I am not prolific this year in writing or riding. Its been cold and I’ve been immersed in home decorating. Wallpaper stripping, sealing cracks, filling them, skimming over them, priming the wall and finally painting them in between work and managing remote schooling for 2 teenagers has consumed most of my time. As a result, we’ve saved enough alone on getting someone to skim the walls to buy a couple of bespoke outdoor sofas for the deck.

Beautiful but treacherous

I like painting walls. For little apparent work, the effect is more or less immediate. Rewarding. And I get to listen to cricket commentary and podcasts. Relating to cricket, I’ve discovered The Final Word, a couple of Aussie journos chatting most things cricket. I’m also getting through the ~ 300 episodes of We Have Ways of Making you Talk, a couple of historians discussing the second World War, dissecting what we know and refuting what we think we knew. I’ve been interested in this war since my mother spotted the glint in the milkmans eye. A strained relationship with a Grandfather who lost his mind serving with the RAF but never wanted to talk about it stimulated my interest further.

So there’s been time for listening and little for riding or writing but here’s what I’ve done with riding. I’ve completed the bike commute 5 times this year, all in February. This time last year I had done about 4 times that much. I’ve really had to force myself into it and I’m fairly sure that it’s a combination of late work finishes, the cold and taking leave at work before I lose it in April. I’ve since lost access to the apartment accommodation that I used for showering after my commute as my employers were forced to provide onsite shower facilities for staff after work to wash away the Covid. They are hiring trailer showers which aren’t exactly spacious and it’s an exercise in planning and organisation to get the job done. And they’re cold. I miss the heated luxury of my former palatial option.

I’m not exactly thrilled to be showering behind the kitchen on a main staff thoroughfare.
cramped but effective

While it has been regular, most of my riding has been on short errands or ambling about making the most of the irregular sunshine in my part of the UK. We’re having a run of Fool’s Spring at the moment and every man and his dog seem to be out enjoying it. The bulbs are starting to flower and the days are finally appreciably longer. It won’t be long before my commutes are blinkie free so I’m hopeful to get back in the action soon.

Icy errands. Hopefully a thing of the past.

I also received delivery of my new tyres 6 months after ordering them and installed them immediately. Made in Taiwan, they were probably sitting on the China Sea as a result of Covid and the Brexit shambles. The time of hedgerow butchery by local councils/farmers is close at hand so I will be able to ride with a reasonable assurance of puncture free rides along the roads/trails.

No more slippin’ n slidin’

And then there’s the walking. The only goal that I’ve set myself this year is to walk at least 1000km with the pooch. We’ve ploughed through nearly a quarter of that so we’re ahead of target. We’ve chased muntjac and pheasants, squirrels and rabbits with the occasional herd of deer so it’s been entertaining. She hasn’t yet caught her quarry but it relieves some of the boredom taking the same routes. With lock down nearing a welcome end, a 2nd vaccine dose around the corner, school returning and brighter, milder days ahead things look all change (again) for March.


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2020 in numbers

I’ve taken a break from writing so far this year, mainly because I haven’t been doing the bike commute. And that’s because it’s cold, wet and work is getting in the way of things, unsurprising since the British Mutant has paid a visit to my corner of the UK. Unfortunately the BM celebrated Christmas by running rampant among people who decided to travel and visit family, hitching a ride so that it could spread its misery throughout the land. Also, I’ve been making use of my riding down time to get a lot of painting and decorating done in the new home. There’s not much else to do.

2020. A unique number for a unique year.  Unlike some others, I tend to take a while to reflect and it has taken me a while to collect my thoughts and put them down in some sort of logical sequence. At the moment, 2021 feels much the same so here’s 10 numbers from 2020 (+ some others). 

