Birthday Treat

I guess I should start this week’s missive with an apology. To anyone who was strolling the streets of Brighton on Wednesday evening I’d like to say sorry. Sorry for stumbling around in a drunken stupor, singing at the top of my voice and doing a passable impersonation of a very inebriated Baloo the Bear.

But I had good cause for celebration. Firstly it was my birthday, not a significant one, I was sixty-three, although I suppose if you’re informed when you are fifty-nine that you have a terminal illness every birthday is significant. But secondly, and more importantly, I had seen the fragrant Dr Sarah Westwell earlier that day to ascertain the results of my latest scans. For some reason the old “scanxiety” had kicked in even more than usual this time; it was after all eight months since my last infusion of JJ, so since then my body has been fighting off Bastard Cancer unaided and unassisted. And in the meantime every new ache or pain, sore throat, cough and twinge sent those same fears racing through my mind. The fear every cancer sufferer recognises.

However, my fears were misplaced. The scan results yet again showed no evidence of any new tumours anywhere in my head or body. There were no signs of any active cancer cells, everything was as it should be. We breathed a hefty sigh of relief, and I have to admit I wiped a tear from my eye.

But before we left Dr Feelgood’s office, with a promise to have another scan in three months, the Blonde had a question. It was quite simply whether I was still considered as a category Stage IV patient.

The answer came in the form of a curve chart that the Good Doctor elegantly drew with her Mont Blanc fountain pen on a spare sheet of paper from my very thick medical file. I shan’t try to replicate it here, but there were 3 quite distinctly shaped curves within the parameters of the chart, which incorporated percentage survival rates on the vertical line and a time line on the horizontal. Pointing to each line individually, she explained their significance as follows:

Line 1 – Until just a few years ago, anyone diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Melanoma, like me, had a life expectancy of a maximum of eighteen months. It was an absolute 100% certainty that nobody would survive longer than a year and a half.

Line 2 -When the first wave of immunotherapy drugs were introduced, 90% of patients would be dead within 3 years. Only 10% would see a fourth or fifth year.

Line 3 – Since Pembrolizumab, aka Jungle Juice, aka JJ came on to the scene, 50% of patients receiving that drug are expected to live for three years, and that statistic of course includes me. But better than that, the line on the chart then flattens out – those that have survived, starting with the very first clinical trials in 2011 and since, have all gone on to see no return of their cancer for four, five, six, even seven years, and the considered likelihood is that they never will.

Dr Westwell still wouldn’t use the terms “cancer-free” or “cured” but she informed us that I was now officially classified as “Treated Stage 4 Metastatic Melanoma,” and as birthday treats go they don’t come much better than that.

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See You Jimmy

So they are all back at work in the House of Commons now. Smelling nicely of their new gift pack Lynx aftershaves and sporting new Christmas present ties given to them by grateful party workers that are colour co-ordinated to reflect what side of the house they represent. Blue for the Tories, red for Labour etc.

“Did you have a good Christmas?” asks one bloated lazy MP of another.

“Oh yes, you know, quiet” replies the other as they take their seats, get comfy and settle down for a snooze…

You’re telling me buddy. The “Meaningless Vote” on Brexit was deferred in December for some reason, and would appear to have been rescheduled for next Tuesday (15th). The delay was completely pointless. Nothing changed, nothing was done, and the result will inevitably be the same. We are under eighty days from committing national suicide and our voted representatives have done very little to prevent it.

And after the Government fails to get the required majority in the vote, the likely outcome will be a vote of no confidence and a general election. At least Theresa will then be able to walk away from the shitstorm she inherited.

Personally it will leave me in something of a dilemma. Since my early twenties I have always voted for the Tory party, but look at them now. For the most part a bunch of useless, posturing, moronic, selfish twats who are prepared to sacrifice the whole country and the future of our children for the sake of their own personal political advancement. Imagine the likelihood of Boris, Gove and Moggy with the keys to number 10. It’s positively frightening.

