Obviously I cannot go into specifics for reasons of confidentiality but various fruits, cheeses, herbs and spices were used for sausages in the Speciality category. There are a few different categories within which sausages can be entered. We would have a slice or two of each sausage, more if we really liked them! Which we did - a lot!

Clearly a lot of love and care had gone into preparing these sausages and we had a number that came with written testimonies about how these sausages were the best in the town, famous in the local area, that sort of thing. I have to say that in the vast majority of cases we could not disagree. Some of these truly were amazing and I have a few favourites I could mention, but I shall wait until after the awards have been given out in November.

I found I got on very well with Laura and we were able to pick up the process very quickly and pretty much reached a good consensus of opinion on each one. Laura loves food as much as I do it seems and has her own blog, facebook page and website dedicated to all things food related. Her involvement in today's events also came through Love Pork for whom she holds the highly privileged position of "Hambassador", a brilliant title in itself, and something which I have great aspirations towards becoming myself. I think through my books and blog I have already been somewhat of an unofficial Hambassador for some time. I just happened to have a copy of Austerity Dad with me (as you do when you are a writer, any opportunity to show it to someone influential is taken), and showed her the chapter on my Ultimate Honey Roast Ham recipe which seemed to impress.

Laura and I, with of course, the sausages.
We were joined by Claire before lunch who eagerly joined in with our little group and continued the tasting until we broke for lunch which I am sure you will be relieved to hear was not sausages, but a collation of excellent breads, fruits and cheeses.

Before the tasting continued for the afternoon we posed for a photo shoot. I don't have these photos to hand yet, but Claire took some with the phone in addition to the ones I had taken earlier and these are the pictures you can see throughout the blog.

Sampling the wares.
We continued on until mid afternoon when all 300 sausages had finally been judged and made our farewells and headed back to the hotel. We really did have a lovely day and met some fantastic people and I really do hope to get the opportunity to participate and write about more such events in the future. The actual awards ceremony is taking place in November and I am hoping that today went sufficiently well that I may get an invite for that and see some of the butchers receiving the rewards for all their efforts in creating these fantastic sausages we have been enjoying today.

As a final thank-you we were given a bag containing our aprons, badges, and a small plastic pink pig which remarkably and coincidentally looks almost identical to the one on the cover of my most recent book, Austerity Dad! Perhaps when I published it and chose that photo to adorn the cover I subconsciously had a premonition of today's event.

I hope you enjoyed the blog, sausage lovers, and if I do get to visit the awards ceremony in November, you will be able to read all about that here too. And you can of course read lots more food anecdotes in my two previously published books, the links to which can be found here:

Fortysomething Father
Austerity Dad

Jason

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Tales from Telford

In fact, I haven't got many tales to tell about Telford, but since I have an hour to kill before dinner, I thought I would sum up the story so far.

All went smoothly with the journey. I have said it before, but I do love travelling on trains. It is so relaxing to be able to just sit back without having to keep ones eye on the road, read a book, listen to music, do a bit of writing, sat at a train with a desk in front of me. And with lots to look at through the window.

It has to be said, not all of what I was looking at was particularly pleasant. Now I don't want to upset any West Midlanders but it has to be said, the view from the window of the train all the way from Birmingham to Wolverhampton is unremittingly grim. Crumbling buildings, industrial decay, weeds everywhere, abandoned sites full of rubbish, it looks like some sort of post apocalyptic scene in places. Perhaps it is just train lines that attract this level of decay, they do after all travel through a lot of industrial heartlands. I can't remember the view ever being this grim on some of my many business trips to this part of the world in the old days.

Thankfully once I got past Wolverhampton, the scene improved considerably. I had settled into my book by that time, which I have just finished. I am always on the lookout for diary or blog style books, there are not that many of them and I very much enjoyed this offering. It was called "The Virgin Student" and it was a book woven from the original blog written by an Oxford Student who offered her virginity on the internet a few years ago. Doubtless you will remember the news story. Anyway, I very much enjoyed this and may well post up a review later on, time permitting - which it probably will be as there is not a great deal for me to do this evening.

