My corner of the oval

… thoughts from a Kiwi cricket fan

Feeling annoyed … when I should be feeling proud …

The English cricket team have been touring Australia for what seems like forever, and now, for the next few weeks, they have brought their team across to New Zealand to entertain and show us their cricket skills, alongside our own highly-rated national men’s cricket team, and so last night the One Day International match was scheduled to be held at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

I had been looking forward to this match for months, it seemed and I’m sure many other cricket fans in my region were likewise similarly anticipatory of the game, particularly when the first two matches in the five-match ODI series went down to the wire and the series’ score was 1-1.  So it was everything to play for as the teams headed to our nation’s capital city to battle again on the cricket field.

But there were two things that put a major dampener on what turned out to be a sensational and enjoyable game of cricket, which was full of all the ebbs and flows of a 50 overs cricket match that makes it one of the more enjoyable formats of the game.

The first reason for annoyance was everyone’s infatuation, particularly those in the media, with the pitch at cricket matches these days.  I mean, where in the rules of cricket does it state that a “good” pitch needs to be a pitch in which the batsmen are never troubled to play their shots, and they can smash the ball over the boundary every second or third delivery to amount totals in excess of 300 runs in every game?

In my opinion, a “good” pitch is actually one which gives both bowler and batsman the chance to show their skills, and the chance to work hard to come out on top of the other team’s shown skills.  Which is exactly what was had in Wellington last night!

Just because a pitch is “ugly,” Mark Richardson (as you so callously expressed at the “pitch report” before the game, and henceforth I switched off from anything else you said after that!), does not mean that it is not an adequate pitch to play a game of cricket on.

Cricket is supposed to be about testing your skills, with bat and ball, to be able to be victorious which is what Kane Williamson did emphatically last night!  When his teammates, aside from Colin Munro who batted exceptionally well to get himself set on a pitch offering plenty to the bowlers) were falling around him because they had been so used to “roads” as we like to call them and pitches that don’t test their skills in any respect, he set his feet as it were and used every skill he had in his cricketing brain to make sure he was not going to be dismissed, and also score plenty of runs along the way!  And in doing so, he scored his 11th ODI hundred!  As well as reaching the sum total of 5,000 ODI runs at the same time (Only a few handful of batsmen in history have reached this milestone in fewer number of matches, just by the way!)

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But he did it because he has the skills to be able to bat on any pitch that is put in front of him!  He doesn’t need to wait until he gets an Eden Park flat pitch with short boundaries to score runs at will; he does it through the thick and the thin of cricketing life, and every batsman around the world should be paying close attention to how he does it so, unlike last night, they can stick with Kane and win games for their country, instead of falling away and coming close but not close enough!

It actually brought tears to my eyes as I stood at Westpac Stadium last night, along with 12,000 others and applauded Kane Williamson (for what seemed like an excessively lengthy ovation!) as he stroked the ball over long off to score the boundary that brought up his 11th ODI century … tears of pride because so many people around me recognised just how good this player is, and wanted him to know that too!

Which brings me to my second gripe from the evening …

When did we get so hung-up on how many people go to whichever sporting event in the country?  Why do we always have such an infatuation with criticising the “number of yellow seats” you can see in the stands when sporting events are held, particularly in Wellington I have noticed?  For some reason, the rest of the country has decided that sports fans in Wellington don’t deserve to have sporting events held in their city because there’s “always” so many empty yellow seats for the TV cameras to pick out so easily!

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“We love you, Jonny!”

Well, can I just point out first and foremost, last night’s crowd at the Stadium was one of the best I can say I have been a part of for a LONG time!  Everyone was in such good humour throughout the game, even when it was clear that our home side was going to lose the match, and everyone had the most enjoyable evening, joking with each other as well as the New Zealand and English players on the field.   As we walked away from the ground following the event, I could overhear people around us as we walked saying what a fantastic match they had just witnessed, and how great a game that was … Isn’t that more important than pointing out all the other people who obviously had other things to do with their Saturday night and couldn’t make it to the game?  Or the other people who actually don’t like sport and had other things to do with their Saturday night?  How come we never hear criticism after rugby matches (which is apparently New Zealand’s “national sport”) in which the stadiums are nowhere near their capacity and filled up?  How come we always only criticise when it comes to cricket matches which, in my opinion are a heck of a lot more enjoyable (just saying!)?

