Saturday, 20 December 2014

Mincen Pies

Good evening! Gerald Mincen here.

You may have heard of guest posts on blogs, well I'm delighted to be able to join you this evening. Unfortunately Jason is currently indisposed after a stressful few days. Having departed Facebook after finally admitting defeat in the thankless task that was attempting to administer the Bicester Town Centre Chat page, he was last seen seeking solace in the Wimpy nursing a mixed grill. I understand that an incident involving a pantomime dame that left him covered in lipstick didn't help either.

In the meantime, it's up to me to fill in the gap. Those of you with long memories will remember me from the halcyon days of the "Campaign To Bring Back Old Flavours Of Crisps". I too disappeared from the social scene for a while in the noughties due to a nervous breakdown brought on by Walkers decision to discontinue Beef & Onion flavour, (not to mention an amorous misadventure in Steeple Claydon) but that's all in the past now. I am well and truly back, your very own Captain Jack lookalike (and I'm not gay by the way, just to clear that up now after a number of past misunderstandings).

I'm not entirely sure what Jason wanted me to write about when he asked me to look after his blog. I expected he probably wanted me to plug his books or something, but I can't be bothered with any of that. Not when there are exciting developments in the world of crisps to tell you about.

It's the end of 2014, and it is time to resurrect Gerald Mincen's annual "Crisp and Snack product of the year" award. Not since the legendary "Battle of the bands" between Flame Grilled Steak McCoys and Roast Beef and Mustard Brannigans back in 1995 has there been so much excitement over this annual award.

And the winner this year, from nowhere, a completely unfancied outsider at 33/1 with Ladbrokes this morning, it's Snackrite Meaty Multipack from Aldi!

Why has it won? Well for a start, you get 30 packs for £2.85. That's less than 10p a pack! We are talking 1978 from the off sales at the Queens Head prices here! So they must be cheap and nasty, right? No, they are gorgeous and full of flavour, just like the big brands used to be before they took all the salt and saturated fat out of them. Imagine sultry, sexy smoky bacon, coated in flavouring, wow, it's here - plus Roast Chicken, Steak and Onion, Cheese & Onion and Ready Salted. A crisp connoisseur's dream, at a very affordable price for the family on a budget. That's my Christmas dinner sorted.

Season's greetings to you all.
Gerald.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Things I've learned

I can't believe it's barely 18 months since I published my first book on Amazon.

I also can't believe how naive I was back then. In fact I almost cringe at the mistakes I made at rushing out that initial draft.

I thought at the time that it was OK to paste together a set of blog entries and various other bits and pieces of writing I had knocking about, shove any old cover on it, don't bother proof-reading it and call it a book. Then try and market and sell it to family and friends without even thinking about the bigger picture.

That the book sold at all was a minor miracle, but in fact it was relatively successful. However, the book's shortcomings were soon picked up on. I went back, cleaned it up, put a new cover on it, edited it into some sort of sensible format and put it back out there.

That first book, Fortysomething Father has attracted more reviews than any other (well it has been out the longest), and is also the only one that has 1* and 2* reviews. Some of these are justified, others are unduly harsh, but as writers we must take it on the chin.

Fortunately I learned from my mistakes, and each subsequent book has benefited from my increasing experience. Here's a couple of things that I now swear by:

1) Judge a book by its cover. It never ceases to amaze me how many people spend months or even years toiling away producing their own personal masterpieces, and then just stick any old cover on it that they've knocked up themselves using the cover creator on Amazon. Talk about lamb dressed as mutton! There are literally millions of books on Amazon now, and in order for people even to click on a book, it's got to have a cover that stands out.

I was very disappointed with the initial sales for my latest novel, Global Cooling. I came to the conclusion that it was the cover that was the problem. It wasn't a bad cover, just a little bleak and uninspiring. I went back to the designer of my Time Bubble cover and asked her to produce me a new one. Result, a stunning new cover, and sales took off almost immediately it went on.

The only book of mine I am still unhappy with the cover of is The Sausage Man. I did get a new cover designed for that which I thought was good, but sales stopped, so I've gone back to the old one. At some point, I may have to revisit it.

2) Don't waste time endlessly tweeting and posting book links on Facebook. People don't want to see it. You are either preaching to the converted (people who've already bought it), other authors who are busy trying to sell their own books, or annoying your friends who are fed up to the back teeth of seeing your book links clogging up their news feed. Remember, we are selling to the entire world of Amazon customers - potentially billions of people. Flogging your wares around a relatively small group of friends and family is never going to get you famous.

I ask myself, how much of the general detritus that comes down my Twitter and Facebook feeds do I actually read? Hardly any. It's just a nuisance.

Far better to join in with a community of other writers on Facebook, Goodreads or the Amazon KDP boards. Work together as a team to promote your works, share ideas, help each other. You learn an awful lot that way too, which helps avoid making all those newbie errors that I did. The best and only place to market your books is on Amazon itself and what you really want is for them to do that marketing for you.

Next time I plan to talk about how to get the best out of Amazon's Kindle Countdown Deals.

See you soon.
Jason

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Bubble Wrap

So, now that Global Cooling is launched, what about the final part of the trilogy?

You'll have noticed a fair few teasers and loose ends in the first two books that haven't been tied up yet, as well as a few plot lines that were not expanded on to any great extent.

So what is going to happen in the third book? I'm at the outlining stage now, with a plan to start writing in January for an Easter release. I am planning to call it "Bubble Wrap".

Here's a provisional blurb...

Josh has discovered the secret of how to create his own Time Bubbles and manipulate them, dangerous information if falling into the wrong hands.

As Josh joins Peter on his quest to explore the far future, Daniel Fisher is trapped in a mental institution, insisting to his counsellors that he's travelled from twenty years in the past. He's determined to escape and find a way to put right the wrongs of the past.

But if he does succeed in changing history, will anybody even notice?

That's very much a rough outline. It may not turn out exactly like that. but I'd very much like to explore some of those future worlds we saw in the epilogue of The Time Bubble. I also want to follow quite closely what happens to Dan after he emerges from the Time Bubble.

There is also the twenty year period whilst Dan was trapped in the Bubble to cover. Some of the events of that period have already been mentioned in the earlier epilogues such as what happened to Hannah and Peter, and Josh's experiments with the Time Bubbles leading to his trips back that took place in Global Cooling.

At the end, I aim to have a neat trilogy of books, all linked together via the various plot strands.

If you're currently reading Global Cooling, I'd love to hear from you. It's only been out a couple of weeks so I haven't had a lot of feedback yet. What I have had has been good, though. I'm not using my regular Facebook account at the moment but you can find me at my author page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheTimeBubble?ref=bookmarks or on Twitter @AusterityDad.

Since I put the new cover on Global Cooling, sales have started to take off. Here's a picture of the new cover, next to The Time Bubble. I think they look pretty smart together. Both were designed by Daniela at http://www.selfpubbookcovers.com/ who has done a fantastic job. I will be definitely getting in touch with her again when I need the cover for Bubble Wrap.

 




















Global Cooling is going on a major promotion over the next week, starting Monday 8th December. You will be able to pick up a copy via a Kindle Countdown Deal at just 99c in the US, or 99p in the UK. They will return to their regular prices of $2.99 and £1.99 next Monday, so grab yourself a bargain while you can.

Here are the links:

US: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OTTETV4
UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Cooling-Time-Bubble-Book-ebook/dp/B00OTTETV4/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Jason

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Karaoke Night

Hi all,

For those of you that haven't had the pleasure yet, I thought today I'd give away a completely free chapter of my new novel, Global Cooling.

This is an early chapter, before the main plot really gets going, and a light-hearted one based all around a karaoke night, run by one of the main characters - a female karaoke presenter - don't worry, Helen, she isn't based on you! In this chapter she has to deal with all the usual problems e.g .drunks, being hit on by odious characters and so on.

