a word about

Music has been hit by 2020's strangeness just as every avenue of waking life has. And while there's definitely been some sparsity in releases this year, we've also seen some unexpected drops from artists now unable to tour, and find themselves back in the studio. You can feel the rifts, rifts that I'm sure will echo throughout the coming years.

I figured now that we're half way through 2020 I'd just discuss a few releases that I think are worth hearing.

Ka – Descendents of Cain

Ka is not only proving himself to be a staple of the genre, but is managing to elevate hip hop to levels of contemplation and endless beard-stroking that hasn't quite been tapped before. Ka's delivery is smooth, teetering on spoken word, and his lyricism is pure poetry – his album this year is a step up in every regard. Having previously drawn up the ancient aesthetics of imperial Japan and Greek mythology on previous projects, his new record is soaking in references to the old testament (as the title suggests).

There's hardly a drum track in sight during the full 32 minutes, the instrumentation unfolding mostly as unsettling folksy samples of jangly acoustic guitars and eery woodwinds, filled with samples harking to Golden Age hollywood. It's this weird nostalgic fever dream that doesn't really have a home, but comes together perfectly.

But the true star here is the poetry from Ka, which is nigh-impossible to review in words alone. Ka is a true wordsmith, and the passion from his craft bleeds through.

'Descendents of Cain' has fast secured itself as my favourite release of the year, and is slowly but surely becoming one of my all-times.

Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

Bridger's has been the 'indie artist to watch' for some time now, and she's mostly proven herself on 'Punisher'. Her debut 'Stranger In The Alps' is deceptively simple, featuring mostly ballads sang alongside an acoustic guitar. If Punisher does anything, it greatly improves on Bridger's instrumentation, all of the songs featuring layers of shimmery, muffled piano and electric guitar.

Both albums teeter on being morose, and while never quite fall head-first into hopelessless, her latest can quite quickly become a dirge of samey sounding sad songs if you're not listening closer than can be reasonably expected. But, if you're in that mood, it scratches the itch and doesn't out-stay its welcome.

'Garden Song' is almost worth the album alone, and I'm a sucker for 'Graceland Too', which, despite the phoned-in fiddle, features the full boygenius crew, and they've never sounded better.

Quelle Chris & Chris Keys – Innocent Country 2

I feel pretty confident in saying Quelle Chris has become my favourite artist of recent years, but considering he's released four album since 2017, and I've adored all of them, there's hardly any match.

Innocent Country 2 is probably his most consistent effort yet, while suffering from being a little bit too long, and never quite breaking away from its comfort zone. But what you do have is more than an hours worth of smooth, bluesy jazz rap that has no peers.

The genius of Quelle's work is his sense of humour, which he brings with him to everything he does, but somehow never crosses the line into parody. No matter how quirky his lines or delivery, there's always a message bigger than him that he brings along with him – as a true artist should.

Chris Key's production here isn't a world away from what Quelle would usually be rapping over, but it's still a fresh landscape regardless. It's not the Quelle album I would rave about, but it's the one I would put on without a second thought.

Mark Kozelek With Ben Boye and Jim White 2

Every year it seems like Kozelek releases something new and we're a step closer to finding out what he likes to eat on toast in the morning, and I love it.

True to form, each song here is a long ramble about the quirks of every day life for Kozelek, ranging from his hilarious thoughts about how chard enchiladas have a lot in common with bassoons, to his fondness of hearing his brother's laugh on 'My Brother Loves Seagulls'.

Regardless, the real star of the show here is the instrumentation, thanks to the collaboration with friends Boye and White. Each track is a sweeping, gentle jazz-folk track, that never quite goes where you expect it to.

It's a very long, lethargic listen, but if you're willing to surrender yourself to its big yawn, then it'll carry you the whole distance. I always miss it when it's over.

Serengeti – Ajai

I've been a fan of Serengeti ever since his collab with Sufjan Stevens on the strange but brilliant 'Sisyphus' – a bizarre synthpop album that combined Steven's soft folk singing with Serengti's husky and characterful rap style.

Ajai is a collaboration with Kenny Segal, who seems to make gold anything he touches. The beats are jazzy, colourful, and totally eccentric – a perfect match for Serengeti himself.

But what I love about this album is the subject matter – it's a concept album about a guy who loves shoes. In a world where it feels like every album wants to tackle the big questions of the human experience, this album is about fashion-heads. Serengeti is here playing different comedic characters, at first Ajai himself, but then when one of his shoes gets sent to the wrong address, it's played out from an entirely new perspective from a man (even more comically performed) who literally puts on Ajai's shoes and walks a mile in them.

It would be straight up something out of Flight of the Conchords if it didn't, at times, profoundly touch on environmentalism, materialism and narcissism from angles that you wouldn't be able to capture without rooting yourself in comedy.

Lines like 'Dumb ass turtle eating plastic in the ocean' are hilarious, before they make you really, actually, quite devastated.

I wish more artists took themselves less seriously like this.

Irreversible Entanglements – Who Sent You?

A defining jazz record of the year, 'Who Sent You?' is sparse, strange and keeps the blood pumping throughout its run-time.

It does what all good jazz should do, make you feel like you're walking the streets of the city it was recorded it. And as Chicago is becoming ever-more torn, you can feel the confusion, anger and excitement through every moment of this one.

Not always for the feint of heart, if you're willing to dip a toe into some chaos, you'll get bundles in return.

Erik Hall – Music For 18 Musicians

Don't worry, I'm not going to say any more about Steve Reich's piece 'Music For 18 Musicians' that hasn't already been said.

Essentially, this chap recreated the whole thing by himself in his home studio. It certainly doesn't capture the magic of the classic recordings, but it's a totally new way of hearing the composition. It's got a much cozier, lo-fi sense to it. It's warmer and quirkier.

I wish the production was a little less muddy, and at times it can feel a little bit too rigid, but it's a faithful recreation from someone who clearly has a love for the piece, as we all should.

Blu & Exile – Miles

Blu & Exile are the legendary underground hip hop duo that are almost soley responsible for breeding my love for the genre. 'Below The Heavens' is their 2007 cult classic, with its larger than life, soulful production and Blu's bright and energetic flow, his verses exploring adolescence, life and love. They're not the young men they used to be, and while there's nothing as catchy or as fun as 'Blu Colla Workers' or 'First Things First', both Blu and Exile have refined their craft to produce their most sophisticated efforts to date.

