Monthly Archives: June 2014

Lies, lies, lies … on learning to ignore my inner Hyacinth Bucket

Elise drops onto a chair. Faith’s already at the table finishing her lunch, a plump pouch of tobacco set out ready for the after-dinner roll-up.

“Can I blag a rollie?” says Elise.

“Sorry. I’m out of baccy.”

You can feel the silence. Elise looks at Faith, then at the tobacco. They both collapse laughing.

“Why do we do that?” says Faith, when she’s got her breath back. “We lie automatically. It’s so pointless. Why?”

It’s a spark of clarity in a murky world. Addicts lie. It goes with the territory. Guilt. Shame. Abuse. The lies become a way to protect yourself. I’m not saying that’s as it should be. In truth, it’s a fact of life for all of us. Addicts are just more upfront about it.

I sometimes think I’m lucky to have grown up when I did. I was a student activist in the 1970s. We took it as read that our phones were tapped. Paranoid? Perhaps. But it turns out we may well have been right. My introduction to information technology was via a departmental mainframe computer, so I assumed from the start there was somebody ‘out there’ who could check up on what I was doing, even if it was only one of the geeks in the IT department downstairs. Thus, when the world wide web crashed the party I never doubted for one moment that someone, somewhere could follow my exploits, read my emails and keep track of my surfing if they chose to do so. Then Edward Snowden surfaced, bringing dramatic revelations about email surveillance. Yes? And? Did anyone believe our online communications were secure? Confidential? That the holders of power had respect for our individual privacy? Surely we weren’t that naïve.

The assumption that Big Brother Is Watching Me is deeply embedded. When Tesco’s Clubcard sidled into my life a few years ago, it didn’t take long to work out that they weren’t interested in saving me a few pennies so much as in making more money for themselves. I bought nappies for a friend. I got vouchers for baby goods. A friend asked me to pick up dishwasher tablets. I got vouchers for a well-known brand. I owned neither a dishwasher nor a baby.  It was my first experience of targeted advertising.  For a while I was tempted to slip random things into the weekly shop just to see what they’d offer me. It felt as if I’d be pulling the strings instead of them, but I’d actually have been playing straight into their hands.

I’ve been on Facebook almost seven years. We imagine we have control of the image we project on social media, and most of us choose not to post every mood swing or bad hair day. Our profile pictures are selected with more care than new recruits for MI5. But looking back over my past posts I’m alarmed to see how obvious my state of mind has been at times, even though I seldom make it explicit. If Big Brother has been watching, it hasn’t been too hard for him to figure me out. Facebook is a nightmare for our inner Hyacinth Bucket. We want to appear sophisticated. Someone tags us in that dreadful photo from cousin Freda’s wedding. We want people to think we have exciting lives. We end up posting complaints about delayed trains, checkout queues and lost umbrellas.

The truth began to dawn on me a couple of years ago. It really doesn’t matter what Big Brother thinks, or anyone else for that matter. I’m sixty years old, and I never was cool, sophisticated or trendy and I’m not likely to become that way now. I’ve not made wise life choices, at least not by any of the usual criteria. I have no money and no property.  I don’t own a car or have a high profile job. I’ve spent the better part of a lifetime trying to please everyone else, only to turn round and find I’ve made nobody happy, least of all myself.  I’m not out to impress anyone. I have nothing to hide, and after all those years of trying to be someone I’m not, I can’t even begin to describe the relief.

Why do we do that to ourselves? Why do we put so much effort into projecting an image? Into manufacturing a lie that’s as easy to spot as Faith’s tobacco pouch?  Is it because we don’t believe anyone could possibly like us the way we really are? Heaven knows, there are enough people out there willing to reinforce that belief.  Husbands.  School bullies.  Internet trolls.  Ex partners.  Walk a mile in the shoes of a chronic people-pleaser, and you’ll find out soon enough. If you cut off your right arm, someone will want to know why you didn’t give them the left as well.

