Archive for July, 2013

She’s leaving home

Except she’s going with her Dad, not a man from the motor trade. And she’s not really leaving home, she’s going home. But she’s leaving me. It feels like the end of an era. In dedication to my friend‘s time in the spare bedroom, I have put together a compilation of the best moments of her stay.

1. Wednesday evenings in front of the TV watching The Apprentice and marveling at the stupidity.

2. Tuesday evenings at the pub quiz, which we got steadily worse at the more we went.

3. Baking biscuits with Smarties in for the schoolchildren Naomi taught.

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4. The time we watched Ru Paul’s Drag Race All Stars and persuaded Danda to watch the Lip Sync For Your Lives bit at the end and, despite himself, he got into it a bit.

5. The time we went out dancing to a swanky club in London town and they put on Breathe by Sean Paul and Blu Cantrell and we went crazy for it. It was less good when I asked the DJ for a bit of Beyonce and he put on some unknown song off an album or something when he totally should have played Irreplaceable or Single Ladies.

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6. Getting home from work and Naomi telling me she’d woken up about two hours ago.

7. Watching First Dates and loving it. O the awkwardness, o the embarrassingly awful attempts at conversation with a complete stranger, o the hilarity.

8. Reminiscing about our travels in Asia.

9. Making marshmallows and banana cake to celebrate my new job and then eating loads of the un-set marshmallow mixture and feeling too full by the time the marshmallows where actually ready to eat.

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10. Planning how we will make our millions. Because we will make them. We just have to figure out how. At one point, we decided we would write a childrens’ book and get rich and famous like JK Rowling. We still need to finish that story.

Treehouses, pirate ships and flamenco dresses

After a bit of a rollercoaster week, I spent yesterday with some friends and their children. Children are the perfect antidote to sadness. Especially these ones.

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We went to a National Trust property called Anglesey Abbey and walked around the extensive grounds.

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At the end of this path we found….

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A treehouse!

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Molly playing hide and seek on the top floor of the treehouse.

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Top floor!

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Up in the trees 🙂

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Further along the path, we found a pirate ship and everyone got straight to dressing up!

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Danda and Molly in pirate gear… Ella in a doctor’s jacket and a blue sparkly skirt….. Not your normal pirate outfit but who am I to criticise?

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She was the ship’s cook, apparently.

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The Abbey from afar.

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Just because we got home, doesn’t mean dressing up time has finished. Out comes the flamenco dress and little Molly starts busting out the moves.

Treehouses, pirate ships and flamenco dresses. Just an average day with the children.

Diary of my first week in my new job

On Monday, I started a new job as a chef (!) and was very excited. I got given a chef’s jacket and a black apron and I tucked a towel into the apron straps (like a proper chef) and got started.

Day 1 – Go, go, go! There’s croissants to bake, thereafter vegetables to grill, there’s a side of beef to roast. There was so much to remember, so much to do. I got my head down and did what I was told. I knew I was slow. New people always are. But I knew how to work hard and I knew how to be keen. So I did both of those. My back struggled with the crouching and bending and lifting etc and I felt a little like an old woman. But it was good. I was learning.

Day 2 – More croissants, more vegetables, more salad leaves, more confusion. I chopped tomatoes until I thought there must be no more tomatoes left in the entire world.

Day 3 – The obvious tension between one staff member and the manager became difficult to stay out of. I was asked for an opinion on matters in which they opposed each other. I smiled innocently, put my head down and sliced onions.

Day 4 – This was happening. So I wasn’t in a great place. The staff member who spends her time being shouted at by the manager came in and told us there had been a bereavement in her family the day before. The manager let her go home. He made a comment that nothing had been done to get ready for the day. I got a bit crazy and was like, “What do you mean?! I’m working really hard here!” There was chat. The air was cleared. I explained that I wasn’t feeling that great.

Day 5 – Better. Much better. I understood him better. He was sympathetic to what had happened. I was still slow but I was learning and I was able to just get my head down and get on. Then I left work at 3pm. And at 4pm, I got a call offering me an amazing job and can I start on Monday please? I said yes and hung up then called my other new job and quit.

