An Adventure Gone Wrong

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I now come to the final holiday that we were ever going to have as a family. The only addition to the usual assortment of the Durban holiday cast was that Granny had been invited to join us that year.  I think it was because having her along would give my parents the final chance to repair their troubled marriage.

We were unable to secure a booking at the usual Hilton Heights as we had spent the previous Christmas holiday at another resort and by the time it was realised that we had not booked the following holiday the day we left, as was usual, the Hilton Heights had filled up. I think we stayed in a place by the name of the Silver Sands but once again I stand to correction, it’s definitely not the year that I can recall names.

The really nice thing about the new place was that it was on the Marine Parade and we could look at the sea through the lounge window. The beach was just a matter of crossing the road walking past the paddling pools and there you were, on the beach. My parents were away during most of the holiday, somewhere in Europe and Granny and Hubby managed very well without them, where my parents went I do not recall.

I also recall that we spent two weeks instead of the usual one and that my parents joined us for the last couple of days. Father also definitely drove us down and left the car for Granny to ferry us around in, the way Granny drove it was fortunate that we did not have need for a car very often. It was an idyllic holiday and there were only two incidents that spoiled it a little for me and probably for Granny and Hubby as well.

The first was the time that waking up very early I decided to go for a walk on the beach before the sun rose. Not wanting to wake the rest of the family, I left without telling anyone. I must admit it never crossed my mind that Granny waking and finding me gone would panic and spend hours frantically searching for me, I was after all nine years old and wandered all over my suburb when I was home without anyone being overly anxious.

Without a thought or a backward glans I crossed the road, which by the way was devoid of traffic and started to walk along the beach in the general direction of the breakwater. It was just before dawn and I think that the beach that I started from was North beach. At one of the piers that run from the beaches into the sea, I met a very interesting old man. He was dressed in old torn clothing and seemed to be wearing more than one layer of them as well.

He had bloodshot and rheumy eyes as well as a rather unpleasant odour, beside that he seemed to know everything about the things that had been cast up on the beach. He told me he was collecting ‘cuttle’ fish, that white chalky stuff that budgie owners put in the birds cages so that they can sharpen their beaks. Being adventurous I just took a try at this cuttle fish hunt, it is amazing how time flies when you are having fun, we filled up the sack that he was dragging behind him and he allowed me to take the last few that we found home to give to Karen’s budgie.

He forgot to mention that they have to be boiled so that as they get old they do not rot and stink the place out. I was to discover that fact all on my own after the apartment that we were staying in started to smell like a really dirty fishmonger. After he went on his merry way I discovered the Indian gentleman that rented out folding chairs and umbrellas to the people who were starting to arrive at the beach. One of them was only to hoappy to have me approach the all-white families and ask them if they required an umbrella or folding chairs, very soon his stock had run out.

By that time I was feeling a little hungry and I started to make my way back to the apartment to have what would now be considered lunch, or there about. On my way back however I discovered other Indian gentlemen who were hiring out little boats that one could steer around a man-made water channel that was designed in such a way by Mr Nick Steyn, so that you finished at the same place that you started, after negotiating many twists and turns.

There were a couple of the Indian gentlemen working on a boat that was obviously not functioning as it should. They were trying to get the engine to start, so I sidled up and started to give them words of advice, thinking that they would be happy to get the advice of a nine year old. I was wrong, Oh so wrong.

One of them shouted at me to disappear and used words that I had not heard before, and when I asked what ‘fuck off ’ meant he clouted me on the head, if he had wanted me to leave why did he not just ask me to go? Thoroughly chastened, I proceeded on my way.

Just after what was to be called the Indian incident, I ran into Hubby who had been given the afternoon off, after she had spent the morning frantically looking for me, she was not allowed on the beach alone so she had missed me as I was on one of the beaches further south than the one we normally visited and the only one she had scanned from the road side. The moment she saw me she hurried over to warn me that I was in ever so much trouble that Granny was surely going to give me a hiding. So I told her that Granny had been spared the effort as I had already been given one by the Indians at the boat rides.

