COPP that!

One of the best things about my job at the library in Portsmouth is how I find out things I never knew before. This week was by no means any different.

But not just that, I also read things that have since been proven to be untrue. Take the sinking of the Lusitania back in 1915. The book I’m currently reading (Lusitania: an epic tragedy by the excellent Diana Preston) has, along with other source material, taken witness statements in order to weave the story around the history. It brings it alive but it also proves the truth. There was only one torpedo and the U-boat commander knew it was a passenger vessel.

A couple of books I worked on today, dating from around 1949, were about early submarine use. Naturally there was a lot of stuff about the Germans and their U-boats and, of course, there were a few mentions of the Lusitania. Be it through deceit or lack of knowledge, the earlier books report the sinking in very different ways to how more contemporary writers state it happened. There were two torpedoes and the German U-boat thought she was a military vessel.

All very interesting and proves how more available information is with the distance of time. It makes me wonder what will turn up about Brexit in 100 years. Nothing nice I venture.

Anyway, another thing I discovered this week, hot on the heels of the Special Boat Squadron (SBS), was the COPP. This was the Combined Operations Assault Pilotage Parties.

There were a number of teams; COPP1, 2, 3, 4…all the way up to 10, each one having different coastal areas under their remit. These teams were made up of volunteer officers (mostly) from both the army and navy. Their job was to move into coastal areas in order to survey and prepare them for any planned missions that were due to occur.

They would clear mines, scout the areas for rocks and other hazards, they would find the best landing places, and all under the cover of darkness. It was very dangerous but also highly meticulous work. It was vitally important that these teams left no trace behind of themselves or their visit. If the enemy knew about them then the mission could be jeopardised.

It was basically all the idea of Lt. Commander Nigel Clogstoun-Willmott of the Royal Navy. He realised the value (and necessity) of advanced scouting information so he formed the COPPs and they were soon proving their worth. (And, coincidentally, Nigel worked alongside the commander of the SBS for a while as well.)

As the Second World War ended, so did the COPP teams as they were no longer required. The teams were disbanded and the people returned to their normal military duties.

In 2012, a memorial to the COPP teams was erected on Hayling Island.

What an amazing group of people. 

Nothing to do with COPP teams, this was too good a reflection to ignore this afternoon
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Kate date

I was meeting Dawn in Guildford tonight so I decided to try a new (for me) Japanese restaurant beforehand. It’s called Sushi Nara and looked quite good.

The big problem with eating Japanese now is that I invariably compare the meals with my own attempts so, for that reason alone, I had a Bento Box which featured quite a bit of sashimi, sushi and tempura.

It was definitely delicious though I wasn’t convinced about the onion ring. The one thing I was disappointed in was the miso soup. Both the actual soup and the timing. I’m not sure why it didn’t come with the meal but it lacked something as well. I felt that the flavour wasn’t strong enough.

But I’m being too harsh. It was lovely and I’d like to go back and have some standalone meals, particularly the yakatori chicken.

Speaking of food, today, as well as making Mirinda some Stracciatella Soup, I tried my hand at zucchini chips (or courgette crisps depending on where you’re reading this). I prepared an entire baking trays worth. I topped them with cumin, smoked paprika and Gruyere cheese. Out of the oven and in a little bowl they lasted about 30 seconds. I was told I had to make them again.

I managed to get a shot just in time

The reason I was meeting Dawn was in order to see Kate Rusby who was performing the first gig of her Christmas Tour in Guildford tonight. Dawn and I have been seeing Kate in Guildford for years…well when we notice she’s touring anyway. 

Kate has become ‘our’ thing. So much so that Dawn has taken to calling our nights seeing her as our Kate Date. And so it is.

Kate and Damien on stage

And, as usual, the show was excellent. Kate has an amazing skill at talking to the audience like we’re old friends. She includes us as part of her big old extended family. It’s one of the reasons why I love going to see her perform.

Dawn was a bit concerned when she discovered it was a Christmas Show but the fact that all the songs were given some special Kate treatment made all the difference for even the harshest Scrooge. We also learned a lot about how many different tunes there can be to the same lyrics…particularly While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks. Of which we heard three.

