Friday, 27 March 2015

Teens.


There was a new television programme on this week about teenagers, called Teens, on Channel 4. Unfortunately I missed it but I did read Sam Wollaston's review of it in the Guardian, which said, and I quote:

"So what am I finding out about being 16 or 17 today? That although it might be expressed via different means and in different language, underneath it's pretty much the same as when I was that age. A nightmare basically, a time of catastrophic existential crisis, or worrying not just about who you are but also about who you're going to be. Also - most of all - about what you look like, and whether anybody likes you."

I read that bit out at the breakfast table.

"Only if you are a total loser," said Middle One, who is a teenager himself.

We will soon have three, teenagers that is. One son is about to be one, in a month or so, one has another year and a bit to run, and one is slap bang in the middle of it. So I reckon I know a bit about teenagers and I'd like to share my observations with you. In particular I'd like to share them with Sam Wollaston, although I know he's pretty unlikely to read this, but you never know.

First a caveat. I don't want to come over all smug because I know I might be tempting fate, especially with Youngest who is still adorable and the jury is still very much at the getting to know each other stage when it comes to what his teenage persona will be. So, caveat out of the way, here I go... 

I LOVE having teenagers, they are so much better than either children or fully-fledged adults. Why? Well, they are fairly low maintenance, they can pretty much feed and clothe themselves now, unlike children, who as I recall need a lot of input, or babies/toddlers, and again this is only as I recall it from way back, who require round the clock attention and are liable to cry or be sick or poo themselves at any moment. 

And you can talk to teenagers, they are interesting, and funny. A bit like friends, except that they are required to live with you all the time because they have no where else to go and no independent financial means, which is great because they are basically trapped here and I can talk to them whenever I like and get to know what's going on.

I would go so far as to say that teenagers, when they are on top form, are fantastic. Okay there are a few things I don't like about them: they are incapable of picking anything up off the floor of their bedrooms or hanging a wet towel on a towel rail; they can't get up in the morning at weekends and they leave crumbs and spillages all over the kitchen whenever they go in it, but mostly they are great and I recommend them. 

So here are a few of my observations for if you find yourself in charge of one in the near future.

1.) They like arguing about politics and/or contentious issues at the dinner table in loud voices.

2.) They like to bait siblings by saying loud things at the dinner table that are political/contentious.

3.) They love steak, either that or they are vegetarians. It's one or the other.

4.) They don't like country walks, or walking anywhere. 

5.) In fact they don't like going out of the house much at all unless it's with their friends.

6.) They hate going to have their hair cut and trying on shoes, or anything.

7.) They don't watch regular TV, only movies or American things on Netflicks or bands/musicians on YouTube, the more illegal the better.

8.) They don't use Facebook except to chat to people. Updating your status is 'for losers', apparently.

9.) They only buy things via the internet, not in actual shops, unless it's 'vinyl', which they buy to display in their bedrooms rather than to play, often because they don't have a record player.

10.) They would really like to have a record player.

11.) They think the 80s was a cool time and nothing you can say about it will make any difference.

12.) Don't talk to them before they eat breakfast. 

13.) They never wear matching socks, despite the fact that you buy them for them in pairs.

14.) Most of them play guitar, a lot, very loudly.

15.) Contrary to popular belief you CAN get them to do jobs around the house but only immediately before they want a lift somewhere because they have a heavy amp and they can't take it on the bus.

I should possibly add, for those of you who are not regular readers, that I am the mother of boys. I don't have any girls at all. Not wishing to sound disloyal to my sex or anything - I'm sure lots of them are lovely, although I know I wasn't - I am thankful for this fact every single day.

Love E x


Our three washing up, a while back 

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P.S. Sam Wollaston did kindly read this and sent me a message on Twitter yesterday to say that our teenagers sound lovely and if his kids turn out half as good he is looking forward to it. How lovely of him.


Friday, 20 March 2015

A grave matter.



Last week I went to a cemetery for a day out. No, I haven't completely lost my marbles, I went with some friends and it wasn't any old cemetery, it was Highgate Cemetery in north London.

