Can you read English? #joke

This was originally going to be a post about books. However, we’ll leave that for next week when I can spill all my news at once, and instead, we’ll have a post about English. Specifically, reading English.

A few weeks ago, I was tidying my English-teaching material and came across a joke. Remember a few years back, there was a lot of talk about phonetics and how written language could be simplified, making it easier for children and non-native speakers to learn to read and write? There were lots of jokes about it – here’s one of them!

Improving the English language

Her Majesty’s Government has just announced a five-year phase-in of new rules which would apply to the English language, greatly simplifying spelling and enabling children to learn more quickly and easily.

The agreed plan is as follows:

In year 1, the soft ‘c’ will be replased by the ‘s’. Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard ‘c’ will be replased by ‘k’. This should klear up konfusion and keyboards kan now have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year, when the troublesome ‘ph’ is replaced by ‘f’. This will reduse ‘fotograf’ by 20%. In addition, ‘u’ will be replaced by ‘w’ in words like ‘langwage’.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated langwage changes are posible. The Government will enkourage the removal of double leters, which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horible mes of silent leters, partikularly ‘e’s, in the langwag is not only dum but apaling and shoud be stopd.

The bigest langwag changs wil com in year 4, when pepl wil be reseptiv to lingwistik korekshons such as replasing ‘th’ with ‘z’ and turning ze soft ‘ti’ into ‘sh’ in words kontaining ‘tion’. Ze situashon wil be furzer simplifid bi replasing ze leter ‘y’ wiz ‘i’.

During ze fifz iar, ze unesesary dubl vowls be dropd, for instans from words kontaning ‘ou’, and similar changs wud of kors be aplid to ozer kombinashons of leters. Evrizing wil now be reli unkomplikatd, and mor students wil pas exams.

After zis fifz iar, we wil hav a reli sensibl riten stil. Zer wil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evriwun wil find it esi to akwir ze langwag. Publik apreshiashon wil be at its hit, and literari acomplishments lik riting wil be at a veri hi level. I’m sur yu kan al hardli wat!

Personally, I’m very glad this never caught on… I think a plan like that would be enough to put me off writing books for the rest of my life! Meanwhile, come back next week for a couple of pieces of very exciting book news!

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The ‘X’ Books… #A-Z books

This series is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

This month – X – is where it starts to get a little tricky. I decided when I started that I wouldn’t read books especially for the series. I wanted it to be my own personal A-Z, and reading books in order to include them here would make the whole thing artificial. I’m sure there are books around beginning with X, but I haven’t read any. So this week, any book with X somewhere in the title counts.

My X books are:

Newly married Natasha has the perfect house, a loving husband and a beautiful little girl called Emily. She’d have it all if it wasn’t for Jen, her husband’s ex-wife who just won’t leave them alone …

Then Natasha returns home one day to find her husband and Emily gone without trace. Desperate to get her daughter back, Natasha will do anything even if it means accepting an offer of help from Jen. But can she trust her? And do either of them really know the man they married?

This is just the kind of book I love. The characters start out in a perfectly normal world. Natasha could be us, or someone we know. Then things get darker and darker and before we know it… No spoilers here, but I’m glad I’m not Natasha!

Evadne is near to boiling point. All day things have gone wrong, and now two hours of chemistry, which for Evadne is too boring! She feels it’s time she livened up a chemistry lesson, so with a dash of this and a dash of that… Then a prolonged hiss, followed by an almightly explosion! It reverberated throught the school. Windows shatter, glass crucibles and jars smash. The laboratory is enveloped in black soot and there is an evil smell everywhere.

Just what was that concoction – and even worse, what has happened to Evadne?

This is one of a handful of books I’ve featured here where I had to copy the blurb from the the back of my own copy, as it’s old enough to not be on Amazon – though some secondhand books are. Who wouldn’t have loved to go to the Chalet School? The image above is my own battered paperback, which has accompanied me through several decades and even more house moves.

It’s an ordinary Thursday lunchtime for Arthur Dent until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly afterwards to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and his best friend has just announced that he’s an alien. At this moment, they’re hurtling through space with nothing but their towels and an innocuous-looking book inscribed, in large friendly letters, with the words: DON’T PANIC.

The weekend has only just begun . . .

This book was first published in 1979, but it must have been about 2009 before I read it – and it might have taken me longer if my older son hadn’t given it to me one time. Then I saw what I’d been missing!

Next month it’s the ‘Y’ books, the penultimate post in the series. I’ll be sorry when it ends…

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Springtime in Switzerland… #SilentSunday

We’ve had everything from snow to hot sunshine over the past few weeks. Here’s a selection of photos taken round about where I live, by lovely Lake Constance.

