Nevada Days by Bernardo Atxaga

 

 

 

Nevada Days by Bernardo Atxaga

Basque (Spanish) fiction

Original title – Nevadako Egunak

Translator – Maragaret Jull Costa

Source – Review copy

Another from the ten-year celebration library of Maclehose Press called Read the world. I have already reviewed one of the Series Belladonna by Dasa Drndric , which I reviewed last month. Like Dasa Bernardo is another favourite writer I have read most of his books, there are two under review here. Seven house in France and The Lone man . There is still a number of books to come from the read the world list it is worth checking them out they are all from well known or rising writers from around the world.

In the image I found on the internet the spider was black and shiny, as if it were made of a mixture of metal and plastic. It had a red mark like a diabolo on its belly. Its legs were long and strong and hairless, almost polished. Its body was no longer than a hazelnut.

According to the article accompanying the image, the poison of the black widow was a neurotoxin, and its bite, which might seem innocuous at first, caused severe pain, like the pain of a heart attack or appendictis, only simultaneously. It also caused tremors, faintness, dizziness, nausea and wort of all , a sudden rise in blood pressure. the article emphasised, however , that the bite was rarely fatal,  and was only really a danager to children and the elderly.

The meeting with the Black widow that nipped him .

Nevada Days is a wonderful collection of Vignettes about a nine-month visit to Nevada where Bernardo Atxaga is to teach at the Basque department at the University of Nevada. We see over 150 of these snippets how he and his family settle in. From their initial meetings with a few of the less savoury locals a racoon that takes to watching over them, then a Black Widow spider. Then the scenery of this place drifts over Bernardo reminds him of his past, but also the present as he drifts from his Basque childhood to the present and wild horse in these little gems. The family, I laughed at times especially when he talks to his mum a remark about his brother that never married ( he is gay ) a worry for his elderly mother. Then there is the food the shock the first time we see them eat they are shocked by the size of the portions which face them.

“I can remember waking up in the morning, and, as far as i could see in any direction, there were only sagebrushes and rocks and runted little junipers. Though the Basques are used to being alone, these deserts were something else. In the first months, how many times I cried in my camp bed at night – remembering my home, remembering the beautiful green Basque country”

The early Basques that came to Nevada were Shepards, poor and struggle to adapt from there homeland.

Atxaga stated in an interview he had 250 of these small reflections he had written at the time and he had edited down to 150 pieces. His other books have all reflected somewhat on life from the lone man a  man with secrets, then in seven house, it is a reflection on a war. Here it is a reflection on his life a time in his life when he sees more behind him than in front of him. This is classic Maclehose press choice of a book. one that defies categories it is part autobiography, part fiction and part lament for Basque home and family life. The tales range from the intimate to the observational, witty and laments. A piece about the shepherds reminds me of the shepherds from Basque Adrein Bosc book Constellation that died in that crash but on the way to a new life in Nevada.

The children by Carolina Sanin

The children by Carolina Sanin

Colombian Fiction

Original title – Los niños

Translator – Nick Caistor

Source – review copy

When I started the blog ,I be hard pushed to have name more than one writer from Columbia that wasn’t Marquez but in the years in between we have seen a wave of new writers from Columbia Rosero , Vasquez and Gamboa .Now here is another name to add to that list . This is her first book to appear in English and her second novel she has taught in New york hispanic studies and is considered a rising talent .

Laura Romero heard that the woman  who watched the cars outside the supermarket was offering her a child. She heard her say “I’ll keep a child for you “. But Laura was not sure whether the woman really did watch the cars. She knew that when she finished her shopping , she gave her some coins as if to pay, and that her car had never gone missing . Maybe that was because she only left it there during daylight and when there were lots of people about , but it was also possible that the woman had some influence over the car thieves.That she was their mother , for example

Before Fidel arrives Laura misses what she said at the supermarket.

