Someone’s waging a mini-protest against London’s social cleansing.

It looks like a Congestion Charge sign, except it’s NOT.

It’s a Curfew sign and it says “Social Cleansing” at the bottom when it’s not blurred by an iPhone zoom and a moving bus, and it is, of course, not at all real.

Little investigations (i.e. searching on Instagram) tell me the artist is not Islington Council, but street artist Dr D.

Curfew social cleansing sign angel islington

Nevertheless, it’s keeping London commuters baffled and amused in equal parts.

Yesterday it confused two policemen, who were staring at one they’d just taken down, only for another one to pop up again this morning.

It’s not just in Angel either, from the looks of Instagram, they’re appearing all over the place.

In Central London…

Curious new sign in central London #curfew #socialcleansing

A photo posted by Adrian Fitch (@adrianfitch) on

And over yonder Clerkenwell

  A photo posted by Christian Eager (@_eager_) on

You can read more about why Dr. D’s bothering with all this Curfew stuff riggghhtt here.

So that’s all really. There are signs, and they are not real. 

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Last Sunday I went to Hampstead Heath for a walk.

Despite what a lot of people will have you believe, there’s actually no point in going to Hampstead Heath unless you mega like dogs.

Either that or you should probably own a dog, or want to talk to dog owners about their dogs, or want your dog to meet someone else’s dog so you can say how alike they look then watch them cavort and tumble and nod with feeling when one of them leaps into a pile of fox poo, which’ll definitely happen because they’re dogs and that’s the canine equivalent of going to Alton Towers.

you look like me2

You could theoretically go to Hampstead Heath without wanting to do any of those things.

But why would you want to?

As the non-dog owning folk who once attempted to eat a hearty picnic spread in front of my Labradors once discovered (while I half-heartedly yelled “Charlie, ELLIE, no, leave it, oh…bugger. SORRRRRYYYYY” across the field)… it’s just not worth it.

charlie hampstead heath

My dog will probably eat your picnic. Sorry.

 

I know what you’re thinking.

Even if you didn’t like dogs, you could still go for the views, yeah? Eat some cake at Kenwood House? Do a nice walk? Parliament Hill?

What’s that, kites? You’ve got a new kite? Want to feel like you’re in the countryside, in London? 

Let me make this clear.

A flow chart to tell you whether you should go to Hampstead Heath or not

I’m warning you. There’s no escaping them.

The hound-shaped influx starts before you even get there, especially if you go to Hampstead by Overground or Tube.

Either way, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some sort of wolf derivative, or at the very least a chihuahua that looks suspiciously like its owners somewhere along the way.

This time on the Northern Line, I encountered a tiny small little bear.

And by encountered, I mean located and zoned in on the empty seat beside her like a ravenous hawk, because there is nothing better than sitting next to a dog on the tube.

dog on tube

But that’s just the warm up.

As soon as you leave the tube station at Hampstead, they’re everywhere.

Seriously, you can’t move for dogs in this part of London.

I think this is because everyone has enough money to buy big houses – proper ones with stairs (stairs!) and stuff – and therefore can easily accommodate Proper Sized Dogs into their life plan.

You don’t really get that in Dalston, where life plans generally stop at “should I eat eggs for breakfast today”.

dog outside hampstead heath overground

It’s also a good place to go on Sunday if you have a hangover.

All the animals running around will appease the anxious, vulnerable, life-questioning feeling of dread you’re currently experiencing, but if that doesn’t work then the Heath is also conveniently surrounded by loads of really, really good pubs.

And guess what?

Most of those have loads of dogs in too.

Some pubs quite frankly go above and beyond the call of duty, like the Spaniard’s Inn.

This pub is pretty well known for loads of reasons, Dickens and Keats and stuff, but its most notable feature is allowing your dog to have a shower before dinner.

spaniards inn dog wash

Anyway this time we went to the Flask in Hampstead, and took Buster with us.

Buster is my friend Emily’s dog and he’s basically well cool.

Case in point: this was his face when we told him that we’d managed to book a table in the one bit of the pub where dogs weren’t allowed, which meant he would have to sit on one side of the threshold (dark wood), while we consumed vast quantities of red wine and beef on the other (light wood).

