university


Been a while since I updated here, and well overdue. The last couple years have been crazy busy, what with studying and getting the house sorted out. So a bit of an update post:

The house turned out not to be quite what we hoped. The electrics need redoing, which is going to cost, substantially, as it’s an old house, without the usual channels in the walls that the electrical cables run through. New channels are going to have to be drilled through, with replastering work following. So at the moment it’s a case of saving like crazy, and all redecorating work is on hold.

Michiel is now working. In some ways it’s the job of his dreams: he’s doing what he loves, for a company that treats him well, and he’s working (mostly) with other geeks. There’re drawbacks to it (mostly the commute – almost three hours every day at present) but I think it’s safe to say that he’s happy.

Study: the MA is almost complete. One more project to complete (5,000 words) and a dissertation (20,000 words) to do before the end of July. And then I swing into a PhD, which I’m really looking forward to doing, to getting my teeth into some really meaty research and grappling with issues. Should be a lot of fun!

Obviously time doesn’t really permit me to post much, and when I do post, it tends to be on a history-focused blog that I’ve started up. Or on Facebook! I think this blog has come more or less to the end of it’s natural life – I’m going to keep it ‘live’, if only because its good for me to see where I came from, but I doubt I’ll do much more in the way of updates to it, except perhaps the education page. I doubt too that many people read here still. If you do, and you’re not in contact with me any other way, or you would like the details of the history blog, please let me know and we’ll see what we can come up with. I might come back to do an update post every once in a while. We’ll see.

For now… it’s been an amazing nine years. I’ve gone from living in a pretty awful flat in Manchester, beset with antisocial behaviour problems, battling mental health issues and depression (largely situational), to attaining a whole series of qualifications, becoming a published author (oh, yeah, I wrote an article in an academic journal!), and owning my own house. It’s been an incredible journey, and it isn’t over yet.

Here’s to the next nine years!

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I am now in possession of a First Class honours degree in BA History.

To say I am delighted is perhaps understating it, but I am very very very happy.

I just wish Dad was here to see it. He’d be so proud.

…. I freely admit that I don’t want this year to end.

Stepping over the threshold into 2014 brings the possibility of my university time ending that much closer. While I fervently hope and pray that I can get both the grades and the funding to pursue an MA, and then a PhD, the fact remains that at some point I will have to stop studying. Yes, its possible to keep studying privately, while holding down a full time job. Possible… and very very difficult. As a private individual you do not have access to Academic Journals or University Libraries. Such things are necessary to produce academic quality work – at least as a historian, where, in studying any new subject for the first time, it is necessary to examine the history of that subject as well – that is, what has already been written about it, and to analyse that corpus of literature. This is why academics remain working within universities, despite what some might see as the inconvenience of having to teach (and those, I think, are the fools, not their students. But that’s for another time). Its the access to sources of data, to the libraries, that enable them to conduct their research and to write their books and articles.

While I don’t know, at this point (no one does) whether MA study is possible, a number of tweets and Facebook posts by university colleagues, about – like me, the thought of their university time coming to an end – or the trepidation of actually graduating and being launched into the world – has been strumming in the back of my mind all evening, and I finally realised why I haven’t even touched my books all day, preferring instead to spend the day with Michiel. I don’t want my time at University to end. 2013 is possibly the last year I shall have spent entirely devoted to studying, with the clear, single minded purpose devoted to my degree. There’s a clarity to that, to answering as well as possible, the essay title set, researching the topic, of putting one foot in front of the other, eyes fixed firmly on the goal in front. Michiel said it very well a while back, that he envied me. Not the work or the subject, but my fixed vision, my very clear and identifiable goal. I know what I want and I’m working very hard to achieve it.

In the run up to Christmas has been ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ – and I freely admit, I’m a Strictly fan. You can keep your x-factor, your Britain’s got talent, your dancing on ice. Gimme Strictly any day. Many of the contestants have talked about the “Strictly Bubble” – and I think, in some respects, I know what they mean. Not the sequins, the make-up, or the tanning booth. But the Goal – the Strictly Glitterball Trophy – and all the hard work that people put in, all the small steps that they make, are all wayposts on their way to that final goal. It gives a remarkable clarity to life, a singlemindedness. And it is that that I shall miss, I think, if I do not manage to continue with my goal of first the MA, then the PhD. I’ll wind up rudderless, goalless – and that is a prospect that – at this point in time – is actually quite terrifying.

