My Highlights of 2022

Happy New Year! I meant to write this blog post on New Year’s Eve, but there was a lot going on over the holidays, including a trip to the theatre, so I’m writing it now! Today is actually Epiphany, so we’re still technically in the Christmas season ūüôā¬†

2022 was a better year than the pandemic years, and it was good to be out of the house and fairly ‘back to normal’, but it was still a bit strange with all the crazy politics, the death of the Queen and trying to get into some sort of hybrid work pattern, plus I got rid of my car. Here are my highlights of 2022:

Sadler’s Wells Gift Membership

I was given this amazing gift for my birthday, which gives me priority booking and 20% off tickets, so I made sure I went as often as I could! I saw some great ballets and other dance shows including:

Plus I saw Matthew Bourne’s¬†Sleeping Beauty¬†on New Year’s Eve, which was my first Matthew Bourne experience and I loved it!

Return To In-Person Tap Classes 

It was just so great to be back in the studio with other people, especially some of my old classmates! I include attending the tap intensive in this, because that was the first in-person class I attended after the pandemic and I learnt SO MUCH and surprised myself how I got back into things after being in the garage with a laptop for 2 years. But really good to be back to my weekly class.

Tina Turner the Musical 

A postponed birthday treat from 2021. I mean, it was just AMAZING!

Anything Goes

Once again, another FABULOUS SHOW with an excellent cast, including Simon Callow, Bonnie Langford and Kerry Ellis. It was a lovely Summer’s day at London’s Barbican.

Commonwealth Games

 

Athletics and diving – It was such a fantastic, positive atmosphere in Birmingham! Plus we stayed at a spa hotel outside of Birmingham (got an amazing deal!) and drove in to the designated park & ride car parks as the city hotels were stupidly expensive during the games.

Breaks in Devon and Kent

My SO had a week away in Devon in June, and then a colleague let us have her flat in the Thanet area of Kent for a week in September, so we took my mum with us. We were really fortunate to have great weather (most of the time) on these two weeks away – because you never know!¬† I wasn’t familiar with Kent, so it was nice to discover a new area.

Living Room Makeover

It hadn’t been changed since we moved in at the end of 2017 and I was sick of the blue walls, plus some of the paper was peeling and bubbling. In our second week off work in September, when we were back from Kent, we stripped wallpaper, filled holes, hung new paper, painted and rehung pictures where we wanted them (rather than where there were already holes)! There’s still an area to sort out in the corner behind the TV which requires replacing guttering outside, but WE LOVE IT NOW. The fireplace now stands out as a feature and I learnt how to do wallpapering properly.

Home Alone with Live Orchestra

In early December my SO and I went to see Home Alone with Live Orchestra at the Birmingham Symphony Hall as part of his birthday gift. It was also at the Royal Albert Hall in London something like a week before that, but it was pretty much sold out, standing room only, so we went for Birmingham…with a seat! There was even a choir onstage for the choral sections and they sang Christmas songs at the end. Those who left during the end-credits missed out! It’s my favourite Christmas film (I watch it every year) and it gave us all the Christmassy feels.

As you can see, I saw A LOT of shows last year, and I haven’t even mentioned all of them in this post. But you know I love the theatre, and when you go off-West End, the ticket prices are SO MUCH more reasonable.¬†

I usually write my goals for the year ahead, but I don’t think I managed to write anything last year – I was just glad to get out of 2021! This year I’m sharing a simple More & Less list:

More:

  • Quality sleep
  • Tap dance
  • Cardio exercise
  • Reading
  • Stretching
  • Writing

Less:

  • Trying to catch up
  • Things in the diary
  • Spending ¬£¬£

Let’s see how it goes! How about YOU?

October Happenings

Sorry – I’ve been M.I.A again! I guess I’ve been adjusting to a new life routine, now that I’m going into the office 1-2 times a week and I’m back at TAP CLASS every Thursday (apart from this week as we’re on a break).

