Category Archives: Death

Praising the Lord in Kenya, as dirt is shovelled over a dead 12 year old boy…

Copstick is in Kenya

Journalist, comedy critic and charity-founder Kate Copstick is currently in Kenya.

She is, once again, working there with her charity Mama Biashara.

Here are the latest extracts from her journal.

Fuller versions are posted on the Mama Biashara Facebook page.


Moses (left) enjoying his favourite nyama choma (roast meat)

Friday 26th April

We head for Mutalia, near Ruai, to visit the family of Moses who died of meningitis last Monday, aged 12. Mama Biashara buys him a coffin. And coffins are important in Kenya. 

We were with Moses in 2010, when he arrived at Felista’s suffering from extreme malnutrition. His baby brother had a serious chest infection, his sisters had infections in liver and spleen and his big brother had a growth on his back. 

Their ‘father’ had abandoned them after their mother died. That was 2010. Their great uncle took them in when they left Felista and Mama Biashara paid school fees and bills. Now the children are with their great aunt. ‘Great’ both in the sense of being their great uncle’s wife and ‘great’ in looking after them when she herself has very little and four children of her own. They call her mum.

All the children flourished. But Moses was the little academic star. He was always No 1 or No 2 in his class. He wanted to be an engineer. He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Science tells us we are all stardust, but Moses, more than most. I hope that wherever he is, whatever he is, he is shining brightly.

President Uhuru Kenyatta was seeking a loan from China

Saturday 27th

The market is full of people worrying about the Chinese invasion, new taxes and getting angrier by the second at a government that borrows vast fortunes to build roads while people starve. Everyone – even the Kikkuyu – is finding some happiness in the fact that the president has just come from a trip to China without the extra extra extra loan he went asking for. 

“The Chinas say No. I am very happy,” says one of my pals and we all nod vigorously. 

The personal debt of each individual Kenyan is calculated to be just over £1,000. Much more than a huge percentage of them see in a year. 

Now, do not get me wrong. I am a HUGE fan of their cuisine, the noodle is my staple food. I am in awe of their State Circus and their religion seems lovely. I personally do not have a phone made there, but many of my best friends do. However, the Chinese have all but destroyed the Kenyan fishing people in Lake Victoria. 

Our ladies (and men) who were doing SO well for many years have now returned to prostitution, Doris says.

What happened was this. 

The Chinese came, at the invitation of the Kenyan Government, they saw, they liked the tilapia and the tilapia business. They bought entire boatloads of fish, removed the eggs, shipped them back to China and now China farms Lake Victoria tilapia and sells it back to Kenya where it is bought, frozen, sold in supermarkets, because it is much cheaper than the fresh stuff which comes from Lake Victoria. And the Kenyan Government allows this to happen. The Kenyan fishing people of Lake Victoria are collateral damage. 

Moses: “He was so much fun. Lively and lovely. And now he is dead. Meningitis”

Tuesday 30th April

Today is Moses’ burial. 

Langata Cemetary is huge and we are over at the back amongst what Felista tells me are temporary graves for those who cannot afford permanent resting places. 

There is a huge crowd. People from the school, people from churches and I have no idea who else. Also a couple renting out chairs, a bloke selling peanuts and someone setting up a little stall selling soft drinks and snacks just behind the seating area. 

We take our places and, as a tiny, shiny little man in a shiny suit welcomes us, there is much clanking as scaffolding for a gazebo tent is erected and the coffin placed underneath. 

I am invited to sit with the family which is very touching and a great honour. Dinah has pretty much arranged everything and I think it is due to her that so many have come. 

The proceedings start with the tiny, shiny man explaining that we should all be rejoicing because this was God’s plan for Moses. I am thinking that, if it was, it was a rubbish plan. 

We then sing for around ten minutes about how great the Lord is and how wonderful/excellent/glorious/powerful/great/amazing/fabulous is his name, clapping and doing that step-dig step so beloved of the Four Tops. 

Then there is a lovely, lovely bit where people come up and talk a little about Moses (including, in an unexpected turn of events, me). 