They say you should write about what you know, hence my decision to write about karaoke. Anyone who ever attended any of my famous Sunday nights in the past will I am sure find things here to empathise with. Enjoy - and obviously I hope it inspires you to buy the book.

Jason

Chapter Five – Thursday 12th April 2029 (8.30pm)


Lauren was making the final preparations for the weekly karaoke night at The Red Lion. There wasn’t a great deal that needed to be done, if truth be told. Long gone were the days of DJs risking their backs lugging in heavy speakers, huge cases of discs and all manner of other bulky equipment. Everything was pretty much built in – the speakers were embedded within the walls and everything was controlled from one central touch screen on the wall. There was no need to buy songs anymore – everything was done via an on-demand subscription service linked up to the internet. From the panel on the wall, Lauren could instantly call up any song from out of over a quarter of a million songs stored in the cloud. Over a century of popular music was available at her fingertips.

About the only piece of equipment still needed was the wireless microphones, and, as long as she had a good supply of batteries to hand, there was very little that could go wrong.

That karaoke survived as it did in The Red Lion was a bit of an anachronism. Karaoke had come to be seen in general as a rather naff activity: the sort of thing that was OK in a three-star, all-inclusive hotel on the Spanish islands along with the bingo and kiddies’ disco, but long past its sell-by date back home. Very few pubs did it anymore. The only reason the Red Lion did was that for some unexplained reason it did pull in a crowd on a Thursday night. Kent personally hated it, but he couldn’t argue with the takings coming in through the till. He’d tried dropping it at one point and replacing it with a quiz, but there had been uproar from the regulars. After a couple of weeks of finding the takings down by several hundred pounds, he’d had a change of heart and reinstated it. He claimed this was in the interests of “listening to his customers”, conveniently neglecting to mention the financial side of things.

So every Thursday at 8.30pm, the diehard karaoke crowd descended upon the pub. They had been coming week in, week out for a good couple of decades now. There was a large round table at the back of the pub, close to where the action took place, known as “karaoke table”. At least twelve people could fit around it and it was invariably full by the time things kicked off. A more diverse group of people you couldn’t expect to find gathered in one place. They ranged from students up to pensioners, with people from all other walks of life in-between.

Lauren was a natural at hosting the entertainment. She oozed confidence and charisma and always caught the crowd’s attention. She dressed to impress. Tonight she was wearing a tight, pink, cropped top exposing her pierced belly button, and some tight denim shorts that she hoped some lucky man, or maybe a woman if one took her fancy, would be peeling off her later tonight.

As always, she got the show underway by performing the first song. As befitted her nature, she always went for something a little suggestive, and tonight it was that old Madonna classic, Like a Virgin. She’d seen the old video of the song and did her best to cavort around on the stage like Madonna had on the canal boat, many years before Lauren had been born. As she reached the chorus and the words appeared on the huge screen behind the stage, she got a few ironic cheers. She was pretty sure she also heard someone shout out “bullshit” from the karaoke table. She was enjoying every minute. She had always loved being the centre of attention.

As usual, the names of the singers were coming up on her touch screen with the songs they wanted to sing. In the past, people had written their names down on a list. Now it was all done remotely from their various gadgets. She groaned when she saw the name of the first singer to come up.

Alec was a proud Scotsman of indeterminate age. All anyone knew was that it seemed as if he’d been living in the town forever. Every week without fail he came to the karaoke, and every week without fail he performed the same song by The Proclaimers. He had resisted all attempts to persuade him to sing other songs over the years, so for approximately the thousandth time he stepped up to the stage to perform it.

Between songs, Lauren generally mixed and flirted with the crowd. Kent and Debbie were well aware of what Lauren got up to, but they weren’t bothered in the slightest. She was a huge asset to the pub and they knew it.

She got on with most people, but there were exceptions. After she’d introduced Alec and handed him the microphone, she stepped down from the stage and found herself face-to-face with someone she could quite safely say if she never saw him again, it would be too soon.

Dan Fisher was not a very nice person. He’d been unpleasant enough back in the day when she’d had the misfortune to be in the same class as him at school, but he’d grown up to be a really nasty piece of work. He did a manual job in a local factory, which meant that, although he was overweight, he was also pretty fit. Few people wanted to get into an argument with him. It was well known he’d had a conviction for violent conduct in the past. He also frequently boasted that he was the only England supporter who’d been deported from the host country of the last World Cup. Football violence was very rare nowadays, but Dan was fascinated by all the tales of what used to go on in the late-20th century and seemed to glory in it. He supported Millwall.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he was well known for his racist and homophobic outlook on life and was an active member of an extremist far-Right political party. He didn’t do anything to disguise this and mostly went around wearing T-shirts bearing the flag of St George – tonight being no exception.

“What are you letting that Jock sing for?” was the first thing he asked Lauren.

She ignored his question, and replied with one of her own. “What do you want, Dan?”

He eyed her up and down lecherously. “I think you know the answer to that, love.”

“Let’s get something straight, Dan, once and for all,” she replied. “I am not, never have been and never will be your love. I don’t know how many more times I have to tell you that.”

Dan despised Lauren. She was everything he wanted and couldn’t have. He did not have a lot of luck with women and couldn’t understand why. He didn’t think he was particularly bad-looking: no worse than anyone else, so why could he never pull? He was unable to see that his outdated misogynistic approach was a huge turn-off to the opposite sex.

What made it worse was that Lauren was seemingly so free and easy with her morals. He knew she’d been with most of the blokes in the pub at one time or another, so she should be easy game. So why not him? He resented her, he was jealous of all the other men who’d had the pleasure, and was determined one day that he’d find a way into her knickers.

“Never say never,” he replied. “You don’t know what might happen in the future.”

“I can safely say it won’t be happening with you. Now please go away, you sad little man.” Alec had finished his weekly rendition and she turned away to take the microphone from him.

“Yes, let’s hear a big hand for Alec,” she announced, to some half-hearted clapping from the karaoke table. “What an original choice that was!”

As she continued her banter, feeding off the admiration of the adoring crowd, Dan looked at her, his eyes full of hate. How dare she reject him, the stupid whore? Full of dark thoughts, he headed over to the bar where his mate was getting a round in.

Ryan was tall and thin with short-cropped, ginger hair and something of a social inadequate. He’d been unemployed for years, having left school with no qualifications, and spent most of his time building model planes and re-enacting World War II battle scenes in his bedroom. He also had an unhealthy obsession with guns. Needless to say, he did not have a girlfriend.

He’d hung around with Dan since their schooldays because he’d never found anything better to do. Dan found him incredibly irritating at times but kept him around. He liked having a sycophantic social inadequate as a friend whom he could feel superior to.

“Did you get anywhere, then?” asked Ryan. Dan was always telling him about all of the women he pulled. It was entirely fictional, of course, but Ryan was gullible and na├»ve enough to believe it most of the time.

“No, mate,” replied Dan. “She’s a rug muncher, mate, told me herself. She said if I was girl she’d jump me like that.”

“I don’t think she is a lesbian, Dan,” replied Ryan. “Nick from the kebab shop shagged her the other week. He told me.”

“You don’t want to listen to anything he says, mate. He’s always chatting shit.” Dan decided to change the subject. “Come on, let’s finish these and go up to the Craphole. There’s always loads of loose muff in there.”

Dan began to outline his plans for the evening’s female conquest. Ryan listened avidly, despite the fact that on 99% of occasions such plans always ended in dismal failure: at best, a mild rebuke; at worst, a kick in the nuts.

Lauren hadn’t been perturbed by Dan’s attentions at all. She was quite used to dealing with sad, desperate men and he was one of the worst. Right now she was dealing with another kind of problem – a troublesome karaoke customer. After ten hours’ drinking, Andy was ready to entertain his imaginary fans with a song.

