Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Dear Jay - Your financial and sexual problems answered by our expert.

Since my book has been published, I have had a few more letters coming through from people who have read the chapter entitled Jay's Dilemma's.

I've also been getting a lot of feedback from people on all of the money saving tips I've been giving you over the past year. From baking your own bread and hams, to how to get money off your shopping bill, collectively I must have saved you, my loyal readers literally thousands by now.

It's no co-incidence that some of these problem page letters coming through deal not only with your sexual problems, but also your financial predicaments. As a (self-proclaimed) expert in these areas, I feel it only fair that I should offer you my help. And good help it is too - with my tips not only will you be saving money, but you will also be getting laid! It's a win-win situation!

So here are three letters I have received, and my advice to the writers.

Dear Jay,

I am a 17 year old A Level boy at a local sixth form college. My exams are coming up soon and as a consequence I have decided to pack in my part-time job at KFC in order to free up more time for revision. This has left me rather short of cash. However, there is this girl in my class that I really fancy and a week or two ago she said I could take her out if I liked. I have not had much luck with girls over the years, so I was over the moon when she said that, and even more so when she hinted that if I took her to the pictures she might let me put my hand inside her bra.

I had a few quid left over from my job at KFC, so off we went to Oxford on the S5 to see Fast and Furious 6 which my mate said was the sort of film that girls like. I had about 25 quid in my pocket so thought that would be more than enough as the tickets were about a tenner. She suggestively said she wanted some sweets so went to the Pick N Mix counters and put a few in a bag. I didn't think it would cost that much but when we got to the till and the assistant weighed them she wanted £8. As soon as I had paid I realised I didn't have enough money for both tickets. When I told my girl she was not happy. In the end I offered to pay for her ticket and I waited outside until she came out. But when she came out of the film she was holding hands and snogging with another bloke. Where did I go wrong?

"Heartbroken" of Bicester.

Dear Heartbroken,

Oh dear, oh dear oh dear. You've made a classic mistake here. Never, ever, ever buy your Pic 'n' Mix at the cinema. You are being totally ripped off and what's worse is that you've missed out on some serious action here as well. If only you had thought to go into Poundland first, you could have got 3 or 4 bags of sweets and been more than well enough stocked up for the day. Same goes for drinks and popcorn. Still we live and learn, better luck next time. Still you probably had a lucky escape really, she sounds the sort who would have screwed you over eventually anyway once the money ran out.

Dear Jay,

I work for a large Government agency  in an administration role in an office building opposite the petrol station on London Road. In order to relieve the monotony of my mundane existence I have taken to popping over there two or three times a day to purchase various snack, confectionery and soft drink products. I also don't have a girlfriend at present, so have also taken to purchasing "adult interest" magazines from there on occasion, I don't feel embarrassed as I'm quite pally with the manager there and there is a bit of the "all lads together" mentality.

However recently, a really nice girl has started working there, and I have taken to going over more and more often in order to chat with her and she seems really nice and also seems to like me. I had been thinking of asking her out some time soon, however due to what happened last night, I am not sure if I can ever face her again.

Obviously I had not been purchasing my magazines whilst she was there, but last night the manager was on, and I had just got to the till with a paper, magazine and a Mars Bar, when the manager called out "Laura, I'm going on my break now, can you take over?". Before I could react she came out of the office and was confronted immediately with the sight of me holding a copy of Razzle. I was mortified and went home a bright shade of red.

What should I do now?

"Beetroot" of Bicester

Dear Beetroot,

Right, first of all you should not be shopping at that petrol station at all .80p for a Mars Bar? You've having a laugh! Don't you know you can get four for a quid in Tesco's? And what are you doing wasting your money on Jazz mags anyway, don't you know it's all free on the internet these days? I can't help those that can't help themselves I'm afraid.

Dear Jay,

I am a 23 year old girl living and working in Bicester. For some time now I have felt a little confused about my sexuality, and things all came to a head a few weeks ago when I was out with my best friend, who incidentally is dead fit. For some time I have had a crush on her, and she had hinted to me that she might feel the same. We were actually at one of your discos the night it all came to a head. You played that song "I kissed a girl" by Katy Perry and I thought, well it's now or never, took the plunge and kissed her. She responded, and it just felt amazing. Now a week later, we are an item. However, due to us both still living at home to old fashioned parents (they wouldn't approve of that sort of thing), we have not had a chance to properly explore our relationship, if you get what I mean.

I graduated from Uni last year and have a lot of student debt, so I have very little spare money. What we would really like to do is spend a whole night together, and wondered if you could recommend a nice hotel locally that is not expensive where we can finally be together.

"Bi-curious" of Bicester.

Dear Bi-curious.

Of course, I'd be only too delighted to help, and what's more I can do far better than recommend a hotel. It just so happens my mate is away for the week and he has left me the keys to his flat so that I can feed his tropical fish. There's no point you wasting money on expensive hotels when this flat is lying empty, so I am more than happy to lend you the keys for the evening. Tonight would be as good as time as any if that would suit you? I must just pop round and straighten the place up first.

Right I must go now as I need to charge up the battery for my camcorder. Keep your letters coming in and I'll answer more next time!

Jason xx

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

R.I.P. Little Chef

The end is nigh(?)

I've just got back from another fun packed day out with the kids - Zoomania, Morrisons and McDonalds. For once, they really behaved and played well, and absolutely loved going on all the frames and down the big slide at Zoomania, with no whingeing at all. And they didn't even complain when I said it was time to go. Perhaps finally we are getting somewhere, or maybe we just got lucky this time.

It has to be said that McDonalds in Aylesbury has the worst designed car park I have ever encountered. Absolutely ludicrous and I am amazed there are not major road rage incidents there on a a regular basis. Who knows, maybe there are. And on the subject of roads, why are we spending billions on this HS2 nonsense, when major roads such as the A41 are in the terrible state they are. This road is literally crumbling, it is littered with potholes all the way back to Bicester.