Its been eight long years since their last LP, but 'Miles' has been entirely worth the wait. It's a remarkably mature and confident record, with 20 songs running for 90 minutes, and there isn't a single miss. It's a huge accomplishment, and I get excited every time I play it from the start. It's become my go-to, you can just play any track and know you're in for something smooth, something smart, something insightful.

Its still a great mystery to Blu & Exile fans, that despite their unfaltering discography and rave critical reviews, and seemingly universal appeal, they remain largely unknown.

I have a feeling this new one will age like wine.

Nadia Reid – Out of My Province

Not much to say about this one, except its a pretty perfect 40 minutes. Ten tracks, all as good as the last. It's nothing ground breaking or unique, but Nadia has a timeless voice, and a knack for story-telling.

'All of My Love' has become one of my most played song of the year, for perfectly capturing a calm, reflective tone, in both her words and the music. But it's not all one-tone, as Reid moves the formula into more upbeat songs, more soulful songs, even heavier sounds at times. But all in all, a pretty album that's just about the easiest listen you could accomplish.

Reid was one of my new discoveries of the year, and I'll be excited to see what she has to offer in the coming years.

Charli XCX – How I'm Feeling Now

Charli's release last year was a pop monolith – 50 minutes of the biggest, loudest pop tracks with the sharpest production in the business. 'How I'm Feeling Now', in that case, is the perfect follow up. It's short, it's rough, it's totally from left field, and it's the better album as a result.

The production is more crunchy, glitchy and unusual, and Charli even uses this lack-of-polish to provide more honest and personal moments throughout. It's far from perfect, and not all of it's experiments pay off, but it's a fun, tight listen all the same.

I suspect if any album was to become the soundtrack to 2020, it would be this. When meeting up with friends digitally from the lockdown, we'd put the full thing on in the background more times than I can count.

It somehow perfectly captures the cabin-fever, the uncertainty, but also, at times, the sentimentality.

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It's always fascinating when a decision that you've made, totally independently, turns out to be part of a wider trend. It's a sobering reminder that we're ultimately all part of a predictable demographic, fitting into our own little niches.

A few months ago I took the leap of using Bandcamp as my primary source of music, and I thought I'd sing it's praises and talk about my concerns. Because I'm now far from being the only one – Bandcamp has only recently transformed itself from the quirky DIY music platform for your crazy aunt's mixtapes, to being entrusted by thousands as an oasis of support for artists and the grassroots of the industry.

Bandcamp has successfully seized this year's political headlines, from wavering their 10% cut on certain Fridays to help ease finances of artists unable to perform in lockdown, to donating their profits to the Black Lives Matter movement. The platform has now attracted giants — Bjork just recently uploaded her entire discography, donating all proceeds to BLM, and even the late hip hop monolith 2Pac has landed on the platform.

Whether it's a shift in the way our culture has started thinking, or all to the credit of Bandcamp marketting themselves, suddenly the warm fuzzy feeling of dropping $10 on an album that you know $9 of which will go to the artist (or, if their often-independent label) is looking rather appealing. I've seen mentioned more than once, 'if it's not on Bandcamp, it doesn't exist'.

But why now? Didn't we already try this with the online music stores of the 2000s? Wasn't the consensus that subscription streaming services like Spotify the solution to the the industry's anxiety about piracy, and the consumer's anxiety about digital right's management? (ie. Bruce Willis's iTunes collection will tragically die with him).

There's a report that often gets posted around comparing how much artists get payed per stream on each of the streaming services. It's always a clumsy calculation that concludes that they're all pretty terrible, not one pays more than a 100th of a penny to the artist per stream, often a lot lower. My records suggested I listen to, on average, about 60 songs a day. For a bit of rudimentary maths that would come to a 6th of a penny being paid to artists of the roughly 25p I was paying a day for the service, and that's if I'm assuming the best case scenario.

So, what exactly am I paying for with that 24.4p? You can probably put it down to three things – access, convenience, recommendations.

Perhaps one of the biggest selling points for these services is their ability to create automatic playlists, and suggest new music for you to hear based on highly competitive algorithms that analyse your listening history. I've heard many people say it's almost spooky how Spotify 'just gets them', and that's great. And there's a good number of songs that I wouldn't have heard without these algorithms, but across all the services I tried, none were able to compete with actively seeking out new music – reading articles, reviews, interviews, engaging with forums and communities. More often than not, these algorithms suggest similar music to what you've already heard, but more often than not I want to hear something new and exciting – the algorithms never provided that.

Convenience is a little hard to argue against. With these services, almost everything is all in one place. If a new album drops, you've got instance access to it. But just how much more convenient is it? I remember when I started using streaming how great it felt that everything I would want to hear was a few clicks away, but the reality is it was only ever a few extra clicks on top of that.

Access is the final biggy – would I still be able to hear all the music I enjoy, and – perhaps more importantly – a large body of new music that I may or may not enjoy – without a subscription. And that's perhaps the biggest lesson I've learnt from ditching my subscription – I wasn't paying for access. At least, not most of the time.

It stunned me, going through my favourite albums, how many of them were actually available on Bandcamp completely free of charge – under a 'Name your price' option. If not that, then almost all had their entire album to listen on their Bandcamp page for free, without advertisements. If it wasn't on Bandcamp, as a lot of hip hop artists aren't, almost every major recent Hip Hop album is on SoundCloud, completely free to the listener. Failing that, thanks to YouTube music, millions of album are available as playlists from just a quick search.

Access is no biggy – if we're judging by our previous numbers, it's no wonder artists and labels aren't fussed about restricting access when they're earning less than a penny for an entire album streamed. The short of it: the industry is different now, streaming services have effected how all music is consumed, I was just too busy inside that cave to have noticed.

And sure, streaming on Bandcamp isn't the most glamorous experience – there's no volume control, you can't create playlists, and the free streams are only 128kbps, but it's all about 'try before you buy'. You have to give a little to get a little. If I was spending £10 a month for streaming, then I can certainly afford to pick up an album each month and support the artists that I love. The return is invaluable – a complete DRM free album download at CD quality, should you want it. And it's yours – it won't disappear should you stop rustling up a subscription fee.

Or so that's the theory – which brings me to my concerns. It's easy to forget in this digital landscape that buying something digitally means you're only purchasing the rights. Just as Microsoft shut it's online bookstore down and took everyone's books with it, so too might Bandcamp vanish into thin-air – stranger things have happened.

