Archive for Dec, 2012

The landscape photography book which I have been reading says that I should avoid the mundane and aim for the mysterious.


The mystery for the spectator can be one of four things; what is it? what does it mean to me? does it touch my emotions? why did the photographer take the picture?  In this case as far as I can see, the answers to these questions will be very obscure, especially the last one.    Does this make it a good picture? It’s a mystery.  (Please do not try to help me out here as this will only raise more questions.) I am going to have to stop reading books which make my head hurt.   Note for certain male readers:  the photograph shows items on the draining board after being washed up.  I realise that this will make the mystery only deeper for you.  You thought that things washed themselves up and then put themselves away.

The last day of the year threatened to be as bad as any that had gone before.  When I woke up, the wind was howling round the house and it was raining.  When I went downstairs, water had leaked through the window and the back wall.  I was just working up to a really thoroughgoing rant with a choice range of selected swearwords of a kind suitable for old gentlemen in a temper when my day brightened.  The rain let up and Sandy and Dropscone came to join me for coffee.

Dropscone had just taken his daughter to the dentist in Hawick and he arrived bearing gifts of a bakery nature.  We couldn’t exactly say what they were but Dropscone did point out that they were the first things that he had ever  brought to eat with our coffee that either he hadn’t made himself or which he hadn’t purchased at a discount on account of them being very close to their sell by dates.  We were suitably grateful.  They had a hint of cheese about them and were very good, whatever they were.

No birds had come to the feeder in the early part of the morning because the wind was just to strong for them but it let up after coffee and I took a picture or two.

coal tit

A coal tit was dwarfed by my new peanut feeder.

chaffinches in the rain

It started raining again.

The birds seemed nearly as cross as I was.

birds at the feeder

One brambling simply couldn’t wait at all amid scenes that resembled the January sales.


I had resigned myself to another wasted day until I looked up after lunch and saw that there was some blue sky about.  I thought that the wind would be still be strong but it had dropped away.  There was no excuse.  I got the winter bike out, tucked my trousers in and set off up the road to Bentpath.

This route involves a short but stiff climb at the start and I was worried that I might not be up to it but all was well and I floated up the hill on a wave of euphoria brought on by the unexpected pedal.

Although the day was dry, the surrounding countryside was anything but.

watery wall

This little river was running over a wall and across the road in fine style and I was pleased not to meet a car coming the other way while I was splashing through it.

The fields had puddles in every dip.


There were glimpses of sun to be had but I had no need of sun cream as they were far off.


I made a point of stopping regularly on the way out as I was pedalling into what was still quite a noticeable breeze and this gave me the opportunity to take some illustrative pictures as I went.


A typical farm yard

Esk at Bentpath

This is the Esk at Bentpath and the picture shows how very flat the valley bottoms are among the steep sided hills.

Esk at Bentpath

I liked the contrast between the serene water below the trees and the river in full flow behind

The puddles weren’t just in the fields.

road puddle at Georgefield

Luckily, I was going so slowly that there was no danger of getting myself soaked as I went through.

I had to look twice when I saw these.


Not the sort of thing you see every day round here.

I’ll go back and try to take a better picture of them next time if they are still there.

I had just crossed the Meggat Water….

Meggat Water

…and reached the furthest extent of my ride at Enzieholm Bridge when a wobble of the handlebars indicated that something was wrong.  I had a puncture.  This was annoying as I didn’t fancy a seven and a half mile walk home.  I looked rather nervously in my back bag and was pleased to find two tyre levers, a spare tube and my little pump.  This was a bonus as I don’t always carry spares because my usual Schwalbe tyres are so hard wearing that I haven’t had a puncture for ages.

I set about changing tubes and to my amazement and delight, I managed it and, what is more, without hurting my thumbs to any great extent.  I was also very heartened to be twice offered assistance, once by a passing pedestrian and once by a couple in a car.  My morning gloom was entirely dispelled by now and I cycled home down wind and at peace with the world.

The turkey mountain having now disappeared, I am setting to work on reducing the cheese mountain and so I enjoyed a plate of macaroni cheese for me tea.  It will be sad not to have Mrs Tootlepedal here for seeing in the New Year but thanks to the wonders of technology, I managed this.

