Sunday, December 31, 2006

Synaptic Meanderings

A random snap taken in the town. It just took my fancy.

From atop the wall.

I shall take all of my wonderful yeomen into my confidence. I have absolutely no idea where this blog entry will go today. I have a few news items to somehow weave into today’s rich tapestry, but nothing to link them together. There is a little bit of bluster and indignation to throw into the mix and a couple of photographs to tempt you with, but, well, I have to admit that I’ve got nothing to get your juices flowing.

There are some gifts that promise oh so much.

There is always one Christmas present that you keep going back to. And it isn’t the cute Teddy Bear. The present in question will get many a mans interest tweaked. (Note 1) In the end it may not be much of a gift, but it certainly raised a few grins.

So in the end, the gift of a smile was given which can only be a good thing. Buying a new steam iron or an ironing board wouldn’t have achieved the same effect. Indeed I am sure that husbands across the globe who’ good intentions ended up at the local casualty department would have been grateful if the fine academics had been a little more timely in releasing their research. I’m sure that many a hubby would have been able to use that excuse to prevent the embarrassing wait in the local A&E to have the ironing board surgically removed.

It might be a little too late for those poor men clogging up all of the A&E departments across the land, but for those of you who get caught out with a less than romantic present and an irate partner approaching with intent in their eyes and ironing board in hand – You could fling the dice one last time by quoting this research. Although, to be honest, I don’t think it will help.


Well, I’m about out of time. In a very short while, I need to start getting all dressed up and ready to hit the New Years Eve party circuit.

All is left is for me to wish you all a very happy New Year and hope that 2007 brings you health and happiness. That the new year makes a reality of all your dreams and a nonsense of all your nightmares.


From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: With the male trait of considering reading the instructions to be an admission of stupidity, the two spiky spheres cause the imagination to go off in all sorts of tangents (and on some of those journeys, tears come unbidden to the eyes). When the promise of the packaging eventually proves too much and you do read the instructions you are going to be very, very disappointed! Click to return

 The mixture of wires, telegraph pole and branches made me quite dizzy.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Passing Round the Snaps.

A picture from the balcony of our cabin showing Castries in St. Lucia.

A different view every morning.

Well, my bloated yeomen, let me share with you a family tradition. On Boxing Day, after over indulging on the cold turkey, pickles, pease pudding, ham, sausages, various salads, mashed potato and anything else unwise enough to be lurking in the fridge, we collapse in the comfy chairs. There tends to be a period of minimal movement until the digestive processes reach a fairly advanced stage and the turkey sandwiches and mince pies make an appearance.

Quite early on, someone produces a strange shaped bottle of lurid coloured liquid and invites us to sample something they discovered on their holidays. (Note 1) As the liqueur destroys any brain cells stupid enough to be out and about during the festive season, someone produces their holiday snaps.

So, gird up your loins bold yeomen. It is time for the next instalment of ’What I did on my holidays.’

A view of our cabin aboard Arcadia. Looking the other way up the cabin.

The first proper full day of the holiday saw us arrive in St. Lucia. (Note 2)

To state the obvious – a map of St. Lucia.

We docked in Castries, the capital of St Lucia. The harbour is a real contrast to Barbados and certainly is smaller. It became a habit with me on the trip to go out on the balcony every morning and to take a few pictures. The ones below are of Castries harbour (as is the title photo).

Castries harbour, St Lucia. The shadow across the bottom of the photo is that of the ship. A close up of the harbour buildings.

It is difficult to describe in words the sheer scale of the cruise ship. One turn around the promenade deck is one third of a mile. The ship is twelve stories high from dock level (amazing how easily you get into the habit of discounting those below decks).

A view of the Arcadia stern (the blunt end). Passengers spewing off Arcadia – a scene repeated in every port.

We spent our day in St. Lucia on a tour of the island. Our chosen mode of transport was a catamaran – and judging from those who took mini bus tours we made a very wise choice given the state of the roads and the terrain of the island. (Note 3). For a small portion of the tour we did transfer to mini bus so I am talking from experience here!