You might think it a strange day trip for a group of middle-aged south London mums but we had been wanting to go for a while. Why? Because it's a famous place, because it's reportedly beautiful, and peaceful, and in a vaguely exotic location: NORTH London. And because there are famous people buried there, Karl Marx for one. I told the younger two boys in the morning, "I'm going to Highgate Cemetery today," I said.

"Why?" asked Youngest, so I reeled off a few of the reasons above and then added, "and because I like graves, I think graves are important, I wish there was a grave I could go to to pay my respects to my grandparents but because they were cremated and their ashes were scattered, there isn't."

"What!" said Youngest, spluttering his cornflakes out all over the breakfast table, "they were what?"

"Cremated."

"What the hell is cremated?"

Have you ever had to explain to a child that we burn the bodies of those we love and throw their ashes around afterwards? It sounded bad. He was horrified.

"And why do you want to visit Karl Marx's grave?" demanded Middle One, who is rather political nowadays.

"Because he's the father of Communism," I said, "an important historical figure, I suppose."

"He's responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocent people," he replied.

"How do you figure that out?"

"Stalin was a Marxist and so was Mao Tse-tung."

"I don't think you can say he's directly responsible," I countered, "I think you'll find that both those people somewhat adulterated his philosophy to suit their own ends."

Blimey. Who would have thought that a simple little trip to a peaceful north London cemetery could spark such tricky breakfast table conversations? And it didn't end there.

At Archway our little group took temporary refuge in a rather grotty cafe in order to recover from the epic trip along the Northern Line and gather strength to assail the rest of the windswept hill up to Highgate. Over not-very-good-coffee (have they not heard of Flat Whites in north London? Savages) we began discussing where we might all end up, when the time comes.

"The thing is," I said, "despite having lived in some lovely places: North Yorkshire, Vancouver, Norwich (don't laugh it's a beautiful city), I've actually lived in south London now for most of my life, so I guess I'll have to be buried there where I have raised a family, and be near my children."

My friends agreed it's a tricky one. One friend said she definitely doesn't want to be buried because what if she wasn't really dead and they buried her alive? (I think Edgar Allan Poe had the same idea.) Better than burned alive, I said. But you'd be dead, she said, so that wouldn't happen. Mmm. Strange logic, but I guess there's isn't much logic to any of it.

Another friend said she supposed it was logical to be buried near her parents house back home in the little churchyard where other family members are already laid to rest. It sounded lovely, and peaceful, but she also thought she'd want to be near her children.

This led to a discussion about the scattering of ashes and how ashes can be taken to multiple locations. Another friend said her husband's mother was "divided up" between his children and their step-mum, which sounds very progressive, and rather depressing.

On the plus side it felt quite liberating to be having such a conversation at all, living in an age which is, to say the least, not very comfortable with death.

Highgate Cemetery is really beautiful. I had no idea it would be so wooded. The gardener in me couldn't help but wonder how they mange to dig all those holes… And the spring flowers are out now, the trees are just coming into leaf, the place was very quiet, as you might expect for a graveyard on a chilly weekday morning. You might even say it was deathly quiet, except for the birds.

For me graveyards, headstones, graves themselves, all have a romantic appeal. It might be directly traceable back to my childhood visits to deserted Yorkshire churchyards, or you could lay the blame squarely at the feet of Emily Bronte (is there a graveyard in Wuthering Heights? There's certainly a ghost, and in my memory Heathcliff visits Cathy's grave).


A beautiful church graveyard we visited in north Yorkshire.

Last Autumn Youngest asked to visit a churchyard in the run up to Halloween, I think he wanted to feel spooked. And so I took him to a lovely old Victorian graveyard near where we live. I'd visited it myself researching a story I was writing in which one of the characters goes to visit his mother's grave for the first time.

Wondering around in the dusk with my youngest son by my side, I was struck again by the names. So many, just like their owners, are now long gone. We don't have Ethels or Wilfreds anymore. The graves I liked best were the old rather grand ones with crooked headstones and winged angels, where multiple family members are listed below...

So that's it, the rich, as with so many things in life, have death all sewn up. I bet Karl Marx would have something to say on the matter, if he wasn't dead, although people with enormous statues to their memory in Highgate Cemetery are possibly not in a position to throw stones.

The answer is to have a family plot then, or better still a mausoleum where you could all end up together. All I need now is a stately home or a castle where I can build one. In Tooting.