So.. no. 2014 isn’t welcome, not here. not now. Now I cling to the dying moments of 2013… cling to my singleminded vision of my future path… cling to some of the happiest years I have known in my life so far.

I just went back to read last year’s BADD offering. There, I confidently stated that I hadn’t experienced disabilism at uni and didn’t expect to. I wish… oh… how I wish I could say the same thing this year. But I cannot, and that makes me extremely sad.

I’m very unsure how much in the way of detail to give about this, mostly because lessons have been learned, which is the most important part. I feel its important to get that out there right away: that the response of the University was fantastic, they acted straight away to ensure that what happened that day never happens again to anyone else. Which makes it sound far worse than it actually was, but I do want to write about it… and the impact that it has had on me.

As part of my degree studies this year, I had to take part in a group project, delivering a group presentation which was graded – everyone on my course did. Its a fairly standard part of degree studies these days as so many people have to go on to take part in a group project or give at least one presentation in their working lives at some point and having the group project experience really adds to the C.V. I really enjoyed my group project. I won’t say what it was about, its irrelevant to this, but the people I was working with were fantastic – five of us in total and they worked really well with my interpreter, and made allowances for me the few times we had to meet without an interpreter (including the memorable, and unavoidable occasion we had to meet in a very noisy student’s union – and they were fantastic at scribbling things down!).

No, my experience of disabilism wasn’t from them; although one might have expected that. It came during the group presentation. We’d been told that we had to give the presentation to two other groups, we were all doing presentations on similar period of history, and we all had to listen to each other’s, and to pose questions to each other at the end of each other’s presentation – how well we responded to those questions would form part of the grading structure. I had arranged, since it was going to be a long afternoon, for two interpreters to be present, to spell each other. they were sat at the front, next to the people giving the presentation, in a largish room (and for a notetaker to be present – who was seated to the rear). the first presentation began: one of their team was late and kept us waiting for 15 minutes. Eventually they were told to start without him, which i can imagine rattled the team quite badly (and he showed up 5 minutes into the presentation, to murderous looks from his team!). One of the team then began to speak. He was undeniably nervous, whether the lateness of his fellow team member had made that worse, I don’t know, but he was mumbling and speaking very very quietly. Neither of the interpreters could hear him, and they were sitting 2 yards away from him! The assessors were at the rear of the room. The interpreter stopped him, apologised, said that she could not hear him and asked him to repeat what he had just said. he did so. the presentation continued. The interpreter had to stop him again… and again. On the third time that she stopped him, one of the assessors got up, came to her and asked her to stop interrupting him. The interpreter protested and said that it had been agreed with the other assessor that she could do this, and that She (pointing to me) had a right to access what was going on.

What we didn’t know then was that the assessors had been told by the university that they were not allowed to interrupt on the basis of not understanding what they were saying. If the presenters could not be understood they were to be marked down accordingly. This was to give everyone a fair chance, to make sure that each and every team being assessed was being treated equally. Which was fair enough; except that no one had told us. And it led to a situation where the Assessor was torn between making sure I had equal rights and obeying the rules governing the assessment (which were, and are, and need to be, as strict as the rules governing examinations, for example). Unfortunate, bad planning, yes, absolutely, but the only incidence of disabilism thus far was in the university’s failure to plan ahead and to see a situation where this could have arisen. Its not like they didn’t know I was there and the University has an AccessAbility office which should have been involved in the planning for this kind of thing – as it was, it was left to me and my interpreter to bring up the issue of communication support a couple of weeks before the assessment.

That much, I could understand, as could the interpreter, although we found this all out later. It was what the assessor did next that was really beyond the pale. When the interpreter protested that I had a right to access what was going on, the Assessor’s response was: “she’ll have to make do with the handout”. and that was the end of it – he sat down and the interpreter had no choice but to continue to interpret what she could hear, and do the best she could in a bad situation.