In case you can’t read dog expressions, this one is “sod that.”

buster in the flask

All in all, going to Hampstead Heath on a Sunday is an excellent idea.

But only if you like dogs.

If you don’t, then honestly. It’s Sunday. What are you thinking? Just stay in bed. 

When you arrive in London, either by birth or because you got the train down from Yorkshire, you are automatically assigned a side.

You’re either north of the river or south, and you’re allowed to go a little bit east or slightly to the west from there. You’re allowed to jiggle around a bit, but then you must find your own little bit of London.

And then you must get to know it, and stick up for it in fights.

If you’ve done it right, everywhere else – even going just three stops further west on the Overground – should leave you feeling a little bit stranded.

And going 40 minutes away into the opposite end of London should render you pretty much an out-of-towner… in your own town.

Kingsland Road sunset

Kingsland High Street and its stonking sunsets is where I lay my hat

Londoners get very protective of their areas, their stomping grounds.

It’s not unusual to hear people get all defensive when their neck of the woods is badmouthed in passing conversation or constantly bored off by cliches in Time Out.

The north / south divide in particular is something even the vikings fought over* in 1066**.

You only have to go into a pub on the wrong side of the Thames and mutter the words “but where are your underground stations, south London? Where indeed!*** for things to get nasty and kick off.

Because ultimately, where you live, eat, drink and drag yourself out for a reluctant walk also says a lot about you, and everyone’s got their reasons for choosing their bit.

Someone’s got to live in Clapham, after all.

But the happy flipside to all this inner London patriotism is that venturing into someone else’s area means you’ve also got a ready made tour guide: you can bet they’ll take a certain pride in showing you around.

*Not a fact
**something happened then but probably not this
***Actual true fact: out of 287 tube stations, only 29 are in south London. 
one tree hill

The view from One Tree Hill, which actually has loads of trees

For example, last weekend I went to Honor Oak and Peckham. 

Whenever I go to south London, my mate Tom tries to convince me to move there.

There are many tactics him and his girlfriend employ, such as feeding me copious amounts of rum and having speakers in their bathroom, but this time he was also like “I know, let’s walk to the house party via that massive hill” and pointed at what was basically a small mountain.

He said this was because it would be quicker than going around it, but when we got to the top, there “just so happened” to be a conveniently lovely view over the whole city of London.

And oh, I love a good view.

Then naturally, when I was hungry after all the walking, we “just happened” to stumble upon Sodo, where I ate the most marvellously excellent pizza served by the most polite, chatty, excellent waiters I’ve ever flirted with come across in London.

It was almost enough to make me change my mind about south London, but then I discovered there’s also a Sodo in Clapton, so thankfully there’s no need.

Phew. And off I went back to Dalston.

on the bus

All hail the 38 bus

 

Likewise, to be shown around someone else’s area of London is to find out a little bit more about them.

In a city where chain restaurants and shops are rivalled by an equal, if not greater number of brilliant independent places, exactly where a Londoner chooses to take you can be enlightening.

“I want to show you the best shop in the world” I recently declared, because when someone comes to London, you want them to see its very, very best bits.

Which is why we spent the next five minutes pointing through metal-grilled windows at a startling array of bears, birds, zebras and giraffes.

Because if you really want to impress someone and show off your local area, you take them to Get Stuffed, the taxidermy shop on Essex Road.

Get Stuffed

I’m not quite sure what it says about me that I’d insist on showing someone a shop which is essentially full of dead animals, but there you go.

We’ve all got our little bits of London, the little things that make us like where we live.

And this little bit of north east, with its silly shops and its excellent pubs and the number 38 bus, is mine. What’s yours?

London has gone back to work.

After New Year’s Eve, at the very start of Stupid January, people start getting a bit twitchy. A bit ants-in-their-pants-y.

It’s like no one knows what to do with themselves; they’re a little too used to staying in bed until the sun goes down – much more of a challenge in the summer, but still a notable achievement in winter – and suffering from a daily routine that involves shuffling from fridge, to sofa, to phone screen, to inevitable pub, occasionally rinse, repeat.

“Could it be”, you wonder, shaking and scratching around a depleted box of Quality Street, “that I am looking forward to getting back to work?”

quality street

Image: Natalie via Flickr

Some people went back to work on Friday 2nd January this year.