I am sure that the roads were not in this state back in the hey day of my career, when I traversed roads the length and breadth of Britain, fulfilling the market research needs of everyone from Brewers to Bog Cleaner makers. I had cause to think back to these days today, because I read in the press that it seems Little Chef may finally have reached the end of the road.

There have been a number of stays of execution over the years. Since going into administration a few years ago the number of outlets has fallen to less than 100 (there were 200+ at one point) but it has managed to survive. This time it seems that the axe may finally fall on the brand forever. It seems they are to be sold off, and companies such as McDonalds and Costa Coffee may be in the offing to take over and convert them to their own brands. This does not please me, in fact I think I would feel quite heartbroken to drive past what was a Little Chef and see the name Costa Coffee over the building.

Whenever I hear the name Little Chef I still feel a small frisson of excitement. They've been with me for a long time. Our love affair goes right back to 1988 when I worked in the one on the bypass near where I lived. That's where I first encountered their amazing breakfasts, serving them, and eating them. We got a meal allowance and that was enough for a nice fry up on an 8 hour shift.

Fast forward a few years to when I was out in my company car, and the Little Chef became my friend on the open road, his portly frame welcoming me in on the way to and from boring meetings and presentations at clients. I was helped in this by my colleague "Pagey" who was also a fan. Apparently it lined the stomach for what was to come - which if visiting a brewer would be quite a lot with Pagey in tow, often requiring an overnight stop. Now Pagey had his own little routine for when we went to the Little Chef. He would make a great show of consulting the menu in great detail, umming and aahing in front of the waitress, before declaring, "I think I'll go for the Olympic Breakfast". He always ordered this, without fail, so quite why he ever went through this rigmorale with the menu was a mystery to me.

I was more of a fan of the Early Starter at that time, but soon sensed the extra value in the Olympic and became a convert. During the mid to late 90s my time on the road had reached a peak and I was travelling everywhere, I pretty much could map the British Isles by the Little Chefs and had dreams of driving round and visiting every one in a giant dot-to-dot.

The reason I was out on the road so much at that time was that I had come up with an ingenious scam at work to make it look like I was working ridiculously long and dedicated hours, whereas in fact the absolute reverse was the truth. I had worked out that for any client more than two hours drive away I could pretty much justify being out of the office for the entire day, provided I could make out that the meeting was around 3 hours long. I had also a golden opportunity for a year or so to take massive advantage of the new-fangled email and internet revolution to make it look like I was where I wasn't.

It's always very useful to keep the IT department on your side, I find, and I had a mate down there who hooked me up with an early dial up account so I could basically access my work email from outside the office. This was well before it became generally available, and luckily with a manager at the time who wasn't that clued up on these things. So a good day's scam would go something like this. I would arrange a meeting with a client a good couple of hours away. I would always arrange this for around 11am, so I would have to leave home about 9am to get there. However thanks to my external email, I was able to convince people I had actually been in the office early preparing for the meeting like the highly dedicated soul that I in fact wasn't. In fact I would have got up about 8, made myself a cup of tea, have a flick through the Racing Post and then dial up the office about 8:15am (no-one ever got in before half eight) and send a casual email to a few people in the team along the lines of "Got everything I need for the meeting, just about to leave, just to remind you the quarterly reports need to be finished by today", and then finish my cup of tea, have a bit of breakfast and watch a bit of telly and then hit the road about 9am.

A nice drive to the client listening to Simon Mayo on Radio One, then a meeting which I could usually wrap up within the hour and then I could cruise back and head for a favourite Little Chef for a leisurely lunch before cruising home. I could be in bed having a kip by half three. Then I'd have a bit of tea, switch the laptop on, write a few meeting notes and then dial up the office and send them in about 8pm, along with some plausible bullshit to make it sound as if I had come into the office late after being stuck in traffic to write up my meeting notes. Bravo! Looks like I've done a 12 hour day when in fact it was about 1. As soon as I had hit send on the computer it was off to the pub for a not well earned few pints.

Obviously this scam got rumbled eventually but I got a good year out of it. It also reminds me of the time I pulled off one my all time Top 10 gluttonous stunts.

We were allowed up to £7.50 for our lunch allowance, but you only got back what you spent. So you could not pocket the change if you only spent £3. It made sense therefore to get as close to the £7.50 as possible without going over, a bit like the showcase showdown on "The Price Is Right". Fortunately the breakfast and drink combo I liked at the Little Chef came to exactly £7.49 which was perfect.

One sunny day I was cruising back from a meeting at the Brewers, Hall & Woodhouse in Dorset, when I decided to stop in at a Little Chef as usual. However, on this particular day, I had a rather unpleasant experience when half way through my lunch I picked up my glass of Coke and was horrified to discover it crawling with ants. I summoned the manager who couldn't apologise enough, in fact so much, she let me have my entire meal for free. Now this was great, but I didn't like the idea of my company benefiting from this rather than me, and it played on my mind as I drove along the A30. Twenty miles down the road, the next Little Chef hove into view and I knew what I must do. Half an hour from my previous meal I pulled in and had exactly the same again (without the ants). I came away feeling somewhat bloated but with a nice £7.49 receipt in my pocket to claim back on expenses.

Ah, happy memories, I shall miss you Little Chef when you go, but I will be back to say farewell, you can be sure of that.

Jason xx

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

Monday, 27 May 2013

Trouser Malfunction

I still get emails from Friends Reunited imploring me to go and look at their site, but I never do.

In fact it amazes me that it even still exists. Now it was a great idea when it started, about 15 years ago, but has been massively blown away by all the social networking sites that have come since. Asking me to go and try and talk to anyone on their site is about the equivalent of trying to sell me music on wax cylinders. Seriously, why bother? If there is anyone in the world who still uses Friends Reunited I'd be amazed to hear from you.

