Sunday, 27 January 2013

Fry me a river

For some completely random reason that will not be explained I have invited a guest speaker to introduce tonight's blog, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock whose name keeps popping up for one reason or another just lately. So here he is again.

Good Evening!
Thank-you Alfred. We could have done with you to introduce last night's horror story. Anyway, this evening I shall mostly be talking to you about the exciting world of chips, and my relationship with them down the years. From chip shops to the latest hi-tech gadgets, this is where it is at.

I became aware of chips at a relatively early age, as both of my grandmothers were a dab hand with the old chip pan. Now I am fairly sure that it is a universal constant, that no matter how much parents battle to get their children to eat healthily, the more laid back grandparents when given free rein for the odd day are quite happy to spoil the little darlings. Perhaps it's a revenge thing. Maybe we worry about it more in our 30s and 40s than we will in our 60s and 70s. Who knows - however, my memory of chiildhood is of parents trying to get me to eat things I didn't want to eat and always looking forward to going to grannies where we got whatever we want - sweets, treats, and fish fingers and chips - cooked the old fashioned way and with lard.

I picture myself in 30 years time, Ollie bringing the kids to me for a weekend and giving me a good lecture about what they should and shouldn't eat, remembering all the battles I had with him, and thinking, yeah, forget that mate, we're having fun! Come on boys off to Maccy D's - you're only here for a day, I won't have to deal with the consequences!

Now as time wore on, and my grandparents got older I went less and less often, and home cooked chips disappeared off the menu. Oven chips were invented - tried and basically spat out. Grim. I was never a huge fan of chip shop chips either - often found them rather greasy. So once I found myself with my own place in the early 90s, it was with great excitement that I made my first foray into the world of deep fat frying.

Basic fryers are safer than the open sort as at least they are enclosed, however you then can't see what you are doing, and making chips is quite an art form. And every fryer is different. Each time I have replaced one, I have had to start again from scratch.

There are a few basic rules to making your own chips - like making sure you wash the starch off, and thoroughly drying them before you start, but even so, getting temperatures and timings right, not to mention double or triple cooking them  and all of that takes time to perfect.

I use Maris Piper potatoes and make my chips crinkle cut using a cutter I happened on purely by chance when I was in a Ladbrokes in Headington one cold day in the harsh winter of '91. The fire alarm went off and I was forced to take shelter from the snow in a small family run hardware shop round the corner. Missing the winner of the 12:40 at Lingfield was small price to pay for the years of pleasure given to me by my £1 crinkle cutter.

My most recent fryer was a more professional one, here's a picture of it.

Two for the price of one. Well not actually
as it cost twice as much as the old one I had.

This is an open fryer, with the advantage of being able to cook two batches separately, handy when the kids are screaming for theirs first. Or being able to cook chips alongside something else as shown here - but quite honestly I never cooked anything but chips as it instantly taints the oil and it has to be changed.

And believe me, that's a big expense. If you are only frying chips you can get away with not changing it for maybe 8-10 uses but that's all after which it really starts to stink. And being an open fryer (that lid stays off) it really does stink the house out. Plus the fact that the price of cooking oil has absolutely skyrocketed in the last few years - more than any other supermarket product I can think of. I have just checked the Tesco website and 1 litre of Sunflower Oil is now retailing at £1.69, that is at least double what it was as recently as 3 or 4 years ago. In fact I have done some research on the internet, and it seems that as recently as June 2007 the going rate for a litre was around 59p in all supermarkets. And there's no cheap alternative - you might find something for maybe around the £1.50 mark now in Lidl or Aldi and that's the rock bottom price.

Now when you consider my fryer held 4 litres, that's nearly 7 quid just to change the oil. No longer economically viable. Plus having a house that smells like a chip shop half the time is not particularly nice. And there are other things too. The thermostats go on these things - leaving it to get dangerously hot, and mine has not been unknown to foam up either leaving the fat about to flow over the edge at 150c+. Not what you need with two little kids around - a river of burning hot lava making it's way across the kitchen. So the decision was made - the fryer had to go.

Even if it did make the best chips ever, as I am assured by all who eats them, I do.

So time to move on...I had become aware that there were a number of new and exciting gadgets on the market that promise to deliver the same great tasting chips but using a fraction of the oil using new technology. All of these can be found on pages 918-919 of the latest Argos catalogue, but basically there are 3 of them, the Breville Halo, the Philips Airfryer and the Tefal Actifry. All of which make various claims as to their effectiveness, as usual I consulted reviews from a variety of sources when deciding which one to chance my arm with. 

