Monthly Archives: June 2013


Ethics, Love and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

lady & knightThe ballad Lady of Carlisle tells a simple story: In olden times there lived young, good-looking, well-born, rich and smart young woman. Naturally she had many suitors, but she was, the ballad informs us, ‘determined to live a lady’ unless a suitor could prove himself ‘a man of honour and highest degree’. On a certain day, surrounded by her admirers, she rides to ‘the lion’s den’ a ride of some hours, where she is so terrified by the sight of the caged beasts that she faints away. She lies unconscious for  half an hour, and when she comes to, throws her fan into the pit where the lions are, and asks of her suitors who will retrieve it. The one to do so will win her hand. There is silence from most, but the first to speak is ‘a bold  lieutenant’, who says: “Though I am a lover of women, yet I will not die for love.” The next to speak (though in some versions more  suitors first refuse) is ‘A brave Sea-Captain’ who tells her: ‘I will retrieve your fan or die.’ He enters the den, the lions rush, he grabs the fan and nips out just in time; or he enters the den, where the Lion King turns out to be the very same one from whose paw the Captain had pulled a thorn. They embrace and the Captain exits with the fan. The lady takes the captain for her man, he gets her estate, and they all live ever after.

What can we unpick from this simple but symbol-laden tale?

Well, first of all, it has the classic short-narrative structure – a scene and characters are introduced, a tension is introduced, and a resolution which causes a permanent change in the main characters has been wrought in a few simple verses.

The atmosphere of symbology and mythical thinking from which this song emerges, however, asks us to reflect deeper, and because this short narrative has a very layered set of meanings,  I am going to use it to take us all the way to Jail, where we shall face the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and beyond, into the dens of vampire bats, the human unconscious and the region of ethics.

What is going on at the lion’s den? On the surface there is Courtship, a young woman surrounded by her suitors, who are vying to take her as their mate, have sex with her, father her children, take over her dowries and properties and live the good life. The prize is great and its disposition is in her hands, it seems. The penalty, of being devoured by lions, is also great, but its risk is the price of determining honour.

What the lady has done is impose on her suitors a dilemma – a situation where there are two or more options but the choices are not always obvious.

The classic dilemma at the heart of game theory is called The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and this dilemma and its implications are an entire field of study, so I can give you no more than a taste of it here. Simply put, the prisoner’s dilemma is this:

Two prisoners are in the hands of the police. Each prisoner knows something of the other’s crime, and each has one of the following options: He can give evidence against the other, thus getting a reduction in his own sentence (defect) or he can remain silent (cooperate). The dilemma arises because if neither defects on the other the police can convict them only on a lesser charge. Both together would be better off if they stayed silent, but each is individually better off if he defects.

dilemmaThink of it as a simple mathematical game that you play together for points.

  • If you both cooperate by staying silent you each get three points (the reward.)
  • If you both defect, you each get one. (the punishment.)
  • If one defects and the other cooperates, the cooperator gets none (the sucker’s pay-off) and the defector gets five (the temptation.)

temptation(5) > reward(3) > punishment(1) > sucker’s payoff(0)

So, individually, you are better off defecting whatever the other does. The logic goes like this: If you cooperate, you lay yourself open to the possibility of the opponent’s defection. You might get the three points, but run the risk of getting none at all. Better to defect, where you might get the five points if the sucker cooperates, but will at least get one. But since the opponent argues the same way, the certain outcome is that both will defect, and only get one point when they could each have had three.

Generally speaking, a situation in which you are tempted to do something but know it would be a great mistake if everyone did so, is a prisoner’s dilemma. Any situation where collective and individual interests are in conflict has elements of the prisoner’s dilemma. Formally, wherever the temptation is greater than the reward, which is greater than the punishment, which is greater than the sucker’s pay-off.

For a while, game theorists were stuck with the dilemma. It seemed to prove that defection is logically the best thing to do. This upset people for thirty years or so until in the late ‘70’s people started pitting computer programmes against each other in successive bouts of Prisoner’s Dilemma. A political scientist called Robert Axelrod set up a tournament where people submitted computer programs to play 200 successive games against each other and against themselves. At the end they looked at the accumulated scores – and were surprised to discover that ‘nice’ programmes (programmes more likely to initiate cooperation) had outdone ‘nasty’ programmes, and that the simplest, a ‘nice’ programme called ‘tit-for-tat’ had won overall. Tit-for-tat’s premise was simple – start off cooperating, then do whatever the other guy did last. If he’s nice to you, cooperate. If he’s nasty, punish him by defecting, but welcome him back if he’s nice again with a cooperative response.

What these tournaments established was that, far from endorsing selfishness, the Prisoner’s Dilemma shows that cooperation is the logical thing to do.

The Dilemma lies at the heart of narrative fiction, because the mediation between characters, and thus choices between self and other, between cooperation and defection, are what gives stories their meat. This tension between selfhood’s rational shell and the possibility of knowing and cooperating with the other lies at the heart of human relations, and the examination of different resolutions is the business of fiction.

vampire batThe vampire bats of Costa Rica spend the day in hollow trees in the dwindling rain-forests, and at night go out to hunt. They occupy a dodgy niche – they must find a sleeping mammal, puncture its veins without waking it, and drink its fill. They are unsuccessful between 10% and 30% of the time, and return hungry. After as little as two and a half days without a blood meal, the bat is in danger of starving to death. Any vague knowledge of statistics or life will confirm that sooner or later the bat will have a run of bad luck and starve. Fortunately for the bats, they have two special attributes—big brains and big bellies. The big bellies mean that they can take in more than they can digest. The big brains mean that they are able to live socially and to share their excess blood with others who were not as lucky by regurgitating it. Now, this presents each bat with the Prisoner’s Dilemma – he could defect by accepting food without offering any in return. What prevents him from doing this?

What indeed? Having big brains, they are able to recognise each other, and form complex patterns of relationship. They spend a lot of time preening each other. They fuss and fossick, paying especially close attention to the stomach area, which receives more preening that any other part. This means that a Vampire bat has a pretty good idea of who’s fed, who’s shared and who hasn’t. The bats do not always give indiscriminately of their excess—the blood is granted in a complex and shifting network of relationships. It appears that the bats regulate their relations with regard to blood donation by playing a form of tit-for-tat— “A bat that has donated blood in the past will receive blood from the previous donee; a bat that has refused blood will be refused blood in turn…. The principle required for tit-for-tat to work is a stable, repetitive relationship. The more casual and opportunistic the encounters between a pair of individuals, the less likely that tit-for-tat will succeed in building cooperation.”

