December in the Time of Covid

Ah, the first of December, the day it’s acceptable to put up something Christmassy and not before!! The fireplace, hearth and mantel, has been cleared and cleaned, my peace lily is holidaying in the kitchen and this year’s advent calendar now has pride of place. This afternoon I trotted along to St John’s Church at the corner of Princes Street and Lothian Road to check out this year’s Cards For Good Causes.

It’s a marvellous institution, been going for years, from October to December pop-up shops pop up all over the UK in places like churches, libraries, community centres, town halls and the like, mainly run by volunteers, selling Christmas cards for over twenty five charities. That is, twenty five national charities and then any local charities, like hospices. Cards For Good Causes is a not-for-profit organisation so all the proceeds after the overheads goes to the charities (and yes, the money goes to the specific charity for each pack of cards), last year it was 70p in every £1, which is way better than the charity cut from the so-called charity cards from some high street retailers!

St John’s Church

Of course, you can buy the cards at the charity shops themselves but I enjoy perusing all that’s on offer from the various charities then I make my choices – something sweet and cute, something more sombre. At the end next to the till they have Chrustmas paraphernalia, wrapping paper, tags, decorations, gifts for sale (the profits from these help to meet some of the running costs of the pop-up shops). Okay, so I would usually have already been along before now to have a peek at what was on offer, but, well, with all the social distancing measures I feel disinclined to go earlier, I wondered what changes they would have had to make, actually not a lot (besides the obvious hand sanitiser and screen at the till). There’s been a doorbell installed to buzz for entry, then one heads down the centre aisle to go one way up the side aisle where the cards are displayed back up to the till and exit side door. One obvious problem with this is some folk (erm, like me) would usually wander down the row seeing what there was before walking back up and picking out their choices; luckily for me, there was no one else there for a wee while so I was able to go back and forth a bit.

Of course, this being 2020, I’m still not definite where I’ll actually be for Christmas. The Powers That Be are currently saying the nation will have a five day window for family Christmases, but this is only the first of the month, with all their constant rule-changing I’m not convinced they’ll still be saying the same thing in twenty days time!!

I shall leave you with a lovely picture from a late afternoon stroll along Portobello Prom just last week. I say late afternoon, it was round about half past five and the moon was well up, I was quite surprised how many people were about on the beach and the Prom, but then, we’re not to meet indoors, so…..

Strictly 2020 for the fans

Yay, even in this Covid-ridden year Strictly Come Dancing is back on our telly screens, albeit with fewer contestants and all very distanced. I’m certainly not missing the audience whooping and clapping at every little thing, maybe if something is extraordinarily amazing that’s fine, but otherwise I wish they’d just contain themselves until the end of each dance. There’s been a very limited audience in the studio but with the second lockdown even that was prohibited. The last few shows have had the competing couples sat at the little cabaret-style tables to replace the missing audience, I like it.

This year Strictly started with twelve couples rather than fifteen, sadly one couple has had to drop out as one of the pair had a positive corona virus test (there’s lots of careful bubbling and testing going on). There’s only three judges instead of four because Bruno is staying in America to do Dancing With The Stars again (previous years he was flying back and forth every week!) Last weekend another judge, Motsi, was away as she is currently self-isolating after a necessary visit to Germany; on the bright side of that, Anton Du Beke has been a marvellous stand-in for her. In fact I reckon he should stay on after Motsi’s return, so getting back to a full quota of judges. To be honest, I’ve never cared for him much but as a judge he’s really shone; being knocked out in the very first dance-off (I knew he’d be first out, that Jacqui Smith was just bad) turned out just fine!

Every year I seem to know fewer of the contestants, many moan on social media about “z listers” on the show, meaning they haven’t heard of them, but in actual fact I would say that’s a good thing as it indicates how diverse the celebrities are and there’s someone for everyone. I don’t watch morning tv, chat shows (Graham Norton is my one exception), the news or any of the soaps and I have little interest in sports; that right there precludes me from recognising over half the contestants. You-tubers, vloggers, Radio 1 dj’s, they just aren’t on my radar – damn it, yes, that’s a younger generation’s game (I’m not old, really, I’m not). This year I only know two contestants well – Bill Bailey (as previously mentioned) and Caroline Quentin, both of whom I’ve loved for years; I did recognise Clara Amfo (Radio 1) but couldn’t place her, until a repeat of Richard Osman’s House of Games on Dave, ahha, yeah, she’s fun, I like her.

