Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Log

Well here we are on Christmas Day and I thought it would be a great idea to share my Christmas log with all of you...

No...don't worry, it is not that kind of log, I could never bring myself to be so unoriginal as to utter that joke that has been done to death millions of time the world over ever since William Shatner first uttered the words "Captain's Log, Stardate xxxx.x" way back in 1966. Though a former work colleague of mine if he reads this (Hello Dave!) will chuckle, as the subject of me producing a Christmas log every year seemed to put him into hysterics. So Dave, I thought I would mention it just for you.

Speaking of originality, this is the first time I have ever managed to squeeze out a log (sorry!) on Christmas Day before, and the last thing I want to do is bore you with a potted account of the day's proceedings as I am sure there will be nothing in there that you haven't done yourselves on countless past Yuletide occasions. Instead what I have decided to do is provide you five mini logs about five random and unrelated things that I've made a mental note during the day "Oh I must write something about that". This is what you do as a writer, especially one who writes in the journal style such as I do. I never really know what I am going to write next, but I have a sort of mental jotting pad in my head which is constantly being added to every day as I experience the world around me.

One of the things I try to do is to write things that nobody else has written. Or at least things I don't think anyone else has written about, maybe they have, but if I've never seen it, then as far as I am concerned I'm being original! You would think it would be quite hard to come up with original ideas, but it seems that my mind doesn't work quite in the same way as everyone else's. Whilst I could sit here for days and struggle to write one sentence about something like the X Factor, the acres of space devoted to it in the media suggests there is plenty to write about. But it doesn't inspire me. But give me an obscure subject e.g. scented candles and I can knock you up a paragraph or two, no problem. So here are my five "mini logs", a paragraph on each, and we may as well kick off with the aforementioned scented candles.

1) Scented candles. A great idea in principle but the problem with them is - they just don't work! They are great when you sniff them in the shop or get them home. Lovely smells of all manner of fruits and flavours, at this time of year normally Yuletide related. But when you burn them you can't smell anything - it's a basic design flaw. This doesn't happen with other nice smelly things. If you get something nice and smelly from a Lush shop and lather it all over yourself in the shower, you'll smell of it too. In fact I've had some stuff from there that's so nice I've gone around sniffing myself all day afterwards, gathering some strange looks in the street into the bargain. Air fresheners - well, some of them are good too. You can fill the bathroom with some most pleasant aromas - just the thing after the Christmas log (oops, sorry I mentioned it again). But scented candles? Rubbish. You may as well just buy some normal candles and spray some air freshener around it would be more effective.

2) Christmas Crackers are crap aren't they? Yes, really they are. The cheap ones are crap, and so are the expensive ones. I've tried all sorts from pound shop cheapies to M&S premium. All crap. Never in 43 years on this earth has any gift every fallen out of a cracker that has excited me in any way and the jokes are not even worth mentioning. All of this is just about forgiveable if you get a decent hat, but the ones this year were too big even for my head and that's saying something. As for the kids, well they may as well have been necklaces. Does anyone ever take into account the size of a child's head when designing a cracker? Oh, and only 2 out of the 4 actually made a bang. Worst crackers ever - they came from Martins by the way, name and shame, why not?

Christmas Crappers

3) After two negatives, better have a positive, don't want to appear Scrooge like! Huge thumbs up for the Aldi turkey crown, it came up trumps! We only paid £11 for this, and only had to carve one half to feed all four of us quite comfortably. We didn't have a huge amount each as my giant pigs in blankets that I mentioned I was going to make took up a big space on the plate - the sausages and bacon for these also came from Aldi. I would have paid at least double for the equivalent last week in any of the big supermarkets and I have to say there was no difference in quality at all compared to the birds I've had from them in the past. Even when Tesco were discounting them all by a third two days before Christmas they were still appreciably more expensive and there seemed to be loads left there and in Sainsbury. Possibly this was a marketing thing (overprice them and then discount to make them look like a bargain) but it didn't seem to be working. Perhaps the nation is wising up to the big boys tricks at last! Nice work people, and if you enjoyed your dinner from Aldi or Lidl this year too, a big high five from me!

4) We sat as a family and watched The Snowman and then The Snowman and The Snowdog, superb films as I mentioned before. However, and this is true nitpicking at its finest, I couldn't help noticing on the flight to the North Pole that they passed a couple of penguins. Now as everyone knows Penguins only live at the South Pole, yet it seemed this glaring error has gone unnoticed for over 30 years. I even googled it and couldn't find any reference to it. But I've decided as it is Christmas that I will let this error go, as there are two possible explanations. These are a) that the writers knew this but as it was for children they thought they could not have a bit of snow without some penguins - it is only a fantasy after all. I compare it to the fact that there were dinosaurs in The Flintstones - millions of years too late but nobody minded. Either that or b) they were flying over some sort of sea life centre or zoo, and the penguins, imported from the South Pole were wandering about in their free range pen. Either way, I've decided to let you off, which is just as well, because lo and behold, thirty years later they turned up in the sequel too.

5) Finally - Christmas time means Mistletoe and Wine, according to Cliff (who I was amused to read the other day came in at #1, #2 and #3 in the Top ten most hated Christmas songs of all time). Well there is no mistletoe here this year girls so no need to all rush round. OK, you weren't anyway, but allow me to continue with my delusion that I am some sort of sex symbol, it's good for the ego. But in terms of wine, I was lucky enough to receive a very nice and tempting looking red from my in-laws which is just begging to be opened. It's exactly five weeks to the day since I last touched a single drop of alcohol and I am very pleased with how well I've done. But after all the hard work that goes into making a family Christmas fun - keeping the kids happy, cooking the meal, and all the weeks of preparation, I think cracking open this bottle of wine tonight is more than deserved. I can always return to semi-teetotalism after Christmas.

Merry 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.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Pigs in Blankets

I am sure it will come as no surprise to any of you who have been following my sausage story closely that my favourite bit of the Christmas dinner is "pigs in blankets". If there is anyone who does not know what pigs in blankets are, well firstly, shame on you, and secondly here is the definition: Sausages wrapped in bacon.

What an amazing invention! My second favourite food of all time wrapped in my first favourite food of all time! It's hard to even begin to describe the levels of excitement this generates in me. If you can imagine finding the two most attractive people you have ever fancied in your life all wrapped up in a Christmas stocking on the end of your bed on Christmas morning and you might be somewhere near approaching it.

Pigs in blankets have grown in popularity over the years and I don't recall them being as popular in my youth and certainly not as readily available as they are now. Like various other components of the Christmas dinner such as stuffing balls, you can now buy them all ready made in handy little packs of 8 or 12 in all major supermarkets.

Whilst I can see the advantages for a stressed cook on Christmas Day of having a lot of this stuff done for you, personally I think it's a bad idea. Not only is it an expensive way of doing things - e..g. eight stuffing balls for £1.99 which you could make with a packet of Paxo for 49p, but it also takes a lot of the fun out of it. If you can't find the time to make the effort on Christmas Day to do it all from scratch, when can you? I admit the last two years it has been quite a challenge. Claire was working on the morning of Christmas Day so with the kids clamouring for help assembling their new toys not to mention fighting over them it's been a lively old state of affairs. Of course, as ever, Super Dad has come through it with flying colours, admittedly with bits of stuffing in my hair, melted chocolate ground stuck to my socks and an extremely painful foot from standing on a piece of lego, but we'll gloss over those minor issues.

