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After four years of blogging from the river it’s time for a bit of a revamp at Girl on the River, not least because I’m aware this site isn’t mobile-friendly, so it’s off to the drawing board.

As in any good relationship, though, I won’t do anything drastic without consulting you first. So I need your thoughts on how far I should take my makeover. I could just go for a bit of botox and tweezering with a new-but-similar theme, tweaked to work nicely on your phone or iPad.

Or I could go all out with the full facelift – a major plastic surgery job. New graphics, revamped design, different layout.

So tell me how you want me to look. Do you like the traditional, linear, scroll-down-from-post-to-post thang? Or shall I be a little more daring and consider a fancy-schmancy layout with cool, zoomy pics you click on and stuff (can you see I know very little about web design)?

What do you think of the colour scheme? It’s quite… rivery… is that still good?

And here’s a crazy idea. What about a different heading with *gasp* a logo or a cartoon or something way out like that?

Tell me what you think. Tell me what other blogs you like the look of. Be honest. And, like in any good relationship, I will listen earnestly and then quite possibly do my own thing.

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Stormont in the rain - cropped

Belfast – in the rain, naturally

If there’s one thing surprises people more than finding out I’m a rower, it’s discovering that I’m from Belfast. I’ve pretty much lost the accent after many years on the other side of the Irish Sea, but I’m still a Belfast girl through and through. I grew up thinking Samson and Goliath were giant cranes rather than biblical characters, to say nothing of believing that indoor fireworks were cool. Seriously. I even caused my very own bombscare in P6 when I left my shoe bag outside school (that’s not actually the reason why I left the country, but I’m pretty sure I’m still in trouble for it).

The fact is, though, that I don’t get back to my home town very often, so when Belfast Rowing Club invited me to be the guest speaker at their annual dinner, I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation. Even the fact that it clashed with the Vets Fours Head wasn’t enough to put me off. No Sophie’s Choice this time – it was a no brainer, and my mum and dad were pretty thrilled that the Prodigal Daughter was coming home. So it was on with the BRC colours – oh, and of course the red shoes.

And what a great decision it turned out to be. I couldn’t have had a warmer welcome or a better evening (and in a weirdly symbolic twist the food was even catered by the Fatted Calf). The women’s squad pretty much adopted me as one of their own, and I made a whole bunch of new rowing best friends.

My new rowing BFF, the ladies' vet squad

My new rowing BFF, the ladies’ vet squad

So either they're freakishly tall or I'm freakishly small. Oh...

So either they’re freakishly tall or I’m freakishly small. Oh…

If that weren’t enough, the club even presented me with this intricately stunning, hand-made pen which is now right up there with my most treasured possessions (alongside that pot and that medal).



With aforementioned club colours

With aforementioned club colours

There is one bit of unfinished business, though. Despite earnest claims from the floor that there were one or two BRC rowers who could actually shake it on the dance floor (as opposed to just thinking they could), the promised video evidence has not been forthcoming. So there’s nothing for it but a return visit next time BRC are strutting their stuff.

Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you, BRC, for a fantastic evening (and for making my mum and dad very happy). You rock. Even, possibly, on the dance floor. But until I see for myself, I leave you with this. Judge for yourselves…


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happy place

Picture by Kate Czuczman

It all started, bizarrely, with bees. I’d sent an idea about bee therapy to Top Sante magazine. “No thanks,” they replied, “but would you like to write an article about tantric sex instead?” Well, I’m never one to turn away work, so before I knew it I was searching the scarier reaches of the internet for wisdom about all things tantra.

What I discovered, to my surprise, was that it was as much about philosophy as it was about marathon sex sessions. A lot of it overlapped with mainstream mindfulness. It was about living in the moment and enjoying the journey rather than obsessing over the goal. Not a bad approach for life in general, I thought.

My chance to put it to the test came, unexpectedly, on a weekend retreat in Cornwall when I took to a surfboard for the first time in three years (and only the fourth time in my life). And being a goal-orientated kind of girl, I applied my usual ferocity to getting up on my feet.