So, Bill Bailey, that’s the Older Gent and Comic categories both ticked off; both in one package together and the masses just think “oh, the funny turn, he’ll be hamming it up to get laughs and hopefully votes, ’cause God knows, he’ll be rubbish!” Fair enough, that has happened in previous years, but this is Bill Bailey we’re talking about. Oo, my ears pricked up on hearing he was taking part, his benign, bewildered smile and laidback manner would belie the fact that he is intelligent, meticulous and competitive. Of course, his musical skills would not necessarily translate into dancing ability, as Strictly fans will be aware from previous series. Fear not, his learning skills are as quick as his wits; his inquisitive nature has seen him research each dance style to gain a better understanding of it, he’s nothing if not thorough!

Okay, so I wrote the above four days, it was very late so I took a break. Honestly, I did mean to finish it the next morning, best laid plans. Yay, Bill is still in but Caroline left this evening, it was the dreaded cha cha cha that did for her. Most celebrities find it difficult and it’s almost like a death knell for anyone over forty. Luckily Bill got it out of the way in the very first week when no one goes out, mind, he’s got the jive this week, it’ll need every bit of stamina he’s got! But Bill has something besides his musicality that will have been a great asset – a strong core. Bill loves paddleboarding, does it whenever wherever he can, and while it’s low impact it is a good workout for a body, upper, core and legs. Strong leg muscles will have made his dance training much less of a shock to his system than it usually is to middle-aged celebrities.

His posture even in week two for the quickstep was really good, he was so light on his feet and precise too! Week three, movie week, saw Bill and Oti coming second on the leader board with their paso doble to the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It was a tad magnificent. A good tune can really help win the public vote too, and Bill and Oti had another doozy up their sleeves for week four – only Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang! This was for their Couple’s Choice Street Dance, another second place. Gotta mention the seriously dapper pinstriped suits too, they looked as sharp as they danced!

This weekend Strictly would normally have been in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, a weekend every couple wants to reach and the ante is ratcheted up a notch. Of course, this being 2020, the Blackpool feeling was woven in Elstree and everyone was feeling it! So at least Caroline and Johannes made it to Blackpool Weekend, yay, for them. Bill and Oti wowed again with an American Smooth to I’ve Got You Under My Skin, but with the competition hotting up they came fifth equal on the leader board.

It’s a tough year to call the finalists, but, ah, no, it would the kiss of death, wouldn’t it? As long as it’s great dancing and stunning outfits I’m one happy moose.

Night all 💛

Let’s talk about Bill

Last post I mentioned Bill Bailey and the place he holds in my Happy box, which got me remembering all the other great stuff I’ve seen him do. Really, he’s popped up more times than I would have guessed off the cuff. So here’s a potted history of me and Mr Bailey……..

Apparently he first came up to the Fringe in 1994 as part of a two man show, going solo the following year, then, third time lucky he was nominated for a Perrier 1996 (not so lucky that he won but hey). This was around the time I began to really embrace the Fringe, I didn’t see him perform but I was aware of him. Oh yeah, by 1999 Bud and I were fans, we were yelping with delight when he turned up in the tv comedy sitcom Spaced as the owner of a comic book store!

2000 saw Bill on the telly again as Manny Bianco in the totally and utterly brilliant Black Books. Not for everyone, mind, but my fancy was well tickled by it. Bill, Tamsin Greig and Dylan Moran were great together, usually stuck bickering in Bernard Black’s (Moran) bookshop (in three series very little took place outside of the shop and it’s living space behind). Mind you, I don’t think Dylan Moran was stretching himself much – from what I’ve heard from friends (have I ever mentioned our Fringe game, Meringue, and its origin?).

