Fortnum and Mason — Bit of a Treat


My Monday was great fun. It began with breakfast near Fortnum and Mason. Have you ever been? The best place for breakfast (I think) is not one of the restaurants inside the actual shop, but at the restaurant hidden at the back, 45 Jermyn Street. It has orange awnings, and a rotating door, with a man who stands outside to greet you. Inside, there are comfy orange seats (I do like a comfy seat!) and a desk where they take your coat and show you to the table.

The menu is nice—not too big so you don’t spend hours looking at a book trying to decide, and I don’t think they change it very often because it always seems to be the same when I visit. The prices are high, but not super high, not for London, and not as much as you might expect for somewhere rather lovely. The service is efficient and unobtrusive, and everything is very clean.

I chose what I always order—buckwheat pancakes, with caramelised pineapple and coconut yogurt. I don’t much like pineapple, but it’s so sweet, it’s easy to ignore. The coffee is delicious, and the orange juice is freshly squeezed. (Though do be careful, the drinks aren’t priced on the menu, and they add a lot to the final bill!)

The washrooms are behind a door marked: ‘Leeks and Peas’ (confused me for a moment!)

It really is a lovely place for breakfast, and it’s full of people in dark suits, so don’t arrive in your ripped jeans.

 Afterwards, we went into Fortnum and Mason. I have never properly explored the shop before, so we started at the very top (which was bit of a waste of time, as there were only restaurants up there!) On every floor, the staff greeted us, and asked if we wanted any help—but not in a condescending snooty manner (like in some posh shops). They seemed friendly, and willing to help. Even when we were looking at the hampers, and Husband (always to be relied upon for helpful comment) told the assistant they were a ridiculous price, she simply smiled, and said we would probably find the same products at a cheaper price in the rest of the shop.

The hampers were interesting. Some were themed, so you could order them for a wedding, or a birth, or a special occasion, like the Chinese New Year (this year is the year of the Rat, and everything was decorated with rats, which wouldn’t be my choice of decoration for a food hamper!) There were even hampers for animals (lots I could say here, but I won’t because I assume they give pleasure to the owner, even if the dog would be unimpressed).

I walked around taking photographs, and no one seemed to mind. On one floor there was a display of teapots, with signs explaining their origins. A shop assistant told us they were preparing to do a tea-tasting, and if we came back in a few minutes we could try some tea. (We didn’t, but it was nice of her.)

 It’s a nice shop to browse. The lighting is bright, but never harsh, and the displays are beautiful and full of colour.

We skimmed the ground floor, which was full of tins of shortbread with chocolate chips in (always wrong) and chocolates in fancy boxes—all aimed at tourists, who were pushing through the ground floor in their masses. Instead, we went down to the basement.

The basement is full of food, and I had a voucher. There was a golden tree, surrounded by citrus fruits. I love pomelo (which look like giant grapefruit) but I first discovered them in Morrisons, and these were triple the price and not ripe. A chocolate orange was also tempting—brown-skinned and grown in Valencia, the sign said it was very sweet.

The bakery was full of bread and cake and tarts, all looking delicious, but all unwrapped (and therefore potentially sneezed on by tourists, which I found off-putting).

In the end, I chose a tiny jar of fish eggs (sort of pretend caviar, but rather cheaper than the £400 price tag I saw for the real thing!) A man was cutting thin slices of salmon, and he chatted to us for a while, and offered us a blini—a tiny pancake topped with salmon and cream cheese. Behind him, there was a blini-making machine, and we watched it while we chatted. Really, the staff were very friendly.

I also bought some sour dough bread (I found some that was wrapped, and safe from stranger-sneezes!) and a china pot of Welsh rarebit, four miniature puddings, a pat of black garlic butter, a packet of blinis, and a tiny pot of pesto.

We carried everything home, and had a sort of picnic in front of the fire, drinking some prosecco that we were given at Christmas time. What a lovely treat!

I hope you have some treats this week too. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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1917: I was probably not their target audience.


Some very classy actors each appeared for about 3 minutes.

