My first off-road run. (Hurrah for Parkrun!)

Many years ago, at school, I was a reasonably good runner. 1500 metres was probably my best distance; the 800 metres was too fast for me. Likewise, at the sprint distances I could compete at 200 metres but got left behind at 100. I left school and, like most people, no longer had any reason to run. I discovered walking was a good way to get into the hills so that I could camp but running seemed a strange thing to do unless being chased by a hungry lion. I ran occasionally but knew that I was Not A Runner.

I entered my first Parkrun about 18 months ago. I wanted a structured way of getting a little bit fitter. 5 km at a set time every week appealed to me. Run, jog, walk, volunteer – it sounded so inclusive. Although slightly mistrusting my Ultra and Triathlon running friends’ evangelising, I took the Parkrun plunge and waddled my way round the park. Everyone was so supportive and friendly.  Not only did nobody care that I was having to walk more than half of the 5 km and had turned the colour of a beetroot, they seemed genuinely delighted that I was there.  All of the marshals waved and said hello as I sweated my way round the course. The fast people cheered me on as I approached the finish funnel.  There were all sorts of people; big, small, old, young, plus kids in pushchairs, and dogs. Everyone having a go and pushing themselves in their own way. It took months before I could run the whole 5 km without walking but Parkrun not only gave me the environment to develop my stamina and speed, it also helped me to see that running might be fun!  I’ll never be fast – and I hate the first kilometre – but I do like the feeling at the end of a Parkrun when I know I have tried my best. Maybe my time was relatively slow but I managed to keep going.  My best times seem to be when I’ve had something on my mind and my body has done its own thing without my brain interrupting; it’s great thinking time.

Anyway….. that’s how I decided that I’d like to go for a run in the countryside rather than round the park.  My aim is to be able to enter an LDWA challenge event as a runner rather than a walker. I walk too slowly to complete the longer LDWA events within the allotted time but maybe if I travelled lighter and quicker I could cover the distance.

In the summer I bought myself a backpack designed for runners. It’s like a waistcoat which has small stretchy pockets on the front and a bigger, zipped stretchy pocket on the back. I’ve lost the label so can’t remember exactly what capacity it is but I managed to squeeze a waterproof jacket & trousers, first aid kit, foil blanket, head torch, 1 litre of water (in a bladder), spare long-sleeve top, Polartec headband, buff & gloves and a few snacks into it. Oh, and a map and compass, of course, although I navigated with my phone.

Fully loaded, I still felt so light and free. I know I have a tendency to overpack even for a short daywalk but I can’t think of anything I needed which I hadn’t packed. Of course, you can’t be certain what emergency equipment you’ll need until disaster strikes but I knew I could keep myself warm and dry, and peep on my pack’s built-in whistle until help came if necessary.

Parked at Llandegla I started off by running on Offa’s Dyke Path along the road and tracks. Easy running under foot, although I may have walked a couple of the uphill bits on the road. The weather was perfect; dry and slightly misty. The forecast said that the rain would stay away and I was hopeful I’d be fine in my Ron Hills and bright yellow Aldi windshirt.

The running became trickier once I’d moved onto the moor. The path was either a narrow sheep trod or disappeared altogether. I tried to run when I could but I wasn’t able to see the ground beneath the heather and didn’t want to risk twisting or breaking an ankle.  I picked my way through the bog and took the opportunity to run whenever the terrain smoothed itself out.

Whilst the weather was dry, the ground was wet and my shoes and socks were soon soaked. No surprise there. I was running in my Inov-8 Terroc 330s which are my walking shoe of choice, so I’m used to wet feet. What I hadn’t really expected was the effect of the water on my Ron Hills. Wicking up the water from below they became heavy and started sagging round my bum and thighs. I think I might need to buy some running tights. Or do runners use gaiters?

I’d not intended to stop for refreshments until I got back to the community run shop/cafe in Llandegla but when the Ponderosa came into view I couldn’t resist dropping down the hill for a cup of coffee and scone. Usually I park there when I’m on a day walk, so it felt different to drop off the hill – under my own power – then move on again after my snack.

