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Media

St Helena’s airport: a boon-what? We’re boggled…

It took a week for Donald Trump’s favourite news outlet to get round to reporting on the first commercial flight to St Helena. But when it did so, Fox News introduced an interesting new word for the airport project.

It said it was “condemned last year by British taxpayers as a boondoggle.”

Various online dictionaries define a boondoggle as an American word meaning a pointless, wasteful project. Fox News might (not) like to put that to Governor Lisa Phillips, and see if she has another good word for them.

Urbandictionary.com helpfully gives an example of the correct use of the word:

“You’re such a Boondoggle, all you like to do is drink urine while staring at the dead corpse of your grandma.”

It’s also what American boy scouts use to hold their neckerchiefs in place. British scouts call this a woggle, another term that doesn’t really describe an airport.

The Fox News piece actually offers some good insights into St Helena life and heritage, including the wrangling over whether jury trials can ever work on the island.

It opens by listing some of the quirky place names to be found on St Helena, including The Gates of Chaos (that one’s always seemed apt) and Old Woman’s Valley.

They’re a lot more sensible than “boondoggle”.

If they wanted quirky place names, why no mention of Half Tree Hollow – which isn’t hollow, and doesn’t have half a tree?

(Does anyone know how Half Tree Hollow got its name? Maybe it was the half-tree that was hollow?).

‘World’s most spectacular airport’ makes global news. Mostly good

The Daily Mirror headline read: ‘World’s most useless airport’ finally gets its first commercial flight – and it’s LATE.

Well, it was an irresistable line.

The paper’s report of St Helena’s first commercial flight included a nice quote from tour operator Libby Weir-Breen, who had flown specially from Scotland. “I’ve never felt so emotional in all my life,” she said.

Japan, Germany, New Zealand, America… even the UK: the story pretty much flew round the world.

And people on the island helped tell to tell it. A video of the landing, shot by Geoff Cooper from one of the public vantage points, was re-tweeted to 12 million followers of America’s ABC News.

A picture by Ed Thorpe of the Devil’s Hole Black Rocks, on a part of the island few tourists will ever see, gained international exposure from Associated Press, which told of champagne and chocolates being handed out on the island-bound flight.

The historic flight from Johannesburg made all the BBC’s national radio news bulletins.

Ed Cropley’s piece for Reuters, transmitted to news platforms and print publications worldwide, declared that the airport brought Saints “another step closer to their inclusion in the 21st century.”

Then he spoiled it a bit by saying the island got the internet only 18 months ago – though it was true that the mobile phone network went public just days after the very first aircraft flight arrived from Africa in 2015 (a bit of a nuisance for reporters at the time).

He told how Craig Yon of Into The Blue took a booking from a group of Swedish divers within minutes of them reading online that the first flight had touched down safely.

But he might have been teasing, just a little, when he quoted Craig saying, “Things are really picking up. Before, I’d only check my emails once a day. Now I have to check them in the morning and the afternoon.”

The story in The Times was written by Michael Binyon, who spent several weeks on St Helena as a media adviser and knew what to make of it all. He disclosed that the Embraer aircraft took on enough fuel at Windhoek to allow it to circle the island for two hours if wind shear presented a problem.

The Times’s headline called the flight “nerve-shredding” – but then, Michael was quite candid about feeling nervous when walking in the steeper parts of St Helena. The headline contrasted with the comment made by one American passenger quoted by Michael: “Wind shear – my ass.”

Britain’s Daily Telegraph carried a lengthy preview piece, but noted that its travel team had been able to find unsold tickets for the inaugural flight on ebookers.com at £395 one-way.

Sadly, its piece was accompanied by a picture of St Helena’s Church on the island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel: not the first time that image has featured in St Helena coverage.

The story turned up in some surprising places. DeathRattleSports.com was unusual in acknowledging the “colossal civil engineering challenge” involved in building the airport, though it didn’t convey the enormous scale of the achievement.

A write-up in Dive Magazine had some complimentary things to say about the island and its surrounding waters, especially the presence of whale sharks, following writer Mark “Crowley” Russell’s visit in early 2017. The magazine is somewhat specialised, but there could be strong interest among its readers in visiting St Helena.

