Update and Comments: 6 December 2019

I seem to do nothing except make excuses and apologies for my lack of writing every time that I manage to sit down and start bashing away on my keyboard. However, this time around I am laying the blame totally at the feet of that always unseen, and criminally inclined creature with whom I have had dealings before, the very dislikeable time thief. He lurks out there somewhere and, when there is just so much to be done, and so many ends to be tied up, he wields his evil magic, and steals precious hours, and even sometimes days! In this case, and I know that I am not alone in my belief that 2019 did not have the usual numbers of days, weeks or months, he really surpassed himself! I say “he”, but the culprit could just as easily be a “she” or even an “it”. Whatever the case may be, I sincerely hope that 2020 and the start of a brand new decade sees the creature retiring or expiring completely. I need 365 days – oh bonus! 2020 is a leap year and we get that extra day in February! Now all that is required is for each day to have 24 hours with not a minute being stolen, hidden or removed in any other fashion. Too much life to be lived and words to be written.

I hope that you, my readers, are coping successfully with the end of year wind-down (often extremely hot in the southern hemisphere), and chilly festive preparations (in the northern regions) and may we all look forward to the end of a particularly challenging 2019  (for most of us here in South Africa at any rate, and possibly elsewhere too) and a bright new 2020!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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Temptation

As she walked into the living room, Jennifer saw that Stan had fallen asleep on the couch with the television still blaring out and was snoring gently. It amazed her that, in repose, he looked like such an amiable man, yet the truth was so often very different. Lately, he had become cranky and domineering and she sometimes wondered whether that blow to his head years ago had manifested itself into some sinister growth in his brain. Oh, well, the doctor didn’t seem to think so, and he was the so-called expert, wasn’t he? She had promised herself that if her husband died before she did, she would pay whatever it cost to have his brain autopsied, just to prove her theory.

They had met and married in their early twenties and had gone on to produce 2 daughters, both of whom had qualified as teachers and were now living in Australia. Neither of the girls seemed keen to find a partner and settle down, and were, by all accounts, having active social lives with lots of single friends. Good for them she thought, as she started to carry all the heavy shopping bags into the kitchen, feeling somewhat disgruntled at the way in which her life had turned out.

It was really strange that, looking back over the years, it should have been obvious that it was up to her to assert herself and not allow her husband to constantly dampen her spirits. When they were first married, they had had lots of fun, and were part of a group of friends who had all gone to school together. Perhaps that was the real problem – everyone had continued to live in the area in which they had grown up, and no-one had married anyone from another town, let alone another country! Most of the other couples had eventually moved away, and they had all lost touch with one another. Only Jenny and Stan still lived in the same village after all these years. Maybe that was the reason that their lives seemed to be so dull and mundane these days. Something needed to be done to bring back some excitement, if not for them both, then at least for Jenny.

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Stan carried on sleeping while she packed away all her purchases and then, arms folded, she stood looking at the open fridge and wondered what she should make for dinner tonight. She had always joked that if she ever came into a fortune, it would be takeaways, or eating out at local restaurants for the rest of her life. Cooking had become a real chore instead of a pleasure, and today was no exception. She had to admit though that her cooking was usually far tastier and more nutritious than the other options, and certainly much cheaper as well.

Maybe she would use the lamb that she had just bought and make a casserole. It was only just after midday, so there was plenty of time to braise the meat, prepare the vegetables and get the dish in the oven to cook slowly and then she would make that phone call that she had been putting off for days now.

She hadn’t told Stan that her friend, Margie, had recently had a financial windfall when an ex-lover, who never fulfilled his promise to divorce his wife and marry her, had died suddenly leaving her a substantial amount of conscience money. To help her get over her grief, Margie had decided that a shopping and sight- seeing trip to Thailand might just be what was needed. She didn’t want to go on her own and had immediately asked Jenny to go with her, all expenses paid.

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Luckily, Jennifer’s passport was valid, and she had managed to save quite a few pounds over the years by being very thrifty when it came to buying groceries. Fortunately, dear Stan didn’t have a clue when it came to the cost of food and household products, so squirrelling money away for a rainy day (that really was a thoughtless pun, considering the weather in England!) had been really easy. She had opened her own savings account years ago, and he knew nothing about it. While he was away on business, which still happened regularly, she was able to be really tight when it came to making meals for herself, and that way her private money stash was looking fairly healthy right now.

