2017 Grateful 1

Hard to believe that another year is almost over. As I watched the last sunset of 2017 at 4:13 this afternoon, I was a little all over the place. So much has changed and yet so much is still the same. I’m checking the news regularly to see what’s happening in Iran as a couple I’m very fond of are there right now and I’m worried. But then I tell myself that nowhere in the world is any safer. At least there, the angst is visible, on the street, more honest somehow.

We were walking the island, watching the fishermen wade into the Kis-Balaton looking perhaps for tonight’s supper. We’d left a roast in the oven and were looking forward to dining well later this evening. Earlier today, Maria Popova’s weekly mailing had popped into my mail box and once again, Walt Whitman got more than an honorable mention. [Brainpickings is an excellent website, worth checking out, especially if you’re resolving to broaden your horizons in 2018.] This time, it was in connection with expectations. According to Whitman:

The trick is, I find, to tone your wants and tastes low down enough, and make much of negatives, and of mere daylight and the skies.

The mere daylight and the skies had stuck with me, and as I watched the sun go down in all its glory, I gave thanks, for the millionth and one time, that happenstance had introduced me to Zala Megye and afforded the opportunity to step off the ratrace and be still.

Because, as Whitman said:

After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains; to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons — the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night.

As we prepare to do the local version of doorstepping, I’m grateful that tomorrow, a new year begins, another chapter in a story that is replete with supportive family, great friends, fine wine, good books, and the wherewithal to travel. What more could a body ask for.

Wishing you and yours a happy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year.

 

2017 Grateful 2

Some of us have defining Christmas moments, that exact time when we realise that it’s Christmas. It can be shopping on Christmas Eve, the first eggnog, the first piece of Turkey. Perhaps it’s not till Christmas morning that the penny drops or maybe it’s the office party. It could be the arrival of the first Christmas card or the opening of the first box of Cadbury’s Roses. For me, it’s when I hear Fairytale of New York for the first time. The original version by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.

I have memories from years back of SN, home from NY, getting up on the couch and belting it out in Northbrook. I have memories of AMcC doing something similar. I have mental images of stopping still in London as it came over the airwaves or giving it gusto, turning the CD up full blast as I drove the Richardson Highway in Alaska. But until this year, I never knew the story behind it. The bet behind it.

Over annual Christmas pints with old friends from the Bank, DS explained that Elvis Costello had bet Shane McGowan that he couldn’t write a Christmas duet to sing with Cait O’Riordan (Costello’s future wife and then bass player with The Pogues), a song that didn’t mention Santa Claus or presents or Christmas trees – or any of the usual stuff that goes into Christmas hits. That’s the version I like (and the one Shane McGowan tells too). But there’s another version. Accordion player James Fearnley says that back in the day, manager Frank Murray suggested that The Pogues do a cover version of Christmas Must Be Tonight. But, he said: “It was an awful song. We probably said, fuck that, we can do our own.” I prefer McGowan’s story.

This year, I heard Ed Sheeran’s attempt to cover the song with Anne-Marie – and I cried. It was tantamount to blasphemy. And he rewrote the line ‘you cheap lousy faggot’ to ‘you cheap lousy blaggard’. When Ronan Keating and Maire Brennan mangled their version, they changed the line to ‘you’re cheap and you’re haggard’. Why? Why? Why? If I could give a present to the world this year, it would be context. Forget sanitizing or rewriting history – it was what it was in the time that it was. Let it be – just don’t forget the context.

Released for Christmas 1987, and billed as ‘an unreal fantasy of 1940s New York dreamed up in 1980s London’, this classic makes my Christmas. BBC Arts did a number on it last week and I learned that the title is nicked from JP Donleavy’s novel A Fairytale of New York. I hadn’t realised that Christy Moore had covered it, on his own, too, in the 1990s. And that version, apparently, Shane likes.

But for all the times I’ve heard it, for all the times I’ve sung along, I’ve never quite realised how sad it is… and perhaps that’s what appeals to me. A little bit of realism at a time when the world is caught up in the commercialism of it all, the TV version of Christmas.

