Sodden Saturday

Sally stood for ten minutes in the rain, searching out someone who could swap her loose pennies for a ten pence piece. She did not like the new slot trollies but she had no option but to use them if she wanted to buy her groceries from the glossy newly built supermarket. The trollies were heavy and difficult to control. The bruises on her ankles, caused by shoppers trying to keep control of their trollies, were evidence of previous sojourns into this consumer madness they called progress.

The smaller independent shops near her home had closed down so she no longer had any choice but to shop in this giant store. It wasn’t ideal but it was necessary if Sally was to feed her family. It was a situation Sally told herself she would get used to, she had to move with the times. She had to remind herself, yes, this was progress.

But try as she night, Sally hated the new shops, they were too big, too impersonal. There were too many people and the quality of some goods, especially fresh produce was a far cry from that offered by the greengrocer where she’d previously shopped. Gone was the individual attention from the shopkeepers, the friendly chatter whilst waiting for purchases to be handed over in little brown paper bags. Gone was the familiarity, the banter experienced by the children who loved chatting with the shopkeeper.

Eventually, the silver coin slipped into the slot releasing the iron monster: Sally was once again ready to do battle. Ready to make her way up and down the narrow alleyways looking for the items she had carefully written on her shopping list. Being such a big shop, being unfamiliar with the layout which changed regularly anyway it was so easy for Sally, and others like her, to end up buying things she didn’t really want in her search for the things she really needed. So the list, written with great intentions, soon became a forgotten spark of sanity.

Gaining access to the supermarket on a Saturday was a nightmare. Sally had to fight her way through hordes of noisy school aged children pestering the departing customers, asking if they could return their trolleys for them. Often people with cars would abandon their trolleys near where they had parked, left to be grabbed by keen-eyed youngsters who were eager to retrieve the abandoned deposit. For many this was a profitable pastime and worth suffering the wind and rain for a rewarding pocket full of ten pence pieces.

Struggling through the hordes could be quite threatening, as the youngsters jostled with each other almost crashing into the customers trying to get past them. It was difficult not to run into them as the automatic doors opened and closed willy nilly causing trolleys to be hastily withdrawn and rapidly thrust forward. There was no easy way of getting in and out of the shop and it appeared to be worsening by the week.

The two back wheels of the trolley had barely passed through the narrow turnstile when the customary wobble started up. Sally couldn’t fathom how all the trolleys in the bays could be so defective after such a short time in situ. It was only a month or so since they were introduced, four weeks or so since she was lugging two great heavy baskets around the shop. The new trolleys were meant to alleviate all the stress and strain of doing a big weekly shop, making it easier to carry more goods, spend more money, probably buy more than was needed. But they were heavy to push, impossible to manoeuvre and barely fitted down the narrow alleyways.

Passing by the towering racks of sad-looking vegetables the dull thud of her headache beat in time to the never-ending background music. The pounding caused Sally’s brow to crinkle up in a frown of pain and tiredness, furrows embedding themselves permanently beneath her frizzled hairline.

The supermarket was crowded with people of all size and ages, all attempting to manoeuvring cumbersome vehicles piled high with tins and boxes. Battling to reach the cheaper tins of beans which Sally hoped her children would grow to like, Sally’s sleeve caught and toppled several tins of ravioli which cluttered to the ground adding to the tumultuous noise surrounding her. Frustration swept over her as she knelt on one knee to retrieve the spilled cans, disinterested shoppers impatiently stepping over her leg. Their rude tutting, clearly echoing around her head as she attempted to replace the cans on the shelf served to only heighten Sally’s dark mood.

How she hated shopping.

Turning the corner after leaving the bacon counter, Sally narrowly missed running down a young child who jumped out in front of her, growling at her like an aggressive brown bear on the rampage. Her nerve ends already frayed to breaking point, Sally mumbled to herself, “little monster, he should be packed away in a deep freezer’, the passion in her voice revealing her level of anxiety and frustration.

