Stuff I learnt in floristry class

Hello!

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve been going to a beginner’s floristry class since January. I’m not very good at it, but I don’t even care because I really enjoy it. I’ve even made my peace with the fact that my nemesis is florists’ foam (also known as oasis, which does make me think of the Gallaghers.)

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I do, however, enjoy putting bunches of flowers together (although I think I’m not allowed to call them ‘bunches’ now that I’m *sort of* trained. I think I’m meant to refer to them as bouquets…) I’ve learnt some great tips about choosing flowers and putting them together, which I would have liked to have known before I started putting stuff together.

  1. Bleach your vases and change your water

28235344_10155296869792267_8276381645575148795_oEvery time you have an empty vase, fill it with water and put a few drops of bleach in it and leave it overnight (although I forget and sometimes leave it a few days…) Empty it and rinse it out. This will kill any bacteria and means that you’re starting with a clean, germ-free vase. It’ll mean that your flowers last longer from the get-go. In a similar vein, make sure you change your water every couple of days.

Some people swear blind that a drop of bleach in the water works to keep flowers looking fresh, although I would only do that for roses; for anything else I use a teaspoon of sugar or, if I have it, the packets of flower food you get with supermarket flowers.

2. There’s nothing wrong with supermarket flowers! 

27021216_10155227044562267_3429879072351896780_oI do love going to the florist, but it is expensive. There’s nowt wrong with supermarket flowers- I use them quite a bit for class, and a florist recently recommended I buy focal flowers (i.e. the main flowers in an arrangement) from a florist, the secondary flowers from a supermarket and the greenery from a garden. To be honest, it depends on time/money as to whether I have time to do all of that. But you can definitely gussy up a couple of bunches of Aldi’s finest- arrange them in a symmetrical pattern, twisting the stalks if you can, any foliage on the outside, and tying off with string. Chop the bottoms of the stalks off evenly- et voila! A tied bouquet! The only thing I would say is that supermarket flowers do not tend to last as long as florist bought flowers, but when they’re cheap as chips, who cares?

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

IMG_20180214_083541_236I think one of the reasons I’m not terribly good at the lessons is that I’m not very keen on the formality of what we’re being shown. This is just my thing and no judgement on the teacher (who I love) or the whole world of floristry. It’s just me being an awkward sod. I tend to prefer smaller arrangements that suit a more vintage taste, which have a country garden look to them. This is what I will continue to make once I finish my course, and what I enjoy making. As one of Brighton’s top florists told me, ‘It’s not rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules.’ (He was quite dismissive of a lot of the formal structure of floristry- and seeing as he did my wedding bouquet, I tend to trust him!) One thing I would say: supermarket flowers tend not to smell much. If you want that, consider buying some broom or something like stocks from a florist- even one stem of these will lift your bunch of flowers into something a bit more special.

4. A few tweaks can make a bouquet look way more expensive

IMG_20180311_131728_492Around Valentines and Mother’s Day, flowers will be at their most expensive. If you wanted to make something flowery in the run up to those, I would heartily recommend you buy supermarket flowers for the bulk of it (especially if you want roses or tulips) and then go to a florist for a few finishing touches. The bouquet about was commissioned by Benn for his mum and I did go to a florist where I know I will get a good deal (and a discount for being a student, hurrah!) This is more my style- I love stuff that looks like I could just pluck it from my garden on a sunny June day and it’s nicely balanced, I think. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve noticed when you put together a bouquet:

  1. If you want roses, but not the expense, you could try lisianthus (the deep purple flowers above) or ranunculas, which are pretty in a similar way but often without such a steep price tag (although they will never be as cheap as daffodils or carnations!)
  2. Eucalyptus is having a moment. You can get the traditional varieties, with large silver leaves, or the smaller leafed variety, which is in the arrangement above. The good thing about eucalyptus, especially the bigger type, is that it will literally make any bunch of flowers look more expensive. Probably because it is quite expensive, but it would be a price I would consider paying for something special. To be honest, though, I’d just have vases full of it round the house I love it so much. If you want nice foliage, consider pistachio leaf, which is nice and half the price. Foliage is super important and I almost never have enough.
  3. If you want to make something look vintage, go with wax flowers. These tiny pink or white flowers are a bit of a discovery for me and also seem to be having a bit of a ‘moment’. Oh my god, I love them. They look like something from a Victorian wedding and they last an AGE. They aren’t hugely cheap, but they are cheerful and really add something to the flower arrangements I make. These would go in my vases with the eucalyptus.