On Tap

Tap class has been really great – I mean REALLY great. We’ve done lots of helpful exercises over the last few weeks, travelling across the floor, working in pairs and cementing some trickier combinations. We’ve been learning a routine throughout the 6 week course using Mick Jagger’s Strange Game.¬†I don’t think I’d ever heard the song before, but I like it! The routine allows us to play with the rhythms, switching between the downbeat and cross-phrasing. There are a couple of turns in the middle of the routine (exciting!), and we had the option of doing a turn-and-a-half (540 degrees so they tell me) and landing in the right direction on time(!!) or just doing a half-turn (180). I’m not great with fast turns and dizziness these days, so I stuck with the half. It was for the best!

In other news – my 14 year old niece has recently started tap dance lessons! I think these are tacked on straight after ballet and she’s doing the ISTD syllabus of course. I’ve given her one of my portable tap boards so she can practise at home, and I told her I’m happy to go over anything if she needs any help, because I think she’s finding it quite difficult having started later than the rest of the class. I’m going to make sure I don’t overwhelm her with information!

Mixtape: Celebrating 20 Years of Zoonation: The Kate Prince Company

A few weeks ago my SO and I, being big fans of ZOONATION, went to Sadlers Wells to see their latest offering Mixtape, a 20 year celebration of many of their shows, including the incredible Into the Hoods, Some Like it Hip Hop, Message in a Bottle¬†plus The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, Tales of the Turntable¬†and¬†Groove on Down the Road.¬†The whole thing was just so uplifting – stunning live music and singers, fantastic hip hop choreography and dance. There was also a wonderful exhibition on one of the floors dedicated to former member Teneisha Bonner who died far too young in 2019 from breast cancer. I remember her as a real stand-out dancer in Into the Hoods when we saw it not once, but twice many moons ago. Wow, I forgot how much I loved that show and the banging soundtrack.¬† Mixtape was such a great night, didn’t want it to end and yes, the audience clapped on the off-beat!

Back to the Future The Musical

 

 

Last Thursday I met a former colleague after work and after a catch-up at Wahaca with Mexican street food, we went to see Back to the Future The Musical¬†at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand. Now this was an interesting one. I absolutely LOVE the Back to the Future¬†films – they’re iconic and I can watch them again and again, particularly I and II. So I was interested to see how they’d adapted the first film for a West End musical.

In all honesty, I thought Doc Brown and George McFly were excellent, down to mannerisms, humour, dancing and everything. Marty McFly was pretty good. Not all, but a lot of the dialogue was verbatim, so if you know the film, you know what’s coming. They changed the reason why Marty had to go back in time to save the Doc. The set and especially the DeLorean was AMAZING – five stars! But I had this feeling all the way through that much of the supporting cast were fresh out of musical theatre school and a little inexperienced. I like the fact the show used the original theme music throughout and of course the iconic Huey Lewis & The News songs which popped up here and there, plus Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode at the school dance¬†but some of the singing grated in places, such as when the actress playing Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer sang The Power of Love –¬†it was a bit over the top musical theatre voice, if you know what I mean. I’d say good effort on the whole production, but something was missing for me and I don’t think everything can be successfully be made into a musical. Someone at my tap class who saw it last time around suggested it could perhaps have worked better as a play? Maybe. Still, it was a good night out.

Strictly 2022

Fleur Vito Jive Still
Fleur, Vito and Wig © BBC/Kieron McCarron

Strictly Come Dancing is back! I’m not really obsessed with it this year, but I’m still watching the main show, the results show and most of the It Takes Two shows on weekday evenings because it’s fun and positive. It’s really refreshing to not be on Twitter with all the moaners and psychos this year! It’s a great cast of ‘celebrities’ again this year…even if some don’t take to dance as well as others… Last Saturday night celebrated 100 years of the BBC and although the songs were JUST AWFUL for dancing (the Eastenders, Blue Peter¬† and Casualty theme tunes, anyone?!), I have to say I was in stitches watching Fleur & Vito’s jive to Abba’s Waterloo (celebrating Eurovision) –¬†I mean that WIG on Vito’s head took on a life of its own! HAHAHAA

Anyway, I hope you have a great weekend, and if you’re in the UK, don’t forget the clocks go back tomorrow night!

