Skinny Caffe: A vile brew made from all the trendy health buzzwords that left us feeling quite unwell

Today I had the pleasure of trying what is quite possibly the wankiest and questionable of all the dodgy, pretend-healthy diet fitness bullshit products on the market.

One of the perks of my job heading up a bunch of B2B magazines is that we get a lot of food and drink samples for our consumer goods titles. Given the current hype around all things health, fitness and wellness, these samples tend to be a bit of a mixed bag of genuinely useful products I’d probably use myself, and the sort of ludicrous crap that makes you wonder who on earth would fall into the trap of buying them.

Such as Skinny Caffe instant coffee, of which we received two samples recently.

Skinny instant coffee. As opposed to fat instant coffee?

Selling the obvious

When the sachets came out of the box, my first question was: What exactly is skinny about black instant coffee? Coffee isn’t generally known for being particularly fattening, right?

Then I spotted the tagline: “30 day weight loss program”.

A-haa. Another one of those drinks that will magically make you thin and fit.

A glance at the accompanying press release informed me that Skinny Caffe is “natural, vegan, dairy and gluten free”.

Now, not to push the obvious points here, but the last time I checked coffee was vegan, dairy free and gluten free by default. And, since it comes from a fucking plant, probably natural, too.


But will they buy it?

Next up, the product launch information pack promises a number of “health benefits” – none of which have been evaluated by the FDA or otherwise proven, as the small print on the pack informs me.

Let me give you a selection of these claimed health benefits, along with some comments based on our experience of trying the product:

“Helps to achieve weight-loss goals”
We can’t for the life of us figure out how any of the ingredients are supposed to make you lose weight, but the product does contain L Carnitine which may have something to do with it – and judging by the side effects we’re experiencing, it must be a hefty dose.

“Helps to increase the rate of metabolism”
Well. My colleague had a cup a good three hours ago and she’s been experiencing heart racing and jitteriness ever since. I tried half a cup and immediately felt nausea and a nervous stomach prickling – you know, that kind of feeling you get just before diarrhoea hits. The other three colleagues who tried it (despite our warning) experienced nausea and jitters, too. So maybe the statement should read, more accurately, “will send your metabolism into absolute fucking overdrive”.

“Boosts energy levels”
Which brings us to the next point. If you want to call that nauseous, pulse-racing, jittery feeling “increased energy levels”, you were either dead to start with, or you enjoy spending the day feeling as if you’re “on speed”, which is what one of our testers is currently experiencing.

“Noticeably increases stamina and fitness levels”
Well, no. Just no. No drink in the world will make you fitter. If you’re all hyped up as we are after trying this drink, you might feel like you can train a bit longer in the gym (although probably not in a healthy way), but drinking a cup of this coffee every morning will change ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about your fitness levels. And I don’t need to be a PT or sports nutritionist to tell you that. Anyone with an ounce of common sense will know it. It’s an outright lie.

“Adds a radiant glow to the skin”


“Has been said to help with anti-ageing”
Well, I doubt it sincerely. But since the first cup has made our five testers feel quite unwell, we’re not inclined to put this claim through a long-term trial, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you if it’s true.

Are you actually kidding us?

Cashing in on people’s insecurities

Perhaps the most ludicrous part about this product launch is the collection of random photos of women in underwear that appears on the press release. Given the absence of a caption, I can only assume they are intended as before / after shots. But since half of them are headless and they also don’t show any difference in body shape whatsoever, I have to say if that’s the best evidence Skinny Caffe can produce of its weight-loss claims, then it tells you all you need to know about the product.

But as with any diet product, people tend to fall for promises of results without effort. Oh no, you don’t have to sort out your diet or go to the gym. Just drink this concoction before breakfast every morning and you’ll suddenly be slender and fit, with radiant skin…oh, and your wrinkles will disappear, too.

It probably works for the brand, because people tend to buy into that shit. So the price tag is probably no surprise: A pack of 30 portions retails between £25.95 and £34.95. (In comparison, a jar of upmarket instant coffee containing 50 servings costs you about £4.)

