Little Donkey before...
...and after


In this blogposting...
*Christmas with the Robinsons: Little Donkey
*Maureen’s Internet Links
Now, read on, Macduff...

My family probably won’t thank me for telling you this but...

Many of the sacred and hallowed traditions of Christmas Day which my family, along with countless others, steadfastly and proudly strive to maintain, have fallen by the wayside over the decades. We no longer, for example, ‘pipe the pudding’, a ceremony inherited from my Aunty Mill and which I can just about remember. The pudding, drenched in copious quantities of sherry, was ignited and carried, with great pomp and quite a lot of circumstance, into every room in the house before finally being laid to rest on the dining room table, there to fulfill the ultimate destiny of a Christmas pudding.

I recall being told that this was to ensure good luck and continuing prosperity to the household there mustered. Looking back, I find the use of ‘continuing’ to be questionable under the circumstances. As for good luck...well, I’m not surprised that the pudding is no longer piped, for all the good luck it brought to us.

For good or ill, though, other traditions survive intact. On Christmas morning, for example, presents are opened in strict age order - oldest first. What this meant in practise for many years was that we youngsters had to wait our turn while, firstly, my Nana dug deep into her Christmas stocking and opened her gifts of 4711 eau-de-cologne, three lacey handkerchiefs, a scarf and some woolly bedsocks. To this day, I cannot fathom what took her so long to complete the task.

As each gift was opened, all eyes were on the recipient and plenty of time had to be allowed for oooohs and aaaahs and expressions of gratitude and appreciation.

This all meant, of course, that - being the ‘baby of the family’ - I always had to wait until last. And sometimes it seemed to me that the process would take until New Year’s Eve to complete.

The effect was exactly as I suspect was intended. My sense of anticipation and excitement built up to a level of mental frenzy so that, when my time came, whatever it was that lay well-hidden in my Christmas stocking was invariably the most wonderful present a lad could possible ever receive for Christmas.

Ever since - and to this day - whenever I’ve been in a gift-opening environment where everyone tears at the paper and sellotape all at once, I quickly begin to feel uneasy and even short-changed. The principal enjoyment in giving someone a present is, surely, the pleasure you get from the pleasure they get - a factor which gets ditched if the occasion is a Christmas morning orgy of unordered ripping giftwrap and the sound of screeching tape.

A Robinson Christmas tradition of more recent - though still venerable - vintage is illustrated above.

This year, it was my turn to unwrap -

I’m not sure how or when this regrettable custom started, or who started it (although I have my suspicions). Many years ago, someone amongst the twisted members of my family brought back the item you see pictured above from a holiday as a gift for another member of the Robinson clan. Perhaps fortunately, I cannot remember the identities of either of the two people involved.

Cigarettes are placed in The Donkey’s pannier and, when you pull the ears forward, it - er.... - ‘produces’ a cigarette from its rear end. It’s a truly execrable item, of which every member of my family - including those who have married into it - should be thoroughly ashamed.

The Donkey is so unspeakably awful that, one Christmas many years ago, its owner decided to give it away as a Christmas present. And every year since, it has been passed, covertly and under some deplorable guise or other, from one random Robinson to another.

This year, it was my turn.

Which is why, occupying pride of place on my best bookshelf, is the most deplorable knick-knack anyone could ever possibly dread owning.

That reminds me. It was given to me by my nephew Peter and his partner Vicky and I haven’t thanked them in the appropriate way yet.

As I said before, I wouldn’t have been surprised if no-one had turned up at all last Wednesday. It’s not, after all, the quietest and most relaxed time of the year. I reckoned, however, without the redoubtable Hildie, who did arrive, accompanied by her daughter Kelly - a chip off the old block if ever there was one. She’s a smashing lass and the three of us enjoyed freezing half to death outside Pret drinking a barely-warming cup of coffee or two.

After that, and a wander through the Christmas throngs, we sensibly retreated to the Tyneside Cinema coffee lounge.