Kate in her glittery dress

Of course, we thoroughly enjoyed the show and sang all the way back to Farnham where she dropped me off, happy and gay.

Biggest news is that Dawn has finally finished the first draft of her thesis. The end of the PhD tunnel is starting to shine in the distance. Also, Nicktor’s book has been produced and I managed to score an autographed copy!

Here’s a bit of Kate Chat, talking about her dogs and how she writes her songs.

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Moving to Nova Scotia

On Friday I wrote about John Frederick Norris. The reason I was researching him was because of a ‘JF Norris’ engraved on the Farnham War Memorial. When the original research was done, the only JF Norris who had died in the Great War was a Canadian infantryman called John Francis Norris.

I had to check that John Francis was not connected to Farnham at all so I did some basic research. I thought his family’s story was worth telling. So here it is.

John Francis Norris was born on February 21, 1893 in Aston, Warwickshire. His parents were from Birmingham. His father, Clarence Norris, was a travelling salesman in 1891 graduating to a Superintendent Traveller for the Singer Manufacturing Company by 1901. This was the US company that brought sewing machines into homes all over the world.

Isaac Merritt Singer created the world’s first commercially successful sewing machine in 1850. His company began life in New Jersey, then, in 1876, the first international factory opened in Glasgow. This was hot on the heels of highly successful sales and distribution centres in England. Everyone wanted to ditch hand sewing for a treadle.

The Singer Manufacturing Company was a massive success story. Perhaps Clarence worked for them back in 1891 then climbed the corporate ladder so that by 1901 he was a ‘Superintendent’ whatever that was. Whatever happened, by 1905, Clarence appears to have grown fed up with it.

(Incidentally, back in 1891, his wife Annie (nee Bladen) was a music teacher, presumably working out of their home at 128 Bevington Road, Birmingham. I guess Annie stopped teaching after their kids started arriving because there’s no mention of her having a job in 1901. In 1891, it’s quite rare to find women with an occupation when they have children and a working husband.)

So, seeing some sort of future in the wilderness, Clarence bundled up his family and they all immigrated to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On the passenger list for the Dominion Line ship, SS Vancouver, Clarence had his occupation down as ‘farmer.’ His family included his wife Annie, daughters Cecilia and Dorothy and sons John Francis and Bernard. I can only assume that Canada was crying out for farmers rather than travelling sewing machine salesmen.

The SS Vancouver, by the way, was built way back in 1884 by Charles Connell and Co in Glasgow. It sailed pretty regularly from Liverpool to Canada (Quebec, Halifax, etc) up until 1910 when she was scrapped. It makes sense when steam ships were being retired in favour of the much more powerful turbines, invented by Charles Parsons who I’m certain I’ve mentioned before.

In the meanwhilst, the Norris family of Birmingham, found themselves setting up a new life in Nova Scotia. Then came the Great War.

John Francis, aged 20 and working as a stationer, enlisted on July 29, 1915 and was immediately shipped off as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He was in the Canadian Infantry, 60th battalion and one of around 30,000 Canadian soldiers who were sent into battle at the beginning of the war. Some of Churchill’s cannon fodder.

John Francis managed to remain alive until September 16, 1916 when he died, possibly in the Battle of the Somme, along with around 656,000 allied and 500,000 enemy soldiers. (It’s just occurred to me that while nearly a million people died during the Battle of the Somme, not a single one of them had anything to do with the reasons for the war in the first place. I have to reason that the people who started the whole thing – not the assassin – could have saved a lot of lives by just having a punch up at the back of a beer house somewhere in Germany. Mind you, that would hardly have satisfied the war mongers in power, would it?)

I don’t have access to the Canadian version of but I can see that Clarence was still there for the census of 1921 as was Bernard. I can only assume the family remained Canadian for the rest of their lives.

Brave souls, all of them. It’s not the easiest thing to just rip up your roots then plant them half a world away, hoping they’ll flourish in a new soil. I guess it worked for the Norris family.

Just like it did for us back in the 1960’s.

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Saxy Susanne

Tonight we had our annual Hope and Gratitude Dinner where we declare hopes for the soon future while being grateful for things in the just past. It’s one of our traditional meals and, therefore, constitutes an NCD (National Carb Day – though not the entire day).

