Friday, 29 March 2013

Zoomania

Determined not to allow the on-going arctic conditions to imprison us inside, I have been hastily re-organising our schedule of Easter outings accordingly. So trips to parks are out - play centres are in. Now, despite past disappointments on this score, I approached the challenge with optimism, and hence at 9:30am this morning, with a little assistance from Sat Nav technology, we rolled up at the front door of Zoomania in Aylesbury.

So what is Zoomania? Well for those of you that have ever been to the children's play area at Wyevale, it is a bit like that, except miles bigger, miles nicer, and not massively overcrowded. Well not while we were there anyway. That is why we went at 9:30am.

Generally I have found Wyevale stressful - too many people crammed into one small area, massive queues to get in, can't get a table, time limits. Well none of that here. Oodles of room. In fact - I can't fault the place. You pay according to the ages of your children on a sliding scale - I think we paid a tenner or thereabouts.

The place has a huge imaginative climbing frame on several levels, with various slides and tubes to go down, there's a ball pool, a smaller area for the little ones, giant lego, little karts, and more. Amazing - I never had anything like this when I was a kid - don't think such places even existed, or if they did, their existence was unknown to me.

Unfortunately for us - and this happens every time we go anywhere, as soon as we got in there, the kids started whingeing and complaining. Now I am used to this with Ollie - as you will know he was diagnosed some time ago as being on the autistic spectrum, however I have developed ways and means of dealing with this, and generally, we get through these issues. But today, it was Jamie that started all the screaming and shouting and refusing to go on things, which then rubbed off on Ollie. As a parent it is incredibly frustrating, as it always seems that every other kid there is having the time of their life, with happy smiley parents, perfect nuclear families and it's only us in meltdown. As always this is a very stressful situation for me and Claire in a public environment, but I keep calm and try and find something to engage their interest and eventually we got there - by about half past ten they grudgingly consented to start enjoying themselves.

It's so upsetting for a parent when you go to all the effort to take the kids somewhere nice and do something special for them, and you get there and they play you up. But I keep persevering - it is my purpose in life after all and we can all see in society the examples where the parents gave up.

I am really hoping and praying that Jamie's behaviours - exact carbon copies today of what Ollie used to do are just terrible twos and I'm not going to have another SENCO situation on my hands in a couple of years. The fun we have way outweighs the bad, and I have even managed to turn some of Ollie's obsessions into fun and try and indulge in them with him - e.g. he is obsessed with the design and layouts of supermarkets - the aisle numbers and such like and talks about it all the time - rather than ignore it, or get irritated about it, "stop talking about aisles all the time" I indulge it, take him to supermarkets, praise his elaborate floor plans that he designs for them, that sort of thing.

The one picture I managed to take in this area
 in which Ollie was not picking his nose.

Ollie calmed down a bit when he found the giant lego and arranged all the pieces geometrically with precisely planned distances between them. Until another child knocked them over anyway. And Jamie once he stopped screaming and went down the slide - with a little encouragement, realised he liked it after all.

Here I come, Daddy!

So once we got the kids over the wobbly hump, they were not too bad, and we went into the big climbing area which goes up very high. The great thing about Zoomania is that the adults are allowed in to, and both Claire and I managed to get up to the top - with much wheezing and puffing and squeezing ourselves through tight spaces. Here is a picture Ollie took of me struggling between two rollers. He is getting quite good with the camera.

Not suitable for fat blokes

I also went down the big tube but got a bit wedged half way down - fortunately I did not have to be airlifted out like Homer Simpson was all those years ago as some kid came down behind me and booted me in the head which got me moving again.

I was quite knackered by the time I got off there. We then discovered a little soft play football and basketball pitch at the back so I was able to take the boys on for a little match. Despite the fact that it was 2 against 1, I was easily able to cruise to victory, it was like England against San Marino all over again. Two years olds don't put up much resistance in a tackle either I find. Claire meanwhile demonstrated some hitherto unknown basketball skills - not something I have ever been any good at.

Ollie and Jamie test out their new goal technology.
"That was definitely in, Frank"

After a couple of hours, the place was starting to get quite busy so we headed off to Morrisons for the next leg of our exciting day out. Now might not sound a dream place out, but bearing in mind what I said about Ollie earlier he was very excited. Unfortunately he was not happy at the layout of the aisle numbers - they didn't follow a very logical pattern and he was most upset that some areas e.g. the fruit and veg section didn't have aisle numbers at all. Not that we lingered there for long, I was quite keen to get to the meat.

Morrisons in Aylesbury is a bit old and tired really - not a patch on the more modern Banbury store. It used to be a Safeway, and they took it over. You can always tell the age of a store by the floor I think, and this one had that sort of marble flooring with the pebble pattern in, popular back in the 70s which is probably how long it has been there.

