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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)

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Jenny becomes a computer

I don't always feature in Minecraft videos, but when I do it's as a sentient piece of technology (see 11:56 onwards)

Euro 2016: Want to be ‘in the game’?

It's time for your chance to feature in a video by being part of my football team, which is going to totally own* the European Championships! (*lose)

As with the 2014 World Cup I'll be using Ascaron's rather unique On The Ball franchise (it's in DOS!) to manage you all to glory. I might even try with additional games if I can find anything suitable...

Please provide some information about yourself as below and I will do the rest! If you did this for the World Cup and want to play again with the same details, just drop a line below confirming that.


The game is a brilliant combination of football and silliness in which you have to control your players' personalities and what they get up to off the pitch as much as you have to think about the matches. Will you fall over a cake trolley? Get caught out on the town with nefarious characters? Storm off the training pitch after being sworn at?

Please the following details as quickly as you can (if you're not sure about your player attributes I can make it up for you:

First Name
Position (Goalkeeper, Defence, Sweeper, Defensive Midfield, Attacking Midfield, Left Midfield, Right Midfield, Striker)
Self-confidence (0 = very sensitive to 5 = arrogant)
Composure (0 = ultracool to 5 = hot-headed)
Attitude (0= very relaxed to 5 = winning is everything)

Optional - you can also choose three things you are especially good or bad at:

For goalkeepers - taking crosses/positional play/good at coming off line/good on the ball/penalties/authority/reflexes
For outfield players - penalties/free kicks/heading/speed/crosses/shooting strength/goalscoring/one-on-one/playmaking/stamina/technique/dribbling

We will be playing as a random side as there is no choice to change team/country names, although if I get enough people I will set up the opposition team as well.

Can we bring home the Cup (wherever home is)?

On The Ball - World Cup Edition

See what happened when my subscribers joined my ice hockey team:

Own Goal: The 1980s Football Manager Experience

(Originally written for The Cult Den, March 2015)

Football Manager Acorn Electron

Football Manager. I will never forgive the friend who got me back into it. After logging over 600 hours of the wretched thing in Steam over the last few months, I realised that this was not the first time my life had been hijacked - nay, entirely taken over - by trying to get a bunch of no-hopers to the top of the league pyramid.

The year was 1989, and me and my Dad had been on one of our Saturday afternoon bargain-bin delves (again). Sitting at the bottom of the pile in WH Smith or Tandy or wherever we'd rocked up was a slightly scratched case containing a cassette tape and covered in old price stickers.

Removing those price stickers revealed a picture of something more important to my eight-year-old eyes than ice-cream or My Little Pony or whether Tom was going to be able to get out of that bloody Midnight Garden ever again: The FA Cup.

It was extraordinarily important that that cassette tape went home with us. It was also extremely lucky that we'd found a cheap copy, but we had the advantage of owning an Acorn Electron instead of the more popular BBC Micro. Nobody wanted the Electron's stripped-back, graphically inferior version - and by 'inferior', I mean 'having no graphics at all' - except for me, for whom owning it was like winning the Cup several times over.

Being the technological wizard he is, my Dad copied the whole lot straight onto a 5.25" disk to avoid the lengthy loading times. The difference this made to playing games on the Electron was enormous, slashing the hours normally spent waiting and replacing it with the ability to easily create multiple saves. It also allowed some significant tinkering with the game itself, which we'll come on to in a moment.

Back in those days there was no such thing as starting with the crappiest Indonesian team with the most amusing name you can find. You were having an English team whether you liked it or not, and you were plonked into Division 4 whether you'd selected Manchester United or Mansfield. The aim was to get out of this hell-hole and join the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal in winning lots of shiny trophies and pretending you were going to the Cup Winners' Cup.

It didn't matter which team you chose. You were presented with a randomly-generated squad of famous names whose skill level bore no relation to their real-life ability, which is how Ian Rush came to be playing for Arsenal and was bad enough to be immediately sold to Walsall.

Even better, the game came with an editor, so you could put in the names of friends and family and watch as they appeared on the once-weekly transfer market as an appalling, terribly out-of-form defender. I once changed all the team names as well so that the game became 'Hockey Manager', done around the time when I realised that my heart belonged to ice hockey rather than the allegedly Beautiful Game (ice hockey is far more beautiful).

Football Manager came with a choice of seven difficulty levels - seven! - but if you were even remotely interested in winning all the shiny things you'd be sensible enough to choose 'beginner' and kid yourself you were quite good at this.

Playing involved offloading rubbish players for loads of money, and buying in far better players from the amusingly limited transfer market. That was about it. In-game 'tactics' consisted of shouting, turning the sound off, turning the sound back on, praying, and looking away, in case any of these things caused your team to score.

When I say 'sound', I may be exaggerating. The only example of sound within matches was a random, split-second burst of...something...which was presumably supposed to be a crowd cheering. Instead, it achieved the odd outcome of just making it sound like your computer had gone mental, which was even more effective. If you heard that sound from the next room (where you had gone to help your team score) it was usually accompanied by you going mental, so everybody won.

I can still hear that sound in my head to this day.

Me being me, I asked my Dad whether it was possible to flash up the name of the goalscorer as well. My Dad being my Dad, he got into the program and made it do exactly that, leading to me keeping endless notebooks of tally charts on who my best players were. If I remember rightly, he even got it to say the time of the goal and the way it was scored. We settled for nothing less than awesome.

The best bit was the videprinter, which was incredibly close to the real thing. You would agonise over the incoming results, waiting for confirmation of whether you'd managed to nick the league title on goal difference. It was so convincing that my Grandma once walked in and asked whether I was watching actual results come in live. Oh we scoffed at that notion, me being on the computer and everything, but little did we know that my grandmother had unwittingly just predicted the internet.

I won't lie to you, reader. The reason I can still hear that sound is because partway through writing this article I found an Electron emulator and a ROM and sat through the loading screen counting up in hexadecimal.

And it works. It works absolutely perfectly. I even remembered how to get it to recognise the 'tape' was in, which also involved having to remember where the asterisk was on an Electron's keyboard (hint: not where you think). I am sitting here in charge of Arsenal, having just sold Ian Rush to Walsall, more excited than a very excited thing.

For the record I don't support Arsenal, I support Leicester, but for some reason they were not deemed worthy of inclusion in the 48 teams in the database. Derby County were, which I may not get over for some time, but it doesn't matter when you can immediately use the editor to include the mighty Foxes and make Derby disappear for ever. And ever. And ever.

If Football Manager 2 had classed as a Steam game, and indeed if Steam had actually existed in the 1980s, you would probably have become my friend to see that I had racked up over 600 hours of the wretched thing. You'd have also been asking me when my Dad was uploading his new version to Steam Workshop, and I'd have said you could only have a copy in exchange for some Refreshers, because I was like that back then. I didn't even like Refreshers. But I bloody loved this game. God help me, I still do.

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