She laughed so much that she cried, once she could see again she escorted me back to Granny and they both had a good laugh at my expense. They both decided I had been punished enough.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy_Sven

Olympic Dream Shattered

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As there was no sports available for me to participate in at the convent, my mother organised a swimming coach for me. Her name was Mrs Dowse. Her house was just around the corner from the convent and she had a half Olympic length swimming pool in her garden which she used as a training pool. She did not believe that swimming was just a summer recreation, she believed that those that were serious about swimming, meaning those that were capable of swimming competitively and the only type she was interested in training, trained the whole year through. Winter and summer, end of discussion.

Which meant that every morning before school and an hour after, I was to be found swimming up and down the pool, even when taps froze due to the Highveld’s freezing winters. To be fair, I loved swimming and my dream was to represent South Africa at the Olympic Games, so I am not complaining of the freezing water.

Mrs Dowse had a unique way of training, we would swim by the stopwatch and if at any time we fell behind the second hand she hit the water just above our backs with a long piece of bamboo, it stung but never really injured anyone, and it was amazing how we managed to make up lost time. Mrs Dowse moulded me into an Olympic swimmer, and  by the time I was fourteen I was the fastest breaststroke swimmer in South Africa, not officially, as I was disqualified in all the meets that I was entered into. The reason being that Swimming South Africa still enforced the law that when swimming breaststroke the head was not allowed to dip under the water and nor where the feet allowed to break water, laws that did not apply to the Olympics.

I used what was to become known as a frog kick, which was impossible to use without disturbing the water with my legs. So even though I broke record after record in training I never won an official race. As it turned out I was never given the chance to even go to the Olympic Games as the sporting boycott of South Africa effectively put a stop to any such ambition. Many young athletes were to have their hopes and dreams dashed by that decision.

It had always been my belief that the Olympic Games were there to foster understanding of different cultures and to expose the youth of the world to a diversity that they may or may not experience in their home countries. What an opportunity for the white youth of South Africa to rub shoulders with blacks and discover that they were just youths like themselves with the same wants and ambitions. Surely that would have been the perfect foil of the ‘Swart Gevaar’ we were indoctrinated with in South Africa.

I remember the ANC’s slogan of ‘No normal sport in an abnormal society’ very well; I also remember that South Africa was the only country expelled from the games. There were many countries that had far worse Human right issues, but South Africa was singled out. Another thing that puzzles me is the rule of the Olympic Games that forbids government intervention in the selection of athletes, that the present day ANC government breaks with tedious regularity and not a whisper is uttered by the Olympic committee. One rule, for South Africa under Apartheid another under ANC rule.

The rest of the world should be very proud of what they have achieved. In South Africa today merit has no value; the coinage of the day is Racial Representation and patronage. At the 2008 Olympics when the South African men’s hockey team had qualified to represent their country they were denied the chance by the government of the day as they did not have sufficient Blacks in the team, in other words they were not representative enough.

I could name a few more examples in all forms of sport in the country, but what would be the use, all that will happen is that I will be branded a racist and told that I should pack my bags and return to Europe where I belong. I have always believed that the best way to remove all forms of prejudice was and is through sport, but then again who am I to go against world opinion. Whether I am a racist or not, this tale will reveal once and for all, as it is impossible to fool all of the people who take the time to read this little story of an insignificant life in the greater scheme of things.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Trying to be the “Artful Dodger” and Failing

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Just before my birthday, my father had returned from Germany with a briefcase filled with money, which he kept in his wardrobe. It was a mark of his trust in Hubby that he never bought a safe for the money, I was to be responsible for putting that trust to the test.

My father had overextended himself in opening too many branches in rapid succession and had been forced to take out a loan from a Mr Turbyn, some sort of loan shark. There was no paperwork, only a hand shake. The terms of repayment were to be over the next five years at some inflated interest rate. As it turned out Mr Turbyn waited just long enough for my father to convert the cash that he had lent my father into stock and then foreclosed on the loan knowing full well that my father had no way of raising that sort of money from the banks as he was already up to his maximum overdraft limits.

Springbok Office supplies was declared bankrupt, so money had become a little tighter in our household. When my birthday was looming on the horizon, I asked my father when we were going to go shopping for my birthday present, just the two of us, as was usual. He told me that there was no money for birthday presents that year which I knew to be a lie as he had a whole briefcase full of the stuff.

