Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Cheaper By The Dozen


As you all probably recall, I took under my wing a young local lad of whom I had high hopes.  Aged fourteen, as tall as I am but I doubt he would tip the scales at a hundred pounds fully dressed and soaking wet.  We went through a dodgy patch together, I had to sack him a few times but, slowly through trial and error, we have found the tasks he likes doing and those better left to me.  For example, he hates weeding but will happily clear all the extracted weeds and dispose of them.  So I do the weeding and he does the clearing.  He has picked up my logical system for washing dishes and no longer sees it as a chore but keeps me on my toes by not placing anything back in the cupboard from which it came.  He keeps the fridge stocked with cans of fizzy drinks and milk, knows which are my favourite biscuits, ensures fresh bread is bought every day, sweeps the garden for litter and empties the bins.  He even knows when I am running out of cigarettes and, something I never thought I could train an Angolan employee to do, he knocks before he comes in. 

Slowly I am teaching him English.  Already he is fluent in profanity and is easily getting to grips with simple instructions such as, ‘put it on the table,’ ‘give water to the dogs,’ ‘go to the corner and buy me phone credit,’ and ‘Bugger off, I’m busy.’  I even caught him sitting on the sofa watching cricket, a knowledge and enjoyment of which being pre-requisites of civilised human beings.  That is why Americans, no matter how affable and pleasant, can never call themselves truly civilised yet Pakistanis, who spend all their time blowing each other up can.  But life is full of such conundrums.  Finally, he has accepted my advice and now comes here after school to do his homework sitting on the veranda.

Frank has a brother and two sisters ranging in age from six to twelve.  With ever increasing frequency they are coming here to be fed.  Márcia always gives Frank essentials such as cooking oil, rice, pulses, fish and meat to take home to guarantee the kids get something to eat but I can understand why they prefer to come here and get the full meat and two veg while watching TV.  They don’t even have electricity in the bordão one room shack they call home.

The other day Márcia asked me if she could buy batas.  Batas are the little white lab coats that state school children must wear.

‘I thought you had bought school uniforms for Alex?’ I replied.  I knew damn well she had because I took a photograph of him dressed up for school.  I did not realise he needed batas as well.

‘Not for him,’ she said, ‘for França’s siblings.’

‘Oh.’ I said, ‘of course.’  I could see that this wasn’t all.

‘The kids aren’t allowed to go to school.’ She finally admitted.

‘Why can’t they go to school?’  I was quite perplexed.  After all, we are only talking about some tiny little village school up at the comuna about three or four clicks distant.

‘They have no batas..’

‘So buy them batas!  I’ve already said yes,’ I interrupted. 

‘…and the teachers say they are dirty,’ she finished.

‘Dirty?  Dirty by African standards?  Blimey!’ I said.

‘They have no one to look after them, to wash them, feed them, clean their clothes.  They are orphans!’

With a dead mother and a father like that they’d be better off if they were orphans I thought but Márcia was right.  França was doing his best but he has more than enough on his plate for a fourteen year old.  Fuck I was angry.  This bastard village.  They all knew the deceased mother, they grew up with her.  Now there isn’t a single friendly neighbour to pop in and see to the kids.  So much for the great extended family Africans keep banging on about.  And, instead of helping the kids, their bloody teachers deny them an education because they do not have uniforms and stink.  But they’ll all go to church and listen to sermons about suffering the children to come to Him.  Fuckwits.  That’s why I fucking hate religion.  All that blasted time, which would have been better spent helping those less fortunate, wasted listening to some pompous self important git telling fairy tales.  I had a Jewish mate in the Army.  He really wanted to go to a Catholic midnight mass.  We were in Germany, the best place to see the opulence of the Catholic church short of the Vatican.  Before we went in, I insisted we got tanked and while we were doing that, he asked me what it was like to be a Catholic.  ‘Fucking expensive,’ I said downing another large Asbach, ‘you have to pay to get in, pay to stay in, and pay to get out.’  When we got to the church, we discovered that the midnight service had been held at ten so we camped out on the steps and played gin rummy until the early morning mass.  I have always said that God hates me, he let the bloody Jew clean me out of a month’s pay.

