The Time I Discovered I was a Dominatrix…At Speed Dating

“There you go, one large glass of wine. That’ll be £6.50.”

“Sorry but can I get some more? I can see the level is just off the 250ml mark on the glass.”

I turned to my two friends stood either side of me.

“What? Look if I’m going to go speed dating then I’m damn well getting a full glass of wine.”

I took the glass off the bar in a swift motion that resulted in the extra liquid splashing across my suede heels.

“Good job you demanded more wine Alice.”

“Sush.”

**

“You’re so funny!”

“Thanks, it’s just me being me I suppose.”

“No really, you’re naturally great. How you can make someone laugh just on the topics of pens, that takes skill.”

“Calm it down, if all the guys knew I’d leant you my pen after three minutes I’d be the talk of the town. Now I don’t know how you men play it in Calne but in Swindon this is big stuff. What are you on anyway, Diet Coke?”

“It’s actually full sugar.”

“Jesus Christ! Full sugar? Now it all makes sense, now I know what your game is. You’ve been eyeing up my pen all night!”

And then there was a minute of laughter.

“You know, you really should write this down.”

“Funny you say that, I actually write a blog.” (Said for the eighth time that night.)

“What’s it called?”

My Housemate’s a Mermaid.”

He started scribbling it down on the paper when showcase Alice leapt out of my throat.

“I have a business card if it helps?”

“Oh yes please!”

As I handed over the tiny card I caught my friend’s eye from the table opposite me.

“What?” I mouthed. She responded with a look that said “you know what”. I’d joked all week about giving out business cards at this speed dating event, in fact only a few days before at a house party a friend had yelled “for God’s sake Alice!” when she pulled out one I’d smuggled into a card deck. In many ways giving out just the one business card all night was a poor showing on my part.

When you go speed dating it’s hard to get any understanding of what half the room are doing. In fact it’s probably the only time in your life when you have a better understanding of the opposite sex versus your own. As a woman you never get to (or want to) get a firm grip on the ‘competition’. At best you get hear-say reflections from what rotating men tell you about the other women they’ve chatted to on the night.

My grasp on how I was polling? I was the funny one, the leading one, the in-control one or, as one man put it, “the dominatrix of the room with the submissive friends”.

I was strangely flattered by this comment and in the same way that when I was six I let my policewoman ambition go to my head, at the next interval I told my two friends to get on the floor and worship me. If they didn’t I’d hit them around the head with a copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

“Why have you even got that out on the table?”

“In case I get bored. Also a conversation starter.”

“And has it worked?”

“Why aren’t you on the floor already?”

My Dominatrix man was Jade’s ‘White Guy’ on account of his white shirt (although not before I’d yelled out “they’re all white Jade!” For all to hear). And White Guy was my other friend’s ‘Awkward’.

The latter description was fair, this man wasn’t a first class in fast flowing dialogue. In fact he’d come to my table with the opener, “I’ll probably say something that’ll weird you out and you won’t want to talk to me.”

“I wrote a blog post comparing men to snack bars. Try me.”

“Oh.”

“I mean you could try to weird me out but in three and a half minutes you would be doing a very good job, so much so that actually I’d be more impressed than weirded out.

“As for me, I’ve long since learnt to not care. See if you chat to me now and think ‘she’s alright’ and we match then good times all round, if we don’t then that’s life. Why should I care what you think of me after four minutes if we never meet again? I don’t care. So go on, convince me why I shouldn’t tick yes for you.”

If Dominatrix was a computer I turned him into the blue screen of death. He froze for a second, that fraction of a moment when you could sense something was rebooting and then went from being uptight to putty in my hands. And, once again, I was branded “hilarious” for being me.

Another highlight mistake of the night was agreeing to do a collaboration video with a YouTuber who dresses as a Bear (I did an impression on my bar stool of how I’d be dancing in a mermaid costume. As glamourous as you’re imagining.) There was also a man who announced he’d seen me before, which given work, blog, Swindon 18-30 and being a normal human did not help either party. Someone else set up Cloud software for IT illiterate companies but had never seen this clip…

…which I instructed him to watch the second he got home.

