Nearly a Matching Set – and Small Work

Sunday 24th January 2021

I thought I had a matching set (there have to be 3), almost as good as the toilet set I collected in Britain and America – Queen Victoria’s, seen at Osborne, Martin Luther King’s, on view in the Martin Luther King birth home, Atlanta, and Margaret Mitchell’s, which was featured in her re-constructed apartment, also in Atlanta. Val telephoned from Moscova, Hastings, before Christmas. ‘Have you shopped your Christmas needs?’ he enquired. It’s a new way with words. Really just the preposition has been eroded but ‘to shop an item’ is quite a different thing from ‘shopping for’ something, giving a crocodile snap of complete possession, the essence of shopping. Then Val telephoned again, not in the best of moods, and said he was going to ‘soup some carrots.’ A good addition but very soupy. There was a final new verb, provided by Laura Malcolm on Friday while we were in Brompton Cemetery, sitting amongst some crows, described by a passer-by as ‘charismatic’. But, misery, I’ve forgotten it. And so has Laura. Maybe in a sudden flash, it’ll come back.

So no matching set. Two isn’t a matching set.

Morbid anxiety engulfs me in between cooking mania. You’d think crowds were coming round. I can’t take in that nearly everyone in the world is plunged like this. It ought to be a comfort. But it isn’t. It just doesn’t seem real. Besides, some like it, maybe more than you might think, rather as people are said to like being in prison – no responsibilities, in a way taken care of. Laura said that Matt Driver is enjoying his little life, tucked up in his mansion. Mind you, if you’re a world-taste shaper, it might be different. Little life but huge outreach. I’m just it’s the same in Downing Street. They just don’t understand.

Last weekend I repaired some paint chips on the stairs. They’ve been Polyfilla-ed for years. Lumps of filler left, not even sanded. I had to tint some white eggshell so the touched-up areas wouldn’t show up glaring. I used burnt umber, yellow ocre and black in the tiniest amounts.

An Example of a Chip to be Repaired on the Stairs

An Example of a Chip to be Repaired on the Stairs

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Over-Rev-ed

Sunday 17th January 2021

Good – I thought maybe it was only 16th January.

If only Nancy were here now: ‘What time is it?’ ‘Ten?’ ‘No better than that.’ ‘Ten past Ten?’ ‘No better than that even…’ This is two young women telephoning across the wasteland of a society morning in London before the War.

Ten days ago I was in a different phase. I’m not in the same phase now. I had an early whoosh to do all Nigella’s new recipes at once. From her new book, ‘Cook, Eat, Repeat.’ The chicken with orzo. I don’t greatly like Orzo, but so what? The Rev Richard Coles was doing it The beef cheek with port and chestnuts ( beef cheek – so new), the cherry and almond crumble … So I ended up launching on Tom Kerridge’s Self-Cured Salmon with Beetroot Slaw, Horseradish Cream on self-blinis. Laura Malcolm  gave me the recipe from The Times newspaper.

First cure your salmon. At the same time I had a mania to find frozen cherries for the Nigella crumble. There they were in Waitrose frozen cupboard. Miracle. In Planet Organic’s tundra were Frozen Sour Cherries, which I’ve been looking for since the Spring. So lucky, even if not immediately relevant. But the curing. Terrific assemblage. Grating of cabbage. Pouring of whisky. Only had dark sugar, so evil viscous dark result. Pack in cling film. It all leaked out. Into the fridge for 48 hours and breathe again. For a while. There was no escaping the final destiny though. Laura Malcolm had got ahead and was sending graphs of her finished ‘set’ as Anthony Mottram was later to call it – the full plate. I went to Waitrose and screamed in the aisles. ‘Where’s the buttermilk? I’m self-blini-ing,’ I screamed. The 48 hours were up. The first evening I couldn’t face it. The beetroot slaw had 12 ingredients and at least three stages. There seemed no hope. For the rest of life I would be forever slaving, the Tom Kerridge Cured Salmon Self-Blini, Horseradish Cream and Beetroot Slaw set just out of reach. What’s more Laura had added a cucumber pickle to her set. I looked at Nigella’s recipe for Scandi cucumber pickle and died. It was a desperate race to keep up with my ingredients. Eventually there was no choice but to set to: grate the red cabbage, grate raw beetroot.. but the Bramley was rotten through. No cooking apples to be had in three shops. Bash on. Finely chop. Salt. Add this. Add that. Check the recipe. Don’t forget the horseradish cream. More grating. That completed. But what would you do with horseradish cream on its own? Terrible bits of grating all over the kitchen. Beetroot carnage. Finally though a bowl of purple slaw. Only parsley to be added. With the self-blini-ing ingredients I got muddled trying to reduce by 2/3rds. Just guessing really. So near the end but collapsing. The salmon itself smelled funny after its curing. The Gay Mother, down the phone, said, ‘Are you sure it’s all right?’ I could have wrenched the wires out.