Now why am I talking about Friends Reunited? Well last night was retro in every sense of the word. Allow me to elaborate. Now on bank holiday weekends, I no longer run my karaoke night at the White Hart, instead I put on a retro disco. This weekend it was a pure 80s night, which went down an absolute storm. The pub was packed to the rafters. However, when it came to my regular Sunday night karaoke people - well none of them were there. That's perfectly understandable. They love their karaoke and come and support me thick and thin around 48 weeks of the year, so I don't think they mind having a few weeks off when there is no karaoke.

Last night's apparel

So quite literally, there were none of my friends in the pub at all other than the bar staff and some bloke I used to play Aunt Sally with who took it upon himself to try the old "Apple conversion speech" on me - you know the one, "blah blah, windows is crap..., you've got to get a Mac, iPad etc etc everything else is rubbish". Had to endure that for a good 20 minutes or more. So imagine my delight when into the pub walked nine or ten core people who were my closest circle of friends back in the 90s.

I have been friends with these people well over twenty years, been on holiday with them, you name it we've done it. Most of them have moved away to different parts of the country now so I rarely see them, but they were all up in Bicester for the weekend for a Christening. This was a real Friends Reunited moment. Hugs, anecdotes, reminiscing, and all to the backdrop of 80s tunes we grew up with - it really was like going back in time.

I haven't seen some of these people for a couple of years, but really people don't change. Last night could just as easily have been 1993 back in the White Horse. The odd statistical quirk that meant none of my 21st century friends were in attendance completed this "Tardis" moment.

So the evening went well until right at the end. Unfortunately I then suffered some misfortune in the trouser department. In order to unplug my equipment (fnarr fnarr) I tend to climb up on to the windowsill and switch off from a high powerpoint. On this occasion I overreached myself and tore a gaping hole right from my nuts down to my knee on one side of my jeans. Maybe this is my come-uppance for going on the cheap and buying for £6 from Primark. Fortunately I still had the DJ stand up at the time so hid behind there whilst I was tidying up my bits, and by the time I had to emerge only old Bob - "I'm the last man in the pub and proud of it" was left. When Daryl saw it he asked how it happened. I tried to make up some story about having my trousers torn off by ecstatic sex crazed groupies overcome by my DJ'ing prowess, but he was having none of it.

So, all of the bar staff (and Bob) now know that I wear Animal boxer shorts. I managed to struggle home with a fresh breeze giving my parts an airing (thank goodness it's not winter), and get to bed. However this morning this has left me somewhat lacking in the trouser department. Up to last week I had 3 pairs, but the button popped off one while I was trying to do it up, and the other is in the wash, so that leaves me with only shorts to wear today.

No matter, I decided, I shall go and buy some more. I've earned plenty of money this month, so perhaps I can push the boat out a little and spend more than £6 on the next pair. And at this point I made the foolish and regretful decision to go round to the the dreaded "Bicester Village" to see if I could get some. Now I've previously well documented my displeasure with this place so I need not go into that again, but one of the few remaining shops I would give the time of day to is the Levis shop.

Until today that is. My heart sank on opening to see that the place has been completely re-designed, and has clearly gone along the upmarket route to fit in with the rest of the village. No more 2 for £50 promotions here, the cheapest pair I could find on display was £60. £60! And this is meant to be a "discount" outlet. It was all academic anyway, because even if there had been any bargains, I could not find any waist sizes above 38 and I am a 40. Presumably this is to discourage fat people like myself coming into the shop and spoiling the view for the "beautiful people".

It wouldn't be the first time I have suffered such discrimination. I recall an earlier occasion some years ago when I went into a shop in Bicester Village and found a T-shirt I really liked, but I could not find it in my size. I was informed that they did not sell said garments in any size above Large, and even their large didn't look very big. When I enquired as to why, the gist of the answer was they they didn't want fat people walking around wearing their cool designer gear as it was bad for the image.

I think my mere presence being in Bicester Village was enough to annoy the powers that be. There they were this morning, all the beautiful people wandering around in several hundred quids worth of gear, whereas I went in the cheapest roughest gear possible, including the T-shirt I was wearing last night. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb. I can almost imagine the managers watching on CCTV, "Who's he, we don't want people of that ilk wandering around here, go and get security to throw him off the premises immediately!"

Well, sod 'em, I'm home now, so I'll just have to bum around in my shorts all day until my other trousers are dry. I don't think anyone round here will mind. Since it's a major achievement for several of the residents in the flats behind me to even get out of their pyjamas most days, I don't think I'm going to offend anyone. And on Wednesday we are off to Oxford so I can get some more then, and if everywhere else is peddling rip-offs then a £6 pair it shall be, at least I won't be upset when the next trouser misfortune befalls me.

Jason xx

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

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Unrequited Love

Half term is rolling round once again, and I am really looking forward to the week off for all of us. The last few weeks have been incredibly busy for me - six discos in May alone on top of the karaoke nights. This included two weddings, the second of which is this Friday. These require a lot of preparation. This is not to mention the book launch and everything else I have been doing.

But next week, Claire is off, I am off (other than Sunday 1st June) and the kids are off, so we will of course have lots of things to do.

One thing I am looking forward to, which is a kid free day (sorry lads) is going to see the new Star Trek movie. On Wednesday the kids will be off to grandparents for 24 hours, giving us some adult time, a rarity. We will make maximum usage of this time, beginning with a trip to Oxford on Wednesday afternoon to see the film followed by a meal in the evening.

I asked on facebook about 3D films, because believe it or not I have never seen one. The responses were mixed, some think good old fashioned 2D is better which surprises me. I must admit, the idea of wearing extra glasses over the tops of the ones I already have doesn't really grab me. But I suppose I will have to try the 3D experience at some point, so I think maybe we will give it a try and if we don't like it we don't have to do it again.

My only previous experience of 3D is with some awful cheap glasses given away with the Radio Times for a season of "3D" programmes 20 years ago which included the Doctor Who/ Eastenders 30th anniversary Children In Need special which quite frankly was absolutely dreadful. It seems we have moved on a little from then.

