Saturday, 3 June 2017


For as long as I can remember, I've loved quiz shows. When I was a kid it was Sale of the Century and Winner Takes All. I loved the gambling element of the latter, with it's betting odds on the answers. As a teenager it was Going For Gold at with Henry Kelly, which I used to watch on my lunch break when I worked for Martins.

There have been hundreds of different formats over the years, the nature of which vary considerably, There are those where knowledge is everything e.g. Who Wants to be a Millionaire, to those where the questions play only a minor part in what is largely a game of chance. The dreadful, Babushka, recently broadcast on ITV, is a good example of the latter. I've been around a long time, but I am in no way exaggerating in saying this is the worst "quiz" show I have ever seen. And there have been some shockers.

Some don't even bother with questions at all, a prime example being Deal or no Deal. That was quite an interesting concept when it started, but it got boring really quickly. I'd had enough after the first week, and that wasn't just down to it being presented by the dreaded Edmonds. Even Brucie couldn't have rescued this one. It's basically just people opening boxes - yet somehow this garbage managed to run for over a decade.

Question free game shows can be fun, though. I loved Goldenballs, but that had Jasper Carrott at the helm, and you can't go wrong with Carrott.

Where is all this leading? Well, quite simply, I really, really want to go on a quiz show! As it happens, I have applied for two so far, but failed to get on either.

On both occasions, I passed the initial tests, and then got invited to an audition. The first was for The Weakest Link, some years ago. I won the practice game we played, but didn't get invited back. More recently, I applied for Tipping Point, again getting called in for a screen test but failing to get on, despite seemingly flying through the audition with flying colours.

I thought I had done really well and had a good chance of getting on. This was in February, but the phone didn't ring. They said if I hadn't heard anything by the end of May that I probably wouldn't have been picked. It's now June 3rd, so I guess that's the end of that. Pity, as I reckon I would have done well at that. My old gran was demon at those penny falls machines in the arcades, and I reckon I could have done her proud with the skills she passed on.

I'm not sure why I didn't get on. At first, I thought perhaps they didn't want ugly middle-aged fat blokes, but then I looked at the contestants they had on last week and concluded it couldn't have been that. Oh well, I wasn't that enamored of Tipping Point anyway, I only applied for it because I thought it would be easy to win.

The show I really love, and would like to go on above all others, is Pointless. Why do I love this show so much? Because it's not just about right and wrong answers. It's about getting the more obscure answers. As someone who has spent a whole lifetime memorising trivia, from pop charts to winners of major sporting events, the invention of this show is manna from heaven for me. So if the category was something like "Artists who had a number one hit in 1985", I'd be all over it with Paul Hardcastle and Phyliss Nelson whilst my rivals would be going for the more obvious like Madonna and Wham!

Hopefully I can do a little better than this lot!

I watch most days now, timing the cooking so tea will be ready around quarter past five. There are old episodes on Challenge too, though you have to be a little careful with your answers on those due to the age of the show. It's no good picking Max Verstappen as the name of a Grand Prix winner when he was still in short trousers when the episode was made. To gauge how old the episode is, I usually go by the size of Alexander Armstrong's bald patch which is a pretty accurate yardstick.

Over the course of the show, I do pretty well, but that's no guarantee of success. You've only got to get the wrong category or type of question on this show and you're sunk. For example - I am terrible with films. I rarely watch them. I have always having preferred TV series, digestible in lots of small chunks over a long period of time. I also find photo rounds really hard, I don't know why, but I have always found identifying faces incredibly hard - as opposed to identifying voices which I'm much better at.

Everything about this show is great. The banter between the hosts and relaxed atmosphere makes it one that I would love to go on. I think that Richard Osman has possibly my dream job in television. I would love to sit at his desk, spouting facts and figures to an enthralled audience. I have spent some years of my own life attempting to dispense such information in the pub to a less enthusiastic reception. Sadly it has always fallen on deaf ears due to my drinking companions always having more interest in earthly matters, such as whether or not the barmaid is "up for it".