I kept trying to give Mirinda the choice of restaurant but, having narrowed the list down to four she insisted I choose. So, at about 20 to eight we headed off for Brasserie Blanc.

Perfectly subdued Chrissy Decs

And, of course, the meal was exactly what we’ve come to expect from my favourite Farnham restaurant. (Although, I keep forgetting, they do not have their white wine cold enough and I really should order red.)

For the first time we recognised someone in the restaurant. Fiona and Bruce from across the road were having a rather animated meal with two other couples.

Apart from the less than chilled Sancerre, everything was lovely and it made a pleasant change to eat food prepared by someone else…especially the pistachio souffle. And espresso martini.

Elsewhere during the day…Mirinda received a rather unexpected video and photograph from Susanne. Ages ago she told us that she was going to learn to play the saxophone. I’m not sure that I took her seriously. The video that arrived today proved me wrong.

I don’t think it would be right to include her video but I did manage to get a copy of the photograph…just to prove it.

Saxy Susanne

We’re going to visit in a few weeks and we shall insist on a private recital.

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Charmed life

It’s very rare I find someone on a war memorial who did not die in the war. In fact, it’s so rare, today is the one and only instance I’ve found so far. To be fair, his family tried to have his name removed from both the Farnham and Hale memorials but to no avail. I’m rather glad they didn’t succeed because otherwise I’d never have know about him.

John Frederick Norris lived a pretty charmed life. He managed to see quite a lot of life while many of his generation saw nothing but the inside of a trench.

He was born in Hale in around 1881. He went to the local school and, I assume, was just like any normal kid growing up at the turn of the century. His father was probably a general labourer and his mother had too many kids. Like I say, just a normal family.

Early in his life, John’s father died and his mother remarried. Her new husband was a rather well to do market gardener called Ted Warner. Apart from the usual vegetables and flowers, he also had a field of strawberries around Nutshell Lane, Hale.

John, on the other hand, was destined for more manorial duties. On leaving school he managed to get a job as a groom in the Weybourne household of John Henry Knight.

(For those that don’t know, Mr Knight was an engineer and inventor. He built one of the first petrol driven motor vehicles in the UK. He notoriously drove it through Farnham and was subsequently prosecuted ‘…for using a locomotive with neither a licence nor a man walking in front with a red flag.‘ [Wikipedia, available at:, accessed December 1, 2018])

John Norris then moved north. I can only assume it was through his employment with Mr Knight that he came in contact with his next employer, Major General Sir Joseph Frederick Laycock, AKA Joe Laycock.

Joe lived at Wiseton Hall in Nottinghamshire and had been in the British Army most of his life. He’d served in the Second Boer War in South Africa as part of the Sherwood Rangers, for which he was awarded a DSO. (He was also an Olympic sailor but that does not appear to have any part in this story…)

Most importantly for our story, Joe Laycock funded and was first commanding officer of the Nottinghamshire Royal Horse Artillery in 1908. This regiment was part of the new Territorial Force and fought well and strong in the Great War to come…but back to John.

He found himself working in Joe Laycock’s house as a footman. In around 1904, he married Sarah Jessie Thompson and they had two kids, Frederick Thomas and Christina Lydia Rose, all living happily in Clayworth, Nottinghamshire for a while. In 1908, John joined the volunteer brigade along with most of the staff when Joe Laycock formed it. Then, in 1914, Sarah Jessie died.

Poor John, left with two kids to bring up and having to work as well as do his duty in the volunteer brigade. He did the only thing he could do and went overseas when the Great War kicked off. Not that he had a lot of choice.

Initially John Frederick was with the 1st Nottinghamshire Yeomanry Battery but, having been shipped off to the Middle East in 1915, he was co-opted into the Brigade Royal Horse Artillery Territorial Force.

His regiment was part of a big push up towards Baghdad. They headed along the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, then managed to take such places as Kut, Amara, Baghdad itself and then on towards Mosul.

Somewhere around that time John Frederick, by now a Sergeant, was blown up. He was then reported missing and had a loss of memory.