‘I can pay a neighbour to look after them,’ Marcia continued, ‘it’ll only be a hundred dollars.’

‘Fuck the neighbours,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t piss down their throats if their lungs were on fire much less pay them to do what they should have been doing all along. Scumbags’ 

It’s just so bloody typical,  They won’t do anything unless there’s something in it for them.  Think back to when I offered to dig a well for them.  The administrator insisted I dug it on his land so, as I learnt just in time, he could charge his villagers for water.  Now I have installed a tap by the entrance to the shop so they can help themselves for free.

‘Right,’ I said, ‘tell França that every day he must bring the kid’s dirty clothes with him in  the morning.  I’ll wash them and if they need more clothes, go and buy them.  Before they go to school, they can come here with França and have breakfast.  They can eat here in the evenings when they want as usual.  They can sit at the table with França and do their homework while he does his.  It would be good for Alex too, he can sit down with them and do his homework as well and I can keep an eye on them.’

Márcia could see I was seething.  ‘I’ll go and tell França,’ she said.

By the time she got back, all of five minutes later, I’d had a better idea,

Dominginho (França’s younger brother) is Alex’s best friend from the village.  The kid is like França was.  When I first met França, I thought he was a retard.  Then I thought he was deaf.  Then I realised the kid just didn’t know how to interact.  Anonymity was his protection.  If he did not acknowledge the existence of an outside world, it could not hurt him.  He was safe in a private little world of his own creation.  França laughs a lot now, especially if I accidentally hit myself with a hammer or fall off a ladder.  He laughs even more if I get mad at his obvious delight in my discomfort.  I have never seen Dominginho smile.  It is almost futile asking him anything.

‘Are you hungry?’

‘Hungry?’

‘Yes, do you want something to eat?’

‘Something to eat?’

‘Food, boy, do you want food?’

‘Food?’

‘For fuck’s sake França!  Find out if your brother wants anything to eat!’

What these kids needed was to get out of the village.

‘Marcia, why can’t we send them to the same school as Alex?’  I hurried on so as not to give her time to object. ‘They can all go together with Alex, come home together and do their homework together.  We can feed them, clean them and keep an eye on them.’

Márcia was silent

‘I know we can’t house them, they will have to go home to sleep but, you know…’ I petered out but then finished with a burst of emotion.  ‘I just hate the idea of paying a neighbour to look after them and the school on the hill, it’s shit!  A shit fucking school with shitty fucking teachers!’

‘The portable generator was too small to run the carpenter's tools,’ Márcia said suddenly.

‘Eh?’

‘It’s not powerful enough, we have to buy a new one, a bigger one.’

‘Are you saying we can’t afford the school fees?’

‘No Honey, if we have to buy a new one anyway, we could give the old one to them so they have electricity at home.  You would just have to remember to change the oil every week.’

That was fucking rich coming from her.  The only reason we bought this latest generator was because Márcia gave our emergency generator to the carpenters without telling me so the oil was never changed and it seized.  Further investigation of the sudden need for a generator down on the other site when they were already connected to power revealed that what they really needed wasn’t another generator closer to where they were working, but a longer extension cable.
 
I'll have three more sets of these, please...
 

Well, that’s decided then.  The kids will all go to Alex’s school.  He will be pleased.  There is, however, one teensy problem to be overcome.  It appears that the births of the children were never registered.  They do not have birth certificates.  Officially, they do not exist.  The administrators of their new school, unsurprisingly, do like to have sight of a cédula, a child’s registration document, before enrolling them.  The question is, can we sober the father up enough to remind him that these are his children and will he stay conscious long enough to make a statement to that effect in front of a registrar?  Fortunately, Márcia has said I had best not accompany them on that trip lest the registrar thought something fishy was going on; what’s an old white bloke doing here trying to register some Angolan kids?  Whatever the reason, I’m cool with that.  I wouldn’t want to ride in the same car as him, I’d tie him to the bloody roof first.