Chris Morris’s opening paragraph for fortune.com might have caused a few disappointed sighs at the St Helena Tourism office.

“Ever wanted to visit the British island of St. Helena?” it ran. “Of course you haven’t. Virtually no one does. But now you can.”

Actually you always could, Chris – and lots of people did.

But then, Chris seems to have been a bit confused about the nature of islands, telling readers that St Helena “is literally in the middle of nowhere, floating in the Atlantic ocean between Brazil and the African coastline.”

Islands don’t actually float, Chris. And “literally” literally means… oh, never mind.

Emma Weaver’s well-researched preview of the flight in The Guardian says travel companies are actually showing interest in St Helena, “in a world where remoteness is seen as a luxury”.

The BBC also got muddled up about its seasons, stating that safety tests happened “in the summer”. Could the piece have been knocked out by a journalist in London who didn’t know that August is winter time in the southern hemisphere? (And this was on the BBC Africa pages!).

Bizarrely, the mistake was then repeated on the Radio New Zealand website, which apparently got it from The Guardian.

The Mail Online carried a lengthy, fact-filled piece alongside two agency reports, detailing the island’s history and attractions but also references to the amount of aid the island receives (the Daily Mail has a thing about overseas aid). Sadly, it blew up in the final few words:

“St Helena is a remote volcanic outpost covering just over 75 miles squared,” it declared.

On an island measuring ten miles by six at the widest points, that would involve a neat bit of land-reclamation, even for Basil Read. And “miles squared” is not the same as square miles: 75 miles squared is, let’s see… 75 times 75… that’s 5,625 square miles.

The website’s multi-level headline also muddled up the flight time and the length of the sea voyage to St Helena:

“The British overseas territory was previously only reachable by a six-hour boat,” it said. At that speed, no wonder the RMS has had propellor problems.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 21.59.44

The BBC said the RMS was “a ship that sailed every three weeks”. So what did it do the rest of the time?

Inevitably, many outlets recycled the “world’s most useless airport” tag, without saying who was being quoted, or where the quote came from. It started appearing in various newspapers in May this year, and keeps cropping up. A parliamentary committee report called the airport “useless”, but “world’s most useless” is a big step up.

Governor Phillips had a firm response to all that. “I’ve seen the headlines about the world’s most useless airport,” she told Reuters, “but for St. Helenians, this has already been the most useful airport. It’s priceless.”

Ed Cropley, who is Africa bureau chief for Reuters, tweeted a departing shot of the runway that bestowed an even more flattering tag: “St Helena airport, certainly world’s most spectacular airport.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-16 at 21.36.58

Go now: Rough Guides advice on travel to St Helena

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 14.55.38Rough Guides, one of the world’s leading travel writing brands, has published an online piece selling the charms of St Helena – under the direct headline, ‘St Helena: Go Now’.

The piece goes over the usual ground trodden by travel writers – Tricia Hayne is more adventurous than most – but readers should enjoy the pictures by David Pryce and Tricia herself.

Read the piece here.

 

I wanted the people’s stories, says St Helena film-maker

Ivy Ellick speaks of painful truths in Dieter Deswarte's BBC film
Ivy Ellick speaks of painful truths in Dieter Deswarte’s BBC film

It was the people that mattered to Dieter Deswarte when he turned up on St Helena, one man and his camera on a shoestring budget, hoping to capture the spirit of an island emerging from obscurity.

The BBC gave him half an hour to tell the world about the Saints as they wait for an airport to transform their lives. That’s probably more screen time than it had spared the island in the previous 80 years.

Belgian film-maker Dieter Deswarte
Belgian film-maker Dieter Deswarte

It turns out to be quite a story: a hard one, but a beautiful one too. The “cinematic” scenery helps.

So do those who allowed the young Belgian film-maker into the private world from which outsiders are normally, politely, excluded.

He thanks them all for helping him make St Helena: An End To Isolation, as part of the BBC’s Our World series.

Father Dale Bowers tells how today’s Saints are descended from the poor who got left behind when the island’s fortunes failed in the 19th century. So many of the island’s problems are rooted in that fact.

Dieter describes Father Dale as “quite outspoken”; a man of good ideas.