  1. Lock down 1.0 in the Spring.  Only one form of exercise per day allowed and only key workers allowed to travel.  With the weather warming up and the roads nearly empty for rush hour, my days were filled with bike riding to and from work as well as any excuse for an errand to rid the monotony of being locked in when not at work.
  2. …months running of riding > 1,000km per month, June and July.  A B2W PB
  3. …times I had to isolate due to a close contact Track & Trace (yes, it actually worked) or awaiting immediate family members’ test result. May, October and November. That’s one for each lock down.
  4. …of us for Christmas dinner.  I liked it not having to go to relations on Christmas Eve and the in-laws of Boxing day and trying to fit Christmas Mass somewhere else in between. Things were less rushed, more relaxed. We made of it what we could.
  5. …thousand miles of bike riding.
  6. …punctures on my 29er in November.  I’m still waiting for my winter tyres which will be in stock in February.  Only 5 months too late.
  7. …hundred km dog walking.  It was more but I just couldn’t be bothered to switch the app on sometimes. Also 7 months since we were told that we would be working in a new building by the end of October 2020.
  8. …more rooms to paint in our new house*. I got fired up in December and painted 2 bathrooms and an office before taking a break.
  9. Through March/April/May, I managed to avoid using the van much. Which meant that the £25 worth of petrol that I put in it at the end of March lasted 9 weeks.
  10. …kg more than what I should be. Even riding a lot did not compensate for my poor diet and alcohol excess. At my age,  doing nothing is not something I can no longer do (or not do). I’ve listened to my body and made changes to my eating habits, jumped back on the wagon but not really done that much exercise. Apart from the regular doggie walks and a few short bike errands that is…

Now that I’ve figured out how to work this frustrating WP block editor thingy, some other numbers of note for 2020.

19…th October. The day that Charlie died. After 16 years with us, it was sad but we were relieved that he was suffering no longer.

The early morning feline alarm.

50. …km climbed on my bike. That’s stratospheric-who said that Essex is flat?

457… bike rides in 2020. 125% committed to bike riding. At the moment I’m less than 50% committed because of cold and wet.

3,500…miles driven in the van, about half as many as usual.

* I’ve had a productive January filled will annual leave days that I have to take by April before losing them. At time of writing, I’ve finished the kitchen and another 2 bathrooms, so there are now only another 5 rooms to go, plus the big one, the hallway and 2 flights of stairs. Big, because there’s a lot of woodwork to sand and paint. This will be last, once the walls are repaired and skimmed before it’s warm enough to tackle the garden and paint the garage. It’s fair to say that 2021 won’t be another 5,000mile year on the bike but I’m OK with that. As long as I get out on it regularly and enjoy it.

1. Empty M11 motorway one evening in June
2. It happened on Strava, so it did happen

London. Christmas day 2019 on the top. On the bottom, April 2020; 3 weeks into Lockdown 1.0

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When I went into the garage last Saturday morning, after I had returned from my early morning tip errand, I remembered what had nagged me the night before. I needed some small paint roller sleeves to get behind the heated towel rail in the bathroom without having to remove it. Bugger! I couldn’t start covering the lilac of one bathroom so I started on the other and had enough by lunchtime. I tinkered in the garage, sorting out my tools and cleaned Doris who had accumulated quite a bit of filth during the week.

Wanting to make the most of the continued mild air, I offered to ride up to the supermarket for some essentials. I took Boris so that I had a break from riding on the road. The trails were sloppy with the type of watery mud that sprays everywhere as it flicks you with that fine brown mist. I was covered by the time that I joined the 5 person queue. People gave me polite smiles, stared or gave me a wide berth as I made my way through the mayhem of the seasonal rush. I think that I’ve invented an effective yet healthier method to maintain social distancing. I slipped and slid my way home on balding tyres completing my last 200km week of the year.

I got home to news to another Govt U-turn in C-word policy. Rising infection rates, new variant blablabla has meant the introduction of a new tier 4 for the SE of England. Work from home, essential shopping only and protecting the NHS is now it for 2 weeks. Working where I do, I could see it coming. Today we have 99 Covid +ve patients in our 300 bed hospital. The year is ending as it began, a complete $#¡T show made worse by the Brexit negotiation fiasco.

Sunday was another painting bathroom walls day. I started off by riding to the DIY store for roller sleeves. When I got there, I had passed 8048km/5000 miles for the year. Despite my anxiety on not being able to reach it after a lean November, a 400km fortnight in mild air was just the winter weather anomaly that I needed to get it done. I celebrated with a 2 km sprint to the supermarket for oats and IPA before heading home to finish the bathrooms. With the weather cooling down this past week, I took a break from commuting for a few days. Now that I’ve reached my goal and no hope of breaking my yearly PB, there seems no point in continuing, at least in the short term.