I climbed the hills up to the two masts then picked my way East across the pathed / pathless boggy stuff before rejoining the ODP through Llandegla Forest. My balance has never been good and I noticed that my running style on rough downhill parts seemed to be a cross between a drunk penguin and a Charleston-dancing Flapper. Knees bent, arms down by side, hands stuck out and maintaining a slow centre of gravity.

In total I covered 19km in about 4.5 hours and I was probably running / jogging for about half the time, so not fast but I would have been slow on the boggy bits whether I’d been running or walking.

It was an enjoyable trip. I felt mentally unburdened by carrying a lighter pack and having come out with the plan to move lighter and faster. I’ll definitely do it again but, even if I don’t set out with the intention of running, I think the day helped me think about my approach to walking and that should help me to be a little less constrained by my “essential” gear and clothing.

Posted in Gear, Walking | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Bracken, Bivi and Benchmarks

I’d not camped, or been on anything more than a short local walk, since the TGO Challenge in May and I was looking forward to sleeping outdoors after a tiring walk.  Leaving home at 0800 it took me two and half hours to reach Loggerheads by public transport; it would have taken 45 minutes to drive but I wanted to do a linear walk.

This trip would be an opportunity for me to publish my walk – live – using viewranger and Social Hiking on my mobile phone.  I’ve done this once before, last winter, but there’s a lot I don’t understand about the best way to set it up and use it.  Keen to save weight in my pack, I left my GPS and Silva compass at home.  They are both usually in the hipbelt pocket of my rucksack although the Silva is now only used as a spare in case I lost the mini-Suunto compass I have clipped to my shoulder strap.  Leaving paper maps at home was a step too far for me, but I wrapped OL265 and 256 in a plastic bag and put them away in the pack.

My planned route would take me West to Moel Famau then South down Offa’s Dyke Path to Llandegla, through the forest to Esclusham Mountain – camp – then road walk into Wrexham for my train home in the morning.  I’m never very attentive at the start of a walk and, somewhere in the forest between Loggerheads and Moel Famau, I took a wrong turn.  I thought I had retraced my steps to the point at which I’d gone wrong but the corrected route still went off in the wrong direction.  “Buggerit”, I thought, and I decided to miss out Moel Famau as I wasn’t certain I’d have enough daylight to reach my planned camp anyway and it made more sense to head South as soon as possible.

The weather forecast was accurate.  I was walking in shorts and my Paramo smock and alternated between all zips open, starting to feel too hot, and everything zipped up as the rain beat down.  The showers were brief, though, and my shorts dried quickly between the cloudbursts.

Despite the rain, it was noticeable that there was no water in the streams.  I’d left home with a litre of water and my filter and had planned to camp near to where a stream was marked on the map.  I had an uneasy thought at the back of my mind about what would happen if there was no water at my campsite.  At the public toilets up the road from Bwlch Penbarras I filled my filter bag and had a decent drink.  There was a hut selling drinks at Bwlch Penbarras but I was still optimistic that there was plenty of time to find water, and I felt it was more important to keep going than to stop for a cuppa.

At Garreg Lŵyd, I think, I sat on a bench and attempted to make a cheese wrap.  The wind was so strong I had to put my elbow on the wrap to stop it blowing away while I got the cheese out of my rucksack.  A local man tried to engage me in conversation.  He’d walked up from Llanarmon-yn-Lal for his daily constitutional and was asking all the usual questions about where I’d started from, which route I’d taken and where I was heading to but, battling with my wrap and having to shout over the wind, I wasn’t really in the best frame of mind for small talk. I apologise if I appeared rude.

By the time I reached Llandegla the rain was bouncing.  I passed the signs offering free tea, coffee, biscuits and toilets in the church visitor and exhibition centre.  Although I would have been glad of the shelter, I knew that there would be the risk of me staying there too long; it was now nearly 5pm and I wanted to walk another 5 or 6 miles.

The shop had a café and I toyed with the idea of sitting in the dry and having a cup of tea.  I stood looking at the neatly laid square tables and imagined how nice it would be to be sipping tea and not being rained on…. but I was strong and turned away.  Choosing a can of fizzy pop and a bottle of water from the fridge I exchanged a few words about the weather with the 2 staff (both volunteers, I assume, in this Community run shop), paid for my drinks, then went and sat in the bus shelter.  In the time it took me to drink my pop and eat a snack the skies were blue again but I knew it was wise not to take off my waterproof trousers.