But I did sit down with a set of sorts. The blinis, because batter too wet, were huge. Pancakes really. I cut corners with the cucumber and had little appetite after a 1st course to build up strength for the assembling and hot-pan last minute blini-ing.

Don’t have a 1st course if you’re contemplating menu-ing this set.

Anthony Mottram and I had a little picnic of the salmon in the middle of Walthamstow Marshes and that’s when he called it a set. With the last of the fish I did rise to Nigella’s Pickled Cucumber, improved self-blini work and enough Bramley for the slaw.

Laura Malcolm announced that she would surely be doing the whole thing again. I doubt I’d survive. But I do have half a red cabbage, guilt-inducing, hiding in my fridge and we didn’t live through two World Wars to waste food.

My Final Set: Tom Kerridge's Self-Cured Salmon, Self-Blinis, with Beetrow Slaw, Horseradish Cream and Nigella's Scandi Pickled Cucumber added in Because Really Otherwise it would be Sadly Simple

My Final Set: Tom Kerridge’s Self-Cured Salmon, Self-Blinis, with Beetrow Slaw, Horseradish Cream and Nigella’s Scandi Pickled Cucumber added in Because Really Otherwise it would be Sadly Simple

 

 

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Unusual

Tuesday 12th January

Robert Nevil and the Nizam were sealed with me for Christmas in my London home. Don’t ask. Only Poor Little Rich Gays could achieve such a rare configuration. To the world in general, it will never be explained. Such a web. So many dimensions.

We only diverted from the strict Hindu diet for the actual Christmas dinner. For Christmas Eve we had Mushroom Ragu in Egg Foam. There was a hiatus re: pudding because Robert Nevil and the Nizam clung to the idea that food should be nice. But there were some dried sour cherries to be finished up. I’d soaked them in grappa. The Nizam doesn’t touch alcoholic beverage. Even a whiff could send him delirious. Nevertheless he sampled the dried sour cherries with minimal 2% yoghurt and found them sour. Damnation, they weren’t cleared. I spent the rest of Christmas trying to force them down the guests. It was hopeless.

Robert Nevil and the Nizam curl on the sofa and post. There’s a lot of subsequent pinging. That’s the comments coming in. They look at the comments and comment. There’s a huge tangle of commentators all connected in ways yet to be understood. Otherwise there’s TV. It was a tussle between Bridgerton and Black Narcissus. Bridgerton I thought lovely. Lovely colours, particularly on my new screen. So vivid. Frocks and wigs. Good, well-thighed young gentlemen with ungentlemanly tendencies. What more could you want? I never knew that George 111 made a lot of people of African descent into Dukes etc. Did you? It was because of Queen Charlotte being also of African descent. Where are they now? Robert Nevil and the Nizam were aghast. ‘Why are we watching this?’ the Nizam cried. They wanted Black Narcissus. But that was even worse, surely. Since leaving my premises they’ve kept up the attack on Bridgerton. Black Narcissus is conveniently not mentioned. But it was incredibly awful. Photo-shopped and the message you could grasp in the first five minutes: don’t bother being a nun. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.

