So Very Long 2018

Even by my own miserably poor standards for blog upkeep, 2018 was a miserable performance – one post in the whole year, albeit a brilliant one, is all that separates us from my last retrospective. Because of that, it seems silly to do my usual elliptical recap of the year: it’s been a wild one, but I haven’t been keeping track of it and (I suspect) it’s not one which I’ll remember because of its collection of individual incidents so much as thanks to a few big stand out themes.

Personal stuff and work stuff have interfered with FaceOmeter this year, but things are delayed not dismissed and 2019 is going to be different! With that in mind, please join me in my unusually public commitment to some resolutions: to gig more, work better, relax harder, and check in with you all more often. I hope to write soon about gardens, gigs, and records, but for now – Happy New Year! I’ll try to keep better track of this one.

PS. fuck Brexit

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Shute Barrington

All my fans are always asking me for the recipe for Shute Barrington, despite the fact that I have carefully guarded its secret ever since I invented it around ten minutes ago. Finally I yield, super-fans! Do as you will.

Serves, like, 2?
Preparation time the back quarter of one episode of This American Life

1tbsp groundnut oil
1tbsp sesame oil
A bunch of slightly withered spring onions
A cup or so of basmati
1tsp tomato puree
2tsp honey
Half a stock cube
Soy sauce
A calculating expression

1) Gently blend the oils together in a large pan, get them all hot. Meanwhile, cut all the crispy bits off the withered springs. Chop what’s left into predominately white bits (hereafter called ‘Jeremy Irons’) and predominately green bits (hereafter called ‘Slow Rider’).
2) Fry off the Jeremy Irons in the oil. I’d stick some garlic in too if you have any, but I didn’t have any. When they’re fizzing good, stick the rice in. Fry it for longer than you think you need to, then put in the puree, the honey, the stock cube, and the soy. Add a tiny bit of water to get things loose, continue to stir and fry until you have a paste.
3) Pour boiling water up to twice the depth of the rice. Bubble (but not quite boil) uncovered until the rice is cooked (you may have to add more water).
4) When it’s ready, turn off the heat, put a lid on it, and leave to rest for exactly 7 minutes and 24 seconds.
5) Stir through the Slow Rider and serve immediately.

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So Very Long 2017

Those of you who have been with me a while will know that I like to close each year by documenting some of my experiences in an oblique way that really has meaning only for myself. 2016 was full of badness but it was good to find the shards of light – in 2017, there was still much which was unpleasant but I’ve had some good times too! I’ve rambled past redwoods in the grounds of a Northern castle; held bread in a Victorian museum; watched Voyager over IM; went out for a group meal (Mexican) where the bill splitting actually worked; carried a soaking king-size duvet down a residential midlands street; had a quick Angolan meal before buying horrendous chips from a place called ‘of Denmark’; got offered a complimentary coke by a team of seven nerds; bumped into a friend’s ex at a whittling workshop in Pembrokeshire; watched a spontaneous Bob Marley remix dance in a community centre; dragged everyone to the vegetarian hotdogs; had coffees with old students; identified a Hawthorn by its leaves; soloed Cardigan Castle; splatooned with two dogs; added popping candy to my blue grape juice; took a train through the mountains to the North Pole; threw blocks of wood in a field with old friends; lost my voice in the Dorset fog; mourned Carluccio at Carluccio’s; stood on a daffodil wall in the early morning; went back to the charity shop to pick up that Star Trek retrospective after all; killed traindelay time in a pizza pub; patrolled my neighbourhood in a skeleton costume; rated my piss with a French cokehead; saw my first wild possum; listened to a massive gong in the rain; put up a patrol tent next to a cheese workshop; saw somebody shoot at someone (for real, guys); ate ice cream near a 38ft hay sculpture of Peter Rabbit; unconed a cat to ‘The Final Countdown’; (legimtimately) skipped an enormous museum queue to look at an art display for ten minutes; spent hours on trains and trams to look at a different museum display for twenty minutes; took a spontaneous Ouse Cruise; paid £5 to learn that the Buncombe Turnpike Trio gig was behind me; skipped a stop on the nighttime DLR; attempted to lift the Gloomhaven box; got given a tour around the Triceratops skull; bought a cocktail book at the British Library; sat in sleet in the summer art market; accidentally detoured to a Welsh village in the middle of nowhere; played tag (as the Den); drove to Witney explicitly for granola; did a history documentary walk past two-tone sheep; organised a number of particularly insane taco parties; passed closed dino-golf in Britain’s biggest garden centre; discovered silken windhounds; picnicked with deer; paused by the illuminated flamingoes; parked near a goose to talk about dinosaurs; saw a 200-year-old bat in a vault near Picadilly; cheered for the twice-a-day train; ate plantain in a modified shipping container; engaged in a heated winter ping pong tournament; found the golden egg high up a rock wall; captured an electric sheep and used it to fight other electric sheep; cheered loudly at the recorder recital; drained my car battery in Devon’s least accessible location; pressed on with a Q&A session after an old lady collapsed behind me; failed to find an ammonite; took the deadwood off my raspberry canes over breakfast; had my registration number written down by an angry sexist; bumped into a former grocery cashier whilst drinking Luscombe’s ginger beer in an abandoned print works; dove into the Channel in my pants; ate strawberry soup behind the iron curtain; cycled by canals and rivers to a haribo and spaniel session; tossed logs in a Welsh brazier; watched a fish kissing movie at the $5 matinee; listened to horrific housemate tales over brunch; saw Franklin’s bell; slept in the mezzanine bunkloft of a Georgian townhouse; popped corns to watch Discovery; watched the Perseids with Princess Buttercup; found myself at a Clean Bandit gig; poisoned myself at my own pizza party; fell in love with Strange & Norrell; and profoundly regretted getting on the Waltzer.