I sometimes feel I’ve gone through most of my life believing everyone else is in on the secret. You all know how the world works.  You know how to be confident and fabulous.  You have the keys to success that I’ve somehow missed.  But in thinking that way, I’ve given every Tom, Dick or Charlie who’s crossed my path permission to walk over me.  I’ve taken on board the biggest lie there is. All human beings are of equal value, except me.

Parting company with this particular lie hasn’t been the easiest. My inner Hyacinth Bucket has been whispering in my ear for well over half a century. Don’t do that dear. Best keep quiet about that. What will the neighbours say?  She’s shown me how to sweep things under carpets. To accept the intolerable. To keep up appearances, no matter how high the price. She’s drilled me in the insane mental gymnastics you have to do to live with the unjustifiable. She’s taught me to paper over cracks.  To smile when I should have been crying.  To say fine thank you, when I should have screamed please help me, I can’t take this any more.

Perhaps it sounds harsh to call these things lies. After all, they’re part of the game.  Smile, though your heart is breaking. A stiff upper lip, a new frock, a spray tan or a spot of lipstick. A little white lie never hurt anyone. Where’s the harm? The harm comes when the lies are in control. Time was when everything I did was to please or placate, to make happy or to impress someone else. I got buried in the rubble of my own image.

I own more lipstick now than I ever did, and I don’t care what people think if I wear the wrong colour, smudge it or get it on my teeth. If someone’s going to think worse of me for that, we’re not destined to be friends.  Of course Hyacinth comes knocking once in a while. That lipstick’s very BRIGHT dear. You’re going to look a bit SILLY wearing that at your age, aren’t you.  Are you QUITE sure you want to post this on the blog? Funny how she always uses capitals.  But you know what?  Life’s been a whole lot better since I started ignoring her, and began to understand that all human beings are of equal value, myself included.


I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.

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If you’ve got time to be happy, you’re just not busy enough …

Meandering around the internet in search of inspiration has become a regular pastime of late. It’s a fascinating place. All human life is there. Sometimes more in your face than you’d like it to be. Do I want to know that there are still women out there who consider turning up to an awards ceremony semi-naked to be one of the most powerful feminist statements the pop world has made to date? I thought that kind of thinking had died out with the Spice Girls. Girl Power? Yeah. Right. Straight-down-the-line sex sells. As old as the hills. I suppose if you’re Rihanna you can get away with it. Don’t try to tell me it has anything to do with feminism though.

That one I was compelled to read. Simply to find out how any rational woman could have written such arrant nonsense. Articles that offer graphic images of violence are another matter. It doesn’t add anything to my understanding of human suffering to see photos of the strung-up bodies of two teenage rape victims. The photos posted with *GRAPHIC IMAGES* warnings. Shouting at their target audience in capital letters. I often skip articles like this altogether. I always skip the photos. And I’m not going to post any links here. They’re little more than a gratuitous way to attract a certain type of reader. Unspeakably disrespectful toward the victims of violence.

That’s the trouble with the internet. Leaves nothing to the imagination. And everything comes in bite-sized chunks. Easily digested. Tweets. Photos. Status updates. Video clips. Or for the slightly more dedicated, newspaper articles and blog posts. We just don’t have time in our schedules for anything more demanding. ‘Busy-ness’ has become the new ‘good-ness’. To be snowed under is somehow to be virtuous. We put on a martyred air. Of course I’d love to … read more books … write a novel … learn to crochet … take up watercolour painting … [insert heart’s desire here] … But I just haven’t got time … *deep sigh*.

Before I write another word, I should come clean. You’re looking at a blog by the woman who achieved an honours degree in English Literature and Creative Writing without once reading an entire set text from cover to cover. Why? Because she was too damn busy. So you have a perfect right to take anything I say from here on in with a large pinch of salt. If you haven’t done so already.