“Why can’t I sing?” he protested. “I’m a good singer. I was on The X Factor once, you know.”
“Yes, I know. You tell me every week. I didn’t say you couldn’t sing, I just said you couldn’t sing that particular song.”

The previous week, Andy had decided to give the pub his rendition of the old Sex Pistols classic “My Way”. His rendition included bellowing the “C” word as loud as he possibly could over the microphone. It was loud enough to be heard in the restaurant next door. Debbie was extremely annoyed and had given strict instructions that he was not to sing that particular song ever again. It had gone onto the banned list, along with Yogi Bear, and various others that Debbie had objected to over the years.

“What about Eminem, then?” asked Andy, swaying and slopping his pint all over the floor.

“Right, for a start, Debbie wouldn’t like it and secondly, there’s no way you’d be able to keep up with the lyrics in the state you’re in.”

Living Next Door To Alice?” he suggested.

“What’s that?” she asked? It sounded vaguely familiar but she couldn’t place it. It was long before her era.

“Just an old seventies classic,” replied Andy. “Nothing dodgy.”


“Alright, we’ll give that a go then,” she said and she called up the song. She glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was nearly 9pm. It looked like it was going to be a long night.


To find out more about my latest novel, Global Cooling, click here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Cooling-Time-Bubble-Book-ebook/dp/B00OTTETV4/

Also available from Jason Ayres:

The Time Bubble
The Sausage Man
Austerity Dad
Fortysomething Father

Friday, 21 November 2014

Wimpy Comes To Bicester


Wimpy, Happy Eater, Berni Inns: Names of Great British eateries from a bygone era guaranteed to stir nostalgia in anyone over a certain age. And all defunct - or so I thought until a couple of months ago. That was when I heard that Wimpy were to open in Bicester. My first thought was do they still exist? My second was yes, get in! I was even more overjoyed when I heard they were to be moving into the old (sadly missed) Maba building. As a resident of Chapel Street and fast food devotee with a school run taking me directly past the building twice a day, they could not have got their marketing any more spot on. Talk about location, location, location!

The view from across the street, shortly before opening.

I was trying to work out the last time I went in a Wimpy and I have narrowed it down to some time in the Autumn of 1993. I was working at Tesco Head Office in Cheshunt at the time and often used to pop into the nearby Waltham Cross shopping centre at lunchtime. One wet Wednesday I recall ducking in there during a torrential downpour and ordering a Pork Bender - that's a whirly sausage thing that goes round and round and round. Simply delightful. On perusing the new menu, I was delighted to discover that the legendary Pork Bender still exists.

So what about Wimpy in Bicester? Well, it has opening hours of 9am to 10pm - again ideal for after the school run. And not too late that you are going to get a lot of drunken idiots. The menu is faithful to the Wimpy of yesteryear - breakfasts, burgers, ice cream floats are all available.

After school this afternoon, I took my two boys down there for a treat on the way home from school in order to go undercover to write this review. It would have been quite wrong of me to reveal my true persona as a famous author and food critic in order to get special treatment, so I pretended to just be an ordinary Joe. No Michael Winner delusions of grandeur here, and anyway, I've heard some disturbing stories about what some chefs once did in his soup, so anonymity is the best way.

Six!

We received a warm welcome and sat in a little booth around the corner, facing on to Chapel Street. There was plenty to entertain them in there. There was a TV on the wall showing the latest Top 10 which was good to catch up with - apart from One Direction of course. Ollie ventured the opinion that he didn't like them but that some of the girls in his class do. So that's who's buying all their songs - 8 year old girls. I knew there had to be some explanation. We were also given some place mats with games on them as you can see - Snakes and Ladders and the like.

The food didn't take long to come and was lovely and fresh. Here's a picture of Jamie's fish fingers. He wolfed all of them down as well as two of Ollie's chicken nuggets. Meanwhile I was getting stuck into a nice big plate of sausage, burger and bacon. Just the job.

Extra long fish fingers

There have been a few criticisms levelled about the new Wimpy on the Bicester Town Centre Chat forum. To answer these in turn:

1) Bicester doesn't need any more food places.

Personally, I think we need more. After all, why do we need all these estate agents cluttering up the place? Most people only need to buy or sell a house about once a decade, but we need to eat every day. I think we should get rid of all of them and replace them with more restaurants.

2) It's expensive

I don't think so. Prices compare very favourably with other such establishments in Bicester e.g. Deans Diner and there are all sorts of reasonably priced specials - e.g. at the moment they are doing a festive Pigs In Blankets breakfast for £2.99. Anyway, we had three meals and three drinks and it came to £18. Admittedly two of those were children's meals, but I did have the International Grill, the biggest thing on the menu, and as you can see from this piccie, it's a whopper. You'll be hard pressed to find a meal that comes with more chips than this.

A light snack, Mr Ayres?

3) It's unhealthy. 

Well, it's all down to personal choice isn't it? Nobody's forcing anyone to eat there. Personally, I think life's too short not to indulge in the things you enjoy. Smoking and drinking aren't good for you either, but it doesn't stop people from doing them. Still no doubt I'll get some do-gooders berating me for "poisoning my children" and such like. I call it giving them a treat.

So in conclusion - it's a warm welcome to Wimpy in Bicester from me, and I'm sure I shall be seeing lots of you in there over the next few weeks!

Jason

Jason Ayres has just released his latest novel, Global Cooling. You can find it on Amazon by clicking here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Cooling-Time-Bubble-Book-ebook/dp/B00OTTETV4/

Also available from Jason Ayres:

The Time Bubble
The Sausage Man
Austerity Dad
Fortysomething Father

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Healthy Eating Con

It must be a good year or so since I last featured my friend, Laura, in my blog, so high time she got into the limelight once again.

She always pretends to be embarrassed by it, but I think she secretly loves the fame. Anyway, as on previous occasions, it was a chance comment in a conversation between us that led to the inspiration for this blog entry.

It was a fairly ordinary Tuesday morning in the streets of our small market town. I had dropped the kids off at school and gone for my usual early morning preamble around the supermarkets of Bicester. As always, I was in search of bargains, as befits my value-seeking persona in these austerity driven times. Therefore I was delighted to discover on perusing the crisps and snacks fixture (my favourite) in Poundland, that they had got some Marmite crisps back in stock. Here they are!



Sainsbury sell these at £1.79 for a six pack. Poundland on the other hand offers an 8 pack. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that they cost a pound, even though every time I take my mum in there she asks me "how much are these?" Sorry, mum. Anyway, that's a unit price of 12.5p per pack, a saving of over 50% on the Sainsbury price and well within the parameters set by myself for a crisp value purchase.

I grabbed two packs before they all went as they are like gold dust - there won't be any there tomorrow, for sure. Such was my excitement that on walking down the High Street and spotting Laura and a couple of other friends outside Costa Coffee, I felt duty bound to totally interrupt their conversation and to tell them the good news.

The last time I did this was on that glorious Spring day earlier this year when a happy mix up with a Sainsbury multi-buy offer led to me coming away with a backpack full of free ham. Happy days.

Anyway, on discussing my good fortune with Laura, we got on to the subject of flavour. Laura's just had a food parcel sent in from the States containing some Cheetos, amongst other things. She remarked that the flavour hit was amazing. This corresponds with my own memories of visiting the USA, as well as other countries. The crisps in Australia and New Zealand are to die for! Which you probably would if you ate as many as I do without taking your blood pressure tablets.

I then got to thinking about crisps here. Over the years we've had constant healthy eating "improvements" made to our crisps, such as:

"Now with 25% less salt than in 2010".
"No Hydrogenated Fats"
"OLEIC" - whatever that is.
etc.

I can't help wondering what effect these changes have had on flavour. They claim "Same great taste" but I have my doubts. I am sure crisps don't taste as nice as they did when I am a kid. Of course this could be because when I was kid it was all new and exciting and I didn't get them very often so it was more of a treat, but there's no real way of knowing. Sadly, I don't have a Tardis or a Time Bubble so I can't go back and find out but I'd be willing to stake money that if you lined up a packet of Walkers Smoky Bacon crisps from 1974 with one from 2014, the 1974 vintage would win hands down.

