Thanks for the laughs

Jerry Lewis died late today (our time – it was the morning in Las Vegas) at the age of 91. There were lots of tributes as the night wore on. The New York Times was very quick with an obituary of some great length. Clearly they’d been waiting.

It made me wonder at what age they start writing them. With someone like Jerry, living to 91, they could have started years ago but then when someone like River Phoenix (23) or Heath Ledger (28) suddenly ups and dies…well, they’d have nothing ready. Some poor copywriter would have to go mad and find out as much as possible in next to no time.

Rather than discuss mortality, I’d rather look at life…in particular the life in our garden.

It’s around this time in past posts, that I’ve taken and included a photo from the back of the garden looking towards the house. Sadly, I haven’t done it every year so the changes are quite big. Still, it shows the garden developing. It starts in 2012…


The office in 2012

The office in 2012


The office in 2013

The office in 2013


Day-z has taken Carmen’s place

It certainly looks pretty different this year.


No dogs because it was raining

And just to show that you never really stop working in the garden, today we went to the garden centre and bought some plants…

Mirinda bought some of the button flowers on the table here

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Garlic with everything

A while ago (I think it was the last time Mirinda went to the Isle of Wight) I didn’t get to go to the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. I was bought back a whole load of garlic based products including a magnificent infused oil. I have bemoaned the fact that I didn’t get to go but this was sorted today as Suzanne booked us into the Garlic Farm restaurant for lunch today.

The journey down was nice and smooth though, because of the work at Waterloo, the trains don’t really connect with the ferries as well as they normal do. Even so, it was very pleasant. Possibly not pleasant for the couple with the suitcase who kept moaning about people not queuing behind them.

The queue is completely unnecessary unless you want to sit on the sundeck but that didn’t stop these two utter miseries complaining under their breath every time some jolly day-tripper tripped by them. I’d have laughed but I don’t think they’d have got the joke somehow.

Of course the ferry ride across to the island was as delightful as it always is and Suzanne and Rafi turned up shortly after we arrived to whisk us off to the home of all garlic.

(Following on from yesterday…Rafi was very pleased with his new phone. I was very pleased because the unlock code arrived while we were on the train which meant he could use it straight away rather than wait for seven days.)

After a decidedly squeezing trip down a very narrow lane which had Suzanne in all sorts of pre-panic modes, we parked up and posed for Mirinda’s obligatory photo.

I should explain Rafi’s pose. This is because his voice has started to break. It is also to show off his braces which are pushing his jaw forward to avoid an overbite in later years. He has reached the shooting up stage during which, if we don’t see him for a few months, the changes are massive. Suzanne, on the other hand, was unaware of the voice breaking thing and blamed the braces for the fact that he had trouble articulating. (I explained to her that the Inarticulate Phase is only just starting.)

Mirinda suggested that Rafi is in the second stage of growing into a man. The second stage is called the monkey stage…because he sounds like one.

Despite the absence of bananas, lunch was a delight as was the company, a rather inquisitive wasp. This wasp was particularly interested in Rafi’s blue hat and his red fleece. The wasp didn’t really care about anyone else. This meant that Rafi was never completely still for very long, avoiding the wasp. It’s just one of those things he does.

Entrance to the Garlic Farm

We also went for a lovely wander around the farm, noting the memorials to long dead garlic bunches and the strangely movable sunflower patch. Before leaving I was the only one brave enough to buy a garlic ice cream which I ate in the car.

Before heading back home, we stopped off at Totland Bay, somewhere none of us had been to, even Suzanne and Rafi. The woman who lives underneath them recommended it. We walked along the waterfront in both directions,m eventually ending up at the Waterfront for a drink. (The Waterfront is open 365 days a year. I guess they only close every February 29.)

Totland Bay beach huts

It was a lovely day blotted only by the fact that we drove right past the previously unknown Shipwreck Centre & Maritime Museum. While I was very distressed at discovering its existence just as we drove away from it, Mirinda was far too pleased at the avoidance. Maybe next time…

Rafi was left to fend for himself at the flat while Suzanne drove us back to the ferry where we boarded in the nick of time then hopped aboard the next train home. It was a lovely day.

