Toxic Loneliness

There’s a certain type of content that I see shared on social media which reflects what I consider to be a very unhealthy attitude: it’s what I call toxic loneliness. So what do I mean by this? Well, I’m sure most people will have seen things like it. Posts along the lines of “I spend all my time thinking of my old friends, but they never stop to think about me” or “I’m one of those people who gets forgotten as time goes by and my friends just move on” they’re surprisingly popular sorts of things.

I dislike this content for so many reasons. First of all, it suggests a strong victim complex from the poster. They don’t know that nobody ever thinks about them, they’re just convinced that nobody ever does, because they think lowly of themselves. Then there’s the sense of entitlement: they seem to think that just because they spend all their time thinking about old friends, they deserve to have those old friends constantly reaching out to them. But… are they making the effort to reach out themselves? No. These attitudes usually go hand in hand with people being unwilling to reach out to old friends because they’re so afraid of rejection. All this kind of content does, in my eyes, is come across as passive aggressive – as if the people posting it hope that their old friends will see it and reach out to them out of guilt… but that’s manipulative. That’s shouldn’t be a factor in any relationship.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that loneliness can be very distressing. I remember feeling similarly around the time that I left university. Lots of friends moved around them and I didn’t really have anyone local to spend time with socially. But the thing is, if you convince yourself that your old friends have wronged you by not keeping in touch better, you’ll grow to resent them and then the friendship will never properly recover. It’s important to recognise that there are many reasons that people don’t stay in touch, most of which don’t mean anything bad and, if treated maturely, also don’t mean the end of a friendship. People also often make the false assumption that a friendship is over because they haven’t spoken to someone in a year or two… what they fail to consider is that forever is a long time. You never know when your paths may cross again and wouldn’t it be nicer for two old friends to meet again, without one of them resenting the other for not always making the effort and keeping in touch as much as they do?

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Doctor Who: Love and War by Paul Cornell

In order to stop the Doctor Who series of novels from stagnating, the writers decided that it was time to mix up the cast of characters a little, just as would happen every few years or so in the TV series itself. The result was that in Love and War, the ninth novel in the New Adventures line, the character of Bernice Summerfield was introduced.

Bernice, or Benny as they call her, is a really huge part of the Doctor Who expanded universe and even has her own range of novels and audio adventures. Despite consuming a lot of Doctor Who EU media, I’d only come across the character on very rare occasions and never in particularly significant roles. As such, this was really my first proper introduction to her, which is good, because it meant that I was able to enjoy the novel as it would have been read by people back when it was originally released back in 1992.

Benny is a down to Earth person with a sense of humour. She feels very real and it’s nice to have someone like her to contrast against the very aloof Seventh Doctor. I quite liked seeing her interact with Ace as well, particularly as Benny is an archaeologist from the 26th century who specialises in the 20th century (Ace’s home time). She brings an interesting new dynamic to everything and is a very good addition. Of all the characters who have been introduced in the New Adventures range so far, she definitely stands out as the best one.

Ace is portrayed very interestingly this time as well. The novel really begins to explore the kind of toll that it would take on somebody if they were to travel with someone like the Seventh Doctor, who was constantly manipulating them and withholding information from them. We also get to learn more about her past and an old friend she used to have named Julian. I’m a big fan of stories detailing Ace’s life before she met the Doctor.

The Doctor is pushed to his limits this time and his manipulative behaviour goes really far. Too far, I’d say. He also comes across as severely unhappy – the various Doctors have gone through various low periods in their lives, but this definitely seems to be one of the bleakest portrayals of the Doctor. He’s painted as a very tragic figure, one who knows that he’s wrong to manipulate so many people to his own ends, but also one who doesn’t see any other way of defeating even greater evils.

I realise I’m quite far into the review without even really getting into what actually happens in it. I guess it’s just because the personalities and relationships were just so strong. To give a brief summary, the Doctor and Ace arrive on the planet Heaven because the Doctor wants to find an old book. Benny is also on the planet doing some research and behind the scenes, an ancient evil is lurking… one which ties into the history of the Time Lords. It’s a really interesting story and there are a lot of little references which tie it into various classic Doctor Who episodes in nice ways.