But, with it's all its recent success, it's hard not to be sceptical about what kind of game they're playing. It's almost all-too-common these days – operate at a loss, be the 'coolest' company on the block, obtain a chunk of the market share, and then sell yourself to the highest bidder. Their better interests for independent musicians could all be a longer term strategy, soon to get bought with the promise of the parent company: 'We're only providing stability and funding to keep a great thing going', and in the coming years — one too fingers in the pie.

But what's better right now than Bandcamp? Buying CDs from Amazon? Even if my music collection vanishes, I'll still have the files, I can feel safe in knowing my money had the best chance of finding its way back to the musician. Because that's how media works now – 'ownership' hardly exists, and even if it did it wouldn't be worth any more than your own definition of what 'to own' something means.

Bandcamp's model, possibly alongside streaming possibly not, might just be the future of how money circulates through the creative industries. Itch.io, the video game platform that operates almost identically to bandcamp, is making similar quakes through the community as eyes cast over them for their charity BLM bundle, raising over $5 million. It's allowing more people to see that the game's industry needn't be gated, and that some of the best games out there can be self developed and self published.

I've never been happier with how I consume my music, even if it is just a flash-in-the-pan. I've stumbled into the world of pay-to-support, and I don't see myself going back anytime soon.

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Lockdown has had ups and downs, the ups catching most of us by surprise. It's only really going outdoors am I reminded of the BBQs or talks over a summer pint that this year has been missing.

But being indoors in mostly the same, and if anything has given me and my friend's more opportunities to socialise in more inventive ways. Since nobody can go anywhere, nobody has any excuses – all aside from the elusive 'I have a quiz night with work friends'.

Every couple of weeks we've taken turns to organise something that we haven't done before, all with varying success. I mentioned in my last blog a group workout session, which kicked the whole thing off.

This was shortly followed by a group concert watching. We all voted from a selection of recorded to concerts to watch collectively by hitting the play button on YouTube at the same time. We used a preferential voting system (because why wouldn't you?) and the winning concert would be Beyonce's (now iconic) performance at Glastonbury in 2011. One particular friend is a particular fan of Beyonce, but I don't think anyone was disappointed, especially given the wide musical taste differences between us.

And it worked pretty well. Sometimes you just need an excuse to bring everyone together, and this worked perfectly. It wasn't a crime to be distracted from it, or have the conversation go elsewhere, but the concert worked as something to anchor everything back to.

It's funny, you would never get everyone around your house to watch a 90 minute concert from nearly a decade ago. It's a quirky yearning to emulate something we wouldn't be able to experience otherwise – going to a concert. Of course, the experience couldn't be more different, but it's one that probably never would have happened if that itch didn't need scratching.

It was far more successful than the wrestling match we had to endure some weeks before. The same friend who stans Beyonce also loves wrestling, and was keen we all gathered to watch a match. The whole thing reeked of deep-irony, like when you deliberately watch a terrible movie for the spectacle.

It was a match that, because of the lock down, was recorded on a set. Wrestling is, of course, all staged. There's nothing wrong with that, but the complete lack of any audience blew away any thin veil of believability that might have been there otherwise. Impressive choreography to create the illusion of the attacks was instead replaced by jump cuts everytime contact was made.

So much of wresting is the personalities and rivalries that are established over a long time. It wasn't easy to get excited when so much of it went right over everyone's heads – we didn't know who we were meant to boo, nor cheer for.

A movie night is also possible, again thanks to the magic of pressing the play button all at the same time. ''Toy Story 3' was chosen, as well as 'Red Line', an anime from the mid 00s, a slightly more obscure choice.

Movies as a social experience is a funny one. You all sit in the dark for two hours and discuss the movie after. This is why, for the online experience, it's often best to choose a movie where talking over the top won't cause you to miss any important plot, or any artsy tonal choices by the director.

I think we've all learnt in this time that Zoom calls aren't kind to awkward moments of silence – when all conversations are scheduled and on a timer it feels wrong when something deliberate isn't being talked about. Movies, as it turns out, take a little getting used to. During those moments where everyone is just being quiet, watching the movie, it's hard not to focus on everyone elses shuffling and breathing, and how strange it feels that we can hear each other existing, without being in the same space.

Given that I was the only one who had seen Toy Story 3, there were plenty of moments of necessary silence, which never seemed to get more comfortable. Certainly not something you can't overcome, but an odd reminder of how far apart you really are.

None of us had seen 'Red Line', and we'll likely not see it again. It's probably in the ranks of the worst movies I've seen. I wouldn't call myself a fan of anime, and Red Line confirmed most of my reservations – flat characters, phoned in backstories, grotesque sexism, and a conclusion that was reached by our protagonist going 'HNGGG' harder than his opponent.

Of the three, I'd say go with the music concert.

An MS Paint Bob Ross evening is a spin on the 'hit play at the same time' genre, and one that's more involving. Everyone watches an hour-special of Bob Ross's iconic paint-along programme, and paints-along in MS Paint. This one has the added bonus of seeing everyone's paintings at the end and guessing who's is who's. The beauty of this one is that I think most of us walked away feeling better about our painting skills than anticipated, and we all learnt a little something along the way. It's a novelty I wouldn't do twice (like 'Red Line', heh), but something everyone needs to experience at least once (unlike 'Red Line').

And finally, last week we spent an evening doing a digital escape room, one that's been doing the rounds on the internet and is impressively created in Google Forms some how. I think Puzzles are always best when they're contextual, rather than abstract. I've done a couple escape rooms, and they fall apart when you're suddenly doing the equivalent of a sudoku puzzle in an underground nuclear bunker to figure out the launch code.

This digital escape room was almost nothing but abstract puzzles, all eventually resulting in a four digit code to open a lock. Maybe unsurprisingly everyone except the two with masters degrees in mathematics completely disengaged with it very quickly, making is a slog to get through. It's a shame too, because I think there was an excitement at the start to collectively work together to escape, but the puzzles were far too 'puzzly' to keep up with.

It makes me wonder if collectively playing Monkey Island or Grim Fandango would work better – since those kind of games are almost all contextual.

It's going to be bittersweet when the lock-down is lifted, as the turbulence of normalcy makes getting 8 friends together online at the same time on a whim just a pipe dream. While not every night has always lived up to expectations, we wouldn't keep trying something new if we weren't eager.

I love the creativity that goes into these lockdown ideas that are sweeping homes across the globe. All in the name of giving us a taste of the things we might have been enjoying with the freedoms we've dutifully put aside.

When they write the history books, I only hope they include the millions of Zoom quiz nights as standard.

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Flour. There isn't any flour.

