Meme Magic – Oh look he’s getting a bit political

The world has changed since when I met you last,

Forces have gathered, grown and made their mark,

Meme magic brewed an unsavoury broth,

and left us Trump – God-Emperor of Earth.

Oh, and also I became an editor at The Student.

Mid-November, and the semester nears the close. All in all, a middling success. A social life exists and I’ve managed to avoid dropping off the gradar.

While chaos reigns on the political front, we can find comfort in the set of sterling new releases in music, with Childish Gambino, Run the Jewels and The xx all dropping singles in the immediate aftermath of the result. One thing about studying literature is that it allows one to live in the past to some extent; I’m currently in the shelter of the pre-Revolution 18th century certainty.

To “live in the past” is often seen as a negative thing – an accusation exasperatedly tossed at an adversary expressing perhaps too traditional views – but I can see the positives. Take the current time, where the prevailing mind-set is to ignore facts and seek simple “solutions” to complex problems – is it not now more than ever that is need of a classical, pragmatic rationale we can find in antiquity and Enlightenment thought?

Counter to this is the idea that criticises those on the emerging “alt-right”, to coin phrase that’s getting a rather inordinate and inaccurate level of mintage of late, for hearkening to a prior Golden Age. Make America Great Again, Take Back Control. The problem with this is that what they are nostalgic for did not exist in the form it takes in their heads; whilst it may have been good for some, others – minorities for example – did not share in the prosperity.

I think I’ll be lecturing to the converted in the most part here, which is again a part of the problem – the echo chamber effect. The feedback loop of a reaffirming meme community.

What’s the solution then? Ban memes? That would be absurd and almost certainly lead to riots.

Unfortunately, the internet is a democracy, and sometimes democracy stinks. Memes also demand an extremist position – they facilitate the kind of content that will confirm a pre-existing belief, too outrageous to be expressed in polite conversation. Yes, there’s the alt-right, where an ironic veneration of historical absolutists and autocrats turned into something genuine somewhere down the line – but the left is hardly exempt. Pages such as Sassy Socialist, or Cool Corbyn Memes promote the slaughter of the bourgeoisie on a daily basis and praise Mao and Stalin with a hazy sense of irony. No one is going to create an account called Maverick Moderate Memes – the likes simply aren’t there.

Am I placing too much emphasis on memes? Of course I am, I’m an out-of-touch metropolitan millennial. Most people exist on a “normie” plane, where memes are literal. A few, like me, occupy a zone where the ironic holds most appeal. A stage higher and we reach the zen-like state of the post-ironic – a dangerous position masterfully balanced by only the sagest of scrollers; it was here, precariously perched on the pinnacle of peak saturation that the alt-righters fell from nirvana into the swampy depths they are now so desperate to drain. But to get real – for a considerable chunk of the population, memes live on the fringes of their lives; a banal and incomprehensible distraction.

Demographic change, the impact of which I am becoming increasingly aware, is perhaps a neglected factor in today’s landscape. It is easy to see why publications such as The Guardian might try to blame these “shocking” results on a rogue internet subculture – this absolves them and places culpability in the hands of an imagined community lacking the resources to launch a rebuttal. It also gives them a right to celebrate a victory that in reality had little to do with them. Gone are the days of the closed nation state with its protectionist economics and homogenous populations, however there is a significant chunk of the population who remember them, and they vastly outnumber the young. Unfortunately, in a democracy, power lies with the majority, and for the foreseeable future expect to see policy geared to a retiring, white, capitalist-cradling clientele.

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Not the Rock Concert as We Know it…

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Canadian minimalist techno group Suuns (pronounced ‘soons’ – like Sassoon) took their unique post-rock performance deep into the basement of Glasgow’s Stereo on Monday, October 24. Waves of bass engulf the audience, resonating with our gelatinous viscera; at first an uncomfortable sensation but one which soon serves to bind the crowd to an almost spiritual, ever-present drone oscillating constantly at the lowest of sub-frequencies.  It is an intense and utterly immersive experience.

Suuns were supported by an ambient electronica-wielding synth programmer – looping less than frantically in front of the projection of a vaguely Neolithic-looking artefact on the screen behind him. From standing outside the venue before the main set began, it appeared that this branch of gently mumbling of comingled sine waves was best comprehended through a fair few feet of concrete.