A glass of wine and thou

I think that as the poet says, that should be ‘paradise enow’, though I couldn’t run to a jug of wine since I am restricted to a glass per week.

Modified rapture.

Since the night was calm and clear and the next competition at the camera club is night photographs, I went out to have a try.

Henry Street

Henry Street

The temperature had dropped a lot.

The temperature had dropped a lot.

war memorial

I don’t feel that I have understood the point of night photography except for catching badgers playing since photography is writing with light and there isn’t much light at night but I will persevere.

One of the things about night shooting is that you can’t use your auto focus and mu eyesight is so bad I can’t tell whether the shot is in focus or not until I get home, which is too late.

I notice that many other bloggers have posted a retrospective look at 2012 so I had better do mine:

2012: very disappointing.
The final flying bird of the year.

flying chaffinch

I wish a very good and successful new year with all that you wish and deserve in it to all of those of you who have persevered as far as this down to the post.





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Today’s picture, from my brother Andrew includes a bridge over a swollen Sor Brook near Banbury.  Rain everywhere.

sor brook

It was a brighter day here when I got up and there was even a hint of sunshine.  To compensate for this, there was a bitter wind blowing.  Sandy and I felt the extreme keenness of this when we went up to fill the moorland feeders.  It was, as they say round here, starvation.  We had hoped to get in some serious photography in the better light but a short time time standing in the chill persuaded us that a seat in the car was a better bet and we soon got fed up with that and retired for a cup of coffee. We both took a few pictures.  There were a great number of birds about.

The tall feeder

The tall feeders were particularly busy.

Great tit

A great tit looks around to see where everyone has gone and stamps its feet to keep warm.


A nuthatch paid a fleeting visit.

tall feeder

This was the view of the other tall feeder from the car.

Because of the wind chill,  it felt colder than a frosty day would have done even in our new headgear and we were pleased to get indoors.

After coffee, I had hoped that the wind might drop so that I could go for a pedal but it seemed to get even stronger so I looked out of the window instead of doing anything more energetic.

There were plenty of birds in the garden too.

stacked chaffinches

Neatly stacked chaffinches

I like the way that chaffinches really keep their heads still and their eyes on the target.  If they could swing a club, they would make good golfers.

chaffinch queue

There is no ‘ladies first’ in the world of chaffinches.

chaffinch thinking

Here’s a lady left out in the cold by  goldfinches.


A goldfinch takes a swing round the feeder to see if there is a spare seat.


Taken from an upstairs window

Other birds were to be seen away from the feeder.


A robin lurking in its favourite bush

A male blackbird catches a narrow ray of sunshine

A male blackbird catches a narrow ray of sunshine

female blackbird

A female blackbird works on her tan on a box ball.

I made some vegetable soup (with added turkey bits) for lunch and when I had finished, the weather had got darker and windier and colder so I gave up any thought of pedalling and turned my hand to doing worthy things like writing up the minutes of the recent committee meeting and composing a begging letter for funds for music to a local trust.

What with doing this and looking at other people’s interesting blogs, the afternoon turned into evening and as the rain and wind battered the house, the evening turned into bed time without anything else interesting happening at all.

The rain is leaking through the end window as I write and it provides a melancholy percussion counterpoint to my tapping as it drips into a plastic bowl on the window sill.  The old year is leaking away.

I should say that if you enjoyed my starling pictures yesterday, there are more and better ones on Sandy’s blog.

A traditional flying chaffinch, caught when the light was at its best.

flying chaffinch








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Today’s picture, taken with and sent from Granny’s iPad through a miracle of technology, shows my daughter Annie in her smart and self knitted winter hat.   She would brighten anyone’s day up.

annie's hat

It was a day that needed brightening.  I had gone to sleep with a howling wind whistling round the house and I woke up with rain hammering down.  I went back to sleep again.  By the time I eventually got up, the rain had stopped and the wind had died down quite a bit.   This was lucky as the wrong newspaper had been delivered and I was able to take it back to the paper shop and get the right one without getting wet or blown away.    Still, it was a grey and blowy day and I was grumpy as I wanted to enjoy some gentle cycling.

