Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Perfect Games

Today - we are going to talk about computer games. You see, after years of ceasesless searching I've finally found what I have been looking for. Let me try and explain.

It was thirty years ago can you believe it that the ZX Spectrum was released. Now I already had its predecessor, the ZX81, but the Spectrum was a huge leap forward at the time - for a start when you hooked it up to the TV, the games were in colour. Armed with a whopping 16k of RAM, or 48k if you could afford the bigger version, these things were about as primitive in comparison to today as The Flintstones is to Futurama.

Anyway - what the Spectrum lacked in graphics capability was made up for by gameplay. Literally hundreds of strategy games sprung up - from the sports based management - including the original football manager and Grand Prix Manager's to trading simulations - Dictator, there was even a game based on Minder where you had to buy and sell like Arthur Daley. Anyway, I much preferred these types of games to action games. Here's a few screenshots of some speccie classics that I used to love.

It was so long ago that's the original
Rosberg, Keke as opposed to Nico!

Decisions, decisions, in Dictator

Ha Ha - how embarrassing Villa!
Fancy losing to Mansfield!

Turn based strategy in Rebelstar - one of my favourite games ever.

I can understand how some people might have found the above boring, but I loved them. Tinkering with the stats, watching things unfold. Perfection.

But somehow during the 90s I lost my way with computer games. As graphics and memory increased, these type of simulation games either fell out of favour, or became way too complicated. I'm well aware that football manager games are still going strong for the PS3 and others, but I haven't been able to get into any of them. Reason being - they are simply way too complex in most cases. The effort to make them the most realistic possible simulations means you have to tinker with so many aspects of running a club that the fun goes out of it. And realism isn't always the most important factor - fun is.

I have had many consoles over the years, including most of the Gameboys and their successors. Have played relatively few games for the PS3 other than driving games for the reasons stated of being over complex. Plus I just can't get into a lot of games - all those platform games like Sonic and others of its ilk never appealed to me and as for the plethora of war themed games that dominate the market place these days - I don't like them, I don't agree with them, and I will never play them. Why do we want to encourage people to sit in their living rooms going around waging war and killing people is beyond me.

As everyone knows I am a big GT5 fan - but even so, I love that game the best for the B-Spec element - where you don't drive but manage your drivers. Most people don't bother with that and think it's crap. As for most PS3 games - way too complex. Apart from the mini games in the PS3 store.

Golf - again something potentially fun but all those Tiger Woods sims are just too realistic and too in-depth. I got much more out of the simple cartoony style Everybody's Golf on the PSP, and Mario Golf on the Gameboy. Simplicity and fun score points over detail for me every time.

The Gameboy/ DS franchise has provided me with one of my biggest successes over the years - which is Pokemon - now this has just the right level of sophistication for me - with it's cartoon simple graphic style and turn based battles - it has captured my imagination like no other games of that ilk and I have owned most of the Pokemon games since the late 90s.

But most have been a disappointment. And then suddenly in the past week I have had a revelation! I've discovered Kairosoft games on the Android Store. These are games orginally made in Japanese and translated into English for our market - much as Pokemon originally was.

I downloaded the lite (free) version of Grand Prix Story from the Android store for my Note. I was instantly hooked - the simple blocky 8 bit style graphics and text had me hooked from the off. Basically it's a grand prix manager type game for kids, with stats, and various stuff going on but just the right level for me - not too simple, not too complex. The thrill of training up my driver (for Team Ollie) and getting him to win his first race was fantastic. The difficulty level is just right too - not too hard that you give up, but not so easy you just win every time. Once I got to the end of the first year, I had to buy the full version at a bargain £2.99. Can't go wrong. When I think of the number of PS3 games I've wasted 10x that amount on and hardly played, I'm well chuffed.

Here's a few screenshots

Getting ready for the race

And they're off!!!!

Having had such a good time with this, I eagerly downloaded Pocket League Story - the football manager equivalent, and even more fun! My team Super Jamie's is working it's way up - first the amateur league and next comes the nationals!

Pocket League Story - checking the stats.

One thing I have noticed is that these games are in very similar style and share characteristics, graphics, themes e.g. you get "research points". It seems finally I have found a game style that suits me - as you'll have seen from all the above. The other great thing is the kids can join in and watch too.