Well, alright, I'll concede that this isn't strictly true. There was one time I was able to pick up a few of the small bags from the supermarket (which, of course are the same price as the big bags which were absent). Our local greengrocers and bakery sell flour, but at £1.50 a kilo it's not the kind of stuff you want to be dredging onto your work-surface.

I froze my sourdough starter yesterday. There was a brief moment where I could be smug while dried yeast was out of stock everywhere – I had my own yeast growing in the fridge. But now I'm flourless and yeastless — I haven't seen the specific flour my start feeds on in shelves for over a month.

It was remarkable just how quickly the nation recovered from its loo roll shortage. Seems like loo roll is one of the few things reliably stocked during my weekly trips. Eggs, rice and pasta are hit and miss. But flour – there's never any flour.

We were able to make a few bagels with the starter before putting it into hibernation. They were a big success, despite the holes disappearing from the bake, making them more bun than bagel. I hope the starter survives the freeze, it's been my best yet – bubbly and active and thriving whenever I check in on it.

I recall, perhaps as the news of people panic buying began to trickle in, thinking 'while everyone else grabs for pasta and bread, I'll be one step ahead making my own'. At least I've been humbly reminded I'm not as sharp as I like to think, and everyone else had the same idea.

My very legitimate research of Googling 'la farina' into Italian Google News lead me to one article about the doubling of flour production in Italy. But comparing that to an entire page of news articles from the English equivalent, either suggests this is a bigger problem here, or we like to make more of a bigger deal about it. It's probably a combination of the two.

I like to imagine that in times of peril the British instinctively reach out for flour to bake cake. And it doesn't seem entirely baseless, almost everyone in my circles seems to be baking something. That's no bad thing.

Tomato seeds weren't easy to get a hold of either – yet another humbling hurdle. I'd been excited to begin growing tomatoes ever since we moved into our new place with a garden. Delivery took a couple weeks, which isn't so speedy for something that probably weighs less than a post card.

Fortunately we'd bought a big sack of soil before the outbreak, so it was just a case of cutting open some holes, and watering the seeds in. I'm hoping its not too late. There's been no sign of life just yet, but I'll be watching anxiously.

What has yielded some success is my kombucha. Having started with just some shop-bought booch in a jar, I've upgraded to a new five litre vessel and starting to see some real action. The Scoby itself seems to be happily bubbling away, and now that we've got a jar with a dispensing tap, he shouldn't be getting too jostled by any siphoning shenanigans.

We've successfully done two brew cycles so far. The first we tried grapefruit and rosemary, and the second was apple and ginger. While they both tasted on-point, we've hardly had any carbonation so far, which is a shame because some bubbles would definitely take it to the next level. It's either because our Scoby is still young, or our the bottle we've been using isn't quite air-tight. We'll try a swing top jar next time.

The warmer weather has been welcome, it makes being cooped up much nicer when you can have the windows open and feel the sun coming in. Jogs and shops have been good for fresh air.

Today we did a workout organized by a friend of mine. It was deliberately brutal – twelve thirty second exercises without pause, done three times. There were an unreasonable amount of different types of push ups in those twelve exercises. I don't think any of us could feel our legs by the end of it. I reckon I'll opt for something more frequent and more easy-going to keep active.

I dread to think how my appendages are going to feel tomorrow.

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I had my first encounter with the real world effects of the corona-virus yesterday, having got up early to do my shop, joking with Rachel that I'd better be quick if I was to get any toilet paper. The joke was on me, as it turns out, as the entire shop was stripped of the goods currently making headline horror stories.

It resonated with me a little more than I thought it would. In a way, it could well be strangest thing I'd ever seen, perhaps never before witnessing something so contrary to the norms of day-to-day life of a millennial living in 21st century England. What a privilege that is – that the biggest shake up in my life is the lack of loo roll and dried pasta.

The item that surprised me most was flour. I figured, in my head, the majority of people wouldn't resort to baking their own bread in their time of panic. I suppose I was wrong. Although, it is pure heuristics – it likely only takes a very small percent to purchase long lasting ambient items that aren't frequently put out, to make it feel as though the nation is surviving on fresh home baked bloomers.

'You're alright Louis, you already self isolate!' I've heard more than once, and adopted as my own self deprecation lately. It's true, I'm lucky that life for me is mostly unchanged.

A week ago we joined friends at Bristol's 'Chance & Counters', a board-game cafe nestled in the Christmas Steps. While I had poked my head in from time to time in the past, this was the first time I had ever sat down and played. It was a great time – a huge collection of games to peruse, all lovingly dog-eared and wiffled by the many games each box had endured.

And that 'much-used' quality might have all been in the back of our minds – just how good an idea is a board game cafe during a pandemic? Pieces, understandably, aren't spritzed down with some kind of disinfectant between games, and the majority of patrons there were enjoying a hearty menu of all finger-food dishes. It must be a microbe's dream, especially on a busy Sunday.

Something to humour, maybe, for now. It'd be a shame if or when the circumstances get worse, a place like 'Chance & Counters' isn't able to sustain itself.

Maybe coincidentally or maybe out of a morbid fascination we played the game 'Pandemic' while we were there. Whether a game like that sees more or less plays during an actual pandemic, who knows – I'd think more, but the cafe's edition was unclaimed at the time. It's a fun game, although I've always preferred player-versus-player formats over co-operative ones. I tend to slowly zone out as the players around the table discuss everyone's move very far in advance. When it comes to my turn, I then submit to doing that thing.

Studio Ghibli's inclusion to Netflix has been another highlight. I watched 'Only Yesterday' last week, and 'Nausicaä' yesterday, both movies I likely haven't watched in over a decade. Both are shy from perfect, although rewatching 'Only Yesterday' cemented itself in my top three of Ghibli's releases. I was surprised to see it often ranks quite low in lists online. I particularly loved how well-realized the car journeys were – the lively small talk, and the way the world was animated to move around the car, or how droplots of water on the foliage in the country-side shimmered while reflecting the car's beams. Whoever had creative control had a love for watching the world go by.

'Nausicaä' was a good watch too, and it has aged far better than I had expected. Me and my brother both commented on how it's very much the sister movie of Mononoke, almost following one another beat for beat, only in a different setting. I'm sure I'm not being too contrarian in saying Monokoke is the better movie, and it's interesting how a few subtle changes elevate it a world above Nausicaä in my eyes.