Seemly on his own, the child went off to terrorise other unwary shoppers. Neither supervised nor chastised Sally became angry as she watching other children running amok amongst the shelves. A teenaged roller skater chose that exact moment to crashing into her trolley knocking it off course. Sally struggled to gain control and straighten it as it flew past the tall mountain of coloured toilet rolls that loomed in front of her. Just where were their mothers? Her nerves were frayed and her temper at breaking point. Would she survive much longer?

The final leg of her journey was made harder by the now laden trolley deciding to assert its stubbornness to the full as it suddenly started veering sharply to the left. Despite all the force Sally could muster, the metal contraption refused to obey her as she pulled and pushed it into a position where she could complete her expedition in this nightmarish world.

The queues at the tills were long, and extremely noisy as usual. Saturday was not a good day to replenish the kitchen cupboards, but sally had no other choice. Her husband didn’t come home with his pay until late on Friday evening, too late to shop as the supermarket closed at five o’clock.

Children pushed and shoved each other, banging into near-by trollies. Cries of wanting this or that, followed by the screams of mothers saying no, grated on Sally’s fragile ears. The noise reached a crescendo when one child was grabbed by the arm after ignoring her irate mother’s pleas for her to be settled down and be quiet. The girl suddenly threw herself to the ground kicking and screaming for attention, much to the embarrassment of her mother who appeared unsure what she could do to stop this display of childish temper. Other people turned away embarrassed for the plight of this mother.

Sally was finally out on the street, free from the confines of the building. The gentle swishing of the cars as they drove past through the puddles began to soothe Sally’s nerves as she stood enjoying the relative quiet after the last hour of torture. She joined similar laden ladies waiting to cross the road, lugging behind them wheeled shopping trolleys or bulging bags.

Although the bus stop was only a short distance away, the weight of the tins and bottles nestled in her bags placed tremendous strain on her arms and shoulders as she staggered forward. The few yards seemed like miles as acute tiredness enveloped Sally’s short frame.

Relieved, she watched the yellow bus come trundling up the hill to where she stood. But relief soon turned to frustration Sally as the bus kept on going without stopping. The tired faces of people silhouetted in the lighted bus windows, showed no sympathy for the plight of those still standing on the pavement as they passed by.

The next bus wasn’t due for another half an hour. Sally considered her options. Stay there braving the cold and wet for thirty minutes or start walking. She would get very wet but At least if she was on the move, she would be warmer. And so it was that dark wet day that Sally set off along the road to home.

Sally was just approaching the turn off to her house when the next bus finally came along pausing at the bus stop just long enough to disgorge its weary passengers onto flooded pavements.

By the time Sally turned the key in her front door and deposited her bags on the kitchen table her arms were numb, her shoulders were on fire and the headache that she had woken with this morning now resembled a mechanical pile-driver threatening to split her skull wide open. Too tired to remove her sodden coat. Too tired to do anything, Sally flopped her bottom onto the kitchen chair. Her head atop one of the bags, grateful for the softness of the pack of toilet rolls that cushioned her thumping head, Sally’s eyes slowly closed and she breathed a huge sigh of relief. Oblivious of the voices calling to ask what was for lunch, Sally slipped away on a sea of dreams, thankful that Saturday was over for another week.

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….shame you can’t bottle it!

This afternoon I have been teaching my grandson Collin how to sew mini owl key rings. His Aunty cut out the shapes and explained about adding the features. And together they came up with several unique owlets. You could almost grasp the patience emanating from the two of them, as they helped each other to with useful advice. I think Collin made a great job of them for his first attempt at sewing. And he is so enthusiastic, you can’t teach or buy that so I’ll be encouraging him to try other things over the weekend.

From the look on his face when he was sitting at the table,  my sewing machine in front of him, I could see in his face the desire to have a try at using it.  Maybe one day next week when I have the time needed to talk him through the mechanics of using the machine. But until then he will have to be content to use the old needle and thread.

And content he was.  He is a very able learner and after being shown just once how to do something he had the confidence to carry out the instructions correctly.  I must admit I was surprised at how quickly he picked up the different techniques, but there again I have found some of the more able children I have worked have tended to be of the male sex when it comes to crafts and needlework.

