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Mabel and B.P.


Monday, June 4th

Dearest Tommie

Whit Monday and I am so wondering if you have got it fine. I do hope you will have a jolly tournament and that you will win, or if not you, Maude King. I thought of you a lot on Saturday and wondered if Kate was doing the tea. It was a jolly match, Whitgift Wanderers, nicer than next Saturday. How I would love to have just one Sat in the field.

Thank you very much for the paper. We thoroughly appreciate the Standard with the account of the ‘Powerful’ men. It is so nice to see a paper with real news and not just tiny telegrams. George pored over the war news although it was stale. Mind you, send us papers when Bob and B.P. etc come home with all the accounts of their reception because it will be all condensed into one paragraph here and there is sure to be such shoals of it really. Isn’t B.P.* sweet? Kate sent us such a jolly photo of him in a big hat. We have got four of them framed together. B.P., Buller, French and MacDonald.

By the way what does Columbine do for a living? Because Mr Van Dort told me last night that when she came over here a little while ago she quarrelled with her pater and now she is entirely on her own account; he does not allow her anything. Fancy, Mr Van Dort was at school in England for ten years, from 7 to 17, and his mother never saw him once all the time. He said he had to be introduced to her when he came back; he had entirely forgotten her. Doesn’t it seem awful?

So you want to know how we get our provisions? We have to look well forward. All our groceries and drinks we get from Cargills, a big shop in Colombo. They come up by boat so we have to order them quite a week before we want them, more if possible. Meat comes from Chilaw which is ten miles off. It comes over in the coach in the morning to Madampe and a cooly has to go and fetch it. We have 4 lbs twice a week. I wish I could tell you what the joints are, but I can’t. The boy always says it is sirloin and I take his word for it. It is as much like that as anything else. It is a lump of meat and bone rather like the joints you see down Surrey Street which the customers feel well before they buy. It doesn’t taste bad when it is hot but I never touch it cold. There is very little fat but that is yellow and it is sort of wobbly and I think of cold beef at home. I do sometimes long for lovely cold beef and cucumber or lettuce, that is a thing you never get here, at least not in the low country.

Chicken, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruit, the boy gets in Madampe. Fresh milk he gets from there too now; at one time we only had tinned. He is so clever, he skims the cream off and makes butter by shaking it about in a bottle. Quite nice and firm it is too. I like it but George does not care for it because it has a sort of cream cheesy flavour, so he has tinned from Colombo. We don’t get nice bread at all. It is made from very inferior flour and has sometimes a very sour taste and a sort of grubby tinge which is not inviting. I don’t think it would do to see it made. Oh, one can’t be dainty in the country!

George and I were sitting in the lower verandah yesterday morning when suddenly the dog began barking tremendously at something through the railings down the bank. When we went to look we found it was an enormous lizard called an ‘iguana’. It was about 3 foot long. The little dog went for it and it climbed up a tree to the very top, but presently came down and went along the bank, the dog in pursuit, barking tremendously but keeping a safe distance. If it got too close the thing tried to lash at him with its tail. Finally it went in the canal and swam across to the other side. It is quite harmless and lives on ants. It had a curious long tongue just like an anteater.

I have just been getting out all my garments and hanging them on a horse to air in the sun. They are quite all right, I am thankful to say and not at all crumply, only the chiffon frills on the satin bodice have rather a sat upon look but I could easily put something fresh on it if i wanted to wear it much. We are pinning our hopes on being able to go into Colombo in August for the race week. There are lots of things going on then, football, hockey and cricket matches, a water fete, I believe, and all sorts of jinks. I should be able to sport my finery then with great éclat. I only hope things will be right at the mill so that we shall be able to go, but there seems to have been such a lot of worries recently, nothing but grumbles from headquarters, everything that is done seems to be wrong, and of course George gets most blame as he is most responsible. It is as bad as hops. The stuff is over dried or under dried, or not washed properly or something. But don’t say anything about it in your letters as George will never own that he is worried much and I always try to distract his thoughts while he is with me as he is inclined to dwell on things rather. He has just brought up a pineapple “out of our own garden”. We have got some along the bank. You just stick in the head with the bit you don’t eat, that throws out shoots at the side which come to pineapples.