Rachel preferred Nausicaä, and I understood why. Mononoke is a much more pessimistic movie, nature is a force that's far more unforgiving, and the characters get punished when they try and control it, regardless of their intentions. In Nausicaä, the focus is far more in the characters and the politics, and nature is something that's guided by humans, despite being more powerful, and lived alongside in harmony.

They needed to make one to make the other.

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Today the sun had some real warmth to it. Of course, once it ducked behind the clouds it was back to breezy February, but it felt good to open some doors and windows today, after weeks of trudging back from the shops in the rain.

And the wet weather continues, and is due to continue for at least another fortnight. The wind is so loud that the roaring can wake you up at night.

But today was good, and brought with it a real sense of calm between the storms and the housework. Less housework this weekend, fortunately, giving me an opportunity to get stuck into other projects.

I slowly trying to figure out a cost effective and time effective solution to lunches and meals when it's just me in the house by myself. Today, I cooked up a batch of flat breads that I'll use as a kind of soft tacos for some beans and rice filling, or some raw salsa. I'm also hoping to make some humus, which (given the right preparation) takes no time at all. Should be a step up from eating tuna-mayo every day.

I've been looking forward to brewing up some kombucha for some time, and this weekend was finally a good point to start. Unfortunately, unlike sourdough, you can't summon the right yeasts and bacteria from the ether. Kombucha requires what's called a SCOBY, a sort of primordial soup with a fleshy disk that sits on top keeping it all in.

Who knows where the first SCOBY came from, but mine is currently stewing. We have a trendy health food shop about a 15 minute walk away, which I hedged my bets as stocking some kombucha. It did, although it cost me the better part of a tenner. Worth it, in theory, if all goes to plan in the long run.

All kombucha contains traces of the SCOBY it was spawned from, so, much like sourdough, it was just a case of pouring some into a glass jar, along with it's feed to keep it going. SCOBY feeds on sweetened black tea.

The only potential caveat was that I had never tasted kombucha before, so I was eager to try it so I knew what I was getting into. It was good news – I enjoyed it a lot! The stuff I bought was unflavoured and unprocessed, and I could tell it's something you ideally want to use as a base for louder flavours. By itself the most obvious flavour is vinegar, but it's not unpleasant by any means. It's a kind of refreshing tangy taste. I supposed closest to a kind of dry cider.

And, if all goes to plan, I should have a potent enough SCOBY within the next 2-4 weeks. Apparently all I do is let it sit out, and it does its thing. Also, apparently, it's very hard to get wrong, which fills me with some confidence. I should start seeing some action in the next few days.

Speaking of action, my sourdough starter lept into life last week, seemingly out of nowhere. One night it was looking like yet another blob of watery flour, and the next night it was blooming and bubbly and active. Amazing what you can get from just a little bit of time.

One of the appeals of starting sourdough yourself is that it will develop it's own unique flavour according to all the variables in your environment. In my last flat, my starter was very mellow and had a kind of spicy, malty aroma. This starter is a world away, smelling much richer, almost like slightly over-ripened banana (which, I checked, isn't uncommon).

Alas, our oven is still out of action. Our repair guy had never seen the configuration on our particular oven before, and wasn't able to get the part from any of his suppliers – he called back sounding entirely stumped. Since then, the oven has been acting up even more unpredictably, and it's looking like we're going to have to bite the bullet and install a new one.

Seems the dud oven is just about one of the cheapest you can get on the market – so I suppose the last owners didn't have it as a priority. Seeing as we use our oven just shy of daily, it only makes sense to get something solid and worthwhile. That's something to look forward to at least.

The office floor is finally finished, and looking sharp. Last weekend we moved the desk back in and returned to our usual set up. It's been a joy to finally be working in a proper space again, and I'm beginning to feel the benefits of having a room dedicated to work. While in our old flat we had one shared room for the kitchen, living room and office, it's great to be able to put everything away for the evening or the weekend, and forget about it. I can be in the living room or kitchen and clear my head.

It's good to come back to work feeling fresh and prepared.

*

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On Friday morning we handed over the keys to our flat and home of the last two years.

It's always a surreal (and I'm sure, universal) experience, having done it a few times between student residencies — stripping a place bare before looking at it for the last time and closing the door.

This time it was particularly poignant, as it was the first flat of ours as non-students. I remind myself that I know better – the brick and mortar isn't what made the place special, but rather the people and the things that surrounded it for those two years, which aren't the things you leave behind.

It's been a busy 4 weeks, and today marks the first day we had in the new house without anyone to see, or anything we had to do.

I thought I'd mark the occasion by beginning a new sourdough starter. A year ago, I began a starter of my own in our old flat, and got some great use out of it. The trouble was that the oven in the old place had some quirks — the majority of the heat would always reside in the front of the oven (unusually), and the baking tray we had would buckle under the high heat required to bake the bread.

Our new oven, unfortunately, isn't working at the moment. The circulation fan motor is busted, but it will hopefully be fixed on Tuesday. While I wait for that, and scout for a new tray, I have plenty of time to get a new starter up and running.

50g of flour and 50g of water is all you need. Every day for two weeks I'll throw away 50g of the starter, and reintroduce 25g of both flour and water. While a week is likely all you need to see some action happening, I'll be patient and keep it going for two, so that it's got a bit of a head-start when it comes to baking. I'll be reporting back next week.

Cold weather is also a slower time for fermentation, and we're certainly going through a cold spell – one I hear they call 'winter'. Today was 'Storm Ciara' – I prepared this morning by moving our food caddy off the street incase it blew half away across Bristol. Seems like the worst of it was elsewhere, as I spent a large portion of today spectating images of flooded towns north from here.

We had a visitor toad on our back door step earlier just before the worst of the storm. Apparently despite their hibernation, it's common for them to forage during milder days, which today certainly was. It's the first bit of wildlife we've had in our small patch, and one I wasn't expecting. I can only assume a nearby neighbour has a resident pond for the guy. Seems he was looking for somewhere to sulk in the rain. We didn't disturb him.

Otherwise, the day was spent organizing and preparing. The biggest job on our list is to sand down the floorboards in our to-be office. We've had plenty gawk at the prospect of us sanding it by-hand, but really we're only looking to unsettle the top coat of paint, not strip it down to the bare boards.

The previous owner used the room to paint in, so there's flecks and spills of different colours in all corners. They likely patched it up with white emulsion as they went. By sanding it down we make sure there's no unwanted blobs of black paint, or other colours peaking through. A fresh coat of much tougher paint should really smarten the place up, and if all goes to be plan, be finished by the weekend.

