One step at a time

Autumn is my favourite season. Where we live in the Tuscan Apennines, at the dying end of summer, colours are on fire. The weather suits me better. There are still sunny days with blue, blue skies and the mountains call to me to walk.

The way my writing schedule has worked out over these past couple of years, autumn is also when I receive my structural edits.

And just as with the latest news of the virus, I struggle a little, because for a while I seem to take one step forwards and two steps back.

I am very lucky to have a loving, helpful partner and he understands when I need to hide away to write. But he’s also available for brainstorming.

So, our conversation last Saturday when we climbed up to Monte Carpegna at 1,400 metres will have sounded strange to anybody who didn’t know what we were up to.

‘I have to kill off somebody,’ I tell him ‘and another probably needs to go mad. That evil female needs to get the chop too. What do you think?’

‘Why don’t you?’ he goes.  ‘What if? Perhaps you could…’

And so on. Oh, the power!

Walks in autumn have become a kind of allegory.

A break from the desk helps me gain perspective and I can see clearer. When I walk, there are smooth sections, but there are steep climbs to navigate and I need to slow down. At the summit, observing the view spread below me, I see the better parts of the landscape, the least picturesque. And so it is with my draft. Back in my writing cubby hole, I begin to edit.

Walking, my lovely editor at Bookouture, plus my favourite creative writing course book from the university of East Anglia are my saviours as far as structural edits go. Unfortunately, this text is out of print at the moment, but grab a second-hand copy if you can:  

In this book, Paul Magrs advises me to try to be as objective as I can about my writing.

So, armed with a summary of my chapters, and using coloured post-its to show my main characters and events, I can see whether my story is balanced, and move scenes around or, indeed, cut them.

“You have to clear your mind somewhat to do this. You must regard the writer as someone who isn’t you.” 

David Lodge stresses the importance of reading my work: “When you read yourself you should be trying to assess the effect your writing will have on your readers”.

James Friel tells me that John Steinbeck’s practice when redrafting was to ‘become’ three people. “One speculates and one criticizes and the third tries to correlate. It usually turns out to be a fight but out of it comes the whole week’s work”.

Friel also says; “Let the unconscious mind solve problems, too.” I take that to mean I should take breaks and allow the ideas to come to me when I’m not hunched over the laptop. Hence the long walks.

So, onwards. There might be a few more walks needed in the next ten days before I submit my redrafted novel to my editor. But I’m not complaining.

As we are into our last month here in Tuscany, those walks will be in our beautiful mountains. Bring them on.

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It’s beginning to look a lot… But, remember! A dog is not just for Christmas…

My lovely friend, Carol Thomas

I first met Carol when I was an indie author with CHINDI AUTHORS. We joined the RNA and recently I was invited to join her with , a group of romance authors passionate about writing smart, fresh romance for the twenty-first century.

A mother and teacher, Carol also writes books for children and I chatted with her about her latest and, if you want to get ahead for “C” – (yes, I’m mentioning that word already), and buy a stocking filler for a child – then here you go! Tick it off your list.

I’ve read your lovely book, Carol, but for those who haven’t, please tell us a little about it:

Thank you for having me on your blog, Angela. Being a Friend at Christmas is the second in my Little Pup series of books – though each book can be read and enjoyed as a standalone story. In this book, Little Pup is looking forward to his first Christmas in his new home. But he remembers the dogs he has left behind in the shelter and wants them to have a happy Christmas too. He has a plan, but he needs Father Christmas’ help to make his wish come true.

It’s an absolute pleasure. I wish you all the best with your new publication xx

The book is aimed at under 7s, how have you made it appealing to its young audience?

The text is rhythmic and rhyming so children can anticipate words and phrases. The illustrations are bright and colourful. And the main characters, a puppy and a boy are relatable to young readers. I am a teacher, a mum of four (with three school-aged children) and a grandparent too, so I’ve had lots of help and guidance, in hopefully, getting it right.

As well as being able to discuss the thoughts, feelings and actions of the little pup in the story, at the end, readers are asked to think of their own Christmas wish. I like to write children’s books that can be shared and inspire a conversation as well as a smile.

