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Persistence: Only Available At 5am When I Have No Choice

Sometimes the flow of work at my workplace doesn’t keep pace with how quickly I process it and by “sometimes” I mean “often”. Unfortunately by 5am I’ve also lost the ability to form sentences and can’t productively use the time to work on book projects, and I can’t look at hardcore pornography because I’m at work.

Recently I decided that I’d try copying a painting by one of my (current) favourite painters, Newlyn School artist and Notorious Heterosexual Henry Scott Tuke, whose primary fodder of sun-kissed naked boys viewed from behind is mysteriously not banned by my workplace, on the grounds that if it’s rendered in paint it’s not pornography.

Now there’s a good reason my tag for attempts at freehand lineart on my less official blog is “derek can’t draw”, and it’s also fairly self-evident. I hear that practice makes perfect, but I also hear my dear chum Jamie McKelvie’s complaints about sciatica brought on by endless drawing and think that art is entirely Too Dangerous for a fragile flower like me, and stick to lifting heavy things in the bathroom instead.

Being for all intents and purposes nailed to my bastard desk for at least another hour with nothing else to do I thought I’d take my life and back muscles into my own hands and give it a try anyway:

brush pen

My brush pen had run out. Under normal circumstances I would take this as a Sign From God that it is not to be, but alas God is going to have to signal a bit harder (say, for instance, by letting me go home) under conditions like these–


Merciful fucking Christ, have I always been this bad at art?



I made an attempt to block it out with a wee figure in the corner but as you can see this did not help in the slightest.

getting worse

Trying to go for something more stylised and less naturalistic is not helping. It’s getting worse. It’s getting worse the more I do it.

Look at that leg what is happening to his leg?

am i on acid

The point at which sleep deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs become a very similar experience: the arms are improving (for a given value of improving) but the legs are making me concerned that I’ve experienced neurological damage and just haven’t noticed yet (Will Graham, I am coming for your crown). Do I have encephalitis or am I just incredibly stupid?

Don’t answer that.


Experimenting with an edict from friend Kev about letting “mistakes” become part of your style, as well as with a slightly better block-out. Not worried about club foot, jug ears, crab hand, or banana fingers, but that leg. It’s broken. There’s a gravitational issue going on – his arm’s supposed to be resting on his knee and there’s this smashed noodle happening there instead.


Frustration takes hold. None of these poses are right. There’s a distinct, leggy problem occurring and re-occurring, like someone has lost his grip on anatomy and probably shouldn’t be trying to draw at 5am after about 260mg of caffeine anyway.


This calls for drastic measures. Fling open a new tab. Find some anatomy guides. This one was of the musculature of the leg (and leg bones), in case this is not clear from the gargoyle scratchings I committed to paper.

Commentary written on my drawing is fairly standard practice: earlier in the night I tried to redesign a character and every sketch was accompanied by criticism from the drawings themselves and protests that they wanted to be left in peace.


The thigh bone’s connect to the shin bones and the shin bones are connected to the heel bone and the heel bone rests on the ground, Derek, because you’re not a horse.

see through

Making the body see-through to get an idea of where all the limbs sit helps, as does temporarily changing to a different pen.

I mean look, his elbow’s bulbous but at least his leg’s not broken any more.


Combining with the character redesign. The leg is still fucked but eh. How much more can I do?


After all, until I can get the hang of the line of gravity in a figure anatomy is going to be a dead duck anyway.

Filed under: content: artwork, content: essay, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Coming Out As Trans: A Bloody Cliché-Ridden Story.

My updated passport. Note gender.

My updated passport. Note gender.

That should cover the basics, I feel. I’m not a fan of making big announcements but as I made a song-and-dance about the last name change and this one is rather more important, it behoves me to at least have a hum and a shuffle about this.

For very few remaining people this will come as a surprise. The majority already know. I’m in the laborious process of flitting between private and NHS healthcare at the moment, trying to secure prescriptions and surgery, and spending a lot of my free time doing daft-looking and daft-sounding exercises to help shape my muscles and vocal chords so that strangers stop referring to me as “she” and making me feel like crap.

It should be noted that my friends have been exemplary about this, with almost no habitual slip-ups and immediate corrections. Not one of them has questioned whether I mean it, and not one of them has flounced off in a transphobic huff. I’ve spent years and years filtering out the arseholes from my social circles and it has paid off

In my job I read a lot of news articles, and it gives me the unparalleled opportunity to see how the narrative of transitioning, which seems to have been cemented in place a long time ago and which requires a fairly rigid set of boxes to be ticked, is usually told. It’s also given me the opportunity to see that while the media is pretty obsessed with trans women (whether deriding them, fetishing them, or actually managing to be respectful) there are still not very many mentions of trans men. There were even fewer mentions when I was younger, which I’m pretty sure was a contributing factor in me being blissfully uncomfortable and incapable of actually putting a name to what was wrong for so long. A list like this one might help, might have helped.

There is a traditional narrative of transition, of early discomfort, cross-dressing, and dysphoria, disaffection with social gender roles and clothing, culminating in a lightbulb moment. There are a few hiccups with that smooth narrative: cross-dressing is not necessarily linked to gender roles, clothes don’t really have their own gender, and thanks to tireless campaigning by women’s dress reformers in the 1800s and early 1900s, it is not exactly outre for women to wear trousers or suit blazers. Unfortunately for men who like dresses, Eddie Izzard has not had the same degree of success in ungendering the frock and lippy.

The bounds of gender are also elastic. If a cis woman can be butch, a tomboy, etc, without compromising her gender identity (and she can and should be allowed this), then why should a transgender woman not be allowed this? If a cis man can be a drag queen (and God be praised many are, drag queens are an element of entertainment culture I never, ever want to see pass away), or a metrosexual, or David Bowie, why can’t a trans man have purple eyebrows and a latex dress?

Discomfort with gender roles is, I’ve noticed, hardly restricted to transgender people. Straight, cis, male friends complain tirelessly of being boxed in by expectations of masculinity. The angry demand that women be allowed to damn well do anything that men do (including really stupid and damaging things) has been heard with increasing ferocity and eloquence for over a century in the UK alone.

