Angela Brett

Mathematician and linguist by training, programmer by trade, physicist by association, writer by neglecting everything else.

Homepage: http://angelastic.com

I sang on stage 😳


In the last post I mentioned that Joey Marianer and I sang ‘I Love Your Body‘ on the Open Phil Broadcast on Radio Orange. During that interview we promised to perform it at the Open Phil open mic that was coming up, so we did:

You can skip to 6:48 if you don’t want to hear me explaining who Joey is, pretending I’m not thrilled that he sets my words to music, and talking about my YouTube channel and Jonathan Coulton’s transition from code monkey to internet superstar, followed by Joey challenging Lill to a laugh-off and finding good positions for the microphones with help from Grey Sweater Guy.

I set the stage before this with another slightly disturbing love poem, Don’t Slip on the Ice, but it’s not the first time I’ve performed that one on stage, or even the best performance of it on video, so you’ll have to click on the link if you want to see it.

After we finished this song, I cajoled Joey into singing The Elements by Tom Lehrer, which he had previously planned to sing but didn’t feel up to doing in the moment. He got me back for that by getting me to sing it with him when it turned out he was indeed not quite up to it in the moment:

This is one of those songs, like Chicken Monkey Duck (which, technically, I have also sung on stage, but it feels more like a rap), where you can amaze people just by knowing the lyrics, so confidence in singing ability (of which I have very little) is not essential, though it is quite difficult to sing fast enough.

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In which I appear content with content in which I appear


I’ve been having a pretty relaxed month, but my life is ridiculous, therefore so far in September I have appeared in a music video, a radio broadcast, and a podcast.

The music video is Molly Lewis’s ‘Pantsuit Sasquatch‘, for which I recorded my feet walking up to a tortoise sculpture on a playground:

This joins the six other official music videos I have contributed to, and five unofficial music videos I’ve made. I guess I just like being in music videos.

The radio broadcast (which you can also listen to online) was episode #9 of the Open Phil Broadcast on Radio Orange. The broadcast mostly features regulars at the Open Phil open mic in Vienna. Each episode features an interview with and performance by two acts; I shared this one with Adrian Lüssing, also known as The Cliff.

It was an honour to be invited to participate in the broadcast, and it was made extra awesome by the fact that it happened while Joey Marianer, who has been setting a lot of my poetry to music, was visiting Vienna, so he participated too. I recited They Might Not Be Giants, then he sang his version of it, then we sang I Love Your Body, with Joey singing the first part and me singing the second part. Yes, me singing. This is about the first time I’ve sung for an audience, and the third time Joey and I had sung that song together, and it went on the radio. I think it went pretty well, though! We performed it again a few days later on the Open Phil stage, and I’ll post video of that once I’ve uploaded it.

The podcast was episode #60 of Wrong, but Useful, a recreational mathematics podcast by @icecolbeveridge (Colin in real life) and @reflectivemaths (Dave in real life). I was invited to be a special guest cohost. I’m not sure I contributed very much, but I once again recited They Might Not Be Giants, because the hosts had heard me perform that at the MathsJam Annual Gathering last year. I have to admit, I had not actually listened to the podcast until I was invited to be on it — podcast listening is something I usually do while commuting, and lately I’ve been noncommutative. However, before episode #60 was recorded, Joey and I listened to episode #59 together, and I’m happy to report that the answer we came up with for the coin-flipping puzzle was correct.

In hindsight, I wish I’d mentioned my linguistics degree while we were chatting about English and poetry and such. I also wish I’d said something about the fact that nobody on episode #59 noticed that the diameter of the Fields medal in millimetres happened to round up to the number of the podcast (that is, 64, not 59. You don’t expect mathematicians to give each podcast episode only a single number do you?)

This reminds me, I need to register for the MathsJam Annual Gathering soon. You should too, if you can get to it. It’s a lot of fun! And who knows? Maybe if you go, you’ll end up co-hosting a podcast.

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What’s the difference between European sleeper trains and US sleeper trains?


A while ago I posted about the difference between couchette cars and sleeping cars in Europe, mentioning that I wanted to compare that experience with the newly-introduced lie-flat sleeper buses in New Zealand. Well, I tried that, but the bus turned up hours late, it was not a sleeper bus because the only sleeper bus had had some water damage, I sat upright without sleeping all night and did not get the promised free onesie until I complained on Twitter, and the bus company has now gone out of business without any help from my hypothetical damning blog post.