“Fairytale Of New York”

It was Christmas Eve babe
In the drunk tank
An old man said to me,
Won’t see another one
And then he sang a song
The Rare Old Mountain Dew
I turned my face away
And dreamed about you
Got on a lucky one
Came in eighteen to one
I’ve got a feeling
This year’s for me and you
So happy Christmas
I love you baby
I can see a better time
When all our dreams come true
They’ve got cars
Big as bars
They’ve got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you
It’s no place for the oldWhen you first took my hand
On a cold Christmas Eve
You promised me
Broadway was waiting for meYou were handsome
You were pretty
Queen of New York City
When the band finished playing
They howled out for more
Sinatra was swinging
All the drunks they were singing
We kissed on the corner
Then danced through the night

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing ‘Galway Bay’
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

You’re a bum
You’re a punk
You’re an old slut on junk
Lying there almost dead
On a drip in that bed

You scumbag
You maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God
It’s our last

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing ‘Galway Bay’
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

I could have been someone
Well, so could anyone
You took my dreams
From me when I first found you
I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone
I’ve built my dreams around you

The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singing ‘Galway Bay’
And the bells are ringing
Out for Christmas day

That last verse gets me every time.

Christmas 2017 dawned for me on Thursday night, in the Shakespeare in Dublin, when the song came over the air and the company embraced it. There might have been 40+ years in the age span from old to young, but nobody noticed. And while I might have been grateful the next day had someone pointed out that I’m not as young as I think I am, I wouldn’t have thanked them on the night. ‘Tis good to know that when the occasion calls for it, I can still find the wherewithal to keep pace. And for that I’m grateful. And that I don’t have to make it alone… well, that’s another reason to keep singing.

 

2017 Grateful 3

Time is something each of us gets in equal, albeit limited amounts. We each get 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. Some of us get more years than others, but their makeup is the same. Time is one of the most valuable commodities we have. We sell it for wages. We barter it for help. We donate it to good causes. We spend it on family and friends. And we waste some of it, too. Coming up to Christmas, a lack of time is one of the loudest complaints heard. There’s so much to do. So many places to go, so many people to meet. And the closer it gets to Christmas, the shorter time gets. This is particularly true, I think, in the expat world, as we ready ourselves to go home, where we begin the battle with time all over again.

And yet, today, on a Saturday so close to Christmas, the turnout in Szilaspogony, in Nógrád county, Hungary, was nothing short of amazing. Volunteers from America, Canada, England, Hungary, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Nigeria, Philippines, Russia and Scotland turned out in force to help decorate the village nursery. Armed with drills and screwdrivers, furniture was assembled, shelves were mounted, dolls houses and train tracks were put together, pictures were framed, books were unwrapped, cots were mattressed, stools were covered, curtains were hung, and lights were strategically positioned, transforming the old nursery into a fairyland for the village kids. Prior to our visit, the Mayor’s office had organised local volunteers to paint the room with paint we supplied, so we had a blank canvas to work with.

 

Szilaspogony has a population of just over 300, about 80 of whom are children. Those aged 3 to 6 attend the village nursery. There’s about 25 of them in all. The local mayor (the first woman to hold such an office in the county), the wonderful Tünde Józsefné Bódi, who is three years into her first five-year term, took the time to fill me in on what was going on locally. Unemployment, surprisingly, isn’t an issue. There is work for all those who want to work; her office sees to that. Her concern is about example. She worries that the village children – who in times past went from the nursery, to primary, secondary, and tertiary education, some graduating as scientists and now working at universities like Oxford – are not being shown the way forward. Parents are concerned with the basics. The children are well turned out and cared for. But there’s a settling … a contentment with just enough, rather than ambition to make a better tomorrow.  Tünde Bíróné Katona, who’s in charge of the Nursery, seconded this. She called it a ‘crisis situation of values’. The children in her care are taught to read and write and count. They learn to socialise with each other. They learn right from wrong. They get the grounding they need to go on to primary school but few, if any, will continue to secondary education. Perhaps just two from each group. The example simply isn’t there. The push isn’t there. The vision isn’t there.

And that got me thinking.