Early discomfort is … well, it’s hard to separate from discomfort with other things, a factor which seems to be largely ignored in the WPATH standards of care. I was raised in a proudly and profoundly second-wave feminist household. Since the moment I could form sentences I have been aware of a) the millstone of partriarchal impositions on women’s bodies, b) the role of the partriarchy in suppressing women’s achievements and c) the phrase “internalised misogyny”.

In a world where a bleak division continues to be perpetrated between the power held by women and the power granted to men, is it really likely that every transgender child can tell the difference between being piqued that they’re prevented from having a pink doll or furious at being forbidden football for reasons of generalised unfairness and the stirrings of social dysphoria? We only have hindsight.

Physical dysphoria (as opposed to social dysphoria) which is not a requirement for a non-cisgender identity, is more concrete. And so we’ll begin my Classic Trans Narrative with that.

It is a curious thing to look back over the experiences of your life and realise that your uncategorisable weirdnesses, over which you’ve experienced shame, guilt, anger, and a sense of dislocation from yourself so deep that you’re still plagued by doubts that you exist at all, and find that you are, in fact, categorisable. To turn to other people who have had similar experiences and find that they fit, to a degree, within an existing framework of which you’ve been utterly ignorant. To go back and fit the disjointed, glaring moments and current of Wrongness into an actual picture which, viewed from the position of already having the answer, suddenly and finally makes sense.

A bit like a historical Magic Eye Picture.

If I was preparing a slideshow I might, for example, include childhood instances of trying to create an STP harness out of a toilet roll tube. I might mention the virulent jealousy of my male best friend and his stupid weird testicles when I was 7. Children are weird, naysayers would say. I might mention the utterly alien experience of female puberty, bringing with it the start of no longer feeling as if I was in my own body – a sensation which has sent me through all kinds of risk-taking behaviour, depths of despair, unwanted pregnancy (why care about contraception when you barely believe it’s you having the unprotected vaginal sex?), eating disorders, obesity, self-harm, and a long-term indifference to my own survival. Internalised misogyny, naysayers would desperately reply, on being faced with these Powerpoint slides.

It is also curious to think that the answer was so flatly denied with such a contradictory blend of “everyone feels like that” and “you’re weird”. Make up your minds, Society!

Physical dysphoria takes many forms (please note 2). For the most part I’ve been lucky. Feel revulsion and discomfort would require a sense of association with my body and over a decade of starvation, substance abuse, shitty behaviour, and just plain continually distracting myself has stopped that nonsense. Getting back in contact with myself – mainly through exercise and testosterone – has been, to put it mildly, frightening. Having a damageable human body instead of a vague idea that something I don’t like will be got rid of if I get hit by a truck is something I’m still adjusting to.

That feeling of alien disconnect was so pervasive, so normal to me, that I didn’t think it worth investigating, after a while. Internalised misogyny. A refusal to Play Nice With The World. My mother, working within her own framework of beliefs which include some interesting approaches to reincarnation, decided that I “didn’t want to be on the Earth”, which is hardly a perceptive leap after your only child has persistently attempted suicide and spends most of their time lying down or bleeding on things while crying.

It remains difficult to talk, or think about.

For the sake of the Narrative, let us assume there was one lightbulb moment, instead of a series of ever-increasing lightbulbs hastily switched off for fear of being ridiculed, accused of attention-seeking, and dismissed by all and sundry. Let us not compare the road to openness about gender with my progress to the same with sexuality, where I did the fucking Closet Hokey-Cokey for a decade and still operate, largely, on a need-to-know basis where I judge almost everyone as Not Needing To Know.

Let’s. It’s true. I’ve wandered back and forth on pronouns, accepted my position and rescinded it, panicking at the breadth of the implications and the apparently insurmountable obstacles, convinced the response would be the same: You’re Making It Up. And let’s, for a moment, regard with outright suspicion the people who believe that wanting to keep elements of one’s life and identity private, or not wishing to disclose, for example, the content of one’s underwear to hostile arseholes from every walk of life, means one is not sincere.

And let’s also talk about wishful thinking, the main outlet for someone too fearful of rejection to actually pursue the increasingly obvious: an avowed atheist, I’ve lobbed pennies in wells, made wishes on candles, submitted prayers at Sacre Coeur on a Christmas Holiday, sought out shooting stars, made weird bargains with the universe where on a set time and date (compliant with what I was raised to believe: manifestation, and positive thinking. Turns out, by the way, you actually have to do something instead) I would just wake up and everything would be fine. No more heinous female body. No more womb torment, no more stupid voice, and could I maybe please also grow six inches?

The universe, unfeeling and indeed non-cogitating bastard that it is, has not obliged me. Thankfully I’ve never been nuts enough to think that what it wants from me is human sacrifice, because I’d have been willing.

Why now?

This is understandably a question I’ve been asked a few times by medical professionals. They are required to ask, and if I’ve been effectively sitting on a suicidal ideation landmine for 30+ years the question of “why now” does seem pertinent. There are a lot of factors: the presence of the Resident Australian and the sense of security and stability in my home life has helped enormously, as has the increasing number of transgender friends I’ve amassed who are, by virtue of who they are, more inclined to take me seriously. Media concentration has made it less likely that I’ll be met with total bemusement; indignant support by acquaintances for the gender identity of Chelsea Manning (for various reasons the fact that this is a Wikipedia link is highly ironic) was a boost, as was the delighted reception of Laverne Cox into the public eye.

Also, and less pleasantly, people have persistently been dying – in 2011 a series of friends and acquaintances committed suicide, in 2012 two deaths occurred in my family in the same week – which despite a long and by then almost-habitual familiarity with suicidal ideation and an indifference to my own survival, did also give me the impetus to think about how everyone else conducted their lives.

Namely, right up until those friends lost their grip on the battle with their own mental health, and until those family members no longer had the physical wherewithal to keep kicking death in the bollocks, none of them had to my knowledge spent their entire lives hiding under a rock and drifting into and out of things without my sustained enthusiasm because they felt like a shadow of a person. In fact, they’d done the opposite – pursued their interests and passions with zeal and vigour, and in every case the world will be the worse for not having them in it. I wasn’t sure the same could be said for me.