The children is one of those books that is hard to put in a category. The story Follows Laura after she is going to the supermarket one day and like other days she is met by a beggar woman , but is ask if she wants her a child thinking no more of it she gives her some money .But later that night a boy appears outside her house .The boy fidel know nothing other than his six years old . So she sets off to find out about this boy. Laura herself is a strange character as the story unfold she has money from her families salt mines  , she works as a housekeeper as she like to clean and sort the  houses she works in  a strange OCD, but doesn’t need the money . She is reading Moby Dick maybe the boy is her Moby Dick as he seems to have come from nowhere and maybe at points he has trance like fits you wonder is he real or maybe like the whale in the mind of the crew a ghost that isn’t real just in Laura’s eyes in Moby Dick a metaphor for something else .Then we she Laura battling the bureaucracy in what is a Kafka like nightmare  race to find out about Fidel  as she sees how slow the wheels turn.

Brus became aware of Fidel’s existence before she did it was shortly before midnight on Saturday , and laura had just filled the hot-water bottle she took to bed with her.The dog began to bark and then howl, and in between could be heard sobs that  seemed to have been learned by heart, as if they came  from a child who knows he is too big to still be crying like that . Laura titled her head that way Brus did when se asked him something , and realised that the sound was coming from the street, on the right-hand side of the building as you looked out. She went onto the balcony . A boy was looking up from the pavement, three storeys down. As soon as he saw her appear , he stopped crying

Fidel appeared and was noticed by her dog Brus .

This is one of those novels that leaves you with more questions than answers, much in the vain of a number of latin American novel particular Evelio Rosero .But also a framing of a lost child or ghost child that has frequently appeared in literature . Also a connection between a woman and a child that isn’t her child this is a theme that appeared in Fever Dream. Add to that Laura is reading Moby Dick a book itself that is about obsession and ghosts. This is a clever novella that like Fever dream from this years Man booker shows the strength of latin american fiction.

 

Belladonna by Daša Drndić

Belladonna by  Daša Drndić

Croatian fiction

Original title Belladonna

Translator Celia Hawkesworth

Source – Review copy

As I said in yesterday’s post , I’d be back in Croatia today with one of my favourite writers Dasa is someone I was lucky enough to have met when her first book in English was shortlisted for the old IFFP . Ispent a good hour talking books and lit with her so this book is no surprise as one of the things we talked about is how important books can be at highlighting the darker side of the world we live in and this is something she felt English novels miss somewhat. Dasa is a writer in various ways radio plays , short piece for Croatian magazines like work , savremenik and literary word.

His name is Andreas Ban

He is a psychologist who does not psycholoise any more

A writer who no longer writes.

He is a tourist guide who no longer guides anyone anywhere.

A swimmer who has not swum for a long time.

He has other occupations that no-one any longer needs , he least of all

He is sixty- five , he looks pretty good, like fifty

Andreas is treading water in his life when the end of his career comes.

 

The hero of this book is Andreas Ban , a writer , psychologisvt and what one would say is a intellctual in every sense of the word. But he is now in that last third of his life facing retirement and this is his life from them . Looking back on the past and trying to see what brought him to the point he is at.Now the title of this book has a varied meaning in part it is best shown in the croat cover where the cover has an eye with a drop , which is what Belladonna is used for to help open the eye but also on the cover Belladonna is written in red the colour of bloood and also in Braile below. I feel this gives the really meaning of the book it is a look back on the blood of his home land  both in a fictional sense and also in the sense of real history in the use of  history again like in her earlier work Dasa use list of names to amplify the lost sense of history . I know this is something Dasa is passionate about using the horrors of the past to shine a light on the way Europe seems to be going blind into a new right-wing world . Any way we see this through Andres Ban eyes a man who has become a piece in a machine an email tells him he has left his job then he becomes ill and feels like a piece in a machine in this ever quickening world .Maybe the answer is in the title for what Andreas has to do !

For a year and a half , the angel of death (Mengele) keep his seven dwarves in a human zoo and examines their insides.

The worst were the gynecological experiments.They would tie us to a table and the systematic torture could begin. We got shots into our womb, they took blood from us, samples of our flesh and fluid from our spinal cords, they pierced and cut us, pulled out our hair, examined our brain , our nose , our mouth, our legs and arms, they dug around and drilled through us in the name of those who will come .I am Elizabeth

A passage about past hours that reminds us of the dark not so distant past we had .