Love E x


Homage in Highgate.

P.S. It's my birthday tomorrow. I think that might be where all this death thing is coming from. I'll be back to a more cheerful topic next time.

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Friday, 13 March 2015

Mother.



My mother sent me an email in response to my last blog about having a friend for life. It said, and I quote:

"Actually, when your mother dies you realise that she was the person you had known the longest. She had been there all your life and suddenly isn't there for you any more. She was the person who had looked after you and always been there for you. That precious relationship that you took for granted has gone. And then you really do feel alone. You're by yourself now even if you have loving husband and family around you. That one person whom you've known from the moment of your birth, who has loved you all your life, is no more. It leaves a huge hole. It did for me anyway."

She's right of course. How silly of me. Your mother is, at least for most people, your friend for life, the one who will not forsake or turn away from you, no matter what. And what better time to be reminded of this than now, just before Mother's Day.


And now that I have children of my own I know what motherly love is and I see how it is returned, sometimes all with show and affection, sometimes with hardly any show at all, but still there nevertheless.

I am lucky that my children, the younger two especially, are not afraid to tell me and show me that they love me, and I know what my love back to them is for: providing a service. 

Here you are, it says, have this unconditional adoration from me with a cherry on top. Have my admiration and affection, my hugs and kisses, my ear to listen to you when you are moaning, my shoulder to cry on when you are upset, my broad back to carry your burdens as well as my own as best I can. Take anything and everything I have, very ounce of empathy and sympathy I can muster, every bit of strength and every morsel of time at my disposal, and on top of all that have this meal I have cooked for you and this pile of clean washing, and this snack I have brought up three flights of stairs, take it all and I will ask for nothing in return, except, of course, your love back to me, because I am your mother. 

And when I hold my youngest child in my arms as he lies in bed at night (which I still do) sometimes I think of all the children without mothers, those sleeping on city streets in India or Africa, those who have been abandoned or denied parents through death or disaster, and I imagine for a moment that I am holding one of them also, because it is an almost unbearable thing to think of a child without his mother, longing for that special love that has been denied him.


And what of my mother? Well she's not like yours. You know those arguments you had with your friends when you were little: my mother is better than your mother? No? Well I do, and mine really was, and is, better than theirs and yours. My mother looks younger than she is, and acts younger than she is, and is full of life despite now being 75 years-old. 


My mother is the chattiest, friendliest, ever-so-slightly maddest person you could ever wish to meet. Think of an extrovert and double it. When I was a child I thought she was the sexy lady whose silhouette danced to the opening titles of Roald Dahl's Tales of The Unexpected, because she too was little with a blonde bob and danced just like that; she still dances whenever she can. 




And my mother was the little girl with the Shirley Temple bow in her curled fair hair, whom everyone thought was special because even her name was special and different from everyone else's, someone who became a teacher and then a head teacher when all the other mothers I knew did nothing, or so it seemed to me, and that made her special too. And she was busy, always busy, which was the one thing I didn't like about my mother, because that 'business' took her away from me.

And when she is gone I will grieve for my mother more than anyone has ever grieved for theirs. My loss will be greater than yours, my heartache stronger. In her own words it will leave a huge hole, and the hole my mother leaves behind will be the biggest. 


Happy Mother's Day to my mother and to all mothers everywhere.


Love E x




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My mother, my friend for life
Now that I don't know how she doesn't do it is a mother herself, she truly appreciates the friendship and understanding that can exist between mother and daughter
mum
"Here you are, it says, have this unconditional adoration from me with a cherry on top. Have my admiration and affection, my hugs and kisses, my broad back to carry your burdens as well as my own as best I can. Take anything and everything I have, every bit of strength and every morsel of time at my disposal, and on top of all that have this meal I have cooked for you and this pile of clean washing, and this snack I have brought up three flights of stairs, take it all and I will ask for nothing in return, except, of course, your love back to me, because I am your mother."

Thursday, 5 March 2015

A friend for life.


Who's the person you're going to have the longest relationship with in your lifetime? Your partner? Your sibling? Your child? Nope. It's obvious isn't it, it's you. As a friend of mine rather gloomily announced the other day, "You only really have yourself, at the end of the day." 