The same very much cannot be said for me, in fact. A lack of confidence has dogged me most of my life. I’ve walked into achievements with the blunt sense that I don’t deserve them and that they belong to someone else. The BA I earned was an aberration. The literary competitions I won were probably a mistake. The relationships I had were just because people hadn’t realised I was a fake. And so on. I pursued almost nothing, I settled as quickly and as easily as I could and tolerated things that should not have been tolerable to anyone simply because I couldn’t bring myself to care about them. My body wasn’t right, I wasn’t right, so what did it matter if I did or did not go anywhere in life?

Flitting in and out of unemployment and bashing out books did give me a chance to consider this, too. What exactly was I avoiding in not doing anything about a problem that was destroying me, body and mind? “Things might be terrible?” Things were already terrible.

As I said, I’ve never been a terribly motivated person. If there is even a sliver of doubt in the likelihood of me getting to point B from point A I hang back and don’t get off the sofa. There was no guarantee that I wouldn’t do with this as I had with, say, my attempt at a career change five years ago, when I chucked some redundancy money at getting an HNC in Music Production: pursue it enough to get over the quantifiable hurdle (I passed the HNC with a Distinction because if there’s one thing I am it is painfully, pathetically academically competitive when I already know I’m doing better than the rest of my class)  and then abandon it as too hard, requiring too much interaction.

That’s another thing, by the way. When you live your life in a constant fug of Wrongness and misgendering you don’t really want to interact with people very much. It drains the living shit out of you because you’re having to realign yourself, continually, to a gender that’s not yours, and rise above feeling like utter pants in order to communicate/remember how to perform that Not Your Gender.

I lined up all the possible objections to my transition and started to tackle them with a determination I had no idea I actually possessed.

  1. I was worried that, being a long way “obese” on the BMI scale when I went to see my GP, I might be refused treatment on the basis of physical health. Testosterone raises the blood pressure and cholesterol, and both are associated also with elevated weight. As it happens, my cholesterol levels were entirely fine and my blood pressure was “surprisingly good” for someone of my total lack of fitness and dislike of being in a doctor’s surgery talking about My Feelings.

But I didn’t want to encounter any potential resistance later, either. So I hurled myself at what is looking to be a permanent lifestyle change: I now walk around 5 miles most days, lift weights, and eat less than a third of what I was eating before: completely different foods. Since August 2014 I have gone from 113kg to 73-76kg depending on the week.

  1. I was aware this was going to take a long time, and also aware that I am not a patient person. Cowardly, yes; patient, no. And the one thing I know about medical processes is that if you want something doing quickly, you have to pay for it. For which I would need a regular source of income that wasn’t in the doldrums. I would also need to not be constantly at the mercy of some spectacular dickheads higher up the food chain one of my seasonal work go-tos, which was also something of a foot in the arse for what happened next: I changed gear, and went after a job with the kind of direction and determination I have, again, never actually managed before.

    I got the job.

    I passed my probation, which has also never happened before.

    I’m good at my job.

    Which is weird.

  1. I’ve actually started looking into savings schemes and planning ahead. For the future. The one that I’m actually convinced I’m going to have now. I’ve stopped behaving as if I’m going to die tomorrow.
  2. The path hasn’t been easy. There have been setbacks, misunderstandings, lost documents – a grim period in which a lack of information from the Passport Office website meant I didn’t have the right paperwork and effectively had my passport confiscated, putting me in the same category as people who want to take their daughters abroad for FGM because they hadn’t been clear about what degree of medical professional they wanted a letter from. There’s been money flying about like the trading floor of a stock exchange. And instead of toppling over the minute things get difficult, as has typically been my wont (“This is hard! I’m not doing it!”), each time I’ve taken stock, collected advice, asked for clarifications, and attacked the problem anew.
  3. People have been helping. Not just a battery of deeply, deeply appreciated friends, not just the people I live with, not people with a stake in seeing me happy. Doctors. HR managers. Even, once I had the right damn letter, the Passport Office. Who have expressed sympathy and the desire to be supportive. Who have listened to me. Who have, instead of treating me like I don’t know my own mind, responded to me behaving like an actual damn adult and saying “I do know myself better than you do, and what I know is that I am not going back on this” by agreeing that I know what I am.

Why blow my own trumpet in such a vulgar fashion?

Because, pathetic as it is, this is amazing to me. After three decades of being a spineless, directionless, worried idiot who lived so constantly with the desire to die or at least not live, I can now make long-term plans; I don’t walk around feeling like I’m slowly suffocating. I have things to look forward to. I have determination to make those things happen. I have contingency plans. I am prepared to kick and kick and kick until I get a body I can live in; now that there is a route out of this situation that doesn’t feel unreachable, I feel like I have the power to reach for it; now that there’s a way out that isn’t just “die”, I don’t want to die any more.

As I told the first therapist I saw about this, I didn’t know I could do this. And now… what else could I do? What else am I capable of?

Most of the resources online for parents dealing with their children transitioning are aimed at the parents of young children and teenagers. I’d like to think that means that parents are becoming if not more accepting (lunatics and bigots will always abound), then at least better-informed. When I was younger there was none of this, no framing for what I was feeling, and no point of reference. No depiction of trans men in the media or in the books I read that would have given me a handle on how to phrase what I experienced.

Trans men and women before me have fought like crazy to get us we were are now: talking about Caitlyn Jenner’s dress and Lana Wachowski’s mad sci-fi. Presenting narratives about transgender men and women that don’t end in suicide or murder, so that the next generations have something to look forward to, something to hope for.

If it’s not too late for Caitlyn Jenner to get her life working the right way for her, then it’s not too late for me.

These links are intended for the further education of people who have recently discovered a friend or family member is transgender, rather than for the support or assistance of those who are trying to transition. I also recommend reading the links in the body text.

My Child Came Out As Transgender, Now What?
Transgender advice: the best resources online
Resources for people with transgender family members
Mermaids (for transgender children)
My Daughter, My Son: How School Bullies and State Laws Changed the Way I Saw My Transgender Child
Things Not To Say To A Transgender Person (video, useful & informative, from the BBC)
5 Things Cis People Can Actually Do For Trans People
If Trans People Said All The Things Cis People Said (video)


Cisgender privilege
3 Examples of everyday Cissexism (Since genitals do not determine gender, you actually won’t know your child’s gender identity until they’re able to tell you.)


