World Blog Hop

I am not much of a joiner. Or at least I never have been. I have always clung to the vague hope that this would make me seem windswept and interesting, like Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, but the sad truth of the matter is that I am bulky and blond and blue-eyed, and started developing smile-lines around my eyes when I was about seventeen. The bulky, blue-eyed, smile-lined people of the world might carry many things around with them, but an air of mystery isn’t one of them.

Which is how this half of the band "Modern Talking" was able to get away with murdering 37 prostitutes and a dental hygienist in the 80's.

Which is how this half of the band “Modern Talking” was able to get away with murdering 37 prostitutes and a dental hygienist in the 80’s.

I’ve been a bad blogger. Since I started doing this, a couple of people have done me the honour of nominating me for the various awards that seem to float around on WordPress. I have spurned them. Not because I have not felt grateful or flattered, but because despite my bulky, blue-eyed smiliness, I have always been fairly socially awkward, and I quail at the idea, fundamental to all of these awards, of passing the award on to others.

This is wrong. I have always tended to be a little inward looking, and a tad cynical, but I was lucky enough to marry someone who wasn’t, and have spent the last couple of decades learning, slowly, that being actively kind is not actually a bad thing. Popping into someone else’s life to tell them that you think they’re doing something cool isn’t a vile imposition. It’s just nice.

So what am I on about? Well, since I started doing this, a few people out there have been kind enough to pop into my blog fairly regularly over the last couple of years, not just to have a look, but to make the whole thing seem worthwhile by having something to say about it all. I have, as the isolated, cynical sort, given very little back. Which makes the part of me that has spent the last few decades learning from someone better than me feel awful.

Fear not! Today I start. There’s a bunch of weirdo’s following my blog. Not the wrong sort of weirdo’s; the sort that spend their afternoons sweating heavily in panel vans outside schools. The right sort. The sort that are actively living the lives that all of us imagine that we would be happier living. People who are moving out to the country and growing their own food. People who make stuff. From nothing. Hippies. I envy these people. I admire them. I’d love to join them for a cup of coffee. But not a meal. Half of them seem to be vegans. No bacon.

 

You can make a panel van seem far less ominous by simply painting a friendly slogan on the side. I just takes a little effort.

You can make a panel van seem far less ominous by simply painting a friendly slogan on the side. It just takes a little effort.

They’re all doing something fun. It’s called a World Blog Hop. I have no idea how it works. But they’ve been kind enough to invite me along. And I’m going to do it! Which is a problem!

The buggers all make stuff. They knit things and sew things and draw things and bake things. I don’t. I sell books. Although, in my defence, I did once make a table out of old pallets. And some children (I made some children. I didn’t make a table out of some children. That’s still illegal ‘round here). I did once take this;

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And turn it into this;

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557795_10151245430859658_2145133260_n

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Which has to count for something, although it does feel a little like cheating. I did not lovingly nurture nature’s bounty into a leafy green oasis. I just moved some rocks around and then put some plants in the ground and ignored them. It’s gone surprisingly well. Our soil is ridiculously fertile. I suspect there might be some bodies buried out there. The previous owners did look a little dodgy…

I cover up for my horticultural laziness by telling everyone I’m growing a wildlife garden. And I am. We managed to lure in one of these!

We think it was after one of the children. Luckily, we have two.

We think it was after one of the children. Luckily, we have two.

 

And then our bloodhound drove it away again. But I am inspired. I’m busy building a mound of turf, broken tiles, and rotting logs in the hopes of attracting some snakes. Mrs 23thorns is most pleased. I keep catching her staring at me intently with what I’m pretty sure is frank admiration. She’s taken to carrying a large kitchen knife around, so I suspect she’s busy cooking me a tasty cake as a reward…

I was nominated for this by Linda from A Random Harvest, who immediately set about shaming me by putting up a post full of things she had knitted. And sewn. And drawn. And sloshed around in brightly coloured buckets of dye. This is going to be interesting…

img_26831img_35591

Hah. I bet she never made anything out of used pallets using only a crowbar and a sledgehammer...

