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 Monica Dickens, Last Year When I Was Young.

I read it years ago, and don't have a copy handy. I remember that it follows a youngish male nurse from private patient to private patient, but in my memory his wanderings start when his wife dies suddenly, electrocuted in the kitchen.

Except that that seems to be pretty much the plot of her much earlier Flowers on the Grass, which I bought today and would swear I hadn't read before. And all of it is getting mixed up in my memory with A. S. Byatt's Still Life anyway.
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 Happy birthday, [personal profile] tree_and_leaf 
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 Happy birthday [personal profile] ankaret ! A lovely day for it (well, it is up this end of the country).
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 The children have been ill, jointly and severally, for the past four weeks. We have had fevers and coughs and throwing up and whinging and unexpected naps and the collapse of civilisation. I think I have been ill too in amongst it all but I haven't entirely had time to conduct a roll-call of symptoms for myself. We're still not quite out of the woods, because after a good start to the morning with an exceptionally bracing walk along the beach ("No, we are not paddling today. Because the waves are bigger than mummy, that's why"), by lunchtime they were both lying on the sofa and glaring at each other after a fight I could not untangle about who wanted which blanket. Moreover, we still have a few more days of close monitoring, after two children in L's class came down with scarlet fever. Fortunately it has a short incubation period (one to seven days), and it is very treatable these days - but it does need treating with actual drugs, not just calpol and a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD. L's teacher had to take yet another week off work when she was perfectly healthy, and is wishing the class could try coming down with something that isn't very bad news for pregnant women for a change.

Tomorrow morning their father collects them for an overnight stay, and this time I don't have the excitement of going away myself to take the edge off it. I do have two days of meals they will hate planned, and I will use the time to block a very large shawl on my bed. Normally this would mean sleeping on the floor while it dried, but there will, after all, be two spare beds. I could also catch up on The Night Manager. Television after 8.30 hasn't been happening for weeks - well, it has been happening, but I have been fast asleep on the sofa while it has been happening.
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 The washing machine installers came to call...

And the sun was shining and the day was glorious, and like the Mole I wanted to tell all the housework to go hang. But I waited in for them, and now they have been and gone and the clouds have rolled over. Never mind. I did two miles through the park this morning, and it was all thick frost and bone-white plum blossom and periodic explosions of small brown birds from the shrubbery.

Still, the dining room won't hoover itself and, having moved everything to give the washing machine installers a clear path to the kitchen, I can see rather more of the floor than usual. Besides, everything needs to be back in place before the children return at bedtime.

Meanwhile, via Slightly Foxed on Facebook, a list of 19th century American novels of girls coming of age that I have read none of, but they all sound fascinating. I think I may need to go and poke Project Gutenberg.

ETA Last week [personal profile] legionseagle reminded me of 'Our Hearts Were Young and Gay' (highly recommended should you ever fall over it in a charity shop). I finally managed to find my copy today, filed next to James Pope-Hennessy's biography of Queen Mary. I found myself pondering that whilst Princess May of Teck would certainly not have gone to Hogwarts, the Ministry of Magic may have been called upon to supply her governess.
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This idea being floated that we don't all have to be in communion with each other, as long as everyone's in communion with Canterbury.

Which I think I would cheer, but my personal bit is Canterbury, and if everyone's got to be in communion with us I can see an awful lot of "We can't do that because Church X would cease to be in communion with us" ahead. So no change in this particular bit of a small rainy island off the west coast of the European mainland. And yes I do have a horse in this race.

So how exactly does one move to Canada?

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Because I am stuck on the sofa with a small boy who insists he is not going to be sick again (I would like to believe this, but I don't). Which means Contact Time this week will be taking place here, with me also here, which I am not totally OK about, but there are a very limited number of places you can take a three year old with a stomach bug on a rainy day in autumn. And I am a grown-up and I will deal with it. Possibly by eating all the remaining blackberry and apple crumble for elevenses.

