Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Diet Sex Club

It seems I can't open a newspaper these days without finding yet another article about how bad sugar is. Yes, it seems that sugar is this year's public enemy number one.

We just can't be left alone to enjoy our lives can we? It seems to be one thing after another. One minute we're a nation of binge drinkers. Next salt is the silent killer, oh and keep off the coffee too. Then the focus is on fats - good fats, bad fats, let's confuse the hell out of everyone. Now it's sugar - and great the paper is telling me there's 5 teaspoons of sugar in every banana - one of the few "healthy" things my children enthusiastically ask for. Thanks for ruining that for me. Then there's 23 spoons of sugar in a can of drink and 86 in a chocolate bar. OK I'm exaggerating now, but even so the amounts quoted seem ridiculous on some of the things.

Does all this scaremongering do people any good? None whatsoever - all it does is confuse and annoy them and give the naughty foods a taboo value to make people crave them even more. Sugar, salt, fat and booze aren't the enemy. It's excessive consumption of calories overall and not enough exercise that causes the problem. Yet every week there's a new magic diet, eat this, eat that, that people believe will wave away their problems with a magic wand and make them slim and happy again.

When oh when will everyone realise that all that is needed is one simple sum:

Calories consumed > Calories burnt = you gain weight.
Calories consumed < Calories burnt = you lose weight.

And you can then chuck all the diet books and other bullshit out of the window.

It's only humans that seem to have this problem. You don't see lots of animals walking around in nature with great big beer guts and their arses hanging out of their trousers. Or bumble bees struggling to take off the ground because they gorged themeselves to obesity on nectar. They have learned to regulate their body weight. They wouldn't last long if they didn't.

How do they burn off their excess calories, well they have a lot of sex. Animals, insects and plants have complete freedom to do it whenever they want with whoever they want. You only have to watch the average Attenbrough documentary to see that. Or sit in the garden on a summer's day and you'll see all sorts going on - there's bound to be a couple of butterflies or something having it off in mid-air.

But what about us? Well it's a very topsy turvy world. We humans as the dominant species, have by and large done away with the problems faced by all other species in nature, e.g. being murdered callously and eaten by something bigger than us. We also don't have to spend most of our lives foraging for food or building shelters or feeding a queen or all the other things every other species has to do. We have freedom of will - we can go to the pub, read a book, in short, we have freed ourselves to do whatever we want. Except when it comes to sex. We've either too tired, too bored, too prudish, too shy, too unattractive to the opposite sex (or think we are due to hang ups about being too fat - that'll be the sugar again), or too bound by a set of rules that says "you can't do that" or "that's wrong" and so on and so forth. I'm sure there are some people out there enjoying rich and fulfilling and uninhibited sex lives, but I imagine the majority are crashed out in front of the telly eating biscuits and crisps, and getting fat. Meanwhile out in the garden the birds and the bees are getting it on in a free for all which makes the average dogging night at Stoke Woods look like a respectable tea party.

So if you want more sugar and all of the rest of it - remember my magic formula. Want an extra Mars Bar above your recommend calorie intake? Then have some sex too. No-one to have it with? Find some like-minded people.

How about a new club a bit like weight-watchers or slimming world but for broad-minded people where at the weekly weigh-in anyone who has put on weight has to have sex with someone else who has also put on weight? It beats your standard diet club or dating website any day. I think I should start this up as a business, reckon I'll make a fortune. I wonder if they'd let me hold the meetings at the Methodist Hall?

Yes - come and join the Diet Sex club - I'm taking bookings now.

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Monday, 27 January 2014

Big Night Out!

When I was about sixteen I used to go to friend's house parties. This was a time of great excitement for me. For a start I was at an all boys school so these parties tended to be full of females who were full of novelty value for me as I just didn't have that much interaction with them at the time. But I wanted to - wow, did I want to. Those hormones were running rampant at the time, I'm sure if you think back you'll remember what that was like - it was the same for all of us, wasn't it?

Aside from girls, the other exciting thing at these parties, which was considerably easier to get my hands on was the booze. At that age we were too young for pubs and booze wasn't that easily accessible, so most consumption took place at these parties, which happened maybe once every month or two. Alcohol was new and illicit and exciting. And also dangerous. You could guarantee at every one of these parties there would be at least one attendee who would over do it and end up chucking up everywhere. In fact I think it was me at least one time. I think we all took our turn at one time or another, it's one of those rites of passage into adulthood through which we all must pass.

