Berezina- Interesting Travel Tale- 2015

  • Author: Sylvain Tesson – FrenchBerezina book
  • Publisher Europa Compass
  • Translated from the French by Katherine Gregor 2019
  • 177 pages
  • Berezina refers to a ‘disastrous situation’

Premise: Four men from Russia and France get three Russian Ural motorcycles and ride from Moscow to Paris in the winter following the retrear of Napoleon from Moscow in 1812.

You’ll need to wear your woolen warmies if you’re reading this book because it is cold. These guys are nuts! First off to have the Ural be the motorcycle transport of choice is crazy.

If you aren’t familiar with a Ural bike, read on:

The Soviets built them in the 1930s, modelling them on the BMWs of the German army. These machines are robotics of the Soviet industry. They promise adventure. You can never tell if they’ll start and once launched, no-one knows if they’ll stop. 

They go up to 50 miles per hour. They travel through the countryside devoid of electronic devices. Anybody can repair them with a pair of metal pliers. You. need to get used to driving them, avoid turning right too quickly on pain of lifting the basket and constantly adjust the profile towards the left. For the past twenty years, driven by a blend of fascination and masochism. (Page 35)

Did I mention two of the bikes on the trip had sidecars.

Ural tipping

These guys are history buffs and absolutely besotted with the history of Napoleon. The reader learns a great deal about the military retreat of Napoleon when he could not conquer Russia and they in turn, with thousands of troops send him back out of the country.  The descriptions of the battles, the deep snow and the stubbornness and insanity of Napoleon at times is quite interesting though I must warn  the battles can get quite graphic.

These men wanted to experience the conditions that Napoleon suffered so they are riding across Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Germany and France. Most of it in blinding blizzards, deep snow, sub zero temperatures, breaking down constantly, getting drunk on vodka most nights. It is a book I couldn’t put down because I couldn’t believe they were doing this.

I learned more about Napoleon than I needed but it is fascinating history. Two men had to leave during the trip due to other commitments but the other two kept ploughing through. I can’t believe they actually survived the trip.  Here are another couple of passages:

“A motorbike helmet is a meditation cell. Trapped inside, ideas circulate better than in the open air. (I can confirm this.) It would be ideal to be able to smoke in there. Sadly, the lack of space in an integral crash helmet prevents one from drawing on a Havana cigar, and the ensuing wind blows out the burning tip when the helmet is open.  A helmet is also a sounding box. It’s nice to sing inside it It’s like being in a recording studio. I hummed the epigraph from Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night. These lines were to become my mantra for weeks to come. (page 58)”

Our life is a journey. Through Winter and Night, We try to find our way, Beneath a sky without light.

They often referred to “a top location”. You might wonder what that means. Here is their definition.

” Is a stretch of geography fertilised by the tears of History, a piece of territory made sacred by an act, cursed by a tragedy, a land that, over the centuries, keeps echoing with hushed-up suffering or past glory. It’s a landscape blessed by tears and blood. You stand before it and suddenly sense a presence, a surge, a manifestation of something you can’t quite put your finger on. It’s the echo of History, the fossilised radiation of an event that seeps out of the soil like a wave. Tragedy has been so intense here, and in such a short space of time, that the geography hasn’t recovered yet. The trees may have grown but the Earth continues to sugar. When it drinks too much blood it becomes a to location. Then you must look at it in silence because it’s haunted by ghosts. (page 107).

And last but not least is a short insight into Napoleon.Generated by pixel @ 2019-12-21T17:33:57.381519

” Napoleon had always felt the need to strive towards an idea. Did he not profess that the world was led by imagination? He would project on the screen of the future the images of his mental constructions. Nothing must hinder the mechanics, a defeat was not conceivable. This is why the Emperor gives the impression of brushing aside the Russian disaster, minimising it, and casting it out of his mind. Sadly, the means at his disposal were never sufficient to brig his plans to a successful conclusion, and to consolidate the work he had begun in every direction and every country. He started everything and finished nothing. He wanted to redesign the world, but didn’t achieve a single local reform.

