Chapter One: Prisoners of Corral

Enter Corral was an extremely short lived attempt at a podcast I made in 2016. I enjoyed the fun of putting it together, but lacked the organisation to do it more than… twice.

Enjoyed this? Try the recordings of the first episode, and the second episode

I always love a bit of creative writing, so several years ago, I turned an episode of our short-lived RPG podcast into prose…

Mac opened one eye, gingerly. Beyond his blurry, grisled cheek, an expanse of grimy flagstone presented itself.  He considered cracking open his other eyelid, but the familiar shards of hangover slicing into his skull persuaded him against it. With a moan, he pulled himself into a sitting position, and surveyed his current situation.

This was clearly a cell. Mac groaned inwardly. It reminded him of many similar cells, each one a night spent at the pleasure of the Watch.

He threw a canny gaze over the other inhabitants. Opposite him, languishing against the wall, stood a incongruously well dressed young man, with a mischievous glint to his eye.

“So. What did you do?”, said Virt.

A regular sight at various levels of social fluffery, Virt “Tempts-the-Virtuous” was also depressingly well aquainted with the hospitality of the Watch. Sadly, par for the course for any self respecting conman, and Virt was undoubtedly one of those.

“A lot of drinking. My head is killing”, said a voice at floor level.

The two inmates turned their attention to the speaker, another of the five inhabitants of the room. A tall man, with a number of cuts and bruises visible on his face, Drake had no personal experience of imprisonment, but years in the military meant he knew a cell when he saw one.

He glared at Mac. “Its fuzzy, but I know you. Don’t really remember much, but I do remember you starting—”

“Yeh want some more? Anytime, boy”, snarled Mac.

“Sorry, let me just get this straight”, interjected Virt. “You two were arrested for fighting each other, and someone decided to put you in the same cell?!”

Drake nodded slowly, “Yep, I was thinking that, actually”.

Virt slow-clapped and laughed. “Top notch policing from Corral’s finest, as usual.”

“This is out of order”, stated Drake, indignantly, glaring at Mac whilst nursing a significant sized bruise above one eye.

Grinning at the animosity, Virt turned his charm toward the angry looking young lady sat across the room.”Well, not the first time I’ve woken up in a cell, but not often I get such fine company! Hello, young lady!”

Sat on the bare wooden bench, in battered fatigues, Roberta Skyhunter stared past Virt at the window. Her short black hair escaped a faded medic company cap, stopping above her distant blue eyes. She looked Virt up and down.

“Hey.” she said, in a guarded manner.

On the bench next to her, a pale thin man stared blankly at the door. Nondescript, and shabbily dressed, with a large gash on his forehead, Bernard had the air of someone slightly concussed.

The five of them quickly ascertained their total lack of any helpful pick pocketing tools, keys or handy bribes. Mac rose unsteadily to his feet, and started examining the windows. Around the size of his head, with two rows of thick concrete embedded bars, it didn’t appear to be a promising point of exit. He pulled defeatedly at one, just in case.

“Don’t think you’ll be getting through there”, jibed Virt, with a smile.

“You might be…” said Mac threateningly.

Virt took in Mac’s bulking shoulders and missing teeth, and decided that his personal brand of humour was not going to serve him very well. He decided to call on the less aggressive side of the cell.

“So we know how our two bar brawlers ended up at the Watch’s disposure. Why are the rest of us here?”

“I was just picked up, as I was walking past the Ministry”, said Roberta, “No one said why”.

“I’ve got no idea why we’re here”, said Bernard, distractedly.

Virt nodded, “I mean, I had quite a successful night and – for a change – what I was doing was fairly legal, so I’m not quite sure what happened”.

“Is the door locked?” said Mac, without optimism. Drake tried the handle, unsuccessfully, and fell back to silence.

Visibly frustrated, Mac paced over and hammered on the door. There was no response. He tried again, and after a lengthy delay, footsteps were heard coming down the corridor. Mac turned expectantly towards the small communication slot set high in the metal door.

The hidden walker stomped to a stop, and the slot slammed shut. As the bolt ground to a stop and the footsteps faded away into the distance, the cellmates settled down to an inevitable wait – “As usual”, remarked Mac.

Drake squinted at Virt, “Why are you dressed like that?”

“Thinks he’s King Shit”, sneered Mac from the corner.

Virt surveyed himself. For a drinks reception at the Ministry of the Interior, a full suit with tails seemed appropriate. Sharing a grimy cell with 4 commoners, at least one of whom kept giving him murderous glances, he was feeling decidedly overdressed. Putting his nerves aside, he strode to the door, and made a few sharp knocks.

After calling “Guard?!” a few times, the slot slammed open.

“What?”, the gruff voice of a mercenary.

“I wondered if you could tell us what we are supposed to have done? Because I have literally no idea.”

“You’ve got no idea?”

“I genuinely have no idea. I was having a nice drink with the Deputy Minister for the Interior—”

“So you were having drinks with the Deputy?”


“At the Ministry building?”


“And then half an hour later, after you had been seen leaving the building…”


“The Minister for the Interior was murdered.”


“By four men, and a woman—”

Virt burst out with indignation, “Hang on a second, you’ve literally just said I was seen leaving the building, I’d left, I’d gone. How could I have done it?”

Mac interjected with a rawkish grin, “To be fair guard, he just confessed to all of us that he killed ‘im”.

Drake frowned at Mac, “So he’s meant to have gone back half an hour later, back into the building? What about us, why are we here? I wasn’t even in the Ministry—”

“Look mate, you’ve got the wrong guys. You know he did it”, said Mac, thrusting a grubby finger towards Virt, “Set the rest of us free, and we’ll help you round up the others in his gang…”

The guard’s steel toed boot hit the outside of the door with a crash. “SHUT IT! Look, I know your game, trying to talk me in circles, it ain’t gonna work. We were told to find four men, and a woman, near the Ministry. We looked in the area, found the five of you. Problem solved.”

“That was it?”, objected Virt. “All you had to work on was ‘four men and a woman’?”

“Nope, there were descriptions; man in a suit, an old bloke, a tall, paramil type, a girl dressed as a medic, and a skinny bloke.”


“And you were all found, at 2 in the morning, outside the Ministry. I’m done with this; you are here whilst we wait for the Tigers”.

“The Tigers?” exclaimed Virt. Torsen’s Tigers were the biggest paramilitary guild in the system. Whilst simple policing was left to the unaligned mercs in the suburbs, the Tigers had money, organisation and prestige. Even Mac looked a bit concerned at this news.

“Yeh, they are taking you to the city jail, they’ll do all the paperwork there. Nothing more to say, all this is above my pay grade. Keep it down!”

As the slot hammered shut again, Virt cried out “I demand to speak to a lawyer”. A muffled guffaw echoed down the corridor, as the footsteps faded away.

Silence reigned for a few minutes, as each person glumly reflected on their likely future. Stories of brutality and missing people were not unusual when Torsen’s Tigers came up in conversation.

Mac broke the stillness gruffly, “So, you were talking to this Minister?”, he asked Virt.

“No, I only spoke to the Deputy Minister. Nice bloke actually. We were making a, shall we say, ‘business transaction’—”

“About the mines?”, Mac’s eyes flared as he said this.

“Nah, it was about the monorail”.

“Are you in monorail construction?” piped in Drake.

Everyone turned towards Drake. Virt gestured to his finely pressed suit, admittedly somewhat less exquisite after a night on the floor. “Do I look like I work in monorail construction?”

Drake flared, “I don’t know, I’ve never met anyone who works in monorail construction!”

Roberta stared at him, with one raised eyebrow. After a suitably withering pause, she said “So what does the Minister actually do?”

The exact role of government on Corral was unclear to most residents, and fully opaque to the rest. A farm based economy, with little in the way of metropolitan areas, most newsworthy events generally revolved around the huge carnivorous prairie lizards that roamed the grasslands.

Historically unimpressive, the beleaguered Corral mines had undergone huge growth in recent years. Whilst the exact source of the new found mining wealth remained a closely guarded industrial secret, the economic impacts to the system had been unmistakeable.

The construction of the continent spanning monorail was the most visible effect of this financial development, but anyone living in Guinea was well aware of the hugely increased numbers of offworlders in the capital. Whilst the majority of visitors seemed to be mining contractors, there was a significant volume of professional and security guilds, and the general hodge-podge of opportunistic planet jumpers common to any thriving spaceport.

All this change came under the scrutiny of the Ministry of the Interior. Ultimately, key decisions were likely overseen by Lord Sway, the planetary ruler, but the Minister would act with autonomy in all matters of development, guild authorisation, and employment. His death would leave a power vacuum that would disrupt the upper echelons of Corral’s change-averse society.

“He built the monorail, didn’t he?”, said Drake.

“I could tell you all about the monorail…”, hinted Mac, with a dark expression.

Drake took in the ominous pause, “I take it the monorail isn’t exactly to your liking?”

“Nah. We don’t need it. Nothing wrong with the farms, nothing wrong with the ranches: we don’t need it.”

“You’re not a fan of all this new fangled technology, then?”

“Oh, technology is okay, but the monorail’s a waste of money. What do we need it for? It’s just Lord Sway’s penis extension”

Virt interjected, “Ooh, let me guess… you’re a rancher, right?”

Mac grunted, a slight nod of pride subdued by his obvious dislike for the fancy dressed conman.