My research into this subject suggests that the more popular and bigger the brand, the more likely they are to have been "improved". Indeed I bought some cheap and cheerful Smoky Bacon crisps from Lidl or somewhere the other day, and they were full of flavour - absolutely bursting with it. No mention of fancy oils or salt reductions on these.

Wotsits are another case in point. I used to love these, especially when you got a packet where they were literally covered in that orange powdery stuff. Sometimes there were even rich salty lumps of it in the bottom of the packet. In those days you had to make sure you washed your hands before you touched anything. I'm sure you've all heard the joke about the teenage boy with the orange willy - I won't go into details but I am sure you can work it out. Anyway, modern Wotsits are very disappointing on that front. Fortunately Aldi do a very nice and flavoursome alternative, or there's always Crusti Croc cheese balls from Lidl.

Anyway, my point is, less salt, less fat = less flavour. The supermarkets are full of it. It's healthy eating this, low fat that, wherever you look. Many products even have 3 levels - so you can get your standard Heinz Salad Cream, or Lighter, or Lightest. All of this is to designed to make people think they are making healthier choices, but in reality if you look at the labels there is not that much difference. Pick up a yogurt and you might find it's got 138 calories per pot. Pick up the low fat version and you'll find it's got something like 124 calories. Are those 16 calories going to make that much difference? Probably not I would say, as if you look around the supermarket you'll see it's all the lardy, obese types (i.e. most of us, including myself) buying this stuff. And they don't taste anything like as good as the full fat version. Oh, and they often cost more. It's all a big con.

10% less calories for 50% less flavour? No thanks, I know which I'd rather choose.

And on that note it's time for breakfast. Normally I have Marmite on toast, but thanks to my new crisp acquisition, I don't even need to waste time with the toaster. Happy eating.

Jason Ayres has just released his latest novel, Global Cooling. You can find it on Amazon by clicking here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Cooling-Time-Bubble-Book-ebook/dp/B00OTTETV4/

Also available from Jason Ayres:

The Time Bubble
The Sausage Man
Austerity Dad
Fortysomething Father

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Q&A - Global Cooling

When I launched The Time Bubble, I conducted an interview with myself via this blog to tell you all about the new book. This seemed to be well received, so I've decided to do something similar for my new book, Global Cooling.



I thought perhaps it might come across as a little egotistical for me to conduct the interview myself, so I've asked my old friend, Gerald Mincen, to do the honours. Over to you, Gerald.

Gerald: Good Morning. So, Global Cooling, what's this one all about, then?

Jason: Hi Gerald. It's a story about unexpected climate change, plunging Britain into a devastating winter, and the characters' attempts to survive.

Gerald: That's been done before, hasn't it? Like in that movie, The Day After Tomorrow?

Jason: This isn't really like the Day After Tomorrow - that was a very sensational movie where things happened almost overnight and there was snow hundreds of feet deep. I like to think my scenario is a lot more realistic, as the winter creeps up slowly on people living their ordinary lives. I'm very much focused on characterising how they deal with the situation.

Gerald: It's a Time Travel book again, though, isn't it? It's a sequel to The Time Bubble, am I right?

Jason: It certainly is, Gerald, but the time travel element is not the main focus of this story, at least not the first half. However, later in the story it does become very relevant, as two of the main characters attempt to locate a new Time Bubble.

Gerald: So, when is this story set?

Jason: It's set predominantly around ten years after the main events of The Time Bubble. A number of people mentioned that the end of that first book was very rapid - this was deliberate on my part, as I wanted to set up the plot for the sequel. You may remember the scene in The Time Bubble where Peter arrived in the tunnel to find the ends of the tunnel frozen solid with blocks of ice. That whole scene was a set up for the new book.

Gerald: And it features most of the characters from the first book?

Jason: It certainly does. As part of my "what if" thought process, I wanted to take my teenage characters forward ten years to see what they'd done with their lives, based on what we knew about them from the first book. For example, Josh, who was always a mathematical genius has become a lecturer at the university. Lauren, on the other hand, has drifted through life doing various jobs and not really settling. And I'm sure you'll be pleased to hear that obnoxious schoolboy Dan, has become bigger and badder than ever. I think he's a character lots of readers are going to love to hate. Although there is plenty of humour, as in the first book, there are some parts of this story that are much darker in tone, which is understandable when you consider the subject matter. When people have to fight over food and resources, things can get pretty ugly, as you'll see.

Gerald: I'm looking forward to reading it. So when is it out?

Jason: Well, the paperback is out now, but if you want the Kindle edition, you'll need to wait until 17th November. It is available for pre-order on Amazon already, though, and can be found here Global Cooling.

Gerald: And what of the future? Will there be more?

Jason: There certainly will. Global Cooling ends once again with a suggestion there may be more to come. The possibility of controlling the Time Bubbles to move forwards and backwards in time is explored, and I am also thinking about elaborating on Peter's adventures, as described in the epilogue of The Time Bubble.

Gerald: Awesome! Well, thank-you, Jason. And good luck with the new book!

Jason: Thanks, Gerald.

Jason Ayres has just released his latest novel, Global Cooling. You can find it on Amazon by clicking here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Cooling-Time-Bubble-Book-ebook/dp/B00OTTETV4/

Also available from Jason Ayres:

The Time Bubble
The Sausage Man
Austerity Dad
Fortysomething Father

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Does what it says on the tin

Ronseal - does what it says on the tin.

Fair enough - if they say so. It's unlikely I'll ever have the opportunity to find out. I am ashamed to admit I am absolutely woeful when it comes to any sort of DIY/ gardening/ decorating type work - delete as appropriate.

And apparently, this is bad news for a male. Some report I read on the internet the other day - can't remember where exactly, but it was a newspaper report posted to Facebook, suggests that women are more likely to be attracted to a male who is "good with his hands". Some sort of primeval instinct or something, apparently.

This may go some way towards explaining a) the disgraceful state my starter home was in when I sold it, eight years after moving in and b) my general lack of success with women during that era of my twenties when I was supposedly in my prime.

Fortunately things picked up on the latter front once the new Millennium dawned, as you can see from the picture at the top of the blog, I've done it at least twice since then! However, my DIY skills remain poor. Perhaps renting is the best long term option for me. At least if anything then goes wrong, you can call the landlord.

Speaking of things that do what they say on the tin, or not in this case, I have a friend I race with frequently on GT6 who hails from down under who rather disparagingly refers to us Brits as "Yellow Teeth". He's got a point, I suppose. It's fair to say that the average person you meet in this country is unlikely to have teeth straight off the set of Neighbours in the unlikely event that they greet you with a cheery smile.

Which is strange when you think about it, because Whitening Toothpaste is all the rage on the toothpaste fixtures in the supermarkets these days:

"See the difference in 2 weeks"
"Removes stubborn tobacco, red wine and coffee stains"
"Contains active oxygen bubbles"
"Clinically proven"
"Guaranteed to get you a shag off a real hottie within a month"
"Become a film star, X factor winner, supermodel or some other bullshit if you spend £3 on this".

OK I made the last two up but you get the drift.

Smile!

Anyway, I have fallen for the advertisers dream and been buying this garbage for the past year and when I look in the mirror I still see the same yellow gnashers looking back at me. Which leads me to conclude that Whitening Toothpaste is about as likely to whiten your teeth as Red Bull is to give you wings. Which the advertising standards people recently concluded that it didn't.

