Saturday, 30 November 2013

Local Walnut Oil.




I've mentioned in the past that I drink a spoonful of walnut oil every morning; well yesterday I ran out.

So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that my very own village has its very own producer of walnut oil; and only a couple of kilometres away from my front door. I've lived here for 42 years, and didn't know!

I popped down to see Madame Branche yesterday afternoon, and purchased the above.

The farm was very typical of most local homes. A mixed array of ramshackle buildings, liberally spread around an ancient farmhouse. I heard radio music coming from inside a barn, so knocked on the door. Inside were two jolly ladies sorting walnut halves on a home-made conveyor belt.

I chatted for a while, paid 'regally' for my small bottle of oil (well it is all Bio, home produced, and delicious), and spent a wee while talking about their little enterprise. 

It's amazing what you can find in your own backyard; if you know where to look!


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Friday, 29 November 2013

Herby Soda Bread.



Anyone who occasionally thinks that they would love to bake their own bread, and then thinks that they haven't either the time or the skill, really should try this. It is simplicity itself.

In a large bowl place....

250gms of ordinary flour
50gms of wizzed-up oats (oatmeal?)
A small (125gms) tub of plain yoghurt
1 heaped tsp of Bicarbonate of Soda
1 small tsp of salt
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
Enough milk to form a dough

Mix everything together well, and form into whatever shape you require (no kneading required), pop it into the oven and bake for 45 mins at 200 degrees C.

The resulting bread is light, very tasty, and has cost you almost nothing.

There is something really nice about making your own bread, and the time involved in putting all the ingredients together (which we always have in stock), is minimal.

Go on, give it a go, and post a picture of your resulting loaf.



Thursday, 28 November 2013

Happy Birthday Bok.




Our Border Collie X, 'Bok', is 3 years old today (28. 11. 2013).

He's had 3 homes. Firstly he lived in Bordeaux, where apartment-life became too restricting. Then he moved to a near-neighbour's house from where he struck-up a real friendship with Monty (and spent all his time chez nous). Then for obvious reasons he was given to us, and moved in full-time.

Bok is one of those dogs who just loves life. Everything he does demonstrates total enthusiasm, and his supply of energy is limitless. 

Of course he does have the odd bad habit. He insists on jumping-up on people when he greets them. From his point of view he's just being uber-friendly, but people find it disconcerting. Unfortunately he does the same with the post-lady's car, but she adores him anyway. I'm trying to stop him, but.... 

So, have a wonderful birthday, Bok. There'll be liver for lunch, then cakes, cards, and party games galore, and may we do it all again for many years to come.

Papa xx

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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Nostalgia Corner: Savings.


                                   

When I was small (mid 1950's) a lady would call at the house each week (or maybe it was each month) to sell Savings Stamps. A Charles stamp cost half-a-crown, and an Anne stamp cost sixpence (sexism was always rampant).

These stamps were stuck into a small book, and the cash (plus interest) could be withdrawn from the Post Office as required.

I remember my book well, and I also remember the woman who called to sell the stamps. What I do NOT remember, however, is what I did with them. No doubt I cashed them in and bought something worthless and flighty.

Just looking at the above picture brings back wonderful memories. I can remember in which room the transactions took place, I remember the room itself (the breakfast room), and I can even remember my mother handing over the money from her purse.

The UK Post Office has recently been privatised, but I can't imagine them offering such a personal service again. Pity!

As for the actual stamps, Charles is still recognisable; Anne much less so.


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Present from London.




Some may enthuse about early bronze candlesticks, others about Scotch eggs, but I have a thing about Pork Pies.

Lady Magnon has just returned from her pre-Christmas London shopping trip, and brought back two mini bite-size Pork Pies as a wee present.

OK, I HAD requested something a little bit more 'substantial', but even mini pies will do; especially as I'm on a diet.

I think I shall just have to get out my Paul Hollywood 'pork pie cook book'. They're not difficult to make; it's getting the interior jelly right that's the tricky bit.

Now, back to my pie!