5. Use Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration

I have a Pinterest board where I keep all things floristry- I love looking at flower combos, as well as different colours and presentation options. I’m also obsessed with the language of flowers and what different flowers meant in Victorian times. I then use this as a starting point for ideas. There are also some really great Instagram accounts run by florists, with different styles and specialities. Have a hunt around and find your style. Then, go and have a go. It’s really, honestly, not that hard. Seriously- look at some of the mistakes I’ve made!

If there’s anything you’d like to know, but I may have missed, let me know either in the comments or on Twitter. Enjoy your flowers!

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How I left my job and changed career

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A year ago today, I resigned from my ten-year teaching career. I remember it well, mainly because it was the day of Trump’s inauguration and I’d had no sleep the night before. I’d been planning on resigning later in the term (Benn and I had talked about me resigning the year before and agreed that the best time would be when D started school- no more nursery fees), but for some reason I found myself pouring out my thoughts to my line manager, who was amazingly supportive. I wrote my letter there and then, although I decided I would stay til the end of the year: this would give me time to sort myself out, but also I wanted to see my students through the year.

I then began to plan. I saved as much money (read: not much) as I could every month and joined agencies specialising in helping parents find work (spoiler: they were crap.) I spoke to people who could help me- one friend gave me really good advice about CVs. I researched, planned and saved. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty terrified- I was leaving a job I’d done since I was 23, with relatively good money for the days I was in work (but not those I was working outside of school hours) and school holidays guaranteed. I had never looked for a job as a parent. Hell, I hadn’t seriously looked for a new job in eight years.

The time went REALLY fast. I took the summer off and started looking for work the week after D started school. I wrote a skills-based CV, which showed what I could do (and is easier to adapt for the skills required by each job description.) I also narrowed down the sort of places I wanted to work- charities, public sector- and signed up for job alerts. I scoured job boards for the NHS, the council, universities and the civil service. I applied for three jobs and was offered interviews for them all (I accepted the second job and got excellent feedback from the first. I didn’t attend the third interview.) I bought a basic black dress in the summer sales, which I wore with a plain cardigan (I felt like a younger Miss Marple, tbh), but it looked smart and presentable.

I was lucky in that I got a temp job for a few weeks, which brought in a bit of money, but I budgeted HARD. I cut all non-essential costs and used the library. During times when I wasn’t working, I kept myself busy: looking after the sheep, learning French, going to a free weekly knitting group.

I started my job in the public sector in December and it’s very different. I’m also working five days a week until the end of next month, which has brought a temporary boost in money but headaches with childcare. I’ll be a lot less well-off once I go down to three days, but better in terms of health. I sleep better, I’m happier and Benn and D have noticed a huge difference.

I have had to deal with an odd side-effect though: losing a sense of identity that was tied up with my job. It’s liberating and less scary now, but it’s definitely taken a while.

For anyone looking to change lanes, I will tell you it’s potentially hard- I was lucky that Benn was happy to pick up the slack, even if it means a change in lifestyle for us for a while- but the rewards can be utterly worth it.

September, September

I love September. I love the change in the air as we hurtle towards October; I’ve already started wearing handknitted socks and my new uniform is cord/denim skirts over leggings, paired with men’s jumpers that I’ve had for years. What’s different, of course, is that although I have the ‘back to school’ feeling- especially as D has started school now- for the first time in a decade I haven’t actually gone back. Although it’s weird, I’m not missing it so much. It’s lovely to still be in bed at the time I would usually be walking to meet my lift.

