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The Highbury Working: A Beat Séance

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Sep. 5th, 2005 | 08:33 pm

Here, behind the cut, is the text of Alan Moore and Tim Perkins' 2000 CD The Highbury Working: A Beat Séance, number three in RE:'s RE:play series. The CD number is RE:PCD03. I should point out that there are three places in the text where I couldn't work out what Moore was saying. Later on, jody_macgregor and myself started doing annotations on this, and perhaps some day we'll get back to it, and actually finish them!

As time goes by, and as time allows, I'll try to put up the text of the other Moore CDs. For the moment, though, here's
The Highbury Working: A Beat Séance
By
Alan Moore

1: Lady, That’s My Skull!


November 1997, and the cue-arm of the century jumps in its lead-out groove. The old Dutch called it ‘slachtmaand’, slaughter month. You wouldn’t send a dog out on a night like this. The Highbury job appeared straightforward; one more metropolitan collapsar faced with dreamtime relegation; the whole postal district bleaching out, charisma-challenged, one more municipal flatline seeking voodoo CPR. It’s common nowadays. The calendar gets ready to ejaculate a string of zeros, and our map is bed-soiled in the premature congratulation. Brute thermodynamics kicks in, and the meaning bleeds away into hard vacuum. All the hot-spots cool down, mammal lights smearing on the surveillance camera. This where we come in: think of us as Rosicrucian heating engineers. We check the pressure in the song-lines, lag etheric channels, and rewire the glamour. Cowboy occultism; cash-in-hand Feng Shui. First you diagnose the area in question, read the street-plan’s accidental creases, and decode the orbit-maps left there by coffee cups, then go to work. Slap up a wall of ectoplasm, standard Moon and Serpent contract. Tables tilted while you wait, manifestations are us. Money for old brimstone. Obviously, this was before we’d seen the patient. Highbury wasn’t at Death’s door, it was halfway down Death’s passage, hanging up its coat. An anecdote-free zone. No serial murderers, no ghosts, it didn’t even merit bold type in the A to Z. You might as well be on the moon. Highbury was amnesiac, whole sections of its past were blank, a geriatric out on day-release and lost somewhere on the Victoria line, only identifiable by dental records, Iron-age crusts, a Saxon bone or two. Originally a Roman summer garrison, the area gets a walk on in the Doomsday Book as ‘Tolentone’, the higher town. The sixteen hundreds find the site of one of London’s designated pleasure hills, a place where Samuel Pepys could blow tobacco snots upon the cobbles. Come the nineteenth century’s end, the carnival is shut down, following complaints from neighbours. One of London’s sexual organs is made flaccid. All the tantric energy moves on, leaves an exhausted absence in its wake, a drained erotic void safe for the middle class. By 1892 the area’s a byword for monotony, a steampunk Neasden. George and Weedon Grossmith set The Diary of a Nobody within the area, with their protagonist Charles Pooter settled comfortably at Brickfield Terrace, Holloway, within the suburbs of oblivion. To make things worse, the whole place is alive with Germans. Writing in 1915 Thomas Burke sets up as an early Euro-sceptic. Quote: The Highbury region certainly has everything germanically oppressive: mist, large women, lager and Leberwurst, a moral atmosphere of the week before last, and the physical sensation of an undigested sausage. Unquote. Highbury does not come recommended, will take hardboiled psycho-geography to penetrate. Best start with the foundations. Subterrania gargling in the lower reaches of imagination. When we excavate the place, we excavate ourselves. The inside is the outside. These steam flooded tunnels, rising up about us. Lady, that’s my skull!