For all the busy-ness of my own life I couldn’t help raising an eyebrow when I came across This website invites you to commit to posting one photo every day for a hundred days. A photo of something that made you happy that day. That’s all. Great idea I thought. A whole lot easier than writing five hundred words a day. For a hundred-and-twenty-five days. I read on. I came up against their assertion that 71% of people give up the challenge, citing lack of time. Lack of time? Come on. For heaven’s sake. How long does it take to shoot and post a photo?

I suppose happiness isn’t as simple as that. We’re programmed to believe we need to be ‘made happy’. By external circumstances. A well-cooked dinner. The latest gadget. A beautiful home. Supportive friends. A loving relationship. The perfect life. There’s an unattainable ideal held out before us. The carrot that keeps the donkey on the treadmill. Always slightly out of reach. We’re in a constant state of discontent. Comparing our life with other people’s. Finding it wanting. Running ever faster to keep pace. In addition, we’re fed the idea that being happy is a bit of a luxury. An indulgence. Something hard working people shouldn’t really have time for. If you’ve got time to be happy, you’re just not busy enough.

Even asks people to submit a picture of what made you happy. Made me hesitate a little. Happiness isn’t something you can achieve. I’ve known people who had everything you could wish for. Miserable as sin. Happiness is a state of mind. It’s enjoying the journey. Appreciating the small things. Being thankful.

A few years back I was in a really bad place. A very good friend sent me a birthday card. I have no idea whether he’d read the quote on the back. There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. I didn’t get it then. Filed it for future reference. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. Since then I’ve been to hell and back. Now I understand. So I think I’ll do it. Take photos. It’ll take me all of two minutes a day. Five at most. The worst that can happen is I’ll end up with a hundred photos. Any one of which will make me smile when I see it. So what have I got to lose?



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.



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Ella, Louis and the ethics of capitalism

I’ll hold my hands up. I’m a grumpy old woman. I’m particularly prone to it-wasn’t-like-that-in-my-day remarks. To be fair, some things really weren’t like that when I was younger. Once upon a time there were no mobile phones for instance. No, really. I can remember that far back. No hands-free kits either. If you saw someone talking to himself in the street, you crossed the road. Sharpish. I can still remember the intense embarrassment of the first time I answered my phone in the street. I got some very funny looks from passers-by.

Nowadays I’d get much funnier looks if I said I didn’t have a mobile phone. It’s become perfectly normal to wash dirty linen in public. At high volume. Without a moment’s thought for anyone who might happen to be listening. Who needs Jeremy Kyle when you can travel on public transport? One memorable bus journey a year or so ago I was forced to listen to a young mother haranguing her boyfriend. All the way from the city centre to Brislington. In a traffic jam. I imagine she was a young, single mother by the time she got off the bus. The rest of us were just very relieved.

I do have a mobile of course. I’d be lost without it. The data package in particular. I’m that irritating woman who updates her Facebook status at every stop on long journeys. Posts pointless aphorisms. Pictures from Hippie Peace Freaks. Updates from political parties. Diatribes against UKIP. Links to her blog … And pleas for donations to her fund raising page for One25.

The trouble is, I’m endlessly fascinated by people. Both online and in the flesh. Not a bad quality in a writer I guess. Yes, I make pretence of grumpiness. In reality I’m an incorrigible optimist. Especially when it comes to the human race. You’d think years of bitter experience would have taught me caution. Not a bit of it. I’m still a glass-half-full-to-cup-runneth-over woman deep down. A big marshmallow a colleague once called me. She was pulling me out from underneath yet another heap of squabbling small girls in the school playground at the time. I’m not sure she meant it as a compliment.

One of the downsides of growing older is it’s more or less impossible to do so without colliding head-on with the darker side of human nature. No matter how hard you try to ignore it. Especially if you choose to live in the heart of a city. The older I get, the more convinced I become that I don’t understand people at all. I’ve seen so many things that sadden. Enrage. The past couple of years I’ve been volunteering in a local community café. Ella and Louis have become regular customers of late. Ella’s no more than 25. She comes to the counter. Orders for both of them. Without looking you in the eye. Louis’s much older. I didn’t get the dynamic at first. I’m a bit slow. I was talking to another customer last week. One with a serious habit to support. I slowly became aware that she was terrified of Louis. The penny dropped. It dropped still further yesterday. Ella came to the counter as usual. She couldn’t keep still. A mass of tics. Twitches. If she’s not working the street already she will be soon. Anybody want to tell me why a man would want to take a beautiful human being and turn her into a drivelling junkie? And then make money out of her? No. I don’t get it either.