As I had already been successful in stealing money, I came up with a plan to get a birthday present. The night before my birthday I sneaked into my parents’ room long after midnight, the dark corridor being the scariest part of the whole escapade, and removed a few notes from his wallet which turned out to be thirty Rands. The afternoon of my birthday I took all my friends on a shopping spree, buying boxing gloves, Corgi model cars, Airfix model airplanes and treats for all.

Karen was aware that I had stolen the money and when we returned home it took all my attention to keep her under observation to prevent her from telling. My father returned rather earlier than normal that evening and called Hubby into the lounge and accused her of stealing the thirty Rands. When she protested her innocence she was given the night to find the money and return it or she would be fired in the morning. To my eternal shame, even with the threat of Hubby’s dismissal hanging over my head, I did not own up to secure her position and clear her name. I remained quiet.

This time as it was my birthday I had bought tangible goods in other words physical evidence of the crime which had been hidden in a hollow of the driveway hedge, a place I used to hide in when I was in trouble and my mother was looking for me. Fortunately for Hubby she had noticed the close attention that I was paying Karen and when it was my turn to have a bath she managed to illicit a confession from her. My father was duly informed and the evidence retrieved from its hiding place.

When I entered my bedroom my father was standing shoulders slumped in the middle of the room with the boxing gloves held in his right hand. He then gave me the opportunity to confess, let’s give him his due, by asking me where I had got the various things from. Even though I was aware that the goods had been retrieved from a place that my parents did not know about I still tried to lie my way out of the mess that I was in. I told him that they belonged to David T, the first name to spring to mind.

I was told to go to the car and we proceeded up the road to David’s house where he was questioned. Having his father there who was after all a minister of God, David could not lie for me. So I was taken home, marched to my room and then beaten for the only time in my life. My father used the boxing gloves that he still held in his right hand to hit me from one end of the room to the other, tears pouring down his face. I was then again put in the car and taken down to Parkview police station, where the senior officer had me locked in a cell.

They left me there crying for about two hours, then the officer came in and explained that if I did not stop stealing I would spend a lot of time behind steel bars like I had for the past few hours. I was then handed back to my parents and was taken home. No charges were laid. Three days confined to my room.

That night I was taught a very valuable lesson and have never since taken anything that does not belong to me. Even when I am given too much change I find it impossible to take the excess as I know that somebody else would have to pay for my greediness.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Lord Of The Flies And Other Savagery In Our Neighbourhood

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I also made friends with a few others in the street and as David was not allowed to play with certain people in the street, for some reason or other, his father being a minister of the cloth after all, I played with these other friends on the days that David T was at sports practice at his school and only returned after dark. First there was John W, a boy of my own age and the Dennis the Menace of the neighbourhood. If there was trouble you would be sure to find John W in the middle of it.

I have already mentioned that plastic was the new miracle product and every conceivable object was suddenly produced of plastic, the most stupid being post boxes. John W had discovered that if you ‘posted a Big Bang firecracker’ the plastic post boxes were blown to smithereens. I must point out that Big Bangs were almost the size of dynamite sticks. He also discovered the same thing happened to Coke-a -Cola bottles when one of these firecrackers was placed inside one, a very dangerous thing to attempt as the wicks burned fast and you had to reattach the lid after the insertion of the firecracker, not the screw type lids of today, there was always the chance of the bottle exploding in your hands. With all that flying glass you would be lucky if you only lost your hands and not your eyesight as well.

Children all believe that they are immune to harm and invincible to boot, I am sure that all children believe that statement. I think you are getting the idea why Reverend T did not allow his son to mix with John W. My parents were fortunately not privy to the same information that the good Reverend probably had on his congregation. Also my mother was friendly with Mrs W, most of my mother’s friends were our friend’s mothers as she really had very little time to meet other women outside my father’s business associate’s wives.

Next door to John W lived John and Michael d.P. To differentiate the two Johns, John W was known as little John and Mike’s brother as big John. Big John’s father worked for Dunlop tyres, and his mother was Daphne, never Mrs d.P. As big John was thirteen and Michael eleven they were a lot older than us, as there was no one of their own age group in the street they allowed us to tag along.