And that was my week in the kitchen. I’ll say more about the new job later, suffice to say, it involves baking in a really old house.

Texas

I wrote this last month, on June 21st. The last time I saw Vaughn Ross.

In Texas, I have become a woman with too much time on my hands. And in Texas, he has become a man with not enough time on his hands.

Texas. The lone star state.

Don’t mess with Texas.

I’d like to. I’d like to mess with Texas. I’d like to tell Texas to ease up.

Today, I spoke to him for four hours. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I seem to be fine without. The kind taxi driver, Carl, told me about a restaurant his manager owns. He ate there today. Potatoes, cabbage and chicken. He doesn’t like the taste of chicken when it’s just been killed. It tastes different, he says.

And the man. The man who lives down the road. I wonder what he’s doing now, while I sit in silence, writing and sipping water.

I went for a walk earlier. Texas confuses me. Such beauty. Such massive, expansive skies. Such greenery and space. Yet so distasteful. There is a bitterness to this whole state.

Why did he come here? Why did he accept the offer at the school here? Of all places?

“We should have left it with Mexico,” says one friend. “It’s a wasteland.”

This place makes me sad.

In a month, if the state has it’s way, my friend’s time will have run out and I will never come back here.

Never.

I spilt a bottle of water all over the letters I was writing him. I have written eight today. I had to go to the shop to buy more cards.

There are funny clicks and squeaks from the machines and furniture. I didn’t need this big room. I didn’t need two double beds.

“Thank you for coming,” he said.

“I had to,” I replied.

“You had to,” he repeated.

I had to.

When I cried, he told me not to make my beautiful blue eyes go red.

He calls me a blueberry muffin. I look away, unsure what to do. I feel I’m probably blushing.

Blushing? In prison? With a convicted killer? Laughing and blushing and looking away?

They make him strip when he has visits. He doesnt mind it now. He’s used to it.

They listen in on his phone calls. It’s on speakerphone. So he doesn’t make phone calls anymore.

I did a lot of pacing while I waited for him. Pacing helps.

I have a nice life in England. No-one else decides my breakfast time or when I can have a shower. I can go outside whenever I wish.

When I start bemoaning my misfortunes? I don’t have any.

He calls me intelligent and eloquent. I am flattered but I let the conversation run on without acknowledging it.

I keep the curtains open. I want to see the world and I want the world to see me.

I’ve been looking out of the window since the sun set, one and a half hours ago.

Tomorrow afternoon, I will ride away from Livingston on a Greyhound bus. And he will stay.

This morning, at 00.46, I read online that his execution had been carried out.

Today.

Today, the state of Texas want to kill a man called Vaughn Ross.

Vaughn has meant a lot to me.

I hope he is still alive tomorrow.

Day Trip 1

Good morning all! It’s time for Rambler5319 to give us a guest post about his recent holiday. Enjoy!

 

Over the next few weeks I’ll be describing some days out on my holiday a couple of weeks ago.

Today is that day we all look forward to – the first day of our holiday, the journey and hopefully arrival unless it’s a long long way. We’ve been looking forward to it for quite a while and for some it may even have been a whole year since the last one. It’s very exciting but also very stressful. Have we packed everything? Have we got the tickets & passports if we’re flying? If we’re driving, have we checked the car over the night before: fuel, oil, water, windscreen water level (remember it’s illegal to drive with the bottle empty!), brakes, all indicators & lights working, extra air in the tyres for a fully loaded vehicle etc. I actually think it’s a good idea to have a check list for stuff to take. Mine has built up over a number of years and the written version is now a spreadsheet. Occasionally an item gets added as I find there’s something that would be useful. (Previous years have seen me forget things like an alarm clock although nowadays a mobile phone will do, a torch, food containers for sandwiches for days out, bread, some tinned food & vegetables so you don’t have to run to the shops on the first day you arrive at your self-catering place and so on. Of course if you’re flying your list will be very different. Have you got a “holiday list”?