In summary, I can only say I’m the last person to deny any health / fitness product a fair chance. But of all the questionable health and fitness products I’ve tested in the past few years, this takes the prize for the sheer ridiculousness of its claims. And judging by how we felt after trying it, I’d say it’s quite possibly a risk to your wellness, if not your health, if you drink it every day before breakfast as recommended.

So do yourself a favour and grab a skinny latte from the corner café.

And, by the way, it tastes vile and there are unidentifiable bits in it.

Home interiors, metalhead style


Say hello to my brand new DIY Rainbow and Ronnie James Dio cushions!

So here’s something easy to do with all those band t-shirts lurking at the back of your wardrobe, the ones you never end up wearing…

When it comes to my favourite bands – most of which aren’t particularly famous – I’m more than happy to do my bit to support their work by buying their CDs, special editions and merchandise. I never leave a gig without buying at least a t-shirt.

The problem is, with metal bands in particular, they don’t really cater to small-sized female fans. Most have an extensive range of t-shirts, but 9 out of 10 will be men’s fit, starting at a men’s size small, which fit me like a fucking nightgown. On the rare occasion where they do a ‘girl fit’ shirt, there’ll be just one design which they’ll run for several years.

In the past I’ve resorted to buying the styles I wanted in whatever size / fit was available, and then shredding them up and re-fitting them. But that kind of limits the occasions on which I can actually wear them. Normal band t-shirts are kind of okay in my office, but I have a feeling that restyled shirts tied in shreds around your torso may be frowned upon.

So when my favourite band Kamelot released a new album tie-in t-shirt a couple of years ago that, once again, only came in sizes that would have comfortably accommodated two women of my size, I tried something new and turned it in to a cushion cover. I have zero sewing skills, but a bit of hemming tape and an iron did the trick. It came out looking pretty neat, and on a couple of occasions where I managed to capture my cat modelling it, the pictures even got reposted by the band.


Since then I’ve collected a few more shirts that I really love but wouldn’t wear – yeah I know I could, but I just really don’t do baggy – and added to my growing set of metal cushions. That way I actually get more use out of them, it’s a nice alternative to covering your walls with posters (with the added benefit of making your home more comfy), and it’s a great way to personalise your cushions.

The one that got under my skin

Some non-book news. I got another tattoo.

This one wasn’t planned months or years in advance like my others. It just happened one day. I found a picture, it resonated with me, I went to my local tattoo studio and got it designed and inked within a few days.

Tattoo by the lovely Simon / @psymanflash at Monsters of Art in West Hampstead.

And then people do that thing and go, “So what does it mean?”

To be honest, at the moment I chose it, it didn’t mean anything. It was a picture I liked.

But while I was waiting for my tattoo appointment, I started thinking about why that picture had resonated with me so strongly that I wanted it under my skin immediately.

I was going through a breakup with someone who spoke of true love and forever, and meant none of it. I’d allowed myself to fall hard for him, and before I knew it I fell flat on my face.

Of course I beat myself up about letting down my guard, showing my feelings, making myself so vulnerable.

Of course I told myself I would never let that happen again.

When I found a picture of a heart-shaped rib cage online, I immediately saw it inked on my forearm. It just felt like it was meant to be there. And the phrase that kept coming back to me was ‘Wearing my heart on my sleeve’.

Because that’s what I do. I’m honest about my feelings and I believe in the best in people. Sure, I’d like to be more cynical and calculating, better at playing games, but that just wouldn’t be me. And I won’t change myself for anyone.

I think this picture came to me at just the right time – and now I wear it under my skin as a permanent reminder.

So yeah, that’s what it means. I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve, and that’s okay.


re:View – The 2017 Bookshelf: June

June came and went, and I managed just two books. I don’t know what’s wrong with me this year. Ok, I do know; I’ve been on a bit of a personal roller coaster ride and just haven’t had the mental space to focus on a book for the past few months.

Well, the ride is over now and I’ve got my head screwed back on tightly, and I’m finally in a reading mood again. This month’s bookshelf is starting to look pretty good already.

But first, here are the June reviews.


Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
I’m going to get flames for this, but I’ll say it as it is: Margaret Atwood has lost her edge. The Heart Goes Last from a couple of years ago was already a big missed opportunity, and let’s not even think about Angel Catbird. With Hag-Seed I again felt all the frustration of a potentially great book that just didn’t reach its full potential.
The set-up is so promising: Celebrated theatre director Felix gets betrayed and ousted by his right-hand man, loses his family and his life, and spends 12 years as a voluntary outcast plotting his revenge. (It is a re-telling of The Tempest, after all.) Working part-time as a literature teacher in a prison and staging Shakespeare’s plays with the inmates, he finally takes his stab at vengeance with a somewhat modified production of The Tempest when his former theatre enemies – who have since rise to the ranks of politicians – show up for a ministerial visit to the prison’s theatre club.
It could have been a good story and it’s so well written – the story of Felix’s fall and his lonely life as a social outcast, with only the imaginary ghost of his dead baby daughter for company, is gorgeous and heartbreaking in the best of Atwood’s signature style. But the momentum just doesn’t last. Too quickly you figure out that there’s a plot underway, and she bigs it up way too much, so that when the day of vengeance finally comes and goes you’re lost with that “Oh, that’s it?” kind of feeling. As showdowns go it’s as bland as it gets, and the resolution that follows is just too predictable and cheesy as it gets. I am the biggest fan of Margaret Atwood’s past work, but I barely made it to the end of this book and I couldn’t find much to love about it. This is no tempest; it’s barely a gentle breeze.
Pens: 3 out of 5

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
I picked this up completely at random in a gorgeous sci-fi room of a Hay bookshop, based on the title and the fact that it’s by Douglas Adams. I hadn’t heard of Dirk Gently but really enjoyed the Hitchhiker books. This one’s written in a similar style, beautifully observant and utterly hilarious – that very elegant form of comedy that pretends to be innocently nonsensical but actually cuts right to the bone of human nature. It’s the same style that made me fall in love with Terry Pratchett, and I think Douglas Adams is the only other author I’ve come across who’s playing in that league.
So in this book, a check-in terminal at Heathrow Airport mysteriously explodes and a random music producer mysteriously ends up minus his head. Dirk Gently investigates using his trusted holistic (i.e. completely nonsensical) methods, and before he knows it he finds himself caught between the fronts in a war of gods. Literally. It’s a fast-paced and funny story. The ending is a bit of a letdown, rather than the epic showdown I’d hoped for, and doesn’t quite make sense, but otherwise this is a really entertaining read full of little laughs and gorgeously fine-tuned language.
Pens: 3 out of 5

re:View – The 2017 Bookshelf: May

After a not very bookish start to the year, May almost put me back on track – although I cheated a bit and read lots of graphic novels. So here we have a very strange collection of apes, lowlifes, cat-owl creatures and a good old-fashioned demon hunter.


Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
This is one of those books the universe just kept telling me to read – I don’t usually go for history books but recommendations kept coming in from all sides until I gave up and picked it up. It’s a fascinating and informative account of (as it says on the tin) the history of homo sapiens, charting our rise through the cognitive, agricultural and scientific revolution. The book takes a pretty general approach, and in terms of the hard facts I’d say you’ll probably know most of it if you’ve paid attention in biology and history class back in school. But Harari takes an interesting approach to interpreting the consequences of our evolution in light of the question: How did we benefit from it? As in, are we really better off in our civilised, industrial society than our ancestors were in their hunter-gatherer lives? In that regard the book really made me think and gave me a perspective on history that school didn’t really offer. Well written and engaging, Sapiens was certainly more enjoyable than I expected a history book to be.
Pens: 4 out of 5

Sin City, Volume 6: Booze, Broads, and Bullets by Frank Miller
It’s Sin City, I thought, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, this one’s more like a scrapbook of fragments and odd pieces, many of them recycled from other stories, that make for a bit of a lame “short story” collection. It was probably a money-making exercise: The franchise is selling, so lets stick whatever bits and pieces we’ve got left over into a collection and market that as a new book. It shows… This volume is distinctly lacking coherence, thrills and pretty much everything else that made Sin City what it is. I’m keeping it merely for the sake of having the full collection, but I doubt I’ll ever so much as glance over it again.
Pens: 2 out of 5