It was too grey to take good photos so I took a general shot for the record…


I kept on expecting the rain to start again as had been forecast but it didn’t so I pulled myself together, threw off the grumpiness, tucked my trousers into my socks and set off to do a bit of bicycling.  I was pedalling along, stopping to take the odd photo….

blasted tree

…when I got to the four mile mark and the forecast rain arrived.  I didn’t want to get soaked as my cold is still lingering on so I turned for home, fortunately with the string wind behind me now.

I took my wet clothes off, got changed and was just sitting down for a really good grumpy afternoon in the arm chair when the phone rang.  It was Sandy, suggesting a quick trip to the Moorland feeders.   I looked out of the window.  The rain had stopped of course now that I had finished cycling so I agreed and a few minutes later, he arrived to pick me up.    This really cheered me up as otherwise I had been looking at a wasted afternoon.

We got to the feeder station, got the cameras out and it started to rain quite heavily.  We got back into the car and spent some time looking at birds out of the car windows.  There were plenty of birds to watch.

great tit

A great tit perched on a nearby branch.

We could hear the pheasant shooters banging away not far off but this lady pheasant seemed unconcerned as she scuttled about picking up seed dropped from the feeders.


It is hard to know what pleasure can be got from shooting hand reared and  regularly fed birds driven towards you by beaters but it is big business so someone must enjoy doing it.

As we sat rather sadly in the car, we could see a lightening of the cloud cover down towards the coast and on a whim, we set off to search for a sunset near Gretna.  We aimed for Browhouses which is right on the shores of the Solway.  It is definitely a wide open space.

The view from Browhouses

Looking across the water, we couldn’t see the Lake District hills but we could see an exceptionally fine range of clouds sitting firmly on top of the them.

solway clouds

They came in various shapes and sizes.

solway clouds


solway clouds

solway clouds

Changing colour as the sun went down.

solway clouds

I had hoped for a sunset and we certainty got one.

Browhouses sunset

As the sun sank, we set off for Gretna in the hope of seeing a starling (or two).  On our way back to the main road, we stopped to admire an enormous puddle in a field.

Browhouses puddle

It was more like an inland sea than a mere puddle.  As I was admiring it, Sandy tapped me on the should and said, “Look at that.”  I looked.

starling pylon

It was a starling covered pylon.  Then he said, “Look at that.” Once again, I looked.

starling wires

More starlings.  We didn’t have to go to Gretna, the starlings had come to us.  We had a wonderful half hour enjoying a completely different view from our previous visits.  The birds were covering a field directly in front of us and every now and again they lifted off like a magic carpet.

carpet of starlings

The air in front of us was full of flight.


More birds came out of the west.

starlings and clouds

The cloud kindly pointed them out to us.

Even to old starling watchers likes ourselves, this was a fabulous experience and we enjoyed every minute of it.


browhouses starlings

Other starlings were joining in from the east and soon there was the usual cloud of birds doing their aerobatics.

browhouses starlings

We saw them fly off to roost and headed on to Gretna, not to watch starlings this time but to purchase inexpensive headgear from Gretna Village shopping outlet.  We were both in the position of having lost perfectly good woolly hats lately so we didn’t want to spend too much on a replacement and we found just the thing.    It was lucky that we had gone sunset hunting because there were very few starlings in the place where they had previously been gathering near the shops and where we would have looked for them.  Then, thoroughly satisfied with our excursion, we headed back to Wauchope Cottage for a cup of coffee and a biscuit.

Sandy kindly agreed to help me deal with the turkey mountain by staying for tea so I bodged up a quick curry, which made quite a dent in the the turkey supply, and we sat down to eat it.

Sandy eating curry

The perfect dinner table: a curry, a glass of wine, three photographic books and two cameras.  What more could you want?

After tea, we posed for the phantom cameraman to show off our new headgear.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tweedledum and Tweedledee showing themselves to be fashion icons once again.

When Sandy got home, he rang me to say that the clouds had cleared over Langholm and a full moon was to be seen.  It was true and I went out and saw it.

full moon

It didn’t last though and it was raining again before I finished typing this.

I haven’t put a flying bird in today as we have had thousands already and too many photos.  In the end,  a day which had promised to be a real stinker turned out to be an absolute cracker and it was all down to Sandy ringing up at exactly the right moment.  That’s what friends are for.  Not only that but tomorrow is going to be a full minute longer than day.  Whoopee.



