Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2009 ...

A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other.



HAPPY 'oh-nine'



I know, I know! The lyrics say '89, but I've decided to resurrect it for 'oh-nine'.

[ More than 20 thanks for the correction, Cath! ] Nearly 30 years on (the song was first released in 1979) and they're still good to look at and listen to.

Such memories!

Poignant, or what?

Roll out the old, roll in the new ...

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Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas ...

Of course, this is the season to be jolly, but it is also a good time to be thinking about those who aren't.
Helen Valentine



This has been posted to lift your spirits a little if you feel that the frantic preparations are getting you down.

Noddy and the gang (Slade - as if you didn't know!) are a perennial hit, and I can't remember a Christmas since the release of this song that it hasn't been played for everybody's enjoyment.

Well, Enjoy!



See you again in the New Year ...

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Sunday, 7 December 2008

Crunch ...

What do you call 12 investment bankers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start.





Like everybody else, we haven't been able to avoid the effects of Le Crunch! But we are now conditioned against delays, frustrations and disappointments.

We simply keep bouncing back!

The plans continue in the background. The two extra specialist reports are almost complete. When they are, and when they've been paid for, we can peddle our complete begging bowl to the various lending organisations to see who is in a position to cough up. We are actually quite optimistic about the situation. We already own the property, so the collateral is secure. We aren't asking the lenders to give us the money to buy the property from scratch, we are asking them to fund the building project. If they are prepared to take the risk that they could be stuck with another property if things go TU, then we should be home and dry (pun intended)!

I should be able to post more on the progress in the next few weeks. Joana, our arquitecta, is excitedly impatient (or is that the other way around?), and is pushing this project as if it was her own house that she is building. She talks in positive terms like, "When you're living here, we can ..." Nice to be able to actually appreciate a professional that you've tasked with something you need done.

Until then, you will be served with a few more tales of past memories and some other bits about the pets.

But we'll try to make them as interesting a read as we can manage ...

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Monday, 1 December 2008

Sangria (recipe) …

In success you deserve it, and in defeat you need it.

Winston Churchill



This is the 'world-famous' Fletch recipe for Sangria. Even the Portuguese and Spanish are envious of it. People from many countries in Europe, and even as far away as Australia, have called around to sample the brew.

I am soooooooo consumed with pride!


The ingredients.
  • 500ml cheap red wine
  • 1 med orange
  • 1 med lemon
  • 3 x 33ml cheap gin (shot glass)
  • 2 x 33ml cheap vodka
  • 1 x 33ml cheap brandy
  • 3 heaped serving spoons sugar
The ingredients.

Add 3 heaped serving spoons of sugar to the 500ml of wine. Mix well.
500ml of wine to which you add 3 heaped serving spoons of sugar.

Quarter the fruit and then slice each quarter into 3 segments.

Trim the pith and de-seed the fruit. The pith and seeds tend to leave a bitter taste, not to mention unseating your drunken guests dentures!

This is you being a good host!
Trim the pith and de-seed the fruit.

3 x 33ml of cheap gin ...
3 x 33ml of cheap gin ...

... 2 of really cheap vodka ...
... 2 of really cheap vodka ...

... and 1 of really, really cheap brandy!
... and 1 of really, really cheap brandy!

Add lots of ice and top up with sparkling lemonaide which gives it a fizz.

You could substitute a really awful 'sparkling wine' and call it a 'Champagne Sangria'!

Your choice.
Add lots of ice and top up with sparkling lemonaide.

Preparations complete. Give it a good final stir.

It is now ready to be served.
Preparations complete. Ready to be served.

I would strongly recommend that you use smaller glasses, especially if there are many guests, or you'll be running in and out of the kitchen to make more, and MORE Sangria!
Use smaller glasses, especially if there are many guests!


  • A normal Sangria Jug will serve 6 people if the glasses are half the size of the ones shown in the picture.
  • If you decide to make a batch that will serve more, say 12, double the ingredients, but DON'T double the quantity of spirits. It will knock your guests for a six!
  • You might want to experiment by adding small quantities of apple or peach to the fruit. More than half a peach will make the drink taste 'sickly'.
  • If you think there isn't enough orange flavour, add about 50ml of concentrated orange juice to the mix.