At the time I begged to differ, "Oh no," I said, refusing to sign up to a sentiment so bleak, "I have Husband, he is always there for me, I can always rely on him," and so far this has been true. I have always been able to rely on him and he has always been there, since I was 19 anyway. 

But I thought about what she had said afterwards and I have to admit that I do, rather reluctantly, take her point. Look at how many seemingly perfect relationships end in disaster. Look at how many people cheat or betray one another, even those who remain married and close. Look at how many elderly people find themselves ill-equipped for bereavement at the close of their lives because they have never really learned to rely on themselves. 

We can't take anything for granted. We need to be able to like ourselves, to rely on ourselves when necessary, because YOU are the person you will definitely be spending all of your time with until the end of your days, whether you like it or not. 

And then a few days after that conversation, another friend told me about her Mindfulness Day. Oh no! I hear you say, not that obsession du jour, 'Mindfulness', what a load of old pretentious, self-indulgent claptrap. But hear me out, or rather her out, because she told me that on this Mindfulness Day she was not allowed to speak, at all, not once, to anyone, or even make eye contact, because this is a form of communication too, and once she got used to it it was great.

I don't really understand what the point of this not speaking thing is, except that it's meant to be good for you in some way, but for a rather chatty person like me (okay, substitute rather for very) this had a certain appeal. I talk too much, sometimes I exhaust even myself with my inane chatter. So I imagined it must be rather nice to be released from all that, to be MADE to be quiet. How refreshing. How freeing. How weird. 

And so when I saw there was an exhibition on in town that I'd quite like to go to, instead of trying to drag Husband along, or the boys, or a friend, I went by myself. Just me. Essentially it was a date with myself, and I recommend it (that's a date with yourself, not with me).



Maybe you are accustomed to doing things by yourself anyway and so it's no big deal but for a woman my age, in her 40s, who is married, with three kids, and parents who are still around, and plenty of female friends, this doesn't happen very often. Indeed my knee-jerk reaction is to find someone to go with to all things, be it cinema or the shops, or even a walk. It doesn't usually occur to me to do things alone. But this combination of friend A. telling me we are essentially all alone in life, and friend B. saying she spent a whole day surrounded by people while not uttering a single word, made me decide to have a date with me.

I got the Tube to Victoria, I walked past Buckingham Palace, I crossed Green Park in the early spring sunshine, sought out an exhibition in Mayfair I had read about in The Guardian and then went to the RA, where I signed up to become a member (I must have been the youngest person in the members' cafe by about 20 years) and then I looked at the exhibition (Rubens), did a spot of shopping and came home. And all while the boys were safely ensconced at school and Husband and Eldest were at work and so no one was any the wiser (except that I will, of course, tell them). 



And what of it? Well, it was relaxing, much more relaxing than chatting the whole time to somebody else, and I think I took more in. I noticed things that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise and I relished just pleasing myself, going where the whim took me. I enjoyed the peace of it. I wasn't really alone anyway since I had my phone with me and was receiving texts and emails about work (possible work) the whole time. Have you noticed how many people are glued to their phones in the street and don't look up? It's incredible. This is partly why I've given Facebook a bit of a rest lately, not posting, not even reading it, just spending more time BEING. After all, your true friendships will always be there, social media or no social media.

So that's what I did yesterday. Okay I did post a teeny tiny thing about it on Twitter, but mostly I drank in the weather and the scenery and the paintings and listened in to the conversations around me in the cafe, and as I browsed the paintings, and I recommend it. Have a date with yourself sometime, you'll only have yourself to annoy. You might even find you have a friend you are happy to spend time with for the rest of your life: you.

Love E x

@DOESNOTDOIT

Exhibitions:

Alex Katz: Black Painting at the Timothy Taylor Gallery in Mayfair
http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/feb/26/alex-katz-black-paintings-review-artist-exhibition

Rubens and His Legacy at The Royal Academy of Art
https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/rubens-and-his-legacy?gclid=CMCmk836kMQCFcHMtAodWAIAAQ

Good article in The Guardian about social media 
http://www.theguardian.com/news/2015/feb/26/pics-or-it-didnt-happen-mantra-instagram-era-facebook-twitter





Monday, 23 February 2015

Yorkshire: a foreign country.