Over the years though, booze lost it's taboo status and became mainstream. Within a couple of years we were all down the pubs, though that in itself was a brave new world, and my late teens were one long party round the pubs of Oxford. Booze was still new then and still fun. There were many new people to meet, girls were everywhere by now (college) and I was keen to make up for lost time. Many a night out in town would end up with a drunken snog, or more if I was lucky. They were exciting times, and I never thought at the time they wouldn't go on forever, but life changed. College was replaced by work, meaning more responsibility, I left home which meant money was for bills, not booze, and things gradually changed.

For many years I still went out, but it wasn't as adventurous as before most of the time, more a case of a few pints in the local. There was no longer much in the way of excitement about it, it was just a pleasurable way of whiling away a few hours with friends. I certainly had no reason to sit in during the evening in my twenties and early thirties. But then two big changes came along - the kids and the fact that I became a DJ. Now when I was out in the pub I was working rather than playing, and on the nights when I wasn't working I was looking after the kids at home.

Eventually as you know, I gave up alcohol almost completely, going whole months or more at a time without a drink. I had gone from one extreme to another.

I think that no matter how responsible and dedicated a parent you are though, it is very important to maintain some sense of individuality and I was getting to the point where I realised I was becoming virtually reclusive and never meeting any new people. This became particularly noticeable after October last year when I made the decision to hang up my DJ boots. Whilst I am happy at home most of the time, I can see that it is essential to let one's hair down occasionally, so I made a resolution at the start of this year that I would have one night out a month without kids or partner to enjoy some proper grown up adult company. And I wanted this night out to be exciting and special - not just wandering down the pub and hoping there might be someone there to chat to.

So I was delighted on Saturday to be invited out for the night by a couple of my mum friends from school. What started out as quite a vague plan - I thought it was going to be just two or three of us going out for a few drinks actually snowballed into being quite a major event. We met at my friend Laura's flat for pre-pub drinks which is conveniently situated just across the car park from where I live. When I got there, there were at least ten people already there - and I was the only male, but this wasn't a problem at all. All the years of school and nursery runs and play centres have left me quite at ease in a female dominated environment. I only knew a few of the girls there, but I soon got to know the others. They were a really fantastic bunch, out for a night of fun and the atmosphere was fantastic. It was the first time I had really met a lot of new people all in one go for a very long time but I didn't feel the slightest bit uncomfortable with it at all. I really enjoyed having a drink too, the first since New Year. I realised that staying off the booze has given it back that exciting edge that it used to have back at those teenage parties all those years ago.

We went into town to the White Hart and then on to the Bell. The night was a great mix of old and new. Not only did I have all my new friends in tow, but bumped into dozens of old ones too. The old reclusive me completely disappeared for the evening and I felt full of a new-found confidence. The fact that I've lost over a stone in weight since November can only have helped too.

I was so up for it, I readily agreed to go to Yates, and if you are wondering how long it has been since I did that, well I think it was called the Litten Tree the last time I went there. We were having such a good time, it was a laugh a minute and I could recount so many amusing moments and random conversations. I think my favourite was the debate about a certain brand of cider and whether or not it was made from strawberries. It was very important to one of our group, but I just couldn't stop laughing.

I stopped short of a trip to G's and headed for the kebab shop. Despite my long absence from there also, the second I walked in the door the guys clocked me and instantly served up my regular order without me even having to ask. They looked very pleased to see me, I imagine takings have probably gone down these past few years in my absence. I sat on the wall by the Bure wolfing down my dirty great kebab with not a moment's guilt and headed home, ahead of an extremely fragile Sunday.

And now I am back on the wagon again until the next event. But thank-you all of you who were along on Saturday - that's three Laura's, Kaz (of the strawberry cider fame), Kelly, Angela, Athena, Kat, Rachel, Rozie (sorry if I forgot anyone!) not to mention all of the other old friends in the Hart, Bell and Yates. I had a fantastic evening, made some great new friends and really blew away the cobwebs.

Here's to a more sociable 2014! Cheers! x

PS: In case you worry Claire's missing out on all this, she's having her nights out with friends too which must get pretty messy judging by the time she gets home (probably about the same time I did). It's healthy for a relationship for each partner to have a little space of their own, you can't live constantly in each other's pockets.

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Friday, 3 January 2014

Exciting new Sausage Suggestions!

So it's a new year, and it's time for me to put on my somewhat eccentric thinking cap and come up with some exciting new ideas for innovation in the sausage world!