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Monday, 25 November 2013

Meet 'George'.




This is our very good friend 'George', our Deville (poor man's Aga) wood fired cooker.

It was cold yesterday, so we fired him up for the first time this winter, and here he is showing about 220 degrees C.

There's no point lighting George without cooking something, so I made this loaf-shaped Soda Bread. Just in time for tea!



Later on I roasted a Chicken for supper. 

Everyone needs a 'George' in their lives. Warming, practical, and delivers a damned good roast; what more could one ask of a stove!


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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Apples and Apples.


                                       

Above are classic supermarket, bright, shiny, fault-free, Apples. In an ideal world they are how we would all like our apples to be; bought or home-grown.


These, however, are mine. They come in all shapes and sizes, have canker rot and blight, and are covered with blemishes. They often also have an unwelcome tenant in occupation.

So what is the difference between mine and the supermarket equivalent? It's obvious; mine haven't been sprayed with nasty chemicals.

I had a wise old neighbour (now deceased) who always used to say that "He wouldn't eat an apple that didn't have a grub inside". I'm sure he exaggerated slightly, but his principle was sound.

An apple a day might well keep the doctor at bay, but if it's full of pesticides, it could also bring him much closer (and you probably wouldn't know the reason why).

Not all my apples are either occupied or rotten, but it does give me confidence when I find one that is!


Saturday, 23 November 2013

(What's left of my) Barbour Weather.




It's certainly time to bring out the scarf, gloves, and the ole-faithful Barbour; the weather's been filthy for weeks, and is about to turn very COLD (so we are assured).

I must have bought my full-length Barbour in about 1975, making it nearly 40 years old.

It's beginning to show its age. The pockets are all torn and have been repaired several times, the sleeves have both almost parted company with the shoulders, and there are 'thorn-proof' tears all over. It is definitely 'mellowing'.

Of course I could just go out and buy a new one, but I'm inclined to get my 'money's-worth', and wear it till it literally falls apart (which could be quite soon).

So, what would push me into replacing my old friend Mr Barbour? Well I suppose if one (or both) of the sleeves actually fell off, or if I found a family of mice living in the lining, or even if I discovered that Tony Blair wears something similar, then I would certainly need to give it due consideration. 

But until that time.......


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Friday, 22 November 2013

THAT Pie!




I have no idea if these pies are sold 'worldwide'; I shall presume they are not.

Named (inexplicably) after the Western Uruguay town of Fray Bentos, this student-favourite pie from the 1960's was always a great store cupboard stand-by when I was in my late teens/early twenties. They were a real treat in an otherwise world of takeaways or inadvertent 'cordon noir'.

The pies are made by Baxters; a Scottish 'food purveyor' of considerable reputation; by appointment to Her Majesty, no less.

When I saw this one, above, in a local supermarket (here in France), I just HAD to remind myself of how wonderful they were.

Lady Magnon has made several extremely derogative remarks about my purchase, so I'm eating it in her absence.


I have to say, it was just as I remember them. Very good.

It was also the first meal I've eaten in a very long time (other than in restaurants) that I didn't prepare myself from scratch. What Luxury!


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Thursday, 21 November 2013

India's Onion Crisis.




We've all heard about the rise in price of onions in India; it has, apparently, quadrupled over the last month. A disaster both domestically and politically.

My own small home-grown stock, above, amounts to about 15 kilos, but is not an essential part of my diet. However in India the price, and availability, of onions is as important as eating itself.

Onions seem to be used in most Indian savoury recipes, but they are also an important food-stuff in their own right. I had always previously understood that 'Rice and Dahl' was the staple food of India's 'less-fortunate', but I'm now told that 'Rice and Onions' is far more common.

So, what has caused this problem. As with Ireland's famous 1850's 'potato famine', the problem is not that there aren't any onions (or potatoes in Ireland's case), it's that greedy merchants have found more lucrative markets, and are taking advantage of increased profits elsewhere.

