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Kim Knight [Jun. 6th, 2014|02:36 pm]
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[Current Location |at home]
[mood |sadsad]
[music |none]


This is our friend Kim Knight - Kimmie, or even Kimmiwinkles.

Kim and her band of usual suspects were the concoms for the UFP series of Star Trek conventions in the UK, some of the best organised, smoothest-running and most fun cons we’ve ever attended.

UFP-Con 1986 was the one where we met up for the third time. Not happenstance, not coincidence, certainly not enemy action; it was third time pays for all, but even then we were so very quiet and subtle that when we finally revealed our secret engagement…

…Kimmie, Ros and Ali already had champagne waiting on ice!

Kim visited us in Ireland, travelled with us to see a solar eclipse in Germany, met up with us unexpectedly in LA, and introduced us to amazing people. She was one of the most amazing - warm-hearted yet businesslike, kindly yet efficient, humorous yet hard-nosed, all wrapped up in one loveable, huggable package.

Kimmie died on the 11th of May 2014, from complications of the diabetes she bore and fought so gallantly. It would have been her birthday on the 31st of May. Instead her funeral is today, the 6th of June, and we can’t even be there.

Our friend Sarah made this piece of art, which we share with you all: the dedication plate of a happy ship on which we’d proudly serve


We miss you, Kimmie, but you’re not really gone.

What’s loved, lives.

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Abbie the Cat [Sep. 28th, 2013|09:22 pm]
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[Current Location |At home]
[mood |sadsad]
[music |Agincourt Carol - Maddy Prior & June Tabor]

Probably not news to many, but an unhappy surprise for me and for Diane. Abbie the cat will blog no more. I hadn't checked his blog for a while, and when I looked in a few minutes ago I found this...

It's like losing one of our cats all over again.

Rob (Abbie's Guy) wrote: I did not think it right to announce Abbie's condition in character...

It was enough of a wrench to read it as-is; as-Abbie would have hurt as much to read as it would have been for Rob to write. There was quirky spelling, odd punctuation, sage comments on life, great humour - and sometimes, as at the death of Martha his sister, a quiet melancholy that could comfort you while it broke your aching heart so the healing could begin. I've read that post for its comfort five times over the years since it was first posted.

I've just read it again for Abbie.

He was a Good Cat.
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The Katana Myth again... [May. 17th, 2013|01:14 am]
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[Current Location |office]
[mood |cynicalcynical]
[music |"Will You?" - Hazel O'Connor]

Advance warning for bad language - not mine, it's part of someone else's quoted post.


The Japanese sword is a good weapon. What it’s not is some weird combination of Excalibur and lightsabre.

The European longsword is a good weapon. What it’s not is some weird combination of iron club and barbell.

It would be easy to adopt the approach displayed by some, er, uncritically enthusiastic katana-fans, which is to hit capslock, shout, swear and diss every other sword and the people who used them. Like so:

Here’s the thing fuckwads. Katanas were used by MASTERS OF BATTLE called SAMURAI who knew precisely WHERE to hit, WHEN to hit, HOW MUCH FORCE THEY’D NEED, ETC. Samurai (at least when they started out, they got pretty corrupted and sloppy toward the end) were ONE WITH THEIR BLADE. The katana was known as the Samurai’s soul.

The FUCKING LONGSWORD on the other hand, was handed out to basically any fucking FARM BOY who happened to enlist/get recruited into the fucking army. That’s the equivalent of YOU picking up a fucking SWORD and getting thrown into battle. So yeah, they’re going to fucking need to be durable because no idiot who picks up a sword is going to know where to swing it so it doesn’t shatter into a million pieces. Oh and by the way, a long sword is also nearly 3 times the weight of a katana (ITS A FUCKING HACKING WEAPON), so it wouldn’t be nearly as precise or fast as a katana. And after about 10 swings, your arms will be fucking DEAD TIRED. Do you understand how much a fucking sword weighs? ITS A GIANT FUCKING CHUNK OF METAL. ITS NOT A FUCKING STICK YOU PLAY GAMES WITH…

And so on…

This reads like someone in frantic denial about something they don’t like because it may well be true and that spoils their worldview. They’re not alone, apparently. It also reads like someone who has probably never touched a real sword of either kind, or read anything about them other than on-line misinformation and hype.