Next week, we’re having the third last A-Z post – watch out for the ‘X’ books!

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Classic Comfort Reads… with Morton S. Gray

The idea behind the Classic Comfort posts is that each featured writer chooses a favourite title from the classics – we’ll define ‘classic’ as pre-1940 – and a favourite comfort read, a book they always return to, for whatever reasons. As third book in each post, we’ll have one by the writer, usually their latest book. This week, we have romance writer Morton S. Gray, whose sixth novel, Summer at Lucerne Lodge, was published last week. Over to Morton:

Classic:

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

This book was originally published in 1854, but amazingly doesn’t read like that. It is set mainly in the industrial northern town of Milton as viewed by the heroine of the book, Margaret. She has come to live in the town from the south with her parents. She struggles to understand the ways and values of the inhabitants of this new place, especially a mill owner, John Thornton.
I enjoy books where I can put myself in the shoes of the heroine and I can easily imagine myself as Margaret.

Comfort:

Wintercombe by Pamela Belle

Wintercombe features the period of history which fascinates me – the English Civil War. The hero and heroine are from opposite sides of the conflict and the heroine, puritan Lady Silence St Barbe, is a married woman taken by surprise by her growing friendship with royalist Captain Nick Hellier.

As I said with my classic read above, I like books where I can easily imagine myself inside the skin of the main character. I can be transported to Silence St Barbe’s time and her efforts to keep her family and home safe when enemy soldiers turn up at her door by the author’s words. Her relationship with her husband is based on duty and convention and her growing feelings for Nick Hellier challenge everything about her existence. I’ve read this book many times and enjoyed it afresh each time.

Morton’s latest novel is Summer at Lucerne Lodge – but Lucerne Lodge in the title isn’t in Lucerne, Switzerland! Like all her books, this one is set in the fictional village of Borteen Bay on the east coast, and it’s a lovely romantic suspense read.

Could a beautiful old house and a handsome stranger hold the key to a life-changing secret?


Rosie Phillips could be forgiven for not being immediately won over by Tanner Bryant. After all, their first meeting involves him knocking a tray of prawn cocktail over her very expensive dress at a charity event in the grounds of Lucerne Lodge.
But little does Rosie know how pivotal that awkward first meeting will be, or how the Lodge will become the unexpected backdrop for a summer spent finding out who she really is, and who she could be …

Thank you, Morton! I wouldn’t mind spending the summer at Lucerne Lodge…

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the little white dog, in Worcestershire, UK. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember. She loves learning new things and these often end up in her books. Crocheting blankets, making her own perfumed soap and weaving have kept her sane during lockdown. She has been tracing her family tree for many years and is fascinated by the new avenues of research opened up by genealogical DNA testing. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

You can find out more about Morton and her books on her website, on Twitter and on Facebook.

Next month, we’re having crime writer Malcolm Hollingdrake with his selection of books, so I’m looking forward to that!

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#Travel in Switzerland…

Holidays abroad are going to be very hit or miss this year. Personally, I’m not planning on going anywhere too far from home. This could include going to another country – I can see two others from my flat as I type (though Germany will soon be disappearing behind the woods as the trees green up for summer), but still… Things ain’t what they used to be.

So in case anyone fancies a trip round Switzerland from the comfort of your home, hold on tight and let’s go.

  1. The Rhine Falls, one of my favourite day trip destinations. The falls are absolutely spectacular, even more so in springtime when the snowmelt comes down around the end of May. For scale, note the viewing platform on the right of the pic. You can see more of the falls HERE.

2. The mountains. The Matterhorn? Eiger? Jungfrau? Pilatus? Or Monte Rosa, the highest peak in Switzerland? Or our local peak, Säntis? Read all about them and see some spectacular photos HERE.

3. The Tamina Gorge. If hiking and creeping through gorges is your thing, I recommend a visit here. Again, it’s a day trip from where I live and one we do every couple of years. Not for the claustrophobic… More pics HERE.

4. The Aare. If you’d rather follow a river for a while, the Aare is one of the most scenic in Switzerland. It flows through Berne, too, which is definitely worth a visit. I think the most unusual thing about this river is the colour of the water – have a look HERE and see for yourself!

5. One of the best insider secrets is right on my doorstep. Arbon has a lovely old town, and with Lake Constance literally a stone’s throw away, it’s a tourist area itself (which has pros and cons for the locals…). But see for yourself HERE.

Next week, romance writer Morton S. Grey will be here with her favourite book among the classics, and her comfort read – plus her own new release. See you then!

