Wednesday 31 March 2010

Warning: It's His Eminence

I know. I promised NOT to continue my Catholic Church hierarchy bashing, but now that almost every small-town media hack has jumped on my band-wagon, I'm going to return to my 'Early December' posting in the 'Périgord life/Je t'adore 24' blog (now defunct).

The charming bloke above was Pope Benny's man in the UK. He was The Archbishop of Westminster; the nearest thing to being a quasi 'Pope of all England'.

His name is Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and prior to being the UK's Top-Cat (holic), he was the Bishop of Arundel & Brighton (1977-2000). During this time he 'shuffled' one of his very worst paedophiles (a certain Michael Hill of Heathfield, E Sussex) to the post of chaplain at Gatwick Airport; no doubt having given him 'very strict instructions' to keep his hands out of small boys trousers.

Do we all think that Mr Hill then behaved himself? Did he hell! He was back at it almost instantly (and was eventually imprisoned).

So who is to blame? This is not the only case under Cormac's Arundel & Brighton tenure. He 'shuffled' errant priests like dog-eared cards in a dirty pack... So, should he not have reported Hill to the police?

As I wrote in my posting at the time..... "No longer should the title 'Catholic Priest' be a byword for impunity where paedophilia is concerned. Lock 'em up!"

We should never be fooled by fancy sounding titles and uniforms. These guys are the same as anyone else, and should be treated as such in the face of THE LAW.

POST SCRIPTUM: You will have noticed a certain lack of 'respect' in my writing. Respect has to be earned; not put on in the morning or delved out by mates in Rome. I make absolutely NO APOLOGIES. I have far more respect for the weekly audience members who, by putting their hard-earned money in the collection box, inadvertantly go to pay hush-money to the tens of thousand of abused children.

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Tuesday 30 March 2010

Encouraged Rhubarb.

I don't normally touch my rhubarb until it's fully grown and asking to be picked.

This year, however, I spotted some early pink buds up at Haddock's, and decided to place some large black upturned tree-pots (giant flower-pots) over them, to encourage an early crop.

I know it's usually refered to as 'forced rhubarb', but personally I like to think of it as 'gently encouraged'.

As you can probably see, it was totally free from those annoying little slug bites, and was so tender that it cooked (in a splash of orange juice) in a matter of seconds.


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Saturday 27 March 2010

National Treasures?

Following a recent posting by Tom Stephenson (, it made me think about different countries, and their ONE true ICONIC national painting. I would like to propose the following few; mostly pretty obvious.

For the Americans this must be Grant Wood's wonderful 1928 double-portrait of his sister and dentist (I think), called American Gothic.

For the Italians there is no question. It has to be Da Vinci's 1507 (?) painting of the Mona Lisa; probably one of the world's best known (and best loved) images.

For the Spanish there is the 1656 Velazquez portrait of the Infanta Margarita; usually known as Las Meninas. (This, Tom Stephenson called 'one of the greatest paintings ever')

For France, I will suggest Picasso's 1937 war epic, Guernica (even though Picasso was, of course, Spanish).

And for the English, (rather than going for the more obvious Constable or Turner) I offer Thomas Gainsborough's 1750 portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews (above).

Gainsborough was still a very young man when he painted this luscious half portrait/half landscape. The picture demonstrates everything good about life in 18th century rural England. The proud and solid English Oak, the fertile land, and the young wealthy couple amid their extensive estate. This painting could almost replace The Union Flag.

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Friday 26 March 2010

Happy birthday Fish-n-Chips.

So, Fish-n-Chips are officially 150 years old this week.

Joseph Malin's parents had already started frying chips, and selling them directly from their home in London, when the lad had his brilliant idea of marrying them with fried battered fish. Joseph opened his first (THE first) English fish and chip shop in 1860.

