Monday, 28 November 2011

London [2/2]

Previously on Bicester Blogger...

Jason finds himself caught on camera outside a sex shop in Soho, cooks a 12oz fillet steak on a volcanic slab and buys some tourist tat on Oxford Street.

And now...the conclusion!

So, up with the lark on a pleasant Saturday morning, no time for arseing about today so breakfast at the hotel, a rather steep £15.50 for the breakfast buffet. This of course necessitated eating as much as possible without setting off an excessive cycle of bowel movements (don't want to get caught short at the Tower). So on my way to the execution block at aforesaid Tower it can be said that the condemened man ate a hearty breakfast. Being a buffet this meant a large pile of dead pig surrounded by sundry other high cholesterol items, topped off with a small bowl of fruit and yoghurt to keep the do-gooders happy. And copious amounts of coffee.

So with 9am on the clock we were out of the door and walking up to St John's tube station, a few simple and short hops across town and we arrive at the Tower Of London.

Now I was most pleased with this attraction - there really was a lot to see and do there, and food for thought. I enjoyed the medieval part best - looking around the buildings built by Henry III and Edward I. Highlight for me was getting to sit on the very toilet where Henry used to drop his load into the river below, I felt in awe at the moment. Got a very cold arse though, even with jeans on, I can't imagine that was pleasant in a harsh medieval winter.

Most of the other stuff good too, though can't say I was excited at everything, seen one old crown you've seen them all. Quite enjoyed looking at the old coins from the Royal Mint though, and reading a lot of the accompanying paraphanalia to the exhibits, I never ceased to be amazed at the incredible barbarity and cruelty of our ancestors, quites put it all into context really how lucky we are these days, when the worst thing most of us ever have to feel upset about is if someone says something nasty about us on facebook.

So Tower behind us we walked across the bridge with the intention of visiting London dungeon, sadly here we come unstuck as we encountered a huge queue. Leaving Claire to mind our place I did a swift recce and calculated it would be a good couple of hours before we got in, so we decided not to waste so much time on one thing and abandoned that plan, hopped on to the tube and headed for Harrods.

Can you guess where I wanted to go in Harrods? indeed directly to the Food Hall. Now for a foodie such as myself this was a dream come true, especially when I went to the cooked meats counter.

Now as you know I have never been one motivated by material possessions, I cannot understand for the life of me how people aspire to a lifestyle where they can freely purchase a pair of shoes, bag, or a suit that costs £1,500. My criteria for buying such items is as follows, a) shoes should be comfortable and durable and b) a bag (or rucksack in my case) should also be comfortable, strong, spacious and allow me to fit everything I need, shopping, etc on my back. £50 is more than sufficient for both items, as for suits, I avoid at all costs.

So why did I mention £1,500 as the sum. Well as you know one of my favourite interests is "Ham" and on the counter were the most amazing hams. And the centrepiece of them all was a whole Iberico Ham, pictured here at a cost of £1,500. Apparently this is the most expensive ham in the world.

Now just for once, I wished I was the sort of person for whom money was no object and I could just freely buy this without batting an eyelid. Oh well, one can always dream.

As some sort of consolation I bought a hot ham sandwich carved in front of me from the food hall for the slightly more affordable sum of £4.95, Claire had a baguette and we also had two bottles of that really yummy posh cola (forget the brand name) some Tyrells crisps and sat outside the store eating our lunch in the last of the late autumn warmth.

Just time for a quick stop at the Natural History museum and then back across town for the London Eye, which we boarded a little after sunset, giving glorious views of the fading red sky beyond Big Ben, by the time we had been round it was completely dark. I wondered with Claire whether or not anyone had ever had sex on the London Eye, I suppose theoretically it's possible, though you would have to be quite creative to avoid detection. Anyway, even though the Eye towers over Big Ben, it's still not high enough to qualify you for the Mile High Club even if you did manage it. NB: apparently being tossed off under a blanket at Faro airport while your plane is delayed on the runway doesn't count either, so it seems that I must wait a while longer for membership.

Anyway, joking aside, an enjoyable spin around the London skyline and another one of those subsoncious ticks in the list of 100 things to make sure I do before I die ticked off. Driving round the Nurburgring is still waiting to be ticked off (going around it hundreds of times on GT5 also doesn't count).