Enjoy ...


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Saturday, 29 November 2008

Rambo ...

There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.
Harry Crews



This post has turned out to be a bit of a PITA. It has been composed and ripped apart several times, and was eventually put on hold so that 'Giant' could go up.

The problem is the subject matter. To generalise, it is about survival, but it has nothing to do with 'human survival'. The will to live is the strongest instinct of any living thing, but sometimes it takes a bit of outside help to attain that state of grace. In retrospect, it is still an up-beat tale, despite the hero being a BIRD!

I will try and compress the story into as few words as possible, but you get fair warning at this stage that some of the images will not sit well with the squeamish.

Fast rewind to 3 years ago. Isabel, Maria's friend, offloaded a ball of feathers on to Maria due to her inability to provide the constant care the little chick required. The chick had been kicked out of the nest by one of Isabel's breeding couples. Maria took on the challenge and I dubbed the fluff-ball 'Beaky' on the grounds that that was all she appeared to be; one massive beak that needed constant filling! Later, when she started to show signs of maturity (egg laying and nest building are a classic giveaway) we got her a mate. Fully adult, very nervous and totally incompatible with the female. She rejected him and he sat in a corner fluffed up and looking dejected. Maria refused to accept this standoff, so she grabbed one in each hand, held them beak-to-beak, and gave them a stern talking to. She then put them back in the cage, and I kid you not, within minutes they were billing and cooing like the lovebirds they are supposed to be! The rest is history.


Barney and Beaky. She is collecting nesting material from a basket that once held a Christmas cousin. She harvests. He watches. When she isn't looking, he steals as many bits as he can!
I am seriously considering going into advertising. They will happily pose all day. One brood of many and, yes, I am sure they would prefer to be on the outside looking in!


The last pic is of only four of about 30 chicks that the original pair have produced (we've lost count), and they have another full nest even as I write. The problem is to find homes for the offspring with people we consider 'suitable'. The vetting procedure is stringent and so far, bar one 'escapee', we have been satisfied that they are all being well looked after.

FF to September this year and the couple two floors down from us, recipients of three of our birds (they had the 'escapee'), asked timidly if we could look after their birds as they had managed to snag a late 10 day holiday. The reason for the request was that their pair was now breeding and had already produced one chick from a nest of four eggs. Could we manage? Damn silly question, since all these birds came from this source in the first place!

The day after they'd left, the second chick was born. Three days later Maria observed weird behaviour by the adults. The female appeared to be spending too much time off the nest and the male was making no attempt to feed her or the chicks. Maria checked, and to her horror this is what she found.

Both birds have been pecked, but the little one in the foreground looks a goner! That's a serious wound on his head. Not much hope for this little one. These pics are after they were cleaned up. It doesn't look possible that the hole in his head will heal.


Maria donned her nurse's uniform (always like it when she puts on her nurse's outfit) and set to work cleaning up the mess. 'Água Oxigenada' was applied liberally and flaps of skin were gently manoeuvred back into place. Two-hourly feeds from a syringe were started and by the time the couple from downstairs came back 7 days later, they were able to take home two relatively healthy babies. Feathers had started sprouting to disguise the wounds, and apart from having to be hand fed for several more weeks, they were as 'normal' as any hatchlings.

Why did the mother attack the chicks? Dunno! Maybe she is not ready to be a parent as yet.

Sadly, the story didn't end there. About ten days later the woman from downstairs, totally distressed, phoned Maria to tell her that the little chick had suffered a setback and now had a twisted neck. We invited her up so that we could have a look at it. Sure enough, the poor little sod couldn't hold his head up and was carrying it, bent, beak down, at a 90 degree angle to the norm. Decision time. Looked like it would have to be the chloroform bottle as this wasn't something you could rectify with the magical 'Água Oxigenada'. Maria asked her to leave it with us, reassuring her that we would be as kind as possible when the time came to put this wee one out of its misery.