The Queen Mary 2 and not our ferry home

By the way, the garlic ice cream was not all that ‘garlicky.’ The garlic was mixed into dark chocolate, which dominated it. The garlic taste was definitely there but pretty much took second place to the chocolate…which is a shame because I don’t really like chocolate ice cream.

Possibly the best part of the day was when Suzanne told us that Rafi has declared he is an Atheist. I in turn declared that as a Godless Father, my work is done.

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Nice to see you

Brucie died today. After close to a million years in show biz, he finally shuffled off the coil and went to join the rest of his generation’s entertainers. Growing up in Oz and not being old enough, means I missed out on most of Bruce Forsyth’s greatest moments (the London Palladium and Game Shows mostly) but it’s not been possible to live in this country for long without becoming acquainted with his name and legendary status. Most recently he has been hosting the celebrity dancing show that I never watch. He was a national treasure.

Aldershot, on the other hand, is not a national treasure by any stretch of the imagination. Unless by national treasure you mean a once busy army town now virtually devoid of life and anything attractive. It’s as if when the army moved away the town just decided to slowly die.

I haven’t been into Aldershot for ages. I’m ignoring when I go to the football because we sort of skirt the edges and all the shops are generally closed. This morning, however, I was forced to go. The reason for this is not simple.

Next term, Rafi is starting at high school. He will also be getting himself to school on the bus. Given Suzanne has always taken and collected him up until now, she is concerned that he might get lost or forget to get off the bus or…well do the sort of things that young boys out and about can often do. For this reason she wants him to have a phone so he can ring or text her if there’s ever a problem.

Ages ago, Rafi’s grandfather gave him a Samsung Galaxy which not only has never been used but was hidden and not been seen since. On the off chance that we just might have old, redundant technology lying around the house, Suzanne asked if we’d have a phone that Rafi could use.

Being a technology hoarder, naturally I had my old Samsung Galaxy lying around. I charged it up and took everything off it before handing it over (we’re seeing them tomorrow on the Isle of Wight).

The biggest job was getting it unlocked from O2 who is my provider and has been for a very long time. The nearest O2 shop is in Aldershot so, after the gym, I caught the bus in and visited the shop.

As I said, the place has all the ambience of a ghost town falling just short of the tumbleweeds. Actually I think the tumbleweeds didn’t like it either and left with the army.

High Street, Aldershot

A lot of the shops along the pedestrian precinct are closed; boarded up. The faces of the few remaining humans seem devoid of personality as if the leases are up on their minds as they wait for the inevitable. It would all be a bit sad if the population was made up of mindless drones but these are human beings and they should be able to make their own happiness.

Still, I managed to go into the Wellington Centre and find the O2 shop (it’s one of three phone shops in a row) and sorted out the unlocking. It will take anything up to seven days to unlock (don’t ask me why). It could, if I’m lucky, take a day. I’m not holding out for that.

The woman in the shop was very helpful and I like to think she enjoyed having a customer who smiled at her. I left for the bus stop as soon as I could.

Bus stop

At home I was busy entering references for Mirinda’s DBA (I’ve just swapped one referential job for another) from a massive spreadsheet that was only ever half done. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Then, late in the day, we headed up to Odiham for a celebration dinner. What was the celebration? Mirinda finally getting the documents sent off for DAP. It was a Red Letter Day indeed.

Lobster for Mirinda

We ate at Bel and the Dragon but the service wasn’t as good as usual. I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that all the female waiting staff had long blonde hair, which reminded us of Seinfeld. Andrew, the Australian manager wasn’t there so maybe they were being a bit slack. Though it wasn’t that busy for a Friday night, which is sad.

There was a couple sitting behind Mirinda and, after the man paid for the meal, he disappeared (I assumed he’d gone to the loo) then the woman suddenly stood up and sent the wine cooler flying across the floor.

It was quite the clatter and water and ice went everywhere. When asked if she was alright, the woman exploded at the poor waitress saying that “No! Everything is not alright! In fact it’s terrible!” before she stormed out.

It was quite exciting. Mirinda reckons they’d had an argument or had just broken up over their meal. Anyway, it brighten things up a bit.

While the restaurant was very quiet, the food was, as usual, excellent.