Virt considered speaking his mind about his general experiences of solid-skulled ranchers, and decided silence was the wiser choice. He rapped on the cell door again, “Do you know who I am?!”, he shouted, imperiously. The two inch thick steel door did not appear particularly impressed by this statement.

The five of them settled back into a tense, reticent quiet. Escape was clearly impractical, and reasoning with the guard was more likely to lead to a beating than freedom.

Bernard stirred, an agitated look to his brow. He began pacing back and forth in the grubby confines of the cell, muttering to himself, “Something to remember, something to remember”.

The others watched him uneasily. Weedy or not, no one wanted a crazy person in their cell.

Outside the barred window, the city clocks began to chime the hour, tolling their way to 9AM. Bernard looked up, thunderstruck, letting out a high pitched repeat of his mantry “Something to remember!”, and ran to peer through the bars.

His body tumbled back, ragdoll, as the wall exploded inwards.

Rubble and dust filled the air, and the other four cellmates scrambled back, frantically trying to move out of the path of the debris. Through the smoke, a battered armoured van hazed into existence, its bonnet dented and scratched from the trauma of crashing through a foot of solid concrete.

A klaxon started wailing from deeper within the building. The door to the cell, structurally unaffected by the chaos on the other side of the room, slammed open as the guard rushed in. Obviously alerted by the noise and general commotion, he managed only two steps before the distinctive noise of a tazer discharge crackled out, and he fell to the floor, his unconscious body jerking rhythmically.

“BERNARD? Is there a Bernard here?!”, a voice called out, from the general direction of the van.

Still blinking away the dust from their eyes, and shellshocked by the sudden turn of events, the cellmates looked at the indistinct form of Bernard, mostly hidden under several tons of debris.

Impatient with the lack of response, the voice repeated, “Seriously, is there a Bernard here? Syndicate have ordered a rescue – I’m to collect Bernard, and those in his party”.

“I’m Bernard!” said Virt, mind racing at the implications of the mysterious man realising his charge had been killed.

“Okay, great. Thought I might have got the wrong cell for a moment there!”, said the stranger. He whipped open the rear doors of the van, “What are you waiting for, get in! We need to go!  The Tigers are going to be on their way.”

Virt strode over to the front of the vehicle, jumping into the passenger seat, pausing only to kick the recumbent guard on his way past. Roberta followed, clambering over the wreckage into the back door.

“I ain’t going nowhere without Lucille”, grunted Mac. He and Drake sprinted into the corridor, where they found a guard station with its handily unlocked evidence locker. Pocketing various wallets and identity bundles, they returned, Mac cradling a large, battered shotgun with an almost maternal relief, and both scrambled in to the van.

The stranger kicked the armoured truck into reverse. With enough revs, and fair amounts of jolting and rocking, it extricated itself from the remains of the once impregnable cell, then, back wheels squealling, the gang accelerated off into the night.


I’ve set myself a few goals this year. No big massive resolutions, just a few incremental bits I’d like to do or change.

I’m going to use my blog to reflect on them. I may write something every week or just when something stands out for me – blogging regularly was not one of my plans for the year…


I’ve been working on a book. Finally.
Currently at 34,000 words and counting. I hope to use this site to showcase it a bit better.

Commitment 1: Write 2000 words a week.

Enough that I can nail it in a day if I want to, but also achievable in 15 minute chunks through the week. Also enough that I’ll write 100,000 words this year, which should be enough to finish it, surely!


I love listening to music, and have played guitar for many years.

For Christmas I got a Chromatic Harmonica from my lovely wife, an instrument I’ve dreamed of owning for years. It became clear to me that owning is not the same as knowing how to play it. Much the same as our piano. So…

Commitment 2: 30 minutes of Harmonica, and 30 minutes of Piano practice a week.

You’ll see a similar theme emerging: I can sort this in one session, or tackle it at my leisure. Or not! No pressure.


Last year, I ran 1,000 miles. It was a great challenge, and I enjoyed it – the photo on the right was taken after my final run of 2018, during which I completed the challenge. This year, I fancied a change to something slightly less intense, but also flexing my fitness muscles in a different direction: cycling. 

Commitment 3: 5000 kilometres of cycling

This sounds like a lot. But its actually about 40 minutes cycling a day. Which I already do on days that I work anyway. We’ll see! Given that I also want to be a good example to my kids…

Commitment 4: 30 minutes cycling with the kids each week.

And finally, because I’m about as flexible as a piece of wood…

Commitment 5: 30 minutes Pilates per week.


I continue to aim to rise each morning, make a coffee, and read a few chapters of the Bible. I hope to finish working all the way through this year…

Commitment 6: Finish reading the entire Bible.


That’s all folks. Let’s see how it goes down…

The Pirate Republic – a megagame review

Last Saturday, I dressed myself in a waistcoat, popped on a jaunty hat, and asked my wife to apply my eyeliner for me.

Of course I did, because I was going to a Pirate Megagame! “What is a megagame?“, I hear you asking….

A megagame is a a room full of people all roleplaying as different characters, playing out some grand scenario. Imagine a combination of board game, role play game and hugely overcrowded dinner party with people that keep lying to you.

I’d never attended one, but I’ve been very keen on the idea ever since reading the Shut Up and Sit Down review of Watch the Skies. The amazing Pennine Megagames team have been running multiple games likes this for several years, and hearing about the Pirate Republic, it seemed time to put my oar in the waters…

The Pirate Republic!

The Pirate Republic was a one day swashbuckling adventure in Manchester, involving 60 or so fantastically well dressed players. The official description is below:

“The year is 1712 and the foul war of the Spanish Succession is finally coming to an end. Having fought for years, in some cases with honour, many fine sailors in the Caribbean find themselves unemployed and unwanted by their previous masters. Nothing to look forward to apart from poverty, starvation, scurvy and a miserable life.

So, do they roll over and die? No! They do what any self-respecting freedom loving sailor desires and follow the path well trodden by the buccaneers of old. Taking to the high seas, in fine ships stolen or borrowed from those who are better off, even sometimes bought, for a life of adventure, riches and partying until they drop.”

Basically, we got a boat, a crew, and the open sea, with ports to visit or attack (also run by other players), other pirates to attack and a mervant navy to hijack (run by a particular well dressed individual and his nation team). And we had to say “AAARRR!” a lot.

That sounds… weird. How was it?

Firstly, megagames are, well, Mega. There are 60 different stories going on, countless plans, subterfuge and miscommunication. Nobody has a full idea of what is happening everywhere, and its easy to be completely out of the loop of huge swathes of action – but it doesn’t really matter! For example, we completely missed the battle for Nassau, the Pirate Island, we didn’t attack a single merchant ship, and only visited 5 out of about 30 ports.

Of the 70 players present, I estimate there were 30 people I didn’t speak to, and others who I heard of only through reputation. We faked a poisoning at one point, and spread the rumour simply by wandering up to randomers and telling them there had been a poisoning and wandering off. Yet, somehow, news of it spread to the very port we were trying to deceive without us telling them directly. Beckybecky just shared a brilliant blog post about her adventures on the day, and whilst I don’t think I was directly involved in any of them, its amazing how much of it I heard through hearsay, frantic whispers and glancing at the huge central board map.

There was an annual Pirate council, which was helpful for hearing about some of the larger plans and escapades, as well as the opportunity to stand to be the new Pirate King each year. I only stood for this once, and even I didn’t vote for me!

In the process of plotting a mass poisoning

Secondly, plans will fail, but putting them together can be very satisfying. Your day will involve constantly, excitedly, talking to different people trying to scrape together plans, fervently promising to support your new friend to the bitter end, only for events to lead you to be at the other end of the map at the exact moment they said they needed you. But it doesn’t matter, because a different event meant their plans changed too – or they died horrifically, but who cares, they were only a scurvy pirate anyway…

We planned our grand poisoning and betrayal of Portabello colony intricately. This involved striking deals with other pirates to get them co-ordinated, getting the Control to agree to new rules for poisoning a water supply, and getting the Dutch colony to make us some fake uniforms for tricking the Spanish guards. Despite needing to postone the entire thing three times, we actually managed to pull it off, with the lovely guys on the Portabello table rather disappointed to discover that rather than allies we were just terrible, terrible people.

The French proved extremely happy to direct and fund terrorism.

Thirdly, abandoning plans can be equally enjoyable. As the port of Portabello fell, the other pirates sailed to chase a Spanish galleon, whilst we were left to guard the new pirate port we had taken. Instead of this, we did a runner with all the treasure, hiding out in tiny French colonies for the rest of the year. We had multiple people coming to us asking what we did with the treasure, but disingenuously showing a blank face and feigning confusion created enough uncertainty for safety.

After a year in game had passed, our treachery was forgotten, and we sailed forth in our newly purchased and outfitted fleet, and tackled a single Dutch merchant vessel (seen in the photos above). Unfortunately, they fled, and were replaced with a newly built fleet from a nearby Spanish port… Portabello. We outgunned them effortlessly, but unfortunately ended up outmanned when we boarded them. Despite a heroic one-to-one duel with their captain, the Governor of Portabello, who died at our hands, we lost the battle overall, and our entire crew was executed…

Fourthly, there’s a lot of fun to be had outside the normal arc of the game. After our unfortunate demise, we reincarnated back as new characters in the same French port we had hidden in for a year. We decided the life of pirates wasn’t for us, so asked them if they had any potential terrorist acts they would like to see performed. They asked us to try to burn down a Spanish port. After a quick discussion with Central Control (who were getting a little exasperated by our constant requests for poisoning rules, hidden uniforms and similar) we came up with a plan. The French gave us a small fishing vessel, and we set sail as an unarmed ship to a small Spanish port… Portabello!

