Harry Potter à la française

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Châtillon-sur-Saône may be a village at the back of beyond, but we really know how to kick up our heels (and dance!) here, if the occasion calls for it.

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Tuesday 18 October, just before the start of the Toussaint autumn school break, saw a mass invasion by all the would-be Harry Potters from surrounding villages.

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Five schools were bussed in at 9.30am and, for the second year running, Châtillon’s Fête des Sorcières swung into action. First the kids were organised and cajoled into groups by our leading witch and the village schoolmaster.

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People work pretty hard in this village of less than 150 souls to make this a lively place, rather than a living museum.

But these witches were not just here to have fun. They also learned about the history of witchcraft from this scary young man, whose concept the first Fête des Sorcières was in 2015. Heard at an advance planning session: ‘No hangings, please, Thomas!’

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The trainee witches and warlocks spent time at the witches’ academy, absorbing the finer points of cauldron and broomstick use. Their ‘prof’ for the day  …

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Although I’m afraid she made some of the smallest cry …

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They made real broomsticks …

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And, near the Maison du Berger,

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They learned how to dance like witches …

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It’s hard with your hat on …

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So you really need to take it off …

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They painted like witches and they learned how to make pumpkin soup with the professionals …

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The dressed up like villagers from medieval Chatillon.

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And had their photos taken.

They even learnt a few English words like ‘pumpkin’, ‘skeleton’, ‘cauldron’, ‘bat’ and ‘skull’ from a crazy English-speaking resident. Just useful things like that, words that should come in very handy on their next school trip to Oxford … or wherever.

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In the afternoon we gathered in front of the church.

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Not quite as peaceful a business as you’d imagine, since parts of this Renaissance village are still falling down …

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See the Route Barrée sign below? We lost one there just a few weeks ago. A building that is, not a child.

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Don’t worry parents – the kids are safe. Except  from vampires and such like …

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Each school had come prepared with a little sketch they’d created in advance.

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A few weeks before the fête they were given key words to turn into a script, so they had time to create and practise – and after lunch on the 18th we all enjoyed their offerings.

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The small, rather perfect witch’s cat in the next picture played a starring role in one tale of enchantment. But had to be helped to leave her basket at the crucial moment.

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Some of the witches were a little too pretty to be properly frightening. These two are from Châtillon village school. (Of course … we have the prettiest of everything, even trainee witches.)

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Then the oldies presented our own masterpiece (written by vampire Thomas): The Wicked Story of King Bertrand (of Châtillon).The usual suspects are shown lounging about doing nothing …

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The story of Bertrand involves the enchantment of a dissatisfied king (by means of magic carrot) and his ultimate transformation into a cat. I was graciously allowed to be the queen who gets to marry the cat – Yvette is holding my future husband a little too casually in the picture below …

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A good time was had by all. And hats off to the handful of dedicated volunteers who have learnt how to amuse 130-odd children for six hours.

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Have a lovely witchy Halloween!

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(Very) good things this week

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Please be warned – there are some seriously bad photographs to follow! However, I’m going to blithely continue in recording something that gave us a great deal of pleasure last week.

We were in the midst of one of those awful computer melt-downs that will be all too familiar to those (overly) reliant on the beasts.

I do use my computer for work (copy-editing), and I have had a fair bit of that recently, so perhaps extenuating circumstances?

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I was on day four of a marathon to save my machine. It had trembled and collapsed at the knees after the most recent Windows 10 update. Too much for the old girl, I fear.

She is now laid to rest. (Although the Bon Viveur is suggesting a new hobby for me: I should spend my ‘spare’ hours bringing her to life again. Thanks, Nick. I already have enough hobbies that drive me to distraction while I try to keep them simultaneously moving forwards.)

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A new shiny piece of kit is currently winging its way by camel from Amazon UK (I am a touch-typist, so I have to have a Qwerty keyboard), and I am working courtesy of a friendly dinosaur.

In the midst of this gloom two Great White Egrets flew into our lives and settled on the river bank opposite the house.

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Now the bank is a long way away and my telephoto lens is very poor. (This is where the bad photos of my earlier warning come into play.)

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The pictures were taken in the grassy gap, dead centre in the photograph above. And unfortunately at dusk.