The Llandegla forest went on for a little too long.  Some of the paths were overgrown, meaning I couldn’t walk as fast as I’d hoped, and it was dark and gloomy in places.  It was a relief to eventually see the light breaking through between the trunks.  Turning onto the minor road, I knew there were OS Benchmarks nearby but they were Rivets and I knew I’d have a fruitless search.

The Eglwyseg crags looked good with the light on them but I knew my phone camera wouldn’t do them justice.

Turning East off the road, I knew that my day was nearly at an end.  I would follow the map-marked path – or just head East if the path faded – and find somewhere to camp near to the water course that ran down to Cae-llwyd Reservoir.  I expected the ground to be rough but, with a bivi, all I needed was a small patch of flat, bare ground to sleep on.  The most important thing was to find that stream.  I had just over a litre of water but hadn’t drunk much during the day and I was looking forward to several cups of tea before bed.

The path was not easy to follow at times.  The bracken was high and, in places, I would squeeze through narrow gaps before it opened out again.  However, after one of these squeezes, the path didn’t open out again.  All around me was head-high bracken.  I pushed through thinking I’d just found a small patch of dense growth.  No, it was like that for the next hour.  Occasionally I would be able to see the lay of the land but, as the sun went down behind the hills to the West, it was difficult to see whether I was looking ahead to grass or bracken …. so all I could do was keep going.  I couldn’t see my feet so I made progress via a mix of tiny shuffling steps and the occasional lunge forward when the bracken had tightly grabbed my legs and didn’t want to let me go.

I found the stream; or, rather, a drop into a two foot deep channel showed me where the stream should have been.  Luckily, the thick bracken meant that my fall – rather than my ankle – was broken.

There were a few solo trees amongst the bracken and I figured that there is often bare ground around trees.  I may have to shift some sheep muck – and be on the look-out for ticks – but there should be a bracken-free place for my bivi.  However, the next tree I came to was surrounded by the evil fern…… but did give me a view of a different-coloured patch of ground up ahead.  I found a mossy, heathery spot with just enough room to pitch my Vaude bivi tent.  Laying it on the floor, before pegging it out, I lay on top to check that my head would be slightly uphill [I hate sleeping with my head downhill] then put the poles and pegs in, unrolled my foam mat and took off my wet shoes and trousers.  Moving my rucksack to the head end of my bivi, I was alarmed to see the top pop off my Platypus water bottle.  Carried in the net pocket of my rucksack, it must’ve been dislodged by the malevolent bracken.  Thankfully only a small amount of water was lost ….. but I then became extremely thankful that I’d bought the extra 500ml in the shop.  It would have been an absolute disaster to have no water in the stream and none in my bottle.

I think bivvying is something you either get or you don’t.  I enjoy camping in a tent.  For a multi-day trip, in a variety of good and bad weather, maybe a mix of wild or site-based, alone or in company, a tent is best.  Full protection from the rain, room to change clothes, read maps, wash, check for ticks etc ….. all are better and easier in a tent.  But there’s something I enjoy about the simpler nature of sleeping in a bivi bag.  I can sleep almost anywhere, as this trip proved, and its simplicity means less faffing; keep dry, eat, sleep …. that’s all there is to it.

Before the cloud cover returned it was good to sit and watch the stars appearing as I sipped my tea and ate my no-cook meal. The nearly full moon cast a pleasant light and I always enjoy watching the twinkly lights of the towns down below.

I had an excellent night’s sleep.  I was woken at 0530 by rain on the bivi.  When that shower had passed I tied back the door – with the intention of making breakfast – but quickly zipped it back up a few minutes later when the rain returned.  That’s one of the downsides of this type of side-entry bivi tent.  If the door is unzipped, your sleeping bag has no protection from the rain.  In a simple bivi bag you could put on your waterproof jacket and sit up to make your breakfast.  I only had 5 or 6 miles to walk before my 12 noon train so I went back to sleep.

When I awoke for the second time I was pleased to see patches of sunny blue sky amid the clouds.  There was a strong breeze which I used to dry off my waterproof trousers, draped over my walking poles, as I knew I’d have to wear them for the final push through the heather to the track.