There are a whole load more Kairosoft games waiting for me - which all sound right up my street and reminiscent of my 80s Spectrum heyday. Cafeteria Nipponica - where you manage your own cafe. Game Dev Story - where you run your own company. Kairo Park - an island survial simulation (think Lost). And dozens of others -all in the same style and all for just £2.99

Managing the office in Game Dev Story. The people on fire have an "aura" -
common theme between the games. Funny don't remember anyone ever
having one of those at Nielsen's or the Probation Office!

I forsee a happy winter of gaming ahead. Thank-you Kairosoft - you've found your niche market in me! At last I have found the Perfect Games!

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, 26 September 2012

Second Half Of A Day In The Life [2/2]

Previously...on A Day In The Life...

Jason's gets the kids to school, rushes round the shops, tidies up the house, has a visitor and goes to the Doctors.

And now...the conclusion...

12:10pm - Arrive at Courtyard on time! Made it! Collect Jamie and change his shoes. Walk home hand in hand.

12:25pm - Arrive home. Jamie wants lunch, but I didn't have time to prepare it before we left - and there's very little bread anyway. Decide that for once I will be having the bread (fed up with missing out) so give Jamie some chicken and vegetables with noodles. Followed by a yogurt.

12:40pm - Make my lunch - bread and a few other items - some Polish sausage among them. Jamie pestering throughout for things. Very hard to have a peaceful meal when the kids are about!

12:55pm - Clean up the lunch things, change Jamie's nappy, get him another drink. Empty dishwasher. Play with Jamie for a bit. He's tired so put him in playpen in hope he'll have a sleep.

1:10pm - Jamie goes to sleep. This is the time I normally feel exhausted and ought to go too - but the burden of responsibility weighs too heavily upon me. I know I can't rest until the preparation for Saturday's disco is done, and so it's on to the computer. A couple of PM's and emails dealt with and away I go.

1:30pm - Busy transferring files between computers, loading up new karaoke tracks, finalising disco playlist. This has been one of my most challenging jobs yet. As well as loads of 40s and 50s music throughout the evening, we are also having a war time style sing along in the middle - there are going to be 8 karaoke songs displayed on the screen for this - but instead of microphones every in the room is to sing along. These 8 tracks are to be as follows:

White Cliffs Of Dover
Que Sera Sera
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square
Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree
My Old Man's A Dustman
Leaning On A Lampost
We’ll Meet Again.

Vera Lynn! Rocking Fritwell Village Hall
 this Saturday!!!
As an aside - I have spent at least 10 hours already on this disco. I am investing more and more time into preparing for my gigs this year - as anyone who I have done a wedding for this year will testify. It pays off when they have a fantastic night - if I couldn't give them that, then I shouldn't be doing this at all. But with this in mind I have decided I am going to start charging more from January - because I think for the amount of time and effort I put into making these nights special - well - to use an oft quoted phrase "I'm worth it". I don't think £250 is an unreasonable amount to ask as a standard rate for the level of service I offer and the amount of effort that goes into it.

2:10pm - Finally finished! Check on Jamie - still asleep - just time to nip off for a shower.

2:25pm - Down from shower! Jamie awake! Let him out - we do a few word games with the shopping list game. "Where are the oranges?" "Where's the bread?" - that sort of thing. I have always spent hours doing this sort of thing with the children - I am sure it benefited Ollie and now Jamie enjoys it too.

2:40pm - Time to start on the dinner. Unusually for a Wednesday, we are having a roast as I have a nice bit of beef and we missed Sunday dinner last weekend as I was the only one here. Peel spuds, prepare joint, boil spuds etc.

3:05pm - All in the oven cooking away. No school run this afternoon, so Claire picking Ollie up. Really tired now - going to try and grab half an hour before dinner I think if Claire's not too tired too.

3:35pm - Ollie's home, along with Claire - dinner coming along nicely - do a bit of basting on the joint. Have really run out of steam. Claire nips off to the shops and takes Jamie, Ollie goes up to his room for a while so I lay down and grab a 10 minute cat nap.

3:50pm - Back in kitchen. Just pottering about now as I prepare dinner. Ollie asking questions nineteen to the dozen about random stuff. Toothache again! Grrrr! Went to dentist last week and he basically covered over the cracks - not enough. Still some pain down there. Have a follow up appointment in 2 weeks - if they can't fix it, it's got to come out!!!

4:15pm - Claire and Jamie back. Final preparations for dinner - Yorkshire's about to go in. Hive of activity over next half an hour co-ordinating all elements so everything is the right temperature and ready to go at the right time!

4:45pm - Sitting down to dinner. Ollie decides to dispense with the cutlery and eat a large slice of beef by hand. If I didn't know better I'd suspect he had sneaked down and spotted some of my midnight ham-fests. Lovely dinner all round! All ate well - no complaints!