First there was only one egret – who appeared to be inspecting ant hills on the other side of the river. Doing his ‘hunchy’ thing.

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Then he/she was joined by a mate. They started to spread their wings and look about a bit.

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After much excited consultation of books and websites, we were sure that we were lucky enough to be seeing Great White Egrets. Until recently they were rare in this corner of France.

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A friend who lives at the other end of the valley confirmed that they had been present in recent years, owing (he thought) to the warming of our climate here.

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They were superb – if only I had had my camera to hand on Friday morning when one of them took off and slowly circled above the garden at about 7am.

Unfortunately they have been sharply seen off the premises.

A little later on Friday or Saturday the Bon Viveur saw a grey heron and a white egret standing next to each other on the river bank, appearing to have a bit of a barney.

Next day, we had only a grey heron circling the chateau grounds, river and garden, guarding his territory. He is there continuously now.

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And I never even had the chance to say goodbye …

Be careful what you wish for …

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And yes – you know, it really is almost the end of September.

I am not a faithful blogger. The last time I sat in front of my WordPress blog, it was late on a July night in Scotland and I was far from my own garden.

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Which now looks a (very lovely) mess!

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I can’t stop looking at the asters in the garden, buzzing with bees, hover-flies and other insects.

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After my first Scottish inspiration blog, some people asked about my roots. I’m a Scots-Canadian (I’ve no English blood at all) who was dragged back and forth across the Atlantic more times than she cares to remember before the age of 11. This may account for my disinclination to go out any more?

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My Canadian grandmother and great-aunt were passionate gardeners. The aunt was quite ‘big’ in the gladiolus breeding world in Canada. I have fond, rather lonely, memories of weeks spent on her 2 acres in Ontario. My grannie was … well, just my lovely grannie, and irises and lilacs will forever pop into my head when I think of her.

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I went to school in Scotland from the age of 11, and then to the University of Edinburgh. Who couldn’t be won over by the beauty of Scotland (especially if your Canadian ancestors, and yourself, come with a ‘Buchanan’ name tag on them)? And I was so lucky to spend my adolescent years in one of the most beautiful corners of Perthshire.

If I could garden there now … I would in a heartbeat!

Like many Scots I was forced down south to London for work (in publishing) when I was 21 years old. I do hope that this doesn’t happen to young Scots any more, given a more vibrant economy.

Spent much time in the capital and was finally very relieved (being a country girl at heart) to move to a small cottage in Suffolk at the age of 32, after working at Kew and completing the Kew Diploma in Horticulture.

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I don’t live in France by choice. It’s a country I never even particularly wanted to visit. I follow my husband’s work.

We were excited back in 2007 when we thought we might be living in Italy. Didn’t happen (I still mourn it). So, I make the very best of where I am and my husband is home much more frequently than he was when we lived in Ireland – sometimes every weekend!

And, since I am such a good, optimistic realist, I am learning to love where I am. What I am particularly learning to love is singing in the French language. How amazing is French as a language of song?

You will hear more about this! Whether you like it or not.

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What’s happening in the garden?  Be careful what you wish for …

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The Bon Viveur, once again unemployed for over 2 months, is recreating the battle of the Somme in the Hornbeam Gardens. Yes, I know your two great-uncles died there, Nick, but is this really necessary? Even as an remembrance of what happened 100 years ago?

I am assured it will be very lovely (later on) – and much easier to use. I won’t slide on my bum down the wet, grassy slope. But yes, sigh, there are more steps.

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And more steps.

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It really is all very lovely. I have the arches I have been yearning for and the beginnings of edges to my borders.

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But I think even Nick didn’t estimate the amount of earth moving involved.

Looking down to the recently planted area in the shrub part of the lower Hornbeam Gardens. What a mess!

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I’ve been fiddling in the veggie garden. I terraced this about 2 years ago. It was a continual slope and I had a deep desire to have some flat beds to work with. Last year I took both box and Lonicera nitida cuttings to make an edge to the terraces.

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It worked! Most have rooted, so this is a good plan for we gardeners who are ‘financially challenged’.

Now I am doing a ‘motorway’ style planting to retain the banks on the slopes, again with direct-stuck cuttings. I’ve no idea if this will work.