So to sum up, I can't do DIY and I've got crap teeth. Good job I'm not single, isn't it, I'd never pull again.
Jason

Jason Ayres has just released his latest novel, Global Cooling. You can find it on Amazon by clicking here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Global-Cooling-Time-Bubble-Book-ebook/dp/B00OTTETV4/

Also available from Jason Ayres:

The Time Bubble
The Sausage Man
Austerity Dad
Fortysomething Father

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Quickies

I bumped into a blog fan this morning who informed me that she was having withdrawal symptoms waiting for my next blog post - so Miss (Mrs?) H, here's a quickie (of the literary kind) just for you.

In case you're wondering about the lack of blog entries it's because I've been full steam ahead on the new book, which is going really well. I've written about two thirds of it so far and am still hopeful to have it launched by my pencilled in date of 28th November - allowing for proofreading etc.

Anyway, quickies. It's pretty much quickie everything these days it seems to me. I'm not sure if that's just me or the world at large but as the years pass, the phrase "there's just not enough hours in the day" seems to ring ever more true. God knows how people with a full time job manage.

As for quickies, well, I'm not just talking about them in the conventional sense (i.e sex), but I can't imagine many people these days are having long tantric intimate sessions, if indeed they ever did. A quick one during the ad break in Downton Abbey is probably the best most of us can hope for (assuming the kids have gone to sleep by then of course). Or if we're really pushing the boat out, half-time in the football. But it's not just sex. Whilst out in the car with the wife and kids and fancying a bite to eat, given the choice between a nice sit down meal in a restaurant and a quickie meal in McDonalds, it's Big Macs every time. Not because I prefer McDonalds, I don't but it just not worth the hassle of the other option, and besides, there's never enough time.

In fact, this is going to have to also be a quickie blog. There are a number of things I have been doing that I would like to elaborate on, but given time constraints, instead of my usual long rambling anecdotes, you're going to have to settle for a list..

So here are five notable things that have happened since my last blog entry.

1) Ollie got elected to the pupil council at school = proud dad.

2) I went to Telford to do the sausage tasting again. There were 700 this year and I came away with an extremely large "doggy bag".

3) I bought a new car. Well not a new car, one slightly newer than the other one which is about to die. I must try not to hit the gateposts with this new one.

4) I went to the dentist (twice) and the eye hospital (twice). Uninteresting, so I won't elaborate.

5) You can now get 8 bags of Marmite flavoured crisps for a quid in Poundland. They are my new favourite flavour.

Love 'em or hate 'em?

And that's about it really. Back to the book now. Hope my little entry has helped to take away your cravings for a while. I'll be back x

Jason Ayres is the author of time travel novel "The Time Bubble", set in a small market town near Oxford, available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Jason




Sunday, 28 September 2014

Global Cooling

I'm really pleased with the way the sequel to The Time Bubble is coming along, and am delighted to announce that I have scheduled it in for a provisional launch date of Friday 28th November. Amazon are now allowing indie authors to put their books up for pre-order, so it should become visible on the site some time before that date. Watch this space.

I have been overwhelmed by the fantastic response I have had to The Time Bubble. At the time of writing I have sold nearly 1,000 copies all over the world via Amazon. Those sales have generated 16 reviews in the UK with an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars, and more good reviews in America.

It was always my intention to write a sequel as you know. In fact if this goes well, it may even become a trilogy.

Because the book is going to be put on pre-order, I need to do things in a slightly different order, so although I'm still writing the story, I've already sorted out the cover and the "blurb".

Here is the blurb:

The astronomers confidently predicted that the asteroid would miss Earth. They were wrong.

On Friday 13th April 2029 it slammed into the Sahara desert, annihilating everything within a radius of a hundred miles. But that was only the beginning.

A huge amount of dust was thrown up into the atmosphere blocking out the sun across the planet. Soon temperatures began to fall.

As weather conditions worsen, the residents of the small market town need to make a decision – flee south to escape the weather, or wait for the worst to pass. Choosing to stay, D.I. Hannah Benson soon has more to worry about than keeping law and order. With power supplies failing and food scarce, it soon becomes a battle just to stay alive. And there are some that see it not as a crisis, but as an opportunity.

For those travelling to escape the deepening winter, plans are thwarted as the transport system grinds to a halt. Can the possible discovery of a new Time Bubble provide a way out?


Set ten years after the main events of The Time Bubble, this sequel takes place in parallel with events in the later stages of that story.

And here is the cover:



I think that fans of the first book will find it fascinating to discover how the character's lives have moved on from the first book, particularly the younger ones. I think it's fair to say most of us were very different at 27 from how we were at 17. The new story will explore all of that.

Before I sign off, just to let you know that The Time Bubble is going to be available on a Kindle Countdown Deal for a whole week from Monday 29th September to Sunday 5th October. During that time, it will be reduced to just 99p in the UK and 99c in the US. If you haven't got a copy yet, check out these links from Monday:



Jason

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sneak Preview

I must apologise for the paucity of blog entries this month but I have been dedicating all of my writing time to the sequel to The Time Bubble. And I'm very happy with what I've got down so far, around 12.000 words of it.

The Time Bubble itself has had some excellent reviews both in the UK and the US and is continuing to sell well. One of the comments made on several of the reviews was that the ending seemed a little rushed. However, this was always my intention. You see, the original book took place primarily over the course of a week or so in 2018, with the action then jumping rapidly into the future.

My intention was to pick up the tale in parallel with events in those later chapters and flesh out the story of what happened in the missing years. The sequel ties up a lot of the references made in the latter stage of the first book.

So what is happening in the new one? Well, the bulk of the action takes place approximately ten years after the main events of the first book. My central teenage characters from the first book are now in their late 20s, giving us the chance to look at what direction their lives have taken.

I don't want to give too much away, so here's just a snapshot of a couple of the main characters.

Josh got a degree in Mathematics at Oxford and now lectures on the same subject. Alongside this he is conducting tachyon research to try and understand the nature of The Time Bubble and build a device that can not only detect other Time Bubbles, but also, potentially control them.

Lauren drifted from job to job and now works as a barmaid and a DJ, hosting karaoke nights in her local pub - now run by ex D.I. Richard Kent. She doesn't take life too seriously, drinking, smoking and sex are her main hobbies.

Of course most of the old favourite characters from the first book return in the new one. So what is the focus of it? The basic premise is that a global catastrophe leads to sudden worldwide climate change leaving our heroes in a struggle to survive. A potential new Time Bubble may offer one way out, but for some, there will be no happy ending.

I'm planning to get the book out before the end of the year.

Jason Ayres is the author of time travel novel "The Time Bubble", set in a small market town near Oxford, available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1


Sunday, 7 September 2014

Sequel Suggestions

My sacks are absolutely bulging at the moment.

Bulging that is with the hundreds of items of fan mail arriving every day since the release of The Time Bubble.

OK, they are not really, however, I have received some interesting suggestions for sequels from some good friends of mine. And here they are:

Dear Jason,

I very much enjoyed your new book, "The Time Bubble", and it reminded me of an idea I had many years ago for a Time Travel story. I work as a local DJ in Bicester and my idea is about a time travelling disco that actually transports people back in time according to the music I'm playing. So for example, there I am in the White Hart on a Friday night and I put on an old 80s pop classic. Instantly everyone is transported back in time to the era in question, all their clothes change, the boys suddenly have make up on and everyone's hair goes big. As an added bonus, the beer is now only 50p a pint, you can have a fag without having to go outside and there's a Space Invaders machine in the corner. Plus as my music is now all up to date, no-one thinks it's cheesy any more. What do you reckon? We could call it "The Wobble Bubble".

Duncan.


Some 80s big hair. And nice white teeth.

Dear Duncan,

Excellent idea. I suggest 1989 as a good year to go back to, as that was the year that Walkers produced a limited edition "Toasted Cheese" flavour of crisps. I shall start working on a draft plot right away!