Fish-n-Chips should only ever be eaten from within a paper wrapper (should be newspaper, but 'elf-n-safety banned this back in the 1980's); never from plates, cardboard cartons, or polystyrene. Neither should they be eaten at table, but consumed leaning against a wall, sitting on a deckchair (as above), or walking the length of Brighton Pier. They should always be eaten with fingers, not little wooden forks, and they should be lightly sprinkled with salt, and malt vinager. When finished, the paper wrapping should be screwed up into a ball, and deposited as close as possible to an overflowing rubbish bin.

The name of the shop (where you buy your Fish-n-Chips) is also important. Oh my Cod, The Plaice to be, Battersea Cod's Home, Odds & Cods, etc; these are all OK. Avoid outlets with names such as The Grosvenor Fish Restaurant, or Ye Olde Fisshe-n-French-Fry Emporium. Far too tarty.

Current price; about £6. Amount of calories; about 1000. Pleasure factor; incalculable.

Happy birthday Fish-n-Chips.

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Thursday 25 March 2010

The four horsemen of 2012.

There could hardly have been a period in the whole of human history when so much rubbish was spoken in the name of 'doom' or 'conspiracy'.

Some of the things I am asked to believe are, frankly, worthy of the lunatic asylum. Others just so silly that I cannot help but laugh.

The current favourite amongst the Mumbo-Jumbo squad is 2012. It seems that on December 21st 2012 the world will end.

Well, I'm going to hold a big Winter Solstice party in 2012, and at midnight we'll drink vast amounts of sparkling wines, eat several roasted fowl, and laugh till our sides ache. It hardly matters if people like David Icke are made to look like fools (the world already knows that they are), but unfortunately the anonymous internet pundits of doom will always remain anonymous, and quite understandably, on the 22nd, will claim innocence.

I would like to take this opportunity to guarantee (especially to the young-n-gullible), that the world WILL NOT END on December 21st 2012. So keep making your long-term plans.

I bet someone, somewhere, is making a bundle of cash out of this. Any ideas of how to get some into the Magnon Coffers would be gratefully accepted.

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Wednesday 24 March 2010

The return of Lady Magnon.

Here she comes!

Today Lady Magnon returns from her trip to Australia, and I shall drive down to Toulouse airport this afternoon to fetch her. Hopefully her multitude of suitcases, corked hats, and fluffy kangaroos will fit into the boot of the compact family Royce (she's never believed in travelling light).

It'll be great to have her home again. For nearly two months I've had no-one here who'd listen to (and pretend to agree with) all my bigoted opinions about life, politics, and errant neighbours. Ah, it'll be like old times!

Welcome home Lady M. Now, there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about......

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Tuesday 23 March 2010

St Edmund of East Anglia.

Saint Edmund is the true Patron Saint of England.

Born in 841, he became King of East Anglia in 855 aged 14.

Very little is known of Edmund from then until his death, although it is thought that, at some time, he retreated on a year-long self-imposed incarceration period in Hunstanton, in order to learn the 'Psalter' by heart.

In 869 he was captured by the invading Danes, under the leadership of Ubbe Ragnarsson, who demanded that he denounce his religion.

Edmund refused, so the Danes tied him to a tree, whipped him, and shot at him with arrows. Still he refused to denounce his beliefs, so they decapitated him and threw his head into the woods. His body was eventually buried at Bury St Edmunds; as the name suggests.

The Middle Eastern St George is officially the Patron Saint of England; but why a Palestinian from Istanbul (who obviously lied about killing a dragon) should have been chosen for this role, I don't know. At least Saint Edmund lived in England; even if he too was not actually a native.

Perhaps the English should now revert to their true Patron Saint; Saint Edmund of East Anglia.

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Monday 22 March 2010

Plum blossom.

Behind our fish pond and fountain is a wild-ish plum tree. Its fruit is small and round, deep-red skinned, and red-fleshed. It is not an eating plum as such, but when slightly sweetened makes wonderful jam, chutney, and sauce.
A friend from Australia (who presented an Aussie TV gardening programme) once called it a 'bird plum'; I wouldn't know what to call it, I just think of it as being 'semi-wild'. Whatever its variety, it produces huge amounts of fruit annually, and is an 'essential' in any garden where one has the space.
Being a 'Prunus' it is always the first tree in the garden to flower, and for that alone its place is merited.