The set was broad in scope, ranging from the pulsating ambient drone, to truly danceable grooves; from the jagged edge of abrasive guitar to saturated soundscapes of pure, impenetrable noise. Audience interaction is few and far between. Lyrics are mostly lost in the overpowering cacophony, but this does not seem to matter as the vocals are just one layer in this polyrhythmic tapestry.

Chords are almost entirely absent. Progressive rhythm and textures are the dominant features of an ever-evolving sound. They have a unique approach to guitar, which involves employing slides to create the gradually rising pitch build-ups more commonly found in EDM. Screeching interjections emulate the chirps and glitches that abound in modern electronic music.

Speaking to the drummer, Liam O’Neill after the set, he praised the Montreal music scene from which the band sprung, citing the particularly supportive artistic community. The city has given birth to acts such as Arcade Fire, Grimes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor – recent performers at the Fringe.

Suuns have something new to offer. A twisted, confrontational sound that forcibly enraptures the beholder. Gothic techno that will entice the indie connoisseur, the hardcore enthusiast and the bashful beats-browser alike. Is this the future, or just some cult niche of bizarre genius? Only time and the fickle winds of market forces will tell.

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Honeyblood @ Electric Circus Review

Glasgow duo, Honeyblood brought their distinct brand of low-fi noise pop to Edinburgh this October in what was the final gig of their pre-semaphore release tour. No strangers to the more intimate venues such as Electric Circus, one feels as though this is a band destined for larger stages. The racket they make is barely contained in the packed out bar.honeyblood-2.jpg

The band were supported by four piece, EAT FAST – a band who seemed to espouse the same wall-of-noise philosophy. Often with noise rock, the vocals are likely to get drowned in the mix with crashing cymbals and layered guitar fortifications suffocating any singing. With this band however, the vocals cut through well due to the singer’s upper range, an effective use of delay and reverb, and sparing cymbal use by the drummer. As a fairly frequent gig attendee, I appreciate these subtle adjustments which allow for extra nuance in what can be a pretty brash genre. Check out their Soundcloud page here.

Honeyblood’s set just managed to stretch an hour, with the band debuting many as yet unheard songs from the upcoming record. Frontwoman, Stella Tweeddale’s candid interlocution between bandmate Cat Myers on drums, their bass synthesiser Sebastian (serving as a comic third member and articulating himself via a series of chirps and bleeps), and the audience, smoothed song transitions and contributed to an inclusive friendly atmosphere.

The strength of Honeyblood’s fantastic self-titled debut was evident with the crowd really relishing such hits as ‘Super Rat’ and ‘Killer Bangs’. This however, did not seem the true objective of the night, which was to premiere the new material. Honeyblood have certainly evolved, adding extra beef by incorporating a bass synth into the mix, guitar with a harder edge than their previously, at times, dreamy soundscape, and adding drum samples. This is a step away from the DIY, low-fi feel of their earlier work, which seems like an inevitable progression as they acquire more acclaim.  The catchy choruses and sharp lyrics of their first album are still abundant only now backed up by a more developed sound.

Honeyblood capture that pure punk spirit. By that I do not mean the aggression and revolt of the 70s, but the attitude that anyone can make music, and that it does not have to conform to the guitar/bass/drums model. What the duo have is a band stripped down to its raw elements. Granted, in such a set up one needs to have a real talent for writing to allow the songs to carry, and this is a test Honeyblood most certainly pass. Coming away from a gig such as this elicits a reaffirming feeling that at heart, all you really need is guitar and drums.

Honeyblood’s new album Babes Never Die is out on November 4.

 

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Reise nach Deutschland

For the past fortnight I have enjoyed the pleasures and borne the anxieties of solo travel. I’ve always considered myself an uncultured swine for not having seen enough of the world, nor consumed adequately of its literature to compensate. My summer was from the outset a directionless, uncoordinated void so I decided to take measures to rectify this and book myself into a couple of German Youth Hostels. What follows is an account of the time spent in the country complete with detours, tangents and a few pictures for your perusal.