The longsuffering Portabello port team. Every one of us ended up executed as a result of the actions of my ridiculous crew.

We sent Mike, our least vocal player to the Portabello table to haggle for hiring a warehouse for our (hypothetical) new fishing business. I knew they would never consider such an offer from me, as I had been central in the betrayal previously, but Mike won them over with his honest face and 3 remaining teeth. For one gold, they allowed us to hire a warehouse, and then we managed to buy an entire shipload of gunpowder from another colony. Port Control came up with a rule for the explosion, and we detonated the warehouse at the base of their fort, causing… not enough damage. We returned to the French to see if they wanted us to target any other colony: they gleefully gave us a handful of gold, and pointed us towards the current Reputation leaders, Havana.

The Cubans were so nice to us we (almost) felt guilty. Not only did they happily rent us a warehouse inside their harbour, but they even offered to buy fish from us! Central Control were too tired to be annoyed when we asked for a mechanic for getting fish, and just sighed at us “Whatever! Look, here’s a card for 3 fish, just have it and leave me alone!” Learning from our previous mistake of under-powered terrorism, this time we attempted to smuggle in three entire boatloads of gunpowder, then, after brazenly taking gold payment for our 3 fish, we called over Port Control for a further detonation. Little did we know that Cuba had also gone off piste, and had a card they’d bought from Central that made them extra vigilant against fire or explosions! We caused 50% damage to their fort, but two of the three of us were executed as a result.

Our performance sheet for the last year. Most of the actions detailed are not present in the games rules.

For the final year of the game, our remaining living crew member returned to the French, and gleefully accepted a small bucket load of gold to buy and outfit a reasonable sized brig, and immediately set sail to the first battle we could see, where 4 Spanish ships were attacking a single Spanish ship that had recently turned pirate! Joined at the last moment by a captured Spanish galleon, we fought tooth and nail, sinking a larger frigate, but losing our own ship in the process. Overall, the pirates won the battle, and Ship Control ruled that our crew member survived, clinging to wreckage, as the final moments of the last turn ended…

Final thoughts?

We had a great day. It was exhausting – I literally sat down twice for a total of about 3 minutes in 8 hours – and I was very ready to be done by the end, but I’ve been left with amazing stories, and a feeling of having taken part in something much larger than myself.

There was definitely stuff that didn’t work: there were crew morale, ship gold and rum trackers that were rendered completely pointless within the first year. Some of our friends who attended found this quite frustrating as it rendered their initial plans pointless.

I suspect that most introverts would find the process a little daunting, and you need a willingness to accept “flexible” rules (ie. Control making them up on the spot). Despite any other issues, it was a unique experience, and I’d be very willing to participate in another one in future; just don’t make me play Portabello port!

Fancy taking part in a megagame? Visit Pennine Megagames and sign up for one today.
I may even see you there Matey! Aaaarrrr!

Soylents: a comparative review of future foods

Check out my currently recommended review: Huel.
Skip straight to specific reviews for Joylent, Queal, Ambronite & Jake.

An introduction to “future food”

soylent_2-0A few years ago, a man called Rob Rhinehart got annoyed with the state of food. He was fed up with spending time and money on just staying alive.

Sure, food can be super enjoyable. Nothing is going to tear me away from the many pizzas in my life. But his point holds firm: much of the time, food is just nutrition, just fuel to keep us alive. Why have we not made it cheaper and simpler?

His answer to that question was Soylent. It’s powdered food that contains 100% of the vitamins, the minerals, the calories, the carbs, the proteins; every tiny thing we need to survive and flourish. Not only that, but its super convenient – simply add powder to water.

Soylents in my life

In my work day, lunchtime is not a time for sitting down to a tasty home cooked meal. Midday is a time when I want the absolute minimum hassle, and soylents, or “future foods” are a great solution to that. I’ve found them to be very helpful from many perspectives:

  • low cost: much cheaper than grabbing a sandwich every day
  • fast: much simpler than defrosting or buying and eating a meal
  • low hassle: I can drink it at my desk as I work, no down time needed. If I want some down time, I go outside for a walk, trading time on eating for time on exercise and fresh air!
  • a weight management technique: future foods have a very known calorie portion, and I find them satisfying to the degree I’m not tempted to snack – and not needing to shop reduces temptation.
  • more stable energy release: I start drinking one around 11:30, and finish it around 2:30. Drinking it so slowly keeps me satiated, and avoids the desire to nap I often hit an hour after I wolf down a medium sized meal at lunch.

Soylent is not available in the UK, so I’ve been experimenting with some of the available options, and thought I would review them for others interested in the concept.

Disclaimer: I was sent free samples of many of these products. Several of them have had changes to their recipe over the year I’ve been testing, so your mileage may vary. I’ve tested all of them for at least a week, usually several weeks.

A “meal” is ~700kcal, I’ve noted if the supplied sizes vary from this. The price per meal is for a starter pack, and then the cheapest bulk price available is in brackets. Cost of postage, if applicable, is included. 


joylentPrice per meal: £1.79 (£1.49 bulk)

Joylent was the first future food I tried. I was attracted by its pretty packaging, range of flavours and cheap pricing; all of which stood them apart from Soylent.

Unlike many of their competitors, I found all the flavours enjoyable, none of them too sweet or too artificial. The texture was a little gritty – which I actually came to enjoy, after a little adjustment. It did mean the mix was prone to seperating out over time, so you’d need to shake it up fairly regularly. Not a big problem for me, it’s in a shaker already for a reason.

The effect on my body of switching to Joylent was entirely amicable. No exciting flatulence, and stable energy levels throughout. Replacing regular work meals with it was painless and enjoyable.

The pretty packaging is an interesting plus point as well: I genuinely looked forwards to each meal more than with some of the blandly bagged futurefoods. Eating is not purely about nourishment, and there’s something to be said for taking steps to replicate the aesthetic enjoyment of food…

All in, I’d definitely give Joylent another go!

Positive: range of flavours, good prices, vegan option, pretty packaging.

Negative: slightly gritty.


QuealPrice per meal: £2.10 (£1.88 bulk)

After Joylent, the next inviting range of packages I opened was Queal . I say “inviting”; what I mean is “a little bit amateurish”.

Whilst the Joylent branding might be a bit colourful for some, the Queal logo was in underlined Ariel. My immediate impression of the packaging was that my mum could have designed it in Word.

Also, “Queal”? I know they are getting at Quick-Meal, but the first thing that jumped to mind for the three people I asked? “Queasy”. To be fair to them, over the last 6 months they have a new logo that is both prettier, and includes a “Quick Meal” tagline. I imagine their packaging will update in time.

The strength of Queal is twofold: texture and range of flavours.

It has a finer powder mixture than Joylent, resulting in a smoother, creamier mix that separates less. The downside of this is the mixture can clump together on mixing – imagine adding flour to water compared to adding sand to water. The sand will be gritty, but the flour might form lumps. That said though, the lumps are rare, and when well mixed or even blended, not a problem at all. I quite enjoyed chewing the odd bit of tasty Queal lump anyway – if textures are a deal breaker for you, something to be aware of.

Queal is available in 10 flavours currently, including such treats as “Crazy Chocolate Peanut” and “Banana Mania”. I found the flavours a bit hit and miss. Whereas every Joylent was nice enough, but not distractingly so, Queal had some overly sweet flavours – especially Berry – and some tasted overly artificial at points. Still, the benefit of 10 options is you are bound to find some that suit you, and the entire range is available in Lite, Standard, Plus and Athletic, allowing a varied mix of calories and macros.

Overall, I enjoyed Queal, but I found it a slightly less good product that Joylent, at a slightly higher price.

Plus sides: Smooth texture, range of flavours, decent price, 4 different calorie mixes available.

Downsides: basic packaging, inadvisable name, flavours a little more sickly/artificial, can form lumps.


Price per meal: £12.10 (£8.05 bulk, but that would cost you £322 for 40). Plus the meals are only 500kcal. For a comparable 700kcal portion, the numbers are £16.94 and £11.27 bulk!

Wow. That was my first thought on seeing the price on this bad boy. One of my significant motivating factors for using future foods is the cost savings, compared to buying lunch. At the rate I use future foods, I could feed myself on Joylent for a month of workdays for the same price as a single meal of Ambronite.

Or indeed, for the cost of a Ambronite meal, could head to Subway and buy a 2 footlong Veggie Patty subs, 2 large side salads, 2 drinks and 3 cookies, for a total of 2,200 calories.

Or indeed, head to Aldi, and buy 10.8 kilos of butter, for a total of 73,800 calories.

If you can get past the price, Ambronite is clearly a quality product. None of the other foods on this list feel, look or taste so clearly like natural ingredients. Here is the full list: Oat protein, almond, oats, apple, agave syrup, oat fiber, nettle leaf, spinach, flaxseed, chlorella, spirulina, cranberry, bilberry, black currant, sea buckthorn, nutritional yeast, mineral salt, natural aromas, guar gum, vanilla. 20 items, all of which have grown and lived. If trees-are-our-family values are dear to you, Ambronite may be your – very expensive – friend.

As long as you don’t mind the flavour. Because, no doubt about it, Ambronite tastes… healthy. Healthy like a good walk up a mountain. In October. In pouring rain. In Scotland.