It is still very hot and fine, heavy clouds at times but they don’t come to anything. I am beginning to think monsoons are frauds. We are both very well though.

Love and kisses to everybody


Pause for Thought 2 (Radio Devon early show)- ‘Why I Write’.


The words of Simon Kettlewell

Originally posted on Simon Kettlewell Author:


Why I write.

If I could have an artistic wish, it would be to be musical. I love music from punk through to many of today’s acts, but I’m about as melodious as a group of howling cats. The thing about music, is that it’s instant. When you write a novel it takes so long that sometimes you forget what it was you were writing about in the first place. After that you have to wait for people to tell you what they think. That’s a tough one if you wait for a year to hear it’s rubbish. It’s different for music. You can share music right away, and feel the impact it has on an audience. But I guess art is art. Whether you’re Banksy, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, or Ernest Hemmingway, or a child doing a painting, or even me slogging at a laptop, it’s still art. It’s…

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Anyone for Croquet?


Monday 28th May 1900

Dearest Tommie

Thank you ever so much for the A.C.C.* book. Now I shall be able to think of you on match days and wish I were playing with you. I hope you will be put with Maude, as I always think you get on so well together and she is so nice and safe. I suppose the two Mrs. are to the fore again. Is Ronald still keen on Muriel? I expect that is too much to expect after six months. Who is the latest? By the way, does that sweet youth do anything for his living yet or is he still in the band of loafers. I am so wondering how you got on against Croydon on Wednesday. How I do wish you could have licked them. Write and tell me all about the tournament, won’t you? Who are you going to play with in the Ladies Doubles? I hope Bessie will be nice and keen. Give her my love and tell her she is to buck up.

We have not got the monsoon yet. I’m beginning to think it is afraid and won’t come at all. It has broken in the outer places, so I suppose it must come in time. Last night it was dreadfully close, not an atom of wind. We could not get to sleep for ever so long. In fact I got up and promenaded about the verandah to try and get cool. There is more breeze this morning so it is not quite so oppressive. There are a good many clouds about, but I am afraid they are not rain clouds, so don’t feel very hopeful. Howsomeever I’m quite well, so I suppose I ought not to grumble.

We are having our bathroom attuned, the roof raised, and the room made longer, and also have invested in a new bath. We could not stand the other one any longer. Have I ever told you about it? It was a fixed one made of cement, very long and very narrow, with quite straight sides and a sort of dirty grey colour. George put me off it the very first time by saying it was like a coffin, and so it was. You felt when you were in it as if there ought to be a lid to go on top of you. And the worst of it was that we could never have more than about two inches of water in it as it took pailsful to cover the bottom. Now we have had that broken away and have got an ordinary zinc one, a huge oval tub. Of course we can’t lie down in it but we can have plenty of water and it is quite big enough for comfort and is altogether a great improvement. I could never feel that the other thing was clean somehow.

I am happy I’ve got a cat! It is a sweet little thing, mouse grey, with white front paws. Mr Van Dort sent it to me, his ‘boy’ caught it going after chickens. I don’t expect it has any home, but just lived on what it could pick up. I only had it on Thursday and it was very frightened at first, but has got quite at home now. I think it finds it very blissful having regular food. It was dreadfully thin, just like taking hold of a fish bone, as Jo would say, but it is already much fatter and George makes rude remarks about the tightness of its little tummy. It is too lovely to see it with the dog, we simply split over them. The cat is not a scrap frightened and rubs itself against Gretchen and plays with her tail in the most friendly way. Gretchen’s eyes nearly come out of her head, trying to look at us and the cat at the same time and the resigned expression she puts on is delicious. Cats in Ceylon are aways small and generally thin and leggy but George says this one is as good as any he has seen.

I am very sorry to hear of Mr Parkin’s death, coming so suddenly it must have been a dreadful shock to them. I suppose Maud is in the seventh heaven by this time. I imagine Mrs Gillespy was at Croydon when he arrived, wasn’t she, or is she still at Horwich?

We went out in the launch on Saturday and we got such jolly grass, rather like Pampas only not quite so fluffy. It grows to a tremendous height along the banks of the lagoon, quite 20 ft, and it looks awfully pretty waving about. It is a sort of bamboo and has very thick stems. I have got some standing in the corner of the room, like we put our bulrushes, and it nearly reaches the ceiling.