And Collin wasn’t no different, but I couldn’t get him to leave it till later and go up to bed.  “I’ll just sew this side Grandma”, he said, his little fingers flying back and forth as he worked his way round the miniature felt shapes. So keen was he, it was hard to be firm and insist it was too late to still be sewing. If only I could bottle all that enthusiasm, he would make his Grandma a very rich woman.

Not a battery in sight, no TV, no technology, and no moaning or complaining he was bored, just overwhelming eagerness. And the look on his face when I took a photo of the finished product, was a testament to the level of enjoyment he’d gained from our time together

During the time we were discussing how successful the outcome, I asked what he wanted to do with these little critters.  He asked could he give his mum one as a present.  Of course I said that would be fine, I’m sure mum will be very pleased with the finished product and will proudly show it off to her friends.   Then I suggested he carry on making key rings and he can sell them to make himself a bit pocket-money. I’m sure people would happily give a pound or so for his little owls.

I am so proud of my grandson, he reminds me so much of my late Dad who was also very clever with his hands.  When he wasn’t building a new cupboard or a bookcase, you’d find my Dad removing screws, and nuts and bolts all  in the name of ‘repairing’ some household appliance or other.  And it was never fixed properly if there wasn’t at least one screw left over., or so I was told.

My dad had a knitting machine on which he knitted our jumpers. He was a competent needleworker  having been raised in a family where the talents of all, boys and girls were valued and encouraged.  His stint doing national Service ensured he honed his repair skills using a needle and thread.  He taught me how to darn his socks when I was about nine years old.  I still have his old mushroom should the fashion for  darning  socks return I’ll be more than prepared to take up where I left off.

The thing my dad made that had the greatest effect on me was the Valentines cake he made for my mother.  Three layers high, it was decorated with pink marzipan and icing sugar hearts.  I remember coming home from school to find it sitting in the middle of the dining room table like a little pink palace of loveliness.  I was so envious, I wanted to learn how to do the same, but had to wait a couple of days for him to teach me how to make the cake, minus the pink hearts.

There wasn’t much my dad couldn’t accomplish, and he passed his abilities to me.   He taught me so much, he was always encouraging me to try different things to stretch my abilities.  I tried to pass on what I know to my children and in turn those of my grandchildren who have shown an interest.

I am looking forward to introducing Collin to other areas of creativity that I suspect he’ll thoroughly enjoy.

Nobody Steps Twice Into the Same River……

Nobody Steps Twice Into The Same River…..

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This intrigued me when I heard it the other day, and it set me off thinking again. Initially I thought what a silly thing to say, but then when the little wheels started grating round and round in my head I realised that it was a perfectly logical statement that made a lot of sense.

Each year on a summer’s day my family would march off to the local railway station, sit waiting on the same wooden benches to wait for the old steam train to draw up hauling the same old coaches filled with the same excited people all off on a jaunt to the seaside. Each year we set off for  a little bay called Cullercoats, situated on the scenic and beautiful Northumberland Coast.

Each year my grandparents, my Aunty, Uncle and their family would join ours for a fun-filled day, each year saw a new addition to the family wrapped up safely in the same old pushchairs.

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Each year my nanna would fashion a ‘table’ out of the same sand, cover it in the same red and white checkered table-cloth to furnish us kids with a unique table from which to eat our pooled picnic.

Each year I would wait in line at the little hut at the bottom of the ramp, next to the shawled old lady who sold the same old willicks and mussels collected by her and her family from the same rocks for the usual summer customers. Reaching the head of the queue I’d pay a few pennies for hot water to fill the dark brown boody teapot to make the tea, then ever so carefully carry it back across the damp sand to be given pride of place in the centre of the plates of stottie bread sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, bread and jam.

Each year we would tuck into our feast like it was going to be our last, chatting to each other incessantly, until one of the adults told us to quieted down.  The silence would last a minute or two before exploding into the same all chatter.  Each year there would be another mouth to feed as our families slowly expanded, so babies bottles would have to be mixed and cooled, until eventually everyone, young and old, had their bellies filled.