So once the list is checked off I get into the car and go. Suddenly the familiar roads which normally are the ones I travel to work take on a different feel because I’m NOT working and I won’t be coming back along them to go home after a day’s work. No, today they’re different because they’re taking me far away on my holiday!

This year my first stop was 130 miles away for 2 nights in Southwell (Notts). I have friends there and we catch up a bit on what’s been happening over the year: what the kids have been doing, what we’re doing and planning to do etc. The following day, as they were working, I visited Newark, a short drive away. It’s a town with a very long history.

Newark was established in the early 900s AD by King Edward “the Elder”. Remember the king numbering system we know today (Edward I, Edward II, Edward III and so on) didn’t start until after the Norman Conquest so kings were given other adjectival names to distinguish them from those with the same name; another Edward at a slightly later time was called Edward “the Martyr” (half brother of Aethelred “the Unready” who was murdered at Corfe Castle in 978 AD. For those of you who enjoy trivia connections remember Corfe Castle was the inspiration for Kirrin Castle in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books). Anyway Edward “the Elder” was a son of King Alfred the Great and Queen Ealhswith (of Mercia). He had battles with the Danes from Northumbria and East Anglia. Owing to its geographical significance being at the junction of the Great North Road (A1), the Fosse Way (runs NE from Exeter up to Lincoln) and the River Trent Newark became an important place to build defensive fortifications and then erect a castle. Originally built as an earthwork construction of a motte and bailey type it was replaced in stone by Bishop Alexander (the Magnificent, apparently). It took 10 years to build and was completed in 1133.

In Oct 1216 King John (of Magna Carta fame) arrived at Newark Castle but just 2/3 days later he died. A year prior to his death he had been challenged by the barons: men who held land in exchange for providing soldiers to the king and who had to attend the feudal court a kind of early form of parliament. (A nearby barony to me is that of Chester; the first recorded holder – in 1070AD – was a guy called Gherbod the Fleming who it is believed got it as a gift for fighting in the victorious army of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.) The barons wanted certain guarantees and a limiting of the king’s power and this was set down in writing in the document we know today as the Magna Carta. King John is portrayed as a bad king in the Robin Hood stories where Robin – a supporter of Richard the Lionheart (John’s brother) – was usually found holed up in nearby Sherwood Forest with his band of “Merry Men”. (Curiously after Richard’s death, parts of his body were buried at 3 different places in France: his heart in Rouen, his brain in Poitou, his body in Fontvrault and nothing in England!)

Pictures of Newark Castle give the impression of a fully-fledged building but behind the 3 main exterior walls little remains of the original building itself. image

Note the section of repaired wall in this next pic. Apparently at various times in its history, if it was left unprotected, stone robbers would come in and steal the actual blocks which had been used to build the castle walls.image

Then a view over the castle walls looking along the River Trent back towards the locks.image

Here’s one posted by someone on Flickr looking from the locks back towards the castle.

Note the lock keeper’s “cottage” is a nice modern two storey brick building. I left the castle and crossed the river by that “cottage”. I carried on along the path to where there was a boat repair yard. Here’s the sign on the gate.

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Then I passed the Trent Navigation Wharf Warehouse

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Next was where I turned left back over the river but this narrow stone bridge, in the next pic, carried on to the SE. There is a weir to the right of the pic with the usual warning sign that if you decide to go over it in a canoe (or anything else) the waterways authority will not be responsible for any injuries incurred. Of course, I threw away the piece of driftwood I’d been hoping to use as a surfboard down the near 90 deg slope!

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Back along the road towards the town centre and over what looks like originally was a passage way between houses is this sign saying Cottam’s Yard.

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Originally it would have led to a yard in which a number of dwellings would have been found. Often places like these would become slum areas owing to them generally housing the poorest classes of society. Check out this old map of the area at

http://www.jimella.me.uk/mllgt01.gif.