There are only two things I could fault about this book: the first was that the dramatic ending of the previous novel, Nightshade, is not addressed. This was quite disappointing, particularly as it would have had a huge impact on the relationship between the Doctor and Ace. The second problem was that there is a romance in it which, though well written for the most part, felt a bit rushed towards the end. Thinking about it afterwards, I could think of a way for it not to be too unrealistic, but it did feel slightly jarring as I read it.

Overall, I’d happily describe this as one of the best books in the New Adventures range that I’ve read so far. There’s a strong, interesting story with excellent, three-dimensional characters and plenty of little bits of fan service throughout. If you like slightly darker and more adult Doctor Who, then this is one that you’re going to love.

Rating: 9.1/10

Buy it here.

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Health Emergency

This time last week, I was starting to feel not quite right. I’d barely been able to pee at all, which is strange, because I love drinking delicious water and so I’m normally able to go fairly regularly and easily. Feeling somewhat concerned, I called the 111, the non-emergency NHS line. I spoke to a doctor and he assured me that the situation was not serious – he said if it goes on for a few days, then maybe I should call my GP, but he said I shouldn’t worry and specifically mentioned that I shouldn’t go to the emergency room at the hospital. Trusting in his judgement, I thought nothing of it and went to bed a couple of hours later.

The next morning I woke up and, generally felt the same as the night before. Other than being unable to start the day with my morning pee, I didn’t feel too bad. I saw my housefriend Sophie off to work and started thinking about the relaxing ways in which I could spend another easy-going day at home. Unfortunately, after I’d been awake for an hour or so I started to feel quite a high level of discomfort and before long it had grown into the worst pain I’d ever experienced in my life so far. I was writhing in bed and could barely stand up. I called the GP and asked to speak to a duty doctor – I was told somebody would call me before the end of the morning.

I writhed around in bed for the next few hours, trying to find a position that was comfortable. I even forced myself to make some breakfast, so I came downstairs and made a bowl of porridge (which was really hard to do!) Sadly, I was in too much pain to be able to eat it. I was also in too much pain to be able to read or to watch anything on my laptop. I waited for the doctor to call and it seemed to be taking ages.

At 11:55am I decided that the pain had grown to such an extent that it was now appropriate for me to call an ambulance for myself. I described what had been happening and the person on the phone said she didn’t think it sounded like a situation which warranted an ambulance. She said a doctor would call me to discuss what to do within three hours. Upon ending the call, I realised I had a voicemail from the duty doctor who sounded quite annoyed that I’d not answered when he called. He said to ring back as soon as possible. I did and the receptionist said he’d speak to me “sometime this afternoon.”

So, I was lying in bed feeling somewhat defeated and still in agony. I wasn’t entirely sure what I would do, other than wait for a call. Thankfully, I was telling my friend Tulin about the situation as it unfolded and she told me that I needed to ask one of my friends to drive me to hospital. Weirdly, it had never occurred to me to ask anybody. Anyway, I decided to ask my friend Sarah and thankfully she arrived to take me about twenty minutes later. It was very kind and generous of her to do this for me and I appreciate it enormously.

I was a bit worried I’d be unable to come down to get in her car when I was in so much agony, because it was too painful even to get dressed. I just put a jacket on over my pyjamas and a pair of shoes. Strangely, Sarah somehow prompted a brief respite from the pain. It felt much less bad during the whole journey and I was actually able to chat with her along the way in only moderate discomfort. I guess my brain knew that I needed to get to the hospital and so it helped me to persevere for the journey. Either that, or it was just the healing effect of seeing a good friend.

Anyway, when I got into the hospital, the respite from pain was over and I was almost immediately barely able to even talk or stand. They identified it as an emergency and saw my pretty much immediately. I shan’t go into the details of the five or six hours I spent there and all the painful procedures I had to have done to me, but I was diagnosed with acute bladder retention. They said at the time that if I had waited much longer before getting treatment, I could have had serious liver damage. Looking online to read more about it, it’s even described as “life threatening” if not treated quickly – it’s crazy to me that I was told by two people that it wasn’t urgent and that one of them, a doctor, told me to wait a few days before calling my GP. It would have been so bad if I did this.