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Hibernating is cool.

I am sort of at a loss, though. I have six hours a day with nothing much to do. As a teacher, every part of my day, from 6.50am to at least 5pm was accounted for and busy, so this has been a bit weird. I am a rubbish housewife, although I DID manage to clean the bathroom the other day, so…

So what have I been doing? Well, I started applying for jobs properly this week and got an interview for the first job I applied for- although it turned out that the hours were never going to work around childcare for D. However, I got some excellent feedback about my interview and CV (which, FYI, I’m using a skills-based template for, which is much better when you’ve been in a job for a long time. You tailor it according to the job spec/skills they’re looking for, which is much more useful for showing employers what you can do. It is more time-consuming than a traditional CV though…) I’m hopeful that something will come along soon, but I was very pleased that I managed to score an interview so soon into my search. It’s just a matter of perservering.

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I am not this happy when I am job hunting.

I have also been exercising more, which I might write about in a future post, and working hard to get my skin into a happy place- it turns out that I have inherited my mum’s tendency to get acne as an adult. I’ll also probably be blogging a bit more, if only to make myself LOOK busier than I actually feel.

But until then…. roll on autumn!

Bronte Project: Visiting the Parsonage

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The Parsonage (and a a rare photo of Benn!)

I’ve been to the Parsonage so many times (it’s one of the things that happens when you grow up in a bookish family in West Yorkshire…) but I never get bored. I was especially interested in the Bronte 200 celebrations, which aim to mark the 200th anniversaries of the births of Charlotte (2016), Branwell (this year), Mr Bronte arriving in Haworth (2018) and the birth of Anne (2019). I was especially keen to visit after we found Anne Bronte’s grave last year.

Of course, when you’re in Yorkshire, you should really start off your lunch with rhubarb gin…

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One thing that was really exciting was that the Parsonage now has the ACTUAL table that the sisters wrote at. It was acquired in 2015 and it was the first time I’d seen it. Imagine- the ACTUAL table that Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were written on. This was the table the sisters paced round as they discussed their projects. There’s even an E carved into the wood.

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I am aware that this is a rubbish photo. It is actually quite impressive in real life.

Throughout the house, there are costumes from To Walk Invisible, the Sally Wainwright drama that was shown over Christmas. The attention to detal was so amazing- it’s a shame my photography couldn’t do it justice.

This year is all about Branwell, the tragic Bronte brother, who should have been a great success but instead fell from grace. There are dedicated exhibitions: one is a recreation of his bedroom during the last years of his life, which was surprisingy melancholic. Branwell has been painted as a ne’er-do-well, but he was also a bit of an unfortunate soul and the bedroom really reflects this.

There’s also a dedicated area to Branwell’s written work, with new poetry by Simon Armitage. The best bit is seeing stuff in ‘the flesh’ that you’ve only ever seen in books- one of these was the famous Branwell sketch ‘A Parody’, which he drew in a fit of self-pity whilst ill. It was genuinely a bit of a thrill for a Bronte nerd.

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One of the things I was desperate to do was to participate in an art project by artist Clare Twomey, in which visitors to the Parsonage are invited to write a line from Wuthering Heights into a new manuscript. This is because the original, handwritten by Emily Bronte, has been lost. Each participant is asked to write a line from the novel with a pencil (you get to keep the pencil at the end, to encourage you to continue writing.) I was given a line from chapter 27, in which Linton begs Catherine not to leave, or else he’ll die.I was a bit miffed I got a horrible character, but hey ho, that’s the luck of the draw. I wrote VERY carefully, so that a) my writing was legible and b) I didn’t make a mistake. Anyway, I managed it and I’m quite chuffed that my name is in something that’s sort of historical.

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Part of my Haworth tradition is making a pilgrimage to the church where the family are buried (without Anne, who is buried in Scarborough.) Although the Brontes would not have recognised the church as it is now- it was remodelled after Mr Bronte’s death- there is a sense of tranquility and history.