“Ha-ha, sure.”

“I’m not flipping kidding Jim*.”

There were other guys who either rocked up to my table as being loud and outgoing or deeply introverted to the point of barely getting a word out. At the time I just played me, I’d comment on their shirt and get them talking from that, or I’d make it obvious that I knew nothing about motor bikes.

“Like the Wallace and Gromit one?”

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I.e. I got them all laughing and smiling. And although it seems a bit narcissistic, me thinking I’m God’s bringer of four minute joy…

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…but I genuinely wanted to put people at ease and avoid the alternative option of four minutes of torture. I’d have thought I was being normal if not for the fact that the men were leaving my table with a look or comment that suggested they would linger longer if they could.

At a post event debrief I learned of some of the more ‘challenging’ conversations my friends had experienced, conversations that were non-existent on table nine. My little perch where I’d been doing me, chatting, laughing, smiling warmly through ink-laden eyelids. And while I sat there in the well-worn and stained surroundings of a neighbouring Wetherspoons a thought flashed before my eyes and exited through my mouth.

“I’m going to have to be the bad guy aren’t I?”

And then I realised the UHT milk pods I’d taken from the pub’s condiments table had leaked in my pocket.

 

To be continued…

Seven Little Books

“29/04/18. My arms are aching, my legs are covered in bruises and I’m completely shattered. I must be in London.”

It has been a week since I vacated my flat in central London and returned once more to Swindon. It almost feels like the past year has all been but a dream, vape steam in the breeze. Invisible, abstract and only memorable by the faint smell it leaves behind.

On 2nd May I left London Paddington station for the last time packed like a loaded Buckaroo: an overfilled holdall case, a heavy rucksack, an additional handbag, a canvas tote filled with redundant bedlinen and a heavy laptop across the body for good measure. I learnt from my mistakes moving out and managed the travel back relatively bruise free, however my body has ached for days from strain. The day before I fully moved I’d completed a separate trip to Swindon with a similar amount of goods and wondered why I couldn’t stop violently shaking. I spilt coffee everywhere at the formal work function, of course. At the time I put it down to the amount of rushing around but now I see it as the culmination of mental and muscular stress.

Other than the short term pains it would be easy to pass off what I’d been through and achieved in just over twelve months living and working in the English capital as nothing more than normal. ‘Business as usual’ as my colleagues would say. But it isn’t. And it’s not just the big things that make me say that, like moving into the flat and travelling solo in Europe for the first time, but it is the little things as well. The events I put myself out of my comfort zone to attend, the weird obsession with finding the cheapest eggs, the men (goodness the men). And as I stood in Brompton cemetery one Sunday afternoon while a random man called Nicolas tried to chat me up I thought only one thing.

Thank God I’m writing this all down.

Seven separate notebooks, all documenting the experience of spending a year in London. Seven books with unique but different personalities as I went through a deeply personal and professional journey. Just glancing over extracts from book one and comparing it to book seven the transformation is really quite something (excluding coffee spilling and egg hunting, those two are deeply trademarked parts of me). Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books in depth since writing, I want to let some water trickle under bridges first. But I remember so clearly picking the first notebook off a shelf in a stationery store and telling myself I would make every effort to record the upcoming eight months in London (as it was then supposed to be) so that I should not forget the experience when I returned once more to Wiltshire. To ensure that I never let this fantastic opportunity turn into little more than a faded dream. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will do something more with my scribbles, that people will know about the time I ended up at a celebrity wedding, when the artist Grayson Perry became a fan of my writing, the time I got screen tested for a dating show. And again, the men.

If two things show how much I’ve changed over the past year then look no further than these separate quotes.

“11/05/18…Let’s make this work.”

“06/04/19…Because I can.”

 

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Keanu Reeves is a Better Career Advisor than Britney Spears

Guess who’s been writing internal news articles again? Below was produced to promote the tool I’m developing as part of a team for a sub-project at work. More details below but so far the reception to both writing and project outputs have been great.