Dinah spoke wonderfully and some kids from the school sang. But, apart from that, it was like an extended episode of Nairobi’s Got Pastors. 

There were about six or seven of them, welcomed to the microphone by the tiny, shiny man who has missed his vocation as a comedy club MC because he really whipped up the applause for each pastor. And the pastors’ wives. And every church elder who was with us. And anyone who ran a youth group, church choir or had at any time had anything to do with any church. 

I understood about 60% of what each of the suited and booted septet was saying but no one really mentioned Moses.

They name-checked their churches and I wish I had counted the number of times the words Bwana Sifiwe (Praise be to God) were uttered because I think a record must have been broken. 

I am invited to view the body. I say goodbye and wipe dust off the window covering him. Then there is a scramble for others to see him. 

I have no idea who these people are. 

There is more extended praising of Jesus’ name in song.

The family (and I) are surrounded by the suited and booted ones and prayed over with still no mention of Moses. And then we go to the graveside, marching, as we do, over dozens of unmarked graves. 

Now things rachet up a notch with much howling. 

As Moses goes into the grave, a brightly-dressed woman flings herself to the ground and threshes around shrieking. Most ignore her, but she upsets the small children. 

It turns out that she is an aunt. The mother’s sister. It turns out there is actually a family who have ignored these kids for the nine years they have been with Mama Biashara. The shrieking one is a little late in her feelings for her nephew. 

We stand as the grave is filled-in, which is horrible.

It is made even more horrible by a weeny woman with a bad weave who bursts into enthusiastic song about rejoicing. 

She really goes for it. 

For a long long time. 

Praising the Lord, as dirt is shovelled over a dead twelve year old boy.


Mama Biashara works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. It gives grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. It offers training and employment in everything from phone repairs to manicures. It has built a children’s home, which it still supports. It has created water-harvesting solutions for drought-devastated areas. And it helps those fleeing female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sex slavery and child rape. It receives no grants and survives totally on personal donations (and sales at its shop in Shepherds Bush, London), 100% of which go to its work, none of which goes to Kate Copstick. She herself covers all her own personal expenses, including her accommodation costs and her travel costs.
www.mamabiashara.com

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Filed under China, Death, Kenya, Politics, Poverty, Religion

Writer/musician/comic John Dowie on his death, dentists and other Dowies…

So I had a blog chat with poet/comedian/writer John Dowie. 

I was going to the dentist. We arranged to meet when I was finished.

“You might as well come to the dentist in case he’s over-running,” I suggested.

“Charming as your dentist’s waiting room undoubtedly is,” John Dowie replied, “I will be in this pub down the road.”

And he was.

He drank sparkling water. He wore a hat,

This is part of our chat.


JOHN FLEMING: Are you going to see Avengers: Endgame, the latest Marvel movie?

JOHN DOWIE: No, because I won’t go to a cinema. People talk, use their phones and eat popcorn. I can’t believe they sell popcorn in cinemas: the noisiest and smelliest food known to mankind. I resent the attitude of the people who own the cinemas: they shouldn’t sell popcorn. I mean, people are bringing in hamburgers and chips now.

FLEMING: Are they? Where?

DOWIE: I dunno. But they are.

FLEMING: You’re getting to be a grumpy old man.

Consistently grumpy young John Dowie – a living legend

DOWIE: Getting? I was always a grumpy man. Age doesn’t come into it.

I can’t function unless I’m in complete privacy, in an enclosed space with no distractions.

FLEMING: You must have had to in your erstwhile youth.

DOWIE: I had a bedsit and wrote in that. Or I’d sit in my bedroom in my mother’s house and write there.

I am now thinking of trying to rent an office.

FLEMING: It is difficult to write at home.

DOWIE: Yes. If you have a partner of any kind, just as you reach the moment where you think: Yes! YES! there will be a knocking on the door – “Would you like a cuppa tea?” – and it’s all gone.

I had a friend, Gary, who was a painting artist and he said it was always happening with his missus.

FLEMING: The painter’s wife from Porlock.

DOWIE: …or the unwitting girlfriend from Porlock.

FLEMING: Unwitting?

DOWIE: To think it’s alright to knock on the writer’s door and ask if you want a cup of tea.