For the time being, I have to use a catheter, which can be very uncomfortable and my mobility was very diminished, though it’s been a week now and I am just about starting to get used to it. All going well, I’ll have it removed on Friday. It’s been quite an experience and I am very thankful to have good friends like Tulin and Sarah. My housefriend Sophie has also been very supportive and made it clear to me that it’s okay to ask for any amount of help, even if it were to mean helping me out of the shower or getting dressed. Thankfully, I have maintained enough independence to do those things by myself, but it is very heartwarming to know that I can count on her entirely.

I will probably write more about that day in future, but the biggest takeaway from this, for me, was that you can’t always trust what the doctors say. If they tell you that it’s not an emergency, but you know it is, you have to make sure that you are seen as soon as possible!

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Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars

This is the sixth Mario vs. Donkey Kong game and the fifth to focus its gameplay around the Mini characters. I feel that when this game came out, a lot of people were getting tired of the series and weren’t really that interested anymore. This is a real shame, because in my opinion, this just might be the best one.

The story this time? Donkey Kong grabs Pauline and Mario chases after them, with a few Minis in tow. This might sound a bit basic, but it has a really good ending, it made me laugh out loud, so I can’t really fault it on this front. But it’s the game’s other features which I enjoyed the most.

First of all, there’s the presentation. Look at that title screen – has Donkey Kong ever looked so beautiful before or afterwards? I don’t think so and I look at a lot of pictures of Donkey Kong. The whole game simply looks a lot smoother and more polished than any of those which came before. Of course, graphics are only a small factor in the grand scheme of things, but I also loved the game’s soundtrack. I’ve always thought that Donkey Kong games tend to have some really amazing, calming, ambient music – unfortunately, this was not the case for the rest of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, which had fairly mediocre music, but in this game, its phenomenal. The game’s “Golden Palace Theme” is one of the best pieces of game music I know.

In terms of gameplay, it’s fairly similar to what went before, but this was already a winning formula – creating paths for the Minis to take so that they could get to the level’s exit and pick up as many collectables as possible while avoiding enemies on the way. Each level is a fun little puzzle and towards the end, they can start to get quite complicated. Finishing a level while collecting everything in it is very satisfactory.

One new addition to the game are Cursed Mini-Marios. These are Mini-Marios who have an evil little monkey Mini sitting on their head and making them behave as if they were enemies. They move around the level just like other Minis, but they’ll destroy any Mini they come into contact with (thus losing you the level). What you need to do is get another Mini to hit them with a hammer to destroy the little monkey, but it can often be hard to do this. You can’t win a level without liberating the Cursed Mini-Marios and making sure that you free them from their ‘curse’ adds an interesting new dynamic to levels.

What really makes Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars interesting, though, is the fact that it’s a sort of prototype Super Mario Maker. Other games in the series had given you the opportunity to create your own levels, but this one does something really interesting with it. From the beginning, you have the capacity to make some fairly basic levels. Playing through the game’s single player mode then gives you stars which you can use to unlock more items for level customisation. You could then share your levels online and if people enjoyed them they could leave you a tip – and the tip would be in stars (hence the title) allowing you to make more creations. It was a really lovely community and there were some lovely levels… unfortunately, with the ending of the Miiverse, this online level sharing service was discontinued and it’s a real shame. I loved it and played right up to the moment of its discontinuation.

The only real negative I have about this game is that there are no Donkey Kong boss battles. I always enjoyed these and it’s a shame that Donkey Kong’s role in the game has been somewhat diminished. Besides this, I think this game is great… or at least, it was. With the loss of its online features, I’d say it could no longer be described as the best Mario vs. Donkey Kong game, but for a while, it sat proudly on that throne.

Rating: 9.1/10

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A Beautiful Moment

Last week Sony held a video showcase for games people could look forward to playing on the PlayStation 5. To be honest, it wasn’t really on my radar because I’ve always leaned more towards Nintendo and Xbox consoles – not that there aren’t good and exciting games on PlayStations. Anyway, as my housemate Sophie is rather more invested in the PlayStation than I am, we ended up watching the showcase together on our television.

