Royal Mail Track and Trace

Excellent service, very handy to know when one can expect delivery of an item - except it's not. Not handy at all, not any more.

Go to website, enter tracking number. On mobile Safari and Chrome, nothing happens. Most likely because of pop-up blockers, or some ad detection software I have; doesn't everyone, unless seeing ads is your thing, Off to my Opera browser, enter tracking number and, yaay, little sodding pictures appear. Captcha loads, asking me to identify traffic lights. OK, not too difficult, despite the fact that the traffic lights seem to be in mid-air, not where I'm used to seeing them. Sometimes it asks for "crosswalks". I assume they mean the white stripes on a road. Crosswalks, not a British thing. Thank you, Google. Today it was "buses". Not a red double decker to be seen. Some yellow things, some coaches (I think), but nothing particularly bus-like. Round and round we go, with more and more pictures. Fire hydrants - lumpy things at the edge of roads, I presume.

Yes, I'm being flippant, as I have been sufficiently exposed to US culture that I am aware of these things. (i still find a lot of the pictures impossible to decipher, as they are such poor quality).

I logged into my Royal Mail account, hoping that might prove I'm not a flippin' robot. Whether by chance, or by design, the Captcha was easier and I got it right first time. To be met with a message telling me that the "system" can't give any information about my item at the moment.

I expect that I will sail through Captcha and be able to discover the whereabouts of my item at some point - most likely after it has been delivered.

Pebble Stationery Co Tomoe River Pocket Notebook

Firstly, I haven't had these notebooks for very long and started my first one at the end of January, so this is very much an initial impressions post.

I spotted these on the Instagram feed for Nero's Notes, my notebook supplier of choice, as I am in the UK.

Nero's has a great blog post in which they get to know the owners of Pebble Stationery Co, worth reading.

As soon as they were announced I put in my pre-order for a couple of packs.

As ever, the notebooks arrived quickly (I got lucky, putting my order in just as they arrived in stock) and beautifully packaged. I was just coming to the end of my previous notebook, so a Pebble went straight into my leather cover.

The notebook

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The cover is a discreet-looking pale grey, textured a bit like linen. The inside cover is a pale duck-egg blue and has the usual name, contact, dates and content sections. The inside back cover has some information about the company, including the fact that for each pack of premium notebooks sold they will donate pencils to children in need, to help their creativity and learning. A nice touch. At the bottom there is information about the notebook: 52gsm Tomoe River paper, 80 pages, in a 4mm dot grid.

The pages are stitched rather than stapled. The stitches are really very small and nothing shows on the outside of the cover, so I wonder if they are stitched to an inner cover which is then bound to the grey outer. My eyesight isn't good enough to figure this out - not in the gloom of winter, that's for sure! Suffice to say these are well made.

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The price at the moment for a two-pack is £11.50, just a bit less than a three-pack of Field Notes special editions, or a few quid more than a three-pack of standard Field Notes. As these come from Australia, I imagine international prices will vary.

As I said, it's early days for me with these notebooks. Despite keeping my pocket notebook in a leather cover, I have separated some Field Notes from their covers before finishing the book. It can take me a couple of months to get through a standard pocket notebook, so a notebook with a lot more pages runs the risk of becoming even more battered, as it is likely to be in my pocket for longer. That said, there's a much greater desire to write things down on such lovely paper. It handles all kinds of pen, though pencil and ballpoint will crinkle the paper because of the pressure. Not that I'm particularly bothered by that, but generally a brass Kaweco Sport rollerball lives with my pocket notebook. It is nice to be able to use my fountain pens in it, too.

A rainy trip to Norway

My first ever cruise, and first holiday in a very long time. Breathtaking, despite the rain.

First stop was Stavanger, where I took a trip to Sør-Hidle to see the Flor og Fjære gardens. Tropical gardens on the west coast of Norway. Quite a feat - and quite a sight!

Early morning arrival in Stavanger.