A survey of the anthropological and paleological evidence suggests that we, too, are a cooperative species, and that this capacity is evolved. It is in our nature to offer cooperation and expect reciprocity. But this capacity is limited, perhaps to groups of about 150 people. Beyond that number the chances of opportunistic encounter increase. The proposed solution is that groups of groups then become the mediating entities. Only humans and some cetaceans have the capacity to form super-groups, or cooperative groupings of existing groups.

But let’s return to the Lion’s Den. The dilemma of the fan is not exactly the prisoner’s dilemma—it is played once only, and, though it is played by two people, they do not play as equals, as in the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma.

The material risks and rewards for the Lady’s suitors are obvious, and have been discussed. But what of the other player? The Lady also faces a risk in setting her task—that the task will prove so unattractive that none will accept the challenge, or that the challenge itself will prove so dangerous that none will survive it. Loss for her means that she will remain unwed, and, in that genetically worst possible scenario, she will not pass her genes on. But symbolically, her risk is greater than this: she risks losing her mind and her integrity itself, being incapacitated by her fear, both of the inner and of the outer Wilderness.

Now let’s look a bit closer at the dilemma of the fan, because, I believe, it sheds light on the central problem of our times: the problem of the ‘other’.

fanWhat is the fan? In Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols, we are told that with its ability to wax and wane, it is associated with the moon, with femininity, the emotions, and that in its airy qualities it is associated with the element Air, and with the mind. Like the moon, it stands for integrity, or continuity-in-change. It’s open, it’s closed, but it’s still a fan.

Hindu Samkya philosophy distinguishes four mental ‘elements’: Chitta, consciousness, Buddhi, awareness or awakeness, Ahamkara, ‘I am-ness’, the feeling of personhood, and Manas, the personal mind, the integrity—anima, or soul, is derived from this word and it is the root of both the words ‘mind’ and ‘moon’.

The fan, let us say, is the lady’s Manas. But what is the Lion’s Den, wherein it lies? Again a glance at Cirlot is helpful, and I shall now admit to doing what all scholars must do. I will follow only a limited thread, the one which suits my argument, rather than entering into the enormous and very complex den of Lion symbolism and signification.

lion“The Lion corresponds […] to the subterranean sun” (= unconscious energy or libido) Cirlot tells us. He goes on to say that “For Jung, the lion, in its wild nature, is broadly speaking an index of latent passions; it may also take the form of a sign indicating the danger of being devoured by the unconscious.”

The Lion’s Den, where caged lions reside, is then the Lady’s unconscious, the site of repression, and in it, captive, is the Lady’s fan, her Manas/integrity. It is of course significant that the fan dropping into the lion’s den is concurrent with her becoming unconscious.

She has to come around, of course, if only to set her challenge. And what are the responses?

The first is from the Lieutenant. Who is this man? He is a leader of soldiers, men in battle, and, thus, necessarily a strategist. He adds up the odds and quickly works out that it is better to defect. Revealingly, he describes himself as a ‘lover of women,’ thus necessarily unfaithful, and declares that he ‘will not die for love.’ His response uses the word ‘love’ in a different way from what the Lady seeks: His love is sexual, selfish and unfaithful, and he will not die for it.

The Captain’s response is the opposite. The Brave Sea Captain is the master of the lunar ocean, its dark tides, its wild storms. The ocean, Cirlot tells us, is, is not only the source of life, but also its goal—to return to the ocean is to return to the mother and thus to die. The ocean is also associated with Venus, with Mary (mare) whose colour is blue. Who could be better equipped than this man to delve into the unconscious, to return her integrity?

Proving that he is a ‘man of honour’, the captain states that he ‘will return [the] fan or die.”

And here we have the crux of the entire transaction: Without honour to govern human affairs, we are stuck with the lieutenant’s response, the Game Theorists’ original response to the prisoner’s dilemma: defect, it’s every man for himself!

What then is honour? Honour is the ability to place the needs of an other, individual or communal, before the needs of the self. It implies the ability to empathetically project oneself into another’s situation, by an act of the sympathetic imagination. The Sea Captain’s honour goes further: he is prepared to enter the wild unconscious for the sake of love. He is prepared to understand the danger of her passion, the irrationality of her emotions, the changeability of her sensibilities. And by his love he will return her integrity and continuity to her. And he will do this before considering his own needs. In terms of game theory, honour is the smart response, because honour is reciprocated by honour.

Sadly, the world has become so complex that our instinctual capacity for cooperation, evolved to make a success of humans living in smallish groups, no longer really works. We are not vampire bats. The system Global Capital which dominates the planet and brings its products and effluents to everywhere, is not structured on lines of reciprocity and honour—it is structured around defection and short-term gain. In the process, living systems and cultures are being destroyed, and the ecological balance which sustains our existence is threatened.

In essence, on a global scale we are playing prisoner’s dilemma serially against ourselves. The Global System has been highly successful for the successful, but not so great for the rest of us. We each spend our lives playing versions of the Prisoner’s Dilemma and wrestling with the knot of the ‘other’. Our choices are complex but simple: cooperate or defect, but they do not seem simple, and there are enormous pressures from the Global System, via the media, opinion, politics and commerce, to opt for defection and short-term gain.

The world during this century will not be ‘more of the same’—either something exceptional will happen or it is going to fall apart, in a fairly spectacular way, over the next thirty or so years. The chaos engendered by the crisis of growth will bite earlier in the South, where we live. It is not all hopeless, but we will only have one way out: we will have to learn to go beyond short-term gain to create a cooperative world. We will have to embrace with genuine understanding the ‘other’, by means of sympathetic imagination, warts and all. If we are to emerge from the Lion’s den with the fan of our integrity intact, we will have to learn to act with honour, not to defect. This applies equally to our personal relations, our social ones and our ecological ones.