Dear Jason,

My idea is for a time travelling gambling bubble that I can use to travel back in time to put right some of my past gambling injustices. For example, I could go back and NOT back Somersby all the times it lost, and BACK it when it actually won. Or I could go back and fold those pocket aces that time that twat went all in against me with 73 and fluked a straight. Alternatively I could just set it to go back 10 seconds in time, stand in front of the roulette machines in Corals, see what number comes up and then go back and put money on it. I suggest calling the story "The Gamble Bubble".


Come on my son!

Daryl.

Nice idea mate. Can you put me a £50 Double on Norton's Coin for the 1990 Gold Cup and Mon Mome for the 2009 Grand National while you are at it? Cheers.

Dear Jason,

I came up with a new idea for the Time Bubble whilst I was in the bath the other day. I'd had cheesy beans on toast for lunch and it was starting to have repercussions down below. And that's when the idea hit me. What about a time travelling bath tub fuelled by methane emissions generated in the bath? Basically, as you know, when you fart in the bath a bubble is generated that rises to the surface. What about if on release to the atmosphere, that bubble expanded and transported the entire bathtub back in time to the past? The distance in time travelled could be directly related to the intensity of the emission. For example, a cheese sandwich might take you back to the swinging sixties, a couple of scotch eggs to the industrial revolution and a heavy night on the beer and the curry to the middle ages? I'd call it "The Arse Bubble". What do you reckon? 

Adam.


I will not have beardy men in baths letting off revolting smells in my presence!
Off with his head!

Dear Adam,

I'm not too sure about this one - I am not sure that the general public would go for the idea of a time machine based on smells. Also there are some impracticalities to address - for example, arriving in the middle of the court of Queen Elizabeth I in a bath with no clothes on might cause some difficulties. If that in itself didn't offend her, the resulting smell surely would. I think this one needs a bit of a re-think!

Jason Ayres is the author of time travel novel "The Time Bubble", set in a small market town near Oxford, available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Ollie's 7th Birthday Party

When I asked Ollie what he wanted for his birthday back in July, he had no hesitation in telling me - a party! He also knew exactly what he wanted, having attended a party at the bowling alley for a classmate a few months ago - the exact same thing.

I think Bicester Bowl is very underrated. It's great value for money to bowl there compared to the bigger bowling centres you have to travel out of town for. Not only that, you don't get ripped off for food and drink when you are in there. The prices are very reasonable compared to what you would pay in a cinema, for example.

So, what about parties for kids? Well, for £8 per child, you get a game of bowling, a meal and an ice cream. Knowing that a lot of people would be on holiday, and wanting a round number of kids (divisible by six), we decided that 12 would be a good number to invite. Why does it have to be divisible by six? Well it doesn't have to be, but it just makes more sense that way as you can have six people on a lane, and that way you can have two full lanes. I also felt 12 would be a manageable number for myself, Claire and Jane (the mother-in-law) to look after.

I have to say, it all went brilliantly - the staff were very helpful in getting us organised and explaining the rules. All of the children that were invited arrived in good time, and also a couple of parents stayed to help out (Thank-you Hannah + Laura!) The children were all in good spirits and pleased to see their friends after nearly six weeks away from school for the summer holidays. We got them organised into two teams and got the bowling under way. They were all really well behaved and not for the first time, I noticed how well they all got on together. There is a real feeling of support between the children in Ollie's class. When one is upset, the others all rally round. It's a credit to both the school and the good families these children are from. Ollie is very fortunate to have such good friends. I dread to think how he would have coped (bearing in mind his recent diagnosis of autism) back in the 70s in the far more hostile environment that I grew up in.

With the lanes up, and a bit of help for some of the children with those yellow slides you can roll the balls down, all of the children achieved good scores. The lowest was 70, and the highest 107, so it was all pretty close. They enjoyed themselves tremendously. After the game, we moved to a table around the corner where they all had their meals. These were really good - they had a choice of various things with chips, but it all looked good. In fact the chicken nuggets they had looked gorgeous. I was hoping some of the kids might leave some (as kids do - well mine, anyway) but they were all eagerly gobbled up. Fortunately Ollie didn't want one of his sausages, so I didn't go hungry.

By the time they'd eaten, had their ice cream, we'd sung Happy Birthday and cut the cake, it was time to go home. Two hours had passed in a flash. A real success and all the feedback I've had suggested the children loved it!

Right...deep breath!
So if you're looking for a reasonably priced venue for a kids party in Bicester - I highly recommend "Bicester Bowl!"

Jason

Jason Ayres is the author of time travel novel "The Time Bubble", set in a small market town near Oxford, available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

My debut in front of camera: The BBQ videos are here!

As you may recall, last month I did my first ever presenting job alongside BBQ champion Andy Annat. The videos are now available to view, and are well worth watching.

What was this all about? Well here's a little taster of a picture to whet your appetite:


I think I've come across fairly well - I was worried I might sound like an idiot or look excessively fat, but I don't think I've come off to badly on either front but I'll allow you to be the judge of that.

There's are some fantastic barbecuing tips in here - I certainly learned a few new things on the day of the filming.

So, settle back with a a glass of red and enjoy watching Bicester Blogger - live on TV!

Here are the links:

Belly Ribs: http://youtu.be/0gm7sgvpn_k

Collar Steaks: http://youtu.be/H8SGTnF8j24

Loin Steaks: http://youtu.be/7is7JQXOI_4


Pork Collar: http://youtu.be/BTxnoTTNsWM

Pork Tenderloin: http://youtu.be/tFcfE5EzT_c


Foolproof Ways To Light The Barbecue http://youtu.be/u4qr_JZFiU4

Hope you enjoyed those - and if anyone's reading from any TV companies looking for new presenters - I'm available!

Jason Ayres is the author of new time travel novel "The Time Bubble", available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sandcastles

So - we are back from our two weeks in Great Yarmouth. How was it?

Well, pretty good, all things considered. When I say that I'm referring mostly to things over which we had no control, predominantly the weather. It is a source of great frustration to me that none of my UK holidays in approximately the past 30 years has ever coincided with the few weeks of hot weather we get each year (if we're lucky). Following many weeks of fine and warm weather things turned distinctly chilly during August. In fact things got so cold during the second week of our holiday that we were frequently turning the fire on in our caravan during the evening.

Fortunately despite the chill, it didn't rain that much. Not compared to some previous disasters I recall e.g. Lyme Regis 1983 when an entire month's rainfall fell on the day we were attempting to pitch the tent and Pontins 1993, a Monday to Friday job spent almost entirely in the arcade due to the unrelenting rain. Of course, on the Friday it dawned bright and sunny. No, this year was not as bad as any of them.

If the weather's bad, you just have to adapt. I love spending time on the beach and we spent a fair bit of time down there. Not in our swimsuits, but wrapped up in fleeces in the bracing North Wind, admiring the offshore wind farm. There are 30 windmills by the way - Ollie counted and categorized them (well he would!).

My all time favourite thing to do on a beach is building a sandcastle ahead of the tide coming in. One day I checked out the tide times on the internet, worked out when it would be coming in, and took the boys down where we built a castle with a moat, channels, and some large stones to defend the battlements. It was a very stony beach. Then as the tide progressed we had the initial joy of the sea coming up the channel to fill up the moat before the inevitable destruction, all our efforts to defend the castle in vain.

The budding architects admire their work

I've always loved doing this - it's a bit of a metaphor for life in general really and food for thought. We really have to make the most of the time we have. I'm really glad we went away for these two weeks - I have to be honest, I really couldn't afford it and doubt I'll have a night out this side of Christmas now because I've spent every penny on the kids, but it was worth every moment to have this precious time with them.

The only other thing to irk me? Poor 3G and Wi-fi - but this seems to come as standard everywhere I go on holiday. It didn't really matter, I was on holiday after all .I'm not one of those people that has to be constantly welded to their mobile anyway. I managed to take a few pics of the kids and upload them to Facebook which was about as far as my social interaction went really.