John Frederick did not die in the Middle East. His death came a long time later. While his life continued, his war was over. He was declared physically unfit for further active service and was shipped home to a convalescent place in Reading.

Finally fit enough to be discharged (and presumably with his memory returned) he headed back to Joe Laycock’s place and returned to his job. I’m sure everyone welcomed him back with open arms. He’d become quite a big part of the place I imagine and felt quite at home.

However happy he was, it wasn’t long before he suddenly started having chest problems associated with his time in the desert. His doctor recommended heading back south where the air was fresher and his breathing would be eased. Sadly (I assume) he waved goodbye to his old life and headed back to his older one.

Back in Hale, he must have felt a lot better as he was employed at a succession of different houses until he landed up at the Weybourne Post Office which he ran during the Second World War. During this time he also looked after the gardens at Winton House which, incidentally, is next door to the vets where we take the dogs.

Possibly in 1942 (and definitely around that time) his step-father Ted Warner, died. John Frederick took over the market garden business in Hale and was thereafter settled for life which lasted up until 1949.

John clearly didn’t like living alone. First he married Sarah Jessie but then there’s evidence that he married a further three times.

(A lot of the following information is unverified and comes from Harry Norris, John’s son. He spoke to the original researcher.)

His second wife was Emily Thompson but she died in the flu pandemic in 1918. He then married a woman called Laura who he’d met during his convalescence in Reading while she’d been working in a nearby household. Laura died of tuberculosis. They had two kids, Harry and John.

Finally he married a woman from Cornwall whose name is unknown (at the moment). The only information I presently have is that she and John had a son called Arthur and that her father was a lighthouse keeper.

So, rather than the sad end that visits all of my soldiers each Friday, old John Frederick Norris had an excellent and full life.

Surrey History Centre car park
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Pony and trap

Today was very exciting at the Talking Newspaper. Not the actual recording but outside. No, the recording was very funny but not what you’d call exciting.

Four floors above us, the high winds had caused a panel to come loose and people were worried it was going to fall to the ground and decapitate someone.

Some guy was going to try with his ladder but it was no-way long enough as Ann the next presenter told him. He did what everyone does when it’s something you’re unsure of how to sort out. He called the fire bridge.

They turned up with a very big ladder.

They also turned up with two fire engines. One of them was used to block the road while the other was just parked up. I figured it must have been a slow fire day and they all fancied a bit of a jaunt.

It was all a bit tense as the ladder operator swung the ladder around then lowered the basket for the three operatives to climb aboard. Each of them wore a harness covered in carabiners which they used to connect themselves to the basket. It was then loaded with all the tools they could possibly require.

They then all rose into the sky.

You can see the loose panel under the corner of the roof

While it took a good 15 minutes to get everything in place, the the guys ripped the panel off in about 15 seconds. And suddenly all the excitement was over.

I’d managed to leave the studio before it all started but poor Lindsey, one of my readers, was stuck inside. The poor thing wasn’t having a good day.

Earlier she’d been telling us how she’d been stuck behind a pony and trap all the way down through Crondall. This route features a particularly narrow lane with lots of bends and very talk hedges, making it mightily tricky to overtake.

What made matters worse was the fact that the pony wasn’t trotting but, as Lindsey said “Deliberately dawdling!”

This was rather understandable given it was a Shetland pony.

This had me laughing for the rest of the day. I really wish I’d seen it. A Shetland pony and trap has to be the funniest thing on the road.

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Food and foot

Another day doing very little active stuff. My foot continues to improve and I reckon today should be enough.

Not that I really wanted to go anywhere. The weather was foul. Wind, rain, bits of old tree, the air was full of it.

It was a good day for research so research I did.

I’m sure the girls must wonder what’s going on. Though, to be fair, Freya spends most of the time on my lap and Emma sits on the window sill waiting for any sightings of flouro jackets.

Possibly the highest light of the day was dinner.

I had bought some lamb steak on Sunday and had a bit of broccoli in the fridge so I did a bit of a thin slice fry of the lamb and quick boil of the broccoli and had them both over a bowl of dashi doused soba noodles. I was rather pleased with the results. And the taste.

And it only took about 15 minutes!

I went to bed really looking forward to tomorrow given I get to leave the house.