Hah. I bet she never made anything out of used pallets using only a crowbar and a sledgehammer…

Here’s how it works. Linne sent me a few questions. I’m going to try to answer them without lying too much. Here goes…

  1. Include a quote that you like.

Oops. Bad start. I’m not really a quotey sort of person. Mrs 23thorns has suitcases from her childhood full of books recording the things she read that moved her, or changed her, or spoke to her, or about her. My mother did the same thing. Me? I just never got into the habit. Although I can quote Jethro Tull lyrics, word for word, because my father played them every single day on the way to school. For years.

So I’ll give you something obscure. Various members of my family have been rather taken by Rudyard Kipling’s If, but I always preferred this one;

The Dog was wild, and the Horse was wild, and the Cow was wild, and the Sheep was wild, and the Pig was wild–as wild as wild could be–and they walked in the Wet Wild Woods by their wild lones. But the wildest of all the wild animals was the Cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him.

cat36

Make of it what you will…

And now for the tricky part.

  1. Why do I create what I do?

I’ve checked out a couple of the other people taking part in this. As I mentioned, they make things. They knit and sew and grow things and then do complicated things with them in stoves and then eat them. I have a sister who studied fine art and a wife who can sit down with a pencil and a piece of paper and produce something worth sticking up on a wall. Me? I warble. I tap things into a keyboard and throw them out into the world. It doesn’t really feel like the same thing.

But the question has been asked so I will try to answer it. I create what I do because Mrs 23thorns started a blog and I got jealous. So I started my own. And I found that I liked it.

I hadn’t really written anything at all since I had been in school, and I’d only done that because they bullied me into it, but writing things purely for my own enjoyment turned out to be kinda cool.

And there’s more. The internet can be a pretty ugly place. The cloak of anonymity seems to turn ordinary people into monsters. But not here. Not on WordPress. I seem to have stumbled onto the only corner of cyberspace that isn’t populated with ugly-minded little trolls who live to question your sexuality, parentage and race whenever you say something they are mildly challenged by. The ugliest things I’ve come across here have been snippets of awkwardly delivered constructive criticism.

 

I said your posts are a little on the long side. You got a problem with that?  Nice pictures though.  And I really like the layout of your homepage.  What theme is that?

I said your posts are a little on the long side. You got a problem with that?
Nice pictures though.

Everybody is just nice. It’s all a little peculiar, in the best possible sense of the word. I can think of worse ways to fill up my free time.

  1. How does my creative process work?

Um. That sounds far too grown up for what I’ve been doing here. I see things or hear things or do things and then try to pass them on in a way that I hope will make people smile a little.

But that doesn’t really describe a process, does it? So here goes; I have never been described as having laser-like focus. My mind tends to hop from one thing to another, usually long before I’ve had time to deal with the first thing. But every now and then, something will grab my attention for a little longer, and it will tug at the edge of my consciousness like one of those songs you can’t stop singing.

So I let it in. It will fill up my head with words while I’m in my car, or at work, or while digging in the garden. When there are too many of them, I sit down and pour them out into a keyboard so my head can be empty again.

 

A dramatic reconstruction, using a highly paid professional actor, of me writing a blog post.

A dramatic reconstruction, using a highly paid professional actor, of me writing a blog post.

I did, for a while, try to write every day. That was a bit harder. I had to go out and find the words. But they did always seem to be out there somewhere. It was just a matter of catching them and tying them down. It helped that I come from a large, loud, and ludicrously opinionated family. In order to avoid disappearing completely, you had to learn to form opinions on everything, instantly, and then defend them to the death no matter how ludicrous they were. Until the next day, when you could cheerfully discard them.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I have done my best to avoid having a genre. I reckon that the vast majority of people out there in the blogging world are doing this for their own enjoyment, rather than for monetary gain, so why not keep your options open?

If anything, I have tried to keep a vein of humour running through things. It’s hard to be objective about something like that, and there is nothing worse than the sort of person who laughs too loudly at their own jokes, but I try, at the very least, to keep it light.

This has proved to be a bit of a problem of late. Winter has ground on for too long, and it gets dark too early, and my garden is bleak and dry and dying from the cold, and someone is killing all our rhinos, and the government is corrupt and the workers are rising up and Ebola is coming to get us and the words that fill up my head in my car or at work or while I’m digging in the garden don’t really belong here, so I find myself writing less. But fear not. Spring is springing and soon all will be right with the world again. Or at least all will be right within our four walls…

Grow, you bastards! Grow!

