Solstice Octopus!

I got an Amazon giftcard for the solstice and I used it to get this octopus. It’s very soft! And made by Wild Republic.

Cuddly octopus

Cuddly octopus from the top

Cuddly octopus is watching you

(The photographs show a realistically-shaped octopus toy. It sits resting on its tentacles. The main part of the body is short fur fabric, with a mottled light brown and black pattern. The underside of the tentacles is pale fur fabric. The eyes are light brown with black horizontal slit pupils, like real octopus eyes. It’s sitting on blue towel fabric, and is well lit.)

New Fighter Fish – Shimmer

My new tank now has a resident. Shimmer is a female fighter fish, and is probably between six months and one year old. She’s white, with iridescent blue highlights on the fins and tail. As it’s her first day, I didn’t hassle too much with photographs. The best I got was this one:

White female fighter fish by an anubias plant

I also took a few videos, which I’ll likely put together later in a setting-up-a-tank video series. But here are a few still shots from them. The last shows how blue her tail can look as she moves:

White female fighter fish with light shining through her

Back view of white female fighter fish, with her tail shining bright blue

She’s generally settling in well. She’s clamping her fins a bit (not so much in the shots, but other times), which is usual after a scary day moving to a new tank. She’s really enjoying picking off little critters from the driftwood and plants, so I can recommend spending a little extra time on setting up a proper soil-based planted tank. It’s not that my previous fighter tanks were bad, but this one is much more awesome for the fish.

In about a month, I’ll introduce amano shrimp. The place I get my fish keeps the fighters in with other fish, so I’ve had a chance to see how she deals with tankmates. She had some very tiny fish in with her and was ignoring them, which is a good sign for being a tankmate-friendly fighter.

The Cockroach Invasion (Video)

Baby cockroach on an egg boxA common question raised by my bio is, “Do you really keep cockroaches?” As though it might be a quirky thing I invented just for the bio. Yes, I really keep cockroaches. I started with one cockroach (Sparkle), then got two (Ash and Gem) and this time ordered five (but I have eight). Mostly because I used to have a community fish tank. Now I don’t, I’m filling that space with cockroaches.

Other things people often ask:

What type are they? Madagascar hissing cockroaches. (There are several species called this, which interbreed, so most likely they’re a bit of a mix.)

What do they eat? I give them dry stuff (fish food, cereals, nuts, seeds) and fruit/veg (most stuff, except they don’t like cucumber and I avoid irritant things like onions and chillies). Sparkle was an odd one, in that he’d only eat dried food (and wouldn’t eat if it’d been moistened). Most of them like their fresh stuff though.

What are they called? I’ve named the one bigger nymph. They’re called Pancake, because they’re unusually broad for their length. My guess is Pancake is a bit older, as they’re hanging out on their own more and look less nymphy.

Do you breed them? No. Cockroaches breed a lot, being cockroaches and all, so that’s a lot of babies to handle. A lot of people also have reptiles, so feed unwanted babies to those… but I don’t have space for lizards.

How do you avoid breeding? Keep males and females in separate tanks. For the batch this time, I’ll split them as they get a little bigger, then sort out their final tanks when I know what they’ll be.

Do they get lonely (when kept in a tank alone)? No. Cockroaches live in colonies, but they’re not attached to each other like bees and ants. My biggest concern with the new babies is they’re rather small and the weather’s hot, so they’ll help retain moisture by staying together. I won’t be splitting them until they grow a bit (except Pancake, who’ll move after some settling time).

Why?!!!!? They’re clean, friendly and easy to keep. They tame well and live about as long as a hamster (in approximate ages, my previous ones reached four, one and a half, and three). I love their little antennae!

Can I see them? Here’s five minutes of my cockroaches being cockroaches…

Strong Gingerbread / Vanillabread Recipe

Single GingerbreadI planned to bake some gingerbread men this year, as my gift to the family. The only thing in the way was I couldn’t find a gingerbread recipe that fitted what I wanted – a version that was very strong, for the person who likes ginger sprinkled on their ginger; and a version with no ginger, for the ginger hater.

So I made the recipes up. As these recipes are mine, all mine, and not copyrighted to anyone but me, I’m posting them for the world (and if you thought I was joking in the blog tagline about random tangents, now you know it’s for real… though this is the first time I’ve posted a recipe). It’s a pretty standard gingerbread recipe, apart from the seasoning. But still, I can feel a certain amount of yayfulness for making it up and it working.