Canaries, St Lucia from the sea. This picture gives you an idea as to the terrain.  Gros Piton and Petit Piton on St Lucia. These mountains used to be part of the volcano cone before it blew.

Our first stopping off point was Soufriere. The town itself is built on the floor of an active volcano and has some interesting links to the French Revolution and to Napoleon. However, the tourist industry isn’t that sophisticated yet and this wasn’t really explored by the guides. Soufriere was quite a contrast to Castries. As soon as we arrived we were pestered by young boys begging. They dived from the dock and swam out to our boat offering to dive for coins. Wherever we went we were followed around by peddlars who all sold the same jewellery at the same price. As I said, the St Lucia tourism industry is unsophisticated. (Note 4)

Soufriere doesn’t show many signs of benefiting from tourism. Soufriere church, like the rest of the town, is built on a volcano.

Transferring to mini bus, we had a guided tour of the drive in volcano (tipping very much encouraged) and the botanical gardens.

Inside Soufriere volcano. The black stuff is boiling mud and it is that stains the beaches. St Lucia Soufriere gardens diamond falls

After the tour it was back to the boat. We headed off to a beach for a Cajun meal and a swim. Oh and all the while, the crew served up free rum punch. Not that we could take much advantage of this as the delays in arriving meant that the Captain’s Reception had been held over so when we returned to the ship I would need to squeeze myself into my penguin outfit.

A St Lucia beach – can you see the name of the water taxi? St Lucia beach peddlers ambush another tourist boat as it arrives at the beach.

On the way back to the cruise ship, the catamaran did a quick tour of MARIGOT bay. This only served to reinforce my view that the people who really benefit from tourism in St Lucia are the foreign hotel chains.

Marigot Bay in St Lucia. St Lucia. Arcadia dwarfing another cruise ship

There are no pictures of me in my penguin attire or of the Captain’s Reception. So here endeth Day Three of what I did on my holidays. TO BE CONTINUED…

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: The really sad thing here is that the liquid is delivered with a strange haze rising off the glass. If you are unfortunate to get some on your skin, it goes a funny orange colour. It invariably tastes foul and reacts with one of the gherkins you ate earlier to produce the vilest wind. Yet the person with the bottle (and the one wearing the protective goggles and asbestos mittens) insists that it is an absolutely ‘wonderful’ concoction that the discovered in the most ‘delightful’ bar overlooking some church. They would have gone back, but they couldn’t remember their own names for 48 hours and when they did someone had moved the church. Click to return

NOTE 2 : I’m not going to recap why this was the first full day of the holiday. For those of my yeomen who don’t know, the reasons, they can be found HERE and HERE. Click to return

NOTE 3: I should point out that I have only included the small sized photographs from my Flickr account. Should you wish to see the larger pictures, simply click on the photographs and you will be magically transported! Well to Flickr if not St Lucia.Click to return

NOTE 4: The same cannot be said for foreign companies who have been quick to set up their brand of resorts on the island. There is one resort between the Piton mountains which is very exclusive charging thousands of dollars a night and importing white sand for its beach. There are no natural white sandy beaches on the island because of the active volcano which turns the sand gray. Click to return

And I was going to write my postcards in the tea rooms.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Joy to the World

A Mexican Christmas decoration purchased on my holiday. I think it is a wonderful decoration and a way to add memories to your Christmas Tree.

Joy to the World.

My Good yeomen, may I wish you, your friends and your families a very happy Christmas!

To the entire world, regardless of faith and religion, (Note 1) may the spirit of Christmas touch you all and combine to bring peace and joy to the world.

To paraphrase the prayer of St. Francis :-

Where there is hatred, let there be love.

Where there is injury, let there be pardon.

Where there is discord, let there be vision.

Where there is doubt, let there be faith.

Where there is despair, let there be hope.

Where there is darkness, let there be light.

Where there is sadness, let there be joy.

Above all, let there be peace.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: I’m not going to go off on one about this but I do believe that these are two very distinct entities. Personal faith is far stronger than any religion. Click to return

Let there be peace on earth and goodwill to all men.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Hurrumph and Good Cheer

A turkey dinner of sorts.