The finished mix is a textured greenish colour – much as one would imagine true Soylent Green, I suddenly realise. It tastes very earthy; a little bitter, a little bland; with a soft but slightly gritty texture. It definitely has a sour aftertaste – when I first tasted it, my immediate thought was that the packet must be past its sell by date.

After a few more sips though, I started not to notice the negatives, and became aware of just how satiating it felt. In fact, it didn’t take long for me to decide that its probably my favourite flavour of futurefood. I like to barely notice I’m drinking the stuff, and Ambronite quickly fades into the background, leaving you feel surprisingly refreshed. That said, I can imagine 60-70% of people just deciding its disgusting.

Plus sides: Organic. Fruits and nuts and berries and seeds. Wildly satiating. Flavour doesn’t linger.

Downsides: Crazily, ludicrously, never-gonna-buy-it expensive. Tastes “healthy” ie. possibly a little bit horrible.


Price per meal: £2.69 (£2.08 bulk subscription).

Jake has solid branding, and they know what message they want to get across. Futurefoods have a battle on their hands regarding who they are for, and why. Jake make it clear that this is a product for people who value quick, healthy and cheap nutrition.

I like their claim “Jake is made from real food”. I was regularly finding little pieces of slightly gooey texture, which were quite tasty. At first I assumed they were some kind of processed ingredient to supply healthy fats, but on closer examination I realised they were whole flax seeds. Tasty regardless, but somehow more appetising than artificially generated components.

Satiation is good with Jake, and I feel that it gives me a nice even energy flow throughout the day. That said, every future food has impressed me with its stable energy release: my habit of slowly drinking a shake over 3 hours is likely a key contributor, but that’s still valid, as there’s no way I would be that self controlled with a sandwich.

The vanilla flavour is a little strong for me, possibly slightly sickly. It certainly sticks around in my mouth many minutes after I’ve last sipped it. That said, its fairly unassuming, and it hasn’t stopped me being satisfied with the product; I just prefer milder flavours in my soylents. I also miss the opportunity to try other flavours; whilst Jake offer a Light and a Sports mix, they seem oddly proud of being available in “Only Vanilla”.

On eating Jake for a week, I feel like I’m in the ideal “natural” territory that Ambronite want to inhabit. Whilst I don’t believe in the “non-organic food is poison” mantra, its undeniable that oats, pea protein and flaxseed have a certain appeal over emulsifying agent Z3004 and flavouring E382-AB. And I may even be willing to pay for that appeal, to an extent. That extent is where a premium of £1-per-meal is reasonable… and £11-per-meal is not.

Plus sides: Has real life seeds! Good branding, nice energy release, mostly whole foods.

Downsides: If you don’t like texture, you might not like tasty lumps, only one flavour, vanilla a bit strong.


Price per meal: £1.61 (£1.33 bulk subscription).

Huel have been advertising a fair amount in the UK, probably to the point that they have more brand recognition than Soylent. With a solid (if unimaginative) logo, and a bold proclamation to be “the future of food”, they have made a great product, and at a fantastic price.

Part of the reason for the price is likely their large container sizes. Compared to single use or 3 meal bags used by all the other groups, Huel supply you with a 14 meal bag. It’s a little daunting at points, and if I was travelling I would probably pop a few servings into a smaller packet, but the fact they use around 8% of the packaging of some of their rivals is to be applauded. It’s also 100% vegan!

One thing I particularly enjoy about Huel is that it is somehow more dense than most futurefoods. Most of them need 120g per shaker (around 3 scoops) to provide a full tasting shake, whereas Huel manages this with 80g (around 2 small scoops). This hugely helps me to feel satiated at lunchtime, whilst helping me to calorie restrict for weight management.

Texture is similar to Queal: fine mixture, with a tendency to form (tasty) lumps. The sieve style shaker provided by Huel is somewhat less effective than the metal ball mixer provided by most other companies: its also more hassle to clean.

Vanilla is your option, flavour-wise, although Huel also offer an interesting “unflavoured” option, as well as gluten free. I found the vanilla to be fairly appetising and uncontroversial. If, however, you don’t like vanilla, Huel also offer a range of flavours supplied seperately. I’ve not tried these, but I very much like the option, if not the extra preparation.

A month with Huel left me very satisfied. It tastes fine, I get to have more than one shaker of futurefood at lunch, for the same calories a single shaker of other brands, and its more ecological than many of its competitors, thanks to the hugely reduced packaging. If you are looking for my currently recommended futurefood, Huel is my go to.

Plus sides: Great price! Good taste, extra shake for same calories, large range of optional flavours, 100% vegan, eco friendly packaging decision, unflavoured option.

Downsides: Flavours cost extra, forms lumps, bulky packaging, less good quality shaker.


Richard, about our bikes…

Dear Mr Branson.

I write this as a huge appreciator of magnificent beards, and of your tie-less philosophy. I’m a GP, who generally appears rugged and agile (read, “lazily unshaven and unwilling to iron his shirts”). I do own a tie, but I’m not sure where it currently is.

virgintrainsI also write it as an avid bike user, who feels a little like an unwanted guest on your trains. On the Virgin Trains website, its mentioned that VT is looking for “new and innovative ways” to improve on their green credentials. If you want to be a green company, encouraging people to travel carbon free after their train arrives is a key one.

Here’s a few simple things:

  • Are you aware that its not possible to prebook a reservation for a bike on your train online?
  • That one has to ring a phone line after buying your non-refundable ticket online to add on the bike?
  • That there’s only 4 spaces for bikes on an 10-11 carriage train? East Midlands regularly fit 6 on a 2 carriage train.
  • The space for bikes has enough vertical space that you could hang bikes above the ones currently there, easily doubling space.
  • People can hop on a train with 2 Great Danes, 3 huge bags and a triple pram without pre-booking. Wouldn’t a green approach allow this for bikes?

Recently I was at a conference where someone advised “If you haven’t got a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu”. I’ve definitely felt a bit gnawed on my recent bike travel on your trains.

If you have a task force for this stuff, are there cycling advocates at it? If not, I’d be keen to offer my services. I’m a local GP, on the board of Active Warrington, Health Improvement Latchford, and team doctor to Warrington Town FC, so I have a range of applicable experience.

Thanks for reading. If you feel like rewarding me for my passion with a free trip to the moon on Virgin Galactic, or even a free pass on the trains, that’d be awesome, but ultimately I’d like to help you guys help people to travel better.



PS. Wasn’t lying about the tie. No idea.

Half Marathon Chris

imag0171I’ve been steadily getting more interested in fitness, running, and healthy living. Over the last couple of years, I’ve lost a decent chunk of weight, and started running and cycling a lot more. I still sweat like a geriatric horse, unfortunately.

In the last 18 months I’ve completed my first Triathlon, my first 10K road race, and this weekend, my first Half Marathon…


ehm-course-mapI pretty much got pushed by circumstance into doing the race. A newly fit, running enthusiast friend told me I had to sign up around 6 weeks ago, but it wasn’t until I discovered another friend was travelling over from Sheffield that I decided to give it a go.

Warrington’s slightly pompously titled “English Half Marathon” is a mildly hilly course with total rise and descent of 110m. Click the course map on the left for more details. Its 21km, obviously.


I did better than with my 10K. Not hard, because my training for that was close to non-existent. Sure, I didn’t run quite as much as I’d have liked, but I have been running at least 5km twice a week for the last couple of months, and I even did a training run of 16km!

As usual, 10 days before the race I rang my sports performance specialist friend Jon, asking “How do I train for an event that I should have already trained for”. He remained unimpressed with me.

I settled on trying to run 6km most days for a week, including one longer 16km route. Then, in the week running up to the race I ran 3 times:

Monday 4K
Tuesday 3K (limited by children)
Wednesday 6K before work, 8K after
Thursday Long walk
Friday 8K (up a Welsh hill)
Saturday 5K (personal best 22:50 mins)
Sunday Rest
Monday Rest (planned to run, failed)
Tuesday Rest
Wednesday 5K (slow pace with child)
Thursday 7K before work, 9K after
Friday Rest
Saturday Rest and carb load

Regarding nutrition, I planned to carb load on the two days before, and managed to suck down quite a lot of pizza. Unfortunately, my family caught a nasty virus that gave them nausea and abdominal pain. That hit me a little late on Saturday evening, but thankfully only hit me full force the day after the race.

On the morning of the race, I had two crumpets with loads of jam on them, approximately 80g of carbs, two hours before start time. That’s a bit less than the Runner’s World recommendation, but I was feeling a little queasy already. I also drank around 400ml of decaf coffee, keen to avoid dehydration, but also avoid weeing too much. I find that caffeine can make me feel nauseous on an empty stomach, so I felt it best to give it a miss…


It was a lot of fun. As has become my habit before parkruns, I started with the group behind where I hoped to finish, joining the 2 hour timing group at the start line. I did this for two reasons: firstly, I hoped their early pacing would be a little slower, and encourage me not to wear myself out in the first 3km, drained prematurely.

The second reason I like to start further back, is that I find gradually overtaking people throughout a race is a huge emotional boom.

Being fairly run fit, and concentrating early on my pacing was key to having a good time.

I kicked off at around a 4:45min/km, consciously slowing myself down, checking my phone for my pace fairly frequently over the first few kilometres. After that, I relaxed into the pace, and didn’t worry too much about going too fast, just used my muscle memory to keep me on track.