Then there is also the issue, as any glutton (i.e. half of Britain) will tell you, shop bought pigs in blankets are way too small! A chipolata with a quarter of a rasher of streaky bacon around it is woefully insufficient, it doesn't even touch the sides. You would need to put two in at a time to get the sort of decent satisfaction you want from the lovely piggy goodness rolling around the whole of your mouth. This simply isn't good enough. As any woman knows, when it come to sausages, size is all important and a chipolata just won't do. Length and girth are what's needed so I make my own, as follows:

Get some decent sized sausages. I'm not going so far as to suggest Jumbo as an option, normal sized sausages should suffice. You can use any standard brand from a supermarket, or go upmarket if you like and get some high quality ones - if it's got a red tractor on the pack you know you've got a good sausage. Equally get some decent bacon - proper back bacon, and wrap at least two rashers around each sausages. So it's pigs in two blankets really, which is not a problem, it is winter after all. Now that is a proper pig in a blanket and a fitting accompaniment to any plate.

Shop bought pigs in blankets.
Unacceptably small.

Much more like it - though I am still aiming bigger.
And I prefer normal bacon to streaky.

I probably spend more time deciding which sausages and bacon to get for Christmas dinner than I do deciding on what turkey to get. I shall not elaborate on the turkey issue as I covered it all in great detail last year (see my book, Austerity Dad) suffice to say, it will be a crown again but from where, I cannot yet say.

We have got most of our Christmas shopping in already, other than the last few perishables. We went to Morrisons yesterday to do the big shop. Normally the big Christmas shop comes to somewhere between £150 and £200 but this year it was just £77. Why? Well it's now a whole month since I last touched a drop of alcohol and with plenty left in the house should I fancy a drink over Christmas, there is no need to buy any in. It's amazing how much difference not drinking makes to your bank balance.

I'm pleased to have been able to go a month without alcohol without any cravings for a drink because it has reassured me in my mind that I am not an alcoholic. I am sure we all ask ourselves that question from time to time, most of us aren't but until you try and stop you don't know. It's worked wonders for my health, I know that much. I have decided that I don't want to be completely teetotal so I am going to re-introduce alcohol gradually as a social pleasure in the future - a nice bottle of wine when we go out for a meal, maybe a drink on a Friday or a Saturday night, but that's it. I've proved I don't need alcohol so now I can allow myself to have some. Quite honestly though, I just don't fancy it at all right now.

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.


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

This Country

A recent review of one of my books on Amazon compared me to both Alan Partridge and Karl Pilkington. It wasn't the most flattering review I've had - it was a 3 star one, but it was in-depth and that's got to be a good thing. I think it is also good to be compared to people, and I've no problem with being compared to Alan or Karl. Unique as we would all like to believe we are, in a world of 7 billion people that is quite a challenge and most reviews you read in of books, plays, films, you name it make comparisons to others in the genre.

As for the two named, well I guess Alan must have had some sort of influence on me as I've always been a big fan. I've been known to quote many a "Partridge-ism" in conversation - "This Country" being my all time favourite. My review referred to Partridge style rants in my book - I'm not sure if this was intended as a compliment or not but I've decided to take it as such. I certainly didn't intend to start out sounding like Partridge but I suppose I can see the similarity between my parochial comments on Bicester and Alan's Norwich obsessed ramblings.

Karl Pilkington on the other hand is a completely different kettle of fish. I could not cite him as an influence on me as up until about six months ago I was completely unaware of his existence. However, having now seen and greatly enjoyed "An Idiot Abroad" I can certainly see the similarities. There was me thinking I was the only one who packed my suitcase full of bags of crisps when going away anywhere just in case I didn't like the food and lo and behold, there he is with a case full of Monster Munch! Perhaps we were separated at birth, who knows, but we really are two peas in a pod. And no - I would not do a bungee jump either, for love nor money!

Speaking of rants, when I think of them these days, rather than Alan Partridge, it's the "Bicester Have A Rant" page on facebook that springs to mind. Among the subjects that crop up on a regular basis such as dog poo and bad driving, occasionally can be found a comedy gem, and one such rant appeared this week. It did touch a chord with me as I have long been disillusioned with people's behaviour in this country as regards to litter and waste disposal in general. You only have to walk alongside any A or B road in this country and look in the hedges alongside to see the endless trail of litter which can only have been thrown out of car windows to understand what I mean. I could go on and on about litter in the streets in a "this country" moment but I am sure you have heard it all before. It's just about people's attitudes and this particular rant, accompanied by a photo said it all.

What it depicted was the nappy bin in our local Sainsbury's in the baby changing facility. The rather small bin had not been changed for some time and was massively overflowing. OK, it is easy to lay the finger of blame at the store for not changing it, fair enough, but it is what people did after it was full that I found outrageous. They just threw their nappies on to the top until it was piled so high no more could fit on and then they chucked them on the floor. Hardly anybody even bothered to bag them up. The main word added underneath the rant by most who commented was "disgusting". I am so glad that my children are now out of nappies and I don't have to frequent such places any more!

The lady who originally took this picture has given me permission to reprint it here, many thanks Kerri.

"This Country"

I'm not sure at what point we turned into a nation of slobs, perhaps it is just indicative of how people feel in general these days. It's probably fair to say we no longer have pride in ourselves as a nation, so we treat it accordingly. I can't even go on the short school run each day without seeing several examples - the half eaten discarded kebab chucked in the road, the pile of vomit deposited on the way home from the pub on Saturday night, the empty beer cans in the church yard, the list is endless. All I can do to combat it is make sure my children know it's wrong. Ollie often points out some litter in the street and comments on it along the lines of "Look at that Daddy, naughty people! They should have put it in the bin! Disgusting!" I may not be able to influence the other millions of people in this country, but at least if I can do it with my two, then I'll have made some positive influence.

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.


Friday, 13 December 2013

When mince pies go wrong.

During the month of December I tend to forego my usual croissant with my morning coffee in favour of a mince pie.

The jury is still out on who makes the perfect mince pie. I suppose as a stay at home dad I ought to be making my own, but as always seems to be the case there is never enough time and shop bought ones are perfectly nice and convenient. Generally I allow my value seeking principles to guide me, in other words I buy whichever ones are on a buy one get one free offer so it can be Sainsbury's Own Label one week and Mr Kipling the next.

I can't ascertain a huge amount of difference in taste, in fact my preferences are more of an aesthetic nature. I like my mince pies to have a solid lid sprinkled with sugar. I dislike those lattice style designs. Why, I have no idea but a pie should be completely encased in my humble opinion.

I also don't like eating them cold. At one point my favoured mode of consumption was to have two heated up in the oven and then pour some cream over them. This however at 250+ calories per pie and the cream on top is a rather highly calorific mid-morning snack. So I've cut down to just one. It also seems rather uneconomic to heat up the oven just for one pie, not to mention wasting time, so I have reverted to the seldom used microwave for this particular task. In fact it is about the only thing I use the microwave for during the entire year.

