Sunday, 30 June 2013

Half-time report

Yes, it's half-time for the year, the last day of June is upon us already as time continues its ever increasing pace through another year.

It seems we look forward so much to summer coming and once it gets here it flies by so quickly. Mine tends to be marked out by sporting events. It's Royal Ascot, then Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix and the Open  golf. Already we are in the thick of Wimbledon and the Grand Prix is today. Once Wimbledon is over I always feel a sense of disappointment, as if the summer is passing me by faster than I can grab hold of it and enjoy it.

I'd like to pretend that my little social calendar includes hob-nobbing it with the beautiful people at Ascot and Wimbledon but in fact the more realistic truth is that rather than cucumber sandwiches on the lawn it's a bag of crisps in front of the telly. I can't blame the kids for that either because I never went to any of these things even when I didn't have kids. Now I can see the advantage of attending some events more than others. At Wimbledon or at a football match you can see the entire court or pitch so you can see everything all the time rather than just where the camera is pointing so that's an advantage. As for other sports, I am not so sure. I've been to the British Grand Prix in the past, watching from down by Stowe Corner. Now whilst it was great watching the cars flash past, you can only see part of the track from there. At other tracks I imagine you would see a lot less. Whilst this is undoubtedly exciting, you are only see a bit of the race. If you are somewhere near a big screen that helps but then you might as well watch it at home on the telly and save your money.

For the ultimate blink and you miss it sport, how about the Tour De France. Stand by the side of the road for a few hours waiting for the pelaton to flash past in one big twenty second blur? Or watch the action on TV? Seems a no-brainer to me but there always seem to be lots of people lining the route so there must be some appeal to it. I suppose in the unlikely event it came through Bicester I would take a look just like I did with the Olympic Torch but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

Today is an extreme rarity - a Sunday when neither Claire nor myself is working. She works most Sundays and I work virtually every Sunday evening, but not this week. The pub is closing for a refurbishment for the week so I have been given a night off. So on this rare occasion we are enjoying a full family day together at home. The weather is very nice too, so I am sat out in the garden typing this whilst the boys are playing.

Yesterday was Bicester Carnival, an annual event that has grown and grown in recent years. There is a procession of floats through the town, ending up on Pingle Field, the same place we went for the fireworks. Accordingly we headed down there for an afternoon in the fresh air. Ollie did get somewhat confused about what we were doing there and asked what time the fireworks were going off to which I answered "in about another four months". There was lots to see and do down there, and lots to spend money on - bouncy castles and rides. At least they got their money's worth. Many was the time when they were younger that I would pay for Ollie to go on something and then he would cry and demand to get off.

A friend of mine is a fireman and he let the boys get up into the fire engine which was fun. We also got given some free popcorn which Ollie promptly devoured. Overall a good time was had by all. We seem to be doing better and better with these days out.

So it is half way through the year and for me the end of the "blogging year" which starts in July. Don't ask me to explain why, it just does. So what has the past year brought looking back through my blog entries? Well surprisingly little has changed. The boys have got a little older, Jamie's started talking a lot more and we have done a lot of things, but we're still basically all the same people we were a year ago. I've heard it said many times to enjoy the kids while they are little because it does not last forever and they are right. Sometimes it is such hard work when they are fighting and demanding and I just want to go and lie down and go to sleep but I persevere on because the gain really does outweigh the pain. What will the next year bring? No major changes in terms of schooling. Jamie has another year at the Courtyard before he joins Ollie at St Edburg's, whilst Ollie himself will be going up to year two. As for me, well I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. We all have to find our way in life and I have found a way that works for me. I can't ask for more than 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.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

New topics

I have to say I am struggling for subjects to write about at the moment. Is it a case that we have only so much writing within us and then it is all exhausted?

I think through my book and my blogs I must have covered almost every subject under the sun by now. Have you, my loyal readers got any subjects you'd like me to muse on? If so, send them over. Or any questions, problems, letters, send them to me and I will answer them on here. Yes, that's real letters, not ones made up for comic effect!