Now… this was disabilist on several levels. 1) it was directly discriminating against me, preventing me from accessing information on the same level as everyone else. 2) It was discriminating against me because it was telling the rest of the people in the room that it was okay to discriminate against me, that its convenient to shove the rules aside when it suits them. 3) The tone in which he spoke implied, and perhaps I am being oversensitive here, that he thought I should be damn lucky to get the handout and that I really should just siddown and shuddup and stop making his life difficult. And finally, it was actually discriminating against my classmates. By preventing me from accessing what was going on, it prevented me from asking questions at the end. The purpose of the questions is not just to be marked; it was also to give the group a chance to consider alternative perspectives from outside the group, which could then subsequently be built into their group report, giving them a chance to increase their marks, expose any weaknesses, and so on. While I don’t claim to be any kind of genius, by preventing me from being able to ask those questions, it essentially meant that any feedback I could have offered the other two groups was removed.

The assessor was someone who had actually taught me the previous year. He knows what I’m capable of. He has had multiple interpreters and notetakers in his class. He knows that this is not just a “tickbox exercise”, that this is a genuine need of accessing what is going on in order to contribute to the class. More to the point, and more shockingly, he was the Accessability Officer for the School of Historical Studies that semester. Part of his job is to liase with the AccessAbility office to make sure that all the material used by the School of Historical Studies is accessible to people with disabilities. For him to speak in the way that he did was not only unnecessary, but worse, disabilist as well. Not in a deliberate, “I hate disabled people” way (I’m sure he doesn’t, and would be horrified if he heard this story from someone else) but in an unthinking way, in the sense that deafness hasn’t impacted on him, that he hasn’t considered the implications of what he was saying. Which, in some ways, was worse than if it had been said with malice.

After this confrontation, I was extremely upset. I was shaking, angry, upset and distressed. That I managed to hold it together enough to deliver my own presentation was a minor miracle – I know it affected my delivery of it, rattled me enough that I stumbled a lot and it was anything but the smooth presentation I had given in the practice run a few days earlier. After the whole thing was over, and everyone bar the assessors had gone, I stayed to talk to them, along with my primary interpreter. I tried to make them understand how the whole thing had made me feel, but the assessor that had caused the issue was more interested in telling me that “I wouldn’t be penalised for the whole thing”, and refused to listen to what I had to say. In fact, he was NOT-listening and interrupting me so much that at one point I had to actually stop him and says “I was talking, would you actually do me the courtesy of letting me finish?”. I think he realised he had messed up and just wanted to be anywhere but there, which is understandable on the human level but… honestly? If he had just apologised and explained what had caused the situation and apologised for his reaction, that he was caught on the wrong foot, we would have understood. Neither of us (my interpreter and me) are PC-mad, we would have understood that, c’est la vie. Shit happens, as my father-in-law is wont to say – and let it go.

I was ready, at that point, to put in a full complaint and take it all the way to the top. The School’s reactions – or, perhaps more accurately, the reactions of the Head of the School and the other assessor, pre-empted that. the head of the school heard what had happened, realised it must not happen again, and asked the other assessor to write a report suggesting changes to ensure it didn’t happen again. That assessor asked both myself and the interpreter to meet with him to discuss what had happened and to make our own suggestions for avoiding this. We did, and the report was subsequently written. I am told that future presentations will be changed so that no assessors are put in that position again, and that some deaf awareness training will be included as part of the “giving a presentation” lecture that we all received as part of that module before the presentation. Other things have also been put in place: its clear that the University understood that what happened was unacceptable and that they needed to step up to the plate – which they did.

I haven’t seen the assessor since. I remain very angry about his reaction, because I have received no apology from him. I resolved to avoid having him for a dissertation supervisor, and thankfully, that has happened. I could well wind up with him as a teacher for next year. I don’t know how I will handle that if it does happen.

But more than that, I want to talk about how this has affected me. I feel disillusioned. Not about the University (their response was great and if anything I’m really proud of how they handled it). But about the individual. I had hoped – perhaps foolishly, perhaps naively, that things were getting better, that people were understanding more, that the idea that someone disabled should “have to accept things” had gone. Its clear that I was wrong.