5:20pm - Dinner's all done and dusted - time to play with kids for a bit - Jamie tired though so seems ready for bed already. Ollie and I are going to try a few more challenging levels of Rail Maze. Plus he has a new book from school to read.

5:45pm - Jamie has gone to bed early, Ollie and I are playing Rail Maze, and then after that Find the Object on the Note. Claire is busy with a cake, harmony in the Ayres household. 

6:45pm - Ollie asks to go to bed, and I take him up and get him ready for bed. PJ's & teeth. Question him over mysterious brown stain on bedroom wall and get confession you really don't want to hear. Advise that any future repetition will not impress!

7:00pm - JTV begins with a fairly crap episode of the Simpsons. On series 22 now. They really should call it a day but I continue to watch for completeness sake. This is the time of day when I like to slump back on the sofa (me and Claire both) and just chill out after the hard work of the day. Life has changed so much in recent years. Even up until about 3 years ago, I would be out a lot at nights doing things e.g. Wednesday would be Aunt Sally night, but I haven't played in a match for over 2 years now. Why? Quite frankly, we, and other young parents (by young I mean the age of Claire and the children, rather than myself) are just completely knackered by 7pm and all we want to do is take it easy. Social life - goes on hold for about a decade.

7:30pm - Being Human - 7th episode of Series 2. Great plot as always but I get so irked at lazy plot devices that haven't been researched properly. To cut a long story short, in this episode we are made to believe that the clocks have gone back last night so it's now 7:15 on his watch, whereas it would have been 8:15 the previous day. All well and good. But the clocks go back on the last Saturday night in October - so if they really had gone back last night it should have been Sunday - yet it was parents evening at the school. Find me a school that opens for a parents evening on Sunday and I'll let that one go. But even worse - when he emerged from the school it was still broad daylight outside. At 7:15pm - in October? No - the sun should have set at least 2 hours before! This sort of thing so irks me! The BBC are great at ensuring that there's no stray satellite dishes on people's houses in period dramas and all the costumes etc are done to precision so why make such lazy errors in the script. Maybe I am just a pedant, I don't know. But if I was producing a show, I would never let such mistakes get through.

Great show so I'll let them off - this time!

8:35pm - Start the new series of Sherlock - (2nd series - episode 1). Another enthralling episode, was quite pleased I sussed out some of the things before they were explained e.g. her body measurements being the code for the safe. Trust me to suss that one, huh? Also pour first glass of wine of the day. And have a little bit of cheese from Aldi to go with it. Claire falls asleep before the end - long day for her, so she heads up to bed at the end.

10:15pm - Sitting in front of lovely red glowing fire, still nursing first glass of wine. Decide I fancy a game of poker so bring laptop through, switch lights off and get cosy. Enter the $5 tournament on BET365 which starts at 10:20pm every night and has hundreds of players - I've entered it dozens of times and never come remotely clear to winning but it's good value and a lot of fun for a few quid. The fire looks absolutely gorgeous, the room is positively toasty and I pour my second glass of wine.

10:35pm - The poker tournament has started well, I have won a few nice pots already and am leading the whole tournament. This is nothing unusual at all - frequently I am up there with the front runners but it's nothing to get excited about. When it gets serious later on and we're approaching the later stages I always seem to get majorly unlucky on a big hand (when I've got the better cards) and get wiped out - the sort of hand that if I won it, would give me a serious shot at winning the tournament - watch this space.

10:50pm - Add a couple more logs to the fire - do enjoy this time of day, particularly when autumn comes. The peace and quiet and warmth - everyone asleep, no noise outside. After the stresses of the noise pollution we had during the summer with the builders etc it's so nice to sit here like this.

11:00pm - Well we are getting near the end of the day and it has to be said this has been a good day for me. A very busy day with lots to do but one where I managed my time well, did everything I needed to do and everything I wanted to do too. A clean bill of health from the doctor was a bonus. Not every day goes this well, but as long as I manage and plan effectively and my health or state of mind does not let me down, then I know I am on top of things. And crucially I didn't waste time on anything that detracted from time I was able to spend playing with the kids which really, is the most important thing of all. Because when they are older - they won't really remember me washing their clothes, cooking their meals etc. They will remember playing games and the fun things though!