It was by no means a typical AGM, but it was as enjoyable and as full of surprises as an AGM always is.

So there!

Big Christmas hugs to Maureen, who has sent these two internet video links. One of them is ‘seasonal’, the other is a video produced in New Zealand to promote book-reading. Both of them are superb examples of the video-maker’s art. Thanks Maureen.

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Eric Boswell
In this blogposting...
*Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met
*Eric Boswell
*Christmas Carols
Now, read on, Macduff...

The Extraordinary Christmas AGM takes place tomorrow morning, Wednesday 23 December at 1100 at the foot of Grey’s Monument (or, in view of the prevailing Arctic conditions, in the Pret opposite it) in Newcastle.

I’m not expecting the number of attending truckshunters to be that great. I’ll be taking my trusty copy of A Christmas Carol to read just in case I’m the only one who turns up. So please don’t feel guilty if you can’t make it. Don’t feel that you’ve let your fellow-truckshunters down in any way, or that, by not attending, you are somehow going against the prevailing spirit of the festive season. Don’t feel bad about yourself just because I’ll be there all alone, two days before Christmas, tearfully watching the Christmas shoppers and merrymakers enjoying themselves while I languish cheerlessly and sob my tears into a latte.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

And while I’m in that sort of mood...

What exactly is it about the melody of Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met that compels every street accordionist in north-east England - and everywhere else, as far as I know - to play it incessantly; over and over again; continually; with no respite or relief. They don’t even bother to play another tune in-between one bout of Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met and the next so that, in no time at all, Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met inveigles its evil way into your subconscious and becomes a sound-worm. You find yourself humming or whistling Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met in the bath or shower, whilst ironing or dusting, on the bus or train, whilst clipping the gerbil's toe-nails or writing your Last Will and Testament. ‘Oh how we daaaaaaanced on the niiiiiight that we meeet...’ Before you know it, Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met has almost become your theme tune. The nightmare scenario arises whereby Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met will be the last tune you will ever hear. The melody they play at your funeral is Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met.

Why, in the name of all that’s sacred, don’t street-accordionists EVER play anything ELSE but Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met?

(I think I may inadvertently have set a new World Record for the number of mentions of Oh How We Danced On The Night That We Met in a single blogposting. Twelve. Go ahead; count them.)

Elsewhere in this blog, note has been made of the death, on December 7, of local lad Eric Boswell. I thought you might like to see this letter, written to The Guardian a few days later by a lass called Julie Myerson...

'I read with sadness the obituary of Eric Boswell, the writer of Little Donkey. In a lifetime of loving this carol more than any other, it has never occurred to me to wonder where it came from.

I first sang it standing in a row of kids in a chilly school hall at the age of six. I liked it because its lyrics were plain and kind, its protagonist noble and lovable. Also, it baffled me a whole lot less than carols about abhorring virgins' wombs. I continued to sing it through years of school carol services and later, comfortingly, at my own children's carol services.

When their father and I finally got married, four Christmases ago, it was the only carol I wanted at our wedding.

People think of it as a children's song, but like the best children's songs, it contains dark and complex truths about adult lives. At six, I knew little of the reality of "dusty roads" and "long winter's nights". I didn't know what a "precious load" was, and I certainly didn't know the meaning of a "heavy day". The idea of not "faltering" and not "giving up" would not have pricked my eyes with tears as it does now. But I think I did know, even then, that the little donkey was just doing his best in tough circumstances, and that thought cheered and moved me, as it does now.

Little Donkey is a carol about resilience and – most importantly - kindness in the face of life's struggles. My life would have been so much poorer without this song: Eric Boswell, I salute you.'

Regular truckshunter Alison has sent me a copy of the new Government Regulations concerning the content of various Christmas songs. I don’t think it needs any comment from me.

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will lend a coat of fur,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you

1. Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore a nice cellular blanket or micro-fleece material should be considered as a suitable alternative.