I have just returned from watching 1917 at the cinema. Have you seen it? We had a free afternoon (old sort-of-retired couple) and I had heard good reviews, and so I dragged Husband away from his desk. We had slightly weird seats right at the back, at the top of the stairs. They would be good for short people, as no one is in front of you. But we are not short, so it just felt weird.

We watched 27 hours of adverts, as per usual at the cinema, and then the film started. It has some very classy actors, who each appear for about 3 minutes. The scenery is spectacularly realistic, and the story is gripping. Within the first 10 minutes I realised that I do not like war films.

I am an author, my ‘job’ is all about empathy, getting inside someone else’s head, understanding how they feel in different situations—in fact, more than that, it is about actually feeling what they would feel. Which makes watching a war film pretty traumatic. I hid under my coat and wished I had a fast-forward button.

Now, 1917 is an exceptionally well made film. It is all about (no big spoilers) a soldier being given a mission that will save hundreds of lives, and how he overcomes huge odds trying to accomplish this mission. We watch scenes which I assume are very realistic, see people dying as they would have died, see the bodies left to rot, see the ugly destruction of nature and property and people that is the result of war. And the soldiers were so young. The death of boys is always horrible.

 I found I spent the whole film trying to detach myself from the horror I was watching! I told myself, “listen to the music, try to identify the instruments being played, think about the orchestra” or “imagine being the person who put this set together, which things would they have made and what was here naturally” –anything in fact to distract myself from the film. I was probably not their target audience.

I think everyone should see one, excellently made war film in their life. They will then realise how awful and destructive and traumatic war is. This film is certainly worth seeing if you have not seen such a film. I remember the first such film that I saw, it was Platoon, when I was a student, and in a couple of hours I went from utter ignorance about the Vietnam war to shuddering whenever I heard it mentioned. I did not enjoy the experience, but I think it was probably good for my naïve young self to watch it.

If you like war films, or have never seen a decently made one, then I suggest you watch 1917. However, if you want a relaxing afternoon, I believe Little Women is still in cinemas.

Thanks for reading. I hope nothing in your week is traumatic. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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Little Women


Little Women

When I was a child, one of my favourite books was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. We owned or borrowed from the library all the books by Alcott, though Little Women was our favourite, possibly because at one time there was also a dramatization of the book on television. It tells the story of four sisters and their mother, and the boy who lives in the big house next door. It’s set in America, and is based on the author’s own life (though I’m not sure how closely). There is something wholesome about the stories, and the characters have flaws and strengths, and are easy to relate to. I guess I was about ten years old when I first read the books for myself.

When I was very young, once a week, we caught the bus to visit my grandad. We would walk up to his house, and he would give us sweets, and then we would escape upstairs to play while my mother chatted and did jobs for Grandad. My aunt and cousin would often visit at the same time, and when my cousin was there, we would often ‘play’ Little Women (this must have been based on the telly series and my mum reading us the stories). Grandad’s house had two spare bedrooms, smelling of mothballs and dust and lavender. There were wardrobes, still filled with discarded clothes from my mother and her sisters, and we used these as our costumes, pulling the dresses—long on our child bodies—over our clothes, and swooshing around the room in them. They felt very grand and we felt beautiful (luckily, no one had phone cameras in those days!) We acted variations of the plot. Every week there was an argument/discussion about who would be which character. My cousin and sister were 3 years older than me, so I had very little influence, and they would only let me play if I was Beth—which meant that I had to spend the whole game in bed, not speaking, because I was too ill. I seem to remember that on one occasion, they told me they were starting the story after Beth had died, so I wasn’t allowed to move or speak. For some reason, this felt completely reasonable at the time.

So, last week, when Bea suggested that I joined her and my mother and went to see the new film of Little Women, I was very keen. We collected Mum, and drove to the cinema, and I worried about whether there would be an easy parking space, and whether our tickets (which were on my phone and unprintable) would work, and if the film would irritate me by shattering my childhood memories.

I wasn’t disappointed, it was fabulous.