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The ‘W’ Books… #A-Z books

This series is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

This month, we’re at ‘W’, and first up is The Women, by S.E. Lynes:


The night she moves in with Peter, she’s so happy, so exhilarated, so in love. Later, she will remember a much smaller feeling, a tiny one percent in her gut. And she will remember pushing that feeling aside…

Samantha Frayn doesn’t know why Peter Bridges picks her – a nobody with bitten fingernails and a troubled childhood behind her – but she falls quickly. He’s older, charming, likes fine wine and French films, and his beautiful home has real art on its walls.
Peter transforms Samantha’s life in an instant. He sees the better version of herself – the one she’s always wanted to be. It’s only normal that there’s a little friction, when she moves in, over domestic matters like where things are kept, or the proper times to eat, sleep and shower. She’s lucky to be with someone who can help her find a new job, move on from childish friends, and speak with greater sophistication.
But as Samantha notices, more and more, Peter’s temper, she starts to wonder if there might be consequences to breaking the rules of the world he has so quickly built around her. And then she receives an anonymous note that makes her ask: is she the first woman to feel trapped by Peter? Is she being paranoid, manipulated, or could she be in danger?

You can tell the truth about your life, but someone needs to be listening. Someone needs to trust you. And someone needs to save you from the man you thought you loved.

This is a very chilling read, the kind of book you sit down with for half an hour after lunch, and before you know it you’re turning the last page and it’s dark outside… Loved it – well done Susie Lynes!

The Wind in the Willows is a book for those “who keep the spirit of youth alive in them; of life, sunshine, running water, woodlands, dusty roads, winter firesides.” So wrote Kenneth Grahame of his timeless tale of Rat, Mole, Badger, and Toad, in their lyrical world of gurgling rivers and whispering reeds, a world that is both beautiful and benevolently ordered. But it is also a world threatened by dark forces: “the Terror of the Wild Wood” with its “wicked little faces” and “glances of malice and hatred”, and defended by the mysterious Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

In the end, Kenneth Grahame triumphantly succeeds in conveying his most precious theme: the miracle of loyalty and friendship.

My mother was a huge fan of The Wind in the Willows, so this book was a big part of my childhood. I was never quite as keen as Mum was, though it’s one of those books I feel I should read again – maybe one day I will.

Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of a boy named Kevin who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who had tried to befriend him. Now, two years after her son’s horrific rampage, Eva comes to terms with her role as Kevin’s mother in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband Franklyn about their son’s upbringing. Fearing that her own shortcomings may have shaped what her son has become, she confesses to a deep, long-standing ambivalence about motherhood. How much is her fault?

In Lionel Shriver’s hands, this sensational, chilling and memorable story of a woman who raised a monster becomes a metaphor for the larger tragedy – the tragedy of a country where everything works, nobody starves, and anything can be bought but a sense of purpose.

Someone gave me the paperback of this book shortly after it was published, but the print was so small I struggled to read it even with stronger reading specs – it wasn’t a pleasure, and I gave up. Then a year or two ago it was on offer on kindle, and I raced through it. Another chilling book.

Next time, we have the ‘X’ books. 🙂

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Classic Comfort Reads… with Kerena Swan

The idea behind the Classic Comfort posts is that each featured writer chooses a favourite title from the classics – we’ll define ‘classic’ as pre-1940 – and a favourite comfort read, a book they always return to, for whatever reasons. As third book in each post, we’ll have one by the writer, usually their latest book. This week, we have crime writer Kerena Swan, who has written three psychological thrillers as well as her new book, Blood Loss, a police procedural which was published last week. Over to Kerry:

Classic:

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

I was given this by a neighbour on my tenth birthday and felt honoured to be gifted such a grown-up novel. I read and enjoyed it even though it’s a dark and somewhat depressing story. A few years ago, I saw the Northern Ballet perform Wuthering Heights and was blown away by the drama and passion they displayed. The neighbour also ‘gifted’ me the oak tree at the end of our road and for years I told everyone that it was my tree.

Comfort:

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

It’s difficult to choose my comfort read as I have so many but this is one book I’ve read several times. I love the history, the insight into building cathedrals and the way the baddies always get their just desserts. Since studying the craft of writing I now detect a few flaws – people are either good or bad and no redeeming features in between – but who am I to judge? Ken Follett is a master story-teller who has sold millions. I’ve read all his books and enjoyed every single one.

Kerena Swan’s latest book is Blood Loss, which I’ve been looking forward to ever since I read Here She Lies, the prequel to the series. Here She Lies can be downloaded free on Kerry’s website. It’s a novella, and like Blood Loss it’s a standalone story featuring DI Paton and his son Tommy.