Fine yeomen, I’m afraid that I bring bad news. It seems that there is an expectation that I will respond to a ‘Tag’ and describe ten grocery essentials for any Christmas. Sadly, I’ve had very little time. I’m afraid I have been consoling Sid, the landlord of the ‘Rat & Ferret’ after one of the highlights of his year was reduced to a shambles.

One of the traditions of Christmas in the ‘Rat & Ferret’ is the annual seasonal message delivered by Chief Inspector McCrindle Barleymow Honeydew-Fforbes. Sid, the landlord, takes the honour of hosting the annual message very seriously. In the days running up to the event, he skulks around the local woodland to ensure the pub is full of pagan foliage. A large fir tree appears next to the fireplace and is soon creaking under the weight of cheap plastic tinsel, baubles and chocolate goodies. (Note 1) Christmas cards are strung across the ceiling along with colourful paper chains. There is even a little wooden stable with various Barbie dolls and Action Men figures dressed up to resemble a nativity scene (after about six pints if you have a very active imagination and squint through half closed eyes).

On the big night, Sid clears all the tables out of the lounge bar and brings in extra chairs from the function room. This year there was an additional buzz as Padstow had installed a camera to provide a podcast of the event.

A date silo in Northern Chad. Samurai of the Satsuma clan, during the Boshin War.

Still not sure what picture one and picture two are all about?

The regulars enter into the spirit of things too. Long before the start a small and occasionally orderly queue starts to form. (Note 2) Expectant noses press against the window panes trying to catch a glimpse of the preparations through a crack in the curtains. Yet Sid remains deaf to the pleas for early access coming through the letter box. Everything has to be just right before he pulls back the heavy bolts and opens the front door.

Sir Francis Bacon. An artefact of the Nefertiti era. It is supposed to depict the making of beer.

Still not sure what picture one and picture two are all about?

Having pulled the mulled wine duty in the kitchen, not only did I get to watch the pneumatic Mattress Madge work her magic on the mince pies and brandy butter, but I was there when the Chief Inspector arrived resplendent in his full dress uniform complete with medals. (Note 3).

The Chief Inspector and Padstow consulted in one corner of the kitchen while Mattress Madge and I worked on the refreshments. While I was distracted, the Chief inspector took a pull from the Brandy bottle and pinched Mattress Madge on her well upholstered posterior. Neither of us said anything, putting his behaviour down to nerves.

By now I hope that you are beginning to pick up that the pictures may not be all they seem.

Sid appeared in the doorway and gave a nervous cough. Mattress Madge and took the buffet through while Padstow touched up the Chief Inspectors make up.

The sight of the Chief Inspector taking his place at the lectern caused the room to fall silent. As the Chief Inspector opened his mouth to speak, the door opened to admit a latecomer, Yvette Munsderpiedder. Sid, Mattress Madge and myself instinctively moved to defend the buffet, but she went and sat down at the back of the room. The Chief Inspector ran a finger around the inside of his collar and gave a nervous cough.

The picturesque village of Stilton, Northamptonshire circa 1900. Felixstowe – a not very picturesque container port on the East coast of England.

Still not sure what picture one and picture two are all about? By now you should have got the clues so the fact that the second explanation isn’t really that helpful shouldn’t worry you.

Yvette sat at the back of the room and glared at the Chief Inspector. (Note 4) The Chief Inspector looked everywhere but at Yvette, cleared his throat and greeted his audience. His voice quivered slightly as he announced that his published topic, the success of the ASBO.

No, his kitten isn’t stuck up the tree.

This is just too easy. I don’t know if I should give an explanation to this picture.

Like in a scene from a spaghetti western, the door burst open. Those nearest the door dived for cover. Long, spiny fingers of fog drifted through the open door. Padstow started to whistle.

After a suitably theatrical pause, Evar came through the door utilising his best John Wayne walk. Chairs tumbled as the audience scattered.

All of us had expected Evar to be back in the old country, but the fog at Heathrow had caused his flight to be cancelled.

Evar kicked chairs aside as he moved slowly towards the Chief Inspector. Padstow hastily moved the camera, but kept filming. Evar stared at the Chief Inspector. The Chief Inspector stared back at Evar, a muscle twitching at the corner of his left eye.