 

 

It is hard not to sing the praises of Dasa , after you meet her she is articulate passionate and one of those writers you meet and know you will love all their books. I also feel the same feeling she does the growing right-wing nature of the world we live in is one we are slowly going into and with out books like this to remind us of what is around us .Like in here earlier books she blends fiction and non fiction and the use of list of names is as powerful as when she used it in Trieste as she said to me when you remove these names from the book it becomes unstable and unbalanced and that is what happens in the world when these people are killed for no reason. Dasa is one of the great writer one that needs to be more widely read !!

 

Monte Carlo By Peter Terrin

Monte Carlo by Peter Terrin

Belgian  fiction

Original title – Monte Carlo

Translator – David Doherty

Source – Review copy

Now on to the books that could be on next years man booker list and first up is the second book I have reviewed buy the rising star of Belgian fiction Peter Terrin , I reviewed him first when he was part of the best european fiction in 2010. Since then he had his novels the Guard and post-mortem come out in english this is the first of his books I have read , I do have the earlier books and read the guard but it slipped the review net at the time. But this is a book about a time I love the golden age of motor sport in the 60’s when we got the feel of this book in the film Grand prix .But the other side of this book is obsession Male obsession and also how scars can become attractive to woman .

It happens by accident . The woman has been holding the camera for some time , peering through the viewfinder now and again, taking the occasional snap. But now she waits, realising that the film is almost full, that she probably has only one photograph left. She wants to wait for the right moment, yet later she will not be able to recall taking the final shot .The fuel is no longer liquid , the transition is taking place.She remembers the heat hitting her face, an invisible cloud, the fire not yet fire

The photo misses Jacks part in saving Dee Dee

The book starts as we join jack Preston ,he is a mechanic for Team sutton, the rising team on the grid. They are in the city of Monte Carlo for the Monaco Grand prix , probably the most iconic of all the race on the formula one circuit and always one to attract the beautiful people and One such is Deedee one of those sixties starlets , I got a feel of cross between Bardot , Fonda and Rigg . Even to later in the book having a part in  the Avengers .Well she has caught Jack’s eye and as an accident on the grid cause a fireball and he save her  from it and after wards has to return to his old home to recover and awaits a thank you but no mention .This is where the book turns and the screw of obsession turns as he waits for her and for his team to come to his aid and free him from provincial life.His wife also has become a bit of vixen driven by her husbands scars

One evening Deedee looked straight into his eyes

Steed had disappeared without trace and she did not know whether he was alive or dead. Speechless, racked with doubt, she wnet into the bathroom, leaned against the washbasin and gazed into the mirror – straight into the camera’s lens – for seconds on end

Jack Prestons nails deep into the arm of the settee.

there was no need for her to speak.

She was entrusting something to him.To him alone.Her look was like a whisper in his ear.

Jack’s obsession with Deedee has grown since he returned home .

He has been compared to Kafka before but at times this was to me an Homage to Hitchcock in a way the way Dee Dee is described made me think of the classic starlets that made the golden age of Hitchcock films like Vertigo or rear window(even Grace Kelly is at the track ) .He manages to get the feeling of male obsession as Deedee becomes both a thing of love and hate in Jack’s eyes . Terrin manages to get the feel of the time a new tobacco sponsor for the team reminds you of when the cars where Jps or Malboro colours  . This novel is about  how Jack  thought he saw something in a glimpse of a second just  before the  disaster struck and how that small moment has led to a mix of obsession and hate as he awaits being acknowledge for what he did. Then there is the return home and his obsessive wife for his scars  that has made her a vixen.While Jack grows in love and loathing at lack of thanks for what he did from Deedee which means a year later the race has a sad start as things come to a head.Terrin has written a short novel that has a classic feel to its writing and settings .

 

Fish have no feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson

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Fish have no feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson

Icelandic Fiction

Original title – Fiskarnir hafa enga fætur

Translator – Philip Roughton

Source – Review copy

So I reach the final post of this years Man Booker journey , with one of my favourite writers and a writer that has been on the longlist for the old iffp . Jon Kalman Stefansson is another of those talent Icelandic writers. This is also the first time he has tackled a more modern-day Iceland than before in his books the earlier two I reviewed were from his trilogy Heaven and Hell and The sorrow of angels . Like his earlier book it also involves family and  but in a more personnel way than before.