After the woman had left, Maria offered the chick a bit of food from a syringe. He gulped it down and then took aboard a copious amount of water before lowering his beak to the floor and promptly going to sleep. A quick trawl of the internet threw up the information that 'love-birds' and 'budgies' sometimes suffered from this disability, and that they were referred to as 'Stargazers'. They could apparently live fairly normal lives; walking, climbing and flying, compensating all the while for the disability. It was also suggested that this condition could be caused by an inner-ear infection and that it was treatable. Voilà! The chloroform bottle was returned to the top shelf.

Off to the vet the next day. She specialises in avians. Yes, she had seen this before, and yes, it was often treated successfully. No promises, but she prescribed a course of antibiotics to clear up the ear infection if that was what the problem was. Two days later the little blighter was holding his head up straighter. Not that we believed our eyes, you understand! We felt more that it was wishful thinking on our part.

We didn't take any pictures of this period of his life because we felt it was inappropriate to photograph a bird that was about to be put to sleep. The earlier pics were fine because we needed photographic evidence to show the owners, especially if things had gone bad. This time, we knew instinctively that he had reached the end of his travels, whatever the outcome!

I've bestowed on him the title of 'Rambo', based purely on his apparent ability to overcome all the odds. The difference is that this little guy is for real. He continues to improve by the day. He still flies like a brick, but he is getting stronger and more adept as time moves on. He still begs to be hand-fed if he thinks he can get away with it, but he has begun to discover the bins of food laid out for him, and we often find his crop is stuffed full without any help from us. The one ritual he continues to observe is to stridently demand to be let out of his cage when he hears movement in the house.

Here he is nearly three months later ...


Who would have thought he had a hole in his head, followed by a twisted neck, only two and a half months ago!


This little fella is here to stay. He is slowly beginning to bond with the adult birds and appears to tease them now that he knows he can fly out of danger when there is threat of a winged attack. He doesn't have an inbuilt fear mechanism, certainly not with humans or dogs!

Don't believe me? Take a look ...



If you've stayed with me this long I am sure you'll agree that it was a tale worth telling.

Even if birds aren't your bag ...


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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Giant ...

O! it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.
William Shakespeare



Truly a giant specimen of a man, Geoff Capes
Geoff Capes is the most capped British male athlete of all time. He retired from UK athletics in 1980, with 67 international caps.

has proved over the years that he is also a sensitive, kind and gentle human being. If you don't believe my hype, Google him and you will find out everything there is to know about this remarkable Lincolnshire son.

The reason he features in this blog post is because, as I was putting together something about the character that appears in the next post, I was once again distracted by a memory that has some relevance.

If you don't know who this man is, and if you haven't Googled him yet, here is a potted bio:

  • Geoff Capes is the most capped British male athlete of all time. Even though he retired from UK athletics in 1980, with 67 international caps - and returning 35 wins.
  • Amazingly, he held the British and Commonwealth 'shot-put' record of 71ft 3½in, set at Cwmbran in 1980, which stood for 23 years.
  • During his athletic career, which began in 1967, he won 17 National titles, was twice Commonwealth Champion, won two Gold, two Silver and one Bronze medals at European Championships, was three times European Champion, competed in three Olympic Games and was awarded The Queen's Jubilee medal in 1977, for services to the community.
  • Geoff turned professional in 1980 to take part in strong man competitions and Highland games. He was twice the World's Strongest man and took the titles of Europe's Strongest man and Britain's Strongest Man three times each. He was World Highland Games Champion on six occasions.
  • What surprises most people is that a man of Geoff Capes' physical stature should be gentle enough to keep, breed and exhibit Budgerigars!

Geoff and 3 of his 'Budgies'.

The fact that Maria and I have 'accidentally' involved ourselves with the keeping and rearing of tiny birds is enough of a loose link for me to mention Big Geoff. But, of course, there is more to the story. 1977, the year Elvis died (16th August for those with short memories), was the year I fleetingly met Geoff Capes. Two strangers passing, and I suppose it didn't register on his consciousness for a second. But it did on mine.