But Louis’s just the thinnest end of a very mucky wedge. So thin he’s almost invisible. I’ll admit that the people I find hardest to understand in the equation of addiction and street sex work are the men. But I’m not simply railing against their exploitation of women today. Or against misogyny in general. Tempting though it might be after reading reports of ‘honour killings’ this week (I’m sorry, where exactly is the ‘honour’ in slaughtering your own daughter?) And learning about the epidemic proportions of rape culture in the USA.

As I said, Louis’s the thin end. On a small scale he’s behaving exactly like anyone else out to make a quick buck. He’s exploiting other human beings. In his case it’s just the one. So far as I know. Although I doubt Ella’s the first. Barring a miracle she won’t be the last either. If he wore a sharp suit and carried a few glossy brochures, there’d be little to distinguish him from the salesman in Polly Toynbee’s article about the commodification of vulnerable children. If he’d made his first billion or two he might be operating on a par with the likes of of Coca Cola or Monsanto. I’m at a loss to understand how his particular modus operandi is any more reprehensible than theirs. But as I’ve said before, the older I get, the more convinced I become that I just don’t get the human race at all.




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.



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On the edge

Today’s post on the blog is a short story, written in response to a title suggested by a friend.  It contains themes which some readers may find upsetting and some strong language.  Please read with care.

Two things I hate. Heights. And dark places. Especially cars. The first time was in a car. My uncle. Well, not a real uncle. Dad’s mate. He used to bring me up to here to look at the stars. He’d park right on the edge. He had a telescope. I chattered. He pointed out Orion and the Great Bear. Told me wild stories of hunters. Battles. Ancient warriors. Put his arm round me to steady the telescope. A strange blend of fear and security.

The first couple of times, he got out of the car. Came back a few minutes later. Zipping his trousers. I thought he’d peed in the hedge. I was only eight. When it finally happened I cried.

“Don’t want none of that crying. You’re a big girl now.”

We drove home in silence.

“Best not tell your mum and dad. They might not understand.”

I watched the car disappear round the corner before I went into the house. One of the rear lights was out.

I dreamed it all night a few days later. Woke up sweating and screaming. Mum came rushing in. Rocked me as I shook and sobbed. She stiffened when I tried to tell her. Held me at arm’s length.

“Don’t be silly dear. It was only a dream.”

She tucked me back in bed. Withdrew.

I threw up all day the next time he came. Mum gave me hot, sweet tea. Wrapped an extra scarf around me.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine,” she said. “Have fun.”

“It’s your fault Mousie,” he said afterwards. “Shouldn’t be so fucking pretty.”


The stars are bright above me. Orion’s belt pulled hard around his hunter’s waist. I hurt. The grass is wet. And someone’s dog’s been here. I should move. I was twelve the last time. Two days after my birthday. My first period. I tried to tell him. Couldn’t find the words. He found the pad in my knickers. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. Pure revulsion.

He backhanded me. Threw me on the ground. Pinned me and spat in my face.


He drove off and left me.

Mum was furious when I got home. He’d called. Said I’d run off with my friends. He wasn’t coming any more. Couldn’t trust me. No use telling her the truth. He was a grown-up after all. Who would she believe? She asked about the bruise on my cheek. I said I caught it on a swing.

“Serves you right,” she said.

I was grounded for a month.


It’s cold. The dog-smell’s getting worse. I hate it when people don’t clean up after their dogs. There’s no excuse. Even if you’re in the state I am. I always clean up. If I see her do it of course. She’ll be fretting. Sammie. Joe upstairs says she cries when I’m working. I felt bad about that. Not because it disturbs him. For Sammie. Downstairs wouldn’t notice. She’s flat out. Worse than I am. She’ll be working anyway.