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Dog tales

Freya loves sleeping. Except for food and going for walks, she’d rather be asleep. And with sleep must come great comfort. Her preferred place to sleep is on a cushion but the bed is her favourite, as long as we’re in the bedroom with her. Unlike Emma, who is more than happy to spend hours up there regardless of the location of anyone else.

Speaking of Emma, she’s now started to sit on the bay window sill in Mirinda’s library. This is something the poodles always did and quite a few other dogs in the street do as well – I mean they do it on their own window sills…not ours. Of course Emma needs the ladder back chair to be in an appropriate position with nothing on it in order to use it for a leg up. Now she just has to realise that it’s more comfortable to lie down on the sill than to sit hunched over, her nose trying to squeeze out of the barely open window.

When it comes to comfort, Freya will recline on anything that is left on the floor that she considers might be comfortable. Mirinda put the stripey mat on the floor and Freya instantly figured it was for her.

Cheeky monkey

While they both have their own dog beds downstairs, Freya will quite often sleep with Emma when she perceives that it’s a bit cold. I’ll often find them snuggled up together. Emma never looks that happy about it but I don’t think she has much choice.

When it comes to going to bed, Freya doesn’t just walk into hers she has to do a series of little, lamb-like hops from the floor to one and then to the other. When it comes to waking up in the morning, Freya normally takes quite a while to become conscious. She’s not really a morning puppy.

Actually, she’s not really an anytime of the day puppy if you ask me. She has the amazing ability to fall asleep at the blink of an eye then takes an age to manage walking…unless there’s an actual walk in the offing in which case she’s instantly awake. And food. She’d do anything for food. Even wake up.

Of course she never misses the postman. She and Emma have an excellent relationship with him. Mind you, he does feed them doggie treats. Still, it’s lovely to see him tell them to sit and wait and they actually do. The postie told us that he has a great relationship with all the dogs on his round. It must cost him a lot in dog treats.

Millie (Sally’s dog) has an interesting relationship as well. As well as the postman, she is enamoured of one of the binmen who come every Tuesday. I watched this week as Millie and Sally were waiting at her house, crouched down, as the garbage truck approached them. The binman was grabbing Otto bins and wheeling them into the street and every time Millie saw him, she’d be straining to get away from Sally.

Eventually Sally let her go and she raced up to the binman. He laughed and patted her, making a big fuss. The other binman joined in the laughter and smiles. It made me feel very happy about living in such a street.

And, finally, I really like the fact that our Starbucks now allows dogs to come into the store.

PS: For the benefit of future Gaz, I’m including the note that a group stupid morons drove a van into people on Las Ramblas in Barcelona today. Seeing as I’ve visited it a few times over the last couple of years, makes it a little more personal.

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Big Lizzie

Forget Big Ben, Big Lizzie turned up at Portsmouth today and she was all over the news. The newest Royal Navy recruit, HMS Queen Elizabeth II is the biggest ship in the fleet. She is an aircraft carrier and is rather huge.

Image from the BBC

The photo above shows her passing the Victory. The difference in size is somewhat marked.

Of course, the news has been full of all sorts of stats regarding the massive ship. For instance, she’s taller than Niagara Falls and longer than the Houses of Parliament.

She has been a while being built and, in fact, was christened by the Queen back in July 2014. She smashed a bottle of whisky on her bow after a build that lasted eight years (six years longer than planned). She also went well over budget but who cares? She is totally a thing of beauty.

I think my favourite stat is that her on-board power supply could boil 300,000 kettles.

In mentioning Big Ben the other day, I feel I should explain why the bell will be rendered silent on Friday for a (now) unspecified time. Maintenance on the Elizabeth Tower means that workers will be within very close proximity to the bell at all times of the day. Health and Safety has deemed it would prove injurious to the ears of the workers for the bell to be going off all the time. It was therefore seen as important to stop the bell.

The announcement, however, brought a barrage of complaints from ministers (including the Prime one) saying that the original brief did not include silencing the bell for four years. In fact Theresa May was adamant that this could not happen because Big Ben is a major symbol of London and should always ring out. The bell must ring, she (almost) said.

At least one commentator has suggested that the workers wear ear defenders and now the decision is under review. So we shall see. I know the puppies will be relieved because at 6pm every night, it’s Big Ben that tells them it’s time for tea.