I am certainly looking forward to sharing Being a Friend at Christmas with my five grandchildren over the festive period and wish you every success with it.

Thank you. I hope you all enjoy it. With the unusual year we are having, I released it a little early thinking parents and grandparents, like me, might want to be prepared and shop early.

At least, as Father Christmas has been in isolation in the North Pole all year, children can rest assured he’ll be fit and well come December!

About Being a Friend at Christmas (Little Pup book #2):

Little Pup’s looking forward to Christmas

and he knows just how lucky he’s been

because some dogs are still in shelters,

a warm home and best friend yet a dream.

Hoping a small gift of kindness,

will help them feel loved, not alone,

Little Pup has a wish that might come true,

when Father Christmas visits his home!

“A lovingly illustrated, and beautifully written, Christmas story you’ll want to share again and again!”

View the book trailer:

Purchase link:

Also, by Carol Thomas:

Finding a Friend (Little Pup book #1).

When Little Pup finds himself at the shelter,

he doesn’t know quite what to do.

Big dogs all around, feeling lost and alone,

Little Pup needs a friend… but who?

“A delightfully written and wonderfully illustrated picture book, with a heart warming ‘tail’ of friendship.”

View the book trailer:

Purchase link:

About the author:

Carol Thomas lives on the south coast of England with her husband, four children, guinea pig, two hamsters and lively Labrador. She has been a playgroup supervisor and has taught in primary schools for just over twenty years – but we don’t mention that as it makes her feel old!

To find out more about books by Carol Thomas:

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A change is as good as a rest…

It’s been a difficult time for everyone. I began to feel guilty about taking time out and travelling to Venice for a couple of days. Would it be safe? Were we keeping to guidelines? Then, a local shopkeeper, listening to my fears, told me that if everybody thought like I did, then the economy would grind to a halt. So, with facemasks and hand sanitiser packed, we set off.

My mask was upside down, but no matter…

It was partly in order to finalise research for my next book which will be published in spring 2021, but mainly because we were ground down and needed a change.

I hadn’t visited Venice since I was eleven. To tell the truth, the only image I remember from all those years ago is my parents holding hands in a gondola. It was the first time I had seen them do this and it made me giggle. But Venice is a romantic city and umpteen years later, as we wandered around the calli and took the vaporetto (instead of riding in a vastly expensive gondola), I held my own husband’s hand as Venice worked her charm.

It was an excellent time to visit. Venice was not busy and we managed to find a little guest house that looked on to the Gran Canale. We packed a lot in but it was details that captured my interest: the reflections in the murky water, the strange Spanish influenced names of squares and courtyards, the carnival masks and the feeling that this magical place belonged in a story book. I shivered as we passed by the dungeons and crossed the Bridge of Sighs. In the Ducal Palace, I wondered how many citizens had posted information about their neighbours into the mouths of the stone lions that served as secret message boxes. Today, I listened to BBC Radio and the news that if our own citizens do not follow new isolation rules, hefty fines might be incurred and neighbours might report on those who do not comply. Nothing changes…

We moved on to Trieste. A very different Italian city that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for more than five hundred years. What a complicated history. I spent time in a bookshop (after being asked to wear gloves AND to use sanitiser on top), and I have a few more ideas for stories brewing in my head. We were told that people of Trieste do not like staying at home and we spent a couple of evenings with them in the piazza, people-watching while we drank aperitivi. I tried to talk to James Joyce (who loved this city), but he didn’t reply…

Our final stop was the beautiful city of Padua, known as Padova in Italy. I have fallen in love with Giotto (1267 – 1337). His amazing work is over seven hundred years old; the characters in his paintings are so real. I imagine that in ordinary times we would have had to queue for our fifteen-minute slot but that was not the case for us. I would happily return and return to the Scrovegni Chapel to sit and drink in the images on the walls and ceiling. If anybody can be bothered to read my books in ten years’ time, I will be ecstatic. But seven hundred years later???? I don’t think so.

I’ve only dipped into our five-day adventure and this is rather a “photographic blog” . We saw far more than I have described , including the ruins of the Roman town of Aquilea, which is reputed to be one of the largest cities of its era.