Anyway. The point. Those without small children who do not recognise the existence of any television that is not CBeebies (or Time Team, which produced howls from the garden last Saturday when I called them in for tea. They couldn't come because they hadn't backfilled their trenches yet) will probably have missed the genius that is Hey Duggee. The best episode is the Omelette Badge, so here it is (only for the next seven days, it says):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/cbeebies/episode/b050ng21/hey-duggee-13-the-omelette-badge
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Because I had a lot of time to think while I was on hold to our gas and electricity suppliers (I refuse to believe that "Please can this Mr&Mrs account become a Mrs account?" is as complicated and unusual a request as they seem to think. Just as well I wasn't confusing them with Ms-not-Mrs and name changes, though those two will come).

How can a recipe that demands 200 grammes of plain chocolate be described as economy? Anyway, cocoa is the way forward for chocolate baking, not least because when you open the cupboard it is still there. Economy Gastronomy not entirely living up to the first part of its name there (£1 from charity shop).

So I have turned instead to A Girl Called Jack, which is less "You can actually make stuff from scratch, you know!" and more "Surprising uses for economy tinned beans!". Genuinely cheap and nutritious, though, and if I can persuade the children they like bean burgers I will be delighted, because my budget and my Strong Opinions about ethical meat-eating are getting a lot harder to reconcile.

And I might even turn the garden apples and some blackberries from the school run into a crumble, now I have worked out that this week's awful dopiness was not just the five and a half mile daily walk between school, nursery and home (up to seven or more miles if I do anything unusual like go to the supermarket), but also my buying the wrong kind of antihistamines by mistake. Cetirizine makes me very sleepy, loratadine doesn't, but when I was staying in  House With Cat and discovering a compelling argument for not getting a cat of my own the Co-op only had cetirizine, and I had thought I might as well use them up.

And I have been recklessly extravagant and bought a new kitchen bin, when the only things wrong with the 17 year old kitchen bin he brought into the marital flat were its awkward shape that made it impossible to clean, and the fact that I have always hated the colour. It was yellow, as was the washing up bowl. I now have a red bin (to match the microwave), a red washing up bowl, a chrome draining rack and cheap frames for a couple of prints. I do love Wilkinsons. Like Woolworths was, only better.

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Via [personal profile] tree_and_leaf