Filed under: content: real life, , , , , , , , , ,

I Love Living In The Future: New Shit Exists!

While I am usually too suspicious of purported developments (and too broke) to actually buy them until they’re old hat, I do love to waste my time on new inventions websites fantasising about what could be achieved if I were only a) rich b) rich, and c) really, really rich (if you’d like to help me become slightly less poor: products are available to assist).

I’ve collected together some of the best, most lunatic, or most avarice-inspiring things I’ve seen.

The Compute Plug.

Computer Plug

An entire computer in a plug. Perfect for the space-deprived being of tomorrow or, given rent prices in London, New York, and Tokyo, the space-deprived being of today.



Addressing some of the housing issues and the time taken to build both furniture and shelter, these are literally construction-sized Lego blocks, something I have been dreaming of since I was a wee ‘un. Brilliant. Website here.

Motorized Unicycle Thing.

I’m not going to lie, I see people on these in the street occasionally and I think they look like prize wankers, but I’m sure when it’s more normalised and they’re cheaper this will become a perfectly acceptable means of transport in London, especially if they are given their own lane and don’t get in the way of pedestrians and cyclists.

Leather Bag Scarf.

No exciting new technology here, but I’m sure that in the permanent hellish Mad Max-esque post-apocalyptic wasteland that we’re going to endure in, oh, about thirty years or so, this will be a stylish and multipurpose alternative to the bum-bag.

The Drumi.


A washing machine that is operated entirely by pedal power.



For the cocktail bar in, I dunno, your space Limo. Listen, my space Limo is going to have a cocktail bar, okay. You can have a coffee machine in yours. I don’t drink coffee.



A suitcase that turns into a set of shelves, because if you’re going to be itinerant for your job, you may as well accept that fact with good grace. Pairs nicely with the workstation suitcase, which means that with only two pieces of checked luggage you are ready to accept that you no longer own your existence! Corporate dystopia is Now.


More for the dark dystopian post-apocalyptic future where for some reason there are no Wifi hotspots but still internet, or more realistically for uploading safari photos if you are too impatient to wait until you get back to the very nice hotel in Nairobi with the perfectly good Wifi, you spoiled dick. Caution: It is a Kickstarter project which to me usually reads as either a scam or “a lot of money to wait a very long time for potentially nothing”, so there you go.

Sony All-in-One MP3-player/headphones.

Another slow step towards just streaming music directly into your brain, but this one cuts out the continual advertising.

Tumeta Frozen Smoothie Maker.

It’s a tiny cutesy egg that that shits out ice-cream-esque “healthy” desserts that probably still aren’t as healthy as just eating frozen grapes from the freezer, which I am this minute about to do, and it’s totally pointless and every time the temperature goes over 22C I go back and look at the product page like I’ve been hypnotised by the God of Bad Decisions. Why do I want this?

Thank Slim Hand Scanner

In the Future, this is what you’ll be using to digitise the relentless paperwork that continues to happen to your office at the cost of the lunar forests because some fucking backward asswipe refuses to learn how to put their signature on a PDF. You know that.

Filed under: content: review, , , , , , , ,

Redbubble expansion!

More products available with more designs! Let’s have a look at what I have for you, shall we?

First, I’ve been doing some more logo work for ease of embroidering.

And you can get it on anything:

The tile is available on everything, including clothes, bags, duvet covers, and hardcover journal:

The Miffy Faun has made it onto a variety of items, including skirts, bags, journals…

What if people just didn’t know how much you loved cute things and music? Solve that problem with this:

If you’ve ever thought you’d like some of my line drawings on stuff:

Jonah, Levi, and The Real Greek are now available on most items. Mythologically our old friend Cernunnos can be found:

Just casually classing up some notebooks and whatnot.

Hyacinth and Apollo? You can even wear them on your legs.


Devoted to the god of wine? Aren’t we all! Show your affiliation:

More of an Icarus fan, with undertones of Batman? How often do you hear that sentence?

Still not sure people know you’re mad about music?

Pirates come in many forms.

More eclectic than all this?

What about Rocky Horror Pop Art Michelangelo’s David? On leggings?

Perhaps you need a memento mori: The skull always grins because death always wins. Now you can remind everyone else.

Also if there’s anything else in my portfolio you like the look of and want to see on a specific product Redbubble offer, why not drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do?

Filed under: content: artwork, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Grotesque self-pimping!

Hello! I just got an email from my lovely editors at New Smut Project letting me know the anthology I’m featured in (as Melissa Snowdon) got a really nice review from Adriana Ravenlust at Of Sex and Love! And in fact got singled out for attention (okay, okay, she singles most of the stories out for attention because it’s a great anthology full of inventive fiction and such but let me have my moment).

Which I hope stands as further encouragement to, if you haven’t already, grab yourself a copy of Between the Shores and enjoy; and/or pick up Heart, Body, Soul which I didn’t write anything for but which does feature a story by a friend of mine.

Filed under: books, content: publishing, content: review, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As Simple As Hunger: Bug Stuff

Hello! Have you all bought and begun to enjoy (or finished enjoying, I know you’re fast readers) As Simple As Hunger? Can’t get it out of your head? Want to make people ask you about it so you can talk to them at length?

Well, Redbubble have added a load of new products to their store, which means that I can offer you a whole host of things to catch people’s attention.

Tote bag? You got it!

Tote bag? You got it!

Cover 1 in its entirety is here.

iPhone skin? You got it.

Cover 2 in its entirety is here.

Filed under: book covers, content: artwork, content: publishing, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Centaurs … IN SPACE

Illustrative genius and all-round champion Emma Weakley occasionally does me the honour of keeping me company during my night shift odysseys, as she lives on the literal other side of the world and is therefore awake during what to her are reasonable hours.

At one point I got a bee stuck in my bonnet about my inability to draw a burly, bearish dude-centaur based on the heavy horses like the Breton, aiming for something with thick legs and thick arms, and being gently thwarted by a total lack of art skills, as I usually am.

Emma swooped in and said: alright, what does this guy look like?

And somehow, from this:

Guy Tautoru

(c) Emma Weakley

We accidentally came up with two whole cultures and histories, a raft of characters, and a plot involving prophecies and repetitions and echoes which neatly mirrored the culture of the main character. You can appreciate, I think, how much not-actually-working-at-work this involved.