Each year we children would strip down to our underwear, replacing our overly warm clothes with our swim suits. We always came warmly dressed in anticipation of the changeable north-easterly summer weather. It could be so hot one moment, then a wind or a sea fret would spring from nowhere and we’d be glad of the extra warmth of the cardigan or jumper our parents had insisted we’d worn. Often after the fret and the wind, the rain would then pour down from the heavens, then the sun would be back out drying everything up. However, nothing could ever spoil our day, so we would shelter under hastily unfurled umbrellas determined to have fun regardless.  Many a game of rounders has been played by children running around with brollies or large hankies tied over their heads to keep their hair dry.

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Each year after a plodge in the same cold North Sea, we’d climb the same wall to walk to the end of the same pier, scrabble about on the same rocks below before returning to the fold.  Wrapped in the same big towels we used year after year, we would eat and eat, complaining about the inevitable grains of sand that snuck into every nook and cranny, between the pieces of our stottie, and lying in the bottom of our cups when we drained our tea.  And once the food was all  gone, the cloth would be shaken to scatter the crumbs across the sand, for the squealing, diving seagulls who has been waiting nearby.  Crockery and cutlery would be packed away in the shopping bags and the adults would settle down in the same old striped canvas deck chairs, hired for the day, so they could have a grown-up natter and a game of pontoon whilst the kiddies played. Each year we followed the same timetable, the same tradition, on the same old sandy beach.

Each year our hunger sated, the thought of pirates drew us to the dark dank odorous caves, where we played out fantasy after fantasy, searching for treasure, rescuing each other from roving brigands, from sea monsters and imagined creatures of the deep. We’d scream into the darkness, hearing the noise bouncing of the cave walls till the echoes faded and died.

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And each year we would take our few pennies up to the shops, buy ourselves a stick of seaside rock or a sugar dummy, then ‘lose’ our remaining few pennies in the one arm bandits before returning to the beach.

 

 

Each year buckets and shovels in hand, we would build the same huge sand castles decorated with same treasures we’d found at the water’s edge; shells and feathers, drift wood and seaweed, precious stones, pebbles and rocks, they all found a place in our glorious designs.  And of course the obligatory moat; no self-respecting castle would be complete without one. How else could our beautiful princess locked up in the high tower escape when the tide came in?

Each year the friendly competition between families would spill over to include  other families  near by who would collaborate in our fantasy  buildings.  Teams formed by children and adults would compete against each other in a variety of ball games and the beach would ring with laughter and screams of delight.Each year we would approach the inevitable clearing up time with little enthusiasm as the kids scrambled around trying to find their socks and shoes, vest and knickers, buckets and spades. Each year the adults would join in the hunt for the missing articles whilst at the same time trying to round-up all the youngsters from amongst the other kids spread across the crowded beach.

 

And each year, at the end of a long day groups of tired, sleepy children would pile into the same Cullercoats train station, then climb onto the same old train, homeward bound.  Huddled together in the old carriages, the whistle blowing and the steam leaving vaporous trails in the darkening sky, sleepy children curled up together, dreaming of the wonderful day we had all had, but nonetheless happy to be returning to our homes.

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And so the pattern went year after year. Nothing changing. Except it could never be the same,  for everything  changes. No matter what we do or where we go, who we are with and why we are doing it,  whatever the weather or the occasion we can never ever fully recreate the exactly same situation or scenario that we have previously experienced. Nothing and no one stands still in time. Each second of every minute sees the tiniest of changes that can alter the following second, then the next and the next and so on, infinitum.

So, yes can can step in the river twice , except it can never be the SAME river. As the water flows each molecule is constantly being replace, each stone,  pebble,  grain of sand is moved and worn ever so slightly in the current, the temperature changes constantly so it can never be the same twice.

Nobody steps into the same river twice, or in our case, onto the same sand or into the same sea twice.

 

The Very Curious Incident of the Girl In the Photograph

I make no excuses for the title; if it bears any semblance to a well-known book and play by the author Mark Haddon it is purely deliberate.