It’s an experiment. On the top slope, direct-stuck cuttings of Lonicera nitida (should be ok).

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On the lower slope, lavender cuttings – I doubt this, but if you don’t try you don’t find out.

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I spray them over every evening.

The veggies have not been completely disastrous this year, considering I started very late. Broad beans always do well on our heavy clay (I do an autumn and a spring sowing). French beans can’t fail.

Best sweet corn in the last four years.

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The broccoli is desperately late, but still good when picked and cooked. Brassicas only do well in this garden early or late – they hate heat and flourish when the nights are cooler.

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Lower down the soft fruit garden is ready to plant this autumn.

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And I’m finally going to create my huge herbaceous borders in the orchard, under the four Prunus ‘Tai-haku’.

Unfortunately I did a bit of glyphosate weed control down here (apologies to those who don’t approve).

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Meanwhile, I’m so glad I have so many asters in the garden – they are alive with peacock butterflies and bees at the moment. I’m almost coming to enjoy the insects more than the flowers. And for that I have to thank other blogs that have opened my eyes. Look here

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And, about 5 months after planting, Cobaea scandens is finally managing to produce more than one flower at a time.

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I haven’t forgotten the ‘Scottish Inspiration’ posts – they are up my sleeve for a rainier, less busy day. Hope to see you again soon.

 

 

 

 

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Scottish inspiration 1: Cambo Gardens

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The Walled Garden at Cambo House

You’d think that living in France would be inspiration enough for someone creating a garden, wouldn’t you? Not so. Little did I know, when I started making this garden, that I’d have to do without the following: horticultural grit, decent propagating containers, vermiculite, perlite, interesting herbaceous perennials – oh, and interesting shrubs.

Of course, I can (like anyone else) shop online for the plants that are missing in my life, but it’s not quite the same thing as picking up a special something on a day out, is it?

But the most serious gap in my gardening life is garden inspiration.

Consequently, when at home in Scotland once or twice a year (as I am at the moment), I often try to cram it all in. The rigid seed trays go into my hand luggage for the return journey (horticultural grit is a step too far), and sometimes I clock up the miles ogling fantastic gardens.

On Saturday 23 July we visited a garden in Fife, just south of St Andrews, that I’ve long wanted to see. Cambo Gardens at Kingsbarns.

Some of the information that follows comes from a wonderful piece that Stephen Lacey wrote about Cambo in The Telegraph way back in 2012. Do follow my link and read the original if you are interested in learning more about Cambo.

The estate has been owned by the Erskine family for three centuries, although the original house burnt down in 1878. The existing house is austere in the best Scottish sandstone tradition.

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Cambo House from the rear, on the paths that lead to the Walled Garden

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The front of the house, near the visitors’ car park

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To the rear again …

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What I would give to have an echium of this stature in front of my house …

The Cambo estate has become Scotland’s answer to ‘galanthomania’, because you can walk the woodland paths in February and drink in a wave of snowdrops to equal those further south in England. I can only drool these days …

Catherine Erskine began the snowdrop festival in 2003 and since then a number of other Scottish gardens have joined in to make Scotland’s own snowdrop trail. Have a look at www.discoverscottishgardens.org for more information.

Apparently when Catherine  arrived at the house in 1976 with her husband, Sir Peter Erskine, she didn’t exactly see eye to eye with the head gardener in post at the time. She suggested adding herbaceous plantings in the top corner of the old walled garden and was denied the liberty – this was the only place the wretched man could grow onions.

Fortunately Catherine found a more sympathetic head gardener in the shape of Elliot Forsyth who came to Cambo in 2001. When I read today that Forsyth’s wife is a landscape painter and he himself is an admirer of Piet Oudolf, I understood Cambo’s transformation from the days when herbaceous perennials were denied access …

I’m concentrating on the Walled Garden in this post because it set me on fire. Only a short walk through the gardened woods behind the house and into another world.

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A kind of greeting on the other side of the Walled Garden door … here we have modern chaos of the nicest kind, rather than Victorian order.

Yes,  there are many of the features you would expect to find in a Victorian or Edwardian walled garden.

The long pathways lacing the various elements of this two and a half acre site together.