In Ireland there was plenty of grain and other foods to replace the infamous blighted potato crop, and feed the nation; but the rich Irish and British landowners/merchants preferred to export to both mainland Europe and Britain itself, where they commanded much higher prices.

In India's case, I believe that the Indian 'Onion merchants' are exporting to the Middle East, where money is probably never in short supply.

p.s. I've just heard on the radio that India now has a chronic sugar shortage (which in their case is probably not such a bad thing). Let's just hope that rice doesn't follow the same disastrous course.



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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Nursery Food: Bacon Roly-Poly.


                             

Nothing evokes more wonderful childhood memories of my mother's home-cooking, than this typical post-war dish of  Bacon, Onion, and Sage, Roly-Poly.

Designed to be cheap, filling, and made from easily available 'rationed' ingredients, this suet pastry pudding probably graced most late 40's early 50's household tables at one time or another.

Just a few rashers of good quality bacon, a chopped onion, and a few sage leaves were given a sprinkling of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper, before being rolled-up into suet pastry; then either steamed or baked. (this recipe from the net looks pretty much how I remember it).

I tried to make it once, but it didn't come out quite right. Now that I've found an 'actual' recipe I really must try it again.

Served with a dot of mustard, it's a classic Winter Warmer that will also leave you with plenty of change from a sixpence.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A Question of Nationality.


                                                     

I have just learned that my next grandchild will (more than likely) be born in Mullumbimby, Australia. Yes, Mullumbimby; you did pronounce it correctly!

His/her mother, the lovely Kellogg, is half Swedish, and half Russian. She is a Swedish national.

His/her father, the equally lovely Wills, was born here in France but holds a British passport. He and Kellogg are currently resident in Oz.

With world travel being such an easy, everyday, part of modern life, I imagine that this sort of multi-national upbringing must be quite common.

So, I was just wondering; when in the future he or she is asked about 'nationality', the reply must be "I'm an Aussie-Anglo-Ruskie-Franco-Swede".

Sounds like a pretty good mélange to me!


Monday, 18 November 2013

Frugality.

       
                                             

I've recently noticed a lot of blogs devoted to the principal of 'Frugality'; it seems to be suddenly fashionable.

I rather like the word 'Frugal', it suggests thrift rather than miserliness, and must be a 'good' quality, rather than 'bad'.

Yes, I'm frugal. I don't waste money, food, or resources. I buy sensibly (other than when it comes to antiques), grow most of what I eat, and try to treat the planet's offerings with respect.

However, I have an 'elderly' friend who, every morning, turns on every light, every radio, the TV, several computers, printers, etc, throughout the whole of her house, then potters off into her garden for several hours. Once when entering her kitchen I had the temerity to TURN OFF a light (it was a bright sunny summer's day) and was rewarded by being called a 'skinflint'; somehow she had failed to understood the point, so I didn't bother to explain.  

Having to work hard to cut one's own wood, grow one's own fruit and vegetables, and preserve one's harvest for the winter, makes one appreciate the results so much more. It's not a question of money (I have enough), it's the hands-on approach to life that gently massages both the mind and the body.

We deprive ourselves of little. OK, we don't buy huge joints of expensive beef every weekend, or drink vintage wines from noted vineyards; nor do we spend vast amounts on clothes. We don't drive the latest Jaguar, or live in a huge expensive house, but I can almost guarantee that our overall standard of living is far higher than that of many who spend a bloody fortune desperately trying to BUY exactly what we have for 'almost' free.

                                       


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Paté 2013.




I'm following an 'actual' recipe this year, it gives 'actual' quantities of salt, pepper, etc; something I've had difficulty with over the past couple of years. I am also going to buy myself a cook's thermometer, previously the sterilising temperature has just been guess-work.

Being me, I will of course alter the above recipe slightly. I shall add a walnut sized lump of foie gras into the centre of each jar, I shall do away with the onions, and I shall add a good splash of Armagnac.  I shall also use the well-loved spice mix 'Epices Rabelais' (the little packet below) instead of the more basic 'Quatre Epices' as advised.

