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