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Some photos from the tropical gardens.

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The afternoon was spent wandering round Stavanger, unfortunately getting wetter and wetter. It's a lovely place, though.

After Stavanger we sailed up to Flåm, arriving there in the early morning. As this was my first trip to the Norwegian fjords, I got up early, to see what the views were like. Misty and a bit wet - not as wet as later in the day. Sadly for my cameras there were no picturesque sunrises and sunsets to be had.

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I took a full day trip in Flåm, which involved the railway trip, plus a coach tour to Voss, via the very steep and twisty Stalheimskleiva - complete with fallen rocks at the apex of one of the hairpins, which our intrepid coach driver managed to haul to the side of the road. It rained, a lot, but that just made the waterfalls we saw even more spectacular. First was a stop to look at Tvindefossen:-

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Followed by a stop during the train journey from Myrdal to Flåm to admire Kjossfossen:-

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Prior to picking up the Flåmsbana, we had taken a train from Voss to Myrdal, having had a traditional Norwegian buffet lunch in Voss.

I did manage to get a few shots of the area from inside the coach and train - the advantage of having a long zoom.

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The next day saw us arrive in Olden in the morning. I enjoyed every day and every excursion, but I think this was the one that surprised me most; I wasn't sure what to expect of Olden, but I found the surrounding area to be so very beautiful. I was quite taken with Stryn and some of the scenery we saw during our trip was just breathtaking.

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Jostedalsbreen Glacier National Park:-

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Oppstrynsvatnet:-

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After a stop at the national park for pancakes and coffee, we made our way back down the valley, making a slight detour to the tiny town of Hjelle, which looked very much like a place one could stay in for a while and simply soak up the scenery.

Hjelledalen:-

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My final stop in Norway was Bergen, a town I would have liked to spend more time in, but after a week of getting soaked every time I set foot outside, I wasn't really in the mood to walk round the town. I would like to go back there, though. I had booked a trip out to Troldhaugen, to see Edvard Grieg's summer house and the place where he wrote a lot of his music. It was a superb excursion, which enabled us to see a decent amount of Bergen from the warm and dry coach. We visited the museum at Troldhaugen, had a tour of Grieg's house and finished with a piano recital in the concert hall built there in 1985. The hall has a glass end wall, so the view the audience has while listening to the music is just amazing. The hall was built with chamber music in mind and has a crystal clear acoustic. It was very moving to hear Grieg's music while looking out at the views he saw when writing it.

The view from Troldhaugen:-

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The Troldsalen:-

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Cheerio

(www.metrolyrics.com)

Having a Tull day. Just reached my favourite album, with some of my all-time favourite songs.

One Year On

As I type this, 52 weeks and about 90 minutes ago my father passed away after a relatively short and futile battle with lung cancer. Although it wasn't really much of a battle, to be honest: by the time he got a diagnosis, it was terminal and he was given weeks or months. He stuck around for about eight months, and, luckily, was only really ill for about the last month. Even more luckily he was in virtually no pain. I was there when he died; my phone had just beeped with a text from my cousin, however, I decided a trip to the bathroom seemed more urgent than responding. I walked past my Dad's hospital bed, in the lounge of the bungalow he had shared with my mother up until her death, just under three years before his. I paused to hold his hand and say some things to him that I needed to say. As I held his hand and kissed it, he didn't take the next breath. I have never been with anyone at the moment of their death; my mother died unexpectedly, in hospital, early in the morning, so all we knew about that was the Phone Call. It seemed very odd that someone breathes and then stops. Why not one more breath? And maybe another? What changed (I don't wish to know).