The final leg of our journey was McDonalds - a good old standby - I feared more meltdowns here over the fish fingers but surprisingly the boys did eat well if a little slowly. Claire however was not happy - she is on a carb free diet at the moment and she ordered a salad which she said was really lame. I will have to take her word on that as I am not an expert on the subject. I was most pleased with my chicken nuggets though as I ordered the box of six but when it came, I realised I had got two joined at the hip - like siamese twin nuggets so really I got seven, which represents a gain of 16.666% recurring. Which was nice.

It was pretty packed in there, being a bank holiday, we were there about an hour watching the boys see if they could set a new slow eating record. Main bad thing about McDonalds in Aylesbury? The absolute ridiculous car park design. I won't elaborate but I am sure you are nodding you head in agreement if you have been there.

And so home for a nice leisurely afternoon, on one of just 3 days a year when no racing takes place, so no distractions there. And do I need it - I feel absolutely knackered as well - don't think it is just because of the efforts on the climbing frame, but five hours out with two little boys playing Superdad takes it out of me. Looking forward to vegging in front of the TV tonight with a couple of nice regional beers I bought from Morrisons. Cheers!

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

Jason xx

PS: Tesco hot cross buns are rank, I should have listened to Duncan and got them from M&S.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Poundland opens in Bicester


Great excitement on our trip to town this morning to discover that the new Poundland is now open.
No new store due to open in Bicester has polarized opinions more than this one, before it even appeared. From those eagerly waiting its arrival to those denouncing its appearance as the nail in the coffin for Bicester’s High Street, everyone has had an opinion.

Welcome to Bicester!

And myself? Well I like to make my own mind up about things without any pre-conceptions drummed into me by other people. I’ve heard it all about Poundland – how it’s going to lower the tone, cheap and nasty, not value at all, will be full of chavs – yes these comments have all reached my ears in recent days. So what do I think?

Well – any new store in Bicester I see as a positive – in the last couple of years we’ve acquired Aldi, Lidl and Wilkinsons and they have made a huge positive impact on the town. The range of things we can buy has increased enormously, as has the possibility of gaining value  - you don’t have to buy it in Tesco anymore because there is nowhere else. So how does Poundland fit into the mix?

Well – we went in to a bright, well-lit welcoming store. Four aisles, packed to the rafters with a huge mix of food, household products, toys, stationery, and all manner of other things. A great range – and it is pretty much all branded, well known names as well – which will please those that turn their noses up at the kind of copycat brands found in Aldi.

Yes – not everything is value – some things aren’t, but you’ve just got to be a savvy shopper and use your loaf. I would say the 3 cans of diet coke for £1 isn’t that great when you can get a 6 pack in Iceland for £1.50 – so you go to Iceland for that. But I saw many other products for £1 that I know for a fact you pay more for elsewhere – all good branded stuff.

For those that want to turn their nose up – fine. If you are happy  to carry on buying your Heinz Tomato Ketchup for £1.69 in Tesco when you can get the identical product for £1 in Poundland, that’s fine – I’m quite happy to save my 69p. Every 69p I save here and there mounts up over the year – so when I am sitting in Fuerteventura sitting in the sun sipping a cocktail and you’re stuck at home skint next February you’ll know why.

OK – fair enough say the critics – but you don’t get the quality. What you mean extortionately priced quality that you get next door in M&S trading on its long established good name? There is very little  I buy in M&S these days – a few biscuits that the kids like and some Cheese Tasters (they really are worth the money) but not a lot else. I don’t even buy bacon in M&S anymore because I have discovered the most amazing and delicious bacon that can be bought anywhere in Bicester in Aldi at £1.49 a pack – top quality stuff – but I suppose there’s little point me broadcasting it on here, because you won’t believe me! Never mind, all the more for me then!

The best bacon you can buy in Bicester. FACT!!!

Back to Poundland - one of the best things in there is the toys – amazing range of stuff, perfect for a little treat for the kids or stocking fillers. But the best thing of all – I was delighted to find some of my absolutely favourite crisps – a 6 pack of Scampi Fries and Bacon Fries for just, of course, £1. Now these are notoriously hard to find in  shops – Morrisons occasionally have them but at nearer  two quid or you can get them in some pubs, but you wouldn’t even get two packets for a quid there! What a find! The shop is worthwhile being there for them alone!!!

6 Bags for £1 Who needs Easter eggs???

One of the funniest comments I heard about Poundland was someone complaining that it wouldn’t be like good old Winners. What you mean, good old Winners, with it’s dingy lighting, dirty floors, fussy notices everywhere telling you “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” and surly staff? No thank goodness – it is nothing like that!

So to all those too high and mighty to go into Poundland – well I admire your principles. For me,  I reckon it is going to knock at least another £5 to £10 off my weekly shopping bill, so that’s this year’s trip to Butlins paid for! Not that you would would be seen dead there, of course. I imagine Center Parcs is more your thing. None of those horrid people with clothes from Primark and tattoos there.


Jason xx

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Pizzeria

Now I am not sure how much is nature and how much is nurture, but where Ollie is concerned, it's a pretty safe bet that if I like something he does, and if I don't, neither does he.