2: A Skeleton Horse

Down here in the grave clay, all the buried energies that feed the over-world are pooled. This is the ghost sump. Apparitions, sewer dredgers drowned by sudden flood, rat spectres, subway phantoms. Tomb talk, in the hollow black. Beneath Holloway Road, one of the city’s subterranean rivers rises from two springs, two heads better than one. The Hackney Brook, dual currents plaited in a cold chrome braid, underworld Perrier. A twin tide, heading east. A dead man’s flue, the under-river will discharge its secret metals, its contaminants, into the River Lea. Down here, in the exchange of salt and sand, fluid intelligences meet in prehistoric conversation, methane dialogues. In 1859 Joseph Bazalgette, now a bronze head near Hungerford Bridge, engineers interceptory sewers, voiding London’s wastes into the Thames, one pig-iron colon winding under Highbury Hill to swallow Hackney Brook in giant acoustics. Underage toshers trawl the human silt for coins, for lost engagement rings, prospectors up shit creek, panning for diamonds, like the rest of us. But then the waters rise. The sewer portcullis of the penstock chamber slams down, loud, and final. In 1963, construction starts on the Victoria line. Immense drum-diggers, with rotating teeth, injected liquid nitrogen to freeze the water-bearing gravel. Science fiction hardware chews its way across the city, coughing sparks. The work unearthed six fossil nautiloids, each sixty million years old, near Victoria; ploughs through a plague pit at Greenpark. Further along its six-year crawl, at Highbury, it meets Bazalgette’s sewer. Nightworks are entailed. Curfew machinery. 1913. During foundation work at Highbury Stadium, locals are invited to contribute backfill. One, a coalman, gives more than intended when his horse falls in, poleaxed and buried on the spot. A bone mare, rattling loose beneath the Arsenal ground. Beneath the seated and sedated stands it lopes along the clay bed at a graveyard canter, nothing holding it together but a cartilage of mystery, its funeral hoof beat ringing in Bazalgette’s sewer bore, kicking up sparks on the Victoria line. A skeleton horse. It will be ridden by Epona, underworld horse-goddess, worshipped by glum Gallic cavalrymen at Rome’s Highbury garrison. Holding her iron key to Death’s bible door, she’ll ride down Hackney Brook, sidesaddle on a corpse, her skeleton horse. The earth closes about us. Veined with wire, pipe boned, a filthy subtext. Marsh gas flares in rusted catacombs. Move up, between the shale drifts, to the streetlamp follicles, eyelevel Highbury rising from black earth into another element. The flood of animal emotions surging in the street. Present desires precipitated. Curdled to a sea foam.


3: Pepper’s Ghost

Up from the cellar depths to shimmering Victorian avenues, murk jewelled with phosphorus, ambiguous dusk, the eastern steams and perfumes of a street bazaar. The city’s pleasure hill, its Venus mound, venue for lost weekends, atilt over the sexual edge, gin-blur and brothel frenzy, an erogenous zone shades into the twilight zone. Old smokes linger. 1381, Peasants Revolt. St John’s Priory at Highbury, home of Robert Hale, who raised the poll tax, is burnt down, a blood and torchlight drama. Rising from the priory’s ash, the Highbury Barn, a tavern in five-acre grounds with bowling greens and trap-ball alleys; haunt for Walter Raleigh, for Oliver Goldsmith on his walks to Islington. In 1861 a defrocked clown, Giovanelli, buys the barn, imports a freak show, builds the Alexandra Theatre, and crams the fog with lamps and voices. Giovanelli launches eel-pie fairs, sewer scampi served en croute, rat-killing contests, ballrooms, and the magical perfume of quim upon the breeze. A million lights. His freak show opens 1869. The city’s dreams and visions are precipitated in an eerie haze. Namatar the Man-Frog in his grotto, hyperthyroid eyes upon the women, spawning ritual, he spots the most susceptible, flushed in this chilly hall of monsters. Chang and Eng stroll by, fused at the chest, the first Siamese twins, while Leotard, the acrobat, in his remarkable costume, tumbles above us through the frosted air. Henry Dirks, inventor of the Dirksian Phantasmagoria, an optical effect, meets showman Joseph Pepper, swamps the barn with lantern spooks, in an ethereal mob. Pepper’s Ghost, depending only on a lamp, a sheet of angled glass, will nightly conjure raves accompanying performances of Hamlet. Couples hug each other in the hush. Entranced by men of light in a refracted afterlife, reality becomes imagined death in an unsilvered mirror. All the boundaries begin to slide; even the human body is unfixed. Manifestations of the double-headed Hackney Brook, Chang and Eng seem to be attempting to walk through each other, gaseous as Pepper’s phantoms. Namatar the Man-Frog lets the woman touch his webbed hand. Anything could happen. Highbury becomes a high-risk borderland, a mauve zone, a condition that could spread, infect the city, spectre epidemic. Pepper’s ghost suggested as a culprit in the Spring Heeled Jack plague of the eighteen-seventies, blamed for the rowdy orgies, for the ghost sex current spilling out through Highbury Barn. The venue is closed down as an intolerable nuisance, as a danger to the health and safety of the young. The luscious creepiness is dissipated, and the area becomes a void; invites untested energies; invites a new miasma…