Towards the top right you can see Simnitt’s Yard which was renamed as Cottam’s Yard. Look at the number of dwellings opening into the alleyway: I count 10 plus the two facing out on the main street! (The next yard down – Taylor’s Yard – is not quite so cramped with only two buildings along one side.)

I continued along the road and decided to draw some money out at the bank. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my card wallet and flicked through the pockets to where I always keep the bank card. It was at this point I had one of those panic moments – the plastic pocket which should have contained my bank card was EMPTY!! I hunted in both my trouser pockets. I rummaged through once, twice, three times but it was not there. I emptied the rucksack and repacked it TWICE! Nothing. At this point I reached for the wall to stop myself falling over in shock. Oh no! First day of my holiday and the card was gone. (Unless you’ve ever lost a card and had all the hassle associated with it I don’t expect you know how this sort of thing feels. Worse by far is of course losing the whole wallet or purse with ALL the different cards in. It’s a feeling you can definitely do without!) Had I been robbed? Had I put the bag down somewhere? No, I was sure it had been with me the whole time. Where had it gone? How could it possibly be lost? I’m always so careful. I have a routine: after each use it goes back into the wallet pocket, the same pocket every time. Ok, so sharp intake of breath. I have to get back to where I’m staying to see if somehow it’s there and if not get onto the phone to cancel it ASAP. The rest of my leisurely afternoon wander around Newark is now cancelled. I hot foot it back to the car. I reach the car park where I’ve used less than 2 hours of my all day ticket. Newark made money out of me that day! All the way back I’m reliving the previous 24 hours trying to think of everything I’ve done. Suddenly I remember that on the journey down I had stopped at a motorway service area and used the card to buy some stuff. I will ring them to see if it’s been handed in. However, I think I remember putting it in my pocket after buying the stuff and yet it’s not there now. I’m thinking perhaps I dropped it when I’d been putting into my pocket. You wouldn’t hear a plastic card drop with all the noise in places like that. Mind still racing I charge upstairs to my room. My overnight bag was searched. Nothing. As I was about to pick up the phone I saw my Youth Hostel card by the side of the bed. Now this is not just a plastic card on its own – it is held on the back page of a small cardboard covered booklet with a few paper pages inside on which you can collect the rubber stamps issued by each hostel when you stay overnight. It is just slightly larger than a plastic card. For some unknown reason I picked it up and out fell my bank card! Yippee! – heart rate slowed. Of course I remembered that I’d put it in my pocket to go away with in case I needed to use a hostel at any time. When I’d made my purchases at the service station I had indeed put the bank card back in my pocket but it had slipped right between the pages of my little YHA booklet and stuck there. Before going out to Newark I’d thought – no need to take the YHA card with me as I’m back here for tonight. I’d placed it carefully on the bedside table and driven off. Day 1 of the holiday was over – and what a drama filled one at that. I could do without any more scares like that.  

Things I learned in the kitchen

Yesterday was my first day of my new job. I learned a lot and I thought any aspiring chefs among you might appreciate my highly informative musings.

1. My fingers are definitely no match for a razor sharp knife.

2. When slicing the edges of your fingers with a razor sharp knife, there is no time to actually feel what has happened. You just notice the blood starting to rise and strap it down tightly under a plaster and keep going.

3. You will find these cuts when making dinner later and squeezing some lemon over your rainbow trout. You will also find a whole network of other cuts that you hadn’t realised were there. Plus the egg shell cuts from a few days before.

4. Crouching over a chopping board all day gives you a bad back so you’ll enter feeling a 28 year old and leave feeling like a 70 year old.

5. An hour of yoga will help but it won’t quite get on top of it.

6. It is hot in the kitchen. It is even hotter leaving your shift and walking into the mid afternoon sun while still in black jeans.

7. You can never quite chop/slice/dice fast enough. Not quite.

8. There is always something to do in a kitchen. Something to roast, something to put in a bowl, something to put back in the fridge, something to wash.