Sarah
With one eye on the rear view mirror and the other on the road ahead, Sarah is desperate to get as far away from the remote Scottish cabin as she can without attracting attention. But being inconspicuous isn’t easy with a black eye and clothes soaked in blood…
… and now the fuel tank is empty.

DI Paton
When a body is discovered in a remote cabin in Scotland, DI Paton feels a pang of guilt as he wonders if this is the career break he has been waiting for. But the victim is unidentifiable and the killer has left few clues.

Jenna
With the death of her father and her mother’s failing health, Jenna accepts her future plans must change but nothing can prepare her for the trauma yet to come.


Fleeing south to rebuild her life, Sarah uncovers long-hidden family secrets. Determined to get back what she believes is rightfully hers, Sarah thinks her future looks brighter. But Paton is still pursuing her…
… and he’s getting closer.

Thank you, Kerry! I’m halfway through Blood Loss now – a really suspenseful read!

I qualified as a social worker nearly thirty years ago and progressed to Head of Disabilities for the county of Bedfordshire where I managed social work teams and residential services. Sixteen years ago, I left to set up my own agency to provide much-needed community support for children with disabilities. Now, with over eighty employees to manage and hundreds of families to oversee, my days are long and busy.
It wasn’t until I nearly lost my eyesight through a detached retina in my good eye and a diagnosis of cancer and brutal surgery, that I decided it was time to tick something off my ‘yet-to-be-achieved’ list. A builder friend enabled me to help with one task – build a brick wall – another was to write a book and get it published. I signed up to a novel writing course and within nine months had written a full-length novel and found a publisher. I’ve now written four novels and a novella and am currently writing the fifth, which is book 2 of the DI Paton series. I write whenever I can snatch a spare five minutes from my full-time job because I find it helps me de-stress.


You can find out more about Kerry and her books on her website: www.kerenaswan.com, on Twitter and on Facebook.

April’s Classic Comfort post will be with romance writer Morton S. Gray – I can’t wait to see which books she chooses!



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How (not) to make your first podcast…

Hobeck Books are very clued up about all things audio. They put out a podcast every week, with book news and chat, and an interview with someone in the book world – one of their writers, cover designers, or others they’ve met during the years they’ve worked in various book and publishing jobs. So when they asked if I’d do a podcast with them, to go out when Daria’s Daughter was published, I agreed immediately. Okay, I’m not the techiest person on the planet but they are, and I managed the video interview with no major complications, didn’t I?

Podcasts, however, are different. And in case anyone’s about to leap into action with a microphone, here are few things I learned during the experience.

We’ll start with what you don’t need. You don’t need forestry workers with electric saws in the woods behind your flat on the afternoon you’re recording. You don’t need road works, including a large machine called a *Saugbagger, on the street in front of your flat. You don’t need an incredibly ancient laptop that’s suffering from terminal overuse but is the only one you have that boasts a microphone.

Unfortunately, the afternoon we were due to record my part in the podcast, I had all three. Just fifteen minutes before we were due to start on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, my flat was surrounded by sound effects that Stephen Spielberg couldn’t have bettered in a disaster movie. As the forestry workers’ saws were several decibels quieter than the Saugbagger out front, I decided the back room would be best. I shut all shutters, doors and windows and crossed my fingers.

The link arrived for me to enter the recording area (there’s probably a more technical term for this) and I clicked through. Unfortunately, while I did get in, my incredibly ancient laptop went on strike when it came to coping with the sound aspect, which is sort of the important bit with a podcast. Cue panic in Switzerland…

Nothing fazes Hobeck Books, however. It’s always very reassuring when you’re attempting something new with professionals who really know what they’re doing. Within minutes, Adrian had organised an alternative platform, and as an added bonus, the forestry workers had left the woods. A quick try-out, and the interview began, though my heart rate was still hovering in panic mode. Adrian started his introduction, and was halfway through this when the Saugbagger crashed into double action on the street. There I was, in a dim room with an ancient laptop, WWIII noises coming from outside, peering at my screen and thinking, ‘Am I doing this right? They’ve switched off visual. How do you switch off visual? That *!?* Saugbagger!! Oh, it’s my turn – what was the question???’

After the terror of the first two minutes, though, I settled down, and having lived with the Saugbagger for nearly a week by then, I was able to ignore it most of the time. I did once forget what the question was halfway through my answer, but that could happen to anyone – couldn’t it? By the end of the interview I was having fun just chatting to Adrian and Rebecca, and was quite sorry to stop.