Of course, despite knowing this was coming, and suspecting it would be that day (my brother had returned home to his family that morning and I had said to him I didn't think he would see his father alive again), it was still such a shock. I rang my cousin and she knew, simply from the fact I had rung and not texted. She helped talk me through the things I had to do - which I knew, as Dad's nurses had taken me through everything, but your mind just goes blank. So blank. You have your breath taken away, it feels like a physical punch in the gut. I used to wonder why people would collapse in the floor with grief. Now I know. Although, I didn't do that when I heard about Mum - I think I was too busy organising everyone to do so. Sure, I spent a long time on the phone to my best friend later that day, and for several days after, not talking, just sobbing. I didn't exactly collapse to the floor this time, but I felt very weak and unsteady.

So here I am a year later, feeling pretty rubbish, if I'm honest. But not in quite the same way as I was this time last year. A good friend said to me, not long after my Mum had died that you don't get over it, you just live differently and adapt. Sadly, that same friend died 364 days after my Mum, but I'll never forget her words to me. I dread August, I hated the end of it, with the anniversary of losing my Mum (who was probably also my best friend) and now I hate the start of it, as it's the anniversary of my Dad's death. Also, after trying to get in touch with my Mum's cousin to let her know about Dad, I had a call from her daughter just a week after Dad's death saying that her Mum had died - exactly a week after Dad. Did I say I hate August? I know these things are what we rationally expect; that our parents will die before we do and, hopefully, when we ourselves are adults. That isn't always the case. My mother was fourteen when her father died. My father was nine days old when his mother died. Despite all the tears, the visceral pain and black moods, I know that I am lucky to have had such lovely parents to miss so much.

Some days I will tell you it doesn't seem to get easier and that I could do without having to get out of bed. I have been on medication for depression since not long after my Mum died and I know that helped me cope with the last couple of years. I am lucky to work from home, which meant I was able to stay at Dad's and let him die at home, as he wished - although staying alive would have been his preference. Other days I occasionally forget. That's the way of things, along with the ensuing guilt at having forgotten. As Edna St Vincent Millay says in her oft-quoted poem "Time Does Not Bring Relief":-

There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him."

And so, I find myself writing this, trying to make sense of the last few years, feeling glum, but maybe a little bit less so than I did.

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Day Trip to Bath

Admittedly, I'm a little late with this post, as I went to Bath at the end of June.

With three friends I had booked on a coach day trip through a local firm. We had a pretty civilised departure at 9am (unlike a trip we have booked to go to a craft show in London, when our departure time is around 7am). It was at the start of our recent very hot spell and I was concerned about that, but the coach had very good air-conditioning, so spending time on there was preferable to sweltering elsewhere.

Traffic was light and we arrived in Bath a little early, which was great. I was armed with sunscreen, hat and layers of linen clothing. We located the tourist information centre, after a slight detour into the Radley shop, as there was a sale on. The Radley fans bought nothing, whereas I bought a canvas tote and a purse.

We bought a ticket for the tourist open-top bus tours. They aren't cheap, but when time is limited and it's very hot, the top deck of a bus has a breeze and it's a great way to see the city. We did the city tour first, followed by one which went round the outskirts. Plenty of opportunity for photographs, although that wasn't always easy when the bus was moving. I took my Panasonic TZ70 small camera, but it took some decent pics.

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There was an exhibition in Bath, called Minerva Owls, wherein various owl sculptures were dotted around the city. We saw a few of them, but, again, time was limited.

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Between the bus tours, we found time for the somewhat obligatory shots of Poultney Bridge, although a boat that seemed to have got stuck below the weir would not get out of shot. I'm sure it wasn't deliberate…

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We found a lovely little café, the Courtyard Café, near Sally Lunn's, where we stopped for some lunch. As none of us were driving, we were all able to have a couple of glasses of wine, whih was most pleasant.

I didn't get time to go into the abbey, but walked round the outside. Next time…

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All too soon it was time to return to the coach and make our way home. For £22 it was a bargain, compared with being faced with driving, parking, driving home again - and no wine!

Bath has some lovely buildings - and superb chimneys.