As it happens, I’m very glad we did watch the showcase together because it lead to what I would describe as one of the most beautiful moments of my life. That may sound a little strange, and indeed, if I had told myself that the PlayStation showcase would lead to one of the most beautiful moments of my life, I’d have been sceptical. How could it? Why would it? It’s not like it’s a Christmas meal at Nando’s or a trip to go and visit an old friend.

Well, during the presentation, the game Final Fantasy XVI was announced. Nobody really saw this coming and it was a nice surprise (although to quietly toot my own horn for a second, I did say earlier in the day “Maybe they’ll announce Final Fantasy XVI.”) As someone who rather likes Final Fantasy, I thought that was pretty cool. I hope I get the chance to play it sooner or later as I’m sure I’ll enjoy myself. Sophie, on the other hand, had a different, stronger reaction.

Let me first give you some context: Sophie loves Final Fantasy. She has done all her life. She’s had fun playing the games during the nostalgic years of her childhood and as an adult, continues to enjoy the series and even draws from it to help inspire her creative writing. It helped mould her interest in literature and other media and has prompted her to go on to try lots of other things which she’s also loved a lot. It’s no exaggeration to say that Final Fantasy is one of the core pillars which makes up who Sophie is – she loves it and it is part of her identity.

So when Sophie saw the Final Fantasy XVI trailer, she was screaming with joy as tears poured down her face and she ran around the room with such overflowing excitement that she could not keep herself still. She even spilled her tea. I can honestly say that I have never seen anybody so happy and excited in my entire life. This is pretty significant, because I’ve seen close friends getting married before. I’ve had friends introduce me to new babies.

You might say to yourself, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a video game.” But to me, her reaction is very understandable. How many hours of her life have been spent playing each of the previous games in the series? How many times has a Final Fantasy game been there when she’s had a bad day? How many new things has she been introduced to thanks to Final Fantasy? How many interesting new writing ideas has it given her? Now, consider, Final Fantasy XVI will do all of this for her again. It’s wonderful news and she has a lot to look forward to. Anyone in that position would be so happy.

Sophie and I have known one another for almost seven years and lived together for over a year. We’re very close and to see somebody that I care about so much overcome with such a large dose of pure happiness was overwhelmingly heart-warming. That’s why I’d describe it as one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I can only hope that I get to see my other close friends experience such levels of happiness as Sophie did that night and that Sophie herself has many more moments of undiluted joy in her life going forward.

Posted in Anecdotes, Best Entries, Lovely Things | Leave a comment

Mort by Terry Pratchett

Upon reading Mort, the fourth of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, I felt that the series had reached a new height. I’d enjoyed the three books which came before it, but this one felt like it had a little more heart to it and it’s storyline was certainly something rather unique.

All of the other books had featured appearances of Death to some extent or another. I always enjoyed his appearances (especially when his adopted daughter Ysabell was introduced) so I was delighted that Death was right at the heart of this novel. The story this time is that Death has decided to take on an apprentice and the titular Mort is that apprentice.

Something I especially enjoyed about this book is the way in which it tried to rationalise the way a living embodiment of Death would actually work. We learn a little about his systems and the domain in which he lives. We also learn more about him as a person and the toll that it would take on somebody if their entire identity was the very thing which most people fear the most. He’s something of a tragic figure… but in an oddly down to Earth sort of way which makes him quite relatable.

Though I do think that he is somewhat overshadowed by Death, I did rather like Mort as well. At first it felt like he was a little bit of a joke – a simpleminded fool who had found himself in a situation he couldn’t comprehend. As it went on, he was revealed to be a character with a little more depth than I expected. I have to admit, that he did start to feel like a little bit of a generic protagonist, but I did appreciate the journey that his character went on. His relationship with Ysabell was certainly an interesting one as well.

While it is the fourth book in the series, you could probably start with this one, if you wanted. Death and Ysabell have both appeared before, but you’re introduced to them through Mort as he meets them for the first time, so you can learn about them at the same pace as he does. Rincewind and the Unseen University also show up, but again, they are used in such a way that you’ll be fine if you have no foreknowledge.

