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Let Them Smell Tea

The inevitable has happened: I need to lose weight. This isn't anything like a surprise given the events of the Christmas holidays, in which I decided that trying every single flavour of crisps that Lidl had to offer was a Good Idea.

Mercifully I don't eat meat, or that could have worked out far worse than it actually did. I have never seen so many flavours of crisps in my life. Roast turkey and stuffing. Pigs in blankets. Gin and juniper roast pork. Pulled pork and wildflower honey. There was a lot of pork going on.

I believe that all of this may have been cunningly executed so that you could have Christmas dinner entirely in crisp form. While I didn't sink quite that low, I did have what could be classed as many extra meals inbetween meals. The Sea Salt and Balsamic Vinegar course. The Mature Cheddar and Red Onion course. The Hand-Cooked Mixed Vegetable Crisps Seasoned with Sea Salt, Garlic and Oregano course. All rounded off with goat's cheese and apple chutney. No, wait...goat's cheese and apple chutney crisps.

When the final crisps left the building last week (paprika flavour: XXL bag) I looked down at the bathroom scales and realised that the crisps hadn't really left the building at all.

What to do? A few years ago I had great success calorie counting through MyFitnessPal, losing two stone piled on after surgery, so I decided to start that back up. Oh, how I had forgotten the hell of having to account for every single thing consumed, particularly when nobody on the internet seems to be able to construct a reliable database of anything. But that's for another day: my biggest problem was not eating things full stop. I may have controlled the crisp pest at home, but my workplace has a bigger infestation known as 'endless sugar'. Entire sectors of the South American economy are propped up by the sugar consumption in my department. If the office is ever besieged by zombies, or the spiders finally take over the planet, we should be able to last a good few years just from the pile of biscuits and mind-bogglingly gigantic cupcakes on the top of one filing cabinet.

There are many, many filing cabinets.

As a result, sticking to anything less than around 17000 calories a day is problematic. It is possible to trip over an untied shoelace and discover that you've accidentally eaten several milk Lindor and a Reese's Round. I realised that I would need to come up with a cake-avoidance tactic which did not involve wearing a hazmat suit, and found the solution in a rather unexpected place.

The tea aisle at Waitrose is not somewhere I go as a matter of course. I was so unlikely to be found there that it was on my top-five list of places to go if I am ever being pursued by the security services. But the reasons unknown I ended up in it, possibly because it was the only way out of the bakery section, and something caught my eye. Cherry Bakewell green tea.

You read that correctly. Green tea. As I couldn't work out how the words 'Cherry Bakewell' related to green tea in any context at all, I stepped up for a closer look.

"The almondy cherry taste is a delicately softened with smooth vanilla flavour to create a delicious, indulgent green tea blend." This appeared to be promising that the green tea would actually taste like a Cherry Bakewell. I didn't believe this for a second. Most fruit teas taste less like fruit and more like the liquid that escapes when you tear a bin bag. I've been fooled before. But this involved cake. I put it in my basket. If anything, I was intrigued by how bad it could be.

The worker at the checkout, apropos of nothing, told me that she had tried it herself and that it genuinely tasted of Cherry Bakewells. Not only that, she had gone back and bought 'the other flavours'. There were other flavours. She had a cupboard full of them. Her family got them in for her whenever she visited. There were other flavours. She had gone from not liking green tea to drinking three or four cups a day. There were other flavours. She spoke about the green tea with same reverence normally reserved for cult leaders, and there were other flavours, and I had already decided that if Cherry Bakewell was any good I was going back for all of them.

Against all the odds, Cherry Bakewell green tea did indeed taste like Cherry Bakewells. It was ultimately green tea, but it was enough like - and certainly smelled enough like - the cake to earn the name. This excited me. I had read the articles about how the smell of chocolate could stop you from actually eating it. It was even in New Scientist. This wasn't made up by people trying to flog Eau de Cocoa. This was SCIENTIFIC FACT.

I went back for the other flavours.