I was doing a stint of instructional duties (teaching the trade) at RAF Cosford, which at that time housed the only decent-sized indoor athletics track in the UK. Cosford had the hangar space, it was a training establishment without anything 'militarily sensitive' to be concerned about, and it was located centrally in the Midlands, close to Wolverhampton and Birmingham and the major motorways. The government were approached by the UK Athletics Board with a request to house the indoor track, and the deal was done.

And so, at the start of every athletics season, a roster was drawn up for the permanent staff and trainees to "man the gates" on the days for which the athletics 'meets' were scheduled. Invariably weekends and public holidays! Joe-Public has never fully appreciated the 'free' services provided by the Armed Forces. Operation Burberry later that year in which I and hundreds of other servicemen were forced to man Green Goddess fire engines whilst the striking firemen took our part-time jobs (mine at the Cadbury factory in Uxbridge) was a classic case in point. Winter of discontent? You bet your sweet bippy! But I digress. That will have to wait for another day.

I was designated 'Guard Commander' (doesn't that sound grand?) for that particular bright but cold late winter day. You will recall that this was the start of heightened IRA activity and all who entered our hallowed gates needed to be searched. My crew consisted of 12 men, working the search tables in shifts of four. No, there were no women. These were the days when women were a lot more enlightened, and the subject of 'equality' was never mentioned. In any event, why would they want men to gain equality? All who entered were greeted with a cheery 'Good Morning' and pleasantly asked to put their bags on the tables and empty them so that we could check the contents. It was a rule that you didn't put your own hands into the bag in case you managed to trigger something that was concealed inside. Everything was running smoothly and there were no complaints or grumbles from the public, so I wandered out of the gates and turned right towards the raised Cosford railway station a couple of hundred metres away. Life was good and I was wondering why I had had reservations about this 'duty': I mean, if you're a full-blooded heterosexual male, how often do you get the chance to look soulfully into Donna Murray's Dubbed the 'golden girl' by the British media, the blonde-haired Donna Murray (later Hartley) established herself as a significant force in British athletics at both the 200m and 400m during the latter half of the 1970s.

limpid eyes and lose it?

Suddenly, my sunshine was stolen! Gone. Just like that! Looking up, all I could see was this mountainous Yeti-like creature blocking my sun and smiling shyly from behind a full set. Oops, best get out of his way; he certainly wasn't going to get out of mine! I nodded and he nodded back and moved towards the gate. My immediate thought was to get there before him and warn off the loudmouth Brummie who was at the first check-in table - just in case!

I didn't quite make it, and sure as hell the big fella went for table one.

"Good Morning, sir," said my Brummie at table one, "can you please put your bag on the table and empty the contents?"

With a disarming smile Geoff muttered, "Not bloody likely, son. You want it, you take it." proffering his kit bag to the hesitant young trainee, held at shoulder level by his massive outstretched right arm.

This 'ask-and-decline' exchange took place about three times. The boy asked, big Geoff declined.

The boy was smart. He realised he ought not to push his luck. And certainly not with a man-mountain. He held out his hand and took the bag. That's when the penny dropped. Actually the 'shot-put' dropped. Not one, not two, but THREE 'puts' neatly packed in the oversize kit bag crashed to the trestle table causing it to collapse with an almighty, splintering crack.

You know how you complain when an airline sets your baggage limit to an unreasonable 20 kilos? And then when you're hauling the case up and down stairs and escalators of the airport concourses you are grateful for the little 'wheelie-thingies'?

Think about picking up that case with one arm and holding it straight out at shoulder level and you can understand what strength is required to do that with a kit bag weighing nearly 22 kilos.

And then try to picture a young stripling trying to emulate the feat.

Yeah, sure!

There was a deathly silence, then a roar of laughter from Mr Capes, followed by suppressed mirthful giggles from the rest of the people gathered around our hapless hero.

"Well done, son. I'll give you full marks for tenacity." said our Geoff, scooping up his bag from the floor and shuffling away in the direction of the hangar.

Our Brummie hero ducked into the guardroom (without permission from his 'Guard Commander') for a much needed cup of coffee. I wasn't about to stop him.

In any case there were only 3 tables left and I certainly needed something strong to 'brace' myself, so I followed ...

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Break ...