And so his reign was like the sleigh trip: a crazy pursuit. (Page 156)”

In finishing I’d like to say the Penguin suggested I rehome this book so if you’d like a copy of it email me or leave in the comments you’d like it. If more than one I’ll use the random generator. It’s a relatively small book so happy to mail it anywhere in the world.

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Who would like this book?


About the author: Sylvain Tesson has traveled the world by bicycle, train, horse, motorcycle and on foot. His best selling accounts of his travels have won numerous prices, including the Dolman Best Travel Book Award for the Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin on the Siberian Taiga (2013) 

A Bit of Fluff on a Rainy Day

Life According to Literature Tag Meme

First off I’d like to thank the weather gods for sending us rain overnight. It’s not all we rainneed but it sure sounded lovely on the roof this morning. I hear it’s raining over the fires as well but that’s a mixed bag. Lightning can start more fires, but cooler conditions and rain can help extinguish the fires that are still going.

It’s been a silly old day today.  I took Ollie for a walk today and of course he got into the burrs. Burrs and a rough coated Jack Russell are not at all compatible. Especially when one has very short legs and the burrs get on the puppy tummy as well. Trying to comb anything out of a five month old puppy is a challenge but we finally got through it.

outbackThen I thought, “Now what can I do to entertain myself when Claire’s meme came through from her blog. Several of my blogger friends have participated in this little exercise so I thought I’d have a go. However, one is supposed to use the names of books read in 2019. I didn’t keep track of what I read in 2019. As I am focusing this year on the books currently unread on my shelves I decided to use those TBR books instead. So here goes. I revised the rules for my page.

THE RULES: Using only books you have not read on your shelves, answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. Let me know below, if you’ve joined in too

Describe yourself:

How do you feel?    Happy Returns by CS Forester

Describe where you currently live:    In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare

If you could go anywhere, where would you go:    Outback and Beyond by Cynthia Nolan

Your favourite form of transportation:    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by   Rob Pirsig

dogYour best friend is:    The Literary Dog by William E. Maloney

You and your friends are:    Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

What’s the weather like:    Rain-Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison

You fear:    The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen

What is the best advice you have to give?    Get an:   Accommodating Spouse by Elizabeth Jolley

Thought for the day:    Browse The World in Bookshops by Henry Hitchings

spouseHow would I like to die?    Central Mischief by Elizabeth Jolley

My soul’s present condition:    Autumnal Tints by Henry David Thoreau


So there we have it… Until next time.

Yellow Casual Penguin
I’m finally getting some wear out of this rain coat.


The Age of Innocence and Kensuke’s Kingdom

age innocenceI’ve read a couple books this week plus a short story. It’s quite hot out so nice to stay inside where it is cool.  Southern Tasmania is probably the only place in the nation without smoke in the air. It’s really been terrible for people.

I read The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton for my upcoming book group meeting in February at Fullers Bookshop. Edith Wharton was the first female author to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921. It was originally serialised in four parts in a magazine the previous year and then published and sold as a book.  I’ll be interested to see what the book group thinks about it. Last year they hated the period piece of Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield which I loved.  I enjoyed this book once I got into it. It’s one of those books I wouldn’t start unless I had a good block of time to get into it so I’d want to pick it up again.

Newland Archer is engaged to May Welland and looking forward to his wedding very

edith wharton
Edith Wharton

much. Then her cousin the Countess Ellen Olenska arrives from Europe where she has left her brutish Polish husband and does not plan to return.  It is the end of the 19th century, New York, so of course there is a great deal of discussion about her upcoming divorce and will she be accepted into society or not.  She is a bit Bohemian, wears scarves, loves the wilder side of life and is very independent.  Newland falls in love with her and that sets up the plot for the rest of the story.

However the beauty of this book is how it defines social class in the later half of the 1800s in New York.  The requirements of proper society ladies and gentlemen are very clear and heaven help you if you break one of them. The scandals, the gossip, the theatre, the interactions between the extended families of both Newland and May come into the tale very much.  It was an important piece of literature in America in the early 1900s because of the impact World War I had on society.  Values were changing and that impacted on New Society and pretty much the entire way of life. Events such as the war, the Stock Market crash of 1929 and the depression changed the face of America. This book defined how life was previous to all of that and you could see the beginning of those changes as the year rolled over into the new century from the 1800’s.  There is also the theme of balancing what is responsible in one’s life versus what one wants. Does one forego a life, hurting many people in exchange for only thinking of oneself to attain what is wanted.  As predictable as the story was the ramifications of how it addressed an important part of American history stays with the reader.  I enjoyed it.