After much experimentation and debate I have come to the conclusion that 19 seconds is the perfect time to microwave a mince pie for - just long enough to get it nice and warm inside without burning your mouth. Even a few seconds over that and it becomes seriously radioactive. The trouble is with 19 seconds is that it is an awkward amount of time. I like to be constantly on the go and multi-tasking and don't like to waste that 19 seconds just standing in front of the microwave. I don't like standing in front of it anyway, no matter how safe they claim they are I've never quite got over the fear that some rays might be escaping and frying my insides. But there is not a lot you can realistically do in 19 seconds. I try and utilise it with a very small task - e.g. putting something in the bin which is on the other side of the kitchen, or pouring out a cup of coffee from the pot. The danger is it is easy to get distracted and forget the microwave is on. I might head over to the bin and then see the cat wants to come in, so I let her in and then she wants food. By this time steam is coming out of the microwave and then there's an explosion. When a mince pie blows up it is not pretty - and not easy to eat either. Anything above 30 seconds and you are in serious trouble.

This year I have been pretty good so far, and have got managing the situation off to a tee. Unfortunately this morning the phone rang and guess what, it was one of those bloody 0843 numbers which cut off as soon as I answered. I headed back to the kitchen but not quickly enough to save today's Mr Kipling offering which was haemorrhaging filling in a manner which would be certainly fatal to any living being. I scraped up this culinary road kill off the plate as best I could, but my enjoyment was severely curtailed. Oh well, another couple of weeks and we'll be back on to the croissants. There is very little that can go wrong with a croissant.

One of the type of mince pies that died horrifically this morning. R.I.P.

As we are in December, one other little topical piece. Yesterday was December 12th which believe it or not is the date of the earliest sunset in the UK. Very few people know this because they assume it is on the shortest day which is December 21st, but it isn't. The dates of the two are different. It's all to do with the way the earth rotates, but I shall not go into details here as it would detract from the prime purpose of this writing i.e. entertainment. If you want the science bit, you can head off to to Google where there are lots of pages on the subject.

Anyway, I always have a bit of fun with this on facebook each year and put up around this date how nice it is that the nights are drawing out again. I can almost guarantee someone will jump on confidently deriding me and telling me I'm wrong and that the shortest day is December 21st. It's a bit naughty of me really, springing this trap and then coming on to tell them otherwise, but it has become almost an annual tradition, I've done it every year since facebook started. Anyway it seems people have tired of this "know-it-all" little game of mine as there was a distinct lack of responses this year. It seems I have gone to the well too often on this one and people have got wise to it. Still, it's all good news really, we all like the nights to draw out and it comes as a pleasant surprise to people to discover it starts happening a good week or more earlier than they thought it did!

Those long summer evenings will be back with us before you know it.

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.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mixed bag

Good morning/ afternoon/ evening (depending on what time of day you are reading this).

The title of this entry is "mixed bag" which is exactly what it is - a round up of various bits and pieces that aren't enough to justify a full blog entry on their own. I'll kick off with a few town centre related items since I'll be posting this in the town centre chat page on facebook. Note to chat page readers: I don't plug all my blog entries on facebook as that would be against the rules of the page, and even as the page owner, I don't feel I have the power or right to abuse this position. It is important I portray the image of a benevolent and kind ruler, generating a peaceful and prosperous feeling among my subjects. After all, I might want to run for mayor one day. I can always turn into an evil genius and take over the world once I am established in my position of power.

Right then, first stop Nando's. Now as you all know I like to be first with the exclusive news whenever a new restaurant opens in Bicester, getting down there on the first day and then getting my review out before everyone else. I then sit at the computer watching the hits flooding in, hoping that at least one of the 800 or so people who read it on the first day might be so overawed by my writing that they might fork out a few pennies for one of my Kindle books. Generally this doesn't happen, but no matter, my purpose is to inform and entertain primarily, not cynically market my books. Honest!

So down to Nando's we went yesterday afternoon at 4pm which I figured was the ideal time, nicely between lunch and dinner and perfect for my two kiddies to eat. I was very much impressed by the decor of the place, it was welcoming and friendly, and as for our waitress, Lisa, she couldn't do enough for us. Staff like this are like gold dust for restaurants - people will forgive a lot for some friendly service. It wasn't too busy so we got a nice big table and the boys got some crayons and activities to play with, always a nice touch.

Our friends Leanne and Gary were there when we arrived and I liked the look of what Gary had so asked him what he'd ordered, so my decision was easy - it was a case of "I'll have that". We ordered two kids meals and chicken and chips for me and Claire.

It did seem we had to wait rather a long time for the food, but this was probaby because the kids weren't behaving their best and being rather obnoxious. Children the age of mine aren't generally used to waiting for food. In reality it was probably only about 15 minutes which isn't too bad, but 15 minutes with kids misbehaving can seem like an hour. Anyway, both Lisa and another girl that works there, Daanii, came over and apologised for the wait. The food when it came was most enjoyable, and it was a nice meal. Overall we paid £38.90. This seems a lot to me, but then it probably isn't really as I am still getting used to having to pay for the kids as well as for us, we're past the phase now where we can get away with bringing their own drinks in for them, or just ordering them a side order - they need a full meal now. The kids meals are about a fiver but you do have to pay for an additional drink.

There was no sign or any Wi-fi - again as I say in all my reviews I think that EVERY restaurant needs to offer this now, but still those that do are in the minority. Anyway, these are minor gripes and overall we very much enjoyed our visit and will be back again I am sure - but before that we've got Prezzo opening which I am really looking forward to. Three years ago this weekend Claire and I went to Cheltenham for the weekend for Christmas Shopping and the races. We had rather a lucrative day at the track and went to Prezzo in the evening and really pushed the boat out - it was a most enjoyable evening so I remember, let's hope the Bicester branch can live up to this.

The other major event of the town centre over the last week or so was the switching on of the Christmas lights. I covered this in great detail last year so won't go into huge detail again, suffice to say, I think this year was a big improvement on the previous year. There seemed to be more going on in general and a really happy friendly atmosphere around the town. Crown Walk and Pioneer Square have really improved things and there was a lot more going on down there. The pop up shops in Crown Walk have really revitalised the place and let's face it - it was needed. However, I'm still not convinced that the sound system is up to the job - when I was standing down the south end of Sheep Street I could not hear anything from the stage. We didn't want to miss the switch on countdown again so we went and stood right next to the stage, in the doorway of the new Costa and it all went off according to plan - the lights did in fact click on exactly on zero! I am not sure what the reaction was down the other end of the street, but perhaps it is time for our old friends the Sheep to deliver their verdict...

"Bah" I really thought we might hear something this year? I'm getting old though. Can you?
"Bah - no. Let's go and stand over by Edinburgh Woollen Mills. We might hear better
from there and we can eye up all the sexy jumpers through the window".