There is so much to discover in this world of ours, so many more stories to tell.

We were physically tired on our return, having walked miles in 33 degrees, but the trip inspired me and I am ready to put pen to paper again (and fingers to keyboard). The cobwebs are gone.

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A writer in lockdown…

I haven’t checked in for several weeks, so I thought I’d catch up with you. Lockdown has given me plenty to lock into, if you’ll forgive the overuse of the verb.

I needed to finish a new book and send the first version off to my editor by September 1st. I can’t give too much away but it is another World War 2 novel, set in a different area of Tuscany and, a departure from the Starnucci family featured in my first three Tuscan novels.  We will leave them to live their lives unobserved and in peace for a while, poor characters 😉 I have had a couple of reviews asking me to continue the story of Alfie and Alba and I am considering that request. I love it when readers believe in the characters and want them to continue living. Job done for an author…

I was so excited to have a couple of days off but my brain wouldn’t stop buzzing. The mist that greeted us as we drove down the mountain to our main city of Sansepolcro was a kind of metaphor: I’d sent off my work and, blanketed with doubts and lack of confidence, I couldn’t imagine how my editor would receive it.  How were my words faring now that I had thrown them into the clouds and I couldn’t touch them?

In the city we came across a little exhibition of clothes and family heirlooms which reminded me of a couple of scenes from the book that I had sent off. There was an outfit that one of my characters could have worn and a pair of baby’s booties that could have belonged to another.

I couldn’t switch off. When you’ve spent months writing each day and living in a world that you have created, it’s hard to step away.  

On the following day, my mind still didn’t rest. My husband and I took a picnic with us to explore the river bed. We met nobody else and each bend we rounded threw up more surprises: unusual rock formations, waterfalls, dragonflies, the sounds of the river like musical notes gurgling over stones and pools deep enough to plunge into. I had forgotten my costume but had to jump in and skinny dip in the refreshing water. What would we come across around the next bend, behind the next rocks? How would I start off my next book that Bookouture have commissioned? Would my editor cut much of the book I had sent? Would I be able to develop the ideas for my next novel? Whir, whir, whir went my brain.

On the final stretch back to our home here in Tuscany, we walked along higher terrain and came across a flock of sheep. Sadly, this is a sight that we seldom see in our area. The number of wolves that were reintroduced is spiralling out of control are and farmers cannot cope with the threat. Last week, a calf and its mother were taken in broad daylight by a pack.  

The flock reminded me that on September 7th, one of my indie books is being republished by Bookouture. It used to have the title of Now and Then in Tuscany. The revised version is A Tuscan Memory. It took me more than seven years to complete as it entailed lots of local research.

For centuries, the annual trek from the mountains down to the Tuscan coast in the Maremma region used to take place for our local inhabitants. Shepherds and herdsmen walked with their animals over ten days each September to better pastures. They stayed away for five months. This is the inspiration behind this book. It was fascinating to delve into this practice, find out what happened during those months of separation from the family, to talk to elderly local folk who used to take part… and to imagine what may have happened too. I hope that readers will enjoy this book, which is quite different from my war novels.

Here are some photos I took seven years ago when the idea for the book came about and I walked twenty seven miles of the shepherds’ route to visualise what they might have experienced.

You can buy A Tuscan Memory from this link:

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Today I chatted with a writer friend about how my love affair with Italy started.

Here is the link: if you would like to read what we spoke about.

This is the invitation that my Italian mother-in-law used to get into a dance organised by the British army who were in Urbino in 1944.

She was not officially invited but tagged along with another young girl and met her future husband: Captain Horace Petch of the 8th Army. He was not supposed to be there either. It was out of bounds for him.

They fell in love and he crossed mine fields to visit and court her. It worked!

Love knows no boundaries. He didn’t speak Italian and she didn’t speak English but they managed 🙂

I used a lot of the stories Mamma (as I call her) when I wrote The Tuscan Secret which I am delighted to say is riding at number one in its Amazon category at the moment. It is only 99 pence for a little while longer.