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July books

Flesh and Blood

by Bill Kitson

Started 28 June 2018
Finished 10 July 2018

Possibly the best of the Eden House Mysteries, but that may simply be because I like the subject matter. An excellent tale and a very pleasant read. I find the main characters credible and good company. Again set in Yorkshire, this sees Adam and his fiancée, Eve, get caught up in another murder mystery which has plenty of twists.

The Time Traveller's Guide to Mediaeval England

by Ian Mortimer
Narrated by Jonathan Keeble

Started 5 July 2018
Finished 9 July 2018

These books go into some detail about the minutiae of daily life in the relevant period. Sometimes a little dry, but generally interesting and they give a good picture of "real life" - as best the historians can reconstruct. And yes, the title uses "medieval", but I prefer the other spelling.

The Ship of Brides

by Jojo Moyes
Narrated by Nicolette McKenzie

Started 9 July 2018
Finished 13 July 2018

I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook, absolutely loved it. It tells the tale of some Australian war brides who were taken to England, and their husbands, on an elderly aircraft carrier. By the end of the story I had forgotten how it started, so engaged with the lives of the "brides" I had become. This is the first book by Jojo Moyes that I have read/listened to and now she's on my list. The characters were very well drawn, with their faults and foibles, and the narration was superb, really bringing the characters to life and drawing the listener in to the story. I am already missing the people I got to know.

The Venetian Game

by Philip Gwynne Jones

Started 10 July 2018
Finished 15 July 2018

I enjoyed this, although it felt a little inconsequential. I wasn't that engaged with the thriller plot, but I enjoyed the main characters. I will look at the next in the series, I expect. Venice played a starring role in the book, and, although I have only visited it once, it was interesting to see it through the eyes of a resident.

A Tangled Mercy

by Joy Jordan-Lake

Started 15 July 2018
Finished 27 July 2018.

This novel is amazing. I really wasn't sure what to expect and had no idea that it was based on real events. It covers two periods of history: 1822, when, in Charleston there was a slave revolt; and 2015, when a doctoral student relocates to Charleston to investigate the history of the revolt. The investigation was also prompted by some documents her late mother had left. During the course of the novel the two stories come together and develop. I have to say I didn't anticipate the final explanation almost until it arrived. Looking back there were clues but the mystery was perfectly paced and satisfyingly resolved. Not an easy subject and some fairly harrowing chapters, but overall I enjoyed reading it and I learnt a lot. Ten days later, I'm still thinking about some of the issues raised.

The Despatcher

by John Scalzi
Narrated by Zachary Quinto

Started 16 July 2018
Finished 18 July 2018

Only a short audiobook - a couple of hours. Thoroughly enjoyed it though. Narration was excellent, but then Zachary Quinto has a very pleasant speaking voice. Thought-provoking storyline and I hope there are more stories around this subject to come. I have some Scalzi in my Kindle queue, so this was a nice introduction to his writing.

Dracula

by Bram Stoker
Narrated by Alan Cumming, Tim Curry and others

I have read Dracula before and I was surprised to find I enjoyed it. It made a change to read the original, having watched a load of Dracula films over the years (and my favourite is still "The Fearless Vampire Killers", although it was called "Dance of the Vampires" when I first saw it!). It's been a while since I read it, so I thought an audiobook version with a cast would be fun. It was, I enjoyed listening to it as much as I did reading it. I had hoped for a bit more of Tim Curry, but Alan Cumming and Simon Vance did a grand job. Yes, it's stylised, but that's just how the book is. This version is definitely worth a listen though.

Started 19 July 2018
Finished 22 July 2018

The Singularity Trap.

by Dennis E Taylor
Narrated by Ray Porter.