Below are most of the assembled ingredients. I shall not be using ALL the belly pork; some will go to the freezer to be roasted later on. Roasted belly pork is one of life's real pleasures!


I probably won't use all that foie gras either. 


And here's the result; two 350gm jars and nine 200gm jars. 

That's all I'm making this year. I still have plenty from last year, so we are well stocked.


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Saturday, 16 November 2013

Who Loves You?

An interesting question!

Lady Magnon just about 'tolerates' me. She tolerates the holes in my shoes, socks, trousers, pants, T shirts, and sweatshirts. She tolerates my unusual sense of tidiness. And she tolerates my intolerance.

My three children have now accepted that I'm the only father they'll ever have. Having drawn life's short straw, they humour me, pretend to laugh at my jokes, and pat me on the head when I demonstrate my dire lack of technical knowledge (and knowledge in general). 

My grandsons know no better. I'm just their 'Grumpy', who supplies them with adventures, danger, and occasionally sweets. 

However, there is one who loves me above all else; my lovely Bok. He follows me around nudging himself against my hand and legs, he settles on my lap when I watch TV staring permanently up into my eyes. In his own special way, he has told me that he would lay down his life for me. 

He is devoted to me to the extent of being 'intrusive'. He has become my very shadow.  


I make no comparisons, but George V had a dog who loved him so much that he would faint every time they met. At their very last meeting, the dog passed out, and remained 'out' for the entire hour of their encounter.

Bok has yet to follow this fine example, but I'm expecting it at any minute.

And, of course, his daddy loves him too!

Friday, 15 November 2013

How Old?




It's quite difficult to tell the age of our local buildings, other than by the pitch of the roof or the cut of the stone openings.

Because building techniques have remained much the same for centuries, and old cut stones being often recycled, one could easily make mistakes.

When I bought this little house, about 38 years ago (we were living about 300 metres away at the time), I asked a friend to look at it and give an idea of how old it was. He said there was only one way to determine the age of domestic architecture, and that was by measuring the front door.

We measured the height (200 cms), we measured the width (95cms), and we also measured the depth of the wall (60cms). His conclusion, at the time, was between 250 and 300 years old; leaning towards the latter.

Having now totted-up the passage of time plus his initial estimation, I am pretty certain that my little cottage is at least 300 years old; built around the early 1700's.

This means that the first family to have lived here would have done so under the reign of the much loved Louis XV (1710-1774). As Louis became king aged 5, the cottage was almost certainly built in the days of a pre-pubescent king.

Now THERE's a thought!


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Thursday, 14 November 2013

...till she drops.


                                      

It's THAT time of year again; and Lady Magnon will, this afternoon, fly off to do some Christmas shopping in London.

I've given her a meagre list of things I'd quite like her to bring back; as usual they are mostly food related, as everything else is available here. My list predictably includes a Melton Mowbray Pie, a small Waitrose Christmas Pudding, and some really good mature Cheddar Cheese; all of which she tells me are verboten on my diet (well, it was worth a try!).

She'll also do a spot of grandson sitting, whilst son and daughter-in-law go off gallivanting in the West End.

On the well tested principal of mice playing whilst the cat's away (and me being a tad 'foodie'), I shall take advantage of her absence by eating all those things that she doesn't really care for. The menu will include haggis, duck gizzards, that illicit Fray Bentos Kate-n-Sydney pie I bought, snails, pissaladiere, roasted quails, and some black pudding (all in moderation, of course).

She's away for just 10 days, so no time Toulouse (I don't believe I just wrote that).

So, once again, it's just me, the cat, and the dogs. Cheers!


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Walnut Crop 2013.


 

All the Chestnuts and Walnuts are now down, and we have gathered what we need.

I've put-away a lot less this year; as I mentioned recently, we've been using the left-overs from last year as fire lighters, I had far too many.

This year's crop looks OK, but they do seem to have a lot of unwelcome tenants. I don't know if this problem is universal, but of the six that I opened yesterday, three had worms inside.