2. A full risk assessment should be carried out before any attempt at rocking the cradle is made. Furthermore, the baby must be restrained in the cradle with a safety harness complying with United Nations ECE Regulation R44.04.

3. Only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have an enhanced disclosure should be permitted to rock baby Jesus.

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

1. The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry. Also included in the guidelines is information regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period.

2. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles.

3. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine rights.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night
all seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
and glory shone around.

1. The union of Shepherds has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available.

2. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year they should be able to watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.

3. As a safety precaution, before the angel of the Lord shines his/her glory around, all shepherds should be issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory rays.

Finally, thank you for your co-operation in these matters. We hope you have a Happy Wintermas.

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My Granda and my Nana

My Aunty Mill (back row, second from the right)
This is a picture of the teachers at Pelton Infant and Junior School when it first opened
in (I think) 1909. Aunty Mill's future husband (my Uncle Will) is seated on the left.


In this posting...
*The things people say
*Grandfather's Clock
*A truckshunting motto
Now, read on, Macduff...

Thankyou to yet another new emailer to the truckshunters inbox (address below). Carol is from Peterlee, which she colourfully calls ‘our mutual paternal acres‘. (Later in her email she tells me she’s a teacher, although she didn’t need to. I ask you: mutual paternal acres.)

She says our recent musings on the blog about family sayings, adages and quips served to revive some fond memories of her Nana. Apparently, when a visitor her Nana didn’t like was being waved away down the path, Nana would shout a friendly ‘Bye!‘ and then utter, under her breath, ‘and thank your mother for the rabbits!’.

I love that one and I wonder, like Carol, if anyone can trace its origins.

My own Nana, incidentally, had her own phrase for under-the-breath mutterings like these; she called them ‘stage whispers’.

But back to Carol. In her email, she asks if anyone can remember an ‘alternative‘ version of the days-in-the-month mnemonic verse. She and her chums used to say:

Dirty days hath September,
April, June and November.
February’s day are quite all right -
It only rains from morn to night.
All the rest have thirty-one
Without a blessed gleam of sun.
And if any of them had two-and-thirty
They’d be just as wet and just as dirty.

Much more fun than the real thing, Carol. Can anyone else remember it, or something like it?

A final few words from my Nana, whose stock phrases have come flooding back to me since this subject was first aired.

Her description of being made to feel unwelcome was ‘I don’t want you to go but here’s your hat’.

If, as kids, she thought we were getting a bit uppity and needed cutting down to size, she’d say ‘Think yourself lucky you’re in the band - the instrument you play!’

And if someone was almost - but not quite - right about something, she described them as being ‘in the right chapel but the wrong pew’.

Why don’t people talk so fragrantly nowadays?

...will take place on Wednesday 23 December. We’ll be foregathering at the foot of Grey’s Monument at 1100 (or, in inclement meteorological circumstances, in the Pret opposite). I know this is a tricky time of year and that you may conceivably have other things on your mind. So please don’t put yourself out for this one. As if.

Whatever happens, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

I’ve had a sternly-worded email from ex-Blue Bus producer Natasha berating me roundly for not telling her - in all the years we worked together - about the famous ‘Grandfather’s Clock’ in Piercebridge, County Durham.

As a matter of fact, she’s quite right to feel aggrieved. It’s a truly fascinating legend which I’ve known virtually all my life, my Aunty Mill having been not just a big fan of local folklore but also a formative - and formidable - influence on my life from that day to this.

(For the uninitiated, the story goes that the ‘long case clock’ (as they were then known) in The George pub at Piercebridge suddenly slowed down when one of the two brothers who owned it died. When the other brother died, the clock stopped altogether. Isn’t that a lovely story?)

The American poet and lyricist Henry Clay Work (awesome name!) heard the story somehow and promptly wrote the words of what was to become a world-famous music-hall song: Grandfather’s Clock. Absolutely everybody knows that it 'stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died'.