Started 29 July 2018
Finished 31 July 2018

I loved the Bobiverse Trilogy from this author, so was more than happy to give this one a go. It wasn't as entertaining as the Bob books, but still had some laugh out loud moments. To start with, I was unsure where the story would be going; it starts with the tale of a guy who signs on to an asteroid mining ship, and somehow gets infected when a strange artefact is discovered. Gradually he is turned into metal. I did wonder if this was the whole story, and what else could possibly fill the rest of the book. I needn't have worried, as I pretty soon became engrossed. The concept isn't as out-there as in the Bob books, although it certainly is thought-provoking, revealing some of the less laudable aspects of human-kind. Dennis E Taylor is definitely on my must-read list and Ray Porter is firmly on my listen-to list. He brings these books to life really well.

In between audiobooks and text books, I have been listening to some of the Audible free series: this month it has been "Pitch" and "Real Crime". The former is about music and its influence on people, the latter is a British podcast series about some of the most notable crimes in recent times. I remembered most of them, but they were still interesting and well presented.

I have also been working my way through my digital copy of the sci-fi magazine "Analog".

June Books

The Outcasts of Time

By Ian Mortimer
Narrated by Barnaby Edwards

Started 1 June 2018.
Finished 5 June 2018

I picked up this audiobook on offer, so figured it wasn't exactly expensive! I'd seen the book elsewhere and had been tempted to read it - I think it may have been one of the Kindle First selections one month, when I went for a different one. A definite change of pace and subject from Earthcore, which was quite welcome!
I enjoyed the book and liked the narration very much. That said, it wasn't quite what I was expecting. Interesting to see descriptions of the centuries as though through the eyes of someone from the past, and the supporting characters were often entertaining, but really it was a catalogue of social and domestic changes that had taken place. Not exactly a thrilling plot-line, rather gently interesting.

The Dark Web

By Geoff White & Bernard Achampong
Narrated by Geoff White

Started 5 June 2018
Finished 6 June 2018

Not so much an audiobook, this is an Audible presentation/documentary in 10 short chapters. Also, it's free to subscribers. I found it sufficiently interesting to finish the episodes, although it probably didn't impart much in the way of new information. It did, however, flesh out some of the things I already knew, so definitely worth listening to.

West Cork

Started 7 June 2018
Finished 9 June 2018

This is another Audible freebie, about a murder that took place in 1996 in western Ireland. As it happens, the day I started it, I had a call from my brother and I happened to mention that I was listening to this, knowing that he and his family were regular visitors to the area, as his wife's family come from round there. Turns out he was aware of the story and is very familiar with a lot of the places. He's seen the house where the victim lived. I'm only a few episodes in, but the pace is lovely, the story-telling is gently understated - as much as telling the tale of a murder can be. I don't believe the murder has been solved, so I'm interested to see the journey this takes me on. Intruiging - and an unfinished tale, as the main (only) suspect has been formally accused of murder in France, although he is unlikely to be extradited. Do I believe he is guilty? No, but I'm not convinced of his innocence, either. Worth listening to.

The Memory of Trees

by F G Cottam
Narrated by David Rintoul

Started 10 June 2018
Finished 11 June 2018

I don't think this was as scary as I had expected it to be, although it was nicely atmospheric. A very rich bloke hires a tree expert to reforest his land. All good, until strange things start happening. It had its tense moments and overall I enjoyed it. David Rintoul as the narrator helped; always good and a voice I love.

A Little History of Philosophy

by Nigel Warburton
Narrated by Kris Dyer

Started 11 June 2018
Finished 13 June 2018

This was interesting and I know more about philosophy than I did before starting it. It still doesn't exactly excite me, although some of the concepts and arguments were interesting. The book was well read and clearly written, but about as much philosophy as I ever want to deal with.

Churchill

by Roy Jenkins
Narrated by Robert Whitfield (Simon Vance)

Started 14 June 2018
Finished 25 June 2018

Fascinating, although rather peppered with high-brow language, which, for me, detracted from the story. I have the paperback copy of this book, but the print is a bit small and I found it easier to listen to than to read.