 

Keanu Reeves is a Better Career Advisor than Britney Spears

 

When I was a little girl I wanted to be Britney Spears. Then around the age of seven I realised it would be a difficult career path (turns out it’s a ‘dead man’s shoes’ role), so instead I settled on hard-hitting journalism, only to find myself documenting the adventures of a pineapple in a party hat (don’t ask). Post University there were three years in charity and now I’m fast approaching two of the same at Nationwide but it’s only recently that the words ‘Project’ and ‘Management’ have sprung out as possibilities for someone like me.

I applied to be on a team for this year’s Association for Project Management (APM) challenge with echoes of Britney in the back of my mind. What skills and qualities do you

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Take on a crazy challenge alongside the day job or delete the email?

need to have to enter it? Where do you go to access accredited material? Is Project management even the right career? I was about to call it out on when someone else said it, and then another, until we’d all agreed that between our collective 17 and a half years’ experience no one knew the answers to these fundamental questions. Our deliverable was born; in four months we’d build a tool to help practitioners focus their development time more effectively. We would call it the “Project Development Matrix” (and Michael, our project manager, would tell me to stop suggesting we wear long coats and shades like Keanu Reeves’ did in the 1999 film The Matrix). With our tool all you’d need to do is answer a few questions and the answers would automatically populate charts to help tailor the development plan of the user.

 

The APM challenge is designed to develop project management qualities and knowledge of the project lifecycle. We produce detailed reports to deadlines, stage project boards with our sponsor and must deliver what we set out to do. For the finals night in May we’ll either have produce additional material or present to a panel. You’re up against teams from a range of organisations so company lingo has to be stripped away and everything taken back to APM fundamentals. The project would be enough of a challenge for a single co-located team, however we’ve added a layer of fun to the mix by basing ourselves across two Swindon and one London office.

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Snow put central London into a state of paralysis

So where are we now? In February we housed a focus group to get consumer views and refine our ‘product backlog’ for the first release, with a view to develop and expand the tool and its use case after that. No project is entirely smooth running, given the snow I experienced in central London I struggled to see why the original focus group in Swindon had to be moved, but it’s the setbacks you learn best from.

 

The tool is presently due for release at the end of this month. Give it a go and let us know your thoughts. Any issues and I’ll don my shades and get Keanu to enter the Matrix himself and investigate further.

If it is Inspiration you Seek, it is Classical you Must Find

I was in a London bar the other night, relaxing with a book and a medium sized glass of sparkling cranberry juice. There was a nice flurry of activity occurring around me, date night couples, arguing couples, groups of friends, a solo American businessman trying to engage with conversation (bless), all the standard things you’d expect to see in a alcoholic establishment of its sort and location.

I was sat in a booth to myself and taking in the lively scene of human activity mid page (the joy of a gentle anthology) when something caught my eye. At first I thought I was mistaken by what I’d seen but then the dart happened again and again, until my brain finally came to terms with what it was witnessing less than two meters away.

Mice.

The little pests were so quick and spontaneous with their movements I could barely get my phone out, let alone take a photo, before they dashed back into the shadows or across the tiles into a new crevice. I saw one dash towards the American businessman but he seemed too preoccupied with asking the bartender to hit him with yet another whiskey so I held my tongue.

I’d only just arrived at the pub and settled down, so felt very reluctant to leave. I’d been to the establishment before and saw no sense in hurrying back to the cramped little flat I call home alongside four others. Besides, I’d paid £2.70 for my sparkling cranberry juice.

I knew exactly what to do. I put on my headphones and whacked on one of my most played songs. A classic of a classic, Ralf Vaugh Williams’ The Lark Ascending is as beautiful a composition if ever there was one. And while I can never begin to review it on a note-by-note basis (this girl dropped trombone when she was sixteen) I can firmly say that as a sentient human being it is a song that always helps lighten my spirits whatever mood I am in. I’m playing it right now as I type, listen:

So delicate but forthright and strong. Each time I hear the notes I see a different version of me play out, be it the girl in an evening dress or the girl donning her stick and hanky as she strides towards the city where the streets are paved with gold. And it was listening to The Lark Ascending that night in an average pub with mice running around that I was able to find my inner composure. Don’t get me wrong, mice or any kind of vermin indoors is not particularly pleasant, nor should it be ignored, but just listening to classical music, well, it seemed to transport me somewhere completely different. I could overlook the mice dashing about, in fact I was even able to half smile at their ill fated antics to get any distance before a human made a move of their own.