9. Not doing any washing up is a revelation. Kitchen porters rock my world! I must remember to be very nice to him. My hands are grateful for not having to wash up but they are yet to enjoy being sliced.

10. Working out when to use initiative and do it yourself and when to ask for guidance is a balancing act. I’m not sure I’ve worked out when to do which yet.

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(Don’t worry, I don’t go to work with no shoes on!)

The time I went on a French exchange

I was about 14 years old, I think. No, younger. I guess 12 or 13. I signed up to go on the French exchange trip at school. Goodness knows why. I wasn’t any good at French. I was in the third set of five in my year so I was by no means a high flyer. Anyway, I think it was partly because a friend, Sarah, said she was going on it so maybe I thought it’d be way fun.

The girl I stayed with (maybe her name was Collete or Marie or something, I don’t know) lived on a little farm thing and they didn’t lock their doors or worry about leaving the car running. It baffled me. Collete/Marie must have thought us dirt-poor when she came to stay in England and was given a small room in my Mum’s flat.

There was a lamp thing in the room I was given at Collete/Marie’s house which you touched and it turned on or off. This was the highlight of my French exchange.

As I was at a girls’ school, we combined the trip with the local boys’ school and we all went on a coach together with a few of the teachers. God, they must have had an awful time with us pre-teens, all giggling and working out which boys we fancied the most.

There was one boy on the trip called Stephen Fanning. I think that was his name. Anyway, we all teased him. I forget why. He must have shown a weakness that we, predictably, jumped upon. He was getting on quite well with one of the French students on the exchange and so we teased him about that too.

On the coach ride home, he finally flipped. Like, absolutely… flipped. And he said something along the lines of, “Well, I don’t care what you all think because I’ve got a girlfriend in France and we love each other!”

Well! Readers! I don’t even need to tell you how that story ended! Needless to say, the teasing increased. By 500% percent.

Another thing I remember was a guy called Seb telling me he’d been given coffee in a bowl by the family he was staying with. I spent the rest of the trip praying I wouldn’t be handed coffee in a bowl by anyone.

We also went to a little theme park. They had a pirate ship ride and as the place was empty, we kept shouting, “Encore!” once the ride had finished. We stayed on there for 11 cycles of the ride. When we got off, a girl called Danielle vomited next to a bin. Next to. Not in. Next to.

I didn’t really learn any French. Collete/Marie had good enough English that she translated for me. I did, however, learn the French version of the Macarena dance and develop a crush on a boy called Graeme who I saw five years later walking down the street and his jaw was all square-y. Had it always been square-y?

My day at Ham House in numbers

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Number of gooseberries destalked and bagged up for freezing – 200
Number of redcurrants washed and bagged for freezing – approx. 5 billion
Amount of time I spent washing redcurrants – 2.5 hours
Number of raspberries washed and put in a pot to make ice tea with – 100
Number of roast peppers successfully peeled – 4
Numbers of peppers ravaged in a mad rage as I failed to get the skins off – 8
Number of prawn and marie rose sandwiches made – 16
Number of glasses of water I drank – 6
Numbers of eggs shelled and mashed for making egg mayo – 31
Number of cuts on thumb from sharp bits of egg shell – 14
Number of croutons made from the ends of the loaves – 80
Number of rocket leaves from the kitchen garden washed and dried – 50
Number of times I sat down – 0
Number of times I was asked if I wanted a break but I refused because I wanted to finish the redcurrants – 500
Amount of time it took me to scoff a leftover slice of coffee and walnut cake in my face at the end of the day – 4 seconds
Temperature of body after the walk home – 100million degrees
Temperature of shower I had when I got in – below freezing
Amount of time it took me to fall asleep on the sofa while watching TV – 10 seconds

An open letter to the Rich And Famous

To The Rich And Famous,

This letter has been prompted by Jessie J’s song, ‘Wild.’ I heard it at the Chime For Change concert for the first time and I thought, “You know what Jessie J? Shut up. Just shut up.”