I mention this because Guy Tautoru (below) and his new friend Eloquent, of the Byasa, now have their own blog.

Also (c) Emma Weakley

So if you feel like checking out some mental landscaping for this project, or more of Emma’s fantastic art and character designs (currently including Guy in a rage, Eloquent in party gear, and Guy’s Nana Tautoru), and possibly in future some snippets of brain dump or MAYBE EVEN WRITING, WHO KNOWS, please feel free to bookmark or follow:

SOLAR BEAR I: sad party centaurs in space

… we’re very talented people but neither of us can manage titles.

Filed under: content: artwork, content: links, , , , , , , , , , ,

Comparison: Travel Chopsticks

Once upon a time, the author of this blog was an undergraduate at university. They lived in a hall of residence and shared a kitchen with twelve other people, about four of whom were thieving fucking bastards who continually nicked their bloody cutlery and just casually used it like it was theirs. Such are the perils of communal living.

Being opposed to starting fights that aren’t winnable when the kitchen is already a warzone (some joker at admissions had put Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the same corridor, sharing the same kitchen, and Opinions Were Aired Loudly, although not loudly enough to drown out the girl on the floor below us who liked to practice the Imperial March from Star Wars on her trumpet at 3am most mornings) I adapted: on a trip to Yo! Sushi (which was a big deal from a lump from West Devon back in 2002) I got some of their retractable chopsticks and kept them in my wallet.

As a result of this solution to the thieving buggers in my halls I learnt how to eat everything up to and including ice cream using chopsticks, and when I finally lost the retractables I mourned their passing and tried to find suitable replacements.

This has proven more difficult than you might imagine. For one thing, the Yo! Sushi retractables are disposable by intention. They don’t clean well: once you’re no longer a student it’s not really appropriate to carry around some bacteria-infested spit-soaked wooden sticks. I mean, it’s probably someone’s fetish and I don’t want them to feel bad about it, but I have also worked cataloguing brain samples for a prion disease research project since then (never let anyone tell you that data entry does not provide you with access to some weird situations) and I’m somewhat more circumspect about what I put in my mouth now.

On the subject of the bacteria-laden wood-tipped telescoping Yo! Sushi disposables: it would be so easy to make these in something more durable and easier to clean. There is a gaping HOLE in the market here, if I were an entrepreneurial person instead of a massive whiner I could just march onto Shapeways and hire a designer and have these things in shops by the end of a year. I’ve studied the design! And because I’m really quite obsessed with this I’ve taken photos so you can too:


click on any of these images for a larger, closer look

travel chopsticks

click on any of these images for a larger, closer look


click on any of these images for a larger, closer look

As you can see, there’s a ridge and dent locking mechanism and the wooden part slides in through a hole at the top which on the intact one is plugged by a little plastic cap. If you were to make the thing in metal (with a rough bit on the tips to help with grip), you could just put in little rubber bungs in that spot – easy to remove so you can completely dismantle both the tube and the tip in order to give it a thoroughly good wash/autoclaving depending on your level of obsessive sterilisation. Also the rubber would grip more firmly and prevent the bun from coming out the way the cap’s popped off these.

On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that's how obsessed I am.

On a dull night at work I even sat and tried to draw a diagram, that’s how obsessed I am.

One set of perfectly good telescoping sterilisable/dishwashable chopsticks to a design that ALREADY EXISTS. WHERE ARE THEY?

To save you the weight of my wrath, here are all the goddamn replacements I’ve bought and been dissatisfied with, and why.

The Current Chopstick Winners: Monbento Flexible Retractable Chopsticks

What’s Right With Them: They’re compact, they fit into their own handles, the connecting module is firm, the little chopstick stand that also keeps them together when they’re folded away is handy and cute, they’re easy to wash, and the tips are ridged for keeping a decent grip on your food. They also come in a range of colours.

What’s Wrong With Them: They’re expensive, because they’re Monbento and because delivery from everywhere seems to add an unbelievable additional cost; they’re not telescoping which means there are more pieces to get lost, and the cap is very good at getting lost indeed; and they don’t actually fit in my wallet.

The Not Winners:

Generic Tableware.

The whole kit.

How the chopsticks work.

What’s Right About Them: Cheap as hell, come in a convenient case, ridged ends for food grip, relatively firm connection, are easy to clean.

What’s Wrong About Them: That case will break, and before it does you will be obliged to wrap the chopsticks in a paper towel to stop them from rattling against each other and the cutlery; they don’t fit in my wallet; the screw connection comes undone occasionally in use; no means other than the case of keeping them together; clinkclinkclinkclink; they don’t telescope so when undone you have more pieces to keep track of.

Terra Nova Lightweight Collapsible Chopsticks

Image is misleading: these slot together with a divot, and the tips are made of wood.

What’s Right With Them: Precious little. The case keeps them together and under those circumstances they are quite compact. That’s all I can say in their favour.

What’s Wrong With Them: Everything. They have wooden tips which absorb grossness and cannot be easily cleaned; the metallic finish on parts of it comes off in flakes; they’re hard to get out of their case with any great ease and when assembled aren’t secure (I’ve had bits fall off when I’m using them); they don’t telescope; they don’t fit in my wallet; they’re not hygienic; they’re awkward; and to top it all off they’re expensive.

Muji Travel Chopsticks: No longer available online.

What’s Right With Them: Cheap, and plastic so easy to clean. Come with their own case.

What’s Wrong With Them: Not in any way collapsible; do not fit in wallet as a result, no form of grip on the tips so especially with the glossy finish of the plastic it’s actually very hard to eat a lot of foods, including noodles, rendering them pointless not only as travel chopsticks but as chopsticks in general.

Nice eShop Knife & Fork Chopsticks

An admitted deviation from my stated search.

What’s Right With Them: While these were clearly not going to be what I was looking for, they’ve proven handy so far: the contrast section is easy to handle, they work as chopsticks and as cutlery (Although I don’t link them up as demonstrated), and the tips are abraded enough to have a decent grip.

What’s Wrong With Them: Aside from very obviously not being travel chopsticks I’d add that the slot in the fork predictably gets clogged with food and can actually be kind of hard to clean properly.

Coloured Travel Cutlery Set

The configuration took a while to master.

