Cryonics, Disney in Ice. Sir Ranulf and Black and Decker.

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The ice was here, the ice was there. The ice was all around/ It cracked and growled and roared and howled/ like noises in a swound. Ancient Mariner

There is frost outside as I write. Not as bad as the poor old mariner experienced. (Why would the ancient mariner make an indifferent goalkeeper? “He stoppeth one of three.) Never mind. Look at Sir Ranulf. In all his pictures he looks cold. He should wear a hat more often. His wife used to organise his expeditions…to this pole and that pole…on foot…in the cold…on his own… Did he not begin to get suspicious? (A diminutive knight arrived at an Alpine inn in a blizzard and riding a Saint Bernard dog. “Come in, come in, ” said mein host,”I wouldn’t turn a knight away on a dog like this.”)  Someone should do something to help these poor frosty knights. After one of Sir Ranulf’s expeditions he amputated some frostbitten toes with a Black and Decker. Toes are not renewable. Which reminds me. I had a neat little Black and Decker angle grinder. I wonder what happened to it.

I thought of Sir Ranulf and the mariner the other night as I listened to the orchestra tooling up to play the Prelude to Wagner’s Parcifal. That’s Sir Percival. Percy to his friends. Seven double basses, six celloes, tympani, strings and sounding brass. What a racket! I almost swounded(?) with the noise. They settled down when the conductor arrived to restore order. (Did you hear about the bus-conductor who murdered his passengers by pushing them off the bus? After three attempts to execute him in the electric chair, they had to let him go. Three strikes and you’re out. At his news conference where he announced his book deal and film option, he admitted to being a bad conductor.)

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This brings me, of course, to cryonics, back in the news again. It will be big news in years to come, perhaps centuries, when all the frosted cryogenically preserved people wake up and are cured of whatever killed them, ailments like old age. Maybe they will come back in miraculously rejuvenated bodies instead of the ones they left in. I know that athletes swear by cryotherapy…aaagh!… but they’re held together anyway by sticky plasters. Can it reverse fifty years of wear and tear and overindulgence? That electricity sub-station went on the blink last Christmas, for four and a half days. It was hell. No TV or hot meals. Even the phones died. We were forced to fall back on conversation and sociability. Even jokes. And wine. (Herve, the Belgian, the butt of French and Dutch jokes, had an infallible method of identifying wine that had been adulterated with anti-freeze. It was a big scandal a few years ago.  “I put ze bottles in ze freezaire. (He spoke Belgian.) Ze bottles zat do not burst, are ze good ones.”)

I heard a man on the radio explaining how it is done. Your blood and bodily fluids are replaced with anti-freeze, presumably before you die. Then you are encased in a capsule surrounded by liquid nitrogen, which is kept at a low temperature for many years or centuries. This is done using electricity. You pay your bill in advance….See sub-station outage above.

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This arrived the other day. Fair warning. We once lost a freezer full of food because some idiot unplugged it to make use of a Black and Decker and forgot to plug it back in again. Rigorous investigation suggested that I might have had some part in the disaster. We were unaware of the danger until my great-great-grandfather clambered out in a wraith of liquid nitrogen, roaring for shpuds and butthermilk.  He asked for a lend of a loan of my Black and Decker. The food was ruined too. I had to speak sternly to him about scattering toes all over the place. That’s the last time I’ll lend him any power tools. We had the divil of a job to get him back inside. “And don’t touch any of that wine!”

I don’t like the cold. I don’t want to join Walt Disney and other immortalsin Martian-style capsules high in the mountains. I don’t want to come back and have to turn my great-great-grandchildren out of my house. I can’t even remember where I left that angle grinder. National Geographic informs me that there are frozen sub-terranean glaciers on Mars. Freezing is mooted as an option for intergalactic travel. I’m not going there. Walt should have gone to Mars or even Pluto (family discount.) Pluto is a dwarf planet now. Why is there no Planet Happy or Goofy or Sneezy? I would definitely avoid Sneezy.  No, I think I’ll go for the full Mahatma Gandhi on the Dorn of Shennick so that the tide will clean the place up afterwards. Probably need planning permission.

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Apologies in advance to our intrepid Winter swimmers, The Frosties, for any adulteration of the sea water after the tide comes back.