Roses grow on you.

Perhaps it is a bit much to use brand names – it confuses Merkins, so I suppose I need an explanation for this picture.

Evar’s right hand flashed to his pocket. The Chief Inspector flinched and turned pale as Evar brandished the ASBO under his nose.

The Chief Inspector considered the situation. He looked at the court order, then at Evar, then at Yvette and then the door before looking again at the order which he had issued not two weeks before when he heard that Evar was going into training to break the world sprout eating record.

The Chief Inspector made a dash for the door.

Yvette may have made a move to intercept. Or her resolve may have broke and she made her move on the buffet. I’m not at all sure as events became a bit of a blur once Yvette jumped onto the buffet table. The trestle table acted like a catapult. The brandy butter arched towards the fireplace

When the brandy butter got closer to the log fire there was a “WHOOMF”. The sweet yellow mass hit the nativity scene like napalm. Both Sid and Mattress Madge rushed towards their beloved figures but they were consumed in the flambĂ©.

So you’ll have to understand that I have had no chance to respond to frivolous tags – what with trying to convince Sid that things could be worse. After all his entire collection of Barbies had been transformed into hairy Frisbees. At least Mattress Madge’s Action Men figures had the training to jump clear, drop and roll – most of them seem to be barely singed.

As soon as the Chief Inspector extricated himself from his hiding place, he issued a warrant for Yvette and Evar. He has little hope. They disguised themselves as Mexicans and fled to Germany, well, hopefully to Germany, it all depends if the satnav is fixed.

Oh and if anyone does get the idea that I might find a tag fun, all I can say is “Hurrumph! Bah! Humbug!!.”

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: In most cases, the chocolate decorations on a Christmas tree mysteriously vanish in the run up to Christmas. Not in the ‘Rat & Ferret’. Being so close to the fire, chocolate ornaments tend to buckle and deform in the heat. The chocolate angels soon resemble silver gargoyles and Zoltan, the pub guard dog, feasts on little puddles of chocolate under the tree that was once chocolate money. Click to return

NOTE 2: Some years back the queue was over a mile and a half long, but that was due to some prankster telling people that Sid had a supply of Thunderbirds action figures. Click to return

NOTE 3: The Chief Inspector has 4 medals, The Duke of Edinburgh bronze award, elementary life saving, the long service medal and the cycling proficiency badge. Apparently, all of medals for valour were away at the cleaners. Click to return

NOTE 4: This in itself should have been a warning. For Yvette to be in a room with a buffet and be glaring at anything other than the buffet was highly unusual. In hindsight we should have ejected her and bolted the door. The trouble is that it is very easy to have 20/20 hindsight. Click to return

This is Mr Benn again. I’ve done enough photo searching for now!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Scattering of Errors

One lump or two?

My last blog seemed to be full of horrible little errors and miscalculations. My HTML went horribly awry and one rather critical sentence seemed to get missed out altogether. It is at times like this that I wish I could blame the falling over water – but in this instance I can’t. (Note 1) I hadn’t even attempted a temporary reality re-adjustment by means of Dried Frog pills or any of the Nightswerve range of fine ales. If my rather inept update yesterday has caused you any inconvenience, then I am truly sorry.

All of my expectant yeomen will be pleased to know that I have now corrected all the errors and inserted the missing sentence which will hopefully mean that the Twelve Days of Christmas shenanigans will make some sort of sense! (Note 2).

The particular synaptic tangent in question was an attempt to assist you in your quest for the present for the men in your life who have everything. This was my attempt to bring a look of pure joy to the face of a male in public (and hence prove Charlie wrong in his belief that males refrain from outpourings of glee in public). The present in question was this tasteful addition to your ablutions. However, according to the product reviews at least, they are likely to prove fun for all the family – even Great Aunt Maud.

Another tasteful item from Boysstuff. With Ann Widdicombe condemning this… err… gift is bound to sell well.