What’s Right With Them: I’d place these as second to the Monbento. They’re not too expensive, they have their own case, the fork and spoon are also pretty useful, there is a rough patch on the tips for grip, they’re easy to clean, and the connection point is firm.

What’s Wrong With Them: They don’t fit in my wallet, they’re not telescopic – the usual problems. Also they’re ugly as all hell, although that doesn’t rank particularly highly in my list of requirements.

Coresmart portable chopsticks.

What’s Right With Them: In theory there’s plenty going for them: I got them from eBay very cheaply; they look cute; the case is more compact than the option above; the connection looks straight forward, they’re easy to assemble–

What’s Wrong With Them: They literally broke the first time I used them. Fuck off. The connection snapped right off. This is not what I call a reliable set of anything.

Ones I Haven’t Been Able To Test:

Brunton FlipSticks

Not telescoping but removing the “extraneous bits will get lost” issue.

These look like they could be the business (although the wooden tips trouble me for hygiene reasons) and I question how well I would be able to grip the arch. Of course that is not a problem as I can’t get these. Not only are they Not Available from the US Amazon site, when I’ve found them on eBay the postage costs have been so prohibitive, so insane, that the idea of trying them out seems like playing Russian roulette with my bank balance, as if I will pay for these and my job will immediately fire me in an act of hubris to punish me for spending so much money on something so stupid.

It’s not rational but neither is charging me £20+ for shipping some chopsticks, eBay. Get bent.

Collapsible Compact Chopsticks.

I mean it becomes immediately apparent where these aren’t acceptable: they’re not telescoping, for one thing, but on the whole they’re pretty alright in every other area. Can’t see the tips to see if they have grip, but the package looks sound and the chopsticks rest as a means of keeping them together is a nice touch even if it increases, ultimately, the number of parts which can go missing.

Have you been to the link and seen how much they cost? Because when I wrote this post it was in the region of £60.

Pray excuse me while I cackle disbelievingly all the way to hell no, a street in the vicinity of a town known as What Am I, Made of Money?

Nameless Japanese telescoping chopsticks

The holy grail.

These are they.

Here they are: The holy grail. These are they. The thing that I want. Ridged ends for grip. Telescoping. Maybe wallet-sized? Metal! Clean! Compact! Perfect! Beautiful! Why don’t I own them?

Because they’re Not Available on Amazon, I’ve been able to find this Japanese import literally nowhere else, and during the brief period they were available they were MORE THAN A HUNDRED POUNDS. And listen, my quest is great. My obsessive need for telescoping, hygienic, durable, wallet-sized chopsticks is mighty. My endurance is beyond calculation. But my bank balance is as feeble and as ephemeral as the fluttering petals of spring cherry blossoms and even if I were possessed of, oh, even a whole twenty thousand pounds a year instead of my current stipend of “you literally cannot live on this without a partner”, I would not be putting that kind of money into acquiring them.

This is vexacious. Something must be done.

But in a twist!

Because I like to end with irony: I finally found eating implements that fit in my wallet and are easy to clean and light-weight. And they’re not chopsticks.

Droog Credit Card Cutlery


Okay, the cost of shipping them put them at an embarrassing price for some bendy bits of plastic. Okay, I’d probably have been better off with something like this if I was going to insist on fiddly stupidity. I am however beyond shame now. I have weird, bendy plastic cutlery in my wallet and I’m not afraid to use it to scrabble futilely at salads.

But one day I will have those telescoping chopsticks, I’m warning you.

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There’s one more edition to be sorted out but I thought I’d teased and withheld this for long enough.

As Simple As Hunger is here.

Kindle edition

It’s here on the Kindle on the site.

It’s here on the Kindle on the site.

In fact, if you search most regional Amazon sites, you’ll find it, replete with scorpions and stuffed with intrigue, adventure, massive arthropods, zeppelins, radio celebrities, and the grand knowledge that it is literally the best saxonpunk giant arthropod adventure story with a female protagonist of colour on the entire whole of my blog. Guaranteed.

Don’t have a Kindle or Kindle reading app? We got you covered.

teaser 1

Epub & Paperback

Both here on and here on the iBookstore.

“But Del,” you obligingly call out in a shamelessly P T Barnum hard sell hawker move, because I’m just so bloody excellent at marketing, “I have bookshelves, Del, bookshelves with gaps in them. Bookshelves which do not groan with the modest physical and pregnant metaphorical weight of the finest printed copy of a book which, lest we forget, is the foremost saxonpunk giant arthropod adventure story to feature a fictional version of Durham university.”

Unbelieveable! I am sorry for your bookshelves. The absence of this book is an insult they cannot be expected to endure for long. Happily, they no longer have to as for the price of a standard UK mass market paperback this handsome green jewel emblazoned with the most glorious arachnid the scorpion can shuffle off the bounds of the print-on-demand warehouse, TAKE FLIGHT (probably in a zeppelin) and bound willy-nilly with glee from the arms of the postman onto your loving shelves.

Where, if you feel like it, you can pick it up and read it. Amazing.

It’s real. It’s here. It’s got scorpions on it. And it’s available on for a perfectly normal price.

Other editions are going to be available too.

Get cracking and get reading: Hajar al-Fihri, as portrayed by Twitter's @BigHatDino, would like you to get on that as soon as you can.

Get cracking and get reading: Hajar al-Fihri, as portrayed by Twitter’s @BigHatDino, would like you to get on that as soon as you can.

Filed under: book covers, books, content: artwork, content: publishing, content: review, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Get Your Five A Day When You Really Don’t Like Veg Much

Evolution is such a bitch. Just because fat and salt were in scarce supply for the first Forever of our development of a species, we’ve evolved the tendency to just crave them like hell and fill up on them whenever they’re available; and now, when we’ve been Not Starving in the UK for a whole two generations! I mean, two, come on! Somehow we haven’t evolved immediately into people who crave exactly what our bodies require at all times in order to meet a set of fairly arbitrarily-designated dietary parameters. Why is that?

We didn’t even need to develop a craving for vegetation because that was what was always going to be around, and also the majority of it is calorifically void, so during that Forever of Starving that we had we’ve for some mysterious reason gravitated towards high-calorie, low-effort foods because That Kept Us Alive or some boring shit like that, and fell back on vegetables because, well, we had to. And they were there. And they didn’t run away or bite you or require milling or milking or anything. Fuckin’ vegetables.