And finally a few bits and pieces about me. My Oxford Mail column has been running now for the past month and it is going really well. If you haven't had a chance to catch one of them yet, they are in the paper every Friday, or alternatively you can find them online here:

And regular readers will also know that I've been teetotal for quite a few weeks now and this is having some very beneficial effects. Not only am I feeling better but I am also losing weight which has got to be good for my health. I have struggled a fair bit in recent months with various ailments and I am feeling better now than I have in a long time. I shall doubtless be relaxing the alcohol embargo over Christmas but the long term plan is to drink more selectively - holidays and special occasions. The future is looking bright, and with this in mind, I am delighted to announce the launch of Jason version 2.0.

Jason 2.0 will be released worldwide on Monday 6th January 2012. This new improved version benefits from a significantly improved graphics engine and greatly enhanced gameplay, all presented in sleek new slimline packaging. Not only that but it runs on a new environmentally and financially friendly hybrid engine which runs on a combination of both water and alcohol - in fact it can run for several hundred miles on water alone, and has an improved top speed over the old model which did tend to plod along a bit.

Fans everywhere will be massively keen to get their hands on this new edition, and all major online sites are taking pre-orders now. Order early to avoid disappointment!

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.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Dear "The Sausage Man"

My exploits with the sausage tasting have attracted considerable attention from the press. From Chat, to the Daily Star, to Pig & Poultry Marketing magazine, there's barely a publication in the land not desperate to get their hands on the story of the "The Sausage Man".

So, unsurprisingly, I have started to receive a number of letters on the subject asking for various pork related advice. Due to the high volume of mail I've received, I can't possibly reply to them all due to my extremely busy lifestyle so I have decided to publish some of  them here in a sort of agony pig section.

Here we go then:

Dear "The Sausage Man".

I read with interest the chapter in your book "Austerity Dad" where you claimed that eating a lot of bacon would increase your IQ. Since then I have been having it every day and in fact am planning to start an Open University degree in Business Studies in the Spring. Not bad for someone who left school with just one GCSE in woodwork, eh? However, during the summer my bacon diet ran into a big of a problem. My wife and I decided to holiday in Greece to get a bit of culture to go with my new found brain power, and found a nice little island, away from the main tourist hotspots. However, I was horrified to discover that the hotel we stayed in did not provide what I consider to be "proper bacon" with the breakfast. Instead of the traditional shape we have all come to know and love, this bacon was of a long, streaky, greasy and very fatty variety. To make matters worse, on the second day I broke my tooth on a concealed lump of bone in it. Because I had inadvertently left my E111 card at home in a dash to get to McDonalds at the airport before the 10:30 breakfast cut off time, this cost me a lot of money. During the remainder of the week I searched all over the island, but this unpalatable bacon was sold everywhere. I was not happy, and I know it affected my brain power because before I went on holiday I used to read The Times and since I got back I've reverted to The Sun.

We are planning to go on holiday again next year, but I don't want to suffer like this again, so can you offer any advice?

A picture of the offending bacon.

"Toothless" of Tooting.

Dear Toothless,

Dear, oh dear, that is a traumatic tale, my heart goes out to you. But fear not, there are plenty of resorts out there where you can get English bacon. I recommend trying some of the Spanish islands such as the Balearics or the Canaries. They cater very well for the English "chip brigade" as we are known. I went to Majorca a few years ago and if you wander along the main strip in the morning, all of the cafes are advertising "English Breakfast with English bacon and Sausage". They also have plenty of fish and chips and drinks such as Guinness and Strongbow for the evenings, so you can feel right at home. I'm not sure whether you will be able to get a copy of The Times though, there's not much demand for it over there.


Dear "The Sausage Man".

My wife has come over all environmentally conscious and is insisting that we become vegetarians. I am not keen on this at all, but she has really put her foot down - living in this house is like being under martial law. I have managed to sneak out to John's Bacon and Sausage van a few times for a sneaky bap, but it is very risky. She has spies everywhere. But the regime now is getting ridiculously strict. Now she says that I cannot have Walkers Smoky Bacon crisps any more, which are my favourite. I always thought that crisps just contained flavouring and were OK for vegetarians, but she insists otherwise. Can you advise, please?

"Famished" of Bicester

Smoky Bacon crisps

Dear Famished,

It's bad news I'm afraid. Walkers announced earlier this year that they were to trial putting real meat extracts into their crisps, which means that historically you would have been OK, but not any more - a quick glance at the website confirms this product is no longer suitable for vegetarians. You could try an inferior or Own Label brand, but let's face it, they won't be as good. To be honest, if I was you, I'd get a new wife.


Dear "The Sausage Man"

I am a married woman in my late forties with two grown up children. My husband and I had always enjoyed an "active" lifestyle if you get what I mean, but recently he has started to show a distinct lack of interest in that area. There's very little in the way of swinging from the chandeliers going on around here these days, slumped on the sofa in front of Eastenders is more like it.

I tried cooking a romantic meal the other night with prawn cocktail, steak and chips and a black forest gateau, to try and rekindle the glory days of our courtship back in the glory days of the Berni Inns, but it was to no avail. Even a bottle of Blue Nun didn't help. After dinner all he wanted to do was watch Newsnight.

Can you offer any advice at all?

"Starved" of Southampton.

The good old days!

Dear Starved,

I think where you went wrong was with the steak. Although it's very tasty, it is not known for its aphrodisiac qualities. I think you should have gone for sausages. Now we all know that their is an association between sausages and you know what. I should know for sure, I've had enough remarks bordering on the homophobic about me being a "sausage taster" recently. And perhaps that is exactly what you need to do. Cook another meal, perhaps on a night when Newsnight isn't on, and make sausages the highlight. I suggest picking up your whole sausage on the end of a fork and nibbling it seductively across a candlelit table, in the style of the old flake adverts. He'll soon get the idea. And go upmarket a bit on the wine - Black Tower is far classier than Blue Nun.

Good luck!


Well, that's about all we've got time for, keep your letter coming in and we'll publish some more soon!

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.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The reluctant teetotaller

I've been thinking about my relationship with alcohol rather a lot recently. We've been through a lot together, me and the wine, the beer and the cider. And all the rest of it. Yet it seems we have progressively fallen out of love over the past few years and may finally have reached the parting of the ways.

It's several days since I last had an alcoholic drink. This is not because I'm on antibiotics, have been told not to drink, any moral, religious, or financial reason. It's quite simply that I just don't like it any more.

If you are someone who witnessed the booze filled antics of the Jason of decades past, you might find this extremely hard to believe, but I am afraid it is true. I don't even set foot in pubs any more, that whole culture is something that no longer appeals to me. Perhaps I just got old, or boring, or maybe I just grew up. Who knows which, all I know is it is no longer for me.

So how did I get to this point? Well the easiest way is for me to take you on one of my little nostalgic walks back through time and follow my drinking journey from its humble beginnings nearly 30 years ago. Imagine it as a classic bell-shaped curve if you like where I now sit at the bottom right hand corner, having started in around 1984 and with the peak roughly in the middle, in the mid to late nineties.