Sin City, Volume 7: Hell and Back
The final instalment offers us a proper story again, and a pretty good one at that. A troubled artist / hit man / war hero saves a girl from suicide only to see her kidnapped, and when he goes after her he accidentally blows up a massive conspiracy involving people trafficking, organ harvesting and other unsavoury activities. It’s dark, it’s brutal and it’s beautifully illustrated, featuring by far the biggest colour palette I’ve seen in any Sin City book. The style really has evolved over the seven volumes, and after a few low points in the middle Miller finishes strong with one hell of a graphic novel here.
Pens: 3 out of 5

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood
So I was really excited about this. A graphic novel. About cats. By Margaret Atwood. It’s bound to be AWESOME. Right? Wrong. I still don’t know what this is, but it reads like the deluded ramblings of your granny who’s trying to be down with the kids. Some scientist has an accident with a Secret Formula that mixes his genes up with his dead cat (and an owl, for good measure), turning him into some weird flying half cat. He promptly stumbles into a war between other half cats and some crazy professor who’s trying to take over the world with his army of rats. So far, so good – the whole thing is aimed at young readers, after all. What makes it really weird is the amount of incredibly cringe-worthy innuendo (boy half cat and girl half cat are so sex crazed for each other they can barely manage to keep their pants on), and the random informative foot notes about responsible cat-keeping that are sprinkled in among the action. Basically, the whole thing is so weird, cringe and embarrassing that I can only hope Atwood intended it as some elaborate practical joke. That, or she has decided she’s so famous she can write whatever the hell she fancies these days and get away with it. But seriously. WTF!
Pens: 1 out of 5

Hellblazer: Original Sins by Jamie Delano
Here’s a confession. I got sucked into watching the super cheesy US adaptation of the John Constantine graphic novels. When I commented on how gloriously bad it was in the office, a colleague brought the book in for me, attempting, I assume to further my education. This is certainly very different from the all-American TV show – darker, grittier, and (thankfully!) a whole lot more British. In loosely connected episodes we follow the demon hunter from Liverpool around the world as he tries to keep the unsavoury elements of the underworld from causing havoc with people’s lives above ground. Granted, he fails mostly, being the troubled and flawed character he is. But some of the demon-hunting is pretty epic. I’m not in love with the illustration style and colouring; it comes across very chaotic and the changing reading order of the panels adds confusion, to the point where some pages actively put me off wanting to read them. But the stories are great and John Constantine is a really well-made character, so overall a pretty decent graphic novel.
Pens: 3 out of 5

re:View – The 2017 Bookshelf: April

I don’t know what it is with this year, but I just can’t seem to stick with a book. My reading volume has dropped to the lowest in years and I don’t like it. I could blame my new boyfriend, but he’s actually massively into books, took me to Hay-on-Wye on our first weekend break, bought me more books and loves to cuddle up with a book. (So it’s definitely not his fault…) I guess I’ll just have to blame the fact that I’m flat hunting again and spending more time than ever in the gym. Or something.

EXCUSES. Get back to reading, girl.

In April I did read two really good books though. It’s a start.


Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Not quite what I expected, Gaiman’s latest takes on the story of the Norse gods in a short collection of episodes – so if you’re expecting a modern epic you’ll probably disappointed. It’s certainly a great introduction to the subject for someone who doesn’t know a lot about it (like myself) as well as young readers, and I think even if you’re a bit familiar with Norse mythology this is still a very interesting interpretation as Gaiman pieced it together from bits and pieces as told in different versions over time. In one way, this makes the stories very rich and detailed, but at the same time they don’t go much beyond the bare facts. There is very little emotion, and not much actual storytelling – the style is brief to the point of feeling clipped, and the gods remain fairly one-dimensional, described over and over by their same old characteristics. But then again I guess ancient gods don’t undergo much character development in general, and they don’t necessarily have human traits or feelings. I’d probably file this one under ‘informative and entertaining’ rather than a memorable and breathtaking read.
Pens: 3 out of 5