Early Morning Ninja

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Tom Hoare made a balcony railing for us thirty eight years ago. Wrought iron, shot blasted and rust proofed. It’s almost as good as the day he installed it. I have given it a dab of paint once or twice over the years to fight off the effects of sea air, salt and rain. I like it. It chimes when you strike it in a certain way. It used to be possible to play the opening bars of Blueberry Hill on it, but  the few coats of paint put a damper on that. When we slept in a different room, the railing gave notice of night-roistering offspring climbing over it to avoid detection….boooom..ah… boooom…ah… a soft reverberation that travelled to where we lay. Heh heh. A spider lurks in hiding, his palps gauging every tiny vibration of the web. Gotcha! I’ll talk to him in the morning. He’s home safe. Go back to sleep.

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Insomnia gives opportunities to review old and current concerns. I asked Tom to put a bit of a flourish on it. The good people of Verona added a balcony to Juliet’s house. You couldn’t have Juliet’s house with no balcony. The tourists would be up in arms. But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?  It is the east and Juliet is the sun….  ‘We paid good money to see Juliet’s balcony. Didn’t we Ethel? Have to have a bloody balcony…’ I worried about small children climbing over the railing. ‘They can’t,’ said Tom. ‘They’ve nothing to put their feet on.’  It was true. A few curlycues at the top for the spiders, but it has been infant proof for two generations. In the pre-dawn gloom I reviewed a host of worries. I’m good at that. Health, failures, opportunities not taken, finances, jobs to be attempted, offence given, offence taken, political upheavals, wars, the death of the Universe. Then the eastern sky lightened. It was like balm to a bruised consciousness. It happens on most mornings, the greatest show on earth. Roll up! Roll up! I could see the earth rolling towards the light. I could almost feel the vertiginous movement.

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Then I saw the Ninja at work. back and forth like a shuttle in a loom. He set stays and braces to steady his web. He tested the tension. Palpable tension, as the cliché merchants say. Round and round he went, in a dizzying spiral, paying out the sticky silk. Why does he not get stuck in his own glue, hoist with his own petard? Amazing footwork. Two feet at the back give forward propulsion; two at the front grab on; two on either side are for ordinary walking. Why then does he not move like a crab? A moth blundered into the structure. It flapped around, threatening to destroy the entire net. The spider leapt out and cut it free. It is very difficult, as you know, to catch a moth. You can buy camphor balls and make your clothes smell like an old teacher in September, trapped in his suit, timetable and syllabuses ( syllabi ?) You can buy cedar balls and hurl them at the moth, but he will munch on happily through worsted, serge and even Donegal tweed. The Ninja repaired his web and waited like a true fisherman.

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I thought of friend remembered not and benefit forgot…I thought about the countless millions of creatures even then, stalking their prey, in undergrowth, at water holes, from the air, on the world wide web, in early morning meetings in boardrooms, the hunters  and the prey. The Ninja took a wandering fly, a creature almost helpless in the light breeze.He sprang upon it, delivered the coup de grace and immediately began to wrap it in silk, to be enjoyed later. He rolled it with his forelegs and palps, tucking it into a neat parcel. There was a pretty girl in Bewleys of Westmoreland Street, a lifetime ago, who wrapped bags of coffee in little brown paper parcels and tied them with string. I watched her fingers. I was entranced by her dexterity. I really wanted to say something charming, something to ensnare her in a web of eloquent compliments. ‘ I really admire your dexterity.’ Maybe not. ‘ I love the way you loop the string and snap it with a flick of the wrist.‘ I have never been able to do that. Butchers were able to do it, even though they had knives enough. Grocers could do it. I said nothing. Flick! ‘There you go, sir,’ she said, smiling. ‘Three shillings, please.’ I was cut adrift. I blundered away like the moth. Why did I remember her at that hour of the morning? Tom Hoare told me that he trained as a blacksmith down in Westport. ‘I came up here in 1941, the year of the foot-and-mouth.’  That was the year of my birth, a few hundred yards up the street from where he worked amid the clangour of steel and the blaze of welding torches. I am possibly the last survivor of the variant disease of foot-in-mouth. Probably better that I didn’t release my eloquence on the pretty girl in Bewleys. I went away with my coffee, Kenya Coarse Ground and a vague feeling of inadequacy.

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The light intensified. It insisted. I began to count some blessings. One: the Ninja was outside the window. Two: no infants have fallen through the railing so far. Three: I had some stitches snipped yesterday by a doctor with nimble fingers, after a successful operation. Four: I actually feel pretty good. Five: the beloved occupants of the house are still sleeping peacefully. It might be time to put a dab or two of Hammerite on Tom Hoare’s handiwork and maybe get another thirty eight years out of it.

Ah found mah thriyell on Blueberry Hiyell

On Bluebery Hiyell, when Ah found you…

Good ol’ Fats Domino.

 

Skerries Water Festival, August 2015 and King Salman.