Besides, my legs could do with a rest and there are another 8 rooms not including the hallway to decorate. I’m in the zone with sandpaper, rollers and brushes and have since started on the office/study/Fortnite battle zone. Who knows how long that will last before the cricket season starts in 4 months?! So I’m going with it.

Like many, our Christmas was different this year and therefore memorable so the 4 of us are making of it what we can. I do hope that everyone had Happy, sensible and safe Christmas. There may not be another like it in our lifetime. I hope so…

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18th December (#124)

I could’ve done a full commute today but with the C-word taking hold and tier 3 looming for us tomorrow I took a pragmatic choice. There was a chance that I could get out early enough from work to collect some paint and wood for some shelving and I couldn’t do that by bike. Moreover, I’m not sure whether the shop will be open on Saturday and with the threat of self isolation possible, I decided that at least I could get enough stuff in to do some home improvement if/when we all get stuck indoors. If there is anything that I learnt from lock down 1.0 watching neighbours use their time to do the same, this was it. While I was slaving away in a key worker role, they were building, re building, painting and decorating. I was envious that they had this time to do it. Even so, I had the luxury of warm sunny days, relatively quiet roads and social contact with peers as well as a couple of 1000km months.

So I parked the van up, hauled out a dirty Doris and started to spin my merry way through the drizzly suburbs of Bishops Stortford. The wind had picked up to a breezy in my face 17mph. It was like autum all over again with the weather app telling me that the air temperature was a mild 10°C. After riding for the last week in relatively still air, this should have felt like the B@$T@®d-est of headwinds but it was OK. On Doris I could tuck in, keep low and plod along. The drizzle soon stopped and my 15km journey was over before I knew it.

It was a busy morning hosting a regional study day using remote tech. Nothing new here but new to us and we smashed it. Our paymasters liked it but I will celebrate (or not) when we get the attendees’ feedback. Afterwards I completed some admin jobs that I had been putting off so that Christmas week could be spent doing mandatory e-learning and starting the annual tidying, cleaning and getting rid of hoarded rubbish. I left later than I wanted so could only do the boring short route back to the van again so that I could get the paint before the shop closed.

I was expecting my legs to moan about having to climb into a second 100 mile week running this deep into December but they were happy enough. Besides, a timely end of week tailwind meant that I could be caressed along with little effort for the end of week commute. I had a nagging feeling that I had forgotten something, missing a piece in the jigsaw of my grand lock down home improvement plan. I busied myself with weekend tasks to discover what it was. Load mattresses and wood into van for the tip for first thing tomorrow morning. Get Christmas tree out of the garage. Consolidate my scattered tools back into the toolbox. Do same with painting equipment. Clean bikes. Ride bikes. There was nothing that jumped out at me.

Goody. Let the weekend commence!

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17th December (#123)

I woke this morning cursing the sluggish pace of the week. “It’s only Thursday!” I thought as I pulled myself up and got dressed in the dark to take the dog for a quickie before the school run and riding the rest of the way. As soon as I hopped onto Doris I knew that I wouldn’t be breaking any records or PBs. My legs just wanted to spin so spin they did in more mild air under a blue sky. I was disappointed not to see any evidence of yesterday’s incident on the traffic island but by then after only 10km, I was feeling the consequences of not having refuelled adequately last night.

I gingerly made it to the Co-op in Old Harlow and hoovered a Nutrageous bar for the rest of the journey. Work. The teaching part was idyllic, the sneaky undermining by a departmental head nothing short of infuriating. Still, he will find out the hard way that you don’t do that to professionals. Professionals are clever and articulate and don’t have the time to do his job for him. More importantly I think that we are a tight team and may have the ear of his boss. We’ll soon find out but maybe not this side of Christmas…

The seasonal glut of mince pies and snacks left me with a full tank of fuel when I left. It was 7°C at 18.00, my kind of winter weather. I could’ve made more of it but with more mild and dry conditions forecast tomorrow, I kept my powder dry for tomorrow with a short one back to the van. I’m getting tired of the same route. Maybe it’s time to change things up for the last commute of the week tomorrow.