Grow, you bastards! Grow!

 

  1. What am I presently working on?

I am trying to get a blog going for the bookshop where I work. It’s proving to be a little tricky. We are supposed to be doing “community marketing”, which is easier said than done. Our store is on the outskirts of Johannesburg, in an area where there are lots of new housing developments and young families. Everybody comes from somewhere else and works somewhere else. There isn’t really a community.

So I thought I would try to start an online community. It’s going swimmingly. There’s just one tiny problem. Blogs know no boundaries, and I’m not sure than convincing people from Wales or Tasmania or Atlanta that they need to read about seductive and shirtless Highlanders will win me much favour with the powers that be…

The writing is proving to be a little tricky, too. I’m having to go out and find those words again, and then beat them and bend them and pull them into shape ‘til they fit, rather than just writing whatever is on my mind. I’m having fun, though, and that has to count for something.

*****

So that’s that then. I joined! I took part in something! With other people! And I had fun doing it!

And now for the tricky part. I have had to go and find some other people to join. And I did it! Here they are;

Marcia Meara:

Marcia was one of the first people to comment on my own blog. She was, back then a sweet older lady who was kind about my first faltering steps into the blogosphere. She had a couple of blogs; one about the books she loved and another, more personal one.

But then she went and upped the ante. I first learned that she was getting poems published in collections all over the place. Then she went off and wrote a book. And then another one.

She did it! I suspect that most of us on WordPress are frustrated authors in one shape or another. I also know, from years of working in the book industry, that that whole story of everyone having a book in them is a half-truth at best. We might all have a book in us, but most of us will never get them out of us. And that might not be a bad thing.

She also created this gif of herself. And that's all I have to say about that...

She also created this gif of herself. And that’s all I have to say about that…

 

So there’s my first nomination. The one who just up and did what we all dream of doing.

KokkieH

I’ve nominated KokkieH because looking at his blog is like looking at a mirror. He’s doing what I’m doing, so if I crack the nod for answering questions about my creative process, so does he. He started off blogging as an aid to writing a book. And then he just started blogging about everything. And anything.

But that’s where the similarities stop. He has actually started work on his first draft. Me? I got nothing. So I’m giving him a push so that at least one of us can go off and join Marcia. Then I can claim his success as my own instead of being jealous.

 

He also likes hammers...

He also likes hammers…

Mrs 23thorns.

I just had to do it, because it was so easy. Or not. Mrs 23thorns has several books in her. But she’s a little busy right now. She has, for various reasons, always been fascinated with history, and with tracking down her own roots.

A few years ago, she learned how to do this properly. And she loved it. So now she’s doing it for other people. She loves that, too. But. Mrs23thorns is an obsessive. In the true sense of the word. She quite liked the first Lord of the Rings movie. So she read all three books. Over a long weekend. Then she read everything else Tolkien had ever written (and taught herself elvish) over the next week. Then she ate something.

Why is this a “but”? Well, right now, Mrs 23thorns is busy doing family trees. She is not a genealogist. She’s a family historian. She doesn’t find out that your great-great-grandfather’s name was Charles. She finds out that your great-great-grandfather’s name was Charles, and that he once passed through the Congo on his way to New Zealand, and then writes you three pages on the rubber industry in the Congo in 1897.

As an obsessive, this keeps her a little busy. I have to feed her with a drip and carry her out into the sunlight while she’s napping so she doesn’t develop a vitamin D deficiency.

So she’s not doing much blogging right now. But she has two blogs. One on which she brings history to life, and another on which she dresses up in peculiar outfits and makes me take photos of her dragging the dustbins out into the street. I am so very much the normal one in my family…

A completely

A completely…

...normal person...

…normal person…

...playing with...

…playing with…

...her dustbin.

…her dustbin.

As one does.

As one does.

 

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Birthday sex.

“BIRTHDAY SEX! BIRTHDAY SEX!”

The words are cutting through the sleepy haze of an early Sunday morning like an icebreaker ploughing through a frozen sea. Birthday sex? Oh, dear. Here we go again.

About five years ago, we got the boy child a CD player for his birthday. He was just starting to get into music, switching the TV onto the music stations and demanding we turn on the radio on the way to school. He would walk around practising dance moves and singing little snatches of the songs he heard most often. It was cute. We decided to encourage it.