I have a rare day off today so shall be heading off to Oxford shortly to do a bit of clothes shopping. There's lots of bits and pieces I can't get in Bicester but hopefully that is set to change shortly. It is only two weeks to go until the glorious opening of Sainsbury right here in our town centre. I would not go so far to say that this was the fulfilment of a lifetime dream in the same way as driving an F1 car would be, but even so, it's a big deal for me!

This is my second trip to Oxford this week as last Saturday Claire and I had an evening out and went to Cafe Rouge down Little Clarendon Street. We were in celebratory mood and decided to push the boat out and have a bottle of Champagne with our meal. It was all very nice and highly recommended if you are out in Oxford any time soon.

In my blogs over the past year I've offered up lots of money saving tips for you, so I thought I might throw a few more in to the blog - probably one liners as they don't require a lot of explanation. Some of them you probably already know. As and when I see things I'll add them in, here's a few from the past week:

Austerity tip: Don't buy padded envelopes from the Post Office. They cost £1.39 for a single A5 envelope. In Poundland you can get five such envelopes for £1.

Austerity tip: Get a "Duo" ticket when you go to Oxford with a friend on the S5 or X5 - it's Buy One Get One Free! If you are on your own - take the train from Bicester Town Station - it is half the cost of the bus.

Austerity tip: Pretend to be a student if you find yourself near the covered market in Oxford and you can get your copy of The Times or Independent for half price off the man in the newsagent kiosk. OK - they give the discount to everyone but it used to be student only and I like to pretend that I am one to see if I can pass for 21 still.

Austerity tip: Don't lose out on Orange Wednesdays when you switch to another service provider as I have. Keep your old Orange phone, go into any shop and get a free sim and £5 credit on it. You now have a pay as you go phone and you can just text Orange any time you want to go to the pictures.As long as you use it once every six months it won't get deactivated.

Austerity tip: Get your copy of "Fortysomething Father" my amazing and exciting new book from the Kindle store on Amazon here for less than the price of an outrageously overpriced coffee from a certain chain in town. Oh, and get a coffee machine.

Clothing tip: This isn't an austerity tip: Don't wear a bright yellow shirt in the middle of summer time that is the same colour as your book in a forlorn attempt to get people to subliminally buy it. You may end up getting chased by a load of bees down Priory Road who have mistaken you for a large round yellow flower.

I'm back from Oxford, this is a little afternoon update. Managed to get into Pierre Victoire this time and very nice it was too. You can't go wrong with a lunchtime menu, more value for money. I also discovered some clothes in Next that were very reasonably priced, including matching Buzz Lightyear and Woody swimsuits for the children. Quality stuff.

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, 20 June 2013

Toilet Training

Amazingly somehow I haven't touched on this subject yet so it is about time.

It's one of the most difficult and frustrating parts of parenting. It is also one of those areas, like trying to get fussy toddlers to eat, where there seem to be no end of smug other parents going on about how their little cherub was out of nappies by 18 months.

I also get more than a little irritated by the theory bandied about in some circles that if kids are still in nappies at 3 then the parents must be lazy.

There is plenty of other more well.intended advice floating about too from people who genuinely want to help. But just as with the fussy eating, what they did with their kids is not a great deal of use to me, because every child is different.

I'm at the point with Jamie who will be 3 next month where I want to get him toilet trained. But he is refusing to co-operate. I am loathe to push it as we tried that with Ollie and all it caused was a huge load of upset and screaming and crying. This went on until around his 3rd birthday and then suddenly it was as if someone had flicked a switch in his head and he went from flat refusal to keen almost overnight.

I am hoping that will happen with Jamie too. Now he has not been quite as fractious over the whole thing as Ollie was. We have discussed it at length and he clearly understands what to do. He just doesn't want to. He is quite happy to play at sitting on the potty when getting dressed in the morning and likes to shout "I've done it" when in fact he has done nothing at all. Eventually I give up and put a nappy on and within 30 seconds I hear "I've done a poo, Daddy", and the whole nasty messy clean up operation swings into action.

I have just resigned myself to the fact that he will do it when he is ready but I really hope it is soon. It is not just the expense of nappies, it is the hassle. Also it is not particularly pleasant now that the warm weather is here having two weeks worth rotting in the bin outside. There is also the freedom factor - it is a lot easier to go out places with the kids when you have not got the constant worry of having to find somewhere to change them. Once he is out of nappies, our horizons will expand considerably.