A lot of these new developments in film and TV are lost on me anyway. The problem is, it is all very well having HD and 1080i screens, but if your eyes are not up to it, where is the benefit? I remember when Lost came out on Blu Ray, all I was hearing was "It's amazing, you can see every blade of grass". To which my response was "I can't make out every blade of grass on the lawn in real life because of my crappy eyes so it's all lost on me".

I wish my eyesight was better, but my left eye remains blurred, no matter what lenses the opticians try me with. The glasses I wear only give me very marginal improvement. The weird thing is, if I pull my eyelid to the right or left with my fingers, it actually comes back into focus, but that's not a lot of good to me. I can't go wandering around the place with my finger stuck in my eye all the time. What's the problem? Don't know but I am off to the optician (a new one) very shortly so I'll see if they can do a better job than the last lot.

Half term means opportunities to spend more time with the kids and perhaps it is just as well Ollie is having a break. He seemed rather sad yesterday, so at bedtime when I tucked him in I had a good chat with him to try and find out what was wrong.

Now this is very hard work with Ollie - attempting to get to the root of any problem involves quite a long questioning technique, as he gives very vague answers to questions, and it takes ages to drill down and get to the bottom of the problem.

He has a friend at school, a girl in his class he is very keen on. I have known this for a while as he has told me he loves her and she is his best friend. At his age (5) of course this is all very innocent, but it seems he has a crush on this girl. Anyway the jist of the problem is that this girl who he has been referring to as his girlfriend doesn't want to be his girlfriend. She only wants to be his friend, and when he told her that he loved her, she said that she loved her family more. Which of course is how it should be.

But Ollie clearly really is very keen on this girl and is feeling rejected. Sadly for him, and I did explain this to him, this is a fact of life and it is going to happen to him a lot more.

Ollie's artwork, on the patio. A classic chalk love heart moment.

I know it is going to happen to him a lot more, because Ollie is a carbon copy of me in so many ways, he is going through all of the same things that I did at that age. I had a crush on a girl in my class called Sasha Moyes when I was about Ollie's age, and myself and my friend Dominic squabbled over which one of us was going to marry her. I always wanted to hold her hand and try and kiss her but she wouldn't let me. The problem was solved when her family moved to Africa for two years. I remember being very sad.

And throughout my life I have felt the pain of unrequited love so many times. Is it something that happens to us all, or am I (and presumably now Ollie too) particularly susceptible to it? How many times I have felt the unbearable pain of a huge crush on a girl who just doesn't feel the same way. The agony, the yearning, the wanting to be with someone and the constant soul-searching, "why doesn't she like me, what's wrong with me?"

This isn't stalking or weird behaviour, well I don't think it is, just the pain and frustration of wanting to be with someone and having to come to terms with the fact that they don't feel the same way. Maybe it was just a phase, but for me, this phase lasted about 30 years. From the day Sasha wouldn't let me kiss her until about my mid 30s when I finally settled down, I went through this agony with someone or other pretty much on an annual basis.

Thankfully today I am comfortable in my own skin, but I don't regret those bitter sweet crushes, and there were plenty of moments of joy to go with the disappointments when I actually found that the girl in question was rather sweet on me too, so it was not all bad.

Sadly for Ollie, he has all of this to go through, and if he is a carbon copy of me, and is already suffering the pain of this first rejection, I fear he has much heartbreak ahead.

But he does have one thing on his side. He has me. I've experienced all of this before him. Last night I sat with him and we talked, and I gave him the sort of support he needed, and by the time he went to sleep, I had a happy little boy again. There will be more tears ahead for him, all I can do is be there for him.

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, 16 May 2013

The Ultimate Honey Roast Ham

Every now and then, dear readers, I like to give YOU - yes that's you personally, something back as a reward for your dedication. And today is one of those days.

You may be aware (and if you are not, where on earth have you been for the past two years?) that I have more than a passing interest in "ham".

That is ham as in lovely mouth watering pink stuff made from a pig, not hamming it up like some third rate clone of Tony Blackburn in my Sunday night karaoke show at the White Hart, just to clarify.

Now I have been experimenting again. I like experimenting ;-). In fact for the past few years I have tried all manner of ways of cooking ham in order to get that fresh from the deli, a quid a slice, perfect finish that you get when you have it sliced for you at Sainsbury's. I have all the gear, even the faithful old Andrew James slicer, which I swear by. And I don't mean expletives when I slice bits off my fingers after fancying a few slices late at night after a few drinks. I learnt many years ago when foolishly drunkenly attempting to open a can of corned beef (one of those ones with the key) not to do that again. I think the blood stains may still be visible on the ceiling of my old house in Southwold to prove it.

So, I have baked, boiled and tried a combination of the two. I have cooked in Coca Cola, Strongbow, Ginger Beer, and countless others. I have glazed with honey, mustard, black treacle, golden syrup, brown sugar and more. But there is one element of the cooking process I have not been able to get right.

When you buy "Honey Roast Ham" from a supermarket it has the flavour of the honey running right through it. This applies from the nice stuff on the deli, all the way down to the bargain basement slimy watery re-formed into square shaped slices (presumably to fit the cheap and nasty basic sliced white bread also available) at the bottom of the range.

Now the problem I have always had, is that no matter what glaze, or what I boil it in, I always get a lovely flavour on the outside of the ham, but the flavours don't permeate all the way through it. It's also very difficult to avoid any sugar based glaze turning into a black sludge in the oven. I have tried all the standard advice, cutting a lattice shape into the fat, that sort of thing, but remain disappointed.

It's also quite a challenge perfecting getting the ham right, not undercooking it, or overcooking it is quite a challenge. There is a very small window in which to get the texture "just right".

