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The eagle has landed – with the ring!

by Tuned In, with kmfm DJ Andy Walker Tuesday, April 22 2014
I am dedicating this week's column to Eagle Heights who are heroes to a bride and groom. Let me tell you the story.

My best friends, the now Mr Adam and Mrs Corinne Coles, had the happiest day of their lives by getting married at the beautiful Cooling Castle. Before I start to tell you how incredible Eagle Heights is, can I extend that to the team at Cooling Castle?

Adam the groom were expecting an owl ring bearer to fly in with the rings on Saturday.

At 8am on the big day he received a call from the company due to drive to Kent to say that they had to cancel. “No, not today!” echoed hundreds of times from Adam’s mouth and also my own as his best man I felt we could not let this beat us.

Adam, his nephew and I searching online via our smartphones for owl ring bearers and making calls like call centre workers on commission.

“Unfortunately, we can’t help” was the reply from all.

Then I received a text from a friend to say good luck and it clicked. She is a part-time wedding planner: she might know someone. Caroline thought I was winding her up, asking “do you know anyone who has an owl?”.

Caroline managed to get hold of Eagle Heights. This is the big “yes” moment - they said they could help.

Eagle Heights saying “yes” gets better too. They said they could provide an eagle and an owl. An eagle. Wow. It would be the eagle that would fly in as the ring bearer. Amazing. Not only were they happy to help, they would also be coming straight from filming, so it would be tight.
Not a problem, Adam was happy to put the wedding back by 15 or 20 minutes. It was the one thing that the bride Corinne wanted on her big day.

At just after 2pm, Chris and Alan arrived from Eagle Heights with a huge eagle called Kayla. She was 20 years old and a beauty to look at.

We spoke about what was to happen; the eagle was to fly in to Alan. At that very moment, Alan called me over, and asked me to wear the glove. What? We did not speak about this, but after the effort we had put in I was not now going to decline - and to be honest I was happy to be Kayla’s prey. She swooped in and landed with perfection on my arm. I took the rings and presented them to Adam and Corinne. Yes. We had done it.

What really stood out for me was how much Chris and Allen did afterwards. They were happy to stay around and have Kayla in the pictures.

I was so taken aback by how much they helped that I have looked into more about the team based in Eynsford, Dartford.

Not only do they home some amazing birds, they are heavily involved in conservational work, have a bird hospital and have their own classroom to teach the next generation how to look after our wildlife.

It seems the original company pulling out was the best thing that could have happened.

I’ll speak to you on kmfm, Monday - Friday 9-noon.


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Political correctness is no laughing matter

by The Codgers' Club Tuesday, April 22 2014

by David Jones

I despair at the way this country is sliding into a pit of political correctness. Have we lost our national sense of humour? We used to be renowned for it. These days you can’t make a joke about anything, or even fire off a one-liner without being accused of perpetrating something dire by the thought police.

An incident in a supermarket, reported in one of the weekend papers, caught my eye.

It typifies what we are becoming – though thankfully not all of us.

A schoolteacher popped into the store to buy four cans of beer and some groceries. His 12-year-old daughter was with him.

At the check-out, he turned to his daughter and said:” That’s your beer sorted out.”

It’s just the kind of joke I might have made, in fact I think I might have already.

A female store worker demanded ID for the child and the store manager backed up the employee. The teacher left without his beer.

What is the world coming to? It should be obvious to even the most dim-witted store employee or manager that this was simply a harmless, off-the-cuff one-liner and that the cans of beer were not intended for a 12-year-old.

This was more than a simple sense of humour failure on the part of small-minded supermarket staff. They were so hidebound by rules and regulations they were unable to distinguish a joke from a real attempt to buy booze for a child.

Sadly, this wooden, heavy-handed approach can now be seen in many areas of our life.

Freedom of expression, the foundation stone of democracy, is being squeezed on all sides.

You can’t say what you think any more, even if you are stating a fact, without accusations of racism, homophobia or religious discrimination being thrown at you.

And to make a joke in public about any of these three… Well, you’d better watch out: the thought police may come knocking on your door.