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Sunday 21 March 2010

Harvey J.

Photos by:

It's Sunday, and I'm indulging myself by posting 2 pictures of my No 1 grandson, Harvey J; taken in Bayreuth, Germany. March 2010.

Just click to enlarge. Nice pictures.

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Friday 19 March 2010

It's that time of year.

It's official. Spring has arrived.

I know this because my neighbour, Laurence (above), has been muck-spreading and disk-harrowing.

The field she is working on is about 100 metres behind the cottage. Usually, in May, it's sown with Maize. I didn't ask her what's going in this year, but I quite expect it to be Maize again.

With the fruit trees about to flower, it's that fingernail-biting, rabbit-foot-stroking, anxious time of year, when we dread FROST. Between now and 'The Ice Saints' (11th-14th May) any overnight temperature below about minus 8 C can wipe out a whole year's fruit crop (except the figs).

We're all now listening out for the cuckoo. He won't be long.

N.B. For those who are unaware, Laurence's father José recently had an accident which involved a chainsaw coming into contact with his right foot. So she has taken over many of the jobs that he would normally have done. I must add; she does a damned good job too.

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Pussy Willow.

When I was still just a wee Cro-ling, one of the major pointers of spring was a visit to the woods to pick Pussy Willow.

Not for us fancy Daffodils or Forsythia; it had to be Pussy Willow.

Luckily for small boys, there are only two rules for the presentation of Pussy Willow. 1. They must NEVER be 'arranged'. And 2. They must ALWAYS be put into a plain glass jam-jar. (The same rules apply to all children's bunches of wild flowers)

End of story.

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Thursday 18 March 2010

The Harsh Reality.

Yesterday morning (March 17th) I heard a terrible cry coming from the woods; it sounded like a large bird. I rushed outside and with the aid of my binoculars I spotted Oscar (the white dog) busying himself with some prey; they were about 200 metres from the house.

I grabbed my camera and walked 'briskly' to the spot; not knowing quite what to expect. I was amazed to find that Oscar had caught himself a Roe Deer.

Unfortunately he hadn't finished the job, so, having taken a couple of pictures I returned to fetch my 'priest' (it administers the last rites), and with a couple of shots made sure that it was dead.

Fresh venison doesn't come my way too often, so I phoned a friend. Sadly, he informed me that as it had been caught by a dog (especially an old slow-coach like Oscar) it was bound to have been previously either ill or wounded, and as such was not recommended for the pot.

I have just returned from dumping it deep in the woods. No doubt other creatures will feed off it for a while. As for me; it'll have to be pasta again.

Disclaimer: Oscar is NOT my dog.

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Wednesday 17 March 2010

Haddock's lies fallow.

This is Haddock's; my vegetable garden. As you can possibly see, it is in the form of a large capital D, with small sections from both the top and bottom separated from the larger middle section by two grass paths. The plot slopes gently down towards the south.

I have always planted fruit trees to celebrate the births of my grandchildren; putting them in the ground as close to the actual moment of birth as possible (regardless of weather). Three (of the four) are planted at Haddock's. A Cherry, a Plum, and an exceptionally large Walnut. The fourth, a Pear, is up by the house.

For ease of description, the three sections of Haddock's are known as Upper Haddock, Middle Haddock, and Lower Haddock. Between the veg' patch and the house is a very small paddock that is amusingly called Haddock's Paddock. I know......

Upper Haddock is where I usually grow Butternut Squash and Courgettes. Middle Haddock is home to all the bog-standard veg's. And Lower Haddock is occupied by perennials; Vines, Globe Artichokes, Raspberries, Black Currants, etc.