Here I ran into a bit of a problem - all 3 had quite a few very bad reviews, along with lots of good ones so I had to do a lot of research. Of the 3, the Actifry came in for some of the heaviest criticism, with reviews referring to the things catching fire (as featured on watchdog), things breaking off, and all manner of horror stories. Most of the complaints about the others were focused more on their ineffectiveness at being able to do what they claimed.

This is where digging deeper is needed. In the end, I identified that most of the issues with the Actifry referred to the earlier models from 2009, and that the newer larger family size one had dealt with (though not completely eliminated these issues). Still it did seem that those who had products that did break were able to claim back on them through the warranty so I decided to chance my arm and go for the new 1.5kg family size version.

No 4 litres of oil needed here - this small spoonful suffices.

Not of course from Argos though, they can whistle for their £220, instead I purchased from Amazon for £150, making a cool saving of £70 - presumably Argos must sell some at that price though to maintain it, still there will always be a few muppets getting ripped off by not shopping around.

OK it's taking a risk, but what's life about if not taking a risk - I've done very well with some of the other gadgets I've purchased. It hasn't actually arrived yet so I will let you know. But if it can make chips that are even 75% as good as the ones I used to I will be happy.

And there are other benefits too. Once you put the lid on this thing and let it do it's work, you don't have to look after it - so you can actually concentrate on other parts of the cooking or answer the door or phone without having to worry about the house burning down. Another thing I noticed in many of the reviews was that apparently there is a huge amount of differences in calories to cooking this way to deep frying - with many people talking about losing stones in weight. Now don't worry fans, I shan't be letting go of my famous shape that easily, but I guess the odd pound or two off won't see me wasting away. 

Also you can use any type of oil you like in it apparently so that's got interesting possibilities. Garlic and herb infused olive oil chips...why not?

Practice makes perfect - I shall have to have a few trial runs and see how it goes, will probably take a while to get right. And as long as I am gentle with it and don't bash about the parts that reviews suggest may be a little fragile - I think this could be the future of the humble chip in our house!

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

Jason xx

Saturday, 26 January 2013

I'm reviewing the situation

Time is money.
Money is power.

Sure we've all heard those lots of times. But what is the greatest resource of all? Well, I think it has to be "Information".

Let's face it, those that have got lots of money and power didn't get it by luck. Well apart from footballers, pop stars, lottery winners, film stars...oh actually, that's quite a lot...scrub that argument.

OK, well let's forget about using information to make money (it can be done). I'm more interested in using information to save money or get the best possible value for money.

Whenever one contemplates a purchase of any kind, from the lowest (say a newspaper) to the highest (say a house) our lives are one constant round of decision making processes.

Generally the more expensive the purchase the more important we get it right and the more time one should invest upon it. Generally I would say that it is not worth spending all morning on the internet in order to decide what sandwich you are going to buy for lunch. If you even have time to do that.

Generally in the past there was less information available than there is now. None at all in some cases. Booking a holiday was pretty much a lottery. But for consumer durables, in the pre-internet era, and indeed now, there was the legendary "Which?"

Well, legendary in our household anyway. I am not entirely sure when Which started, but sometime in my formative years, probably back in the late 70s I discovered a large stash of mysterious magazines in the house. No - sadly, not those sort of magazines...but it turned out that my Dad had stacks and stacks of these Which magazines. As time went by I came to realise that this publication was practically Biblical in the way that my Dad would swear by it! No purchase was ever made without consultation of Which. He has every edition since it started I believe and it is now online too. And still going strong it seems, as if I ever consult my Dad on any potential purchase even now, I can guarantee the phrase "Ah, I think Which did a review of those a while back, I shall have to have a look and see which came out best".

I really must take a look through this collection at some point - I think I would find it quite fascinating to see how they rated things in the past e.g. what was the best VCR to buy in 1985?

But anecdotes about Which aside, I am very keen to use reviews on the internet when it comes to making decisions, but you have to beware some of the pitfalls here.

I guess the two main sites I use are Amazon for goods and Trip Advisor for holidays. The first thing to take account of is the number of reviews. From my market research days I know the larger the sample size the better, so you are always going to get a more representative view of something with 500 reviews than something with 10.

I've also come to the conclusion not to read too much into a few terribly negative reviews. You are always going to get the odd Victor Meldrew let's face it, then there can always be the odd dodgy review from the bloke who's got the hotel next door posing as a guest. But generally the more reviews, the more the consensus opinion will give a reliable result. But you still have to adjust what you read for your own personal tastes.