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to food. His tastes and mine are very similar, and without any prompting from me, I can pretty much predict what he will say about any meal or any new food put before him.

Since Pizza is the flavour of the week, we may as well talk about that. You see, I quite like Pizza - but it is in no way one of my favourite foods. It's nowhere near as high in my estimation as a fry up or a roast dinner, but it would come a long way ahead of a lot of other what I call "sloppy foods" that make me feel queasy just thinking about them e.g. lasagne, shepherd's pie - yuck!

I can say with 100% confidence that if I were to put something like that in front of Ollie he would not touch it with a bargepole. Still having a son that's got similar tastes to my own with a 10x level of fussiness at least makes feeding him possible to some degree.

But it's amazing how he can come out with some of the same things that I do when it comes to food. You see  one of the issues I have with certain genres of food, is the way they are dominated by certain ingredients. Take Pizzas for example - and Italian Food in general - now generally, not too big a problem for me - but I have a real issue with the way that this type of food is absolutely smothered in tomatoes/ tomato sauce in many cases. Many is the pizza I have had which I have not enjoyed because someone has decided to put a centimetre thick covering of tomato sauce on the base. It's too much.

Now I don't dislike tomato. But I don't want to be smothered in it - a hint is more than enough. Same with chips. Now my idea of tomato ketchup with chips is a nice little blob in the corner, about an inch or so across. When I see people emptying half a bottle all over the top of the chips it makes my stomach turn.

Now Ollie, being like me has quite independently come to the same conclusion and complained about pizza having too much tomato on it. Now it is not always the case - certainly the ones we get from Domino's aren't over enthusiastic with the tomato sauce and I enjoy them - but seriously, £16.99 for something I can make for about a quid at home, it's a bit over the top.

Anyway, my interest in Pizza this week was piqued by Year One's trip to Pizza Express on Monday when they got to make pizza with the staff, and even brought some home. I asked Ollie if he would like to try making his own, got a positive response, so today we gave it a try.

When I say we made our own, we did cheat by buying the base, but no need to try and run before we can walk. Perhaps we'll make some dough next time. Maybe in the breadmaker, I think it has an option for that, though someone will probably stick their nose in the air and call that cheating as well. Anyway, so we bought the base and bought some Passata (tomato spread) to go on it.

Of course the beauty of making our own was that we were able to control the amount of tomato sauce going on - so a nice thin layer, enough for the flavour without drowning in it. Lots of grated cheese on the top and then some pineapple, freshly cut, and a bit of bacon too, and it was ready to go into the oven.

Pizza Bicester Blogger style - with Cheese by Ollie


Took about 15 minutes and then it was done. Here's the finished article.

Probably a little sparing with the ingredients.
Ideally you should only be able to see  a sea of pink!

And a bit of garlic bread to go with it. The acid test - well the kids like it - here is Ollie with his chef's hat on - my only criticism is that the base was a little dry - but that might be because of the small amount of passata used - I might experiment with spreading a little olive oil on the base first next time.

The Royal Seal of approval...

So another home cooking experience over and not a bad job. Of course the beauty of making your own is that you can have whatever you want on it. Here's a few more ideas I am thinking of trying.

Cheese and Marmite Pizza
Walkers Crisps Pizza
Full English Breakfast Pizza
Hog Roast Pizza
Donor Kebab Meat Pizza (I think Iceland already do one of these, but knowing them it is probably rank)

And many more I am yet to dream up! I'm sure Dogger and Dave will think of some if they are reading.

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

Jason xx


Friday, 22 March 2013

The New Ice Age

So here we are, almost at the end of March and winter continues on with seemingly no end. How do we react to this? Well as a country, with a lot of general mumbling and grumbling, a lot of sensationalist headlines from the usual suspects in the media, lots of ill-informed opinion all round really.

Yes, everyone has their own cliched opinions, or things they have overheard others saying that they repeat because they think it sounds clever. It's not just the weather this applies to - just the crap most people spout in general really - a kind of verbal plagiaristic diarrhoea - VPD I shall call it for short.

Here's the fairly predictable front page of today's Express.

The coldest March weekend for 50 years they will have us believe. 

So - amongst all the hyperbole and VPD, what facts can be gleaned from all this? Because that's what I deal in - facts, numbers, statistics. Unlike most people. We all have a Great Aunt Gladys tucked away somewhere who reminisces on about the long glorious hot summers when she was a girl and how we always had a White Christmas. The facts just don't bear this out I'm afraid.

The problem with trying to spot long term trends in the British weather is that we live in such a variable climate that it is constantly changing - and people's memories are short. Plenty of people in the January snowstorm were saying things like "I've never seen anything like it", when in fact the snowfalls of December 2010 were significantly worse.

So in the interest of providing some facts, I have been delving back into the history books, trying to see what the patterns - if any, are.

We are currently on a run of very snowy winters, and very bad summers, but is this anything unusual? Or a sign of a permanent change.