This happened last December. Since then I have been plagued with dreams – no, nightmares – of an extremely misogynistic, disablist company I used to work for about 15 years ago. A company that tried everything they could to get rid of me after first hiring me to make themselves look good on the equal opportunities sheet. I don’t think its a co-incidence that they have come back after 15 years – the incidence at university has stirred up a lot of bad memories. But all that makes me wonder: Am I over-reacting – is it the bad experience from 15 years ago that is driving my feelings about what happened at that presentation last December? I find it very difficult to seperate the two – and I know that part of the anger I feel towards that assessor has to do with blaming him for stirring up all this stuff, making me have to deal with it all over again. And I need to be careful: that when, and if, I do have to deal with him again, that I don’t unfairly blame him – he isn’t responsible for what happened 15 years ago.

What is clear is that since then, I have been … ultra-sensitive to any potential incidents of disablism at uni. One of my teachers is foreign; her attitude and an incident in class made me question whether she was expressing prejudice towards me on the basis of my disability. I had to get external verification that she actually probably wasn’t, before I could let it go within myself (the teacher in question knows nothing of this, this is an internal battle). I hate that ultra-sensitivity, that anger. That’s what I mean about being dissillusioned. I feel like one of those ultra-PC people who go around with massive chips on their shoulders, seeing prejudice everywhere, even places it really doesn’t exist. I don’t want to be that way. I really don’t.

Few links to photo sets, and an update of our summer….

In June we drove to Germany to stay with Michiel’s parents for a couple of weeks. We daringly decided to drive, having just bought a car a few months beforehand. Michiel was a little apprehensive about the idea of me driving on the “wrong” side (as was I, if I’m honest) but in the even it went swimmingly, and I only had a couple of problems. Unfortunately when we were returning from a visit to the Netherlands to visit with his family a small deer ran out in front of us and I was unable to stop or swerve to avoid it. It was killed on impact, fortunately (and not running around the woods in pain). Fortunately there was very little damage done to the car, just a bit of dented bodywork – and a rather shaken me! We also visited Osnabruck, to look at the Cathedral and the Liturgical Museum which was amazing, had BBQs and went strawberry picking under a blazing blue sky. We had a fantastic time, having the car made a lot of difference to our freedom while there, and next year we plan to drive to the south of France to stay with his parents there (they have a caravan down there).

Holiday Photos

In July my mother’s church hosted a 24 hour “entertainathon”. I offered to make some cakes/buns for this, and we went down to help. I got roped in doing flowers for the church, doing an arrangement I was very pleased with, and I was pretty pleased with the varieties of cupcakes that I produced too! Took the opportunity to take photos of the fields surrounding Mom’s church, as well as photos of the event but I can’t post those on a public forum, alas.

Entertainathon Photos

In August Mom visited for her birthday and we went to Donington-le-Heath Manor house, near Coalville. The friends of Donington were hosting a “Donington at the home front” day, with lots of demonstrations of crafts and a live fire exercise from the home guard! Mum and I had a lovely afternoon wandering around the gardens and house, and jumping at the bangs coming from the demonstration, and talking to the various volunteers.

Donington-le-Heath

Just a couple days ago I visited St. Mary in Arden, a ruined church in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. its very picturesque and well worth a visit. I returned a couple days later with the camera, and these are some of the results. I’ve visited other properties but i keep forgetting to take the camera, so this is all the photos there are! I also visited St. Dionysus (the main church in Market Harborough) but the photos of that visit were hurried and not so good.

St. Mary in Arden

A mini update: In terms of my uni studies last year, I’m pleased with the vast majority of my work. I just missed out on a first across the whole year, but that doesn’t affect my final degree grade – all that is required from the first year is to pass (40% or above). Full details, as ever, are on the education page. With regard to my health and diabetes, my weight has been steadily creeping up again, and my blood sugar with it, so I have to make an effort to get that under control again. Jess is fine. Another dog attacked her earlier this summer, cutting the skin around her eye quite badly and shaking all three of us up and necessitating a trip to the emergency vets. But with antibiotics and lots of TLC she was soon back to normal. She’s getting old and slowing down, sleeping a great deal, but otherwise, is fine. Like many of Britains cats and dogs she contracted fleas this summer, so we had to deal with that too. She definitely didn’t like the scratching! The house is good as well. we settled in very quickly and have loved this summer, being able to sit outside in peace and quiet. I developed a little garden in the yard, out of a series of pots, which has been lovely to watch and potter around in over the summer as well.

Garden Photos

So on that note I’ll leave you to enjoy my garden photographs… till the next update!!!