And it’s said that the fashion for calling such clocks by that name originates with Henry’s song. And all because of a charming South Durham legend.

Incidentally, the clock is still there. The owners of The George will show it to you very proudly indeed, as well they might.

In fact, you could spend a very enjoyable and illuminating couple of hours in Piercebridge, clocks notwithstanding. The village sits atop the Roman fort of Morbium and the village green is an almost perfect square, reflecting the shape of the fort underneath - just like the village square at Blanchland.

There are Roman ruins above ground as well, just to the east of the green. Further east still is a Roman relic of national importance. The Romans built bridges wherever they needed to, of course - including here at Morbium. But, apart from the abutment bases visible at Chesters fort on Hadrian’s Wall, this is the only place in England where you can still see one.

So my affectionate apologies to Natasha for neglecting to pass on all this information. As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think it was ever mentioned on the Blue Bus programme, either - or on the Roots programme that preceded it.

And I’m grateful to Natasha for suggesting the tagline you see above, under the Truckshunters heading. You may recognise it as coming from J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

I’m in total agreement with Natasha. Not only are the words liberating and uplifting; they also pinpoint several truths which, in the shallow hurly-burly of modern life, are often overlooked or even ignored.

I found Tolkien’s original version of the verse on the internet. It’s almost as good.

All that is gold does not glitter;
All that is long does not last;
All that is old does not wither;
Not all that is over is past.

I love the last line, there.

In fact, in the tagline above, I reckon the Honorable Company of Truckshunters has found itself a motto. After all, these postings - and the comments and emails they precipitate - may be a little wayward - but ‘lost’ is the very last thing we truckshunters are. Am I right or am I right?

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(courtesy of

In this posting...
*Mike Parr

*Jason’s observations
*Person-Who-Makes-Your-Blood-Run-Cold of the Week
*Leroy’s observations
Now, read on, Macduff...

Just in case you’ve been wondering which Guardian article they were talking about in the comments to posting 182 - or you’ve tried to locate it and failed - here it is.

‘The floods in Cumbria and their aftermath may soon slip from the headlines, but not so on BBC Radio Cumbria where the story dominates the Mike Parr Breakfast Show. On Monday [24 November], Parr broadcast from a car park in Cockermouth, and invited those affected locally to come down and tell him about it. Yesterday, he was at Seaton Infants and Nursery school, and the weather was soggy again. "I'm very tempted to take refuge in the Wendy house," Parr quipped.

This is where local radio, often the butt of jokes and sneery comments, can shine. Parr's shows were on the ground, up-to-date and full of useful information. We heard about rubbish collections, the problems for local road travel...the school run, for example, has become a major undertaking for some parents cut off by bridge collapses...and how to access help for those left homeless. A very cheerful woman organised a team of volunteers in Cockermouth, delivering hot food around the town before daylight. Parr couldn't quite believe the vision in front of him: "People in high-visibility jackets wheeling supermarket trolleys full of soup and bacon butties."

There was also a chance for people to tell their stories about the flooding; its speed and cruelty. A local reporter recalled seeing "roads just turning to rivers before our eyes. A sense of complete panic." An impressively resilient local explained that he had just a couple of weeks ago established a community food store for emergencies. "We just didn't know what the emergency was going to be," he said. Sadly, the food store was flooded.

Parr's commentary revealed communities facing up to reality with the new week. "You could see the tears welling up in their eyes," Parr said, recalling an interview in Cockermouth. "A big bloke, a strapping bloke; he had to confront what happened." Life, though, goes on. As Parr happily confirmed: "Clog-dancing classes are on as usual in St Mary's community centre."’

So congratulations, Mike. It’s not often that local radio of any kind gets a whole column of praise to itself in a weighty national newspaper like The Guardian. And, as far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t have happened to a better - or more thoroughly professional - presenter than Mike Parr. In my days on the Blue Bus I had daily contact with Mike and his team; our programme followed his. Subsequently, of course, the contact was at ‘the other end’; on The Nightshift, his programme followed mine.