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Note the vase of heather from the moors

It was a lovely day- and to mark it, I HAD to buy something that combined two of my favourite things (there should be more book-based tea blends, IMHO):

21248346_10154868783112267_1111194524416760488_o I’ll report back on the tea ASAP.

Podcasts you should be listening to

Well, that last blogpost was a bit of a mic drop, wasn’t it? I announce I’m leaving a ten year career and then… nothing? Well, I did and I got my P45 yesterday and it’s all official. But I haven’t been sitting doing nothing for the last four-and-a-half weeks! I’ve been VERY BUSY (if you don’t count the time I’ve spent re-watching seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race I’ve done to take my mind off the upcoming nuclear war etc.) For me, being very busy means lots of walking and lots of walking means listening to podcasts. I often discuss my favourites on Twitter and I am often asked about my favourites, so here they are in no particular order…. (This blogpost is not brought to you by anyone at Squarespace/Blue Apron/Audible)

  1. You Must Remember This

YMRT-Clean I’m obsessed with the history of Hollywood, particularly the first half of the 20th century; this podcast is a goldmine of information. Split into seasons, there is definitely something here for you. Each episode is brilliantly researched and wears the learning lightly- it might be detailed, but it’s hugely accessible with a gentle sense of humour: Karina Longworth has a great voice to listen to and her performances of some of Hollywood’s greatest characters are fun. If you’re looking for a way in, I’d recommend the Charles Manson’s Hollywood, MGM or Six Degrees of Joan Crawford seasons, although the Blacklist season feels eerily relevant to today’s politically charged days.

2. All Killa No Filla

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I’ve written about this one before, but it’s the podcast that really started my whole obsession: two female comedians talking about serial killers, whilst going off on tangents about Liam Gallagher and Tebay service station? I’m IN. (I recently spoke about this in a job interview and genuinely said “I don’t think southerners really understand serial killers like northerners do.” I was actually invited back for a second interview despite/because of this.) This one will genuinely make you guffaw- the Fred and Rose West three parter is a bit of a blinder.

3. Lore

Lore_Podcast_logo Lore is great- stories of folklore, hauntings and legends from around the world in episodes that last about half an hour. It’s a real mixed bag of stuff and there is something for everyone (I particularly enjoy the episodes about ghosts and hotels. It’s surprising how many there are…) although at least one has made me wince. This is the one podcast that will lead me to the internet straight afterwards to look up the stories and cases. The good news is that there are books and a TV series planned, which pleases the obsessive twelve-year-old X-Files fan in me. However, I would like to caution you against listening to the episode about Spring Heeled Jack whilst walking to your lift in the dark at 7am on a December morning. It’s creepy.

4. Small Town Murder

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I *promise* I’m not plotting a murder (I realise that two of my choices in this list are somewhat murder-y), but this is my latest binge-listen. Two comedians look at murders committed in small towns across the world (their amazement at how old a British village they look at is genuinely cute) and they discuss the demographics of each place, as well as the circumstances around the crimes they feature. Less meandering than All Killa No Filla, but no less funny, this has been my constant companion in the last three weeks.

As an aside, apparently Maine has a really low crime rate. As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I am a rabid Murder, She Wrote fan and I dispute this fact. EVERYONE dies horribly in Cabot Cove. That’s why Jessica has to move to New York.

5. Welcome To Night Vale

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Probably one of the most famous podcasts outside of Serial and This American Life, Welcome to Night Vale is a bit of an acquired taste. I tried listening to it last year and gave up; recently, though I’ve been binge listening. I love how it’s paranormal mixed with magic realism and surreal humour. Also, Cecil’s voice is like honey on toast. This is the podcast I credit with helping me train my brain to follow a story and retain information (I have a mild hearing impairment called auditory processing disorder, which means that I can struggle to connect words straightaway- audiobooks were a no-go for me for a long time, which means that the free Audible books offered at the start of every bloody podcast were moot. Anyway, following this has really helped, so… yay!) I am determined to own a cat called Khoshekh in the next few years and I am very over-invested in the story of the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home.