One of the things that the d.P boys had that was very groovy ( the word used for cool in the sixties) was the fact that each possessed a pellet gun that they allowed little John and I to play with. Our main targets being the birds that flocked to the mulberry tree in the d.P’s back yard. Pigeons and doves being the most valuable, as you see there was a Native gentleman that would buy the birds as long as they were fresh, from us for ten cents each if the size of a dove or bigger, and five cents each for the smaller birds. He in turn sold them to the domestic workers in our area.

As a box of pellets cost twenty five cents, we were always able to shoot as often as we liked as the birds paid for the ammunition, there was five hundred pellets in a box. When we were bored with shooting birds, or there were a lack of them we devised other targets. One day being very bored we decided to play chicken with pellet guns, the idea being that a target was set up, a tin can as I recall, and someone ran in front of the target, as the person neared the target the shooter tried to hit the target. The real object was to shoot between the runners legs. A disaster waiting to happen and it did. Little John was shot in the back of his kneecap by one of the two shooters being Michael and myself.

Michael took the blame, but that did not stop all of us being punished by our respective parents in their unique ways, some harsher than others. That was the end of the pellet guns when we were around.

Today I understand what little savages we were, and how we needlessly shot the wild life that were needed to help not only our gardens to grow, but that brought joy and happiness to the whole area with their songs. It will be a very sad world when the songs of birds disappear. To indiscriminately kill, when there is no absolute need, is an abomination.

Little John had a sister that I was madly in love with, her name was Phyllis, she on the other hand was a little older than me and I do not think that she was even aware of my existence. There was an occasion that she gave me a hug and I was able to hug her back, the only highlight of my adoration for her. As I told Hubby “I hugged her so tight she shrank up”.

Big John and Michael were not always in the mood to play with little John and I and there was one occasion that they got little John to gang up with them and attack me. I was not seriously hurt at all, but they squashed mulberries in my ears and sent me home crying, as the neighbours were very aware of the trouble I had with my ears, one of them had rung ahead to tell my mother that my ears were streaming with blood and that she had better be prepared to take me to the nearest hospital.

There was nothing wrong with me, but the sight of mulberry juice pouring out of my ears almost drove my mother hysterical. I was banned from playing with the d.P’s for three months.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

A Little Charity Raising For The Poor, Starting At Home.

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As all Catholic schools are prone to, we had an enormous amount of fundraisers and collections for some or other charity, I cannot remember a day that went past that we were not asked to donate some or other canned, packaged, bottled or packet of something to the poor. That was if we were not asked to donate money or take a tin home and fill it with our spare change also for the less advantaged in our beautiful country. There were two extremely important fundraisers on the schools calendar, The Big Walk and the annual fête.

For the ‘Big Walk’ we were handed sponsorship forms where we were expected to go around our suburbs and get people to sponsor us a few cents per kilometre that we completed, the person that managed to raise the most money for the school being presented with some or other prize. I was inordinately successful in getting these sponsorships, maybe because I was small for my age and the older people were taken in by my innocent looks. I can just imagine their reaction to having this small urchin on their doorsteps asking to be sponsored a few cents per Kilometre, the form saying a maximum of twenty kilometres, the sponsors had to be thinking that I would not be capable of completing more than five.

Many of my sponsors risked as much as one Rand per kilometre. There was place for twenty sponsors on each form and I completed twelve of them. To this day I cannot justify what I did, but I only handed eight of those forms into the school and kept four of them for myself, the ones with the largest total of potential cash. The big day arrived and we set off on the five kilometre course, which was to be repeated four times, with marshals stationed at one kilometre intervals where the large labels hung around our necks were stamped to verify the distance completed. I completed all twenty kilometres. The following week we were given an official school letter with the distance that we had completed verified and signed off by Sister Kollomkil, the Mother Superior of the convent and as everyone knows nuns do not lie.