And yes; that IS a stolen supermarket basket in the photo. I found it outside someone's house amongst their rubbish, and took it home (honest). At the time it didn't cross my mind that it had been half-inched from some mini-mart, but Lady Magnon soon informed me of its origins. I kept it anyway, it's perfect for when I gather walnuts.

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Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Hair Care.


                                 

Ad's on TV drive me nuts; but none more so than for bloody shampoo.

If you based your understanding of 'sociology' on brainless advertising, you'd imagine that the only people who ever washed their locks were long haired bimbos.

Men, it seems, are excluded from hairdo-hygiene. It is probably taken for granted that we simply take a cupful of sump-oil and rub it over our heads at Easter and Christmas, and that's it; unless, of course, one is either naturally bald or mechanically shaven.

Will we ever see a male orientated shampoo?

Bloke-o-Wash-for-Men; made with a delicate blend of nicotine and Guinness-oil for that matted, car-mechanic, look you've always dreamed of.... Sounds about right!


Monday, 11 November 2013

Pewter?




When I first arrived to live in France, all those 42 years ago, I was surprised to see how much old pewter turned up at markets and boot sales, at knock-down prices.

Knowing that such things were seen as 'valuable antiques' back in England, I decided to start a collection.

I bought lots of plates, forks, and spoons, and ended up with quite a large collection, which I still have. I don't look at them too often these days, in fact they are mostly packed away at the back of a cupboard.

When taking these few bits (above) out for a photo I was amazed by how flexible some of them are, suggesting that they possibly have a high Lead content; or, indeed, are 100% Lead. The small spoon (top) could almost be a prop for Uri Geller; you only have to look at it, and it bends.

Maybe the reason why people, in the past, died at a much younger age was because they stirred too much lead into their porridge!

N.B. I looked up my spoons on the net, where they were described as '19th Century French Antique Porridge Spoons', but I suspect that some wide-boy antique dealer was 'avin a larf!


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Sunday, 10 November 2013

Fig Eaters.




The only problem with Fig trees is the huge amount of nasty huge Hornets that they attract.

But, like most country folk, I have a simple answer. A big old jam jar with a pierced lid filled with beer, some of Lady Magnon's Strawberry jam, and an over-ripe fig; they can't resist.

The one above had only been put out for about two days when it was almost overflowing with dead and alive Hornets. I don't know where their nest is, but as soon as the sun shines (rarely recently) they're back.

I suppose there must be a negative side to wherever one lives; one of ours is certainly these bloody Hornets. Dangerous!
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Saturday, 9 November 2013

Poor old Fred.




I think Freddie must be about 10 years old. During his adventurous and well travelled life, he's had very few ailments.

Recently we noticed an increasingly large lump on the side of his face (left in photo), and his eye above had become half closed; this could have been a dodgy tooth, a scratch turned septic, or even a tumour. But he was still eating well, and wasn't complaining.

Some time later: Nurse Magnon has now put on her Vet's hat, administered horse/dog/cat antiseptic, squeezed the offending area to extract considerable smelly yukiness (don't ask), and applied lots of TLC (including tinned sardines for supper).

His eye is now almost back to normal, the swelling has gone down, and he's looking his old self again. I think he's definitely on the mend.

Congratulations Lady M; there's nowt like an amateur Vet'; for a while we were thinking the worst!

(We now think 'scratch turned septic' must have been the cause)


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Friday, 8 November 2013

Tax Refund Scam.




Lady Magnon recently received this tempting Tax Refund notice, promising her the pleasant sum of £345.65p



All she needed to do was supply intimate details of her personal bank account, favourite colour, inside-leg measurement, and what the dogs ate for supper, and the money would be hers!

Luckily she smelt a rat as soon as she saw that she'd been referred to as Sir/Madame (with an 'e'). In fact the Inland Revenue NEVER EVER inform people of refunds by Email. Nor do they EVER ask for bank details by Email.

So Fuck Off whoever you are who sent this bloody thing (no doubt some scum-bag low-life gang in Nigeria); yours must be one of the most disgraceful pre-Christmas scams I've ever seen. 