1st September

Sitting here in Oranienburg im Gartenzimmer called Glaube (belief). An unconventional start to the whole ship’s log – yesterday I was too exhausted to write clearly.

I’m in Oranienburg because on the outskirts lies the Sachsenhausen Gedenkstätte – a town whose most famous tourist attraction is a concentration camp.

Sachsenhausen is massive, and one is bombarded on all sides with copious information detailing the various humiliations, atrocities and appalling violations of human dignity which went on at every corner. The main memorial statue depicts a scene of liberation – a Soviet soldier shelters two cowering, rake-thin prisoners with what appears to be a cape. On the colossal tower which serves as a backdrop to this sculpture there is an array of red triangles – the symbol denoting political prisoners, who were this particular camp’s main victims. Of course in addition to the ideologically opposed the usual cohort of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other “inferior” races also passed through these gates, a good lot never to return.IMG_20160901_114935209.jpg

More disturbing than sheer statistics were the original features preserved such as execution blocks, hanging poles, prison cells and even mass crematoriums (used before the SS men started getting inmates to burn their own dead in vast open air pyres). It was in the shelter of one of these “ovens” that a weaker, altogether less triumphant memorial than that of the political martyrs stands. This statue depicts the beating of a skin-and-bones prisoner by two camp guards.

2nd September

Spent the morning and early part of the afternoon in Potsdam, which is a beautiful city with impressive neo-classical architecture. It was the seat of the German Kaisers and the heart of the Prussian Empire under the Fredericks. The town is eager to point out that it is home to the first Brandenburger Tor, and that Berlin’s much bigger gate is only a copycat.IMG_20160902_123554139.jpg

For housing such grand buildings, the city seems strangely empty. Just discovered that beer is unbelievably cheap here. So is bread.

3rd September

I do the Berlin walking tour today (as recommended to me by I guy next to me on the flight in). The journey begins to the backdrop of, this time the real, Brandenburger Tor. From there to the Denkmal für den ermordeten Juden Europas, or Holocaust memorial. This is an awe-inspiring and eerie piece of sculpture – but this is spoiled somewhat by the oppressive summer sun and the unfilterable sound of children’s laughter and ignorant play. I resolve to return and visit the museum under the construction.

Next we are ushered a little way down the street to a curiously inconspicuous carpark of all places. We are soon informed of the reason we have stopped – this is the largely unmarked site of Hitler’s bunker.IMG_20160903_104817966.jpg

Partly demolished by the wrath of Soviet soldiers at the end of the war, the remaining structure was filled in with concrete by those who wished to eliminate all trace of the place where the Führer decided to end it all, so as not to fuel the Hitler cult. The plaque, hidden away in the corner of the carpark, to acknowledge the location’s historical significance was paid for by the residents who were sick of the constant enquiries of inquisitive Third Reich tourists. There has been no funding to commemorate the spot by the German federal government.

4th September

Bundestag Open Day today!

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5th September

Spent the past three hours, and 4 euros, in the Deutsches Historisches Museum. I especially enjoyed the Early Modern section, which was a bit of a throwback to first year – ah, the nostalgia, so long ago!

In the morning I took a walk to the Eastside Gallery – a preserved section of the Berlin Wall. This was definitely worth it, if for the guitarist clad only in beach shorts and a rubber horse mask singing The Strokes’ Someday halfway along alone.IMG_20160905_112437589_HDR.jpg

It appears that quite a lot of the wall is not merely maintained, but also updated, with the political emphasis accordingly renewed. Some of the structure does feel like a gallery, and it’s a shame about the fence which cordons off a significant chunk. That being said, those parts without a fence do seem to receive a heavy dose of somewhat less than artistic graffiti – but isn’t that more authentic then?

Around midday the weather took a turn for the torrential and I had to run for shelter having not taken my large hooded coat to conserve space. My newly impulse-purchased bomber jacket served as a mediocre rain shield here. I found myself at a roadside Lidl (well, when in Germany!). Bought a little pizza and, I couldn’t resist, ein Berliner for afters! Basically a glorified jam doughnut.

6th September

Daytrip to Prague. By some miracle I managed to get there and back on schedule.