On Christmas Day we went for a walk and saw the New River, brought by Sir Thomas Myddleton from Hertfordshire into London. The day after Boxing Day we took another walk. Who knew that St Paul’s Cathedral, the Temple Bar, the Old Bailey, St Bartholomew the Great are within the compass on foot of my home in London? I showed the Nizam the place where Queen Victoria’s carriage stopped at the foot the Cathedral Steps in 1897 and she remained in the carriage while the service of Thanksgiving for her Diamond Jubilee was conducted out of doors because she was too infirm to descend. The Gay Grandmother was somewhere lurking about then. She had a medal from that Jubilee. We also got a sense of where the Royal cars would sweep, arriving at the Cathedral. Then we delved in the part below the Cathedral towards the Thames and found the boards in a passage said to date from Shakespeare’s day. Also the King’s Wardrobe and the Society for Unloved Churches. Returning past the Old Bailey (Robert Nevil and I know someone who was jugged from there. RB even has gone as far as Belmarsh on a visit) we saw the new private wing of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, not quite opened, where I hope to end my days. Finally we found dear old Betj’s front door in Cloth Fair which I’d never seen before.

I forgot to say that when Royston and I went to Glyndebourniana, owing to current restrictions, we pissed the lawn in the dark.

Christmas Day Lunch by Robert Nevil

Christmas Day Lunch by Robert Nevil

The Christmas Table

The Christmas Table

Dried Sour Cherries Soaked in Grappa: Still not Finished Up

Dried Sour Cherries Soaked in Grappa: Still not Finished Up

 

 

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Many Tiers Ago

Saturday 9th January 2021

Many tiers ago I took tea with Rufus Pitman and Raj Zoraster. It was a superb tea in the Bangla style raging with decoration, a little patterned table, a tea-strainer that might have been a holy item and English biscuits. They were so bouncy and full of Christmas. I really think now the carriages could be ordered for the Service of National Thanksgiving at San Paolo di Londra for their deliverance from the Affliction. Raj dangled a profoundly unsuitable brown doll – really – made of knitting, plain at that. Somehow it was a Christmas piece. The wow-factor was the thong, that could be pulled away to reveal a knitted man part, which, even though knitting, looked a bit sharp and nasty, like an apple pip that had been weaponised. I got sight direct of the famous mermen that adorn their tree and which are known here and throughout the world, although rarely seen in person. They’re costly (about 30 euros each) and one is added each year. The upper half is muscular Tom of Finland with leather cap, the classic top class, sexual Gay; then there is the fishy lower half. As Berlioz, in The Shepherd’s Farewell, penetrated to the melancholy heart of Christmas, so Rufus and Raj have embodied its other heart, which is kitsch. They’d got other ornaments which are even worse.

‘We had such a common lunch,’ Rufus said. It was either egg and chips or egg, chips and fish fingers. ‘What foods will be common next?’ Rufus wondered. I was a bit stumped. I’m always trying to bring common eats back, like Birds Custard. ‘How about sumac?’ Rufus said. I’m sure this will come true. We’ll know for sure when a sumac shaker appears on the tables in that cafe in East Enders.

We talked of faraway places. Rufus said he wanted to go dancing. Apparently the road from Dhaka airport is lined with palatial curry houses named after the places where the funds from emigration were generated to build them.  So there’s the Dudley Curry House, the Brick Lane, the Royal Leamington Spa etc… This is the arrival in Bangladesh.

Raj mentioned Priti Patel. ‘Nasty Auntie,’ he said.

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Looking Back

Tuesday 4th January 2021

Well, the New Year often gets off to a slow start. I turned on all my graphs and feeds with great trepidation yesterday after an interval of not being able to face them. As I might have known, rates of increase slowing or actually declining, as always, the herald to that word that must not be spoken.

Even to say it is to collude. You can hear it in people’s voices, the way it’s tossed off, rolled in with other words as if it were completely normal. That’s giving in. That’s why we’ve got it.

Prince Dmitri texted in despair. I put on Nixon in China. I’m having nothing more to do with it. If anybody reads to me from ‘The Book’, I’ll cut them off for good. Or for the time being, at least. ‘It’s in THE BOOK, THE BOOK, THE BOOK….’, Madame Mao screeches in Nixon in China. She’s deranged.