Not that you have to agree with it. Look at these 3 statements.

a) Denis is my favourite restaurant in Bicester
b) Denis is the best restaurant in Bicester
c) Denis is the #1 rated restaurant in Bicester on Trip Advisor.

OK - just to analyse, these are all 3 ways of singing Denis's phrase. The only real difference between the first two is that the first is stating an opinion, whereas the second is trying to force ones own opinion as a statement of fact. Always best to go with a) I think as no-one can dispute you if you say that whereas it is impossible to justify b) unless you use c) as your argument, which still doesn't really wash, as it is only a consensus of opinions. So which/ who is right? Well in my case, not a) because Denis is not my favourite restaurant in Bicester - that is in fact Maba, but can I say Maba is the best? Well it's the best for me, but everyone has got different tastes. Denis is indeed #1 on Trip Advisor and Maba is #6, this is out of 46 in total, so both are well rated, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Why did I choose Denis? Because it is #1 on Trip Advisor, so the best one to illustrate my point.

#1 on Trip Advisor - and a nice restaurant.
Does not automatically mean it's the best though!

You can get too hung up on all of this and one of the dangers of relying on reviews is that a lot of people write a lot of crap. However it's not difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and quite honestly the appalling spelling and grammar of some reviewers is enough to make you discount anything they have written from the start, and if that sounds elitist, so be it.

I don't think I have booked a hotel anywhere in the world in the last 12 years at least without consulting Trip Advisor or Holidays Uncovered before that. I'm really glad that I did, because I've rarely gone far wrong. But the next holiday coming up, I've taken a big chance with - although we are staying in one of my favourite places in the whole world, Corralejo, I've booked us into a hotel we haven't been too before, and recent reviews since we booked have been bad. The recent I have booked this hotel is because not all of them do 2 bedroom apartments, which I think is really important. Yes, it's a few hundred quid extra, but the extra space and the children having their own bedroom rather than sleeping on the couch is a godsend.

But even so I am going fore-armed. I have read through these reviews very carefully and identified that it seems as if the complex is in a state of on-going refurbishment and that some of the rooms are modernised and some aren't. Nothing else can explain the polar opinions of the hotel - which has over 700 reviews. NB: I haven't read the older ones, because as far as I am concerned what happened in 2012 is of far more relevance than what happened in 2006.

It does seem that those people that complained as soon as they arrived if dumped in one of the horrible rooms were instantly upgraded to the better ones. Other reviewers who didn't ask to be moved just put up with it. So if there is any issue at all, I will be straight down to reception all guns blazing demanding we be moved - I have done it once before when we went to Ibiza, and the difference was amazing.

That was more to do with the size of the room than anything else but that was a deliberate ploy on my part, not wanting to pay an extra 500 quid with Thomas Cook for a 2 bedroom suite, I booked the smallest room and then upgraded us once we were there for 80 euros a week. Haven't done that this time, but I've got my plan of action all worked out. In fact such has been the extent of my research I already know pretty much the layout and room numbers so will probably know as soon as they hand over my key what the score is before I even see the room.

Claire is a little worried, but then she knows if there's a problem - I'll sort it, having witnessed a number of Jason the consumer champion's rages against the machine in the last couple of years!

I don't expect miracles, just something clean and comfortable. I can live with the odd bit of wear and tear. I think a lot of people go to holiday resorts with unrealistic expectations. It is not going to be like a Marriott or Holiday Inn or a swish city break hotel.

A bedroom at the complex we are staying at.
Nothing amazing, but I don't expect that

Going into any situation forearmed with better information that your "opposition" is the key to success in all walks of life. Forewarned is forearmed - now there is an expression I can relate to.

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

Jason xx

Friday, 25 January 2013

The Cheese Grater

It's been quite a long time since I wrote a blog entry about my feet (the last one if you wish to refer back was titled "massaging me bits"), so thought I'd update you with my latest pedicure tip.

Despite using the massager, I am still suffering from very sore feet a lot of the time. One of the problems I have is a huge build up of hard dry skin on my heels, and to a lesser degree other parts of the foot - and before you all start going "urgghh, gross", I reckon this is something loads of people have issues with, yet for some reason it seems to be a taboo subject.

Now you can splash out good cash going to see a specialist, or you can follow a little bit of advice I am going to offer you now.