 

Review: Burn the Floor – The Reunion

I know. I’ve been at the theatre a lot lately. All the way back in December when Strictly Come Dancing was heating up towards a dramatic final, tickets were going on sale for the spin-off touring shows, such as the Live Tour and the Professionals Tour . I couldn’t make the Professionals Tour dates, but instead I jumped in and bought tickets for Burn the Floor – The Reunion: A Celebration of 25 Years at the Symphony Hall in Birmingham.

Well, last Friday night was the night! My SO and I drove up the M40 to Birmingham on Friday morning and as the show was in the evening, we stayed over until Saturday. We parked up at the Mailbox and wandered into the centre to get something to eat. WELL, as we were walking along the road, we were approaching a zebra crossing when we suddenly saw a couple riding a tandem bike towards us. How lovely, you say! Yeah, except they were STARK NAKED. IN THE MIDDLE OF BIRMINGHAM FOR CRYING OUT LOOOUUUD.

The middle of Birmingham

Later on (when I was enjoying noodles, egg-fried rice, spicy pork and salt-&-pepper chicken) and had processed what HECK I had witnessed, I wondered if they had been protesting something. When I told my mum about it on the Saturday evening, she asked me if they had a banner. I told her I don’t know –¬† I didn’t want to look again to find out…HA-HA!

And….now onto the show!

Birmingham Symphony Hall

The show kicked off at 7.30pm and the auditorium was pretty much full, apart from the row in front of us (as usually happens, that row suddenly populated after the interval). The award-winning Broadway show Burn the Floor is the show from which most of the Strictly pros are scouted. The Reunion¬†starred our favourite former and current pros: Robin Windsor, Aliaz Skorjanec, Janette Manrara, Trent Whiddon, Karen Hauer, Kai Widdrington, Dianne Buswell, Luba Mushtuk and sibs Kevin and Joanne Clifton, as well as other BTF dancers I hadn’t necessary heard of, but some of whom have been Strictly/Dancing with the Stars pros in other countries.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but the show was a much bigger production than I imagined! At the beginning, director and choreographer Jason Gilkison came out to introduce the show and talk about its beginnings and evolution. We gave a huge round of applause, and it was quite emotional for him and the dancers as it was the final time they would probably all perform together. Then the lights lowered and it began. These amazing dancers took us through a variety of incredible ballroom, Latin, contemporary and jazz routines to a fantastic set of songs, led by incredible singers Rietta Austin and Patrick Smyth, with plenty of light and shade. There was Charleston, cha-cha, samba, paso doble, rumba, waltz and bit of Fosse I believe. The colourful lighting effects were exciting and atmospheric, and the whole thing was really quite “wow” in that size of auditorium. We sat in the Grand Tier but if you were lucky enough to be in the stalls, the dancers performed and strutted in the aisles around you on several occasions.

I have to say that although everyone was fantastic, my stand-outs of the show were Karen and Janette – just fabulous and so much precision. Towards the finale the show blew up with an explosive jive to Tina Turner’s ‘Proud Mary’, which I LOVED of course!!

You know that big wheel keep on turning
Proud Mary keep on burning
And we’re rolling, rolling
Rolling on the river

And just when you thought it was over, they came back out to a really apt musical number – ‘Ballroom Blitz’! As you can imagine the applause went on for AGES! At the end the show’s creators came onto the stage at the end to a round of applause and the dancers were all hugging each other and some had their phones out filming the audience and capturing the electric atmosphere. The whole thing was so uplifting!

Verdict: An exciting, energetic, exuberant Strictly Spectacular! 

My Highlights of 2021

Happy New Year! I do hope you had a good Christmas. Unfortunately my SO and I both had COVID-19! We’re both vaccinated and I’d just had my booster, but by then my SO was already ill and he then passed it on to me. Being vaccinated at least meant we weren’t seriously ill, but it was like a type of flu for about 5 or so days (headache, eye ache, body ache, sore throat, altered taste and smell, high temperature etc) followed by feeling very, very tired. Our next door neighbour got us some supplies and my family dropped off Christmas dinner and nibbles on Christmas Eve, which was MUCH APPRECIATED (although I had no appetite for a while).