I love bivi breakfasts.  Yes, tent breakfasts are good too, but I know it’s not going to take me long to pack up and get going when I’m in a bivi.  The simplicity of lying in a bag on the ground removes all of the reasons I can make up for why I’m not quite ready to start walking.  In a bivi, all I need to do is shove my sleeping bag into its dry-bag, roll up my mat, put my other dry-bags back in the rucksack and that’s me ready.  The lack of dry, covered space means that I keep everything neat and tidy rather than the kit explosion which surrounds me in my tent.

Thankfully, the Battle with the Bracken was not as intense in the morning.  I soon found a path and, despite it not being on the map and not having a clue where it went, I followed the sheep North East.

I had a half-formed plan to collect Benchmarks on the walk back to Wrexham. However, my list was in my pocket under my waterproof trousers and I couldn’t be bothered to get it out ….. until I just happened to see this mark on a bridge parapet.

SJ28544831 W END S PARA BR

My enthusiasm now rekindled, I fired up OSMaps on my phone and collected 8 BMs on the way back to the station.  I also tutted loudly outside a number of properties which had undergone improvement works and destroyed their precious benchmark.  Why can’t people be happy in their slum dwelling?

I reached the station at 1150 having foregone the search for further benchmarks in order to be certain of catching my midday train….. which was cancelled.  I spent the hour’s unwanted wait drinking coffee and eating most of the food I had left before an uncomfortable journey on a train which was now overfull.  To the Scottish woman who had my smelly wet rucksack pushed up against her face, I can only apologise!

My experiment with viewranger and Social Hiking was partly successful.  Social Hiking worked very well and I am sure I’ll be able to answer my few questions by reading the FAQs.  viewranger, however, has some ginormous spikes on my track and I am not sure how to prevent them from happening again or remove them from the recorded track.  I presume they occurred when my phone did not have a good view of the GPS satellites.  I’ve tried the “remove spikes” option on the phone app but it appears to have made no difference.  More experiments and research to follow.

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A month in the life of an Ordnance Survey Benchmark bagger

A couple of years ago there were stories in the news about young people, and some not so young, stepping in front of traffic and falling off cliffs whilst blindly following their mobile phones in the hunt for Pokémon.  “How foolish!”, I thought.  However, I now find myself wandering the streets, phone in hand, searching – sometimes fruitlessly – not for Pikachu and its chums but for elusive signs of a bygone technology.

I have become mildly obsessed with finding Ordnance Survey Benchmarks. explains what benchmarks are:

Ordnance Survey Bench marks (BMs) are survey marks made by Ordnance Survey to record height above Ordnance Datum. If the exact height of one BM is known, the exact height of the next can be found by measuring the difference in heights, through a process of spirit levelling.

Most commonly, the BMs are found on buildings or other semi-permanent features. Although the main network is no longer being updated, the record is still in existence and the markers will remain until they are eventually destroyed by redevelopment or erosion.

I’ve been aware of BMs for a long time. Occasionally I’d spot one and I suppose I did know they had something to do with measuring or surveying or something-or-other but I’d never realised how many there were and what a huge effort it had taken to create and manage the network.

A short evening walk had piqued my interest in how the local area had developed in the last century. Looking at old OS maps on the National Library of Scotland webpage I noticed how many BMs were marked.  I tweeted about my observations and was surprised to receive a reply from the OS telling me about the legacy list of BMs. Good grief! There’s over half a million of them . . . . .or, at least, there were although they’ve not been maintained for 50 years and many have been destroyed.

Not only is there a csv file containing every single Benchmark (apart from the Fundamental ones which are still maintained by the OS and therefore, I presume, a possible source of income) but they are also viewable as an overlay on OSMaps (Tick the Benchmarks box under Places).  Wherever I am, so long as I have a data connection on my phone, I can bring up a local map which shows the position of every benchmark.  Touching the benchmark icon brings up a description of where it is.  You do not need to be a paid subscriber to OSMaps to see the benchmarks overlay or to use the basic mapping or aerial view.

Unfortunately, this overlay is not available on the OSMaps mobile phone app.  I have asked the OS about this but it sounds like it’s a long way down their development priority list.