So Labour then is it? A party that is so out of touch and with a leader who brings new meaning to the words inept and useless, and still so irrelevant that they still languish second in the NOP polls to the Tories despite the utter mess they’ve created. They have no alternative plan to Brexit, no feasible policies, and an economic plan that takes Venezuela as a role model. Just a bunch of failed Marxists that would hand control of the country over to the unions, just like they always have. And if that wasn’t enough, two words that send shivers of terror through the very core of every sensible citizen – Diane Abbott. You know, the woman who thought it would cost £300,000 to employ 10,000 extra police on the streets of London. That’s £30 per head. She could feasibly end up as Chancellor or Deputy PM. Just think about that.

There was a time you could vote for the Liberal Democrats, but that would now be an entire waste of a vote. Cleggy has buggered off to work for Facebook having single-handedly brought his party to its knees. Poor old Vince Cable is a decent and honourable chap, but he is now about a hundred-and-thirty-twelve years old now and dribbles. The party membership has dwindled to such an extent that they may as well hold their next conference in a room over a pub in Maidstone. Completely irrelevant.

UKIP then? They were causing a bit of a stir a few years ago. But not anymore, Nigel is a small step from being sectioned, and all their core voters have retired to Spain where they read their Daily Fail, and complain that the immigrants in the UK don’t integrate, learn the language or make any contribution to society. Which is all a bit ironic.

The Greens are gaining a bit of a following, but as far as I’m concerned voting for them is a bit like having a tattoo or holidaying in a caravan. I just wouldn’t do it. A bunch of swampy, vegan, tree-hugging delusionists. Caroline Lucas is a nice lady, but you only have to look at what a mess they have made of Brighton to foresee the havoc they would wreak if they ran the country.

So who else? There is talk of a new centrist party being formed, potentially with Tony Blair at the helm. Yes, that Tony Blair. The one who took it up the ar*e from the Americans, lied to us about WMDs and explained that God came to him in his prayers and told him to bomb Iraq, taking us into a war that we would never really win and cause irreparable damage to international relations. Oh do f*ck off, Tone.

But there is hope. There is a party that cares passionately about the wellbeing of its country’s population, whilst still appreciating the importance of maintaining a balanced view on international matters and remaining in the EU. They have a leader who speaks articulately and intelligently with the national interest foremost in her mind, and no personal agenda. Alright, she may look like one of the Krankies, but she is impressive. I’m talking of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP of course, and I never thought I’d ever say this, but, you know what, right now I wish I was Scottish.

My New Year Resolutions

Does nobody make New Year resolutions anymore? I suppose it’s a sign of the times we live in, everything is so instant, no-one has any patience and everything is disposable. So when your average Joe decides to make some kind of lifestyle change there is no long term commitment, normally it’s just a month. Stuff like Veganuary, Stoptober, Movember, that type of thing.

But back in my day, New Year resolutions were taken very seriously. They involved a more permanent undertaking to cut out or at least drastically reduce your indulgement of such enjoyable basics as alcohol, cigarettes, masturbation or biscuits for a full twelve-month period.

So I thought I might try to unilaterally reintroduce the tradition, but not involving any of the above, that would be far too boring. I thought I should celebrate the dawning of the new year by being more sympathetic to some issues upon which I will freely concede I have had some forthright views. There weren’t many, but I’m going to list them below, along with their chances of lasting the duration.

BE NICE TO VEGANS

Ok, I know I was wrong to drunkenly stumble into a Vegan restaurant in the trendy North Laine area of Brighton a couple of weeks back and demand that they offer me a meat alternative to their dreary menu, my logic being is that that is what all vegans do when they dine anywhere “normal.” I was swiftly shown the door by a hippy brandishing a carrot. But I saw my pasty friends in a new light over Christmas when I realised the sacrifices they were making. No turkey, no roast potatoes cooked in goose fat, no buttered parsnips, no gravy – so their Christmas dinner consisted of sprouts. Just boiled sprouts. So hats off to you, Vegans, I hope you enjoy your Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll too. Good luck to you. I feel your pain. 5/10

OBEY THE RULES OF THE ROAD

Why is it that if your get robbed or your property is vandalised the police couldn’t give a toss, but if you stop momentarily in a box junction or drift into a bus lane you get the heavy mob round and dragged off to the Tower? And why is it that on Thursday I had to endure mile after mile of a 50mph average speed limit on the M23 just because one Polish bloke was digging a hole in the ground, whilst a few English blokes were standing around drinking tea and listening to Talksport? What’s more, why does the same speed limit apply in the dead of night when even the Polish bloke has gone home? I’m not going to be dictated to. I set my cruise control at 51mph and put two fingers up to the camera. I’m such a rebel. I should change my name to James Dean. 0/10