Since being chosen as Love Pork's official sausage taster last year, I've taken my responsibilities in this area very seriously. I mentioned in the last entry that I had some big ambitions for 2014, well one of these is to make it big in the world of bacon, ham and sausages. I've already been offered a feature in Pig & Poultry Marketing magazine, but for me the ultimate dream, and the culmination of my life's work would be to gain the legendary status of Hambassador with Love Pork. How can I achieve this? Well, as long as I keep writing and promoting all things pork product via this blog, who knows what might come of it.

Hambassador aspirations apart, sausages aren't the only things that get awards in the Pork world, and if there is some bacon or some pork pies to be judged in the months ahead, I want to be there!

Things have gone a bit quiet in the sausage world at present as everyone's been busy with Christmas. I've done my festive bit with my piece on Pigs in Blankets, but now that the New Year is upon us, I feel the time has come for new ideas in the sausage world. So I've been thinking in a way that if I was still living in the corporate world might be referred to as "out of the box" and come up with the following ideas:

1) Sausage Mince Pies.

Imagine a normal mince pie. Now imagine it without mince inside it, but sausage instead. Now I know what you are thinking, that's just a sausage roll, but it's not. It's a different type of pastry for a start, and it also still has the sugar on the top. A glorious combination of savoury sausage with a sweet casing - the perfect savoury treat for the festive season. After all, based on extensive market research* I have done, I have discovered that 50% of people don't like mince pies! Can you believe that? That's an untapped market of over 30 million people in the country looking for an alternative!

*Research based on a study of the Ayres household taken on 3rd January 2014 - 2 respondents said they liked mince pies and 2 didn't. These figures were then multiplied up to represent the overall UK population. Since I worked for a major market research company for 15 years, no-one can possibly question the validity of this research!

2) Mince Pie Sausages.

Well if you've got one brilliant idea, why not switch it around and turn it into two brilliant ideas! A special festive sausage with a mince pie flavour. If you think that sounds ludicrous, remember Waitrose once produced a strawberry and cream sausage for Wimbledon so it's not that far fetched. (NB: I have given away one of the answers from my earlier quiz there in case you struggled with that). Also one of my favourite sausages at the tasting back in September was a whisky and marmalade concoction, so sweet flavours have been done before. In fact, the whisky inclusion has given me an idea - for a truly scrumptions festive offering, what about a Mince Pie & Mulled Wine sausage? It sounds like the sort of thing Heston Blumenthal might take on, and I'm sure he's already in the planning process for next year's Waitrose offerings.. How about it Heston? You can have this idea on me, I don't want any royalties, all I ask is that you send me a few packs just in case my writing career has not had the meteoric rise this year I was hoping for and I'm a bit skint when it comes to putting Christmas dinner on the table. I promise not to sell them on eBay.

3) Sausage Ice Cream.

Great as the two above ideas are, they are somewhat seasonal, and ideally we want to be maximising sausage consumption offerings throughout the year, so what about sausage ice cream to boost sales in the traditionally quiet summer months! Ice cream flavoured with sausage, or bacon even, could be just the thing on a hot day for those of us with a savoury rather than a sweet tooth. I know what you may be thinking, yes that's just flavouring, it is not going to include actual sausages, but here is the piece de resistance - instead of a flake, let's have a sausage sticking out of the top! Brilliant! I'm almost tempted to go out and buy an ice cream van right now and set up in business.

4) Sausage Bread.

We all like sausage sandwiches, but they can be a bit of a hassle. Put one in a baguette and it does its utmost to escape out the other end, whilst slapping a few between a couple of slices of bread leads to them rolling all over the place. It happened to me this very morning as I was putting a sandwich together, it rolled off the bread board and on to the floor and the cat was on it in a flash. But I have the perfect solution! Sausage bread! My breadmaker has a little compartment where you can put raisins and things in to be added to the loaf during the cooking process. What I plan to do is cook some sausages, cut them up, and feed them in to the loaf. I am sure this could just as easily be done on a a production line in a bakery - imagine that - lovely fresh loaves of bread with juicy lumps of sausage inside it! Heaven! I can't believe no-one has thought of it before!

So there are four brilliant ideas to get started with! Maybe I can come up with some more. If someone picks up on some of these, it could be worth millions to the industry! Who would have thought someone who started out as a humble blogger might one day be heralded as the man who revitalised the sausage world?What a footprint to leave behind for my time on Earth!

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Thursday, 2 January 2014

Prezzo Prandials

This New Year's Eve was quite unusual for me, because for the first time in eight years, I was not DJ'ing for the evening. This has always been a lucrative night for me. DJ's, like taxis, charge at least double, more in many cases, but this year I decided I would take a break from it.