I arrived, to my ignorant shame, promptly to discovered that the Czech Republic is not indeed in the Eurozone when I tried to pay for the use of the toilet with a 50 cent piece. The Czechs use crowns.

My impression of the city: Prague is beautiful, but not in a contrived, artificially enhanced way. When she wakes in the morning, dishevelled and unmade up, she still retains a fundamental character of splendour that is inherent and ineffaceable.

What I mean, in less flowery terms, is that despite the rather haphazard layout, smatterings of graffiti, and not exactly ill-kept, but not exactly pristine, streets, Prague defies these minor imperfections with a cultivated and easy charm. Angular diagonals intersect where least expected and one finds oneself unintentionally sucked up an endearing lane flanked narrowly by pastel coloured, ornamented buildings.

I was able to see the magnificent revolving Kafka sculpture outside a shopping centre, and photographed the obligatory astronomical clock. Then I took a hike up to Letna Park, where I am reliably informed once stood the world’s largest statue of Stalin. This was toppled with the fall of Soviet communism and in its place now stands a beguiling animatronic arm which rotates perplexingly for no clear reason. Between two great cauldrons/beacons is now stretched a line upon which several pairs of shoes are strung. Again, absolutely no idea as to the significance.IMG_20160906_163612168_HDR.jpg

7th September

The accommodation at the Burg, Spreewald Youth Hostel is making me question why I visited the DDR Museum in Berlin. This is an East German flat, and no replica either. My room is so orange and low-ceilinged, it’s like I’m on an old sitcom set or in the Utopia prequel episode or something. I laugh to myself as I feel the bathroom furnishings. Everything from the taps to the toilet is plastic – bathed in a Bakelite sheen.IMG_20160907_160412399.jpg

A balmy evening here. Very pleasant. Lebensmittel five minutes away! No Wi-Fi though – eek. Whereas Berlin was bilingual with (pretty much) everyone reverting to English as soon as they were able to pinpoint my nationality, Burg is near the border so signs are also in Polish.

8th September

So it seems to be Cottbus day today. Unlike in Berlin where one can go pretty much anywhere for 3 euros, this city’s network is more limited in terms of affordable travel. It would cost me around 20 euros each way to visit Leipzig or Dresden from here; I’m not sure that’s a bill I’m willing to front.

Cottbus is lovely though, with the Altstadt being especially pretty. I resolve to hire a bike to expand my radius of possible travel.IMG_20160908_123644951_HDR.jpg

9th September

Okay, so I managed to hire a bike for four days. I feel so powerful – move over pedestrians, I am the king of the pavement (and cycle path) now!

My steed only has three gears, and is not the most comfortable of beasts, but it suffices. Brandenburg is the flattest of the Bundesländer – I can go anywhere! Mobility, freedom and speed are mine!

In a little town called Calau now. I’m overlooking a large pond surrounded by reeds – in the middle there is a small eyelet upon which sprouts an oak. A sizable population of ducks swim hither and thither endearingly. Every time an acorn falls from the encircling canopy above, one of the ducks bolts through the water towards it before it can sink and attempts to force the thing down its gullet. Is this normal behaviour for such waterfowl?IMG_20160909_121812915.jpg

10th September

I’m sitting on a bench on the outskirts of our Spreewald sister-town, Lübbenau. It seems bigger and more populated than its altogether sleepier relative, Burg. The cycle route to get here was very beautiful – through secluded woods all the way and not so stressful as yesterday’s unsolicited forays into Privatgelände.IMG_20160910_120232758.jpg

11th September

Bismarckturm! (Also free open day!) The view from the top was basically just trees, seeing as it is situated in the middle of a big forest. In the afternoon I visited the Spreewald thermal pools, which I believe did me some good – sehr entspannend!IMG_20160911_102433942_HDR.jpg

12th September

Cottbus seems to be one of the few free Wi-Fi zones in the entire Spreewald area. I opened my phone to find 58 new notfications *gulp* It seems that Hilary Clinton has pneumonia. Are we one step closer to having Donald Trump become the most powerful person in the world? *shudder*

Reflections on the trip as a whole

Length: although I tried to cram a lot into two weeks of Germany time I feel like the travel to time ratio could have been more weighted in favour of moving around. Berlin is a big city with a great many possibilities and an excellent and affordable transport system to boot.  Burg, however, is just a little village, and the surrounding area is full of little villages that while are quaint in their own way, remain fundamentally similar. Here I started my holiday asking for directions; by the end I was giving them.