GIVE A SECOND CHANCE

Some years ago I swore I’d never read the Daily Fail again. It’s full of racist bullsh*t. But it has the second highest circulation in the UK, so the other day I thought I’d give it another chance. The editorial was demanding the head of the Home Secretary as there was a national “crisis” – a half a dozen enterprising and affluent Iranians had made their way from the French coast to Deal in Kent in an inflatable dinghy. And on the next page they were still extolling the merits of Brexit, deal or no deal, the greatest act of national suicide ever known. Now THAT will be a crisis, you fuckwits. No chance. 0/10

SUPPORT THE ROYAL FAMILY

I’ve gotten over the fact that I wasn’t one of the humble and token commoners that was invited to the Royal Wedding last summer. It didn’t take long. But I won’t be dancing in the street when the resultant dusky ginger offspring arrives in the Spring either. Unless we are all given an extra day off and free beer, and that won’t happen. But what if the royal birth coincides with the apparently imminent demise of HRH Prince Phillip? Will we be mourning in the morning and celebrating in the afternoon? Or neither? Who cares? Let the nation decide, we’re good at that ….. 0/10

CONSIDER THE ENVIRONMENT

Look, I’m still going to print off my emails if I choose too, although I will do it with consideration of the rain forest. I’m still going to drive a diesel, eat beef and fly places. However, I will try and do my bit for the environment – I like polar bears too. And I understand how chlorofluorocarbons from aerosols can damage the ozone layer and create global warming, so in future it’s no more aerosol anti-perspirants for me, roll on 2019….. 5/10

New Year Celebrations

Well the good news is that we did eventually make it back home to Blighty in time for Christmas, following Dronegate, and I must say I was mightily impressed at how Gatwick Airport looked all Christmassy as we wearily made our way through Arrivals. Even the armed police looked relatively jolly although their Alsatian dogs still growled and snarled at me like they always do. The feeling was entirely mutual, my four-legged friends ….

And despite the fact that we had availed ourselves of a tasty microwaved dinner on our severely delayed BA flight from Faro, expertly served by Gavin, with his immaculately pressed uniform and the welcoming smile of a lubed-up rent boy, there was only one place I was headed as soon as I’d convinced the ePassport machine that I wasn’t a terrorist or an undesirable.

Gatwick’s 24 hour Marks & Spencer store. For one of their Turkey Feast sandwiches. They’re bloody lush. Best sandwiches ever, and one of those brilliant things you only get this time of year. Worth coming home for, like dates and figs, and Yule log.

Apart from M&S, there was quite an array of retail opportunities still open at Gatwick South Terminal at that ungodly hour. You could pick up the mandatory seasonally scented Jo Malone candle, or a cheaper do-it-yourself earwax candle kit if you didn’t want to shell out over a hundred and twenty quid, and all manner of other Christmas essentials like a 4.5kg bar of Toblerone or a pair of novelty reindeer slippers. But oddly, and surprisingly, there wasn’t a Santa’s Grotto. I think they missed a trick there. It would be the ideal spot to drop off your kids before you grab your pre-flight pint at 7AM from Spoons.

That got me thinking how nice it is to see those innocent kiddies buying into the whole Santa lark. I can’t quite remember how old I was when I realised there was no such thing as Santa Claus, probably about the time I was tall enough to climb to the top of my parents’ wardrobe and found a Scalextric set hidden under the spare eiderdown, and the faux Santa that pitched up at my primary school party looked and smelled just like my mate “Stinky” Brian’s dad who had chronic BO just like his first born. Oh, and the fact we lived in a damp basement flat that didn’t have a chimney.

And even before that, I harboured doubts about the big fat bloke with the white beard. It struck me how much he resembled Captain Birdseye. Remember him? Trying to convince us that sailing off with a bunch of twelve-year-olds was entirely normal and would persuade us to buy fish fingers. And when he’d finished with that little caper he’d swap his sailor’s cap for a floppy red and white hat and encourage even younger children to sit on his lap all day. Definitely dodgy. The whole thing just screams one word – Yewtree.