So I am not going to rush him and console myself with the thought that it cannot be much longer. Hopefully this will be the last summer of stinking dustbins. I am quite looking forward to the day when I no longer need to change nappies as I have been doing it now without a break for six years.

A few loose ends to tie up. I never got round to finishing off my list of favourite doctors and don't have time to go into great deal on each of them, so here are the remaining 7 that I did not cover before:

7) Sylvester McCoy
6) Christopher Ecceleston
5) Peter Davison
4) Patrick Troughton
3) Tom Baker
2) David Tennant
1) Jon Pertwee.

So Pertwee is the winner! I have to say I agonised over the Top 3 and changed their places several times. It could easily have been Tom Baker if I was in a different mood today. Certainly though, those Top 3 are far and away my favourites with Troughton a very strong fourth - such a shame so many of his episodes have been lost.

Chips - I am afraid to say that I have admitted defeat and bought a new deep fat fryer. It is only a small one, enough to make chips for me and the kids. It is what is known as a midi-fryer. It was only £15 and does the job perfectly. No matter what method I tried with the Actifry I just could not make chips as good as the ones I make in a fryer which as I've said before are the "best chips in the world" according to Ollie.

Susie the cat is still here. She isn't officially living with us, just a frequent visitor. She comes round for a few hours each day and we give her a few biscuits. She seems perfectly happy and fit so it looks as if we have become her second family. She finds the kids a bit intimidating though. It has not taken her long to work out our routine and she tends to disappear between the time they come home from school until the time they go to bed. Then she will tend to wander in - we have the back doors open in the warm weather in the evening so it is like open house. As of today a second cat has appeared in the garden and also seems to want to be our friend. It seems word is getting around the cat community that there is a little sanctuary for them right here in Bicester.

I'm busy working on Book 2, "Austerity Dad". I think this is going to be a huge improvement over my first offering. I have learnt from my experiences of writing that first book and also taken on board some of the "constructive criticism" levelled at it via the review process on Amazon. I have high hopes for this new edition. I've been very pleased with the success of the first book, I'm up to 119 sales in June in addition to the 46 I got in May, OK it's hardly best-seller territory but at least some people out there like it enough to buy it. I am just hoping that some of those that liked it are kind enough to leave me some favourable reviews as the last few reviews I had were not particularly good. No 1* reviews absolutely slating it yet, but those are unavoidable - every book has them, even best-sellers. I just hope I get some good ones to balance them out.

Until next time, blog fans.

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.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Snakes and Ladders

Here in Bicester, we are lucky enough to have our own old-fashioned independent toy shop. The kids love it. Not only do they stock a huge range of goods, but they also have various things for the kids to play with. For example, both my boys love the Brio style wooden train sets. They have a couple of them set up in store and they always head straight for them.

Another recent addition is a large and quite realistic dinosaur. This moves about, shows it's teeth and roars! For a two year old like Jamie this is quite frightening, but Ollie being the hardened old cynical five year old he now is sees straight through it.

We came away from our latest trip from the toy shop with a board game, that old classic Snakes and Ladders. Now I think this is a brilliant game for younger children to play. The rules are pretty simple to follow, even Jamie can grasp them. The outcome is completely random so anyone can win. This is quite unlike games such as Monopoly where my fiendish tactics and constantly calculating statistical brain mean that I win most of the time. In the case of Snakes and Ladders, I'm completely at the whim of the dice, and the fact is that so far, Jamie has won more games than me.

Not only does the game teach basic skills such as counting, but it also provides a basic rehearsal for real life. Because life really is like a giant game of Snakes and Ladders. We roll the dice and we move along through life and no matter how hard you work, how good you are, you cannot avoid those snakes.

Some of us undoubtedly are dealt better cards than others to begin with, but anyone can make it up those ladders with a bit of foresight and a large slice of luck.