We did have a Christmas treat. It was an evening concert at Glyndebourniana with limited afternoon tea beforehand. Sir Mark Elder, excerpts from Fidelio, plus overture, then Ibramova playing the Brahms violin concerto. She had no shoes on. No interval. 500 audience members, clamped in terror, eyes darting above the cloth restraints. Not one single cough was emitted throughout. Royston King accompanied me. He was thrilled with it. Ibramova was sensational. I think she didn’t wear shoes because she stamps about while playing – so to reduce noise. But really it won’t do. The noble gesture is much appreciated. I can’t bear it for the artists. All the same, I won’t return to the halls and houses until the audience and performers are complete and free.

We practised Royston’s forthcoming interview for a huge position. I hope he gets it. He’ll have so much money and power.  We decided Royston’s strong points are that he actually knows about the heritage, gardens and parks. He won’t be a professional Chair brought in from the suitcase world, unlike some others that could be mentioned. It was important that the panel felt they could get a word in edgeways though, that he listened to their questions and answered them. Apparently Herbert Morrison had said the same, although less nicely no doubt.

Royston mentioned to Robert Nevil in my drawing room before we departed that Steve McQueen didn’t like him and he didn’t like Steve McQueen. ‘Top black people often don’t like each other,’ he explained. We’d been talking about the TV series Small Axe which I’d been watching with the Gay Mother since Black Lives Matter is her main theme at the moment, along with the awfulness of the Arch of Canterbury. Royston didn’t appear to have watched Small Axe, but from what I told him he thought little of it. Too arty and the Mangrove was seething with drugs apparently. I think that’s what he said. I hope so because I don’t want to make false accusations, although, really does it matter? So what if it was. If only the Gay Mother and I had gone to the Mangrove when I lived so near it until 1996. Nowadays we would, of course, and been incredibly friendly and maybe had drugs although I’m not keen. But then, it was too frightening. Don’t ask why. It just was.

 

 

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During the night…

Monday 4th January 2021

…it loomed upon me with that completeness only known in the delirium of half sleep. I came to a kind of consciousness with the idea square and fully formed, a definite shape. Why had I never thought of it before? Identify as non-species. Not non-binary. Non-species. Obvious. Throw off the narrow confines. I never asked to be boxed up as a human species member. So now I’m throwing all that off. I’m identifying as non-species. People assume that I will be something else instead, such as a blob or a plankton. That’s not the point. The point is to be of no species whatsoever, except perhaps a person without organs.

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The Year

Saturday 2nd January 2021

2021!

I should mention that 1921, one hundred years ago, was a good year, being when the Gay Father, Debo Devonshire and the Duke of Edinburgh were born.

Most people’s idea, including mine, is that 2020 is to be jettisoned as fast as possible and never mentioned again.

I will look back though. When the shutters first clattered down, in March, with terrible Wrong, my first Essential order from Amazon was two out-of-print novels by Ivy. And I managed to read them, with pleasure. Before I could never read an Ivy.

Thinking it was 1940, I revived Bird’s Custard. Val was going to revive Woolton Pie but never did.

2020 was the year of isolation. But I was never less alone. The Archer/Neviles were in residence in my Official Residence, for five weeks, Robert Nevil and the Nizam came for Christmas, I was nearly 3 weeks in Madeira with Anthony Mottram and Vadim, another week in Prague in August, twice to Normandy with Laura Malcolm and Matt Driver, every month from July to the Gay Mother’s, usually for a week. Other visits have taken place and darling Poor Little Rich Gays have flocked round. I was at Walmer and Lewes for a two-night away with Royston King.

I’ve been twice to Glyndebourniana, as usual, and once to the Ragged School for mu. The Great Dixter Plant Fair in October took place as always.

As I predicted at the start, we’ve got used to the muck as we go along. But they can’t crush us either, they can’t keep us apart. The whole thing’s a painful dragging back to Prep and Public days (although with food and heating) but having been at Prep and Public assists. Endurance of deprivation was the warping quality produced. I remember starting at Barrowborough in the summer of 1970 and working out that I’d only have to be there for 4 years and looking at boys who were almost at the end of the 4 years and thinking that somehow one could begin to hack away at that time. Later on, resistance of course.