I mean no disrespect , but ari is the only person who could have dragged me back here , across  the expanse of black lava that ground to a painful halt hundreds of years ago, naked in places, but elsewhere moss has softened and soothed it, clothed it in silence and serenity; you drive out of Reykjavik past the long aluminium smelter and into the lava, which at first is an old scream , and then moss-covered silence .

Ari returns to a changed place with his friend !!

This is a journey into the heart of what is modern Iceland told through two generations of the same icelandic family . The first is Ari in the present but also his childhood years  on the seventies and eighties . He has arrived home from Copenhagen and  is remembering his childhood in the town of Keflavik , a town that is home to the huge Us airbase NASKEF that was in use til 2005 , this also had like many airbases there is a ripple effect this is seen through Ari memories of his childhood of trying to grow up in the Iceland of the day which wasn’t the one we know but on the way and being tinged by America .Then Nordfjordur is the setting for the second tale a small fishing village cling to the land and the story of Ari grandparents is a tragic love story . This is juxtaposed by the modern marriage of their grandson. This is a story of nation that has changed so much in two generations .

We walk past the january 1976 bar , from which two middle-aged woman emerge , lighting cigarettes before the door shuts behind them, shuts on Rod Stewart singing “Maggie May” inside, It’s evening and we’re tipsy from the red wine and whisky we drank at the hotel and we walk down Hafnargata street, which is far tidier now than in the past, when we first walked down it with Asmundur ; Mayor Sigurjon has done a good job cleaning things up.

I liked this passage as it was as thou past, present we’re one leading me to think the narrator wasn’t in the present just the past !

Now it is hard not to see Ari in some part as being a veiled version of the writer himself , there is points when he talks about the eighties and growing up the music he listen to you feel him looking at his own collection of music and life , Like Ari Jon Kalman spent time in Denmark and also grew up in Keflavik. He has managed to writer a semi biographical novel using Ari but not as ari but more as a friend of him that is the narrator of the story, I was reminded of tv shows of recent years that use a detached voice as the narrator for the series , especially the recent netflix series thirteen reason why  which like this recounts past events in the present. Also Desperate housewives   where the whole series was told by a woman who was dead at the beginning of the book.Is this unnamed narrator an actual person or a lost friend of Ari that is long gone. In some ways this is maybe his answer to the likes of Knausgaard writing less of rooting in ones own past and pouring it on the page for every one to read no this is a carefully picked version of his history and how it feels to return home and remember what you like because the black side is there but isn’t what we remember this is the sense of drawing what was best in someway in your childhood.This is more personnel than his  earlier books which means it is maybe a harder read but more accessable

The Shadow Man booker shortlist

We choose this year to announce the shortlist after the actual announcement . This was mainly as we all had a number of books to read this year and a number were 400 plus pages we gave everyone chance to read them , I read them all in the time but haven’t reviewed them all yet this week I hope to be done and will look back at the six below titles as we try to find the actual shadow winner .Well our six books are

Fever dream by Samantha Schweblin

Compass by Mathias Enard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen

Judas by Amos Oz

Fish have no feet  by Jón Kalman Stefánsson

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Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer

So there is our six a great list I feel as it has two books by two of my favourite publisher Fitzcarraldo and Maclehose press. What has been your favourite book

The unseen by Roy jacobsen

The unseen by Roy Jacobsen

Norweigian fiction

Original title – De Usynlige

Translators – Don Bartlett and Don Shaw

Source – review copy

Well I’m a year late reviewing this one it was one of those that fell through the net of books , I get sent a number have my own and library books sometimes one misses some great books so when it was on the Man booker longlist , I was pleased I had a copy near at hand  and with the shadow shortlist due out tomorrow ,I’m reaching the final few books of this years list. Roy Jacobsen life is interesting he spent time in Prison as a youth as he was involved in gangs he has twice been up for the Nordic book prize , woth his earlier Novel seierherrene is considered a classic of the class journey people can take in Norway culture “the great class Journey ” . This book was a bestseller in Norway which considering Jacobsen is a writer with 13 earlier novels  and a number of short story collections is a writer that os seeming produce great books still.