A walk around Big Ben, and Whitehall followed. Couldn't get into Downing Street, some policeman with a machine gun advised against it so we walked back to Regent Street as I wanted to visit Hamleys, from which I had some misty eyed reminiscences about childhood visits. Sadly, it wasn't to be a happy visit this time. Despite having gone 6pm, the store was so hideously packed and also over-heated that after 10 hours on the go, once a few yards inside all I wanted to do was get out. So we got off Regent Street and wandered back towards Soho.

It was then that we found something I really didn't expect, on a quiet corner, a real old fashioned back street boozer, decked out in the exact decor that almost all pubs had back in the 80s, cheap formica tables, stools, and benches in the dark red velvetty material and a very floral carpet. There didn't seem to be much in the way of tourists in it, amazingly locals, it even seemed to have a real old fashioned landlord running the show. Deciding he looked like the type of man who looked after his ales I decided to forgo the predictable Strongbow, and order a pint of Directors - it was absolute nectar. A second swiftly followed. We had been on the go all day so it was very nice to sit and relax in this way, and unlike the previous evening Claire didn't have to take half an hour out to explain how to use our TV's remote control (long story).

Back into Chinatown, looked again at the mouth-watering buffet on display but sadly the place was packed to the rafters. Found another place we liked but an hour wait for a table so ended up in an Aberdeen Angus steakhouse. Not as good as the previous night's meal but still perfectly adequate.

And then back to the hotel for another bottle of wine, in front of Match Of The Day, the stuff romantic dreams are made of.

Breakfast Sunday at a greasy spoon (cheap & cheerful) another opportunity to marvel at the outrageous property prices, we all know London't expensive but I didn't realise it was that expensive! Looking at a picture of one of those 5 story terraced houses in Kensington, seeing £6M and thinking "that's a lot" and then realising that's just for a flat on one floor! Who's buying it all? Well apparently a lot of it's being bought from overseas by cash rich countries, a high percentage of our assets are being bought up from abroad, either by rich individuals or investment funds.

Got me thinking - what with Europe in debt, and the rich countries gobbling up all the rich pickings that whereas traditionally throughout history wars have been fought to gain lands and assets, the modern world, whilst relatively peaceful faces a new and almost invisible enemy, that of economic conquest. But that's a story for another day.

Sunday night, home, tired and happy, family back together with my kids for the first time in over two days and then back with my big happy karaoke family on Sunday night in the White Hart.

November's nearly behind us - next stop Christmas.

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 x x

Sunday, 27 November 2011

London [1/2]

Wow, what a weekend that was. So much did we do, I can't remember it all already, it was a 48 hour whistlestop tour, with food, booze, and even a bit of sleep and "mummy and daddy time" thrown in.

I've got a few piccies and a few thoughts to share with you. I shan't bore you with a dreary chronology of "we went here", and "we did this", instead I shall offer up a few wry observations in my inimitable Jason Ayres "stylee" which we have already established has alrady divided the nation into two camps, one thinking "genius" and the other thinking "twat". So here goes.

Firstly my observations on trains. Now I cannot understand why people moan so much about trains in this country. As whenever I take one, it is always on time, reasonably priced, clean and comfortable. As for the tube, what an awesome feat of engineering and all round amazing thing it is, go anywhere, do anything on a one day travelcard. We must have caught at least 15 trains on Saturday and virtually every time we walked on to a platform there was a train rolling into the station for us to board.

So travel wise, all good and we were checked in our hotel (which was excellent - thanks trip advisor once again) by lunchtime, and off walking into the city by 2pm.

Now our rough plan was to walk everywhere on Friday around the centre that interested us, and then on Saturday we'd get our travelcards and visit the other attractions we wanted to see. So after stopping off for a spot of lunch we found ourselves travelling down Baker St towards Oxford St, where we spent the first hour or so walking along, looking in a few shops, but not using up too much time here. Reason being? Well Oxford Street, fine as it is I feel is largely just a grand version of all the other High streets in Britain so there's not really massive exceitement for me in seeing most of the chain stores I already know, just slightly bigger. The real London is elsewhere, so the two shops I really wanted to explore were Harrods and Hamleys and we left that until Saturday.

Despite spending a lot of money on meals and attractions we did not actually buy very much, however we did go into a tacky tourist shop on Oxford Street and got Ollie and Jamie a red London bus and black cab. Predictable I know, but they'll be happy with them when they get back (they aren't here yet hence the time for the blog).