Stan’s contracting job was irregular and right now he was on a month’s break – hence the sleeping on the couch in the middle of the day. To be honest, he did seem to be getting tired of all the to-ing and fro-ing to Africa and the Far East which his engineering expertise necessitated, but the money he earned was not to be sneezed at. The trouble was that he was a bit tight fisted to say the least when it came to actually spending what he earned. Yes, they would have to start looking at the future and potential retirement one of these days, but life really was for the living, as she so often tried to tell him. Their retirement policies were going to ensure a comfortable old age by all accounts, but the thought of having him under her feet day in and day out, once he gave up work completely, was enough to give her a panic attack. The way she felt right now, she would either have to start taking happy pills like so many of her friends, or doing what their neighbours did on a regular basis, and smoke pot! It all boiled down to coping!

Anyway, that phone call had to be made. She dialled Margie’s number and her friend answered almost immediately. “HI Jenny, I was hoping that you would give me the go-ahead today, so that I can book our tickets”.

Making sure that the bedroom door was securely closed before she answered Margie, Jenny rather nervously replied, “You know what Margie, I am going to accept your very generous offer as long as you allow me to pay my way regarding our eating expenses once we arrive. I haven’t said anything to Stan, and I am planning on doing a Shirley Valentine on him, and just leaving him a note on the fridge. After all, he is home now for the next 3 weeks, and there is enough food in the house to keep him going quite comfortably. Other than that, he can always go to his club and get himself a good meal, plus meet up with a few of his old cronies for a beer or two. He’ll survive, and maybe he will start to miss me if I’m not here at his beck and call for a while. It’s only 10 days anyway, and it’s not costing him a penny, so he has no right to complain!”

“Aren’t you glad that the girls have left home, there are no animals to worry about anymore, and you can just get on that plane with me and relax for a while?” asked Margie.

Glancing at her somewhat dishevelled appearance in the dressing table mirror, Jenny replied, “I can hardly imagine the relief I am going to feel once that plane taxies down the runway and we leave this miserable, depressing U.K. weather behind for a while. Thank you so much for asking me to join you Margie -this is the gift of a lifetime”.

The next few days were a bit of a challenge, as getting clothes and cosmetics ready for the trip without making Stan suspicious, was no mean task. However, he did pop out every now and again, either to buy the local paper, or on one occasion to pick up some fish and chips for their dinner.  Jenny had become an expert at deviancy and these few precious private moments were put to good use, and she packed with a vengeance. Fortunately, Stan never ventured into either of the bedrooms which had been used by their daughters in the past, so Jenny was able to hide her suitcase under one of the beds without fear of his finding it. She felt just as Shirley Valentine must have done, planning a secret getaway!

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The day of the start of the trip finally arrived, and the plan was that she would ask Stan to go to his parent’s house with a lasagne that Jenny had made for them. He hadn’t seen them for several weeks and it was about time that he did his duty and took them a peace offering. As soon as his car had left the driveway, Jenny rang Margie to tell her that the coast was clear, and she was ready to be picked up. They would be in plenty of time to get to the airport to catch their plane and have a celebratory drink before embarking on their adventure.  Jenny quickly stuck the note she had prepared for her husband on to the front of the double door fridge and made sure that the highlighter she had used would catch his eye the moment he entered the kitchen. She had just told him that she was taking a break with a friend and that she would more than likely be back in England in about 10 days’ time. She told him to enjoy his time on his own, and to look after himself.

An hour or so later, Stan arrived home and went straight over to the fridge for a cold beer. He was rather taken aback to find that Jenny wasn’t at home and then to see a note addressed to him on the fridge door. As he read her note telling him that she had gone away with a friend for 10 days he suddenly felt a burst of energy and a feeling of optimism that he hadn’t felt in years. Contrary to what Jennifer had anticipated, Stan was a bit of a dark horse to say the least. He may have played the part of the loyal husband, but deep down he had not always been such a good boy!