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Today’s picture comes from Bruce and shows his walking companions in inquisitive mood.

bruce dogs

After the exhilaration of actually getting out on the bike yesterday, today was a marked contrast.  It was grey and ferociously windy all day and the greyness was compounded by the departure of Mrs Tootlepedal to southern climes to stay with her mother for a week.

I didn’t even have the consolation of communing with the birds as very few of them felt able to brave the 40-50 mph winds to get to the feeder. Even when one actually made the trip, the light was so poor that I had to bump the ISO up to 6400 just to get a picture at all.  Stationary birds were the order of the day.



A chaffinch above

I was reduced to trying to get a picture which might show the strength of the wind but that proved very difficult even using Mrs Tootlepedal’s grasses which which were waving violently.

grass in the wind

You really need a field of ripe barley for this shot.

When I got back from taking Mrs Tootlepedal to the train, I went up to the moorland feeders to do a turn at filling them up.  I was hoping to get the car near the gate and take a picture or two but the place was filled with the enormous vehicles of a shooting party so I filled the feeders and sneaked off before I got shot.

I had another go at the garden feeders…

brambling and goldfinch

A brambling and a goldfinch provided a small burst of colour

…but it was rather pointless so I gave up and went and had lunch (cold turkey and ham, very delicious).  Then I improved the shining hour by putting a week of the newspaper index into the database and reading some of the many blogs to which I subscribe.  Looking at the weather in America, it seems that we should make the most of our present warm spell as cold weather seems to be the present state over there.  It was an unseasonably warm 10 ° C here today  but it didn’t seem very pleasant in the heavy wind.

In the evening, after a splendid meal of a sort of bubble and squeak, I went off to the first proper committee meeting of Langholm Sings, our new choral group.  We were a disparate group but the meeting was appropriately harmonious and we now have plans in place for the new  season.  Any local reader of this blog should know that they would be entirely welcome if they decided to come along and join us, experience is not necessary.

The fact that the daylight hours tomorrow are going to be nearly a whole minute longer than today is little consolation as I sit here by myself with the wind howling round the corner of the house and the forecast saying that it is going to last for at least two more days.   You would think that such a strong wind would blow the clouds away but it doesn’t look as though that is going to happen.

I did my best to find a flying bird.




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Today’s post is taken from my brother Andrew’s pre Christmas bike ride and is put in to show that the sun sometimes shines in Britain (just not here).

Horley Church

Horley Church near Banbury

Today here was once again marked by a noticeable absence of sunshine but at least it was warm and mainly dry so it could have been worse.  I still haven’t thrown off my cold completely so I am not in position to go pedalling with Dropscone yet.  Fortunately, he was in a position to join me for coffee and he brought with him a slice of his Christmas cake which made him doubly welcome.

When he left, I glanced at the birds for a moment or two.  The day was brighter than yesterday.

chaffinch and brambling

It was possible to see this chaffinch and brambling combination quite easily.

feeder traffic

Bramblings and chaffinches were flying in all directions again.

I haven’t really taken much heed of the junction between foot and feeder until lately.  The chaffinches use all sorts of grips and techniques.

One foot on the bar and one on the feeder

One foot on the bar (gripped from beneath) and one on the feeder


One on the bar (overgripped) and one in the air.


A two footed approach

Then I thought of a little cycle ride but I had just got one trouser leg tucked into the sock when the phone rang and I had to make a quick dash round the kitchen with a dishcloth before Dr Tinker and his daughter, Maisie’s aunt Elizabeth came to visit.   Mrs Tootlepedal, who had been out on an errand, soon joined us and seasonal good wishes were exchanged.  Mrs Tootlepedal  arranged to send some spare box plants up to Elizabeth who is a professional gardener and I scrounged some good advice from her on dealing with an outbreak of lichen on my front lawn.  All in all, it was a productive visit quite apart from the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth.