They walk silently past the store , there will be no shopping today, continue down to the trading post and clamber on board the faering . Hans Barroy observes the wind has turned and picked up , it is now a south-westerly. He hauls up the sail and struggles to make a sharp tack homeward.Then the rain comes down. Harder and Harder the further they get ti the mouth of the Fjord. Barbo and Ingrid shelter under the sheepskin.

He captures the cold and danger of just sailing home .

The Unseen is  for me a perfect set up as a novel , I love villages and this is a village but even better a village on a small island . I love tales of people caught out of time the main family Barroy Ingrid and her father Hans he time is the start of the last century as world war looms .Hans wants to link the island to the mainland and the island can’t be seen from there but the island can see the main land . This is a tough place like many island communities they have to battle to survive scrapping out a living on fishing and farming of sorts , this is a place where people mark the seasons with the return of certain birds a place of isolation an island separate that is being pulled towards the modern world .

The hosed]s on Barroy stand at an oblique angle to each other. From above they look like four dice someone has thrown a random, plus a potato cellar that becomes an igloo in the winter. There are flagstones to walk on between the houses, clothes racks and grass paths radiating in all directions, but actually the building act as awedge against stormy weather so that they can’t be flattened, even if the whole sea were to pour over the island .

This remind me of the old huts and how they were built of Alisha craig

I was reminded of the Scottish islands where life is tough but communities thrive as they survive just because they had to but like Barroy a lot of these faced at the time the book is set the loss people as the distant Mainland via war and communication becoming quick shrank . I was  most remind of Alisha Craig the outcrop os an Island that until 1928 was the source of the granite for Curling stones a small island that like Barroy in the book had grown  into its own little microcosm . This is a beautiful insight into a world that is familiar but strange at the same time a place no gone with the modern age these islands are as connected as anywhere and in a way have lost their identity somewhat that is what Jacobsen gives us an insight into a lost world .

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

French Memoir

Original title – Immortelle Randonnée : Compostelle malgré moi

Translator – Martina Dervis and Malcom Imrie

Source – Review copy

I have reviewed one novel by Rufin before Red collar ,which I loved and him as a person I felt was an interesting character he was an early member of Médecins Sans Frontières and also action against hunger . He has also been an ambassador for France to Senegal and Gambia . He has also won two versions of the Prix Goncourt in his time the one for the first novel with his debut and the main prize for his book Red Brazil .But this non fiction work grabbed me when it dropped through the door earlier this year.

What makes the camino de santiago different is that it is not a punishment but a voluntary ordeal. At least , that is what you think, though this view will be swiftly challenged by experience.Anyone who walks the Camino will sooner or later end up thinking they were condemned to it . The fact that they condemned themselves alters nothing; the punishments we impose on ourselves are often no less rigorous than those society inflicts.

Before he sets out he tries to find out more about the camino

The reason I was grabbed bu this book is because I have a small interest in the way of st james or as it is called Camino de Santiago a group or pilgrimage paths across  France and Spain and earlier ones that go into england as well  . We follow Jean Christophe across the Northern route which is the coastal path  the northern route as he considered it a quieter route and would meet less pilgrims on the way but also the journey he recalls the place this one takes in a number of cities along the way Bilbao and Ovideo both of which Rufin describeds very well and then the few pilgrims he meets he describes in breif pen sketches their reasons and where they are from for the journey .as he recalls his time on the Camino .

The third category , not so much romantic but no less touching, is composed of those who knew love a long time ago , entered into the sacred bonds of matrimony, and then suffered its trials and tribulations until their greatest wish was to be free again but the freedom they seek is of the kind and considerate sort – they don’t want to break up a happy families or hurt anyone, they just want a breather,with a little help from Saint James

The man he met from the saint James association was from this third group that take Pilgrimage.

