Tiny Product Reviews

Interim post while I try to get my head around a more complex post. Here are some new things I tried recently and what I thought of them, etc.

Tragically I have lost the packaging for this drink but it’s for the best

Something or other “Buzz”. Came in a small bottle, free, from a man at Wimbledon station who was handing them out to disinterested passersby, and to me, who bounded over shouting “FREE STUFF?”, as two years of working near Liverpool Street station conditioned me into accepting any promotional food or drink as Bonus Breakfast.

Appearance: dark brown liquid. Energy effects: Who cares, this stuff was remarkably horrid.

I mean that. I won’t say I’m a connoisseur of energy drinks, but I’ve done a lot of very boring jobs in my time and consumed a wide variety of caffeine-based fluids in order to prevent myself from snoozing on my keyboard, not to mention my years as a club casualty, and this is objectively the worst-tasting caffeinated beverage I have ever put in my mouth.

Taste: initially I thought it was like flat cola, which would have been fine I guess since that’s basically what Fentiman’s Cola is, but no. No, after a second cautious sip it produced a burning sensation as well. I think on reflection the best way to describe the taste is “highly concentrated cola syrup mixed with bleach, with a soupçon of God’s wrath and the overwhelming sensation of regret”.

Verdict: please love yourself and don’t touch this shit.

EDIT: A put-upon friend who received the same freebie but luckily didn’t drink it informs me the brand is “Buzz Shot”, although Amazon claims this is actually a beer pong game.

Baxters Meal Pots

In my eternal mission to find hot food that will keep me alive in my trek through the wastelands of high-volume night work without causing me to bloat up into an angry sphere of lard, scorch my taste buds off with salt, or lead to me wishing that they had due to the unspeakable vileness of the product, I am profoundly grateful to have run across these.

Pros: they’re incredibly compact and will fit in my bag. They take about 2 minutes to microwave and the design is such that there’s no opportunity for spattering the inside of the microwave with crap. They’re pretty conservative on the calorie front, which means I can also alleviate my paid torment with crisps and not become a pork balloon.

Oh, and they taste pretty nice too.

Cons: I am persistently terrified that the metal can lid keeping the contents fresh will spring up and either cut me or cover me in goo when I open them. When heated in the microwave the pot is just hot enough that carrying it back to my desk becomes an exciting challenge. And at around £2.50 a pot they’re somewhat pricy compared to the alternatives.

The site show four flavours (Italian Style Sausage and Beans, Malaysian Inspired Chicken Laksa, Mixed Mixed Bean Chicken and Quinoa, and Vegetarian Three Bean and Chipotle Pepper), all of which I’ve tried. The Malaysian “Inspired” Chicken Laksa, so-called I suspect because if it was merely called Laksa the entire nation of Malaysia would rightfully rise up as one person and call bullshit on it, is a welcome change from the more tomato-based dishes and full both of tiny noodles and little slices of baby corn, in addition to the usual. I’m not a huge fan of quinoa but the stuff doesn’t actually ruin the one it’s in either.

Verdict: surprisingly nice for canned lunches, low-calorie, robust packaging, would prefer it if they were about 50p cheaper but we can’t have everything. Looking forward to seeing how/if they expand the line.

Realm & Empire (T E Lawrence Sweater)

This is I admit a bit of a swizz because the specific product I’m talking about is sold out pretty much everywhere, but I’m going to take the quality of this as an indicator of the rest of their products.

I’ll also be honest and say I bought this from eBay for £29 as opposed to the recommended price of £75 and probably wouldn’t spend £75 on a sweater unless I’d won the bleeding Lottery, but some of the rest of the people on the internet have rather higher incomes than me.

Print quality: pretty good. I’ve grown used to sublimated prints recently thanks to their popularity in high street clothing, so it’s noticeable when something is a surface print now.
Clothing quality: good. Really good. It’s so soft and warm and thick and the stitching is really robust and excuse me I will just hide inside this forever.

In an ideal world the Realm & Empire badge on the yoke wouldn’t be there as it looks out of place and detracts from the rest of the garment but on the whole: Fantastic.

It’s not a good picture but you get the idea.

And now I shall return to grappling with the less frivolous post. Adieu!