I didn't have to think up so much as a comma or a semicolon; weary, I would beg for a break, an intermission, time enough, let's say, to go to the toilet or take a breath of fresh air on the balcony.
Henry Miller



Needed a break.

Took a break.

Many other bloggers on this circuit have also taken a break. Shrinky took a break, but she is back with a bang. And what a BANG! Debs Lehner, still in the process of moving from France back to the YUK, is posting when she can, but you can't help feeling sympathetic for her frantic scurrying around. Others, too, have taken a short break, but that man David McMahon just keeps rolling on. Can't understand where he gets his energy and enthusiasm, but I think we are all thankful and delighted that he is there. Keep it up, fella!

Real-life incidents forced me to reassess the allocation of my time. My sister and her daughter (my niece) visited from Oz. I hadn't seen Pam for 46 years and I'd never met April until now. Suffice it to say that it was an emotional reunion. My eldest daughter and her husband dropped in from the UK to make their acquaintance, too. Full house! Highlight of my sister's trip was when we took her to Fatima. If you are Catholic, you will understand; if you aren't, you won't much care!

Immediately after their collective departure, April back to Perth, Pam onwards to Kolkata (Calcutta), both via Singapore, Maria's son, d-i-l and grandson arrived for a few days from the Algarve to celebrate her birthday. More family reunions!

All this frenetic activity accompanied by a birdie-crisis that I shall post about later. It is a story that HAS to be told. And I have the pictures, too!

So, until I can park my butt in front of the computer for an extended period without too many distractions, this post will have to suffice.

Catch you all later ...

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Thursday, 18 September 2008

Isabel ...

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing ... not healing, not curing ... that is a friend who cares!
Henri Nouwen



Isabel is her real name, and there will be no fiction in these little titbits I am about to tell you. It may seem like it has no place on this blog, but you will see, if you are patient enough to read further, that it does.

Isabel has been my neighbour for 34 years. She retired some 10 years ago, and having the chance to see her and talk to her more often, we ended up becoming firm friends about that time.

It is not easy to describe Isabel. I sometimes tell myself she does not exist. Can't be real. Isabel is all about giving. She gives all she has, all she can do, all she has to offer, herself, everything, to everybody. She is generosity personified. She worries about everybody's problems and troubles, and actually struggles to try and offer people in need help, solutions, support. Like I said, hard to find words to describe Isabel.

In this rushed, impersonal, selfish and egocentric society we live in, Isabel is often not understood for her generous ways, and has very often, too often, been kicked by the very same people she gave all her heart to, trying to help. Usually, sadly I must say, after accepting the help she had to offer.

Isabel is an animal lover, and I think over the years the more she got to know people, the more she got to love animals. Her animals love her unconditionally. They run up to her when she gets home, just happy to see her, not expecting to see what she has got in her pocket. They live around her, for her, through her. They fully accept the love she offers them and they return that love, with love. I believe they are the only ones that really value her for what she is. The only ones able to, without words, give her the gratitude, the appreciation, the love she deserves. Isabel is a beautiful person, and even though I have tried, I have not been able to tell her, in words, how much I love her and appreciate her.

The day my mom passed away, being an only child, having lived with my mom my whole life, and having seen her leaving me day by day with ALSAmyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, sometimes called Maladie de Charcot, or, in the United States, Lou Gehrig's Disease) is a progressive, usually fatal, neurodegenerative disease caused by the degeneration of motor neurons, the nerve cells in the central nervous system that control voluntary muscle movement.

As a motor neuron disease, the disorder causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the body as both the upper and lower motor neurons degenerate, ceasing to send messages to muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, develop fasciculations (twitches) because of denervation, and eventually atrophy because of that denervation.

The patient may ultimately lose the ability to initiate and control all voluntary movement except for the eyes.

Some notable people living with ALS:
British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
American guitarist and composer Jason Becker
American musician Eric Lowen of Lowen & Navarro
American football star Orlando Thomas

Some notable people who have died of ALS:
American baseball star Lou Gehrig (the namesake of the colloquial reference to the disease in the United States)
American folk guitarist Lead Belly
Leeds United and former England football manager Don Revie
British actor David Niven
Jon Stone The Creator of Sesame Street
Former Italian football players, Stefano Borgonovo and Gianluca Signorini
Diane Pretty, a British woman from Luton who became notable after being the focus of a debate about the laws of euthanasia in the United Kingdom.
My Mother.