FLEMING: You should be publishing more. Your story in the excellently-edited Sit-Down Comedy anthology was wonderful.

Freewheeling John Dowie’s latest book

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got an idea for another book. But it’s under wraps. It’s bad luck to talk about it before you’ve done it.

FLEMING: Fiction?

DOWIE: No, no. I can’t be fucked with fiction… But I did have an idea for a story… It’s about this woman dentist who has a new patient and he walks into the room with the most perfect teeth. She falls madly in love with this guy, but how does she keep on seeing him? There’s only one way: tell him his teeth are shit. So, over the course of a year or so, she gets him back for more appointments, taking out his teeth one-at-a-time until he has no teeth left… and then she goes off him.

FLEMING: You should call it Take Me Out.

DOWIE: …or Pulling.

FLEMING: Can I quote that idea?

DOWIE: Yes. I won’t use it. But I do have an idea for a new book – though I can’t write it until I’ve found somewhere to live. At the moment, I’m staying with my two sons and their mother. One of my sons is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

FLEMING: Called?

Comedy/magic and conspiracy theories

DOWIE: Oddly Alike. My son is Harry Scott Moncrieff and it’s a two-hander with his mate Robbie Fox. Harry does comedy/magic wrapped around conspiracy theories. If he does it really well, they will kill him.

FLEMING: Or so he thinks… Why is he Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: He took his mother’s name which has turned out quite well, because he’s not cursed by association with my name as being drunk and abusive.

FLEMING: But Dowie is a famous name.

DOWIE: In Scotland it is… Dowie’s Tavern in Edinburgh… 

FLEMING: I’ve never heard of it. But Dowie is a creative name. There’s you. Your sister Claire Dowie. And Helga Dowie whom I worked with at ATV, who’s a producer now. Your son should have kept the Dowie name. Three prestigious Dowies. How many Scott Moncrieffs are there?

DOWIE: Hundreds, including the man who translated Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.

FLEMING: Really? Was your ex-girlfriend related to the Proust Scott Moncrieff?

DOWIE: Yeah. And she can actually claim lineage from Henry VIII. All I can claim is a couple of ex-cons from Australia.

FLEMING: Really?

DOWIE: Nah! Dunno. Irish. My dad’s Irish, so… Well, there’s a famous John Dowie in Australia who’s a sculptor.

FLEMING: Oh! Is he related to you?

DOWIE: No… There’s another John Dowie who plays football. He is related.

Maybe dour, mean-spirited but never ever dull

FLEMING: Does ‘Dowie’ mean anything?

DOWIE: It means dull, dour and mean-spirited. There’s The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow, a famous folk song.

FLEMING: So your father was Irish with a Scots name…

DOWIE: Yes. My mother was very scathing about the Irish.

FLEMING: She was Scottish?

DOWIE: No. From Stoke-on-Trent but she married my dad, who was from Belfast and she was always scathing about how terribly not-bright the Irish were. I once did a genealogy thing on her maiden name. It turned out she was from Ireland… I think I may get an Irish passport if Brexit happens.

FLEMING: A comedian has just been elected President of Ukraine. (Volodymyr Zelenskiy)

DOWIE: Yes. Swivel on THAT Mark Thomas! Never mind your NHS show. Look what a real politician comedian’s getting up to!

FLEMING: Can I quote that?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Yeah! Jeremy Hardy must be spinning in his grave. That could’ve been me up there on that podium! I’m going to the Jeremy Hardy memorial in May. He was very good, very precise and his death deserved all the press coverage it got.

“Now, when comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries…” (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)

It used to be that comedians were only jealous of other comedians succeeding. But then you write a book and you’re jealous that other comedians’ books are doing better than yours. Now, when other comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries. Ian Cognito’s obituaries this month! I would kill for that amount of space!

FLEMING: I know. He was getting in mainstream papers…

DOWIE: … in the Guardian AND in The Times! I expected the Guardian to do one, but not The Times.