It's all fun and games until the five-year-old starts grabbing his crotch.

It’s all fun and games until the five-year-old starts grabbing his crotch.

We got him a CD to go along with his new player. We chose one of those compilations of current hits, called “Now 5876” or something. We reckoned it would have at least some songs that he recognised, and would have a wide enough variety of styles to keep his tastes fairly broad.

Sorted. He disappeared into his room to listen to his “beats”, while Mrs 23thorns and I sat back and enjoyed one of those moments that parents of five-year-olds so rarely experience; moments when you are not comforting or shouting or managing or just picking things up and putting them away. We gave each other a high five and congratulated ourselves on quite how well we were doing at this whole parenting thing.

It couldn’t last. A day or two later, he invited us through to his room to listen to his favourite “beats”. He popped in his CD, cranked up the volume, and there it was “BIRTHDAY SEX! BIRTHDAY SEX!” Yup. By far the catchiest tune on “Now 5876” was a tune where the singer mumbles incoherently along to the beat for a minute or so before everything else stops and he chants, slowly and clearly “BIRTHDAY SEX! BIRTHDAY SEX!” Oops.

“What,” asked the boy as the driving beat faded into a silence pregnant with menace, “is birthday sex?” I looked anxiously over at Mrs 23thorns. “You”, I explained to her, using only the wordless, ancient and unacknowledged language of parents everywhere, made up mostly of eyebrow raises, frowns, tiny nods and headshakes, “can deal with this one.”

Look! A birthday sex cake!

Look! A birthday sex cake!

We agreed fairly early on that the best way of dealing with these sorts of questions was to be honest, clear and clinical.

“What are those dogs doing, Mom?”

“Well, they’re mating. That’s where puppies come from. The daddy dog plants a seed in the mommy dog’s womb, and that seed grows into a puppy in her tummy. When it gets big enough, she will give birth to it.”

Sorted.

This is, of course, one of those agreements where I go along with Mrs 23thorns because I am scared of her. Personally, I think it would be both more fun and more beneficial to lie.

“What are those dogs doing, Dad?”

“Leapfrog, son. They aren’t very good, though, are they? I think that one at the back might have hip dysplasia. But you have to admire him. He seems to be trying very hard.”

“So where do puppies come from, then?”

“The Netherlands.”

They also make cheese and wooden shoes.

They also make cheese and wooden shoes.

So how is this beneficial? Well, you can be damn sure that if, the first time the boy finds himself in a compromising situation with a young lady, he places both hands firmly on the small of her back and leaps over her like a gazelle before spinning round with his chest puffed out like a bantam and says “Hips like steel, baby. Hips like steel”, he will get a bit of a reputation and teen pregnancy will not be an issue in our household. But no. Mrs 23thorns wants honesty.

She straightened her back, squared her shoulders, and took a deep breath before kneeling down to place herself on the same level as the boy. Gently, she placed a motherly hand on his shoulder, and looked him straight in the eye.

“Sax.” She said. “He’s saying “birthday sax”. The song is about how this guy got a saxophone for his birthday.”

I raised a rather quizzical eyebrow in her direction. She glowed a rather fetching pink colour, but refused to meet my eye. Hah! Honesty, hmmm?

I was, of course, being a little unfair. Honesty is the best policy, and children can cope with the truth about procreation just fine. If he had asked about sex, we would have had it all covered. But he hadn’t. He’d asked about birthday sex. That is a bridge too far.

Look! This one has a biblical quote on it!

Look! This one has a biblical quote on it!

The CD mysteriously disappeared into a hidden drawer and was replaced with one full of songs about happy hippopotami. Until it was found by she from whom nothing remains hidden. Yup. The five-year-old girl child found it.

I must be getting old before my time. I’m far too young to be grumbling about “the music you young people are listening to”. But it’s nasty. Why is this stuff all over the radio and the TV?

I sat down rather innocently with the boy the other day to watch some TV. He’s ten now. But he still likes his “beats”. I was in for a treat.

I should have seen what was coming when the VJ (are they still called that?) announced with a perfectly straight face that “Nicki Minaj sure knows how to make it clap”, but I didn’t know what he meant. I still don’t. But I now have some rather disturbing ideas.