Sammie’s all I’ve got at the moment. Tom’s away. To be honest it was a relief when they came for him. Miss him like hell now though. Better the devil you know. He’ll be out in a few weeks. So long as it’s not like the last time. He broke my jaw. Wouldn’t believe I hadn’t been sleeping with Joe. I had actually. But only when I needed money. That’s not the same thing. Not really.

What day is it? If I could work that out I might know why I’m here. I know where I am. The grass. The stars. How could I forget? I’ve no idea how I got here. My ribs hurt all down the left side. I cracked one last year. Fell down the stairs. This feels the same. Tom was shouting. Swore he never pushed me. He kept making me laugh afterwards. I don’t think he knew how much it hurt.

This is crazy. I should move. I could die here. Maybe I wouldn’t mind that at the moment. Someone’s dog might find me. Out for a proper walk. Lick my face. Like Sammie does to wake me. Sleep without nightmares. Sounds like heaven. My luck it’ll be the same bloody dog as left this lot I’m lying in. Not the dog’s fault. I know. It’d be the right place for me to die, mind. Where it all started.

The sound of his footfall makes my stomach clench. I’d know it anywhere. Especially here. Even after all these years. I play dead. Total relaxation. They taught us in prison. Anger Management. I’m better at it than Sammie. We play at home sometimes. She gets bored. Yawns. Goes off for one of her toys. Nudges me till I get up. He’s standing over me. Zipping his trousers.


He spits. The warm slime slides down my cheek. Onto my nose. It’s all I can do not to gag. He kicks me. I flop. He grunts.

Through my eyelashes I watch him settle. On the edge. Hunch over a roll-up. Pull a can out of his pocket. A sick silhouette against the fading darkness. I’d kill for a rollie right now. And a swig from that can. He twists to look at me.

“Bitch. See I was right. Knew all along you were nothing but a slag.”

He sucks on the roll-up. Mutters and curses. Fumbles for the lighter.

“Why’d it have to be you?”

He grabs my ankle. Shakes my foot. It’s limp. The shoes flies off. Over the edge. Damn. I liked those shoes. He drops the foot again. Like it’s a piece of dirt.

“I’m not going to prison for a worthless slag. No way.”

The rim of the sky’s beginning to be pinkish. I drift off. See the car door open. Another faceless punter. I get in. He reaches over. Locks the door. Before I have a chance to run. Then it’s fists. Teeth. Booze-fouled breath. Steel-capped boots. Fingers twisting up my hair. Yanking my head. Tearing at my scalp. I’m out before it’s over. I know what’s happening though.

“Question is, what do I do with you, Mousie?”

He stubs his cigarette. Grinds it in the grass. My stomach knots. I haven’t heard that name for years.

“Can’t leave you here. You might wake up. Tell ’em all what happened. Can’t be having that now, can we?”

He prods my naked foot. As if he thinks I’ll answer. Then he makes to stand. His foot slips. Dislodges a skelter of earth and stones. For one blissful moment I think he’ll go slithering down the scarp along with them. He scrabbles. Frantic. Twists. Falls on his knees at my feet. Snarls

“Don’t you be laughing at me.”

He staggers to his feet. Stumbles out of my sight line. A safe way from the edge. Stooped. Scrubbing at the grit and chalk dust on his jeans.

I can’t feel my feet. My right arm has pins and needles so bad. Maybe they’ll have to amputate. He’s chuntering behind me. Odd words float by. Bitch. Trouble. Why her? The sky’s lighting up. Peach. Plum. Orange. Flame red. Like someone’s gone wild with a hundred lipsticks. Squashing. Splattering. Scribbling. Only that so doesn’t do it justice. Nowhere near. I’ve never seen this place in daylight. Should bring Sammie here. She’d love it. She’d go nuts.