Emma is really, really bothered

Meanwhile, at home, Mirinda had the day off, doing virtually nothing. She felt it a just reward after the last month of continuous document perusal and writing. We had a very restful day.

Freya chewing my fingers

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Travelling to Kent

There’s something a bit special about going to a new football ground for an away game. I can’t claim to have visited as many as Nicktor (obviously) but I am now in double figures. Tonight I added another ground – Maidstone, Kent.

Not as good as our tickets!

Nicktor suggested it to me and Steve last week and we were both delighted to join him on a trip around a bit of the M25 into deepest, darkest Kent.

The day was glorious – far too warm for football – and perfect for a few pre-match beers sitting in the beer garden of the White Rabbit pub.

We sat with Bill and Heather and, after listening to Nicktor’s drivel for a while, we gladly wandered across to the ground. And the one thing I noticed straight away is how convenient the ground is to, firstly the car-park and, secondly, the White Rabbit. It’s just across the roundabout. Perfect.

The White Rabbit, Maidstone

And the pub was lovely though it was a bit sad that there weren’t more real ale taps working. We had to put up with Spitfire. Fortunately this is not that big a hardship. Mind you, Spitfire is a bit dangerous. It has been known to set me off into fits of the giggles. Everyone was, thankfully, spared this tonight.

And so to the game.

It was a good, hard fought game with Aldershot pretty much the better team throughout the game. It was a good flowing game as well, mostly because the referee let it flow (unlike last Tuesday when the ratio of yellow cards to minutes played was almost 1:1). While we dominated and were easily the attacking side, Maidstone put up a good, solid defence throughout the first half and so we went to the break with the score unchanged at 0-0.

The stand reserved for the away fans was a bit cramped. The announcer claimed there was around 370 of us but it felt (and sounded) like a lot more. There were a few pointed remarks made to the stewards about opening up the empty section between us and them. The remarks were, basically, ignored. And to be fair, being all crammed into a small space made for a lot more noise and shared experience.

Steve and his chicken pie

The second half started the same as the first had finished, as if there’d been no break. We attacked, they defended, at one point having the entire team parked in front of the goal. But, eventually, Jake Gallagher managed to break through, sending the ball firmly into the back of the net. (Incidentally and coincidentally, the Maidstone ground is called The Gallagher Stadium so I guess it was only natural that he should score.)

Of course we all went a bit mad while the Maidstone supporters went a bit quiet. And so the score remained until the fourth official held the board up to indicate there would be an extra four minutes to be played. We couldn’t quite work out where the four minutes came from. There’d been a bit of a hold up at one point but it had only been for a minute…if that. Still, we had another four minutes to hold onto our tentative lead.

We could have continued to attack, to try and double our lead but, instead, we defended, trying to push them back or retaining possession. And, of course, the unthinkable (which we’d all been thinking would happen) happened. With about 30 seconds left to play, Maidstone scored.

It was devastating. Particularly when the game continued from the centre circle for the briefest of moments before the referee blew his whistle for full time. Gutted, we were. Mind you, at least we didn’t lose. A 1-1 draw is better than that. Just.

The main stand at Maidstone

And so the long drive home, having to circle around the A3 at Guildford because they seemed to be building it. We weren’t downcast or miserable, in fact I regaled them with tales of ships and alcoholic anecdotes of excess. It was a pleasant ride.

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Achieving the incredible

This morning, after the gym, I started to proof and edit a document for Mirinda. It was not by her but had several contributors. It was while I was reading it that I realised how much Mirinda’s dream of a university had not just come true but was now in the hands of people who shared her dreams.

When I think that five years ago it didn’t exist and Mirinda and I were the only ones who knew what she wanted to achieve, I can’t quite believe it. There have been a few doubts and stressful times and like a recalcitrant teenager, the school has had to be cajoled into being what it needs to be but it now seems to be heading in the right direction.

It proves that a ship needs a captain in order to give the orders, set the rules and decide on the direction but without a crew, it just isn’t going to leave its mooring. And the crew needs to believe in the captain and follow her lead or it will flounder and, eventually, sink.