My Codger colleague Peter Cook was taken to task by a letter writer for daring to say that the issue of gay marriage received publicity out of all proportion to its relevance to the majority. And so it did.

The BBC, for instance, went bananas with its coverage.

You would think that gay marriage affected every one of us in the land judging by the amount of airtime the Beeb threw at it.

In fact, it applies to a tiny percentage of the population. A classic case of the tale wagging the dog. This is a fact, and we should be free to say so.

It goes without saying that people should not be able to make unlawful or defamatory comments, especially about minority groups, but fair comment is a different matter entirely.

My fear is that the line between the two is becoming blurred and many of us, me included, are reluctant to express honestly held views in case we fall foul of those in authority who are just as small-minded as those supermarket staff.

It’s a dangerous road to go down if we value our freedoms.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Mind Games

by The Ramblings of a Menopausal Runner, with Hilary Jones Friday, April 18 2014

They say psychology has a lot to do with your running success ....or failure.  I think in my case this definitely has some merit, for instance, looking back at my inability to complete a 10k run without involving any walking.  Hopefully that issue has now been resolved since I managed to complete my last two 10k events without walking.  I am (quietly) confident my next 10k event, the BUPA London 10000, in 6 weeks time will pass off without incident – fingers crossed it’ll be fourth time lucky on this particular course. 

But although I seem to go to each organised run thinking “I’m not going to walk this time”, almost predictably I end up walking.  It’s like I subconsciously can’t wait to fail!  Do I relish the thought of regaling people with how “it went fine until ....”?  Am I seeking sympathy?  (Or is it really just as simple as knowing that if I succeed in my goals, I will have to set new ones and they will be harder?!)

Collage Kent’s Alex Welch and I had a conversation last week about the “seduction of inadequacy”, a phrase we had come across in another blog, Burn Bright, and we got around to discussing our own seductions of inadequacy.  Mine centred on my running (although I’m pretty sure there are plenty more areas in my life where this could apply!).  In particular how I more or less seem to set myself up inevitably to fail by giving myself too many goals and providing plenty of opportunities to do so.  Take, for instance, last week’s half marathon.  I had three goals – to get a PB; to be quicker than last time I did this specific run; and not to walk.  Failed on all three!  Was I seduced into setting three goals so that on some level, I knew I would fail and thereby show myself to be inadequate?

Anyway, by the end of our conversation, I had agreed to set myself only one goal for my next half marathon.  To get a PB.  Now that in itself is a tall order but perhaps if I can concentrate on that one goal, I might put less pressure on myself - I might then even succeed in achieving the other two!  See, I’m doing it again!!

Turning to parkrun, the week before last Shorne Woods returned to using Course A.  This route has not been used since last November thanks to the mud fest on the back of the course.  Course A involves two 2k laps followed by a 1k lap.  Course B involves three equal laps.  But both courses measure 5k. 

So our first 2014 outing on Course A produced what?  My second best ever parkrun time, missing my PB by 8 seconds (and yes that too was achieved on Course A).  This weekend I got a new PB and believe me I am very happy about that but why do I run faster on Course A than on Course B?  It’s exactly the same distance and therefore level of difficulty!  Purely psychological?  It must be all in my head!

So just two examples of how my brain influences my running!  I’m now off to find a book on positive thinking!

Anyone wishing to read more of the “Seduction of Inadequacy” post can find the link here

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Categories: Running


by Down and out in Dover and district, with Len Oldfeep Monday, April 14 2014

The idea to start using the library came to me when it started to turn cold. I had been studying from home but was finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate as the temperature started to fall in the September and October months. Sticking to my self-enforced rule of no heating before 5pm and putting on another layer of clothing becoming no longer practical I had no choice but to relocate my operation. With the promise of free electricity, heating and access to free newspapers I packed up my books and sandwich bag pencil case and headed to the book house.

I pull out a chair and take a place at one of the desks. I unpack my things with the precision a doctor lays out their tools before surgery. Paper check, pen check....after ten minutes I glance up to find out what kind of company I’m in. The characters I see before me are not who I was expecting to see down the local Library.