We were also given our sponsorship forms back so that we could collect the moneys that were now outstanding and due, the convent keeping a record of what was expected to be turned in. As the average sponsorship was ten cents a kilometre, the average per form was then forty Rand. So I handed the school about three hundred and twenty Rand in sponsorship money and kept a little more than one hundred and eighty Rand for myself. Back in the sixties, the average salary was only about three hundred Rands a month, so for a nine year old I was rich. Also as Karen and I were now allowed to leave the sanctity of the home and I had made friends with a few of the other children of my age who lived in my street, it was shopping time.

My best friend at the time was David T. We had become friends one afternoon at the park that was also in our street, David had been teasing Karen, and it was left to me to protect my sister. After the fight where I had a black eye and David a bloody nose, blood being the sign of the loser and the end of the fight, we had put our differences aside and had become firm friends. David was also a little chubby and had a ferocious appetite, so it was to him that I turned, when with all this money burning a hole in my pocket I decided to spend it at the new steak house by the name of Steers that had just opened in the new extension of the Parkview shopping centre.

A day was chosen and off we went, one afternoon after school, the shopping centre being about three kilometres from where we lived. The waiters were at first a little dubious about seating two nine year olds at a table, but after showing some cash we were treated like royalty. We decided to have at least one item of every category on the menu. We started at the top and worked our way to the bottom. The Steers menus were printed on pieces of wood and had simulated burns around the edge, representing the fact that all meat was flame grilled.

We had one of the starters, moved on to a double cheese hamburger, then a portion of spare ribs, a steak all served with French fries and deep fried onion rings. Finally we were onto the desserts. The most expensive and therefore the only one to order was the ‘Awful-Awful’ a strange name for a dessert but was advertised as awful big-awful nice. It was made with ice-cream, bananas, cherries, walnuts, fruit salad, chocolate sauce and covered in cream. I had never understood the phrase “Too much of a good thing is bad for you”, well after that meal I definitely understood.

What that meal cost I have no idea, as when we had finished the ‘Awful-Awful’, we felt distinctly …well… awful. We called for the bill and rushed to find the nearest toilet so that we could be ‘Awfully’ sick. The balance of the money was frittered away with nothing to show for it, as I was not stupid enough to buy things that I would not be able to explain, at least not truthfully, how I had been able to afford them.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Companionship and Other Wars

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My second year at the convent was a lot more pleasant in some ways and rather unpleasant in others, but let’s start with the pleasant. During the Christmas break, the convent had enrolled a few more boys, mostly in the grade school, four in standard one, and two more to join me in standard two. So finally I was able to have a friend at school. For some unknown reason I cannot recall his name, but I can still picture him, a short, squat, dark head boy with his face perpetually split by a grin. He had a disposition that was always sunny and nothing but nothing could in any way make him sad. I have always wondered why the convent decided to enrol boys and the only reason that I can think of is that there were unfilled places in the school, so to maximise the school’s income a limited number of boys were admitted, only as far as standard two. I would like to think that having had me at the school for most of the previous year must have allayed the fears that boys are a corrupting influence.

The down side to having fellow male students was that I was not unique anymore and the matric girls of that year did not spoil me as the girls of the previous year had. Another slightly different thing was that the standard two teacher, was not a nun, she was a civilian who had not taken the vows, so could not be expected to be filled with God’s love and patience that most of the nuns seemed to have in abundance.

 I am not saying that the nuns were not strict or that any transgressions of the law were not swiftly dealt with by having a wooden ruler slammed over the back of the hand, extremely painful in winter, but the nuns were also infinitely forgiving. Once a punishment had been swiftly admonished, you were totally forgiven, the slate wiped clean no matter what was written into your student file. Civilian teachers seemed to never forget any transgression, no matter how small or petty, transgress often enough and resentment or a label was attached to the unruly unfortunate.

My new teacher and I got off on the wrong foot from the start and the situation only went from bad to worse over the year. It’s strange that 1968 is the only year that I am unable to remember names of people that I met for the first time during the year, names of people that I met before or after that year are as clear as yesterday. I have the feeling that Avery and what he had done is responsible for many things that occurred that year, and for the amnesia that befuddles that year.

Avery was to visit us twice that year and then never again. So back to, let’s call her Miss Trenchpole, the teacher as portrayed in the movie ‘Matilda’.  She was a very pretty woman with blond hair and a very pleasant face, unfortunately she was as hard as nails. The very first thing that I did to annoy her was to not answer the question that she had addressed to me by name and decided that I was ignoring her, worse I was testing her authority.