And then I looked down and saw a mouse sniffing my pump shoe and the bare foot within. Then I freaked the hell out and swiftly finished my juice as a scooted towards the door of a rapidly emptying watering hole. I left the single member of bar staff in the delightful company of the American and a newly arrived drunk local.

And it made me think, when did I start embracing classical music? What were the key tracks that started it? Well bizarrely my love of classical music all started with a free CD that came with a Saturday Daily Express newspaper. Remember those few years where newspapers gave out CDs every five minutes with a random assortment of music? Well in 2004 we got one and it must have been the Euros or something because it was called Football Passion (even though the last World Cup had been in 2002).

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Well much to the surprise of 11 year old me and a good deal of other Daily Express readers the CD was purely classical music. Not a sniff of Lighting Seeds in sight. And yet in a very weird way a free piece of plastic came to be the making of me. Playing it in the car for weeks afterwards I was able to formulate my own narratives around each song. The first and strongest story I devised around a song that was around the composition of William Tell Overture. Don’t listen to this and tell me you can’t picture the spectacle of the horse racing?

Picture a scene resembling the Grand National or Cheltenham Races, horses chasing up to hurdles and bounding over. Riders falling to the wayside one by one as proud owners look on to see their champions to the photo finish. So much energy and excitement.

Pavane, the song that flows straight after William Tell Overture on the CD’s playlist, created in my head the sense of disappointment of the losers.

The riders cast aside as failures, the damaged horses piled in heaps awaiting their fate as the rain starts to drop down. That or a general sense of romantic sadness, young boys packing bags and sent off to war when they barely understand what suffering is. The long days of rain and sadness.

And then, several songs later…

The slow build up, the knowing that something is about to happen, something is about to change. And then boom! The base drops and you’re filled with a sensation of happiness and warmth. The rain has stopped, war is over, there is a shining future ahead and all you can see is the goodness in humanity. O brave new world!

As crazy as it would seem, a free CD aimed at a sport I had no interest in would spark a new altogether different fascination in me. Around the same time my Mum got given a compilation CD set for Christmas called Pure Chillout.

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Still played around the house some fifteen years later, the album’s selection of modern hits with a feeling of ‘future classics’ was timed perfectly to those early teenage years of trying to make sense of the world under a mountain of coursework. The Heart Asks Pleasure First has strong banking connotations in the UK, but for me I could see only two lovers running around wild meadows, pausing only to catch their breath and the beauty of their company.

How mighty is the piano.

Mum, a now retired teacher, used Adiemus for one of her class’ dance routines.

Aged about nine, I listened to the song repeated endless times in the kitchen while she formulated the choreography for a group of twenty seven to eleven year olds. I remember watching the class rehearsing the performance an thinking it very impressive given my Mum half an hour before had been teaching Maths. However it wasn’t the story I’d created in my head.

In my head I pictured it as a battle scene. The noble and good army preparing for the battle ahead at camp, heading to the field, squaring up with their mighty and evil enemy across the board field. Then the charge with an almighty crash as the two sides interlock for the first time. The bloody battle, the slaughter and long battle, ending with the head of the enemy cut clean off and rolling away. The enemy drop their weaponry and the good Queen proclaims the victory to her humble supporters.

In hindsight I understand why my Mum couldn’t have acted out similar with her students.

Spin things back to the present day and you can find Mozart sitting comfortably as playlist bedfellows to songs such as this where English lyrics start to make an appearance, but only as long as they serve as backing vocals to the main event:

***

I now find myself frequently utilising the power of the classical genre to help me focus on big tasks or help support and make sense of the creative noise in my head. With no fake beats or confusing lyrics to contend with my mind can make its own conclusions of what it hears. And like any form of artwork, I can listen to it knowing that a distant person on the far side of the world can understand the wordless track just as easily and form their own opinions and judgements.