Read the raving again, but add a bit of common sense. If a weapon is so heavy that swinging it ten times leaves your arms dead tired, what the hell use is it?

Farm boys weren’t given longswords, longbows or anything else required long training. They were given pikes, or bills, or some other polearm not too far removed from the farm tools they were accustomed to using, and a short, no-real-skill-required chopping sword called a falchion as backup. Again, not too different to the tools they used every day. And then like any soldier, before “getting thrown into battle” they’d be drilled in how to use them. That’s always assuming the baron didn’t leave his farm labourers labouring on the farm where they would do some good and go to war with the properly trained men-at-arms who made up his retinue.

Steel will shatter, if it’s tempered to be hard, inflexible and brittle. Drop a modern Solingen straight-razor on a tiled floor and if you’re unlucky, you’d think it had been made of glass. Bits everywhere. Swords were not tempered that way. No smith would let one out of his forge.

And yes, I do understand how much a sword weighs, and three to four feet long is not what I call “giant”.

The longsword was not “three times heavier” any more than the katana was a featherweight. Sometimes one would be a bit heavier than the other, but if they were about the same length, they were about the same weight. Any extra ounces added by the longsword’s more elaborate guard and pommel would be balanced by the single-edged katana’s thicker blade. They weren’t blunt, either. Ewart Oakshott (who handled and collected real swords and wrote real books about them) mentions a sword of about 1125 AD in the Wallace Collection, London, whose edges “are as sharp as a well-honed carving knife.” If you think that’s blunt, go into your kitchen, hone your own carving knife and run it hard across the palm of your hand. I’d recommend dialling 911 or 999 first; you might have trouble doing so afterwards…

Top-line katanas and top-line European longswords were superb things, art objects as much as weapons, but average katanas weren’t so impressive and were actually made of poorer steel than the equivalent average longsword. Japan is not a mineral-rich country (they’ve fought wars over it) and all the folding and hammering katana-fans make such a big deal about was because Japanese swordsmiths had to improve their shoddy basic material by beating the impurities out of it without beating all of them out, since those “impurities” include the percentage of carbon that makes iron into steel. This was done for all swords, but it’s obvious that weapons for the average retainer grunt wouldn’t get anything like the level of attention given to those made for a great daimyo.

Also the aforesaid retainer grunt, usually armed with a yari (straight-bladed spear), was no more a “master of battle” than the average European feudal grunt armed with a bill or pike. Learning how to handle a sword properly took time and money; low-level grunts didn’t have much of either. “Samurai” means “servant”, and for every elegant, calligraphy-writing, flower-arranging, combat-skill-honing nobleman, there were a couple of hundred not-much-more-than-peasants standing guard in the rain.

What katanas get is an unbelievable level of hype in Western media, as related in this thoughtful essay by the late Hank Reinhardt.  Working out the whens, whys and wherefores of that is another essay in itself. The sort of stuff restricted to legendary Western swords like Excalibur, Balmung and Durendal are accepted as something any katana can do with ease. Cutting a machine-gun barrel in half? Katana. (There’s supposedly “real film” of this, but like the Loch Ness Monster it’s always been seen by someone else. If it exists at all, it’s most likely WW2 propaganda with a fake gun.) Cutting stone without damage? Katana. Cutting through armour without blunting? Katana.

Bullshit accepted without criticism and defended with shrill obscenity? Katana…

What all this has done is make the katana a bit of a joke (except to the people with the itchy capslock fingers) which is a shame. It’s a good sword. Sometimes it’s a great sword. But it’s not and never has been a magic sword.
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RIP The Cat Goodman, 1997-2013 [May. 8th, 2013|05:10 pm]
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[Current Location |office]
[mood |sadsad]
[music |none]

The white cat is gone, into the quiet earth beneath the hawthorn tree beside Kasha, and Lilith, and Bubble, and Pip, and Beemer, and Squeak.