322My second book of the week was randomly selected from 1001 Children’s Books You Should Read Before You Die.  The first couple of selections were not available in our local library but this book was. Michael Morpurgo’s Kensuke’s Kingdom is a book I’d never heard of. Mr. Morpugo was born in 1943 in Hertfordshire, England. He has written many books and our library seems to have most of them. I would think the reading age for this book would be about 9 or 10 upwards. It is the story of an 8 year old boy who moves onto a yacht with his parents after they lose their job when the local factory closes down. They sail to various places in the world and one day while the boy is on watch with his dog, they fall overboard. His parents are asleep below deck and have no idea this has happened. He and the dog manage to stay above water but when all is lost and he becomes unconscious and the dog has floated away, he awakes and finds himself on an island. Only one other person lives on the island, a 90 year old Japanese man who has been there since Nagasaki was destroyed in World War II and he cannot go home again.

The man eventually works out the boy is not an enemy and he takes him under his wing.

Michael Morpurgo

They care for the gibbon monkeys and the orangatangs. They live in a cave fitted out with items from a sunken ship nearby. While there, evil men arrive in a sloop with rifles and their aim is to kill the adult gibbon monkeys so they can steal the babies for the tourist trade.  There are a lot of environmental messages in this book. They talk about the animals and the extensive clearing of land. At the end of the book there is a page about all the illegal and governmental land clearance around the world and the impact that has on the wildlife.  The message it portrays is very pointed.  I didn’t think I’d like reading a book for such a young audience but the main characters were enjoyable and developed enough that I cared about them. I worried about the monkeys and orangatangs too. I finished it in a couple of hours as I was interested in how they would all end up.  If I had children in my life I would recommend these adventure stories to them. There is enough adventure that the educational value of it does not become overwhelming.

I’ve got another couple books on the go but I’m not far enough into them yet to say anything.  I have a very funny short story from the book Funny Ha Ha to share too but will do so later.

Until next time…

Yellow Casual Penguin
It’s raining today. We need more!!







This book counts for the Century of Books Challenge:  1920.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

For people who read a lot they will probably know this was an important short story in

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From Wikipedia

American Literature.  It’s first inception was not a film though two films have been made of this story, neither kept to the plot.

It was written by the wonderful author James Thurber.  I love his tales. I have read him off and on for years and he had such a creative, humorous imagination. He was born in 1894, the same year my maternal grandparents were born though they were a few months older than him. He was a cartoonist, humorist, journalist, playwright, children’s book author and wit. He was best known for short stories and cartoons published in the New Yorker. (Wikipedia).

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was first published in The New Yorker magazine March 18, 1939. It is a story about a man who day dreamed his life away.  How often do we do that? I was a great day dreamer especially as I sat in school classes and it never really disappeared much into adulthood.

The story begins in Connecticut with Walter driving his wife into the city to do the shopping and have her hair done. Walter doesn’t pay much attention to the real world, but instead lives in a dreamlike state of heroic antics.

As they drive into town his wife tells him to quit driving so quickly. He goes into his imagination and sees himself as a pilot of a US Navy flying boat in a storm. There is a brief description of this episode of heroism. As they drive past a hospital he suddenly turns into a wonderful surgeon performing the trickiest of operations to save the life of his patient.

Screenshot 2Once past the hospital something else catches his imagination and he becomes a deadly assassin testifying in a courtroom. Soon afterwards he is a Royal Air Force pilot volunteering for a secret suicide mission to bomb an ammunition dumb.

Once the trip into town is complete he sees him self standing against a wall facing a firing squad. Each imaginative event is inspired by some detail of his hum drum life.

James Thurber’s stories and cartoons often displayed meek mannered men dominated by overweight, domineering wives. It seems to be a joke repeated often over time, especially in cartoons.