Now, it’s a long time since I read the books (now on my ‘to do’ list) but I vaguely remember the story. The film is brilliantly cast, with the characters depicted exactly as I imagined them. However, the plot varies from the books slightly. I once watched a John LeCarre interview, and he said that a film is a very different medium to a book, and something that works for a book might not work as well for a film, therefore a film should be left to the script writers and not be constrained by the original version. I think these are wise words. The essence of the books remains constant, even if the plot has slight differences. As a film, it works brilliantly (I think). I won’t tell you how it differs, because you might go to see it and I don’t want to spoil it. It’s a good way to spend a lazy afternoon.

One aspect of the film, which will strike a chord with any aspiring author, is the difficulty that the character Jo has when trying to get her work published. She is depicted as being just as unsure and nervous as every author who I know today, and you see her motivated by encouragement and wilt when criticised. Clearly writing, whichever age we live in, makes the author feel vulnerable.

Do try to find time to watch the film, I fully recommend it. Though if you’re tempted to re-enact scenes at home, try to ensure you’re not cast as Beth–I can assure you, it’s not a great role.

Thanks for reading. Have a great week.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

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The Little Drummer Girl


The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré

(This review contains spoilers!)

I first watched this on an overnight flight from Hong Kong. I planned to sleep, but had the box-set on in the background. It was fascinating, but there was lots which I didn’t understand, so I think I drifted off to sleep for chunks of it. When I got home, I ordered the book on my Kindle, and tried to untangle the confusion. It really is, an excellent book, with a complicated plot.

The story basically charts the training of a spy. She is a young actress, and therefore unknown in the spying world. She is seduced by Zionists, and persuaded that spying is simply acting, with the real world as your stage. The idea is a good one, and probably close to the truth—I guess to spy you are pretending to be someone else.

A cover story is created, which the actress has to ‘live’, so that if she is ever questioned, she will be relying on real memories in her answers. She falls in love with her trainer (so did I, a little, he is the absolute tall dark stranger, a silent strong type).

However, the real interest for me was the exploration of the whole Zionist issue. While the actress is being prepared for her role, she needs to absorb the teachings and propaganda of the Palestinians. Gradually, they change from being simply terrorists willing to kill and maim innocent bystanders, and become real people with a cause. The reader is gradually shown that neither side in the debate is without blame, and that the issue is much more complicated than it first appears.

For example, there is some discussion about the Jews, who were made a faceless non-human by the Nazis, and therefore able to be exterminated. When they then went to Israel, after the war, their view of the Palestinians was not so different. They also considered them as lesser humans, people who had no right to live in the land promised to the Jews. In their minds, they exterminated them. In reality, they took their homes and land, places they had been settled in for generations. The book also talked of the unprovoked violence that peaceful Palestinians encountered, and how it had forced them to become an army, so the rest of the world listened to them.

Now, this is a work of fiction, and therefore one assumes that both the characters and the situations have been romanticised. But it does also ask some real questions, and encourages the reader to look at the issues in the Middle East from both sides. When the actress finally joins the Palestinians, she bonds with them, loves some of them, watches children being killed by the Zionist army. We, the reader, wonder whether she will turn, and instead of spying for the Zionists, will join the Palestinians, and there is a moment of tension when you are unsure which way she will turn (as are her handlers).

I loved this book, even though sometimes I got a little lost and found it difficult to keep each character clear in my head. The issues explored are fascinating, the idea that neither side is perfect, that there is real hurt and despair inflicted on both peoples, and there are no easy answers. Of course, because this is a John Le Carré book, there are also beautiful descriptions, and moments of real humour, and the characters are so real you start to look for them in the street. It is the timeless sort of book that you can read and enjoy more than once.

Thank you for reading. Use your time wisely today.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

 

Anne E Thompson has written several novels and writes a regular blog each week. You can follow her blog at:
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Have you read my latest novel: Ploughing Through Rainbows? It’s a great holiday read. Available from an Amazon near you as both a Kindle book and a paperback.

A hilarious family saga set on a farm. Being a parent has no end-date, as Susan discovers when her adult sons begin to make unexpected choices in life.
A warm-hearted, feel good novel that will make you smile.