4: Hat-trick

Dead referees wait in the rain by Holloway Road underground. Romance is drained away, only its dirty tideline left behind. A frail Victorian cravat dropped in the twentieth century muds and swiftly trampled under. Its optic phantoms exorcised, Highbury runs on tabloid time. If it’s not in the papers then it isn’t there. Celebrities, sex, football, murder… and the crowd goes wild. In 1919 Arsenal boss Sir Henry Norris, an Edwardian Robert Maxwell, bribes his way into the first division, waves aside the roars of protest. 1925, the FA Cup with Arsenal drawn against West Ham in the first round, their manager is desperate, can already hear the West Ham balls hitting the net. A Harley Street physician offers a solution. What the boys require is something in the nature of a courage pill. They do no harm, and merely tone the nerves. The tablets, being neither toxic nor illegal, the team necks them just before the game, unfortunately cancelled due to fog. The disappointment of the players is palpable. Eleven men with dreadful haircuts and amphetamine psychosis, bloody murder getting them back on the bus. Like trying to drive a flock of lively lions, says their manager. Then there’s the disco thirst, gulping back too much water. Same thing happens at the replay. Courage pills are taken, fog descends, the match is cancelled. Finally they get a game. They’re too loved up to score, too paranoid to pass. They scrap the pills, their role as clubland pioneers; baggy shorts, whistles, kicking it large. Bad electricity, sour sweat, leaning back in the showers, letting it all just sluice away. And two years earlier in 1923, just down Pentonville Road, they’re carrying Edith Thompson, heavily sedated, from her cell into the special hidden room beyond. The thick rope gently links its fingers there behind her neck, just like a partner in a waltz. Holloway prison, the old building a converted castle from a sado-masochistic fairytale. Oscar Wilde’s here, awaiting bail, with Lord and Lady Mosley. Suffragettes dragged in and force-fed by the truckload. Ruthie Ellis kicks her shoes off, dancing with a stranger. 1967, here at Highbury Corner is the Tempo Club. Eastend lad runs it, Freddie Bird. Dorothy Squires in residence when in comes Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie. Dorothy’s drunk, her husband Roger Moore sits by the dressing rooms, disowns her. Jack shouts ‘What’s he like in bed, the old sucker?’, drops his pants, the place erupts. The twins feel bad, an entertainer of that calibre. The Hat’s already on a warning. Ron and Reg have Tony Lambrianou ferry Jack around to Blonde Carol’s for a quiet word. When it’s all done, Tone scrapes Jack’s liver up onto a shovel, throws it on the fire. Jack the Hat’s buried out at Greenwich. Underneath the dome he dreams a new millennium. And in 1842 a bricklayer from Clerkenwell named Thomas Cooper run afoul of the same frazzled energy, looses it big time in a public place. He shoots dead two policemen, wounds a baker. Run to ground with both guns blazing near the Highbury Barn, a cul de sac, an open sewer section of the Hackney Brook known as the Black Ditch, Cooper stands knee deep in rusty water, fumbling. They bring him down while he’s attempting to reload. It’s all concluded here. The social venoms bled into the Black Ditch, scabbed to future harms. There’s no way out except for up. Implacable, the mortal fumes close in.