As they left, it started to rain and I despondently thought that my chance of a pleasant pedal had gone.  I had a very light lunch (cold turkey) and was about to sit down and sulk when I noticed that the rain had stopped.  Pausing only to take a shot of a passing robin…


…I tucked my second trouser leg into my other sock and set off silently on the belt driven bike.  It really is a treat to ride and in spite of having no suspension, it is very forgiving over our bumpy roads.  I had sandycam with me so that I could put this first ride for some time onto the official record.

Looking back towards langholm

Three miles from home and stopping for a little rest.

The sun was almost but not quite strong enough to break through the thinnish cloud but in a light wind and with a very reasonable temperature, it was an unalloyed pleasure to be out pedalling again.  My chest was not at its peak so I pedalled quite vigorously to stretch the legs but took the opportunity to stop fairly often for a little photo op and a breather.

A little bridge at Westwater

A little bridge at Westwater

I wondered if perhaps black and white would suit the weather so I took one tree in monochrome…

Bigholms tree b/w

…and one in glorious technicolour.

bigholms tree colour

The thick black line behind the tree is a peat bank along the side of the burn.

The road I was on runs beside the Wauchope Water and as I glided silently along, I could hear the note of the river rising and falling as it came to little rapids.  The river is often  just out of sight of the road so I stopped at one of the little crescendos and scrambled down the banking through some trees to see if there was a little rapids and if there was, whether it constituted a photo opportunity.  I thought that it did.

Wauchope Water

Although I had only done a meagre ten miles, I was pleased to get a sit down and a cup of tea when I got home but as I write this in the evening, I have suffered no ill effects and will therefore take the next window of opportunity among the wind and rain to go out again.

After my cup of tea, I did a little research for my forthcoming speaking engagement and wrote a few more lines of the text.  I am still fishing about for my main theme but I hope that like a frog prince, it will magically spring out of the muddy puddles of confusion that constitute my thinking apparatus these days.

I enjoyed a plate of curried turkey for my tea and noted that there is still some way to go among the Christmas remnants before I will have to buy anything new to eat.  Eating up ends is one of the unheralded delights of the festive season.  Bubble and squeak beckons next.

A flying bird of the day was (just) available.








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A Swiss heron on the shores of Lake Zurich takes a bow as picture of the day, courtesy of the husband of Dropscone’s niece Hilary.

swiss heron1

Once again, the weather in the picture of the day couldn’t have been further away from yet another dismal day here.  The one redeeming feature is that it is far from chilly but this only serves to annoy me more because my obstinate cold is very slow in making its departure.  It was better today so I hope that if it stops raining tomorrow, I might sneak out for a very short, very gentle pedal.

In spite of the 35 extra seconds of daylight today, the light was still rotten and even staring out of the kitchen window wasn’t much fun.  You could just see a bird or two of you peered carefully.


This meant that I had plenty of time to read the helpful books on landscape photography that my children had given me for Christmas.  One of the books is a useful primer, one is a coffee table book book of prizewinning landscape photos and one is a series of essays on the intellectual and artistic basis for landscape photography.  As a result of reading this third book, I have learned that almost the worst sin that a would be landscape photographer can do is to take recognisable pictures of landscapes. Hm.  The other books lead to necessary expenditure.  Hm again.

Still, all the books are packed with good ideas and inspiration so all that is needed now is hours of practice and a few days of good weather.  Don’t hold your breath.

The day brightened up a fraction…


…but not enough to catch a really good flying shot.  I had to stick close to the feeder where the birds slow down..


There were the usual scenes of domestic violence…


…and desperate footwork.


In fact, for a moment after a light lunch (turkey patties) the day looked promising enough for me to get my shoes on for a walk.  Then it started to rain of course so I went back to reading.  Mrs Tootlepedal was out in her coat in the garden, testing out the metal detector.  She found a number of interesting items but has yet to uncover the Roman treasure which she knows lies under our soil.  ‘Dum spiro, spero’ is her Latin motto.

Alistair and Clare drove off to Glasgow on their way to a New Year in Ireland and Mrs Tootlepedal and I were left on our own.  The house seemed very quiet.

Tomorrow the daylight is going to be 43 seconds longer than today.  I can hardly control my wild enthusiasm.

I did find a flying bird though so the day can’t have been totally bad.