The children, in awe of their new home from home, were a little distracted when it came time for them to put on their play. They acted out the scene at Bethlehem, complete with the Holy Family, shepherds, wise (wo)men, angels, and the star. They watched the audience, not just their parents and teachers, but a bunch of strangers speaking an odd language, who had descended on their village for the day, armed with gifts and good will. I wondered what they thought. What their parents thought. And some part of me hoped that this example might go some way towards giving them a glimpse of a world outside, a world that, with a little application, is within their grasp.

What they might not realise though, is that Clarke & White Property sponsored all the paint needed to refresh the walls and ceiling. On the day, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce donated the cots, mattresses, and curtains, St Andrews Egyesület provided the educational toys, train sets, dolls, board games and such, and the Irish Hungarian Business Circle provided the fixtures and fittings. The rest of us simply showed up. It was quite the cooperation. And all this effort was coordinated by Zsuzsa Bozo and her Letters to Santa charity. The children send in letters to Santa, and his local elves get to work filling out the orders and making their wishes come true. The nursery was in need of a facelift, a remodel. Mayor Tünde told me that some of the furniture  being used had been there in her day, when she was in nursery school, and that, she winked, wasn’t today or yesterday. But more importantly than more modern stuff, brighter toys, newer books, the kids needed to see how special they are, to see relative strangers coming together, working together, to make a difference to their world.

I’m grateful that I got to be part of it. That I got to see the light glimmer in those little minds. That I got to see the spirit of Christmas in action. And that I got fed (the village treated us to a fab lunch featuring all sorts of delicacies, including a delicious wild boar/venison stew). Roll on the 25th. Am ready.

 

 

[Note: Post Grateful 52 explains the Grateful concept]

ADvent wreath

The advent of gratitude

Advent is here. Christmas is in sight. The season of goodwill and glad tidings is kicking in. The festive mood is about to descend, and moods are beginning to change. There’s something about Christmas that makes things sparkle. But for many – those without homes, without jobs, without money – the pressure is on to make it through yet another season where the haves and the have-nots are clearly divided.

The chocolate Santas were in the shops in October. The Advent calendars arrived in November. It seems as if Christmas gets earlier and earlier each year. For some, this is great. It stretches out the festivities; for others, it just prolongs the misery.

Kids write their lists for Santa, asking for stuff that will help them fit in, keep up with their classmates, be cool. Parents scramble for the money to make it all happen. Office parties, fuelled by booze and boisterousness, might be a little tamer this year as the consequences and confusion surrounding unwanted advances make people just a little more cautious about what they say and do.

Shoppers crowding city streets might not be quite as relaxed as usual as, deep down, on some unconscious level, they see their fellow shoppers as a target for some marauding mad (wo)man bent on causing death and destruction with their weapon of choice: a gun, a car, a bomb.

Those attending religious services might add an additional prayer to the litany of asks and thank yous they offer to their god, a simple prayer that they might walk out alive and make it home to enjoy that turkey dinner, that julbord, or that suckling pig.

2017 has been an unforgettable year on so many levels, one that has been predicated on fear. ISIS and its protégés continue to target innocent victims at random throughout the world. Lone gunmen in America are giving a new take to not knowing the day nor the hour. We don’t have to travel far to see how fear can be fomented by propaganda and political spin. Cyberwarfare is making its ugly self known, as the relative peace of the online world is being disrupted by ransomware and debilitating viruses. People in Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Yemen, Greater Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Mexico, Israel, Palestine and many other places, continue to live in uncertainty, watching the lives they have built being systematically destroyed as armed conflict rages. And nightmares are being relived as the Harvey Weinsteins of this world are unveiled.

Yes, 2017 is a year that many will want to mark ‘over’.

But in the few weeks we have left, the season of Advent is upon us, that time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity. Yes, it’s a Christian observance, but it’s one that’s made to be borrowed. My Advent challenge to you:

December 3 Make your Christmas shopping list. Think about giving the gift of experience this Christmas, rather than stuff people neither need nor want. Our time is one of the most precious gifts we can give.

December 4 Pay attention to the shop assistant or the ticket collector or the postman or whomever when you interact with them today. Look at them. Focus on them. Smile. Let them know you see them.

December 5 Pick up some litter off the street – even one piece. Someone might see you do it and do the same. You could be the start of something. And if not, your world will be a little cleaner.