The creation of fictional characters, if pursued with some rigour and conviction, is a model for the use of the sympathetic imagination. The more detail we use to construct our model of the ‘other’, the more success we are likely to have both in creating fiction and in negotiating our way in a world filled with billions of others. The more fearless we are in embracing what is beyond the compass of our known selves, the bigger the payoff. For we must not forget that the known self is but a tiny fraction of our personal being—our own unconscious inner nature is also ‘other’ and needs to be entered fearlessly if we are to emerge with an integrated selfhood. The method for integrating ourselves is thus, at heart, the same as what we can use for comprehending others.

I am inviting you to risk death for love and honour. It is not the easy choice. It is not, on the surface, the rational choice. But, as mathematics, the wisdom of the heart, and the wisdom of the old ballad show, it is probably the right choice as well as the winner’s choice.

Here is a version of the ballad. An internet search will reveal many different versions, as well as performances.

Lady Of Carlisle

Down in Carlisle there lived a lady,
Being most beautiful and gay;
She was determined to live a lady,
No man on earth could her betray.

Unless it were a man of honour,
A man of honour and high degree;
And then came running two loving soldiers,
This fair lady for to see.

The first one was a brave lieutenant,
A brave lieutenant and a man of war;
The other was a brave sea captain,
Captain of the ship that come from far.

Then up spoke this fair young lady,
Saying “I can’t be but one man’s bride
But if you’ll come back tomorrow morning,
On this case we will decide. ”

She ordered her a span of horses,
A span of horses at her command;
And down the road these three did travel
Till they come to the lions’ den.

There she stopped and there she halted
These two soldiers stood gazing down;
And for the space of half an hour,
This lady lay speechless on the ground.

And then when she did recover,
she threw her fan in the lion’s den
Saying, “Which of you to gain a lady
Will return her fan again?”

Then up spoke the brave lieutenant,
He raised his voice both loud and clear,
Saying, “Though I am a lover of women,
Yet I will not die for love.”

Then up spoke this brave sea captain,
He raised his voice both loud and high,
Saying, “As I am a lover of women,
I will return your fan or die. ”

Down in the lions’ den, he entered,
The lions being both wild and fierce;
He marched around and in among them,
Safely returned her fan again.

And when she saw her true love coming
Seeing no harm had been done to him,
She threw herself against his bosom
Saying, “Here is the prize that you have won!”

coverIntricacy is a memoir of my mother Lesley. It was published by Double Storey in 2005, and is now out of print though a few copies turn up on

I have placed the entire text here. In order to defeat the latest-first logic of the blog medium, I have put links at the bottom of the page. By clicking on Next Page, you can read the entire work in sequence.


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What does it mean to evoke? The word has its roots in the use of the voice to summon something up, from the Latin evocare. It has clinging to it a whiff of necromancy, and in the late 1600s the word evocate came to mean the summoning up of the dead, which meant drawing them forth out of the ground in a parallel of the then ubiquitous images of the dead rising from their graves at the peal of the Final Trump. By extension, the evocative artwork is an angel’s trumpet that can call forth feelings and apprehensions that are dead or forgotten in us.

363 calendarWhat was Lesley’s art intended to evoke? As I see it, there were two sides to her project. On the one hand, the conventional and decorative, where the content of what she did was derived from established conventions and presented in terms of pattern and colour. And on the other hand, the representational, where the content came from the interaction of her way of seeing and representing with a given world, already filled with mul-titudinous forms and patterns.

She chose different media for the different styles – the conventional she applied decoratively to things around her: sequined embroidery on a mirror-frame or a cosmetic case, a pattern of birds painted onto a wooden bench in enamel paints, gouache illuminations in a hand-bound book, a carved wooden perpetual desk calendar, shown here, made from a hard wood that has been treated like a wood-cut and then decorated with gold-leaf.

For the representational, she stuck to the media of her training: pencils, pens and inks, watercolours, and oils on primed board, but everything, for her, began with the sketch, a quick drawing which attempted to capture the essence of the forms she was seeing.

364 podThese she would work up as paintings, adding and emphasizing, composing and re-working until the creation satisfied her criteria. Looking back on her art, I see that what unites both of her styles is an intention to present beauty, and in this way to evoke in the viewer the same pleasures and satisfactions that she had herself had derived in experiencing what she felt to be beautiful. Her art never really needed to be decoded, nor did it attempt to rationalize itself in words.


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365 cow & sheepAmong the photographs in my desk-drawer are several sketches, watercolours and gouaches, executed by the woman who was to be Jack’s grandmother and Lesley’s great-grandmother, Frances Harriet Stocker, in the early years of her life, the late 1840s and early 1850s. They show that Frances was a talented person in the manner of young Victorian women from families of substance – she could draw and paint, do botanical watercolours and pastoral scenes in pencil, and had enjoyed the wide education which allowed these skills. The pencil sketch I have chosen for reproduction here is no doubt copied from an engraving from that era. She has signed and dated it, and the date, December 1848, reveals that she was fifteen at the time.

366 FHSThe confident line and flawless execution of this sentimental pastoral scene are arresting, especially in the light of the expectations we hold for fifteen-year-old girls these days. In my filing-cabinet is a thin file marked ‘Families’ that came from Jack. During the grief-numbed time when, alone in his house in the UK, I sorted his papers, it was peeped into and put aside. I brought it back home, filed and forgot it. It is the one that contained Jack’s notes and plans for the construction of a family tree. With it is a yellowy-beige sheaf of five folded papers, covered from edge to edge in a fine Victorian hand. From various clues I surmise that the hand is that of Granny Cope, Frances Stocker. She wrote in a neat even hand with expressive flourishes, especially in the crossing of t’s, and she wrote right up to the edge of the paper, as though paper were precious. The writing is very small, the lines close together, about ten point, and difficult for my fifty-two-year-old eyes to read. When I do read them, I discover that they are a fragment of something larger, perhaps a novel.