It seemed growing up that there was quite a booze culture around family and friends and it was not just our family, it was the same everywhere. Every other uncle was a boozer, knocking it back at family functions as if there was no tomorrow. I think I had my first beer when I was about 14 at one such family function, pressed into my hand by an older relative with some condescending remark along the lines of "that'll put hairs on your chest". Quite frankly I hated it - in fact who does like their first taste of beer? I didn't see it catching on with me and it didn't for a while. In fact my first enjoyable experiences came with cider, its sweeter nature being the perfect training drink for the aspiring future boozer. My friend Francis from school lived in Kidlington and was involved with the local Young Farmers and invited me along to some of their barn parties where I soon developed a taste for this noxious brew. With the farm conveniently located near to a Tesco that specialised in cheap 3 litre own label bottles we were never in short supply, and never had any problem getting hold of it, even though we were only about 16. I was getting regularly served in pubs by then too. I wasn't big for my age by any means, but everything was so much more lax then.

On my first day at sixth form college in 1987, someone came up with the cunning plan of going for a drink at lunchtime. This cunning plan continued every lunchtime for the next two years. Half the college was in the Duke Of York across the road, now sadly demolished every day. It was good business for the landlord and he must have known we were under-age but I don't think he was that bothered. That pub was our playground and common room - beer, darts, pool, fruit machines, and of course, lots of the opposite sex. My tastes had progressed now and drank beer and spirits as cider fell out of favour and a lot of it got drunk, particularly with the various drinking competitions that used to get organised.

Over the next few years I moved into the work environment, and moved to Bicester and developed a whole new drinking culture around Bicester pubs, and always had one particular "local" which changed over time. First it was the White Horse, then The Plough, then The Hobgoblin and then The White Hart. Undoubtedly the peak of this period and the top of my bell-shaped curved was the time at The Plough when Bicester legend Tim "Boycie" Stuart was the landlord, from the mid to late nineties. I was single during quite a lot of this time and I'll be perfectly honest - I was down the pub virtually every single night. And I was drinking what I realise now in hindsight was a huge amount - an average of five or six pints per night. But crucially - nobody in the pub ever questioned this because they were all doing exactly the same. This is what is known as "normalising behaviour". You believe your behaviour to be normal because your peer group does the same as you. It can be applied to problem gamblers and drug users as well.

I don't need to make any excuses for my behaviour, the fact is, I was young, single, no kids, in my twenties and I was having a lot of fun. It didn't cross my mind for a second that all of this might one day give me health problems or that it was making me put on weight. I was having too good a time. Do I regret it? No, not really, why would I regret something that I enjoyed. Would I want to be doing it now? Absolutely not, I cannot think of anything less desirable quite honestly. My life has changed. However, many of my peer group from that time are still out there doing it.

So what changed? Well from my early thirties onwards my interest in big drinking events certainly began to decline. During the 2002 World Cup many of my friends thought it would be great fun to go out drinking all day for some of the games, which bearing in mind the event was being held in Japan and South Korea meant for some very early kick off times. After the first couple of games I'd had enough. Whilst starting as early in the day as possible in an attempt to get as drunk as possible in a day seemed to excite some of my peer group, the novelty had long and truly worn thin with me. Drinking to me was becoming more of a social occasion rather than an end in itself. From that point onwards, I never drank in the daytime again and refused all invitations to events that were clearly going to get "messy" as people often refer to it. Yes, messy is a good word, to me now it means a load of drunken bores who can't control their behaviour being aggressive and generally annoying me. So I avoid them.

I continued to drink quite a lot in the evenings during the first half of the new decade and was still out more nights than not but was definitely drinking less than before. I began to develop a taste for wine and would often think nothing of drinking a bottle or two in the evenings. During my last single period in the mid 2000's I had a last brief heyday of heavy drinking but then the real big change came in 2007 when fatherhood beckoned. By this stage I was seriously tiring of the pub scene but could not move away from it, the opposite in fact as I was by now running the karaoke nights. I didn't like the idea of being in the pub and not drinking, so unlike the private gigs where I had to drive and not drink, with the pub nights I used to leave my gear in the pub and collect it the next day, enabling me to drink. I suppose this was progress in a way, as although I was still in the pub drinking, I was getting paid for it. And that's another thing I haven't touched on yet - spending your life in the pub is bad for your health as well as your wealth.

Unfortunately the years of DJ'ing did show me how stupid, rude and unattractive people who have too much to drink can be, never more so than on the jobs I drove to and was therefore sober in a room of drunks. They think nothing of giving the DJ a bit of stick after a few drinks. I'd like to point out this is very much a minority of people, and the vast majority of people I met during my DJ'ing career were very nice, appreciative and friendly and if any of you are reading this, thank-you, I really enjoyed DJ'ing for that 95% of you. It was the other 5% that did my head in!

Being out DJ'ing meant I went out less and less often. I still liked to drink but drink was so cheap in supermarkets compared to pubs I much preferred to drink in the comfort of my own home at a quarter of the price. An evening on the sofa with Claire watching TV with a bottle of wine was an infinitely preferable choice.

As we had the kids, my consumption declined significantly continued to do so .I never drank in front of the kids and never got drunk. I didn't even fancy a drink any more, it just became a habit to get to a certain time of night and pour myself a glass of wine. 3 drinks of a night became 2, and then 1 until even a single glass of wine began to seem like a challenge. During the last few months I have been struggling with a few different health problems and started drinking lots of water instead and eventually I reached the point where it was getting to 10pm at night and I was thinking - I normally have my one drink a day about now, better get it over with.

Then during the past month I finished working Sunday nights at the pub, taking that particularly temptation away and reached a point where I finished a bottle of wine at home and then the next day just didn't feel like opening another one. And I didn't open one the next day either or the day after that. I hadn't stopped being a drinker suddenly, or out of any big decision. The whole thing just kind of fizzled out.

So where do I go from here. I'm not an alcoholic, I don't have to give up booze, I just don't fancy it right now. I've sort of inadvertently become a teetotaller without meaning to. It's impossible to believe I won't drink again because there will be holidays, meals out, social occasions. But in the future I can take it or leave it. At the moment all I crave is my Sainsbury's Highland Spring Sparkling Water at 40p for 2 litres.

The one thing I have noticed over the past couple of weeks is that my weight has begun to fall quite sharply. Booze is full of calories but that wasn't the only problem with me - it used to make me hungry. Even one drink would leave me raiding the fridge before bed. That doesn't happen any more. Losing some weight has to help - I've had a lot of back and feet problems of late so less bulk to lug about means less stress on them.

As for everyone else, well each to their own. There are plenty of young people out there at the weekend having a great time on it - that's fair play to them, it's their time now. As for older people, well it's up to them really, I guess it all depends on your responsibilities and life circumstances. Mine and booze don't fit.

We've all got our own personal long term relationship with drink. I wonder how yours compares to mine?

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.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Stay At Home Dad

I'm delighted to be able to tell you (if you hadn't heard already) that I am now officially a newspaper columnist! My new column, "Stay At Home Dad" began in the Oxford Mail last Friday.

Now as you know, I've written literally miles of material on this subject already - enough to fill two books (amongst all the unrelated ramblings) but there is never any shortage of material. Every day of being a parent brings new experiences, new challenges, and new moments of joy. Already I have had lots of positive feedback from the new column - both from those of you I know, and also from those I don't, which is really positive. Support from friends and family is fantastic but when it comes in from people you don't know, you really know that your work is being enjoyed by the wider audience.