I remember the discussions of the story as far back as high school as his short stories, this one as well as The Catbird Seat were often taught in high school English classes. I wonder if they still are. I loved him and his stories. Screenshot 4

This story begins the exploration of the book, Funny Ha Ha, I talked about in a previous post.



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A Bit of Ruth Park- Australian Writer

ruth park
D’Arcy Niland and Ruth Park

My first book of 2020 is from an Australian female writer of the past, Ruth Park. The book is A Fence Around the Cuckoo, her autobiography of the first 25 years of her life. The remaining years are in a sequel entitled Fishing in the Styx, which I own but have not yet read. Bill Holloway of the AustralianLegend blog is hosting an Australian Women’s Writer week in January (here). I won’t have time to read a lot of the Gen 3 AWWs by mid January but this book qualifies.

Ruth Park was born in New Zealand in 1917 and died in 2010 at the age of 93. Part I of her biography details her first 25 years living in the north island of New Zealand with her large extended family in poverty during the war and depression years. She moved to Sydney in her early 20s where she remained the rest of her life.

She always knew from a very young age she wanted to write. Her parents struggled to ever meet her expectations because of their poverty. Her mother was one of six girls and a couple of brothers raised by Ruth’s grandmother and grandfather. They feature a lot in this story and I enjoyed hearing about their life of squabbles and affection.  Ruth lived with a couple of them from time to time when things got too bad.

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1992 first published

Ruth didn’t have any access to books at all until she was in her teens. Books weren’t available and neither was paper upon which to write. She talks of one of her uncles bringing home some forms from his office job, that were blank on the back and she thought it was Christmas. She coveted the paper and wrote every chance she got. If the desire to write is genetic she certainly had the gene for it. Her desire was strong.

The book details the type of work her parents and grandparents did, the description of the homes she lived in. Her father had done pretty good until the depression came, he couldn’t work and they lost their home after declaring bankruptcy. The ensuing years were very tough. It wasn’t until WWII when things began to pick up a bit.

I enjoyed hearing about her mother’s seamstress skills and her relationships with her sisters.

Ruth was greatly influenced by one of the nuns where she attended primary school at St. Benedicts.  The nun spent a great deal of time with her perfecting her writing skills, working her harder than the other students as she saw Ruth’s potential. As Ruth approached high school age the Sister helped her get a full scholarship for the rest of her school years.  I felt excited for her at that point, but sadly the family had to move away due to their financial situation and Ruth never got to take it up. I really felt for her.  She was still trying to find books to read without success. Her mother was supportive and wanted her to continue her education but was unable to help her.

Eventually Ruth got a job for the Star newspaper in Auckland, writing in the children’s section. At that time there were sections in newspapers for children of several pages which Ruth loved in her own childhood, if she could get her hands on a paper. During her time at the Star she realises how lowly paid female copy writers were compared to male writers. Most males didn’t believe there was any place for a woman on a newspaper. She was groundbreaking on that front eventually becoming a journalist.

She also met a man from Sydney who worked for newspapers there and they began an uncomfortable pen pal relationship. I say uncomfortable as she thought him a bit arrogant and he was keener to be with her than her with him. Her upbringing was very sheltered and she was also quite an independent child and wanted to remain so because of her own goals in life.

Eventually she moves to Sydney when she is 22 years old as she is offered work on a newspaper there. She learned that women were paid the same as men in copy editing and there were more opportunities.  Her relationship with her pen pal D’Arcy Niland, also a writer, developed more and they married not long after she arrived in Sydney.

I found the book interesting as I saw another side of New Zealand indigenous life, the depression years of the 1930s as well as life during the two world wars. I admired her tenacity and independence in staying focused on her goals throughout her young life. Nothing distracted her mentally. The circumstances ruling her life then were so tough.

As far as autobiographies go I really enjoyed this one. I’d like to read more of her books of which she wrote many during her lifetime.


I also began the diaries mentioned in the last post as it’s the first of January.  I opened my own diary and loved seeing all the blank pages waiting to be filled. What will this year be like?