I tried…

Falling with style 3

Picture by Kate Czuczman

and I tried…

Falling with style 2

Picture by Kate Czuczman

and I tried…

Falling with style

Picture by Kate Czuczman

But no matter how hard I tried, I seemed to end up face first in the surf.

Which was when I remembered tantra. Maybe, I reflected, as I disappeared once more into a wave, I needed to rethink this. To stop fixating on the perfect pop-up and enjoy the ride.

So I did. I relaxed. I laughed. I started to have some fun.

I never said it was flattering...

Needless to say, it was at that moment that I finally made it to my feet. Not very stylishly, admittedly – I don’t do cool, more’s the pity – but I was, at least, above the waves and not under them.


Picture by Kate Czuczman

But what’s all this got to do with rowing? Well, having looked at some unforgiving frame-by-frame footage of my rowing from a recent outing, what most struck me was the angst. As the lightest of lightweights, I’ve applied myself to my technique with the same, grim-faced, white-knuckled fury that I was applying to my surfing, straining every sinew to perfect the catch and slow the slide. So tightly-wound have I been that I’m currently invalided out with a bad back and dodgy shoulder which, my osteopath tells me, is the direct result of my tense, hunched posture in the boat.

So once I get back on the water, I’m going to be taking the tantric approach to my rowing. I’ll make a piont of relaxing a bit more. Grimacing a bit less. Enjoying the ride, even. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, I’ll achieve the goal I’m after while I’m looking the other way…

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Oi, what you lookin' at?

Oi, what you lookin’ at?

When I was lucky enough to be given a GoPro earlier this year, I was massively excited by the possibilities for rowing. My technique broken down, frame by frame, for analysis. Beautiful, wide angle footage from the cox’s seat. Fabulous, glossy images for Instagram.

But what I hadn’t counted on was my race face. When I go through the footage from a session with the GoPro on board, the main distraction – more than the Thing I do with my wrist; more, even than the peculiar little finger wiggle I do at the catch – is the ridiculous faces I pull when I’m rowing.

There’s no getting around it. I am an out and out drama queen. Take this weekend’s session, where we did a 2K piece. Not side by side. Not actually racing. Just a regular, training, race-pace piece. Yet to look at my face you’d think I was rowing at the Olympics. It’s truly ridiculous.

We're doing WHAT?

We’re doing WHAT?





Last... five... strokes... bleeuuurrrrrggghhh!

Last… five… strokes… bleeuuurrrrrggghhh!

And if you think that’s bad (and it is), wait till you see the fuss I make after the piece is over…



It's just too....

It’s just too….

I can't even...

I can’t even…

And that was just a training piece. Imagine what my face is like during an actual race.

So look, I’m pretty embarrassed, so help me out here. Tell me you have a terrible race face, too. Lie if you have to, but pictures would be better.

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Perfect day...

Perfect day…


The blood-curdling cry made the whole balcony rattle. Yup, it was Monmouth RC’s Autumn Head, and yup, the visiting Dutch crew was winning the cheering by a country mile.

By far the best bit when we host events – better than being allowed to press the klaxon at the finish; better even than being brought cake and drinks from the uh-mazing catering team – is catching up with rowing pals from other clubs… and making new ones. In between squinting at the finish line, synchronising watches and acquiring stopwatch blisters, I got the chance to do lots of chatting. I’ve been at this long enough now to recognise friendly faces from other events and it makes the whole thing more fun.

Minerva Bath had, once again, brought their visiting friends from Dutch club, ARZV Roei, who appeared to be rowing in a boat made entirely from Edam, and who cheerfully set about draining the bar and raising the decibel levels – TOTALLY my kind of club. Guys, we’re counting on you to come back next year.

ARZV crew in their Edam boat

ARZV crew in their Edam boat

This year, he banter had gone up a notch as the Head took place the morning after the Wales-England match (whaddya mean, what match?). England supporters grunted wearily as Welsh fans made the most of a rare moment basking in the glow of victory. And an additional layer of competition was put in place, with an MRC parallel World Cup contest between Welsh and English clubs (we assigned ARZV to England because, frankly, England need all the help they can get (*ouch*).