The harsh moralism in the story is not unexpected in a parson’s daughter living in the 1840s. What intrigues me is the clarity and control of her prose, the correctness of her spelling and punctuation, and in particular her clear evocation of little children’s feelings. The twins in her story fascinate my seven-year-old twins, and as I type bits of the story, they demand to be read more. I hardly have to explain the 150-year-old English. They understand it perfectly. Here it is, starting as it does in mid-sentence:

[…] by the barking of a dog. He hastened back to his former position & beheld a large rough sheep-dog leave the cow­boy’s side and run barking towards Mr. Harper who redou­bled his shouts. The dog at­tracted by the pocket handker­chief and the voice of a stranger contin­ued his threatening growls and bark­ing & soon brought Dick to the spot. Mr. Harper quickly told his tale and they proceeded together to the spot. “Well I de­clare!,” said Dick after he had gazed at the chil­dren with open mouth  for the space of a minute “Well aw declare! Aw do be­lieve they be our Willie and An­nie but however they comed there passes me. They be the most mis­chievous little dogs aw ever knowed.” “Thank God they are still safe, ejaculated Mr. Evans. “Now Dick to the rescue. Can you swim? The water seems deep here.” Dick grinned and began to roll up his trou­sers to the knees.  “I reckon they didna come there by swim­ming and aw can get the same road they did.” So saying he proceeded leisurely to pull off one thick nailed shoe then an­other and then two well-darned blue worsted stockings. These he left on the bank and descending to the water’s brink walked some dis­tance up the stream till he came to a shoal of gravel, then he struck across to the middle of the river in the direction of the children who screamed with delight. Old Shepherd the dog had already reached them by a less circuitous route & by his uncouth demonstrations threatened to precipitate the little boy and girl into the stream. In a few minutes Dick had re­gained the shore with Willie on his back and the little girl in his arms, both very glad to be put down safely on dry land after their long imprisonment on their little island of rock. Mr. Harper took a hand of each and asked them how they had come into such danger & from their account he gathered that they had wandered up the riverside plucking the beauti­ful wild flowers that strewed its banks, throwing pebbles into the water and watching the shoals of tiny fish that sported in the sunny stream. Then tired of such play they di­vested themselves of shoes and socks and dabbled in the shallow parts of the river, growing bolder as they proceeded, they at length had wan­dered far out into the middle where it ceased to be shallow and each step plunged their little legs deeper and deeper in the water till little Annie grew fright­ened, said she could go no further and began to cry. They tried to retrace their steps but could not remember which way they had come and both grew quite bewildered. The water seemed to be coming up all around them and there was no one near to help them. No one did I say? Yes there was One watching over them and shelter­ing them with his kind fatherly arms. And Willie thought of it, and when his little sister cried piteously Father! Mother! Oh Willie, where’s our father?” Willie said “Gran told us never to be afraid for God is always with us, he is our father.” and An­nie looked up in his face and dried her tears and said “Our fa­ther which art in Heaven. But the water’s cold, Wil­lie. O Willie, Willie!” & she cried again. Then Willie saw a large flat piece of rock just above the water and only a foot or two from where they now stood, so with some difficulty he man­aged to get onto it and drag his little companion af­ter him & there they had to stay a long and weary while till Mr. Harper provi­dentially dis­covered them. When they had told him every thing he gently but very gravely talked to them of the great danger they had just escaped, showed them how naughty they had been to play truant which was the 1st cause of all this trouble and how that it was through the great mercy of God they had been saved for if He had not sent someone to their rescue they might have been on the rock all night. He told them how sorry they ought to be and how thankful to their Heavenly F for their preservation. Both lit­tle ones cried and promised very sincerely never to do so again. They had now reached the farm and Mr. H led them weeping to their mother, explained all that had hap­pened and advised her to put them both to bed at once as they had been some time in their wet clothes. This adven­ture served to make them more careful and obedient for a while, but it was not very long before they got into fresh scrapes. They hunted the sheep, let the pigs into the garden to eat the fruit, sucked the eggs and were continually climbing into all sorts of dangerous places from which they could not get down again. Frocks and pina­fores were rent, legs and arms scratched and torn & hat strings always pulled off and lost. Many a time they had been sent un­happily to bed. Once in­deed (sad to relate) had Mrs. Evans been obliged to whip them both for Annie was as bad as the other, there was nothing that Willie did that Annie would not do. They called her little Tom boy, but she did not mind so that she could be with Willie. There was nothing they liked better than riding down to the brook on summer eve­nings to water the horses. They were wild and wayward chil­dren, good as long as they could have their own way but if thwarted would sometimes give way to much ill temper and passion. One day they had been kept in the house on ac­count of the heavy rain that fell and notwithstanding their imprisonment had been good and quiet. They were just fin­ishing their supper of bread and milk when Hugh came in