5: Opium Nights (sell me more, sell me more)

Above the Black Ditch over Blackstock Road, an astral Highbury of the air, the element of mind, a stratosphere in which rarefied intellects might dance. In 1922 Aleister Crowley and his scarlet woman, Leah Hirsig, trust an occult print-job to a Highbury engraver, so impressed by the result that they move in with him. Hammond, the man in question, has psoriasis, complexion like confetti. Crowley reasons that exposure to the ninth degree sex magic ritual of the OTO will clear it up. Leah is sick and thin, a baby lost the year before. She’s finished typing Diary of a Drug Fiend so the Great Beast packs her off to Cefalu, the Abbey of Theleme. Lonely in his first floor Highbury flat, he feels the asthma coming back, reaches for his heroin, his storm fiend, with an easy practiced rhythm. He begins to nod. The cold pinfeathers of his holy guardian angel brush the shaven skull. There comes a gap, an abyss, a hiatus in magical consciousness. From 1816 Samuel Taylor Coleridge lives near Archway with a Doctor Gillman and his wife. A lodger and a patient, Coleridge wears his habit like an albatross. The Gillmans treat him well, lend him their valet as a minder, following the poet at a discrete distance on his Holloway Road jaunts to drag him out of chemist shops. Some nights he’ll wander down to Highbury. On every girl he passes, he hallucinates the same dark features. Sarah Hutchinson, lost beyond light. She calls him. Gaslight and horse dung smeared against the cobbles. On his left, Whittington Park, the point where London’s first mayor turned again. For Coleridge, there’s no going back. Spread under a wide sky like toys downhill before him, Islington and Shoreditch. He can feel the city drawing him, its awful gravity compels a stumbling, tripping gait. He finds a resting spot near Seven Sisters Road. Above the Hercules Inn, turning gradually against the void, the Pleiades are visible. Surrendering, he shuts his eyes. And she is there, inflamed and nude, save for the ultraviolet veil and bridal train. Taking his hand, she leads him down Holloway Road and out of time, as if he never lost her. She breathes roses on his cheek, whispers futures that can’t happen. Straddling the crescent moon, they sail above north London. Her pubic hair has been replaced with tiny peacock feathers, his saliva tastes like stars. Highbury coruscates, crusted with sixty million year old nautiloids. He tries to kiss her and she breaks against his lips, disintegrates, was never more than a misunderstanding. He cries out, and remembering his eyes are closed, he opens them. The sudden weight and impact of his own flesh. He’s not passed a stool in weeks. Laudanum constipation. Rising to his feet unsteadily, he veers against the wind. Further downhill terrible sounds leak from a sole illuminated upper window. Nightmare musics. There appears to be a plaque fixed to the wall, too high to read. He carried on, through an increasingly unrecognisable terrain. Ahead, the road spanned by an unfamiliar bridge, covered in scrawl. The phrase ‘vandals for life’ unsettles him. Behind him in the dark, the hideous tune falls silent. There’s a rifle shot and then another. Coleridge staggers on. Something is dreadfully wrong. He can no longer see the Pleiades. He passes Dorset House, which seem a dirty hulk. A poster promises ‘live Chinese evils’ but he can’t read properly, his vision swimming. Lanterns everywhere. A garish building looms at Highbury Corner. Outside there’s a girl with tea in one hand, napkin in the other. Sweat of horses. Everything goes black. Waking in Highbury Field with one cuff button gone, frost patterned grass against his cheek. Ground fog encircles him, burning away in the first morning gold. Strange tunes still rattling in his ears, he stumbles off into the light, into the Sunday bells.