I always try and post up reviews for books I read these days, even if I did not like them that much. Even those I did not like I try to write positive comments and have never rated a book below 2 stars. I try to write the sort of reviews I would hope to receive myself - of reasonable length, well reasoned and thought out with plenty of detail about the book rather than just a brief sentence or so. Such reviews are like gold dust to authors, I should know, sadly the number of reviews of my new book have been somewhat lacking, I still have only one compared to sixteen for Fortysomething Father which is still outselling its successor.

The last book I read was called the Chirodiary by a guy called Clive Cooper which is an amusing diary style book not dissimilar to the kind of things I write myself. It's based loosely around his bad back and trips to the chiropractor, but with so much more besides. I recommend checking it out if you like my stuff, try his. It's encouraging to find such books on Amazon because far from seeing other writing in the same genre as competition, I see it as complimentary. If people like books in this genre, they will buy more of them if there are more available, and as you know if you shop on Amazon, the way many books are found is through the "People who bought this also bought...".

In the interests of Austerity, I thought I would see how far I could get on this trip without spending any money whatsoever and have done quite well so far, all has been paid for up to this point. I even got a newspaper on the train which had been conveniently left, so if I run out of material I can read that. The hotel itself is lovely, like a big country house, the sort of place I DJ sometimes when people hire the whole place out for the weekend for a wedding for several thousand pounds. Here is a picture so you can get the image.

My home for the next two days

I am writing this while killing time waiting to go in to dinner. I am dining alone tonight and it's a long time since I've done that (487 visits to Jenny's and Nash's don't count). The earliest I can eat is 7:30pm which seems very late to me, but is in fact, by the standard of polite society rather early, and laughably early by the standards of some Mediterranean cultures. Such is the nature of being a parent of young children, where 5pm is around the average evening mealtime, sometimes even earlier than that. I've been starving to be honest, so that little stash of food you saw in my last blog entry has come in very handy!

It's a little lonely to be honest. This is the first time I have ever left Claire and the children alone to go somewhere, and I miss them. Fortunately it is only for tonight, Claire will be joining me tomorrow morning. Tonight I shall eat my dinner and then retire to the room and have a couple of drinks. I mentioned before I had no desire to sit around in the bar. Unfortunately there is no fridge or mini bar in my room, so I have had to improvise. I am actually pleased that it is so unseasonally cold (9C or thereabouts) because it means I have been able to open up the window and put the drinks (and pepperami's) on the windowsill to keep them nice and chilled. Ever resourceful me, you know, especially when it comes to matter of food and drink!

A little addendum to the Radio Oxford thing - just had a message from BBC Radio Solent asking me if I will do the same for them, which of course I will - the more exposure the more chance I'll get that big break I am looking for. Initially the thought of a trip down to Southampton left me thinking of logistical difficulties, but the good news is, it can all be done from the studios at Radio Oxford.

I am very much thinking the next step is the National stations - if I can make the jump from Oxford and Solent up to Radio 4 or Radio 2, then things will really start to get exciting!

It's a little later in the evening now, and I am back from dinner which was very nice, though it was a little odd sitting in the restaurant alone. It was mostly older couples in there, I was the only one dining alone. I spent most of the time messing about on my phone to be honest, something I generally disapprove of in restaurants but since I was on my own, I reckon it is OK. I told my friend Chris about my window chiller, with particular reference to my bedtime Pepperamis and he was very impressed, I could tell. He was a big fan of mine back in the day and still dines out to this day on tales of how my executive briefcase at Nielsen did in fact contain nothing but crisps. Not strictly speaking true, I'm pretty sure there may have been a Racing Post in there too, but that bit got lost as the legend was passed down over time.

So, back in the room now until breakfast tomorrow. I think it might be wise to skip the sausages for breakfast tomorrow, I need to keep my palate pure for what lies ahead. Stand by a full report coming your way soon!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.


My sausages await!