In 2002 Bill became one of the team captains of my favourite tv panel show at the time Never Mind the Buzzcocks battling against Phil Jupitus’ team, presided over by quiz master Mark Lamarr. Oh, that was great entertainment, if at times a tad cruel to some of the guest panellists. Lamarr actually became less caustic with his humour as time went on, his teddy boy solid as a board quiff soften too. Then Lamarr left and after a series with guest presenters youngster Simon Amstell took over the chair; it was like the humour of early NMTB again but meaner, Amstell obviously wanted to make his mark but his needling and determination to get a rise out of his victims just got annoying at times. In 2008 after a second series with the new chair and with eleven series under his belt, Bill took his leave of the show; I’ve read that Bill revised his attitudes to comedy around this time, “cruel” comedy was shown the door.

Meanwhile, when not filming series of NMTB, Bill was back at the Fringe. In 2003 he brought us not only his new show Part Troll but he also acted in Guy Masterson’s all-star cast production of 12 Angry Men. Bud and I saw and thoroughly enjoyed both (mind, that “all-star” thing seemed to mean stand-up comedians). To our delight two years later he trod the boards again in The Odd Couple with Alan Davies as the other half (another Guy Masterson production). That was, of course, the first time we saw Bill’s band, not listed in the Fringe programme just on the Gilded Balloon’s own.

Those are my stand out BB moments, since then he’s acted on the big and small screen (oo yeah, the Dr Who Christmas Special in 2011); there’s the guesting on panel shows and he’s presented various programmes on topics from baboons to orchestras; tours around the world, books, radio shows, and a load other stuff!! A man of many talents, indeed. Just last month he published a new book Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness, that’s so on my Christmas list! Oh, and last month he also joined this year’s Strictly Come Dancing!! Oh yay, another excuse to talk about Strictly. I suspect my UK readers knew that was coming 😊.

Toodle oo, chaps.

Happy?!

In 2019 the loveliest man to grace a Fringe stage was back again with his new show Aidan Goatley: Happy Britain Part I, naturally I went along. Happy Britain? He told how he came up with an idea of going to the centre of every county in the UK and asking the first person he met, “What makes you happy?” Part I? Well, you know, life, best laid plans, et al, there was to be a Part II this year, and a book too! God only knows when that’s gonna happen now!! Mind you, his wife is a vicar so she could make enquiries!

The show was as good as expected – that being an engaging, charming, thoroughly entertaining hour that went by way too quickly for my liking. I could have happily sat another hour in that state of warm, fuzzy cheeriness (oh and the room did have good air conditioning – a bonus). The pic is from Mr Goatley’s bit in the Fringe programme. I think his attire may be a reference to Arthur Dent in HHGTTG, I seem to vaguely remember something, but I could have dreamt it.

Some time later I found myself musing on Aidan’s question, indeed, what made me happy, really happy? Where was my happy place? Could I answer that without resorting to flippancy? You see, though I always do my best to present myself as a jovial and happy-go-lucky chap, I am no stranger to melancholy; I knew I’d been slowly sinking into the doldrums for some time, my spark wasn’t very sparky anymore, more like an ember. Oh sure, Edinburgh in August (when there’s a Fringe on!) but what about the rest of it? I mulled over it for some time, if I could figure out the true honest answer could I use it as a compass to lead myself out of the doldrums on to firmer ground?

Actually, it’s the reason why I like the Fringe so much, it’s that blissed out fuzziness of witnessing a great feelgood show (usually accompanied by a goofy smile). It’s sitting listening to Aidan’s stories, it’s watching an hour of surreal sketches about three sperm, it’s the fun of watching a troup of actors allowing themselves to be dictated to by a roulette wheel of absurd scenarios.

And it’s being at a Logan’s Close gig, any time of the year. Oh yeah, there’s my Happy. No wonder this year’s been hard – I haven’t seen them since January! And on bands, one of my most memorable happy times was at the Fringe in 2005, late night in the Debating Hall at Teviot watching Bill Bailey’s band Beergut 100. The sheer exuberance of the band and the crowd was intoxicating, and when Kevin Eldon sang a seriously punked up The sun’ll come out tomorrow oh my heartses! The room was a big sweaty blob of happy!