I want to be more explicit than I usually am in these posts (and on this blog) in acknowledging the awfulness in the wider world, expressing my gratitude for the prviliege of my own life, and hoping ardently than some of the insanity which has gripped my country in the last few years begins to subside in 2018. I have hopes regarding insanity on a personal level, too, and an exciting new musical collaboration (of which news later) to power FaceOmeter up over the next few months. I hope you’ll be there for some of the ride, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we get up to!

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A New Old Aspect

In a characteristically glacial way, things are looking up here at FaceOmeter towers. There’s a new writing collaboration which I’m quite keen on, I trekked over to West Wales so that I could watch the Dapper Swindler melting a cheese (pictured), and I was given the courage (12:20PM, 20/11/17) to write a simple new tune – back to my roots in some ways, a bold departure in others.

I debuted the tune in a crowded pub in Lichfield where nobody was listening – I like it a lot just at the moment, not least because it feels like the start of something rather than an end in itself.

Episode IV
The Parsley Tapes, Session One

Six little spines turned up inside my coat
 Just when I’d been abandoned by my hopes.
Six little strings of vertebrae,
Six little lines on the old X-ray –
 It’s time.
Six little spines.

Six little spines to start to let me out,
 Ways from inertness, edginess, and doubt.
Six little talks, six little moods,
Novels by the hearth in six red snoods-
 It’s fine.
Six little spines.

Six little spines which might be melodies –
 Might prove myself by writing one of these.
Six little tunes, sick little beats,
Six little ways to defeat
 Those blues with rhymes.
Six little spines.

Six little spines; a bookshelf rearranged.
 Six little signs there’s going to be a change.
Six little places from which to grow,
Tails and noses and bellies and toes
Six little spines.

Six little chances, six shape-shifting flames.
 Things won’t ever be quite the same again.
So set your heart out and tuck your knees
There’s a world about and it starts in here
 With these
Six little lines.

With these six little lines.
With those six little spines.

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Of Owls and Memories

Ten years ago to the day I took the Pilot V7 which is always in my right-hand trouser pocket and I drew an owl on my forearm. I can’t remember where I was, nor who with, but I remember there being no reason for it. I write on my hand inveterately – that’s what the pen’s for – but I almost never go behind the wrist, and the owl was back nearly as far as my elbow. I also can’t draw, even when I try hard – and I wasn’t trying hard. I scribbled ‘fOwl’ next to it because I’d just started working on a series of videos – the FaceOmeter weblog (!) – but I wasn’t consciously trying to come up with a design for anything, even though a version of the owl eventually ended up on the CD art for To Infinitives Split. Likely, what I was really doing was killing time. I was playing a show in Exeter that evening with The Dapper Swindler (my first time back in the town since moving from there to Oxford the previous summer), and there was probably a bit of sitting around. I desperately want to tell you that I had a feeling, some premonition that it was going to be important. It might even be true.