(In the end, I preferred the vanillabread men to the strong gingerbread men, but the family were split on which they preferred, so I take that as success).

Strong Gingerbread Men / Vanillabread Men

Most of the recipe is the same for gingerbread and vanillabread, other than a few exchanges of ingredients. Where the vanillabread differs, the difference is in square brackets, like so – [VM: Only do this for vanillabread!]

Makes about 12-15 biscuits, depending on the size/shape of your cutters. Don’t forget to buy some stuff to decorate them afterwards.

  • 175g (6 oz) black treacle (molasses) [VM: Honey instead of treacle]
  • 115g (4 oz) soft dark brown sugar [VM: White sugar instead of brown]
  • 1 large egg
  • 25g (1 oz) unsalted butter
  • 450g (1 lb) plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 pinch of salt


  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Mix the treacle, sugar, butter and egg together. This is easier if you get the butter out a little bit before, so it has time to warm up and soften. [VM: Also add the vanilla extract here.]

2. Sift the dry ingredients together (flour, bicarb, salt and dry seasoning).

3. Add dry ingredients to the soggy ingredients. Everything should now be in the mixing bowl. If the mix is too dry, add a splash of cold water. The final mix should be firm, smooth and difficult to stir… you don’t want it runny, so only add enough water to mix in the ingredients. (For reference, the strong gingerbread needed half a cup and the vanillabread only needed a splash. This may vary depending on the exact ingredients you’ve used.)

4. Cover and put in the fridge for an hour.

5. Once cool, the dough should be reasonably firm. If not, add a little more flour.

6. Roll out to about half a cm (1/4 inch) thick and cut out shapes. Make sure to dust the surface and the rolling pin with flour, or it’ll stick.

7. Place men on a tray – either lightly greased or covered in non-stick baking paper (I used paper, as one sheet will last for all the batches and it’s easier to remove the cooked biscuits). Cook for 10 minutes in a preheated oven at 180 C / Gas mark 4.

8. Place on a wire tray to cool.

9. Decorate when cool with whatever you want. I used icing, sweets, crystallised ginger and edible silver spray.

Gingerbread and Vanillabread on a wire tray

Strong Gingerbread Biscuits (Left) and Vanillabread Biscuits (Right)

TASTE TIP: Strong gingerbread tastes slightly bitter, and isn’t like the stuff in the shops. It can be a bit surprising if you’re not used to it. If you want a less extreme basic gingerbread, swap the treacle out for some sort of light syrup/honey, and cut down the ground ginger to one teaspoon. You can also swap the dark brown sugar for light brown sugar or white.

ZOMBIE TIP: It comes out of the oven soft, but hardens as it cools. Don’t cook for longer than 10 mins as it’ll cool so hard you can use it as ammunition in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

PHOTO TANGENT: If you see a recipe claiming to include treacle and dark brown sugar, and the gingerbread is light golden brown, it’s a stock photo or they didn’t really use treacle. Treacle gingerbread comes out dark, as pictured here, because treacle is black. Always beware following a recipe no one has actually tried…

Baby Cockroaches (Photos)

This post has sad news and happy news.

As some of you will know from Twitter, Sparkle (my pet cockroach) died recently. At just under four years old, he was an elderly cockroach, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

The result in writing terms is I’ve shelved my NaNo project for now, as writing about pet spiders was a little too close (I have been writing other things, including my main novel and a steampunk short).

I’d initially intended to wait a bit before getting another cockroach, but the weather’s only going to get colder* and the supplier is closing early this year for Christmas. So I’m now the owner of two baby cockroaches. They’re in a temporary tank for now, while I sort out their permanent homes.

And in the spirit of baby animals, baby cockroach pictures…

Gem is the boldest of the two. They went to explore the tank soon after arrival and quickly found the heat pad. Gem jumped the first time I stroked them, but wasn’t bothered the second time. I think they’ll tame pretty quickly.


Ash is rather shy, and didn’t leave the kitchen roll they arrived in for hours (and when they did, panicked and hid as soon as I came in). Ash was very skittish about being handled, but I did manage to get them to come out for long enough for the photo**.


They’re both active and some of the food has gone, so it’s a good start.

* Cockroaches arrive by mail order. Though this might seem a little odd, as you wouldn’t mail a puppy, insects don’t really mind being mailed if they’re packed properly. My experience has been they mind being disturbed on arrival far more.

** You might think the flash would bother them, but I haven’t found that to be the case. Scary monsters that pick them up are far more worrying.