I’ve had a grin on my face myself over the last couple of days (No, I have yet to receive any communications satisfying my inner voyeur during this particular spell of interestingness – although there was an offer, it never materialised *sigh*). By now you should all be aware of my fondness of the works of Terry Pratchett. Whoops, silly me! Another incorrect link slipped in. (Note 3) Here, try this one.

The grin has come about because I have had the absolute pleasure of watching the adaptation of his book, Hogfather on TV. I enjoyed this so much that it doesn’t stick in my throat to congratulate Sky (part of the evil Murdoch Empire)!

The adaptation stayed true to the book, was well acted and above all retained all of the satire and philosophical elements of the book that makes it such a favourite of mine. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I’m even prepared to give out the link to the Hogfather website on Sky.

The really good news is that there will be DVD release of the movie around Easter of 2007 for those of you who don’t have access to Sky or have more principles than I and refuse to subscribe. (Note 4)

Blood red sky over Portman Road

This photograph was posted in my last blog. On the surface it appears to be a rather glorious sunrise, but there is something a little more to it than that. Something that Sean felt needed a little more explanation. It was taken on one of my occasional business trips to Ipswich - a town in the news for all the wrong reasons (and a parallel to Sean's blog entry about Oregon only getting into the news for the wrong reasons).

The town of Ipswich has fallen under the dark cloud of fear brought about by the discovery that a Serial Killer is loose in the town. Since 15th November, five women have been found murdered. This is unusual because such a high rate of murders is usually something you only see in TV drama and detective fiction as in real life there is often gaps of months or even years between the killings. I suppose it is because it is so unusual that there is such an incredibly high level of media interest - which only serves to increase the level of fear.

My photograph was taken near the Portman Road and Sir Alf Ramsey way. The flood light gantry in the photograph is from the Portman Road ground of Ipswich FC. The significance of the location becomes apparent when you look at the key locations relating to the murders.

I have some deep reservations about the way that the media have chosen to cover this story. My concerns are not new, my disquiet over the way that the news media operates have been voiced before. However, with this story, I have a specific complaint that the media is treating the victims as some kind of lesser beings because of their circumstances. Whatever the rights and wrongs of their lifestyle - they are the victims with the right to respect. They should therefore be described as young women first with their profession being treated as background rather than a rather degrading label to somehow imply that they share blame for their fate.

Given the season, we should remember that all of the women have families who will be grieving. I pass on my sympathies to those families and hope that they are remembered not as another example of how drugs destroy lives but for the positive contribution they made by living.

Well, my fine yeomen, that rather destroyed the 'joy' theme of the blog.

It has been a while since I wheeled out our Ken with his ticking stick. Anyone fancy a spell down the Jam Buttie mines?

In a (possibly vain) attempt to rectify the situation I shall draw your attention to an article on the work of Susie Rea entitled "intimate strangers". When I came across this article, I was enthralled. It seemed such a simple thing to record the faces of the people you see every day and to scratch the surface to find out a little more about them (if you haven't already it is well worth opening the series of pictures linked to in article). It serves to highlight that life isn't as bad as the newspapers and television would have us believe and that there is good news that can be reported.

It also got me thinking about how blogging is probably this in reverse. We all put a little bit of ourselves and our lives into our blogs and we put them out there for anybody to read. Some of us even put photographs of ourselves so that our loyal yeomen readers can identify the person responsible. (Note 5) Yet with all of these blogs I get the feeling that there are many who have seen my image and have been party to the sparse secrets I share who have never made themselves known to me.

So, if you are reading these words, please spare a minute to leave a comment saying 'Hi'. If you are ever unfortunate enough to see me out and about, please feel free to say it in person. It might just make the whole experience that little bit more intimate and joyous.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: As my regular yeomen will know, hardly a drop of the falling down water touches my lips. I haven’t exactly signed the pledge, but I find that by drinking in such a way as to avoid the lips drastically reduces the danger of spillage. Besides, when drinking Nightswerve’s Velvet Cudgel if it touches the lips there is the risk of blistering. Click to return

NOTE 2: Although I have to admit to severe disappointment with the Yahoo 360 upgrade here. I had hoped that it would now support the opening of links in new windows – but sadly it doesn’t. I have had to fall back on the old faithful of asking my resourceful yeomen to hold down the Ctrl key as they click and just hope that their browsers support such an underhand move! Click to return