After downing his beer, Stan dialled a number on his mobile phone – a number that he had always been tempted to use, but always chickened out when he remembered Jennifer and how devoted to him she had always appeared to be. How could he cheat on her after all these years, and what if he got found out!  It was just a few seconds before the call was answered by a rather husky voiced woman. When she heard who was on the other end of the line, she suddenly became rather hesitant. “Oh, hello Stan. Haven’t heard from you in years. The last time I saw you was at that company function, which must have been about 3 years ago? To what do I owe the honour of this call?”

“Well to be honest Kay, I wondered whether you would like to have dinner with me tomorrow evening? You see, Jennifer has gone away for 10 days with a friend of hers, and it would be really good to get together again with you over a meal and a good bottle of wine.” There was a moment’s hesitation before Kay replied, “You must have heard then that I am no longer with Steve. I came home unexpectedly one day and found him in bed with our next-door neighbour’s husband. Once I had got over the total devastation, the embarrassment in knowing that It had became common knowledge was worse than the shock.  After all, we must have been the subject of many jokes as we  seemed to be the epitome of the happy, successful couple until this happened. “After chatting for a few more minutes, Kay agreed to have dinner with Stan the following evening.

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Sitting opposite one another at a popular Indian restaurant in a neighbouring village, Stan couldn’t help noticing that the woman he had last seen a few years ago had totally lost her good looks. She had put on pounds around the face and midriff, and her hair was grey and badly styled. He felt really disappointed, and no longer worried about being seen out and about with a woman other than his wife. No-one in their right minds could get the wrong idea about them being together. It took a huge effort on his part to actually try to chat to Kay and make the evening at least tolerable. She appeared to be distracted most of the time and was constantly checking her mobile phone.  When the coffee arrived at the end of the meal, Stan suggested calling for a taxi for her instead of leaving her to make her way home on the train. He had driven to the restaurant in his own car, but suddenly the very idea of spending any more time with this boring woman was too much for him.  He just didn’t have the inclination to go out of his way to take her home.

When the taxi arrived and they had said their rather uncomfortable goodbyes, the only thing in Stan’s mind was a tremendous sense of relief that, despite the temptation to stray while Jennifer was out of town, all that he was guilty of was taking another woman out for a meal. He realised suddenly that he was lucky that the evening had turned out the way it had. Things might have been quite different if Kay had remained the funny, attractive and sexy woman whom he remembered from the past. As it was, he felt quite sick with remorse when he thought of his wife, and how he took her and all her good qualities for granted. This was a wake-up call, and he was determined to make up for all his selfishness when Jenny returned home. He just hoped and prayed that she wouldn’t succumb to her own form of temptation whilst she was abroad. After all as he now realised, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, and a faithful bird in the hand is usually worth two dubious ones to be found in the proverbial bush!

“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.
– Mae West (American Actress)

Korean Style Gochujang Steak

Gochujang paste is a paste made from ground chili and fermented soybeans used in Korean cuisine. You will find this at most Asian supermarkets. The addition of Gochujang paste in this recipe adds a good amount of spicy heat to the dish. You can read more about Gochujang paste here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gochujang

Ingredients

  • 750g beef schnitzel/rump thinly sliced
  • 2 brown onions sliced
  • 1 large carrot diced
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 Tblsp gochujang paste
  • 1 1/2 Tblsp oyster sauce
  • 300-400ml cream
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Salt pepper

Method

  • Season steak strips
  • Get pan/wok smoking hot, add oil and stir fry beef in batches until browned- remove
  • Add 1 Tblsp olive oil and good knob of butter
  • Gently fry the onions until soft and golden
  • Add the crushed garlic and gently fry for a minute
  • Add the oyster sauce and gochujang pasted and stir through the onions
  • Add cream and simmer on a low heat for about 5 minutes until sauce has thickened slightly.
  • Add the steak back to the sauce, heat through for about a minute and serve.

Serve with sticky rice or pasta

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

The Joy of Teddy Bears

The Teddy Bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the USA, who was a keen hunter. He was out on a hunting trip one day when he came across a bear who would have been an easy target for shooting. The president took pity on the animal and refused to harm him. This resulted in a cartoon being drawn showing this event and, consequently, a toymaker took the initiative to produce a soft toy to mark the occasion, and called it Teddy’s Bear (Teddy being the nickname for President Roosevelt). The toy soon became so popular that everyone wanted to have a teddy bear of their own.