FLEMING: Malcolm Hardee got very extensive obituaries in the quality newspapers because people in the media knew who he was, even if the public didn’t. But Ian Cognito! – I don’t think people outside the comedy industry itself were really aware of him. He did prove, though, that the best way to die is on-stage like Tommy Cooper – and/or live your life so OTT that there are lots of outrageous anecdotes to quote. Fame may die but anecdotes live forever.

DOWIE: That Hollywood Reporter article you posted on Facebook about John Belushi’s death was quite horrific. No respect. There’s a corpse being wheeled out on a trolly – Oh! I’ll take a photograph of that, then! – No. mate, don’t – And Lenny Bruce, of course. He died on a toilet trying to inject himself. He was lying naked on the bathroom floor with a syringe still in his arm and they were leaping up the stairs two-at-a-time to take photographs of him.

FLEMING: Apparently dying on the toilet is quite a common thing. Doing Number Twos puts a big strain on the heart.

DOWIE: Elvis.

FLEMING: Yes.

DOWIE: I have ‘died’ IN some toilets.

FLEMING: Wey-hey! You still have it!… I should have taken heroin when I was younger. Look at Keith Richards: 75 years old and a picture of good health; his main risk is falling out of trees he has climbed. Wasn’t it Keith Richards who accidentally smoked his father’s cremated ashes?

DOWIE: He said he did; then he said he didn’t.

FLEMING: Always print the legend, I say, if it’s a good story.

DOWIE: The story I like is Graham Nash. After his mother died, he discovered that she had wanted to be a singer but was saddled with having to bring up children and having to work. So he took her ashes on tour with him and, every time he did a gig, he dropped a little bit of her on the stage.

“What’s going to happen? … Are you going to rot or be burnt?”

FLEMING: What’s going to happen to you? Are you going to rot or be burnt?

DOWIE: When I buried my friend David Gordon, I found a natural death company with grounds and you can do what you like there. You can put the body in a hole in the ground or in a coffin or in a sack – You can do what the fuck you like – And then they plant a tree there. That’s what I’m going to have done – What kind of tree would it be? – I think it will have to be a weeping willow.

FLEMING: You’ll be happy to rot? You don’t want to be burnt?

DOWIE: I don’t like that bit where the doors close.

FLEMING: Like curtains closing on a stage…

DOWIE: …and no encore.

FLEMING: I think it’s more romantic to rot.

DOWIE: Also your body serves a purpose if you grow a tree out of it. Actually, I quite like the idea of a Viking funeral with the boat and the flames. But I try not to ponder on my own death too much, John. It’s just tempting Fate.

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Filed under Comedy, Death, Humor, Humour

A long-ago photo of a future mother…

This is a photo of my mother – she is the one on the left – standing in front of an aeroplane on the beach at St Andrews in Scotland in, I guess, the very early 1930s.

In the middle of the photo is her brother. He died when he was 16 years old.

I think, she was around 11 when he died.

Her parents adored their son.

Obviously, they never got over his death.

My mother is holding her left arm slightly behind her back.

She was born without a left hand.

She died in 2007, aged 87.

On the right is their cousin. She was older than my mother.

She, too, is now dead.

So it goes.

 

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Filed under Death, Nostalgia

Why do people keep mis-reading me?

Sitting on a Scottish beach not so long ago

Yesterday afternoon, someone said to me: “You will miss not going to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

I said (I paraphrase myself): “No. I can walk away from anything. I spent 20+ years of my life saying Goodbye to people and not knowing if I would ever see them again.”

When I was working in TV, it was mostly on very short-term contracts – one week, three weeks, two weeks, one month, whatever. I once worked at Granada TV in Manchester for six months solid but I don’t think any individual contract I had during that solid six months was for more than three weeks.

When I left a company at the end of any of these short-term contracts, I said Goodbye to the people I worked with not knowing if I would ever see them again. Maybe I would be back in three months time; maybe in two weeks; maybe in four months; maybe in six weeks; maybe never. Some companies I worked at for over ten years, coming and going. But I spent my entire life saying Goodbye to people I might never meet again.

Last night, someone who does not really know me decided to describe my current lifestyle in less than 27 words. In fact, it only took 20:

Comedy, writing, observation, books, spontaneous, baths, London, culture, bad geography, sleep deprivation, rain, rough diamond, cinema and rain (not purple).