All hail the glow cloud.

(I would also recommend Alice Isn’t Dead, by the same people. You need to start at the beginning though, FYI.)

6. Very Odd Pod

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Two disclaimers off the bat:

  1. My mate Scott (also known as @GalacticKeegan or @Flying_Inside on Twitter) makes this podcast with his brother, Cal.
  2. I am in an upcoming episode. (Scott finally recognised my inner Judi Dench. And needed someone with a Leeds accent.)

However, it is a very funny and surreal podcast that has had me GENUINELY laughing out loud in the last couple of weeks. It’s also convinced me that my hair may actually be trying to kill me and my loved ones and that the Spice Girls changed the whole of human history. It’s in its early days, but if you want to say you liked something before everyone else did, this might be for you. At least start listening before Scott gets so famous he ends up on Strictly.

I’m always after new recommendations for podcasts (and also noise cancelling headphones), so let me know what you’re listening to here or on Twitter: @wuthering_alice

 

I’m leaving teaching

In just over two weeks, I will be stepping away from a career that has come to define my life- ten years, my identity, hours and hours of work just… gone.

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There are lots of reasons why, some much bigger than me and others that are more personal. You’ll know of the biggies: the workload (and a curriculum that I feel is deeply, deeply flawed and unfair), the pay and pension issues, the funding issues that mean we can’t do everything we need to do in order to make sure that those in our care are happy and healthy individuals who can think independently and creatively in a world that is becoming ever more challenging. Teaching has changed so, so much in the ten years that I’ve been doing it that I honestly can’t understand why people still want to train- and that those who have trained in the last couple of years seem to be told that it’s normal to be overworked, underpaid and to strive for constantly outstanding lessons, otherwise you’re a crap teacher. (I promise you, that last one cannot be done all the time if you want to have anything that resembles a work/life balance.)

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“A work/life balance, you say?”

On a personal level, I’m tired of the commute. I’m lucky enough to get a lift, so I’m not at the mercy of the railways, but it’s still exhausting. I’m tired of having to work when I get home; it’s not cool to be sat on the sofa when your 4 year old gets home and his face drops because you’re marking again and probably will be when he goes to bed. I’m often exhausted (and/or working) on the two days I week I have at home with him. Teaching is a job that never stops. For example, today I’m finding it very hard to not check my email. We are always contactable in a way that I never experienced early in my career. I have to mentally shut myself off from this if I am to get any work/life balance, otherwise I could drive myself mad- and I have done. I am pretty sure that most of the anxiety attacks I have experienced in the last few years have been as a direct result of work. I’m a good, conscientious worker; I hate letting down my colleagues and, most importantly, my students. I also want to be around to take D to school- leaving at 6.50am everyday isn’t the best thing for this.

So I’m going. I resigned in January (on the day of Trump’s inauguration, as it happens.) I’d had a tearful discussion with one of my bosses about it, (although I’d decided the previous May with Benn, in a Pizza Express on our anniversary, as he had picked up that I wasn’t happy and hadn’t been for a while. He asked me what I needed and said that he would support it.) I knew that I needed at least a break, if not something more permanent, otherwise I would be at risk of becoming one of those horrid, bitter and jaded teachers we all remember having. I genuinely adore most of my students and I didn’t want to inflict that on them. I mean, I’m a tired teacher, but I’m not a horrible one. I also knew that moving to a different school wasn’t an option. I just need to be out of a classroom.

Five months have flown by and I have no plans. This is a deliberate choice, for now. I wanted to keep giving my focus to the kids in my classes without worrying about other stuff. I also have the holidays to sort out my CV and interview skills (teaching interviews are unlike any others I have ever had. My last non-teaching interview was in 2005.) I also need some time to unwind and sort my head out; my identity has been so intertwined with my job that it’s going to take some time to sort myself out. I have been asked if I want to do supply/private tuition, to which my initial reaction is:

tumblr_ml2rlfaQC71s5ipdco1_400.gif At least for now. I need to focus on my own kid and getting him settled in school. Also, I really need a break on correcting people’s spelling. Never say never and all that, and I will miss my students, but for now I’m quite happy to leave teaching to other people.