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First time in the chair

It rained all day today. The puppies were not very happy.

On the other hand it made my sitting round doing nothing easier. Though I’d rather have gone to work then the football afterwards. My swollen foot preferred me doing nothing.

I say nothing, I actually did a whole load of WW1 research with my foot up on the bar beneath the dining table. This as a curative method (as well as taking anti-inflammatory drugs) was perfect and, by the time I went to bed, my foot wasn’t as sore and the swelling had reduced.

Mirinda, on the other hand, was off early this morning, heading for a panel discussion she was chairing at a conference. I didn’t realise but this was the first time she’d ever chaired one of these things. She’s been a panellist a number of times and appeared as a guest speaker more than can be counted but never the chair.

She’d had some tips from a few of her staff who have been in the chair. She felt well armed and quietly confident.

And, as I expected, she did perfectly. People congratulated her on a fine job and she even made the audience laugh a few times (very important when you’re chairing the final slot of any conference) as well as keeping the discussion going. 

She then went to her club for drinks with a staff member before dinner then home to the flat. Clearly she saw more people than I did.

Actually I saw one more than I anticipated. Obviously being a Tuesday I knew I’d be seeing Richard the Egg Man but, a complete surprise was a ring at the bell from the guy who lives at number 13 in our street.

A little earlier Emma had started barking like the lunatic she can be so I hobbled into the library to see what had upset her. I thought it might be the pesky cat. I was wrong. The big white pantechnicon, its lights a-blaze, its engine a-thrum, was as catlike as a blue whale.

I went upstairs to get a better view of what was happening. This giant truck was seemingly parked, headfirst down the drive of the house at the top of the street. It appeared to be delivering something though I couldn’t see any humans. I did wonder how it was going to get out of our street.

I didn’t have to wonder for long because shortly after I started watching, the truck started backing up. The angle it was parked in didn’t make this particularly easy but the driver managed, very slowly, to straighten up enough to start heading down towards the main road.

Given the driver was obviously on his own, I silently wished him luck backing into the evening traffic. Or, rather, I wished the other motorists luck in seeing him with enough time to apply their brakes.

I watched until he’d managed to creep beyond Neighbour Dave’s place, glad that Max was in our drive rather than parked on the street. Then I went back to the dining table. Then came the ring on the doorbell.

The guy from number 13 (very nice chap) asked if I’d had a delivery earlier. I figured he was asking because he’d missed his and wasn’t sure where the driver had dropped it. I assured him I didn’t have his parcel as the only delivery I’d seen had appeared to call at the house at the end of the street. Then he explained.

The big white pantechnicon had clipped his car, completely destroying his wing mirror. I imagine the driver didn’t even know about it as the rear of his truck was a very long way from his cabin. The driver kept going.

The guy from number 13 heard it and went outside to investigate, just in time to see the truck vanish around the corner of the main road. He was not happy.

He then went up our road to investigate who’d had a delivery. He’d already checked at the end house but the woman there said they’d not had a delivery and had no knowledge at all of a delivery truck. Both the guy from number 13 and I thought this a bit odd given the truck had had its lights full on to the front of the house.

Anyway, I commiserated with him as he headed back out into the rain and wind. Not a nice thing to happen.

Emma giving me a hand with my research from the opposite side of the table

I returned to work. I’m glad my day didn’t get too much more exciting or my foot may not have taken it.

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The gardeners came today. Being the time of year it is, they tend to do more maintenance than anything else. Well, apart from the grass that Gardener Dave is determined to sort out.

Something Dave did last time was to remove the Butt Seed tomato plant which had died after the first big frost. As well as removing the plant he also picked up a whole bowl full of green tomatoes which he gave me.

Keep them somewhere dark and warm and they’ll all be red in a fortnight,” he insisted.

I took the bowl and did as he asked, shaking my head.

This morning I retrieved the bowl for him to see what had happened. True, a few of them had turned red but the overall difference in the tomatoes was the fact that most of them had now gone mouldy. They were furry with mould. They were inedible.

Gardener Dave humphed and blamed Andy, saying he’d lied to him. I told Dave he didn’t tell me it was someone else’s idea. He admitted that had it worked he still wouldn’t have told me. Cheeky bugger.