Because we felt rubbish and couldn’t leave the house, we watched A LOT of Law and Order. We made a point of watching a carol concert from the Royal Albert Hall, and the Royal Opera House’s Nutcracker online for all the Christmassy feels, and we also watched several movies…

My COVID Christmas Movies:

  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Uncle Buck (1989)
  • Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
  • Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994)¬†
  • Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)
  • Lady in the Van (2015)
  • The Fugitive (1993)
  • US Marshals (1998)
  • K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)

I had some actual Christmas movies, like Home Alone, lined up, but we haven’t got around to watching those yet. We did get to see family properly later on in the week after Christmas, including a lovely (yet windy!) walk along the beach at Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex.

 

Thinking about the craziness of 2021, I struggled to recall what stood out to me as highlights of the year, even though I know there were many. Here’s the list I came up with…

My Highlights of 2021:

I’m now having a think about my goals for 2022, but I’m not putting myself under any pressure right now. The main things on the list are a bookbinding course, improving my tap dancing, more writing… but I’ll come back to my 2022 goals in another post ūüôā

What were your highlights of 2021? 

Strictly 2021

BBC Strictly Come Dancing

I do this every year – I say “Oh I’m not bothered about getting into Strictly Come Dancing this year”, and then I get completely engrossed and I’m watching the live show, the results show, all the weekday It Takes Two¬†shows and I’m all over the social media! Well, this year my favourites are the stunning AJ Odudu & new pro dancer Kai – AMAZING chemistry and fantastic routines, especially their sizzling Argentine Tango, which I can’t stop watching, a banger of a Jive on week one and THEN on Saturday night they pulled off a killer Charleston. Yes, I’m obsessed! I definitely think John & Johannes and Rose & Giovanni will be joining them in the final –¬† it’s such high standard of competition this year!

Are you watching?

A Journalism Workshop

I hope you’ve had a good week? Yesterday I had my last tap class of the half-term. The next block of 6 begins the week after next, but I’m wondering whether to take a break until September (shocking, I know!) and try to work my way through some of the video content I still haven’t looked at from the various festivals, workshops, classes, one-off events, etc that I purchased last year. I find it hard to fit in when I have exercises and choreography to practise for my weekly class. I’m unavailable about 2 or 3 weeks of the next block, if I sign up for the usual Wednesday or Thursday class, so if I do enrol, it’ll be on the Tuesday night class. I may…I may not.

I continue to explore writing as a career, and so last night I attended an online masterclass from The Guardian newspaper entitled: ‘Kickstart Your Freelance Writing Career: A Journalism Workshop’, with journalist Coco Khan. I did actually write for a couple of student magazines when I was at university all those years ago – I was a writer for a publication called Student Pages,¬†where I did a travel piece and another piece where I interviewed friends about their courses and career aspirations. Alongside that, I also did music reviews for another publication (can’t remember what they were called now), where they sent me free CD singles and I wrote what I thought of them! Unfortunately, both magazines closed down in my final year, and what I should have done when I finished university was get in somewhere else while I had a current portfolio of work. But you know, life gets in the way, you get an unrelated job and forget about it for several years. (Also, when I was at secondary school I had a theatre review published after my Classics teacher submitted it to a magazine – I have to say they changed it so much, it didn’t sound like me at all!)

Anyway, back to last night’s Guardian Masterclass. There were 60 of us on Zoom meeting, and Coco talked about finding and developing your own voice, how to break into journalism, pitching your story to (extremely busy) editors, delivering great journalism, building relationships with editors, building resilience and handling rejection. It was a two and a half hour class, but we were late starting due to internet issues, and by the time we came to the 5 minute break, nearly 2 hours in, I had a thumping headache, and had to exit before we got onto having a go at writing a pitch and the promised ‘mammoth’ Q&A at the end. Questions were asked and answered at various points throughout, which was helpful, and they will be sending through the presentation slides. I got SO much out of the session, and it made the idea of pitching a story, opinion piece or personal essay to a magazine, newspaper or website a lot less intimidating – if no-one replies, or they don’t go for your story, don’t take it personally! They’re busy and they get hundreds of pitches in their inbox every day. We’ll see what happens!