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The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition


Have you visited the Summer Exhibition this year? There are worse things you could do. The annual exhibition at The Royal Academy of Art is always an eclectic mix, as it has an open submission, so the great and famous are displayed next to Aunty Mabel—assuming Aunty Mabel has caught the eye of whoever is this year’s coordinator. This year, Grayson Perry was in charge (he’s the man who resembles a pantomime dame) and, like his dress sense, the exhibition is flamboyant and unexpected. With over a thousand works of art on show, it’s impossible to even notice them individually, never mind trying to assess each one. They range from the completely brilliant, to the absolute rubbish (in my opinion). But overall, the impression is one of colour and fun and strong political statement. This year’s show feels very contemporary, and I for one enjoyed it.

Much of the art, I really do not understand. When I got home, I tried to find online reviews of individual pieces, or at least explanations, but there weren’t any. Perhaps there are too many for the critics to cope with. I will therefore share with you my own highlights and lowlights of the exhibition. I am not an artist, so I expect I missed the point on some of them. However, as art is subjective, I will go ahead and give you my brutally honest review.

 When you first arrive, you’re greeted by this stupendous piece of haberdashery. It is huge, and for anyone who has ever sewn anything and agonised over straight seams, it epitomises skill. It is knitted and sewn and embroidered. I have absolutely no idea what it is meant to signify, or what will happen to it after the exhibition (it will be a nightmare to dust) but I loved it.

 

 

 

 

 

 The next gallery is painted bright yellow. This made the room very exciting, even if you didn’t like the art. In fact, I would say that this year, all the galleries could be viewed as a whole—you walked in, and thought “brilliant” or “terrible”, without needing to examine the individual works. Some were displayed so high that you couldn’t see them anyway (unless you happen to have a stepladder in your handbag).

This particular photograph made me laugh. I assume the model is the artist’s mother. No one else would be prepared to dress up as a compost heap. She doesn’t look especially pleased. Hopefully she’s proud of him now.

 

 This gallery also had a picture by Banksy, with the ‘Vote Leave’ slogan changed by a heart shaped balloon to ‘Vote Love’. It was for sale at the price of £350 million (bit sarcy).

There was also a large portrait of Nigel Farage. Above it was a portrait of a man being sick. Which I’m sure was a coincidence.

The picture on the left was simply a nice picture—one of the few on display that you might actually choose to hang in your own house. It was wonderfully chocolate-box, and little children could write whole stories about it.

 

 Talking of stories, this should definitely be used for the cover of a book.It had some wonderfully clever imagery, with people of different heights, and all sorts of political messages.

 

 

 

 

 

 Here’s one for my Aunty Margaret. Not sure she’s ever knitted/crocheted anything quite like this. Something to aspire to perhaps. Or perhaps not. It wasn’t something you really wanted to look at for long.

 

 

 

 

 This one was by Harry Hill, who apparently used to be a medic. I didn’t like it. But I guess someone did. It reminded me of the game: ‘Operation’ which we used to play when I was a child. (I didn’t like that much, either.)

 

 

 

 

 

 I have no idea why anyone thought this head was worth displaying. If it had been in a primary school art room, it might have been considered good. But not here. And not at that price. 

 

 

 

 This was brilliant. Completely brilliant. It is made from broken egg shells. Wow. Glad I wasn’t responsible for transporting it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The carpet bear was another favourite. Though again, I imagine the artist’s mother was somewhat cross when she came home and saw what he’d done to her best rug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 On the topic of broken things and mothers, next time you break a tea-cup, here’s what you should do with it. A brilliant way to avert anger. It wasn’t until I spotted the handle that I realised it had once been a cup.

 

 

 

 

 This was a great picture that was spoilt by the terrible lighting in the gallery. I’m not sure why we needed lights on anyway, as the sun was bright enough. Several works were very hard to see. Maybe the exhibition is best visited after dark. Or on cloudy days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 This one would be impossible to spoil. It was an upturned television and a block of concrete. Why? No idea. My best guess is that it was put out for the bin men and someone took it to the academy by mistake. It said nothing to me, and was ugly. (Sorry if it was your child who created it.)

 

 

 

 

 This was a display of carved soap. There wasn’t a scent (it just smelt of the pine display rack). Very clever. The soap is prison soap. We had trouble stopping the man next to us from touching it, but I did know what he meant. There was something about it that made you want to touch it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 This was a chair, with the seat the wrong way up. All I can think is that someone ordered something from IKEA, lost the assembly instructions, and then was too embarrassed to admit they’d messed it up, so entered it to the academy instead. Not something I needed to see.