On the issue of transport, Germany is great for its cycle routes – at least the Brandenburg area for starters. One is never forced to take a direct route with high traffic volumes – there are always side paths and bypasses in what amounts to a vast arterial network that interweaves the forest.

What has surprised or intrigued me? In Germany there are none of the British supermarkets – not a Tesco or a Sainsbury’s in sight. And why have them when they have such wonderful options of their own – Lidl, Aldi and my personal newfound favourite, Netto. There seems to be no such thing as self-service here, which I suppose can only be a good thing seeing as part of the reason for the trip was to improve my oral language skills. Also it seems that Germans do their recycling, or at least part of it, in supermarkets – perhaps there are incentives for such behaviour? Strangely enough, Tesco are in the Czech Republic.

Highlights

+ DDR Museum

+ Eastside Gallery

+ Deutsches Historisches Museum

+ Prague

+ Spreewald Thermen

Lowpoints

– Not being able to open that bottle of .39-euro beer

– Torrential rain with no hood/shelter in Berlin

– Lack of free public toilets!

– No Wi-Fi in Burg

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I Found a Mouse on Day Two

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It feels strange to sit here and type something that will not end up on The Student by some path or another. After a week of battering out review after review of production after production it feels nice to be goalless for once. Of course, I take pride in what I do – caress the keys and mull over every word. Probably somewhere in between there lies the truth.

The words are flowing, leaking out of me like a bloated milk that’s on the turn and burst its plastic shell. What’s with the milk simile? We’ve got twelve pints. Communication breakdown – Robert Plant’s birthday yesterday.

I’m nearing the end of my first week living in my new flat. Cars swish by; determined heels clack past; hammers and drills demolish and erect, and at night the drunken exchanges – their prayers ascend to heaven. That is, me on the second floor.

I found a mouse on day two. I had to hoover. There was no getting round it, I’m compulsive.

Luckily the hoover’s banshee wail covered my own scream of terror.

On Friday I cleaned the bathroom. It felt great. Nothing like a good bit of self-degradation to get the endorphins flowing.

Melissa guided me through, took me step by step on the “Clean my Space” YouTube channel.

I have a roommate agreement to amend, or as we like to think of it – a flat constitution.

Things are getting very real at the moment. I’m almost beginning to feel like a proper adult – although university is just a conscious delay to that process. Having to sort out gas and electricity bills, exemption from Council Tax (thank goodness not actually paying it), dealing with the landlord etc. etc.

Speaking of landlords, and flats…Rent: The Musical. I went to see it last night with low expectations and a hefty dose of scepticism (date night with my flatmate), but in the end it was actually really good. Q: How do you measure a year? A: Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes! It was only after the show, replaying the song in my head, that I realised there was a T.S. Eliot reference: coffee spoons. Even better.

Today also marks a major milestone in my life. My Spotify playlist has reached 100 songs, and therefore it is time to begin anew. So many discoveries to make, I cannot wait.

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Greek Spirits Guzzled from a Tetra Pack Chalice

guardians-of-the-galaxy_stills-121A Saturday night starts sprawled out on a new sofa suite in front of sci-fi pew-pew fest, Guardians of the Galaxy.

I say new, I mean to us – Grandad’s moved house and floral print has given way to masculine black leather. Two pieces in all; a mammoth three-seater which had to be manoeuvred through the window to fit in and a slouching monstrosity of an armchair. Comfy though, very much so. A couple of more elegant tub chairs were gained on top of that. Also black.

A Glaswegian Imax was the location of my first viewing. An August night, two years ago. My fifth year results hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped; I think I was pretty arrogant that year, hence complacency. Anyway, it was a bit of a reality check. This was on the “Piergroup” – youth division of my local modern art gallery – excursion to the aforementioned city and Scottish capital as part of “Generation 2014”. I’m no serious Marvel fan, and only really have a peripheral knowledge of the main comic books universes, but let me tell you I loved that film.