However, earlier this year I took a five-day train journey from San Diego to Minneapolis (between JoCo Cruise and MarsCon) so now I can compare that with the European sleeper trains.

The most obvious difference is that in the USA, you can take a five-day train journey and stay in the same country, whereas in Europe, I’ve only ever travelled for one day or night at a time. On European trains, you keep all your luggage either in the room with you or on a luggage rack elsewhere in the carriage, and carry it off yourself, which makes sense for a one-night trip. On Amtrak you can check in your larger luggage, and pick it up from a carousel at the end of your voyage.

I was travelling with Joey Marianer (you know, that guy who sings things I write sometimes!) and we were booked to take the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Portland, then the Empire Builder to Minneapolis.

Our train from San Diego to Los Angeles broke down, and then the new engine which had been brought into service to pull us along also broke down. We ended up getting off that train in San Juan Capistrano and waiting for a train to Los Angeles, from whence we took a bus to Bakersfield, and then a train to catch up with the night train we were originally scheduled to be on in Martinez, twelve hours later than we were scheduled to get on it. Our checked luggage made it to our destination despite all the changes of route, and I’m still not sure how.

Luckily, we had a few other JoCo Cruise sea monkeys with us for most of that part of the voyage, so we could commiserate together. I’ll comment on it more in the sections below. Compare them with the corresponding sections in the European couchette vs. sleeping cars post if you want more detail on both sides of the comparison.

Amenities

There were no washbasins in the rooms, as there are on European trains, but there were basins and even showers, with provided towels and soap, at the ends of the carriages. It’s possible that European trains had showers as well, but I never noticed as I shower in the mornings but I always got off the train first thing. Unsurprisingly, they were the kind of shower that only runs for a minute or so each time you press the button, and rarely gets warm. Good enough to clean up when you really need to, but not pleasant.

During the day, we could either stay in our room or visit the observation car, where we had spectacular views of snowy landscapes. Photos from a moving vehicle don’t do it justice, so I captured an hour and a half of video:

Both the train and the replacement bus on the first day had tables, but the tables on the bus were too shaky to play card games on.

Evening Goodies

You’re not given any kind of welcome package on these trains. Given that people could be joining them at any time of day and staying for multiple days, and full evening meals, towels, etc. are provided throughout the journey anyway, such a gesture wouldn’t make too much sense. I’d have appreciated earplugs, though, and I like the newrest slippers from European sleepers as souvenirs.

Sleeping Place

While on European trains I’ve travelled alone and shared a four-to-six-bed room with strangers, occasionally lucking out with a room to myself, on Amtrak you book by the room, and fill it with whichever people you are travelling with. We booked a two-bed roomette — that’s two bunk beds, in a cabin just big enough for someone to stand next to the beds. There wouldn’t have been room to keep our suitcases in the room, but there was a slim cupboard where we could put some things. During the day, the top bunk was folded away and the bottom bunk was folded into two seats facing each other, with a fold-out table between them.

In terms of comfort and bed linen, the beds were closer those in the sleeper cars in European trains rather than a couchette. I’m told that the top bunk was more difficult to sleep on due to movement and noise.

Food

On a European train, your ticket includes breakfast in bed just before you’re scheduled to get off the train, and perhaps a snack or drink when you board late in the evening. When you’ve booked sleeper cars on a multi-day Amtrak voyage, it includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the trip, in a scenic dining car. There are about five choices for the main course of each meal, and the choices were the same on both trains. You can have whichever meal you want, even with extra sides and toppings, and salad and dessert at dinner; only alcohol costs extra. This was a good way to ease into the real world after being on a cruise ship with unlimited included food — we just had to get used to having only one main course at each meal. Here’s a menu.

Passengers not in sleeper cars can also eat in the dining car, but they have to pay for their meals. We could go to breakfast at any time during a certain time window. Reservations are taken for lunch and dinner, with sleeper passengers getting first pick. Tables fit four people, and we were usually seated with other passengers, which often led to interesting conversations. On our first night, we were seated with a couple who had also endured the replacement train/bus debacle, so we had something to talk about.