Oh, and then you get the people (which I have heard from a few over the last 24-hours) complaining that, how come we can’t sell out the Stadium when every other ground around the country for this NZ v England ODI series has been sold out?  Did these people stop to look at the ground capacities for each of the grounds involved in this ODI series?  Well, I did and I can tell them that the grounds which have “sold out” only have a capacity of about 3,500 people.  And they are comparing these grounds with a ground that has a 34,000 capacity?!  Well, of course it’s always going to look better on paper to say a ground is “sold out” but when that ground has such a limited ground capacity, it kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

And then you have the people who whinge, why don’t they have all the games in Wellington at the Basin Reserve then?

These people clearly do not realise that the Basin Reserve and the Westpac Stadium management have agreements in place as to which ground holds which events during the year.  And they also don’t seem to realise that the Basin Reserve’s ground capacity is currently only 6,000 (but you would have to talk to the Wellington City Council about why they are not doing more to increase that – that is another burden we in Wellington must bear!) … and so if the match from last night had been scheduled to be held at the Basin Reserve, more than half of the crowd at the Stadium last night would have had to have been turned away and told that they couldn’t go and watch their sporting heroes live.

Is that what we are about now – turning people away from getting the chance to witness such milestones and expeditions as the one Kane Williamson turned on for us last night?

And not many people seem to realise that the Stadium management had actually blocked out the seats in a large segment of the stadium so that they didn’t have to open food and drink outlets in that area, and pay more staff to manage those outlets in that area, and limit the crowd to only the sections that they deemed available.   When I looked at the ticketing website to see ticket sales in the weeks leading up to the match, I noticed that they were not even making seats in that section available for purchase.  The Stadium management clearly had little regard to how this would make our city and sports fans appear to the TV cameras and the analytical minds of people scrutinising and criticising everything about Wellington sport from a distance.

Why have we become so caught up in criticising and whinging about every little thing in life, that we forget that sport is supposed to be enjoyed and supposed to be entertaining.  Which is what the many people who made the effort to attend at the Stadium last night go, for my mind!

I think you’d be hard pressed to find ANY major sports ground in any large city in our country at the moment “selling out” seats to any sporting fixture, when there are so many other distractions and experiences vying for people’s time and attention every day and night of their lives.  Does this mean we need to punish those who do want to head along and enjoy these events live, when they do?

Do yourself a favour, people and stop whinging for a while and see just how much more you can enjoy what you do each day!  Life is for enjoying, not for complaining and criticising every step of the way.  And especially when you haven’t made the effort to get up off your couch and head out the door to enjoy a sporting event yourself, please do not criticise and discourage all those people who did and had a jolly good time and enjoyed every moment!

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And that brings us to the end of another year …

On this day last year, I think I was probably feeling dejected and miserable, and honestly wondering exactly when something good was going to happen in my life, so I heard about the idea of starting a “jar of awesome” and decided to give it a go for the next year.

All you need is a jar, a note pad and pen, and you’re set to record every highlight, lowlight, notable event or just something you want to remember, that happens in the year ahead!

The best part is getting to the end of the year and tipping out the contents of your “jar of awesome,” and reminding yourself of things that you had probably forgotten from right back at the start of the year that had happened!

Things like remembering the honour and privilege of sharing breakfast with the best bowling and batting partnerships in test cricket at the moment … well, I think they are, anyway …

To moments that I will probably never forget, like meeting three of the loveliest Red Pandas at Wellington Zoo!

There are always going to be lowlights though, like being at the lowest point in your unemployment journey and contracting the shingles virus because of it.  I’m just grateful that I didn’t contract herpes zoster ophthalmic and my eyes are both still as they were!  Although I still have the scars, but sometimes scars are a good reminder of just where we have come from and what we are strong enough to fight through.

From that lowest point in my year, I have been able to find first temporary employment, and then full-time permanent employment, working with people who just want to work hard and do the best job they can do for our managers!

So getting back to my original point of this blog post, if you want to try something different for 2018, start your own “jar of awesome” or whatever you would like to call it … and let me know how you get on, too … and see what surprises and memories are in store for you at the end of the year!

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NZ v Windies  live blog from the Basin Reserve, Wellington

I’m going to try and add observations from day two at the Basin Reserve, mainly cause I need to get back into blogging again … 

First of all, I want to know what Chris Donaldson was saying about me as he drove the team van past the Basin Reserve as I was waiting outside … I know it was about me as he looked at me at the same time! 

Also, I was glad Tom Blundell walked past me on his way to the nets as I was able to complement him on a good first day of test cricket! And I even got a reply from him. It’s funny; he plays for Wellington at the Basin every season and yet that’s the first time I’ve spoken to him.

But why are some of the West Indians wearing beanies during their warm ups?! Is it really that cold for them in summer in New Zealand? 

The Windies  had a very competitive game of football to start their warm ups too …

Oh, and the “Taylor Squad” are really nice and friendly too! 

Blog deleted everything so I’m going to have to remember my lunch time update … 

Nice wee session for NZ with Ross Taylor getting to ten thousand first class runs, plus a half century, as well as a half century partnership with Henry Nicholls! 

NZ 181/3 at lunch.

Oh, and Nicholls is pretty speedy between the wickets too!

The day two pitch at the lunch break … 

That winning feeling when you get your flat white before the Black Caps next order of 8! 😉 

Gutted for Ross Taylor to be dismissed 7 runs short of a well-deserved test century. I gave him a standing O anyway! 

NZ 267/4 at the the break. So pleased for Nicholls to bring up a half century in that session too. Always been a fan of him in the middle order. 

Been wanting Tom Blundell to get the chance for a bat, all day, and now I’m nervous for him …

Well, that’s been a very entertaining, and brisk, 50 run partnership between de Grandhomme and Blundell! 

So great seeing Colin de Grandhomme scoring freely and getting to a half century as well! 

And a thoroughly entertaining century from Colin de Grandhomme!

50 runs on test debut! Simply outstanding Tom Blundell!!! 

What a brilliant day of test cricket for NZ! 447/9 at stumps – can’t wait for day 3!!! 

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Basin Reserve tour ticked off the bucket list …

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Is there a better feeling in the world than a bright, sunny Spring day, looking down from the heavens across the lush green outfield of the Basin Reserve?!

Well okay, not quite the heavens, but the dizzy heights of the media rooms in the RA Vance Stand certainly feel like you can touch the sky …

How did I get there, you ask … Well, you can get there too, if you take a tour of the Basin Reserve courtesy of the NZ Cricket Museum, which I was privileged to be able to do today!

Personal highlights for me included the “Bat Room” in the Cricket Museum, where there are rows and rows of historical and souvenir bats from NZ and international cricket history.  I have forgotten exactly how many bats are in the Bat Room, but if you get the chance to see it, you won’t be disappointed!

Another highlight was walking through the corridors beneath the RA Vance Stand, walking past the indoor nets, many photographs of the Basin Reserve through the ages, along with the many portraits of Wellingtonians who went on to represent the New Zealand national cricket team …

Another interesting observation for me, and being the Black Caps “number one fan,” another highlight was seeing the players’ dressing rooms … and taking in the quite marked differences between the away team’s changing shed and the home team’s luxurious, in comparison, home base!  Even just the fact that the away team’s room had a single plain entrance-way door, whilst the home team gets a double-door with security access to gain entrance!

Continuing on with the personal highlights was taking the “batsman’s walk” through the players’ pavilion, across the elevated pathway, down the stairs and onto the hallowed turf of the Basin Reserve …

I mean, how many talented cricketers have walked these steps over the decades?!

I could’ve stayed at the Basin Reserve all day today, especially considering it was such a glorious hot Spring day in Wellington, but all good things have to come to an end, I guess, and I just have to say thank you to Jamie and the NZ Cricket Museum and Cricket Wellington staff for making things like Basin Reserve tours possible for cricket fans and history fans to enjoy!  I had such a brilliant time, and highly recommend the tour to anyone else who is interested, if you ever get the opportunity to go along!  28 Oct - Basin Tour20a

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Breakfast with the Black Caps … 2017 edition

“Can we join you?” Trent Boult asked as he stood beside our breakfast table this morning in Wellington.

Like really, Trent, I’m going to say no?! was what I felt like replying, instead stammering out a, sure, no problem, or words to that effect, and then sitting back with my cup of coffee and watching as Tom Latham, Jeet Raval and Tim Southee collected their choices from the breakfast buffet and sat alongside him.

No, I don’t usually make a habit of having breakfast with million dollar men, but sometimes you are honoured with invitations to attend sponsor and supporter breakfast events when the New Zealand Black Caps are in your town for a test match, this time during the South Africa tour of 2017.

But have you ever actually finally had the chance to sit down with players you have watched and supported and admired the skill of for years, and then not had anything to say?  That pretty much summed up my morning, as the men opposite me tucked into their breakfasts and joked with each other, and other attendees who approached them.

It was a very cool experience, though, all things considered to chat to the likes of Tom and Jeet who you only ever see with helmets on in the middle of a cricket field.

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NZs test opening batting partnership

After breakfast was eaten, it was time for the formalities of the morning, starting with a brief summary slideshow of the cricket season matches against Bangladesh, Australia and South Africa.  Although, as Tim remarked, it seems to be a batsmen’s game, judging by the highlights that were selected to be screened!

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Brilliantly MC’d by Willie Nicholls, social media and communications expert, videographer, and twelfth man extraordinaire, it was time for the “question and answer” part of the morning and I have to say, some fascinating and interesting insights and stories were shared by the players, particularly their “cricketing heroes” and “how you got started in cricket” stories, although it’s good to hear there’s less of the “do that again and I’ll smash you!” going on between Tim and Trent these days!

How about that headband, though, Trent?!

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Trent Boult playing for a Bay of Plenty development side in 2006 

It was also great to hear the players’ thoughts and insights into things like county cricket and playing in the IPL.

I have to say a huge thank you to NZ Cricket, in particular James and Perri, for setting up and inviting me to this event, as well as WN and the players for waking up so early (especially those of them who aren’t morning people … *cough* Tim!) to share breakfast and stories and laughs with us.  I’m really hoping the Wellington weather warms up (a lot!) and dries up even more over the next few days, and wish you all the very best of success and enjoyment over the next week of test cricket at the Basin Reserve.  And if you see me sitting on the terraces, guys, don’t be a stranger; give me a wave or a hello!

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NZs test opening bowling partnership

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Getting back to what’s important …

At the end of the day, cricket is what we love and cricket should be what brings us together, not drives us apart! 

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Why do we have a media beat-up before every single cricket tour in this country?!

Because the media hates success, that’s why and they can’t stand the fact that the Black Caps are playing well, and climbing to the top of the rankings, and so they try and create drama and rifts and discord that is non existent!  Time and time again, before every cricket series starts in this country for the last few home summers, the media has tried to “blow up” a huge non-story (in this case, why wasn’t Ross Taylor called into the squad for a one-off T20 match when another player was ruled out with injury) and it’s all because they want the public’s attention not focussed on the players, who are playing extremely well at the moment and succeeding, and they’d rather create a barrier between the fans and the team and management.  Why?  Because the media can’t stand the fact that the Black Caps are at the top of the rankings in nearly every form of cricket, and Mike Hesson has a LOT to do with that!  They’d rather drag the man down, rather than congratulate him and get behind him to support him.  And that truly is sad, NZ media people!

I don’t know why everyone’s upset that Ross Taylor wasn’t called into the Black Caps squad for a one-off “hit and giggle” T20 against South Africa this Friday when Martin Guptill was unfortunately ruled out due to a hamstring injury!   For a start, he’s not as young as he once was and a T20 is the ideal opportunity for the selectors to bring someone new in to the line up to give them some international experience.  Hence the fact that Glenn Phillips has been called into the squad to cover for the opening batsman spot.

I mean, it should have been Tom Blundell, in my opinion, but that’s another story …

Also Ross Taylor isn’t actually an opening batsman so why on earth would he be brought in as cover for an opening batsman’s spot!

If I was Ross Taylor, why would I be upset at missing a one-off T20 match when I have five One Day matches and three TEST matches to be fit for!  That’s where the real glory lies!

Don’t fall into the media’s plan of making you hate NZ Cricket and in particular, Mike Hesson, people!  They hate anyone succeeding, remember, and will do their utmost to drag them down at any opportunity, including by creating rifts that aren’t actually there!  Don’t fall for it!

NZ Cricket in conjunction with Mike Hesson, Mike Sandle, Craig McMillan, Shane Jurgenson, and others in the support team, have brought the NZ Black Caps to the top of the rankings in almost every cricket format!  They have to be doing something right; and the media doesn’t like that because they can’t criticise them when they’re doing so well!

Don’t fall into their trap of believing that there’s rifts and discord – just get out there and support the team, while it’s doing so well!

 

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This is what we should be reporting on and celebrating today …

Kane Williamson

104 not out!  144 minutes, 90 deliveries, 15 boundary fours.

NZ v Bangladesh, Basin Reserve, Wellington, 16 January 2017

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Kane Williamson’s run scoring wagon wheel, courtesy of http://www.cricinfo.com

I felt incredibly blessed and fortunate to be able to be seated at the Basin Reserve in Wellington this week, as the New Zealand captain, Kane Williamson, not only guided his side’s run chase on towards victory over the Bangladesh cricket team, but he also managed to score his fifteenth test century in the process!

When Kane walked to the crease at the fall of the first wicket in the run chase, the side was in danger of losing their way in reaching a relatively small target of 217.  Kane needed to get himself settled at the crease, on a pitch that had already seen a number of runs scored and wickets taken over the last four days, then establish a partnership with Ross Taylor after the second wicket fell at the other end of the pitch, and look to score runs reasonably quickly as there were only a finite number of overs left in the day’s play.

The fact that he did all this is just another indicator of his incredible cricketing mind and amazing skill and technique in being able to take whatever the Bangladeshi bowlers threw at him, and judging by the above wagon wheel and noting how many runs Kane scored onto the legside of the ground, you can be sure there were also a number of short-pitched deliveries thrown in there for him to deal with also.

I actually found myself thinking when Kane was on about 60 runs that if he played well enough, he could actually score himself a century on that afternoon.  It seemed every run and moment from that point was captured by the ever-growing crowd on the embankment and terraces as everyone, it seemed, was willing him onwards to the target.  Not only the target of a test match win, but the target of a fifteenth test century.  You had to feel for Henry Nicholls who was Kane’s team mate at the other end of the pitch who, upon Ross Taylor’s dismissal for a very well played 60 runs, had to try and balance between scoring runs for the team and ensuring his captain received enough of the strike in order for him to reach his goal.  In fact, I could just imagine Kane walking down the pitch between overs and saying to Henry, just have a go, mate, and let’s go and have a beer (to paraphrase something Jimmy Neesham once said!)

Another reason to love Kane Williamson.  Ever the team player, he was more intent on reaching the final target for the team, than worrying about whether or not he’d be left stranded on 99 not out!

My view of that historic moment

But he did it, and the very next ball achieved his ultimate goal of winning the match for the team, as the Black Caps reached 217/3.  There were no histrionics, or lavish displays of joy and excitement as Kane reached both milestones either; just a quiet smile and confidence in himself and his team to come through five days of testing and intriguing cricket victorious!

And so I say thank you.  Thank you to the New Zealand Black Caps for five days of victorious test cricket, overcoming when most around the world at written them off, but mostly thank you to Kane Williamson, for allowing me to watch you go about the business of scoring test centuries, and winning matches for your team.

Courtesy of the Black Caps support team, the moment captured when Kane Williamson scored his 15th test century!

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NZ v Bangladesh, test series, 2016/17

Being unemployed has its benefits, despite suffering from JHFS (that’s Job Hunting Fatigue Syndrome, for the uninitiated!)  
One of those benefits is being able to visit the Basin Reserve when the New Zealand Black Caps are training for a test match the next day.  
Highlights from this morning’s visit included:
  • Getting totally blanked by Shane Jurgenson as he walked past me, despite me saying hello and his name … okay, so maybe that’s not a highlight!
  • Spending half an hour standing at the end of the practice nets, watching Tim Southee, Matt Henry and Neil Wagner perfect their bowling craft.
  • Neil Wagner leaving the nets to do an interview and seeing me, and waving and calling out hello!
  • Pretending not to eavesdrop as Bryan Waddle and Ross Taylor chat through the net fencing in front of me.
  • Wonder just why Dean Brownlie has grown that beard to be so long and scruffy!
  • Seeing Henry Nicholls leave his gear at the nets and wander off to do something, then fifteen minutes later, hear Tom Latham asking those around him where Toey had got to and being able to inform him just which direction he had disappeared to.
  • Observing the on-field advertising being applied by just a few of the many hands making light work of the pre-game preparations.  It’s a hive of activity at the ground in the days before a test match!
  • Finally being able to introduce myself to Willie Nicholls from the Black Caps media team.
  • Taking note of just how many people use the NZ Cricket Museum windows as a mirror as they wander past!
  • Shaking the hand of Don Neely, cricket historian extraordinaire!

 

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Close encounters of the furry kind …

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For my birthday last year, I was very blessed to be gifted with a “close encounter” opportunity at Wellington Zoo.

For those who may not be able to figure out what this means, a “close encounter” is the chance to get up close and personal with selected zoo animals, for a fee which goes towards the work at the zoo as well as the conservation fund to protect the animals in the wild.  For my close encounter, I got to meet the Wellington Zoo’s delightfully cute and adorable red panda family!

I have felt an affinity for the red pandas since the day Reka, a former tenant of the zoo, escaped from her enclosure and made her way to my family’s property in the southern suburbs of Wellington, and so I was very excited to be able to feed and pat a red panda in person … or in animal, as the case may be!

We were guided and taught expertly by Anna, who works with the red panda at the zoo, as we first called on Ishah, the eldest male of the group, who at first was rather apprehensive at intruders in his enclosure, but soon warmed to us when he detected the delicious fruit we were holding in our hands for him to jump onto our laps and eat from.

Don’t you just love his black sleeves?

After a short time as Ishah didn’t seem to be very hungry on this day, we moved next door to visit Sundar and Khosi, immigrants from Hamilton and Auckland Zoos respectively, who will hopefully be able to breed (on the one day of the year available for red pandas to mate) and increase the red panda population soon.

Sundar and Khosi were extremely excited and keen to have visitors, and were clambering over our laps even before we had vittles for them to eat!

Despite the red pandas not having too much of their trademark stripey tails, due to shedding their thick winter coats for the “summer” season, it was still a fantastic opportunity to see up close such beautiful and trusting animals.  And to feel their long claws used for expertly climbing the narrowest of tree branches, digging into our legs as they searched our hands for more fruit.

All good things have to come to an end, sadly, and it wasn’t long before the fruit bowl was empty and Sundar and Khosi were checking for any final stray scraps, before saying their good byes and heading back into the trees, to groom themselves after eating and to have an afternoon sleep …

Thanks again to everyone at Wellington Zoo, especially Anna, Ishah, Sundar and Khosi, for giving me such a fun and fabulous encounter with three beautiful and friendly red pandas!

P.S. I did ask if I could take one home, but sadly, it wasn’t allowed!

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