So here I am, excitedly making preparations to depart on the 2:30 train this afternoon on my all expenses paid trip to Telford to be the official "VIP Sausage Taster" for the 2013 Sausage Awards.

When I said I had won a competition on facebook, I got a few cynical responses. It seems many of the competitions on there are not all they are cracked up to be. Well this one certainly has been! Hats off to "Love Pork" - they cannot do enough for me. Two nights in the hotel, meals, the events, trains travel, even taxis to and from all the stations, we are being treated like VIPS!

I did eventually manage to juggle things and arrange help from family members in order that Claire can join me for at least part of the trip. Whilst I am going up this afternoon, she is travelling up first thing tomorrow at which point we'll have cover to look after the boys - thanks Dad and Mother-in-law! The actually event itself does not start until tomorrow which means this evening I shall be free to spend the evening in the hotel as I wish - with the meal thrown in. I note that the hotel has a number of sports facilities and a swimming pool which I could avail myself of, should I feel that way inclined. I guess it is unlikely but I will put my swimming trunks in just in case. That is a pair of Calvin Klein swimming shorts before Dave or Dogger comes on to ask about whether I still have my speedos! I haven't, I donated them to the British Fashion Museum in Bath.

It is a strangely nostalgic and deja vu type thing to be doing, preparing for a midweek night away in a hotel on my own, and not something I really expected ever to be doing again. Of course, back in my corporate days I used to be doing this sort of thing all the time. My clients, retailers, brewers, and manufacturers were scattered all over the country which frequently required overnight stops. Sometimes if with colleagues this could mean a great night out in the right location - a trip to Crookes Healthcare meant a good night out on the lash in Nottingham City Centre, whilst Greene King or Jeyes meant a more low key but enjoyable stop in Bury St Edmunds.

However, many times I was alone, and often in hotels out of town, stuck on the ring roads which in many cases could be quite soulless places. A hotel bar in your average Holiday Inn is not like a pub - it's got more of an airport departure lounge feel to it. I rarely, if ever, met anyone interesting to talk to in any of these places, they are full of business people talking the talk and walking the walk which I hate. On the few occasions I did attempt to engage in any conversations about anything, invariably they would start banging on about how they were up here as a salesman for the annual wraps and foils convention or something along those lines and bore me rigid with excited talk about a new type of plastic they had developed for their bin liners. Most of the time I would have my meal, on the company, and then just go back to the hotel room and watch telly and eat and drink.

Even with the coporate Amex in my pocket there were limits as to what could be claimed on expenses, so I always went well stocked up with everything I needed. Being Austerity driven as you know, I was completely opposed to spending £3 on a can of Diet Coke from the minibar when I could just take a six can multipack up myself from Tesco and shove it in said mini-bar. This also applied to alcohol, so a few cans of Strongbow always went down well. I tend to be a little peckish late at night too, and there is nothing worse than not having access to all of one's favourite snacks, so I always took a good supply of food with me. Mini Cheddars were particularly good, but any snack product was welcome. In terms of chilled food that could be more problematic as I might be out in the car all day, so taking packets of ham and such like was not really an option, unless I fancied eating a warm packet of ham late at night that had gone grey. Happily the solution to the meat problem was found in Pepperami's, which don't have to be refrigerated.

So this morning I have been packing my case with everything I might need to get me through the evening, and here is the result so far.

All the essentials.

I guess I'll probably have to find a bit of room in there for a few clothes and toiletries as well, and it goes without saying I shall be taking my laptop so I can report back on all my experiences while I am there. I don't fully know what to expect yet, but I am hoping to make a few contacts there to help me further my blossoming writing career further.

Speaking of which, I had a very enjoyable trip to Radio Oxford yesterday and spent around 20 minutes or so being interviewed by Malcolm Boyden on his morning show. I was a little nervous before I went in, but I had nothing to fear as he has a really easygoing, personable nature that instantly put me at ease. Before we went on air, I handed him a copy of the book and he had a quick flick through alighting on the bit about where I caught Claire using my razor on her legs. He laughed and said he'd had the exact same conversation with his wife a few weeks earlier.