Were years of classical music the only reason I put up with hoards of bar mice that evening? Of course not. But could I say to you, hand on heart, that without ever listening to a classical music track I’d be sat here today writing the way I do? Now that’s a tougher question to answer. Because classical music forced me to form a story based on no steer whatsoever. It began that process of storytelling that has stuck with me ever since. Without the genre I genuinely do not know if I’d still be able to pull writing topics out of thin air or even if I’d have the confidence to share my ideas for the world to see for themselves.

If it is inspiration you seek, it is classical you must find.

Why Can’t Men be More Like Snack Bars?

I was recently sat in a bar with a glass of wine and my new portable laptop (best investment of the year so far) when I had a flashback to all those Jordans’ Frusli snack/cereal bars I bought before London. Remember those?

So I decided, quite randomly, to send a letter to the lovely people at Jordans to make them aware. Of course this is me so naturally it wasn’t a standard letter. I took a sip on my rapidly depleting glass of red and wrote the following:

Dear Sir or Madam,

RE: Why can’t men be more like Jordans Frusli bars?

My name is Alice and I’m a finance professional and freelance blogger/kooky lady living in the centre of London. Now I’m pretty sure you’ve taken one look at the RE there and thought “hmm, this complaint may involve the assistance of a therapist, or a year seven biology guide”. But before you fear on that front, don’t worry, I know men can’t actually be like your Frusli bars. Everyone knows men are made out of used socks, cheese puffs and that weird smell no one can ever quite place. I think it’s a mutation of Lynx. Anyway, I’m not stupid but hear me out on this.

I relocated to London in May last year, a pretty stressful process as moves go. I was leaving Swindon with not a clue in the world what to do. I assumed that everything in London was expensive and topped with some kind of skinny foam, so I thought it wise to stock pile on what I knew to be good, wholesome and something I could pretend was 3 of my five a day. In my keen to stockpile for an event that you may have thought was a new Cold War I may have bought enough boxes to reach my hip… [picture insert]

You can imagine the fun I had transporting those from Paddington to E1. With everything else my bags weighed a ruddy tonne. However, unlike the many, many men who walked on by, the energy I got from a blueberry Frusli bar helped give the me energy to lug those bags on/off tube lines and up a flighty number of stairs. The power of the Frusli!

Once in the flat I managed to locate a drawer to put my various bars in to which I was quite satisfied. The drawer has since become a mini shrine to the many snack bars I have and, unlike men, I find the content of the drawer provide much enlightenment. Do I eat chocolate? Do I go out food shopping? When I open my Frusli drawer it always shows me the way. And I tell you what, they never ask me to make them a sandwich as a solution to my query.

Frusli bars offer variety, they have a fruity content and are even eco-friendly without rubbing it in your face (I see what you did with the packaging). They don’t take up space, they can accompany any meal or make time for you any point of the day and my parents love them. In fact, in many ways they’re the perfect partner. Wait a moment, maybe they’re too good…

Ok scratch the above, this is now a complaint letter. Congratulations on making something awesome that keeps me going and kept me strong when I didn’t know where to buy eggs in this crazy city. But you’ve made something too good so now I’m unable to find a living male who is as adaptable as an apple and cranberry cereal bar. Disgusted.

I look forward to hearing how you’re going to resolve this matter ASAP.

Yours Faithfully

I wrote that and sent it without re-reading it (until now, golly gosh that Merlot). I genuinely thought I’d never get a response. Another crazy lady from London. Well I was very firmly proved wrong when today I received a large parcel from the customer service team at Jordans. Inside the cardboard box was a letter.

Dear Alice,

Well what can I say? Other than, yes! Our Frusli bars are pretty awesome and they do offer the standard when it comes to offering variety and honest goodness. I am certain however, that there is a guy out there with equal qualities who can make time for you at any point and, most importantly, help you find eggs in the crazy city. In the meantime, here are some more Frusili bars along with some of our breakfast cereals – who knows, maybe once you’ve found Mr Right you’ll be able to enjoy our Granola together for breakfast.