Now once we turned right off Oxford Street into the maze of the little streets leading down into Soho things got interesting. Of course, completely by accident, I suddenly found myself caught on camera in a rather compromising location, as you would be able to see here, if I could get the picture to come up. It does not seem to want to so I may have to put it on facebook instead.

 Anyway, it was a picture of me in Soho standing in front of a sex shop.

We did actually go into this sex shop and have a look around, all I can say is if you know anyone who wants any porn dvd's don't buy them from here, 3 for £50 is not what I call value considering how much you can get them for on the internet (so a friend tells me). Same goes for many of the other products on sale, I have a friend on facebook who is an Ann Summers rep and she is much better value. I did find one DVD which I thought might be of interest to my friend Daryl, but it's not his birthday for ages, so sorry mate, not this time.

Moving south from Soho you come into Chinatown, the main street through here is full of restaurants, many of the buffet style (all you can eat for £6.95). I have been to many of these over the years, and most have been pretty reasonable, but some of the food here looked amazing. One restaurant had the buffet on display through the window and it just looked gorgeous, fresh, really good quality, unfortunately it was mid afternoon so we did not eat there, and when we passed back through on Saturday night it was packed.

The whole atmosphere around Soho and Chinatown was amazing, if I ever did live in London (unlikely) I think this is where I would like to be.

By this time the light was already fading, so by the time we moved on to Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Covent Garden it was nightfall, but there seemed loads to do and loads to see. The thought of where we would eat for the evening came to mind, now I was absolutely determined that I was going to have a nice steak, thankfully London is one of the few places that still seems to have a lot steakhouses. As you know I am unhappy about the fact that it's getting harder and harder to get a good square meal in a restaurant these days due to the ever growing prolification of poncy formats based primarily around pasta dishes and pizza, it seems everywhere's a Bella this or Italia that. So I was very pleased to see various steakhouse chains offering their wares, and I present here for your perusal the typical offering from an Aberdeen Angus steakhouse.

OK, a quick aside here - will somebody PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE open something like this in Bicester. We don't need any more indian restaurants!

By 6pm our tired aching feet needed a rest, so we stopped at a pub just off Leicester Square for a couple of jars, and then we struck gold, finding an independent steakhouse. It was one of those where they part cook your steak and then you do the rest on a volcanic rock in front of you. Absolutely awesome, I went for the top option on the menu which was a 12oz fillet. We really pushed the boat out and had starters, desserts, I even finished off with that old favourite an Irish Coffee. The waitress was lovely too - genuinely friendly and nice. I can always tell the genuine ones from those that are just after something i.e. a tip. Funny really, how it mirrors life in general, I can usually suss people out in real life in the same way.

Did I mention the bottle of red wine that went down with this meal, I think I didn't and then the later one in the hotel room? Well we were on holiday. Now I love my kids as you know, they are my life, but it was fantastic just being the two of us, and we didn't stop talking all weekend. Made me realise how little time we actually get to talk about anything interesting at home other than the necessities of everyday life e.g. what are the kids going to have for tea etc. That's when we can get a word in edgeways, with Ollie talking for Britain these days and then being too knackered for much intellectual repartee when slumped in front of the telly on the average weekday evening.

Anyway we made this meal last well over two hours and just as well as I think that's the largest bill I've ever had for a meal out for two - but that wasn't to worry - sometimes you have to forget about your weekly scrimping and saving and making ends meet to feed the family and just throw caution to the wind and enjoy yourself. To top off the extravagance we even hailed a black cab and were chauffeured back to our hotel in style (which was surprisingly cheap, I'd say no more expensive than hiring a normal cab around here).

So there we were, first day done, and our plans for Saturday all laid out in front of us. In a day we were to do the Tower of London, London Dungeon, Harrods, Natural History Museum, London Eye, Big Ben, and Hamleys. Seemed ambitious, yet in fact we managed to do all but one of those with a few other things thrown in too.

Saturday's adventures coming soon in part 2 - not sure when as I'm going to watch the Grand Prix now and working tonight so you may have to wait a bit.

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 x x

Yes, for while at least

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

4 into 1 doesn't go :-(

You just have to love blogging. A very good friend a little down on her luck has been inspired through reading mine to resurrect her own blog. I haven't said her name (yet) - well let's just say she's had a bad time with certain people and consequently is keeping a low profile. Just to say to Miss X - keep up the blog - it's fantastic.