The radio veteran Tony Leo is in there, chatting away on Saint FM, holding life together. For Dieter, the community-owned station is an important symbol of a people finding their own voice. He likes Tony, a lot.

Father Dale Bowers, by Dieter Deswarte
Father Dale Bowers, by Dieter Deswarte

We see Trevor Thomas, painting his fishing boat and complaining that anyone who voices concern about change is dismissed as negative.

“It was really tragic that he passed away the last week I was there,” says Dieter.  “It shook things up completely.

“I’m really grateful to the family that they still felt happy for me to use the footage of him. He was a really prolific speaker and writer and he had his way with words. It’s not bad to be a critic, but he was one.”

In her trim garden, Ivy Ellick, the retired senior government official, quietly acknowledges the realities of historic sex abuse that has brought the island unwelcome, and unrepresentative, attention.

“When I started, that was not known about,” says Dieter. “I couldn’t ignore what was happening because it’s very much part of the island opening up, but I didn’t just want that one aspect of the island.

Trevor Otto Thomas died during the making of the film. Picture by Dieter Deswarte
Trevor Otto Thomas died during the making of the film. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

“It was really hard for people to speak about it but I was really pleased with what Ivy has done for me. I’m so grateful for her words. We spoke about it for quite a while.

“It is an issue on the island that people are often not confident to speak up about because of privacy, living in a small community.

“I know some more detail but the detail is not so important here; it’s trying to bring out the fact that the island is opening up and these issues are coming to the surface, and how it’s taken so long.”

The other great island sadness is in there too: the going away. The airport may be only months away from opening, but for now, the pain of parting goes on as parents leave the island – and often, their children – to find a way out of extreme hardship.

In the film, it’s Melanie Caesar who hugs her teenage daughters on the wharf and boards the ship to go away to work, knowing she will not see them for the best part of a year.

Melanie Caesar, by Dieter Deswarte
Melanie Caesar, by Dieter Deswarte

“It was a very emotional goodbye,” says Dieter. “I’m really grateful to Melanie and her family, to let me observe these quite intimate moments.

“They almost forgot that I was there. I heard that from Rebecca and Kanisha afterwards.

“Because St Helena is quite a private community it has been challenging to enter people’s personal lives. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s about listening to people; making people feel you are there for them to tell their story, and not to tell your own story.”

Fly-on-the-wall television has become a tainted form in the UK, but Dieter seems to have made it work for the island he came to love on his three visits in as many years.

“It’s been great to get some feedback from people from St Helena who are pleased,” he says, a few days after seeing his break-through first film go out on the BBC News Channel and BBC World News. “It’s such a relief. Most people felt happy it was just Saints telling the story.

The RMS St Helena approaches the island. Picture by Dieter Deswarte
The RMS St Helena approaches the island. Picture by Dieter Deswarte

“I did speak to the governor and quite a few other expats. I just decided not to include them. I wanted proper Saints.

“The BBC wanted something that would be quite observational in its character. I think they were very happy with the result.”

That’s not the end of it. “There’s talks here and there about a few things that might come off the back of it. It might be broadcast in Belgium, where I’m from.”

Not all those who were filmed survived the edit, but they might yet have their moment on screen – maybe the big screen.

“As we speak I am still editing a longer version of the film for festivals and other broadcasters,” says Dieter, who’s been based in London since graduating from Goldsmith’s University.

“In the longer film, there will be more people. For this particular short programme I felt Ivy, Trevor, Father Dale, Melanie and Tony, they were a good representation of the island.

“It was about finding a good balance between opinions. The airport comes with good and bad, and it was important to raise questions about it and not say it’s all terrible, but it’s a necessity that this will have to happen. At least, that’s how I see it: something needs to change for the island to change as well.”

Those charged with trying to promote St Helena as a welcoming tourist destination are unhappy about media coverage of the sex abuse inquiry, but Dieter does not believe that including it in the film will have a damaging effect.

“My series producer from the BBC is still very keen to go to St Helena, regardless of all he has heard about it,” he says.

“It’s not the travel show: I don’t think it will deter people from visiting the island. If anything it will make them more curious. Above all, I hope it tells them something about the people living there.”