and said he wanted Willie to get some eggs out of a hen’s nest he had just found in the wood­house. “It’s too wet for the child to go out,” said Mrs. E. “But mother I’ll carry him” said Hugh “and no one but Willie can get them for they’re in a hole too small for me to get thro.” “Well take care of him there and don’t keep him out in the wet too long.” “Oh no, mother! Here’s your hat, come on Willie,” and so saying Hugh stooped down for the little boy to climb on his back. Annie slipped off her chair and ran to the door saying “I’ll go too.” But her mother pulled her back. “In­deed you won’t go, Annie. Come and finish your supper di­rectly. But Annie shrugged her shoulders and pouted and tried to open the door. “Annie come here this minute” said her mother. But Annie did not stir. “Do you hear child? Do as I tell you and be a good girl.” “I want to go to Willie!” ex­claimed the little one in a very angry tone – “I will go to Willie!” “You’ll do no such thing. Come here this moment.” But An­nie would not move from the door. “My word, An­nie! If I have to get up to you.” Annie stamped on the floor & repeated again “I will go to Willie.” Thereupon Mrs. Ev­ans laid the baby in his cradle and gave Annie a good shak­ing and sat her up in her chair at the table but An­nie would not eat any more bread and milk, she only played with the spoon & threw the contents of her basin upon the floor. Mrs. E did not see this as she was rocking the baby to sleep in her arms. Annie now began to recover herself and coming to her mother’s side asked to be taken up on her lap. “No Annie, I’ve got baby.” “Put him down I want to get up.” “But he cries if I lay him down. You must wait till he’s asleep.” But Annie was in no waiting humour and she began again to pout and put her shoulders up to her ears. “Put him down” she said again & then stamping her foot “Go to sleep naughty baby, go to sleep I say.” But baby continued to fret & Annie to scold till losing all patience she hit him with the spoon she still held in her hand. Her mother in­stantly rose and gave the crying child to Betty and carried Annie off to a closet where she locked her in. Annie roared and screamed and kicked and thumped on the door with all her little might. “Let me out, I say, let me out! Open the door I want to come out! I will come out, I will! I will!” She soon screamed herself hoarse and worn out with passion be­came more subdued. In the meantime Hugh and Willie had come in with the eggs and Willie cried because Annie was shut up & begged very hard that his mother would let her out & presently a little voice was heard calling out “I am sorry, O mother I am so sorry. I will be good.” So Annie was brought out of the closet and forgiven. That night when they were in bed Willie said “Why were you so naughty Annie?” “I don’t know, I could not help it.” Willie was silent for a while and then asked “Will mother tell fa­ther?” “Not this time. I shouldna like father to know, he’d look so grave. I like to scream and kick sometimes, it does me good. Don’t you, Wil­lie?” “Sometimes when I’m very bad, but Annie why did you say you were sorry?” “Because I wanted to go out.” “Then you weren’t really sorry?” “I was sorry to be in the closet.” “But you didna mind being naughty?” “Mother wouldna nurse me, so I must be naughty & I would cry. Is that bad, Willie?” “Yes I think you’re not sorry Annie. Gran said we mustna say we’re sorry when we don’t feel so. It’s like telling a story and Gran said we should really be sorry when we’ve been naughty be­cause God is angry with us and won’t love us.” Annie thought a moment and then said “I think I’m sorry I hit baby, but he was naughty and wouldna go to sleep. “Oh Annie!” Willie turned away. Annie’s proud little spirit was not quite subdued yet so she took no notice. A footstep was heard approaching and Willie started up, ex­claiming “Here comes father to say good night.” But Annie lay still and began to cry. “I can’t say good night Willie, I can’t kiss him I’m not good.” “What’s the matter with my little girl?” said Evans bend­ing kindly over her. “I’m naughty, father. You tell him Willie.” So Willie related all that had happened while Annie hid her face in the bed­clothes. Evans raised his little one in his arms and said “You have in­deed been very naughty An­nie and I am very grieved to hear all this. You have been very naughty to mother and worse than all you have dis­pleased the good God who loves you so. How can you lie down to sleep while God is angry with you? Did you think he will take care of such a bad little girl?” Annie was now fairly sobbing. “Oh, father I am sorry now, really sorry & I will never be naughty again.” “Stop Annie, you must not say that, because I know you will be naughty sometimes but you must try all you can to be good. Will you dear?” “Yes father, I am sorry now.” “God bless you my child and may He help you to be a good little girl. God bless you both.” and he left the room and An­nie sobbed herself to sleep. Next morning she went to her mother as soon as she was dressed, and watching her op­portunity caught hold of her apron-string and said in a low voice “Mother” but Mrs. Ev­ans paid no attention. “Mother” again repeated the child, but with no better success for it was just the time when the milk was brought in & had to be scalded & put into the shining pans & Mrs. Evans was very busy helping Kate whilst Betty prepared for the cheese-making. Annie perse­vered, still retaining her hold of the apron. “Mother, mother,” but the apron was jerked from her hand as another milk-pan had to be fetched from the kitchen. An­nie trotted after and stood in the doorway just as Mrs. E turned. “Mother I’m sorry.” “Do get out of my road
child. Don’t you see I’m very busy? I can’t have you run­ning after me all morn­ing.” The colour mounted to Annie’s forehead and she felt an­gry at being sent away when she was