 

 

“It’s May 1st!”, I yelped as we sat down to eat our evening meal. I’d spent the day either driving Michiel van Wessem to the range/home again, or with my nose in books, researching The Black Prince, and why his death in 1376 was so critical for England. The fact that it was the first of May had completely passed me by. And this is important because….?

B.A.D.D., of course! Blogging against Disabilism Day!

Posts on this subject in previous years can be found here: Demonisation of the disabled (and sadly, but not surprisingly, nothing has improved, a year on – if anything, its worse), People like Me (not written by me), Researching disability in ancient Greece, Expectations and Stereotypes, I don’t suffer from disabilism, and Prejudice from “your own kind”. I missed it in May 2010, but otherwise I’ve posted every year.

I think I’ve written some about my experiences of disabilism in Further Education (which is what I was doing this time last year) but not yet on my experiences in Higher Education. Granted, I’ve done less than a year of Higher Education so far, but hey, this is where i am so this is what you get 🙂

Its very different to Further Education. There, I ticked the box on application to the college to say that I had a disability, wrote down the nature of my disability and the college did the rest. Provided notetakers, interpreters, did an assessment, the lot. All i had to do was to get my backside into class and pay attention. And do the work, of course! If I sound somewhat cynical its perhaps because getting ones backside into class, let alone paying attention, seemed to be beyond some of my classmates. Still, that’s by the by. My notetaking team at The Manchester College were wonderful. I Miss them!!! *SOB*… they were damn professional, proper deaf notetakers – that came equipped with a laptop, a connected notebook so that I didn’t even have to sit by them if i didn’t want to, and since the classes were 4 hours long, they came in pairs so that they could spell each other. Notes were emailed to me at the end of the session and they wrote down EVERYTHING. Or tried very very hard to! Some of my more juvenile classmates thought it hiliarious to say swearwords to get the notetakers to write that down. That didn’t last long, and a bit of deaf education awareness soon sorted that one out (good thing I’m not shy with doing presentations is all I can say!).

At Uni, the onus is on you to sort yourself out. That sounds harsh – it isn’t, if you need help in getting sorted out then it will be provided, but they do want you to do as much as you can on your own. Before you start at University you have an assessment by an independent assessor, who writes a report back to Student Finance England making recommendations on what kind of funding/Equipment/personnel help should be available, and Student Finance England accepts that report. This assistance is not repayable, unless you drop out of uni without a good reason within a certain amount of time, but otherwise, they just seem to accept that its required (Cameron and Co – are we making notes?). My assessment was done last summer – a very simple process, a 2 hour conversation with a lovely chap and it was all sorted before I even got to Leicester. I’d already been in touch with the Disability unit at Leicester so they knew I was coming even before the assessment landed on their desk, and I’d given them a heads up on what I required.

My initial experience of the unit was… well. lets just say it rang some warning bells. I’d told them what I needed – i.e. an electronic notetaker. Their response was, i’m afraid, less than stellar – “We don’t do electronic notetakers”, in a tone which very much implied “you’ll take what you’re given, missy, and be grateful for it”. Thank god for my assessment, is all i can say – I’d found an electronic notetaker through my old notetaker, who went to a conference and met someone there from the Midlands who she thought might be able to help – and i’d given her details to the assessor, who listed her on my assessment report. That meant she could bypass the unit. Its a little known fact – students do not have to accept what is given by the unit, if they want to go and find their own support, and arrange for their payment by Student Finance England, they are perfectly entitled to do that. Once the Unit realised that I knew this and was perfectly capable of doing so, AND that i knew what i was talking about (i.e. I wasn’t just throwing a strop and demanding an electronic notetaker to be awkward), and that I’m a mature student their tone seemed to change completely – and I’ve had nothing but excellent support since. Well.. from the unit, anyway.