Watch the film on the BBC iPlayer here

See a trailer here And read more on the BBC website

Click any thumbnail for a gallery of larger images:

Saint FM vital to island spirit, says director Dieter

Tony Leo, as he appeared on the BBC
Tony Leo, as he appeared on the BBC

Three minutes into Dieter Deswarte’s BBC film about St Helena, viewers around the world heard the smooth welcome of Tony Leo, veteran island broadcaster.

“This is Saint FM Community Radio. The people’s station at its best,” he said. “Our unique little island will soon be a part of the bigger world…”

He wasn’t there just to help the script along. Saint FM logo 300The young film-maker places great significance on the radio station that was revived by its listeners, against resistance from officials who were funding a slicker, better-behaved rival.

Saint FM is helping islanders break away from a restrictive colonial past, as Dieter sees it.

“I spent a lot of time there,” he says. “I liked the way it wasn’t perfect but it was done with a lot of enthusiasm, for the island.

“And a lot of people are involved. They have a lot of volunteers. They struggle a lot financially, but it’s good that this came out of the people. It’s a great example of initiative and people getting on and trying to do something.

“I spoke to a lot of people and the independent media has done a lot for people in helping  them to voice their opinion. Because I think until it came around it was really, really difficult.

“It’s incredibly important. There is this colonial legacy and this past is still being processed, not only by the government but also by the people.

“It’s very important to have this idea that people don’t feel suppressed. That is something that is constantly causing frustration and conflict on the island.

“It can be made better by better communications between the people and its government. Also feeling they have a voice within the community.

“I think Saint FM and the Independent… the mere fact that it’s independent media, I think that’s something that the people really needed.”

SEE ALSO: 
It gives me great pleasure: Julie declares Saint FM open
New radio group bids to revive Saint FM

“I think Saint FM and the Independent… the mere fact that it’s independent media, I think that’s something that the people really needed.” SEE ALSO:  It gives me great pleasure: Julie declares Saint FM open New radio group bids to revive Saint FM

Watch online: St Helena film shows the beauty, and the truth

Saints: click the pic to see a larger image
Saints: click the pic to see a larger image

The BBC has screened a revealing documentary that captures the beauty and charm of St Helena, but also confronts the realities of life on the island.

People in the UK can see at on the BBC iPlayer at any time up to 20 April 2015.

The half-hour film tells its story through six Saints who reflect on the way things have been, and what they might become. Among them is the late Trevor Otto Thomas, a much-loved fisherman and observer of island life.

Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt
Trevor O Thomas aboard MFV Extractor. Picture by Bruce Salt

Before his unexpected death in December 2014, he told of his concerns about what the airport will mean for the islanders’ way of life.

“Britain is not going to put an airport here for £400m and then we live the same old way we did 20 or 30 years ago,” he says in the film.

“They will want changes. It’s coming.

“People feel as though they are not being listened to and it makes you angry. And then when you say something that is contrary to what is being presented to you, you are being ‘negative’.”

Ivy Ellick, formerly a senior government official, laments the departure of many Saints for new lives overseas, and hopes the airport will “quench that thirst to leave the island… and will hopefully bring our Saints back.”

Viewers watch Melanie Caesar hug her children on the sea front as she prepares to leave them for a year or more to work overseas, having abandoned the struggle to support them on the meagre income she can earn on the island. The pain is clear to see.

Father Dale Bowers also makes a number of telling observations on the hardships of island life, for which director Dieter Deswarte made several visits to St Helena.

Saints is billed as “a film about a small place becoming part of a bigger world; a coming-of-age story about a small community growing up in a globalised world.” It was screened several times over the weekend of 20-22 March 2015 on BBC Freeview channels.

Reaction on Facebook has been positive. The film has also prompted some people to post messages on the site recalling their own family separations.

One said: “I’ve been on that sea front crying my eyes out a few times.”

Watch the film on the BBC iPlayer here

See a trailer here And read more on the BBC website

Net saving? Ascension no-fishing zone could cost £3m – or not

Creating one of the world’s biggest marine protection zones around Ascension Island could cost the UK about £3 million a year – at a Conservative estimate.

The conservationist estimate, on the other hand, is only £400,000 a year.

12 The Great WetropolisClick the pic to see a gallery of Ascension marine life

Celebrities and academics have joined with conservation groups in calling on the British government to create three massive maritime “parks” in the Atlantic and South Pacific, with a complete ban on commercial fishing.