Just after 2km I needed a wee, and you can see my detour into Black Bear Park for a desperate pitstop on the GPS route (check the graphs and map further down the page). Immediately following it I sprinted to catch up, so probably made up most of the lost time, although the adrenaline hit was a bit draining. This coupled with my slightly upset stomach to give me some tummy cramps, but luckily a few sips of water settled this before it affected my pace.

The main uphill was between 3 and 8km, so things became a little harder work there, but I actually maintained my pace fairly easily. I got out the other side feeling pretty great – mostly because lots of people around me seemed to be struggling a bit, which helped competitive Chris feel like a winner. From 11km onwards, I felt very energetic, and clocked up 3 sub-5-minute-kilometres in a row. My legs started to cramp up a little from 17km onwards, but, by then, the end was in sight, and my brain forced me through (see me running the final 100m in the video).

Frustratingly, some little niggly plantar ligament in the sole of my foot decided to randomly go on the spritz around 19km. Like a lot of these things, it hurt a bit at the time, but didn’t properly flare up until the next day. 4 days later, its still hurting enough to limit me walking, which is also rather annoying.

Nutrition wise, I’m sure carb loading was the reason my legs retained plenty of bounce past the halfway mark. My glycogen stores only noticeably ran low towards the end. This was not helped by the placement of the carb gel stands on the run – I got one gel at around 7km, and didn’t get another one until I hit 18km – waay too late, although I managed to grab some powerade (off the floor) at around 14km which probably helped a bit…


imag0172I had no particular expectations, nor any frame of reference for this run. One of my sponsors refused to pay up unless I beat 2 hours, so that was my key motivation. Using the Runner’s World Race Time predictor from my 10K result, I was given an estimation of around 1 hour 43 mins. (Although this does assume appropriate training for the distance…)

What did I manage? A respectable 1 hour 47 minutes and 47 seconds (according to my timing chip)I came 619th out of 2,204 (28th centile).

All in all, I had a good time. My thoughts on the event are marred by the fact I still can’t walk due to the foot pain, and I’ve been in bed for nearly two straight days with a stomach bug. That said, I think I’m a long way away from ready for a full marathon. My next plan is to do a bit more trail running, perhaps another 10K race, and see where to go from there.

As ever, most importantly, I got to eat 5 mini pizzas following the race. Win.

A trip to the Postbox: an All Outta Bubblegum experience…

bubblegumI’ve recently become interested in RPG games. This is a genre of gaming where you use your imagination to build a world, generally with some rules to help provide a framework to make this easier.

Given my relative inexperience, I’ve asked my friends Alan and Ace to play a game of “All Outta Bubblegum” with me via email. Its a particularly silly game, designed for a short play through with ridiculous effects. The rules, such as they are, are below:

All Outta Bubblegum

Based entirely on a quote from an 80s action film “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all outta bubblegum“. In AOB you can do one of two types of action; you can do normal things, like walking, answering the phone, getting dressed, etc. Or you can do kickass things, like hacking a computer with a single keypress, flying a helicopter, or barrel-kicking a zombie through a wall.

Characters in All Outta Bubblegum have one stat — Bubblegum. It’s technically a number which varies from 0 through 8, though the designers highly, highly recommend that you don’t do anything so banal as write down a number, and, instead, pass out actual sticks of bubblegum to the players.

Bubblegum always starts out at 8.


Any action which does not fall under the broad category of “kickass” is resolved by rolling a d10. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the amount of bubblegum the character has left, then the character succeeds in his task.

Any action which falls under the broad umbrella of “kickass” is also resolved by rolling a d10. However, in this case, you wish to roll greater than the amount of bubblegum that you have left.

Losing Bubblegum

Whenever you fail a kickass roll, you lose a stick of Bubblegum. You may also sacrifice a stick of Bubblegum before the roll to ensure success.

Zero Bubblegum

When you lose your last stick of bubblegum, you are officially all outta bubblegum. You may no longer attempt any kind of non-asskicking activity. Simple devices like, say, the handles of doors confound you (eerily enough, you have no problem field-stripping a .50 caliber machinegun to clear a jam in 15 seconds flat). However, you automatically succeed in any kickass-related activity. you are a nearly unstoppable ball of bubblegum-less fury. However, bear in mind that it’s relatively easy to trap a zero-bubblegum person in a situation he’s totally incapable of dealing with.

A trip to the Postbox

We both wake up in a bedroom, the one that we share. We have adult bunk beds, Alan in the bottom bunk, I’m in the top. We’ve been asleep under the covers, when we are woken by an alarm clock going off on the other side of the room. The digital display is blinking 8:00am. Its an alarm, set to remind us that we need to post a birthday card in the postbox at the end of the road by 12pm. The race is on!
[div class=”convo”]

I sit up blearily, narrowing missing banging my head on the ceiling. That bloomin’ alarm is driving me mad, and I know from experience it won’t turn off without us pressing the button on top.

I peer over the edge of the bed, but you are showing no signs of moving. “Wake up, you pathetic scottish pillock!”. A vague moan sounds from under my bed, but no visible evidence of sentience.

This is a normal action, which needs an 8 or less to succeed. I roll a 6. What happens Alan?[end-div]
[div class=”convo”]
With a spritely and unexpected burst of energy, I roll out of bed with a cry of “get your ass up muthaf***a!”.

I roll a 1, successfully completing the action of getting out of bed.

I decide to forgo the stifling, square, and outmoded convention of dressing and walk naked to the door.[end-div]
[div class=”convo”]
My book glances off the alarm clock, successfully turning it off, in fact, smashing it completely. From the shards of broken alarm clock, a few sparks flash, and a wisp of smokes starts to rise, unnoticed so far by us.

I sit myself up, and try to somersault from the bed, directly to landing on my feet on the floor, doing a kickass roll. I get an 8, failing it…[end-div]
[div class=”convo”]

You land a wonderful handspring, surprising yourself in the process, rolling otter-like to your feet like a sleek, denuded Chuck Norris. You celebrate by lifting your arms up in the momentary pose of an Olympic child gymnast.

I ignore you, eager to get my s**t for the day done.  I got no time for showboating.  I have a letter to deliver dagnammit! and Im going to get it in by first post if it kills me.  Nothing will stand in my way.  NOTHING!

I reach for the door to exit from the room, rolling a 9 in my normal roll, failing it…[end-div]

[div class=”convo”]

Eagerness defines Alan, sweat dripping from his face (and hairy back) as he swings his entire body in anticipation towards the door. Sadly, such enthusiasm has led to a miscalculation and he crashes, testicles first, dramatically into the doorhandle. The entire door mechanism snaps off, impaled as it is into his scrotum, and they fall to the ground as one, a bleeding, whimpering mess at the foot of a firmly closed door.

Next to the bed, I wobble unsteadily, surprised to have completed such a kickass feat when I initially thought I’d failed, and gaze blearily at the misery in front of me. Despite my obvious repulsion, I lean in and offer a hand to Alan to help him get up. I roll a 10, failing a normal roll…

Still unnoticed by either of us, up on the chest of drawers a smoke trail flickers in and out. A small flame rises within the remains of the alarm clock, as the wiring catches alight, and begins to gentle spread along the innards of the broken timepiece.
[div class=”convo”]

You fall forward, missing your balance and tumbling – eye first – into the corner of the chest of drawers, which obligingly pokes it out. You tumble to the floor grasping desperately to steady the eye swinging out of its socket.

I have no time for your sufferings.  Posting mail is a serious business, and its a business I intend to do well in! I grasp my swollen balls with one hand, and with the other I reach up to the door handle to help right myself.

I roll a 4, passing a normal roll…


[div class=”convo”]

You stand up with no difficulties, and pluck the doorhandle out of your scrotum, ignoring the trickle of blood trailing from the prominent gash it has left, and attach it to the door. It clicks back into place masterfully, and the handle turns. Sadly, the door appears to be locked, and stays firmly shut.

There is little of the alarm clock visible anymore, and the top of the dresser has started to catch. Cheap and cheerful chipboard is great for building an ikea special, but it doesn’t half throw off a lot of smoke. Alan notices that his letter is around 10 inches away from the crater that used to be a timepiece.

I scream. And scream. My eye is hanging out. I scream some more.

My action this turn is going to be to simply attempt to stop screaming. I’m going to make that a kickass roll by attempting to turn my scream into a manful “Oooooh yeaaah”. I roll an 8 (a fail, and my bubblegum number has dropped to 7)…[end-div]
[div class=”convo”]

Your scream raises in pitch, through the little girl octaves and right up into the ultra high range of 80’s symphonic metal singers. A crack appears in the window pane. Suddenly there is a short ‘twang’, like a rubber band breaking, and all sound other than a gurgle instantly stops emanating from your throat.

It would appear you have broken a vocal chord (spare me yer scientific doctor bulls**t about how this is physically impossible – remember – the correct reponse in improvisation is always ‘yes’).

Seeing the peril of the hallowed letter I manfully stride over to pick it up. Your face is showered with my testicle blood as I attempt to straddle you en route to retrieve my precious cargo from the flames.

I roll a 2, passing a normal roll…[end-div]

[div class=”convo”]

You deftly swipe the letter from the top of the chest of drawers. The air above the unit is starting to shimmer from the heat, and you step back from the blaze. It’s already started to curl up the curtains, and presents a formidable barrier to anyone wishing to reach the window.