People find it really hard when I tell them I have no plans. I mean, I’m not going to live off Benn (I managed to save a bit- so if you’ve invited me out recently and I’ve said I’m skint, you now know why…), but I am going to take some time to find something new. I have no idea what, yet, but I’m sure something will come up. And yes, I won’t have the holidays, but I will have my evenings and weekends back- 90% of parents cope with holidays, I’m sure we will too. It also means that if Benn’s office does finally get its long threatened move to Croydon, I’ll be around for D. We’ll just be reversing our roles a bit and I’m OK with that. I probably won’t have the same sort of wage, either, but you cut your coat according to your cloth and I’ve coped before- I’ll cope again. Right now, I’m looking forward to reading, writing, listening to music, all without a deadline.

But if you do see any jobs in Brighton, give me a shout, yeah?

Bluebird Tea Co. Summer Teas

Ah, tea! Is it the last thing on your heat-sozzled mind right now? I get you. But I am going to brave your frazzled mind and discuss a few new teas that might just help you right now. Trust me. I own a Batman mug:

Nananananana @bluebirdteaco This year’s summer offerings from Bluebird are super strong and, quite frankly, an utter delight. Behold:

Also excited (as is Fernando the flamingo) about @bluebirdteaco's summer offerings- lots of lovely green teas (which are my go to in the warmer weather) and a zingy rooibos. Yum. #teablog #tea #summer #flamingo Trust me when I say that there is not a dud anywhere to be seen in this collection; they are all lush and I really like that three of the teas are green. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a huge fan of black tea with milk when the heat makes me want to sleep. Green tea (and especially a good sencha base) is refreshing and cleansing- a perfect base for the flavours here. I’m also very pleased that the teas here are sweet without being in your face.

Ginger Beer, the only rooibos tea, is a triumph- albeit a bit of a weird one. On the surface, ginger and lime shouldn’t work in a tea, but they DO. And, even weirder, I’ve tried this with milk in it AND IT WORKS. It’s warming and spicy, but not wintery. I have this pegged as a blend for those, like me, who love spicy autumn and winter drinks but want something a little lighter.

Pineapple Sorbet is a lovely and light tea, very refreshing and I’ve found myself reaching for it frequently when I’ve needed a sweet hit. Real pineapple pieces make this juicy, lemongrass stops it from hurtling into ‘so sweet your teeth sing’ territory. It’s a bit like a fizzy pop flavour, but for discerning grown ups rather than sugar fiend kids.

The two glories in the collection, though, are Summer of Love and One In A Melon, even though these were the two I was wariest of at first.

Not scraps from today's garden, but one of @bluebirdteaco's dreamy new summer teas, 'Summer of Love' #tea Summer of Love is SO PRETTY- even if Benn jokes that it looks like the scraps from a day’s gardening (also, FYI, gardening post coming soon!) I think I was initially wary of the inclusion of bamboo leaves. Would this work? Taste weird? Yes- it works, no- it doesn’t taste weird. It’s a sweet, floral tea which is right up my street and one that is very calming. I love having it first thing in the morning as I listen to the birds in the garden. There’s something very soothing about this tea and I love it very much.

One In A Melon is the tea I drink the most from this collection- and I didn’t think I liked watermelon! It’s literally fun in a tea form: cheerful and cheering, happy and sweet. I love it and have been using it to wean myself off fizzy drinks in the hot weather. I really must have a go at cold brewing it and taking it to work with me. It’s a watermelon flavour that isn’t sickly sweet and even just the smell of it makes me feel happy!

So don’t let the heat stop you from having a good cup of tea, my friends! You’ve no excuse now to give it up.

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*sent for review