Goodman was the last of our Old Brigade, the succession of amiable, fascinating feline personalities who've been with us almost since we started living in Ireland. Not having one of them in the house today feels very strange.

Richard brought him to our back door sixteen years ago, a small damp scrap of off-white fur he'd found stuffed into a hollow tree half-full of water and left to drown. Why our back door in particular?

“You’re the only people around here with cats as pets. Could you take him in? Or should I just knock him on the head as the kindest thing?”

Richard's a farmer, not given to being sentimental about animals, so he was just giving us the practical option - but by then the damp scrap had climbed onto my shoulder, and that’s where he fell asleep.

End of discussion.

Goodman had lots of adventures, including some very silly ones like catching a leveret, discovering baby hares with nothing to lose are FIERCE and not knowing what to do next. (We rescued him, took it back into the field and after being threatened ourselves, let it go.)

Then there was the time he tried catching a duck and came back green to the waterline. All we needed was some gold food-colouring and he would have been the star of St Patrick’s Day. Some fur from the ginger tomcat up the hill would have done it too; there were frequent exchanges of opinion that Goodman always won.

And there was the time he caught and somehow choked down an entire coot. We thought he’d been poisoned and took him to our vet, who couldn’t stop laughing when he showed us the X-ray: beak, neck, feet, the lot, all crammed inside. Mineral oil and time put things right, and Mr Goodman was rather less greedy from then on.

Today it was time to help Goodman leave a body that was old and tired and failing, and move on to a new one. So I lifted him onto my shoulder where he’d been sixteen years ago.

And like the first time we met, that’s where he fell asleep.

He was our friend. They were our friends.

Good-night, kitty. Good-night, all.

(This little eulogy is also here on Tumblr, with some photos.)

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Making THAT call to the vet [May. 7th, 2013|09:38 pm]
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[Current Location |office]
[mood |sadsad]
[music |none]

Two years ago it was for Squeak, and I didn't post anything either before or after. I was so wretched that words wouldn't work even though they're the tools of my trade, because it was the first time in 11 years we had to play a role in what happens. Accidents are a shock, but they mean you don't have to make That Decision.

Tomorrow morning the call will be for Goodman, to grant him easy passage to be with all the friends who’ve gone before. He’s 16, his kidneys have been failing, the meds aren’t working any more and it’s as if he waited for Diane to come home from her business trip to London then stopped holding on. He faded away this past week, and now it’s time for the last kindness, though doing it still hurts.

When Goodman’s gone, there won’t be any cats in the house for the first time in 25 years. That’s going to hurt too; there was always at least one waiting to be petted and give us a comforting purr when we came back from the sad place under the hawthorn tree. Not now. The place is going to be very quiet.

We’ll adopt kittens in a while (assuming none arrive on the doorstep as happened with Squeak, Beemer, Bubble and Pip) but not straight away. It would seem overhasty, disrespectful, like doing no more than plug a gap.

Besides, if some, never mind all, of D’s business trip comes to pass it may mean we won’t have time. We’ll be very happy if it works out.

I wish we could be happy now.


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A (not quite) Christmas Story [Jan. 1st, 2013|01:41 pm]
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[Current Location |Keyboard]
[mood |relaxedrelaxed]
[music |Dancing with the Lion - Andreas Wollenweider]

This story is a fantasy, but some of its background is true: the Belfast Blitz; the Auxiliary Fire Service; the Men from the South; and my toy fire-truck set…

I'd started to wonder if that toy was just a trick of memory, because in nearly fifty years I'd never seen another one. Despite eBay, Google and all the rest, it remained elusive. Then I found a photo on-line, from 1962, of a small boy playing with the exact same fire-truck set. He was even wearing the Fire Chief’s Helmet. That photo helped confirm my inspiration for the original story.

(It's now here, tidied up and with cover art. But still free to download in generic epub and most other formats...)

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Interesting times (argh!) [Jan. 14th, 2012|11:45 pm]
A lot of you will have seen D's posts about what happened to our household account two days ago. Ouch, a lot!

We, however, have seen what happened in the Interwebs when Diane let people know about it, and...