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Chatting to author-friend Vicki Beeby

Let me introduce you to Vicki Beeby – an author I have had the pleasure of meeting on line recently. We have a couple of things in common: she used to teach in a school in Suffolk where I also taught for a while (small world). She’s also published a new novel set against the Second World War and as you may already know, I am fascinated by this period in history. Probably because my own parents were only nineteen when the war broke out and experienced those six terrible years. They didn’t talk about it much and research since then has uncovered so much about their war. I wish they had spoken personally about it, but maybe it was too painful for them. I feel it is important to write ordinary people’s stories before they are forgotten.

Anyway – back to Vicki. I have to admit that I haven’t read her new book yet. It’s waiting on my kindle. But I chatted to her about it.

1.  Vikki, I love this cover. I feel I want to talk to those three girls. What do you think you would have done as a young woman at the start of the war? (i.e. would you have thought about enlisting? What would have been an ideal job for you?)

I think I would have enlisted. Most likely in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) because they had the best uniform! I’m sad to say I doubt it would have been from any noble sentiment of serving my country but because I had a bad case of wanderlust in my late teens and early twenties. I would probably have seen enlisting as a way of seeing new places and meeting new people.

I would have loved the same job I gave to my heroine, Evie – working in a fighter station operations room. Like Evie, I love maths, so I would have been best suited to one of the jobs that required a good mathematical ability like plotter or filter plotter. I would have loved to have been at the sharp end of the action, although I’m less sure how I would have coped under bombing.

2. Interesting! It’s hard to know how we would have reacted, isn’t it? When we haven’t been in that situation. Can you show us where you write and tell us a little bit about your writing routine.

I usually write on my laptop, so I take it to whatever room happens to be warmest—normally my bedroom! I either sit in this chair in the bay window or, if it’s cold, sit on the bed and wrap up in a blanket.

Because I do other work during the day, I have to make an effort to carve out writing time. As I’m a morning person, I get up at 5am and do my day’s writing between 5 and 7.30. When I’m writing a first draft I try and write a thousand words a day, so if I don’t hit my target in the morning, I pick it up again later in the afternoon. Oddly, if I don’t write first thing, I find it very difficult to write later on, but I don’t have a problem if I already have words down.

That looks very cosy and comfy. I think I might nod off if I wrote like that. I love that we are all so different.

3. Tell us why you chose to include Czech pilots in your fictional Battle of Britain squadron?

Both my brothers have Czech wives. My older brother lives in the Czech Republic, and I usually visit at least once a year. One of my sisters-in-law recommended  I watch the film Dark Blue World about Czechs who flew with the RAF during the war. Coincidentally this was when I was starting to research The Ops Room Girls. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to include Czechs in my fictional squadron, to honour the contribution made by the Czechs which, sadly, has been largely forgotten.

The Ops Room Girls Blurb:

When Evie’s dreams come crashing down, she’s determined to still make something of herself in these trying times…

It is 1939 and workingclass Evie Bishop has received a scholarship to study mathematics at Oxford when tragedy turns her life upside down. Evie must seek a new future for herself and, inspired to contribute to the war effort, joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as an Ops Room plotter.

Posted to a fighter station on the Sussex Coast, Evie befriends two other WAAFs – shy, awkward May and flirty, glamorous Jess. Faced with earning the approval of strict officers and finding their way in a male dominated world, the three girls band together to overcome challenges, navigate new romances and keep their pilots safe in the skies.

But the German bombers seem to know more than they should about the base’s operations, and soon Evie, May and Jess are caught up in a world more dangerous than they ever imagined…

Thank you so much for dropping by, Vicki, and I wish you every success with this new book. It sounds fascinating, can’t wait to read it. Good luck!





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Travelling with Covid…

We set off for Italy, with a little apprehension, on Monday morning, very aware of safety. It was a legal obligation to wear face masks on the ferry from Dover to Calais and we took our own food and flasks of coffee for the journey.

But how wonderful was it to be relatively free after weeks of lockdown. I drank in every little sight in France – the vines covering the slopes, the little churches, the view from our bedroom window of the pretty hamlet of Zellenberg and its domed church shining in the evening sunlight. After hours of being folded into the car, we took a stroll around the village and came across a war monument. My author-mind wanted more time to research. Alsace was coveted by the Germans in WW2 and I will read up about what went on when I have more time. Next morning we enjoyed breakfast on the geranium-decked terrace, a woodpecker singing in the background and the sun warming up the vineyards. The hotel owners had gone to lengths to be Covid aware and we generally felt very safe.