There is plenty still to be written on the subject of parenting and I'm hoping the column is set to run and run. Who knows where it might lead? For other writers out there, I really must say that perseverance does pay off. If you believe in your talent for writing, you must take every opportunity to try and get yourself noticed. Publicity is very important. After all, you could be the next J.K. Rowling but if nobody knows who you are, you'll never be discovered.

It is really nice to be finally earning regular money as a paid writer and it is very much where my aspirations lie. My career is very much in transition right now. Much as I have enjoyed the past six years of running the DJ business, the time feels right now to begin to step away from that and pursue the writing career I have always wanted. Discos and karaoke nights have served me well, but my heart has gone out of it and it's time to move aside and allow the younger generation of DJ's to take over. I guess if I was a famous radio DJ, this decision may well have been made for me by now. I am just about at the age when a DJ lingering on Radio One past his sell by date needs to jump before he's pushed and either find a new career or fade away slowly on "Radio Quiet" which is what happened to Smashie and Nicey in a famous Harry Enfield sketch.

The future with regard to writing is looking very promising. I have already had some other tentative enquiries for some one off writing features, so perhaps 2014 will be the year things take off. I'm not at all publicity shy as you know from all the sausage exploits. Whilst I didn't get paid for any of the sausage features I did, it was all helping to get me noticed, and I know the write ups I did on this blog were very well received. So perhaps some paid writing on the food front may come my way. I could certainly fancy myself as a bit of a food critic - already you've seen some of my restaurant reviews on this blog, and it is no co-incidence that I wrote them. I see this blog as a place where I can showcase my range of writing talents and by writing such things, I may just get commissioned by someone who wants such a piece for their publication.

So you need not fear that this blog will disappear if lots of writing work comes my way - I will always have time to write here. I need an outlet somewhere for some of the crazy ideas and flights of fancy that come into my mind from time to time - from fake problem pages to spoof letters to strange altar ego characters that would never get commissioned in a million years - I have to have somewhere to get these ramblings down in print.

Speaking of my "characters", my long term blog fan and friend, Helen, was very impressed by my Downton Abbey gatecrasher that I recently introduced and has even come up with a nickname for him, "Serial Drama Sid". To recap, Sid infiltrates TV programs as they are being broadcast and completely disrupts the plot. He is played by me, but in a more scruffy and uncouth manner than the real me (if such a thing is possible).

I'm still watching Series 3 of Downton and can't watch an episode now without imagining Sid coming crashing in at some point. The episode I watched last week was the one where Lady Edith got jilted at the altar by that posh geezer who used to be in Cold Feet.

To my knowledge this sort of thing does not happen very often in real life, but in TV land it is a regular occurrence. Not only is there all that food and drink waiting to be eaten but what about the DJ - enter serial drama Syd.

So, there are the cast in the hall, panicking about what to do next when suddenly I come crashing in through the front doors carrying a large speaker and come face to face with Lord Grantham.

"Alright Squire, I'm the DJ for the wedding reception. Where do you want me to set up mate?

What do you mean it's cancelled? I downloaded "Agadoo" especially for this! Isobel said it was Cousin Violet's favourite song. You owe me 250 quid.

Blimey look at all that food! What are you going to do with all that? It's not going to waste is it? Let's have a butchers! Hmmm...bit posh innit? Got any cheese footballs?".

I definitely think that it is time Serial Drama Sid got his own TV series. How about it Channel 4?

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.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Return Of The Fat Bloke

He provided the biggest laughs and the most banter of anything that happened in my fifteen years at Nielsen. And for many years, he's been missing in action. But today, thanks to my good friend and peer, Lord Marston, he has returned. And here he is:

This man is responsible for some of the funniest
moments of my working life.

So who was this cartoon hero and where did he come from? Well we must take a trip back almost two decades to the mid 1990's. Back to a time when the internet was in its infancy, there was no googling, no photoshop, and very little for entertainment on the computers at Nielsen other than Solitaire and Minesweeper. But email had recently been installed, not yet connected to the wider world, but allowing communication around the building.

This made sending things around considerably easier. Prior to that we had printed out memos with distribution lists on them, photocopied them, highlighted the names and put them in the internal mail basket. Then we trusted to luck that whichever spotty work experience kid had got the mail run dumped on them that week might help them find their way to the recipient some time over the next couple of days.

But email certainly speeded things up, though I can remember a number of the more established members of the staff scoffing at it and saying it would never catch on.

We also had the Microsoft suite of applications on our machines which were very primitive compared to today's all singing and dancing versions. On our stone age version of Powerpoint we had a collection of clip art installed which included our famous fat bloke as pictured, one of a number of cartoon characters who if I remember rightly was titled "Announcing to all".

I think he was throwing his arms up in the air to announce good news, however he was soon being used for all sorts of scenarios. I believe it was my good friend, Andy Pill, who first came up with the idea of putting him onto an amusing slide and sending it around our little gang of mates - a drinking gang who spent most Friday nights at the time drinking Oxford dry. I was going over to Sweden to visit my Dad who was living and working there at the time and just before I went, an email popped up in my inbox with a Powerpoint attachment. Andy had created a picture with a map of Europe on it and two of the  fat blokes - one who was meant to be my Dad standing on top of Sweden holding a large hot dog, and me standing in England. The caption was "Over here son, I've got your breakfast!"

Andy had started a new craze and in the months that followed, countless slides were created. As Andy, myself and Jason Byles were all rather overweight at the time we all appeared as the identical fat bloke with names and numbers crudely written on our backs in the style of football shirts to identify us. The fourth member of our gang who was rather more in trim appeared as a hairy caveman holding up a large nut for reasons I can't quite remember, presumably because he worked in the engine room of Nielsen and had a ponytail. We were somewhat limited by the relatively few pieces of clip art available - only a couple of hundred or so, and we couldn't get on to the internet to get more, so we would just scan through the pictures, pick one and make up a slide around it.

For example, I remember creating one for Bylo where I found a picture of a ship, rotated it so it was listing down at an angle of about 20 degrees, stuck him right on the bottom end, and dozens of stick men up at the high end, all shouting out "Bylo - don't stand there - you'll sink the boat". The fat theme was taken to excessive lengths, even to the suggestion of the planet being knocked out of orbit by some antic or other. They were crude and extremely rude, there were no limitations on language and scenarios. Some would have got an 18 certificate for sure. But the one thing they all had was that they were very very funny.

Various other variations on the theme were developed. We found a character with a moustache bashing his hand on the table who looked the spitting image of my boss, the legendary "Watty". Soon a series of "Where's Watty" slides began to appear with him hiding in various very complicated scenes. And so it went on. I am pretty sure that "Watty" who still works for Nielsen is unaware of this to this day, but if by some chance he is reading now, I am sure he would look back and laugh.

It's all about Bitstrips now it seems - where you look for an existing picture and then put yourself into it. What we did was way funnier - completely original and we built our slides from scratch. We were a group of friends who knew each other very well and knew just which buttons to press for maximum effect.