Well during history there have been warmer and colder periods, so it is not impossible that the current patterns we are seeing might be indicative of a long term change. There was a period known as "The Little Ice Age" during the 17th and 18th centuries. This was a generally colder period - though not all the time - but it did have several spells of severe winters. Those old paintings you may have seen of Frost Fairs on the Thames - well this was when those took place. As an aside, Frost Fairs would be unlikely to occur now, even if the weather got as cold as then due to changes in the river flow since then with the building of various bridges which have broken up the river flow.

Imagine living back then, you would really have had something to complain about!

There was also a period known as the medieval warm period prior to that - back in the earlier part of the last millenium when the climate was much warmer in general.

These are established facts. So what can be gleaned from more recent events. Well you hear a lot of moaning about bad summers from people - so I looked back the hottest summers of my life since 1970 and came up with the following, based on statistics and personal (accurate) memories:

1975
1976
1983
1984
1989
1990
1994
1995
2003
2006

What is most interesting (aside from the fact that hot summers seem to come in pairs), is that there have only been two what I would class as hot in the last 18 years, and personal experience suggests that the last few have been exceptionally poor. From a personal perspective - about 12 years ago I bought an air conditioning  unit - one of those that you hang a hose out of the window with and it sucks out the heat. This was an essential item just to sleep at night in those two hot summers since then, but every year it was used for at least a week or two in the hottest weather. It has been sat gathering dust for at least 3 years now - no longer needed.

But is this a long term trend? Well it's hard to say - go back further into time and look at the whole of the 60s for example - there were no notable hot summers then at all, and one very cold winter, 1963, but it seems weather wise, nothing particularly exciting happened in the 60s. Looking at winters, they also tend to come in bad clusters - they were exceptionally bad during the second world war, with three very bad ones in a row in the early 1940's - the last time there was a run like we have now.

And we are on a bad run now - since 2009 we have had an amazing snowy period, almost unprecedented, and very unexpected in the whole global warming scenario. Earlier in this century the media were confidently predicting that children growing up in the new millenium would not even know what snow was! How wrong they were - here is a link to an article that appeared in the Independent back in 2000 predicting that exact scenario!

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/snowfalls-are-now-just-a-thing-of-the-past-724017.html

Clearly that hasn't happened. So why when the world is warming are we getting such cold winters and awful summers now? One well known theory is that the gulf stream is switching off - therefore giving us a climate more suitable to the latitude we occupy (same as Canada). But is there enough evidence to support this? Are we really heading into a new ice age here in Britain?

You want an answer, I know - and I would love to make a bold statement - but I will hang fire for now, all I will say is - it is possible. I can't be conclusive as this just could be a run of poor summers and cold winters as has occurred throughout the last century.

One thing that is notable particularly about this year, is that I have never known it stay this cold for so long, for snowdrops to still be in flower this late, and for temperatures to remain so consistently low so late. The thermometer has barely got into double figures in the past 5 months. But it is still only March, we shouldn't panic just yet, however if we got to May and it was still like this, then I would seriously be starting to worry. That's when you would start hearing about "The Year Without A Summer" which was 1816. And we really don't want another one of those. Look it up if you want to know more.

It's meant to be the French market in town tomorrow - if it happens. But another hefty snowfall overnight could put paid to that. Strangely, another statistical quirk is that these heavy snows often seem to come on Saturdays but that's just randomness doing its work in a strangely non-random way.

If we have two or more years of the same, I might definitely be persuaded that things have changed. But we just don't know. We could be sitting here in 3 months time basking in the hottest June temperatures since records began, and all this cold weather will be a distant bad memory. Here's hoping.

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

Jason xx

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The end is nigh

Here's some doom and gloom - I don't think anything can be done by this chancellor, any chancellor, any party. Fact is, this country has had its day.

As usual there has been miles of text written, things said, endless opinions spouted on the subject of the budget. As a blogger attempting to find a fresh angle on things - well it isn't always easy. Listened to the Jeremy Vine show on the radio afterwards and it was "same old, same old".

So how as a blogger do I write a completely original piece full of views never expressed by anyone else ever? Well the answer is, I probably can't. Only yesterday I stumbled across a reference on a forum advocating the exact same cunning scheme to extract cash from Tesco I proposed earlier in the week. Also today I read an article advocating drinking ourselves to death early to take the pressure off pensions - another topic I jokingly brought up last year. I suppose in a country of millions of people and a world of billions it's hard to have a completely unique take on everything, still I do my best.

The guys in the media (radio, paper, TV, whichever medium you care to name) spout on with all the same stuff. Well here is what I think.

All this stuff about different people being better off than others, e.g. it's good news for drivers because fuel tax hasn't been put up, or how much better off various people will be in various tax bands is all utter poppycock. It's all a drop in the ocean as far as the overall picture is concerned. Does petrol not going up by 3p really change people's lives or turn a struggling business around? I suspect not!