The Tory Foreign Minister Hugo Swire has said the likely cost of full enforcement could be judged from the £2.75m spent each year patrolling a reserve in the Indian Ocean.

Policing the seas was even more expensive around South Georgia, “where a patrol vessel alone costs approximately £3.2m per year,” he said in a Commons Written Answer on 9 February 2015.

But the environment writer Charles Clover has put the cost at a mere £400,000 a year, according to The Guardian website.

Thanks to satellite technology, it would not be necessary to have a patrol boat out searching vast areas of ocean for pirate fishing vessels, he told the site.

The Guardian also reported that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had begun discussions with people on Ascension about creating a reserve.

It understood that “indigenous” fishing would be allowed up to 18 miles offshore. That may not reassure keen sport fishermen on Ascension, which officially has no permanent or “indigenous” population.

The Blue Marine Foundation has spear-headed a campaign to have three marine reserves created around Ascension, the Southern Atlantic territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands, and the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific.

It says they would protect 1.75 million square kilometres of ocean – expanding the total area of ocean reserves by 50 per cent.

The foundation describes Ascension’s warm waters as “a green turtle Mecca and one of the last remaining hotspots for Atlantic megafauna such as tuna, marlin and shark.”

A campaign letter has been signed by 42 conservation bodies, including Birdlife International, the RSPB, Greenpeace UK, the Zoological Society of London, and the less-well-known Fin Fighters UK and Fish Fight.

The actresses Greta Scacchi, Dame Helena Bonham Cater, Julie Christie and Zoe Wanamaker have added their names to those of leading scientists and environmental figures in the letter to the UK government.

The foundation said in a statement: “More than 94 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity is found in its overseas territories.

“Rare whales, turtles, fish, penguins, corals and albatrosses are among the wildlife that would benefit if the reserves were to be set up.”

SEE ALSO:
Ascension’s underwater wonders revealed
UK ‘doesn’t even know’ about eco threats, say MPs
St Helena tops the league table for unique species
Blue Marine Foundation – press release
Conservationists call for UK to create world’s largest marine reserve – The Guardian
Cost of patrolling Ascension reserve – Commons Written Answer

Jonathan’s birthday… what the tortoise never taught us

We hate to disappoint the newspaper readers of Holland, but Jonathan the Tortoise will not be celebrating his birthday on 7 February… regardless of what it may say on  the Wikipedia website.

Jonathan exact birth date. If it's on Wikipedia, it must be true...
Jonathan’s exact birth date. If it’s on Wikipedia, it must be true…

Since exact age of the oldest known living creature on the world can only be guessed at, it was hardly likely that his actual birthday would have been recorded.

So it was somewhat surprising when reporter Tim Kooijman got in touch to ask how the old boy would be celebrating it.

He planned to write a story for the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad. “I’ve noticed on Wikipedia that this coming Saturday is tortoise Jonathan’s birthday,” he wrote. “People here love stories about birthdays and animals.”

Sure enough, a side-panel on the online encyclopedia gave the old boy’s date of birth as 7 February 1832 (which is 159 years after the Dutch invaded St Helena).

Tim took it well when it was pointed out that Jonathan’s actual birthday couldn’t possibly be known. He did wonder, though, how the Daily Telegraph could have been taken in, with a website video that put his age at a confidently precise 183.

A quick check was made with Kerisha Stevens at the press office in The Castle, just to check this wasn’t some promotional thing.

“As far as we know Jonathan hasn’t been ‘allocated’ a birthday,” she replied. She wasn’t sure who was responsible for the Wikipedia entry.

Tim said he’d write a story for Algemeen Dagblad all the same, because it was quite amusing. And perhaps he did: it all looks Dutch to us.

Down in Jamestown, though, Independent editor Mike Olsson rather liked the idea. “If Wikipedia says it’s his birthday, then we’ll give him a birthday,” he said. He’d have a word with Joe Hollins, the vet who hand-feeds him once a week, and rubs his neck to help the food go down.

“We’ll give him a piece of lettuce, with a candle.”

What – just the one candle?