11:10pm - Still in the poker tournament but just lost half my chips when all in with QQ against an opponent with a weaker hand who got lucky. As so often, my bright start has fizzled out. Still - it's only cost me $5 to enter this tournament and I have not had any rebuys - since I never lost all my chips - so am getting entertainment value. Reached the first break now - no more rebuys and now it gets serious.

11:15pm - Predictably knocked out of tournament on the last card dealt - when had an 88% chance of winning with a top hand - such is life and poker - for me anyway. Still - had an hour's cheap fun. First prize in these games is about $500 - I'll get there one day!

11:20pm - Decide to call it a night and grab a bit of supper - and off to bed by midnight. Thank-you for spending the day with me 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

Half a day in the life - the first 12 hours [1/2]

As you know I am always saying there aren't enough hours in the day, etc etc, playing the stressed out parent card. Well I've certainly been struggling to find time to fit in the blogs this month.

Rather than attempt to explain it all - I thought I would just do an on-going bullet point diary of today - live as it happens! Detailing every thing that occurs. Mundane? Possibly. But who knows what the day will bring?

I'm going to split this into two parts - am and pm. So the first part of the blog covers the time up to midday today and the second part I will publish at midnight just before I go to bed! So hold on to your hats folks, and join the rollercoaster ride that is my day!!!!

12:00am - A light snack before bed
12:30am - Go to bed

7:20am - Claire bring me cup of tea and leaves for work. Kids are up and dressed - one thing ticked off which is good.

7:30am - Get dressed.

7:35am - Go to toilet. Read Viz.

7:40am - Downstairs. Go to make cereal for kids - all gone!

7:42am - Slice up 6 slices of bread - toast two each for the kids. Spread butter and marmite, put on table. Get them to eat.

7:50am - Go upstairs. Clean teeth, take meds.

7:55am - Bring toothbrushes down for boys. Clean their teeth.

8:00am - Make Ollie's packed lunch - according to his exacting standards (else it doesn't get eaten).

8:10am - Check computer for email from lady I am doing disco for Saturday and facebook PM's - all quiet.

8:15am - Back upstairs - sort out washing.

8:20am - Load washing in machine. Get Jamie to switch it on (he likes to help).

8:25am - Change Jamie's nappy. Get their coats and shoes on.

8:32am - Leave house

8:34am - Stop by conker tree so Ollie can look for conkers.

8:45am - Arrive school. See Ollie in.

8:47am - Mad dash towards Tesco.

8:53am - Arrive Tesco - whizz round aisles for 6 items (includes paper, wipes, meat for tonight etc)

8:58am - Leave Tesco.

9:01am - Arrive Iceland - whizz round for another 6 items including cereal and squash.

9:12am - Arrive Courtyard - 2 minutes late - but OK - as door not open yet. Get Jamie ready (change shoes etc).

9:16am - Jamie goes in. Crys - Daddy has to say goodbye to sad child.

9:17am - Dash home.

9:24am - Get stopped by some old git in a flash merc to ask for directions.

9:26am - Arrive home.

9:28am - Unpack shopping. Switch oven on. Switch coffee machine on.

9:30am - Stick croissant in oven - put shopping away.

9:35am - Update this blog with the story so far.

9:39am - Take washing out of machine, croissant out of oven, pour coffee, sit down for 3 minute break and start on the sports pages at the back of the paper (i).

9:45am - Start dishwasher

9:48am - Empty bins

9:53am - Fold up and put away yesterday's washing.

10:00am - Hang up today's washing.

10:08am - Little clock in head is saying "there won't be bread for tea unless you make it now"

10:10am - Chuck ingredients in bread maker and switch on - 6 hour cycle.

10:12am - PM from Jo - no time to reply as woman from church due here at 10:30 and the phrase "cleanliness is next to godliness" going round in head.

10:13am - Rush around clearing up breakfast carnage, hoovering, tidying, trying to make place semi-presentable. Investigate mysterious sticky patch on floor (possibly ground in jelly tot). Turn over one of cushions on sofa to hide mysterious white stain (milk, hopefully).

10:22am - Last minute dash to bottle bank to get rid of the empties cluttering up the kitchen. Can't have church lady thinking I am some sort of wino, even if Jesus did turn water into wine.

10:28am - Slash. Grudgingly leave bog seat down.

10:32am - Lady from church late so quick PM reply to Jo and start bonus job - tidyng playroom.

10:39am - Now 9 minutes late which is severely compromising my schedule. Have to be at Doctors at Langford Village for 11:30.

10:40am - Lady arrives. Meeting takes about 20 minutes.