As you can see our car was jam packed. I think I’ve said it before, but one year I shall sling my leather valise on to the back seat and roar off without all the STUFF that we load ourselves up with for our stay in Italy. Talk about taking coals to Newcastle. You can see the geraniums in the boot – well, I couldn’t leave them to die in England, could I?

Our garden is a tangle and the house hasn’t enjoyed being closed up for eight months, but we will get there slowly and steadily. We have decided not to have any guests this summer – in view of the virus, so there will be more time to ourselves. And there will be more time to write. Back to my WIP tomorrow, but a dip or two in the river Marecchia will be taken as well.

Arrivederci – a presto! I’ll be in touch again soon.

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Every dog has its day …

I’ve recently been invited to join a friendly group of authors called Apricot Plots . At the moment we are running a competition based around our canine friends, so if you are short of reading matter at the moment during lockdown, then check out the link above.

Although this is the first time in my life that I haven’t owned a dog (CHECK: I think that should be the other way round 😉 ), I realise that in all my books, I include a dog.

In my Tuscan novels, there is always a Maremmano sheepdog.

     In The Tuscan Secret ( a beautiful, intelligent Maremmano called Mimi helps the partisans.

(In my self-published Now and Then in Tuscany, Chicco appears and rescues his mistress from certain death. This book is to be edited and re-published by Bookouture in September as A Tuscan Memory.

There is a half-breed Maremmano in my latest book, The Tuscan Girl ( and he is called Freddie. The hero also owns a rescued wolf cub called Lupino for a while.

Sheep farming in our Apennine mountains has all but disappeared due to the abundant presence of wolves. They grow bolder all the time and even take sheep and calves by day, so local shepherds have stopped rearing sheep. It’s so sad when these traditions and practices die, but we can immortalise them in our books.

Here is an extract from my latest book, The Tuscan Girl, where my German hero, Florian, meets up with an Italian girl called Lucia:

“For a while he watched through his binoculars as a honey buzzard soared above him. As he stood still at the edge of a copse, a black squirrel darted out and scampered up a holm oak. He could hear the tinkling of bells from the meadow he was aiming for and as he rounded the dirt road, he came across a flock of a dozen, scrawny sheep. They were guarded by a dirty white Maremmano shepherd dog and a girl. The dog started to bark, approaching him, tail in the air, and the girl called out to him to come to her, ‘Vieni qua.’  The animal growled and Florian stood still. These dogs were reputed to be ferocious and he didn’t fancy a bite. The girl walked over warily to grab hold of the dog by the scruff of his neck, pulling him back and shouting something he couldn’t understand. His knowledge of Italian didn’t extend to dialect.

She was dressed in men’s clothing: a darned pair of corduroy trousers held up by string, men’s laced-up boots that were too big for her, a threadbare shirt and a scrap of rag tied in her hair.  She looked so unlike the carefree girl he’d seen the other day at the river, but it was her unusual emerald eyes that gave her away.”

    And before I forget, in Mavis and Dot ( – on sale to raise funds for research into cancer – there is a naughty, lovable rescue mongrel called Mal. Thanks to illustrator Gill Kaye and editor of Ingenu/e magazine for conjuring him on the page.

Enjoy your dog walks today if you are going on one! And don’t forget to look up the competition.

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Remembering those who we lost…

Png photo of Billy

I wrote this poem a few years ago about my Uncle Billy, whom I never met. My mother’s only brother, William Beary.  

He was only nineteen, a rear gunner with the RAF, when he was shot down.

So many people made sacrifices for us.

#Lest we forget.

Watery red ladies

I sit beneath the shelter

Where the tossing, hissing, spitting spray

Is kept at bay.

I wait with rug across my knees,

Pencil poised to tie her down with words.

Nurse wants to wheel me to the warmth,

The fuddled, stale, urine warmth.

“You’ll catch your death out here,” she says.