I thought as I read these diaries during the year I’ll add excerpts that I enjoy from different periods of time into some posts.

From A Traveller’s Year: “…in the knowledge that no one pines for me anywhere on earth, that there is no place where I am being missed or expected. To know that is to be free and unencumbered, a nomad in the great desert of life where I shall never be anything but an outsider”  Isabelle Eberhardt, Diary. 1900. 

I’d like to know more of Isabelle’s life. Until next time…..Screenshot 1

Looking Forward to 2020- Part 2

ScreenshotIt’s to be 40 degrees C (104 F) in Hobart today. The firefighters are on high alert as a large storm is expected to come through tonight and they are worried about lightning strikes starting fires. The last time Hobart hit 40 degrees C on this date was 1897. Needless to say we are sequestered in the house for the day.

It gives me a chance to finalise my challenges for next year. I am adding two other types of reading in order to diversify the books a bit. I got a book voucher for my November birthday and with it I purchased a very thick book of comical short stories by well known authors. It is called Funny Ha Ha. Authors include the likes of James Thurber, Saki, Spike Milligan, Mark Twain, Joyce Carol Oates and Dorothy Parker to name a few. There are 80 stories in all, of a few pages each.  I decided I will randomly pick one story each Monday morning and have programmed that into my phone calendar so I will get a reminder each week.

As New Year’s Day is this Wednesday, I decided to randomly pick a story today and was pleased when my random generator app chose The Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber. I have read this story before, once assigned in high school and once later on. I also saw the film but didn’t get as much out of that as I did the story. I look Screenshot 5forward to reading it again.

The description of Funny Ha Ha states:

“Funny Ha Ha is the definitive collection of comic short stories. From Anton Chekhov to Ali Smith from P.G. Woodhouse to Nora Ephron, the greatest writers are those who know how to laugh. Here, award winning comedian and broadcaster Paul Merton brings together his favourite funny stories of all time. Whether it’s the silly, surreal, slapstick or satirical that makes you smile there’s a story here to tickle every funny bone. From prize-winners and literary giants, to stand up comedians and the rising stars of funny literature, this brilliant anthology is guaranteed to cheer your day. “

My second challenge is to continue with more of the books from 1001 Children’s Books You Should Read Before You Die. I started it before but it got waylaid. I’m hoping to rejuvenate that project. The only conditions I am assigning this project are I will use the Random Generator app to pick from the 900+ pages of the book and the books must come from the library.  I had a quick library search and they do have many of them. However some books are not available. There are quite a few copies that are eBooks I can download and others I need to put a hold on them.  I am choosing three books at a time and locating them in the library. I will read them once they become available or I get into town to pick them up.  Most won’t take very long to read.  I’ve not read children’s books much since I stopped working in the Education department. I like to keep up on children’s books and some young adult books.  It keeps me in the loop of what goes on with the younger generations though many of these books were classics when I was young.

Screenshot 3I also have some diaries I will try to keep up. They begin on 1 January and I will try to start my day off with the passage of the day. They are books I’ve wanted to read for awhile and if I take a year to read them I might be able to keep up. No promises on this one.

They are:

  1. The Diary of Samuel Pepys (those entries are a bit longer) Everyman’s Library, introduced by Kate Loveman
  2. A Traveller’s Year: 365 Days of Travel Writing in Diaries, Journals and Letters, compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison
  3. New York Diaries:  1609 to 2009, Edited by TeresaScreenshot 4 Carpenter.
  4. Dear Los Angeles: The City in diaries and Letters 1542 – 2018, Edited by David Kipen

Books three and four are really interesting. The editors have compiled all the diaries and letters they could find over time, in these locations, and organised the entries from centuries ago;  to current day by day of the year beginning with 1 January. So an entry might read: 1 January 1723 and the next paragraph could be 1 January 1802, and so forth. It sounds disjointed but I’ve had a read of these books here and there and they are really quite fun. Of course big events in these two cities are covered but there are also very minor characters who kept diaries and one gets a sense of what daily life’s like at the particular date.