As a young moose I used to daydream, as so many do, about being a great performer, acting or singing, both, I’d be amazing!! Once we get past the time of when our dreams were meant to somehow be happening (with no effort from ourselves), it’s woulda, coulda, shoulda. Then, one night, I don’t remember when, who or where, but I do remember having an epiphany, I was Audience – being a great audience is important, without an audience what is a show? I shouldn’t be looking up wishing I was the one on the stage, that’s not me; I’m the one giving my undivided attention, watching, listening, absorbing the atmosphere; I’m the one whooping and cheering and clapping, showing my appreciation to the performers.

Oo, that got a bit profound there! Thinking on it, I know it changed my perspective and my being. Would recognising my Happy bring on another change? Then 2020 came along and the whole world has been spun off kilter. Will Aidan ever get to do his Part Deux? Will hugging ever come back? There’s a great deal of Happy in hugging.

Bonne nuit, mes amis 💛

They’re baaaaack!

Yes, indeed, the uni students arrived in droves today. Well, in cars, with anxious parents trying to figure out where to go. I noticed at the halls, where once a very handy Homebase stood, a big sign saying “10 minute drop-off time”, i.e. throw your precious darling and their possessions oot the car and go! Mind, some will probably have been glad for a reason to get rid of smothering parents quickly.

My afternoon walk took me past the halls on Holyrood Road, up the Pleasance and left along Holyrood Park Road, so plenty of fresh new students around. After that my wanderings took me along the Innocent Railway, Bingham (I only know that from a sign), out to near the new Royal Infirmary, returning past Craigmillar Castle, through the woods and back up Old Dalkeith Road. A very pleasant couple of hours, it’s been a warm and balmy day (and another couple are forecast, yay).

It will be interesting to see how the students behave with all the Covid restrictions. Will they adhere, or be like students? I do have some sympathy for them, especially the first years; this should one of the most exciting and wild times of their lives. God, yeah, poor bastards, not much of a Freshers Week to look forward to! They should be mixing and mingling, making lots of new friends – this is the worst year ever to start uni. I shall strive to be tolerant when they clutter up road crossings and dawdle in hordes across pavements. At least the council has widened a lot of pavements, maybe it will prove to be useful after all.

Oh, and I’ve noticed that The Auld Hoose has put a teaser up on Facebook, looks like they’ll be re-opening very soon, they know their main demographic! There’ll be quite a number of pubs that’ll be well down on how much they would usually take from students in the few weeks of autumn term. There’ll also be quite a few locals who will enjoy the lack of student pub crawls. Again, I do feel sorry for the first years!

Anyhoos, it’s very late. My bed isn’t just calling to me any more, it’s tutting, most aggrieved at it’s emptiness. I shall leave you with two pics taken on my walk today.

The other castle in Edinburgh, Craigmillar Castle – a castle for your inner child!
Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park from Craigmillar way. That’s Salisbury Crags to the left of the photo.

Not the last night of Fringe 2020

The last night of the Fringe, the final push. No matter that so many venues have already closed a day or two earlier, it’s not over til the Pleasance and Gilded Balloon close the bars! Years ago Bud and I got serious on the importance of a great final night, no random show would be the last memory of our Fringe.

Over the years last shows included Otis Lee Crenshaw (three times), Rich Hall, Adam Hills, the Penny Dreadfuls (twice, and Humphrey Ker’s solo show), the Les Clöchards, then in 2013 we met Will Seaward and a new tradition was born. Alas last year he didn’t do the final night (I know, how very dare he!!), his last night was the Sunday, what ever was I to do!? Never fear, his fellow Rouletteers were keeping on to the bitter end, and a fine job they did too. Stupendous!

Interestingly, if Covid hadn’t come along this year, I would have had to start a new game of Who’s Last? See last year was the last of Will’s Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories at the Fringe. Sure, shows, companies, faces come and go, I know that. I do hope my favourite faces make it back again or are at least still being creative wherever they may be in 2021.