Unfortunately I suspect that many will fall for the very genuine looking forms, and surrender all their savings to these unscrupulous bastards who prey on the vulnerable.

Thank goodness we are knowledgeable enough not to have been fooled. BEWARE!

p.s. The above is mostly directed towards UK tax payers, but I'm certain that the little bastards have turned their cynical attention to most wealthy countries.


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Thursday, 7 November 2013

Winter and Whisky.


                              

This is how I like autumn to be. Slightly coolish, the ground covered in copper coloured leaves, and with a couple of dogs zigzagging their way amongst bare-branched trees.

I'm trying to be more philosophical about autumn/winter this year. My annual depression has not yet set-in, and I am attempting to hold it at bay by being positive.

With both All Saints and Bonfire Night behind us, I suppose I now have to accept that the calendar is correct, and that it really is NOVEMBER. I must also accept that brolly and beret will probably be obligatory for all early morning walks. And, of course, I must also accept that log sawing duties will be high on my list of priorities for the next 4 months (at least).

This autumn/winter I am determined to drink some health-preserving Whisky. For several years I've had a litre bottle of 15 year old Glenlivet single malt sitting unopened on my dresser, and it's about time I paid homage to its distillers. As well as being a panacea for all winter related ailments, maybe it'll also cure my winter depression (or at least make me forget it).


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Strictly Reality.


                         

One really has to wonder what the next UK-TV 'reality' programme can possibly be.

'Strictly Come Hair-Combing' perhaps? Or maybe 'The Great British (insert country of choice) Brush Off'?

Personally I would like to see a show called 'Politicians/Celebs living on £20 a week', or even an 'Oxfam is my Tailor' show (this sounds VERY good; 'Oxfam' is a UK charity shop).

Come on British TV, give me a call; I'm a bottomless pit, when it comes to ideas!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

If I had my time again....

                     
                               

We all reflect on what we might have done in life, had we not done what we actually do.

There are several things I would have enjoyed; amongst them are farming, manufacturing (dunno what), and even cider making.

But above all else I would have enjoyed MILLING/BAKING. I would love to have owned an ancient working water mill to make stone-ground wholemeal flour. At the same time, I would have had an integral small bakery to turn my flour into the most wonderful bread.

When I was 'stone cutting' here in France back in the late 1970's, my boss had an obsession about becoming a Patissier. He eventually moved back to his native Provence, and did just that.

What might YOU have done!


Monday, 4 November 2013

Silent Sunday Walk.




Chestnut gathering is now over. The huge 'orchards' are silent, and the machines (that have now mostly replaced the hand-pickers) have been cleaned, oiled, and put-away. There is a sense of melancholy in the air, knowing that it'll be a whole year before it all happens again.



I tend to take the boys for exactly the same walk every morning. They have their habits, and I have mine, and they look forward to doing the same things together every day.  

One example is at the end of this track. Over a year ago they disturbed a deer in the field, so now every morning they suddenly run off together at terrific speed, from roughly where Bok is standing, and turn sharp right into the field (hoping, no doubt, to find that same deer waiting for them). As yet no luck; but they live in hope!

In the afternoon we all went for another much longer walk in an area we don't know too well; and got lost.

Hey ho!


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Sunday, 3 November 2013

New Calves on the Block.




My neighbour, Jean-Claude, has been threatening to give up milking for some time. The unsocial hours, and small returns, have taken their toll.

I have just noticed that he has 4 new Blonde d'Aquitaine calves in amongst his herd of  Montbeliards and Holsteins (above, 4 baby Blondes background, 1 Montbeliard foreground) .

I must say that nothing would give me greater pleasure than looking out onto a couple of dozen pale honey-coloured 'Aquitaines'. They are beautiful creatures, on top of which they are my region's NATIVE COW.

I just hope that his exit from milking the Montbeliards, coincides with completely restocking with Blonde d'Aquitaines. It looks as if it will (I've just spoken with him, and he confirms as much; yippee)!

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