But - no longer! I have found the solution! Funnily enough it has been staring me in the face on the kitchen surface all this time, and has even been described by me in the past. A couple of years ago I was on another quest to produce "deli-style" roast beef, and discovered how to utilise the slow cooker to do just that, adopting what is known as a "sous-vide" style of cooking. I didn't actually include that in this blog, but it is in fact described in my recently released book, "Fortysomething Father".

So - here I present to you, how to make the perfect honey roast ham. What you need to do is put your joint of ham in a food or freezer bag that can be sealed. Pour a generous amount of honey into the bag before you seal it. Make sure the bag is fully sealed. Place it in the slow cooker. Boil the kettle and pour the water in. Leave the slow cooker on its medium setting for a couple of hours, then turn it down to low. Then just leave it for a few hours. In total, a small joint should take about six hours, but if you have got a really big one, such as you would have at Christmas you can leave it overnight, say for about 10 hours.

At the end, remove bag from water and open - carefully, as there will be a lot of steam. Because the temperature did not get excessively high, the honey will still be golden, but now liquid where it has mixed with  water that has come out of the joint. Leave to cool, preferably until the next day and then slice.

The result is lovely, almost dry cured style ham with the flavour of  honey running throughout. Some of ones I have achieved are so gorgeous you could imagine they have been hung up for three months to dry out and for the flavours to develop.

Go ahead and try it, ham fans, you won't be disappointed! I have got one on the go now, along with a Rustic Style French loaf. All will be finished by mid afternoon, when I get back from Nash's.

Jason xx

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

Monday, 13 May 2013

The Top 40

Hi everyone.

Well, it appears that my blog has brought me to the attention of the wider world. My friend Jo Jo has been joking with me that I'm now a celeb, well hardly. So how did I come to be on Nick Ferrrari's show this morning on LBC?

Well it was indeed down to the blog. A few months ago I wrote a piece entitled DIY Dentistry, about how I took my own tooth out due to being fed up with paying excessive dentist fees and also being about to go on holiday and not want to go with the risk of serious toothache whilst away.

Lo and behold, the Express, much maligned by me in the past in this blog, ran a story yesterday about this exact same subject. Researchers for Nick's show googled DIY Dentistry and up popped my blog. They rang me up and the net result was that there I was at 8:30 this morning, telling millions of people across London my tooth removal story.

Sadly I did not get a chance to plug my book, but even so, it just goes to show the power of the internet. Just by writing this, and being out there, I am giving myself a "presence" in the world, and any one of these random ramblings can be picked up by anyone at any time. I'm now advertising my disco business via my blog and also have posted a link to the book on there - with a hit count now at 28,000+ I would be foolish not to. You simply have to maximise your opportunities in this life.

Speaking of the book, many have lamented (or maybe are relieved, lol) that they don't have a Kindle and can't buy the book. Luckily, a paper copy is on the way. I did a lot of research during the weekend into publishing options. Many didn't impress me to be honest - companies preying on the vain (OK, some might say that's me, but even so). These companies encourage you to publish your own shiny book and tell you how wonderful you are until you realise they want £999 to produce 20 copies of your book. I'm sure some do, but it is not for me.

Then I discovered CreateSpace. This is owned by Amazon and effectively allows you to produce a paper copy without putting any money up front. You can then advertise it online through Amazon and they will print on demand, upfront. I have prepared the manuscript and gone through all of the set up process and reached the point where I have asked to have a sample copy sent to me. I do have to pay for this, but only the cost of the book effectively. I have gone for the quickest delivery option I can find, so hopefully this book will be in my hands on Thursday. Somehow, it will all seem more real then.

If I like what I see, I will offer it for sale on Amazon. It will of course cost more, like most paper books. Paper is more expensive than data. The absolute minimum they would let me sell it for was about £7, I've put it up at £9.99 and I'll get £2 royalty per copy on that. The fact that it is on demand suits me fine. We've all heard stories of people who proudly paid thousands to order 500 copies of their book and 3 years later still have 490 of them sitting in the attic!

The Kindle edition is available currently at £2.97, I may run a promotion on it at some point.

Thank-you to all who have bought the book already, I am massively grateful to each and every one of you, and I won't forget it x x

One thing that is very interesting about selling on Amazon is that every product is ranked in various charts that are updated hourly. For example at the weekend after the initial sales flurry I was the #6834 best-selling book on Amazon - it has now slipped back to #20134. More importantly I was in the Top 10 in both the categories I placed the book in when I originally put it on sale which are as follows:

As you can see I have fallen out of the Top 10 now in both categories which is not so good, as when you look in these categories it shows you the 10 at a time, and like anything, if you are not on the first page you are nowhere. How many of you when you do a Google search go on to page 2? Not many, and not often.

I'm a devil for stats as you know, and it got me on to reminiscing about the golden era of the music charts. Back then the Top 40 was the holy grail. If you were #40 in the charts you were someone. At #41 you were no-one. Why?

Come back with me 30 years or so to 1983. Back then, in the pre-internet world, people were nowhere near as clued up about new single releases. Radio stations, including Radio One did not have their finger on the pulse like they do today. You did not get singles being played weeks in advance of release to build up demand. Basically until it got into the Top 40 it was ignored. Even for major bands. Which is why it was incredibly rare for a record to go straight in at No 1 unless it was exceptional circumstances e.g. Band Aid. In fact between 1973 (Slade - Merry Christmas Everybody) and 1980 (The Jam - Going Underground) - there were none at all!

By the 2000s virtually EVERY Number 1 went straight in. The world has changed.

I cannot begin to tell you how HUGE it was when that Jam single went straight in at number 1. I was only 3 when Slade's song came out. I was 10 when the Jam did it. As far as I knew, no single had EVER done this before. I even remember where and when I was. We had just broken up for Easter from school and I was at my Gran's house in Cowley.