Two old women sitting  together, elbows touching, reading from the same page, occasionally remarking on what they have just read; a bearded man with a red/black chequered laundry bag one side of him and a sleeping bag the other,  busies himself taking various books from the shelves; replacing  them with another stack once his interest has been satisfied ; various elderly gentleman dotted around the room leisurely leaf through the pages of the paper they have loyally read for years; a small group congregates in a circle in front of the large print section and talk away the hours and most intriguingly a young  black man with a sleeping bag stands over  unattended papers and  mumbles and chatters to himself in a language I don’t recognise. I get the impression that none of them probably even own a library card.

Over the coming months I saw these same faces and many more again and again. It was apparent that for many people the library was the only place they had left to go and the only place where they might not be alone. I watched a man walk by,  stopping to aimlessly turn the pages of a paper left open on the desk before moving off in another direction, in the hope there was some place else he had to be. Another patron tips a book back on the base of its spine with their fore finger, gives it a quick cursory look and pushes it back into its slot. At the end of one particular day a short stocky man with a back pack enters and starts to straighten the place up and is quite obviously upset at the way people have abandoned the papers and magazines sprayed across the tables, and the chairs which have now escaped from under their desks darting off in all directions. He is not an employee and I never see him again.

The black man has a smell that says he has no home. He wears the same teal coloured woollen sweater, grey trousers and worn out black leather shoes every day. He appears and disappears; I wonder if he lives behind one of the book cases. Each time I see him I think this is the day he will do something crazy, however his behaviour never gets more out of hand than occasionally breaking the quiet with some stifled laughter at something he has just read or talking to himself. On the days he joins me at my table I begin to imagine a relationship starting between us; my Robert Downey JR to his Jamie Fox, like in the film ‘The Soloist’.  Talking to this mysterious man, I learn he is a brilliant man but cannot read English. Setting my own studies aside we agree to meet at the library every day at 11am and we go through the alphabet and he learns to read and write English and I nurture his talents and buy him food and find him a place to stay but he is an illegal and cannot stay  and......of course I can’t even get up the nerve to say, ‘hi’ and I keep my head down until I am certain he has gone again. I am gobsmacked one morning when I see a man walk by and say hello to him and without looking up from what he is reading in perfect English, he quickly says ‘hello’ back.

With the government still on its austerity drive, many of our public services have now had their budgets cut and many of our libraries have fallen victim to these cuts and have been forced to close or be community run by volunteers to keep them going. 493 libraries (411 buildings and 82 mobiles) are currently reported as either likely to be closed or passed to volunteers since 1/4/13 (source: When a library does close apart from losing a rich resource to the community where you can do anything from check out a book to register a birth or death, I wonder where those people who depend on the library go; where else provides a warm and safe environment that asks for nothing in return? A place where people go to meet and socialise, not just learn.

 I think this is what troubles me most. I only realised just how important the library is to some people’s lives when I started to use it regularly and saw for myself the vital role it has in our communities.

When researching libraries I found this quote which summed up perfectly what I see when I am there:

‘Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries’ – Anne Herbert.

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Keeping cool by the icy pool

by Waking up Kent, with kmfm Breakfast presenter Garry Wilson Friday, April 11 2014

You’ll have heard about our fabulous competition to win a stunning James Villa Holiday by now, to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary.

The great news is that there are three chances to win – kmfm is giving away one villa holiday in Mallorca, KentOnline one in Minorca and What’s On another in the Algarve.

When I’m on holiday, nothing can distract me from my sun lounger – not sightseeing, historical buildings, geographical features of note, the National Museum of Turkish Delight, nothing.

Just leave me there by the pool. Turn me once every 30 minutes. Stand back every hour ’cos I’m getting up and diving Tom Daley-like into the deep end.

One of my most vivid holiday memories is of a stay in the Med some years ago. I was staying in an apartment and the pool was in the centre of the block. I was loving the warm chlorine-free waters of the pool. The apartment owners proudly told us that they didn’t use chemicals in the pool. The water came from an underground spring and was then heated to perfection by the rays of the Mediterranean sun. Every now and again, we were told, the water was drained and then re-filled with fresh spring water.