We have been busy planting things in the flower bed. We haven’t got much to put in yet. George is going to write to Nuwara Eliya and ask what English flowers will grow here. There is a florist there who has things from England. We have a row of arrow root plants, they are rather pretty, a little like Indian corn, only variegated, quite big white patches on the leaves. They throw out a funny sort of root, which is the part you eat. Then we have a few rather sickly begonias the boy brought from Nuwara Eliya, and some ferns, and a few odd things we are not sure of.

I do hope your tea went off all right. I think it is rather mean of the Justicans to give up the Club and forsake you just when I had gone.

I haven’t got much to tell you this week. Your letters are always so brimful of news, mine seems tame after them.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody

from Mab.

*Addiscombe Croquet club

Dearest Tommie

May 21st 1900

Dearest Tommie

It rained hard and thundered on Saturday night and we thought the monsoon was on us but it cleared up again and has been fine and warm ever since. It must burst pretty soon, now that’s one comfort. George has had prickly heat so badly on his chest, back and arms. It is a very common thing to have out here, but annoying all the same. He got so frantically hot on our voyages to and from Negombo having to drive the engine himself. I say I shall never let him go out again without a proper man to do the work. He has been able to take things quietly this week though, and not get overheated as the mill has been shut down owing to there being no boxes for packing tea and there has been a dearth in the market for some reason or other. However a boat load is on its way from Colombo and will arrive tomorrow or the next day, so they will begin work again tomorrow. I shall be very glad to see the boat as it is bringing our library books and I have had nothing to read for the last three or four days and it was rather a nuisance yesterday. However, I shan’t let it occur again. I have kept some back this time which I shall send off as soon as I get this lot so shall always have some in stock while the others are being changed.

Kate sent me a Harmsworth’s last mail and the Lady and Maggie a Lady’s Pictorial so I ought not to grumble. I wish I did not read so fast but I get through a good deal being so much alone. I have not done much work lately beyond mending etc but directly it is cooler I am going to start off on some fancywork but somehow working by oneself gets rather lonesome after a time and I generally have a book handy and dip into it between whiles.



I have been most virtuous this week and have written five letters, to Miss Smith, Frank, Mrs G, Florence G. and yourself. Miss Smith has sent me her photograph. It is rather good but a little theatrical, evening dress and a large black hat with feathers.

I can’t write to Kate this week but I had a letter from her last mail telling me all about Mrs Barnes. I am most dreadfully sorry to hear it and I can’t get her out of my thoughts. Poor little woman, it does seem so sad, and all those children too. I should think Durell is very cut up, he is so devoted to his mother.

The boat arrived last night, sooner than expected and brought the books so I am happy. I have begun Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I have never read it. They are mostly ancient things, all the new ones are snapped up by the Colombo people.


I had such a jolly letter from Jo this week. She talked about Mary and Jack Coulthard having had the measles but being otherwise flourishing.

I never knew anything like the utter cheek of that little chit of a Mrs Harry Buckland. Why did she ask us to the wedding and send us an ‘At Home’ card if she did not want to know us. I should certainly be very haughty both to her and Harry. He might to have made her call. I can’t get over it, what an utter little snob she is. By the way, I suppose you have heard that the ‘noble knight’, Sir F. Saunders is going to enter the bonds of holy matrimony again. I’m sure I pity the victim. Dreadful old man. I wonder he has got the face to propose to anybody. I wonder if she has got money? There are a good many people lamenting his absence from Ceylon who would be very glad to see him back again but I expect he will be too wily ever to put his foot in here again. I wonder what the girls think of it? Perhaps she will be strict and keep them in order.

I have just had breakfast, fishcake, stewed beef, fricassee of chicken, toast and jam, and a mango to finish up with. And now I am happy and must sit quiet for a little while but it is 7 and a half hours to dinner time with my feeble tea in between so there is plenty of time for it to digest.

It is dark by 6.30 and we very often play cards before dinner. We are keen on Bezique at present but it would be rather nice to have something fresh. George is going to teach me chess sometime. We don’t know many games for two. There is Cribbage, of course, but we neither of us know Picquet or Ecarte.

I am so glad Mother looked better after her change. I thought she would although she stayed such a little while.