I found it easy to talk in the studio, much easier than my earlier interview on LBC which I did over the phone. I managed to speak slowly and measuredly and certainly felt I gave good answers to his questions. Although the interview doesn't seem to have generated anything much in the way of book sales, such publicity seldom does, it was a great opportunity nonetheless to get my story out there to more people, in the hope that someone, somewhere, may be listening who can help me further with my aspiring writing career. The coverage and interest I have had up to this point has been fantastic - from the Bicester Advertiser to the Oxford Mail to Radio Oxford, things are progressing upwards. I guess the logical next step is to gain some national interest, which is easier said than done - I tried before, you may remember, but I have got a little bit more behind me now to go on.

If you want to catch up with the show but missed me you can get it on Radio Oxford for the next 7 days online, it was Malcolm Boyden's show for Monday 16th September. My part starts just over an hour into the show.

I must also say that I really enjoyed being in the studio and as I have often said, I could imagine myself doing that job too - I still have an open offer of a show on Radio Bicester but there is so much going on right now that I have put that on hold for the time being - but the possibility is still there.

I left Malcolm a copy of the book, I really hope he likes it and who knows, maybe he'll recommend it to someone, fingers crossed.

Right, I must away, next stop Telford, and for all you sausage lovers eagerly awaiting your next instalment I shall be reporting back, hopefully tomorrow evening! However I shall have Claire with me then, so perhaps we shall be too busy enjoying ourselves and you may have to wait until Thursday!

Bon Appetit!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Official Sausage Taster 2013 - It's me!

As you know, there is always something exciting going on in my life and today was no different. In fact I had a couple of excellent reasons to be cheerful today.

Firstly, someone who had bought my first book left a fantastic in-depth review of it on Amazon and gave it five stars which is really nice after a few less than enthusiastic responses recently. It makes the whole writing thing worthwhile and strengthens my resolve to stick at it.

Secondly, and this is really exciting, I won a competition!

This is only the second competition of any note I have ever won - the first one was a trip to the Champions League final four years ago. This time, it was a competition run by the "Love Pork" page on facebook.

The competition was to win the prize of being an official judge at next week's British Sausage Awards 2013, which are to be held in Telford. I'm also pleased that it was a writing competition, I was not just drawn out of a hat or something, which also inspires me greatly that whoever judged this competition really appreciated the Ayres sense of humour. Not everyone does, hence the unpleasant review on Amazon that begins, "I really tried to find it funny, but..."

A picture of some sausages

The fact is, as you know I have waxed lyrical to you all face to face, on blogs, and in books for years now about my love of all pig based products, predominantly ham and bacon of late to be fair, but anyone who spent any time with me in the glory days of the Aunt Sally teams of various pubs will recall how eagerly I devoured the post match sausages. And we used to get some fantastic ones - particularly at the Bull & Butcher in Ludgershall I recall. And I have tried all manner of other exciting varieties over time, such as the Gloucester Old Spots from the farmers market that comes to town once a month, to name but one.

Infinitely variable in quality, quantity and ingredients, from the humblest Tesco Value to a Wild Boar concoction they are so many and so varied in this country alone. And abroad there are countless others. I most humbly declare, I do so love the sausage, and it is why I think I am a most worthy and deserved recipient of this amazing prize, and I thank whoever chose me as the winner for their fine judgement.

So what have I actually won? Two nights in a 4* hotel in Telford, all expenses paid, including rail travel for two and meals, plus the whole day at this auspicious event full of celebrity chefs, media coverage etc. I don't know the full agenda for the day yet, but I do know that this is a fantastic opportunity for me to make new contacts and also to write about it. I am making more and more contacts within the press and media of late in a bid to further the writing career I aspire to, and winning this competition might just lead on to another big break, who knows?

It is so important to grab hold of one dreams and pursue them. You all know I have been doing this for quite some time now, and I've really gotten to know those of you that support and believe in me, and those that don't. To those that do - thank-you.