On the fourth or fifth day I was going through my usual routine and the time was swim-a-clock. I rose like a bronzed Adonis from my lounger and strode purposefully to the deep end, winking to the senoritas and shooting finger pistols to the fellas as I went.

There were 40 to 50 people throwing admiring glances my way as I arched up into the air like a salmon before piking into the water with barely a splash. In mid-air I noticed the usually well-used pool was actually empty of other bathers. ‘Well, more pool for me,’ thinks I.

As I hit the water I instantaneously realised why I was flying solo.

What I hadn’t thought through was that the pool had only just been freshly refilled. From the underground spring. Way underground. Far away from the sun. Down where only Gollum dwelt. I have never felt cold like it. Those Army guys you see swimming in the Antarctic, having cut a hole in the ice, would have dipped one toe in it and gone AWOL.

Some things in my body actually stopped working. I’d gone in as gracefully as a swan – I came up like whatever the exact opposite of that is.

In a bid to kickstart my body and warn others of the icy depths I came up screaming: “Oh for goodness sake, that’s refreshing!”

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Categories: kmfm

Dream holiday could come true

by Tuned In, with kmfm DJ Andy Walker Friday, April 11 2014

Fancy heading off into the sunshine? For seven days? Staying in your own private villa with pool? Fancy taking three friends or the family? James Villa Holidays are celebrating 30 years in the business and we are celebrating with them, too, by offering you the chance to be whisked off into the sunshine of Mallorca where you will stay in a luxurious James Villa villa.

Just imagine laying by the pool, the sun beating down on the tiled patio area to the point where it becomes hot.

You jump into the pool and take your cocktail from the side and sip it as the sun starts to set.

That evening you and your tan head into one of the nearby towns and take advantage of alfresco dining.

Just writing this I am making myself jealous.

You could be answering ‘The 30th Question’ on kmfm Breakfast with Garry Wilson next week.

If that is you, you have won this amazing James Villa holiday with flights all sorted, too.

All you have to worry about is spending money and what bikini or pair of speedos to take with you.

See how you could be winning and staying at and click on James Villa Holidays ‘30th Question.’ Good luck.

While you are online there is also your chance to meet Peter Andre when he comes to Folkestone later this year, win tickets to see The X Factor musical I Can’t Sing! and, with it being half term, win your way in with the kids to see Nick Jnr’s Go! Go! Go! show. Be quick, though, as some of these competitions finish soon.

If you have been requesting your favourite songs on kmfm recently, thanks.

It’s always great to be on air and read the songs you want to hear. Sam Smith’s Money On My Mind, Pharrell Williams’ Happy and Clean Bandit’s Rather Be continue to be three of the most popular songs with you.

I’ll speak to you weekday mornings, 9am to noon.

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Categories: kmfm

This magnificent folly in the woods has been opened to all at last

by The Codgers' Club Friday, April 11 2014

by Alan Watkins

Deep in the woods between Strood and Cobham stands a magnificent folly which – by all rights – should never have survived.

It annoyed the Dean of Rochester and so angered the bishop it was never used for the purpose for which it was conceived and built.

It was vandalised, gutted and (if the people responsible had had their way) might have been blown up.

Then a number of people said enough was enough – they believed the Darnley Mausoleum deserved to be saved for the community, history and the nation.

Last week their dream came true and it was finally opened to the public.

The floor has been rebuilt. Marble pillars lost when a massive tyre pyre burned the heart out of the two-storey building on Bonfire Night in 1980 have been restored. The original source in Italy could not provide the orange-red stone, so the National Trust got the final quarrying from a source in Spain.

According to rumours – and readers may know the truth – the original marble was removed after the fire and now graces several fireplaces in the Medway Towns. But that may be a part of the legend.

The mausoleum sits high on a hill in Cobham Woods, a short walk from Strood and also from Ranscombe Farm.

You need to know where it is to find it, walking from Medway. It is so easy to get lost in the overgrown woods and end up miles from the mausoleum.

The easiest way to approach it is from the war memorial in Cobham. Lucky drivers park next to the National Trust’s newest office, a converted barn overlooking the golf course and Cobham Hall. The unlucky park two miles away at Shorne Park – and pay.