No wonder so many people hate them. I mean, Default Food isn’t exciting, they’re not contributing to your endorphins the same way fat and salt do, by servicing a literal millennia-deep survival-oriented addiction, and they’re not servicing that silly calorie-led need for sweet stuff and starches, unless you’ve eaten nothing but paper for months. Around then carrots start tasting like chocolate. So, under those circumstances, does your own arm.

Not to mention a lot of people have basically vegetable PTSD. Thanks to the Depression, WWII, and austerity in quick succession, not to mention being the first industrialised nation on earth, the UK has effectively gone Food Stupid for several generations, with old skills and preferences being replaced by “it’s a fucking pie I have to get back to work now” and “we don’t have any vegetables right now would you like some tinned green dye” and “I have boiled this until it is soft because we have no teeth”.

I mean, there’s a reason we’re consistently mocked for having terrible food. We’ve had well over a hundred years in which to lose our ability to food like sane human beings, and after the involuntary dieting of Depression, WWII, Austerity, as a country we kind of turned into one national eating disorder. People who have been starving for a long time go weird. If you’re finding it hard to force yourself into poking steamed kale into your face like some kind of virtuous rabbit while the media informs you simultaneously that you’re a disgusting personal failure for not enjoying this more and also that what you’re eating is boring and what you really want is more chocolate, but you can’t have chocolate, so you should buy chocolate but then either throw it away or eat it and feel bad and then buy all this other stuff to feel better, muahaha, capitalism…

… take heart in knowing that a) you’re part of a culture that is mentally bloody ill and hell-bent on punishing itself, and b) there is nothing whatsoever the matter with not liking food that is presented to you in a boring way with a huge fanfare about how good for you it is.

Also, you’re a grown adult. Saying “Mmm, yummy yummy kale” is not actually going to work as well as the marketing department thinks. That sort of psychology tends to go best with children.

But you know you need to eat some of the bloody stuff because the Government and NHS said so, and that’s really the case: your body evolved to eat a shittonne of vegetables and so it doesn’t work well when it’s eating no vegetables and a lot of refined flour. That’s not because vegetables are “inherently better”, it’s not because chocolate is “sinful”; food is not good or bad. Food is food. Our bodies just happen to have evolved a certain way, over periods of time, because of what was available to us. Putting stuff into the human machine that it is designed to take makes it work better than putting stuff in that it isn’t used to, much as servicing your car regularly and using the right sort of petrol gets better results than using bioethanol and ignoring it for 364 days of the year, even if the latter is “better”.

Oh and before I continue any further: evolution is a work in progress. There is no “end goal” beyond effective self-replication, and it doesn’t stop happening. So the Paleo people who consistently make themselves miserable eating no bread and enormous lumps of meat which they mysteriously don’t allow to partially decay before eating despite that being Very Authentic are deluding themselves: we’ve been making bread as a species for a damn long time. There are some things we’re better adapted to than others – and Steven Johnson has a very interesting theory about the evolution of alcohol tolerance in urbanised places where boiling water (for tea etc) was not the norm – because we’ve been doing them for longer, but it is worth noting that ultimately if we can digest it then it is food and there is no reason to cut anything out of your diet completely unless it is actively making you ill.

Also if you think something is actively making you ill see the bloody doctor, don’t buy an allergy-testing kit from Holland and Barrett and decide you’re never eating raspberries again because the little thingy said so.

Tips, Tricks, Recipes, Fooling Your Brain

So after all that, I have a handful of ways to convince your brain that you’re not eating the Horrible Vegetables after all, which should hopefully taste alright, and which doesn’t involve any scolding about you being “sinful” or “indulgent“, no infantalising language, and no woo.

Soups & Smoothies


So the thing about vegetables is that a lot of the time people hate them because of the texture. The texture is weird. You’ll have seen a lot of advice about this but really do bear in mind that just by thwipping things about a bit in a blender you can make a soup (or smoothie) that removes all the gross texture of fruit or veg and leaves nothing but taste. If you’re a bit iffy about eating soup, remember that soup is, effectively, just a sauce and you can use it as the base of a stew. No one pays that much attention to it after you’ve cooked chicken thighs in it for several hours.

Smoothies, too, might be a bit off-putting and health-ish, but not if you try reducing them down over a heat with some sugar and then pour them on ice-cream, because then they’re not “smoothies”, they’re sauce.

Pancakes & Cakes


Soup gets boring quickly, and sometimes people hate vegetables because of the ass-like taste. This is the only recipe I will include here and it’s pretty simple and adaptable. The great thing about this is that two of them amount to one of your 5 a day, and they don’t taste remotely like vegetables.


  • 40g of grated or blendered courgette (can be replaced with any other sort of grated or blendered anything).
  • 2 x tbsp of flour. Can use chickpea flour for a nice specific taste or just regular flour.
  • Water if you need it
  • Bitta salt, some spices, y’know


  1. Mix all that together until you have a thick gloopy paste.
  2. Fry it on both sides in a hot pan until it is cooked through
  3. Congratulations you have a pancake which is full of vegetables and almost certainly does not taste of it.

You can also make vegetable-based cakes like carrot cake, which usually tastes of Health Food, but which when you make it yourself can be rendered fantastic by adding cocoa powder and more sugar. Pro tip: adding cocoa powder to anything improves it enormously, and you can do it to anything you want. There is no rule that says you can’t make chocolate banana cake, or chocolate courgette cake, or chocolate flippin’ coleslaw if you want. You’re a grown-up!

Further note: you can also mix grated and blendered stuff into omelettes or traditional pancake mix, tomato paste into omelettes, etc, and bam! Another helping of your 5-a-day is done.

Burgers and other meat tricks


Meat, unlike vegetables, which we have established taste of ASS, tastes awesome. Happily, that particular AWESOME taste can be used to mask the ASS taste and help smuggle some vegetable helpfulness into your diet.