 

 

 

 

 I don’t even know what to write about this one. It was sort of hidden behind a display cabinet. Were the workmen having a laugh? Really?

 

 

 

 

 

 This was my favourite. Unicorns, galloping through a forest, all made from twisted wires. It was beautiful, a whole story.

 

 

 

 

 

 You have to see this one in real life really, as the details are too small. It was very contemporary, with lots of references to politicians and modern life. There was so much to see, it was very skilful, very intelligent, a visual feast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 As an author, I had to include this one. A finely balanced work of art, which said that we need books to be balanced (at least, that’s what it said to me!) Excellent.

 

 

Thank you for looking at the art with me. Try to find time to pop to London to see the exhibition for yourself. It’s there until the end of August.

 

Have a good week, and don’t melt.

Love,
Anne x

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Was St. Paul a Psychopath?


When I was researching JOANNA, I discovered what it meant to be a psychopath. Born with an under-developed frontal lobe in the brain, a psychopath was destined to live their lives unable to experience emotional empathy, unable to feel guilt, unable to love. I listened for many hours to psychopaths talking, I read copious studies by neuroscientists, and I even managed to find two mothers of psychopaths who were prepared to talk to me. By the time I came to write JOANNA, I knew how a psychopath would think and behave, and I could imagine what it would be like to live with one.

However, the whole time I was writing JOANNA, striving to make an interesting story that would also show the reader everything I had learnt, I had a nagging doubt. If someone was born a psychopath, were they doomed? What did the disorder mean from a spiritual point of view? Psychopathy is a mental disorder, not an illness. It cannot be cured. It is a genetic condition, it cannot be prevented. Whilst the vast majority of psychopaths are not killers, and are never convicted of any crime, they will still be difficult people to live with. They will still be ‘bad’ people. So, what does that mean in terms of Christianity? Could a psychopath be a Christian?

Now, I believe that whilst God can, and does, sometimes heal people of physical disabilities, in the vast majority of cases, he does not. So a blind person who becomes a Christian will be a blind Christian. A Downs Syndrome person who becomes a Christian will be a Christian who has Downs Syndrome. God can use those situations, but he rarely changes them. As psychopathy is a physical condition, I think it unlikely that God would necessarily heal a psychopath. So what would a psychopathic Christian look like?

I began to read the Bible with this in mind. I knew that a psychopath would be unaffected by physical cruelty towards others. They would be ambitious for their own advancement, and possibly a leader within either the established religion or start their own. They would have no obvious emotional ties, and be quite capable of rejecting anyone who they felt was holding them back, even if that person had made huge sacrifices in order to follow them. They would have no fear, and be able to walk into dangerous situations, even if they knew it was risky. In fact, as thrill-seekers, psychopaths will often do things which they know hold high risk. Psychopaths are often eloquent, and their lack of fear makes them excellent public speakers. There is something mesmerising about them, people cannot help but listen to them (look on YouTube for clips of Charles Manson or Ted Bundy speaking – you will not be bored).

But what about God? Could a psychopath follow God? Well, a psychopath’s main motivation is to look after themselves. So, if they had an experience which proved to them beyond all doubt that God existed, they would definitely decide to follow him. They would do whatever was necessary to ensure they were on the ‘winning side’. They would not risk their soul, not if they knew, absolutely, that God was real.

Now, when we read the accounts about Paul, he shows many of these traits. Was he a psychopath? We do not have enough information to make that statement, and certainly some of his writings suggest that he was not. But I think it’s possible. I wanted to try and explore this further, so I wrote CLARA. As I wrote, I used the knowledge I had gleaned about psychopaths, and I very much had the character of St Paul in mind as I wove the story. The character of Clara is not St. Paul – but I think you will notice some similarities.

CLARA – A Good Psychopath?
ISBN 978-0-9954632-5-7
The Cobweb Press

I hope it is also a book you will enjoy, though at times it makes for uncomfortable reading. It is exciting, but there are funny moments. It shows how someone who is very bad, can achieve something that is very good. Are you prepared to be challenged? This is not a cosy portrayal of Christianity, and some people will find the ideas disturbing.

