Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Log

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Crappers

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

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


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Pigs in Blankets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shop bought pigs in blankets.
Unacceptably small.

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 18 December 2013

This Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

"This Country"

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

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


Friday, 13 December 2013

When mince pies go wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mixed bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Dear "The Sausage Man"

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

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

Here we go then:

Dear "The Sausage Man".

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

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

A picture of the offending bacon.

"Toothless" of Tooting.

Dear Toothless,

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


Dear "The Sausage Man".

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

"Famished" of Bicester

Smoky Bacon crisps

Dear Famished,

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


Dear "The Sausage Man"

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

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

Can you offer any advice at all?

"Starved" of Southampton.

The good old days!

Dear Starved,

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

Good luck!


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