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How Can You Not Like An Entire Medium?

The title is what I have previously asked naysayers of poetry and comics, because I am tragically attached to both mediums as a means of communicating everything from useful scientific information to single outbursts of relatable emotion to involved and complex narratives driven by well-rounded characters, as well as their on-brand uses as “goodness me i’m in love” and “biff bang pow”, respectively. Also the quality of the individual use varies, so “goodness me i’m in love” can be frankly transcendental in its multifaceted delicacy and “biff bang pow” can address deep and pressing social issues with the use of well-rounded characters and complex narrative structures, etc.

After some rethinking of my position I think I have to give ground to the “but I don’t like comics” and “I don’t like poetry” crowds. Not because poetry and comics are nothing but juvenile/adolescent wank and all the other epithets hurled unpeaceably at them by people who aren’t interested in trying anything new, but because people who have tried something repeatedly and still don’t like it do deserve to have their preferences honoured.

I speak now of the moving image.

The main reason I’m making this concession is that it has been pointed out to me that I basically don’t like TV.

You can’t “not like TV”.

I know, that was my initial response. I watch plenty of it. I’m currently watching and adoring Great British Sewing Bee. I am antsy for the third series of Hannibal. I religiously tune into whichever variation of a wipe Charlie Brooker is presiding over at any given moment. I tried with Russell T Davies’ most recent experimental televisual event but in the intervening years between him wowing my pubescent self with Queer As Folk and the now, the shine has badly come off that one character voice he writes and I’ve grown aggressively bored with witty speechifying.

My point is, I watch the stuff. And that was my argument.

However, the Resident Australian is privy to exactly how I watch TV, because she lives in my house, and the answer is “you don’t”.

There may be an endless stream of IVT3 British Detective Thrillers on in the background. There may be near-continual QI. Hugh Unspellable-Doublebarrelled may tell me how to make cranberry-stuffed goose face six times over the course of one day without complaint, but I’m not watching and I’m barely listening. It’s there to make companionable noise and I don’t overly miss it when it’s gone.

Quick! Name some TV you like!

I did that as well. RomeBand of Brothers. A slew of Classic Dr Who (pre-Davison). State of Play (the original, of course). Like all right-thinking human beings, I appreciated The Wire, although unlike the majority of the internet I actively disliked Breaking Bad. But wait! There’s more! Blandings! Jeeves & Wooster! Blackadder! Young Ones! Black Books! Spaced! The Granada adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories!

Everything David Attenborough has ever touched. Sewing BeeBake Off. A swathe of panel quiz shows so broad as to be verging on the indiscriminate. Brian Cox waffling about space. Carl Sagan waffling about space. Pretty well anyone waffling about space. Half of BBC4. Howard Goodall waffling about the history of music, as many times as I can get away with. Have you noticed how often the BBC like to use bits of Song 2 by Blur and Clubbed To Death and Dog Days in their programs? It is a lot. I’ve noticed because I dwell at the bottom of a pit filled with cheap documentaries about castles and food travelogues and Lucy Worsley trying on endless costumes and Brian Cox’s enormous hands conducting invisible writing across the screen.

So you don’t hate TV?

Well.

I don’t seem to have the greatest relationship with the combination of moving pictures and spoken word. I mean, I love radio, but most of the time, TV demands too much of your attention. It says “either stop wanking about on the internet for a minute, or miss something important”. It complains that I’m cooking or unpicking things, and it positively throws an advert-vomiting tantrum every thirty seconds on most channels anyway.

Okay firstly, you like movies.

And most of the time I can only concentrate on them if I go to a cinema and have no option but to watch through to the end on a screen large enough to hold my attention and with no opportunity to pause it and go and do something else.

Secondly, do what everyone else does and just binge-watch dramas.

You’d think that would deal with my distinct dislike of episodic structure (if you look at the list of things I do like, the majority of them have self-contained plots within each episode, with RomeThe Wire, State of Play and Dr Who as stand-out exceptions – in those cases the plots took up the entire series at a time but were intended that way. There was no “easy jumping-on point to a longer-running thing”, you either watched the whole thing, or you didn’t). In fact it just makes me cross and fidgety. I’ve tried binge-watching episodic TV before – Rome – and even with that quality of writing it proved annoying. The Wire deserves a special credit for getting me through one series per sitting (and then I ran away half-way through Season 3 because the tension was unbearable), and State of Play for being short enough that, as with The Wire, I just treated it as a six-hour movie. The structure was such that it was possible. Not so with most.