6: Limbo

This is an upper Highbury, of the mind, of the imagination. Highbury of air, an ozone plateau of the ceiling of our human breath, only accessible by heart, or drugs, the rhythmic trance, the willing eye. Sun-gilded windows in the terrace, visionary shop-fronts, mantic light down conduit alleyways. Its freak arcades and lantern shows closed down, the swallowed suburb can no longer manifest its lurid fantasies on a material plain, is forced to generate its own transparent ether, a mirage, a tulpa, Highbury reflected in its own sky, a suspended phantom town, fata morgana. Coleridge served his exile from the real world here, the limbo that he wrote of, made a spirit jail secure by the mere horror of blank naught at all. A future state, a positive negation. Crowley also knew this breathless altitude, the asthma’s fist around his chest, could feel the Kanchenjunga terrors coming down upon him like the loud ghost of an avalanche, and had to get out of the district fast. Move on, towards his meeting with Raoul Loveday, towards Cefalu, and destiny. This astral Highbury is no picnic, and exacts it toll, this Tolentone, this higher town, its gasping lunar atmosphere. This borderland, this borealis will extend its territory as the actual borough that supports it is encroached upon, diminished. Highbury’s physical domain, its body, shrivels and grows weak, and will soon be eaten by it neighbouring townships. Everyone’s already making out they live in Islington, the Blair zone. Gradually, Holloway Road’s hangover cafés are converted into cappuccino bars. Islington has its angel. But where is the Angel Highbury? If she exists it is not in the index of the A to Z. She is not of the Earth, the buried furlongs where Epona rides her boneyard horse. Nor is she of the Water, of the human torrents swilling in the streets. She is not to be found in Air, in Coleridge castles made of opium smoke. If she exists, it is in Fire, the realm of burning and consuming spirit that the lower climes aspire to, when men fly too high, and graze against the sun, fall, in clouds of acrid cordite smoke.


7: Number 1 With A Bullet

It was the third of February 1967, and Joe Meek was set up for a final mix. Up all night on his diet pills, his Preludin, splicing and editing, Joe felt that it still needed something, some extraordinary sound. The morning light was blinding, coming through the Holloway Road window, sloped across the mess of cables on the studio floor, and Joe was thinking about Heinz again. Around the walls were pale rectangles, afterimages, where Joe had taken down the paintings that he’d done, and tried to burn them on his two-bar heater. They were evidence, incriminating imagery. The crying woman, and, Joe’s favourite, the little black boys, dancing naked in the dreamy voodoo firelight. Heinz had been standing with his back against the window. Kneeling in the wires, Joe kissed the singer’s cock. The sun through Heinz’s white hair was like a halo. Downstairs, his studio assistant, Patrick Pink, was calling him for breakfast. Joe stamped down and drank the coffee, didn’t touch the toast. Knocked back the bitter dregs then went into the kitchen to cremate his personal papers in a dustbin. All he’d say was they’re not getting these. Eyes filling, he started doggedly into the smoke. Given a choice of reincarnations, the most perfect thing Joe could imagine was to be the final organ riff of Telstar, rising up into celestial blue, and never coming down. Joe went upstairs again, and thought about life after death, all of the séances, the magic. Buddy Holly’s end predicted, and the iron key placed in a bible, twisted by no earthly hand. The cat in Highgate cemetery that spoke in human tongue. He’d heard a new world. Sighing, he retrieved the shotgun from beneath the bed. If he could only find that sound, that ultimate Joe Meek effect, he could wrap up his mortal session, finally get it down, with all the clarity of, of shattering glass. His landlady arrived at just the wrong time. Mrs Shenton stumbled down the stairs, with threads of woollen smoke still trailing from the distribution pattern in her back. The blast rang in the air. Joe tried imagining it with echo, maybe more compression. Leaned his forehead on the still warm muzzle, tipped the trigger. There was the most perfect sound.