Unfortunately the plans for this trip have hit a snag. I am free to go, and Claire has managed to juggle her shifts to free herself up. Unfortunately it seems that she has only freed herself up at the moment to look after the children. We frequently run into these sort of problems. I have had no luck enlisting help from family to take care of the kids for a couple of days as it is too short notice - fair enough, it is, but I did not know I was going to win this competition. If it was not in term time it would not be so much of a problem as they could have gone to my parents in Eynsham, but they have to be here for school so at the moment it looks like Claire won't be able to come with me. If there were two hotel rooms it would be fine, but it is only one, and I'll be honest, if I am not with her, I would prefer to go it alone. I absolutely hate sharing rooms and avoided it at all costs when I was with Nielsen. Funnily enough this did not used to be a problem at conferences as no-one ever seemed that keen to share with me, so I usually managed to blag a single room one way or another.

Perhaps something will turn up and we will find a way for Claire to accompany me, but it looks unlikely as things stand.

Anyway - here is my winning entry for your enjoyment:

Jason Ayres My love affair with all things "pork product", especially sausages goes back over four decades. From joining pub teams of all descriptions in order to sample the many types of sausages available as part of the after match food, to carving out a career as a mobile DJ, checking out party buffets every weekend for the sausages on sticks, I am in constant contact with them. Barbecues, farmers markets, supermarkets, home & abroad, there's not a sausage out there I have not tried! In fact, in my capacity as a comedy food writer (check out my books on Amazon or my blog), I am planning the ultimate expedition next year - to go around the world and eat a sausage in every country - Eat your heart out, Palin!!!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Smells

In an increasingly desperate attempt to come up with new material to write about, I am really scraping the bottom of the barrel this time, as I thought I would do a little bit about smells.

I was on this occasion inspired by passing a dustbin lorry in town (or garbage truck if you are reading from across the water).

I think I have a very distinctive sense of smell which is surprising really considering I seem to be blocked up with hayfever or various other problems most of the year round. I am sure my sense of smell was not always this pronounced. A pity, as I once had the opportunity for a dream job in the world of smells.

No, it was not a tester for various aftershave's which would have left me "smelling like a tart's window box", an oft quoted phrase I heard frequently in my youth (but which you never hear any more). It was while I was working in the marketing department at Tesco Head Office during the mid 1990's. Part of my job involved liaising with the various departments, one of which was Beers, Wines and Spirits and I got on very well with the marketing manager in charge at that time. A job became available as a wine buyer, with a very glamorous description. This was not long after a series of ads had been on TV featuring Dudley Moore travelling off around the world in search of various delicacies to bring back for us lucky souls at home to buy along with our cornflakes and bog roll. So I went along to find out more and it transpired that in order to get this job one had to have a very well developed sense of smell in order to do all of that "smelling the bouquet" in order to mouth off various stuff about "hints of ambrosia laced with leathery honey" and all that bull like that really annoying woman who you never see on the telly any more used to do.

I seemed to be almost permanently blocked up with colds and various other illnesses back then which I put down to the stress of being in a career which I disliked. And it probably also had something to do with the fact that being a young man in my mid 20s I was also out on the lash almost every night. Needless to say, I failed, and my dreams of a glamorous jet-setting career swigging booze around the globe died there and then.

As I have gotten older though, my sense of smell has improved, and I really do enjoy now shoving my nose into a glass of wine and having a good old sniff. A bit of accompanying cheese and it is all the better. It's a most enjoyable way to enjoy an evening in front of the TV, of which there are a lot these days. As for other smells, well, all predictable stuff really, you cannot go wrong with freshly baked bread and it is a well known fact that people baking a loaf when showing people around the house can increase their chances of selling it. There have been reports in the past of supermarkets piping the smell of freshly baked bread into the store to encourage people to buy, even if they don't have an in-store bakery. Whether this is true, or yet another one of those urban myths I like to talk about, who knows?