All the very best,

Emma Morris, Customer Experience Advisor

And under the letter was this!

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How awesome is that! Completely unexpected as well. The luxury of Jordans cereal! I’m used to handling own brand Wheat Biscuits so this really is a massive step up. And given when I had to reschedule the missed delivery Mumma Bennett was convinced that I’d be getting her quilt cover this is very much a surprise to everyone. Mumma B said I must have written a very good letter to get such a response from the company…well, now you’ve seen it I’ll leave that final call with you.

(Ps – Jordans/Emma, I’m still hunting for the best reasonably priced eggs in London and a man, in that order.)

Working With The Salvation Army: Three Months on

From July to October 2018 a small team of us from my organisation worked with Booth House, Salvation Army Centre in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK) to help increase revenue and awareness of one of their social enterprises called The Sandwich People. As part of our activities I spent time volunteering with the charity and even wrote an article off the back of my experiences.

Below is a video summarising what Booth House do, specifically the two enterprises Recycles and The Sandwich People:

Three months after we delivered our final report and presentation to staff and volunteers, myself and the team are so pleased to see how the social enterprise has implemented some of our recommendations and come on leaps and bounds in such a short space of time. Three things in particular which stand out for me:

  1. The Sandwich People have set up an Instagram account and are more effectively using social media to get their message across.
  2. As per our suggestions, the management have refined the menu based on the cost of production versus sales.
  3. Starting this week, the centre manager has informed me that The Round (the daily sandwich delivery around offices) now have the equipment to take contactless payment. This is a big deal as before sales were entirely dependant on office workers carrying cash (which often they didn’t).

 

The social enterprise is also seeking collaborative groups and communities to help spread the word and foster a supportive environment for a number of local charities. I was recently asked to help contribute towards a case study article, the results of which you can find on the Swindon Social Enterprises website

It was great working with the guys at Booth House, as stakeholders they were infinitely helpful and useful, as human beings trying to make a difference they were complete saints. The residents and volunteers certainly taught me a thing or two (including how to make a chicken salad wrap) and it was an experience I will not forget in a hurry.

Here’s to the next three months, years, decades!

 

To find out more about Booth House visit their website

Learn more about The Sandwich People

New Year’s Eve Parties, Classical Art Style

You may think your planned NYE party is off the chain but trust me, its got nothing on how these guys used to live it up. And as we all know, classical paintings and depictions are 100% factual (as true to life as Kim Kardashian’s derriere).

 

New Year’s Eve Parties, Classical Art Style

As per any night out, the evening’s events begin six hours beforehand when guests start getting ready in preparation for the night ahead.
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It’s the kind of party that you know is going to be a-maze-ing. After all, name a party headlined by DJ Maz-donna that wasn’t historic?

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Feel the bass

 

Before you know it everyone is having a blast. Jesus isn’t looking too great, but then that guy always ends up boasting he’s the son of God at parties so maybe he’s having one of those kinds of night.

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Just smile and walk on by.

But then the vibe suddenly changes. It all starts when a request is put in for the live band to play Ariana Grande.

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Then someone beckons the Virgin Mary over…

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…only to give her two fingers.

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Next thing you know, the New Year’s Eve party turns into pure chaos. You’re with individuals you’ve never met before in your life and unable to understand a single word they’re saying.

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Finding an excuse to get away, you turn a corner and find your mates surrounding Jesus, who by now is not looking great. No one has a clue what’s going on and the only friend that can string a sentence together keeps repeating “swear down he was like that when I got here”.

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Then things get very blurry. Somewhere in the chaos there’s the sound of cheering as people welcome in the New Year but otherwise it all becomes a nightmarish mix of Heaven and Hell.

The next morning you visualise the night before as being like this:
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However your friends later inform you that your antics were more like:
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Still, it was a crazy night and a good one at that. A News Year’s Eve that’ll definitely make the top five. You may even choose to get a scene or two from the evening painted and framed to remember forever. Before you head off to take in the fresh air of the New Year you have only one more question to ask your mates.

“How is Jesus fairing?”

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Happy New Year 2019!