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16th December (#122)

It was mild-for-December yet again this morning meaning shorts again. Being superstitious, I donned the winter gloves again but this time with the merino inners. Thanks IdleCyclist, you are a life saver, or at least a finger saver. There’s nothing like ten toasty digits after a ride in the middle of winter. Things were pretty uneventful until I hit the end of the A1184 at Harlow Mill.

Traffic was buzzing past me, some faster than others which made it feel like I was in a barrel shoot. As I was nearing a narrowing caused by a traffic island in the middle of the road that I think is a calming measure, the driver of a silver hatchback decided to pass me anyway. He or she gave me just enough space but in doing so clattered at speed into the island, momentarily lost control into my path, recovered and sped away. The noise of metal on concrete and the sudden appearance of an out of control car in front of me scared the life out of me. “What the F_ _ _ing F_ _ _ do you think you’re doing you F_ _ _ing clown!!!” is what I think that I said. The blanks are because I was swearing under my scarf. My eyes followed them as they gathered speed up towards Town. So much for social distancing. I didn’t see it but can imagine that the car is gonna need some serious panel beating. Shaken, my mood was nowhere near as bad as yesterday. It was busy but despite a session running over by an hour requiring a big clear up job, I was still able to leave early. If I didn’t wait out the rain, it would’ve been earlier still.

I headed out into mild evening air. 6°C at 19.00. I’m liking this part of winter! I had my new front light, a Lezeyne 800XL and it is just as good, if not better than the old 1100XL. According to the generic instruction leaflet that came with it, the indicator light on my old one was showing yellow meaning that it still had between 10-50% battery left.

So I had nothing to worry about after all but at least I now have the assurance of taking a longer commute if I want. The charging compartment is not set as deep into the main body so hopefully it will last longer than the last one. The light performed well unlike the council who still haven’t cleared the flooded forest road that has been impassable for nearly 2 weeks. The location of the water is way past my bottom bracket at its deepest but a tantilising 300metres from home. Thankfully the entry up to the Flitch Way was only half submerged and I had a sloppy detour along the mud of its saturated path to get home. I tried the brightest mode, pointed it straight ahead and had a good 25metres visibility without the aid of street lights.

Yep, the new light will do nicely…

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15th December (#121)

The only thing going for me this morning was a mild-for-December ride this morning. No fumbling with tights at 6 a.m, no layering hand wear and no trying to talk myself out of riding because it was too cold during the process. The forecast had a “real feel” of 5°C. After a day of riding in 8-11°C there was NO WAY that I was missing out on continuing to experience this winter bonus. At the supermarket car park, I did err on the side of caution and wore my winter gloves. In my world, < 5°C is my threshold for climbing through the tights so today my legs could cope if it was cooler than that but my fingers certainly would not.

Although I was apparently heading into a sort of a head breeze at 10mph, I felt zippy, one of those effortless days of feeling powerful with little energy expended. The threatening roar of rush hour was shut out as I guided Doris on her line, avoiding puddles and pot holes, cracks and crevasses on the scarred roads of East Hertfordshire. Soon, I entered newly announced Tier 3 West Essex, equally the same only apparently more threatening in terms of droplets and aerosol spread.

I made it to work in an endorphin glow, fresh and sweaty, having overdressed for what was a mid autumn ride. Still, rather too hot than too cold, I say. I showered and had a (half) day of hell. Distractions and bureaucracy left me far short of my best, by a long way. The less said, the better.

By 13.00, the light showers had passed and it was sunny and like late September again. I confidently swapped my winter gloves for the thermal fingerless gloves looking forward to more of the morning’s glory. If November was attritional, today was anything but. Again, the rises up a busy road, usually a b@$T@®D after a busy day seemed to be non existent or at least not painful. I stopped at Cycle King to collect a couple of spare tubes, a necessary break. I had repaired punctures on both bikes front tyres yesterday and did not want to be fixing a puncture in the cold when replacing the tube out on the road will be easier. I remember summoning the puncture demon last week and was dreading the battle with the Marathon Plus tyre. There was a leak around the patch that I put on years ago so I just swapped the tube over. The tyre was surprisingly easy to get back on.