Just recently I logged onto the Newcastle’s Classic photos page on Facebook and came across this photograph dating back to round about the late 19th century. It shows a group of people waiting expectantly for some unknown reason. Most of the figures appear to be gazing up the street in anticipation, though it could well be that the person behind the camera had instructed the crowd in their pose. The lady at the back beside the wall appears to be biting her fingers with a look of apprehension on her face as she watches for someone or something to appear down the cobbled road. I thought maybe a visit from some dignitary was expected but surely, that being such a rare occurrence at the time such a visit it would have surely drawn greater crowds of people. One will never know the occasion of the scene. Nevertheless, the photo is a wonderful testament to the society of the day, a true reflection of the history of the people of Newcastle upon Tyne.

As the city expanded and the population increased, travelling down towards the quay side were rows of rundown lowly buildings, well past their best, inhabited by ordinary folks who rented individual rooms to house their often large families. The buildings themselves, were most often the remnants of houses abandoned when the gentry and more affluent members of the time moved away to the more pleasant suburbs; away from the overcrowding; away from he stench of the working river. The dwellings left behind quickly became slums, as families too large for the individual rooms struggled to live in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. Families consisting of mum and dad and ten, fifteen or up to twenty children was not unusual. Neither was the fact that some families with more than one room dwellings often rented out one of the rooms to a couple of lodgers to compliment their lowly wages. How different to our world today.

It was only when I looked further at the buildings and focused on the figures that I became intrigued as to why they were standing there waiting. imageBack in those days people had to stand posed for quite a while before the photograph was taken: I couldn’t imagine many children today staying still for so long. Photograph wasn’t available for everyone, yet here was a street scene that could have been taken right off the page of a Dickens’ novel. As I further scanned the photograph I was taken aback by the curly-haired youngster standing in the foreground. She was so familiar I felt I knew her. But how could that be? I may be getting on a bit, but I certainly wasn’t around a hundred plus years ago. Where had I seen her before? Could I have seen this photograph previously but forgotten about it? I didn’t think so. The girl did seem familiar yet I didn’t recall the buildings. Maybe I was imaging it, but I did feel like I knew this girl from somewhere.

I wondered, did I have a copy of this picture amongst my own? Maybe I had a copy in my family tree or in a folder waiting to be added into my family history album. It was then that it occurred to me that this young girl closely resembled myself at a similar age, a face I remember seeing in a photograph taken by my Dad in my granddad’s garden when I was about twenty months old. I remembered the photograph being in my cupboard so I dug out the box and trawled through the old pictures until eventually I found what I was searching for. Yes, the young girl looked a bit like me as I’d thought but on closer examination I was confronted with could only be described as my doppelgänger, which was quite a shock. I told myself it was just my imagination: but closer examination with a magnifying glass confirmed what I had initially thought might be a slight resemblance was anything but. image Those two pictures could have been of the exact same person. Yet more than a hundred years separated them. Both girls look well fed and cared for, especially the girl in the oldest of the two photos. In comparison, Some of the other children looked a bit unkempt, were barefooted and looked a bit grubby.

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I was intrigued, I copied both the photographs, cropped the old one and put the two figures next to each other.

The result took my breath away. Maybe it was just a coincidence, maybe it was just a trick of the camera creating the resemblance, so I dug through more photos and there near the bottom of the box was another picture of me that also mirrored this girl from so long ago.

imageThis set me to thinking, who had that young girl been? Could she have been one of my ancestors? The photo was taken somewhere in old Newcastle where my great grandparents had lived. In fact, my paternal Nanna had been born in Nunn Street, almost in the centre of the town so there is every possibility that there is a family connection. Who could this girl have been? Perhaps I will never know, but one day I will find the time to do some research, hopefully finding out the reason the people are standing there, and from that find out her identity.

And so, thereby begins the tale of,
‘The Very Curious Incident of the Girl in the Photograph’

My Little Hero

The last couple of days have been very busy, one of our grandsons has been staying with us whilst his mum has been at work.  Six year old  Chris suffers from quite severe asthma that can flare up in a very short time and often results in him being admitted into hospital.  Last weekend he had a bad attack and over the last week has had two more bad episodes. His temperature has been fluctuating rapidly and the usual steroids and his inhalers have had very little effect on his condition, and he’s been so tired and lethargic. But that hasn’t prevented him from telling me how to make his thermometer work.  My technical expertise is limited to the toaster and my laptop.