There is one thing that Márcia has not considered; if the kids have no cédula, they have never been inoculated.  The new school will also want to see up to date vaccination certificates.  I will break that one to her gently.  Just think, a bit of legwork followed by a stroke of a pen and Angola’s population will leap by four.

Speaking of having a hand in increasing the population, Márcia went for her first scan the other day.  On the one hand, Márcia consistently fails to acknowledge that I do have a lot of experience, I did come top of my entry at Shrivenham so am not completely thick, and I know quite a bit about quite a lot of things but then she surprises me by handing me an ultra sound image expecting me to understand it and explain.  I know a lot about the outside of female anatomy but have only ever had a limited feel of the inside.

‘Hmmn,’ I said, completely bewildered, ‘looks good to me.  Did they say if it was a boy or a girl?’

‘It’s too early to tell they said.  Do you see anything else?’


What’s there to see?  What was Márcia driving at?  What was I supposed to say?  I handed it back to her. 

‘They said everything was OK, though, didn’t they?’ I asked her, suddenly worried.

‘They think it might be twins…’
 
 
One final thing, sorry to bore the rest of you but Sol, a regular reader has been bleating on about a toe update.  I promised her next post so here it is:
 
For those of you concerned about the nail varnish, I agree, it is a little gaudy. 
Next time I'm in town, I shall pick up something a little more restrained.
 

59 comments:

  1. oh my giddy aunt!!!! what a shock!!
    twins are fabulous

    i'm so pleased you are looking after those kids and i'll take my hat off to you for just getting on with it. obviously the universe trusts you with a large number of young lives. bravo!

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    1. Funny that. In the Army they would only let me have crayons to write with; they didn't trust me with anything sharp, like a pencil.

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  2. As an American who enjoys the world cup, I also have heard the fable about the camel's nose and the tent! You are a good man Hippo!

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    1. Dozens of kids or one camel? Hmmn.

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  3. That will be a wonderful row of kids you'll have. Tallest to shortest, or shortest to tallest?

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    1. Actually, it is tallest to the flanks, shortest in the middle, See:

      http://hippo-on-the-lawn.blogspot.com/2013/10/milestones.html

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  4. i am thinking that maybe the compound will turn into a wonderful orphanage?

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    1. Hate that term, orphanage. I much prefer Hippo's Royal Military School.

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  5. The toes do look lovely. I don't know the first thing about cricket and have never been able to make any sense of it, but then neither does American football, so I suppose I am part of the great unwashed. Your description of França sounds to me an awful lot like a case of aspergers syndrome.

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    1. Yet I am a European who understands the rules of American football, baseball and ice hockey (actually, now that I think about it, there are no rules to ice hockey, not if it is played properly).

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  6. Jaz stole my thunder. Open that complex asap or you'll find it filled with strays.

    I totally agree with you about cricket. However, we should never forget that baseball was also an English game, which we wisely (if not shamefully) exported to the less civilised world. Cricket takes patience, wisdom, and a poetic nature; baseball requires a stick and ball.

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    1. We used to play the original version of baseball as introduced to the island by our Saxon forebears. It was called Danish Longball which also required a bat and a very hard ball, The object of the fielders was to kill the batsmen, Obviously far too rough for Americans (who have to pad up to play football) so they chose the female derivative of the game which we call rounders.

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  7. I think underneath it all, you are a very kind and generous soul. Those kids need all the help they can get.
    But you better hope word doesn't spread, --or half the village will unload their offspring........
    And congrats on twins!

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    1. Allow me to remind you of what Dominic's mother said in the divorce court when asked by the judge why she left such a nice man, 'Try living with him...'

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  8. A sort of African Gladys Aylward......
    As for twins.......having a twin sister called janet
    ( janet and john geddit?)
    I think that's lovely

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    1. Hardly. The only thing I have in common with Miss Aylward is that I have never kissed a man.

      Janet and John, eh? I shall have to go for Jack and Jill, then.