I smile and slowly net my memories.

I watch you unpin your hair,

Unfurling like rolls of corn- gold silk,

And peel off your scarlet chemise,

Toss it to the breeze

And step into the waves.

Words waft wistfully as you waltz in the weed

That clings to bare, salt thighs.

You perform to the sun, the crimson, orange sinking

Sun that slips between the now and then.

Tell me what you sing so sad.

Watery red lady,

You flew upon the back of your blue eagle.

He spread his wings and scooped you high

From dew-grass where Philadelphus

Sprinkled perfumed petalled confetti promises.

He lies below a bed of barley in a Slavian valley

Beneath toad-flax and corncockle.

For his King but not for you.

How soon are the young become old

And the watery red ladies dance no more,

Save in the shadows at the sea’s edge,

Tell me what I sing so sad.

Angela Petch ©

My uncle had a girlfriend. I imagined her as an old lady in a home, catching memories of the past.


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Juxtapose… Just suppose…


We’re still in lockdown.

I’m missing family and friends so much, but I’m enjoying the slower pace of life:  the birdsong, unpolluted skies, walks along the sea, baking experiments and the chance to savour the small things.

As I write this, we should be in France, on our way to our six-month stay in Tuscany. Bookings have been cancelled for our holiday business, plans have been changed and we are settling instead into a summer in Sussex. Life could be far worse and I fully realise that we are very fortunate. We are “doing our thing” by obeying lockdown rules, but it feels lopsided that so many key-workers are literally putting their lives on the line for us. Nevertheless, we will enjoy the little things if we can’t enjoy the big things.

Roses, planted by a previous owner of our house bloom each summer on the walls, but we haven’t had a chance to enjoy them before.

my rose with raindrops

They are old-fashioned, highly scented, their intricate folds are velvet to the touch and seem to hide secrets within.

Most of my days in lockdown are spent in writing. I’m about three quarters of the way through the first draft of my next novel and there’s an analogy to be made with the roses and my manuscript. At the moment, I’m telling myself the story. It’s folded in on itself, so how do I get inside the folds of the rose, open the petals in a way that won’t reveal the mysteries too soon to the reader?

I have in my head that I must put the reader first. I want the reader to infer, rather than me tell them everything. I need to avoid clichés, personalise my metaphors, sort out the logic and understand the conflicts of my characters in such a way that the end result seems effortless…

Margaret Atwood describes writing as “wrestling a greased pig in the dark”.

Ashley Stokes in The Creative Writing Coursebook tells me that “plotting is the underside of the stone that no one sees.”2018_05_Toskana_00417 - Kopie

(missing the Mulino and her stones, but we’ll get there sometime in the future)


James Friel, in the same text book, writes   that “the first draft of a novel is allowed to fail.”

And Stendhal said, “Find out what you most want to say and then try very hard not to say it.”

Carry a notebook at all times topin your ideas before they fly away

I see each of these points like the individual petals of a rose. When it opens up, it will smell divine and look beautiful. (Hopefully – and if that sounds pretentious – so be it. We have to aim high.).  During lockdown I have a lot to do!

And why have I given this blog its title, Juxtapose, Just Suppose? Because I am at that stage in my first draft when anything can be possible in my story. I’m constantly asking myself “What If?” and throwing in curve balls.  Julie Cohen in her fascinating talk on writing, on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, answered my query about “saggy middles” in novels, suggesting I think about mid-point reversal. A point in the middle of the novel when, suddenly, everything changes: the goals of a main character shift and change and what he/she felt is no longer the way they now feel. Something flips everything and there is a major protagonist shift. Interesting… She is also responsible for all the coloured post-it notes  littered across my notice-board… Check her out: she’s an excellent creative writing tutor.

After all, if somebody had said to me that this time this year we would be going through a pandemic, with all the restrictions and tragedies that are happening in its wake, then I would have responded, “Don’t be so daft.”

So, although truth is supposed to be stranger than fiction, then I’m thinking to myself, fiction can be stranger than truth.

Maybe lockdown is giving me too much time to think.

Onwards. And keep safe, everybody.


(seen on one of my lockdown walks last week)

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