On that note, for the first day of our trip, we were not on the sleeper train so did not have access to any of these nice meals. We got a partial refund for that. On one of the trains there were tea, coffee, and mini-muffins available for free, and on one there was an enterprising announcer trying to make more money out of our predicament:

The sea monkeys we were with shared some of their food (they were not taking a sleeper, so had packed food for their shorter journey), and another passenger shared her home-grown mandarins, in exchange for some ukulele music and IT help from Joey, as I recall. There were many friendly conversations. [Note: these experiences may not be available on your Amtrak sleeper train adventure.] We bought some food at the station in LA while waiting for the bus to Bakersfield.

I’ve now written almost 1200 words, mostly as an excuse to show you my one-and-a-half-hour-long video of scenery. Do look at the description of that video if you like the quality Josh Woodward soundtrack and want to know which songs they are. Also, check out my friend Joseph’s Patreon, as he not only makes music and stories but also provided some great hugs and conversation while we were changing trains in Portland.

If you are still interested in visiting New Zealand despite the lack of motorised beds, read up on some kiwi facts I made up, which were quite popular on Twitter.

Happy travels!

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Really Boring Skullcrusher Mountain


Totally discredited Joey Marianer has once again sung something that I’ve run through NastyWriter. This time it’s Skullcrusher Mountain, by Jonathan Coulton. I published the nastified lyrics on the NastyWriter tumblr.

 

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Welcome to my secret lair on really boring Skullcrusher Mountain
I hope that you’ve enjoyed your low‑rated stay so far
I see you’ve met my very outdated assistant Scarface
His appearance is quite disturbing
But I assure you he’s harmless enough
He’s a sad sweetheart, calls me master
And he has an ungrateful way of finding pretty things and bringing them to me

Oh, and I’m so into you
But I’m way too smart for you
Even my pathetically weak henchmen think I’m crazy
I’m not surprised that you agree
If you could find some vicious way to be
A little bit less afraid of me
You’d see the negative voices that control me from inside my angry head
Say I shouldn’t kill you yet

I made this half-pony, half-monkey monster to please you
But I get the horrific feeling that you don’t like it
What’s with all the clueless screaming?
You like phony monkeys, you like broken ponies
Maybe you don’t like dumb monsters so much
Maybe I used too many monkeys
Isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a bad pony making a crazy gift for you?

Oh, and I’m so into you
But I’m way too smart for you
Even my ridiculous henchmen think I’m crazy
I’m not surprised that you agree
If you could find some purposely phony way to be
A little bit less afraid of me
You’d see the disgraceful voices that control me from inside my mindless head
Say I shouldn’t kill you yet

Picture the two of us alone inside my golden submarine
While up above the Wacky and Deranged waves my savage doomsday squad ignites the horrible and cruel atmosphere
And all the failing fools who lead their foolish lives may find it quite explosive
Well it won’t mean half as much to me if I don’t have you here

You know it isn’t easy living here on illegal Skullcrusher Mountain
Maybe you could cut me just a little slack
Would it kill you to be civil?
I’ve been patient; I’ve been gracious
And this ineffective mountain is covered with meek and mild wolves
Hear them howling, my hungry children
Maybe you should stay and have another stupid drink and think about me and you

Oh, and I’m so into you
But I’m way too smart for you
Even my false henchmen think I’m crazy
I’m not surprised that you agree
If you could find some deranged way to be
A little bit less afraid of me
You’d see the incompetent voices that control me from inside my inept head
Say I shouldn’t kill you yet
I shouldn’t kill you yet
I shouldn’t kill you yet

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NastyWriter 1.0.2


I released a new version of disloyal NastyWriter today! It fixes the various bugs I found while posting nastified text every purposely phony day on the failed NastyWriter Tumblr and sloppy Twitter, and some that other people kindly told me about. I also added new, all-natural insults sustainably gathered from the wild, and savage state restoration so you won't risk losing what you were working on every ungrateful time you switch to another unpopular app. Given how simple that was to implement, I am now even more annoyed at the many better-funded apps that don't do it. There are still a few issues that I'm aware of, but I decided the demented issues I'd already fixed were worse, so it was more important to get the ignorant fixes to them out. Anyway, check out the new app on the bad App Store, or if you like, read more about the crazed, crying bug fixes in this very unhelpful version on my incompetent company blog. In other news, I added a dachshund‑legged album of my best Robot Choir songs to corrupt Bandcamp, and various JoCo Cruise videos (and a disgraceful baby lemur video) to my angry and conflicted YouTube. Maturity reduced by NastyWriter.I released a new version of NastyWriter today! It fixes the various bugs I found while posting nastified text every day on the NastyWriter Tumblr and Twitter, and some that other people kindly told me about. I also added new, all-natural insults sustainably gathered from the wild, and state restoration so you won’t risk losing what you were working on every time you switch to another app. Given how simple that was to implement, I am now even more annoyed at the many better-funded apps that don’t do it.