And, well, thank you all. I thank you, D thanks you and Mr Goodman the White Cat thanks you. (Brush off the shed fur in your own time.)

It was a straight-up fraud, so we WILL be recompensed by the bank ("in due course", as they say, which could mean all sorts of things.) You helped, more than helped, to get us out of a potential yawning hole.

Appreciated. A lot.

More later, and if I can get Calibre working properly, a story. Meanwhile, a good night's sleep for the first time in three days.

G'night - and thank you all.

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Anne McCaffrey, 1926-2011. RIP [Nov. 23rd, 2011|03:14 pm]
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[Current Location |Desk]
[mood |sadsad]
[music |For Martha - Gayle Kathryns]

Hugo winner. Nebula winner. The first great female SF writer. SFWA Grand Master. Grand Dame. Grandmother. Mother. Horsewoman. Dragon Lady.

She was the first big name SF writer I ever met to talk to, rather than nod in awe at. It was my second, or maybe third, convention, a smallish affair in Hull. Anne McCaffrey was GoH, so I bought all her books from the Sign of the Dragon bookshop stall and asked her to sign them. I behaved like a fanboy. She bought a copy of The Horse Lord and asked me to sign it. She behaved like a professional.

She'd given me her address, one pro to another, so when The Demon Lord came out I sent her a copy. In her letter of thanks was an invitation to visit, with directions. Unfortunately they were directions for someone who already knew the area, and this was before GPS, or indeed sensibly-sized road signs in Dublin. Sometimes all you could see was the capital letter. That's why I wound up heading for Waterford, or it might be Wexford, rather than Wicklow...

By the time I got my bearings it was nudging midnight, and I couldn't call (this was also before cellphones) because rural phoneboxes were rare as hen's teeth. In addition I'd learned (this still happens) that out in the country late at night, if you don't have exact directions for someone's house then you won't get much help from the locals. "Sure, and if she'd wanted you to find her wouldn't she have told you how herself..."

Finally I realised that Dragonhold - the old one - was down a long driveway between high hedges that looked more like a lane. A lane I'd passed three or four times already. Annie's directions were just fine. My navigation, not so much. So I drove slowly down the lane, wheels crunching on gravel, a car with Northern Irish plates crawling up to an isolated Southern Irish farmhouse at past one in the morning. I got out, backlit by the headlights, one hand raised for a timid I'm-so-late knock.

That was when the door opened and the Dobermanns came out, making noises that suggested I might be crunchy and good with ketchup. Or even without ketchup. I don't usually ignore dogs like that, but this time I did, because I had something else to concentrate on. Have you any idea how big a shotgun looks from the wrong end at that hour of the morning? Like a matched pair of railway tunnels, that's how big.

But the railway tunnels were shaking a bit, because the dressing-gowned, benightied lady at the far end was trying not to laugh. "I wasn't expecting company any more," says Annie, "and since I'm an old lady living alone-" except for the shotgun and the Dobies "-you know how it is." Uh-huh. Yup. "You can put your hands down now." I don't remember them going up. "And come on in. I'm sure you'd like a cup of coffee." There's a twinkle in her eyes. "With a little something in it."

Half an hour later I'm snuggled down on the sofa-bed in the living-room, Saffy the female Dobie has decided to be my friend, there's a peat fire settling into ash behind the guard and I've been assured that the gun wasn't loaded. So what Annie took out of it when she thought I wasn't watching was probably lipstick. BigPaws the cat ambles by, gives me a look and goes about his business. And somewhere down the corridor, beyond two closed doors, I can hear Annie laughing.

I made her laugh a lot, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. Like the time she persuaded me onto a horse for the first reluctant time in ten years, and I sat there feeling pleased with myself for about two seconds before sliding smooth as a pivot off the other side. Comedians and stuntmen practice that trick for ages. I got it right first time.