I guess what I really mean is that I am very proud of my wife. Her vision may have seemed impossible at times but I never doubted she could do it but even so, it doesn’t stop me thinking she has achieved the impossible. She is brilliant and I’m glad I married her.

Something else I had to check today was a bunch of links. This Youtube video was among them and gives a small taste of just a bit of what she has created:

In surprising news today, it was announced that Big Ben will be falling silent. I know I reported this earlier in the year when it was first announced (due to maintenance on Elizabeth Tower) but what no-one realised was that it will be silent until 2021! And I don’t mean 21 minutes past eight! That’s four years. I think London is in shock.

In order to calm this post after such a devestating announcement, here’s one of the alleyways I walk down to and from the gym…

…and, in case that’s not soothing enough, here’s one of our lovely hollyhocks from the front garden…

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The best in the world

There’s a number of things I especially like about Sundays.

Firstly, when we’re both awake, it’s nice to lie in with a cup of coffee/tea with the puppies, just slowly waking to the sound of the world outside. This almost happened this morning. Actually I was awake and listening to the radio when the tinkle of the bell sounded from the bedroom, sending the puppies flying up the stairs. Shortly afterwards, I followed, a little more sedately.

About ten minutes later Mirinda left to go downstairs and start working on the documents. The biggest one is finished but now she has to work on about a million smaller ones prepared by others with very little Word skills.

Emma doesn’t know MS Word either

Another thing I love about Sunday is the fact that the shops don’t open until 10am (I hope this never changes) because if I leave the house at 9am, I can get a very leisurely half an hour (plus) in Starbucks before having to go shopping. I take this opportunity to write my blog (some of my better efforts are written at Starbucks of a Sunday morning…at least I think so).

The walk in is generally pleasant with plenty of ‘good mornings’ exchanged with various fellow walkers and I get to note the various forestry activities along the way.

Marked for ultimate removal

Wonderfully, Starbucks is not particularly busy on a Sunday morning as most of the customers, like me, are waiting for Waitrose to open. It’s generally very calm and pleasant and conducive to blog post writing. Much better than mid week during school term when all the mums (and Solitary Dad) gather after dropping the kids off and indulge in loud conversation about the mums that aren’t there.

This morning, however, was not so conducive.

I had typed the word ‘Fortunately’ at the beginning of the second paragraph (I then completely forgot the rest of the sentence) when an old chap (who appeared to be about 100) looked across and caught my eyes across the top of the hybrid. He smiled and said: “My brother’s got a computer.”

This spelled the end to any hope of writing. Clearly the chap was wanting to chat and being the kind-hearted simpleton I am, I obliged with a willing ear.

One of our clematis flowers. Just because.

I found out that he was 80 (he looked older), his father died when he was still very young (him, not the father…though the father may have been young as well) and his mother died 19 years ago. He said she had more things wrong with her than he could count on the fingers of both hands.

She had had diabetes, arthritis, glaucoma, asthma, something else I didn’t quite hear (which was only five and he possessed all his fingers), but died of a heart attack, unrelated to any of them. I said she probably died of a heart attack because she wanted a complete set…but he didn’t hear me.

Actually hearing was a bit of a problem. While he couldn’t hear me because of his age and some non-apparent hearing problem, I couldn’t hear him because he whispered, was sat a table away from me and Starbucks was quite noisy. Of course, being a skilled and competent actor, I merely pretended to hear him. It was enough.

What I did find out was that he worked all his life as a postie. He earned £200 per week back in the 1970’s, which he reckoned was a “…bloody good wage.” He figured that posties were probably now on £500 per week. I nodded.

He then went into an unexpected diatribe about his clothes. His boxers were from Indonesia, his vest from Thailand, his jacket from Scandinavia, his shirt from China.

We have the best textile industry in the world up in Lancashire!” He declared with great fervour.

He then went through a number of other things I couldn’t hear. Something was from Japan, another thing from somewhere else in South East Asia. When he mentioned crockery he then claimed that the best crockery in world came from Stoke-on-Trent. He really became quite belligerent.

I asked him if he knew why this was? He said no. I said “Unions.” Then, in that way that older people have of completely (and innocently) missing the point of your reply, he started to explain that he had been a member of a union back in the Post Office.