As a newcomer to the world of benchmark bagging there are plenty to find everywhere I go.  I’ve got into the habit of having a quick look at the map before I go somewhere so that I know which benchmarks I’m likely to be able to find.  The description is usually helpful:


However, there are some parts I still do not understand.  For example, what is the “ANG” referred to in this one?  BLDG NO63 HAMILTON ST NE FACE N ANG

The wall faced NE-ish but I can’t figure out what angle could be referred to.

I’ve learned to look round the corner: FL BR G3955 NO138 PARK RD NORTH SE FACE S ANG

Definitely on Duke Street not Park Road North


In the last month I have found and photographed 29 benchmarks.  Most have been cut marks, ie the distinctive arrow head, but there has been 1 flush bracket; the Park Road North / Duke Street one above.  I had always assumed that the flush bracket I saw on a hill-top triangulation pillar, ie trig point, was a key part of the trig point.  In my ignorance I had no understanding of the different purpose of a trig pillar (surface distance) and a benchmark (height above Ordnance Datum / sea level).  All those photographs I’ve taken of trig pillar flush brackets over the years can now go into my Benchmark collection!

Ah, yes, the collection…….

What I would like to do is catalogue every benchmark I have found.  It needs to be ticked off a list and have the date of discovery noted along with a photograph and a description of the condition of the mark.  Of course, it is equally important to record the ones which I’ve looked for but couldn’t find…… and there have probably been over 20 over those, so far.

I’ve dallied with a few different ways of recording my finds.  An online map would be perfect but I’ve not yet found a way that seems to do the job in the way I would like.  I am geotagging my photos, so it should be possible to put them on a public online map, but I’ve not yet found the best way to do it.

I could also upload them to Geograph but I’d like a simple way to only display the BM photos on a map and I’m not sure if Geograph can do this.

Of course, no hobby – however strange – is ever new on the internet and I know there are communities of BM-baggers keeping and publishing their own records.  I’ll probably contribute to

You may have noticed that I’m quite passionate about these weird wall-scratchings.  People collect all sorts of odd things so I mustn’t beat myself up over being a Benchmark Bagger.  It doesn’t hurt anyone and it gives me a good excuse to go for a walk at lunchtime or in the evening and see what I can find.  I’m also enjoying looking at old OS maps to work out where a missing BM used to be.

It’s free, it’s harmless and it’s interesting …. and if you’re reading about benchmarks for the first time I bet you’ll have to have a little peak at OSMaps to see where your nearest one is.

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TGOC2018 – A photo a day – Day 13 – The End – Peterhead harbour

This year I’m going to write a blog post for each day of my TGO Challenge crossing and base the post on one photograph from that day.  The photo won’t necessarily be the most stunning scenery but will be something that triggers memories for me.

Day 13 – Thursday 24th May 2018

Peterhead Harbour

Peterhead was not the prettiest TGO Challenge finish I’ve ever had but it reminded me of Birkenhead in some ways and I felt quite at home.

After a walk round the commercial port part of the town – where there was nowhere I could dip my feet in the North Sea – it was good to find the harbour and have a paddle.  The weather was cold and windy and I’d been wrapped up warm for the 4 hours it took to walk the last 16km to the coast.  I’d had some pleasant company from a local, Bill, for the first 20 minutes and his tips on what I’d see along the way had helped me mentally measure out my progress.

I was delighted to find Brew Toon Microbrewery & Café Bar right next door to the bus station.  The weakest beer was, if I recall correctly, 4.8% but I managed 2 pints and two plates of food.  I needed the calories!

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TGOC2018 – A photo a day – Day 12 – A day of two feasts

This year I’m going to write a blog post for each day of my TGO Challenge crossing and base the post on one photograph from that day.  The photo won’t necessarily be the most stunning scenery but will be something that triggers memories for me.

Day 12 – Wednesday 23rd May 2018

Rock cake, tea and lemonade at Maud.

I had high hopes for rest stops today and I was not disappointed.  6 miles to Cuminestown which had public toilets [and I signed the petition to keep them open], an excellent grocery shop and a bench on which to sit while I ate my feast of a sandwich, bag of crisps, cup of tea and a choccy bar.  The tea wasn’t the best [I think the machine’s lines were still full of Milton] but it was a treat to rest in the shade while I ate my meal and watched the manure wagons going past.