So there's now 3 of us in the blogosphere, myself, Miss X and Lynda. I think blogging is an amazing thing and I wish more people would brave it and do it. You can learn so much more about a person from a blog than you can from a status update on facebook or even a face to face chat. I can write more here about myself than I could ever say to anyone, even a closest friend, when face to face, there's always that social awkwardness. Except after a few pints of Strongbow when I'll say anything. Too much probably.

Got a few things to get off my chest as always. Straight to the point, I absolutely detest bullying in any shape or form. Say bullying and you automatically think children at school, lunch money stolen, that sort of thing. But there are so many other forms. Here's a few I have encountered, some back in my Nielsen days, others, very recently.

1) The boss who uses their position to intimidate their employees, using their age, experience and knowledge of the HR system to ensure that if their junior complains their lives will be made ever more miserable.

2) The friend who falls out with another friend and sets out to poison everyone else in the social circle against them. Let me assure you - it does not work with me. I'll make my own decisions.

3) The person who loves to jump on a bandwagon and kick someone whose made a mistake when they are down. Funny isn't it how this sort of behaviour in our local environment exactly mirrors the type of treatment tabloids dish out to celebrities who go off the rails. e.g. Amy Winehouse - who is now dead. And people wonder why we have a broken society.

4) Parents who actively belittle their children.

Right - let's get this clear. Pointless really, because the people who should be listening won't be - but no-one tells me what to do, who to be friends with or how to think. I have bit my tongue up until now but no longer.

What's said has been said, people out there have had their say, and should leave it at that. Because if you don't want to risk your friendship with me then I do not want to hear another word said against my two friends, do I need to say their names? 

OK, on a more lighthearted note - how do you turn 4 people desperate to book you for the same date into nothing? Read on...

Now when I take in a booking if it's from a new client I insist on getting something in writing, and a deposit in cases where it's a complete unknown. However with repeat business things become a little more relaxed.

So where have I gone so wrong over December 10th? Well you decide. Back in the summer, the landlady at the Prince of Wales booked me in for a number of events, including a 30th birthday party. Now sadly, Jo left during the Autumn and when I spoke to her she said to cancel all future bookings as they would not be happening

A little after this another former client and friend approached me about a possible job at trinity. Assuming I was now free, I said I would probably be able to to do it if she could get back to me with more details. Didn't hear anything within a few days.

Then a 3rd enquiry comes in from a lady I have worked for twice in the last two years doing teenagers parties, both went well, asking for Dec 10 as well. I said I had a possible other booking but she insisted on booking me on the spot as it had gone so well previously. Absolutely fine by me, all she had to do was secure a venue.

I went back to Leanne (the trinity booking) to say I couldn't do it but not to worry, trinity had a pool of DJ's so they would have no problem booking someone.

Shortly after this Magnolia Park Golf Club where I work last Saturday contact me about the same date, they had been trying to get hold of Duncan but not been able to get through. Now as far as I am concerned, Magnolia Park is Duncan's venue so I passed this one straight back over to him, even though I knew it was unlikely on a Saturday in December either he or Mike would be free.

Then the woman whose 30th birthday party is at the Prince rings clearly thinking I am still doing her party. Now up until this point I did not even know her, or any details about her, it had all been done through the landlady. She was under the impression I was still doing it. I had to tell her otherwise. Did not go down well, and I imagine I have now been slagged off all over Steeple Claydon.

Then - the mother of the 14 year old whose party she wanted to do rings me to inform me that she cannot get a venue so can I do the 3rd December instead. I can't - I have another job. Suggest a couple of other places to try - she says she will and get back to me. Don't hear from her again.

So there you go - how to turn four jobs into none and piss people off at the same time. Now I could go back to Magnolia and trinity and say "actually I am free after all now" but quite frankly that sounds lame. So I am going to chalk this down to experience and if nothing else comes in for that Saturday, well I'll go up to the Star on the Friday instead for a piss up with my friends and spend Saturday night at home watching the telly. And I can guarantee it will not be ITV1! How I loved it two years ago when Rage Against The Machine kicked the latest talentless twat off the Christmas No 1 spot.

I'd have more respect maybe if they could write their own material but it's just covers, all the time.