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When you have it, flaunt it, or at least celebrate it. Let everyone enjoy it. Skerries is blessed in having three beaches and all the water you could ask for. You can swim, paddle your own canoe or someone else’s, or just paddle in the shallows, sail, kite-surf, dive or just generally relax on the sand. Let the kids build the sandcastles. It’s an ancient skill, older than the ancient skill of jumping on them. This one has survived from the Iron Age, it seems, a village defended by ramparts and a ditch. It looks like a possible winner of the sandcastle competition of Saturday last. So do many others. Opinions may be divided. A lot of work goes into building sandcastles. All credit to the builders.

Water festival 1 st August 2015 008 A very fine fortress.

Water festival 1 st August 2015 007 A family relaxing on the beach.

f07-14b Some more sand.

All credit too and a huge vote of thanks to the volunteers who give their time to organising events like this. The entire community benefits from their generosity and dedication. They lift our spirits. They make us smile. There are few things to compare with a multi-generational day at the seaside. Sand between the toes, in the shoes, in your ice cream and in the hot dogs. You might even indulge in a sand fight if you are young enough.

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I was more than a little surprised to read that King Salman of Saudi Arabia has had part of ‘his exclusive beach’ in La Mirandole paved over, so that the royal feet will not have to walk on sand. (It’s not really his beach, as the locals have vigorously pointed out. Egalité and all that.) Repeat: The King of Saudi Arabia does not like walking on sand. May I advance a humble suggestion. B and Q  RED HOT SUMMER CLEARANCE. Economy flooring at unbeatable prices; samples for two Euro; special Diamond Club discount for over sixties. Diamond Club sounds suitably posh.  Saudi Arabia is a mere 2,149,690 square kilometres in area. Multiply by 10 Euro per square metre, economy click-together flooring; multiply by the number of square metres  in a square kilometre…multiply by 2,149,690… too early in the morning for me to be doing sums… and the whole place could be paved for approximately two days oil revenue. Rough estimate. FREE DELIVERY FOR ORDERS OVER FIFTY EURO!!

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The royal feet could walk the pilgrim route to Mecca in comfort. They could traverse the Empty Quarter and the terrible Nafud Desert, the Anvil of the Sun, without a blister or a grain of sand to cause the slightest irritation. Incidentally, that lonely figure on the beach is a French policewoman, risking her life to guard the King and his guests from harm. She was ordered to go away, because she was too close to where the men wanted to bathe. The latest news is that the King won the sandcastle competition, the powerboat race, the sailing, the kite-surfing , the tag rugby, gaelic football, soccer and swimming competitions. He devastated his opponent with his tennis service and out-canoed and out- stand-up- paddled all comers (There were very few.) He didn’t trouble the hot-dog stall at all and refused to sunbathe because there was sand on his towel.  He was also the lead singer in the band. Yeah!

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Meanwhile,in Skerries, we had a beautiful time. The weather was warm. There were no security alerts.  The fun continued until the tide ebbed away. The sandy children were rounded up. It became possible to stroll out to Shennick Island to look at the birds. King Salman is welcome to join us here next year. He can bring his own sand.

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Water Safety Week begins today. The People Who Dwell in Tents will arrive and settle on the beach with their children.

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On Saturday evening they will,  like the mysterious Bedouin, quietly fold their tents and steal away until this time next year. Blessings and peace be upon them  and all the volunteers….and a little sunshine.

Latest news: The King has jacked it in and flown to Morocco…where there is no sand at all, at all. I hope he has as good a time there as we have had over the Bank Holiday weekend.

A Tide in the Affairs of Men, Latvians and Winkles.

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Teacher:”What happened after Caesar mustered his army?”

Pupil: “He peppered the enemy and took the city by assault, Sir.”

Teacher: “Sit down, boy. I’ll have none of your sauce.”

Boom. Boom.

Okay, it’s an old one. At this time of year, I always recall Julius Caesar and his account of his first invasion of Britain, D Day in reverse. Being from the Mediterranean, he had no understanding of tides, a vital component of a naval invasion. Fair enough. He was caught out once in the Rhine estuary amid straggling streams and endless mud flats. The locals helped him to refloat his ships, whereupon he conquered them and took hostages. Since then the Dutch have become the world’s acknowledged masters of tidal defences and marine salvage. It’s a matter of survival. When Julius came ashore in Kent, to go marauding inland, his ships were stranded by a great spring tide. It could happen to anyone. They were then battered by an equinoctial gale, causing extensive damage. He learned, quickly, how to ‘cannibalise’ his wrecks and build an emergency fleet.  He returned to France. Better luck next time.  If you paid attention in school,(sit up straight there and take your hands out of your pockets) you know that he did have better luck the following year, slaughtering great numbers of the enemy. The enemies could argue that they weren’t enemies until he invaded them. Nit picking. ‘Great’ men don’t concern themselves with minor details.