Oh, and there’s been the Edinburgh International Festival Fireworks on the final Monday for the last five years. Since they moved to the final Monday I stopped going to watch them in Princes Street Gardens, instead I wander down The Mound to catch a part of it, then I’m off to Fringe again.

I shall leave you with a few pics from last nights at the Fringe…

20180827_220059Something’s afoot at the Castle

Oooo! Ahhh!20180827_220205

The dark truth of the Fringe……

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….sweat and tears, is what some performers take away with them after an August in Edinburgh!

 

I should have had a coffee first!

Yesterday would have been a grand last Sunday for the Fringe, a sunny day right through, not hot but not too cool either. It was the day to try out Gilded Balloon’s Fringe Search Party, so armed with a fully charged phone I headed up to Teviot Square. I really should have had that coffee before I went out. The first clue took me what seemed like ages to figure out what I had to do, and that was even after the hint! (after a few attempts the game takes pity on you and gives a hint). Then I was off and strolling!

It was fun to do though I did find some of the clues a tad obtuse, maybe it’s just how my brain works (give me a killer sudoku any time) and maybe that’s when a team of four heads are better than one. The brains that devised Search Party made the most of an emptier Edinburgh, some bits would have been way trickier with too many bodies obstructing the view.

So did I find Isla Fallot? Indeed I did, I laughed out loud when I realised where she was. If I’d had that coffee and thunk about it some, I maybe could have figured it out, gone straight there and taken a selfie with her. But that would be cheating, Brucie, I hear you cry, don’t worry, I like my glories unsullied, mind it would have been pretty sharp to have figured out her hiding place. No, the pleasure is in the hunt, just as well as my time was almost twice that of the leaders! Did I take a selfie with her? Well, no, because I was told to, bit like being told to have another drink at Christmas do’s, I felt a bit irked.

Edinburgh actually felt reasonably touristed yesterday. Plenty of folk milling about, still nowhere near normal levels though. I wonder how many were up because they’d booked to come when there was still a Fringe being planned; a very different stay than intended! How many were coming back and bringing a Fringe virgin with them? Nevermind the Search Party, the NotFringe2020 Walking Tour could have been a thing!! Oh my, that’s what I can do with those sad photos I’ve taken. Let’s see, where first?

20200825_215501Ah yes, Charlotte Square at the west end of George Street, this would usually be full of books, tents, authors, books and the best portaloos in town. It’s all locked up, can’t even get in for  sit down.

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Next to Adam House on Chamber Street. It was simply the Adam House Theatre before becoming C venues flagship for many years, but last year saw it under the Gilded Balloon banner. I did ask a number of different folk about their take on what happened. Some very interesting, enlightening listening!

 

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What’s missing from this picture?

A BlundaBus and a Spiegelyurt, oh and picket fences, and some really chill vibes. The string of lights you can see are in the Potterrow Underpass, very useful when rushing up from the Cowgate to the university area.

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I would forgive anyone for not recognising this park with its Narnia-style lamp as being George Square Gardens, I know, look the grass is real! Sadly it never fully recovers any more from the bashing it takes from the Jazz, Food and Fringe festivals every year.

 

20200830_231543George Square 2020, one lonely Tuk Truk and a coffee kiosk.

And how are things looking at No.33? Well, the weeds need sorting out!20200830_233523

And let’s finish this little tour by heading down the Pleasance and left up the Cowgate. Oo, the council have finally resurfaced the road, it’s now silky smooth, unlike the pavements. In August the Cowgate is usually heaving with people traversing up and down and across it; you can’t have truly done the Fringe if you’ve never put a foot on the Cowgate!  One of the loveliest spots on it is the Rowantree Bar and Niddry Street South…20200825_135050

So ends my little walking tour, things ain’t what they used to be!

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But I did hear about one venue that despite the lack of a physical Fringe put up a banner outside as usual. Oh yes, ClubFest 2020 may have gone virtual but the Scottish Arts Club put a real banner up at Rutland Square. Good for them!