What would childhood memories be without a favourite teddy bear. Years ago we lived in Italy when our eldest son was 2 years old. He had left behind all that was familiar to him including grandparents, most of his toys and not least of all, his spaniel, Suzie. It must have been a very confusing time for the poor little boy who was only just starting to speak English. Suddenly he was in an environment where children were revered and a lot of attention was lavished on him, but practically every word spoken was in Italian. We didn’t realise initially just how much living in a foreign country was affecting him.

One Saturday afternoon we were in the toy department of one of Milan’s largest departmental store where there was an entire wall dedicated to teddy bears of every conceivable size and form ranging from the tiniest to almost adult human dimensions. We told our little boy to pick a teddy for himself. He toddled over to the bears and picked up one which was almost the same size as himself and started chatting non-stop to this newfound toy. At last there was someone who listened and seemed to understand his baby talk. The bear was purchased and named Arturo, as he was, after all, an Italian bear.

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Arturo and friends

Now, many years after the arrival of dear old Arturo, he has become part and parcel of our family history. He is still around, although not quite as sprightly as in his heyday, but still wears a very snazzy knitted Italian outfit.

It is customary in South Africa, and possibly in other parts of the world as well, that where there is childhood trauma, teddy bears are given to the affected children to help ease the pain that they are currently enduring. The fact that teddies are usually fairly soft and chubby makes them easy to cuddle and research has shown that when children are given a choice of dolls, they will usually choose ones which are rounded and cuddly looking. Having a favourite teddy to take to bed at night has been a comforting factor in the lives of many children in various parts of the world for a long time.

Teddy Bears come in many styles and varied price tags. If they were made a long time ago and are jointed (arms and legs and head which can be moved into different positions), and especially if they were made by a respected toymaker, they could fetch a very high price on auction. A hand made and jointed bear made from mohair, would be far more valuable than a bear which is not jointed and was mass produced in a factory using a manmade material such as nylon. By the same token, if a bear was owned by a famous person, then it could also have a high selling price attached to it regardless of the kind of bear it might be.

Let us not forget some of the bears who, over the years, have become household names. Among these are Winnie the Pooh, made famous by A.A. Milne,  Rupert the Bear (still going strong and appearing in cartoon form in certain newspapers, after decades of wearing the same yellow check trousers and red jacket) and the delightful Peruvian bear who was found lost and bewildered at Paddington station in London.  He has even become a renowned movie star in his own right!

For most of us, the value of the teddy bears which we remember from our childhood days has far more to do with the memories connected to them than their potential re-sale value. One of the first bears that grandparents gave to one of our children was named Growly Bear. Not only was he jointed, but when turned onto his tummy he growled quite fiercely.  Somehow, he disappeared over time, and sadly he might have proved to be valuable by now, if only we knew where he has been hiding all these years! Perhaps he attended a Teddy Bear’s picnic and forgot how to find his way home!

Fortunately, despite today’s children being techno savvy from an early age, some things just don’t change and a love of teddy bears seems to be one of them. May the humble teddy remain as popular  with future generations of children as has been the case since President Theodore Roosevelt saved the life of that fortunate brown bear so many years ago.

 

Family Dynamics

No matter how one likes to believe that every child within a family is treated in exactly the same way by its parents, this is often not the case. The actual position of the child within the group of siblings as well as parental influence can be a determining factor in the way in which that child is going to develop. Much research has been done by those who claim to be professionals in their field regarding the only child, the first-born child, the middle child, the youngest child etc. etc. There are those who maintain that the first-born child is going to achieve more and be more independent than his siblings. The fact that the first born has to make his way out there in the big bad world without the help of an older sibling, is quite possibly a factor which could account for these findings.

The first born is the child who often has the undivided attention of doting parents who take loads of photographs, keep copious notes regarding his milestones, and lavish an enormous amount of attention on him. (I am using him as opposed to him/her, purely to prevent the reading of this article becoming tedious and not as a gender-based preference).  He might also be the child who is often the first grandchild in the family, and therefore may also receive a great deal of spoiling from grandparents as well as aunts and uncles.