1. Marmite- love or hate?
Love.
2. Marmalade- thick cut or thin cut?
Thin cut.
3. Porridge- made with milk or water?
All porridge is disgusting. I don't care how healthy and cheap it is.
4. Do you like salt, sugar or honey on your porridge?
See above.
5. Loose tea or teabags?
Teabags, and I don't really like tea (I can drink a cup of Lady Grey without milk, but that's about my limit).
6. Where on your door is your letterbox?
In the middle of the door.
7. What's your favourite curry?
Chicken dopiaza.
8. What age is the place where you live?
1880s.
9. Where do the folks running your local corner shop come from?
Norfolk.
10. Instant or fresh coffee?
Fresh, made in a cafetiere.
11. How far are you from the sea?
Something measured in metres, and probably not far into three figures.
12. Have you travelled via Eurostar?
Yes.
13. If you were going to travel abroad, where's the nearest country to you?
The Netherlands.
14. If you're female (or possible even some males) do you carry a handbag?
A satchel. It really isn't very handbaggy.
15. Do you have a garden? What do you like growing?
I do. Anything that will withstand children and cats (not my cats, I have none, but this is a rather cat-infested street).
16. Full cream, semi skimmed or skimmed?
All milk is disgusting. I buy full fat for the children.
17. Which London terminal would you travel into if going to the capital?
Liverpool Street.
18. Is there a local greasy spoon where you live?
Yes, but the chippy and the Chinese takeaway are closer.
19. Do you keep Euros in the house?
Probably. Don't ask me where.
20. Does your home town have a Latin, Gaelic or Welsh alternative
No, but there's a Saxon Shore fort just down the road.
21. Do you have a well known local artist or author?
Anna Sewell.
22. Do you have a favourite Corrie character?
I haven't watched it for several years.
23. Are your kitchen sink taps separate or a mixer?
Mixer.
24. Do you have a favourite brand of blended tea?
See answer to 5.
25. What's in your attic if you have one?
No idea. Probably not mice.
26. If you go out for a cream tea, what jam do you like on your scone?
Blackcurrant, but I'm not very fond of cream (if I have to, it should be clotted. My Cornish grandmother won prizes for her clotted cream).
27. Talking of scones- scon or scown? Jam or cream first?
Scown, and jam first.
28. Barth or bath?
Barth.
29. Carstle or castle?
Carstle.
30. What flavour of crisps do you favour?
Ready salted. Or Kettle Chips ready salted with rosemary.
31. If you go to the chippie, what do you like with your chips?
Cod, skin on, onion rings.
32. Take away, take out or carry out?
Takeaway.
33. If you have one, what colour is your wheelie bin?
One green, one grey, we don't have the brown one for garden waste.
34. What colour skips does your local skip hire use?
Blue.
35. Do you celebrate Guy Fawkes?
No.
36. Dettol or TCP?
Savlon.
37. Do you have a bidet in the bathroom?
No.
38. Do you prefer courgettes or aubergines?
Aubergines.
39. In the 'real world', do you have friends of other nationalities? Which nationalities?
French, German, Australian, American. And,as reminded by [personal profile] clanwilliam, Irish. And undoubtedly more, especially as the distinction between Real Life and Imaginary People In My Computer has been getting very blurred of late.
40. Do you have a holy book of any sort in the house?
Christian Bibles, plural, a translation of the Koran, a Jewish translation of what I would refer to as the Old Testament.
41. Do you prefer a hankie or tissues?
Hankies.
42. Are you a fan of crumpets? What do you like on them?
Butter.
43. Doorbell, knocker or both?
Knocker.
44. Do you own a car? What sort?
No.
45. What sort of pants do you guys prefer? Y fronts or boxers?
No longer something I concern myself with.
46. Anyone still a fan of suspenders?
I used to wear them quite a lot because tights didn't fit me (I am very short) but tight sizes seem to have improved. And I usually wear trousers anyway.
47. Do you have a favourite quote from the bard?
Men were deceivers ever. Ask me again in a few months time and you may get a more sensible answer.
48. Do you like toasted muffins?
Yes, with butter..
49. Do you think a traditional trifle should contain jelly?
Trifle is disgusting too.
50. Do you attend regular religious worship? Of what kind?
Sunday morning mass (liberal Anglo-Catholic).
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Earlier today I was in a fit of gloom, muttering "Was it for this that I spent six years at university?" as I hacked the head off a Lindt chocolate bunny for a three year old, assuring him that he would undoubtedly be sick if he tried eating the whole bunny in one go.

Well, he wasn't the one who was sick, it was his completely un-bunnied sister. All over the tea table, and none of us fancied tea much after that (except the three year old. Nothing comes between him and his food). For a while it looked like I was going to have to sleep on the sitting-room floor while she slept on the sofa, but she woke just enough to say she wanted to be in her own bed actually. All of one day back at school, poor mite.

I am feeling very dull and stupid at the moment (which natch makes it the perfect moment to attempt Proust, because my brain is unhelpful like that. Still, one volume down, and I am varying it with Barbara Comyns, who I cannot possibly call light relief. That makes it sound like I didn't enjoy Swann's Way, when actually I did rather, as long as no-one was looking, saying "Who do you think you are, reading that?")
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... but I am so very tempted. Before hurling it back with great force.

We are in Constantinople in 1273. Our viewpoint character (a woman disguised as a eunuch, for somewhat inadequately explained reasons, but definitely Greek Greek Greek) has wandered into Haghia Sophia (shame about the cover art, no-one bothered to photoshop out the minarets). Now, there are an awful lot of ways to describe or name what is happening in there liturgically speaking, and some will need more explanation than others, but one thing it really really isn't is MASS.