And why, all you Rich And Famous, would I think this? Well, forgive me for overreacting in this post-recession climate, but if I’m going to scrape together the £10 or so that it costs to buy your album or single or whatever (and rest assured, I’m not, but if I was) and I know I’ve splurged a bit and there’s a little bit of residual guilt lingering in my mind about the fact that I should have paid that off my overdraft/credit card/loan and then I get home and I put it on and I sit back and I get ready to listen to you, Jessie J, and enjoy the music…. And then you go, “I just can’t believe that this is my life… It feels so crazy when you scream my name…”

Translation: You all love me and now I’ve got an amazing life.

O, you’re welcome Jessie. You’re very very welcome. It’s nice to know that you’re having a nice time from all the pennies I scraped together to get your album. I guess I’ll just go back to my menial task job again in a few hours and try and earn some more money so I can buy even more of your records and listen to you tell me about how fab everything is for you.

Isn’t it just wonderful to be you? Wonderful. Thanks for reminding me.

And you, Fergie. You’re not much better. Glamorous?! What was that about? What a fucking insult. You wear “them gold and diamond rings” but you still go to “Taco Bell.” What a comfort to me. I’m glad you reminded me of that. You know where I go? The kitchen. My own fucking kitchen. Because if I ate out every night I’d be broke.

Imagine that, Fergie! Being broke! O wait, you can’t. Cause you’re so fucking loaded… And real. We mustn’t forget that! O god, you’re so real “no matter how many records you sell.” Well, thank god for that.

And, you remind us, before you were “flyin’ first class,” you just had “a Mustang.” That must’ve been tough, Fergie. I can’t even imagine how you’ve suffered, just having a Mustang. You must’ve been so fucking poor.

Guess what I have, Fergie? My feet. My own two little feet. And when I need to go somewhere, I use them. I’ve also got this way flashy thing called an Oyster card. You put money on it and you can go on public transport. You should totes get one…. O wait, excuse me, of course not. Public transport! For a Glamorous first class flying lady like you. Pffft! What am I thinking!?

But yeh, totally real. I totally dig your realness, Fergie.

And you over in the corner there, J.Lo. You have not escaped my rage. This song has stuck with me for years, way before I had worked out that you were talking utter tripe. Because you, “Jenny,” you are still “from the block.” And in my sadness or my money worries or the trivialities of my comparatively mundane life, paying rent etc, I have always found strength from the fact that you, Jenny, you understand me. You understand my worries and concerns, a bit like Jesus really. Because you are like me, J.Lo, and you, like Fergie, are “real” and you have stayed “grounded as the amounts roll in.”

I’m sorry? The “amounts roll in”? So you’re loaded? Fuck off. Just be rich and stop going on about it.

I’m glad you’re loaded. I’m glad your shoes are worth more than I earn in a year. I’m glad you have a diamond encrusted mobile phone cover. That’s all fab and great. And I like to see pictures of beautiful people singing or acting well. That’s nice. It keeps me entertained. It gives me ideas for my next hairdo. I don’t need to know so much about your private life, to be honest. A bit of glamour and mystery is a good thing, I feel. But to show I like you’re acting/singing etc, I may part with money to experience it. Not often. But sometimes. Maybe.

But, for fuck’s sake, do me a favour and don’t sing at me about how fucking rich you are and how amazing your life is. And how my pennies spent on a record have helped you buy yourself a million billion pound mansion castle thing.

Just. Don’t.

I don’t need to hear that nonsense. Just sing your songs about love and make them sound nice. That’s all I’m asking of you.

And now, Rich And Famous, I shall leave you with a version of J.Lo’s big hit, adapted by my friend Cilla, when we were 17 years old.

“Don’t be fooled by the rocks I haven’t got,
I’m still, I’m still, Cilla from the block.
Used to have a little, still only have a little,
No matter where I go, I’m still where I came from,
Don’t be fooled by the rocks I haven’t got,
I’m still, I’m still Cilla from the block.”

Let that be food for thought, all you Rich And Famous.

Sincerely, Laura (from the block)