Try not to second-guess yourself.

Get back on the horse.

Don’t put your pen down.

(Coco Khan)

Deliberate Practice

I’m currently reading the book¬†Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking¬†by Susan Cain. It’s a revolutionary book about the power of introverts in a society that seems to only value and promote those who shout the loudest. I’m definitely more of an introvert (perhaps ambivert is more accurate because I have my moments), and although I accept and value my quieter personality (which was suddenly highlighted when I did things in the past like the year of training in youth ministry – “try to be more like Vicky!” – and when learning to teach aerobics – “you need to be louder!”), the book has encouraged me even more to accept my creative, quieter, thoughtful, reflective personality that is sensitive to others and to my environment because it is immensely valuable! Now I know why my primary school teacher chose me to buddy and befriend a nervous new pupil, who I’m still friends with now.

In a particular workplace full of loud people where I was basically overlooked in favour of party girls, I’m actually still in touch with a couple of colleagues over 10 years on, who felt I actually had time for them. When I worked at a London university for 6 months, the managers were really pleased with how I dealt sensitively with the students…and their demanding parents. In the charity HR I work in now, I have found my personality to be a positive thing as we deal with ups, downs, births, deaths, mental health, difficult conversations, confidential info and everything else. And as a Christian, I believe every personality is valuable to God. I mean imagine if everyone was the same, right?

In her book, Susan Cain names loads of introverts who did amazing things and changed the world because of rather than in spite of their personalities, so if you fall somewhere on the introvert scale and have been made to feel like there’s something wrong with that, be encouraged by people like Rosa Parks, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Stephen Spielberg, JK Rowling, Mark Zuckerberg (despite how you feel about Facebook LOL), Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Barack Obama, plus many, many dancers, comedians, musicians, actors, singers…there are so many people, I don’t have space to list them all ūüôā

Anyway, the main reason I mention this book is that one of the chapters talks about the concept of ‘Deliberate Practice’, which immediately caught my attention. The author references a study into 3 groups of violinists at an elite music school in Berlin – the best, the good and those who only wish to teach – but I was interested in relation to tap dance. Deliberate Practice is described as “serious study alone” and the “key to exceptional achievement”. In other words, if you want to be an amazing tap dancer, you’ve got to practise on your own…a lot. (The lowest group of violinists put in 1.3 solitary hours a day, whereas the top-level violinists put in 3.5 solitary hours a day and regarded group practice as leisure).

A few of the guests we had on the ‘Tap & Tea’ history talks last year posed the question ‘how much class is too much class?‘ – i.e. you can take all the tap classes going but still not show any improvement because you’re not taking the time to put the work in on your own. I know my real improvements in tap came when I actually spent the time in my garage studio, in front of the mirror going over and over things until I got them…and then refined and cleaned them up. (It’s not that I spent 3.5 hours shedding wood in one go, but even the 40 minutes spent on a Saturday afternoon make a massive difference in what I bring to my next class).

“When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks…just out of your reach…,strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress and revise accordingly” Quiet, pg81

Have you read the book? Are you an introvert? What do you think about ‘Deliberate Practice’ in relation to tap, or perhaps other styles of dance?¬† Let me know in the comments ūüôā

 

Happy New Year

Hello and Happy New Year to you! Well, we’re actually 8 days in now, and things in the world seem crazy at the moment, what with Covid and Trump and Brexit…but I hope the start of the year is going okay for you.

Christmas was very different this time around because we weren’t allowed to meet with other households, so on Christmas day afternoon, after our online church service, a sunshine walk and a massive gammon dinner with all the trimmings, we ended up hosting a 3 and a half hour quiz with my family on Zoom which included rounds on country flags, Strictly Come Dancing and a (particularly difficult) music round, and then we video called my SO’s family straight after. We managed to do lots of walks in the evenings to see the amazing Christmas light displays that people had done on their houses, and we walked around the village in the daytime to try and get some vitamin D. I completed a very tricky 500 piece jigsaw and a couple of books I’ve had on the go. My SO painted the bathroom in Cooking Apple Green (Farrow & Ball) and made chocolate fondants, a baked cheesecake and pastel de natas (Portuguese custard tarts) – I also worked (from home) on the 30th, but who wants to hear about that?