A video came on. It all started off innocently enough. The good Ms Minaj was loitering about halfway up a jungle tree with some friends in bikinis. As one does. The music started to build. And then it happened.

“MY ANACONDA DON’T!” shouted a lusty and enthusiastic young man.

“MY ANACONDA DON’T!” Ms Minaj and friends started doing a couple of rather suggestive warm-up exercises. I began to feel a vague sense of apprehension. Your what now?

“MY ANACONDA DON’T WANT NONE UNLESS YOU GOT BUNS, HUN!”

"'Scuse me, Ma'am. Do you have any buns?"

“‘Scuse me, Ma’am. Do you have any buns?”

WTF?

I looked around desperately for the remote. Our TV remote is a little like the yeti; a vaguely plausible entity that is supposedly spotted every few months by questionable witnesses, but for which there is very little concrete evidence.

I rose to go and change the channel on the TV at the same time as looking around for Mrs 23thorns to come through and be honest, clear, and clinical about reptilian sexual metaphors. She was nowhere to be found.

Oh, well. I prepared instead a dishonest, clear and clinical little speech about the proper care and curious dietary requirements of the world’s largest snake, but before I got to either it or the TV, the good Ms Minaj stepped forward, pouted at the camera, and, in a clear, mock-prissy voice, destroyed my chances of side-stepping the issue at hand.

“Oh. My. Gosh.” She said. “Look at her butt!”

I did. I cannot lie. My only defence is that I did so not out of prurience but out of slack-jawed fascination. Ms Minaj is a healthily proportioned young woman. She grabbed hold of a perfectly innocent looking chair with both hands, leant forward, pointed her rather prominent fundament at the sky, and proceeded to put it through a workout that would have seen lesser women hospitalised.

I believe the scientific term for that is the "badonk".

I believe the scientific term for that is the “badonk”.

It was like watching two manatees wrestling inside a sleeping bag. It shook.

“MY ANACONDA DON’T!” Oh, dear. He was back.

It wobbled. It quaked. It swayed from side to side, as hypnotic as a dancing cobra.

“MY ANACONDA DON’T!”

It jiggled. It dipped. It soared. It separated into two perfect hemispheres, each with a mind of its own, rotating in opposite directions.

“MY ANACONDA DON’T WANT NONE UNLESS YOU GOT BUNS, HON!”

I was transfixed. Mesmerised. I didn’t know the human body could do things like that. Mine can’t. Not without getting itself placed on some sort of police watch list. The VJ was right. Ms Minaj can make it clap. I’m pretty sure she can, with a little application and some incense, make it start its own religion.

“Oh. My. Gosh. Look at her butt!” Indeed. But I couldn’t. There was a ten-year old sitting next to me who was probably deeply concerned about the unfortunate anaconda at this point, and was sure to be looking for some answers.

I completed my interrupted dash for the TV just as Ms Minaj started to compare a boy named Troy to the Eiffel tower. Favourably. I turned to look at the now surely emotionally damaged child curled up on the couch in a foetal position, sucking his thumb and muttering “It’s alive. It has a mind and a soul of its own. The clapping! So much clapping!”

Just make it stop.

Just make it stop.

No such luck. He was staring distractedly down at a bundle of brightly coloured elastics wrapped around his finger. He glanced up at me. “Can we turn it over to Nickelodeon?” he asked, before looking back down at his rapidly swelling finger. It was turning a rather fetching blue colour.

I’m not quite ready to see myself as an old curmudgeon. I’m only forty one. I’m not ready to write angry letters to parenting magazines or bang on about how children are being damaged by stumbling across the knowledge that our species procreates while listening to the radio. But I find this all a little tricky.

Children aren’t damaged by the knowledge of sex. If they were, we wouldn’t be allowed to take them to farms, and all the monkeys down at the zoo would have pants on. Sex itself isn’t damaging. It’s the reason we are all here. It’s not dirty or corruptive or ugly. It can be wonderful and fun and funny, and so much more than that. But. It can also tear the world apart if it is approached without the right amount of respect.