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  9. Wow, twins.. How exciting….sooner you than me though, and I am in awe of you taking on those kids!

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    1. I realise now I was coming down with malaria, my judgement was obviously affected.

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  10. St Thomas Aquinas, considered the patron of all students...
    Well, I know your views on the Catholic church, but your kindness is worthy, and perhaps what any religion should aspire to espouse.

    I would find it very hard, if not impossible to think of anyone more selfless than you.

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    1. I would have thought Marcia fits the bill, after all, she has to live with me!

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  11. What a man! What you have done for those wee kids is fantastic. You will have changed their lives just by what you have done already.

    What's with the nail varnish?

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    1. I will pick a more subtle colour, I promise.

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  12. 1. Your generosity is boundless. You will be rewarded in heaven and I agree "the church" does not behave like it preaches. 2. TWINS? Maybe God is having the last laugh! 3. The toe looks better, though I see you've spilled blood across all of them. Go for a more subtle pastel colour in future! Red is so yesterday!

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    1. 1, Sounds like an 'Advance Fee' fraud to me.
      2. Not confirmed yet. Maybe He is.
      3. The red is the same colour as my dress sandals which go well with my white stockings.

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  13. Congratulations on the twins ! My husband is one of a pair ( identical boys ) and the stories I heard my MIL tell about bringing them up are scary ! She actually tied a thread on to one baby's wrist so as not to feed him twice ! All the best to you and Marcia !

    Your generosity is awesome...

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    1. Now you see, I having fed babies I think I could work out which of them I had fed, it would be covered in food!

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    2. Along similar lines though, my mother used to unchain me at meal times...

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  14. Given your example of civilized (spend all their time blowing each other up) and uncivilised (affable and pleasant), I prefer to remain uncivilised. However, I will at least consider gaining a knowledge and enjoyment of cricket.



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    1. Took me a while, I was useless at it at school but learnt to enjoy it in the Army. I think that was because at school, you got orange juice while in the Army it was vodka pimm's.

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  15. Once again, I doff my cap to you. Your generosity is awesome. All the kids that come into contact with you and your family are so very lucky. I also agree that the kids are umpteen times better off with your direct contact/help rather that giving money to the neighbours. Guess you had better build some more cabins. You're going to need the space if you still want a business concern.
    As for the nail polish, not bad! :)

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    1. Plenty of room for huts. Glad you like the toes.

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  16. Very nice - during (American) football season my team's logo and colors go on my toes. Cricket? Yes, I am not civilized...

    Norman

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    1. When you say, 'go on your toes,' you mean socks, don't you? Don't tell me you actually paint your toes?

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  17. Hippo, old chap, I do hate to be a nag but can you stop dicking around with nail polish and finish off the airport defence tale you started on 23rd December? At the rate you seem to be procreating and adopting there will be no time at all for you to do any writing soon, and I will have nothing to read whilst working on important projects (hiding) in my shed.

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    1. Yes Gus, you are quite right, I need to get on with it. Funny thing is that since I kicked the amber nectar, the creative juices have not been flowing; have you noticed how boring the posts have become? This blog is in danger of becoming a knitting club.

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  18. Well done you! ( and Marcia ) on several different fronts!

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    1. I certainly hope that Marcia has not been playing on several different fronts!

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  19. Having just spent last Saturday evening babysitting my oldest son's four children (one is a foster child and they are expecting another in May), I am very impressed that you have taken on all these children. It takes military precision to raise this many at a time-so I think you are qualified! Throw in a few hugs and kisses and you will have it made! Best wishes to you and Marcia-hopefully she is feeling better soon.
    Barb from Canada

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    1. Marcia's brother is an engineer working for an oil company in Toronto. Been there donkey's years and raised a family there.

      Marcia seems to be coping, thanks for your well wishes.

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  20. Wow. Your life is just filled with children. I'll bet that's a surprise to you.

    :).

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    1. Surprised? I couldn't be more surprised even if both my legs suddenly fell off while I was doing a ton on a motorcycle!