Not like the second half of last century, when gangs would bring to the mausoleum cars, which, after being raced through the woods, would be set on fire and crashed into the dry moat or allowed to roll down the hillside until they set fire to the woods.

More than 100 wrecks were eventually removed by a charitable trust set up by Gravesham council and chaired by its former chief executive Eddie Anderson.

He was not there on Sunday morning when, without panoply or pomp, your scribe and his wife, by chance, were the first visitors to the restored structure.

We walked up with some of the volunteers who will now man the building each Sunday from noon to 4pm.

They will help visitors to understand the thinking, the expenditure and the value to north Kent of restoring the building.

Meanwhile, for my wife it was a long-dreamed-of visit with a special surprise on reaching the pyramidal-topped turret – she was invited by the chief warden of the park, Jonathan Ireland, to unlock the doors to the funerary chapel and become the first of what could be millions of future visitors.

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Categories: Moans and groans

Manston, Miller and Mr Farage: The top political stories of the week

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, April 11 2014

Here's my round-up of the top political stories of the week in Kent and beyond:

1. After trying to stave off calls to quit, Maria Miller capitulated to the inevitable and quit her job as culture secretary. Few Kent MPs seemed prepared to comment in public about the saga which left Mr Cameron facing questions about his judgement. One that did was Tracey Crouch, the Chatham and Aylesford MP, who said Mrs Miller was right to resign but expressed frustration that MPs elected in 2010 were being tarred with the same brush despite the expenses rules being tightened.

2. Rarely out of the political spotlight, the definitely not shy or retiring UKIP leader Nigel Farage had another week in the headlines. A poll suggested that if he chose to stand at the general election in Folkestone and Hythe against Conservative incumbent Damian Collins, he would run him close but may not win. Bring it on, said Mr Collins. Mr Farage dropped an even heavier hint that he was eyeing up a Kent seat in 2015 but declined to say which one. Our bet? It will be Thanet South.

3. There may have been a spectacular increase in people cycling but Kent's track record on encouraging more people to use two wheels rather than four was under the spotlight. Census figures suggested fewer people were  cycling to work than ten years ago - compared with more forward-looking places like Brighton and London. The Green county councillor Martin Whybrow denounced the county council for its track record, altlhough given that the Conservative leader of KCC is an enthusiastic rally car driver, maybe he shouldn't have been that surprised.

4. An unfortunate piece of timing left some people wondering whether David Cameron was "running frit' after a scheduled and heavly trailed interview with Radio Kent was abruptly cancelled - supposedly so he could make a telephone call to a fellow unnamed Prime Minister.  Was it coincidence that the interview was due to take place the day after Maria Miller quit? Who knows.

5. Uncertainty continues over the fate of Manston Airport as the final flight by KLM took off on Wednesday and the airline boss of the Dutch operator made clear the carrier would most definitely would not be coming back. There continue to be talks over a possible buyout and owner Ann Gloag has agreed to consider a rescue plan drafted by staff. A case of watch this space.

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Categories: Liberal Democrats | Politics | Precept

Maria Miller's resignation was inevitable but who wins?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, April 9 2014

Maria Miller's resignation was predictable the moment it became clear that many of her Conservative parliamentary colleagues were not happy about her staying in her job and were taking flak on the doorsteps from voters who were questioning why she hadn't already been sacked.

And as the days went on, more Tory MPs were prepared to say publicly it might be better if she went - effectively questioning their leader's judgement and his inistence that she could stay in the cabinet.

The judgement was made by David Cameron that because she had been cleared of the central charge, she ought to be allowed to stay on.

Despite Cameron's emphasis on this point, the finer technical details on which a committee of MPs delivered this verdict went unnoticed by many - or was delibarately ignored.

That is part of the problem with accusations of political sleaze. The public - much to the exasperation of MPs elected in 2010 - were largely oblivious to the fact that her conduct and claims were being judged against the old regulations, not the new ones which have tightened many of the loopholes gratuitously abused by so many former MPs.

Fair or not, there was enough in the standards committee report - not least the charge that she had sought to frustrate the inquiry - to give her opponents ammunition. She did not do herself many favours with her perfunctory apology, a PR car crash by anyone's standards.