Love and kisses to everybody from Mab.

My Dearest Mother


Negombo Rest House
May 14th 1900

My dearest Mother

I expect you will wonder where on earth we are and what we were doing. I told you in my last letter that we were most probably going down to Colombo for the weekend to get money, but on Wednesday George had a letter to say they were sending someone over to us with it instead. Mr Marshall, the accountant, came – a very nice man indeed and easy to get on with. George went down in the launch to Negombo on Friday to meet him, that is halfway between us and Colombo. He came the first part by coach. Then yesterday (Sunday) we brought him back here in the launch and he went on to Colombo in a regular steamboat which goes backwards and forwards. We are staying here till tomorrow. We shall start away about 12 and get home between 5 and 6. We had to get up at 5.30 yesterday morning. Neither Mr Marshall nor I appreciated it. the water is rather low now so we did not get along as fast as usual and got stuck once or twice. It was very hot too so we were fairly tired out by the time we got here. I did not envy Mr Marshall having four more hours of it.

This is not a bad little place and has water nearly all round it, as the lake and the sea join here. The rest house is on the edge of the lake. I wish it were on the sea as it would be cooler. It was frightfully hot last night. Our room had only one window and as we could not very well have the door open, there was no draught through. George was so hot and sleepless that he got up and had a whiskey and soda which made him feel much better. I was too tired to notice it much and slept very well.

A rest house is a sort of inn which is under government. The man in charge is appointed and has certain regulations as to price etc. This is a fairly good one. The sanitary arrangements are rather unwholesome but they might be worse.

This afternoon we are going out in a catamaran. I must tell you my experience tomorrow. A catamaran is a boat cut out of a single cocoa nut trunk and is about a foot wide and then it has to have a huge out rigger made out of another log of wood to keep up the balance. You sit on a tiny narrow seat with your feet screwed into the trunk. The men paddle them along and they go at a tremendous pace. I can imagine your horror at the sight of one but they are very safe and, besides, the lake is quite shallow. I am very glad for George to have the days rest in between going and coming as Jeremiah is still ill so he has to drive the engine himself and it makes him dreadfully hot and tired.

Tuesday, 9.00 am.

We got home from our sail safely last night although we got drenched as it came on to pour when we were halfway home. It was very jolly though and a very novel experience. I was wrong about where you sit. I did not have to screw my legs inside the boat but we sat on a board put across the out rigger. We had a cushion on the board and rested our feet on the side of the boat. They put up a huge sail when we got into the wind and we simply spun along. It was lovely but I don’t think a nervous person would enjoy it much as you felt you were suspended on one frail board over the raging ocean.

We did get wet coming back. I was worse off than George as my sunshade dripped so much it was like a little torrent on my back. On my hips where the rain beat, I was wet to the skin. I had got another pair of combies, of course, but I unfortunately had not brought another skirt or petticoat as I only thought we were going to stay one night. I could not get my things dried as they don’t have any proper fires, only smoky wood things and my clothes would have got pitch black. I thought I should have to return to bed and have my diner there but George suddenly had a brilliant idea. I pinned my waterproof cape round me as a petticoat and wore my skirt above it and no wet could come through. I went to bed directly after dinner though as it was not exactly comfortable and George dosed me with hot whiskey and water in case I might have caught cold, but I am quite all right this morning.

The men were awfully funny on the boat. We could not understand a word they said as they spoke Tamil. One of them took off his skirt and put it round us to keep off the rain and then kept on jabbering away to me and laughing but as ‘lady’ was the only word I could understand I could only smile back at them.

We shall start off this morning about 12 o’clock. I hope it won’t be very hot, but the rain last night has cooled the air a little.

Tell Amy not to get excited if the moonstones drop out of her ring. They are so roughly made but what can you expect for 1 rupee, and besides moonstones always come out, George says, because they are so smooth and hard. I hope Tommie’s bruises soon got better after falling off the little bathroom steps. However much does she weigh? I always thought those steps were fairly solid.

I am afraid I have got used to seeing George walk about with his trousers inside his socks. He does it partly to prevent animals crawling up his legs and also because the sand gets so into the hems of his trousers. His moustache is quite a decent size now and he is secretly proud of it. I must say I don’t like it very much but then I never do like moustaches. But it was best to let him try as he wanted to and he will get sick of it himself presently and will shave it off again.