Anyway, it’s a decade later and the owl is still there.

I draw it on most mornings over the faded lines of the previous day’s. Sometimes (especially in winter) he lasts for as long as 72 hours. On other occcasions, I forget about him and go up to a day with bare skin. But he’s always back in the end, staring up with an amicable smugness. Almost without exception, every person who has noticed it has asked why it isn’t a tattoo, and there are two reasons. The first is that I am a massive wuss and extraordinarily afraid of commitment. The second is that I am a massive wuss and extraordinarily afraid of losing stuff.

This picture, which hangs in the National Gallery under the title This is what a Multi Looks Like, was taken on the morning of the 31st of October, 2007. The photographer is the Swindler himself, who has placed his Digital SLR on auto-timer on the roof of the Peug (which is just visible at the bottom of the frame). We’re standing outside the North Bridge Inn, at that time the best pub in the world, where we had played the show the previous night as part of a Princess Bride reunion (the first since the tour ended three months earlier and the last until we met up in East Prawle this year). I won’t bore you with the entire setlist – although I do still have the entire setlist, thanks for asking – but we played most of the PB soundtrack, ‘Song for the Summer’, ‘Cosmic Picaresque’, ‘Mellow Drama’, ‘Stuffed Animals’… all the classics.

The approximately 24 hours between drawing the owl and posing for that photo still rank as one of the best days of my life. I’m not going to tell you exactly what happened. Interestingly for an oversharer like me, I’ve never really talked about it – to the extent that writing this post feels strange, even treacherous. I will tell you, though, that there was a real owl involved – a wild one, a wise one, silent and graceful and skimming low over the water in the night – and, well… Well. If you drew an animal on yourself for no reason and then had a mindblowingly good day in which that same animal featured very prominently and entirely unpredictably, would you be able to wash the drawing off?

What I don’t know, as I smile for the above photo, is that I’m around 8 hours away from being punched quite hard in the stomach outside a pub in Oxford which is now a reasonably pleasant Indian restaurant. It should have occured to me as every atom of wind left my lungs and I creased over onto the picnic table that perhaps the owl was not a universal bringer of good fortune. At that point, though, I hadn’t decided to keep it – it was simply still there, through thick and thin, a memento of inexplicably good times. It’s always been like that: I didn’t ever decide that it was never going away, it just became incrementally clear that this thing was part of my arm now.

You see, there’s a third reason I never got it tattooed: I like drawing it on all the time. I like that I have to take fifteen seconds every couple of days to remember why it’s there, what it means, and why that matters. I like that the size and texture and expression of the owl alter very slightly over the numerous reiterations. I like that it has moods. I like that I can’t take it for granted. An intense overthinker, I like making time for a part of myself which is not really a product of thinking.

At both ends of the scale, 2007 was perhaps the year in which I was most thoroughly… myself. I did the Princess Bride, finished my undergrad, goofed off in Paris with the Swindler, buzzed around in the Peug playing shows and writing songs, made videos, and got into Oxford, but I also had some of my most difficult struggles with mental health, hurt some of the people closest to me in huge and unforgiveable ways, and found my new home desparately and relentlessly difficult for all sorts of reasons. At the end of 2007, and ever since, I’ve chosen to remember that year fondly – not because everything about it was good but because of the intensity of all. I cherish the tone that it set by becoming platonic to me (and of me), the gifts it gave me in terms of friends, memories, and tunes, and the lessons it taught me about what was important and how to be better. I’ve never aspired to get back to 2007 – that’s not the name of the game, time moves forwards – but I keep carrying it on my arm. Sometimes I don’t really think about it, and sometimes it’s useful.