A few pages further on, an even more GREEK GREEK GREEK woman feels the need to pray as she walks to her destination. Great. But I humbly suggest that the Ave Maria is probably not what she is murmuring to herself. But I suppose it's not as if the Orthodox tradition has given us any short memorable prayers of the kind that may be said repetitively at moments of tension*.

And there is an awful lot of talk of a loving personal God which sits awkwardly with a 21st century Anglican, never mind a 13th century Byzantine.

'The Sheen on the Silk', by Anne Perry. I really really really don't recommend it.


*This is irony. Which, in another context, is a concept I had to explain to Daughter (5) this week. "That's why I don't do what you ask me to, because I don't know if you're using irony at me". Petard, own, hoist by.
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I was going through fabric this afternoon, to try and find some white muslin I knew should be there somewhere (fifth of five boxes, natch). Daughter (5) found a remnant of navy quilting cotton with an allover print of tiny Russian dolls. "You're going to make me a dress out of this".

I have negotiated for a contrasting bodice, because there really isn't enough for a whole dress. She has drawn me a picture of how she will look in her dress. Halfway through tracing the pattern (a Burda magazine one for a small sleeveless dirndl) she pointed at the picture and said "That's where you're going to put the pocket" (what pocket? Still, thank you for mentioning this before I started seaming. And after some heavy hinting from me, she does now seem to think she means a square patch pocket). She is still aggrieved that I am not using the pattern pieces she carefully drew for me this afternoon, she has accused me of not measuring her properly...

I am definitely rethinking letting her watch the Sewing Bee with me (on which, I am hoping French Seam Woman goes soon, because (a) Tana lawn is a beautiful fabric, one of my absolute favourites, but it does not make fitted trousers, and (b) why would you put in french seams? Especially when this means you haven't time to finish the trousers. I am also astounded as ever by the lack of experience of at least half the room - invisible zips are not exactly esoteric tailoring techniques. In fact, given that this is the third series and they come up as regularly as clockwork, or as regularly as Army Man's polka dots, you would surely sit down and practice them before the competition? And Army Man's polka dots always were going to be perfectly matched, he was obviously just going to stare at them until they shuffled into the right place looking slightly embarrassed).
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I feel rather overwhelmed by things that I am in the middle of. If I have any resolutions this year, it is to tidy up my reading. To which end, some notes.
  • Green Knowe. Most recently read River. Mean to finish (all other than Children for the first time, that was the only one in the school library and didn't entrance me sufficiently then that I sought out the others).
  • Sherlock Holmes. Most recently read Hound of the Baskervilles and would like to finish these off.
  • Penelope Fitzgerald. Have read Letters and all novels except The Beginning of Spring, The Gate of Angels and The Blue Flower (which I have waiting for me, along with the Hermione Lee biography). Would also like to read the non-fiction and short stories, but that must wait for more spare cash. Relatively recent discovery, I read The Blue Flower aged 20ish and Did Not Get It. Read Human Voices after finding it in a charity shop and immediately bought everything else I could afford by her. Something about her letters reminds me of my very much beloved and missed grandmother (who was born in 1919, so very much the same generation).
  • Dorothy Dunnett. Not a big Lymond/Niccolo re-read, but having finally got hold of all the Johnson Johnson mysteries, time to read those in a sensible order.
  • Diarmaid MacCulloch, History of Christianity. Am reading it one section at a time, interspersed with other things. Am in the middle of the Orthodox Church 900-1700. Do not want to forget that I am reading this when the book is on the shelf in between whiles.
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And if you criticise anything about it, you are a sneering snob (Twitter, passim). Because it's about enabling those on low incomes to buy cheaply!

Well, I know nothing about the personal circumstances of those fighting in shops, other than that they are free on a busy Friday and have access to cash or credit cards. But I do know that the shop assistants struggling to serve them can't take the day off to do their own shopping. It's just as well shop work is so famous for excellent pay and conditions, isn't it?

Except that of course shop work is notorious for precisely the opposite. It's also a job mostly done by women. One of those "funny, that" moments.
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Which can be subtitled in Victorian style, The Things Not Obvious To Onlookers, or It's All More Complicated.