The yellow wall paint has been a contentious choice. Being the office, it's not a space we expect any guests to be seeing. I've always been fond of yellow, the room gets the most light of any during the day, and it's an expressive colour that will hopefully look great as we begin introducing some plants. I've since painted it a more mellow yellow than it was originally, which I think looks particularly great as the sun comes into the room.

We're already well over half way sanding it all down, and it's only been a couple hours work over a couple of days. Saves us buying a power-tool we'd likely never use again.

A good portion of the house is a dumping ground while we wait on the room to be finished.

The wheels are rolling, and I'm sure it won't be long until it all feels like our own, and each quiet day like this is a piece of the puzzle.

*

As promised, my top ten songs, in no particular order, of 2019, each with a little write up of my thoughts.

Enjoy!

mariner's apartment complex

It really feels like Lana Del Ray set out to write a classic with 'Norman F!cking Rockwell'.

Having cemented herself as the soundtrack to any suburban tween's angsty first-world-problems, Lana abandoned the spacey americana sound, instead filling over an hour of runtime with orchestration, and broody piano ballads. All while still clinging to that classic, mid 20th century aesthetic that helped define her.

This could be put down to her collaboration with producer Jack Antoff, the man who's been quietly redefining the world of pop music over the last 5 years. But this is, without question, still a Lana Del Ray album.

'Mariner's Apartment Complex' is the song that kicks the record into gear. And it's immediately clear, Lana's lyricism had matured from generally sad ambiguity to being as sharp as a knife.

The chorus is this tragic, sweeping melody that's absolutely timeless, rooted in its metaphor of being guided through a storm at sea, and is every bit as large.

And as we can expect from our queen of sadness, it's never quite clear who's perspective we're hearing the song from, and we're never quite sure whether this grand rescue is emotionally rectifying, or whether this lost boat at sea finds itself drifting back from where it came.

Lana whispers and repeats: 'I'm your man', and we're left to wonder how true that could be.

change

Maxo Kream is a storyteller at heart, and unlike so much of the posing in trap rap, Maxo delivers the gritty truth from a place of experience. 'Keeping it real' is at the heart of Maxo's sound, and in that he rises far above his peers.

'Brandon Banks' is an anthology of the lessons learnt on the streets, the allure of big money, the tragic spiral of drug use. It's an ode to the millions of lives of black men spent in the US justice system, and the confusion of life when back on the outside.

It's not the easiest listen. With no hooks, and only a handful of features throughout the entire runtime, it's mostly Maxo's straight, unfiltered bars over twitchy trap beats.

'Change' is the song I found myself returning to more times than I care to admit. Maybe it's the floaty psychedelic electric guitar and flutes on the beat, maybe it's the sheer sense of urgency the runs through every second of it, or maybe it's the unapologetic tragedy of every word spoken by Maxo.

'Change' is a song about the will to change, but being caught in the cycle of futility. It's about the change in your pocket, or how climate change is seen as nothing more than a 'damn shame' when there's nothing you can do in the face of it.

It's a tale of 'the best laid plans' – the dreams of young men who's fate is to be killed on the streets that raised them.

ibtihaj

Rapsody is proving herself to be one of the most important figures in hip hop today. With two solid releases already under her belt, her project this year, 'Eve' is perhaps her most accomplished and focused yet.

'Eve' is an unashamedly feminist album, with every track titled in ode of different influential and powerful women of colour. The album is about empowerment through positivity, dialogue, and inclusivity. It's a celebration above all, but a celebration with a message, and she invites a huge range of artists, old and new, to make their mark alongside her.

'Ibtihaj' is named after Ibtihaj Muhammad, the olympic fencer, and in-keeping lifts it's beat straight from GZA's classic 'Liquid Swords'. The song includes what might just be the greatest feature of D'Angelo on any song, and, somehow, even the legendary GZA himself.

I might just be an absolute sucker for anything that D'Angelo touched, but regardless, 'Ibtihaj' is a beautiful fusion of the new and the old – of that smooth neo-soul sound, and the now immortalized old-school boom-bap beats. Rapsody isn't at all overshadowed, using the song as a love letter to the genre that inspired her, and the nostalgia she finds in her formative years. D'Angelo is just as bizarre as you might hope, singing in both impossibly high and low harmonies about killer bees, while GZA pays homage to his famous diss of clock radio speakers.

The combination of the three is basically mythical – it shouldn't exist, but it's every bit as good as I could ever imagine.

sad day

An FKA Twigs release is always a big deal, and 'Magdalene' is only her second full length album.

Having faithfully listened to all her work, 'Magdalene' is the album that finally made me understand what the hype was all about. Combining R&B with some light touches of hip hop, all oozing with an unquestionably British 'trip hop' style production, and you have a collection of songs that somehow go hard and soft at the same time.

'Sad day' might just be FKA Twig's biggest accomplishment. A hook that gets caught in your head, and one that couldn't better suit her ghostly vocals. It's all held up by twitchy, glitch-like percussion that often cuts right through the wash of ambient sounds.

Every aspect of the song sounds slightly artificial, slightly sped up or tuned down, like it's being heard from some old, alien recording format.

It's strangely haunting, but it's unquestionably pop.

bright horses

Nick Cave is a hard one to pin down. A career spanning 40 years, and more than twenty studio albums behind him, it's very possible he still hasn't made his best work.

His age certainly isn't making him stale, if anything his music has grown deeper and deeper into itself. 'Skeleton Tree' was released three years ago now, and some are heralding it as a modern classic. I'm not so sure, but then, I like Nick Cave the most when he's not trying to be too clever.

'Ghosteen' ultimately is an album reflecting the sudden death of Nick Cave's son in 2016. It's painful, overlong, breathtaking, and unresolved. How can you write something that's so personal, and still designed to be shared? It's a task I imagine is impossibly hard.

'Bright Horses' feels like the entire album, perfectly condensed into just five minutes. The low humming of the melody could almost be a war cry. Nick Cave's lyricism is nothing short of being poetry, as he explores how the world is revealed to him for what it really is.

'And horses are just horses', Nick Cave sings, and it's terrifying how simple that statement could be.

true & livin'

Blu & Exile defined themselves in the 2000s as the kings of West Coast Hip Hop. Exile's lush, soulful beats seemed like they were put on this earth for Blu to rap over, with his witty, wise-guy demeanor, and seemingly endlesss attention to detail in every line delivered effortlessly. He might just be my all-time favourite MC.

The duo unfortunately have a rocky relationship. And while each have other collaborations they've worked on over the years, it's like Blu just isn't Blu without Exile, and visa versa.