11:01am - Very aware that I have done nothing yet today on preparation for Saturday's "disco" - it's got a 40s theme - disco and karaoke with an old fashioned sing along (like you would have had around a piano in the east end during the war)  and I am really struggling to find tracks that I need. Largely because they don't exist for karaoke. Have about 10 mins before I need to leave for Doctors so decide to leave this until later and have a look at something else.

11:02am - Have a quick look at today's racecard for Redcar to see if there is anything worth backing to liven up the afternoon a bit, but the meeting has been abandoned due to a waterlogged track.

11:10am - Decide to walk to Doctor's as a) driving is lazy and b) cycling may raise my blood pressure due to the exercise. Rare chance to listen to iPod so grab it and stick on the La Roux album and head off.

Today on the iPod I have mostly been listening to...

11:13am - Encounter vile eggy smell at various points along Priory Road. Some sort of sewerage problem it seems. Pretty sure it's nothing to do with me though as I believe our drains run the other way from our house.

11:18am - Take the scenic route through Langford Village Stonehenge and the muddy path as this should be more relaxing ahead of BP check.

11:21am - Ironically listening to track "Quicksand" on iPod when step into the equivalent on the muddy path.

11:30am - Arrive Doctors. Take seat in waiting room.

11:34am - Called in. Efficient as ever - unlike the surgery at Montgomery House where the kids go where half hour waits at least are the norm. Good chat with the doctor over recent issues. And despite said issues, lowest BP reading in over 10 years, 114/84. So must be doing something right. Urine test all good too.

11:53am - Leave with precise 17 minutes to walk to Courtyard.

12:00pm - Midday! En route back from Langford Village.

So there is the first half of the day! Will try and keep this up for the second half, but still lots and lots to do!!!

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, 25 September 2012

Falling foul of Customs and Excise

...yikes, scary title or what, huh? Don't worry, it's not some huge VAT fiddle - I've never earned remotely anywhere near enough to even worry about VAT.

No - a bit of a saga involving my imported Blu Ray of The Office - season 8 - bought from in the USA.

Better be good after the money
 I've paid for it!

Why am I buying this from them? Well quite simply, because the release schedule has been held back in the UK for whatever reason - they have been up to 3 years behind. Gradually it's catching up - season 7 has just come out here but it is still a year behind. So what I have been doing is buying the DVD's (and latterly Blu Rays) from the states - up until now - with no problem.

As regards customs - well I have never paid import duty on anything in my life. Now being a responsible citizen I've never been one of those people to come back to the UK with suitcases bulging full of thousands of fags to sell down the pub. Though quite honestly - having walked through customs at most airports and not seen any officers in sight (for several years) I wouldn't blame anyone for trying. As for bringing through "restricted" material - well I leave all that sort of thing to Dogger.

Anyway, what happened with this Blu-Ray? Well got a card through the post Saturday morning saying it was being held at the sorting office, as there was import duty to pay - £13 odd. I wondered why - as they hadn't charged me in the past. Planned to go and get it yesterday but then panic ensued after turning the house upside down and discovering that the card had completely vanished, never to be seen again. Disappeared into that black hole where all your most important documents go. So - had a word with postie this morning and he said to go up to the sorting office with ID and they would sort it as long as I said "Clippie sent me" - which is presumably his nickname and he must have a bit of clout up there.

So I did ultimately retrieve the package and it seems this duty is payable only on items worth £15 or more. Well I paid $34.99 for this which brings it into that range. In the past - I have paid less - I think last year's was $23.99 which must have brought it in under the £15 threshold. So that's that mystery cleared up.

Anyway add all that up and this has cost me way  too much. I pride myself on getting DVD bargains (e.g. all 8 series of 24+ redemption for £45) but I've dropped a gonad on this one for sure.

Still, looking on the bright side I did call in at Aldi on the way back and picked up 20 more bags of those imitation Wotsits they sell so saved a few quid there. So not all bad.

One other thing - I am very much sold on the concept of Cloud Computing and have started using a free service called Dropbox. Cloud Computing basically means that you hold your files on a server elsewhere - nothing really new in concept - same as hotmail or yahoo mail - but it's very handy not only for sharing files between your devices but you can also share common interests with friends.

I really like this logo!

Plus - the added bonus that if disaster should strike - earthquake, meltdown, that destroys everything, your computer, your back up, your memory stick, the lot, at least you know your files are out there in the ether somewhere. It's what we used to call at Nielsen "Disaster Recovery Planning". Never got a chance to see those plans put into action sadly, my dreams of arriving one Monday morning to find the building burned to the ground going unfullfilled. Still the concept's a good 'un - contingency plans should always be in place.