As far as teaching Ollie, well playing this game has been really good for him. When we first started playing I think he expected he would only ever go up the ladders, and got quite upset when he started landing on the snakes. There was a fair bit of misery and crying when I won the first game. But we talked about it and I explained how we cannot win every time in life no matter how hard we try, and bit by bit he came round to understanding. Now when I win he says something like, "well done, Daddy, maybe it will be my turn to win next time", and he doesn't even get upset when he goes down the snakes now, there's more a rolling of the eyes and a "oh, no, not that big snake again".

So Snakes and Ladders - if you have not got a set, I would say, get one and give your little ones an excellent preparation for real life.

It's time for another one of my money-saving tips. It's all to do with mobile phones, but the advice applies to anything you may be locked into a long term contract with.

As of today, my 12 year long association with Orange has come to an end. They didn't do anything wrong particularly, other than they were unable to match a more competitive price from a rival.

This surprised me really. Every time my contract has come to an end in the past I have rung them up and threatened to leave and they have dutifully gone out of their way to keep me, but not this time. To give you the detail, I wanted to get the new Samsung Galaxy S4, which Orange wanted £37 per month for, plus £99 for the handset. Vodafone on the other hand offered the same phone for £33 a month and the handset free. I rang Orange and asked them to match it but they refused. Bye bye Orange.

They were quite nice about it, thanked me and gave me my PAC code, and then I rang up Vodafone. And here is where my money saving tip comes in. For some time, my wife and I have had our phones linked on the same contract through one monthly bill. We each have individual phones obviously and although I have the bill I can't see any of her messages or information, but the good news is that you get a loyalty discount.

So I am paying £33 a month for my phone and £28.50 for Claire's. That's £4.50 a month saving and it's easier to keep track of one bill than two. So overall we are getting our new S4's for £30.75 a month each, I defy anyone to find a better deal on the market than that.

I'm sitting here quite excited at the moment as I have got the sales screen open on Amazon where the sales of my book for June stand at 99. I am just waiting for it to click over to 100 which will be cause for celebration.

Around this time last week, sales ground to a halt and I didn't sell any at all for a few days. I thought, well that's it, the dream is over. Then suddenly sales came flying in at the weekend. I can only assume that people are reading the "Look Inside", like what they are seeing and picking up a copy. I've managed to stay in the top 2000 books now since Sunday and have been in the Top 5 in my categories all that time including some spells at #1.

Now that I have got a bit of "critical mass" hopefully I can maintain it. I have not had any new reviews for a few days but that might not necessarily be a bad thing. The last two were not good at all but do not seem to have put people off, the reverse if anything. I think people like to make up their own minds, and if someone slags off a book they are more likely to "Look Inside" and see if it is true.

I can confirm that volume 2 is definitely in the pipeline and I hope to have it on sale by the Autumn. I've learned a lot from this first foray into publishing and don't mind admitting I made a few mistakes. Hopefully I can learn from them and when the next one comes out there will be more ladders than snakes.

I've just clicked back over to my sales page and I'm there! 100 sales in June! Amazing! 100 people liked the look of my book enough to buy it!

By the way, a few people asked if my blog would stop now I've got my book, well don't worry it won't. I'll just keep going on and on and on. As long as my brain wants to continue its random outpourings, I'll be here!

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.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Return Of Susie

Before kids, there were cats. I grew up with them. And there was one cat in particular who was with me for a very long time. Her name was Susie and she came to me when she was only a few weeks old back in 1991 and was a constant in my life until her death in 2004.

It's easy to forget, being the family man that I am, that I have actually spent the majority of my adult life as a non-parent. The kids are a relatively recent development. I did in fact live over sixteen years as an adult after leaving home at the age of 21 until Ollie arrived when I was 37.

I always wanted to have kids, and was relatively late starting a family, but bearing in mind the haphazard nature of some of my relationships during those years maybe it was just as well. Girlfriends came and went during those years, but the one constant throughout was my beloved Susie.

Now I know that it sounds odd to parents, who say you cannot compare a pet to a child, but during all those years when I knew no different, Susie really was like an adopted daughter to me. I would not go so far to say as having her was good training for becoming a parent later on, but it does teach some sort of responsibility. I did after all have to feed her, take her to the vets and clean up after her. Quite honestly I could not even pretend this involved even 5% of the amount of work that goes into looking after a child, but even so, my "child" she was for 13 years.