(In response to this, and personally I have been absolutely certain for the more than five years I've been taking a succession of pushchairs onto buses that the space is a wheelchair space, that I am permitted to use it as a courtesy when it is not needed by the wheelchair users for which is is meant, and that if I want to use the bus I have to be prepared to fold or walk from time to time. It's inconvenient, but it's finite).

Why is my pushchair so big and hard to fold?

It says One Hand Fold in the handbook. They all do. I do have one which is genuinely light and easy to fold, but it also topples in the lightest of breezes, and can't be used for a baby under six months. Anything I buy while using that one will have to go on my back or shoulders (as will the pushchair when I get on the bus). Fine if I'm paying a social call, not so good if I'm getting the week's groceries. So I have The Double Beast. Which is not light, is not easy to fold, but could swallow a sick four year old and her one year old brother (parents with cars might be able to ditch the pushchair altogether when the child turns two, the rest of us still need to be able to get the child to the doctor from time to time. A thing they might want to consider when they're playing onemumupwomanship over "Is he still using the pushchair?"). It can also take a week's shopping (the suspension is knackered and it's missing a mudguard after being hit one two many times by the door to the accessible loo in Morrisons, which has a very special value of accessible). There are some lovely light and easy to fold pushchairs out there, but they won't carry heavy loads, so they're only any use if you have a car. In which case, you're probably not trying to get said light foldable pushchair on the bus very often.

But why is your pushchair so expensive? I thought you were poor?

Over time, on the principle of Vimes' boots, it isn't. I have had three fairly expensive pushchairs (a single, replaced by a double when we had a second child, and the auxiliary lightweight one). Cheap pushchairs break. They will usually break in exciting ways, like the wheels falling off in the middle of a busy road. They might also break your child in exciting ways (when your firstborn is all of four days old and you're planing your first tiny walk from home, you really don't want to read that your pushchair model has been recalled because children have severed fingers in the folding mechanism).

Also, we've never actually paid for a pushchair ourselves. They're a very popular item for the excited grandparents to pay for. Grandparents who will undoubtedly have Theories about pushchairs. We were lucky, we were given a budget and told to go and choose. Many friends weren't.

There is also a flourishing market in secondhand pushchairs, and because they're not used for all that long, and an awful lot of people take better care of them than I've ever managed (I am a dreadful woman who has dragged pushchairs across beaches and through fields and up and down steps, and who regularly allows her children to eat in them), secondhand ones can look pretty new.

The biggest and bulkiest and hardest to use are the cheap brands. Graco are very cheap, pretty sturdy (five or even ten year old ones still run fine, they're very popular with nurseries), but not a lot of fun on the bus. Or anywhere else. Hauck pretty much ditto. Bugaboo can be lifted with one hand, but you'll need to sell a kidney.

Why are you so grumpy?

Bus travel. It brings out the worst in anyone.

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Just finished

Dancing Round the Maypole, by Rani Sircar (an [personal profile] oursin recommendation and every bit as good as she promised, ordered via German Amazon from India). Excellent - and demands to be filed next to A Suitable Boy, for the light it casts on that.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck. Guess which political scandal I was following? A much better book than I realised aged 14, but not one I feel the need to keep.

The Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase, by Karen Armstrong. Doesn't everyone have a nun shelf? Have no idea why I've never read these before.

Now reading

The Game of Kings, by Dorothy Dunnett. At least the fourth re-read, more likely the fifth, inspired by [personal profile] white_hart 's enthusiasm. I think I may now know what is going on 75% of the time.

Vanished Kingdoms, by Norman Davies. Slowly, one chapter at a time, and on the Kindle for the sake of my wrists. Has Dunnettian relevance, also has light to cast on Current Events, specifically the Ukraine.