I had become obsessed with the charts and every Tuesday lunchtime I would be glued to the "wireless" as Gran called it at 12:45pm. Back then the new chart was not revealed on a Sunday, they had to count the sales by hand so it took until Tuesday lunchtime to get the chart ready. The DJ on lunchtime on Radio One was Paul Burnett, later replaced by Gary Davies. At 12:45pm they would play the records that were Number 5 to number 2 in order, prior to counting down the entire Top 40 and ending with the Number 1 played on the stroke of 1pm.

I used to try and write the whole thing down in an exercise book, but he rattled them off so fast I could only get a few letters of each one and there would invariably be gaps. Often not helped by Gran calling "your fish fingers are ready". She always made me fish fingers and chips when I went there. Any gaps in my book I had to wait until Thursday to fill in when Top Of The Pops came on.

On this particular day I remember the countdown so well. We got to number 2, which was the previous week's number 1 by Fern Kinney. At this point I was convinced that number 1 was going to be "Games Without Frontiers" by Peter Gabriel as this had gone up from No 8 to No 4 the previous week and had not been played in the No 5 to No 2 countdown.

So imagine my shock when Burnett counted down to No 6 and Peter Gabriel was No 6! Who could possibly be No 1? Yep, it was the Jam with a single I was not even aware of having been released, which in itself was nothing unusual. Like I said if you were not in the Top 40 you were nowhere. Shops like HMV and the like were in their infancy then, you had only the likes of Woolworths and Boots, and they only ever had the Top 40 on display. But the Jam had a growing legion of fans and together they catapulted the record to the top.

Straight in at Number One

This was an amazing event, I was absolutely astounded and it was the talk on everyone's lips. Seem hard to imagine now, but the charts really were hugely more important then than they are now. Whether that is just down to me or that times have changed, I don't know, maybe a bit of both.

But it just goes to show how hard it was to go straight in at number one. Most records that made the top started their journeys from much lower down and took some weeks to get there. Being in the Top 40 was all important. The difference between No 40 and No 41 was a vast gaping expanse. To give an example. In 1985 there was a number one by Dead Or Alive "You Spin Me Round" that hung around just outside the Top 40 for weeks. Eventually it crawled into the Top 40 in the very bottom rung. From there it went 40 - 19 - 5 - 2 - 1. Being noticed is everything.

And that is the way it is with my book. I realise I am going to have to promote and will have to run promotions on the Kindle book to make sales. I need to be in that Top 10 to get noticed. So I shall keep pushing as much as I can. I am not going to give you a load of overkill on facebook, because I am very aware one can over promote. If I was posting ads to it every day you would be "Oh I'm sick of hearing about this f***ing book". Let's face it, we all get sick of the crap being constantly peddled every day. So I shall be as frugal as possible in my promotion. The next you will hear will probably be when the paper copy becomes available.

I guess the next step after that will be to consider whether or not any shops would stock it. I though about approaching Coles bookstore - after all, they have lots of copies of "Bicester Wuz A Little Town" in there which I believe they were involved in reprinting. I know because I bought one. But one thing at a time, eh?

Friday, 10 May 2013


You've got to love cake. Is there anyone who doesn't?

Fortunately in my personal and professional capacity I come into contact with rather a lot of it. Having a wife and a best friend who live and breathe making cakes there's plenty around, not to mention all those lovely buffets I encounter as a DJ. Speaking of which, I may be in for some treats tonight as I am off to to DJ at a wedding in Chipping Norton, a rare Friday wedding. Perhaps the groom didn't want to to miss the FA Cup Final.

So what motivated me to write about cake? Well I rarely buy shop bought cakes. When you are used to home made they are never the same. The one exception is the "Caterpillar" cake which both the boys love, though I expect it would be possible to make one's own which would probably be far superior.

On the odd occasion I have had bought any sort of cake in, I have to hide it if Lynda comes around. A few weeks ago she came round one morning and noticed some "Fabulous Bakin' Boys" muffins that I had inadvertently left out, this almost prompted a coronary. I used the usual excuse of, "you know how it is, busy with the boys", but it didn't really wash.

As for "posh" cakes, they look lovely in cake shop windows but are very pricey most of the time.

However this morning I was passing by Nash's and a display of cakes on the table outside caught my eye. We are big fans of lemon cakes in this house and when I saw these little beauties on the table, I knew I just had to have one. And at a price, £4.20 that I thought was very reasonable too!

Bagsy the bit with the flake on, Dad!!!

This also provided me with the perfect excuse to head inside for a coffee and a mini-monster. I had felt myself being drawn inexorably towards the cafe this morning anyway, but I just needed that final little push to get me through the doors. You see the good thing about Nash's is that if you eat in the cafe and keep your receipt, you can get 10% off anything in the shop. So after a pleasant half an hour munching on my bacon roll and reading the paper, I was able to save myself the princely sum of 42p off of my cake.

It is also a good investment in another way. It's amazing how much Ollie's behaviour improves when there is a bit of cake in the offing. So I shall resist the temptation to eat any of it until he comes home from school. And then the carrot shall be dangled in front of him and I shall see what I can get out of it. At the very minimum a tidying of his bedroom, but at least an hour of no screaming, crying, shouting, fighting with Jamie, taking toys off Jamie and to get him to finish his book from school which he has been lingering over all week.

And then I can head off to my wedding at 5pm leaving a house that is peace and tranquility behind me. That is the theory anyway, we shall see if it works in practice.

By the way there are 5 of these cakes left on the table outside Nash's if you want to grab one for yourself.

Jason xx

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

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Launch Day

Today I achieved a life-long ambition.

Yes - something I have always wanted to do.

I consumed an entire pack of Lidl's 300gm Crusti Croc Cheese Balls in one go!!! Now that is dedication!!!

Yet another picture of cheese balls

Oh - and I also just published my first ever book on Amazon!

"Fortysomething Father" is a collection of all the best bits of my blog, various letters and a fair bit of new material that I have collated together to produce a book that follows me through a year in my life.