Sadly those pictures are gone forever - we didn't keep them when we left, but I can still picture them in my head. My life has been filled with classic comedy moments - these slides were some of the best.

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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Dining at Deans

If I was a restaurant critic I could dine out every week for the rest of the year in Bicester, as the openings in the new shopping centre are coming thick and fast.

Well I'm not a restaurant critic - well not yet anyway, however I feel duty bound to you my readers who have come to expect some food related anecdote in every entry to visit each new eaterie that opens in town. Even if it doesn't involve sausages!

Today's venue does in fact offer sausages in a hot dog format, but I am all "sausaged out" after yesterday (see previous entry), so did not sample them today. I was at Deans Diner, an exciting new restaurant that opened yesterday in Bicester's new town centre development.

Deans Diner is a small chain (this is only their fifth outlet) of restaurants that promise to help you "Live The American Dream!". Think of those old 50s style American diners of the style Marty McFly visited in Back To The Future and you'll get an idea of what to expect.

Inside Deans Diner
The decor, lighting, menus, and even the Wurlitzer Jukebox playing classic hits from the era all help to set the mood. My initial impressions were good - bright, clean and friendly. The staff were very welcoming and we were soon sat happily at the corner table perusing the menus. There were four of us today, spanning the generations from my Mother, old enough to remember the 50s, myself and Claire, plus Jamie, aged just 3. But the menu was more than sufficient to fulfil our needs. As you would expect of such a joint, the menu was packed out with burgers, ribs, chicken, hot dogs and more. My mum isn't really into any of that sort of thing, but likes a good chicken caesar salad so was more than happy. In fact she said it was the best one she had had for a while. Claire and I both went for the burger special - basically burger, fries and bottomless drinks for £8.95. I noticed a very tempting range of milkshakes as well, and must try them next time.

There is of course a children's menu which suited Jamie nicely and came with crayons and a free hat.

You can find the full menu here: Deans Diner Menu

A well deserved drink after a hard
morning's work at the Courtyard!

Daddy! Look at my new hat!

The food all round was excellent, and the service from the waitresses very friendly, they couldn't do enough. My only slight criticisms would be that the service seemed a little slow for lunchtime, but then I can forgive that as it was only the second day. There was also a mistake with the bill - we were charged individually for the burger, chips and drinks which added a few quid on - quickly corrected when I pointed it out. Again, possibly teething troubles, so I can forgive that. I always check my receipts with a fine tooth comb as you will recall from my many past run ins with Tesco over "special offers" that didn't show up at the till.

If I can make one suggestion it is this - and this applies not just to Deans but establishments everywhere. Offer free Wi-fi. In the future, if not already, I see it as a big a necessity as electricity and running water. Now some would disagree - and say, "if you are having a meal, you shouldn't be fiddling around with your phone", but the fact is, in this modern era, people need it and expect it - particularly for the "working lunch" crowd. Now in Deans I checked and sure enough there was a Deans Wi-fi network. Unfortunately it was password protected and the waitress didn't know the password. Now whether this was because it was one of those networks that was for "staff only" or it is intended for customers but the staff hadn't been told, I don't know, but I am sure I speak for most people that it's frustrating to discover a network and then find you can't use it.

So to summarise, great food, great atmosphere, friendly staff all great positives and this is just the sort of place we need in Bicester. I can't give full marks because of the few minor niggles I mentioned, but I am more than happy to go there again, and recommend it to others - so Bicester Blogger's rating is 8 out of 10.

I should briefly point out another new opening today, not food related, but a clothes shop, "Peacocks". Now I am aware they have been around for years, but I have never been in one before and was pleasantly surprised. A lot of good clothes, especially for kids, which Bicester has been sadly lacking. It's also very cheap, which parents will welcome I am sure, as certain other shops in Bicester that sell kids clothes are not! If I had to categorise it somewhere, I would say it is a kind of upmarket Primark. Definitely worth a look!

Still to open before Christmas we've got Nandos and Prezzo - and you can of course count on me to give you the lowdown!

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.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Banger Bonanza!

It was a tremendously exciting day in Birmingham City Centre as the crowds excitedly gathered for the West Midlands Area cook off Final, the glittering climax to British Sausage Week 2013.

I travelled up in style, on the 11:30 train from Bicester North, arriving in Birmingham to grey skies and persistent rain. I don't know what it is about that city, but every time I have been there, the weather seems to have been the same. It is as if the clouds know I am coming and gather waiting for my arrival. But there was nothing they could to to dampen my enthusiasm on this most spectacular of days.

To get the old saliva flowing, I had a quick walk round inside the Bullring, an area where it seems almost every major food chain in Britain has a branch. Nandos, Burger King, McDonalds, Pret, Pizza Hut and countless others are all located within a stone's throw of each other. Bravely I walked the gauntlet between these packed food outlets, watching Birmingham's finest hungrily devouring their lunchtime delights, but I stood firm and strong and resisted their succulent temptations. I had to keep myself pure for the important task that lay ahead.

Thanks to Google maps, which I have never previously used before today, I soon found myself at the Old Joint Stock, a combined pub and theatre venue with a rich history. I was amazed to see how packed out the pub was with drinkers at lunchtime, a throwback to the "good old days". It's heartening to see a pub doing such a roaring trade at lunchtime, even if it is in the city centre.

I asked where the cook off was to be held and was directed into the "club room". I was somewhat early, so early in fact that I was the first one there. The room had been set up with a long table at the back so I seated myself behind and thought about what lay ahead.

As you'll know if you've been following closely, I was there to be one of the judges for the final. I really enjoyed my previous experience with Love Pork judging all of the entries back in September, so they had invited me back for a second bite. All of the entries had been whittled down to the 10 finalists which you will recall I posted in my previous entry, so today, myself and the other judges were to decide on the winner.

Perhaps it was a mistake to have arrived first as soon all of the competing butchers arrived. Because I was seated behind the desk it naturally looked as if I was in charge, or perhaps it is just a natural air of authority I give off. Fortunately the Love Pork crew soon arrived, fresh up the motorway from the morning heat in Cambridge to take control, and soon we were all set to go.

There were four of us on the judging panel, and what an esteemed group we were. Just listen to this roll call of honour.

Simon Rimmer, TV Chef, star of Channel 4's Sunday Brunch and celebrated Restaurateur.
Jason Ayres, Best-selling writer of two books [#1], Celebrity Dad [#2], and the 4th Best DJ ever [#3]
Keith Fisher, Fourth Generation Master Butcher from a family that has been in the trade over 100 years.
Laura Lavelle, Famous blogger, Foodie Laura, and the queen of YouTube when it come to food reporting.

Editors notes:

[#1] - Based on Kindle sales between 5am and 6am on Sunday 22nd September 2013 in the North Oxon/ West Bucks region.
[#2] - Z List.
[#3] - In Bicester.

The Celebrity Chef meets
The Sausage Man

The sausages were cooked for us on the premises and then we got to taste each one and mark it on the criteria of Appearance, Splitting, Texture, Juiciness and Taste/Smell. It has to be said, all of the entries were of extremely high standard. We had a mix of Traditional Sausages and also various flavoured offerings too. They were all shapes and sizes too.