The story is a fascinating one which deals with fate, the path of time, Death’s role in the universe and more. What would happen if Death refused to take somebody who was destined to die? Well, read this and you’ll find out. It’s a pretty profound book a lot of the time, with lots of very clever things to say. That’s all mixed in with a lot of very ‘ordinary’ humour and it might sound like that would be jarring, but it works beautifully. I don’t use ‘ordinary’ in a derogatory way either, just in the sense that the comedy helps the book feel grounded in reality without flying too far off into the realms of philosophic reflection.

If you think the idea of Death taking an apprentice sounds too silly, think again. It has a sense of humour, but this novel is far from being too silly. It’s really beautifully written is so different from anything else I’ve ever read. I strongly recommend it.

Rating: 8.9/10

Buy it here.

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Game & Watch reviews:

Nintendo’s endearing series of retro handheld games, plus the later appearances of Mr. Game & Watch.
1982Snoopy Tennis4/10
1982Oil Panic5/10
1982Donkey Kong5.5/10
1982Donkey Kong Jr.7.5/10
1982Green House8/10
1983Donkey Kong II6/10
1983Mario Bros.7.9/10
1986Super Mario Bros.6.1/10
1997Game & Watch Gallery8.3/10
2001Super Smash Bros. Melee ¹9.5/10
2003WarioWare, Inc.: Minigame Mania ²8.9/10
2006Game & Watch Collection8/10
2008Super Smash Bros. Brawl ³9.5/10
2010Donkey Kong Country Returns9.5/10
2012Nintendo Land8.7/10
2013Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D9.5/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS8.9/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Wii U6.4/10
2015Super Mario Maker9.4/10

Connected Series:


  1. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  2. Vermin and Helmet are used as the basis of two micro games.
  3. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  4. Mr. Game & Watch makes a minor cameo in the background of the level Foggy Fumes.
  5. A new Game & Watch inspired game called Octopus Dance is included.
  6. Mr. Game & Watch makes a minor cameo in the background of the level Foggy Fumes.
  7. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  8. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  9. Mr. Game & Watch is a playable character via Mystery Mushroom.
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Leave Me on “Seen”

I remember when Facebook first introduced the feature which would tell people when somebody had opened the messages they had sent them. I always wondered why. I thought to myself that, not only would it be bad for those who suffer from anxiety and fear that their friends are annoyed by their messages, but it puts pressure on people to reply quickly in order to avoid upsetting their friends and making them feel like they don’t care. When speaking to a friend recently, they suggested that it might have been introduced in order to increase the chances people would reply and therefore spend more time in their Messenger app (or on the Facebook website) where they could then be exposed to more advertisements. I’m sure she hit the nail on the head. It’s a subject I wrote about a couple of years ago.

Today, following the global pandemic, life sure has changed. Most significantly, I would say, the pace of things has slowed down a lot. I lost my job due to redundancy a few months ago, but even before that life was a slower pace. Other than working, I’d not do anything else in the day and the thought of doing more was tiring – a stark contrast to the days when I’d go out, visit people and do lots of things after going to work (and in the actual office, rather than from home).

What does that have to do with anything? Well, I find it even harder to keep on top of my messages than I ever did before. It’s to the point where I also expect other people to reply in an equally timely manner. I can remember when one of my messages being “seen” but a reply not sent felt like a bad thing. These days, I’d say it actually feels like a slight positive. If they read it right away, that means they were so excited to see my message they wanted to read it right away – of course, the reply can come days or weeks later, but being “seen” feels good. It’s nice how a former negative has become a current positive (if only a mild one).

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Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move

This game was an interesting development in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. Most significantly, it brought the series into 3D for the first time and changed the gameplay quite significantly. On a lesser note, it took “vs.” out of the title, which I liked because I like both Mario and Donkey Kong and I don’t want them to fight one another.

When I first started the game, my initial impression wasn’t great. It feels like it was more cheaply made than the games which went before it in that it has no storyline or opening cutscene and Mario, Donkey Kong and Pauline (the only characters outside of the Minis) only appear as almost entirely static images on the menus. Sometimes they blink and that’s the only thing which stops them from just being pictures. Their presence in the game is minimal. Additionally, the 3D graphics are all very basic and the music, while not bad, is very generic and not all that memorable.