So I’ve enjoyed countless on-air encounters with Mike. And even more, of course, off-air. Mike was always a friendly and inspiring role-model for any presenter, especially one as inexperienced as as ‘wet behind the ears’ as I was (and tended to remain!). When I was on The Nightshift we met every morning, of course, bleary-eyed and barely awake at 0500 - but he always took the time to comment on items he had enjoyed whilst driving into work. Indeed, I would often have Mike in mind when I devised the items that would be broadcast after about 0430. By engaging his early-morning attention, interest and humour, I figured that I was likely to engage yours, as well.

Any new presenter could do a great deal worse than attempt to adopt Mike’s style and to acquire as many of Mike’s skills as possible. Unfortunately, no-one ever will, more’s the pity.

...will take place on at 1100 on Wednesday 23 December. Whoever wants to take a break from the pre-Christmas frenzy for an hour or so should attend at the foot of Grey’s Monument in Newcastle (or in the nearby Pret if it’s raining) where mutual succour will be on hand.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

A few postings ago I had the very great pleasure of welcoming truckshunter Jason (of Coldstream) to the fold. I think that the email he sent me a few days ago is worth reproducing in full here - without any comment from me.

‘Just re-attached to the world of the BBC and discovered you'd been given the push... Have to say that BBC Newcastle is a poorer place for all the changes in the past few years - gone from being a proper local station with local interest to being just another clone of Radio 2 without the slickness and quality - all started with the departure of Julia & Wappat minor and pushing you to the midnight slot. Whoever decided those changes clearly looked at the proposition he was shown, knew the price of everything and the value of nowt (a common theme in the UK sadly).

BBC Radio Scotland for me then for now - they still seem to have some local/regional/national pride!

Incidentally - had you thought about doing any podcasting - maybe of your favourite walks, churches etc - you could surely do as good a job as Neil Oliver is with his for Scotland - see - always thought a dream team for such a venture would be you and your less-attractive twin brother John Grundy...

Glad to hear that you're still about though and seemingly as mad as ever - had an amusing few hours reading your blog - seems you have something that you dislike about Lord Valdemort of Mandelsonia - in common with most of the population I'd hazard (apart from "Lucky" Gordon Brown of course - unless he's actually handed over his good eye as security to the aforementioned ennobled chancer in the hope of being re-elected).

Thanks for the compliments, Jason. And yes, the podcasting idea is a good one. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t where to start!

Peter Mandelson

Another email now - this time from Leroy.

'I've just been trawling the internet looking for tips n things about energy-saving lightbulbs, ( I really should get out more). Well it seems there are more horror stories about them than you could shake a stick at.......... (Hmmm! why would you want to shake a stick at them in the first place ?)........ .

According to the "Experts" if you break one you should leave the room for 15 minutes till the poison gas disperses........... then use rubber gloves sealed containers etc, then you have to treat them like toxic waste ........ sounds like 'save the planet but kill yourself whilst doing it'...

The best one though was a theory that the Powers That Be are making them compulsory because they have listening devices or spy cameras in them............
Just thought that I would share that with you.'

If any of that’s really true - rather than just internet ‘viral lies’ - then yes, Leroy, it’s very worrying indeed.

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In this posting...
*A Musical Interlude
*World Scrabble Championships
Now read on, Macduff...

The Biscuit Factory is not the most easily accessible venue to hold one of our get-togethers so it’s to everyone’s credit that the turnout for AGM X was well up to standard. Ada, Viv, Hildie, Sid, J Arthur Smallpiece (our adopted Poet Laureate), Paul Wappat (yes, that Paul Wappat) and yours truly were all there, resplendently keeping the torch of Truckshuntery burning in this most artistic of environments.