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

Monday, 24 September 2012

Toddler Tea Time Management

Like the title, huh? Bit of alliteration going on there.

Well it pretty much sums up what all this is about. I am sure if you ask anyone with young children what part of rearing the brood causes the most traumas, that mealtimes will feature highly on most lists.

Why? Well, for the uninitiated, most pre-schoolers have not yet mastered the arts of dining etiquette that those of us who move in polite society circles have come to expect. In fact I can think of quite a few adults that haven't either, but we won't go there.

Class knows no boundaries here - your average 2 year old whether born with a silver spoon, or from the most deprived of backgrounds will try the patience of their parents no matter how good the upbringing. Everything has to be ready NOW!!! It can't be too hot or too cold! And woe betide if it's the wrong shape (bringing memorable Fawlty Towers scene about amphibious landing craft chips to mind).

How does one cope - well a bit of forward planning, the aforementioned "Time Management" can minimise the pain. Here's a few tips - for home and away!

Breakfast: Get ahead of the game - bowls and spoons out before bed the previous evening. And work around the fussiness. For example - my boys have Shreddies for breakfast. Ollie likes his soggy. So if you put him at the table and then dish it up - he gets most upset because they are "too crispy". Whereas Jamie likes his crispy. So my solution - get up before the kids (now there's a challenge in itself), put the cereal in the bowls, add the milk to Ollie, but not to Jamie's. Go back upstairs, get them dressed, bring them down. Pour cereal onto Jamie's - solution - one soggy, one crispy. If you think that's pandering to their whims, then imagine the sound of my two screaming their heads off at 7:30am in the morning, then think of the phrase "anything for a quiet life". I rest my case.

Lunch: Nothing worse than coming in the door, laden with shopping, soaked wet, needing to get coats off, change nappies etc and having the boys going "I'm hungry", "I want this" etc etc etc. Solution. Well, I make Jamie a sandwich before I go to collect him from the Courtyard and put it on the coffee table with a drink. So when we walk through the door at 12:30ish, it's sat there on the table waiting for him. He goes straight to it and starts shovelling it in - while I get on with what I need to do (whatever that is).

Dinner: The main problem encountered over the years is things being too hot. So I merely adjust my timings so that the boys is ready before ours. This is just simple things really like taking their roast potatoes out of the oven 10 minutes before I dish up ours. If they are having fish fingers while we are having something they don't eat and we are all having chips - well I've got a twin fryer so I do two batches, plus making sure that the fish fingers are ready before our fillet mignons. And if you think that's tight us having steak while they have fish fingers, well they prefer it that way - forking out for 4 steaks? Not until I have to. So there we go - all sat down without kids screaming because they've burnt their mouth.

Our tea!

The Kids Tea - what do you mean, that's not fair?

Eating out and holidays. Restaurants where you order off the menu are big no go area. Not only do toddlers not understand the concept of waiting, but when it does come it's bound to be too hot, so not only have you made them wait, now they can see it but you won't let them have it yet. Tantrum just waiting to happen. If you want a meal like that, go with a couple of friends and leave the kids with a baby sitter, then you can take as long as you like and also get pissed. Hello Maba! Be in to see you real soon! As for holidays - half board with a buffet restaurant is a must then they can have what they like and it's rarely too hot. Going out for meals on holiday is a disaster and as for self-catering - well what's the point of going on bloody holiday if you have to do all the same cooking that you do at home.

So there you go - all obvious stuff, but these little tips can make the difference between a reasonably harmonious (as far as such a thing is possible if your kids are like mine), and a full on war zone!

Bon appetit!

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

Friday, 21 September 2012

Half term on a budget - In 350 words or less...

This is a very special blog entry today.

I was delighted to receive an email from today, regarding my blog. Now I am used to receiving automated messages from companies all the time, but this was different. It seems they have not only been reading my blog, but they have also commented on my last entry.

It's so nice to receive some personal feedback from a company. Not only that, but they've also invited me to submit an entry for their blogging competition.

In 350 words or less, I am to describe ways to save money with the kids at half term. So here is what I have submitted. A free mini-break in Pembrokeshire awaits the winner!

Seems school has hardly started, yet half-term will soon be upon us, and the kids will need entertaining. How does one do this on a budget? Well first – here’s what not to do. I recommend against going away on holiday. As I am sure you know, these weeks are very popular, and consequently very expensive compared to term time weeks – both at home and abroad, so my recommendation there would be – don’t go in half term – go the week before, if you can. Term time is where the bargains are.