Back in my school days we were very into "scratch and sniff" rubbers. I assume you can still get them. I remember having one that looked like a strawberry that I got rather addicted to. It had a very strong aroma and was just the thing to keep one awake and alive during an interminably boring double chemistry lesson.

That's nice smells, but of course, like all things in life, there is good and evil, and now we move on to the evil. The list of unpleasant smells is all fairly obvious, but the one I hate the most, and the one that inspired me to write is that dustbin lorry smell.

Worse than poo, worse than drains, I try and hold my breath whenever I see a bin lorry. The smell is always exactly the same, I assume this must be what the accumulated combination of rotting food, nappies, and various other detritus smells like. It's hard to identify the exact source of the smell, but I would say that rotting vegetables must play a big part in it. It has to be said the one job I could never do would be that of a binman. Not only do you have to live with that smell day in day out, but at this time of year, the bins are surrounded by wasps as well, who I imagine don't take kindly to the fact that you are emptying out their own free vending machines.

Drains - unpleasant but I can live with it. Poo itself varies from person to person, all have their own distinctive aroma. Once you have brought up a couple of kids through the nappy stage you tend to become fairly immune to it. The one thing that I absolutely hate though is when people attempt to mask it with air freshener but only half and half succeed, so you end up with this sickly sweet pooey smell. I would rather just stick with the raw sewage.

Finally, a little bit on farts. I very much have enjoyed over the years the character "Johnny Fartpants" in Vix, hopefully I won't get in to copyright trouble by including a little picture of him here, if I promote the mag, so here we go, "Buy Viz it's great, here's a picture of one of the characters".

Johnny, in full flow.

The reason I wanted to include this picture was I always found it entertaining that you could see the cloud of gas emerging from Johnny's bottom. Sadly in real life this is not true, and if someone has let one off in a pub there is no warning, you can walk straight into the invisible cloud of poisonous gas.

In fact it is not poisonous, though apparently some people in the middle ages thought it was. I have often thought though, wouldn't it be great if the gas was in fact visible, say a kind of fluorescent green cloud. Imagine the entertain value of that! Watching someone walking down the street sneakily letting one of with an aeroplane style vapour trail following on behind them. Or even funnier the desperate scramble of punters in the pub struggling to get out of the way of an evil green cloud spreading across the room. There's got to be some comedy mileage in that one, I wonder if the BBC would consider commissioning a sitcom based on the proviso. On seconds thoughts, perhaps it would be more Channel 4's sort of thing. I shall dash off an email to them right now.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Sporting Prowess

I mentioned some weeks ago that I was going to give you a round-up of my sporting prowess or lack of it in various fields, and now the time has come. But first readers, before we head back into a mythical past where I was a young sporting superstar, we must look at the present day.

I have to say I am not totally happy with my current state of fitness. Being overweight I can cope with - I always have been, but I always felt if I was working out and keeping fit, I could carry the excess weight reasonably well. But in recent years my level of activity has dwindled to virtually nothing.

Now I am not one of those writers, or people in general that feels sorry for themselves or utters "oh woe is me", quite frankly it is no-one's fault but my own that I have reached this spectacular level of non-fitness but there are plenty of excuses I could use.

The most obvious one is that I have the kids and it is not an excuse - it DOES change your life. Not that I have got any regrets, of course, but as I've hammered home time and time again through this parenting blog (which it is occasionally), having children has an effect on your whole life.

Let's go back to the period from say 2003-2007. During that period I spent lunchtimes from work at the swimming pool. Later, during a single period in 2006, I went off to the gym after work several nights a week. I was still overweight, but I had the freedom to do it. Now I am looking after kids, I don't have the freedom to head off to do that sort of thing whenever I want to. But not only that - even when I do have the opportunity I don't have the inclination. Having and looking after kids, especially when you suffer from a sleep disorder as I do means that the last thing you want to do when you have an hour or two to spare is to go off and expend energy in the gym. All I want to do is grab myself the luxury of a rest.