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A peaceful horticultural oasis of lawn at the garden’s heart …

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There are the old greenhouses – one straddles a stream that runs through the centre of the garden.

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It is not schadenfreude to admit relief at the sight of box blight damage … if we suffer, we feel relief that others are soldiering on in spite of it.

The stream ornamented with a small gazebo and bridge in a vaguely Chinese style …

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Box-edged herbaceous borders in a more classical style …

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Some terrific plant surprises … stupendous Veratrum seed heads rising against the classic box hedges …

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… and treasures like this foxglove (which I believe to be Digitalis parviflora).

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And the usual vegetables you’d expect to find in an old Scottish walled garden … although they are teamed with some rather odd bedfellows. The potager (below) was ‘resting’ in 2016 because it is currently being revamped. It gives you some clues as to how the rest of your visit will go. This is not your standard walled garden.

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The remaining planting uses a very modern prairie style in a limited plant palette – its creators have let rip in the most exciting way. I cannot begin to name all of the grasses, although Stipa gigantea, Stipa tenuissima, Miscanthus and Calamagrostis are prominent.

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Associating with this backbone to striking effect are Achillea, bronze fennel, Agastache, Salvia, Veronicastrum, Veronica, Monarda, Eupatorium and Eryngium … in huge variety.  And lots and lots of Sanguisorba – in reds, whites, pinks. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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Best of all – this is minimal maintenance. Forsyth (quoted by Stephen Lacey) says: ‘In February we cut them [the grasses and perennials] to near ground level with a strimmer, then drive over them with a mower on a high setting. The pulverised stems then get topped with bark. Any weeds get a wipe with glyphosate. We don’t do any staking or feeding, as we want plants to grow with low nitrogen levels as they would in a real meadow.’

Personally, I haven’t seen anything this beautiful since Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden. And I developed a serious love affair with Trifolium rubens

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And cemented my already fond regard for Heleniums …

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As well as Veronicastrum

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And Sanguisorba … and Eupatorium … I never knew there were so many beautiful species and cultivars.

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The only plant I saw at Cambo which would be doomed at Châtillon were the Eryngiums. So sad …

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I looked and looked and took too many photographs. My overall feelings were the following:

1. Wow – I’m in a time warp! These roses and perennials were flowering 6 weeks ago at home!
2. This is what I’m trying to do at home … and maybe it will work …

That’s a good garden, when you want to rush home and get digging/weeding.

The only criticism I’d level is lack of labelling on the many roses. These are planted underneath the old fruit trees in the Walled Garden (possibly in too much shade) and against the surrounding walls.

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In fact everywhere that the garden has been divided into smaller rooms, roses feature in the divisions.

The gardens are open from 9pm until 5pm every day and entry is £5.50 for adults. There’s a good cafe, handily positioned right next to the small plant centre, which offers the specialties of the garden, propagated on site.

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If I meet you there next year, don’t show me your purchases. You’ll only make me jealous because I can’t fit them in my hand luggage.

This is only the first part of my Scottish inspirations … there are at least three more in the pipeline.

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In a vase for Clare

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This post is inspired by Cathy’s meme, In a Vase on Monday, but I am not linking in to it because my thoughts today have a more personal, rather than a horticultural, inspiration.

Do go over and see everyone’s vases, they are bound to be beautiful.

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A small group of us in north-eastern France had a very special friend called Clare who passed away last week at the age of only 67.

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Clare taught me many things about giving and loving. Her last words to me on 30 June were: ‘I want to come and see the garden!’

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That’s a huge and very special gift from one gardener to another … like musicians, we work all on our own, trying to create something that may never be appreciated by someone else.

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But we are unstoppable nonetheless! The strangeness of the inspired human being ..

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Last week was a turbulent week, wasn’t it? As we watched the Bastille Day fireworks from the garden of friends in Haute-Saône, little did we know of the horror that was taking place in Nice. Poor France. Hollande is correct – we are truly at war.

These  events have been a reminder to me (and I often need one!) that we need to hug our loved ones close today, because there may be no tomorrow.

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I picked my first really big bunch of sweet peas last week (late, because of our season). They were simply gorgeous. I gave some to Clare, and I’m giving the rest to you – my friends in north-eastern France, in memory of our very special friend. I just want her picture on my (very public) diary …

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