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A party of jovial Skerries yachtsmen set off some years ago, for a picnic on Lambay Island. They took the short route inside Shennick Island. Their boat, a twin keeled craft, sat down on the Dorn. They were stuck. The spring tide ebbed away, stranding them for hours, under the gaze of their amused fellow yachtsman. Fortunately there were no hostile native javelin throwers or careering charioteers to attack them and plunder their supplies. Julius could have explained it all to them: mountains, especially those near the edge of the world,  generate winds which in turn cause tides. The Ocean spills over the edge, maximising the pull and tug of the tides.  The waxing and waning moon sends omens to warn unwary sea voyagers. The jovial yachtsmen made the best of their predicament. They broke out their emergency supplies of wine and fine food, to fortify themselves against the gale of mockery and laughter they knew was waiting for them. Only Leo Flanagan, a Latinist himself, was angry. It was a slight on his seamanship.  The others enjoyed a Lucullan feast on the Dorn, for  a long summer’s afternoon, lampreys stuffed with larks’ tongues and good Falernian wine.

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The people to consult about tides are the Latvian winkle-pickers. They arrived about ten years ago, with changes to the E.U. rules about free movement of workers. They came. They saw. They conquered. They caused dismay to the local lads who had picked winkles on a small scale for generations. They are phenomenal workers, moving with military precision along the coast and appearing at Shennick, when the spring tides allow them to wade across. They appear to be impervious to the weather. I asked some of them about this. “We are Latvian,” they replied. “We do not feel the cold.”  They often work by lamplight, in the bleakest weather, even on Christmas Day. They gauge to the minute, when it is time to leave. It’s not easy money.

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Surprisingly, for people from a Baltic country, where tides are modest, they have adapted to the phenomenon of the tide, as surely as the creatures they collect. I have met Swiss who were caught out by the onrushing tide. It comes in like a river. We had little boys from Belfast staying with us years ago. They panicked when they woke up in the morning. “It’s gone!” they shouted. “It’s all gone.”  It came back, much to their relief. A good friend goes to the pub at the harbour to ‘conduct tidal studies.’ It can take some time. There was probably no need for the helicopter the other evening, but it was dramatic. Apologies for the shaky focus. This was not the result of tidal studies, but rather, the lack of a tripod and a photograph taken in haste. Full marks to the vigilant Coast Guard. Think what Julius would have done with a few of these machines at his disposal.

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I no longer worry about the Latvians. I shiver and go back to bed. Like the Romans, I have grown soft. I have even bought mussels from the fish shop. They don’t stock lampreys.

Ebenezer thought he was Julius Caesar

So they put him in a ho-o-ome

Where they gave him medicinal compound

Now he’s Emperor of Rome.

This is where Julius met his end. Romantics, or maybe Ebenezer and his ilk, still place flowers on the spot, at the time of the Spring spring tides, the Ides of March. Whatever floats your boat.

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Slip-sliding away

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A century ago, this was a cottage. It had a slated roof, a garden and a picket fence. Children played on the strand in summertime. I have seen the pictures… happy holiday-makers returning to Skerries, to the place where their grandfather, Reverend Shegog, was the Minister in the Church of Ireland. You may have seen his photograph, a tall, bearded man in his cork lifejacket, supervising the launching of the lifeboat at the harbour. You may have heard the story of his son, a doctor, who died in the Great War.  A week after his death, a telegram arrived to his quarters, announcing the birth of a child, a child who never knew his father. Old stories, that hang in barely remembered shreds, like the weeds on the crumbling cliff. Perhaps my recollection of the stories, is crumbling too. They echo, like the distant calls of children on a strand, or the cries of the nesting fulmars. Even the fulmars must give some thought to the changes taking place around them.

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Fulmarus glacialis is the official name. The fulmars have lived here ever since the last Ice Age clothed the rock in boulder clay and fine gravel, to make an island. They live on fish, shellfish and small crustaceans, a gourmet diet. They can’t go hungry on Shennick Island.The Dutch name for fulmar is mallemuk meaning foolish gull. The Dutch are mistaken. The fulmars nest together in apparent amity. They stay together all winter, sheltering from the storms. Their food supply is immediately below them. They glide down to forage and soar back up to their ledges, masters of their element. They warn intruders off, with raucous cries.  Gah, Gah, Gah.