 

 

 

Toodle pip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s oh so quiet now

One of my favourite spots in a proper August is sitting with a drink on the balcony in the Library Bar at Teviot, catching up on my fringe diary. That is, during the day or midweek, but when it’s too busy I head over to the other bar (the refectory bar?) on to the balcony there, by the windows in an attempt to get some air. Last year I found myself heading to the other bar rather more as the Library Bar seemed to become an “in” place to go.

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This year there’s neither, instead they have come up with The Garden at Teviot, which seems to be doing rather well whenever I’ve been passing. Of course, it’s all online, booking in, ordering food and drink by app, all so neat and organised. There’s no one milling around, yeah, I know a lot of locals are be delighted by the lack of hoards but not me, or the rhino.

I do so hope the world gets better soon, what is life without fun, spontaneity, creatives creating? Oh, and hugs, we all need hugs  ❤

A couple more pics for you, my dears

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a soggy day with no one about, except, see, there on the left, up on the wall. He’s so lonely, he’s been crying…..

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A ramble about some old boozers

Alas, some of Edinburgh smaller drinking houses may not survive the pandemic, so says the local press, and anyone with experience of how “cosy” they can be. These little gems are all nooks and crannies, no social distancing possible, and when they’re busy, no personal space either! It would be a real shame to lose them as some are very old (we’re talking Auld old) and are part of the architectural and historic fabric of the city.

The Halfway House up Fleshmarket Close behind Waverley Station is a very sad victim to new regulations. I’ve sipped many a fine cider and real ale there over the years, right back to my college days. It’s one thing if a pub goes to the wall through lack of clientele (though still a shame), but quite another when the business would be fine but for insurmountable circumstances.

Two legendary folk bars of Edinburgh, The Royal Oak and Sandy Bell’s are both still shut; it would be a major loss for the Edinburgh folk scene if either failed to re-open. Rebus’s haunt the Oxford Bar hasn’t been able to open it’s doors again yet and The Auld Hoose (home to the largest bowl of nachos ever!!) remains shut for very obvious reasons to anyone who’s tried to get to the toilets there on a busy evening!

Two great real ale pubs that have reopened are the Dagda Bar (the small square blue-fronted one up Buccleuch Street, you know it but never remember the name!) and the Bow Bar, not as small as the Dagda, a nice tidy size and very much an Edinburgh institution. Still doing off-sales as well, the Jolly Judge has re-opened as much as they can, having the outside tables in the close helps. Indeed, pubs are really making the most of any outside space (pavement) they can claim.

The three bars up just off Teviot Square, the Doctor’s, Boteco Do Brasil and Paradise Palms have all re-opened, usually completely packed out at this time of year, they’ll be missing the Fringe. Oo, and another old folk establishment, Captains Bar just along on South College Street is open; turns out they’ve been carrying on musically online during the shutdown, good for them!

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I shall leave you with an oddity that’s appeared climbing the wall above an old drinking establishment in town. Can anyone identify the pub from this little teaser? Happy to report it’s open again.

If there’s a favourite Edinburgh watering hole that you’re hoping has survived, I’ll be happy to investigate!

Toodle pip!

 

 

A seat with a view

As today (well, technically yesterday) was the third Saturday of NotFringe2020, I took myself up Arthur’s Seat to sit awhile and stare out over Edinburgh. I would have stood but the wind was scarily strong, so I hunkered down low to stop from being blown away. Why today? Barry Ferns, for some years this was the day of the big Gala performance (well, he and three other comedians he’d manage to persuade to walk up Arthur’s Seat), it seemed fitting to trot on up and read a bit of poetry.

I say trot, more of a trotting start, slowing to an amble, with more and more pauses “to admire the view” as I went higher and higher. Oo, I took a different route to my usual up near the top, quite daring of me in the high winds and blinding sunlight. The views today were great, so pics were in order,  at least one to prove I made it up there! It was difficult to judge which bit of Edinburgh was in the background but I got lucky – zoom in and to the side of my ear is McEwan Hall and the university area, a smidgen further and there’s George Square Gardens, further again the Meadows and Marchmont.

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And, of course, a panoramic shot from the castle far left, taking in the Forth, across the city to Edinburgh’s Disgrace on Calton Hill on the right.

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Toodle pip!