You cough a little, as the smoke irritates your lungs. Visibility is reducing, and its hard to even see the other side of the room properly. You wonder briefly why there is no fire alarm ringing, but recall that your evil landlord is the exact kind of person to skimp of that sort of “luxury”. As you peer at the blackened wall and obviously smoke damaged ceiling, you suspect you are not going to get your rental deposit back either…

My world has gone into slow motion. If you’ve seen 28 Days Later, there’s a bit where the dad gets angry and kicks a post, and you see a single droplet of infected blood inexorably drop into his eye, and he rapidly deteriorates into a rage filled monster. I’m already half blinded, and barely able to talk, due to my laryngeal luxation (yep, that’s the correct medical term), and I can only draw breath in horror as I see a gush of scrotal blood fall from your ravaged groins towards my face.

Slight break from the rules, because why not? I’m going to roll for the result. Not an action, we just get to see what happens to me from mundane to insane based on the roll. Maybe I turn into a were-Alan…I roll a… 9![end-div]
[div class=”convo”]

You rise up in a frenzy, breathing hard and contorting in the grip of a terrifying, and obviously painful transmogrification…. you drop to your knees as your fingers extend – one of them forcefully pushes its way in between your teeth, which are reforming themselves into gangrenous, yellowing icebergs…

Your face itches as a pair of tangled pelts speedily sprout from your jowls….

More hair begins to form a greasy blanket over your back and your genitals take on herculean, bulbous, proportions….

Your effete middle class English exterior is successfully transformed into a heinous mockery of humanity which draws itself up to its full height, glorying in its new found, hitherto unexperienced, masculinity…

Much like Harry Potter under the influence of polyjuice potion, your spectacles are still in place (one eye still dangling below the lens), and your accent remains unchanged as you exclaim “bloody hell!”.

I gaze at the horrific transformation in front of me with a sense of awe which overpowers the rising panic at the burgeoning blaze and gather my thoughts.  Quickly thinking through the weight ratio, I grab your form and attempt to break the glass by lobbing your sweating form at the window….

I roll a 5 for kick ass…[end-div]

[div class=”convo”]

Failing miserably at the attempt for two, obvious reasons. Firstly, the large steel bars on the window present a formidable opponent to any projectile, however well tossed.

Secondly, whilst almost laughably oversized, your upper body is comicly misproportioned. Your forearms snap audibly, arms hanging limply as you stare at them disappointedly. (Your bubblegum number is now 6).

Under the onslaught of your full strength attack, I have been moved across the floor towards the window almost three eighths of an inch. Shrugging it off, and temporarily ruling out the window as an exit point, I decide the door is our best opportunity for escape. Whilst I could use the key that is in my pocket, I attempt a triple backwards somersault scissorkick into the upper panel of the stout Edwardian door.

And that’s a 1 on my kickass roll, an epic fail…[end-div]
[div class=”convo”]

The flames begin to spread across the wall – the heat in the room increases as ugly black smoke begins to fill the room.

As you breathe in deeply to begin the wind up for your kick you fall to the floor in a coughing fit, vomiting several times and almost inhaling your swinging eye in between heaves, accidentally crunching it like a ripe lychee between your teeth.

I nudge you with my foot in an effort to motivate you “mone man – get yer s**t together, eh” and reach for a discarded t-shirt to cover my mouth while I decide what to do.

I roll a normal 1 – an epic win…[end-div]

[div class=”convo”]

You are mighty proud of both your actions.

Firstly, your old tshirt is, predictably, disgusting. It’s a soggy greeny brown that belies it was once sold to you at an Avril Lavigne concert as a “medium white”. Almost a decade of abuse has imbued it with colonies upon colonies of anaerobic bacteria. Given that they have evolved to dwell in close proximity to your body, they are able to survive in incredibly inhospitable environments, and can generate their own oxygen.

As you hold it to your face, you realise that the air entering your lungs has become a) powerfully nauseating but b) safely breathable. You have saved yourself from any danger of smoke inhalation.

Secondly, that nudge with your foot had unpredictable consequences. Hitting me on the side of the head, it has caused a frontal lobe haemorrhage in *exactly* the right place to give me an excellent idea…

Temporarily ignoring the vitreous fluid dripping down my jaw, I attempt a normal roll to open the door with the key in my pocket! That’s an 8…[end-div]
[div class=”convo”]

In your haste to get the key to the door, it flies out of your hand and it ricochets around the room before – with a comedy ‘plop’ sound – lodges itself halfway into your arsehole, sticking proudly out like Excalibur,

Arms flopping at my side , barely gripping the letter between my aching teeth, I run at you, pelvis first, in an attempt to push your bulbous frame to batter the door down. I attempt a normal roll with a 3…


[div class=”convo”]

We both crunch into the doorway. Our combined body weight cracks the bottom panel off, and we roll through into the passageway.

As we lay in a bundle, an influx of air passes through, nearly ripping the letter out from your teeth. The heat behind us triples in intensity with a roar, blistering any exposed skin on the back of our legs.

Finally, a smoke alarm begins to wail in the corridor, and you can hear raised voices from down the stairs. I try to put my feet out from the flaming room, with a 2 on a normal roll…

[div class=”convo”]

You extract your feet from the room without incident and try to regain some form of composure as the voice from below comes into focus – its (our mutual friend) Dave!

“You alright boys? Whats happening?”

“BA***RD!” No one – CHUFFING NO ONE – is going to get between me and this letter getting into the first post of the day. From prone position, I launch my self head-first at him trusting that his body will act as a soft and mushy springboard by which to get a good head start at the mail box.

I roll a 10, on a normal roll…


[div class=”convo”]

Dave is, of course, our landlord. Who else would be running a slum rental business with bars on the windows and no smoke alarms?

Unfortunately, as well as being a bad person, he is, of course, a triple dan sumo ninja. Before you manage two paces, he pulls out a pair of nunchucks and crashes them into your teeth. They all crumble. Each and every one falls outs, and your letter falls to the floor.

“I HrrrAAAATTTE DAAAAAFFFFE!!!!!” I scream, my shattered voice roaring out a death rattle. I pull double samurai swords from the dual holsters on my back, and swing them out in a symmetrical arc, centring on Dave’s neck.

My kickass roll is… 4! (My bubblegum drops to 6 due to my reliably failing rolls)

[div class=”convo”]

You leap like a hero, silhouetted against the flames, like a mongoose falls upon the cobra, eye bulging red, intent on dismembering this, the author of our ills. Dave deftly flicks his wrist and in a flash speaks a commanding word… “leviosa!”

You halt, suspended in mid air, eye stalk dangling and limbs flailing furiously against fresh air. It will take you a while to ‘swim’ through the ether, that’s for sure.

“Basthad!” I cry through bleeding gums. Woozy from the loss of blood and smoke inhalation I decide there is only one chance of bringing this to a decisive end. Using my bollock blood as lubricant, I attempt to leap upon the bannister and surf down it like Orlando Bloom.

I roll a mighty 4, failing utterly, and dropping my Bubblegum to 5…


[div class=”convo”]

You surf completely successfully down the banister. Sure, you totally lose your genitalia, but what good were they anyway? The reason this is a failure is that you left the letter upstairs, next to the fire…

I hang in the air, head entirely engulfed in smoke from the raging tempest behind us. Bleary from the lack of oxygen, I decide to move fast.

Whilst I am floating in the air, both my arms are free, so I attempt to fling both swords at Dave at the same time. Each one a normal roll… a 1 and a 9.

[div class=”convo”]

Your first sword splits Dave’s skull like a melon, but your second falls to the ground with you on top of it. Your next d10 roll will also indicate how many fingers you loose as you try to grab it. If you roll 10 you lose all your fingers and are impaled on your own blade.

I try to stem the gush of blood from my genitals. I roll an 8 on a normal roll…


[div class=”convo”]

Lacking working hands, you attempt to make a bandage and apply it to your groin using your feet. The contortioning required to do this proves too much, and the increased strain in an already injured area causes your femoral artery to rupture on one side. This is bad now, blood is absolutely torrenting out, spraying on the walls and all over the bottom of the stairs. You’ve got about 2 minutes before you bleed out, tops. You could call for help, but its hard with no teeth.

It does seem that help may be on the way though. You hear a siren as a fire engine makes its way towards us. Given that the flames are now licking up the outside of the house, that’s not hugely surprising.

Meanwhile, I fall to the ground as my second blade bounces off the carpet and swings up towards me. My devastated vocal cords allow me only a gurgling cry as 7 of my fingers are sliced clean away.

Despite my ruined eye, my hideous transformation, my burned legs, all my destroyed possessions and the fact I’ll never play piano again, I give a smile. 2 fingers and a thumb remain, the perfect number to give a thumbs up on one bloody stump of a hand, and pick up the letter with my remaining pincer limb…

Its a successful normal roll of… 4!

[div class=”convo”]

Triumphantly, you hold aloft the letter in your three remaining fingers, blood pissing everywhere and the smell of charred flesh in the air.

I arch my back in attempt to elevate the bleeding area, while simultaneously trying to put pressure on the wound with one of my feet.

I roll a 4, succeeding a normal roll…


[div class=”convo”]

The bleeding stops, finally. Panting for breath from the loss of blood, you stagger to your feet. There you stand, in a pool of your own life fluid, your legs blistered by fire, and absolutely caked in darkened blood. Everything from the hip down is a mass of clots and ravaged flesh.

Your arms have the appearance of having two elbows, the normal mid arm joint and then a horribly unnatural twist just after, with bone and gristle poking out, your hands hanging flaccidly and uselessly below.

Finally, a face, already horrific before you awoke this morning, now dominated by a toothless, gaping maw. You are truly a fearsome sight to behold. Worst of all, you realise you have not had breakfast.