Another song I played at the North Bridge on October 30th, 2007, was a cover of Kimya Dawson’s ‘My Rollercoaster‘. I don’t play covers that often, but this was (and is) one of my favourite songs and the gig was at the point where there were really only people I knew in the room. I decided to quote the best, and last, lines of the song here before I noticed that I already did so in my 2007 end-of-year-post – I suppose I’m just maniacally boring and predictable, although I do also find something reassuring in the fact that Dawson continues to have meaning (and more or less the same meaning) for me a decade later:

Life is a highway, and I’m gonna ride it
Every day’s a winding road, yeah!
My rollercoaster’s got the biggest ups and downs
As long as it keeps going round, it’s unbelievable

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Enter the Jamsman

I’ve been fooling around with preserves lately. Don’t believe me? I have an instagram account solely for jam. It’s that serious.

I moved house last year, and the new place came with a secret fruit garden. That is to say, when spring came round, up popped the blackcurrants. And the raspberries. And the plums. And the rhubarb. This year, I found pears that I hadn’t even noticed before. And some kind of apple? The neighbourhood birds are idiots and leave everything for me to harvest. I’m no gardener, but you don’t just stand idle when something like this happens to you: you grab a maslin pan and start caramelising*.

I’m going to be as honest with you as I possibly can: the results are good. I begin to understand the Dapper Swindler’s oft-repeated claims about the similarities between cooking and music-making – or, rather, to recognise the shared theraputic value. Melting down fruit with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell on my headphones, stirring in the sugar, I feel quite the domestic goddess, and it comes across in the final product (highlight so far: Pear and Lemon).

It’s not my intention to write more than ten or twelve songs about jam making, but I feel decidedly in the zone and presume that there will be knock-on consequences for my writing (namely, that I shall do less of it). Onwards!

*caramelising is actually a completely different process, I take this very seriously
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Homebase tried to give me a parking ticket for parking legally at their shop in order to buy a wood-burning chimenea thing. The fact that they cancelled the charge and acknowledged their mistake says a lot about wood-burning chimeneas.

Woodsmoke has always been one of my favourite smells – it brings in the Vibe like few other things. It was a sweary hour, assembling the chimenea, but pretty much as soon as it got going I wrote a song. More serious than usual, this one – it’s about a friend who died – but I’m really happy with the way it turned out. I debuted it at the Catweazle last week.

Foaming flecks of water
  and a plummet for the edge;
The sparks that crackle upwards
  start a cascade in our heads
And summers aren’t the same,
They aren’t the same without you.

Fish that slipped between us
  were never caught so high;
The years are steeped in circumstance
  but goodness, how they fly!
And summers couldn’t be this way,
They couldn’t be this way without your mind.
Summers couldn’t be without your mind.

Nightly calls of passion
  and a string of trailing lights;
The things we bring to cut them
  and the things you brought to fight
And some are ones we win
And others are the ones we merely might.
  And summers now will always ever be
  (As long as we remember them to be)
Summers are the things that you set right.

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Moving WordPress Around

Oh? You mean you didn’t notice that this was a wordpress site? Yes, I’ve hidden it really well up until now, haven’t I?

Instead of writing songs or playing shows or doing any of that overrated stuff, I decided to move this website over to a different host. The reason is already becoming hazy, but I noticed that I wasn’t using any of the SQL features or the credit card email shopping marketplace commerce tablet interaction cPanel stuff that I was apparently paying like £100pa for with the old guys. You know the adage: if you want to save money, you have to spend several evenings learning that moving a website is really complicated.

Sorry to those (three) of you who tried to access the site during its ‘unscheduled down time’ last week. It’s been an uphill battle: I’ve learnt (and immediately forgotten) an extraordinary amount about cascading style sheets, and some of the battle scars are still visible on this page (hopefully to fade with time, as I tinker). It’s an observation detectable in a few of my songs, but it really is amazing how much work we’re capable of making for ourselves, when we put our minds to it. Anyway – onwards and upwards! Guitars are fun.