It's generally acknowledged that you do need to look after your feet, and this can involve moisturising with special creams, pumice stones and such like, but quite honestly I find a lot of this ineffective.

Let's take pumice stones. I have tried these on and off other the years, and various other scrub type products, but they just aren't strong enough to deal with my hooves. Last time I tried a pumice stone it couldn't cope - I may as well have been rubbing an oxo cube on them - the stone came off considerably worse.

Slightly more promising was the "ped egg" which we acquired a few years back, but even this couldn't do much more than scratch the surface - bit like using sandpaper - might smooth out the edges a bit but not really hitting the spot.

So none of these things "man size" enough to take on this job - but sitting in the cupboard for a long time tempting me to have a go has been the household object as depicted below.

Cheese Grater (4-way) 18.0cm Stainless Steel
Parmesan, anyone?

Now when I initially broached this idea with Claire, she was not particularly impressed. At first I thought this was due to her concern at my potential self-mutilation. However once we discussed it at length, it transpired that her misgivings were more about future usage of the cheese grater. Personally I can't see a problem - quick spin through the dishwasher and it's as good as new, and I can think of worse things I could do e.g. scratching my back with a fork and putting it back in the drawer when no-one's looking.

So I went for it - sat on the sofa watching TV and it was remarkably successful - got all the hard dead skin off and gave quite a smooth finish at which point I applied some special foot cream and the end result was pretty decent all round. Admittedly the sofa cushion did look as if someone had tipped a sherbet dib-dab out on it, but that was soon hoovered up. And once the grater had been through the dishwasher, it was as good as new - in fact were I not writing about it, no one would ever know!

If you decide to try this, you want to use the back of the cheese grater as shown above - i.e. the very small holes - I would not recommend using the side facing the front - now that probably could hurt.

Also perhaps I should put in some disclaimer at this point to absolve myself of any responsibility should anyone end up hacking half their foot off as a consequence of following my "advice" in this blog entry.

Anyway I'm not the first person to have tried this - I typed in "using a cheese grater on feet" into Google earlier and picked up a few hits, so feel free to research further at your leisure.

Oh - and one other thing - in the unlikely event I ever decide to hold some sort of Italian dinner party at my house and the even more unlikely event that you find yourself invited - I'd pass on the Parmesan.

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, 17 January 2013

Panic buying? No - common sense!

So here we are once again expecting major snowfalls across the UK...

And here we go again with all the favourite cliches and comments from "Clever Dicks" (see earlier blog).

WHY WHY WHY??? Do we have to hear the same tired old predictable comments...

We've had all the usual ones already, "It's too cold to snow and all that".

After the snow has fallen and there's been traffic problems, I guarantee every pub, shop, office, factory in the land will have someone fond of their own voice coming out with the old "What's the matter with this country, little snow shower and everything grinds to a halt, would never happen in Finland, blah blah blah..." as if no-one has ever ventured this opinion before

Look let me put it in capitals for these bores..."SHUT UP - WE'VE HEARD IT All BEFORE"...

It needs one of those "Batman" pictures that are starting to appear on facebook to shut them up I think. In fact I have found a website that does it for me, reckon I can have some fun with this. So here is one I made earlier...

Batman Bitchslap - Lol shut up
Love this - you can put whatever text you like in!

But the snow isn't here yet, so today, we've got that other old favourite "Panic Buying"...

You know the score. I remember going to a meeting with my boss back during the  2000 proposed fuel blockades. We joined a queue of about 20 cars at a petrol station to stock up before we left. He was ranting and raving "Look at all these idiots panic buying - for f*cks sake". Of course, my boss was angry at the other drivers, but it never occurred to him he was doing exactly what they were doing! The other 19 were idiots, but he was perfectly justified in being there. Bet the other 19 were all saying the same thing. Anyway, having a go at perceived "panic buying" is another great British tradition.

Look at all these idiots!!!!

So today I went to Sainsbury to do a big shop and heard a fair amount of grumbling from people about how busy it was - along the same lines as the earlier anecdote - "look at her, 12 loaves of bread for f*cks sake - stupid people panic buying".

For all they know she was doing her usual weekly shop and might have five kids. Anyway, you know I shop daily and rarely do big shops, so does me going off today to do a big shop make me a stupid panic buyer? No I don't think it does, I call it common sense and planning ahead. Here's why I went today.

1) There are 4 consecutive days of snow forecast.

2) Both my kids were at school this morning. No guarantee they both will be tomorrow as we have a) had some illness in the house this week and b) schools don't need much excuse to close with the snow. So I may not be free tomorrow, and definitely not on Saturday or Sunday.