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It’s so hard to watch Chris  struggling for his breath, to feel his little heart beating so fast you could almost imagine it exploding, and being utterly powerless to stop it.  Two nights this week he’s had next to no sleep, napped for short times throughout the day and had little energy to do anything except watch cartoons on the television. His grandad took Chris for a walk to the park, but he didn’t have the energy to play, and asked to be brought back home.

He misses so much of his schooling, which is worrying.   He  could get some work from school to do whilst he’s  off school, but he wouldn’t have the energy to do it.  Consequently,  he has to work twice as hard at school when he goes back.  There are so many children who suffer from this debilitating illness. Some children however do outgrow this condition, but sadly Chris is not one of them.  But despite all this, he is a happy, amusing young man, who loves to chat to people, who never complains no matter how bad his day, and who is so  cuddly and loving, you just can’t help but love him back.

Mind you, when he stays with us he works hard for his keep. He’s my little tester for the busy books and activities I make. He loves to try them all and tell me what he thinks is good or bad about each one, and helps me decide how and what changes I may need to make. Which is one if the reasons why I rarely make two things exactly the same.

He’s also keeps an eye on his Grandad, monitoring his driving and telling me if he says any naughty words. Only yesterday he told me his grandad had said the the ‘s’ word. My friend and I thought for ages but couldn’t think what he meant. Then Chris whispered, “it starts with s and it has a h next to it, but if you put them together it makes sh. And there is it at the end.” He then proceeded to sound out the word, quicker and quicker till he was saying it. You can’t get angry with him he is so funny. He’s a special little boy, unique in so many ways.

When his mum came to collect him tonight he just wanted loads of cuddles from his big brother whom he’d missed so much. Together,  they laid out an Easter egg hunt,  round my house, using the baskets Chris had made earlier on in the day with his grandad.  Chris really enjoys making things, solving problems and adapting things so they work the way he wants them to.  He loves nothing better than getting in a mess  whilst creating something, the messier the better.

He  never moans about how hard his life can be, or how poorly he feels.   He manages his condition so well, he’s able to tell me and his grandad what we need to do to assist him, how many puffs of each inhaler he needs and  when he needs them.

Chris is my little hero, an inspiration.

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Alice

On Christmas Eve 2013, we were blessed with our first GREAT grandchild; a beautiful little girl named Alice Jayne. Alice, her mum and grandma came to visit on Saturday after visiting the Church to book Alice’s christening for April. She is such a placid, happy baby who has already stolen the hearts of everyone she’s met in her short life.
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Although we phone or message each other almost every day, we don’t always get to see each other often because of work commitments and the distance between our homes. So visits are very precious to us. The church is also a distance from their homes but it is where two of my children, and most of my twelve grandchildren were baptised and where my daughter was married. On our fortieth wedding anniversary, four years ago, my husband and I renewed our wedding vows there, in the company of our family and friends.

On Christmas Eve most of the family come here before going down to church for the children’s service, and preparation of the Crib. It’s become a family tradition, going to church, back to grandmas, then changing into their Christmas pyjamas before going off home to hang up their stocking. Then snuggle down in bed to wait for Santa Claus. It was so nice to hear Alice’s parents want her to have her christening at our church.

Now all I have to do is find the baptism gift and record book that I bought last year. As usual I put them away somewhere safe, but up to now my searches have been futile. Somewhere in my home is an invisible room full of things that I put away safe and have never seen again.
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Our parish church is a beautifully modernised building, over 100 years old. It’s home to a small but dedicated congregation who manage to keep the place alive, despite being in an area where almost all of the houses were demolished a couple of years ago. Initially, the estate was to have been rebuilt, but the plans were buried in an office by the local authority when the financial situation affected the housing department. Recently, a very small portion of the land has been earmarked for a few new houses to be built. The roads have been laid and signs of walls rising from the ashes. And so the church stands virtually alone at the opposite end of the estate, a visual reminder of the faith of the people who keep it alive and slowly growing.

Whilst we were chatting I suddenly realised that there were four generations of our family all together in my living room.  But not only that but we are all female. And so I’m going off to look for a photographer who’ll take a photograph for us to record what is an unique occurrence.