These are wild savage times. Maybe later we will be fascinated to have lived though them. Who knew how easily society could be destroyed? Not just the economy, as we thought in March, but society itself. Sebastian Archer said to me while staying how shocking he found it. Why aren’t there riots on the streets? Why isn’t everybody tautened into a tight bow of skepticism? Fear, stoked up by the authorities, works wonders. Just look how malleable the population becomes in an instant, how easily divided against itself. Suddenly, as Professor Balloux said, we’re back to the Middle Ages:  dogma, superstition and ostracism.

I wouldn’t want to be ruled by scientists, or doctors for that matter. Who’d have thought there were so many professors, and so many graphs, all veering in different directions? What are we to make of these people? As Sebastian Archer said, science is not always consonant with human life. Just imagine if the Government were entirely made up of Public Health Officials. Somehow data, technology, a preliminary, speculative kind of ‘science’ has got the upper hand. Politicians are helpless before it. Is this their fault or the way things are going? Young people ought to be fiercest in revolt. But bed illness was not commonplace for them in childhood. Their cocoon was the fat time, especially, as we look back, the boom years from the early 90s to 2008. The Young dictate their existence from their phones. In their world all the Apps work. No wonder they are among the most ardent Covidians, insisting that vaccination is the only possible exit.

The story told from the start has come true – up to a point. Vaccine will surely be the most popular child’s name for years to come. There’s nothing to be done about it. Imprisonment until then. Meantime, though, couldn’t those with responsibility recall a few of the old-fashioned virtues? If you’re in charge, in however small a way, you’re supposed to radiate encouragement, boost morale and, if necessary, suppress bad news.

If leaders need to issue threats, they must be threatened themselves.

We really need to see an improvement.

 

 

 

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We’re All Tenants Now

Saturday 26th December 2020

You’ll have noticed that my usual Christmas Day broadcast did not this year take place – along the lines of Monaco National Year which, as I’ve mentioned before, in the year of Grace Monaco’s Death was subject to the saddest announcement that ever was placed in The Times of London. It said, ‘Monaco National Day. Monaco National Day, usually held on October 23rd, will not this year take place.’

With the Gay Grandfather I often went in the Rover (one of those ones with the front and back doors opening from the mid point, the whole machine black, of course, for an official air) to take bottles of port to the tenants. They would say things like, ‘That’ll be very nice with a bit of hot water.’ We did get out of the Rover, we even advanced up their garden paths but we never went in. That was the thing. It would have been unthinkable for the landlord to cross the threshold unless somebody needed to be sectioned. The tradition carried on into the 21st century, even with those who were not tenants, but might have been.  My Christmas visit to Mrs Dinner, the Gay Mother’s thrice-weekly until 1986, was always her leaning out of her stable-type door, me in the road outside. That would have been going on until at least 2010.

Now we’re all tenants. No home to be entered. Go no further than the doorstep. Beyond might be a hovel, not fit to be seen. And seething, of course, with you-know-what.

In other news, Poor Little Rich Gay male parts are giving out at an alarming rate. The Laird was restricted earlier in the year and unable to function. Now Beamish O’Halloran, of the Red Tops, was struck on Christmas Eve with the same thing. Off to Causality. Laura Malcolm is looking forward to all her male members being attached to catheters next summer in Normandy, which would be a good revenge for all the trouble they’ve caused womenfolk over the years.

Her Majesty the Queen had absolutely the right idea yesterday in her broadcast. Don’t mention it. Not by name, only oblique. ‘She’s gawn Woke,’ Laura Malcolm said. But that’s another matter. I liked the idea of her peering out from Windsor at the lights of Diwali in Slough. What she also didn’t mention is that those people would probably not have four or five huge drawing rooms in different colours – as she does.

 

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With the Archer/Neviles

Sunday 20th December 2020

Tomorrow the Shortest Day – then back up the other side.

Robert Nevil and Sebastian Archer have been staying since they demolished their bathroom. Sometimes we are Royalty, especially on first greeting each day. Curtseying is required. How exhausting it must be at Court – up from chair, then down to the ground, every time a Royalty looms, equal to any fitness regime. Robert Nevil expects a full plunge to the floor. In the afternoons Robert Nevil and I launch out. Then we are two maids of the Up Down type on their afternoon off, with a remarkable range of opinions on urban architecture. In between times we’re picking over our Landed Gentry forebears and their secrets – the suicides, the drunks, the unmarrieds. When alive nothing was mentioned but now their brushes with the law could not be more apparent from the lightest of Google-ing.