Well that's about it - except to say to Lynda and Jo (sorry I forgot, Miss X) - I think you are both fantastic friends, fantastic bloggers, and I'm not the only one that thinks that by a long chalk. Ignore the haters, keep your real friends and families close by and you'll never look back.

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 x x

PS to Jo: "Gunge" - I love it x x

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Out of the gloom...

...emerged my increasingly battled old Mondeo, back into Bicester after a rather testing journey back from Magnolia Park golf club on Otmoor.

It's been a testing day (and week all told really). Mostly down to the kids who occupy increasing amounts of my time, some through choice (nice things like reading with Ollie and playing football with Jamie) and some through necessity. However you know things have got out of control, when you reach the stage on a Saturday morning when you are doing the washing after another "incident" and are sitting in front of the machine in despair watching a large turd going round and round.

I am not going to go into how things got into that state, I'll return to my journey home and see where the blog goes from there.

When the fog descends on that moor, it really does come down. Around this time of year each year I always get at least one horrendous journey back in the middle of the night. Last year's was memorably on that last Friday before Christmas, the night before the huge snowfall that memorable weekend., Passing Fringford it was -12c that night on the car thermometer.

Tonight's do was a 40th, disco and karaoke and it quickly became clear that karaoke was the main interest for the guests, they weren't a dancing crowd, and there were only around 40 guests. They certainly enjoyed their karaoke though, even if the standard was not that which one has come to expect from the regular Sunday crew. Had trouble getting away though - there were plenty of the "one more song" brigade. I accomodated them up to a point, but you have to draw the line somewhere, so I switched off about 15 mins after time. My experience of the "one more song" brigade is that the more you give in to them the less they will respect you and if the thanks you get for an extra half hour is just increased abuse then you've gained nothing.

The people were nice enough, however they did not offer me any of the buffet. Which was disappointing, but clearly this was one time when the poor old DJ's needs weren't taken into account. A shame really as there was loads left over. I've always prided myself on not helping myself if not asked, however I am thinking of relaxing that rule. In fact OK, I will admit I did sneak a quick sausage roll on the way back from the toilet when no one was looking. Altogether an OK night, I wouldn't mind working there again, hopefully with a crowd a little more on my wavelength - so thanks to Duncan who got me the gig.

I think someone should start a new website called "review the audience". We are all used to reading reviews of performers, products, hotels, holiday venues etc on various websites, now my new idea turns it on its head. Instead the organiser/ owner reviews the customers. Here's some examples.

Hotels: "I am most unimpressed by the standard of guests staying in my hotel. They leave everything in a mess, rubbish everywhere, skiddies in the toilets, and even worse on the sheets. Then they moan in the bar because a pint's 4 quid. Well screw you this isn't some cheap B&B in Bognor you know, I expect a better class of customer in future please!

Supermarket: "Who do these customers think they are? They come in here, rummage around in all the packets of ham, messing up all the ones at the front which should be sold first that have a date of Nov 24 on them in order to get to the ones with Dec 1 at the back. Then complain because the till didn't take their BOGOF off, don't they know that offer finished yesterday, it's written quite clearly in 1mm high font on the label. And then they have the cheek to ask for more plastic bags because we hoard them jealously these days. Get your act together customers, buy all of our "finest" items with the highest margins, don't go to other shops and buy what we tell you to buy.

TV Station: "Stop moaning that TV is all shit these days. It's your bloody fault. Don't you know it's all about ratings? You moan that there's no decent quality stuff on but while you all sit there in your millions watching the utter shite we trundle out week in week out year in year out what can you expect? If we put anything decent or high brow on you lot are all too thick to understand it, so no-one watches it and we can't sell any advertising. Not only that but the Sun aren't interested in basing the entire contents of their comic about it, so you won't even be aware of its existence anyway. If you are that bothered piss off and watch BBC4, I think they would welcome the odd viewer or two. Meanwhile, next on ITV1, it's...

Greek taverna: "I can hear you tutting and moaning in the corner, Greece isn't what it used to be, look it's all served with chips these days, there's no traditional Greek dishes, etc. Well what do you bloody expect? I've had 25 years of English tourists moaning that there's no chips or turning their noses up when they find out what calamari is. You play to your audience, so here you go, Full English All Day breakfast and a pint of lager, that'll be 18 euros. What's that - I remember the days when a beer was only 50p abroad? Yes so do I - that's when you paid in drachma. Never mind you will again soon...