So you can understand why I was so excited to hear that their 'True & Livin' EP' would finally break a seven year hiatus. Just three songs in length, I can only hope it's a sign of things yet to come.

While it's no leap of innovation, the two have clearly spent their years apart honing their crafts, and enter this release doing what it is they do best.

The titular track is the standout, if only for how smooth it is to listen to. It's the perfect song for a sunny May day in the city. Blu lets the song be a celebration of day to day life, the power of change, and how far we've come. It's a reminder, one that in today's climate we all often need, that there's so much to be proud of in this world, and there's no shame in sitting back and appreciating the good things in the life.

The true, and the living.

forgotten eyes

'Big Thief are the best band in the world right now' is a sentiment I've seen more than once. It might be true.

Rock bands are a dying breed, and even the big ones at the moment are really just moniker's for a single figure-head. Maybe bands are in dire need of reinventing what rock music is, instead of reiterating the innovations of the past, or maybe a world obsessed with social media needs single personalities to attach themselves to.

Big Thief surprised everyone with two full length albums this year. 'U.F.O.F.' is the longer, more sophisticated album, while 'Two Hands', labelled by the band as the 'sister album', is the rougher and more lighthearted entry.

As a result, 'Two Hands' is the more listenable of the two, packed with great tunes that hold up perfectly on their own.

And while most are applauding 'Not' as their greatest song to date (and they might not be wrong), a song that's just bursting with raw energy – 'Forgotten Eyes', the much softer addition, is that song that's stayed with me.

It's the soundtrack to any ending of every american indie movie ever made. It's wistful, with that uplifting sense that there's so much more left to experience after the goodbye. The chasing rhythm of the song gives it that sense of marching, off and onward, to whatever the future holds.

It's the looseness of the instrumentation that gives Big Thief that unique twang, and 'Forgotten Eyes' puts it at the forefront.

Adrianne Lenker is best when she steps up from the twee vocals she's known for. With this instrumentation, it would be so easy for her not to and remain in her shell, but instead she rises above it, and gives an unforgettable performance.

spider hole

Billy Woods is an enigma. An MC defined by his anonymity, his spoken-word style delivery and abstract lyricism, and unfaltering ability to sound absolutely pissed on everything he records. He's always been on my radar, with a huge body of underground albums released nearly every year of the last two decades, but despite a few highlights, he's never quite found his footing.

'Hiding Places', his collaboration this year with LA producer Kenny Segal, finally gave him the space and sound he needed to create his masterpiece. It's an absolutely harrowing record. It perfectly reflects its album artwork – crumbling and suburban, riddled with a claustrophobic sense of poverty. It's that creeping, unshakable heat that riots are born from.

'It's not the heat, it's the dust' Woods repeats throughout the album – the world this record occupies is so arid and dead that's it's becoming difficult to breath.

'Spider Hole' is the first song where I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The rumbling distortion that resonates in your chest, the distant and darting electronic signals, the thunderous distorted guitar and jazzy piano, all come together to form the most dissonant, unshakable song released this year.

'It's just me in the spider hole, that's the best part' Woods shouts, almost laughing, at the song's apex, and it's revealed what the song is about at heart – being the unfortunate king of our own hiding places.

With the release of 'I Am Easy To Find', The National have seemingly immortalized themselves. Is it possible at this point for The National to release a bad album? Or have they found a formula they can keep reusing?

No album is perfect, and there's certainly been a decline since their 2013 release 'Trouble Will Find Me', but The National are proving themselves to be pure, middle-class comfort food. Never terribly exotic, but just the right balance of fruitiness and sophistication.

The zest of the new album is the deliberate decision to have a female voice at the heart of almost every song. Perhaps it's in keeping with the '#MeToo' movement that's rightfully pierced western culture, or perhaps the band realized they were all boring old men with a platform. Either way, it's a decision that almost always feels masterfully woven into the songs, and never just a cynical attempt.

'Where Is Her Head', for me, is the center piece of the album, launching us from the slightly naff first half of the record into the immediacy of the second. I've always loved songs that have a single rhythm and melody, and allows itself to ride confidently on, unchanged, throughout the run time.

The song is repetitive almost to the point of being hypnotic, with the snare hitting on the same beats every time, and the fluttering vocals of Eve Owen.

The song is almost certainly about obsessing over a woman, but I think the song is much more beautiful when you listen from the angle of a parent under constant worry of the wellbeing of their child. It's chaotic, monotonous, and utterly gorgeous.

no halo

Brockhampton defined themselves with a DIY aesthetic that became threatened by their $15 million record deal with RCA. Couple that with the departure of one of their lead vocalists on accusations of abusive relationships, and the sheer force of their momentum from 2017 – having recorded and released three, full length studio albums in the space of six months – seemed like it had grinded to a messy halt.

Their release this year sought to amend the lukewarm reviews of their 2018 LP, by returning to their roots. 'Ginger' proved polarizing — despite applaud from some critics, it didn't have the bedroom produced awkwardness I love about their prior records.

What it is, is a more mature album, and perhaps no song is a greater testament to that than its opener 'No Halo'. The infectious acoustic guitar beat acts as the foundation of the whole song, as each of the group's members take turns to riff over the top in their own signature style.

Brockhampton have always been guilty of lacking cohesion. Rarely are their songs about anything in particular, built from different verses from different members, with lyrics about whatever each of them . In 'No Halo', however, this incoherency somehow works to it's benefit.

'I'm sure I'll find it', the chorus claims as it's mantra, and each of it's sections feel like a different cry for help, a different sense of loss, as the camera changes its focus to each one of them. Each member gives potentially their best performance to date, resulting in what is the most complete sounding Brockhampton song of their careers.

It really feels as though the 'boy band' have grown up, and it only took them two years.

*

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What's that? Still autumn?

I'm afraid so. Much to the chagrin of many, I'm a staunch believer in the seasons aligning with the solstices and equinox's of our calendar, rather than the start's of the month. Winter, therefore, will start on the 22nd of December, as our wonderful earth's axes intended.

Regardless — 2019 is coming to a close. It hit me like a brick that the end of this year brought with it the end of a decade. I can't say why, but I had it in my head that we had still one year to go.

And what better way to celebrate the end of anything than the traditional list? A look back across the decade lends itself to lists of all kinds – the most pivotal political moments, biggest advances in technology, and the best art that defined an era.

Along with the realization that the decade is drawing to a close, I found myself immediately looking over all the music that's help soundtrack these last ten years.