The Nevil/Archers are bitches for quizzes. I couldn’t believe it. They can solve the wall and get the missing letters and work out the sequences. So brainy. Sebastian Archer can do Maths and Science of course but Robert Nevil is a sharp little Emily too. All those hours staring at the credits after the film’s finished have paid off. He can probably remember who the Second Gaffer was on Taxi Driver. They love it. Fingers on the buzzers.

But strange ideas about food. The Nevil/Archers seem to think food should always be nice. Not my idea at all. When dining privately at home my objects are: economy and weight loss. We didn’t live through Two World Wars to waste food. I made a Re-boiled. That’s one of those Tuscan recipes for using up old bread which is really the core of Tuscan cooking. In the end I had to force it down them rather like those poor geese being fattened for foie gras. The next day we had Papa di Pomodoro which is the same thing but without the cabbage. They didn’t think much of the Chouxfleur aux Yoghurt avec Olives Noir either – even though I sprinkled za’tar over to give it lift.

Sebastian Archer stuck back by returning from Neal’s Yard shop with £500 worth of cheese.

Another day we had lemon sole which cost £40. One piece was left over and almost not eaten. That would have been £10 wasted.

The other thing is the chocolate for which they are fiends. Bars in odd places all over the house, in case of sudden need. I never have choc except for visitors or if things get really bad, like one little bar with coffee in the drawing room after lunch. But they had 40 or 50 slabs on the go all at once. Luckily their choice is mostly from Planet Organic – Lemon Grass and Kelp, Sea Thorn and Henbane, Kale and Raspberry…. Doesn’t anyone ever like to say it – this stuff is inedible. In fact, worse. I took a tiny tablet one day and was flung across the room with the vileness. Poison. Any more would have been fatal. How one longed for a Lindt Full Milk Cream.

Such talks though. Sebastian v. pandemic different. Superb. Now they’re gone I’m bereft. But I’m getting a technology upgrade. Sebastian has bought me a new TV and I’m to have a thing called a Sound Bar which will beam all over the house and mean I can get rid of all other devices and their beastly wires. I’ve only just caught up with CDs and Digital Radio but that’s totally gone out now.

The only thing is no Sound Bars to be had for the moment because of the blockade. I hope I live to get one.

 

 

 

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I Forgot to Say

Wednesday 16th December 2020

I forgot to say… I do mind. Some are saying ‘It’s only temporary. Normality will be restored one day. We can read our books meantime and live a pleasant quiet life.’ But I am shocked, devastated in fact. Who knew just how easily society could be destroyed. It’s terrible thing, even if only temporary. At first we thought it was the economy. That was bad enough. But in March there appeared to be no choice. There was general support. Now we know it’s worse. Thinking not allowed. If you think, you’re a crazed right-wing libertarian or just selfish, or tiresome. Change the subject as quickly as poss. Gas-lighting. Even those known previously for thinking, most notably the Remainers, have collapsed into a heap of fear and orthodoxy. I thought the whole point of Remainers was that they were glorious for facts and reason, trying to stem the cascade of ignorance and barbarism. That’s what I thought while being one, as I still am. But now, Remain and the Left – it’s just bark, bark, terrible dread, useless Gov (they are useless, but not in the way imagined), why aren’t there more restrictions? Not enough being done. Lock up. Lock down. Lock, lock, lock.

What on earth’s the matter with them? What about the Poor? I thought they were supposed to care. But the Government are supposed to pay for everything apparently. Just miserable politicking. Disgusting really.

So the whole edifice of intellectual challenge collapses immediately. Catastrophe. Re: the EU nobody said, ‘You’re not an economist. You haven’t got a PHD in the European Union. How dare you have an opinion?’ Quite the opposite. But now only ‘experts’ may speak. Our society is destroyed but we may not speak. Everybody must have noticed that only one brand of ‘expert’ has seized the airwaves. But that’s of no matter.

Is this worst than Brexit? For the time being, yes, it is. Everybody should be asking questions.

 

 

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