3) Pushchairs are an absolute nightmare in the snow - in fact any significant snow and they are impossible. Like trying to push one across a beach. And dragging out a little 2 year old in freezing temperatures who has just been ill is just not fair.

Not part of my weekend plans!

4) It becomes absolutely impossible to get my car out with any significant snow. I have to reverse down a slope and it just slides hopelessly out of control, directly into a row of parked cars opposite my back gate. Anyone who knows where I live will know what I am talking about.

5) I love Sainsbury, my favourite retailer, grew up with it, has a huge amount of choice and products I just can't get in Bicester so don't really need any excuse to go there. Was very pleased to see that they had a big half price sale on at the moment and all on brands I like. These were genuine offers as well, not "false ones". Walkers Crisps, McVities Choc Digestives, and a very nice French Red. Perfect. Only 6 months to go and we'll have one right here in Bicester! Yaayyyyy!!!!

So I think I was absolutely justified in going up there today, and if things are as bad as it seems they might be, we'll have no need to go anywhere all weekend - except into the garden to make a snowman. I have also this morning piled the logs high up by the fireplace, enough to burn all day and night for at least four days, so no worries about trying to lug them in from a snow blanketed garden.

In short, I'm all stocked up and prepared for the worst. After all, why make life more difficult than it has to be?

Just before I go, as I was on the subject of supermarkets, I don't normally find most of the supposedly "funny" pictures put up on facebook that funny at all, but there have been some absolute classics over the last day or two over the whole "horse meat in burgers" thing. My personal favourite was "Unexpected item in bagging area". I shan't post any of them in here as you've all seen them all already, but chuckle...I certainly did.

I'm quite surprised a little by the level of outrage - it's not as if anyone has died. On the contrary, about 20 years ago there was a far more sinister and nasty scare over burgers when the whole BSE thing came out. Lots and lots of people who had eaten dodgy burgers in the 80s were dying a horrible death many years later. Anyway, that didn't stop people eating burgers, so I doubt whether this will!

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, 13 January 2013

World turns, things change.

I've been thinking a lot about the whole business of chains of retailers going bust, independent shops closing down, not just in Bicester but across the country if not the world, and I have come to the conclusion that efforts made by us to fight it are ultimately doomed to failure.

Not a pessimistic outlook, just a realistic one. The fact of the matter is, the world is constantly evolving, new and more efficient ways are found of doing things, and the old ways disappear.

Not immediately, of course. Every new technology that comes along has its early adopters but is initially both unproven and expensive. These things take time. Eventually the new technology is so much more efficient and economical than the old that it takes over. Gradually the population embraces the new thing, whatever it is. This can take 5, 10, 20, maybe even 50 years but eventually the transformation is complete, except for a few  die hard fans and a "niche" market.

In order to understand what is going to happen in the future, we need to look to the past. Here's a few examples.

In the 19th century everyone rode horses, they pulled carriages, other than railways which themselves hadn't been around long, they were the key way of getting around. Then someone invented the car. For the first few years, the car was an expensive toy, but every year there were more and more on the road and less and less horses. Now whilst you might see the odd horse out on the road, they are no longer used as a form of transport. And the infrastructure of how our houses are built and roads are now made means that even if we wanted to keep one as our main mode of transport it would be very difficult.

"These fancy motor buses are a flash in the pan,
you'll never beat good old horse power"

A related topic - it's no random act of genealogy that our main English surname is "Smith". Because with all those horses around back then, Blacksmiths were one of the most common trades. Now of course, blacksmiths still exist, but only a tiny fraction of the number we once had. What happened to all those blacksmiths, well presumably they had to find something else to do.

You want more examples? What about steam trains? Rail enthusiasts love them and there are still a few small steam train lines operating, predominantly for tourist purposes. But as a mainstream concern they long since were consigned to history, replaced by cleaner, cheaper, more efficient technology.

Pubs? Taverns? Used to be bursting at the seams but there was nowhere else to get a drink in those days and you certainly couldn't pop into Tesco's for a 24 slab of Stella back then. On the same note, all those real ale enthusiasts bemoan the "evils of lager" for increasingly consigning our once traditional brews to niche status - but at least they should be grateful they still exist at all in this world where tastes are constantly changing.