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Today’s picture, taken by my brother on a cycle ride near Banbury recently, shows that we are not the only people with  puddles.

banbury puddle

Today it was Christmas.  All day.  Mrs Tootlepedal went off to sing in church in the middle of preparing a a feast suitable for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.  The rest of us lay about and marvelled at her industry.

Well, I didn’t just lie about.  I did do an enormous festive season crossword which turned out to be based on the song Santa Baby and which was very enjoyable and I also took advantage of some better light to see if I could catch a Christmas Day robin.  There were one or two about but they were too quick for me.  I settled for some of the usual suspects.  These ones are specially as a Christmas treat for my sister Susan who likes a bird in the bush.


Brambling and siskin

I nearly got a good picture of a goldfinch at full stretch but just missed. I have put it in anyway because I love the goldfinch wingspread.


I got two feeder pictures.  The first is a brambling hanging on for dear life…

brambling hanging on

…and the second is a chaffinch falling off backwards.


Some bigger birds were about too.


The first wood pigeon for some time.

mad eyed jackdaw

And a mad eyed jackdaw

The Christmas lunch was all that a Christmas lunch should be and now that I am old and fairly sensible, I no longer eat so much that I feel ill so I thoroughly enjoyed it.  While we were eating, the sun actually came out.  I rushed out into the garden and took a shot of this special occasion.


Nobody could say that it was very convincing  but it definitely was sunshine.  We decided to go for a walk to shake down the first course before embarking on our pudding but sadly before we could get going, the sun had gone.  It was very pleasant none the less.

Clare and Ally

Mrs Tootlepedal and Mrs Sheehy Hutton strolling.

Mrs Tootlepedal, as you can see, is not fond of having her photo taken which is why most of the pictures on this blog adhere to her command not to photograph her but this is Christmas and appearing once a year in full face is not too much.

The gulls on the other hand are photo happy and line up to have their picture taken.


They will do gliding on demand as well.


There was a hint of pink in the sky if you looked in the right direction.


We walked along the new path and stopped to add a fern to the moss and lichen collection.


I was hoping to catch Old Grumpy, the heron but he wasn’t there as we passed the Kilngreen.  He did arrive when we were on the other side of the river and he put on his photograph face as I went as near as I could get to him.


Nearing home, I was able to add another puddle picture to my collection as we crossed the Scholars’ Field.  You may need to look at it twice to see how it works.

Scholars puddle

When we got home, we attacked the Christmas pudding and then had a sit down while we opened the small heap of presents under the tree.  Everyone got exactly what they wanted which is amazing, though dropping a hint to Santa seems to work wonders.

I got a lightweight but powerful set of bike lights and later in the evening I was able to sneak out for a for a two mile test ride in the dark.  As a test it wasn’t ideal because I was accompanied by a brilliant moon which was so bright that I could have pedalled quite happily with no lights on at all.

I also got three books on how to improve my landscape photography.  These will be very useful as there is a lot for me to learn on this front.  It is all very well taking pot shots with sandycam when I am out for a walk or a pedal but good landscapes take a lot of skill and care.

The little ride I took to test my lights was so intoxicatingly pleasurable that I am really fretting to get rid of my cold and get out cycling.  I have only done forty miles on the road in the whole of December between the icy weather in the first part of the month and catching a cold in the second. This means my annual mileage will come in at just under 3500 miles which is a sad comedown from last year’s 6600 miles.  Last January I was hoping to do a 7000 mile year to celebrate my 70th birthday but it was not to be.  I am now aiming at 4000 for next year which should be achievable and leave me with plenty of time to try to get the hang of photography in a more serious way.  That is if the weather relents.

The moonlight whoch spoiled my light testing did make for a photo opportunity.  There was a planet shining nearby but it is hard to get the settings right so that you can stop the moon being too bright and still see the planet.  This was my best effort.  You can just see the planet in the top left corner.  (If you look really carefully)

moon and planet

It was easier just to look at the moon.


The flying bird of the day was another of those dependable chaffinches.


Thank you to everyone who has wished Mrs Tootlepedal and me a happy Christmas.  Your wishes must have been of a very good quality because they worked and we had a most enjoyable day.  I hope all the readers of this blog also had a good day.

GOOD NEWS:  My weather forecast tells me that tomorrow will be 35 seconds longer than today.  We have turned the corner.

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