Firstly, if you can deal with the texture but not the taste of some veggies, there’s the simple expedient of frying or roasting your veg in the same pan or tray you’re doing your meat in. Lamb, as most people know, is good for this, because it’s so fatty. Yes, you’re eating cabbage, but as far as your tastebuds are concerned it’s just an extra helping of lamb, smothered in lamb fat. Your 80g portion of peas, boiled, can still be rolled through the cooling pan for a bit before you serve them, giving you some happy little lamby tidbits – and thanks to the surface-area-to-mass ratio, you have hardly any veg taste and a whole lot of meat taste to enjoy.

If you really cannot stomach vegetable textures, no big. This is where the trusty food mixer comes in again. Grab your veg portion, run it through the mixer until it’s a paste, then mix it 50/50 with burger mince and whatever you’re using to bind it. This gives you a) no veggie taste and b) twice the amount of burger for the same amount of meat! MAGICAL.

Yeah, I know, making your own burgers from scratch is a massive pain in the arse but you only have to do one big batch and fling the rest in the freezer and then you can can have frozen burgers the way God and Nature intended.

Food Colouring

food dye

Part of your hatred of vegetables also comes from your brain associating “green” with “oh god no not more boiled sadness”. There are two solutions: some vegetables are naturally Not Green, like carrots, pumpkin, most squashes, parsnips, tomatoes-which-everyone-will-remind-you-are-a-fruit, and aubergines which you almost certainly do not like because look at them, they’re fucking weird. The other is food colourant.

If your brain is an angry, sulky toddler about Not Eating Green, you can use food colouring to adulterate whatever paste, gloop, or soup you’re making that’s likely to be vibrantly that colour, and drag it around to either something a little more neutrally Foodlike (brown is often a good one because your brain will decide it is meat), or if you’re feeling daring splatter in some blue and eat something virulently turquoise.

Butter, Salt, Honey, Oil, The Roasting Dish Solution


Perhaps you don’t want to have to pulverise everything you eat. That’s fine. It makes you feel like a fucking grandma. Perhaps you’re even trying to edge your way around to actually liking vegetables either for reasons of virtuosity or just because it annoys you to be blocked off from so much potential food matter, or you’d like to be able to show off in restaurants, or whatever. Your reasons are your own. I’m just here to tell you that one way to do this is roasting.

So you know how roast potatoes are basically the pinnacle of potato (barring chips) and everyone agrees they are superior, and you’d shank a toddler for a roastie over a boiled potato? Same applies to every other vegetable. Even sprouts! You know brussel sprouts? It turns out they’re not so disgusting when they’ve not been boiled yellow and turned into mush by sitting in a pan for forty years, leeching all their nutrients into the water.

So chop up your veg, arrange it in a roasting tray, Google “how to roast [vegetable name]”, and follow the instructions. The oil and butter are for roasting it in, and the honey, or salt, or herb mix, or spice mix, are for making it taste nicer and for distracting you from the fact you’re eating vegetables. Honey-roast carrots are a good place to start.

And if you’re not ready for roasting, and want to really ease yourself into vegetables slowly: frying is a thing. Anything that can have chips made out of it – carrots, parsnips, swede, turnip – is good for a go, and if you look up “tempura vegetables” you’ll see a wealth of possibilities. There’s also stir-frying, which invariably makes things taste of whatever you’re frying them in. I suggest putting a little stock powder in your oil to make your greens taste of chicken.

Ketchup, Baked Beans: Hidden veg, possibly crouching fruit

I might be lying a tiny bit about the crouching fruit.

crouching fruit

(Did I choose to draw a banana specifically because I could make it look like a dude with a ridiculous penis? Come on. Of course I fucking did).

Did you know that a serving of baked beans in tomato sauce counts towards 1 of your 5 a day? Neither did I! Apparently that is a real thing. The same goes for other things tinned in tomato sauce, like spaghetti, or ravioli. Tomatoes are a magical thing! But you can’t just eat five and call it a day, unfortunately – they only count as one. Variety is necessary.

Ketchup is, as you know, made from tomatoes. You can add it to other vegetables to make them taste less of vegetables. It’s not actually very high in calories, either. Everyone’s heard of someone who only escaped scurvy as a student because they put ketchup on their relentlessly-consumed plain pasta…

Ice Lollies & Jellies


That’s right. You don’t have to dive into Actual Whole Pieces of Fruit for desserts. You don’t have to cautiously throw in expensive peaches or turn into your Nan with a tin of pineapple chunks. You can pudding yourself up with this stuff. Homemade jellies with gelatin or (somewhat easier to my mind, if harder to find, and bonus: if you are a vegetarian who is worried that living solely on cheese is going to kill you, it’s vegetarian) agar agar, and fruit juice. As long as the actual fruit juice is made from actual fruit, you can bang in some sugar to sweeten it while you’re boiling the water, and then you have low effort puddings for days, and days, just sitting in the fridge, being jelly.

A bit more agar agar in the mix and you can make FRUIT GUMMY SWEETS. That’s sweets. That have a value on your 5 A Day front. Seriously!

Ice lollies: I think most people are aware of this already. Everyone’s parents probably did the thing. Mine didn’t, because we didn’t have a freezer that would fit lolly moulds, because The Eighties, but happily in these enlightened times you can now buy silicone molds that make Calipso-style lollies, so even if your freezer compartment barely fits an ice tray you can still have a fruit lolly. And because you’re a fucking grown-up, you’re not limited to “Mum says I can have apple juice or orange juice”, you can go mental. You can mix juices. You can put in actual pieces of fruit. You can buy wanky smoothies and freeze them in molds. You are the boss of freezing fruit.

Fruit Leather


Yeah I know it sounds fucking weird but it’s very sweet and you just chew it up while you’re doing other stuff, like sweets, and pow, job done, vitamins etc achieved, Government appeased, body slightly less likely to fall into pieces. It’s not quite “taking a vitamin pill”, in terms of easiness, but is definitely higher on the “making your body not die” scale because it’s actually made from fruit and the process of alleged extraction isn’t quite so insane.


Disclaimer: I actually quite like vegetables (most of them, at least) and eat quite a large amount. But I’m not about to sit here and start moralising at people about how they eat. Far more important that you eat. If anyone tries to make you feel bad about eating food when there are still people in this world who’re starving themselves to death, fucking eat them.

EDIT: Of course, I wrote one blog post about this and it turns out someone much cleverer than me has an entire blog about smuggling vegetables into your diet…

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