, without being able to do anything for her, I was devastated, heart and soul into bits. The bell rang. There was Isabel. A pot of freshly made soup, and a cake. A tear in her eyes. No words were needed. She knew there was nothing she could do to mend my heart, she worried about my body, my other needs. She is a FRIEND that I love dearly.

These days Isabel has 5 dogs and 4 cats. 3 of her dogs she chose to have; the other 2 she rescued because they had been abandoned and instinctively attached themselves to her. All her cats were rescued. And she also has some lovely birds.

Our own dog, that we love to bits, is the son of Isabel's boxer Dolly. Isabel wanted to have Dolly spayed but the vet advised that it would be wise if she had a litter before the surgery. So Isabel had to find homes for the forthcoming litter of pups ... and there we were!

I had sworn, after loosing my beautiful black cocker Tammy at the age of 8, due to kidney failure, that I would never ever have another pet, because the loss was so hard to handle. Yet ... how could one say no to Isabel? Sure we would take one puppy. He is now seven - and still a puppy!


Thyson as a puppy
Thyson as a puppy. The slipper was used to gain perspective.
Hard to imagine.


Some time later, Isabel showed up with a little bird, tiny little pink thing, about a week old, that had fallen from the nest, in her big bird cage, and it appeared the mother was not feeding it. So she tried to feed it, then handed it over to me as she was finding it difficult to juggle all the demands of her pets. I continued feeding the 'beak', and she is still with us today. That little pink ball with a beak is our Beaky, mother of many, that we also love to bits. Our Roseicollis (Peachfaced Lovebird). But that is another story.

Recently, not being allowed by law to keep as many pets in a flat, Isabel and her husband have more or less moved to the country. The good news - when we move to Paradise we will be neighbours again. Just need to cross the river.

Now the reason why Isabel has so much to do with our Paradise.

Isabel and her husband bought themselves, some years ago, the house in the country they have now moved to. There they have all the things they love, and are teaching us all the lessons we try to learn when it comes to our dream in Paradise - our new home to be rebuilt in Golegã.

Their house was bought sort of ready to move in, but to this day they have not stopped redoing, rebuilding, investing in it.

The walls, every year, show the bloom of soluble salts, so they have to re-render and repaint. So we decided - simply tear down all our old walls, keep only the façade, and rebuild the whole thing.

They built a very nice pool. Every year they have to work on it, interior, filters, covers. So we've decided - no pool.

They have many trees and appear to spend all their time cleaning, pruning and cutting. So we decided - only a few fruit and olive trees, the ones that are already there, because they are almost 'centennial' and it would be a crime to remove them.

Isabel loves her garden and has many beautiful plants, but she never stops watering, treating, cutting, planting and worrying about the ones that are ill and disappearing. So we decided - not too many plants, just a few easy maintenance shrubs.

As mentioned earlier, Isabel loves her pets and has many. She can't go anywhere because she has to look after them all the time. She worries about them and spends a lot of time and money keeping them healthy and well looked after. That does it - we will stick to Thyson, our boxer that we love so much and that Isabel gave us, and our Beaky (that Isabel also gave us), Barney and their never ending brood of chicks.


Thyson being introduced to Beaky
Thyson being introduced to Beaky. These days that little ball of feathers
sinks her beak into those floppy lips if he dares to get that close!


After all, our dream is that Paradise will be our retirement home, where we will be enjoying our free time doing what we feel like, when we feel like it, in the house of our dreams.

And from Isabel we have learnt that if we are not careful, we will end up retired yet busier than ever with chores that will be 'imposed' on us by choices made while building and populating the so much dreamt of 'Paradise'.

That's my input. I'll probably get around to scribbling something else that has a relevance to our move, soon ...


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Here's a toast to your health.

"Lang May Yer Lumb Reek!"
(Scottish for 'long may your chimney smoke')

or if you prefer,

"Bottoms Up!"