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I tried Dorian Gray before and gave up a few pages into the first chapter, somewhat put off by the pretentiousness of Basil and Henry’s conversation about art. A few months later I started dating someone who proclaimed it his favourite novel, and promptly bought me a copy, so I decided to give it another chance – and actually quite enjoyed it. I kind of expected it to be a lot more scandalous, but I guess it must have been pretty shocking in its day. I found it strangely reflective of our own time actually. When you think about it, Dorian’s obsession with his appearance and the constant conflict he faces between his own self and the version of him reflected by the portrait isn’t a million miles off the identity struggles created by today’s selfie culture, where any photo must be obsessively run through a number of Instagram filters and retouched by beauty apps before we feel confident enough to share it across every social media channel. In a sad reversal of the Dorian Gray concept, it’s usually the perfectly edited picture we present to the world, while our self-esteem becomes the nasty thing festering in the attic. Our views on aesthetics and morality may have changed since the days when this book was a true shocker, but for as long as we’re human we’ll always struggle with vanity, appearance and the conflict between our true identity and the image we’d like to show the world – and I think in that regard Wilde’s story will remain absolutely timeless.
Pens: 4 out of 5

re:View – The 2017 Bookshelf: February / March

Two books in two months – that’s a new low. In my defence I will say neither has been particularly good, to the point where they actually put me off reading, and I just need to stop being so bloody stubborn and accept that sometimes you have to give up on a series.

So, consider Laurie R. King’s Mary Russel & Sherlock Holmes stories abandoned. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed the earlier books, but King kind of lost her momentum after three volumes.


The Moor by Laurie R. King
In what is basically a re-telling of The Hound of the Baskervilles minus any of the thrills offered by the original, we spend some 300 pages following Mary Russell traipsing around Dartmoor in the rain. She gets wet, she gets muddy, she gets annoyed, and repeat. Instead of a hound there’s a phantom carriage (potentially accompanied by a phantom hound); some people that nobody cares about get killed; the case is about as flimsy as it can be; Sherlock Holmes shines mainly through his absence from all of this. The author doesn’t even bother with building a mystery anymore and if you’re hoping for a big, exciting showdown at the end, you may as well not even start the book. There’s a great little chapter about a witch and her pet hedgehog, but that’s the best thing I can say about this book.
Pens: 1 out of 5

O Jerusalem by Laurie R. King
Poor Mary Russell. After spending weeks dragging herself around the rainy, foggy, cold moor in the previous volume, she gets dumped in Israel this time and promptly spends weeks dragging herself around the dusty, hot desert and eventually through the streets of Jerusalem trying to uncover another half-arsed mystery involving a bunch of early-day terrorists. If you make it through the first 200 pages of constant whingeing about sore feet, bad food and the general misery of traipsing around the desert you are rewarded by an almost exciting showdown on the roofs and in the underground aqueducts of the holy city, which may or may not end up with everything being blown to bits. I actually enjoyed this book towards the end, but it wasn’t quite enough of a reward for the drudgery of getting through the first two thirds.
Pens: 2 out of 5

And with this I’m closing the book on Mary Russell – in fact I’ve donated the lot to the charity shop in the hope they will find a new reader who can love the a little bit more.

Hair adventures: Meet Snow

Let me introduce you to Snow.


No, I haven’t gone dark – tempted as I am, the prospect of having to wait several years for it to grow back out when I want to go back to red is really putting me off. Been there, done that, got the massive bleaching damage.

But I do love black hair so, so much.

When I was around 20 I dyed my hair dark brown, so dark it pretty much looked black. When I came home my Grandma took one look at me and said: “You look like a dying Snow White!” My reaction was along the lines of “OMG THANK YOU <3 !” Then I realised she hadn’t meant it as a compliment… She basically thought I looked terminally ill with my pale skin set against the raven hair. Well, I’ve always loved the look and I still think Snow White beats all the other princesses for style.

Anyway, after spending years getting to my current shade of flame, I’m not going back to black for real. But I recently came across Black Candy Fashion, my new favourite shop, which has a fantastic range of absolutely stunning (and really good quality) wigs. I may have gone on a shopping spree…

Among the many wigs I’ve fallen in love with is the raven-black, wavy, thick-fringed one from the picture above. Apparently – at least on the photo – it looks so real that people started messaging me to comment on the new hair.

And somehow it’s more than a wig. When I first put it on, some kind of magic happened. A transformation.

I looked at her in the mirror and she looked back and said, “Hi. I am Snow.”