It is telling that as a result of this episode, politicians from all parties are now falling over themselves to talk about the need for further reforms to the expenses regulations - having told everyone back in 2010 that they had devised a foolproof set of new rules that would restore the integrity of  politicians and be impossible to circumvent.

The public backlash over the saga is not just about Maria Miller but a wider feeling that our elected representatives still play by different rules. Unless they can address that, distrust will remain.


The forthcoming European and council elections were undoubtedly a factor in the pressure being heaped on Maria Miller.

An already tricky election for the Conservatives risked becoming even more challenging with sleaze allegations swirling around.

UKIP - already favourites to win the Euro elections - will no doubt pick up even more votes from those disaffected with the mainstream parties. And it still looks like the leader Nigel Farage will be standing as a candidate in Kent.

Whether it is Folkestone and Hythe or Thanet South remains to be seen but Mr Farage came much closer than he has before now to confirming it will be one or the other, telling my colleague Matt Leclere that "it was more than likely" he will be a candidate somewhere in the Garden of England.




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Categories: Politics

Trying to get a handle on toilet DIY is plumb stupid

by The Codgers' Club Monday, April 7 2014

by Peter Cook

There are those who are competent at DIY. Those who are hopeless at it. And those who think they can do it, but haven’t a clue.

I fall into the latter category, as I discovered when I called round to fix the lavatory cistern in my daughter’s house.

“Aha,” said I, having removed the cover. “Essentially the diaphragm inside the cistern siphon has suffered a seizure and ceased to suck.”

“Easy for you to say,” my daughter responded.

“Not in these teeth,” I came back, quick as a cobra strike.

It was easy to see that the diaphragm was worn out. It’s a problem I am familiar with. My own diaphragm has seen better days as I am reminded every time I climb the stairs.

“Now if I just wiggle this bit here, and adjust the plunge lever, and ... oh my gosh!” I have snapped off the thing that closes the inlet valve and water is gushing forth as if from a water cannon.

“Make like the Dutch boy,” I shout, but my daughter has never heard the parable. I try to stem the flow with my own index finger but only succeed in spraying water over me, the bathroom, my daughter the cat and the dog.

It’s serious but not yet disastrous. The water is gushing into the cistern but escaping via the overflow. Something must be done or we’ll empty Bewl Water.

“Where is your stopcock?”

“There’s something outside under a metal flap.”

I find the tap but this cock has not stopped anything for some considerable time. I twist until I am first red, then blue in the face. But it won’t shift.

It’s Saturday – it would be wouldn’t it – there is no one I can call.

“Tell you what,” I say, “I’m dashing home for my plumbing box. If I can disconnect the cistern and fit a tap on the inlet pipe, we might yet save Bewl Water.”

When I return I have found a piece of flexible pipe and a tap. Gingerly I disconnect the cistern. Water gushes up like it was the Trevi Fountain. But there’s no time to toss in a coin and make a wish.

I fit the flexi-coupling, spraying water everywhere and ending up soaked. But it doesn’t work. The connection is not sealed. We need some fibre washers.

I dash into town and buy a packet, dripping all over the checkout girl and muttering something about a sudden heavy shower.

Back to my daughter’s house. Once more I disconnect the cistern. The pipe gushes worse than ever this time, because I have to fit not one but two fibre washers. Once more I tighten the nut on the flexi-coupling and attach the tap.

Hooray, the water ceases to flow.

Everything and everyone is drenched. But Bewl Water might yet be saved. It takes an hour to swab up the water from the bathroom by which time I am shivering with cold.

Sunday morning sees me in a DIY store looking at cistern systems. None of them are like the one I have just removed. Technology has marched on. I choose something I think may work.

Back at my daughter’s house I fit it, rigidly following the instructions on the pack. Disconnecting the makeshift tap I screw up the inlet pipe to the new fitting. There is some spray but not too much.

With some trepidation I try the handle.

A miracle has occurred – it actually works. A quick flip up for light usage and a more positive push down for the heavier stuff.

And that is how I came to save Bewl Water.

I celebrated in a way that, at the time, seemed most appropriate.

Categories: Moans and groans

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