And we hear the deficit won't be brought down now until 2018 at the earliest! Just a bit of clarification here as I think some people don't get this. Deficit doesn't mean debt - deficit means the amount the debt is increasing by - so we are not talking about reducing our debt - we are talking about reducing the amount we are running it up by! It's a bit like having a credit card with a £10,000 balance, paying £100 quid off a month but getting £200 a month interest at the same time. And we aren't even talking about actually reducing the debt yet! That's some pie in the sky idea for 2018 or later assuming the latest plan works. Which it probably won't. After all none of the others did. And when Cameron and Osborne get booted out in 2015, and Labour get back in - they won't be able to fix it either. Not while we continue to live not within our means.

There is a famous old quote from a Dickens novel which goes as shown in the picture below:




The fact of the matter that is how we as the country live and a lot of the people in it too. A figure quoted today was that we are spending 107% of what we are earning .That's billions of pounds.

In historical terms I think here in Britain we're in the equivalent of the last days of Rome. The trouble is we have all had it too good for too long. Austerity worked after the war - people had been living through hell for the previous few years and we were starting from scratch. It won't work now. We've grown fat and lazy (that's metaphorical - not just referring to me personally, though I suppose it could do) on the many years of prosperity - all mod cons, huge tellies, holidays, mass consumerism, I could go on - fact is, we don't see those things as luxuries any more but as expected things. Not enough money to pay for them? Just get a credit card, or remortgage. Easy...well it was up until a few years ago.

Quite honestly I am amazed the whole house of cards hasn't come crashing down around us yet - maybe it will and a truly apocalyptic scenario is just around the corner for us. And I don't just mean the UK, other western economies are worse than us as we have seen in Greece and elsewhere.

But we can't change our ways - like I say we've grown old and fat and lazy and we can't go back now. What a contrast to other places in the world. Look at China and other emerging markets - everyone moans about all our jobs etc going over there - but they are lean and young and hungry - they may earn less than us relatively - but the key thing is - they are going in the right direction - it's all growing - so they are way better off than they were a decade or a generation ago, to them they feel rich. It's all relative. Someone falling on hard times having to sell a Ferrari and buy a Mercedes will be unhappy. Someone who's never had money, trading in a 20 year old banger for a 5 year old Ford Mondeo will be happy. The Merc is worth far more than the Mondeo but the Mondeo owner will feel he's going up in the world. Hence why I think China and the others will too so well - they've all got plenty to aspire to and work for, whereas for us the only way is down. Never mind, we've had a good innings.

That is they way I see the world. I think we have had it, and we are in permanent decline. I think the Government knows it too. I think we all know it deep down, but there's far too much squabbling amongst ourselves to notice - as long as we can fight for "our bit" we don't have to worry about the others. 3p off petrol while someone else has to downgrade their home because they can't afford the bedroom tax? Their problem, not ours.  "I'm alright, Jack". Fact is, although we can't see it, we're all fiddling while Rome burns.

There you go, my unique take. Though someone will probably nick it for their weekend column in some newspaper or other.

In the meantime, while we wait for the end, let's all have a drink. Mine's a Strongbow! Cheers!

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

Jason xx

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Save £££'s at Tesco

Today I have come up with a cunning plan to save lots and lots of money at Tesco that everyone can benefit from! It's completely legal, very simple, and will cost them lots and lots of money too!

Now I am not one to bear grudges, but I remain very cross with Tesco over their customer service in my local store and specifically their refusal to honour mistakes that they have made in their shelf labelling. You will recall the Now 83 CD that they mistakenly had labelled at a tenner that they refused to let me have at that price, petulantly removing all the stock from the shelf on the day of release. And the 3 for £5 offer which had finished the day before even though the stickers were still up. And countless others.

Sorry Tesco - but you do not mess with Bicester Blogger. So here now, I present to you, dear shoppers, the way to cash in every time you shop.

To sweeten us all up in the wake of the horse meat scandal, Tesco have launched their in store price promise. To cut a long story short, when you get to the checkout it compares your shop to Sainsbury, Asda and Morrisons (all equivalent items) and if your overall shop is more expensive than any of them they will give you an instant voucher off your next shop.

Sounds good in principal, but there is a catch. The key word is "overall". Here's the maths bit:

If you have 10 items in your basket that are 10p more than in Asda - in theory that's a £ they owe you - but then if you also have something in your basket that is on special offer in Tesco e.g. half price making it a £ cheaper than Asda, then your 10 items at 10p less will all be wiped out by this one item and you will get nothing.

But there is a simple way around it - and here is the key to my devilish scheme! Simply split your shop into two transactions. Put all the items that are on promotion or that you know are cheaper in Tesco through first as a separate shop! If they ask just say they are for your mum or something so you need two receipts. Not uncommon, people do this all the time. Then put all your other items through as a second shop. The savings on the first shop won't impact on the second one then, and hence you should get a voucher.

Brilliant! And simple. And perfectly legal! I would like to encourage my blog readers to share this link across facebook and twitter - maybe we can get it to go viral. Imagine if a million people read it and all did it and saved an average of a £ each - that's a million pounds!!! Wow!!!