Mid-day and afternoon temperatures are rising fast. It may not look like it from the photo, but I have now managed to rotovate almost the entire plot, and I can't wait to get on with this year's plantings.

As is traditional, spuds will go in on Good Friday; the same time as Red Onions.

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Tuesday 16 March 2010

Not for the faint-hearted.

I really don't want to upset anyone (especially not his handful of fans), but I have a personal theory about Hugh Grant (an English actor).

I think most men would like to give him a damn-good-slapping; and most women would like to breast-feed him.

There's no question that he's a very annoying actor. He only ever plays ONE character; 'the-confused-little-boy-lost'. Even so he's managed to make a few watchable movies. The 1994 film 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' is now a British classic; even if the ghastly Andie MacDowell did try to ruin it single-handedly. Who will ever forget her line 'Is it raining? I hadn't noticed' at the end of the film. Wooden? Lignum Vitae! (Shampoo ad's are much more her thing)

Otherwise 'About a Boy' was a reasonable story, 'Notting Hill' was passable, and 'Love Actually' probably worth watching a couple of times.

There's no doubt that women are attracted to his boyish good looks, his pretend stuttering, and ridiculous bumbling faux shyness; but I do wish (at least once in his career) that he'd try to play a slightly different character. A week at Drama School perhaps?

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Monday 15 March 2010

Winter Greens.

Yesterday (sunday 14th March) I ate the last of my Brussels Sprouts. There now remains just a few leaves of Curly Kale, and some immature Leeks; which should really be left for early summer.

Haddock's (my veg' patch) has provided a constant supply of vegetables for many years, but the extreme cold of this last winter has meant that the stalwart standby crops of Swiss Chard and Perpetual Spinach, have been knocked right back; and have failed to deliver.

The picture shows a few rather scrawny looking plants of late-flowering Purple Sprouting Broccoli, which should start to flower in about 2 weeks. I love these delicate little spears, and if picked every two days should continue to flower for almost 2 months. We SHALL survive.
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Sunday 14 March 2010


Ah, Cricket. It has been said that there are only THREE forms of Cricket worth watching.

1. Prep' School Cricket: Played by very zealous under 14 year-old boys. This game usually lasts for about 2 hours, and is VERY serious.

2. Village Cricket: Played by the village blacksmith, plumber, carpenter, etc. This usually starts sometime in the morning, and ends when the Pub' beckons (see illustration). Lunchtime sandwiches are supplied by long-suffering wives and girlfriends. Played mostly for fun and beer.

3. International Test Cricket: Played by professionals. Each game lasts FIVE DAYS. Participants include England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, The West Indies, and South Africa. International kudos at stake.

At first sight Cricket could be described as a 'bat & ball' game, where you score points by running between two sets of 'stumps'. But in reality it is a game of moral character, of poetry, aesthetics, and exceptional skill; the rules of the game being liberally translated by an 'umpire', who's decision is ALWAYS final.

As such, Cricket has always been a 'gentlemanly' game, where, other than 'leather on willow', the only sound one might hear is that of elderly ruddy-faced retired-Brigadiers whispering 'Well played sir, well played'.

I'm posting this NOW simply because our lads have just embarked on a series of Test Matches against newcomers Bangladesh (which means we SHOULD win something); I have the scent of Linseed Oil in my nostrils.

The illustration shows a game of Village Cricket on the green at Tilford in Surrey; a perfect setting. The pub' (The Barley Mow) in the background was run by one of the world's most eccentric landlords. But that's another story for another time!

N.B. The Pub' name 'Barley Mow' indicates the Barley Half of a Barn; where the beer was brewed (the other half probably held wheat). The word 'Mow' comes from an Old English word 'Moiety' meaning 'Half'. The origin is Latin, but comes via the French word 'Moitié', also meaning 'Half', and still in common usage.

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Saturday 13 March 2010

Straighten Up and Fly Right.

Above is a picture of the French fighter jet; the Rafale. Rafale translates as 'Gust' or 'Blast'; the word usually being associated with strong wind.