It wasn't until 2012 that my interest in new music really cemented, and it's a hobby I've carried with me passionately ever since. So, while not entirely a decade, it's near as dammit.

From purely my own anecdotal experience, there's thin dialogue when it comes to new music. Big cinema releases get talked about to no end in all circles; the latest AAA video game will storm social media for weeks to come. Yet, music often comes and goes, the discussion housed within the existing fans of the artist.

And sure, music isn't alone. Theatre probably has it even worse, and you'd probably have to be in a very niche circle to be discussing the latest work of a prolific choreographer.

But why should music fall short to movies, games or novels? An album often doesn't take up even an hour of our time, and requires only the attention of your ears — you can cook, clean, craft, all whilst consuming music. Films can require two hours of your attention, games and books typically vast sums more, and undivided.

And then there's access. In today's age, access to the internet is all that's required to enjoy more recorded music that we could ever hear in our lifetimes. Even if you do pay extra for a music streaming service, all of the services offer 99% of the same libraries, so you're not forced into corners by exclusivity deals.

And yet, it's likely that this access is the very culprit. As you look over the late 20th century, each era would be defined by a series of releases that are looked back on as defining a generation. Today, when our exposure isn't limited to simply just what's broadcast on radio of television, we have the freedom to hear exactly the music we want, when we want.

Freedom can often be a curse disguised as a blessing, however, and such freedoms in exploring music can make it easier to become complacent with the music we already know we enjoy. Algorithms now recommend music it knows we've not heard, but knows is similar enough to what we've already heard to keep us comfortable.

Music is the most human of any art-form, because, at it's core, there isn't any pretence. In movies, we watch people pretend to be people that don't exist. In music, rhythms and patterns are created that, completely beyond our understanding, make our bodies and minds react in very different ways.

Perhaps this is why watching a bad movie is rarely any worse than being a waste of our time, whereas music we don't enjoy makes something deep inside us recoil — it goes against how we define ourselves.

But it doesn't need to. Watching 'The Wire' doesn't make me a wannabe gangster, nor should listening to Mobb Deep. Watching 'Saw' one time wouldn't define me as some kind of brutalist, neither should listening to Swans. Despite our tendency to listen to what suits the clothes we wear, the town we live in, the money we earn, music — just like movies — can let us into worlds and outlooks other than our own.

Which is all to say: listen to new music! I can think of nothing in this world that fills me with more joy. Rarely a week goes by where an album is released that isn't worth hearing. It doesn't matter whether or not it's music you would or wouldn't usually listen to — follow the dialogue, not your taste.

I have both friends that embrace new music and those that reject it. With almost ten years behind us, those of us that follow the latest releases now have fond memories of long drives, holidays and get-togethers, soundtracked by the music that dropped that year. We can look back at music from ten years ago, and remember exactly what we were doing, and who we were, when that music came out. I don't want to be 50 years old, with no stories to tell surrounding the classics that time will eventually canonize.

There's so much great music already behind us, all absolutely worth listening to, but new music is always an event that hasn't yet passed. It's exciting.

I used to do a little thing on my old blog I called 'The Jam Awards', where everyday, for the last 20 days of the year, I would feature a song from that year, all in ranked order. I won't quite be doing that this year. Instead, next week I'll be sharing my top 10 songs of 2019, all at once, and in no particularly order. Then, in a fortnight from now, I'll be sharing my top 10 albums of the last decade, again in no order.

I'm looking forward to collecting my thoughts, re-listening to some old favourites, and sharing it all.

I can think of no better way to see off these last ten years, and to welcome in the new decade, and the strange and wonderful sounds yet to be heard.

*

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The 'Front Room Arts Trail' in Totterdown is an annual event where hundreds of artists open the doors to their homes and exhibit their art in (typically) their front room.

Having studied and lived in the heart of Bristol for the last three years, Totterdown was always just a little further than a hop, skip or jump away. But now with hopes of moving closer to the area, the arts trail was an ideal excuse to explore.

I hadn't heard of this arts trail, or even heard of the idea of an arts trail, until just some months ago. I wasn't sure what to expect.

It was a gem of a day, fostering a very real communal atmosphere, as the neighbourhood was transformed into a sort of fayre – with hundreds of small groups touring each home. I'm sure I'm not the first to express this, and I'm sure this atmosphere is the reason such a strange event continues to this day.

While the day generally started with coffees in hands and upselling, as Totterdown grew colder and darker, the artwork almost took a backseat to enjoying the warmth and light of being welcomed into another's home – small talk and offers of mulled wine – all for just ten minutes, before setting back off into the cold in search of the next.

We were never the only ones, often find ourselves walking into the middle of a conversation, fighting the strange gut feeling that we'd intruded. The awkwardness of it all is perhaps even the main appeal — introverted artists suddenly cast into the open, trying to gauge just how much of your admiration for their artwork is genuine or simply politeness.

It's a trouble I didn't end up buying anything. Maybe it's my instinct to walk away from impulse purchases, or maybe – as Rachel tells me – I'm far too picky. Our flat remains virtually undecorated after two years, just the nails in the walls where something would hang. It's important to support local artists, and it's important to cut out the middle man if you can. We walked away with a good handful of cards and details, which I have hopes we'll be returning to.

*

Rachel and I attended our second farewell party for a friend moving to Australia in two months. We often joke about why we know so many people going to and from Australia. We can only assume it's because it's the furthest place from home.

We've run into an interesting scenario where a lot of our friends are a small sum older than us, although we typically forget. The older you get the less age matters, it seems. We've been to parties before feeling ten years too young, doing our best to seem aged and established. Fortunately, this party was full of people from all walks of life, all worth talking to.

There was even a toddler attendee, who revelled in providing entertainment and discussion for the whole room. A very large inflatable unicorn occupied the centre of the space, though I can't say why. Efforts were made to have the kid ride the unicorn, but he was much more interested in the toy aeroplane brought along.

Excitement arose when the kid decided to give the unicorn another try. In a Larry David moment, shifting my leg with the charitable intention to give the kid more room to play on the inflatable unicorn, the air distribution in the unicorn rebalanced, causing the kid to slip and fall, landing in the space my leg had been. Tears ensued, and despite a wash of reassurances that it wasn't my fault, I couldn't help but feel awful.

It was all smiles and laughter and quickly forgotten.

They've got a girl on the way, and said they don't want to be too precious with her simply because of the fact. It was great talking to them. They seemed like great parents.

*

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