Oblivious to all else, you decide clearly and triumphantly that everything will be better once you have gone to the kitchen and had a bowl of cereal.

The flames are truly ferocious now, 6 feet high, and hundreds of degrees in temperature. All clothes and skin on that half of my body is actively smouldering. I decide that enough is enough. Despite the sound outside of competent firemen arriving to put out the blaze, I decide to vehemently urinate so copiously that I put the entire fire out.

This is a kickass roll of… 9! A dazzling success!

[div class=”convo”]

A shower of sparkling, clear urine erupts from your loins. The spray casts a dazzling rainbow as the reek of sweet smelling steam bursts around your heroic form.

I meet the firefighters at the door and, passing them a tenner, attempt to sweet talk them into praying for me to be completely

I roll a spectacularly miserable 2, dropping my bubblegum to 4…


[div class=”convo”]

It was an audacious move, trying to call down God’s healing power through the intercession of strangers. Unfortunately, these particular firemen are staunch secularists, and are wildly offended by your suggestion. Together (and this move has been suggested by my 5 year old) they lift you up and push you into the kitchen bin. Your useless arms flap impotently against them, and they easily wedge you in and close the lid.

The fireman then rush back out to the truck, and start several hoses spraying into the top of the house. Coupled with the thousands of gallons of urine I already discharged, the fire has been abruptly replaced with a flood. A tsunami-like all of water appears in the corridor, and, still triumphantly holding the letter aloft, I jump onto Dave’s desecrated corpse and surf him down the stairs, voraciously pirouetting all the while…

I roll a kickass of 6, failing and dropping my bubblegum to 5…


[div class=”convo”]

Your feet crash through Dave’s sternum and ribs, becoming trapped in his torso, effectively anchoring you to the spot with your legs splayed like a snowboarder, acting as a cadaverous anchor.

I fart a fart of mythic proportions.  A guff of such biblical magnitude, such epic bulk, pressure, and substance (its virtually tangible), such voluminous nauseation, that should I succeed on my roll, all firefighters within a 20 foot radius that fail to roll above a 7 will become instantly comatose.  All who survive the roll will worship me as a new pestilential god.

I manage to roll a pathetic 1.


[div class=”convo”]

The sheer acidity of your flatulation achieves 3 things.

Firstly, it rapidly corrodes and remoulds the metal of the bin, causing it to buckle, twist and reshape around you. It totally seals, creating an airtight bond that traps you in a vacuum wrapped coffin. As a result, none of the noxious fumes reach the outside.

Secondly, being enveloped in the gas, with no avenue for your bodily tissues to escape is disastrous. You are rendered permanently and irrecoverably blind. Your eyes, your optic nerve and the entire rear of your brain are totally destroyed.

Thirdly, you have about 19 seconds of oxygen left.

I hit the bottom of the stairs, and immediately sink like a stone, as the weight of Dave’s bloated corpse drags me under the surface of the urine flavoured tidal wave. I concentrate deeply, entering a zen like state of transcendent understanding. The universe is as one to me, and all its components within my grasps. Through the sheer kickass power of my mastery of being, I focus the earth’s aura into converting Dave’s remains into a dolphin. A dolphin with a stupid afro, and lots of bad tattoos…

I roll a 2, failing, as ever… 

[div class=”convo”]

Well played!  You do indeed successfully manage to convert Dave into an afro’d porpoise.  He does, however, remain dead.  You are now stuck in the corpse of a much heavier creature, whose shape shifting have cause you to become infused with its decaying flesh.  You feel that decay starting to spread up your legs and into your torso, threatening your vital organs.  Sharks and crocodiles emerge from the sewer and begin circling menacingly.

Which will happen quickest?  Drowning, rotting, or becoming dinner?

With my inner eye, I use the pain of my injuries to sharpen my concentration to a laser like intensity.  I realize there is no difference between light and darkness, form and chaos, matter and energy.  For a split instant I see all time, all reality, all existence as one simple equation; a perfect, languid moment encompassing all millennia forms in a nano-second.

Within the eye of this meta-moment, I invite the molecules of the trash can to become one with my skin, reforming around me into a strengthened cyborg, reborn as a colossus among mortals ready to dominate, willing to conquer, and eager to hear the lamentation of all who would stand before me.  Plus, I’ll get that bloody letter sent.

I roll a 3, dropping my bubblegum to 3.


[div class=”convo”]

The metal shell surrounding you thickens by around an inch. Absolutely nothing else changes. You now have 8 seconds of oxygen remaining.

I’m good at dealing with emergencies, and despite not even having had a cup of tea this morning, and, you know, being trapped at the bottom of a sea of urine, in a half burnt house, embedded in the corpse of a sea mammal that is rapidly growing to necrify my own body, I remain calm. Clearly, I need to cut off my own legs before the deathrot spreads up them.

I don’t have a knife, but I do have a letter. A man of inventive means, I attempt a swift papercut to sever both my lower limbs. Clearly a normal roll, as its ridiculously easy to give yourself a papercut… I roll a 7, failing, dropping my bubblegum to 4.

[div class=”convo”]

You hack at your legs in a frenzy of paper, urine, and dolphin rot not seen by human eyes since the pissy dolphin postman plague of 1823. The horror of your predicament enfolds upon you fully and you excrete
a river of fetid fecal matter. Tis has several effects:

  1. the key is successfully dislodged from your anus.
  2. you are enveloped in a brown, silty cloud which hides you from the
    encroaching sharks and crocs…
  3. …but plunges you into a murky brown blindness
  4. your aching lungs demand breath and you involuntarily inhale a lungful of pissy excreta – you begin to drown in it
  5. the rot works its way up to your hips and genitals – you will sire no more children, even if you do survive.

I wait for a second, hoping for inspiration.  If I succeed a normal roll, you tell me how I get out of it, if I fail, you tell me how it gets worse….

…And I roll a disappointing 5, failing.


[div class=”convo”]

You wait for a second, hoping for inspiration. No inspiration comes, but the effluent pouring from upstairs rushes into the kitchen, quickly filling it up to the ceiling. You are now in exactly the same situation, but also under 10 ft of water. You also only have 7 seconds of oxygen remaining.

Next to me, deep under water, at the bottom of the hallway, there is a fire extinguisher. Before I can even begin to give Dave credit for his worthiness as a landlord, I note that it is firmly padlocked to the wall.

Despite this minor setback, hope has begun to rise within me – what if this key can remove the chains?! With a vision of riding a jet of extinguishment propulsion to safety, I reach out with the key stretched towards the lock…

And roll a 6, failing the normal roll…


[div class=”convo”]

In your excitement, and still blinded by the cloud of filth around you, you push too hard with the key and inadvertedly knock the top off the fire extinguisher. It hisses away like a deflating balloon, festooned with a wake of bubbles which do a lot to clear the fetid waters around you. This, however, merely opens the way for a crowd of sharks (the natural enemy of dolphins), to begin a feeding frenzy on the corpse of dolphin-Davey.

They begin to thrash you about. The rot reaches your lower intestines. You inhale another breath of pure piss. You are now, officially drowning.

I exhaile all the remaining breath from my lungs and allow my diaphragm to shrink, making myself small, as small as possible. Then with sudden violence I expand to my fullest, assaulting the steel enclosure around me. Do I break free? Lets see….

I roll a six! Oh blessed six!


[div class=”convo”]

Hundreds of thousands of infitesimally small shards of metal fly out, eviscerating everything in their path. The firemen, many of whom are in the process of drowning, are turned into a mushy sort of pulp and washed away as the exterior wall gives way, providing an outlet for several million tons of water.

You lay, battered and bruised, but just barely alive, and take in hearty gulps of sweet, sweet air.

Meanwhile, I find myself in a considerably poor situation. The rot has passed my belly button, I’m starting to black out, and I’ve just realised the signed Bruce Springsteen poster above my bed is probably no longer in mint condition.

I do have a hope though. Still in my pincer claws is a letter that Dougle needs in order for his day to not end in adject failure. Perhaps he will rescue me – I need to give him an incentive to seek out and save me!

I attempt to swallow the letter, and roll a 4, scraping a success on my normal roll…


[div class=”convo”]

You deftly and with not a little graceful skill, origami fold the letter into the shape of a small cocktail sausage and avail yourself of the dainty morsel.

I let out a heart wrenching wail and in one motion, attempt to launch myself through the water in a sleek otter-like motion, pushing off that such great speed that I can gather the remains of your top-torso, severing it from its rotten bottom, and launch ourselves onto terra firma.

I roll a fairly convincing awesome 6…


[div class=”convo”]

*** Long aeons ago, before time had its name ***

Avarrdrick Wood was a cold and terrible place. Far in the frozen northlands, few of the peasantfolk found the land hospitable enough to eke out a living, and those villages that survived the harsh winters had little to show for it.

If the barren soil, and unforgiving weather, weren’t enough to afear travellers, many wise men swore that the treespirits in Avarrdrick had turned foul from lack of sunlight, warmth and love. Few dared to enter its borders, and fewer still returned with the mental strength to tell of their experiences. The Wood held its secrets close.

The moon hunt low in an icy sky, the short days of late Autumn providing little relief from the biting northerly wind. Flakes of snow swirled down, a fruitless attempt from the gods to soften the sharp landscape. From the hills came the haunting cry of a scranwolf, howling its starvation to the skies.

Deep in the forest, humanity seemed barely a memory: the air itself lacked life. In a clearing, on a hilltop too exposed even for the hardy, twisted local conifers to survive, two hooded figures stood stationary.

