Monday, 25 November 2013

The reluctant teetotaller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Stay At Home Dad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Return Of The Fat Bloke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Dining at Deans

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find the full menu here: Deans Diner Menu

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

Daddy! Look at my new hat!

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Banger Bonanza!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editors notes:

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

The Celebrity Chef meets
The Sausage Man

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

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

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

Rossiter's receive the prize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 4 November 2013

Downton Shabby!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jason xx