Anyway, it all went swimmingly. The sun shone. The beer was drunk. Wales won (again… sorry…). And the consensus was that we definitely need to twin with a club from overseas. The Netherlands would do nicely, but we’re open to suggestion. See you next year.

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The eagle-eyed amongst you might have spotted that in a recent post I mentioned that a pewter pot was right up at the top of my rowing wish list. The china ones are lovely, and if you have enough to spread around (if your shelf overfloweth), they make a fine receptacle for a cup of tea. But a pewter pot … well, it’s a Proper Pot, isn’t it? After all, when you picture a tankard you don’t think automatically of a giant mug, do you?

I had an inkling, when we took a motley bunch of assorted rowers to Penarth Regatta last weekend, that there might be some silverware up for grabs. I was also aware, though, that our strategy when it comes to Penarth – which involves sea rowing in clinker-type boats – is primarily to give everyone a go, to bring people on, let them have a shot at something new, mix up our different squads, and most of all to have a bit of fun.

I do like to be beside the seaside

I do like to be beside the seaside

So you might find a Monmouth crew with an elite sculler in a 4+ alongside a couple of juniors who’ve never tried sweep rowing at all, coxed by someone who’s never even sat in the ninth/fifth seat. It’s more of an itch crew than a scratch crew – but all the more fun for that.

Before we arrived I had no idea what I’d be rowing in – in fact crews were decided on the spur of the moment as we headed down the slipway. I found myself in a pretty promising open mixed 4x with ages ranging from… oh, look, let’s just say that the oldest crew member was old enough to be the youngest’s mother, and then some. We also cobbled together a women’s 4+, with me stroking and issuing instructions to our novice cox (yikes), a trusty member of the women’s squad behind me and then a couple of brave juniors who’d never tried their hands at sweep.

Our mixed quad, after I finally got it together...

Our mixed quad, after I finally got it together…

Cardiff pipping us to the post

Cardiff pipping us to the post

The mixed 4x got through to the final, no thanks to me (I was having what, if I’m being generous to myself, could be described as technical issues with my bowside blade), but were beaten in the final by a strong-looking crew from Cardiff (I think). Our W4+ got beaten fairly definitively, but the new girls coped admirably with the ludicrous stroke rate I was setting (WHY is it so hard to slow the rate mid-race? Why? That is, by the way, a serious question. I’m new to the stroke seat.)

Rating approx. 110 spm

Rating approx. 110 spm

All was not lost, though. There was coxing to be done, and lots of it, and thanks to the fine efforts of our juniors and senior men I came home with not one, but three splendid pewter pots.

Nice crew, shame about the cox's face...

Nice crew, shame about the cox’s face…


Lots and lots of pots!

That’s not the end of the story, though. On closer inspection, we discovered that our shiny new tankards didn’t bear the Penarth name and shield but – weirdly and inexplicably – the Monmouth one. And it wasn’t just that they’d matched the pot to the winners. No, all the winners came home with an MRC pot.

Monmouth RC pots - as rare as hens' teeth

Monmouth RC pots – as rare as hens’ teeth

Which is actually fine. You see, at Monmouth we only award pots to novices these days, and as an IM3 rower who won her first point at Ross, I was never, under any circumstances, going to win a Monmouth pot. Yet now I have three. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you call win, win, win.

Cox: “What’s that thing you’re doing with your wrist?”

Me (at stroke): “What thing?”

Cox: “I don’t know. You’re doing a thing.”

Me: “Yeah, but what thing?”

Cox: “Just … a thing.”

Me: “Sigh. Thanks, cox.”

Maddening as this conversation was, though, I knew that the cox was right. I was doing a “thing” with my wrist. I know because on the next erg session after that outing I noticed it myself. What I was actually doing was cocking my wrist at the finish, which was neither good for power, nor style nor, indeed, my wrists.

Happily, when I mentioned this on Twitter, someone put me in touch with the lovely Emily Webb at Oarsome Grips. She’ll be able to help, they promised me. And she was.

erg oarsome grips

I knew Emily indirectly both because her dad used to teach my kids, and because she’s a bit of a celebrity round these parts, having introduced her Oarsome Grips to the world on Dragons’ Den a few years ago. Emily kindly gave me a set of Oarsome Grips to try out on the rowing machine – particularly welcome as we headed into a summer that, unusually for us, involved long, hard sessions on the erg.