Or there was the time when I brought her my mum's Chocolate Gateau of Doom, a cake so alcoholic (the sponge, the cream filling and the dense chocolate icing use up an entire half-bottle of brandy) that it has to be kept in the fridge to prevent evaporation. This one had spent nearly 3 hours on the back seat of my car, sealed in a big round Cadbury's "Roses" tin... Annie's stable manager Derval ambled over and popped the lid in hopes of a nice choccy. The near-visible cloud of brandy vapour that jumped out at her provoked a memorable cry of "Jayzus, does your mammy own a feckin' distillery?" and if she'd been smoking her usual thin roll-up, we'd be looking for her eyebrows yet. But the only explosion that time came from Annie, who laughed until she nearly burst.

Then there was the time when she suggested I meet up with her at Albacon '86, the Easter Convention in Glasgow, where she was one of the guests. And the time after that when she suggested I go to a very small one-day event in London, run by Sign of the Dragon. The same person was there both times, a tall, slender American woman with big glasses and a bigger perm. I'd already bought one of her books. It was called The Door into Fire...

Other people might say that Annie threw Diane and me together until we stuck, but twice is not until. What she did was to put us in proximity and wait to see what happened - whether we would be poles apart and repel, or if she was right about an attraction she'd already noticed and I hadn't, at least not enough to recognise. I recognised it pretty soon, though, and just over a year later her son Todd was my best man. That'll be 25 years ago, come February. Perceptive lady, Anne McCaffrey.

And now you're gone. I'm honoured to say you were my friend. You wrote books that made a lot of people happy. But what you did for me was something special. You made two people happier than any book could do.

I'll never forget you, Annie Mac. Sleep well.
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Creating Costume - words or pictures? [Oct. 6th, 2011|06:09 am]
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[Current Location |desk]
[mood |curiouscurious]
[music |Ys - Renaissance of the Celtic Harp - Alan Stivell]

I saw a sketch of Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes on Diane's Tumbler account last night, and for once it wasn't (much) influenced by a Paul Kidby drawing. That resurrected a thought I've often had: to what extent do costumers, cosplayers and fan-artists feel constrained by professional visualisations of written characters and regard them as the "official" version, no deviations allowed?

D's Star Trek Next Generation novel Dark Mirror originated from a discussion in Dublin's Gotham Cafe pizzeria (back in 1991 when it was still Independent Pizza South) over, as the book's acknowledgement puts it,
a large with extra cheese, extra sauce, pepperoni and hot chilies, and a medium with extra cheese, double garlic, hot chilies, and onions, along with two bottles of Orvieto Secco and a whole lot of Ballygowan water...
The discussion had nothing to do with pizza, or (originally) a novel, or even STNG; I was speculating over what the Mirror Universe version of the Wrath of Khan-period uniform (the maroon wrapover tunic one) would look like, since no such thing had ever been made "canonical" by appearance on-screen (the ONLY acceptable ST canon is TV and film; novels, comics, games etc. don't count, and as far as we knew, no Mirror uniform of the WoK style had appeared in any of those, either.)

I was holding out for all-black with silver insignia, prompting an inevitable "Black and silver; it's always black and silver with you, isn't it?" response. A couple of sketches on the back of a napkin showed that black WoK Starfleet uniforms would look more than a bit like German WW2 Panzer-crew kit, and it was later clear that I wasn't the only one thinking that way: the flight-crew uniforms in Starship Troopers were deliberately based on German WW2 self-propelled gun crew tunics; same design, grey instead of black.

Once D suggested piratical thigh-high boots instead of the "official" calf-high ones, we had started down the road that led to the Next Generation novel (my English Literature Honours Degree helped write the bit of very nasty Mirror Merchant of Venice, giving Shakespeare the lavish love for gore seen in Jacobean revenge tragedy. Diane re-wrote it, though I think mine was best.) :-) And we still haven't seen my take on the Mirror uniform, because late Classic Trek never went there…

Star Trek, Star Wars, StarGate and many other Star things, as well as Aliens, Pirates of the Caribbean etc. and lots and lots of anime are all visual inspiration came first, so costumers, cosplayers and the rest are in large part restricted, if that's the right word, to representing what's been shown on-screen with painstaking exactitude.