But thank goodness all that Christmas nonsense is behind us for another year. Go on, admit it – you’re bored now aren’t you. Fed up with cold turkey, turkey curry, turkey stew, Die Hard movies on the TV and Monopoly. You’re relieved Aunty Doris has finally gone home and taken her false teeth and flatulence with her. You’d rather go back to work than traipse aimlessly round the sales….

However we can now look forward to the New Year celebrations. I like New Years Eve, a chance to reflect on the closing year and look forward to the new one. When I was a teenager it was great to go to Trafalgar Square on NYE. Us lads could drink a 2 litre bottle of warm cider and French-kiss strange random girls when the chimes struck midnight. Even grab a cheeky fondle if you felt brave enough – certainly the sort of behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated nowadays and would leave you being carted off to Bow Street nick and included on some kind of register.

But more recently the dawning of each new year holds even more poignancy and significance for me. Back in the dark days, particularly following my initial diagnosis of stage 4 Melanoma in 2015, I really couldn’t have dared to dream I’d make it this far. But here I am, still going strong. Like all of the last three years, 2018 involved fighting some tough battles, but we came through them. And even better than that, I was informed in October that unbelievably there were no active cancer cells in my body. So last year not only did I win my battles but I won the war.

Realistically though I know that although the war has been won, there’s a good chance that one day there’ll be another one. The anxiety and concerns about that will all flare up again next week when I have my forthcoming scan. But there’s no point in worrying about that yet – let’s all raise a glass on NYE and try to look forward with optimism and positivity to the year ahead.

So Happy New Year to you all, let’s hope it’s a happy and healthy one.

Dronegate

Being the last blog posting before Christmas, I had in mind to include a few amusing anecdotes and happy reminiscences in keeping with the seasonal jollity. But sadly I can’t as I’m absolutely spitting bullets furious.

We were due to fly back to England from Portugal yesterday, but have been unable to as Gatwick is closed due to some spotty nerd who’s had enough of playing Minecraft and metal-detecting, and thought it would be a tremendous wheeze to fly his drone around the airport. As I’m writing this missive I have no idea when we’ll get back, as the airport remains closed as a result, causing travel misery to many thousands of people.

The latest news we have this morning is that, finally, the authorities are at least considering shooting the bloody thing out of the sky. Apparently they were reluctant to do this yesterday, as they were concerned about stray bullets. So, the Americans can successfully target and deliver a bomb directly into Saddam’s toilet from half way across the globe, and our “crack forces” can’t even hit something the size of a dustbin lid floating over Sussex. Pathetic.

Well I’m assuming it’s a spotty nerd who has caused this chaos. We are being told that the incident is not thought to be terrorist related, but they do seem to be very well organised. Who is it then? Maybe the Russians flexing their muscles and having a bit of a giggle? How about the vegans, they are up for a bit of a protest? It could be them but it’s a bit of a step up from singing songs by the turkey counter at Waitrose in Western Road. More likely to be eco-warriors, keeping planes out of the sky and thereby reducing carbon emissions so we protect Mr Polar Bear. Or what about those Justice for Dads mob who dressed up as Batman and stood on Hammersmith Flyover bringing London traffic to a halt? They’ve been pretty quiet lately…Or could it be a militant Brexit related group, demonstrating what travel will be like come next April once we’ve managed to secure a no-deal departure and cut ourselves off from the civilised world?

Or maybe it’s something far more sinister? I do love a conspiracy theory. I’m still convinced Lady Di was assassinated by the Establishment, and that Elvis is alive and well and working in a chip shop in Rhyl. So what if it is not a drone at all but a UFO? Have the Martians landed, just in time for Christmas, and they’re not telling us?

I suppose we’ll find out eventually, but at the moment all I’m interested in is getting back to Blighty. We’ve got plans, you see. It’s a long walk from the Algarve, but I think we can make it….

But we have faced worse predicaments, in the last couple of years particularly, and won’t let this annoying scenario stop me from wishing you all a very Happy Christmas. Apart from you, Droneman, I hope you suffer a slow and painful death.

The Big Build Up

I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to smile politely and reply with something seasonably appropriate, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I just sneered at the woman, rolled my eyes, and walked out of the shop, cursing under my breath.