For some bloody reason, the French airforce have decided that my little village is a marker point for their hooligan trainee pilots to use as (a). A place where they can practice 'dog-fights'. (b). A quiet spot where they can break the sound-barrier without disturbing TOO many people. (c). The perfect location for playing 'Brush-the-Peasant's-Chimney-Pot'.

On occasions the noise is unbearable. I can hardly imagine what it must be like if they fired off a missile as well!

I'm now wondering if someone, at sometime, didn't strike a deal with the French airforce; in exchange for dosh, maybe? Otherwise I would have thought that our Mayor would, by now, have had words with them, and told them to eff-off elsewhere.

The title to this posting, 'Straighten Up and Fly Right', is from a song that was probably best interpreted by Nat King Cole or The Andrews Sisters. Both versions are well worth a listen.

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Friday 12 March 2010

Augustus John.

When I was a student (and ever since) there were certain painters who really influenced the way I looked at my work. Amongst them (and probably the most important) were Matisse, Derain, Schmidt-Rottluff, the early works of Van Dongen, Duncan Grant, and Augustus John.

This doesn't mean that visually my work is in any way similar to that of the above-mentioned; the influence is to do with my attitude towards the whole 'idea' of painting. Why we do it, what it's for, how we look at it, etc.

The portrait of 'Robin' (above) by Augustus John, is what I would call a 'good' painting. It has all the elements of knowledge, talent, ability, and a poignant sense of aesthetics; concentrated into an ease with which John manipulated his materials. He had mastery over his application, he was a brilliant draughstman, and he exhibited a freedom in his work that only 'genius' can let loose.

Between 1910 and 1928 John lived in the south of France. Later, back in his native Wales, he also travelled Gypsy style in a horse drawn wagon, complete with his wife Ida, his mistress Dorelia, and his children from both women. Regular readers will know that, by chance, both France and Gypsies are a particular interest of mine.

If I had just a fraction of his talent, I would be a very happy man.

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Thursday 11 March 2010

March 11th. St Kimbo's day.

Today is my oldest son's birthday, and rather than simply wishing him well, I'm posting a picture of his two beautiful sons (my grandchildren).

The one who's about to lose a finger is Harvey J; and his little brother, who's trying to distract him, is Ollie.

Happy Birthday Kimbo. Grosses bises, Papa.

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Wednesday 10 March 2010

Where is HOME?

As an ex-pat I tend to meet with people who have travelled extensively in their lives, and one of the questions I often ask is 'Where do you call home?'

I suppose Mrs Magnon is a good example. She was very nearly born in Katmandu (but a sudden outbreak of Yellow Fever forced her mother return to England; even though she herself was Swedish). She then went to Moscow, then to Washington, then to Caracas, then to Puerto Rico (I may have the order wrong). And when her father eventually retired, she settled in Sussex, S E England. So where does she call 'home'?

The first 14 years of MY life were spent in a small Surrey village, just south of London, called Lingfield. A pretty village with a central duck pond, a liberal sprinkling of beautiful old houses, and an atmosphere of relaxed gentility. Life was good, everyone knew each other, and we all felt safe in our pleasant rural environment. In the centre of the village was/is an ancient Oak tree, and the village 'lock-up' (built around 1770) which is known as 'The Cage'. The village spreads outwards from this point.

There is no question that I still think of Lingfield as my HOME. It's where my parents were married, where my father ran his first business, and where most of my friends lived (even though I was away at school for long periods). Lingfield was, without doubt, very much a major part of my life.

I've been back a couple of times in the last ten years, and sadly it's no longer the same. It's proximity to Gatwick Airport (the world's second busiest, after Heathrow) means that the constant noise of aircraft has ruined the peace that I remember from my childhood. In better circumstances I would liked to have returned to my village for my retirement, but now there's no chance. The noise is simply too all-invasive; even if the village itself is still stunningly beautiful.
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Tuesday 9 March 2010

Freddie. But, then again, not.