Shopping has never been so much fun!

Bet you wish you'd given me that CD for a tenner now, don't you?

Oh, just before I go, noticed today you had Harpic bog cleaner at £2.60 - special offer 3 for £5. Do you want to insult your shoppers intelligence any further? This product is normally on sale somewhere between £1 and £2 and anyway you can get it for a quid in Wilko.

Happy shopping readers!

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

Jason xx


Saturday, 9 March 2013

18 month plan

I often cite through my blog how happy I am with the way I have my life set up and it is indeed true. How I earn my living, where we live, all of it is absolutely perfect for the stage our family is at.

However, nothing stays the same, and so here I am at 43, almost exactly half way through my working life, with one career already behind me and the focus currently very heavily on bringing up the boys and being the house husband - with the DJ'ing as a very welcome way of earning money during hours which don't impact too heavily on the parenting.

We have a lovely home which we rent from a friend, could not ask for more. Though things are changing, there are a lot of new homes here and people moving in, so it's not quite the little oasis in the centre of town that it always has been but I can live with that for now.

But I do need to start thinking ahead about changes in the future. After all I am 25 years away from retirement and really don't see myself lugging speakers around doing discos when I am 60+. Talk about the oldest swinger in town. I'll leave that to Funky ;-). But when it comes to career options, I am not going to be happy just doing some job for the sake of doing a job - I've never worked in a factory in my life, have few practical skills, in short, there's not a lot that I can really do. This isn't meant to sound elitist, but having had an academic, privately educated background, practical skills were never really considered a priority in my youth when it was probably expected I would have some glorious high paid job that would mean never having to get my hands dirty. In reality, my life was nothing like that.

I am one of those people who is not particular good at most things and in addition to that, has no motivation whatsoever for doing any sort of job, or anything come to that which does not interest me. It is absolutely pointless me doing it. This doesn't sound like I am doing a great job on selling myself, does it. However - the point is - I may be mediocre at best at 95% of things - but I am incredibly skilled at the other 5%. When I am good at something, and I'm motivated by something, nobody can touch me.

Job wise - well there is one thing that I have a huge aptitude for, and that is analysing data, and drawing conclusions from it. Yes, it's easy to look back at Nielsen and laugh about my ups and downs, but there was not a person in that building who could touch me when it came to data analysis and presenting the results to clients - when it came to the big boys - and I mean big boys, I've stood up in front of the boardrooms of some of the biggest companies in this country in my time e.g. Tesco, BAT,  the list is endless and the recommendations I've put to them in the past - well, I could value some of them at millions.

I can look at any table of figures, block of numbers, and draw conclusions from it - and people wonder why I am so successful at betting on the horses - because I can read a racecard and a betting market and instantly see where the value lies.

The reason I left Nielsen? Nothing to do with the actual bare bones of the job, I just could no longer bear being in an organisation where my brilliance at what I did went unrecognised. I didn't want to "play the game", I just wanted to do what I was good at, but it did not work out for me in the long run.

When I re-entered the job market in 2005 I was frustrated by my inability to find a new position that would fit my criteria - I had other jobs, but none measured up to what I was looking for. Also I found that having a CV and applying for jobs was pretty much a waste of time - it's impossible to get across to people the sort of person you are and what you want to do - and all the standard advice for writing a CV just didn't feel like me. In short I don't believe you can summarise a human being on one or two sheets of A4 paper. I have ditched my CV now and never intend having another one. My CV, well it's me, the person.

In all that time between leaving Nielsen and starting at the probation office, about 18 months (during which I did various work on temporary contracts), only one job sprung out of the paper at me, and this job, I really did fancy. It was for Thames Valley Police and it was a part time post based in Banbury, about 3 days per week, analysing crime statistics and making recommendations based upon them - absolutely right on the nail when it came to my skill set. They gave me a project to prepare for the interview - a simple set of stats of crime figures for a few months in Oxford. I prepared an amazing presentation for the interview - the kind of thing Nielsen clients pay huge sums for. I got right into these stats and made all sorts of "deductions" - good for a policing job, huh? I noted that certain crimes got worse as the nights darkened in Autumn, and also other certain types of crimes had a spike in early autumn - these were related to students and I even recommended an awareness campaign among new students in Oxford away from home for the first time (bicycle theft and such like). In short, I played an absolute blinder and blew away the interview panel.

But did I get the job? No, it went to an internal candidate, but the HR lady who rang me after told me how impressed they had been by me.

Not long after that I got the job at the probation office, initially as a fairly bog standard admin person, but I soon expanded my role into analysing offender statistics and the bosses there were very impressed by what I did. In the end though, I decided to leave, Claire wanted to go back to work after the baby was born, and I saw an opportunity with the DJ'ing - something else I knew I was good at - putting my encyclopaedic knowledge of music to good use. Which I certainly have, because here I am 5 years plus later. In fact it has been so long, some people don't know me as anything other than Jason the DJ and have no idea what I did in my former life.