The crisp sound of footfall on freshly packed snow rang out, as a third figure climbed the slope. Lit by pale, yellow light, the two remained motionless, as if unaware of the interruption.

The newcomer joined them, a triangle of darkened robes, silhouetted against the gibbous moonscape.

“You’ve come”, the thinner of the two commented to the arrival. It was a voice hardened by many seasons, and as many disappointments.

“It was the appointed time”, remarked a female voice, incongruent for its youthfulness. New life came with great difficulty to Avarrdrick; a fertile, bouyant youngster had no place here.

“Not for you!” snarled the final figure, tall and broad. “There was no mention of this at the Circle of Nine…”

“Quiet, Ralgoth”, intoned the first figure calmly. “She speaks rightly enough, this is the time, three are needed, and I see no other heads joining us”.

Ralgoth sighed, glancing around the clearing, as if hoping for a hidden person to make themselves known. “Fine. It is the appointed time. You will be more than sufficient”.

The new arrival shivered, pulling her hood tighter against the insiduous dusting of ice. “Thank you Ral. I know that was hard to say.”

Ralgoth flinched, ready to decry the informal use of his forename, but stopped himself. This was a Gathering now, lesser things held no value.

Mirsheek grinned to herself, only her eyes visibly in the dim light, and with the closely wrapped sailcloth around her jaw. This was the appointed time, and she was going to make it count, whatever that slumbagger Ralgoth thought.

The thin, old man, leader of the Circle, closed his eyes. Known simply as Leie, or “leader” in a language older than any remembered, he was aware that time was short. Brushing off a tiredness that seeped from his bones, a weariness that warned of the nearness of death’s cold embrace, he raised a hand, and began the chant.

Eagerly joining, Mirsheek raised a limb and began to utter the answering phrases, with Ralgoth close behind. Three voices mingled and joined together, three strands, one weak, one high, one strong. The words began to circle and vibrate, the trees blurring, the shadows somehow deepening and bending.

In the centre of the clearing darkness begin to rise, pushing strands towards the veiled sky. A tree, darkened and twisted – even by the dark and twisted standards of the old forest – began to take shape.

Mir smiled again. This was the Tree. The purpose that the Circle had been formed for, and she was ready…

* * * * *

A young man, a beautiful boy of no more than 9 years of age, smiling happily as he holds his new purchase. Pencils! He loves to colour and draw. Using his pocket money, he carefully selects a shiny new pack from the rows upon rows in WH Smiths. He leaves happily, eager to start using his new writing tools.

* * * * *

Leie stirred, noticing a change to the rhythm of the chant. Something had altered, but in the speed and the blur, it was hard to be clear.

Slowly the pitch of the chorus rose, the female voice becoming dominant. The other voices began to resist, first calmly, then anxiously, finally with a quaking terror.

Higher and higher the coalescent intonations rose, and two fall to their knees, shaking as their strength is taken, their breath forced from their bones. The chant reached a scream, both in pitch and intensity, as two of the three fall silent.

* * * * *

Years pass, and that once handsome child has grown. Age has not been kind, but time alone is not responsible for these changes. The boy-grown-man has distorted. His face has warped, his mouth filled with curving fangs, his frame both stretched and twisted. All who cast eyes upon him struggle to hide their immediate distaste. Some cruel magicks have laid their unquestioning toll on this creature, and only his heart remains untouched.

* * * * *

With a silence so sudden it feels like a thunderclap, the chant stops. Mirsheek stands, alone in a clearing. She gives a brief, short laugh, and strides off into the night. On the snow, still warm, lie two empty robes. In the shadow of a tree.

* * * * *

The tainted man lives a cursed life; friend-less, soul-less, love-less. In the modern world, none are old enough, nor wise enough, to recognise the signs of a body gnarled by evil itself.

His very name, unbeknowst to him, bears daemonmark, being Dougle, or “Doue-gal”, literally “Hated-one” in that forgotten tongue.

One day, he pops into Clinton Cards, and buys a card, feeling drawn to it by some unknown urge. He decides to send it to his friend Dave by post.

* * * * *

Over one hundred generations, the Circle protected Avarrdrick, keeping it free from disruption, trapping the hidden might within. Legends grew about the final Gathering, and the three who took part, for each had disappeared without trace that day, never to be seen since.

Slowly, one by one, the Circle members died. Soon, there were none to replace them. The protection ended, the Tree waiting, with time its sole companion.

Humankind changed, and grew. It forgot the old ways, it harnessed coal, steam, electrons, and conquered the stars. And, on a more mundane level, a construction company and sawmilling conglomorate bought a few acres of tree-covered land, and turned the wood therein into a lovely range of children’s pencils and greetings cards…

* * * * *

I feel myself wrenched. There’s a pain like none I’ve felt before. Over the last few minutes I’ve been borderline drowned, and inhaled voluminous amounts of my own sewage.

The necrotic scourge that spread to me from Dave’s corpse had weakened my torso so much that your moderately powerful tug is enough to split me in half. At your touch, a crackling starts within me, spreading from my gullet outwards, almost as if the letter I swallowed is calling to you somehow.

As your lutrinal motion (that’s another way of saying otter-like that I just made up based on the latin since you’ve already used it twice lol) bounces us through the front door and into the garden, I feel a primal connection to you, as we join at the waist. We have become one, a curse of a thousand years rippling through us.

Ahead of us, I see the post box. And in front of it, miraculously whole once more, stands Dave.

Who shimmers, as if in a heat wave.

His outline blurs, his features becoming unclear.

Changes become apparent: his hair grows out, lengthens. His manly frame transform into a slender female body. His chicken legs slightly thicken into women’s legs.

Before us, in the flesh, is Mirsheek, the unholy priestess of Avarrdrick. And she looks SERIOUSLY hacked off. She glares at us, slams her hand out, and snarls “You are going to give me that letter, RIGHT NOW.”

I have no idea what happens next, but its obviously kickass. Pressure is clearly on here. And, no joke, no word of a lie, I immediately roll a 1.


[div class=”convo”]

Beneath the deep, turbulent, tectonic ocean of thought, past the still and unmoved silt of inclination, and far below even the unexplored bedrock of instinct, lay a husk. A dry shell of a former thing, never-named and forever unknown. Description had never been lain upon it, but it was real. Colour and shape it had never been given, but it was no less a thing than any other.

It possessed, in its own way, a certain mass. It mattered. And as with all matter, it had just the smallest, imperceptible gravity of its own. It was the only thing where it was, and no other thing inhabited the limits of its shapelessness. Should another thing ever happened to have encountered it, ephemeral as it was, it would have had to navigate accordingly. But that had never happened. In this fathomless, ageless, situation, the husk rested undisturbed.

And then at some point there was, quite suddenly and all around and everywhere, indescribable energy. Effortless, always, unquantifiable, and abrupt colour. Light formed as if it has always been, and each hurried photon seemed to busy itself with pushing against each of its neighbors, making space for itself amidst its countless brothers and sisters. It boiled for the merest instant as infinitely pure before exponentially pressing out. Not darkening, but diluting from its peak. Never lessening, no, but thinning as it hurtled outward.

This outward throb of infinite potential spread in all directions at almost perfect pace less than a breath, less than a heartbeat, less than a fraction of the least minutiae. And then cooling, ever cooling, for ages to vast to number and epic aeons too immense for imaginations to grope through.

And still the husk remained. Unmoved. Perfectly apart but somehow touching all. Too far removed from intelligibility to be named in itself, but by its enigmatic presence bringing the just slightest influence to the definition of all else.

Those who later came to be were aware of it, somehow. They searched inside and found a mystery. An imprint on themselves, deeper than thought in a place more primal than their soul. It had taken generations of mystics, scholars, and poets to find it. The dreams of empires had risen and failed as the search continued. Continents had formed and sunk again beneath the waves. Stars had formed, lived and died.

But finally, the husk had been recognized. Not so much the husk itself, you understand. No. That would be a task beyond the limits of humanity. But as one with dark glasses looking up during an eclipse may not see the sun, but may recognize its crown, so the imprint of the husk had finally been discovered. And not just this, but given shape in thought. Dragged from its unmoved abode into the shallows of cognizance. Of something almost like intelligibility. If not of recognition, then at least towards the boundaries of perception. This in turn had been given over to words. Simple words written on paper and placed inside an envelope.

And in doing so the husk had become a seed.

And although this was the way it was always to be, the kaleidoscopic terminus of all experience that humanity so clumsily labels ‘fate’, there were those that wished for something different. Mirsheek was one of those.


I watched as Ace rolled dice. The small polygon fell with the number ‘1’ facing up. No matter. All chance was now gathering into one singularity. Falling back into itself. Accumulating and reorganizing, as if all photons had decided to forgive all others and reunite. The universe was gaining speed again. Pulling its fragments back into themselves.

“What are the chances of this?” I thought, fumbling for my own die. Too late, I realized that there are no chances. Merely gravity and whim. Only that deep, slightest of throbs underneath that impulse called reality.

Understanding shaped itself in a cynical, cold, coil around my cortex. Realty, so taken for granted, was the blip. The aberration. The curio on the infinite shelf of all that was.

And now reality was winding itself in. Accelerating back to its fixed position.

An abrupt flash, and then peace.

All that remained was a singularity more profound than any urge and unsearchable by thought. A husk.


…and that’s a wrap, with a ludricrously over-the-top ending from Alan!