December 6 Stop and say hi to a homeless person – ask if you can buy them a coffee or a bowl of soup – and then take the time to do it.

December 7 Buy a bunch of flowers from an old néni on the street or the metro and give it to your neighbour – or anyone – just because.

December 8 Visit a church you’ve not been to before and make three wishes. You don’t need to believe in God to enjoy the grace and quiet.

December 9 Donate some clothes you don’t wear to a shelter or a charity shop. How much stuff do you really need?

December 10 Pay for a coffee for the person behind you in the café. A random act of kindness can go a long way.

December 11 Send a Christmas card to someone who lives alone. Better still, go visit them.

December 12 Stand back and open the door for someone and do it with a smile.

December 13 Pick a charity and start saving your coins for a cause. Give it a year. Then donate the money.

December 14 Leave a big tip somewhere – just because. If they’ve given great service – they’re worth it. If they haven’t, you might inspire them to next time.

December 15 Pay someone a compliment, and mean it. Cheer them up.

December 16 Send words of encouragement to someone who might need it.

December 17 Tell someone special what they mean to you – a lot of times, we take close friends and family for granted and just assume that they know what they mean to us.

December 18 Leave a book in a public place for someone else to read and enjoy.

December 19 Walk down the street, nodding, smiling at, or saying hello to everyone you meet. So, they might think you’re mad, but it could catch on. And how much nicer the world would be if it did.

December 20 Treat a friend to something – a coffee, a cinema ticket, a beer. Just because.

December 21 Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, just to say hi.

December 22 Spend some time outdoors in a park, in a forest, or walking the streets. Embrace the cold.

December 23 Let someone go ahead of you in a queue.

December 24 Thank someone for something – and do it consciously.

Gratitude can make a difference.

Nollaig shona daoibh go léir | Boldog karácsonyt mindenkinek | happy Christmas to you all.

 

To be published in the Budapest Times 15 December 2017

Zala Springs

2017 Grateful 4

I’m lazy. I can be very lazy. And sometimes my CBA attitude has a price. I’d heard tell of Zala Spings, the golf course complex that opened near the village back in 2015. It’s just off the main road to Zalaegerszeg and if you’re heading to the thermal spa at Kehida and take the back road through Zalacsány, you’ll see it, too.

I noticed it last winter but wasn’t at all impressed. It looked like a poor attempt at emulating the K Club, or Mount Juliet, two rather spectacular golf courses in Ireland. I’ll fess up. I was feeling a tad superior wondering how Hungary could ever compete with Ireland or Scotland when it came to golf courses – the tradition just wasn’t there. But, of course, the competition was only in my head. It happens sometimes.

Friends in the village had told me that their recent visitors had been to dinner there and while a little pricey, they said they were impressed. I pooh-poohed. Impressed with the food maybe, but the course? Nah.

Of the visitors we’ve had to date, none has been a golfer. We’ve passed the golf club numerous times and have never ventured in. Until yesterday. And I was wrong. Yep. Wrong. The place has potential. It ranks as No. 1 in the list of 100 golf courses in Hungary and has had some interesting reviews.

Zala SpringsFirst of all, it’s not a golf club, it’s a golf resort. Situated about 2 hours drive from Zagreb, Budapest, and Vienna, it’s a prime location for golfers who like their style or timeshare travellers who want to spend 4 weeks a year on what could well be (become) a championship golf course (five Par 5 holes and lots of water hazards would make for a challenging round of golf). The 2-4-bedroom apartments are ready to move in to and judging from the site plan we saw, lots more are to be built, assuming there’s a demand. The website isn’t clear. I’m not sure if you buy the apartment and then they rent it for you or whether you just buy a time share. But either way, if you’re in Zala country, it would be quite the place to stay.

Green fees will set you back about €60 but it seems you can buy a day pass which presumably will let you play all day for a few euro more. The Pro shop is a tad on the expensive side, possibly catering to the fat pockets of golfers on tour. The entrance is quite impressive and the airiness of the clubhouse is rather lovely. Yep – I was definitely wrong.