You slide the grips on to the handle and – hey presto – your wrists magically flatten out. They also provide a bit of cushioning which is useful if you’re prone to getting blisters on the erg. As I swapped sides this summer my hands were an unholy mess so needed all the help they could get. The wider grip took a bit of getting used to, but was worth it for the newly flat wrists. I was no longer doing the Thing.

Oarsome Grips are, by the way, brilliant for anyone on crutches. If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to have crutches you’ll know how quickly your hands become so sore they eclipse the pain of whatever you did in the first place. With the grips you get a handy bit of cushioning and won’t suffer from hand blisters, either.

crutches oarsome grips

There’s just one more thing, though. If Emily could just come up with a gadget to stop me rushing the slide, I – and the zero tolerance cox – would be delighted. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Oarsome Grips cost £24.99 per pair and are available directly from the Oarsome Grips website.

Disclosure: I was given the Oarsome Grips as a gift for review purposes.

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There’s something I kept from you for the whole of the summer. I’m sorry about this – it’s not like me to be economical with the actualité – but I was embarking on a big and scary challenge and I just didn’t want to jinx myself.

Because here’s the thing. Back at the beginning of July, our club decided to enter the Great Ouse Marathon in Ely – a 22km upstream race that would have been by far the longest distance I’d ever rowed.

I knew this was going to be a challenge for me. Although I train regularly and work hard at it, my stamina is always a little bit suspect, having – as many of you know – suffered from M.E. in my thirties. I’m mostly OK, but am prone to overtraining and every now and then my body just says no. Marathon training was going to take me to a whole new level. So I resolved to start the training, keep it quiet, and see how it went.

The first challenge was making peace with my old enemy the rowing machine. The training involved long sessions, both on the erg and the water, that got longer by the week, and because I’d just swapped sides (I’m officially bisweptual now – sorry, bowsiders) my blisters were fearsome.

The fatigue was pretty fearsome, too. “You’re tired all the time,” remarked my son, as I yawned my way through a post-rowing meal at our local curry house.

But by the end of August I was fitter and stronger than I’d ever been in my life. Yes, I was tired, but I was no longer even remotely freaked out by the prospect of an hour on the erg. And, best of all, after a few trial sessions with different line-ups, I was picked for the two seat in the Monmouth women’s eight, alongside some pretty hot rowers. I was overjoyed.

And then the blow came. I had been due to leave immediately after the marathon for a press trip to Slovenia – a trip I’d worked long and hard to arrange, for a newspaper and a magazine I’d been wanting to write for for years. The very day after the crew was announced, as I rejoiced in my selection, a bomb landed in my inbox. The dates of my trip had changed. We’d be leaving the day before the marathon.

So I had to choose. Either I went on the trip and abandoned my seat in the boat – unthinkable. Or I abandoned a fabulous trip – and two paid commissions – that were going to take my career forward – unthinkable.

It was like choosing between my children. But there it was – I had to choose. After an unbearable couple of days spent writhing and groaning and hoping that somehow a couple of extra days would materialise out of nowhere, I reluctantly chose the work option, having established that there was someone who could take my place in the boat (and – strictly between you and me – would do a finer job of it than I ever could).

So I still haven’t put myself to the marathon test. The Monmouth girls – both the eight and the four – did themselves proud by smashing a couple of records. There’s still some unfinished business – although the eight broke the record for their age, they were rowing as IM3 for reasons unknown, and the four beat the IM3 record but were rowing as a C crew – so we will just have to go back to sort that out another year.

As for Slovenia, it was pretty amazing (and also a little surreal). I visited the incredibly beautiful Lake Bled, where the European and World Rowing Championships have been held. I held a frame of live bees in my bare hands, was offered donkey for dinner, was serenaded with a beekeepers’ hymn on a wind-up music box, drank liqueur at breakfast on one day and sulphurous spa water the next.

Did I make the right choice? I guess I’ll never know. But one thing’s for certain. There’s a marathon still there on my bucket list.