 373 frances story

 trying so hard to do what was right but after a little struggle she got the better of her temper & met her father with a bright smile and had a nice game of play with him until breakfast, after which they went to school. On their return Annie was called to mind the baby in the cradle & Willie went into the yard. “Where are you going with the horses, Joe?” “Down to the smithy. These 2 want new fox shoes. Will you ride Willy?” “Oh yes, yes! Put me on Joe, I’ll ride the big one.” And away went Willie in triumph on Black Sambo. Hammersley came out of his shop and lifting the boy off proceeded to examine the horses’ feet and then went to the forge to make the shoes. Willie stood at the door ad­miring the bright sparks which flew up at every blow of the large hammer. He wanted to see more and stretched out his little neck and took a step for­ward to get a nearer view. Young Smith the ap­prentice was blowing the huge bellows and called to Willie to help him. “No” said Willie “I mustna.” “Why not Billie Boy? Come on, no one’ll stop you.” “I mustna,” said Willie. “Well I’m sure I don’t want you so you’d better be off. We don’t want idlers here, so cut off quick.” “I winna. I shall stop here.” “We’ll soon see that” returned Smith “You be off this minute. I’ll teach you not to be so cocky.” Just then the shoes were ready and about to be nailed on, & Smith seized hold of Willie. “Let me alone I want to see” & he began to fight and kick. “Give over Smith and let the child be, mind your own work” said Hammersley. There was still another shoe to be made & this time Willie came a little further in and was so interested in looking that he forgot everything else and at last ap­proached the forge & took the hammer with both his little hands and struck with all his might on the red hot iron. A voice was heard in the outer shop. It was Mr. Evans return­ing from clover croft where he had been folding his sheep & he stopped for a mo­ment till the horses were ready. In an in­stant Willie had thrown down the hammer and hidden him­self behind the forge. Evans looked in and said a few words to Smith. The dog which ac­companied him sniffed out Willie and wagging his tail began to lick the child’s face. Willie trembled. He thought his father must see him but he soon heard him mount Sambo and ride off. “Now young un come out” said Smith “What are you doing there?” cried out Ham­mersley as the child all begrimed and smutty crept from his hiding-place feeling very guilty and very much ashamed of himself. “Well you are a pretty guy! What have you been doing there?” In answer Willie only looked down and kicked an old piece of iron that lay at his feet. Smith grinned and said “He was hiding from his father I reckon. Wouldn’t he ‘a caught if he’d been found?” Hammersley laughed and pat­ting the boy on the hand said “Never mind young ‘un I’ll not tell on thee.” Hammersley soon went home to his tea telling Smith to follow as soon as he had finished what he was about. “I say Billie Boy work the bellows for me a bit.” and Willie tried to the best of his power. “There, that’ll do. Now I’ll show thee a nice hot bit of iron. Look there.” “Let me hit it!” cried Willie and again and again he struck the iron. “Now make it red again it looks so pretty. When the end of the bar was once more red hot Willie ran to look at it. “Wouldn’t thee like to take it home?” said Smith beginning to grin. Willie looked doubt­ful. “It would harm me would it not?” “Just touch it and try.” “No, I’d rather not.” “Come touch it I tell thee and dinna be afeared.” But Willie placed his hands resolutely be­hind him and said firmly “I winna touch it.” “Then it shall touch thee,” replied Smith & put the red iron close to his face. Willie drew back, Smith followed him holding the iron. “Give over! Give over!” he cried, making for the door as fast as he could; but ere he reached it he tripped up & fell flat on his face, Smith stumbled over him & in re­covering his balance the still hot iron fell from his hand onto the child’s foot. Willie screamed with pain & ter­ror. Smith much fright­ened lifted him up and endeavoured to soothe him. Mr. Hartwell’s carter hap­pened to come in at that moment and on being told what was the matter left his horses and offered to carry the poor child home. “Here come with me, I’ll take the home and thee’ll be good and give over crying.” “And mind ye dinna tell on me, Billy boy” said Smith and I’ll give thee a halfpenny. Look thee it’ll buy thee someat nice. What! Won’t thee have it? I’m very sorry Billie, I didna mean to hurt thee so dinna thee tell there’s a good lad.” “Leave the lad alone” growled Sam the carter, “And don’t be teaching him to tell lies like yerself; he’ll tell all he’s asked & say what’s true if he’s a good lad. You’d better be minding yer business that getting folks’ childer into harm. If it had been one o’ mine I’ll ‘a thrashed you pretty soundly. Now look to my horses till I come back.” So saying he marched off with Willie in his arms. To return to the farm, Little Annie rocked the cradle and sang to the baby till Jane came in and took her place. Then off went the little girl hat in hand to seek for Willie. She ran hither and thither shout­ing his name and looking into all possible and impossible places, but no Willie did she find. Presently she heard horses’ hoofs coming up the lane and away she scam­pered to meet them. It was her father bringing Sam and Bob from the smithy. “Father! Father! Let me ride.” & in another moment she was on the big horse in front of her father clapping her hands and ‘gee-woing’ to the horses. They dismounted at the stable door and Annie gathered a handful of grass to reward her gallant steed with. Sambo took it gen­tly from her little hand and bent his head to re­ceive his accustomed kiss on his soft black nose. Then again she remem­bered her own dear little twin brother and en­quired of her fa­ther whether he had seen him. Then she asked the carter Dick and all the men she could find on the farm but to no purpose. Quite disconsolate she went and perched herself on one of the gate posts to watch for him. When she was nearly tired of her elevated position and was thinking of descend­ing, she saw Sam Mr. Hartwell’s carter coming up the lane with something in his arms. A second look convinced her it was Willie. She flew to meet them crying out “O Willie, Willie! My dear, dear Willie! What’s matter? Willie’s hurt! O poor Willie! What’s matter?” Wil­lie raised his head and smiled at her saying “Willie’s very bad An­nie, but dinna cry, he’s coming home now.” An­nie ran on before them to the house. “O Mother come quick. Willie’s so bad, come and make him well, he’s so very bad.” & she began to sob bitterly.  Mrs. Evans hastened to the door and received Willie into her arms & was about to thank Sam for his kindness in bringing the child home, but he walked off directly saying “No thanks Missus, ye’re right welcome. Just look to the lad’s foot, he’s been burnt.”  Poor Willie’s foot was badly burnt & it put him in great pain drawing off his boot and sock and wrap­ping it in linen dipped in linseed oil and lime water, a bottle of which was always kept on the shelf in case of accidents. But soon the pain began to abate and he fell asleep on the sofa, An­nie by his side holding his hand and kissing it from time to time and wiping off the tears that fell on it. It was many days before Willie was able to go to school again or to run and play with Annie and sometimes he grew very tired of sitting still on the sofa all day with no one to amuse him till Annie came in from school, when she would take her place by him, chat to him, tell him all that had been said and done in the class, repeat to him her lessons and never leave him till called away to help someone or to run on an errand. And then she would be back again as quick as her little legs could carry her bringing him a flower or any other pretty thing that she could find. Those were happy hours but when Annie was away he would sometimes fret and cry till he made his mother very angry with him. “I am not at all sorry for you. It’s your own fault; if you had not been so naughty and disobedient it would not have hap­pened. It serves you quite right & I’m glad you suffer for it.” Willie pouted and shrugged his shoulders and continued to fret. “Hold your noise Willie.” “But it hurts!” he cried. “Well I’m glad of it. I hope it’ll be a lesson to you.” “But it hurts” again cried Willie “& I want Annie.” “And you can’t have her so hold your noise and be a good boy.” “But I want her. O Annie do come.” And he cried louder and louder till Mrs. Evans took up the baby and her work and went into another room leav­ing Willie to himself and his tears. Willie had re­lated the whole history of his dis­obedience & consequent accident to his father and promised with many sobs that he would try to be a bet­ter boy for the future & do all he was told and never disobey & he had that night asked pardon of his Heavenly F. The little burnt sock was hung at the foot of his bed to remind him of his dis­obe­dience & his promises of amend­ment & as a warning for the future. “Why did you hide, Willie?” his father had said to him, “I suppose you thought I should not see you and that you would not be found out or punished. I certainly did not see you and if you had not been hurt I should per­haps never have known that you had been there. But God saw you Wil­lie. He knew how you were disobeying me. He is always with you and you know that you can never do or say or even think anything without his knowledge. And I do hope that if you had escaped detec­tion you would not have been happy till you had con­fessed all and begged forgiveness of your Heavenly F. & of me also. It is not enough to ask pardon of God and be sorry for what we have done, but we must also ask pardon of those we have sinned against on earth, who ever it may be. Remember to think of this dear Willie and try to trust that the Eye of God is always on you. Can you not say those verses of your hymn that speaks of this?” & Willie repeated in a low clear voice:

“The Ld God sits in Hvn above
The God who is all pure and true
And Christ our Lord is at his side
Beholding all we do.

*    *    *    *    *    *

For Christ who looks into our ♥s
Sees all we think, hears all we say
Will surely help us to be good
If we but watch and pray.”