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Long-time readers will remember that as well as being the ultimate home for alt-folk/folkantifolk singer-songwriting, this is also a pioneering recipe blog. It’s been a while since I posted any of my gems, but I’ve just had a good 24hrs in the kitchen so strap yourself in:

Incredible 2-step gluten free crumpets

2017-04-29 18.59.27Have you ever heard the wind whilstling past your grandmother’s autumn leaves at 7:31am, dashed with a hint of nutmeg, and thought about kale? When I was a young man, Mrs. Chaffinch from the corner shop would heat up a bovil mug of sriracha for all us young school scallions as we hot-footed it in the direction of class, and it always made me feel that [5,000 words of backstory removed for editorial reasons] which is why it’s important to set goals, stay true to your happiness, and click with a regime that works for you. Anyway, here’s a two-step crumpet recipe:

  1. Go to this website
  2. Make the crumpet recipe on it

Simple and homely! By way of notes, let me add that I don’t have a ‘crumpet ring’ (quite apart from them being hard to find in Asda, they just sound a bit dodgy) but I used one of those fried egg shaping thingies instead, and it was great once I found a lid that fitted over the ornamental egg on top:

a926eee9-2be2-4bd3-b684-01f38bbdde93I strongly recommend having more than one ring, though, because they take at least three minutes each side to cook so if you make 13 (which is the number of crumps I got out of that recipe) you will be at that cooker for a REALLY long time. But on the other hand, that just gives you time to do more cooking yay recipes give me more

Gluten Free Breakfast Strata Explosion

2017-04-30 09.22.50I need you to know at this point that I actually have coeliac disease, so I’m medically required to eat gluten free and if I weren’t I would currently be ears-deep in this naan. Since instead I have to live a life of pretend bread, expensive soy sauce, and disintegrating pasta, I see no reason not to violate my body with as much fat and carbs as I can possibly cram in by way of recompense.

The main problem of gluten free life is breakfast – there are only 4 options which don’t require you to spend £4 on 100g of granola and, though they’re good, one eventually tires of it all. HENCE THE CRUMPS. Hence, too, my variation on this recipe (HT to friend VB for the introduction) which seeks to replace the stale baguette with Burgen Free From Soya and Linseed Bread. Excuse their misleading title: this bread is not free from Soya or Linseed, in fact I suspect there’s actually more Soya and Linseed in it than there is in normal gluten free bread. Anyway, does it work?

2017-04-30 09.24.20My answer is a qualified yes. It can’t go stale like regular French bread, but gluten free bread is kind of always-already stale and I think the Soya and Linseed really add something to the overall vibes. That said, my token 6-year-old test audience rejected this out of hand, despite being somebody who liked all the ingredients separately. The verdict? Use a smaller, taller cake tin than I did if you can, don’t use gluten free bread unless your doctor tells you there’s literally no choice, but if there’s no choice and you are over 7 years of age this is super tasty!

Okay, it’s time for the triumph of my recent months (and an actual genuine recipe I actually invented, although I’m sure someone else must already have thought of this):

Keema Tacos

I’ve been working on fusing Mexican and Indian cuisine for longer than I can remember. Actually, it’s been about four days: there was this post online about a restaurant which was all like “omg we’re fusing Mexican and Indian cuisine” but I looked at the menu and it was pathetic, no creativity at all, no daring, no verve. So. Phase one. The Indian taco party.

2017-04-29 19.25.38Ingredients:

  • One onion, peeled and chopped into quarters
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • Thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped; another 1 tomato, also chopped, but kept separate
  • 2tsp chilli powder (I used mild because my household contains Americans, upgrade to hot if poss)
  • ½tsp turmeric
  • 2tsp ground cumin
  • 1tsp garam masala
  • 2 hearty squeezes of tomato puree
  • 500g lamb or beef mince (untested, but I would posit that a similar weight of thinly-sliced bell peppers will make a good veggie version!)
  • 1 large-ish potato, peeled and chopped quite small
  • 1 avocado
  • An infinite quantity of cheddar
  • Sour cream
  • Yoghurt
  • A box of crispy taco shells (I used the Asda own brand because I am loyal to Asda despite everything)

The keema part of this recipe is heavily based on Faatima’s brilliant one here, but I altered it to reflect my far greater laziness and my suspicions about what would perform well in a taco environment. I also cut a few corners because I was making 13 crumpets at the same time, see above. Anyway, here’s what went down:

  1. Onions, garlic, and ginger go into your Magimix Le Mini Plus for a ten-second whizz. I guess you could just chop them by hand, but that would remove all of the French elements from this Mexican-Indian fiesta and therefore prevent it from being truly fusion.
  2. Sizzle the mix gently in the bottom of a large pot. After a four-ish minutes, add the 3 chopped tomatoes, then, after a minute more, pour in about 100ml of water and all the spices. Wait roughly long enough to finish making one crumpet, then add the tomato puree and the meat/peppers. Turn up the heat slightly and stir until it’s all “got to know itself” as my Dad would say.
  3. Add a little more water, get it simmering, lob in the potato, the cover it and let it do its thing for about fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, get the stone out of the avocado and chop it into little bits. Put the bits in a cereal bowl. In a second cereal bowl, put the remaining chopped tomato. Grate cheese into a third cereal bowl. Put the cereal bowls on the table along with the sour cream and yoghurt and a lot of spoons.
  4. Warm the taco shells as per packet instructions (probably they need about 3 minutes in a preheated oven). When you put them in, take the lid off the keema mix and turn the heat up under it so that it reduces considerably (you want it less runny than keema normally is).
  5. Put the saucepan on the table with the other nonsense, then assemble your tacos! My preferred order is meat first, then cheese, then everything else. The jury is out on whether the sour cream or the yoghurt is the better choice – I guess if you want to tilt your fusion East you’re going for the yog, but take the sour cream if you think it’s not Mexican enough.

So there you have it! It’s probably wildly culturally insensitive, but I dare you to make it and not find it utterly delicious! And I dare you, too, to resist the urge to sit at your screen pressing ‘Refresh’ way into the night in hopes that I will post yet more recipes! HOW WILL YOU LIVE WITHOUT MY GURU TIPS

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Writers Retreat

Carefully removing the wedding ribbon from the car, The Dapper Swindler and I leapt out of London for an entirely platonic Valentine’s Day Long Weekend in an isolated cabin on the Jurassic Coast. The day was gray, and the first service station we stopped in had no fuel or food of any kind. “Hmm”, I said. “Well”, said the Swindler.

The next service station had five separate Starbucks. This blog is occasionally prone to exaggeration, so I feel I must stress that there really were five of them. “Nnaha”, said the Swindler. “Ahh”, I said. Over the long cold bridge, a Waitrose outlet had run out of everything except Extra Virgin Olive Oil Hummus. “I forgot my skillet”, said the Swindler, settling back into the sheepskin he’d placed in the driving seat for added comfort.

(The Swindler drives now. And if you add all the previous adventures to the accumulated bus fare he owes me from school – plus interest – he owes me quite a few miles of quiet panic from the left hand side).



Service stations having failed us, we stopped at a surprise Minster in the middle of nowhere for a brief cultural experience. The Minster was closed. We made tea in the car park. “Raw milk?”, said the Swindler. “Delicious”, I replied.

Our romantic serious writing cabin was in a little wood down the end of a grey country road which resembled a large-scale concrete ryvita. It would be inaccurate to call it “pot-holed”: rather, occasional bits of road stuck out of a long, thin hole. The Audi (yup) fought its way through the gloaming. “Here we are”, said the Swindler, brightly. It was four hours since we left London. The rain picked up a little bit.

2017-02-14 21.18.08Inside the cabin, the situation dramatically improved. Friend Naomi had laid in plentiful supplies and the Swindler unloaded a collection of artisanal meats and cheeses into the fridge. The woodburner was going. The Mario Kart was chronic. The guitars were in tune. In the morning, business took us over the nearby cliff on an unsuccessful fossil hunt – atop the precipice, a lone tree stood bravely against the elements. “Let’s write a song about it”, said the Swindler.

2017-02-14 12.37.24Almost immediately I lost my voice, then the Swindler got a temperature. We over-ate to compensate, the Swindler stood by a massive picture of a sandwich, the artisanal Steak went off before we could cook it, I tried to write some lyrics which were physically impossible to fit into the demanding  rhymescheme and gave myself a migrane, and the Swindler wrote a guitar part which wore out his fingertips so thoroughly that we had no choice but to play Mario Kart over and over again whilst the fog thickened outside and the tea brewed gently in the Yugoslavian kettle I’d saved from the Peug. In short, you already know what I’m going to say: it was an ideal trip, and I will rush towards the next one. 13/10

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