Watch the Telegraph video here

Don’t get too puffed up, Marcus, but… you’ve been framed

With the mask and goggles that protect him from the daily risk of an explosion – to say nothing of his vast balloon – Marcus Henry looks like a desert wanderer who’s been blown badly off course.

But now it’s his ego that’s in danger of being over-inflated.

His picture has earned a temporary place in one of the world’s most prestigious photographic exhibitions, at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Picture by Jon Tonks, used with permissionClick the pic to see a larger image

Jon Tonks’s picture of him was one of just 60 chosen from more than 4,000 images submitted for the annual Taylor Wessing portrait exhibition, which runs until 22 February 2015.

The picture also appeared at the top of page three of the Independent newspaper’s Saturday magazine.

In a short video on Jon’s website, Marcus and weather station colleagues Garry and Marvin explain how they release a hydrogen-filled balloon into the sky every day to measure atmospheric pressure, temperature, humidity and wind speed.

The clothing they wear helps prevent static electricity making sparks when they pick up the balloon, and igniting the very highly flammable hydrogen inside it.

Jon visited St Helena as part of his Empire project, in which he travelled to several of Britain’s most remote overseas territories (and Gibraltar). A picture of young men on Tristan da Cunha was included in the Taylor Wessing exhibition in 2012.

Photographs from his South Atlantic travels also appeared in the Observer and Sunday Times magazines.

He said he was really pleased to be selected for the Taylor Wessing exhibition a second time.

“I never expected Marcus to get in,” he said, “but I’ve always enjoyed the story behind his job on St Helena and thought it was worth go.”

Now – has anyone seen Marcus’s camel? It must have floated off on the wind.

Click to watch: The St Helena Balloon Men 

See also: 
Raymond and Cynthia achieve a uniform kind of fame
‘Nationettes’ star in Sunday Times Magazine
The Taylor Wessing Prize

 

 

Abuse: don’t drag down the good with the bad, says blogger

A robust defence of St Helena has been posted by ex-pat blogger Paul Tyson in response to a Daily Telegraph investigation into alleged mishandling of child abuse.

In a piece titled Angry and Saddened, he says the good people in island society are being dragged down with the bad ones.

“My great sadness is the overall picture that has been painted of the island and its people,” he says: “one of sexual predation and of a dirty seedy place of the night, all of which could not be further from the truth.

“Now I am not trying to deny that wrongs were done in the past, and neither do I know whether wrongs continue now, but I do know that this article does not reflect St Helena and its people today, in 2015 at the start of a hopefully bright new era.”

Paul has attracted 1,300 online followers with his striking photographs and descriptions of local life since arriving on the island in 2014 with his teacher wife and two young children. He has enthusiastically taken on volunteer work as well as writing his blog, Two Years in the Atlantic.

He admits he has limited knowledge of the abuse crisis and cannot dispute the facts in the Telegraph’s story. But he challenges the paper’s interpretation of the facts.

He quotes one line that says: “In HM Prison Jamestown, seven out of 11 prisoners are paedophiles.”

And he comments: “To me, this could just as easily read, the authorities are now doing their best to correct this situation.”

He also writes: “A fortnight is such little time on St Helena, but clearly not enough to cast a picture of a place and its people.”

That is a familiar complaint – but two weeks is actually an unusually long time for a writer to spend on a single story, and it is rare for a journalist to spend more than a few days on the island – or to interview so many people.

Paul picks out the reporter’s descriptions of drinkers playing suggestive games at Donny’s Bar on the seafront, early on a Friday evening.

“What Tom neglects to tell anyone is that the night in question was ladies’ night, a special one off where ladies were invited to let their hair down and be a little naughty.

“Show me a hen do or ladies’ night in the UK that does not get a little saucy.”

Paul also criticises the reporter’s descriptions of weekend drinkers going from bar to bar. “Jamestown at the weekend is one of the most relaxed, enjoyable friendly nights out I have had,” he says.

“I do not contest the facts within this article, the cases that have been brought, the apparent cover-ups, the whistle-blowing stories and subsequent job losses make for very difficult reading.

“But let’s be clear, St Helena is one of the safest places I have ever visited. Its people are lovely and friendly; my children can play outdoors without fear of cars, kidnapping or indeed abuse.”

Read Paul’s blog post in full here

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