Yorkshire, like the past, is a foreign country. That's what I've decided. We just got back from five glorious days there and while sitting in the cosy lounge of our gorgeous little hotel on the edge of the North York Moors, taking afternoon tea, I overheard someone quizzing his son-in-law about his new life in the dangerous metropolis of York. "So," he said, "what's it like in York then? Do you have parks and that to go walking in?"



York! If you've ever been to York, my lovely home town, and even if you haven't, you'll probably know that despite being officially named a city, York is a compact and quaint little place compared to London. You can walk right round the centre in half an hour, that is if you don't find yourself lured into one of the cosy tea shops up one of the cobbled lanes first. Gritty urban sprawl it is not. So the idea that someone might regard it as such, from the distance of some 20 miles away, living as he does, it turned out, in the beauty of the surrounding Howardian Hills, is rather extraordinary.



But Yorkshire folk can be like that, so blessed are they by the stunning countryside around them they can't fathom why anyone would want to live anywhere else, even in one of their own county's most picturesque and comfortable cities. So it struck me that the man who was doing the questioning, a GP, I later found out, wouldn't think much of where we live in south London if he thinks York a bit too big and built-up for his liking. Urban sprawl just about sums up the geography around here, interspersed with the odd park or common, which is why it's so important to escape from it from time to time. And it is important.



I know this because for some reason or other we haven't escaped London for a break of any sort for five long months, which must be something of a record, and not one I want to repeat in a hurry. So when Middle One complained that he didn't want to go away over half-term and why did I want to leave our lovely home now I have a wonderful new kitchen? I had my answer ready: because I want to see the sky, because I want to see the land of my birth stretching away to the horizon on every side, because I am beginning to crave views like a glutton craves cream cakes. I want to stuff my eyes with scenes of spiky trees against empty fields, virgin woodland, crystal streams, unsullied moorland devoid of road or house or pylon. I need to see it and I need to be in it, and come to think of it there might be another reason I need it so badly after so long in the big smoke: because it's in my blood.



What was the first thing I saw as a baby, aside from the inside of my home and my parents' doting faces? Trees. Three massive beech trees, which dominated our back garden. And what else? A river, it ran at the bottom of the garden there. And when I got bigger, what did I do then? Played with my brother in that garden for hours and hours, and when I was bigger still I walked out of that garden and out of our cul-de-sac, turning right down the lane to the pond and the medieval church at the bottom of the hill and scared myself silly creeping around the desolate grave stones by myself, once finding a hedgehog there and running home to get a neighbouring older boy, Gregory, to come and catch it for me and put it in a cardboard box (it escaped). And then when I was grown still more I jumped on my gold-coloured Raleigh bike and peddled the lanes around the village for miles by myself, occasionally stopping and propping that bike against a fence post and venturing into a newly-ploughed field and steeling myself to go into an old abandoned barn and explore…



Those sorts of childhood adventure have all but disappeared for this generation of British children, and probably every generation to come, and I am too old now to ride bikes alone down country lanes, but something from that experience does remain, apart from the memories: the landscape. It's still there. The ponds and churches and lanes and fields and enormous skies of my childhood. So I go back as often as I can and walk in it and drink it in, trying to fill something that has emptied in the weeks and months away. Is it my soul I am filling? My memory bank? I don't know, but for the last few days I have had a dose of it again which should keep me going for a while, until the next time I visit that foreign land of Yorkshire and my past. I hope it's soon.



Love E x

@DOESNOTDOIT

As you can see from the photographs we were incredibly lucky with the weather. We stayed with my parents for two nights and then left the boys with them to stay at The Pheasant in Harome again and go walking. We ate there and at The Star Inn 2 minutes away.




View of the village pond from our hotel window.


The lounge at The Pheasant.


The Star Inn at Harome at night.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Read, Write, Walk, Cook.



What's the point of February? Can someone please tell me. Every other month has a reason. January is about beginnings. March is spring, and more importantly my birthday. April is Easter and lambs. May has the promise of summer. June marks the middle. July is warm. August is holiday. September is back to school. October: Halloween, mists and mellow fruitfulness. November: bonfire night. December: cold hands, hot fires, loud crackers and Christmas, but February has no point at all that I can see, except to draw out the winter. And don't tell me there's Valentine's day tomorrow because that's a load of old - or rather new - commercial claptrap. The days might be getting noticeably longer and there's a definite whiff of things on the turn in the air, but I can't see the point of February and think we should scrap it.