During some of my darker moments such as relationship break-ups and bad times at work, it was always comforting to know she would be waiting for me when I got home. It was quite heartbreaking when I lost her, truly the end of an era.

So what brings Susie to mind? Well. for the past few weeks I have been catching glimpses of a cat hanging around who is the absolute spitting image of Susie. Today she decided to make herself known to us and came up to us in the garden and then decided to wander into the house. We have the back doors open at this time of year so it's easy to come and go. And what a lovely friendly little thing she has turned out to be. Claire wanted to feed her, but I discouraged this, however I did see her sneaking her the odd titbit of ham. But I don't mind really, it's lovely to have her hanging around.

She looks virtually identical to Susie, and I can't help myself but refer to her as such. It is a bit like having my old Susie back. Living in rented accommodation we are not meant to have pets, so this is ideal really. We know she lives in one of the other houses nearby, so we have a little visitor to come and see us without any of the responsibility or cost and without breaking any rules.

The garden is absolutely magnificent this year, huge lush growth and massive flowers. Clearly the year or so of very wet weather we've "enjoyed" since last Spring has had a hugely beneficial effect. It is like a jungle out there, but a very pretty one. We've cultivated the garden full of wild and different types of plants and it looks magnificent. The greens have never looked so green. It's the sort of garden you need to watch a video of in Blu Ray to fully appreciate the greenery. And "Susie" loves it, she's hiding out right now in the bush, pretending to sleep no doubt but ready to pounce on any possible prey. This would also be very handy for us, because living as we do on the Bure we have had more than our fair share of problems with river rats. I doubt whether any of them will be coming in while she is around.

She and Jamie have also taken to each other. I'm not sure I will be able to say the same for Ollie, he has a real phobia of cats and dogs. If Susie is still here when he gets home a fairly predictable bout of screaming and crying will probably send her scurrying off home, not to return until Monday if she knows what is good for her!

We've also got two families of ducks living in the Bure and Jamie loves to go and look at the Mummy ducks and their babies in the river on the way home from nursery. It seems we are really getting back to nature right now. We've also been dining al fresco a fair bit - the barbecue has been very busy this week. Summer is well and truly with us.

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

Monday, 3 June 2013

Living out a dream

I've been thinking a lot about writing recently, understandably, and I have come to the conclusion that the old adage "write about what you know" is definitely one to follow.

Having published one book, clearly I am thinking about what my future writing possibilities are, if any.

I have toyed with the idea of writing an original novel, or play, as I've previously mentioned, but just find myself absolutely devoid of inspiration when it comes to creating original, fictitious characters. It seems I can only write about what I know - and that is the real world.

I guess the closest I have come to fiction is the mooted sketch show idea I had, as previously reported in the blog entry "The Jason Ayres Television Show", but even those outrageous characters had more than a hint of my own personality in them.

So my sci-fi novel seems destined never to be written. So what will be written? Well a sequel to Fortysomething Father, almost certainly. That will be the next one, but what to do after that? Two books along the same lines are probably OK, but I really ought to think of some original ideas.

All I've got so far are the following (working titles only at this stage, if I can even think of any):

1) The Gourmet Guide To Junk Food.

This is for all the people who are sick to the back teeth of reading constantly about healthy eating and dieting. It seems there is not a single book out there to help the would-be glutton who has had enough of the lettuce brigade getting on his/ her case and would love to read a good honest guide to eating what they actually enjoy. You've already read my thoughts on a number of these subjects, buffets and such like, so I've plenty to work with. It will be full of handy hints and tips such as the one I recently gave you about Ryvita - don't spread the butter on the smooth side, but on the side with the holes so you can get more on. That's if Ryvita was the sort of thing this book would recommend, which is unlikely. Full of ideas for chapters, and themes - the "alternative" Ploughman's lunch is one I have in mind - still I'm not giving all the secrets away here, you'll have to wait for the book for that one.