Now I know, come 1 January, I love to take a big bite out of the book world and I am quite enthused now. But I have decided that 2020 is the year I drop way back on social media, except for my photography work and instead of wasting time looking at FB, Instagram and You Tube, I’m going to immerse myself in the books I have been collecting for decades and then moving them on.  Wish me luck.  (I know, I have an inflated sense of self and a very good sense of humour.) Screenshot 8

Looking Forward to 2020- Part I.

I googled book challenges and about a thousand images appeared. 

I’ve had a couple of quiet days playing with my books as I mentioned previously.  I’m now looking ahead to how and what I’d like to read beginning the year.  As much as I love challenges I don’t plan on many. My main challenge is to read the books on my shelf. There is an abundance of places to visit, people to meet and adventures to be had sitting on those shelves and it’s time I get serious about them.  While most of my books are “real” books, I also have some Kindle books unread. I will include those also.

The other set of books I’ll need to read are those for the Book Group I belong to at Fuller’s book shop. That kicks off the first week of February and runs through November. They have several groups that meet the first week of each month, all reading the same book and facilitated by a staff member. They are good fun and I hope to not be travelling so much in 2020, so will be able to participate. My group is the first Thursday evening of each month.

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Some of my TBR books.

I have chosen 52 books randomly from my shelves and written those names down in my book journal and put them on the Good Reads app. If any of you are on good reads feel free to friend me at Travellin Penguin. I wouldn’t mind some Good Reads friends. Beside the name of each of the 52 books written in my journal, I have put the symbol from a regular playing deck of cards. On January first I will shuffle the deck and begin reading whatever comes up.  I won’t try to do a book each week. There are other things I read but I will try.  Instead of picking a new card each week, I will pick a new card once I’ve finished the previous book. That could be a day or two weeks. Who knows?

I’ve got a wonderful book of short stories that all feature humour. I’ll tell you about that one in the next post, Part II. I do think that will be fun and I will try to stick with it.

Now, back to challenges.  I read about a dozen blogs regularly and they have challenges that pop up regularly either through their own post or through that of a friend.  If I see a challenge that fits in with my TBR books I might jump in and join it for a week or two or perhaps a month, but that will be my limit.  Many of the challenges are graded from reading one book in the challenge to several books. I’ll stick to the minimum, because at least I can participate then move on without getting bogged down.

I am in the unfortunate position that none of my family or friends here, that I see regularly read much.  So there is no one to talk to about books. I find that quite disappointing as there’s nothing better than a good natter to someone about a book. It’s ironic really, because we have one of the busiest book stores in Hobart on earth. Whenever I go into it, which is often, it is absolutely bustling with people and activity. I have a friend in NSW who reads a lot which is lovely. (You know who you are 😍) and she also lives in Tassie, nearby,  from January to April. Then I have a chance to catch up bookwise but that’s about it. So bloggers really are my friends. I love to read what they write about their books and their enthusiasm.  I also love seeing what books they get for Christmas.  I did get a book voucher for Christmas but there is never an actual book wrapped up and handed to me. I do love the vouchers though. So I do look forward to being more social in a few challenges and we’ll see how that goes.

I’ll start up my photography again in January and my play reading class in March. I had a complete two month break from photography as I wanted to stop, so I’d have time to think about the direction I want to go and have it feel fresh again. Other than that I am narrowing down quite a few outside activities.  I need time for myself to read and write and train Ollie.  I cannot abide an untrained dog and he’s doing well with his training. I’ll dedicate another post to him as I know a couple people follow him and I enjoy documenting his life.  If you’re not interested, that’s okay. Just pass that post by.   I’m looking forward to dragging my mega camera around again, the old workhorse it is.

More TBR books

I guess that kind of sums up where I am at the moment. Doesn’t the beginning of the year always feel like a new, clean slate with all kinds of adventures (hopefully) waiting around the corner?  I do so look forward to following my blogging bookish friends and seeing what you get up to. I hope anyone reading this has things planned for 2020 too. It’s a great way to escape all the negativity in the news media these days and let some light into our lives. All the best to you.


ps- Penguin is going to get a new wardrobe this year too. I’m tired of looking at his old clothes. Maybe he’ll dress like some of the book characters I meet.

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A bit of Robin Hood today.