That evening, I phoned Son 2. ‘You need an external microphone for your main computer,’ he informed me helpfully. ‘I’ll get you one.’ Nothing like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, is there? I was very relieved when I heard the finished interview and realised the Saugbagger wasn’t part of it. I don’t know if it was cleverly edited out, or if my incredibly ancient laptop just failed to pick it up. There are times when ancient technology can be an advantage.

If you want to listen to that podcast or any of the others, click the Hobcast icon at the top of the sidebar for details. And tune into the blog next week for the second Classic Comfort post, with crime writer Kerena Swan’s choice of books.

*Saugbagger: The English translation is: suction excavator. (It’s always fun when you learn new words in your mother-tongue.) Basically, a Saugbagger vacuums up stones, bricks and rubble, which rattle along the tube at the back end before crashing into the interior. Not a silent procedure…

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The ‘V’ Books… #A-Z books

This series is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. However, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

This month, we’ve arrived at ‘V’:

A Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery

What would you do if you discovered you had a brother you never knew existed?
On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and temporarily placing him in a children’s home. She returned later, but he had vanished. 

What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go? 
Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator, is faced with lies, secrets, and one of the most shameful episodes in recent history as she attempts to uncover the truth.
Can she find the vanished child?

Every childhood lasts a lifetime.

This book is the fourth in Martin Lee’s Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, but they can easily be read as standalone novels. I read this one a couple of years ago, and I was gripped. Unimaginable that this happened to so many children in our recent history.

The most popular fiction series ever written about the nursing world…

Sue Barton, now a fully qualified nurse, goes to work in the city slums as a Henry Street Visiting Nurse. She puts her engagement to Bill, a young doctor, to one side while she concentrates on all the demands of her job. Here in the city, Sue has never been needed so desperately, and fired with enthusiasm, she tramps the streets of New York.

I loved the Sue Barton books when I was a child. This one is the third of six, and they’re all still in my bookcase today. They’re one of the reasons I went in for physiotherapy – and the underground corridors in my training hospital had cockroaches too, just like in the first Sue book!

“Villette! Villette! . . . It is a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre.” George Eliot

Villette recounts the true story of Brontë’s unrequited love for a married schoolmaster through the adventures of her novel’s heroine, Lucy Snowe, who, after disaster strikes, travels to the fictional French town of Villette to teach at a girls’ school.

Villette is a moving tale of repressed feelings and subjection to cruel circumstance and position, borne with heroic fortitude. Rising above the frustrations of confinement within a rigid social order, it is also the story of a woman’s right to love and be loved.

This isn’t my favourite Brontë book, but it’s still fascinating. I haven’t read it for years, but having watched the excellent film To Walk Invisible since then, I’m gong to have another read of it someday.

Next time, it’s the ‘W’ books – I’m sure you can guess what the children’s book will be!

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Coronavirus winter – hope hurts…

Spring starts two weeks today, so we’re entering the final stages of this coronavirus winter. And it’s just over a year ago, on February 28th 2020, that the first restrictions here in Switzerland took hold – carnival balls and processions were cancelled, along with all other mass events.

Ah well, we thought. Next year. Ha. We haven’t had a mass event since, and when they’ll start again is anyone’s guess.

Next weekend  is Son 1’s birthday. Last year the birthday celebration plans were downsized to lunch à trois on a restaurant terrace on a pretty chilly day.

Ah well, we thought. Next year. Ha. This year’s restrictions are even tougher (and quite right too).

Some things we know we’ll laugh about, later. Next year? Hm… If anyone had told me last March that I’d choose to keep my face mask on for the 25-minute walk home from Coop, because at minus 12°C with a stiff north wind adding to the chill factor, wearing my mask was a whole lot more comfortable than taking it off, well, I might not have believed them. And if they’d told me I’d be halfway home from Aldi on a perfectly nice spring day before realising I hadn’t taken my mask off, I definitely wouldn’t have believed them. And if you started to make a list of all the things we haven’t done for over a year now – but that’s a seriously bad idea.

And yet there’s hope – the vaccines, the game-changers, the things that have turned this marathon into a waiting game. But that can be hard to deal with too, because hope hurts. Dark thoughts circle at 3am. What if it goes wrong? What if the vaccine stops working? What if a new variant starts everything up again and the prospect of normal life is snatched away? Good sense returns at 7am and we know there’d be a way out of all those scenarios, but still…

The waiting game continues, and it’s my grandmother who helps me most these days. She’s long gone now, but she lived through WWI and the Spanish Flu pandemic as well as WWII, and I don’t remember her ever moaning about any of them. They all became memories afterwards while she concentrated on living her life.

And that’s what we have to do, too. Let’s restart the roaring twenties – next year?

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