Her fringe needs a bit of a trim, and she needs an outfit and a story. But so far, I really like her a lot.

re:View – The 2017 Bookshelf: January

Bookworms, I’m back. And I’m finally excited about books again! I’m catching up with the back catalogue of some of my favourite authors (James Ellroy, Margaret Atwood, Patrick Dennis) and looking forward to a whole load of books coming out soon. I mean, the first novel from George Saunders?! Sign me up for that. Also hitting us soon are Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, a feminist manifesto by Gillian Anderson, and the third part of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic.

But enough about books of the future. Here are the books I’ve read in the past month.


Continue reading

re:View – The 2016 Bookshelf: November / December

Sooo 2016 has been a pretty bad year for reading. I’m not even sure what it was, but I somehow had to drag myself through book after book (with few exceptions) and almost lost the love for it. Partly, it’s because I went through a massive life change in early summer, breaking off a six-year relationship and having to move house and build up a whole new life. Then I really enjoyed this new single life and ended up spending a lot more time out and about, training and meeting friends, so there just wasn’t much time for books. I also hit a string of uninspiring books around the middle of the year which didn’t exactly drive me back to the bookshelf looking for more.

On the plus side, I started a few books in December that have been absolutely brilliant and re-ignited my book lust. More about those at the end of January, but for now here are the pathetically slim contents of the November and December bookshelf.


Connected: The Call & The Shift (Author’s Cut) by Michelle Medhat
Connected is a two-part sci-fi thriller that plays out on three levels: on the stage of world politics, where the emergence of a globally connected terrorist organisation threatens all life on earth; on a personal level, where we follow MI6 agent Sam and his wife Ellie as they risk everything in a dangerous plot to save the world; and on a much higher playing field, where a secret overseeing force wages a timeless battle between good and evil with the very existence of Earth at stake. As the story unfolds, every player has to take their side. But with an entirely new brand of terrorism shaking the most powerful nations to their core and unseen forces manipulating events to pursue their own sinister agendas, can Sam and Ellie really pull off the impossible and shift the world off its course of destruction? This book weaves together an interesting mix of genres. It’s a secret agent thriller at heart (think Jason Bourne backed up by James Bond’s tech lab), but the futuristic technologies imagined by the author also firmly places it in the sci-fi arena – and there’s a supernatural element to it as well, plus a good dose of steamy romance. It’s probably not a book I would have picked up, but was too intrigued to resist after meeting the author. A fast-paced read with a visual style and lots of action, Connected comes along like a big-ticket Hollywood blockbuster.
Pens: 3 out of 5

Genius by Patrick Dennis
Patrick Dennis, master of the hyperbolic character study, takes us on a hysterically funny ride through Mexico City’s American society, where director Leander Starr – Hollywood wonder child of yesteryear and now on the run from Uncle Sam’s tax department, various ex wives and assorted other parties he owes money to – stirs up everybody’s quiet summer retreat with his mission to produce a budget movie that will redeem him with the big studio bosses and his creditors alike. Of course Starr, in the best tradition of Patrick Dennis characters, is a scoundrel and a dreamer, and of course his attempts to string together a masterpiece starring burned-out film industry veterans and produced by the shadier elements of the Mexican business world unleashes chaos on the lives of everyone involved. Brilliantly observed by Dennis himself as an author-turned-character (turned accessory to mischief), this book is both a beautifully rowdy old-school comedy and a merciless look behind the facade of the elite of its era.
Pens: 4 out of 5

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
I haven’t read Alice since I was around six. My mum used to read it to me a lot before I could read. I didn’t actively dislike it at the time, and it didn’t exactly scare me, but I always felt vaguely uneasy about this story. Thinking back now, I realise it gave me a feeling that’s very similar to the way chaos and nonsense make me feel now. So I probably shouldn’t be surprised that I didn’t massively enjoy reading it as an adult, either. I just don’t enjoy logic, so the endless discourse between the various characters annoyed the hell out of me. And I dread chaos. Nonsense is basically chaos, and deliberately nonsensical plots are kind of the worst thing you can do to me with a story. It makes my brain bleed. I love a lot of the elements of Alice that have been adopted into pop culture, but I’ll never be able to enjoy the book.
Pens: 2 out of 5