"Your beer's too expensive Landlord!"
"Well get yourself down to Tesco then. When it opens in 100 years time"

Anyway, the point of all this is that anyone who naively expects the world to stay just the way it is, needs to look back at the last century or so at the massive changes. And if you look at the pace at which change takes place, it's getting faster and faster. I would argue that more has changed in the last 100 years than in the previous 1000, and more changed in that 1000 than in the previous 10,000. Therefore I would say that the world will be completely unrecognisable to us in 100 years time. Though if you do go into a pub then (if they still exist) you might get lucky and find some old git in the corner reminiscing though he's not likely to be going on about the golden age of steam and when they made pints of foaming Auld Codger. More likely complaining that Jupiter has been completely ruined as a holiday destination since the tourists took it over and how these new fangled warp drives will never replace good old fashioned nuclear power.

Anyway, how does this all relate to shops and the town centres? Well quite honestly I think the whole lot is doomed and we are fooling ourselves pretending otherwise. The only reason they have survived up until now is that there is a dwindling pool of people keeping them going who don't use the internet to shop or do any other form of activity. But the generation coming through now know no different. Sadly granny who goes to Bicester Toy Store to buy her grandson his birthday present won't be with us in 20 years time. Grandson himself may well never have shopped anywhere else other than the internet. And technology will have moved on again in ways we cannot even perceive - but probably to the extent you will be able to get anything you want, anytime you want, pretty much instantly.

The internet is probably the biggest thing to happen since the invention of the motor car, and it has happened so quickly. Hardly anyone had heard of it 20 years ago and now the vast majority of us have access to it, even if we do not all use it. Yet. Look how sophisticated it is now. What will it be like in another 20 years? Who knows how far it could go?

Morning Dave, it's happy hour in 1011011, fancy a pint?

Banks? Estate Agents? Betting shops? Insurance companies? Travel Agents? Why do they need to spend money heating and lighting and paying rent on premises not to mention employing staff when it will be possible to do anything you can do in them online. I'll take betting as an example as it is something I know a bit about. Already I can place any bet I want without leaving this computer, at better odds, and terms than I can in any betting shop so what possible reason could I ever have for wanting to visit a betting shop? Over time more and more people will come to think this way and that will be it - bye bye betting shops, at least in their current forms. Same comments apply to Travel Agents. Why do we want to queue to sit and talk to an assistant in a busy shop when we can sit here for hours and browse at our lesiure using trip advisor and various other guides to help us.

Jessops and Comet are just two recent examples, but their closure will only exacerbate the problem as more people move to the internet. The remaining retailers will continue to scrap it out for the remaining scraps, but it's going to get increasingly desperate, they will be like sharks in a lake fighting over a diminishing food supply.

Not all retailers will disappear from our High Streets. People will always want to socialise so there will always be room for a few pubs, cafes, and sandwich shops. I think supermarkets will continue to thrive as they can fill in the gaps left by others, but they will increasingly become large one stop destinations like Asda in Bletchley or the new Tesco Extra being built outside Bicester.

I think entertainment is key - people will go places to be entertained. Hence why cinema is still with us. I bet plenty of people predicted that would die when TV came along, but it hasn't followed that trend? Why? Because going to the cinema is an event and an experience. Just like going to a pub. We are happy to pay £3+ for a pint when we could get 4 cans for that in Tesco so it can't all be about price.

But it's harder for retailers - they are not really offering an entertainment experience. I just cannot see independent stores like the Toy Shop, Trysports, Barstows, Wadleys, the Bookshop existing in 50 years time. It's sad but true. Yes they may be alright for another 5 years, maybe even 20, but eventually their owners will admit defeat and give up the unequal struggle. Likewise chains such as Dixons, WHSmith, all the Travel Agents, and all the others I have mentioned. What need is there for them? If the likes of Thomas Cook and the others have any vision at all they will be working towards becoming a totally online business as soon as they can, because if they bury their heads in the sand and don't move with the times they'll go the same way as all the others. Bye bye Thomas Cook.

And what about all their poor staff, you cry? They will lose their jobs. Well so did all the Blacksmiths and all those others throughout history, but other opportunities and careers open up. For example, there weren't many people employed in the IT industry 100 years ago, and how many are there now?

For those who think I'm spreading doom and gloom, I'm certainly not writing this with that intention at all, I am being realistic and forward thinking. You cannot fight change as all those people who've made comments throughout the ages such as "This new fangled electricity will never catch on" have discovered. The future is not to be feared - it's an exciting new unexplored country and we should go forward with enthusiasm and be a part of writing 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.

Jason xx

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

January, nobody loves you.