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  21. Love it. All of it. Except the varnish...
    well done hippo

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    1. OK, I shall send you all the kids as requested but not bother sending the nail varnish.

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    2. I'm making their beds as we speak.

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  22. FYI: Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is the fear of long words. I’m sure the reason it’s so long is just to f**k with the people who have this phobia. From "Mental Floss"

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    1. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious
      (from Mary Poppins. Definition; A word to use when one knows not what to say).

      Mind you, I could keep Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobists out of my restaurant by using Aristophanes' method of describing food by using a compound of its ingredients transliterated from the original Greek. A dish comprising of all kinds of dainties, fish, flesh, fowl, and sauces, (a fancy 'Surf-n-Turf' in plain English) would, therefore, appear thus on the menu:

      Lopado­­temacho­­selacho­­galeo­­kranio­­leipsano­­drim­­hypo­­trimmato­­silphio­­parao­­melito­­katakechy­­meno­­kichl­­epi­­kossypho­­phatto­­perister­­alektryon­­opte­­kephallio­­kigklo­­peleio­­lagoio­­siraio­­baphe­­tragano­­pterygon.

      Lost your appetite?

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  23. Tom, first let me say, I had to read this post twice. Gobsmacked I think the Brits say. I simply could not believe it all. Frank is a good boy and I am so happy you are helping him and his siblings out. If you set up a paypal account, (Google it and it is easy to do), I would be happy to help the children. I bet many others would too.
    I found your blog somewhere with the first post I saw being your snake bitten foot. Those paint nailed feet can't be yours. Much too pretty!
    By the way, it's a butterfly for a girl in the sonograms.

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    1. I am going to have to get up earlier in the morning to fool you!

      Butterfly for a girl? What should it be for a boy?

      Very kind and generous offer. Donna. I might take up your offer of financial assistance if ever I need an air ticket from here straight into a padded cell and a jacket that buttons up at the back. I am grateful for the offer but right now your support and encouragement is enough.

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  24. I do not believe that they are your feet! I checked back to your snakebite blogposts and noticed that your little toes are like cigar stubs and your second toes are at least as big as your big toes. You can't fool me - when it comes to toes mate. Oh and when you said "life is full of such conundrums", I wondered if they were ribbed or fruit-flavoured?.

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    1. Yorkshire Pudding, you (and Donna Baker) said it: Forget the nail varnish. Those feet are a woman's. Bone structure. Having said that I inherited my father's feet. And they are the most beautiful feet I have ever seen on a man. Before you get confused: I am a woman. With beautiful feet. Firmly planted.

      Rather than the man himself I am addressing you on three counts: Firstly the Hippo has trampled all over my lawn, secondly he doesn't do things by halves (TWINS? My foot), thirdly you can rely on Yorkshire men. And their country lanes. Leading you into the middle of somewhere.

      U

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    2. My lord, regular Hercule Poirot's the pair of you!

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  25. Goodness, you need to write down your life's story, Tom. I also am waiting to hear more about the airport defence tale, but between taking on more kids to feed, getting your restaurant launched, garden started, livestock arranged, and caring for twins, i do wonder if we'll ever get to hear the full tale.

    I doubted those were your tootsies; if they are, i wondered if Marta painted your toes, or does she just stick to haircuts?

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    1. I will get around to it, I promise.

      My goodness, you remember little Marta! She is not so little anymore. She is living in town with the older girls now (including Christina who is seventeen). The kids seem to come and stay with us for as long as necessary and then move on when closer family can look after them. Of course, I see them all during the hols and the older ones when they have time off work and fancy a lazy weekend.

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  26. lol Tom! Wearing flip flops after a snake bite? Naughty.

    Twins? Yeee Gawds! Your going to need all those other kids to help.



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    1. Either that or my head examining!

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  27. Good Lord. Perfectly normal toes. Not that you deserve them but LOL so much for emergency rooms!

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  28. PS email me if you need some help with the add ons.

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  29. Ha ha to whoever made the last post in my name. Hope you got a good laugh out of it. Trolls are everywhere and so are idiots.

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Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.