The picture above is NOT of our cat, Freddie, but most tabby's look pretty much the same, and apart from the white patches, this could almost be him.

Freddie, like most cats, just loves the cut and thrust of a night-time mouse-safari. Unfortunately he then brings his prey up into our bedroom; alive, half-alive, or dead.

Usually it's a matter of ME having to get up, and whack the poor little thing (the mouse) to make sure it's dead, before I either launch it out of the Velux window, or take it outside. This can happen SEVERAL times a night.

Of course, a cat is paid (in food and lap-time) to rid a house, or surrounding area, of mice, and in the countryside there is no shortage. So I cannot scold him; he's simply doing his job. It's just that I wish he'd leave his catch outside!

Mrs Magnon has been away in Australia since February the 10th (and will not return until the 24th), and I'm almost disturbed to report that Freddie has not brought one single mouse up to the bedroom since she's been away. Does this mean he thinks of HER as the senior human, and not ME? And all these mice he brings in as offerings are for HER?

I'll be having some serious words with our Freddie; and let him know who's the real boss around here!
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Monday 8 March 2010

Vive les retraitées.

OK. I hate to admit it, but I'm now officially an oldie; at least in my village I am.

There must have been over 90 of us. 40% of the village's population; all of 'a certain age'.

At mid-day M le Maire welcomed us with apéritifs, and gave a small speech about who had supplied what, where, and when. Respectful applause trickled amongst the invitees. The wives, sons, and daughters of our elected representatives then brought huge steaming bowls of chicken vermicelli soup to the tables, accompanied by piles of wonderful country bread. Then came the paté (top picture) served with a simple raw salad; the Roe deer for the paté having been supplied by one of the three village hunting societies. Then the chicken served with carrots (lower picture), potatoes and stuffing. Then cheese and more salad. Pears in chocolate sauce. Bottles of Champagne. Coffee.... All washed down with as much wine as you could manage (Cro resisted. Never with lunch!).

They started to become rowdy after the first three hours, and I was worried that they were going to start singing 'Montrez-moi la route de rentrer chez moi' (if such a song exists in France).

After 3 hours and 45 mins my friend Terry and I managed to make our excuses. But the ruddy-faced big-bellied stalwarts were still there, no doubt cracking open bottles of Eau de Vie, as the queues of women began to form outside the basic 'facilities'.

All this to celebrate being of retirement age (even though in the UK I'm not), and all totally free.

These people know how to enjoy themselves; and, amazingly, people still occasionally ask why I live here.

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Sunday 7 March 2010

Enrico Caruso

Early 'primitive' recordings of Caruso always make it sound as if he was singing FLAT. I'm sure this wasn't the case, but it spoils what otherwise might be a pleasant experience. Anyway, I find him interesting for other unrelated reasons.

I had always been led to believe that Caruso's mother had given birth to 19 children, and that the only one to survive was Enrico himself. I now believe (more correctly) that he was one of 8, and in fact three survived.

My other favourite Caruso story is that his mother would always turn-up late at church, just so that the congregation would notice the difference in the quality of the singing (after her arrival).

Now that's what I call a very sensible woman. The little minx.

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Saturday 6 March 2010

The wrong man?

I think there's been a mistake!

I've received a letter, from our village Mayor, inviting me to a 'Repas des Ainés' (an oldies banquet) for tomorrow (Sunday).

They've even sent me the menu.....

Bouillon poule au vermicelles
Paté de chevreuil & crudités
Poule au pot farcie et legumes
Salade - Fromage
Poire belle Hélene

Well, I've just been talking to my neighbour, who is an elected councillor, and he told me that they'd spent all of yesterday morning plucking chickens (no supermarket rubbish here), so I suppose I'd better accept their invitation. I just hope that no-one notices the sprightly, and youthful, imposter in the midst of the other 90 or so elderly diners. Anyway, the menu sounds terrific!
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