Unfortunately, my electronic notetaker could only be with me for some of my lectures, because she has other bookings, so I was still reliant on the unit for other notetakers. Initially they teamed me up with a guy who used a computer to take notes, but who isn’t a deaf electronic notetaker in the same way that my other lovely lady is (*waves at Jill*). What Jill does is to take as much information down as possible, including things like pronounciation and so on, and puts a dictaphone at the front so that she can listen to the lecture afterwards to be sure that she’s gotten all the important information. the other guy simply wrote basic notes. He wouldn’t put a dictaphone  at the front to go through later – “I don’t have time for that, I notetaker over 30 hours of lectures a week!” (which is, perhaps, fair enough – for each hour of notes, i think Jill works about 3 hours in total, including the hour of the lecture). The notes he wrote were note format – what a hearing student, listening to the lecture, might note down. Which is fair enough, and perfectly fine for someone with a different disability to mine, whose ears work just fine but for some reason isn’t able to make notes of their own. For me, its not enough. If i struggled, for whatever reason to understand the lecturer, then that standard of notetaking left me clueless – sometimes worse than that, because there was very little in the way of explanation of things in the notes. I remember coming home from a lecture one night early in the semester and burst into tears, i found the whole experience so stressful, and threatened to quit there and then. Of course, i didn’t, but when the man couldn’t make it and a handwriting notetaker was sent instead, who gave me twice the amount of notes (Even by hand), I realised that electronic doesn’t necessarily equate to quality and asked for that notetaker for the second semester instead.

This semester has been better. I’ve had better notes – I’ve still got Jill, and two other notetakers who hand write notes for me. Jill also encouraged me, as a communication support worker, to consider alternative methods of communication for lessons outside of lectures, such as tutorials and seminars. It became clear quite early on that notetaking as a form of support for fast moving group work was less than ideal and Jill worked with me to find a level of sign language support that i felt comfortable with. I’ve since extended that to work with two other interpreters and things are much better – even if it means i sometimes have to show up for tutorials with two support workers in tow – my interpreter and my notetaker. My Entourage, I call them!

The teachers, lecturers, have been nothing short of fantastic. Every single one, almost without exception has been supportive in terms of making powerpoint presentations available to me after the lecture, being clear about speaking to me direct outside of the lecture, making a real effort and I love each and every one of them. I just hope it continues next year (I gather that one lecturer who teaches a second year module refuses to make powerpoint presentations available – if this is the case, then we’re going to butt heads over this. I just hope i hear wrong!).

From my classmates, I’ve had similar reactions. There’s the initial fascination with the interpreters – its a common mistake to want to watch the interpreter when you’re talking, and completely understandable! – but it soon wears off and they seem to accept me for who i am. I think my age causes more of a divide for them than my disability, to be honest – and that’s perfectly fine, that’s understandable and i don’t want to foist myself on them. They’re friendly when i see them and I have some of them on my facebook account. 🙂

Very different reactions to the experience I had last year in Further Education!

Have I experienced disabilism in the last year at University? Not by the University, and not from my classmates. Which is a real relief, and assures me that perhaps there is less far to go than we think. Then again, given the demonisation of the disabled in the media, and by the government, perhaps its a case of one step forward, five steps back…

it feels like only yesterday that it was September and we were moving into our new house – yes, you can see the theme here. Where DOES the time go?!!! Seriously though, I promised Stoney an update a while back, and someone else some photos of our new home, so I’m combining all this and a year review in one blog post. And then I shall probably go silent again till I get another break at Easter…!

Anyway. Be warned. This is a VERY photo heavy post, which is why they’re all behind the cut. the page will take a while to load…

First of all, though, an update. The last three months have been very sad ones, as well as busy. University studies have taken most of my time, and are mostly going well – you can look at the Education page to view marks for specific assignments. But outside of studies, they’ve been sad because I lost both my grandmothers: my paternal grandmother at the end of October, and my maternal one just 2 weeks before christmas. Both had been ill towards the end; Nannie (Paternal grandmother) had broken her other hip and was in a great deal of pain, Grannie (Maternal grandmother) had had a spell in hospital a few weeks before but had just given up, mentally. For both, death was a release, a blessing, so to speak, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that this year has been a very bad one for our family, especially as I lost my father in January 2011. I just hope 2012 will be substantially less painful.

Dad, in one of his favorite places in the world, Scotland.

Christmas was especially painful – not just because of Grannie’s funeral, just a few days before Christmas, but because, as a cousin of mine put it, “there were too many empty chairs”. I know exactly what she meant. It will take a while to get over this. I was far closer to Grannie than to Nannie – Grannie was the lady who owned Stoneheads house, the inspiration for this blog, and a woman who was also directly responsible for my childhood love of history and who never stopped encouraging me to learn, to develop, to make the most of myself. I shall miss her greatly.

(more…)

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