Sometimes it's so painstaking that the fan-made costumes are of infinitely higher quality than "the real thing" (by which I don't mean the imaginative stuff, that's not real at all, but what you'll find hanging up in the studio Wardrobe Department.) Anime and cartoon costumes seem to stretch a bit further: there are few things quite as dopey-looking as the "Clodbuster sword" (it's apparently a metal plank with a handle) taken from its cartoon and made (ahem) real. But there was also a bunch of very fetching young ladies dressed as the humanized (thankfully non-furry) form of the new-version My Little Pony. D, having written for the original series, was Much Amused by my never-seen-before interest. in this aspect of the show.. :-P

However, too often when it comes to costuming or drawing characters which were originally words on paper, there seems to be a lot of the same default-to-professional-visual-source. Discworld characters are based on Paul Kidby art - I can't recall any based on Josh Kirby's chaotic (my opinion) and inaccurate (Word of God aka Terry) covers - though there’s increasing influence from the Sky TV adaptations, even more steampunky and neo-Victorian. German fan "Otto Chriek" has built an incredible, fully-operational iconograph – wood and brass exterior, digicam and mini-printer interior; the only thing that doesn’t work is the imp! But even this looks based at least in part on one of the elaborate Kidby drawings. (Wenn ich falsch bin, Robert, entschuldigen Sie mich!)

The clothing and accessories of Harry Potter characters originate exclusively from the movie series (at least so it seems, because I haven't read any of the books, so must default here myself;) and of course the standard Lord of the Rings image isn't Tolkien but Jackson, despite years of art from other sources, some high-quality, others…not so much. Were there ever costumes based on the ridiculous Bakshi toon? If there were, and I saw them, my memory has purged itself and thankfully so. I'm fairly sure that needles and thread have already been busy on Game of Thrones costumes derived from the recent TV show, even though George R. R. Martin's own descriptions are more than adequate.

Certainly "representing the screen/cover/supplementary portfolio material" properly means that the costumer isn't relying on a masquerade audience (and judging panel) having read the appropriate paragraph from a big novel or long series before deciding if their work is accurate or not. But when it's a hall costume worn for fun rather than formal masquerade (which are often amazingly elaborate and complex) then I wonder why people don’t swing out more.

Is it (a) reticence: no matter how carefully the writer describes characters and clothing, is a costume or drawing that lacks "professional visual imprimatur" somehow incorrect?

Or is it (treading carefully here, masqueraders are my friends) (b) a subtle sort of laziness, skilfully recycling a pre-packaged image to avoid the work of visualising a writer’s words in your own way? (with a sizeable unadmitted dash of (a) lurking at the back as well?)

I have a feeling this will be discussed more thoroughly at the next convention I go to – and if the subject hasn't already been done to death somewhere, it strikes me as a good topic for a panel. Any con organiser who wants to use it can be my guest. I’d be curious to hear the result!
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Choccies from long ago [Sep. 6th, 2011|09:03 pm]
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[Current Location |down the pub]
[mood |cheerfulcheerful]
[music |TV in the background]

A long time ago, when my parents went "South of the Border," (from Northern Ireland to the Republic) they would always bring back Cadbury's "Rum and Butter" chocolate bars (and other stuff as well, obviously...) The odd thing is that this flavour of filled-caramel bar was - apparently - only available in Southern Ireland. It's one of those tastes that can flip you back years and years.

Looks like we've just discovered the secret of time travel, then.

Yesterday, EuropeanCuisineLady (aka Diane) made a bread-and-butter pudding so we could replace the PD place-holder photo with one of our own. It's seriously yummy (not like the one in my school dinners - ew!)

But when I said - to various "taste-tester" friends - "Now what about a chocolate custard and rum in the sauce instead of whiskey?" I got a yum! yes! go for it! enthusiasm well beyond just the fact it tastes good.

I think we may have discovered the flavour of being young and having no more to worry about than exams (rather than overdrafts, mortgages and other Grown Up problems.)

First, we need to find a good rum: D suggests Myer's Planter's Punch, I hold out for Pusser's Blue Label - but if we're stuck with Havana Gold, it'll do.

More info to follow...
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