So, I am determined to get on Pointless. I don't seem to have had much luck in my other auditions, so what I really need is someone to come on with me who can dazzle the gatekeepers who decide who can can can't come on daytime TV. The more glamorous the better. If you're clever as well, even better, but if not, just memorise the periodic table, flags of the world and the entire IMDB database. I'll try and cover the rest.

Monday, 29 May 2017

The joy of walks

When I was a kid, I would recoil in horror if going for a walk in the countryside was ever suggested. Such an activity was filed firmly under the category of "boring" and something that old people did. Old at that time meaning anyone over the age of forty, a milestone considered truly ancient to a eleven-year-old.

My perception was not helped by being hauled off on a twenty-mile walk around the Lake District in my formative years. This is not what you call easing someone gently into the joys of walking. It seriously put me off the whole idea for about three decades. Other than a brief interest in cornfields, during a period of amorous exploration in my late teens, the countryside hasn't held much appeal to me until recently.

However, since some trips to the Lake District and other places in recent years, my interest has been rekindled. And fortunately for me. the kids are not averse to walks in the country, as I have eased them gently into the world of public footpaths and circular walks over time. What's brought me back to the countryside? Well a number of things really:

1) Money. It's half-term this week, which means filling the days up with activities and things to do. Much as I'd love to be taking the kids off to places like Legoland every day, such trips are prohibitively expensive. Even going to places like Cutteslowe Park is expensive when you have to pay to park (no change given from the machine, of course)  As for the Crazy Golf - £6 for adults and £4 for kids for something that takes about five minutes to do? You're taking this piss...

2) Physical Health. If I let them, the kids could quite easily spend the entire day on Minecraft while I just potter around the house, whiling away the day. That's not good for them, and it's certainly not good for me. Since having kids and switching to writing at home for a living, I've seriously struggled to keep fit. I use the hours when they are at school to do my writing, then I am at home most of the the rest of the time looking after them. At my age (47) this leads to a serious battle with the waistline.

3) Mental health: Working at home has it's benefits, but interaction with the world is not one of them. There's something about being outside in nature that refreshes the mind, I'm sure of that. When we are out walking through fields and woods, we're talking, looking at things, and having a laugh about everything from dodging stinging nettle to horse poo. There's no phones or screens in sight, except when I got my phone out to take a photo. It's just the simple pleasure of quality family time without distractions and I love it. When we get back, I always feel that I've done something worthwhile with my day.

Where did we go today? Well I have found this great little website called Walking in England which contains hundreds of circular walks, all over the country. I try and find ones that are around the right length for me and the boys (aged six and nine). Today, we took one which was three miles in length, starting and finishing in Aynho, Northants. It took us about two hours including a lengthy stop in Souldern Church to shelter from a rainstorm. It took in footpaths, bridleways, fields, woods, stiles and even a ford. We took all our own food and drink with us, so the outing, other than the petrol to get us to Aynho, was nothing.

Crossing the ford between Aynho and Souldern

It's so easy to forget how much there is to see out there, right on our doorsteps. Back at home now, my feet are a little sore, and I feel somewhat knackered, but I know it's done me some good and there's a real feeling of having achieved something with my day. I am working really hard at the moment to regain some of the fitness I've lost and lose some of the weight I've gained during my forties.It's tough going - apparently our bodies need less calories every year as we age, but I'm determined to stick at it.

This is the first blog entry I have written for some time - my apologies for that, but I have been hard at work on the fourth book in The Time Bubble series (and seventh overall in The Time Bubble universe). I am hoping to have it finished for the end of the summer, pending our forthcoming house move, which I will cover in my next blog entry - hopefully later on this week.

Jason Ayres is a newspaper columnist, freelance writer and author of a range of bestselling time travel novels. You can find all of his books here: Jason Ayres - Author Page