Kids are worth it! Giving your child the gift of inner discipline
, by Barbara Coloroso. I didn't entirely want to admit to this one. Reading parenting books is right up there with reading self-help books in Things I Don't Do (Because I Am A Crashing Intellectual Snob). On the other hand, perhaps children would be better served if we didn't believe that simply giving birth to them equipped us to deal with all emotional crises for the next few decades, with no advice or assistance (because if you come across as middle class and don't miss any weighing or jabbing appointments,  the professionals do rather assume you know exactly what you're doing. They also are terrifyingly slow to ask about postnatal depression, and that is several years of my and the children's lives that we can't get back now). Anyhow, my mother said last night that she thought I was doing a much better job at getting small children to listen to me, not murder each other, etc, than she ever did. I suspect a lot of that is the difference between how it looks and how it feels, but perhaps I shouldn't be embarrassed about the parenting guides.

Coming soon

Troubled Waters, by Margaret Cornish. One of my current literary hares is the women who volunteered to crew canal boats in the Second World War - I've already read Emma Smith's Maidens' Trip and Eily Gayford's The Amateur Boatwomen.

Other than that, I'm not sure. I have no shortage of books unread, in piles various, but nothing demanding my attention at the moment. I suspect I will find myself going on to more Dunnett, despite firmly saying I am not re-reading the whole lot, it's only two years since the last time.

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Arising from today's conversation with [personal profile] whitehart on What To Loot when you find yourself in a dystopian novel/undergoing zombie apocalypse (Step One, determine the author of your dystopian novel. Pray it's John Wyndham, it'll be fairly short and you might well get a helicopter out in the final chapter).

There really needs to be a guide to post-apocalyptic contraception. I mean, Natural Family Planning is all well and good (and I have used it very successfully), but it does rather depend on owning a digital thermometer. Old style mercury ones aren't sensitive enough. So that'll be a year until the batteries run out...

I decided I was going to run through a pharmacy for all the antibiotics, anti-histamines and NSAIDs I could grab, then a garden centre for seeds and food plants, and a camping shop for clothes, sleeping bags and flint and steel.

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We took children of 4 and very nearly 2 to London and back by train yesterday (with apologies to all those whose heart sinks when a child enters their railway carriage, but how are they to learn how to behave in public if they're not meant to leave the house until they're 18? And whilst these days mine are reasonably well behaved, I once did have the three month old baby who screamed all the way from Norwich to London and refused any comfort. Sometimes babies scream, and sometimes you just can't stop them screaming. Moreover, the expression of blank indifference on the face of the mother in question may well be produced by a combination of not having had more than two hours continuous sleep at any point in the past six months, and the onset of vicious postnatal depression. Judge not...).

Apart from the usual seat reservation woes (honestly, you book two adult and two child tickets with a family railcard, you specifically request table seats, so you get two separated blocks of two airline seats. Fortunately, both times we could swap) it went fairly well. Two things struck me though. One is that the vast majority of travelling readers I saw were reading paper books (I had my Kindle, because Barchester Towers is a lot lighter on that than even my very cheap paperback). The second is that when we read books to the children, every other child in earshot turned round to listen, putting down their various electronic devices.

I am not going to harrumph about giving a child a tablet. If we could afford one for the family I'd buy it in a heartbeat, because with carefully selected contents it would be a brilliant tool for child entertainment on long journeys, and might let us indulge in small luxuries like drinking coffee while it is still hot or looking out of the window and daydreaming for five minutes. But those who wail of the death of books, a generation who will never read for pleasure, could perhaps put down their keyboards, and try actually reading to a nearby child. Possibly even from a screen, because today my shoulder is rather suffering from the weight of picture books in my bag. The only thing that will kill books is not reading them (to adapt Martin Carthy on folk song).

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But houses two streets away (and 15 feet lower, such is the geography) are. And we may yet lose some roof tiles, it's wild out there. Not looking forward to wrestling the pushchair to nursery and back in half an hour's time. Trying not to think about husband's journey home from work - in a double decker bus across the marshes.
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Has anyone but me and my mother read any Morris West? It makes Pope Francis' actions rather less surprising.

Although, by that reckoning, we're due the Second Coming fairly soon. I'd better wash my net curtains.
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