Then there was a 9 mile stretch to Maud which also had a shop but – better than that – had a café which was open until 3:30pm so was still serving when I arrived at 3:15pm.  I sat at an outside table, with my shoes off and my feet raised, while I ate my rock bun and drank my tea and lemonade.

Then it was just 3 or 4 miles along the Formatine and Buchan Way to Aden Country Park and the campsite.  I saw a GoLite rucksack outside the shop so expected to be caught up by another Challenger but nobody appeared either on the old railway track or at the campsite.  My last Challenger had been at Tomintoul on the Sunday morning and I would see no others until I reached Montrose on Thursday.

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TGOC2018 – A photo a day – Day 11 – Muck

This year I’m going to write a blog post for each day of my TGO Challenge crossing and base the post on one photograph from that day. The photo won’t necessarily be the most stunning scenery but will be something that triggers memories for me.
Day 11 – Tuesday 22nd May 2018

If you’ve read this far you’re probably wondering just how bad today is going to be. I mean, you’re probably picking up on the fact that I was having a pretty tough time on this year’s TGO Challenge. I admit that I wasn’t skipping along gaily but my cold had all but gone and my perseverance on the really tough days had reminded me that I CAN DO THIS, so my mood was much improved. Light drizzle all day kept me in my waterproof trousers but I was pleased to walk 30km in just over 8 hours with a break for a cheese wrap in St Margaret’s churchyard in Forgue.

The photograph shows farmland and a pile of steaming / smoking (?) cow muck. I was wondering if it had been set alight or does it generate enough heat by itself to start smoking? Over the next couple of days, I saw several tractors pulling wagons of steaming poo. Where do they take it? Were they moving it away from where they didn’t want it? Or to somewhere where there is a market for it? These are the important questions which fill my mind on a long distance walk.

Whenever I see a pile of manure it reminds me of the last camp on my second TGO Challenge in 2007 when I asked a farmer if I could pitch in the corner of his field right next to a huge pile of dung. He said yes.

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TGOC2018 – A photo a day – Day 10 – Lost in the mist at the end of a long day

This year I’m going to write a blog post for each day of my TGO Challenge crossing and base the post on one photograph from that day.  The photo won’t necessarily be the most stunning scenery but will be something that triggers memories for me.

Day 10 – Monday 21st May 2018

Clashmach Hill trig point on the way to Huntly

A planned 31km day which should have now been a little shorter after the new windfarm had pushed me on a couple of extra km the previous day – but the small patch of forest between Blackwater Lodge and Ardwell (NJ3529) added delay and distance.  It was difficult to tell whether I needed to go up the hill or down the hill to enter the firebreak which would take me directly East through the forest.  I ended up going N to the missing bridge at NJ 35706 30205 then picking up the track.  Despite an early-ish start I was now running behind my planned schedule but I still found time to call into the tearooms at The Grouse at Ardwell.  The Daugh of Corinacy was a slog through bracken and gorse but then I had a supposedly simple 18km mainly on forest tracks to Huntly.  Boy, the forest was boring.  It  went on and on with no opportunity to look at anything but hard tracks, trees and 15mph speed limit signs which were totally ignored by the small number of wind farm vehicles which passed me.

It was a relief to eventually emerge from the forest but the weather had now taken a turn for the worst.  It was only light rain but it had soaked my shoes and socks.  My feet were sore; my back was aching and I had a lump developing on my spine.  I was getting fed up and I just wanted the walking to be over.

The cloud was very low and – despite being very near to Huntly – I couldn’t see the town.  I walked on a bearing up Clashmach Hill.  It was good to find the trig pillar as it now meant it was all downhill from here and I couldn’t get lost.  Pah!  I don’t know what happened but I found myself on the wrong side of a new high fence going Northwest when I should have been going North East-ish.  There was no way I could climb the fence; not only did it have two strands of barbed wire but I was absolutely exhausted.  I retraced my steps until I found a gate then walked through a narrow path through the prickly gorse until the road to Huntly.  I didn’t want to take a single step more than I had to, so booked into a hotel rather than go the extra 1km to the campsite.  I then spent half an hour wrapped up in bed trying to warm myself up before I had the strength to have a shower.  Tough day.

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