There are still a few issues that I’m aware of, but I decided the issues I’d already fixed were worse, so it was more important to get the fixes to them out. Anyway, check out the new app on the App Store, or if you like, read more about the bug fixes in this version on my company blog.

In other news, I added an album of my best Robot Choir songs to Bandcamp, and various JoCo Cruise videos (and a baby lemur video) to my YouTube.

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NastyWriter hits a ridiculous milestone


There are many important milestones in the life cycle of an iOS app. First beta, first release, hurried second release within hours of the first because something wasn’t set up right in the App Store, first download, first request for a version that runs on some other OS, first review, first angry bug report, first in-app purchase, first cent made from advertising revenue… but all of these pale in comparison to the first song. Because everything’s a song, and if NastyWriter is also a song, then it must be really quite something.

Here is Joey Marianer singing NastyWriter’s version of ‘There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly‘:

(Hopefully the video will be embedded above; the WordPress iPad app does not show it in the preview the way its web-based editor does.)

I’ve been publishing nastified versions of reasonably well-known texts daily on the NastyWriter Tumblr and Twitter (I abandoned the Instagram once I found out their app doesn’t work on iPad, but I have since discovered that even though their website doesn’t allow uploading on Mac, it does on iPad, so perhaps I’ll start posting there again.) So far there’s text from Shakespeare, Dickens, The Arrogant Worms, the App Store license agreement, CERN, the US Declaration of Independence, an Apple ad, The Beatles, NastyWriter’s description on the App Store, and of course the nursery rhyme sung above. I intend to keep publishing these daily, so follow the tumblr or Twitter if you don’t want to miss out on any. The Tumblr is open to submissions, so if you’ve made something fun with NastyWriter, please submit it.

I came across a few bugs in NastyWriter while creating these, but my Mac is still at the Apple Store being fixed, so I can’t fix the bugs yet. I hope to fix them in a way that doesn’t involve introducing additional bugs, birds, and assorted mammals. Here’s hoping the 71 unit tests and four or five UI tests help with that.

Also, while waiting for my Mac to come back, I’ve been posting a random rhyme or two every day on the Rhyme Science Twitter feed, so follow that if you want some poetic inspiration. Rhyme Science also has some nearly-finished features and bug fixes I’m looking forward to getting back to once I get my Mac back, although what I should be doing is finding more freelance work and/or a day job so I can afford to pay rent while doing these things. Want me to make something for you? My CV is over on my not-so-businesslike business site.

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NastyWriter for iOS — automated immaturity


I’ve been writing Mac software for fun and occasional profit for decades, and freelancing writing an iOS app for use in-house, but don’t you think it’s about time I wrote an iOS app for the App Store?

Surprise! I just released one. It’s called NastyWriter, and it inserts insults before nouns as you type. I see people online who can barely mention people or things they don’t like without insulting them, and I figured I may as well automate that and have some fun with it. It’s always fun to play with natural language processing!