Escapism and fun is what I needed back then, and Guardians of the Galaxy delivers on so many levels. Only, watching it again, there is no mistaking the pro-US government agenda of the plot. “Ronan” (I know right, weirdly innocuous sounding name for a villain) is referred to as a “terrorist”; the beheading near the start of the film is an obvious visual allegory to ISIS, and the “Cree” culture could be taken for the wider Islamic world versus the morally superior “Xander” system. Furthermore, the Xanderians are the only people deemed ethically competent enough to possess the superweapon of mass destruction, the infinity orb, which could be interpreted as the US’s (and the West’s in general) refusal to allow Iran to gain nuclear capabilities. However, one has to bear in mind that the glory days of comic books occurred during the Cold War, and therefore the prejudices that would have originally allegorised the Soviet Union have simply been transferred to the scourge/scapegoat of modern times – militant Islam.

Of course more important than these sweeping political conclusions is one glaring act of plagiarism brought to my attention after watching the film for a second time.

Oddly enough, it doesn’t concern Guardians of the Galaxy at all – a film which steals most of its tropes from Star Wars and other mainstream “sci-fi”, albeit throwing them together in a humourous and self-aware package. No, this parallel is about the first of the new Star Wars trilogy, the rather blandly entitled The Force Awakens (an enjoyable cinematic spectacle, yet strikingly unoriginal and plunders its own history shamelessly to sell on nostaligia). Both films feature “throne room” consultations where an apprentice figure (Ronan in Guardians and Kylo Ren in Star Wars) speaks to a demi-god hologram master figure. Snoke (I know right, the names are utter garbage) plays a painfully close role to the titan Thanos, at least in terms of cinematography.

Back to the night. It was a Saturday, and not just any Saturday but the Saturday night of Shopping Week. For those not in the know “Shopping Week” is the name given to a seven days of festivities commonly dubbed “gala” in other towns across the nation. Here it seems that the commercial element is stressed, and there can be no doubt that a significant increase in public spending occurs across the celebration’s duration. The concluding night commonly features the guest band performing a set at the pier head; young and old gathering in the open air to watch the fireworks, and ubiquitous binge drinking.

After the film we are shuttled down to Stromness. My sister slurps up a strawberry cider through a straw during the drive to disdain and mirthful disapproval.

We hit the town. “Midas Touch” are playing White Cherry’s Play that Funky Music as we strut down to the harbour front. I phone my friend. They’re at the burger van – no, the other burger van. Okay, I see you now.

Greek spirits are guzzled from a tetra pack chalice. I nab unwanted mozzarella from a gourmet bun. The festive mood is upon us, and the fireworks begin.

The display is melancholy. It’s the visual equivalent of listening to the dramatic third movement of a piano concerto, except the damper pedal’s been left on. Thick fog muffles the effect, parching the spectral acoustic.

The murky atmosphere solidifies the orange sodium glow of the street lighting, the smoky traces of the anticlimactic explosions fanned across the night sky by an indifferent yet ever present wind. Pilgrims, stubbornly clinging to a calendrical constant, slog silhouetted across the pier.

It’s over for another year, and yet the night has just begun.

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My July

Ferry Inn is where I work,

Ferrying, don’t go to kirk,

Colin’s staying in my flat,

On Saturday, the party’s at…?

In August I’ll be at the Fringe,

Reviewing shows, so I can’t whinge,

Or so that may indeed be true,

If application does go through,

Then after that I’m to the land,

Whose tongue I strive to have to hand,

Alone – sole traveller with my backpack,

To salve the wounds of Brexit and fight back,

And when that’s done I’ll start anew,

Begin fresh studies and leave June,

What next year – academically – may bring,

Who can know until exams in Spring?

I hope I’ll find someone who shares my views,

In whom I can confide, that I can use,

But failing that, ‘tis I the priority,

I’ll take all comes my way and make utility

Of all those chances and experience,

And build a case to sell my person with,

Packed and packaged human fodder bale,

Making money, doing studies, shifting ale,

Ale or lager? Vodka coke or rum?

Make your mind before the order’s done,

Or make no mind or matter of at all,

Impassive nihilism is the call.

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