NOTE 3: I blame Mattress Madge for that one. Just as I was seeking out the link, she decided to start her new fitness regime by doing star jumps. Very distracting and very ill advised. Now the poor girl is going to spend Christmas with two black eyes. Click to return

NOTE 4: Which does seem to be the strangest timing for the thing. Mind you if it is also being released in the US, then it would seem to be part revenge for having to endure the Christmas Specials of US imports in the heat of summer. Although perhaps the marketing Men will rename it “Soul Cake Duck” to make the timing more appropriate. Click to return

NOTE 5: Although I have yet to have anyone come up to me and ask why an agoraphobic journeyman would be out or even admit to reading this stuff. Click to return

Tis the season of great joy – and dairy products.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Seasonal Water Shortage

Christmas decorations in Oundle.

I suppose I should start making the occasional nod towards the season.

I wish to throw myself upon the mercy of my good yeomen and make a staggering admission. I cannot spell. I’m thankful for the spellcheckers included on computers because without them I doubt any of you would understand a word of my ramblings. (Note 1) All of this means that I am not particularly good at noticing poor spelling from others. I can meander along in almost blissful ignorance of poor spelling from others.

Yet last night even I spotted an absolute howler! On the BBC no less! Songs of Praise last night broadcast a candle lit carol service. There is nothing like belting out a few carols to put you in the mood for Christmas and to start to build the appetite for numerous different turkey dishes.

Blood red sky over Portman Road

If, like me, you find yourself in the mood for a few Karaoke carols, turn up the speakers on your PC and CLICK HERE for one of the very best. (Note 2) The nice man at the BBC (the very nice man, the very, very nice man), knowing that tens of thousands of people are sat at home singing along to the carols – provides subtitles. I was doing my bit, but suddenly collapsed into a quivering, giggling heap when the lyric was shown as :-

”Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Born is the King of Israel.”

It looks like global warming is impacting on Christmas. Oh, and if you are wondering, I got red squiggles under Nowell but Noel passed the spellchecker.


Now there is a challenge for the Yahoo 360 update. If I got that right you should have a little music to get you in the mood for a little retail retaliation.

If you have a man in your life who has everything or, if you come from Bishop Auckland, maybe I can offer up a suggestion to aid you on your Christmas shopping? Perhaps I can offer up this tasteful delight. (Note 3).

This delightful lady has had a profound effect on our lives and is considered to be a leading light in her field. December 9th saw the centenary of her birth.

And finally, Cyril, I should not leave you to go on your merry way without providing you with the answer to yesterday’s homework. I’m not exactly sure that I should – after all there wasn’t what you call a flood of completed answers on my desk this morning. At least Patterson Minor had the courtesy to come up with an excuse, but not a particularly good one given that the digestive tract of the Hebridean Salamander just couldn’t cope with a whole exercise book.

You already know that that sweet old lady shown above is Commander Grace Hopper of the US Navy. She is affectionately known as the “mother” of COBOL - the most widely used programming language on computer mainframes. The article is well worth a read.

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: My reliance on the spell checker is such that I write all of my blogs (HTML tags and all) in Word before I copy them to Yahoo or my mirrorblog. When I first started doing this, I thought the red squiggly underlining was something to do with someone leaving the crayons lying about and the stupid paperclip getting bored and doodling all over the page. Click to return

NOTE 2: I just love the way that people insist on portraying Polar Bears as lovely cuddly little beasts. These animals are classified as man’s only predator. Although that little gif shows them smiling and skating around the curvaceous figure skater, in real life she would very quickly become Christmas Dinner for the bears. And if you think that I am being morbid and spoiling the spirit of Christmas then CLICK HERE. Click to return

NOTE 3: Struggling with that Bishop Auckland comment? Allow me to put you out of the misery and direct you to the reviews section for that marvel of modern consumerism. I only hope that Kelly’s boyfriend realises what he is letting himself in for and is taking the vitamin tablets. Click to return

The cute little bird is still here. He’s drinking at the bar because there is no well for him to get water.

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