Perhaps there is an age thing too. We naturally slow down as we get older. In 2003-2007 I was aged 33-37 - there are plenty of professional sportsman plying their trade at that age. But by 43 most are finished. There's no-one in the Premiership at 43, don't think even Teddy Sheringham managed to go on that long?

What's the answer? I don't know. I had hoped that as the kids grew older I'd find opportunities with them, and I do to some extent - we spent plenty of time in the swimming pool on holiday and running around. But I wish we could do more. I've got my bike sitting in the shed and would enjoy nothing more than to take the boys out for a nice healthy bike ride, but one of the problems with having a child on the autistic spectrum is that he is absolutely terrified to even attempt such a thing as riding a bike. I have never managed to get him on to so much as a scooter. It is very hard work and very distressing for Ollie to attempt any new experience, he shakes with fear and panics. I understand him, I know how his mind works and work very hard with him to try and help him overcome these fears but it is very hard work, and I think a lesser parent may well just have given up. But I never will. For some dads, probably getting their son on to and riding a bike might be a proud moment. If I ever achieve this proud moment it will have been many times harder for me than for the average dad to have got to that moment, but I can't and won't give up.

So what of my own past sporting "achivements". Well believe it or not, frequently in the local papers back in the 90s there were many match reports about "Jason Ayres" the star of the Nielsen football team scoring yet another hat trick and wowing the crowds! My dad was very impressed. Sadly whilst "Jason Ayres" was scoring these hat tricks on those Sunday mornings, the actual truth was that I was more than likely actually sat at home on the sofa nursing a hangover watching the Doctor Who omnibus on UK Gold. How was I in two places at once? Well a work colleague of mine with an extremely similar name was in fact playing the league under my name. This colleague was a rather gifted but temperamental player, rather like a local version of Luis Suarez. Despite scoring lots of goals he was also sent off rather frequently for a variety of offences which I need not embarrass him with here. In the end things came to a head and he was banned for a season, Cantona style, but his way around this was to play in the league under my name. So thank-you, Jason Byles for making me an unlikely football hero for a year!

One of the reasons I was hopeless at football is that we did not play it our school. Being a private school we did not play football - that was a "poofs game". Not my politically incorrect words, but those of my P.E. teacher in 1981. No, it was rugby all the way, or organised thuggery as I prefer to call it. If you think that scene in Monty Python's Meaning Of Life film where they have the rugby match was humorous fiction, think again. That is exactly what it was like. I hated it, and so did various parts of my body that got mashed in the process.

Rugby was the autumn term. In the spring term we played hockey and I was actually reasonably good at that, though I've still got dents in my shins from playing it to this day. In the summer at school we played cricket which must be the most unutterably boring game ever invented. Out of 22 players only about 3 are actually doing anything much at any one time, the rest is just a lot of standing about. At least it wasn't too physically taxing. When I could escape from cricket there was tennis, which was much more my thing. In fact racquet sports are just about the one thing I have ever been any good at - I even ran the Nielsen squash club for a year or two. I was also a member of the Bicester tennis club, and often wistfully look across at the courts when I am wandering back from Garth Park with the kids. Will it ever happen again? I hope so, but I do sometimes feel middle aged sloth has crept up on my over these six years when I have been raising these young children. If anyone offered me a game, I'd probably make an excuse, quite simply because most of the time I am just too tired.

I guess I am pinning all my hopes on the kids to want to do things and motivate me. Ollie wanted to try ten pin bowling on holiday so we had a game but it is hardly a sport. But we've plenty of time. I took him round the pitch and putt course with me in Cornwall but he didn't actually play. But at least he is showing an interest, and I think Jamie will do much more, in time. I hope so, I am not about ready to give up yet. The mind is willing, but the flesh somewhat weak, so please kids, come along and save me from a life on the sofa.

There are loads of sports I have not even mentioned yet, perhaps I will have to save them for another time. I've tried most things at one time or another.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx

Monday, 2 September 2013

Something out of nothing

"The best things in life are free - but you can save them for the birds and bees"

So sang "M" on her 1979 hit single. Presumably she was talking about sex here, quite racy for 1979. But to be fair, whoever coined the phrase "There's no such thing as a free lunch" had it right.