Their New Years offer is a steal – overnight stay, gala dinner, dancing till dawn, all the wine and champers you can tipple, and then breakfast the next for under €100 per person sharing. An attractive proposition but I’m not sure I’m ready to mix with the country club set just yet.

Still, it taught me something, a lesson I’m grateful for: I need to rein in my dismissiveness until I’ve actually checked whatever it is out in person. Lord only know what else I’ve been missing. I really must visit that Doll museum in Keszthely.

 

 

Still unpacking

Nearly ten years after I first posted on this blog, I’m still unpacking. That might lead you to believe that I have an incredible amount of stuff, moxie loads of things I’ve acquired over the years. I haven’t. Not really. I regularly purge and rid myself of the tat I mistook for taste. But these purges are less frequent these days, as I prefer to spend my money on experiences.

A friend visiting the village recently, commented on the range of things in the house, things I’ve brought back from my travels – art, books, stuff – that are now on display. I hadn’t given much thought to it, until today.

I’ve just finished painting the guest room – the ensuite with the balcony. Funny how this isn’t exactly what people imagine when you mention living in a rural village in Hungary where the butcher has just done his weekly run through the village and I didn’t have time to stop him. I slept through the breadman’s run this morning, too.

The house came with a lot of pine (ugh) furniture and it’ll be a few years before I have the wherewithal to change it. Likewise, the pitched ceiling in the guest room, is also a pine job – and having painted the upstairs landing (and taken two weeks to do it) I can’t summon the energy to tackle a ceiling of this size. Hence the white curtains and bedspread with their gold thread, woven in a village in Romania and laced together by a lovely old néni I met in Káptalantóti at the Sunday market, Liliomkert, in the good company of MI.

I noticed as I was putting stuff back, that almost everything has memories. The orange blanket I bought on the first of many trips to visit the lovelies B*C in Haarlem, the Netherlands. (I still think that Bloomendahl beach is one of Europe’s undiscovered gems.) The carved Buddha I bought on my first trip to visit the inimitable S&D in Hawaii. It’s a home from home, a place I know I’ll be welcomed and fed. The throw I brought back from Valdez some 16 years ago – it still has a label on it. (It’ll make a lovely lap cover for visitors wanting to enjoy a morning cuppa or an evening cocktail on the terrace – village life ain’t boring, it’s just laid back). The friends I made in that small Alaskan town live all over the world today, and we’re still in touch. You can’t get warmer than that. The blown glass dish we bought in Croatia this summer, on holiday with the intrepid J-Gs. The old biscuit tin or the copy of the Vogue cover I picked up at my favourite market in Bath, in the company of one of my favourite women in the world, the amazing MC. The cross-stitched cloth I found on my first road-trip to Eastern Hungary with the lovely KG. A bronze candle holder that my sis-in-law brought me back from Spain for my birthday. A José Fuster watercolour that screamed at me in Cuba. Even the duvet set has memories of a year spent in Oxford.

There’s new old stuff, too. The tapestry I bought on an online forum that turns out to have been stitched by a friend’s grandmother about 100 years ago. The tin figure of Our Lady that I found in an old wardrobe. A First Communion certificate dated 1948 from a child of a few owners back. Embroidered doilies that I found in a drawer. It all ties together nicely – in my head at least.

But it’s not about the stuff. I could have dressed that room in 10 minutes, had I had a mind to. They’re not just things – they’re hooks on which I hang sheathes of memories that warm me, keep me safe, and make me smile. I’d like to get new bedside lamps. I have a picture in my mind of what I’d like – they’re on my market-hunt list. They’ll have stories of their own. I’d like to get some new furniture or do something with what I inherited. But I’m in no great rush. Something will come to mind, when the time is right. Today, I’m just enjoying the trip back in time.

2017 Grateful 40

When a seven-year-old child has no idea what they want for Christmas, you might immediately think that they have so much already that there’s nothing left for them to ask for. But when that seven-year-old child cannot answer the question because it’s one they’ve never before been asked, it’s enough to make your heart break.