379 rectoryThe passage, which I have copied as accurately as I could, shows Frances’ prose to be competent, lifting at times to the evocative, like her pencil line. It also shows that she, like Blake’s Milton, is at least partly of the Devil’s party – her sympathies are so clearly with the naughty children, and her prose and dialogue lifts above the formulaic only when they are bent on disobedience to the Father, or traumatized by the consequences of being bad. I surmise that the piece was written before Frances’ run-in with her father, the Reverend Stocker, over her wish to marry John Cope, which must have been a difficult period.

Frances and John are, for me, the ur-ancestors, for they embodied the gene-stock and cultural lineage that my parents have in common, being respectively Jack’s grandparents and Lesley’s great-grandparents.

380 lesley lineLesley’s pencil line (above) is freer, more loosely and expressively applied than Frances’ (below), but it relies on fundamentally similar skills, based in part on techniques developed by engravers: the build-up of tone through hatching, the use of heavy and light lines, the ‘line of beauty’ which modulates between thick and thin, and above all the rendering of a visual field in terms of difference.

381 frances lineJack’s prose, too, started off with a similar technical repertoire to Frances’, as this extract from his 1942 biography of W.H. Andrews shows:

In the year William was born his parents moved into a comfortable workman’s cottage, one of a row of four, in Crown Street, and here they lived for the remainder of their days. In the course of time Francis Andrews saved enough to become the owner of the cottages. He was a man of kindly temperament and a favourite with the children. Home life followed a simple and regular course: After he had had his supper and washed, Francis would take out a volume and read to the family. He read to share his pleasure with his wife, who was too busy with her sewing, but the children grouped themselves about to follow the stories as well, and there would be a chorus of dismay if they were sent off to bed before the chapter was ended. Many an evening the tired workman would nod off to sleep and let the book fall from his hands. This was a signal for a cry from the children that father should go and bathe his eyes in cold water; they wanted to know what happened next. Mrs. Andrews’s pleas that her husband was tired and should go to bed were usually of no avail, and the young people had their way. 

The flame of today is in a certain sense the same as the flame of yesterday, and yet in another sense it is different at every moment.


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One day in 1936, three years after the death of his son Tom, my grandfather Carol saddled his horse and went out to ride on Rudolf’s Hoek, the farm he had owned since he was a three-year-old toddler. He had a stroke and fell dead from the saddle. His horse returned, but he did not.

Jack survived all of his five brothers, who dropped one by one, Tom by lightning, Bob in a tractor accident, George from a heart attack or stroke, Dave from a heart attack, Pat from a stroke. On the 4th of March 1990, aged seventy-seven, with an ailing heart and blood that kept clotting, in the icy Hertfordshire spring, he recorded the following:

Recovering. Things have been at a low ebb for me and I wander about the town irresolute and lonely, only my shadows from long ago for company. Flowers are beginning to cheer up the garden but the icy wind shreds them.

On the 5th of March, the entry is longer:

Throw-back from my thoughts of yesterday came in a dream. I am with my family in a beautiful house, the colours of everything lit up by sunlight streaming into windows and the open door. We are expecting ‘Ouman’ as we called the head of the family, my father. I have a doubt that we will see him but say nothing to my brothers that might disappoint them. ‘Here he comes!’ they shout. And there he is, my old dad, walking briskly from the front door and along the short passage leading into the room where we are all waiting. He looks quite young and is dressed in unusual clothes and distinctive colours, trousers down to below the knee and tucked into long stockings rather like Bernard Shaw. Shirt, jacket, waistcoat, tie, all different colours, subdued & blending, and he wears a light brown billycock hat decidedly Victorian – a cross between a bowler and a top hat with a domed top. I get up from my chair and walk slowly across the carpet to meet him without saying anything. I embrace him and lay my head on his shoulder. I am shaken with sobs of joy and go on crying and crying. It is not often that I see him in my dreams and everything seems in the dream to be quite natural and everyday. Only after I wake and recall the dream do I wonder at the strangeness of it all and especially at my father’s weird get-up.

At fifty-two, I who never cry, weep as I type this from the diary, interpreting my father’s hand.


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If Lesley received an art education fundamentally similar to Frances’ in several technical details, then I wonder when and where it might have come from. Perhaps there was an excep-tional art teacher at Escort High School, for the teenage Lesley that Pauline Podbrey describes in her autobiography is a competent artist well before she goes to train at the Camberwell. If there was such a teacher, why was she so keen to leave high school at sixteen? Or was she perhaps an autodidact inspired by the Victorian trope of the young lady who draws and paints? Neither her mother nor her sister showed, in my experience, any inclination towards the fine arts or, for that matter, to the bohemian way of life or left wing politics. I do not have any examples of Lesley’s art or thought dating from before her Camberwell days, so I cannot say what Pauline based her assessment on.

While Lesley’s art hardly moved beyond what Victorian painters like Sisley and Pissaro had achieved stylistically, art itself moved beyond her. Great projects like Cubism, Dadaism, Abstract Expression, Minimalism, Pop and Op painting hardly touched her aesthetics, and the developments in fine art from the 1960s onwards must have seemed a mystery to her. The performance, the installation, the creation of the aestheticised ambience or the de-aestheticised one in the name of Art, the production of volumes of documentation in an effort to hedge off the critics, the mystifications and poses were all outside of her world. For her, art, aside from an aesthetic expression, was a means of livelihood and so had to conform in some measure to the expectations of the middle-class white South Africans who might be expected to buy it, rather than to those of academics, competition judges or curators.


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Dalhousie, who brought roads, railways, telegraph lines, canals and so forth to the conquered territories, has been described as the Architect of Modern India; and Rhodes, who died within rifle-shot of where I now live, can be seen as the Architect of Modernity for large sections of Southern Africa. Was E.B.J. Knox, who worked as an architect and engineer for Rhodes, an Engineer of Modernity? Is Albie Sachs, whose hand was so firm on the tiller of the creation of our magnificent Constitution, an Architect of the New South Africa? Perhaps, but only if we buy in to the metaphor that the modern world is a building or structure, whose shape can be demarcated and understood, perhaps in advance, and whose rules can be comprehended by systems of knowledge and by the powerful men (and some few women) who control them.

Is the world an architect’s drawing-board, or a wax tablet on which such men and their proxy personae can efface what they dislike and inscribe their character, or is it something larger, more complex, perhaps indeterminate or relative?