So you have exceptions to the rule.

Undoubtedly. I actively enjoy having episodes of Hannibal doled out every week because one episode a week is about all I can handle in terms of emotional investment.

The conclusion of The Resident Australian was that exceptions to the rule rather proved the existence of the rule. “It’s notable when you like something on TV because most of the time you hate TV.” TV here of course standing in for “episodic narrative”, drama or comedy variety, because that’s how most people use it.

This makes for difficulty in particularly wanting to join in with fandom culture any more, because wildly popular though cooking TV and BBC4 history documentaries are, their fans don’t tend to be the active fandom kind. Now that Marvel Movies fandom has moved into a mindset where it’s vital to watch at least two TV shows (Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter) even if you don’t want to drag the immense, unwieldy 616 Marvel comics canon into the matter, it becomes less and less appealing to write for.

Arguably, the shorter and less drawn-out a TV series is, the more inclined I am to at least try it. For the most part, I’m perfectly happy to squander my leisure time on either radio drama, which doesn’t demand my eyes as well as ears, or books and comics, which don’t demand my ears as well as eyes.

Any further evidence for your all-consuming disdain for 100-year-old technology, oh hater of the moving image?

Yes. I only watch Youtube videos that are more involved than kittens falling over about once in a blue moon and I’m actively pissed off by ones that involve people talking.

What about Vines?

Same deal: kittens or GTFO. And stop talking.

Sorry, people who don’t like comics or poetry: I’ve been somewhat unfair to you. Let’s agree to meet in the common ground and stop trying to force each other into areas we don’t have time for.

Between the Shores Pre Order!

 

Between the shores is an erotica anthology in which my short story Vine (under my nom de Naughty Stories, Melissa Snowdon) is featured, a long with a roaring collection of other BDSM erotica which, unlike 50 Shades of Grey, is heavy on consent. The negotiated kind, not the coerced kind.

For the technicalities I’m going to leave you with the publishers:

Between The Shores

available from:

Soon, Smashwords will distribute the ebook files to other retailers like Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Scribd. Be sure to check our Buy Page for the most up-to-date purchasing options!

Our Createspace paperback version will be released on our official publication date of March 23.

(Please note the current word and page count refer to placeholder files: the actual anthologies will be over 100,000 words each. Also, the file formats available on All Romance Ebooks will include .epub, .mobi, and .html as well as .pdf.)

Obviously this is terribly exciting and you should run, not walk, to preorder this magnificent thing.

The Empty Plate: Representation and Desperation

Please bear with me. I’m about to use the phrase “some young people of my acquaintance” and make myself sound roughly a million years old, which I suppose in comparison to these people ten years my junior I might as well be. I’m also going to throw out the relevant quote at the beginning of this post and then explain myself as I go along.

I’ve listened to so many life-histories; I don’t know why, I always seem to pitch up when they’ve had a drink too many, or a knock too many, or something. It’s loneliness that rots them, every time. A starving man won’t notice a dirty plate.

The Charioteer, Mary Renault

 This comes from the exemplary and heart-rending novel by Mary Renault and is spoken by a disillusioned gay man who has spent a sizeable portion of his adult life interacting with the gay scene of the 1930s and 40s, both in the UK and overseas, as a member of the Merchant Navy. As with many things in that book, I found this line in particular very close to home the first time I read it, but the full impact of the phrase “A starving man won’t notice a dirty plate” has only come into focus for me recently.

I waste many valuable hours of my life on a social media site called Tumblr. Unlike most of the social media sites I’ve wasted my adult life on since 2001, this one has a marked skewing towards a younger demographic, both younger in the sense of age and in the sense of life experience and emotional maturity. It is viewed – not always correctly – as a safe haven for gender and sexual minorities, people of colour, free-thinkers, and other youth whose treatment by mainstream internet society may not always be the kindest. It is fair to say that the dogged bigotry of the internet doesn’t exactly fade away in these circumstances, and the site is also rife with racism, anti-semitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, death threats, exhortations to suicide, and the tedious teenage tendency to accuse anyone and everyone of being “fake”.