Today on the commute, everything fell into place. It was good, damned good…

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10th December (#120)

Another day, same route. My third sub 6 hour sleep gave me little hope of an enjoyable ride in but it wasn’t a tortuous one. I freewheeled down hills and did the spinning thing in the granny gears up the rises. The blinkie was on the whole way and still hadn’t given up but I was reassured that a new bracket for my old one had been delivered yesterday so I could use that for the return trip if needed.

Mrs B2W was working from home so she did the school run but I drove to the supermarket and rode from there all the same as I couldn’t face a tired full commute in the cold. It was earlier so the school traffic was at its peak. I weaved my way between teens glued to their screens on the cycle track, anxious to get to work in time for the start of the ticket ballot for next seasons International cricket.

I was 3376th in the queue when I logged in to the Oval website at 09.01. The one dayer was practically sold out for a family group of 4 by the time that I was in 15 minutes later. I was gutted as we all had a great day out at the pre World Cup matches last year but I managed my disappointment by securing a couple of day 1 seats for the Test in September. £80 for 6 hours of entertainment is pretty good value.

I had a full admin day ahead of me sourcing equipment for courses and I have found that after one of these days of mostly sitting in front of a PC that my back aches for most of the ride home, even though I take regular screen breaks and stretch. Tonight was no different and had it not been for this, and front light battery energy conservation, I could’ve enjoyed it on a wind free, mild-ish winter evening. Towards the end, riding the last km to the car park, I noticed that the great and good of St Michael’s Mead had begun to decorate their front gardens and houses with Christmas lights. I’ve started to notice that this year, a number of households have chosen deer as the dec du jour, as if suddenly discovering the secret of the Patronus charm. So I ambled about on a detour spotting more deer in 15min than I had when out walking the dog in the last 2 months. We live on the edge of an ancient hunting forest where there are still plenty to give the dog stellar exercise when she spots them so you can guess how many LED ones I saw this evening.

Expecto Patronum.

Being a Catholic, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t read the bit in the New Testament about deer being in the stable, rutting in the background while the shepherd’s visited the manger but I could be wrong. It’s been a while. Our immediate neighbour has one which I am thankful for as it means a saving in  electricity bill, avoiding the need for our outside door light for a month.

On all night. What a waste of money and energy

In fact, there is so much seasonal themed lighting in our 10 house street that I am certain that it could be seen from the ISS on its many circuits. Nope, I am not a fan of excessive seasonal lighting. On lights, the battery has held out so far on the front bar and I have got notification that a new one is being dispatched on Monday meaning that I’ll get it by the end of next week. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there’s enough juice left in my existing ones by then…

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9th December (#119)

It’s been a week since I have been to work. The riding has continued with me and Doris running errands in between the school run and home improvement. effing freezing would be the best term to describe the weather. We have just seen the end of 48 hours of fog and mist. I guess that there’s a first time for everything.

Glorious sunset on Sunday evening, the last that we all saw of the sun for 48 hrs

The high humidity and air temperatures of 0-2°C in my neck of the woods has made it feel far cooler. I arrived home after dropping master15 off at school with ice on my shins, socks, helmet and jacket in the space of a 16km ride. Even the new double hand layer combo of merino under the winter gloves didn’t cut the mustard yesterday as the tips of my fingers gave me merry hell. It was a figurative baptism of fire for their first outing together. Fast forward to 13.00, the fog had finally lifted to expose the strange white light in the blue sky and it felt positively balmy as I zipped along the permawet back roads back to the van. But I couldn’t enjoy it as I might otherwise. The 4 hour sleep the night before was all I could get as my mind mulled over coursework revisions. Why do lecturers always want more than the word count can offer? (for crying out loud!!).

So it was against this backdrop that I loaded Doris into the van this morning and park three quarters of the journey to work in cold, light rain, partly hoping it would ease, partly not. I discovered that USB port had dislodged on my front light on Monday and would not charge. I took it apart and tried to solder it back on but made a mess of it. The guy on YouTube made it look so easy…I’ve got another one on order and can only hope that I have enough juice left to get me through at least 2 more commutes.