The Haunted Lady (Eden House 5)

by Bill Kitson

Started 6 June 2018
Finished 18 June 2018

I like this series of books; they are well written and have entertaining main characters. Somehow I managed to read the fifth book before the fourth, but it doesn't really matter.

The Thinnest Air

By Minka Kent

Started 18 June 2018
Finished 28 June 2018

This was a Kindle First freebie and I enjoyed it. A woman goes missing and her sister starts to dig into her life. Of course, all is not what it appeared to be. No masterpiece, but an entertaining read which did keep me guessing for a while.

Sleeper's Castle

By Barbara Erskine
Narrated by Charlotte Strevens

Started 26 June 2018
Finished 30 June 2018

I usually enjoy Barbara Erskine books and this was no exception. Not my favourite (which is "Lady of Hay"), but it was well read and an enjoyable audiobook.

It's the weekend!

It seems to have been a very long and arduous week, which is par for the course of late. I made a visit to one of our offices midweek, which I enjoyed. It was worth my time, although the journey there and back, plus being unaccustomed to the office setting, has left me really rather tired. I used to travel longer than this every weekday - at a time when I was quite unwell. I couldn't do it now - clearly I am "getting older" as my team like to remind me. I have had two rehearsals this week, which have added to my fatigue, particularly when I've had to dash out of the door having only just closed the laptop for the night.

Tomorrow is the choral society's summer concert and I'm a little apprehensive. I feel under-prepared and not confident in some of the pieces. Certainly in the major work we are doing; excerpts from Vivaldi's Gloria. Such is the lot of an accompanist. This is a piano reduction of the orchestral score and, as is the way with Baroque music, there's a lot of twiddly bits and no little amount of contrapuntal writing. I love it, but my fingers don't. I can play it, but I have struggled to become familiar enough with my part to be able to forget about it and concentrate on the choir and the conductor. On occasion I've almost suffered from note-blindness, where I've looked at the music and it's meant nothing to me. Slightly disconcerting, but I reckon it's a result of tiredness rather than anything else. Forgetting how to read music could be a tad awkward for someone who relies heavily on her sight-reading skills! I'm sure we'll get through it; the adrenaline will kick in and we'll rise to the occasion. As a reward, the concert ends with one of my absolute favourite pieces: Bridge over Troubled Water. It's a very moving way to end and has been well-received before.

It's the society's 30th anniversary this year, so this concert is going to be fairly light-hearted and very much a celebration of 30 years of singing and raising money for charity. Since I've been a member, the concerts we give have raised over £1000 a year for local charities. It feels good to be able to give back to the community. I spent a long time studying music and, as I didn't become a professional, it's very rewarding to be using my (somewhat diminished) skills at last. I love accompanying people, so I've found my niche. Some members have been with the choir for the full 30 years, which is impressive. I am lucky enough to have moved to a small rural town which has a very strong community and a flourishing music scene. Our concerts are well supported by the community. I was astounded a couple of years ago when we received a standing ovation for an excerpt we did from Handel's Messiah. Granted, I think we did a good job with it, but that was most unexpected and very gratifying. Here's hoping tomorrow night comes close!

Blooming lovely

I have been busy today: mowed my lawns and also one at the parents' bungalow. I was pleased to see my Dad's favourite poppies in bloom again, although the feelings were tinged with sadness that he's no longer here to see them and also that the bungalow sale is progressing, so I won't be able to see them for much longer. I did pick off a seed pod, so maybe I'll be able to get some growing in my garden. I love poppies, which is just as well, given I have one tattooed on my shoulder.

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My garden is doing remarkably well considering how neglected it was last year. The roses are in bloom, bless them: always reliable.

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The Cotinus (smoke bush) has grown a lot, despite being fairly savagely trimmed back, as were the penstemons, but then they are usually pretty resilient.

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Whilst it's now too hot and I'm too tired for any more gardening, today has encouraged me to believe that I can get the garden back on track. Still got a lot of work to do on the front garden border, but I'm making progress.