The book is written after he completed the walk , so he kept no notes so what is kept is the bare bones pf what he remember . He took it as a challenge , a journey of discovery but he wanted a to take a less trodden route the northern one .I first came across the way of Saint James in the series Brian Sewell did in the early 2000 about his journey on the camino back in the 1960 when it wasn’t quite as popular as itis now , with 200,00 plus people a year taking the route from barely a 1000 in the early eighties . Another story about the Camino is the 2010 film which  Martin sheen starred in a film directed by his son called the The way about a father completing his late son journey on the camino . The we also have Cees Nooteboom book . Like Rufin they all reveal how people are effected by the camino. The journey is more followed now maybe the pilgrimage is like the third type of pilgrim is a way to clear your slate in the modern age a trip into a  mythical past of monks churches getting your stamps as you follow the way if st james and it scallop shells and get your pilgrim card stamped

 

A dutch pair new arrivals

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This is the first of two Dutch novels to arrive in recent days , I have actually read this one finished it last night it is a tale of one mans story about the first world ar David is a teacher but he has an attraction to a shy pupil that needs a bright world that is what david tries to bring , but the war catches up and as he tries to teach then men un der him about the world and how to read and write he decides to try and escape the horror of the war. This was a big hit in Dutch speaking world it was pick for a dutch talk show as a book club read.

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Then we have a book by a writer I have featured before Otto de kat his man on the move was reviewed here seven years ago. This is story of Emma Verweij she is now 96 and waiting to die and looking back on her life and the war years when her home the house she is in now was stronghold for her friends during the war. As she tries to hide the first husband and the nazis past in Germany. Otto de kat is the pen name of the dutch publisher jan Geurt Gaarlandt he choose the name after a relative also called Otto de kat a successful Dutch painter in his day .

What books have you had arrive ?

LBF 2016 and Man Booker shortlist party

Well I hadn’t planned to go to London book fair this year but I was very lucky to get an invite to the Man  Booker international shortlist Party. So as LBF was on the same week I decide to have a wander round especially after I found that as a Book blogger we can get in for free. It was a nice chance to catch up with my favourite Publisher Susan from Istros books who just before the Fair announced that she was joining forces with the wonderful Peter Owen which gives them one the ,most passionate people in the book world in Susan to help them get them selves out there, A glance at Peter Owens backlist is enough to make you dribble!! Whilst at their stand I also had a great chat with the Croat Poet Aleksander Hut Kono who was doing his poetry  at the LBF ,which he has translated him self into English. He also is an Opera Librettist.

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I saw the Large Books are My bag Bag at LBF . I decide to sit in on a translation session about how to promote books in translation mainly how to repeat the knausgaard effect(if only we knew hey) , I had want to ask How Ferrante sells so well is the opposite of being Knaugaard open and great to talk to also sells books maybe it is the narrative of the writer that sells . I felt a little more mention of some of the big sites online for translation would help. The editor talking about it only mention Lit Hub and Brain pickings ! , surely Complete review , three percent to name two would be worth a mention. Fiona gave a great chat about Knausgaard thou .

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I then decide to Have something to eat and make my way toward the Booker event I also had a quick look in the Oxfam on Kensington high street on my way to Kensington Palace. I had a coffee in a small cafe which by the food they were serving I will go to again the Cafe Diana for a meal having just had a snack. Then slowly walked to MAn booker event.

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I was among the first to arrive and Meet quickly David and Clare my fellow shadow bloggers I have met David before and it was nice to meet Clare and put a face to the blog so to speak. I also meet at last after nearly crossing paths over the years Simon of Savidge reads one the oldest bloggers about the net . I also had a good chat with Paul from Maclehose and a few other Maclehose folks who missed the actual shortlist but both their books are still on the Shadow Jury shortlist. We then listen to how Man booker had evolved into the new prize as the need was felt after the actual prize had changed its guidelines for all lit written in English  to be included it was felt that the Man booker international prize had to evolve and so it took over the Old IFFP and set up a replacement for the old Man booker international prize that ran every two years and was award to a writer for the body of work . Please not the last winner was the wonderful Laszlo Krasznahorkai !

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Then Boyd went through his and the Jury’s choices for the shortlist . Here is the shortlist . We had a few more drinks but I left early as I had a long trip across London and also a few hour train trip meant I wouldn’t be home till early hours friday.

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