The Monmouth 8+ I was so nearly in

The Monmouth 8+ I was so nearly in

Feeling the love at Lake Bled ♥

Feeling the love at Lake Bled ♥

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled – breathtakingly beautiful on a sunny day

Holding live bees

Don’t worry, bee happy

Yeah. No point even trying to explain...

Yeah. No point even trying to explain…

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My regatta career has involved huge highs and lows. There have been disasters. Tears. Joy. Pain. Cake. Beer. And occasionally a pot to drink the beer from. Through all the agony and the ecstasy I’ve had plenty of time to think about what makes the perfect regatta. Winning obviously helps, though it’s not essential, but I’ve come to the conclusion that certain elements are.

Monmouth's Coffin Dodgers crossing the line at Stourport BC - photograph by Ben Rodford

Monmouth’s Coffin Dodgers crossing the line at Stourport BC – photograph by Ben Rodford

I have to say that Stourport regatta, where I coxed our Old Men (affectionately known as the Coffin Dodgers – their phrase, not mine) to victory in the Mas.G8+ this weekend, came pretty close to nailing it. With its jolly village fête atmosphere and super-friendly club members, it was one of the nicest days out I’ve had in a long time.

Victory aside, here’s my recipe for hosting the perfect regatta.

1. Perfect weather

You need good contacts here, but they are worth cultivating. Perfect weather, for the record, involves sunshine and warmth, but not blazing heat. Rain is a no-no. Wind is worse.

Sunshine good, rain bad, wind worse.

Sunshine good, rain bad, wind worse.

2. Flexible events

We all want to get more than one race in, especially if we’re travelling any distance to the regatta, and most clubs don’t have too many people prepared to cox. A good regatta will acknowledge this. Of course nobody likes to wait whilst their oppo gets off the water from another race, but if you impose too many rules about doubling up and get too pernickety about bringing events forward or back, clubs will just choose a different regatta.

One of the tools Monmouth used to stay on track.

One of the tools Monmouth used to stay on track.

3. Tight time-keeping

Ah, the flip side of flexibility. As I say, this is a tricky one to get right. You want things to run like clockwork, but shit happens. People capsize. There are re-rows. Someone doubles up unexpectedly. And at some regattas everything has to stop for canoeists or pleasure boats. But if you can keep things ticking along nicely without being too fierce about it, it really does keep everyone happy.

Can’t be done? Well, without wanting to be too smug about it, at Monmouth this year we stayed bang on schedule and even finished a little ahead of time. It took a lot of man-power, and quite a few shouty announcements calling people to boat check, but somehow it worked.

Admirably calm people helping with boats on and off.

Admirably calm people helping with boats on and off.

4. Friendly people

Wow, this makes a difference. I was blown away by how nice everyone was at Stourport, from registration and weigh-in right through to the prize-giving. The marshalls were easy-going, I was given fabulous advice on steering a good line from two separate club members (who were too sporting to ask if Stourport were our oppo – though thankfully they weren’t), and everyone managed to keep a smile on their faces. I was nervous about this event – it was only the second regatta I’d ever coxed, and as the first one was at Holmepierrepont this presented very different demands, but at no time did anyone make me flustered. I’ll be back.

I love this pic! Fabulous photos by Ben Rodford.

I love this pic! Fabulous photos by Ben Rodford.

5. Great photographer

So if you crash into the bank or catch a crab you probably don’t want it caught on camera, but it’s always lovely to have a memento of a strong race, and a good photographer is worth his or her weight in gold. Ben Rodford, who took the pics at Stourport, is one of those rare photographers who remembers that coxes are part of the crew, too.

Another awesome coxing pic from Ben Rodford.

Another awesome coxing pic from Ben Rodford.

You don’t, incidentally, necessarily need a professional rowing photographer, though it’s your best guarantee that people will get the images they want. At Monmouth we have a talented amateur in the club who takes thousands of great pics and posts them on our Facebook page, so you can download them without charge – especially popular amongst the cash-strapped juniors.

Paul and Mary would approve.

Paul and Mary would approve.