Usually in the run up to Christmas, many of us like going to the theatre (if the bank account allows!) to see a pantomime or another show. Last Winter we saw The Mousetrap in London and the Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Sheffield. This Winter, the theatres are closed, but we were able to get tickets to watch the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) at a drive-in in North London (complete with burger…and fries!), and we also got tickets for the Barbican’s live streamed performance of A Dickensian Christmas,¬†which featured beautifully sung Christmas carols and dramatic excerpts from A Christmas Carol, read by actor Kevin Whately (of Inspector Morse, Lewis, etc). Definitely gave us all the Christmas feels.

We made a point of watching movies over the holidays, including¬†Running on Empty (1988), Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), North by Northwest (1959), Die Hard (1988), Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1994) (technically a TV episode, but hey ho) – we did have more Christmassy/wintery movies on the list (Uncle Buck, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street) but we haven’t got around to those yet!

Another thing I did was to spend a little bit of time in the garage working on specific tap steps, something I’ve been trying to do since the summer. This time I concentrated on my ‘Shirley Temple’. A very well-known combination, but one that you can trip up on, or add too many extra bits to. To make it even better, I had some Christmas Jazz songs on in the background! I’m back to tap class next week, and because we’re on lockdown and therefore online-only again, I’m able to join the Thursday afternoon class – a welcome break in the working day. I also start ukulele class online next Friday – I’ll let you know how that goes ūüôā

Have a great weekend x

4 Points from Last Week

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1. I completed a 5km run for charity (in stages) to a 90’s music playlist! The longest distance I ran in one go was 1km, which I was really pleased with. My SO is a proper runner, so he did a great job coaching this reluctant jogger. Now I’m waiting for my ‘I Love the 90s’ medal and t-shirt, and even though I said I was done with running…I’m wondering whether to sign up for the ‘I Love the 80s’ run…

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2. I quit Twitter. Well, my personal account anyway. I’ve kept my side biz account for now. I mainly used my personal Twitter for keeping up with London travel, news stuff, dance, cute animals and reading funny comments about TV shows. BUT, I’m just DONE with all the negativity and bigotry and politics that is oozing from it at the moment. It’s not even that I follow these accounts, but you know, you get drawn into reading the comments underneath. I really do have better things to do with my life!

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3. Tap class was cancelled on Thursday because our teacher (and most of London’s Virgin Media customers) had broadband problems. To be honest, I didn’t actually mind because I was quite hot and bothered in the humidity. I had practised quite a bit on previous days, and I had another Tap & Tea history talk in the afternoon, with repeat-guest Andrew Black, who this time took us through the history of tap dance in New York City, so it certainly wasn’t a tap-free week by any means ūüôā

Writing Handbook

4. I set up a Writing Handbook. I think I mentioned on here last year that I wanted to return to my original teenage goal of becoming a professional writer (but often life and lack of confidence gets in the way and you end up just getting ‘a job’). Over the lockdown period I’ve been doing an online writing course, and last week I set up my Writing Handbook to gather all the helpful writing tips I’ve discovered into one place. Progress may be slow right now, but it’s still progress!

Today:

I’m still trying my best not to put myself under pressure to achieve loads during this period of being on furlough and stuck at home, because let’s face it, it’s difficult to stay motivated at the moment, despite having lots of free time! I am still writing myself a to-do list every week, but it’s much shorter than usual, and if I don’t complete a task, so what? The list is there for structure and motivation, rather than to create pressure to DO DO DO. Plus I love lists!

Work has said, sensibly, that everyone should be using their annual leave (pro-rata) just so we’re not all trying to take it at the same time later in the year. I’ve booked a week of annual leave (yes, leave from furlough) just so I have some days where I won’t be wondering if work is going to call me, or if I’m going to be called back to work at short notice. I was in touch with a friend (and former colleague) over the weekend who was made redundant from her job recently, and she said that at the moment she’s not putting herself under pressure to get another job straight away, but she’s using the time to enjoy the break and top up her tan after a sustained period of work stress. Now that’s the spirit!