January, February won't you come around? So sang Barbara Dickson. Well here they are.

Poor old January - no-one seems to have a kind word to say about it. But I can't see why. I much prefer it to November time when the clocks have gone back and there's several months of darkness ahead.

So let's hear it for January! Here are some reasons to cut it some slack.

1) The nights are drawing out every day!. Sunsets are already well past 4pm now and the mornings are growing lighter now too. Spring is only weeks away, and even this early one can spot the signs, early bulbs sprouting and such like.

2) No matter how much we all love Christmas, let's face it there's a certain relief when the decorations come down and we don't have to worry about it for another 10 months or so. No pressure about presents, how we are going to spend it etc, just nice comforting normality.

3) The X Factor has finished!

4) If you don't have children this is actually a fantastic time of year to get away on holiday. 4 hours flying and you are in the Canaries which is dirt cheap for a holiday at this time of year.

5) No council tax payments for the next two months if you pay by direct debit.

I'm sure I could think of some more if I put my mind to it. What are my plans? Well now that the kids are back at school I am determined to get on top of things around here. With the kids out of the way for a few hours a day I can try and get the house at least under control so that I can properly clean the place up. When all around is chaos, toys everywhere it's actually quite difficult to clean. So I have had a serious sort out. The amount of toys they have now is unreal. I know it's a cliche to say they have so much more than we did in our day but it is true. The biggest problem I face is keeping it all under control. By that I mean making sure all the lego is kept in one place, bits of train track in another, crayons in another, you get the picture. Because left unchecked it becomes a free for all.

Lego is a particular bugbear of mind, the pieces seem to have got a lot smaller since my day and they get everywhere. And are not very forgiving to feet when trodden on.

A picture of some lego I found online, not unlike the scene in the playroom that greeted me yesterday

Which is very stamina sapping when you want to clean. I go into Ollie's bedroom armed with hoover but spend at least half an hour picking all this stuff up, not only what's visible but what's gone under the bed, in the bed, behind various bits of furniture, you get the picture. I can almost see you parents in the background nodding and agreeing. In the end you spend so much time tidying you have to do a rush job on the cleaning.

Well - no more! The boys are going to fall into line and put their toys back in the right place! Well that's the plan anyway. "Yeah, good luck with that, I can hear you saying". Well I can but try.

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

Jason xx

Friday, 4 January 2013

New Year

I have really enjoyed this past week or so with the kids. In fact I am really going to miss them when they go back to school. Playing with the boys, well we are like 3 kids really, I just join in with them. Whether it's chasing each other round the kitchen table, building elaborate train systems with our ever growing collection of track and accessories (the wooden kind) there is always plenty to do. We had a nice day out in Oxford yesterday as well, so easy to jump on the train and take them, at £2.50 return well that's a bargain in my book, can't see what all the moaning is for about train fares in the papers.

I've hardly seen or spoken to any adults this week, but I've been just fine. The thing is, I think holidays should be dedicated to the kids, there is less holiday time than term time, so I can catch up with my friends (most of whom also have kids) once they go back to school.

I'm really getting through to Ollie now, and I think we've built a rapport beyond what anyone else has. He's never been the easiest child to deal with, but he does respect discipline as long as it comes with explanation - for example I have managed to get him to start drinking some milk and dairy products again not by forcing it on him or punishing him for not taking them, but treating him with some respect and intelligence and explaining what calcium is and what we need it for. That's just one example - there are plenty of other areas we are working on. And I give credit where it is due. Here's a couple of lines from a conversation we had yesterday before bed. NB: Ollie has always refused to eat any other sandwich than marmite which puts it into context.

Me: "Thank-you for drinking the milk today and eating the cheese sandwich I made you. And thank-you for doing it without screaming and shouting - it shows you listened to what I said, and that you respect what I say. I was really proud of you son".

Ollie: "Thank-you Daddy - that's a lovely thing to're the best person". And comes over and gives me a big hug.

Sorry if this all sounds a bit sickly and gooey and US sitcom stylee, but I don't care. I put my life and soul into raising these two children into being happy, respectful and decent human beings and moments like that mean the world to me.

There were inevitably lots of messages about New Year on facebook this week. Many take the form of saying what a crap year they've just had and hoping for better for 2013. Some of these messages I have sympathy for, not others. Basically, I've come to the conclusion that life's 50% fate and 50% of your own making (the old philosophical debate) so my feelings really come down to that.