Hos utca 15

This week, I went to visit some families living in two tenement buildings in Budapest’s Xth district, not far from Stadion, a part of Budapest tourists and many locals never see, Hős utca 15/a and 15/b are home to some 600 people, about 130 of whom are children. These 300 one-roomed apartments were built back in 1939. The conditions are dire. A gas explosion resulted in higher common costs for tenants, only half of  whom live in council-owned flats; the others are privately owned. The local development strategy seems to want the building levelled but there is no place for the people go to. Those who have council leases will not have them renewed on expiration. If they have kids, they’ll be taken into care until the parents can find alternative accommodation. The local government has ruled that it has first refusal on any flat offered for sale but the paltry 1.5 million huf (about €4800/$5600) on the table won’t rehouse the sitting tenants. The street, which translates into Heroes Street, is in the middle of an area bordered by the Anti-Terrorist Unit HQ, Zrínyi Miklós National Defense University, and a police station. The mind boggles. What should probably be the safest place in the city, is one that is anything but.

We got there about 4pm and met with Zsuzsanna Urbanovszky from Kontúr Egyesület. Zsuzsanna has been volunteering at Hős utca for about four years and it’s immediately clear that the children like and trust her. We were in safe hands.

This YouTube clip was filmed in 2012 and believe me, nothing has improved. It gives you an idea of what the place is like.

 

We met some other volunteers in one of the flats that Kontúr uses. The door was locked at all times, even though kids were coming and going. Kontúr is cooperating with the Letters to Santa initiative. In its third year, it’s probably one the most rewarding things I do each Christmas. The brainchild of Zsuzsa Bozo, kids fill out their letters to Santa and then volunteer Elves make sure that Santa delivers on what they’ve asked for. It’s hoped that 50 of the 130 or so children will participate, but it’s proving difficult to get the completed letters back. Parents are reluctant to let them visit the little community centre, and even more reluctant to commit to taking the kids to the party where the presents will be distributed on 22 December. More are suspicious about why the Zsuzsas are doing this. Gifts without strings are rare in their worlds.

We wandered upstairs and down, ably guided by a ten-year-old girl, who, if she had a magic wand, said that she would stop people robbing. Later I met a five-year-old who, with her magic wand, would change the windows in her flat into doors. A couple of young boys told me that they’d make people stop fighting. The doors are grilled, padlocked, and chained. The windows are boarded up. The passageways are dirty, smelly, and full of rubbish. There’s an air of abandonment and yet there’s evidence of life. Shadows flitted about the landings, silhouetted by the glow of a cigarette or the reflection of a phone. Everyone greeted us politely. No threats. No lewd comments. No smart remarks by the groups of young men that hung out in the stair wells. Three women and a child wandering freely in a part of town that the police are reluctant to patrol. Yes, Zsuzsanna has earned respect.

I was walking, head down, making sure I didn’t stumble or fall when I passed a pair of shiny leather shoes sitting beneath a pair of well-pressed trousers and an expensive woolen overcoat. I looked up in surprise. Definitely not a local but one who walked as if he knew where he was going. Drug dealer? Money lender? Who knows.

For some strange reason, the Hanoi Hilton came to mind. Perhaps it was the bars, the flittering shadows, the disembodied voices. Perhaps it was the poverty, the filth, the squalor. Or maybe it was that sense of imprisonment that defied freedom of movement. People are certainly free to come and go, but few, if any, ever truly escape.

And yet, there is a pride visible in the homes. Clean, tidy spaces, furnished with old furniture and hand-me-downs. The children are well turned out, polite, and friendly. They have a fascination with manó – leprechauns – asking if I’d ever seen one and if there was really gold at the end of the rainbow. They showed me their letters, explaining what they wanted, asking me to check on the Net to make sure Santa knew the specifics. I learned a lot about Hungarian YouTubers and Soy Luna 🙂 and today, we went shopping for five.

Hymnist Henry Burton wrote:

Have you had a kindness shown? Pass it on.
’Twas not given for thee alone, pass it on.
Let it travel down the years,
let it wipe another’s tears, till in heaven the deed appears – pass it on.

If you want to get involved, check the Facebook page. Consider passing it on.

For the Zsuzsas in this world, who give so graciously of their time, and work tirelessly to better the lot of others, I’m grateful. Ladies, you do the world proud.

 

PS – the observant regular reader among you will notice that I’m out of sync on my grateful numbering – back to normal next week.