Day trips – now you are talking. But where to go? Well, all of the major theme parks are open and they don’t hike prices, but they may be a little busy. Plenty of ways to cut the cost down. 2 for 1 ticket offers abound everywhere, and are easy to get hold of. Rather than me list them all here – just type 2 for 1 theme parks into Google and you will soon find what you are looking for. Failing that, have you been saving up your supermarket loyalty points? As these can also be exchanged at 2x or more their face value for certain days out.

If you go by train, and book your tickets nicely in advance – much cheaper than buying on the day. And that links nicely in with my next recommendation – check out this website - it gives you discounts and 2 for 1 offers to attractions when you travel by train.

And my number one recommendation? A day out that will not only entertain, but could also be completely free? Take the children to one of the hundreds of museums in the country that since 2001 legislation have become completely free to visit. There are dozens in London alone – my top recommendation for kids would be the Science Museum, but there are museums all over England worth a visit – here in Oxford alone we have the Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers and Natural History Museums. I remember how excited I was aged about 7 visiting there and seeing the dinosaur bones.

Jurassic Oxford

Jason xx

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Out with the old...

And in with the new...

So - the long wait is over - finally the builders have finished the job and we have 23 sparkly new homes ready for people to move in to here in Chapel Street. Sanctuary Housing have now put some of them up for occupation - I know this, because at least two friends of mine on the waiting list have been given details of some of the flats behind. As for the others - I believe some are up for private rent and others for shared ownership.

So if you fancy joining the Chapel Street "Massiv", let me know - as top dog on my "manor", I'm worth getting to know.

The Chapel Street Massiv was a shadowy organisation, formed some years ago when I lived at No 40, with my good friends Liz and Russ next door at #38. By day, I was mild mannered probation office worker, dealing with offenders through official channel - by night the caped crusader of Chapel Street, righting wrongs perpetrated by eveil-doers such as litter louts, inconsiderate parkers, and estate agents.

So, anyway, building works complete. What a relief. Up until about two weeks ago it seemed that it would never end, then suddenly, the tarmac was being laid, the whole area was being landscaped and now at last I have something slightly better to look at through the kitchen window other than great big piles of shite.

They've also built a children's play area over there - with a bench for me to sit on. It's about 50m from the house - I reckon there's a chance my wifi might reach that far so that's cool. They can go up and down the slide while I work on my laptop!

I have been told that the bit of car park behind me will be an extension to the existing pay and display site which is slightly irksome as it means anyone can park there. Perhaps I should ask the council if they'd like to employ me as a traffic warden. I can watch from my kitchen window and leap into action and stick a ticket on anyone who steps out of line. I'd be quite happy to work on a commission basis. 10% of any fine would do me.

The other half of the car park is going to be residents parking which has some interesting possibilities. I would not mind getting in there. Parking on my drive is not only a hassle but it takes up room the kids could play in. Also - Jamie has developed the annoying habit of throwing stones on the car. You should see the bonnet - it is covered in scratches. Not that this really matters with my car which is covered with various war wounds from past scrapes.

Which bring me on to my next topic. Despite it's various cosmetic failings, my car (Mondeo) is still going great guns and to cut a long story short, my mother-in-law is interested in buying it - which puts me in line for a new car. Well - not new, but newer. I have already mentioned this on facebook and have had several suggestions - what I am really looking for is some sort of people carrier - but with lots of boot space available - and preferably blacked out rear windows (which I know some have) - obviously as I don't want to draw attention to the fact I'm laden up with DJ gear when I'm driving about.

Seat Alhambra, Toyota Verso...all possibles. Not in any great hurry. Have had a look through the ads and on the internet and there doesn't seem to be much about at the moment. Rather than push it, I'd rather just wait for the right car to come along - so I will keep checking back each week and who knows, the ideal car may just present itself.

As recommended by Charcoal Sprite

Last time I wanted a new car, I simply mentioned it on facebook and what I was looking for. My friend Rachael immediately replied telling me about her Mondeo - less than a week later - deal done. It would be nice if such an opportunity presented itself again. I hate dealing with garages. Especially the Ford garage. "Oh I can't give you more than 5k for it" - a week later you see it on the forecourt at £8,500. Cheers "Jeff".

So let's see what comes along.