Those of us who did were treated to a rare and wonderful thing: a vision of what London could be if it was empty.

If it was somewhere with well-oiled, spacious, fast moving transportation devices which got you from A-B in the time it’s meant to take you to get there.

If it was somewhere without queues in Pret.

If it was somewhere like the Moon, or Switzerland.

Oh, to live in a city where 60% of the population doesn’t go to work. On the 2nd of January this year, a small group of us lived the dream.

Image: Tom Page via Flickr creative commons

Image: Tom Page via Flickr creative commons

For everyone else, January started the usual way.

That is, by launching a torrent of expletives at an inanimate Oyster card machine which insisted on charging £3-£5 more for a monthly travel pass than it did a few days ago.

“But WHY?” we yelled at the machines in turn, withholding our debit cards in disgust. “What has CHANGED to make this new fare JUSTIFIED? NOTHING. Nothing. NOTHING HAS CHANGED. It is STUPID.”

Then we cried.

And then we paid.

There will, I believe, come a day when TFL softens the blow of Stupid January by offering free on-board croissants. We live in hope.

Until then, it’s up to us.

So to combat the drag of Stupid January, I am reading.

Like, concerted effort reading.

The sort of reading where you buy good books and finish them in a couple of days, then pick up another one and read that.

Reading a good book makes the commute go faster, and has the added benefit of distracting you from your phone. Or Facebook. Or the news. Or the condensation sliding down sweaty bus windows onto your scarf. Or whatever’s making you feel a bit ants-in-your-pants-y that day.

If anything, a good book has the magical effect of making you wish your commute was longer.

And in the case of Station Eleven, it also makes you think that everyone who sneezes on your bus has a killer virus which will lead to the end of the world.

What could be better than that?

If you’ve got a (good) commute-saving book recommendation, let me know.

PS. If you’re reading this by e-mail subscription, you won’t be able to see the last picture. Click here if you feel like you’re missing out.

“You know those letters you were on about, I found one!”

These were the words of my colleague Matt as I walked into work in early December.

This wasn’t long after I’d written a blog post about a nice little project where someone was leaving anonymous letters around London, filled with sentiments that would bring a little smile to your day.

Then the next week, low and behold, Matt had been on the District Line to Upminster when he saw a small square of paper staring up at him from the seat.

Letter on the tube

Imagine the excitement.

Finding anything on the District Line that isn’t chewing gum or a faint smell of wee is usually cause for celebration – but an actual written note? Nothing short of momentus.

What could it be…?

An inspirational quote?

A life-affirming statement?

A nugget of advice that would shape the course of Matt’s life…forever?

Sort of.

Letter on the tube

We might not quite be there yet with the whole “let’s all be nice to each other” thing, but in the spirit of January, let’s all thank Anik for his input anyway.

Anik on the District line: your fellow Londoners send their thanks both for your happy sentiments and also for your tumblr featuring photos of Emma Watson, moody trees and black holes.

You can’t bring us down, for it is 2015, and we are all off to the pub for two more days until work starts. Hurrah, wheeyyy, woop.

Happy New Year everyone. And if you want, you can send me stuff you found in London to contact@sheloveslondon.com. 

London goes a bit mental at Christmas.

The first sign that everyone is about to lose their tiny minds is the increase in suggestions that you should spend your evening traipsing across a freezing park, following a slow moving herd of pushchairs, tourists and excitable Londoners (the worst kind) into a wallet-rinsing, fairy-light-twinkling, pedestrianised festive version of the M25, where you’ll pay £6.50 to drink mulled wine out of a polystyrene cup while the smell of overpriced Bratwurst wafts up your nostrils from a nearby wooden hut.

I am, of course, talking about Winter Wonderland: that annual Festive “Good” Idea which, if we’re being entirely honest with ourselves, is best experienced after no less than 18 shots of whisky, and from far, far, far away.

A helicopter, for example.

(Or better yet, France.)

Winter Wonderland from far, far, far, away

Credit: @MPSintheSky

It’s not so much Christmas Day itself which brings the ruckus round here, but the two weeks before.

Anyone who works centrally will be familiar with Christmaspartymageddon.

That’s the name given to any working day in the city between the 6th and 17th of December. Pubs, restaurants and bars become packed with office workers consuming their eighth unnecessary turkey dinner of the week, before trying desperately to avoid paying for drinks by standing near senior management at the pub from about 3pm onwards.