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By the time baby number two makes his appearance, the parents have already made sure that his arrival is not going to interfere with the well being of child number one. Therefore, the second baby is expected to slot into the family with as little disruption as a new baby is capable of. Ha ha ha, this is where the fairy tale may have a slightly different ending! Sometimes the only reason that families have a second child is due to the first child having been an easy one to raise, with no major hiccups along the way. This may be the universe doing its best to ensure the survival of the human race! Very often parents have been quoted as saying that if baby number two had been baby number one, then the reproduction factory would have closed down immediately.

From the above observations, we already have an inkling of what the future might hold. The second child may be treated differently from the first due to either the parents’ frustration at having to cope with a more challenging individual, who differs entirely from their first born, or even from a feeling of failure or despair by not knowing how to handle the challenges presented by this newcomer to the family circle. Whatever the reason, life will never be the same again.

The amount of photographs taken of baby number two and the notes on his developmental stages might be far fewer than his older sibling, and this in itself could potentially pose a problem regarding feelings of inferiority in later life. I have recently been told by two separate families, who each have two girls, that the second daughter in both cases has never forgiven the parents for the fact that they were not the first born! This resentment towards their older sister has continued into their thirties.

To complicate matters even further, there is also that scenario where a third child arrives on the scene, sometimes because the first two are the same sex and the parents hoped that they might be able to change the recipe. If they succeed, then very often this third child becomes something of a celebrity, and one or other of the parents makes it obvious to all and sundry just how delightful it is to have pink baby clothes instead of blue, and dolls instead of motor cars in the house or vice versa. (I am not touching on the current trend of some children being treated as sexless by their parents until perceived to be old enough to make their own decision on whether to be a boy or a girl!)

Now, we see the middle child syndrome raising its ugly head. I actually knew of a Swiss woman whose brother and his family lived in South Africa, who was the middle child in their family. When she came here to visit them, she refused to sit in the middle seat on the aeroplane as she complained that she had always been the “sandwich child” and wasn’t prepared to allow this to happen anymore. Makes one wonder just when the reality kicks in of being sandwiched between an older and a younger sibling. What happens when a pregnancy results in triplets? Now that could be an interesting subject to pursue.

At a later stage I would like to go into more detail regarding the dynamics within families and recount some scenarios which I have personally come across over the years, as well as mentioning some well documented cases which might be of interest to you, my reader. Meantime, you might enjoy starting to look around you at families that you know and find the position of the children within them to be quite enlightening if not altogether entertaining.

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Behind Closed Doors

It is quite common for potential buyers to ask an estate agent the reason for the property being on the market. If an agent knows certain information which could cause a potential buyer to change their mind about putting in an offer, then it would be a case of ethics as to whether or not anything negative was disclosed.

On this particular day, the agent, Matthew, was delighted to find a young couple who raved about all the unusual features of the property, which had been on the market for several months and needed quite a lot of fixing up. It had belonged to an old man who had failed to maintain it due to his age as well as failing health. The agent had heard some very disturbing rumours from colleagues as well as from some of the neighbours, who had nosily come over to see the inside of the house when it was on show one Sunday afternoon.

The young couple were having a second viewing of the home after having visited the previous Sunday’s Show house. They had gone home after the first visit to do some sums to find out whether they could afford the transfer costs, even though they knew that they qualified for a mortgage for almost the full asking price of the property. The agent felt very confident that he would have a signed offer very soon due to the enthusiastic comments which both the husband and wife had been making whilst taking their time to wander from room to room. They could see the potential for doing some minor alterations and were able to visualise the house once it had been given a fresh coat of paint and the tiles in the kitchen and both bathrooms replaced. They were not worried about the olde worlde look of some of the features as they were keen on collecting antiques and this house would suit them and their taste in décor very well.

Then the moment the agent always dreaded arrived and Liz, the wife asked, “We love it, but is there anything we should know about the house’s history?” The agent looked down at the notes on his clipboard and silently debated as to just how much of the gossip he had heard could safely be revealed without jeopardising a possible sale. He was not willing to say more than was absolutely  necessary. “The house has been in the same family since it was built just after the Second World War. The current owner is the son of the original owner and the only reason he is selling is so that he could move closer to his son and his wife. His health is poor and they were worried that something might happen to him if he carried on living here on his own. His own wife died about 20 years ago and he should perhaps have considered moving before he became ill. Unfortunately people often try to hang on as long as possible before they admit to the fact that they are slowing down as they get older.”