I was lost in my thoughts trying to figure out when to swap into blinkies mode to save some battery when a guy on a hybrid bike motored past me up a rise spewing road juice onto my face in his wake. I concluded that it must be pedal assist and that he was an idiot. It was still dark and he had no lights nor reflective clothing. I waited until I was off the main road before I changed to the front blinkie.

After a week away from work, even my e-mails, the same problems that annoy me where there but they didn’t make me angry. Apart from a late finish, the day flew by. Into the darkness I went fearing a sudden shut down of my light. So I went blinkies all the way and survived. Being late, traffic was light and there was an absence of any rush hour aggression. I got home to a delivery of a bracket for my older Cateye volt. I replaced this with my current Lezyne because…yes that’s right the micro USB port had also come away from the motherboard and I couldn’t get to it to repair it. Both are robust, bright and with a number of options but the USB port lasts just long enough in both to go beyond the 2 year warranty which is disappointing given how much I’ve cared for them.

There is still no sign of my new light arriving so hopefully I can squeeze enough juice out of the both of them until it does.

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2nd December (#118)

One of my yearly goals has been realised. 118 commutes for 2020 means that I have officially averaged 100 commutes every year for the last 5 years. I can thank the C word for this. With lock down in spring and early summer, cricket cancelled and less traffic on the roads the stars aligned to get me out more than I usually could. On the flip side, if it wasn’t for the resurge of the C word, I would have achieved this earlier in the year. Self iso x 2 (despite not testing positive once either on the swab or antibody test) has meant less opportunity to ride to work in October/November.

Latterly master13s entire year having an enforced 14 day “break” has meant that one of us has to stay at home if only to ensure a live class streaming habit instead of the dreaded Fortnite one. We learnt from lock down 1.0 that social iso for teens is not good for anyone’s health when parents are required to be elsewhere. We made the easy decision that work could function without one of us and if it happened, the boys were more important than whatever work needed us to do. So instead of commuting the past few days I’ve had to make do with replacement loops and excuses to do errands to keep my mileage up as well as providing supervision of learning. Consequently my sanity which given last week at work and working from home remains just on right side of the precipice. The excessive demands at work pushes me closer so this edge so I’m taking leave when I can and avoiding my in-box when I do.

This week, some days are sunny and cold, some misty and cold, some wet and cold. Cold. Less than 5°C is my threshold to pull the bib tights out of the drawer and yesterday was the first that we had seen each other since early March. This morning was cold and thankfully it was a short one due to a late finish. It was perhaps fitting that this ride started at the supermarket car park, a regular on Thursdays but the one that marked commute #118 for the year. Its a convenient go to whatever day it is now that winter has come to stay for a while. I haven’t got my merino lined inner gloves yet but at 1°C this morning I sure needed them.

I took my crosser, Doris. We have been together for nearly 7 years but due to a preference to riding off road and exploring traffic free routes, she has only been out occasionally in the last 2 years. Before you say it, she has Marathon Plus tyres as the tread wears out on the gravel tyres too quick going by road. Besides, without trying to summon the puncture demon, those tyres are so good, I can only remember 2 punctures using them. Which is just as well-they’re a B@$T@®d to get back on, especially in the cold. Compared to the 29er on the roads, she is zippy and I feel like a pro with my head down busting down hills.

Zippy, even with the extra weight

I arrived at work but forgot to pause Strava on my phone and after walking around at work for another 500 metres, my speed had slipped from an epic average of 22.5km/hr. It was thankfully my only day this week as taking a study day tomorrow, watching a couple of webinars and if that gets boring, there is always wallpaper to strip.

I got out by 21.15 with the usual moaning from my legs that they weren’t really up for even a short ride. But it was my lower back that gave me hell. After 3 rides on Doris, I think that I have to tinker a bit with the seating arrangements. And restart my stretches-has been so easy to get out of that habit with the distraction of moving house.

Onwards to my next goal, 8048km for the year (that’s 5000 miles) which is now < 400km away. On paper, I should cruise it but the opportunity and motivation is now less so that distance feels more like 10 times that. We’ll see…

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