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

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Back to School

Now that the school holidays are over, I can begin to tackle some of the other jobs around the house that need doing. Some are the sort of horrible jobs that don't get done very often - for example today I cleaned all the horrible gunky stuff out of the bottom of the waste paper bins.

During the holidays it was really a case of survival and just keep going. It's necessary to achieve the bare minimum each day i.e. everyone gets fed and has clean clothes to wear and a basic standard of cleaning needs to be maintained.. Running the hoover round? No problem. Pulling out the sofa and investigating what's behind? It can wait until September.

I know the summer holidays are meant to be fun times to be spent with the kids in a long and joyous round of fun, but I've struggled, I really have. It doesn't help much that we had our summer holiday in May. I would have loved to have been able to go away for two weeks in August but as we all know, that's beyond the reach of most family budgets.

And Ollie is very hard work to look after because of his issues. I love both my boys to bits but all day every day has been extremely tiring to the extent that I have pretty much withdrawn from socialising altogether as I just have not had the time or the energy. By the last week when I went down with some sort of virus I was really struggling to keep going.

It's hard to describe to the uninitiated the issues I have to face on a daily basis - but it's a job I do to the best of my ability. And it always comes first.

I neglect myself - I know I do. If there's only enough bread left for two until the next loaf is ready - I go without. Diet's been worse than ever during the summer. I've started taking a multivitamin supplement to try and fill in the gaps - I have no idea whether or not they work. There is much debate on the issue.

But Ollie is back now - albeit with a few teething issues. I bought him 3 new pairs of long trousers for the new term as part of his school uniform - for age 4 (he is 5) but they are way too long. We need some for 3 year olds - I've got mum looking in Oxford as I write. So he has gone to school in shorts for the last two days - which is OK as it's lovely sunny weather, but even at this very early part of September, first thing in the morning there's an autumnal chill in the air.

He was a bit upset that he is now one of the "big ones" - so no more cosy reception class with Mrs Walsh. However he soon brightens up in the morning when he sees his friend Sophie. I guess you could almost call her his girlfriend. They have to line up to walk into class and these first two days they've gone in hand in hand. Joking aside about "chips off the old block" and all that - it's actually really important that he has a friend. One of Ollie's issues that was picked up last year, and to an extent also at his pre-school, is that although he may talk nineteen to the dozen, he does not interact very well with other children - if at all. He is very insular and likes to do his own thing. Though he is more receptive to adult interaction. In the case of Sophie though, he has someone that he seems to want to be with and play with and that's got to be a good thing.

Tomorrow Jamie starts at the Courtyard. He is much younger that Ollie was when he started - yet has that much more confidence I think he will do fine. He does not talk anything like as much as Ollie did but certainly has understanding. I am toying with the idea of starting toilet training, as I think he will adopt it earlier than Ollie with whom we got nowhere before his 3rd birthday. I'll discuss it with the staff there and see if we can work together on it.

The other thing that has been progressively starting to stress me out over the summer is the constant noise pollution from the building works taking place behind us, and all the other various aggro it's caused. You've already seen some pictures of the traffic chaos. This has been going on for a year now. As I sit writing now there is a drill going, a digger moving about and just general noise. It goes on all day and it starts to get inside your head. It's well known that constant exposure to such things is stressful. I keep hoping they are getting near to the end of the job - the basic shells of all the buildings were finished weeks ago but there does not seem to be any shortage of other things going on.

It was more noticeable in the holidays because we are outside more, the windows are open, and we were getting up later in the morning. So even if the kids slept past 7:30 (rare), around that time the generator would start up plus all the other equipment. It seems that the policy is to do the noisiest jobs as early in the day as possible. This goes on for an hour or two until they have their first tea break. We are separated from the site only by the width of the Bure, i.e. about 2 metres.

The other thing that annoyed me the other day was we were out in the garden with the kids and all I could hear above the general racket was a lot of "effing and blinding" from the other side of the Bure, plainly audible to the children. They must know we've got kids. And on a Tuesday I have to make sure I get my bin in extra quick after the dustmen have been, unless I want it filled with a lot of the left overs of whatever gastronomic fast food delights they purchased for lunch.

I will be glad when it's all over, I really will.

Well, back to school it is, and we have mother-in-law staying for the weekend so we will be having a nice barbecue tomorrow evening (Friday) as the weather is so good. I have promised Ollie he can stay up late on Friday nights now if he is good at school all week and watch some (suitably programmed) JTV with us, so we will be starting all that tomorrow evening. Friday night = Family night here at Ayres Mansion.

Jason xx

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.