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