I am not writing to anybody this week but you as I have not had any time. The coach passed here yesterday with our mail in it; it was so tantalising not to be able to have it. I hope you will be able to read this, but I have been writing on the verandah in a long chair so it is rather difficult.

Lots of love and kisses to everybody

Your very loving daughter, Mab

Hope you got nice and fat while you were at Fairbank.

Dearest Tom


May 8th 1900

Dearest Tom

I have written to the three children, Kate and Maggie, so I don’t think I’ve done badly. I’m afraid Barbara’s letter will be rather late for her birthday but I thought last week would be too early.

We are very likely going down to Colombo on Friday for money and will stay till Monday, so will be able to go to church on Sunday. George wanted a man from the office to come up here this time as there are several things that he wants them to see for themselves at the mill but with Mr Maldock away it is difficult to spare anyone. I hope our engine driver Jeremiah will be able to come all right but at present he’s down with fever and looks a miserable object wrapped up in a big shawl. A good many natives have fever now it’s the rain coming after the heat and a good deal of mud gets washed into the canal. Makes it smell rather funny.

George and I are taking quinine every morning as a safeguard but sleeping upstairs is a sure preventive and if George had been going to have fever he would have had it before now, so should I. Chilan is a very feverish district but the Horekelly estate is the healthiest spot on it and as our house is on the highest point, we are really very fortunate.

George has got a new toy which pleases him very much. We have invested in a ‘Sparklet’ bottle to make our own sodas, lemonade, etc. It is a very simple affair and is a decided save to us as there are always several bottles broken on the way up on the boats. Now we only have to have the small boxes of charges for the bottle and the various powders. We have lemonade and ginger ale at present and they are both very good. You just put the powder in the bottle and fill it up with water, then you put the charge which looks like a tiny boat into the screw top, give it a twist round and the thing is done. The charge has carbonic acid in it which aerates the liquid. To make soda water you only want to fill the bottle with plain water, that makes the same as ordinary bought soda water that never has any real soda water in it. It is really a very useful thing as you can aerate anything you like. It would make milk much more digestible. Last night we did a bottle of claret. George has been pining to do it and it really made it very nice.

I had such an accident the other day, I nearly howled. I broke the top off my shamrock pin. Luckily there is a native jeweller in the village and he soon mended it. I was so glad to get it back again.

There are a disgusting number of frogs down by the canal and they come out when it rains. The other evening the tennis court was alive with them, great Bull frogs. There was one that was quite as big as a small rabbit. I made George chase it away and the height it leapt was quite awful, it made my flesh creep. The other night after it had been raining we went for a walk along the tow path but never again. I did not mind the many water snakes, although they are rather unpleasant but they tear away from you. But I did object to the frogs. There were hundreds and one great thing in trying to get away from George, leapt right at me and knocked me on the knee. I howled with fright and made for home like lightening.

Your Colombine bodice sounds very pretty and I expect that the silk will make a sweet blouse. I do hope your rheumatism has quite gone now, it seems to have regularly laid hold of you. I suppose you will be thinking of tennis soon.

I had a jolly letter from Frank the other day, he seems very happy. George has grown a moustache. It is quite big but I don’t like it and he looks much older. He longed to try so I had to give in. He wouldn’t let me tell until it had grown properly.

Loves and kisses to everybody

From Mab.

Last Post

Last Post.

Best Bits

It’s been a funny old year, 2014. Not particularly sorry to see the end of it as there have been stresses and strains. But there were some moments.

Best Book: Us by David Nicholls

Best Television Drama: Broadchurch


Best Television Comedy: Friday Night Dinner


Best Reality: Gogglebox


I didn’t see any decent films.

Most Inspiring Person: Malala Yousafzai


St Ives: Me and my mum


Glenda and Ben’s wedding:


The Exeter Novel Prize: Inaugural award ceremony


Trip to Israel (Silver Wedding treat):

Tackiest tourist trap – Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is supposed to be where Jesus was crucified and buried. What would Jesus think of the bling?


Most peaceful place and such a contrast to the latter was the Garden Tomb – much more authentic and real.