It was the lady in my local dry cleaners that had inadvertently caused my ire, but I knew she meant well. It was just the way, as she handed over my change, that she innocently muttered the words “So, are you all ready for Christmas then?” that got me all agitated.

It was the beginning of December, for goodness sake. Was I ready for Christmas? Ready to be hugely disappointed with the crap on TV? Ready for my local pub to be invaded by twats in novelty jumpers? Ready for gridlock on the roads? Ready for a never ending loop of Slade and Johnny bleeding Mathis on the wireless? Ready for endless newspaper articles on how to create the “perfect Christmas?” Ready for everyone’s misplaced anticipation?

My friends know very well that I’m not a fan of Christmas. I could put up with it if the whole season could be condensed into twelve days, as it should be, but nowadays it’s dragged out for what seems an eternity. No sooner has the smoke cleared on Guy Fawkes night than my shoulders sag at the very thought of it. And it gets even worse as we approach the “Big Day.” So a few years ago the Blonde and I hatched a plan to avoid the insanity of the “run up.” We get the hell out of Dodge and head to the house Portugal, and that’s where we are now.

As always at this time of year, when we flew out Gatwick was heaving. Evidently many thousands of eager shoppers had decided that the high streets of Britain didn’t stock enough tat to satisfy their needs, so they were piling onto charter flights to obscure European destinations where they could attend Christmas markets that stocked alternative “locally crafted” crap that was probably still made in China, and overindulge on Glühwein, which, if you’ve never tried it, tastes of warm sweet diesel. And then there were the flights to Lapland, full of screaming kids and exasperated parents. Honestly I’d rather jump in front of a speeding train…

But the carnage at LGW was worth it. It’s all so different over here. The Algarve is virtually deserted. Now that the holiday season is over, all the Portuguese head up north to spend Christmas with their mothers and eat boiled cod and sugarcoated almonds. The weather is nice, the golf courses are empty, as are the roads. It’s blissfully calm and relaxing.

However there is a downside. With nobody about, just about all the bars and restaurants are closed. We made the mistake of booking Christmas dinner out one year, and could only find one place that was open. It was run by an Irish woman, who gleefully accepted our deposit and informed us that lunch would be served at 2pm sharp.

We arrived ten minutes late, to be greeted by fifty blue-rinsed and balding heads all turning in our direction and a loud chorus of tuts. We didn’t realise Mrs O’Grady was waiting till everyone was seated before dishing up the soup and the old farts were getting agitated. Despite a few apologetic paper chains the well lit room still resembled a bridge club venue – bridge being blackjack for the incontinent, which probably explained the overwhelming aroma that prevailed. The soup was cold (our fault), the turkey was tough and the Christmas pud was like cardboard. The whole meal was as disappointing as a Poundland cracker. Despite being the last to arrive, we were the first to leave. There was nowhere else to go, it was raining, so we went home only to find the satellite TV was down. There was nothing else to do but play sudoku and argue.

So that was the last Christmas that we ever spent in Portugal. Despite the cold and the insanity of the build up, we’ll be flying back at the end of next week. We’ve decided that you can’t beat Christmas Day at home, in England, surrounded by your friends and loved ones. Oh, and Marks & Spencer’s cheesy puff snacks. They don’t sell them in Portugal.

Sultanas And Diced Apples

Times were pretty hard when I was a kid. Back in the 60’s nothing was wasted. Socks with holes in wouldn’t be replaced by a whole new pair, my mum would darn the old ones, and not just the once either. Furniture wasn’t thrown away and replaced by the latest offering from DFS, it would be recovered with protective arm-covers placed strategically over the cigarette burns in the arm rests and matching cloth squares across the headrest to hide the Brylcreem stains that my dad’s hair left behind. Rusty old nails and bits of string would be kept in a box somewhere. You never knew when they might come in handy.

And the same applied to food. What was left one day would be heated up and eaten the next. We’d generally have a roast chicken for lunch on Sunday and whatever meat was left over would be served up on Monday with mash and gravy. Maybe a tin of peas too. Until one fateful day that my mum dropped a bombshell. She was going to make a curry.

Dad and I looked at her in disbelief. A curry? Was she serious? What did she take us for? “Do I look like a bus conductor?” asked my dad who wasn’t one to mince his words. But she explained that, no, it wouldn’t be too hot, she was going to follow a simple recipe she’d seen in Woman’s Own magazine, and that all she needed with the chicken was some tomatoes, onions, curry powder from the Co-op and the absolute essential ingredients to make it authentic – sultanas and diced apples.