Would you like to buy a copy? It costs £11.95 from Amazon and in bookshops (they can order it if it’s not in stock). But until the 31st March, it is available at a 33% discount, for £7.95 including free UK postage. Just send a message via the contact form below, with your postal address (this is sent directly to me, it isn’t public). Payment instructions will be sent with the book – you can pay by cheque or direct bank transfer. Why not buy a copy today?

 

 

 

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Lexus LC 500


We went to look at sports cars. You can do this sort of thing when you get to a certain age and are bored. When you’re younger, the sales person asks lots of awkward questions about why you want to change your car, and what your job is, so they can check you aren’t just messing about. But at our age, they simply ask what you currently drive (to check, I assume, a certain income level) and then they are happy to let you play, accepting that one of you must be having a mid-life crisis.

We had been out for brunch at Marcos in Sevenoaks (best place locally for brunch) and drove down to the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells, where there is a whole road of car dealerships, so you can walk along comparing cars. We started in the Lexus garage, looking at the LC 500.

It’s a very pretty car. It has nice rounded corners, and lights which are shaped like slitty eyes, assessing the road. It’s very low profile, and hugs the ground (so would probably make it to the end of our driveway before it was stuck in a pothole, but we’ll brush over that detail). It’s a hybrid, which Husband likes.

Inside, the seats were leather, with suede trim. They were very comfy to sit in, though a long way down, so I might need old-person grab handles in a few years to get out of it (if I ever gave my mother a lift, she would need to be hauled out of the seat when we parked). Very pretty, but I wasn’t sure it would be very practical with a dog. In fact, I was a bit unsure about the dog altogether. I checked the boot.

Checking the boot took longer than expected, as we couldn’t work out how to open it. There was no handle or obvious catch, so Husband checked inside the car. No clever levers or buttons there either. Eventually, I found a tiny round button next to the left rear light, which opened the boot. The cover slid elegantly back – and we both laughed! The boot was tiny. Really tiny. There was no way we could squash a German shepherd dog into it, or even a suitcase actually. Husband assured me this wouldn’t be a problem, as when we go away for the weekend, we could pack our clothes straight into the boot. I had visions of sneaking through hotel reception with pockets stuffed with socks and underwear.
 The boot did, to be fair, comfortably fit my handbag.

We were now on a mission – where could the dog travel? There was no room in the passenger footwell, as the dashboard curved over it. Perhaps the back seat would be the best place (if one didn’t think about muddy damp dogs ruining suede). We moved the front passenger seat forwards, with the rather swish mechanism that raised the seat and then slid it forwards while we watched. We stared at the back seat. It didn’t have much (any) in the way of leg room, but dogs don’t exactly put their feet on the floor when they travel, so that wasn’t a problem. However, the height from seat to aerodynamically designed roof seemed quite small. I slid into the back seat (not as smoothly as the mechanics had slid the front seat forwards) and tried to sit upright. I couldn’t, not without bumping my head on the ceiling. An adult would have to travel on the back seat with their neck bent. This is the sort of thing my children make an unreasonable fuss about, so we wouldn’t be giving them a lift anywhere. I wasn’t quite sure of dog’s height when sitting, but I had images of lolling tongue very near the back of my head while we drove.

We gave up on the LC 500 as a viable car, unless we left the dog at home. If you have lots of money to spare and either very small children or a very small dog who never gets dirty, this is the car for you.

We had a quick look at the Lexus RC, which is smaller and cheaper, and has a bigger boot. Then we wandered down the road. We looked at the Nissan sports car, but couldn’t sit in it as the showroom model had been bought. It wasn’t as pretty as the Lexus LC, cost about the same, and had no more boot room. We popped in to Toyota and Mazda too. But to be honest, I’d lost enthusiasm by this point, and all the cars were beginning to merge into one, so we went home.

Thank you for reading. Have a good week.

Take care,
Love,
Anne x

xxxx
Anne E. Thompson has written several novels and one non-fiction book.
You can follow her blog at:
anneethompson.com

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