After the agent had finished talking to both Liz and her husband Greg, they wandered outside again to have another look at the garden which, in its heyday had been the pride and joy of the owner’s late wife. Sadly, it now looked rather overgrown and neglected, but the upside was the many and varied trees, bushes and flower beds which, once neatened up, would save a new buyer a fortune.

Just as Matthew had predicted, the couple were very keen to put in an offer on the house, and even though it was quite a lot lower than the asking price, he knew that with a bit of negotiation on his part, the seller would accept it. Being very experienced in his field, he had asked all the relevant questions and was satisfied that there was an excellent chance of this couple being able to afford the house, as well as having savings to cover all the legal costs. Once the paperwork was completed, he shook hands with both the husband and his wife, and promised to present the offer before the end of the day. He would phone them as soon as he had an answer for them and would try to encourage the seller to accept their offer, due to the length of time that the house had been on the market and currently standing empty.  He shook hands with them and promised to give them the best possible service until the house was transferred into their names.

As the couple drove away Matthew felt a slight discomfort when he thought about the rumours which he had overheard from the neighbours, regarding the present owner’s wife having been found hanging by her dressing gown cord from one of the cross beams in the lounge. Apparently no foul play had been suspected but, there were those who believed that she had been driven to taking her own life due to her husband having forced her to make extra money by having to entertain a variety of male visitors in the back bedroom every evening for many years whilst the children were away at boarding school, and later at university.  It was all rumours, but the neighbours had been rather quick to mention all the different cars which arrived at the house every evening on the hour every hour, Monday to Friday, from 7pm to midnight all those years ago.

No-one ever  proved that any of the above was in fact true after the poor woman committed suicide, but it was said that she was extremely quiet, never chatted to any of the neighbours, and always looked physically exhausted despite being made up to the nines whenever anyone caught a glimpse of her. Oh well, some rumours are exactly that – just rumours.

Matthew shrugged off any feelings of guilt that he might have harboured for not having disclosed the suicide to the couple. None of the neighbours had actually repeated any of the gossip to him personally.  He had just happened to overhear a few of them chatting amongst themselves when they had been nosey enough to pop in when the house had been on show. So, nothing having been discussed with him, he could say in all honesty that he had no knowledge about this at all. Now, off to the local pub to have that well-earned pint. Oh, hang on – not a clever idea at all! He took out his mobile phone and immediately made the call to tell the seller’s son that he would like to come over straight away as he finally had a very good offer on his father’s house. The celebratory pint in the pub would have to wait until the deal was signed and sealed!

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
– Theodore Roosevelt (American President)

Update and Comments: 29 October 2019

Could someone possibly tell me what has caused this year to be only half as long as previous years? It seems just the other day that I was decorating my Christmas tree in time for the 2018 festive season, and now it’s almost that time yet again. I am beginning to think that there is an invisible and very devious time thief lurking out there, conniving and scheming to steal that very precious commodity from those of us who really could use a few extra months each year just to catch up on ourselves!

When a year begins with huge amounts of heavy rain resulting in a lounge having its own version of Niagara Falls, then I suppose it stands to reason that the rest of the year could be somewhat challenging. Roof and ceiling repairs, replacing a door, then small appliances deciding to give up the ghost, all played their part this year. Then last week my faithful laptop just made up its mind to go AWOL. No indication that it was suffering from stress, was overworked and under paid, and generally feeling frustrated and needing a long holiday. It just bit the dust, so to speak. It might have been a sign of loyalty if I had been given some kind of warning – but, no! Just a blank, non- responding screen.

Unfortunately, when one is totally dependent upon one’s computer, a quick decision needs to be made, and time is of the essence. Therefore, I am now getting my head around a new laptop with a more up to date version of Windows, and I hope that I haven’t lost too much of my writing due to the changeover. From now on, I think that the Cloud needs to become my new best friend. Cannot bear the thought of hours of work disappearing into thin air ever again!

All the above chit chat is just a way of letting you know that I am still here, in body if not always in mind, and back to bashing away on my brand new keyboard.

Until next time, it’s my hope that none of you are spooked out this Halloween!

Bye for now and see you on the Magic Roundabout!

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