Maybe this is because I don't have much work at the moment. Okay, scratch a line through that, I don't have ANY work at the moment, not of the paid variety, and it being February is not helping with the whole 'try not to slip into a mental abyss' thing, that lurking black fog which I refuse to let encircle me, although I'm sure it's a battle I'm destined to lose, one day.

For the time-being I'm purposeful, resolving to spend the short days when not searching out gainful employment of the directing or writing variety, by reading, writing, walking and exercising generally as much as possible ('GPs to tell patients: exercise, it's better than many drugs!' The Guardian Friday 13th February 2015) and cooking tasty meals for my family in the evenings, and I'm doing pretty well on all fronts, thanks for asking.



This week I read To Kill A Mockingbird in less than two days (I know, I know, I don't know how I ever missed it either, I'm trying to fill a few whopping literary gaps while I can), made a chicken and leak pie, which Eldest declared my best ever, a cod, prawn, spinach and pea concoction, which Middle One said was "delicious", and a spicy bean stew to go with some tortillas that induced Husband to remark: "why have we never had this before, it's fantastic?" and then later admit he hadn't realised it didn't contained any meat. In addition to which I am on top of the washing (a miracle) and have started to clear out old books and toys, taking a rucksack full on my back to the charity shop down the hill in dribs and drabs - that's part of the walking and exercise bit, see.

On my list for today, after I've written this, is to crack on with some more writing of a more creative bent, book a mini-break, put another wash on (hey ho), buy food for tonight, have lunch with some friends and then start on the The Great Gatsby. I KNOW! I KNOW!



Love E x

@DOESNOTDOIT

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Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Not going out.




Old friends are like buses: you don't see any for ages and then two come along at once. Well that's our local 319 for you anyway, and it was our weekend just gone as well when we saw two sets of very old friends on consecutive days.

On Saturday a couple from our uni days, who now live in Oxford, travelled to see us with their two lovely children and their enormous dog. And then on Sunday we had our friend from France - from Husband's  French degree days, who lives in Arras and was in London on his school exchange programme - along for lunch. We were a bit catered out by the end of it tbh, but it was fun while it lasted. Actually it was lots of fun.

After they had all gone on Sunday evening Middle One declared: "I really like your old friends! A lot." Why might this be, I wondered?

Could it be because they politely sat and listened to his guitar playing and declared it amazing? Could it be J's hair-raising tales from university that made him sound like Vivien from The Young Ones? Could it be that they really are lovely? Whatever it was they should consider themselves honoured, and it made me realise that there's something fantastic about your children liking your friends and your friends liking your children and all sitting around together at the dinner table chatting and socialising together.



Perhaps part of the reason Middle One liked them was because he was able to see us - his crusty, boring old parents - as the young students we once were. Or perhaps it really was because J told him he drove a hearse when he was at uni and rigged up the electrics in their student house so they never paid a penny and walked around in t-shirts ALL THE TIME even in winter. In Norfolk. And that they drove motorbikes up and down the stairs. In fact his antics were so apocryphal that when he went back years later someone accused him of being 'that guy who slept in a coffin'.  

And maybe it was also because his partner, the lovely M, talked about how she teaches children with SEN as a volunteer (despite being a qualified teacher) and does amateur dress-making and Tai Chi and is learning Chinese because she recently went to China and thought it was amazing and would love to live their one day. How could you NOT like such a person?

And maybe it was because Middle One recognised in our lovely French friend that he is a kind and gentle soul, very knowledgeable, who patiently listened to what the boys had to say and then invited them all to come to France and stay with him and his family anytime they wanted. 



Socialising with your children included, I decided, is the best sort of socialising there is. To be honest we hardly want to go out without them anymore because we have a party at our house most nights already, one with all the best party ingredients on tap: usually some alcohol (for us only, I hasten to add), a nice kitchen to hang out in, lots of silly jokes and most importantly of all the best most charismatic, witty, lovely people in the whole wide world. Ours.

Love E x

@DOESNOTDOIT