2) Kebabylon

This is basically a travel style book where I go around Britain eating in all the local greasy spoons, kebab shops, chip shops and anything else I can find. A sort of Palin for fat people. Obviously it would not all be stuff about junk food. There would be bits where I'd grab myself a bag of chips in Skeggy or somewhere and sit out on the sea front waxing lyrical about how the fish and chip trade was boosted by cod out of the North Sea or something or other, in between mouthfuls of fishcake. Main problem with this book idea is the practicality of buggering off travelling for several weeks to write it. It's alright for the likes of Bill Bryson, his kids are grown up. Might have to put this idea on hold for a decade or so.

3) Some sort of horse racing and betting book

I was asked by one of my mates when I published my book what it was, was it a guide to how to win on the horses? Well no it wasn't, but I could certainly write such a book. Then maybe hold to ransom some of the bad sport bookies who have barred me from betting from them. How much will you pay me not to release this book? OK, getting a bit carried away there, but it's certainly something I could write - bit of a specialist audience though. I reckon Daryl and Gary would buy it though, they need it!

Well there are a few ideas anyway. I don't have to worry about anyone nicking them, as I doubt whether anyone could manage to write them in quite the way I could. Which some people seem to like, bizarrely.

How do I know this? Well, a month after launch, it seems that my book is actually starting to be noticed and to sell. It's all quite exciting for me. I really set myself up for a possible fall doing all this, but faint heart ne'er won fair lady, and whilst she is not exactly won yet, she's certainly melting a little bit.

Here's a quick summary of how things have gone to date.

In the first week there was an initial flurry of sales from friends via the blog and facebook. Then it quietened down a bit. I did a free kindle promotion to try and garner some reviews - around 150 were given away. After that sales dropped off a bit. I put the price down to £2 for the Kindle version and launched in paperback.

I also put a review copy into Cole's in town who have agreed to stock it, so if you aren't someone that's into internet shopping, and you want to get a copy, you will soon be able to buy it from there.

Sales dropped off during late May, and I thought, well, that's it, I've given it a good shot, I haven't failed, I did what I set out to do. Then a bad review appeared which I thought would be the nail in the coffin. Up to the end of May I had sold 46 Kindle copies.

Then something remarkable, and unprompted by me happened. Suddenly at the beginning of June, the book started selling. It rose up and up the sales lists until reaching quite high in the rankings, increasing its visibility. In the first 3 days of June, I sold 32 copies. Now this might not sound a lot, but bear in mind, I have no idea who these people are now. It is genuinely selling to the wider world. I can only assume they have read the bad review, decided to look at the "Look Inside" link on the book which allows you to look at the first few chapters, disagreed with the reviewer and decided to buy.

The good run of sales has launched the book up to around #3000 in the overall book sales rankings on Amazon - bearing in mind there are over a million books available I'm quite happy with that. I'm also in the Top 5 in both my categories, these are:

Bearing in mind that there are over 1000 books available in that top category I'm quite amazed. What I am really hoping for now is to get some good reviews from these people who have recently bought, to counter the review left by the last reviewer. Not that her review seems to have done me any harm.

They update these rankings every hour or so and I find it quite exciting to keep checking them to see if I have gone up. It's like following the pop charts as I mentioned the other day. Where do things go from here? Well I hope it's up and I have not peaked. Every time I think the sales may be drying up, suddenly I pick up again. My immediate dream is to make it to #1 in one of my two categories. That would be amazing, though I have some way to go to get there. Those in the top 3 positions are way outselling me, so things would have to pick up dramatically to overhaul them. It will truly be a champagne moment if I get there.

The other good thing about generating plenty of sales is that you start to appear in the listings of other books in the "People who bought this item also bought" section, which means more visibility and more opportunities. Not only that it's leading me towards other books in the same genre, which is helping me, because I am able to see what other similar types of books are out there.

This is like living out a dream for me - I have already exceeded my own expectations, and what happens from here, well anyone's guess. All very exciting as I say, I will keep you posted, and for those of you that have been with me for a long time now, I hope you are enjoying being along for the ride as much as I am - I know I have said it before, but without your belief in me and support, I simply would never have got this far.

All I can say to anyone is, never be afraid to chase a dream, because of the risk of failure or ridicule. Another old adage springs to mind "You've got to be in it, to win it".