So Dave and Paul worked away with Mirinda occasionally putting in an appearance between phone calls, in order to make sure they were doing things in a way she finds acceptable.

I, on the other hand, sat at the dining table with my foot up. The swelling had gone down a bit but the pain is still there when I walk. I try not to walk. I managed to get some Dead Hero work completed.

I also came across something that our former Health Minister now Foreign Secretary is quoted to have said. He claimed a majority of the electorate was now BoB. This, he explained stood for Bored of Brexit. If this is the case then I claim that the electorate is not just ignorant of how they are being manipulated they are also grammatically incorrect.

I know how fond we are of acronyms but, really, they should actually work. Like JAM, quoted by our PM. It stands for Just About Managing and, I reckon, is quite odd because if you were Just About Managing I’m fairly sure that jam wouldn’t be on the menu too often.

Or NIMBY which stands for Not In My Back Yard, referring to people who really want something as long as it doesn’t inconvenience them. This delightful acronym has entered the lexicon and now we have Nimbyism as well. In the future the word, not the acronym will be remembered.

That is as it should be. An acronym should become a standalone but, in order to do that, it should be pronounceable otherwise there’s little point…unless you want to use the letters (like IBM for instance or GBH).

But, back to Jeremy Hunt’s BoB which stands for Bored of Brexit. You can’t be bored of Brexit. You CAN be bored WITH Brexit. Perhaps Mr Hunt didn’t learn grammar when he went to school or maybe he just prefers appearing stupid. Or, and this is always going to be more likely, maybe it’s the whole populist world we now live in.

The world seems to have gone off experts, people who actually know stuff, preferring ignorance. I’m sure they will still drive cars and visit hospitals though. Well, until there are no longer any experts and we don’t know how to make or use those things. Sounds a bit like Planet of the Apes to me – the end result of humanity’s stupidity.

So, while we do still have a few BoBs, I refuse to bow down to Acronym Desperation and ask which Bob they mean. If they’re talking about BWBs then, yes, I understand and it’s clearly why the government does things in such a way as to bore the majority so they are then told to get on with destroying our lives. Which they happily do without any Bob, Tom or Harry getting stroppy with them.

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Japanese foot

My foot started swelling up again this week. It was Japan all over again…though in Japan it was my left foot. The pain on the outside of the right foot followed by agony in the lower leg quickly changed to the foot growing to twice its normal size. It was then time to stop wearing shoes on my right foot. And today was the climax.

Yesterday I managed to walk into town and back very slowly, leaning very heavily on my walking stick in order to keep going. There were a few times I wished for some magic command that would transport me back to the house but none became apparent. Besides, if there was such a command surely a better one would be for new feet.

So, this morning, after a night of very little sleep because it was punctuated with long bouts of pain, I was confined to the lounge. Mirinda had asked for Persian chicken for dinner but I couldn’t see me walking into town anytime soon. She asked me to give her a shopping list and she’d go.

This is always a risk. She doesn’t like shopping and has no idea what substitution really is. She doesn’t know Waitrose as well as I do or appreciate that there are optimum times to go shopping. Regardless, I attempted to write her a list.

I numbered the aisles so she could work her way seamlessly through the supermarket. The problem came with one set of shelves which face the cheese counter at the end of the dairy aisle. I couldn’t remember the name of the creme fraiche I prefer so I had to describe it and its location.

I said it was normally on the right of the middle shelf of the display. Mirinda asked if that was as you faced the cheese counter. I had no answer for that and decided I should go if she’d drive me. I aimed to drag myself around behind a trolley.

There was some scant opposition but it was finally agreed that it would be for the best if I went as well. So, at 10am we jumped into Max and set off. We were back by 10:30am, all the shopping completed with a minimum of fuss.

The rest of my day was spent with my foot doing little more than hanging limply off my leg. Mirinda had a more productive one by working on her DBA and Skyping Bob and Fi.

The lack of sleep from last night had started to tell so I went for a deep, two hour snooze in the afternoon, waking up refreshed to start dinner.

By the time we had it, it was delicious. Unlike my foot which was decidedly not.

Emma isn’t sure what it is
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