The pain’s so sudden. Immense. It knocks the breath right out of me. I didn’t hear him coming. Forget playing dead. The boot’s on its way for the second kick. I summon up the fury of twenty years’ survival. Roll. Catch his ankle. Yank. With every ounce I have. He howls as he flies over me. It’s the weirdest sound. Half screech. Half moan. He thuds. Crunches. Echoes down the chalk face. A clatter of grit and stones all follow in his wake. Till the last one rattles down. Everything goes quiet.

The sun appears. Pours onto the grass. In liquid warmth. At last. No need to move. I think I’ll bring Sammie up here later. There’ll be police cordons. Obviously. Still plenty of space to run though. She needs to run. She’ll be so happy. I’ll go get her soon. Right now I need to sleep a little while. That’s all.




I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.



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Only boring people …

I suppose every parent’s done it once. Somewhere towards the end of a school holiday. The conversation goes like this …

Child (Watched Spiderman / 101 Dalmatians / Thomas the Tank Engine / Frozenfour times before breakfast) – “I’m bo-o-o-o-red.”

Parent (Out of ideas. Doesn’t want to lose face) – “Only boring people get bored.”

I’ll hold my hands up now. I played my part in passing on this gem of a put-down to the next generation. All I can do is apologise. Eat three huge helpings of humble pie. Pray that my own children are wiser parents than I was.

Of course, once upon a time I was the initiator of the conversation. Only I’d read four books before breakfast instead of watching DVDs. Maybe that’s why I spent half a lifetime and more thinking I was boring. I admit my life hasn’t been as overtly exciting as many. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve flown. Unless you record return journeys separately. I’ve never tried skydiving. Free running. Paragliding. Skiing. Surfing. Not even a half marathon. Ten pin bowling is as extreme as sport gets in my world. I bet you don’t know anyone else who’s broken their arm in a bowling alley. No. Really. I did.

I’m not big on hobnobbing with the rich and famous either. Could be because the whole concept of celebrity’s a bit lost on someone who believes in equality. I did meet a famous footballer in Bourne and Hollingsworth once. During the 1966 World Cup. Buying a pink bridesmaid’s dress. Not him. Me. My mother got his autograph. I can’t remember his name. Oh, and a drunken mate of my then boyfriend poured beer over my feet in a north London pub one evening. A dubious pleasure. I believe the perpetrator owns the Daily Express these days. Definitely not someone I’d want to admit to having met.

My soul’s about to notch up a few more points. If confession really is good for it. Over the years I’ve often envied people whose lives seemed more interesting than mine. Who’ve been to exotic places. Had exciting careers. Been happily married. Done worthwhile things. Changed people’s lives. Made a difference. I’ve compared myself to them. Thought my life boring. Written myself off. Come to think of it, is there anyone out there who’s never felt that way? Honestly?

Just recently I’ve been wondering if I haven’t got it all wrong though. The other morning I was walking to Tesco’s. Doesn’t sound much fun? Bear with me. I saw a lady I know slightly heading towards me. With a bright red poppy. We stopped to chat. It’s become quite hard to walk any distance in this city without bumping into someone I know. As we made to continue on our separate paths, she handed me the poppy.

“I said I’d give this to the first person I met.”

I smiled all the way to the supermarket. Sometimes it’s the small things. The off-the-wall people. The butterfly on the buddleia. The bemused guy who stops cutting the hedge. So it won’t fly away before you can take a photo. The graffiti on the way to work. You look nice today. The giant, crochet doily suspended from the railway bridge. For no apparent reason. I’ve gone about for years believing my life was boring. Believing I’m a boring person. I probably was. When I was bored. But I’m not bored any more. So watch this space …



I’m blogging to raise funds for a charity close to my heart. I’ve given up NOT being a writer for 125 days in support of One25’s work with vulnerable women in Bristol. If you’ve enjoyed reading this, you can find out more about what I’m doing by visiting One25’s website at You can also support them by visiting my fund raising page at where you can make a donation and suggest an idea for a short story or a post on the blog. Thank you.


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