I did enjoy the opportunity to visit Norwich, a city I have never visited properly before (one night in a holiday inn on the ring road during a two day client visit to Jeyes in my Nielsen days doesn't count). I was quite impressed, a very nice city, and I can't really see what Alan Partridge's problem with the pedestrianisation of the city centre was. Some great shops too - we found a fantastic toy shop where we were able to get Ollie's birthday presents (only two days to go!).

A-ha!

So that was our two weeks in Great Yarmouth - not sure if we'll be back, we like to try different places, but I'd certainly recommend it to anyone else who wants a nice place to take kids.

Jason Ayres is the author of new time travel novel "The Time Bubble", available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Friday, 15 August 2014

A-ha!

Yes, here we are in Alan Partridge land but haven't managed to find North Norfolk Digital on the radio yet! We are staying at Haven Seashore holiday park in Great Yarmouth and very nice it is too.

Despite my many travels I have never had a holiday in this part of the world before. The closest I have been was back in my old Nielsen days when I had two clients I used to visit here, presenting sales data on bog cleaner to Jeyes in Thetford, and several jollies in Bury St Edmunds, home of Greene King brewery.

I'd heard good things about this park from friends at school, so rather than our usual trek to the South West, we went east this year. The great thing about this route is that it's A roads all the way - I hate motorways. We made it here in 3 hours, via Milton Keynes, Bedford, Cambridge and Norwich. Very impressed by the park - clean, welcoming and friendly and a spotless caravan. Our first outing on Monday afternoon was to Asda to do a big shop, then we checked out the park.

Unfortunately the long hot summer we've had up until now has well and truly gone off and it's definitely not beach weather here. On the first evening we went into the arcade and entertainment area - on attempting to leave we encountered a massive thunderstorm. It was absolutely torrential but spectacular to watch. We are right next to the sea and you could see the lightning hitting the offshore windmills.

Afterwards everywhere was pretty flooded. By next morning it was bright sunshine though so we set off to explore Yarmouth. Had a good walk up and down the seafront and on the traditional wooden pier which thankfully did not burn down. It's a very traditional seaside resort and reminded me of what they used to be like. I was also pleased to see a lot of good traditional steak house style restaurants selling all my favourites e.g. all day breakfasts and mixed grills. We found a lovely little restaurant for lunch, cheap and tasty with gorgeous home made chips.

The only disappointment of the day was an attraction we visited called Yesterday's World which was very poor compared to the excellent Flambards in Cornwall. There just wasn't enough of it - we walked round the whole thing in half an hour.

As you know I'm a racing fan so it wasn't just a coincidence that I booked a park right next door to Yarmouth Racecourse.
There was evening racing on Wednesday and the weather was lovely that night so we went along and had a great time. It wasn't pricey to get in and the kids were free. Claire has only been racing with me once before, to Cheltenham. Ollie has been twice, to Kempton and Towcester and it was the first time for Jamie. It was a real holiday crowd in attendance, lots of punters doing £1 each way bets and just generally having a good time. The racing was great and we managed to back a few winners between us, as did most of the crowd judging by the queues lining up to collect after each race. Most of the winners were fancied horses and I was quite pleased by some of my shrewd price taking e.g. backing a 3/1 winner at odds of 4/1. On the way back from the course there was the most gorgeous sunset. A most enjoyable evening.

Thursday did not go quite as well. We went into Yarmouth again and went to the Sealife centre. Despite getting half price entry it still cost us £32 to get in and I thought it disappointing. It was not a patch on the other sealife centres I have been to in Sydney, Auckland and London. I guess I was probably expecting too much - they are big cities after all, but I felt there was very little there for the money we paid. We were done in less than an hour.

We then got caught in a torrential downpour again and were forced to take shelter in a 99p shop. It just went on and on and eventually we decided to make a break for it - we got drenched. Luckily we were close to the restaurant we'd had lunch in the other day and ducked inside for our tea. £30 for 4 meals and drinks is pretty reasonable, especially as I had a mixed grill. The kids love this restaurant which is called Four Brothers - they completely cleaned their plates (rare) and have asked several times if they can go back again.

Which brings us to today, and a trip to Hemsby mega maze. Now this was value for money. It cost us £22 in total but we were there a good 3 hours or more. It doesn't look much from the outside but there's plenty there. The maze is made every year in a cornfield and open from around mid July to early September. Initially we were a bit apprehensive. There was another huge rainburst overnight and the opening path to the maze was very wet and muddy. It was OK once we got in. The maze itself is huge, by far the best I've been in and despite being in there a good hour and a half we only found 6 of the 10 checkpoints.

There were plenty other things to do there as well, all free: Crazy Golf, trampolines, bouncy karts, go karts (pedal), tunnels, slides, swings and more. All the stuff that my kids like. It was a most successful day out but pretty tiring - so much so that Jamie is now asleep, giving me a chance to write this.

It's so important to be able to spend time like this as a family. Holidays aren't cheap, especially in August but I'm happy to go without other things so I can give these children special times like this, because they will only be little like this for a couple more years. Not sure how we are going to afford next year, but I'm going to keep plugging away at my writing and who knows? The Time Bubble has been doing really well, picking up some excellent reviews in both the UK and the USA and the royalty payments are starting to come in. I live in hope that it will really take off and I'll have a big hit on my hands - well there's no harm in dreaming is there?

Plenty of holiday left so look out for part two, coming soon.
Jason

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

History Hunters

So far this summer, the weather has played pretty fair. If you’re the parents of young children this is good news – there is so much more you can do with your days when you can spend them outside.

However, the inevitable happened today as we were greeted by a summer downpour putting an end to outdoor play for the time being. As always, back indoors, one of the first things the kids asked for was to have the TV on.

Inwardly groaning at the thought of yet another afternoon in front of CBeebies (there have been many over the past 6+ years) I decided it was time we broadened our horizons. My kids are six and four now which is getting a bit old for the likes of Mr Tumble and his antics, so I suggested we have a look through the Freeview channels to see if there was anything new to watch.

The line-up of channels doesn't seem to have changed much in recent years, but I was pleased to discover that there’s a new kid on the block by the name of “Pop”. We caught the last few minutes of an interesting looking science show called “Finding Stuff Out” and then it was on to a show I hadn’t heard of before called “History Hunters”.

A refreshing change from CBeebies

Now as you may remember from your own youth, history can be an extremely dull subject if presented in the wrong way. My own memories consist largely of remembering names of monarchs and dates of battles. Well things have clearly moved on in the last 30 years or so, because this new show sets out to present history in a far more entertaining light. I often think the best kids shows are the ones that manage to educate without the kids realising it and this one certainly fits the mould.

The episode we watched was about life in medieval times. Straight away it got a huge laugh from my boys as some animation depicted how people in those times emptied their chamber pots (i.e. out of the window).
The show packed a huge amount of information into its half hour format, covering banquets, jesters, knights, castles and much more. The action switched quickly between the two main presenters, short animations, and creative sections e.g. how to make your own windmill. The light-hearted and humorous style certainly had my boys hooked.  They rarely sit still for a whole half hour. They have already asked if they can watch it again tomorrow.  This is fine by me as I enjoyed it tremendously and even learned a thing or two, myself. Children’s TV has come a long way since I was a kid.

Judging by the opening titles we've got episodes to look forward to about the Romans, Pirates, Ancient Egypt and more.  Just as well, as there are lots of rainy days forecast. If you want to check out History Hunters, it’s on Pop every day at 3pm – Freeview 75, Freesat 603 and SKY Digital 616.

Jason Ayres is the author of three humorous non-fiction diaries and time travel novel "The Time Bubble", available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Life after CBeebies

There's often much talk bandied about in the press about television ratings. Such and such a show got 8 million viewers, what the most watched programme was on Christmas Day and such like. 8 million is quite an impressive number when you consider the vast choice of channels on offer these days.