It is not just a blatant cut and paste of the blog into book format. The whole thing has been completely re-written in order to create a narrative flow. Lots of things have been taken out, moved around, personal references removed, a lot of repetition removed (didn't realise how often I'd repeated myself). An enormous amount of time and effort has gone into getting it right.

It also required a huge amount of proof-reading. I did not realise how many spelling mistakes and grammatical errors there were in the original blog - though the fact many of the entries were written late at night under the influence of the old vino may have had something to do with that.

So what are we left with? A year in the life of being a dad and running discos. But lots more too, I haven't got rid of all the fun bits. So old favourites like letters to crisp manufacturers and giving Tesco stick are all still there.

Once it was all done there was a cover to design, introduction, dedication and all those other bits that you have at the start of the book, and there it was ready to go.

I can't even begin to tell you how excited and proud I felt when I saw my book sitting in the Amazon store for the first time this morning. This is a true landmark in my life - I can finally call myself a published author.

Now doubtless there will be some out there who would like nothing better than to piss on my chips. I can imagine the sort of comments. "Pah - anyone can stick a book on Kindle, it's not like it's a real published book you can buy in a shop or anything". Or "Probably a load of crap, no-one will buy it other than his mum".

The thing is, none of this fazes me, because even if it does not sell a single copy, the fact of the matter is I have written and I have published it, even if it is only online. That to me is the crowning pinnacle of a lifetime of writing, and an achievement I am proud of. If it doesn't sell, it doesn't sell, but I've still done it.

If you do want to buy the book, it costs no more than you would pay for a pint in a pub, and that's something most of us wouldn't think twice about. If you're not sure you can download the first few chapters for free and see for yourself.

You don't actually have to have a Kindle, there are plenty of free e-readers out there you can download for Android or Apple devices. I have the Amazon Kindle app on my tablet and it's really good.

I'll be promoting the book all over facebook so apologies if you get deluged in your news feed but facebook is like that. How many more requests to play Candy Crush am I going to get this week?

If you are really feeling well disposed towards me and want to help me, you can recommend me to everyone you know, family, friends, work colleagues.

I must also say that none of this would ever have happened without all of the massive support all of you have given me through your feedback and continued reading of this blog, so for that I thank-you one and all.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Sibling Rivalry

The boys are fighting an awful lot lately. I don't mean full on punch ups but a lot of arguments and battles over toys, with some physical manifestations.

At what point does one intervene though? It could be argued that having these disagreements is all part of preparation for later life, and by allowing them to work through these emotions, ultimately they will learn more from it.

The main source of disagreement is other toys and other possessions as mentioned. Of the two of them, at present, Ollie is by far the worst. Every time he comes into a room and Jamie has got anything, it becomes the most important thing in the world that he has it. Even if it is something that he never normally plays with and has been gathering dust on the shelf for six months.

When I chastise him and try and point out that this isn't fair, he attempts to justify it by claiming that he is sharing. Unfortunately Ollie's definition of sharing appears to be along the lines of "I get to keep all of my things and you have to let me have any of yours whenever I want it". This has on occasion extended to food. If they have a biscuit each and Ollie eats all of his whilst Jamie has half left, then Ollie then attempts to procure that half as well in the interests of "sharing".

The sad thing is that Jamie is so good natured he will often offer to share - like offering Ollie a crisp, but then Ollie takes this as an invitation to take them all.

On another occasion they both had a pack of big crayons. Jamie's were still practically intact by the time Ollie had worn down and broken all of his. At this point Ollie decided the latest bit of sharing he'd like to to would be to take all of Jamie's nice new shiny ones and swap them for his old ones. It's not nice and poor Jamie being little, naively gets taken in a lot of the time. I think it's very mean of Ollie and have told him quite clearly it's not acceptable but he can't see what he is doing wrong.

Preparation for later life - well maybe, perhaps he's destined for a career in banking!

But Jamie is getting wise to it, and starting to fight back. In a way it saddens me, because his innocent, generous nature is being eradicated by Ollie's antics, and it's starting to reflect in his own behaviour. These  spats frequently come to blows - it's not full on punching or anything like that, but slaps, and pushing each other over. This is when I have to intervene, but of course, it's always the other one's fault. Now you would think that with us dealing with a 5 year old and a 2 year old here that Ollie would easily have the upper hand, but in fact it's not to the extent you would think. Not only does Jamie appear to be the tougher of the two, there is really not that much difference between them in terms of size. If asked to guess you certainly wouldn't think it was nearly 3 years. You can see this in the clothes they wear, they may be 5 and 2 but Ollie is still in 4 year old clothes, whilst Jamie is already into 3.

Some of this will be to do with Ollie being born prematurely, but there are probably other factors too. Jamie eats twice what Ollie does which must be a contributory factor.

Unfortunately Jamie has also developed a weapon in his armoury that I am struggling to control. When Ollie is being really horrible to him, he has taken to defending himself by biting him. Now when it's just between the two of them, that is bad enough, but when it starts to manifest itself away from home, then it becomes a problem. We have had two incidents over the past week or so, one embarrassing for me, and one more serious.

Firstly when I was picking Jamie up from the Courtyard he ran up to me at the door all pleased to see me beaming and shouting "Daddy", flung him arm around and promptly gave me an extremely sharp and painful nip right in my nuts! This was witnessed, to great hilarity by Donna and Sarah who did not stop laughing all afternoon apparently. Why he did this I am not sure. Maybe he overheard Ollie talking the other day about how he wants a sister and decided he didn't and to try and administer a makeshift vasectomy. As you can imagine - I was not happy.

More seriously yesterday I was told that he had bitten another child in a dispute over a toy. This requires an accident form to be filled in, and Jamie gets time-out. I'm quite mortified that my little boy should do such a thing, but can't help feel it is caused in part by all these spats with his brother at home. So I've sat him down and had a serious word with him and he seems to understand that biting is wrong. All I can do now is hope it doesn't happen again. All part of growing up, I guess.