Not sure about the “rough diamond” and I bristled a bit at the “bad geography”. But this was put down to my thinking that Preston was North East of Manchester rather than North West. So I can’t really complain.

But I think throughout my life people have mis-read me. I have only ever really had two guiding thoughts in life. They are:

  • A) Never trust anyone.
  • B) Everything ends.

If I were being pretentious (perish the thought) I might add:

  • C) So it goes.

On the “Everything ends” front, here is a photo of the facade of the Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich, London, taken in 2009. It retained pretty much the same facade until yesterday.

Below is one taken last night (by MEU-NF).

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Filed under Death, Philosophy

When I came home yesterday at dusk… Tomorrow & tomorrow & tomorrow…

Durer_NurnbergRuins

I live on the outer edge of London in what is called a Close but is actually a square, with buildings on three sides and, on the other, the back gardens of houses in another street.

When I came home yesterday at dusk, the buildings on the three sides were half demolished, the roofs non-existent, the walls and innards had been broken down to half or more or less than their old height, the bricks and plaster destroyed or exposed and everything was covered with that light white dust of demolition.

When I had walked up the nearby street to my home, there had been red double-decker buses and waste bins and people walking around like it was hundreds of years ago and you were living in and walking through a world you had only known previously from old, faded images. It was dusk and all the 2-dimensional detailing and colours and sounds were there in 3-D reality.

Then I was standing on the Blackford Hill, looking north towards the Firth of Forth and Fife, with the waters stretched out flat and wet before me, the little black island of the Castle Rock sticking out of the water on the left and the larger green island of Arthur’s Seat sticking up out of the water to its right. And, way down, in the waters between them, were the underwater streets and passageways and stone buildings of what used to be Edinburgh. Just dark stone passageways and alleyways in a dark underwater maze now, with light marine growths on the dark stone walls and fish swimming along and between and inside the empty rooms of all the old buildings.

Dreams are strange.

It is very very rare that I remember mine.

Perhaps once a year; maybe twice.

I wish I remembered them more often.

But all the above was not a dream I had last night.

It was yesterday at dusk and I was awake and the images were in my mind.

MyEye_CUT

 

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Filed under Death, Dreams, Nostalgia

Death of comedy critic Kate Copstick

Earlier this evening, I was chatting with comedy critic Kate Copstick at her Mama Biashara charity shop in London’s Shepherd’s Bush. This is what she said:


Kate Copstick in London earlier this evening

Copstick in London earlier this evening

All the way through my teens and 20s, maybe into my 30s, I knew I wanted to be pretty much in charge of when I die. And I still do. When I die, I reckon it will be when I decide I’m going to die. So I had this plan.

I always thought the icky stuff is being found a bloated, ghastly mess after the deed.

So my plan was that I would build, or have built for me, a bomb – small but powerful.

They’re probably available now. I could probably get Chris Dangerfield to get me something on the Dark Web.

I would take a train to Rannoch Moor in Perthshire in Scotland. It is very, very, very remote and there’s miles and miles of bleak… Well, it’s just a great place to die.

So I would go to Rannoch Moor and it would be winter. I would die in winter. It’s all part of the plan.

When I was a teenager, I always had this big jar of pills – painkillers and Valium and Librium and all that sort of stuff. It was my safety thing. Every time I got crazy – which I did quite a lot – I would look at the jar and think: Nothing ever needs to get too bad. Because, if it gets too bad, I take these pills. It made me feel very In Control.

So, I would have my big jar of pills and I would buy a litre of vodka.

I would get the train to Rannoch and I would get a taxi out as far as a taxi could take me and say: “Bye! It’s alright, I’m meeting somebody here” – unlikely as that would be – and then I would make my way to some place high but not too obvious.

The Black Mount seen from Ranch Moor in winter (Photo by Pip Rolls)

The Black Mount seen from Rannoch Moor in winter (Photograph by Pip Rolls)

Then I would take off any jacket I was wearing, would take the pills and wash them down – just slowly, slowly, so I didn’t throw up – with the vodka and I would lie on top of the bomb, which would be attached by wires not to a timing device but to a rectal thermometer.