New Year's Eve assumes a special importance in our family, because it is also my wife's birthday. We have been together since 2006 and in all of that time she's had to traipse around after me wherever I happened too be working for the evening. That's OK if we are local, but that hasn't always been the case. Anyway, I decided it was about time that I treated Claire to a birthday night out so I rejected all offers of DJ'ing and thought about what we should do.

Now I thought at first maybe we should do something really special, but then I thought perhaps we will put that on hold for another year. You see Claire was 29 this year and she has the big birthday coming up at the end of 2014, so I've decided to save it until then. Instead we decided to go out for a meal locally, and we had plenty of places to choose from.

What a difference a year makes! The new town centre development in Bicester has given us opportunities that simply didn't exist before. We had an tired ageing old Tesco, and a few other smaller supermarkets - now we have an amazing, huge modern Sainsbury. There was nowhere to get kids clothes hardly, now we've got not only Sainsbury but Peacocks as well - what a fantastic little shop that is, cheap, decent clothes, in fact I'm sitting here now in my lovely warm dressing gown that Claire got me for £16 - you can't go wrong! Then there is the cinema of course. If you are someone who lives in a large town or city you'll probably wonder what I am getting so excited about, well the fact is, this town of 30,000 people just did not have any of these things before. For someone like me who lives in the town centre and can't just sail off where I want at the drop of a hat because of having small children to look after, it's a godsend.

And then of course there are the restaurants! At last, some chain restaurants offering an alternative from the endless Indian and Thai places which have dominated the town for years. It's all about variety and now we've got it. I've been to all three and loved them all. You've already seen my reviews of Deans Diner and Nando's. Hot on the heels of them has come Prezzo, and so it came to pass that we headed down there at 8pm on New Year's Eve for Claire's birthday dinner.

And very enjoyable it was too! If you have been to a Prezzo or any Italian chain restaurant you'll be familiar with the sorts of things on offer - pizza, pasta dishes and grills. We had a mixed platter to start with which was most acceptable. It contained bread, cheese, olives and of course a fine selection of cured meats and salamis which as you'll know I'm rather partial too. For the main course I had the burger which was fantastic - large, juicy and flavoursome. I must of course mention the chips. Most people other than myself seem to underestimate the importance of chips but it is key to my satisfaction when it comes to a meal out - since it accounts for around 50% of most dishes I order (i.e. meat + chips). They were French fries and excellent, crispy, hot and tasty. Claire had chicken with a mushroom sauce which looked lovely, similar to the sort of thing I cook at home, which I think I will definitely have next time. She also had the bonus of some salad which a freak gust of wind blew off my plate and on to hers.

This was all washed down with a bottle of Chianti - only my second drinking day of December, but it fell under the "special occasion" banner so quite acceptable.

Afterwards we went up to the Acorn to see the New Year in. Unlike all the other places which had tickets and would be rammed we just wanted something a bit low key, and this ticked all the boxes. Our very good friends Duncan and Lynda were there and I've always got time for them. Duncan and Eric, Lynda's were doing the disco and there were a few of my old karaoke crowd too. Claire bumped into an old friend from school, and another good friend of mine was there too who I wasn't expecting to see so we had plenty of company, and even met a few new people too. The place wasn't crowded, but it was just the right level and it was nice to see someone else doing all the work on NYE for a change - thanks Duncan!

So a great night and a massive thumbs up for Prezzo. Doubtless there will be some that disagree, when I posted my reviews of Nando's and Deans on facebook there were a few detractors, but let's face it, you can't please everyone. Someone always likes to pick fault with things, they are probably the same people who inspect every nook and cranny of their holiday accommodation for things to moan about on Trip Advisor. On a more local basis we've got "have a rant pages" and various others on facebook for people to have a good moan. Quite why people feel the need to do this, I don't know. I tend to relax and overlook the small things when I go on holiday or out for a meal, otherwise what's the point?

I think in a lot of cases it is down to personality. I have a naturally sunny disposition, think optimistically and positively and it works for me. Whereas it seems to me those who constantly moan and complain about their lot in life never see any improvement. They were all up there again on facebook over New Year, bemoaning their lot and how they hope 2014 will be better. I feel like saying to some of them "get off your arse, stop whining and make it better". But I don't because there is no point, they'll just carry on, same old mistakes, same old habits, same old bad choices. They'll be back again next year hoping for a better 2015.

As for me and 2014? Well I'm bursting with new ideas and plans. I had some pretty lofty ambitions in 2013 but I made them all happen. 2014 has massive potential - with me in much better health, alcohol free (most of the time) the world really is my oyster. What am I going to do? Well that would be spoilers, you'll just have to wait and see!

Happy New Year!

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