Jason xx

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

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

May Day

What a beautiful morning and perfect for the children's May Day celebrations. A complete contrast to last year when the entire thing was flooded out and had to be cancelled. It was several weeks before it could take place.

The children will be having a procession from the school to the church carrying little posies of flowers. Ollie will be pleased as his are all yellow. This was a great example of recycling, as they were the remainder of a bunch of flowers that I bought for Claire last week for our wedding anniversary which were still OK, so we cut them up and made a little bunch. I think that is alright, isn't it? Well Claire seemed somewhat perturbed that I wanted to cut up her anniversary flowers at first, but as I pointed out they'd be thrown away in another 2 or 3 days anyway. Waste not want not. Besides I couldn't be arsed to go out again last night and buy any more. I'm almost out of cash this week as it is thanks to the chiropractor fees, and £18 for Jamie's farm DVD.

In case you are wondering what that is, well last week, some people came into the Courtyard with a special booth that the kids sit in and are filmed. Did not quite see how it works, but the end result is you get a film of them which looks like they are driving a car through a farm meeting lots of animals and it really is amazing. Little innocent 2 year old face lit up with joy, a real treasure. The thing is 5 minutes long and £18 to buy so not cheap - and ordinarily I never buy these sort of things (pictures at theme parks spring to mind), but this thing is so cute and by far the best video I have got of him so I just have to get it. And it'll be brilliant for threatening to show his girlfriend in 15 years time if he's being an uncooperative teenager.

I spent £50 at the Chiropractor but it was really worth it. We had a long consultation before she treated me and I do feel much better. It seems that my discs are all intact, but my problems stem from the fact that I've at some point gone off centre. I'm tilting to the right, giving the illusion that my right leg is 1cm longer than my left, even though it isn't, in fact. She is helping me to correct this. I also have a similar problem at the top which could account for my history of neck pain. My head is also not quite sitting straight on my body. Apparently, this is something that can cause mental illness, and it is where the phrase "off your rocker" comes from. There have been examples of children who have been thought to have autism who in fact merely had this condition, and when it was put back into alignment, their behavioural problems disappeared almost overnight. In my case it is mild and clearly has not had any symptoms, as I am sure you will all agree I have a totally sane and normal personality, with no quirky traits at all. It's also easily corrected, so that's something else she's going to help me with.

My friend Dogger recommended this chiropractor and said it was the best £50 he had spent since he last went to Amsterdam, whatever he means by that.

On to the subject of writing - a comment added to my previous blog suggested that rather than write an original novel I should consider publishing some of this work. This is something that I have in fact been considering for some time - so thank-you Nat for prodding me in that direction, I think I needed someone to validate for me that it was a worthwhile project.

However, it is nowhere near as simple as just cutting and pasting all my blogs into a document, and publishing, job done. Reading a blog is a completely different experience to reading a book, and major changes and revisions will need to be made. Here's a few thoughts on things I will need to do to turn this into some sort of publishable book.

1) Consider the target audience. I'm selling worldwide, not just to my mates in Bicester. I can't just leave references such as "bumped into Dave in town" in without explaining who Dave is. So background material needs to be added.

2) Many blog entries will be of very little interest to the wider world, so will be taken out altogether. For example, a piece where I jokingly suggested launching Bicester's own TV station with programmes based on various local characters will be of no interest whatsoever to people who don't know any of these people. Likewise entries on current happenings at the time, e.g. the London Riots will not be of great interest to people now two years later.

3) Toning down language, swearing, for a family audience.

4) Cleaning up spelling and grammar - I do make mistakes when I dash these off and don't always have time to go back and correct them.

5) Cleaning up references to people and places that whilst I might get away with in a blog entry, referring to past enemies as "the evil witch" and suchlike may land me in trouble were they able to identify themselves.

6) Working out the target audience and focusing on that - this was always intended to be a parenting blog and that will be the focus of the book along with the title - it certainly will not be called "Bicester Blogger". I'm going to focus very much on the fatherhood thing, but like now, there will be whole chapters where the kids are not even mentioned, and many of the "funny" entries shall remain, as long as they can be understood by the wider audience. With regard to the fatherhood thing, well it seems there aren't a lot of books out there on the subject.

7) Formatting everything correctly for conversion to Kindle format, and adding all relevant additional material such as title page, contents, introduction.

So assuming I do all that and anything else I haven't thought of yet, I should end up with something that looks like a book rather than a blog, but still recognisably in a diary style format. A sort of Adrian Mole, Bridget Jones for the 40+ generation.

Who will buy? Good question. An obvious point is, why would anyone pay for this when all of the information is already available in public domain? It's a good enough question. But I do believe that there is an audience out there who like to sit down with a book, rather than ploughing through hundreds of random blog entries. Much of it will be changed by the time it's finished so it won't be the same anyway. Think of it kind of like the "Director's Cut".

I'm also not intending to charge a lot. My intention isn't really to make money, though I don't feel I can give it away. An enormous amount of my time and creativity has gone into this and it would be nice to reap a modest award. I thought about the idea of selling it for the sum of £3.25. Why that amount? Well that's the price of a pint of Strongbow in the White Hart. It's not a lot when you put it in those terms. If you decide to buy, think of it in these terms. That you are in the pub with me and decide to thank me for the last two years of free entertainment through this blog by buying me a pint. Or more accurately, 35% of a pint, as that's the amount of royalty I get.

Then, if you do buy, I ask two things of you.

1) If you like it, go out and tell all your friends and everyone you know.


2) You write me a review on Amazon. Preferably favourable, but that is up to you, I'm not going to tell anyone what to do. But lots of reviews on Amazon help to sell books.

Thank-you loyal blog fans, and I will get back to you as soon as it is ready, I think it's going to take me a couple of weeks perhaps to prepare, but I could be on the virtual bookshelves before you know it!

Feedback at this point massively welcomed, even if it's only to say Yay or Nay to whether you would buy.

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