What do I mean? Well I know people who in the past year have lost babies, lost their parents, that sort of thing, out of their control, and I have every sympathy for them. It's only right they should hope for a better year ahead.

I also know people who drift from job to job every few months, go from bad relationship to bad relationship,  some of them for years if not decades at a time, these are the same ones who every year tell us what a crap year they've had, sadly I have less sympathy for them. No-one can be that unlucky, perhaps they need to look at the choices they have been making - not they ever do. And of course none of it is ever their fault. I think many of them get a kick out of playing the victim most of the time. They must have loved it when facebook came along and gave them a place to publicly seek self-validation.

Anyway, I am pleased to say nothing bad happened to me last year or the year before. I continued to live my life as I have done these past few years, putting my family first, and living my life the way I want to live it - not how anyone thinks I should live it. In addition I have a few very close friends with whom I share my time, a few more quite close friends - they all know who they are, and I am there for them as they are for me, as and when we need it. Apart from that, well, I'm not wasting time and energy on people who don't merit it. I know full well there are a lot of people out there who don't like me - including a fair few mums in the school playground who don't even acknowledge my existence. Well - that's up to them. They don't know me. Perhaps they've based their opinions on me on rumours they've heard about from other people, or on the way I look, or perhaps they just assume I'm just some lazy unemployed ass because I am a man who does most of the school runs. These people know nothing about me, the person. But I am not bothered quite honestly, because over the last few years through Brookside, the Courtyard, and St Edburg's I've met some wonderful people who have made the effort to get to know me, and I hope you have found it as rewarding being friends with me, as I have with all of you x

My New Year - well I DJ'd at the White Hart for the 3rd year in a row. And it was great.

Me on New Year's Eve

I have to say, my confidence in the DJ'ing had taken a few knocks recently. I have done a few parties - 50th and 60th birthdays that sort of thing, where I just haven't been able to hit the sweet spot. Even when you can see you've got a room full of people who plainly aren't up for dancing - they just want to chat, and you are basically ignored most of the evening it's hard not to feel a loss of confidence - even when the host comes up to you at the end of the evening and says what a fantastic night they've had. I guess I just have to face facts that every DJ is bound to get some gigs like this - I was just a bit unfortunate to get a spate of them all together in November/ December. Then there's also DJ bad luck! Here's one example. One of the parties I did before Christmas, I had tried various music from various eras and was chopping and changing it about to try and get some people up, I'd just played about 3 sixties numbers to see if I could encourage some of the pensioners up with no luck and decided to change it again, and play a few modern ones. This is what happened, I was nearing the end of a Beatles track with an empty floor, with a big switch planned, kicking into the Black Eyed Peas to see if I could pull up some youngsters. What happened? About 20 seconds before the end of the Beatles track and with only a few seconds until it mixed, suddenly an older couple headed on to the floor and started dancing. It was too late to change the next track and about 5 seconds until the Black Eyed Peas kicked in. As soon as it did they immediately sat down again! Thanks a bunch! If they had come up 30 seconds earlier, I could have reacted, switched into another big 60s number and maybe got all their friends up! The perils of DJ'ing. Anyway I got them all up eventually, thanks to the good old 80s!

Closer to Christmas, I had problems in pubs with abuse from drunken idiots. You know the ones I mean, those that have just finished work for the season, or come out because it's the last weekend before Christmas. The type that drink all day and act like arseholes, so they think the barmaid/ DJ/ whoever is fair game for a bit of abuse. Well not this DJ, I do not take any shit and people mess with me at their peril - I simply will not be spoken to abusively by anyone. How anyone can possibly think they are going to endear themselves to a DJ with comments like "Play some decent f**king tunes mate" and such like is beyond me. Perhaps they think it makes them look hard in front of their mates, or the drink makes them think they can intimidate people. Well not me.

Anyway, all of this can make one question one's faith in one's career choice.

Thankfully sanity and confidence was all restored at New Year, with an all 80s disco - I played for six and a half hours, had a fantastic crowd and atmosphere, not a single complaint, in fact it was possibly the best disco I have ever done - talk about raising your game after a few disappointing performances. I can now go into the New Year with confidence restored and lots of bookings in the diary for the summer months.

As for the rest of the year - as much time as possible with the children, I know they won't be this age forever and want to savour every moment, and when time allows see my friends, even if it's only coffee and chat in the mornings, might not sound much to those with less responsibilities but it means a lot to me. Basically, just keep doing what I'm doing, the things that make me happy, and cut out the things that don't.

Happy New Year!

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