6. Tempting food

Food matters. A lot. Yet I’ve been to regattas where the food has let the side down badly. Stale cake, limp sandwiches, stray hairs (and no, I’ll not name and shame on that one… *shudder*). So here’s how you do it.

Breakfast has to include bacon butties, or the umpires will go on strike and the campers might actually cry. A barbecue is nice for when racing is finished. Cake is essential. Sandwiches are important.

Stourport, notably, had cakes that would have been worthy of the Bake-Off tent – well done the Stourport star bakers.

7. Well-stocked bar

Need I say more?

Stourport BC pot

8. Shelf-worthy prizes

It’s hard to beat a nice pot. I’ve yet to win a pewter tankard so that’s currently top of my rowing bucket list, but a good china one is welcome, too. If you’re going down the medal route, make sure they’re chunky, and do consider still having pots for novices. Your first win is special – I should know – and you want something for the shelf. If you’re going for a novelty prize instead, I’ve heard hip flasks go down well.

Thanks to Stourport BC for this lovely presentation pic of our MasG 8+ aka the Coffin Dodgers

Thanks to Stourport BC for this lovely presentation pic of our MasG 8+ aka the Coffin Dodgers

9. Swanky prize-giving

Winning is still enough of a novelty to me that I get pretty excited by the idea of a presentation (though it’s handy to be able to pick up your prize early if you need to head off home). OK, so not everyone can do what we did at Monmouth this year and lay on an Olympic star coach like Robin Williams to give out the medals, but Stourport had the mayor, complete with stage gear, which was a nice photo opportunity.

Olympic coach Robin Williams presenting medals to two Monmouth winners

Olympic coach Robin Williams presenting medals to two Monmouth winners

10. Shopportunities

If you have room for a whole shopping village, so much the better – it brings in a bit of cash for the club when you charge for the pitch and keeps everyone occupied in the lull between races. I love post-race shopping probably just a bit too much (celebratory if it went well, retail therapy if it didn’t) and have quite a collection of ill-advised purchases from regattas, but that’s part of the fun.

EVERY regatta should have one of these.

EVERY regatta should have one of these.

11. Brass band

Until Stourport I’d never thought about this one, but wow, what a great idea. It gave the whole thing such a cheery atmosphere and had little kids dancing along.

So that’s it – a complete guide to the perfect regatta. And to maintain the party vibe, I’ll let Stourport brass play you out:


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This isn’t the first time Bridget has made an appearance at Girl on the River. I first introduced you to her last year when I came up with a list of Christmas gifts for women rowers. At that point I hadn’t met Bridget in person – she was just a cute all-in-one I’d spotted online and thought looked like my kind of thing. She had me at cross-over back, in fact.

But then… the marvellous Brid herself, of Queen B Athletics, kindly sent me my very own Bridget.

Queen B all in one

Oh my. This is a classy bit of kit. If only every all-in-one were this good. If only this were my club all-in-one.

I’m not sure if you can see it clearly, but it has a frill – an ACTUAL FRILL – up the front. What’s more, it’s made of beautifully smooth and flexible lycra, with an extra layer from the waist down, which is always a good thing in an all-in-one.

Queen B all in one back view

The cross-over straps and pink stripe across the back make it even better (and if you don’t want your sports bra to show, Queen B do a lovely range of cross-over sports bras, so you can look even more fabulous).

I’ll tell you how good it is, in fact. I received compliments from ALL of my shipmates on this. As a squad we never agree on anything. Anything at all. Especially my kit, which usually attracts comments like, “Trash, that’s vile”. But with Bridget… ahhh, everyone was happy.

And now for the surprise, which is when my fellow rowers actually squealed with delight. OK, one of them did. And I did, too. Look what happens when you roll it down, as you will at a regatta…

Queen B all in one rolled down

Squeeeaaaallll!! Pink lining!!!! I know, right?

So yes, this is the best all-in-one, like EVERRRRRR. And yes, you may curtsey.

Bridget all-in-one, in blue and pink, from Queen B Athletics, €72


1. Queen B is an Irish company so the prices are in euros, but the delivery prices are not outlandish.

2. This all-in-one was a gift, but not with a review in mind. It was only because I loved it so much that you’re reading this.

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