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As the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, everything broke apart. Like autumn leaves, the past dropped off and blew away, and with it the continuities and memories it holds. I left school, entering the world with no skills except the manual ones I had taught myself and an exceptional proficiency in skiving. The world into which the python of education disgorged me was also in flux: Anton had gone his way, never to be seen again. Lesley had moved out of the house into her cottage, become a satsangi and filled her life with the significations of that faith. Jack soon sold Sea Girt, the Clifton bungalow, and followed Uys and Jan to Onrust, where he bought a fifteen-acre farm called El Dorado, and began a new life there.

Having spent one summer full of girls, drugs, psychedelic music and hippie crash-pads, I went to the University of Cape Town, ostensibly to study marine biology but in fact to absorb myself in the youth culture which, with its anti-establishment bias and emphasis on pleasure and escapism, was the perfect receptacle for my proclivities. Unable to study, I was unsuited to science, but biology was the single subject I had enjoyed at school. It was taught by the only teacher who had in any way inspired me – Mr de Kok, whom we called Doodles – who stands out in my memory because he made the life sciences seem interesting and deep, and treated his boys like adults, encouraging us to use equipment and conduct experiments in the laboratory that was the biology classroom. Above all, it was the cellular life which fascinated me – small amoebae, prepared slides of fantastical animalcules, invisible symmetries and patterns, all bursting into radiant clarity under the microscope’s lens. Blood corpuscles pulsed through capillaries, realm after realm of light-filled life unfolded in a drop of pond-water, each complete, alive and mysterious.

But university physics and chemistry defeated me, or lost my interest, and I dropped out and drifted. The next year, 1971, I entered an apprenticeship as a jeweller, and in the practice of the skills of that trade, I finally came home.


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390 dove handLesley’s art changed under the influence of the Radhasoami philosophy. It took on a slightly surreal and at the same time pietistic edge, as she struggled to represent the inner world promised by the Radhasoami faith in the only terms she knew – by the recombinant depiction of the objects and patterns she recognized in the world around her, but subsumed and re-interpreted in terms of the new faith.

The painting of the dove is essentially a visual pun, and the combination of significations does not go especially deep – the dove stands for peace; the flowers, everlastings, stand for the eternal; the hands, based on those of Charan Singh in the Namaste greeting, stand for divine union – the chiasm of the left and right accomplished in and by the loving hands of the master. It is not a depiction, then, of the inner cosmos of the Radhasoami teachings, where innumerable Hansas (divine swans) live in refulgent galaxies, partaking of the Ambrosia of the Gods, but an emblem of a certain understanding.

391 lamasegu oilIn this portrait of Lamasegu, a Zulu woman who had somehow found herself in the Lowveld, Lesley has again resorted to depiction of real things in order to show the world beyond the real. Planets and stars, a hint of moon and the spiral core of a sea-shell hover in an ambiguous sky. The woman’s face looks upward, as though towards heaven, while she contemplates the winding gyres of the impossibly hovering shell. The waves of the inner ocean lap over the face, shell and stars alike, in ghostly streaks.

Lamasegu had come to work for Lesley at the time that Anton had left. Their relationship was complex – undoubtedly an employee, she was nevertheless also something of a friend, as labour relations under Lesley were different from those in the surrounding region. Her gratitude to Lesley was unbounded, for her boss treated her as a human being, paid her better than other local workers, passed on clothes, improved her living conditions and brought back presents from overseas.

392 lamasegu photoShe once enquired what it was that Lesley did when she meditated, and Lesley had explained to her as best as their shared language, a simplified form of Afrikaans, would allow. Lamasegu tried out whatever Lesley had explained, and reported that daardie man met die doek had appeared to her and spoken kindly. In time she too took on the Radhasoami faith, combining it with her version of Christianity, and journeyed to India with Lesley to meet the Living Jesus.

Their relationship blurred between that of a mistress and her servant and that of two satsangi sisters, co-religionists who drank from the same stream. The trope hints at patronization, an unequal wage-relation that was covered over by an unequal friendship, but the evidence suggests otherwise. While Lesley kept no paintings of or portraits of her sister Dorothy, she painted and kept several portraits of Lamasegu, and there is in the album a picture of her which shows, I think, a great tenderness.



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394 Bobby PapasLesley lost a husband, but she found a friend: Bobby Papas, the Master’s Representative in White River was in a curious sense Anton seen through a distorting lens. A man of roughly Anton’s age, he too came from Ermelo, had a continental look and a dark moustache. But where Anton was masculine and assertive, Bobby was self-effacing. If Anton was an alpha male, then Bobby, kindly, attentive, light and jokey, weighed in somewhere near theta.

For about ten years from 1969 onwards, Lesley and Bobby were inseparable friends. They were both in love, giddy with love like teenagers or twenty-year-olds, but not with each other. The common object of their love was the Master, Charan Singh, and perhaps they loved their own love that they saw reflected in each other. They cast themselves as brother and sister of the same beloved father. The two of them effectively ran the affairs of the sangat during that time, and the seal of their characters made a strong imprint on that small community. Some have speculated about how a man and a woman could be so close for so long and nevetheless steer around the shoals of the erotic, or suspected that there was an ingredient of the erotic in their relationship.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty puts it like this:

‘Sexuality, without being the object of any intended act of consciousness, can underlie and guide specified forms of experience. Taken in this way, as an atmosphere, sexuality is co-extensive with life. In other words, ambiguity is of the essence of human existence and everything we live or think always has several meanings.’ 

396 bobby papas wedding

This is no doubt what those who were curious about the relationship were sensing, but once sexuality becomes ‘life itself’ then, no longer able to be disentangled from the rest of existence, sexual expression can be transcended, transmuted or submerged in the more general drama. As I read it, Lesley and Bobby were friends, even lovers in a sense, companions on a spiritual pilgrimage, who had no physical contact and always maintained the proprieties as they understood them. Besides, I believe Lesley was enjoying the calm of an emotionally simplified existence – the phase from which she had emerged had had enough charged sexuality in its atmosphere to last a lifetime.

Bobby got married and left the area in the early 1980s; his farm and engineering works between White River and Plaston were sold. His departure marked the close of a chapter for the local satsangis, and without his easygoing and charismatic leadership, the local group never recovered their former cohesion and sense of united purpose, although they still continued to meet for several years in the Satsang Hall that he had built there, and still meet in the area to this day.


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