I work in Farringdon, which reached peak Christmaspartymageddon on Thursday last week. And no one, not one of us could have anticipated the fallout that followed on Friday.

farringdon bacon

Then there’s all the lights.

People go nuts over them. Christmas lights in London are a big thing which, you know, I get because they’re pretty, and festive.

And that’s fine when it’s the normal stuff. You know, snowballs on Oxford Street, some sort of crown and twig arrangement spanning down Regent Street.

But who can forget that classic Christmas combo of headphones, sunglasses and moustaches? Oh Carnaby (Street), you are spoiling us.

Christmas on Carnaby Street 2014

Credit: George Rex

 

And nowhere exemplifies London’s Annual Christmas Meltdown quite like Oxford Street.

In fact, make that any street or indoor complex containing shops, because every single one of them is guaranteed to propel you into a near catatonic state within seconds of walking through the door.

Even if you thought you knew what to get someone before walking in, even if it’s your last chance to get something and you absolutely have to make a purchase because otherwise Christmas will be ruined, even if you’ve got one job to do that day and it’s to go into Selfridges and buy something specific: trust me.

None of that seems to matter when you emerge onto what is basically the first, second, forth, fifth, sixth AND seventh circle of shopping hell.

What happens instead is you’ll just back away slowly, muttering “I’ll do it tomorrow. I’ll get it from Amazon. I’ll pay for Prime. Anything. But not, not this.”

Oxford Street at Christmas

Credit: @JEBjork

 

But there are some good things happening too.

Office parties, free bars, chocolates in the office, chocolates in bowls on the kitchen table, chocolates in the back of your Uber cab, Londoners paying for other Londoners’ bus fares.

And then there’s people generally being nice to each other: leaving bags of food next to homeless people, or, like the William IV pub in Islington, feeding people Christmas dinner for free.

 

william iv pub

In the end, over 180 people got fed at that pub on Sunday, which is a loads better way to spend your afternoon than slowly but surely losing your mind in a crowd on Oxford Circus.

So on that happy note, this will probably be my last post of the year. Thanks for reading. Tell your friends. Better yet, send me presents.

Also, does anyone want to do my Christmas shopping for me this year?

I like writing people letters.

So at the beginning of this year I got hold of my mates’ addresses, bought a load of envelopes and stamps and decided to start sending them things in the post.

I’m a bit rubbish with remembering birthdays, so usually it’d just be random cards saying hi, or thank you, or crappy Valentine’s Day from Oscar the Grouch; or congratulating them on not killing their first outdoor plant, but occasionally there’d be one to commemorate something really really important or a momentous life event.

diary april

Everyone likes getting post, but not everyone can be bothered to send it.

The only stuff most of us get in the post now are letters from the Student Loan Company, or, as I like to call them, the Quarterly Statements of Disappointment, and council tax reminders, and phone bills charging you for the iPhone 5 you dropped down the toilet last year.

Also, most people who live in London rent and move around a lot, so no one gets post because no one except your parents really knows where you’re living now, and to be honest, neither do we, most of the time.

So although I sort of hoped to get the occasional letter back, mostly I just liked to think of mates coming home after a crap day at work, seeing an envelope with their name on it, and forgetting their nightmare commute for a minute – and maybe despairing a little bit at their friend’s lack of artistic card making skills*.

*apologies to anyone who recently received my limited edition “you as a stickman drawn with a felt tip” series.

letters left in london1

And then this week I found Letters Left in London

It’s a project started by an anonymous person who lives in London, who’s basically been writing lots of friendly letters to strangers in the city and leaving them around the place for people to find, which is a loads better way to spend your morning than scowling at people who annoy you on the tube.

It’s nice, and it’s sweet, and sometimes that’s just what London needs.

In their own words:

I write notes, letters, little quotes, poems, etc and deposit them anonymously in public places for people to find, hopefully to bring a bit of warmth to people as they go about their day. Letters telling them how awesome they are, extracts from moving poems, messages of hope.

letters left in london 2

I sort of wish I’d thought of it. 

Not only is it a nice thing to do for people you don’t know, but it’s also a better idea than sending letters to friends in the post because this way you don’t have to pay for stamps.