The Old City of Jerusalem where I felt I was treading in the footsteps of angels (whilst being squashed by tourists and pilgrims):


Olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (that were there when Jesus was):


Putting my hand where Jesus was supposed to have placed his, on his last painful journey, down the Via Dolorosa:


Most breathtaking View: Masada


Trip to Edinburgh:My favourite city


My books: Seeing The Generation Game get to number 16 in the Kindle chart:


And some exciting news to come…

My family. We said some goodbyes to dear relatives, Auntie Shirley and Uncle Lyman. But I discovered my great grandmother’s letters and I got to know Mabel through her writing to her mother and sister.


I got to see my Canadian cousin, Susan. She’s serving in Lithuania.

I got to see my brother in Wales. He’s now American but Welsh in his heart.

sophie lecture 007

Seeing my children celebrate their 19th, 18th and 16th birthdays:

sophie lecture 029

Actually, I’m exhausted reading through all this. Thank you to everyone who reads my blog. It is a bit of a jumbled mess but I love it.

Bring it on, 2015.

Sophie x

Six Things My Dad Taught Me

1. The importance of family. We owe our lives to those who went before us. To those who loved us and took care of us. This doesn’t always go well. But we have to learn and love and forgive.


2. It’s okay to be an observer. The one who dodges the camera. The one who operates in the background. As long as every now and again you let yourself shine with a one-liner, a roar of laughter, or a sparkle in your eye.


3. Always have a car with a big boot.

sophie lecture 008

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4. Always live near the sea.

sophie lecture

5. Never forget.

6. Never give up hope. I wish my dad had persevered with this game of life but I know however hard it gets, there is a light shining in the darkness.

Christmas 1977

Christmas 1977

Another Five Things about Teenagers

I have blogged before about my three lovely, wild, frustrating, up-and-down teenagers. In just a few months, the oldest will be twenty years old and hence no longer a teenager. He will still be at home briefly before travelling to Japan to learn the language and absorb the culture he has been mesmerised by throughout his teens. The next son will be off to Africa around the same time, a passion in his heart for that huge, complex continent, a worry for his parents as he makes his journey. The youngest, now sixteen, is in Year 11, GCSE madness all around, gobby, lippy, a young woman who stands up against injustice who can be a joy to have around or a minefield of emotions to pick our way through. I wouldn’t be a teenager again for all the tea in Waitrose. It’s the best of times and the worst of times and yet when they go, how I will miss the mess, the half-drunk coffee mugs, the slamming doors, the late-night taxi pick-ups, the heaps of washing, the nagging, the moaning …

Okay, so here are my five things:

1. Teenagers do need a lot of sleep, they really do. They have a different circadian rhythm to the rest of us and need those lie ins. If they need to sleep, let them. Just as it’s wrong to wake a sleeping baby, so it is wrong to wake a sleeping teen. On your head be it.

2. If they want a party at your house and they want you to go elsewhere for the evening (remember Abigail’s Party), then go. Take the dogs, the booze (they will bring their own whether you like it or not) and your iWotsits. Give the neighbours a heads-up and a curfew of eleven o’clock – which sounds fair, as long as it’s not a regular event. After all, you have to put up with the neighbourhood toddlers all summer, screaming in their paddling pools. What goes around comes around. Your teenagers were once toddlers. One day those neighbourhood toddlers will be teenagers. We all have to live together as as a community. (Our neighbours have been awesome.)

3. Praise them the same you would for any child. Show them they have talents and gifts and even when they feel crap about life, remind them of a funny incident from childhood.

4. Hug them, whether they like it or not. Even the grumpy boys.

5. Put a big map on your kitchen wall with stickers for the places you would love to visit. It gives you stuff to talk about at family meals. It shows them that their tiny, troubled life is a speck on the planet. Their worries are usually first world worries. Let them go to Japan and Africa or wherever, but yes, it will be really hard.

And I know I shouldn’t blog about my teenagers but they won’t read this. After all they haven’t read their mother’s novels. But maybe one day, when they are on their travels, they will turn to their mother’s words on the page, or remember their mother’s words to them over the years, the dos and the donts and the ILoveYous.

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PS. The Generation Game is still on Kindle at 99p for the next week. I need those sales for my teenagers food and loo roll consumption.

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