But - plans need to be made. September 2014 is a significant date in my long term planning as that is not only the date that Jamie will start school full time, but it is also the scheduled date that St Edburg's moves to its new home on Kingsmere - out the other side of the Premier Inn somewhere. Too far to walk daily from here, and I am totally against driving children to school. I also don't want to move Ollie to another school due to his issues - he still has a SENCO in place for his autism and to uproot him elsewhere - well I am just not willing to do it.

So September 2014 - may well see us upping sticks and moving - and with both kids at school sees me free to potentially work again - I would love to get my teeth into some juicy figures and go and show some people what they mean and how they should act on them. It's something I just love doing - but I'm not going to do it unless it's exactly the right job for me - a square peg in a round hole I won't be. That job with the police would have been perfect for me - perhaps something like that will come along again, but I am not going to go down the conventional route of applying for jobs - it is not as if I am that desperate - but I am going to keep my ears and eyes open and talk to a lot of people, build up my contacts and who knows what may come up?

What would be the perfect job for me? Well something that maybe involved 16 hours a week, analysing stats for the Police, Probation service, NHS, Cherwell council, maybe a private concern, who knows. Wherever possible I'd work from home, and present the data back as required. I'd be worth my absolute weight in gold. I'd love it, and they would love what they got back.

I am just waiting here for someone to come and find me, like I say I don't want to go looking for it right now, but I'm open to any suggestions that might come my way. If they don't, they don't, but I am not going to try and flog a CV around - I am just not that desperate for a job. I sometimes think we have got it all the wrong way around - why should employers have all the power? I don't want to go and try and persuade someone to let me work for them - I want them to come and try and persuade me to work for them. That's how things work in the celebrity and sporting world. You don't see the likes of Robin Van Persie writing job applications when it's time to move clubs so why should it be any different for us?

I guess I'm in a more comfortable position than most as I'm already earning a reasonable living - but I'm open to suggestions. I would imagine if any offer of work were to come my way it would be from somebody that already knows me.

Some ex research people set themselves up as "consultants" charging thousands a day - not my style really. Such people can be found everywhere and quite honestly it's all flash suits and flannel from what I can see. I can do 10x what they do at one tenth of the cost.

Maybe this blog comes over as arrogant or over-confident - if it does, I apologise, that wasn't my intention, I guess it's just a case of planning ahead. September 2014 - what will I be doing and where will I be then? Time will tell, all I can say is that time doesn't stand still and I need to thing of the future, however good things might be right now.

This is also not a "Gissa job" yosser style plea, I haven't fallen on hard times, I'm just laying some groundwork for my "18 month plan". I don't even want or have time to take on a job before September 2014, but no harm in putting a few feelers out now.

Life's good - amazing in fact, but no matter how good, you can always go for even better. If someone out there wants me, and can inspire me, and the price is right, well, I can't miss such an opportunity.

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

Jason xx

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

One Man on a Mission

And that mission is - to create, or find, the perfect chip! In fact, not so much a mission, more of an obsession.

I've had the Tefal Actifry over a month now and have tinkered about trying various methods of cooking chips   in it, some successful, others not so.

What makes the perfect chip? Well they have to be tasty, goes without saying. But also natural - I like to know where my ingredients are coming from. For example, I have heard that McDonalds fries, tasty though they are, never go off - you can leave them for months without rotting, due to some sort of preservative on them. Whether or not that is true, (urban myths spring to mind) it kind of puts me off somewhat.

I also think they need to be crispy, but not burnt, and definitely not soggy. The quality you get from various establishments in Bicester varies quite considerably. Sometimes I get fries from them that are gorgeous and fresh - other times, well, I could suspect that they may have been left over from the previous night.

I could make very good chips in my old fryer, but as you will recall, I ditched it because it was a) costing a fortune, b) stank out the house, c) was dangerous and d) unhealthy - not that the last one bothers me particularly but you've got to think about the others in the family I guess!

So I have tried following instructions to the letter, deviating off tangent, trying different oils. Some early attempts didn't go too well - my crinkle cut ones seemed to suffer from a little burning on the sticky out bits, so I've switched to straight. I also had a few issues with flavour - the chips really don't seem to soak up that much fat. I tried boiling first in salt water to add flavour but that just made them soggy.

Yesterday, I had my best success yet - we have fish and chips here on Monday nights as Claire hates fish, and she is not here on Mondays, fortunately the boys do so I cook for the three of us. As we often have roast beef on Sundays, I thought this was the ideal opportunity for a bit of old fashioned austerity, waste not want not, so I saved the dripping from the beef - always delicious in making roast potatoes, and popped it into a cup in the fridge ready for the next day. The other tip I picked up from the internet was that it is essential that the chips are totally dry - and just drying them on a tea towel or kitchen roll isn't enough. They recommended putting the chips in without oil for the first 5 minutes to dry them completely. Which worked a treat - they were bone dry. Unsurprising really, the way the Actifry works is not unlike a giant hand dryer, but very hot. Then I popped in my beef dripping, and away it went. Way too much beef dripping as it turned out, as there was loads left in the pan at the end, you really don't need a lot.