To be fair she was not to know that I was partly deaf as my ears were still healing and it would be a few years before I had about eighty per cent hearing in my left ear and about ninety per cent in my right ear. Maybe if I had explained the problem to her at the beginning things would have turned out differently, but as there were now other boys in the class with me I think I did not explain because I did not want to show any weakness and difference in front of them. I wanted to be as normal as possible. She also had a pitch and tone of voice that made it extremely difficult for me to understand what she was saying, even though I sat right in front of the class her idea not mine, all the boys had been placed up front for some reason known only to her.

The most memorable time that I really annoyed her was the time that I added a star to a piece of homework, I was banished from her class for a week and had to spend the time in the playground alone during lessons and ostracised by my fellow pupils during breaks. I think it is called being sent to Coventry, a very effective form of punishment. To keep myself occupied that week I carved her face onto a piece of sandstone, which somehow she found out about, as it was not a very flattering sculpture she was more incensed than ever. It was to be a year that I spent more breaks in the classroom doing extra work than I ever spent in the playground.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

Sowetan Tea and other Strange Customs

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This could be Hubby’s house.

From the time that Hubby had received her house, a new ritual had been added to our Christmas routine, one in which my father never participated. Just before we left for the Durban trip my mother would take us to Soweto to distribute the gifts from our family to Hubby’s family. It was not as simple as it seems.

First we had to report to the Soweto permit office and apply for a permit to visit Hubby’s family, this could take anything from an hour to a whole morning, depending on how helpful the police were, or how educated. Then having received the permit my mother who was really beautiful had to convince the police that we would not need an escort, she was not always successful in dissuading the local constabulary that their protection was not needed.

 When we were unaccompanied, the visits were spontaneous and Hubby the snob that she was, had to call all the neighbours so that they could meet her white family as well as to boast about the gifts she and her family had received. One of her old friends always said that one day a jealous someone was going to put a knife in her back. It never happened so they must have just grinned and bore her boastful demeanour.

We always landed up being given a small party on her tiny front lawn, and we met all the residents of her street.

 When we were accompanied by one of the SAP, our visit was very short and the neighbours were nowhere to be seen. The presents were varied in nature, mostly of the clothing variety but there was always an OK Christmas lucky dip box for the younger members of the family. When I think of those lucky dip boxes compared to the junk that is sold today I always feel that the general public is not only gullible, but that they deserve the bad service that they get as they do not seem to have any idea of the value of money. They blithely pay for bad service and substandard products, only complaining over dinner and never with their feet.

I mention the gifts to Hubby’s family because this time we were not taking her with us on our trip to Durban, or at least our trip to the coast as this particular year we were off to destination unknown. Also we were to be staying at a guest lodge with all services laid on, which was definitely for whites only so therefore Hubby was to have a week at home with her family for a change. That year besides the presents, my mother had bought a ton of food so that Hubby would be able to have Christmas with her family before attending the ritual with us.

Once Hubby had lined up all the gifts and food for display in her tiny kitchen she was off to summon the neighbours to the viewing. It was the day that I discovered what ‘Soweto tea’ actually was.

Hubby’s next door neighbour was Shangan, and also ran one of the illegal shabeens in the area. A shabeen is an illegal tavern, and back in the sixties Natives were only allowed to consume traditional beer (sorghum) and not the clear beer of the whites. As the township was always patrolled by the hated SAP, and that clear beer was sold in very distinctive bottles, it was very easy to spot a Native drinking the illegal brew. To get around the police, beer was decanted into a tea pot and the ‘tea’ sipped from tea cups.

The Shangan offered me a cup of Soweto tea, and naturally I accepted, asking for three sugars. I wondered why he gave me a strange look but not for long, it was to be my first taste of Castle beer, the brand that I was to drink for the rest of my life. By the time we left for home I was more than a little drunk and was violently sick in the car before we reached the safety of home. For a change no punishment as it was decided being sick and having a hangover was punishment enough, it probably was.

Lots of Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven