A Quick-ish Review: Topsham, Exeter (Devon)

Speedy Summary

The website says:

Topsham is an attractive town on the Exe estuary, Devon, in England’s Westcountry. Now part of Exeter, it nevertheless maintains a distinctive identity. Loved by its locals, and savoured by those who visit, Topsham offers river walks; wildlife; a Saturday morning market; many characterful shops, restaurants and inns; and quiet space to sit and watch the sailing boats go by.

I say:

A former town now Exeter suburb, Topsham is a quaint little place to visit. Boasting independent retailers and several side streets, you are never more than a few steps away from undisturbed views of the quay. Be prepared to spend £15+ a head if you’re planning to stay for ‘proper’ food and arrive early to secure car parking in high season. Small, pretty and close to the buzz of Exeter city life, there’s a reason why it’s one of the more expensive places to buy/rent in the region.

Top Sights

If you’re a typical tourist looking to cover the main elements of the town in a short space of time plan your visit well in advance. Although the town has several car parks Topsham is notorious for its summer crowds as visitors flock to see a ‘quaint Devonshire community’. Even if you plan to visit outside of school summer holidays, then aim to visit on a weekday and early-ish in the morning to secure the best parking. It’s also best advised if you want the luxury of being able to stroll up the relatively car-free one way high street.

As a small town things to do are limited, but a must are the shops. Most of these are independently run and stocking a range of pretty items from interiors to clothing, wine to flowers. Just don’t expect to walk in and find a multitude of pocket buys. These traders operate in a well-established town with the clientele to boot. You won’t find sniff of a Poundland or Card Factory here.

If you’re like me however then you’ll find great joy rummaging through the multiple charity shops dotted up the high street. The wealthy resident effect, the keen eyed bargain hunter can pick up a number of star buys from high-value items donated by former owners. On this visitation alone I bought a beautiful 1960s retro tea pot to compliment my own property and a pair of mint condition retro curtains to be either reused or turned into cushions (I’ve yet to decide). Total spend: £7. My sister, a devil for vintage books, made a couple of sound purchases also alongside my cheeky purchase of a 1949 Ladybird book, all for £1 a pop. I’ve seen similar books retail for eye wateringly high prices. The money also goes to charity which is never a bad thing.

Also worth a look in is the Topsham Quay Antiques Centre, located right on the quayside at the far end of the town. Three floors of antiques, vintage and retro memorabilia gives much for the curious collector to look at and if nothing else is great for starting conversation. “What was this used for?”, “Did people find that fashionable back then?”, “Where could we put this?”, “Can you even legally display that nowadays?” etc.

Walk up the side streets to be filled with envy at the delightful houses of various periods before grabbing the chance to take in visually (and photographically) the quayside. This part of the river Exe is dotted with sailing boats yet has remained undeveloped on the opposite side, giving a pleasing vision out across the landscape whilst sitting down with a pint on a pub bench.

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A Note on Food

It’s not the cheapest place to eat. If you want coffee and a piece of cake then the choice is endless, however if you’re looking for a light lunch the cheapest you’ll be looking to spend is around £12 and upwards. This is based on looking at a range of menu boards placed outside various eateries in the town. As a result we unfortunately found ourselves looking elsewhere to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. That said, I am aware that for some people this might not be an issue and for others the price tag marks the sign of a carefully and well made meal, but when there are four mouths to feed it may be something to take into account.

Three Word Conclusion

Unique little shops.

A Quick-ish Review: Brixham (Devon)

Speedy Summary

Wikipedia says:

Brixham is a small fishing town and civil parish in the district of Torbay in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay, and fishing and tourism are the major industries. At the time of the 2011 census it had a population of 16,693.

I say:

A lovely working harbour located on the English Riviera, Brixham serves both the historic local fishing trade and the busy tourist season. This creates a unique Devonshire window into the lives of those working a thriving traditional trade, without overkilling it on tourist shops and greasy spoon joints. If you have time try out some of the freshly caught fish, if not grab or a coffee from one of the numerous independent shops. Just be aware of the sea gulls.

Top Sights

Top of the agenda when visiting Brixham has to be a stroll around the harbour. One of the older parts of the town, the historic working marina has remained largely unchanged.

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If you want to be suitably impressed by more modern-day aquatics, the boating club marina is located a via a 10 minute walk around the promenade. The spectacle of hundreds of boats lined up neatly along numerous jetties will keep even the most obsessive of boat fans happy.

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And if you’re looking for the authentic Brixham experience, then a sampling of the local cuisine is a must. Freshly caught fish pass through the market sellers of Brixham in their millions every day, with buyers coming from across the country to source the best produce for their eateries. However local restaurants will often pass good deals secured by fewer road miles and differing clientele to their customers, which means you can secure fresh, high quality, fish at a vastly cheaper price. The most popular dish for passing tourists is the classic fish and chips combination, a meal that can be obtained from any number of dining or take away establishments.

If fish isn’t you bag there are also several bakeries in the town selling traditional pasties and rolls, alongside a couple of small supermarkets. Want the marine experience without the price tag? Grab a pasty and sit on one of the many promenade benches for an alfresco lunch with a view.

With all things food and coastal related just be sure to watch out for pesky gulls. While they are not as troublesome as in other destinations, locals and other tourists will not thank you for encouraging them. If finishing an outdoor meal do the right thing and remain seated until the waiter clears the table or take your rubbish with you. Seagulls will not think twice about swooping in on your leftovers (trust me, I’ve seen it).

 

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You don’t necessarily need a formal backdrop to have a pleasant dining experience. Close up shot from a public bench.

 

Recent regeneration in the town centre has seen a vastly increased improvement in the number and quality of coffee shops, including the prominent Old Market House. Located next to the old covered fish market, the coffee shop-come bar-come classy eatery is now the site for a many a people watcher.

The harbour and town is also home to many shops from stylish interiors, to typical tourist souvenirs to high street favourites including Boots, Costa and Tesco. Something for everyone.

 

What Else is There?

Check out the well kept little volunteer-created gardens along the promenade which cleverly make use of the rock face and what was a redundant open space.

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You can also board the Golden Hind Museum Ship, a full size replica of the famous galleon sailed by Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake. More information on the attraction can be found here.

Head up the road a little further (towards the Berry Head Hotel) and you’ll stumble upon the self proclaimed ‘hidden gem’ of this South Devon town, the Shoalstone Pool. A free-to-use outdoor salt water swimming pool, it stands as a Victorian creation and one of only a few remaining UK examples. A must for anyone wanting to prove their ability to brave the elements and thus their Britishness. More information can be found here.

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Three Word Conclusion

Lots to see.

Is This What Becomes of Love?

Picture a young couple sat on a romantic table for two in the prized window location. Outside, the hum of life acts out its natural course whilst inside the firmly fixed table presents an array of steaming dishes all the colours of the rainbow. But the beautiful pair remain silent. The buzz of life is not as loud as the buzz of technology. Eyes locked on laps the lovers sit in silence, unable to exchange more than a grunt towards each other.

Is this what becomes of love?

Now imagine on the ground below a family. A gathering stood in unity on the very streets which not a week ago cradled their darling as she drifted into a long, deep, sleep. The cracked cement barely clean, the group scroll through comments of condolence and pixelated shouts. The invisible vocals scream for the head of a man they do not know in repayment for a corpse they do not know. Unable to change fate and human emotion, the huddled unit desperately make a plea to the man in the cloud. They beg him to remove their daughter from public memory, but the man says he can’t. What he giveth he cannot taketh away.

Is this what becomes of death?

Take a snapshot of the young woman tottering past the stained tiles in high heels. She joins a group of friends at the town’s third classiest bar on a table laden with overpriced toxic juice. Talk is cheap but photos might equal fame, so they ignore deep conversation in favour of recording every second of this meeting in pictorial form. Every angle in a multitude of colours and effects, it is no wonder that their untouched beverages overflow with melted ice. Who said the world is in a constant state of movement when it can be fixed and recorded in a hundred sepia selfies.

Is this what becomes of life?

Widen the lens and tucked away you find my lone figure in the shadows. The painted ladies momentarily glance in my direction before carrying on as before. Averting my gaze, I shuffle past to an attractive window display at the end of the street, but instead of venturing in I choose to remain external. I photo the object of my desires and walk on before I’m caught in the act. Later I will enable a computer to put another man on the streets from the comfort of my living room sofa. I see you and feel moved to take a secondary snap to share with strangers in Vancouver, Paris and Jerusalem. No model release form needed, I will happily take your pain and use it to claim one second of fame. Anything to get a virtual gratification hit.

Is this what becomes of me?

Don’t Lose Your Voice

In the UK we are fast approaching an important decision, one that could change the way we view ourselves and how others view us as a nation. At such a time it is more crucial than ever that we make the stand and use our democratic right to voice our opinions and air our concerns before it is too late. As a fellow British citizen I am therefore appealing to everyone in the countries of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island to stand with me and unite on something that we all too often overlook and belittle. Something that we often cast aside and ignore instead of taking action.

For the love of God, please complete a passenger claim form when you’re delayed on the train.

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You only have 28 days to get it sent in (as I learnt all too painfully last time) and heck, you can even fill it in online. By letting it slide you are letting those big train corporations win and let them edge one step closer to thinking poor signalling is acceptable on British train lines. You will not silence me today Mr. GWR, not today.

Joking aside, please don’t forget about the General Election on Thursday 9th June. If you’re voting on the day you have between 7am and 10pm to cast your vote at a polling station, or if doing it by post be sure to get this bad boy in a red letter box near you.

Passenger delay compensation forms and voting. Two equally important things everyone needs to get excited about.

Come Sit With Me

Come sit with me. Come sit here in the caffeine filled haze we call paradise. The legal high that our fathers and their fathers before have relished, for here we are one. The mothers, the students, the disapproving men with broadsheets in hand, everyone has a home here.

Let me pass you this extra I have acquired. Do you take milk? The sugar is over there. The chair next to me is a little worn and mismatched, but that is the norm. Brush off the crumbs of the previous tenant and join me in weekend conversation.

The background music will lull you into a false pretence of your own class and status. The type of music you recognise but do not know. They are the backing beats that serve as melodic distraction from the mess surrounding us. I have heard in booksheleved corners that it improves the taste, what do you think?

See that man behind my left shoulder? I know him to be a regular. The frustrated writer who huffs and sighs over work that will never make it to print. Chomping on cheap nuts and downing brown goo in paper cups, for he cannot afford the china. He is a freeloader of the establishment, clinging desperately to an image that cannot be sustained. I remember when he used to sip on only the finest quality beans and nibble on pastries with young women, but those days are gone. We have all changed since those days.

My friend, you look a little troubled. Don’t be. In this world we are all addicts of our own making. I only seek to show you the truth that lurks in the steam. Save your pity for Africa, it is a wasted emotion in this Latino supplied space. I see you have finished your drink. Would you like another? It would be my honour. They serve only the finest cheap substances here, it is why we never leave.

I am so happy you came to sit with me my partner. Now stress no more and relax, the fresh coffee will be here soon.

 

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“I went to get Coffee but Came Back With Cava”: Lanzarote, Canary Islands

“…Right, so how are you going to get the Jammy Dodgers out of the country?”

“Well you’ll have made friends with a gigolo in the airport flying out.”

“When would you do that?”

“At check in. You get talking to her and strike up a friendship at that point. Then you find a way to damage her case at the airport on the other side, you apologise and offer to replace the damaged case. She accepts and then you supply her with a case with the goods stitched in on the inside.”

“You got a Roman chariot style attack planned? You’re going to attach spikes to the wheels of your case? And when are you going to get the Jammy Dodgers sewn in?”

“Alice, you know Jammy Dodgers is a euphemism for something else? We’re not talking about smuggling biscuits into Britain.”

“Is Lanzarote even the best place for smuggling drugs? I’d have gone for Latin America.”

“No, other than Alice’s smuggling of apricots I don’t think this island has much going for it. You’d do this in Mexico or the like.”

“What if the woman you befriend has a bright pink case? She’s not going to accept your scrotty old substitute.”

“Come to think about it, how are you planning on making friends in check-in? ‘Hello, nice case. You could stuff a lot of Jammy Dodgers in there’? No offense Dad, but I would hardly rush to exchange numbers if you randomly approached me with that opener.”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you just pay her to bring the drugs in whilst you’re abroad and then murder her in the car park?”

“Well yes, but in doing so you’ve committed a worse crime than the one you were trying to cover up.”

“Remind me again how we ended up on this topic?”

***

“Pull over here! I need to post something!”

“You’re not posting your local election ballot are you?”

“No comment!”

It was 3:30am, the car was filled with baggage and the village post box was one letter fuller. I hopped back into the Volvo and we sped on towards the airport.

The Bennett holiday had begun.

This Easter the destination of choice was the Canary Island of Lanzarote. Spanish by nationality but located just off the coast of the African continent, the Canary Islands are uniquely blessed to have pleasantly hot temperatures early in the year while maintaining a laid-back Mediterranean culture. The warm climate was far from an automatic pleaser for everyone. As we stood waiting for our bags at Arrecife airport, a fellow passenger could be heard complaining down the phone over the amount of cloud cover outside. Trust a British tourist to moan about the weather thirty minutes after landing.

This wasn’t the first bemusing thing to happen on the holiday. That award would go to the poor directional signage that resulted in the entire plane accidently bypassing Spanish boarder control. As we walked down the ramp parallel to the booths, the border guards watched the heard of pale faced Brits with a mixture of confusion and disinterest.

 

“I wonder if they’ll be so lax once we’re out of the EU.” I muttered to India.

Bags collected, the reps verbally directed us to the buses. We hopped onto our coach and listened to the mumblings of a secondary rep (“what’s she saying?” “I don’t know, I think something about Pablo Paella’s Casa or the welcome meetings. To be honest I’m barely listening.”) The young lady leapt off, the coach doors closed and we departed.

This time around we were headed to the resort of Costa Teguise on the South-Western side of the island. Because we’re middle class this was to be the fourth time at the resort, although this time around the holiday planner (alias Mumma Bennett) had booked the hotel Teguise Grand Playa which was considerably closer to the pretty town of Teguise compared to the one we’d been to four years ago. After the terrible sun burns of 2013 when we badly misinterpreted the strength of the UV rays, we learnt several valuable lessons. A) always pack sun cream b) remember the pastiness of one’s skin and c) town is never a “fifteen-minute walk away”.

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mid-afternoon people judging, sorry, watching.

Anyway, to get back on topic, the Costa Teguise Playa is a lovely hotel, situated right on the beach (it is quite literally a stone’s throw away). This location suited me very nicely. During the day the beach was a hubbub of activity in the form of sunbathers, scuba divers and swimmers, but at dawn the little piece of man-made coast was completely empty of all human-shaped life. Granted it took me about five days to get into the practice of early starts, but for those few mornings where I ventured down to the beach at 7am the views were wonderful. I could listen to the sea, yoga a little and relax.

Within the walls of the hotel I learnt a couple of new things. Firstly, this man has a very high voice:

And secondly I discovered that Leo Sayer is still as relevant a figure today as he’s ever been. At least four times Papa Bennett got mistaken for the 70s pop star/icon/legend. For anyone not in the know, here’s Sayer’s music/photo next to Papa Bennett’s…

Don’t get me wrong, at first it was utterly hilarious seeing drunk British tourists rush up to Papa Bennett and ask him to sing You make Me Feel Like Dancing, or say “my wife absolutely loves you!” But in time it got bit much. When you’re put on edge because someone stumbling towards you way want an autograph, or ask what it’s like being Leo Sayer’s daughter on tour you start to wish Leo Sayer had been a one-hit wonder.

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Photo with Leo Sayer. Moral of the story: never meet your idols.

As well a large consumption of sparkling Cava wine which was served from breakfast to midnight free of charge (this post’s title being a choice quote by yours truly), our merry quartet also partook on an island tour whilst visiting Lanzarote. We’d already done the volcano tours some years ago, so this time around we went on a voyage of discovery to learn about the famous contemporary artist César Manrique who lived on the island. The tour stopped off at a number of the sculptures, paintings and buildings Manrique designed. Here is a summary of that tour in the form of a collage:

We saw some really beautiful things and all took away something different from the trip. Mumma Bennett was overwhelmed by art:

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I meanwhile struggled to comprehend why anyone would have a semi-transparent (external) bathroom wall.
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India on the other hand had her perceptions on nature and art transformed by a Cactus Garden, from this…
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…to this:
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(Coming soon to MHAM, a post dedicated to the Jardin de Cactus. The transformation will be explained!)
And as for Papa Bennett, well he felt compelled to do this:
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(And we still don’t know why.)
Other than that we all took pleasure in having a very laid back holiday. In the daytime we’d explore the local area and sit on the beach/by the pool and at night we’d drink cocktails and sip on spirits and chat away the hours. Some would probably look at this as mundane and very predictable but in fact it was anything but. Only after a few rounds of seemingly harmless drinks would the most random conversations come up. The opening of this post is one such example, another was a theoretical debate over how one would go about committing suicide with a Christmas Tree. Admittedly these were not conversations which one walks into at 10am on a Monday, nor are they discussions which anyone walking past, English or not, would be able to jump straight into. They are odd, random and sometimes a bit wrong but they are so the conversational glue of the Bennett family unit.
The local shops near to the hotel were filled with the standard tourist tat and other random items including mug clocks and washing machine covers.
I also think it says a lot about us as a family when we gather as one to admire this:
As we got to the end of the holiday I felt it was time to leave Lanzarote and return to normal life in the UK.  I had obtained my fill of sun, sea and endless sangria and was ready for a cup of tea and a bowl of Weetabix. I’d also a) taken a good couple of kilos of apricots and tea from the hotel to bring back home and b) broken our tour operator’s information board.
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To stay any longer would be putting me, my family and Brexit negotiations in danger.
Overall, it was a great holiday in a fabulous location (as per usual, thanks to Mumma Bennett). And it shall always be remembered as the Lanzarote holiday where three of us worshipped the sun and art while Leo Sayer worshipped the sparkling wine.
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An ‘Educational’ Delay at Swindon Train Station

The weather forecast for today was predicted to be a hot and sunny affair. The weathermen and women of the UK were even daring to utter the warnings of potential sunburn. They needn’t have made such rash suggestions, it only took five words; “temperatures in the high teens”. Suddenly all of Britain snapped into action, if you didn’t have plans for Sunday 9th April then you were either a weird person or a fool. Not wanting to be labelled ‘weird’ (got my street cred to maintain and all) I decided to spend my day off in the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Now, owing to awkward road routes and lack of a car (the latter being more of an issue than the former) I decided to take the train. Via Swindon’s train routes the earliest one can get into Cardiff is 10:53 which in my opinion is too late to begin with, but hey I’m not the train God or a fat CEO man so one has to put up and shut up with these things. This morning I rushed about to get everything done to a strict time schedule to enable me to be out of the door and at the station in time for the first train of the day, the 09:51 to Swansea (via Cardiff Central). Having powerwalked from home to station on a warm morning I arrived at Swindon train station, hot and sweaty, to see this:

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You can probably imagine how I felt right then. Delayed trains, story of my ruddy life.

After a lot of face scrunching (that I imagine resembled something like this…)

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…I resided myself to the truth that I would be waiting at this station for forty plus minutes longer than planned and made myself somewhat at home in my new surroundings. Surroundings that I’d seen a lot of over the years as a commuter (but to be honest didn’t really care about but now I was forcibly making myself care about to pass the time).

During my delay I learnt some interesting things about Swindon’s train station. Actually, I lie, they’re not that interesting.

I learnt that the station has an old building on the other platform for London trains. Old but not that special:

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I also learnt that the station parking is a right royal rip off:

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This part of the station meanwhile is completely overgrown with weeds. My train fare may be going on rail replacement works and cleaning staff, but would it kill someone to buy a couple of bottles of Weedol?

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And what, I repeat, what, is going on here in the ladies’ loos?

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That is no visual trick – there is a randomly empty cubicle space. It made me think of all the things one could do in such a space, but then I realised where I was and decided to not linger more than I needed to. Clearly three toilets are more than enough for female passengers, “if we give them four they will start a revolution! No, we must contain the masses and ensure that the British culture of queuing continues to live on.”

(There’s also this sad sign:)
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After walking up and down the same platform multiple times I had funnily enough run out of things to photo. I Googled the history of the weird clock outside on the forecourt.

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I learnt that its official title is (I think) the ‘Golden Jubilee Clock’ – very inspiring. Call me cray but I think it was commissioned in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Gold Jubilee celebrations. Don’t quote me on that though, I could be completely off the mark on that one.

It also used to live in the town centre…

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…before being relegated moved to the train station. How very, very, very, very interesting. Thank you Great Western Railways and your overrunning engineering works for giving me the time to find that out.

By this point I was borderline ripping my eyes out. “HOW MUCH LONGER MUST I WAIT?!” Was the repeating monologue running through my head. The feeling was mutual among all passengers up and down the platform, the tutting was almost audible. Finally, thirty seven minutes later than planned the delayed 09:51 to Swansea showed up. I smugly hopped on my train, leaving behind other delayed passengers. “Heh, enjoy your thirty four minute delay suckers!” I thought.

Upon arrival in Cardiff over an hour later I quickly dashed across the city to one thing I did know, and know it very well. After all that I needed decent coffee and I needed it asap. Cue my ultimate most favourite coffee shop, Barker Street Tea Rooms:

 

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Hmm, what to demolish first…
Sat there with my caffiterie and book a thought crossed my mind. “Wait, how long was I delayed by again?” I picked out my train ticket and compared the departure time with the accurate information on my mobile train tracker. With a beaming smile I discovered I had been delayed by thirty three minutes. Thirty was all that was required to submit a ticket refund claim.

Suddenly the time spent at Swindon train station a couple of hours beforehand didn’t seem like such a big a deal. I reflected on my experience and decided to write a blog post about it. I took a sip on my overpriced but delightfully luxurious coffee and lifted my cup ever so slightly in the air. “Thank you Network Rail,” I thought, “this one’s on you.”

 

UPDATE: I have since discovered that GWR doesn’t offer compensation unless the delay is a minimum of 60 minutes! What is this tomfoolery?! I’m a very unhappy bunny!