In my penance for whatever crime I committed that makes me think it’s a good idea to be there (there are lots of nice wildlife photos and some pleasant interior design blogs), I’ve become familiar with sides of my younger friends which I might not otherwise have gotten to grips with in more structured or long-form environments, and one of the major factors is this:

Representation over quality

It had been driving me nuts, and will probably continue to do so for a while even after this particular revelation. A lot of noise is made about the presence (or absence) of characters with whom the above demographics can identify, and in every request post and review no mention is ever made of the quality of the writing beyond whether it conforms to or subverts harmful stereotypes and tropes (such as Women in Refrigerators Syndrome, Magical Negro, Bury Your Gays/The Tragic Homosexual, and so on).

As someone who at least thinks they work hard on the actual quality of their work beyond including characters that represent the astonishing and diverse reality of human society, it’s been very frustrating seeing everything run through various demographic tests and either discarded (understandable: no matter how wonderful the writing, there are only so many times you can read about a white middle-aged man’s midlife crisis without wanting to throw bricks, even if he does cook meth while he’s doing it) or accepted on that basis (slightly harder to countenance as some of the things hailed as the second coming of TV are outright dogshit except for the casting).

But I think now I’m being unfair.

I’ve forgotten what it was like for me, as a teenager, as a younger adult, as an undergraduate, shifting through a world made up of straight white men having straight white crises all through every angle of popular and literary fiction, in every imaginable medium, with women and homosexuals and people who weren’t bloody white or any combination of the above only ever showing up to be subject rather than object – at best. Most of the time these categories were fulfilled by bad guys, tragic dead best friends, romantic prizes…

And when I was their age I did read an unimaginable mountain of shit purely because it had the scarce heroines who didn’t succumb to matrimony, the gay characters at all never mind the ones who didn’t die or who eventually found love; I read god knows how many harrowing and miserable accounts of slavery and racism purely because I was sick of seeing the same faces in my mind’s eye.

And to be fair to this next generation, they’ve been consistent. They want to see their own faces in the mirror of art so badly that they don’t care how revolting the mirror, as long as it doesn’t distort their experiences.

Or to put it in Mary Renault’s terms: a starving man won’t notice a dirty plate.

Getting used to it

The edge has come off the “lack of representation” agonies for me, over time. I discovered the internet at the close of 1999 and fanfic in 2002 and scarcely looked back. DIY media seemed like the answer to the paucity in mainstream media, and if the DIY side carried over some of the same bigotries – if it too looked a bit white, a bit male, a bit heterosexual at times – then that was surely a habit that would eventually recede when the creators started making their own work instead of drawing on properties that were heavily white, male, and heterosexual… right?

The other reason the edge has come off is that there is improvement. There are more properties with the requisite character attributions – nowhere near enough, but more than there were when I was growing up. There is also more access to them – I can watch, conceivably, damn near anything. I can read damn near anything. These were not options growing up a five mile walk from a small library, with a black and white TV that showed four channels and a parent who threw a fit if I tried to watch the actually interesting stuff that was mysteriously only ever on at 2AM. And so because things have improved so much, I can afford to be picky.

Or: the plate is a little fuller than it was, so I notice the dirt.

But we’re not well-fed. The plate is far from full. The generation after mine have grown up with the ability to read and watch whatever they damn well please. They’ve grown up on internet fanfiction not-quite-filling the gaps. Their tastes are shaped by a media that purports to pander to them, and then doesn’t – as opposed to mine, shaped by a media that made no pretence of giving me what I asked for.

Perhaps they’re in a better position to kick up a stink, to notice that their plate isn’t full, and to not tolerate the introduction of three french fries in the name of a four-course dinner. To someone raised on half a french fry it seems ludicrous and greedy and tiresome – won’t anyone see how dirty this plate is? – but I forget, they’re not used to starving for representation to the point where the hunger becomes normality, and until they’re either fed or accustomed to it, they’re not going to give a damn about the state of the plate.

With any luck, they won’t ever have to get used to being starved.