No amount of fine art, painting, ceramics or glassware will ever be able to suppress the natural - and, it has to be admitted, occasionally extrovert and genteelly raucous - tendencies of an AGM. It wasn’t long before the usual good-humoured chaos reigned supreme in the Biscuit Factory’s rather swish cafe. (Coffee was about all we could afford, surrounded - as we were - by fine art prices that elevated the imaginatively artistic to financially cosmological levels. For the price of a Bamburgh Castle lithograph you could buy a small terrace of houses in Bishop Auckland.)

Of course, I’m always on a kind of high whenever I hook up with my fellow-truckshunters, but today was extra special; the last day of my 60th birthday year. Tomorrow - in fact, by the time I post this blog - I’ll be 61 and will finally start growing up.

Maturity beckons.

So I have to say - once again....

My truckshunters - this unique company of ex-radio listeners who chose to continue our on-air relationship long after the reason for its existence evaporated - are unquestionably the kindest, funniest, most affectionate and caring, most thoughtful, most unexpected and unpredictable group of individuals ever to have accidentally come together; and probably for the most unlikely of reasons - a local overnight radio show.

Thanks for all your lovely cards and gifts, some of which I haven’t even opened yet. (As I type, there are 41 minutes to go!) I’m both flattered and honoured to be numbered amongst your company.

This being the season of goodwill blah blah blah, there is going to be another AGM this month. This was the Poet Laureate’s idea - and it’s an idea of which I wholeheartedly approve. AGM XI will take place at 1100 on either Tuesday 22 or Wednesday 23 December in Newcastle. Venue suggestions gratefully received.

I know how difficult the timing may be, so please don’t put yourself out for this one. I’ll arrive at the venue with my trusty Guardian and will be more than happy to see whoever turns up!

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Enclosed within the card I received from our Poet Laureate J Arthur Smallpiece was an ominous-looking fold of paper. Written thereon was...and I quote it in full...

It has become my practise, in recent years, to include a poem with my greetings cards. Not only does this personalise and add a bit tone to the proceedings, it’s cheaper than buying a present.
Now read on…….

J. Arthur Smallpiece, Gentleman Poet.
In which an Old Man makes it up again

I had a girlfriend years ago; she set my youthful eyes aglow.
I doted on her sumptuous hips and luscious, moist, prehensile lips,
Her hair was long and sleek and black and tumbled darkly down her back.
A loving and congenial sort, she proved the most amazing sport,
We never could have too much fun; I thought our joy would run and run
When love was unrestrained and new. She did some things few women do.
I couldn’t get enough, of course; she had the spirit of a mustang horse
Distraught and desperate for its oats! We both rampaged like mountain goats.
I grew more dazzled every day; she held me in her tasty sway.
She also played the valve trombone. This didn’t please me best, I’ll own,
It made her mouth strong, firm and hard which likewise put me on my guard -
She’d pucker up and in a trice, her kiss would grip me like a vice,
I’d gasp like someone aqualunging,*
Half smothered by her triple tonguing**.
We fell out one day when she said she’d like to practise it in bed.
The noise and in-and-out slide motion gave rise to loads of loud commotion,
And spittle from the trombone’s bell dripped from the instrument and fell
Like something slugs and snails secrete, to form damp patches on the sheet.
This caused a modicum of tension, and led to bouts of vexed dissention.
I said: “Why don’t you play the trumpet?”
She said: “I’d rather play the strumpet!”
And she did, flighty mare!

Ah well, never mind.

* As far as I am aware this is the only poem in the whole of English Literature
to feature the word ‘aqualunging’!

** A technique used to produce a series of repeated short notes, much valued by the brass band fraternity.

This sonnet was produced with the aid of an Arts’ Council grant.
Dead Poet’s Society, 23. 04. 09.

Thanks to the amazing Sid for an email which says...

An update on the World Scrabble Championships held in Malaysia. A chap called Pakorn Nemitrmansuk from Thailand was the eventual winner. Our Craig Beavers came in at a very respectable 8th place.

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PS It's five past midnight. I'm now sixty-one.