The smell that wafted from our kitchen was incredible. Despite my apprehension, it was a revelation. I had it with mash (it was a Monday after all) but of course no gravy. I loved it, and dad did too. We congratulated each other at how brave and cosmopolitan we were.

It was a few years later though before I got to sample the real McCoy. A pucker Indian restaurant opened its doors on our local high street. I didn’t understand anything that was displayed on the menu stuck to the window, nothing seemed to come with sultanas or diced apples, so I gave it a wide berth until one fateful evening when I managed to persuade the guvnor of the local pub that I was eighteen, got bladdered on Light & Bitters, and bravely headed straight for the Star of India with my best pal Hillsy.

I’d never seen flock wallpaper till then, or pictures of the Taj Mahal. Nor indeed had I heard wailing sitar music. Or smelt such wonderful aromas. We were greeted warmly by the waiter and shown to a table that had the whitest tablecloth I’d ever seen. You could hear the pans bashing in the kitchen, signalling organised chaos as the chefs shouted away at each other in their native tongue. An electric fire was glowing in the corner of the room. There was a little bar area with optics and a grainy photograph of a cricket team proudly displayed above it. The seats were in rich red velour and gilt, and very comfortably upholstered.

Starters. I knew every meal in a restaurant has to be preceded with a starter. There were a few options. Grapefruit juice, prawn cocktail, or Mulligatawny soup. The latter sounded a bit Irish and bound to be full of cabbage, juice was boring but you can’t go wrong with a prawn cocktail, so I plumped for that. We were also offered poppadoms, but didn’t know what they were so declined them. However we liked the sound of Bombay Duck so we ordered some of that. Now I don’t know what part of the duck those skinny little rashers came from, but the poor little thing must have been quite unwell when it was slaughtered.

From the mains section of the menu we both chose a chicken dish that we were assured “wasn’t to f**king hot” that came with coconut. Imagine that. Coconut with my dinner. How sophisticated were we? I thought coconut only came in Bounty Bars. We were given bread to wipe up the juice too, a funny flat looking bread, but disappointingly no butter. We could have had chips, but decided to go all out and have rice. Plain boiled of course. We noted that there was a cheese omelette on the menu as an alternative to curry, but we were going head first into the Ganges. And they didn’t do my regular beer, we had an unfamiliar lager called Cobra.

The whole meal, the whole experience, was sensational. Almost life-changing. I’ve been a massive fan of the old Ruby ever since, and indulge myself on at least a weekly basis.

Fortunately, not much has changed over the years. OK, flock wallpaper may have been replaced by a more fashionable textured wallcovering, but the music has survived and so have the traditional dishes, apart of course from the Bombay Duck. I rarely stray from my favourites that have stood the test of time. A nice Jalfrezi with all the trimmings, all washed down by copious amounts of Cobra, what better way to spend a Saturday night?

But last Saturday it all changed. Some dear friends were staying and we thought we’d try a different place in town. It called itself an Indian, but it was strange. The music was jazz-funk, there were no pristine white cloths on the tables, the walls were all Farrow & Ball emulsion with random splashes of colour for dramatic effect. No pictures of the Taj mahal. No fish tank. We were shown to our table by a girl. A Latvian girl in dungarees with half her head shaved and a tattoo on her neck.

My initial disappointment was compounded when I looked at the menu. There was no Jalfrezi on offer. Or anything else that I vaguely recognised. Apart from the last item on the menu – a Vindaloo. But not chicken, or even lamb. It was wild boar. Wild frigging boar. I wondered what had upset it. No Cobra either, we chose to wash the meal down with a cheeky Viognier from the Rhone Valley. As we waited, I shuffled awkwardly in my seat and wished I was somewhere else, that served proper traditional curry. I’ve been eating the same stuff for over forty-five years, why should I change now?

But I emerged some two hours later a changed man. The meal was delicious and I loved it. I’ll certainly go back soon and experiment with some of the other unfamiliar dishes on the menu with alternative ingredients. You never know, there might even be one with sultanas and diced apples. Now that would be exotic.