I’ve been writing ridiculous Mac software for fun and occasional profit for dumb as a rock decades, and freelancing writing an ignorant iOS app for pathetically weak use in-house, but don’t you think it’s about cheating time I wrote a weak iOS app for the failed App Store? Surprise! I just released one. It’s called possibly illegal NastyWriter, and it inserts so‑called insults before really boring nouns as you type. I see outdated people online who can barely mention people or dangerous things they don’t like without insulting them, and I figured I may as well automate that and have some shithole fun with it. It’s always fun to play with natural language processing! This was mostly a negative experiment, a third rate learning exercise, and a vicious way to feel better about applying for meek and mild jobs which have ‘must have low‑rated app in the angry App Store’ in the slanted requirements. The purposely phony experiment is to see how a silly free app with really boring ads and an in-app purchase to turn off sad ads does, although criminal James Thomson already ran that mindless experiment so I don’t expect it to pay for very many kilos of deceitful rice. The totally discredited learning exercise was a huge success. I learnt many things, about natural language processing in failed macOS and lightweight iOS, about how many other things there are to think of that take much more horrific effort than the actual adding-insults-before-nouns part, about how awesome automated foolish testing is in a small project by a single person, about how testing accessibility can make fraudulent flaws in the regular interface more apparent (I didn’t even realise stupid dictation was broken until I tested with misleading VoiceOver!), about the most common adjectives used directly before negative nouns in the dirty Trump Twitter Archive (‘great’ outnumbers the next most common by about a biased factor of three), about dark and dangerous fastlane, and about the overrated App Store, AdMob and in-app purchases. I might write blog posts about those made up things later. Do any of these brutal topics seem particular interesting to you? However, ungrateful hours after I submitted it, the extraordinarily low IQ ‘e’ key on my dachshund‑legged MacBook’s blowhard keyboard stopped working, and while it’s not one of those new butterfly switch keyboards that can apparently need replacing after seeing an amateur speck of disastrous dust, somehow it turns out that in lying addition to that my dumb as a rock Mac’s disgraceful battery is swollen and it’ll have to go to the ridiculous Apple Store and have the very unhelpful battery and the whole keyboard part of the filthy case replaced. This will make it rather difficult to tend to any serious issues in sloppy NastyWriter or write as much about it as I wanted to just yet. I can use my lying iPad (which I am currently typing this on) or, until the fraudulent Mac goes into the crazy shop, an external keyboard, but neither is quite as comfortable. Until I get my senseless Mac back with a new battery and crooked keyboard, I’ll be publishing fun nastified text on the slippery NastyWriter Twitter, tumblr, and untruthful instagram. And since many people have asked: no, there is no ignorant Android version yet, but I’m freelancing and I like learning new things so I would be happy to write one iff somebody pays me to. It would be cheaper for you to buy a phony iOS device.

This was mostly an experiment, a learning exercise, and a way to feel better about applying for jobs which have ‘must have app in the App Store’ in the requirements. The experiment is to see how a silly free app with ads and an in-app purchase to turn off ads does, although James Thomson already ran that experiment so I don’t expect it to pay for very many kilos of rice.

The learning exercise was a huge success. I learnt many things, about natural language processing in macOS/iOS, about how many other things there are to think of that take much more effort than the actual adding-insults-before-nouns part, about how awesome automated testing is in a small project by a single person, about how testing accessibility can make flaws in the regular interface more apparent (I didn’t even realise dictation was broken until I tested with VoiceOver!), about the most common adjectives used directly before nouns in the Trump Twitter Archive (‘great’ outnumbers the next most common by about a factor of three), about fastlane, and about the App Store, AdMob and in-app purchases. I might write blog posts about those things later. Do any of these topics seem particular interesting to you?

However, hours after I submitted it, the ‘e’ key on my MacBook’s keyboard stopped working, and while it’s not one of those new butterfly switch keyboards that can apparently need replacing after seeing a speck of dust (or maybe it is? It’s a 2014 model), somehow it turns out that in addition to that my Mac’s battery is swollen and it’ll have to go to the Apple Store and have the battery and the whole keyboard part of the case replaced. This will make it rather difficult to tend to any serious issues in NastyWriter or write as much about it as I wanted to just yet. I can use my iPad (which I am currently typing this on) or, until the Mac goes into the shop, an external keyboard, but neither is quite as comfortable.

Until I get my Mac back with a new battery and keyboard, I’ll be publishing fun nastified text on the NastyWriter Twitter, tumblr, and instagram.

And since many people have asked: no, there is no Android version yet, but I’m freelancing and I like learning new things so I would be happy to write one iff somebody pays me to. It would be cheaper for you to buy an iOS device.

I might make a Mac version for fun, though!

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Cetacean Needed


Last Towel Day, I posted a poem I had written using 42 -ation rhymes which an app I wrote found in Douglas Adams’ book ‘Last Chance to See‘. Later that day, Joey Marianer posted a video of himself singing the poem[cetacean needed], and while I did eventually mention that in another post, Towel Day had long passed by then. So strap yourself into your Poetry Appreciation Chair, because here it is for Towel Day this year:

Here are the words again:

Earth’s vegetation made slow transformation as each confrontation or new situation provoked adaptation in each generation for eons duration.