But, you know what? I was wrong to judge it too hastily, because this is actually an excellent game and just as good, if not better, as what went before in the series. The way that the Minis are used has been completely reinvented and the new formula is highly addictive and rewarding.

While the previous three games had been based on directing Minis through 2D maps, you now have to get them from one point to another on a 3D grid-based map. They’ll emerge from a Warp Pipe and you then have to place tiles onto the grid to make a path for them. Different tiles lead the Minis in different direction (so, for example, one might be a straight line going downward, while another is a curve to the right) and you have to place them carefully in order to take them through the safest path. This same gameplay is applied across various game modes.

In Mario’s Main Event, you have to guide your Mini from point A to point B, collecting coins and avoiding obstacles as you go. You are given a random selection of tiles in order to make the path for the Minis and it often won’t be what you’re expecting, so you’ll have to think on your toes. You can’t stop to think because your Mini will fall into the void if you haven’t placed enough tiles for them and you automatically fail if you allow too many tiles to appear without placing them. In Puzzle Palace, you have a set number of certain tiles and there is one specific way to make the right path for your Mini – it creates a very different dynamic, though is still very fun. In Many Mini Mayhem, you have multiple Minis on the map at once and you have to get them all to the exit. In Giant Jungle, your Mini is put onto a giant grid, much bigger than any of the others and you’re timed to get them to the exit, with lots of coins hidden throughout the map for you to collect. Every mode is fun, but I found Mario’s Main Event and Puzzle Palace the most enjoyable, while Giant Jungle was, sadly, my least favourite. Completing these levels gets you stars and these stars are then used to unlock toys in a toy collection, the toys are all different Minis and it’s a good incentive to keep playing.

There are also four mini-games which you can play simply for high scores. One has you throw Mini-Marios at a cube in the sky to break it. One has you fishing for Fly Guys as they fly past. Another has you adjusting the height of Mini-Marios on a platform in order to avoid Bullet Bills. One last one has you throwing Mini-Marios at targets to earn points. They’re all basic, but they’re all pretty fun. The Fly Guy fishing game is probably my favourite.

As usual for the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, I wish it contained more Donkey Kong elements as aside from Donkey Kong, Pauline and a few jungle palm trees, there’s practically nothing and most of the content is based on Mario games. On the bright side, you can choose which Mini you use (Mini-Mario, Donkey Kong, Pauline, Toad or Princess Peach), so I had Mini-Donkey Kong out all the time.

I think this game is an overlooked gem. Sitting quietly in the 3DS eShop, I feel like a lot of people might never have even heard this, which is a real shame. I used to play this game on the bus and do one or two levels every day. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to playing it. If you’re looking for a fantastic puzzle game to add to your 3DS library, then make it this one!

Rating: 8.8/10

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A Dramatic Change of Taste

I generally like most food (so long as it’s vegetarian friendly). In fact, over the years, a few people have commented that I tend to describe an allegedly unusually large amount of things as “delicious.” Speaking of which, I recently decided to try a type of jalapeno flavoured vegan cheddar cheese. A nice combination of things, I thought, and something that would doubtlessly go very nice in a toasted sandwich.

So I bought the vegan cheese and then the next day used it in a toasted sandwich. As expected, I loved it. It was delicious. I started having it in a sandwich every day for lunch. Roughly a week went past and before long, I didn’t have much left. On the morning I expected to be eating the last of it, I woke up with a strange feeling. I didn’t want to eat any of it. The thought of eating any more utterly repulsed me. I felt like I’d actually be sick if I did eat it. This was odd, because I’d never found myself suddenly hating something before.

I thought to myself “I guess I just don’t want it today” and I didn’t have it. Days went past and now I don’t think I ever will eat the last of it. Whenever I think of it, it’s as if I’m thinking of a really disgusting food. It’s interesting, I think, in that it shows how fickle our sense of taste is. Just like that, we can find we don’t like something. Likewise, I’m sure, we can find that we suddenly do like something too. Our sense of taste can change just like that. There had been times with me previously where certain foods had become less exciting because I’d had them so many times, but I had never gone from loving something to hating something in the space of a day.

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