On which note, thanks, Royal Mail, for making my nice idea a surprisingly expensive one. 

Anyway, the Letters Left in London are all being posted here, which is good because unlike emails, written words don’t automatically save to your sent items, and you can also follow the project on Twitter.

So go! Quick! Send your fellow Londoners stuff in envelopes*! Today! Your city dwelling friends need you.

*They’d probably really appreciate money, but cards will do. 

In October I went to Reykjavik.

It wasn’t meant to happen.

I was travelling on my own, and planned to go straight to see my mate in Boston, then over to New York. But then I found out I could get a free stopover if I went via Iceland on the way, so I thought, why not?

Then I didn’t give it much more thought until the flight, where the general theme seemed to be don’t you dare turn up in our country without knowing some basic phrases.

iceland air seats

I’m not big on reading about places before I get there.

This is mostly because I’m lazy, but also because I enjoy the element of surprise when you turn up and don’t know where your hotel is. Or in the case of Iceland, where anything is.

Anything at all.

Seriously, Iceland.

Where is everything?

nothing down there

Iceland: big in the lava game

As such, I didn’t really know what to expect.

But I had a sneaking suspicion my trip might involve three things:

1) slipping on ice because I failed to bring shoes with any grip

2) volcano-related travel disruption

3) sustained periods of hunger, because sitting in a hotel room rationing out mini bar peanuts would arguably be less of an ordeal than walking into a restaurant and mustering the words “table for one”.

iceland geysir

Happily, none of these things happened.

Instead, I found myself in a country with 80,000 horses, 328,000 people, a lot less ice than the name would suggest, hot water coming straight out of the ground - literally, see above – and an anti-incest app so locals can check if the person they’re flirting with is actually their sister.

Oh, and I also found  “meat soup” on the menu, which, despite its ambiguous name, is deliciously comforting when eaten in any situation, but particularly when hungry, tired and on your own.

Basically, Iceland was brilliant.

In some ways, it was even better than London. And this is why.

meat soup for one

Meat soup for one, bitches

The locals are unfathomably friendly.

The more I travel, the more I realise that the best way to spot Londoners abroad is to look for the people walking round slack jawed and wide eyed with amazement, frantically mouthing “but everyone here is just so nice!” to each other.  

You never hear tourists saying that in London, which has led me to conclude that Londoners are probably friendly to other Londoners, and the rest, well… they all sort of just walk too slowly and get in the way.

In Iceland, no one’s annoyed at you when you get in the way. They are polite. And welcoming. And patient.

For example, not one person pushed this man into a puddle for using his iPad as a camera. Not one.

ipad in iceland

Even lost property is carefully looked after.

In London, lost gloves get kicked about, shoved on a wall and then eaten by a team of fiercely howling pit bulls in Dagenham.

In Reykjavik, lost gloves get collected together, put next to the other lost gloves and signed up for a speed dating initiative.

It’s beautiful.

In Iceland, (g)love never dies.

single gloves speed dating

Then there are all the horses.

Oh, the horses.

Like I said, there are 80,000 of the little scamps milling about the place, and all of them seem extraordinarily happy with their lot.

Icelandic horses don’t muck about; there’s none of this plodding, lazy, oh-do-we-have-to mentality you get in the riding schools at home. If anything, this lot are massive overachievers.

Not content with walk, trot, canter and gallop, Icelandic horses came up with a couple more gaits to keep themselves occupied, like “tölt” and “pace”. This makes them the most comfortable things to sit on this side of IKEA.

And in Iceland, you guessed it, the horses just want to share a bit of love, too.

friendly horses

If you’re not into horses, there’s always the swimming pools.

With all the hot water steaming about underground, Iceland’s pretty big on outdoor swimming.

From what I gathered it’s less about actual swimming and more lying around in hot water having a chat, which pretty much sounds like something my dad – who also enjoys “swimming”, where “swimming” means “doing laps of the jacuzzi.” – could probably get on board with.

Anyway, one of Iceland’s most celebrated geothermal pools is the Blue Lagoon, which has a constant temperature of around 37-39 degrees all year round.

It’s also full of minerals which you can slather on your face and wallow about in for hours while the sky goes “watch me now!” and does nice colours.

blue-lagoon-iceland

Of course, we’ve got outdoor pools in London too.