8: The Angel Highbury

Freed by remembering them, Highbury’s ghosts teem from its boulevards, a multitude of voices. And everyone’s forgiven. Jack the Hat is dancing with the liberated suffragettes, their blouses stiff with vomit. Chang and Eng light fireworks. Oscar Wilde helps burn down St John’s Priory, while Coleridge does the chemist’s. Everybody’s singing, and Highbury’s on fire with resurrection. PoNaNa’s becomes Epona’s, where the goddess bursts up from the earth upon her graveyard mare to ride the glorious avenues. The Arsenal side of 1925 gulp down their courage pills and organise a friendly with a team of Pepper’s phantoms. Joe Meek kisses Namatar the Man-Frog, who turns into Heinz, as Telstar passes overhead. A pantomime finish, with Dick Whittington. While Leotard the acrobat performs, Crowley conducts the chorus. And up above them all the Angel Highbury stands a thousand feet tall, with her pinions fanned from Hampstead to Stoke Newington. Her robe is stitched together from the tattered cover fronts of pulp science fiction magazines, erupting from the Fantasy Book Centre in Holloway Road. Her hair is woven from the blazing priory, long curls of flame caught in the wind that writhes about her face, a beacon fire against the sharp November dark. She towers above the cinemas and chip shops, lights them from above with white sparks dripping from her wings. Crushingly beautiful, and there because we say she is. She rises, lifts into the galaxy like the last notes of ‘Telstar.’ all of Highbury’s ghosts saved at her breast. Exultant, shining, she ascends at last to take her place amongst the faultless constellations.

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Comments {8}

jody_macgregor

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from: jody_macgregor
date: Sep. 6th, 2005 12:04 pm (UTC)
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Do you still have those annotations? I lost my copies when my computer fritzed. It would be a shame if all that work was for nothing, although now I know more about Joe Meek and Chang and Eng than anyone really needs to.

Also, in 'Opium Nights' the missing bit is "laudanum constipation." Moore's pronunciation can be unique sometimes.

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Pádraig Ó Méalóid

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from: slovobooks
date: Sep. 6th, 2005 06:43 pm (UTC)
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Yup, still have the notes, and always hoped to get back to them. I've about two weeks off work around Christmas, so I'll knock the existing notes into some sort of shape, and we can start again, if you like. Should I post them here, or what do you think?

I'll amend my copy of the text accordingly. I have some contact with Leah Moore, and I'm going to try to persuade her to tell me what he's saying at the end of A Skeleton Horse. Still bugging me after all these years!

There a piece about the Joe Meek case in the most recent issue of The Fortean Times.

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Jim

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from: reverendjim
date: Sep. 6th, 2005 01:38 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for that, I'll have a proper look later. It's of particular interest as I work on the Holloway Road nowadays. I knew the Joe Meek story but hadn't realised Crowley had lived round here. I've just tried a quick search to try to find an address for that, without any luck. I found mention of him living in Highbury in Confessions... but no road name or anything. (I'm just curious, we share a home town and I seem to keep coming across places he's lived.)

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Pádraig Ó Méalóid

(no subject)

from: slovobooks
date: Sep. 6th, 2005 06:38 pm (UTC)
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When we lived in Donnybrook, the bus used to pass an old gothic-looking house, now in offices. In the prviate carpark out back, one of the spaces had a name plate that said A. Crowley. ye'd wonder, all the same...

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(no subject)

from: jenniferknott
date: Oct. 17th, 2008 05:18 am (UTC)
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But I'm not really interested in buying it; I'm just curious. He speaks no English at all, and as my Chinese completely fails me at this point, he goes over to another gallery and comes back with a young woman.

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(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: May. 3rd, 2007 09:49 am (UTC)
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Thanks for the transcript. I was looking for it, cause I'm italian (you can argue that from my awful english :) ) and I can't really appreciate Highbury Working not understanding the words. Now I need Angel Passage transcipt (I've heard Melinda Gebbie is adapting it into a comic... is it true?)
Thanks again :)

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from: jlroberson
date: May. 17th, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
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I just finally found this on BitTorrent(I would buy it but have you seen the prices?) and now I happen to find this, once again reinforcing the belief in synchronicity Moore instilled in me when I was 18. (that would be 1987) So I guess my question now to you, Glycon, is, are you reading my freaking kind in advance?

Thanks for posting this. It'll add to the experience greatly.

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joo

thank you!

from: juliaround
date: Oct. 15th, 2009 03:54 pm (UTC)
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i've been looking for text of this as i'm considering using an extract for a reading at my brother's wedding next year - have made my life much easier! cheers jx

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