He also told me more about his family, his very narrow back garden and the fact that he’d tried to buy Christmas cards (he still sends them by the post) but was told in Smiths that they don’t generally arrive in-store until October.

The one thing he didn’t tell me was his name. So I’m going to call him Jeremiah. In case I see him again, which is likely given I’ve seen him in Starbucks on a few previous Sundays when he’s not taken a blind bit of notice of me.

My favourite Farnham pub

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Chasing butterflies

Mirinda’s current workload is so bad that she’s forgotten what we do on weekends. Apart from walking the dogs. And it’s not over yet. Today was yet another day of document amendment for her and editing for me.

Fortunately I was let out of the office for a bit in order to go shopping. Also to cook Japanese for dinner.

Tonight at Chez Gaz

(One thing to note about the board. Waitrose, for the first time in my memory, had no scallops this morning. So the item that reads ‘pan fried scallops…’ should actually read ‘pan fried prawns…’)

Back when I went to the Japanese Centre for the meal I cooked when Ben and Monali came over, I bought a bag of dried lotus root. I promptly forgot all about them. We had them quite a few times in Japan in various meals and prepared in various ways. While I mostly liked them, I really preferred them crisped up a bit. Then, they were yum. The best thing about lotus root is the look. They look really odd.

Griddled lotus root

So I placed them in some warm water for a couple of hours until they’d doubled in size then set them on a very hot griddle for a bit. I served them with baby leeks and broccoli (also griddled) with tamara sauce and sesame seeds. Delish if you ask me.

And here’s a happy Mirinda to attest to the success of the meal.

Japanese dinner

After dinner we sat down to watch Molly’s recent success in Mary Poppins – Adele sent us a copy of the video. Molly, as usual, was exceptional. Her voice is just incredible. An absolute delight to listen to. Her acting is very good as well.

We stopped at the interval (because we’re both delicate little butterflies who need their sleep) and will finish it tomorrow night.

Speaking of delicate butterflies…earlier in the day I was sitting working in the office when Mirinda suddenly popped her head in the window and asked if I’d like to see a really beautiful butterfly in the garden. I grabbed my phone and followed her to the grass. There, on the back of the wooden bench was a big butterfly, looking really colourful.

I switched my phone to camera and approached to get as close as possible in order to…Emma chose this moment to drop one of her numerous toys on the bench and frightened the living daylights out of the butterfly and it fluttered away, never to be photographed. Rotten dog.

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At work while not at work

There was no work for me this week as Nick at Work is at Blythe sorting something out. Sadly. It also means I’ve yet to experience the train mayhem into Waterloo…not so sadly.

So, rather than go to work, I went to the gym then went shopping. It made for a very exciting change.

Returning home, I took up my seat in the office and spent most of the day working on a report for Mirinda based on the spreadsheet I’ve been working on for what seems like months. After the report (which Mirinda thought would take about an hour but was closer to ten) I was given the onerous task of turning more documents into PDF files.

Unfortunately, the weather was fantastic. I know because I could see it out of my office window.

Then a decision was made…sort of.

Ages ago we decided to have a holiday in September, after all this work pressure was over and as a rest. We were going to Provence but, on trying to book a self catering property were informed it wasn’t available for the time period we wanted it.

Rather than look elsewhere, Mirinda then hit on the idea of a return to Andalucia. We could go to Seville then travel to Cadiz and Jerez by bus and explore some more. Then we ran into problems with the dates. While Sue could take the dogs for the first bit, the kennels couldn’t take them for the rest of the time. We then had to reorganise the dates.

Then Mirinda realised how hot it would be in Spain at the time of year (and this year there’s an unprecedented heatwave seeing tourists staying indoors and drinking gallons of water, causing droughts in Italy) and flipped back to France.

Then, tonight after discovering that Sue’s friend could take the girls, we changed the dates back and Mirinda suddenly announced that we will be going north. She prepared me by suggesting I not make any snap judgements but think about it for a while before reacting. I didn’t need to. I thought the idea was superb.

So (at the moment) we’ll be heading north to the far reaches of Norway winding up in Svalbad to see polar bears…hopefully. Of course, this could easily change…

That, however, is for the future. At the moment it’s all about the documents.

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