Another tip I picked up was I stopped it for a couple of minutes mid cook and let it rest - kind of the equivalent of the old "double cook" method which all good chip makers swear by. I also sprinkled a little sea salt on at this point.

And the finished result came up pretty good - here's a photo of them on my plate, with the accompanying cod fillets in batter.

Bicester Blogger enjoys a fish supper

The fact that the kids gobbled them all up is justification in itself - if they don't like it, they don't eat it. So looks like we are getting there. I am thinking of trying a few different types of oil to add a bit more flavour e.g. garlic or chilli infused olive oil might make some tasty offerings.

However, where I have really had the benefit of the Actifry hasn't been for chips at all. The way the thing rotates and the arm jumbles food around is absolutely perfect for other types of foods e.g. stir frying. To give an example - if you've got some chicken cubes in a wok or a frying pan, you are having to constantly turn them over while cooking - it's quite a labour intensive task. Now sometimes I like to fry myself up a little chicken and mushrooms and stick them in a pitta bread to make like a mini kebab almost - but it has to be attended to. Now the other day, I decided to try it out in the Actifry. So I cut up the chicken, added a bit of seasoning, small amount of sunflower oil and popped it into the machine. Sat and watched it jumbling around - in a way it almost like watching a washing machine, and as it cooked, the chicken tumbled around and each side of each piece went from pink to white and finally a golden brown. I lobbed in the mushrooms for the last five minutes and what came out was perfection - perfectly evenly cooked, and delicious. And with no laborious turning over every piece by hand.

So I am experimenting now with other foods. The possibilities are endless. Yesterday I put some bacon in it - now this stuck together at first as you would expect, but once it got going I stopped it and separated it out, then it was fine. In the end I had some lovely "dead dead crispy" bacon, straight into a roll, it was almost like being at Nash's.

I think Sausages might be another thing to try. For tonight I have got some chicken drumsticks, going to try them out. I think it is definitely going to be better for dry frying things - not sure sauces would work, but you can always do them separately.

Happy eating, blogger fans.

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

Jason xx

Friday, 1 March 2013

We've made it!!!!

Yes! Congratulations everybody! It's March 1st which means we've made it through the four darkest and most dismal months of the year! Well done everybody! Congratulate yourselves, even those of you who were fortunate enough to have a little booster during those months in, well  to pick a couple of places at random, Australia and the Canary Islands!

So it's all exciting, lighter, brighter, warmer times ahead! I'm so excited about the year ahead, can you feel my positivity literally dripping off the page! I hope some of me rubs off on you...perhaps I could have worded that better, I didn't literally mean I want to...ummm, errrr, digging a hole, better move on.

Anyway, the changing of the clocks comes up this month, as does St Patrick's Day - big paddy-oke party at the pub on the 17th, and then Easter at the end of the month. But for us racing fans, one event dominates all others and that is the Cheltenham Festival.

Now as you people know, I do like the odd bet here and there...(bit of an understatement but don't want to draw too much attention to my activities). However the highlight of this four day racing extravaganza is the Cheltenham Gold Cup - the blue riband event of the festival and my achilles heel. For 25 years I have been trying and failing to pick the winner of this race. It is not even as if it is that difficult, often only about 10 runners and loads of obvious winners in that time, the likes of Desert Orchid, Kauto Star, Best Mate. Yet the curse of the Ayres money in this race has sealed the fate of many a promising performer.

The Grand National on the other hand, theoretically a much more difficult race with 40 runners and completely open betting, I have had considerable success in, backing a number of winners over the years - and just failing last year with Sunnyhillboy.

Sunnyhillboy gets cruelly pipped on the line in last year's Grand National.

But somehow this year I sense it is going to be different - 25 years of losing selections, and lo and behold, this year is the year I have this feeling I am going to wipe it all out in one stroke.

It's no co-incidence that the horse that has caught my attention just happens to be a 25/1 shot. Why do I think this horse is going to win? I actually have no idea. When I bet on horse I apply very mathematical and scientific methods to pick them and don't believe in co-incidence winners, or gut feelings. Yet somehow every time I look at the names of the runners in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, one name screams out at me. Back me! Back me!

The horse did win at the festival last year, not in the Gold Cup, in a different race and has won again at Cheltenham since so it is not as if it is a no hoper. The more I look at it, the more I convince myself it is going  to win - but why? No - still can't figure it out. But this time I think I am going to have to ditch my tried and tested methods and go with my gut feel...

Oh - I suppose I should have mentioned the horse's name.

CAPE TRIBULATION.

Can Cape Tribulation end 25 years of hurt...?

Ollie wants to go back to Fuerteventura - so this would be a good starting point to getting the funds together!

However, before you all go rushing out to back it, just remember that I have 25 consecutive losing selections in the Gold Cup behind me, so hardly a glowing endorsement of my tipping prowess.

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

Jason xx