However for a few of us - several hundred thousand in fact, there is only one channel of choice. In fact thee isn't even a choice if screaming toddlers are to be avoided. From 6am to 7pm daily, if the television is on, the default and only option is CBeebies.

Now don't get me wrong - I think CBeebies do a fantastic job. If the children must watch television at least they can watch one with me safe in the knowledge they won't come to any harm (the infamous "Jimmy Savile" episode of The Tweenies aside). They also aren't being marketed to incessantly with adverts. In fact I wish there had been something like CBeebies when I was a kid - all we had to look forward to was Rainbow at lunchtimes and children's TV at teatime. Which was pretty good, admittedly.

The trouble with CBeebies is that as an adult, you gradually become drawn into it yourself and it addles your brain. You start doing strange things. Where once you'd be humming along to the latest dance tunes on Radio One looking forward to a bit of clubbing at the weekend, now you catch yourself singing the theme tune to Balamory. Or you get back from the school run, put the telly on and watch half an hour of Mister Tumble and his antics before you remember that the children are not actually there.

Some of the programmes are actually quite good. I love Gigglebiz which is sketch show for kids - a bit like a junior Fast Show. My favourite character on that is Keith Fit, an overweight, hopelessly unfit northerner who wears a track suit and believes he is good at sport. Others shows I enjoy include Charlie & Lola (animation), Timmy Time (junior Wallace & Gromit) and Swashbuckle (gameshow). However even these begin to grate after seeing ever episode about 20 times. Apparently children don't have long term memories so it's OK to keep repeating them over and over again.

Those that I do not like include the aforementioned Balamory (lame), and Mr Bloom's nursery, which is some rubbish about gardening with talking vegetables. But the undoubted lowlight of them all is the horrendous "In The Night Garden" which has been on at 6:20pm every day without fail since Ollie was born. Whoever dreamt up this utter pile of codswallop must be applauded for their sheer audacity. How they ever hoped to get it commissioned I shall never know but commissioned it was. There have been 100 episodes made so far and unlike the other shows that repeat the episodes over and over again this programme has taken things one step further. It appears to me that every episode is virtually identical with only a few minor tweaks. Take that bit at the end where Derek Jacobi says (as usual) "Wait a minute! Somebody's not in bed! Who's not in bed?" And lo and behold - it turns out to be Iggle Piggle - every fucking time! For years I've been watching in the vague hope that perhaps just once it might be one of the others, just for a change, but it never is.

Anyway if you've never seen In The Night Garden then congratulations. Your life will be considerably richer for the lack of experience. And if you have kids on the way or plan to have any at some point then good luck - you'll have something to look forward to - not!

CBeebies is aimed at 0-6 year olds. Ollie will be 7 next month. Just as it looked like there would be no light at the end of the CBeebies tunnel he's suddenly woken up to the realisation that there are other channels available - and even found one he likes. Maybe there is life after CBeebies after all. The new obsession is "Food Network". So it's all Barefoot Contessa, Nigella and Jamie Oliver. I must admit there's something quite enjoyable about watching someone carving up a full roast chicken at 10 O' Clock in the morning - in fact it sent me scurrying to the fridge to see if there were any left over slices off the Sainsbury deli from yesterday. (There weren't - I must had had them during the night so I had to have a bag of Walkers Roast Chicken crisps instead). I'm not sure how long the novelty will last but if it keeps Iggle Piggle and his twattish friends off my screen for a while it'll be worth it. Bloody annoying adverts though.

Jason

Jason Ayres is the author of three humorous non-fiction diaries and the time travel novel "The Time Bubble", available now from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Time-Bubble-Jason-Ayres-ebook/dp/B00L3K1B8G/ref=pd_ecc_rvi_1

Friday, 18 July 2014

The End Of An Era

Today was Jamie's last day at the Courtyard Preschool, bringing down the curtain on his two years there, and our own four year association with them as a family. It's amazing to think it's nearly four years since a very small Ollie first walked (very reluctantly) through their front door.

I am going to hugely miss walking up with one of them every day, chatting to the other mums and dads and of course the staff, at least three of whom, Donna, Tracey and Sarah have been there throughout. I imagine the end of the year must be quite a wrench for them too - saying goodbye to the children for the last time.

Jamie seems remarkably unfazed by it all. It was just another day to him. Perhaps children at that age don't measure out the passing of their lives in the way that we do.

It certainly made its mark on me - yet another landmark in a life that's pegged out with first days and last days here and there. I've been trying to think back on my own experiences and the key thing that stands out for me is that I can remember my first and last days almost everywhere in finite detail, but a lot of what occurred in between is lost.

I remember my first day at Primary School. It was January 1975 and I would have been almost five. I remember an older boy (all of six) called Terry being asked to show me around the school. I remember the last day too. The Headmaster had all of the leavers in to the hall for an assembly and I remember his exact words - "You may think this is the end, but in fact, it is just the beginning". I can remember some of my schoolmates thinking they were escaping, but in fact we'd had it easy there.

My next school was very different. I remember my first day there too, as well as the day I sat the entrance exam. Amazing the trivia you remember. I even remember in the school hall them sending us off for lunch that day with the announcement: "Able to Disley - go and get lunch". In case you haven't a clue what that means, Able and Disley were surnames - first names were frowned upon in this austere seat of academic learning. Fortunately I fell into the Able to Disley category so I got to go to lunch first which meant I got chips. My friend Gavin Dixon was highly annoyed - he was the very next one after Disley and they'd run out of chips by the time he got there. That was a feature of the canteen at the school - they only made a limited amount of each dish so all the best stuff went first. There were no end of scams played out to get the hallowed "Early Lunch Passes" which were like gold dust. I even joined the choral society at one point to obtain one - useful training for my future karaoke career. I wonder what my music teacher would have made of that.

A good alternative to the canteen was the legendary "Brett's Burgers" just around the corner on the Cowley Road. In 1981 a portion of chips from there was 25p, and the cooking of the burgers was amazing, I've never seen flames so high.

On my first day, my first lesson was Maths. My teacher was Mr Cooper, a young graduate in his first job and it was his first lesson too. He's still there, 33 years on, in fact I saw him just the other day.

On the day I left, a student prank took place. On the day that all the posh parents came to the school for the annual commemoration. The teachers were horrified to discover that someone had painted "THE END" in six foot high letters on the wall at the end of the science block. Clearly I wasn't the only one who was pleased to be leaving. The solution was to park a large van up against the wall and hope nobody noticed. It wasn't me who did this by the way. In fact I never did find out who did, but you have to chuckle.

Over the years every time I have left somewhere I've felt sad and nostalgic, even if I didn't really like the place. Facing the final curtain somewhere marks off a stage of our lives. Of all the last days I have had, undoubtedly the most significant took place almost ten years ago, just before my 35th birthday. We're all familiar with the phrase "three score years and ten" which is a long-winded way of saying 70. It's how long people were generally expected to live when this biblical expression was coined. On this particular day, Friday 28th January 2005, I was leaving Nielsen for the last time after almost fifteen years in the market research industry. It was a hugely significant day and one that bearing in mind all I've written above marks the dividing line between the first half of my life and the second.

Those two halves could not have been more different. The first half was about academic achievements, careers, and conformity. The second half has been about family, creativity, and individuality. I should point out that when I walked out of there back in 2005 I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do with the rest of my life. It was scary.

But what an amazing ten years it has been. A family, running my own business, writing books, presenting videos about pork, and all the rest. None of this would have come my way if I was still driving up and down the M1 to and from clients. Yes, life part two has been infinitely preferable - and it's also very unpredictable. I've no idea where my adventures will take me next.

Meanwhile Jamie will go on to St Edburg's to join Ollie who will move up to Year 3 - two more steps on their own personal journey. It's fascinating to see them develop as they do. I wonder what life holds in store for them - if their lives are as colourful as mine has been, they are in for a lot of fun.

Jason