Let's be honest. Everything has a hidden cost. Since we were talking about sex, I may as well continue on that subject. As this is normally a "family blog" you might have to look away now if you are under, say 15.

As you know I like to find mathematical solutions for explaining everything, and sex is no different. To prove my point that sex is not free, you do have to in fact be a parent, it kinds of falls down if you aren't but bear with me.

I worked out that you can work out exactly how much sex has cost you if you are a parent, by following this simple formula. The first bit is easy. Write down how many kids you have got. Most people should be able to manage this (exclude any dubious - "I wonder if I could be the father of..." ones and stick to the official stats. Once you have got this, try and work out the amount of money that each child you have has cost you. That's everything i.e. nappies, food, extra seats on aeroplanes, entrance to theme parks, clothes, I could continue indefinitely here, but you get the idea.

Next make a rough estimate of how many times you have ever had sex. If this is difficult, count back the number of years since you started, work out the average number of times you have sex a week, multiply that by 52 and then multiply if by the number of years you have been at it.

NB: You may need to make some adjustments here to take into account peaks and troughs over the years. For example that six month period in your mid 20s when you split up with your girlfriend and you were a miserable sod and no-one would touch you with a bargepole. Or that halcyon period after you got divorced and went to work in Ibiza for the summer and couldn't beat them off with a shitty stick.

Once you have worked all that out you have the total number of shags and the total amount of cash spent on your children. By dividing one into the other you can then come out with an average amount of cash that your shags have cost you since you started. Mine came out at about a tenner.

NB: Don't include any "solo" activity as this will drag down your average amount quite considerably. A tenner sounds quite good, £3.50 doesn't.

So - is there a point to all of this? Of course! Basically, everyone wants something for free these days, and this has been more than aptly demonstrated by my experiences of attempting to sell books on Amazon. That is Kindle books to be precise.

Amazon offer you the chance to give your book away for free for 5 days in every 90 day period. Why would you want to do that? Well it gives your book exposure and the hope that people who get it for free will like it and give it a good review and also buy your other books.

My experience of this has not been great up until this point, however today I started a 5 day solid block promotion of my first book "Fortysomething Father".

I did nothing whatsoever to promote this, just set it to free and looked to see what happened. Previously I had tweeted and facebooked it all over the place, but I have come to the conclusion that this achieves diddly squat. In fact, I think it just annoys people and you don't get any extra sales.

The last time I put Fortysomething Father on a 3 day freebie, it achieved 75 free downloads in the UK in 3 days. There were some in other countries, but I will stick with the UK for my example as that is my primary market. Since then - in the month of August it sold just 4 copies in its own right (a far cry from the heyday of June when 122 copies were sold).

However despite no promotion whatsoever, 62 copies have been downloaded for free today alone, which makes me really think that people do want something for nothing and are very reluctant to pay anything for a Kindle book, even 99p. Clearly people do find my book on Amazon, it cannot be invisible, else where did those 62 come from? I can only conclude that the VAST majority of Amazon Kindle punters these days want their wares for free.

So can I achieve fame by giving it away? Maybe. I am riding high in the "Free" charts on Amazon, but once the 5 days ends, I'll disappear back into obscurity. However, there are some positives to cling to. My second book, Austerity Dad has sold 2 copies today - 2 more than it has sold in the whole of the past week, so maybe the freebie thing is helping. The new book is struggling to get noticed, only one review so far (as opposed to 15 for the first book) but the increased exposure to the first may help the second to get established.

Sales and take-up of the second book have been slower, but I am confident that it will pick up in time, because the second book is so much better than the first. Much of the criticism levelled by reviewers of my first book has been addressed in the second, and I believe it to be a much more polished product.

So we shall see how we go - oh and finally, I should be in the Oxford Mail on Thursday, should you wish to pick up a copy.

If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please take a look at my books on Amazon (Paperback & Kindle), where you can read lots more of the same! Click here.

Jason xx