Except here we call them “lidos” or “ponds”, and generally, they come with medical warnings against disease and hypothermia.

Observe the public health warning helpful information on the website of London’s most celebrated pools ponds, Hampstead Heath.

hampstead-heath-pond-via-fl

Finally, I think you can tell a lot about a country from the signs in its airport.

For example, Sydney Airport is covered in signs reminding people not to crack hilarious jokes about the bombs they don’t have in their luggage.

Boston Airport – and in fact any airport in America – has signs warning you not to do anything except look like a white, Caucasian male in possession of a US passport, and in London most of the signs just tell you where you can and can’t queue.

Over in Keflavík, Iceland’s International Airport, their main concern is that people just won’t want to go home.

no-camping

And after two days in this excellent country, I don’t entirely blame them.

Sorry, London. I’m home now. I’ll blog about you next time.

Disclaimer: if you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably already seen this.

In which case, please accept this kneeling goat as an apology.

goat

He is sorry. As am I.

But I put a project together for work and I like it, obviously, so by my powers of deduction, if you’re reading this then it probably means you:

a) like London

b) have some time on your hands

c) enjoy reading things on the internet

d) have recently had either me / one of my friends / my mum / my dad standing next you at a party refusing to top up your wine glass until you’ve put this website address into your phone and promised to look at it when you get home (thanks guys).

In which case, you might like it, too.

So this is 100 things in London.

The long and the short of it is: if you don’t learn something bout London after clicking on each and every thing on that page, then I’ll give you your money back.

(Not really. But only because it’s free).

100thingsinlondonlastminute

It took us ages to put together, and people I know through Twitter and blogging helped, as well as tour guides, historians, and the marketing bods at London’s big and little known places.

So thanks to Yannick, Flora at Accidental Londoner, Mark at The Importance of Being Trivial, Simon at Hackney Tours, Mike from London Historians, the nice people at 1000 Londoners, and loads of others who sent brilliant things to my inbox in the name of educating the world / internet (ish).

If that’s not incentive enough, the finished result includes not only a horse, gorilla, water vole, and an otter, but also a walrus.

Anyway. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, tell your friends. Preferably by standing over them with a large stick, waving it around in a threatening manner until they look at it and click “like”.

Only joking.

Sort of. 

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It’s annoying that September’s over.

Firstly because I can no longer legitimately get away with saying “it’s my birthday” in October, but also because it’s getting dark which means I’ll have to stop walking home along the Regent’s canal in the evening.

Strictly speaking, I don’t have to stop.

It is indeed my right as a human person to continue walking home even when it’s dark or cold or a bit rainy – but let’s face it, walking along an unlit stretch of canal just isn’t as good in the pitch black.

And when I say isn’t as good, what I mean is “not as safe because I might get set upon by a predator lurking in the shadows”.

You know, just so we’re clear.

Granted, before it got dark, there were other things to be wary of.

Such as:

  • Falling in
  • People who can’t walk in a straight line
  • Wonky neck syndrome while going under bridges
  • Angry swans
  • Idiots
  • Idiots on Boris Bikes
  • Flying jogger sweat
  • Guilt that everyone else is exercising and you’re not
  • Cyclist bells

In fact, there’s a bit of an unspoken war on the tow path between cyclists and walkers. But that was almost what attracted me in the first place.

canal geese

This was my first summer of being able to walk home from work. 

Before this, I’d look longingly out of the bus window and see all these enraged cyclists driving up the rear of walkers along that skinny little tiny towpath, furiously ringing their stupid bells as if they’ve got right of way (they haven’t), and think I want to be one of those people getting in the way of cyclists too.

Then I moved jobs and finally it would take me 55 minutes to walk instead of 2347897345 hours – so all through spring and summer, it’s been a little high point of my day. I could become one of those indignant walkers with Right Of Way.

So it’s been good, the walk home. All that mucky green water, seeing loads of dogs, watching geese attack each other, marvelling at the amount of people who seemingly have nothing better to do with their day than sit alongside the canal drinking Red Stripe on a Wednesday, peering into houseboats, it’s been a lovely time.

But I’m afraid it’s goodbye for winter, Regent’s Canal. You dangerous dark place, you*.

(*Unless it’s the daytime at weekends. Then it’s fine.)

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