I would insert the rectal thermometer and then what would happen would be that, obviously, the pills and the vodka would take effect and I would die and that would be helped by the exposure because it’s bloody freezing on Rannoch Moor in winter.

I would die of hypothermia, drug overdose, whatever.

When my core body temperature sank low enough for the rectal thermometer to register the fact I was dead, that would trigger the bomb and my body would be blown to smithereens and the little bits that landed here, there and everywhere could be eaten by birds, rats, whatever is around there… and there would be nothing left. I would just literally disappear from the face of the earth.

That is still how I would like to go.

I want it to be a little bit like Logan’s Run, where you just walk in and disappear. None of this icky nonsense with bodies and funerals and people pretending that they liked you.

I’ll go when I feel it’s time.

In control.

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“Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…” it said in the guestbook

Logs_FraserRiver_VancouverAs a follow-on to yesterday’s piece from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who lives on a boat near Vancouver… overnight, she sent me this.


In a Catholic Chapel at an institution that I visited recently, there was a notebook, like a guestbook, where people had written letters directly to God.

So I leafed through it.

Most were short and unhappy requests for help with medical problems, but I was struck by one friendly letter which began:

Dear God, sorry I haven’t written to you in a while…

I felt the vague urge to write something in it too – any kind of book with individual entries is tempting – but I stopped myself.

Right now, I am sitting in a chair on a deck at the tip of Lulu Island, where the Fraser River splits into three channels. I can see powerboats racing around and the river is strewn with logs from the freshet.

This is the worst time of year for drownings,

Last week one man was found dead after he crashed a jet-ski and another man vanished while swimming with a group around the foundation of a bridge.

The north arm of the Fraser River is the skinniest and maybe the spookiest. In the background is Tree Island, a burial ground.

A few nights ago in the dark, near my boat, I found a life ring (a lifebuoy, in British English) in the water, with something unidentifiable stuck in the middle. I noticed it was attached by a rope to something. I lifted it out of the water and then quickly dropped it back with a splash. I thought: It can wait until morning.

The next day I saw what it was.

One of my neighbours had put a potted lavender plant in the middle of the life ring.

“It will never grow,” said another neighbour. “Salt water.”

The best-known person I heard of dying in the Fraser River was the famed Manx landscape painter Toni Onley, who crashed his amphibious plane into it in 2004.

I was on my boat when I heard the news. I like his work.

His body was found three months after his plane crashed and I had kept wondering if it might float past. I was rather hoping it might, just so he would not be lost forever. They found him when a small boat operator noticed his body floating in a log boom, about four kilometres downstream from where his plane crashed.

He had crashed another plane on top of a glacier a few years earlier, landing on top of a crevasse and he had written an interesting description of that experience.

Just before he died, he had been practising takeoffs and landings on the river, east of Vancouver.

He had been born in Douglas, on the Isle of Man, in 1928. He moved to Canada in 1948.

In 1955, he won an award at the Western Ontario annual show of young artists. Later, he exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy and the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colours. His collage paintings won critical recognition and he used a Royal Canadian Academy award to fund further study in England. His award-winning painting Polar No. 1 was presented to the Tate Gallery in London for a 1963 exhibition.

When I first went to England, the thing I thought was the most fascinating was not the music or fashion or comedy. It was the plastic pudding or jello molds (jelly moulds, in British English) shaped like a sort of realistic rabbit that you could buy at Woolworths. I made crème caramel in them and red raspberry jelly rabbits.

One time, I went on a picnic in Epping Forest with John Hegley and some other comedians. I brought one of the jelly rabbits with me but we were chased out of our picnic spot by an aggressive herd of cattle.

I have a Victorian book about the regulations in Epping Forest. At that time, both photography and  dancing were not allowed in the park.

I used the jelly rabbits in my comedy act and mailed the molds to my friends in Canada. I could not understand how something so beautiful, fun and inexpensive wasn’t all over the world. I think my English friends were puzzled that I liked those molds so much.

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Filed under Canada, Death