And that, I suppose, is what bothers me about this stuff. It’s disrespectful. It’s crass. It’s coarse. There is no wit to it. It’s not clever. And it is not, despite the frantic efforts of Ms Minaj and her fundament, sexy. You need a bit of clever for sexy to work properly. Or a bit of class.

Neither of which is pictured here...

Neither of which is pictured here…

It’s as if half of the entertainment industry has decided to focus solely on grabbing the attention of thirteen-year-old boys. That is not a lofty goal. And how the hell am I supposed to have an adult conversation about something if it’s pitched at a level that makes Beavis and Butthead seem sophisticated.

I have no objection to people being fun or funny about sex. We all think about it all of the time anyway; I see no harm in people making light of it. I just wish they wouldn’t ambush my five-year-old with “BIRTHDAY SEX!” at 6 on a Sunday morning. I’m not ready for that before my first cup of coffee. She’s not ready to even talk about it until she’s at least 35.

And leave my boy alone, too. He might be ready to discuss this stuff, but I’m not. I’m still working my way through the whole “the birds and the bees” talk. There is no room in there for bun-hungry anacondas.

It’s not really the sex that bothers me at all. It’s that the kingmakers of the entertainment world have taken the crass, the coarse and the witless and packaged it as the coolest stuff in the world. Present a ten-year old boy with Eminem and Einstein and I would be vaguely concerned if he developed a sudden interest in relativity. It would mean he was weird.

But that means our ten year old boys are aspiring to be as cool as that guy up on the TV with the belt allergy who just managed, in a two minute video, to call women bitches and whores, and gay people faggots, and make the idea of lurking around on street corners selling drugs to children sound like some sort of rite of passage you had to pass through in order to become the coolest thing in the world. A pimp. Yay.

Stay in school, kids, and you can be whatever you want to be.

Stay in school, kids, and you can be whatever you want to be.

The world is moving too fast. My parents sat us down and told us blushingly about what happened when a boy and a girl really liked each other (it started with getting married…). I could do that. No such luck. I’m going to have to sit my son down and explain what happens when a “ho” backs it up on a pimp and then drops it down low and makes it clap. I don’t want to. But I have to, before he brings a girl home and introduces her as “his bitch”, and everyone ends up having a very long day indeed.

It goes one step further. The “N” word. Yup. That one. I get it. It’s an ugly word that carries the suffering and prejudice of generations with it. And the black people who use it are taking it back. They are disarming it. They are standing up and throwing it back in the faces of those who would use it to push them down. It’s an ingenious way to deal with ignorance and hate.

But. My boy is ten. And he is a born free. Born frees are what we call the generation born after the fall of apartheid ‘round here. It is, perhaps, a little presumptuous to call a white kid that, but in my son’s case it is true. On his birthday, we took him and his friends out to see a movie. It was him, three black kids, an Indian, and a Korean. It felt like we were walking into the set-up of an old-fashioned joke. It’s a wonderful thing to see. He is genuinely colour-blind, and if that isn’t freedom, I don’t know what is.

But. Soon, if not already, his black friends are going to start using the greeting they see being used by cool people in movies and songs everywhere. “My n*****r”.

Not my boy, though. He’s the wrong colour. Which is as it should be. But he won’t know why not. He’s too young. He is smart enough to get that he is not allowed to say that, no matter how cool Kanye West may make it sound, but he is not ready to understand why. He is not ready to properly feel the weight of his people’s history, the weight of all the hate and the casual arrogance and the damage and the junk science and the subversion of religion into a twisted justification of prejudice and the “whites only” park benches and the separate homelands and the hate. He will just, in his young mind, not be allowed to be cool.

It's too soon for him to start never forgetting.

It’s too soon for him to start never forgetting.

It does no good to moan about these things. They are everywhere. We cannot escape. Iggy Azalea will be making it clap on the Disney Channel. Eminem will be rapping about “his bitch” on the radio on the way to school. Snoop Dogg will be saying hello to his n****r at the movies. Nicki Minaj will keep on violating unsuspecting pieces of furniture. We live in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. We will just have to find a way to deal with them.

Baby steps. First, I will go and get myself a cup of coffee. Then I will sit my little girl down and tell her about the shiny new saxophone that nice man got for his birthday. And then I will hide the CD and be sad for just a little while.

I'm sure he also got a cake.

I’m sure he also got a cake.