The panel had a great time, and we were all able to reach a fairly unanimous consensus on all of them. The four of us really worked well together. I have met Keith and Laura before and really enjoyed working with them again, as I did with Claire, Aarti, and all the other people from Love Pork. As for Simon, he was brilliant fun, I did not feel in any way in awe or that I was in the presence of a "Celebrity", just a really easy-going and great to get along with fellow sausage fan with a sharp and slightly risqué sense of humour which was right on my level.

We narrowed it down to three contenders, but there was never really any doubt which one would win, and it was in fact the first of the ten that we tried. An absolutely gorgeous succulent traditional local offering from Rossiter Butchers of Bournville. But the other contenders should not feel down-heartened, they had all produced excellent sausages to reach this final stage so hopefully they will go back home and prepare their campaign plans for next year.

Rossiter's receive the prize.

In addition to the honour of winning, Rossiter's also received the coveted sausage trophy, which got a few laughs when it was presented, here is a closer look:

The big gold sausage that the winner gets their hands on!

There were a lot of laughs all afternoon as the whole event was conducted in good humour. It was very enjoyable to catch up with the people I had met last time. Although it was only the second time I had met them, it felt like bumping into old friends. I also got to chat to lots of the contestants too and look forward to possibly seeing them again at future events. I'm certainly up for any more opportunities that Love Pork might want to put my way.

I walked back to the station with Laura, chatting about the day which she will put up a video of on YouTube which I shall share with you in due course, then parted company as she headed back north and I went south. The day wasn't quite over as as soon as I got on the train I spotted a couple of the other Butchers, Highams, who had come up from Leamington Spa with their Chilli and Lime sausage, so we had a good chat on the way back. They've been competing for four years and reached the final each time but not picked up first prize yet, but who knows, maybe next year could be their year!

Brilliant day, brilliant fun, great publicity for the great British Banger and hopefully you will be able to read more later in the week in the Oxford Mail and also Chat Magazine which I have done interviews for which will hopefully appear this week!

The action is coming thick and fast and I hope to be back tomorrow as I am going to review a new restaurant that opened today in the town, not sure if I will get the first scoop on this one as I'm a day late, but watch this space!

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.


Monday, 4 November 2013

Downton Shabby!

So, half-term is behind us and I find myself back at the keyboard raring to go with all manner of things to write about! I have a very exciting week in prospect, not least because it is the final of the British Sausage Awards on Wednesday which I am preparing for. Look out for another interview in the Oxford Mail. I have a photographer coming around at lunchtime to photograph Bicester Blogger in his natural habitat, along with of course, the now obligatory sausages!

I'll just give you a quick round up of half term before we get into the meat of the blog, which isn't sausage related for a change! October half term is often a tricky one because of the weather and the kids can get cabin fever cooped up if it rains for too long. It's certainly not as easy as in the summer when they can play to their heart's content in the garden. There's something about being inside that seems to bring the monster out in them both and there's been a fair amount of rough 'n' tumble this past week. I imagine refereeing an Oxford v Swindon derby match would be less trouble than we had at times. Fortunately there were plenty of events and outings to break up the week, with trips to nannies' boat, trick or treating, a Halloween party, Bicester fireworks display, McDonalds, and that old favourite Zoomania. I shall not elaborate on any of these outings for fear of repeating myself from past scribblings, but you can read all about them of course in my books, "Austerity Dad" and "Fortysomething Father" which I am selling on promotion this week for the unbelievable low price of 77p! "How can he do it so cheap", I hear you ask? "That's less than a quarter of a pint in the pub for hours of entertainment!" Plug Plug Plug...

Anyway, shameless book plugging aside, those events generally went well and the kids had an amazing time at Zoomania, they disappeared off into the climbing frames and we barely saw them for two hours. No tears, no fighting, no silly tantrums. We have come a long way since our first visit there. A brief mention also of the firework display which was a big improvement on previous years, my only criticism being the amount of time it took to get the bonfire going due to the fact I was freezing to death in the wind and the rain.

Right, I guess I had better get to the point. Last night I was watching Downton Abbey. Not the episode that everyone else was watching but an episode from series 3, which means I am approximately a year behind. This is due to a large backlog of programs to watch, even taking into account my increasing number of evenings in front of the box at this time of year. Anyway, during this episode there was huge outrage when someone had to wear the wrong kind of jacket to dinner.

If Downton really is an accurate portrayal of how we used to live a century ago, I really do marvel at how important all of this pomp and ceremony was to people. And it is not just the "upstairs" people, you would think that the end of the world might have arrived for some of the characters judging by their reactions if anything goes wrong. If so much as a spoon is out of place, Mr Carson looks as if he is about to go into anaphylactic shock.

How different to the modern world where some people slob out to the extent they do. In 100 years we've gone from one extreme to the other. I wonder what Lord and Lady Grantham would make of the modern world.

In fact I wonder so much, I've decided that we should find out. I've come up with another one of my bizarre ideas, and another new character loosely based on me. Now as usual, I must make it clear that this character is not actually me personally, it's just an exaggerated caricature which I could act out, should I ever find myself thrust into the acting profession. Those of you who know me well would know that the suave sophisticated Bicester Blogger that you know and love would never act in such an uncouth way as in some of the scenarios I am about to relate to you.

My new character, who has not yet got a name, I'm trying to think of one, is a kind of pseudo time traveller who instead of travelling through actual time, has the ability to manipulate himself digitally into TV shows that have been already recorded, interact within them, and change them. A kind of HDTV digital terrorist, guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of producers and TV stations everywhere, as he superimposes himself live on TV into the prime time schedules, completely altering the course of the programme.

Picture the scene. The nation is sitting down on Sunday evening watching Downton Abbey. Everyone is sitting down oh so formally enjoying a family dinner, with perhaps a couple of important guests present. Suddenly without warning the double doors open and I come crashing in. For maximum effect I am dressed as badly as possible in some cheap joggers from some bargain sports shop, a T-shirt with an insulting slogan that's too small for me exposing some midriff, and a pair of crocs. I plonk myself down at the table, elbows on the table cloth and proceed to horrify all present with my comments, here are some examples.

"Right, what are we having, then?".
"Just pate and toast for my starter, don't pad it out with all that salad stuff".
"Don't really fancy this wine. Got any diet coke? Don't worry about a glass, I'll drink it straight from the can".
"Would I like some Dolphinauise potatoes? Naah, not really. Can you ask Mrs Patmore to rustle me up a few chips?"
"Oi, Carson, where's the ketchup?"
"Can you bring the telly through from the lounge? Corrie's starting in a minute".
"Where's the bog?"

Somewhat extreme perhaps, but I am sure that the Sunday evening viewers would enjoy this humorous interlude, even if the producers wouldn't. My only fear would be what the Dowager Countess might say. Maggie Smith's character can kill a man at fifty paces with her withering put downs.

Me with the cast, tucking in to a Monster!
So that's me on Downton Abbey, I shall have to have a think about what other TV shows I could potentially hijack. Any suggestions?

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Jason xx