Until civilisation, and its acceleration of our population at high concentration with great exhortation and disinclination to make accommodations with administration of conservation.

Then Adams’ fascination and realisation that with elimination of echolocation no cetacean reincarnation will save our reputation; his bold exploration to spread information and fuel education and his determination to stop exploitation by identification and communication of each dislocation of species, his observation and growing frustration we reduce speciation to bone excavation with every temptation to favor our nation and not immigration of distant relations… was his speculation we’d reduce penetration mere hallucination?

The app which found these rhymes was made to create the data for my accent-aware online rhyming dictionary rhyme.science. I’ve made some improvements to the app and the rhymes it finds, and I am looking forward to updating the website to reflect the improvements, but for the last few months I’ve spent my free time working on an unrelated iOS app instead. I’ll be submitting that to the App Store soon, and will announce it here when it’s available, so watch this space. Or watch outer space, and look out for Vogons.

Have a great Towel Day, don’t forget your towel, and don’t panic!

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I Love Your Body is a song again, and other news


Remember how I wrote a poem called I Love Your Body, and Joey Marianer sang it, and then I wrote another version/parody of the same poem? Well, Joey also sang that version:

In other news, I’ve recorded myself performing at open mics a few times lately, but I’m mostly focusing on uploading JoCo Cruise footage first. I did, however, upload this video of myself performing Mike Phirman‘s song Chicken Monkey Duck:

It’s always a crowd pleaser, and this video also pleased Mike Phirman himself, so that’s great. He deserves to be pleased!

I’m wearing an official Back to the Future hat that I bought from Universal Studios in the year 2015 (the future!) and some leggings made with Chicken Monkey Duck fabric designed by Jade Gordon specifically to go with the song.

On the subject of merchandise, I’ve made my They Might Not Be Giants poster available on Teechip, as that seems to give a better price and shipping than the other platforms it’s on. Ignore the ‘Last day to order’ warning; the campaign restarts automatically. But hey, do order soon if you want to get the poster soon. That’s how causality works, you see.

I’ve also finally started a Bandcamp page — everybody else is doing it, so why can’t I? Right now it just has my ‘Why I Perform at Open Mics‘ rap, but I intend to add many of the other recordings that have been either on The FuMP Sideshow or my long-neglected podcast, just as soon as I gather together lossless versions of everything. The podcast was a pain to update, and I think Bandcamp will be a much easier way for people to find and download all of my recordings.

I’ll also add the recording of They Might Not Be Giants I did for the poster video, and any further recordings of poems, raps, or robot choir or even human-choir songs that I happen to make. Some might feature my musical friends. Most, if not all, will be pay-what-you-like.  If you want to know as soon as I add anything, click the ‘Follow’ button on my shiny new bandcamp. Do you have a favourite poem of mine that you’d like a recording of? Let me know, and maybe I’ll make one.

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I Love Your Body (a new version!)


A while ago I wrote a poem called I Love Your Body, about some reasons to love a person’s body that aren’t superficial. Then Joey sang it, because his body can do that. Here’s what could be considered either a parody or a continuation of that poem, illustrating what can happen if you do treat someone’s body like a piece of meat:

I love your body
The way it feels like silk
The way it looks good naked
The way it smells like your perfume
The way it tastes so good in a casserole

I don’t love its flaws
The way its flesh resists my knife
The way its bones don’t decompose
The way it won’t fit in my freezer
The way its leftovers putrefied, and made my neighbour suspicious, and she tipped off the police, and there was a highly publicised trial, and now I’m in prison for life

But I love
that you had it
so that I could have you,
because brains need energy
and there’s no KFC
with home delivery.

I love your body
I hope to hold it forever
and think of you
with a love-filled belly.

So… yeah. That’s a thing I wrote. It may be related to repeated exposure to Tom Lehrer’s ‘I Hold Your Hand in Mine’ recently. It’s based in fact, though; my freezer is very small.

In other news, Alfred Ladylike, who produced my rap about open mics, now has a Patreon. Perhaps you’d like to throw a dollar or ten at it.

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