Salted caramel. Gingerbread. Lemon drizzle cake. The Waitrose tea aisle contained a world of previously-unimaginable possibilities. The next-door bakery section contained the real thing. The tea aisle contained the tea thing. The following morning I took an entire virtual bakery into work. I discovered that if the Cherry Bakewell flavour was a good effort, the Lemon Drizzle flavour was some kind of sorcery: it didn't just smell of lemon, or even lemony cake, but of actual lemon drizzle cake. If you had blindfolded someone and asked them to smell both, they would have struggled to tell them apart were it not for the steam burning the end of their nose. And I may well have asked people to smell my tea. I talked about it to anyone who would listen. If they wouldn't listen, I made them listen. I had joined the cult of the Waitrose checkout operative, proselytising from the platform of my employment, at one point getting unsuspecting new staff who thought they had come for a training course to admit that I was right about just how much like lemon drizzle cake it smelt.

Earlier this week we had a minor office celebration involving two outrageously huge, lavishly-iced Victoria sponges which could have been used as ballast. One slice would have led to MyFitnessPal screaming that I had no calories left for at least the next week, and that if I wanted to burn it off I would need to become an ultra-runner. I was not swayed. I went to the urn, brewed a mug of gingerbread tea, and breathed in. Any attraction to work cake ebbed away, replaced by the satisfaction of knowing that I would be able to eat actual meals that day. Potential calorie catastrophe: big. Calories recorded: 4.

I am not so naïve to think that this will last. Tea is not cake. It is possible that cake-flavoured tea is a gateway drug to many undesirables, not least cake itself. Further, tea is not crisps. I am yet to find an ingenious substitute for these, and if they come out with salt and vinegar green tea I can promise you right now that it's not going to work.

Nevertheless, I am confident that my faith in tea will not waver for the foreseeable future; or at least until it's no longer on quite a good offer at Waitrose.

For the record, sweet chili and sour cream crisps taste nothing like either sweet chili or sour cream, and were ultimately a massive disappointment. If you want to do it properly I can recommend Tyrrell's Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper flavour, which are so good that the colleague I sent out to get them one lunchtime* had almost eaten the whole 150 gram bag by the time I'd got around to them. I expect, at some point when he cannot stand the smell of bakeries from my desk any longer, he may ask me to induct him into the cult of tea. He's not having the lemon drizzle.

*Yes: I had enablers

Twinings cake-flavoured teas - not pictured: Lemon Drizzle (I've already drunk it all)

Winter Olympics: The Specials Begin

Yes, it's that thing that only comes around once every four years...the Winter Arselympics! Let's see some skiing arse, skating arse, jumping arse, scrubbing arse and even motorcycling arse - all courtesy of Winter Sports 2012: Feel The Spirit.

Digitiser: The Show

I don't update this site very often when I really should, not least because it costs me a fortune to maintain.

BUT! Something exciting is on its way, and I need to announce it here. Mr Biffo (Paul Rose), writer of Channel 4 Teletext's Digitiser pages in the 1990s and website now, is launching a live-action show version of the madness and has asked me to be one of his co-presenters.

I'm both very honoured and completely stunned. Reading Digitiser every day was the reason why I started writing 'properly'; getting the opportunity to work with the person whose style I tried to imitate, and be an integral part of such a huge project, is beyond amazing.

My co-hosts will be Mr Biffo himself and Paul Gannon of CheapShow fame, along with a likely cast of characters from the halcyon days of Digitiser.

It will be like nothing else I've done before, not least because I will be pressing reveal on my face for the first time on screen. For some of you that could be an intensely distressing experience, particularly if you've been picturing me as some kind of Miranda Kerr or Lara Stone-type figure, which I most assuredly am not. Miranda, perhaps. Or Lara Croft without any of the appealing 'bits'.

What I do hope is that I am able to contribute my own brand of 'bits' - humour, obvious maturity, total chaos - in a way that makes the show even more entertaining to watch than it would have been anyway.

Keep a look out for the announcement of the Kickstarter on Friday 9th March and for more news on our respective Twitter feeds.

Digitiser: The Show

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