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The storms and high tides rend the island. They undermine the cliff. They spill the boulders and gravel onto the strand and sweep it all away. We watch as  the profile changes from year to year. We are concerned. We see the traces of human effort falling away. We experience regret for what is lost. Men stayed overnight in the cottage, to steal a march on the tide, when they went out to collect the woar. The winkle-pickers of today would be glad of four walls and a roof. They come from Latvia. They tell me that they don’t feel the cold. They work at night, with miners’ lamps, moving, like Will o’ the Wisps, on the dark foreshore.

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You can read the story of the Ice Age in the layers, the black marl under the sand of the beach, the rough clay and boulders torn from the bedrock; the fine gravel, deposited grain by grain, in the beds of sub-glacial streams. The sea will take it all, the gravel and the jagged stones, sift and sort it and send it somewhere else, to make beaches of fine sand and drifts of gleaming pebbles. Nothing is lost; everything is changed. The granite pillar above the cottage proclaims ownership of the island, His Majesty’s War Office, ‘in Good King George’s glorious day’. The martello tower belonged to His Majesty. He prepared for war. The gulls and the pigeons own it now.  But for how long more?

For the present, the crabs and winkles welcome the shelter of the rocks and stones. The cockles burrow in the mud and sand. The mussels open and close with the tide. The mussel beds suffered greatly in the recent storms, but already the tiny spat is clothing the rocks, like a fine fur. Give them four years and they will make a tasty meal. People will come to dig for lugworms and probe for razor fish. The tide will ebb and flow, undermining and sifting. Gravity will bear down inexorably. The cottage wall will crack asunder. The tower will creep closer and closer to the edge. You and I won’t be around to see it fall.

The fulmars will move back a foot or two, with every slump and subsidence. They will soar on the updraughts and build their nests in the sun. They will dine together in some style. They will not send their children to war. Foolish gulls? I don’t think so.

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Rosy-fingered Dawn

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Equinox, March, September. 

The Greeks as always, had a phrase for it, Eos Rhododactylos, Rosy-fingered Dawn.  They also had a myth to express the wonder of the Sun rising every day. Eos, the goddess of the dawn. opens the gates of heaven to let the horses of the Sun gallop out into the sky. Homer used this as the prelude to the epic events of the day. We are more prosaic. We don’t buckle on our armour and go to battle,’far on the ringing plains of windy Troy. We don’t vie with heroes or drag our conquests behind our chariots in victory. The last time that Irishmen went to battle near Troy was in 1915, at Gallipoli. They had no epic poet to celebrate their deeds. The poets of their war soon learned that there was little to celebrate. They were the sad young men who have left a legacy of grief and loss.

An old Skerries man, interviewed about his experience of Gallipoli, spoke of an attack that soon degenerated into a squalid fight with bayonets. ‘We were hard at it till evening.’ For all Homer’s enthusiasm and that of his successors and imitators, for entrails and blood, there was no glory in that old man’s war. I recall him standing silent and glum, at his door, for most of my childhood years. He had a vacant look in his eyes, but I’m sure he saw Gallipoli all the days of his life.  

Back Camera

Christmas Day

A lesser poet than Homer, Theo Dorgan, voiced a universal truth. He was asked about his favourite song. ‘Any song that starts with Well, I woke up this morning…he replied. Is waking up not an epic achievement in its own right? We travel alone for hours in the realm of dreams and darkness . Sometimes we experience joy and laughter. Sometimes we meet our parents or long lost friends. Sometimes we travel to places of terror or absurdity. Then we return, with the gradual light of dawn, like Ulysses returning to his Ithaca, after long wanderings and adventures in strange places. No wonder the Australian Aborigines talk about their time of myth and unimaginable antiquity as The Dreamtime.

A myth takes hold of people and conditions their thinking. The Australians and New Zealanders cling to the story of Gallipoli. It shapes their view of themselves. They find a kind of victory in a bloody defeat. We are entering a decade of commemoration of the violent events that shaped the century. If there is talk of victory and glory, think of that old Skerries man standing at his door.

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Mid-summer.

The equinoctial Sun rises, for me, over Shennick Island to the east.The mid-winter Sun manages to heave itself over the south-eastern horizon, near Lambay. I watch it beginning its return journey, as the world tilts again towards the light, an inch every day. It is no wonder that the ancients saw it as a god. No wonder that the consummate artist, Turner, declared the Sun to be  God. On a dark, damp, November morning, it does no harm to think of the goddess, Rosy-fingered Eos, opening the gates of heaven over Saint Patrick’s Island, away to the north -east, after a few fleeting hours of luminous darkness. In the meantime, while I wait for summer and pre-dawn birdsong through open windows, I’m glad that I woke woke up this morning.