Sue Wells – The New Canterbury Tales

October 11, 2011

Central City Plan Day 7 and 1/2 #eqnz #chch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sue Wells @ 6:37 pm
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Imagine a city created for its beauty and its relevance to its location. A place which is fresh and new and of its day and of its time. We the council are being challenged to enable her creation, and clearly told we haven’t yet written the rulebook to make it so.

Today, we met again with a group of property owners so that we could tease our their concerns and find better ways of working together. Tomorrow, we hear from our final batch of submitters.

Next week we begin to move into our deliberations phase, the one which will deliver a plan to the Minister for Earthquake Recovery (and also I think to the Minister for the Environment) which will outline our vision for the future and the ways we will get there.

In those terms, this was a very good day.

There is one significant exception to that remark.

Just as we began our meetings today, I learnt of the passing at the weekend of Anne Cosson. I knew Anne as a treasured member of our staff, who loved the work she did in Parks, made great urban spaces and relished her engagement with the community we serve. Anne is young, she has a young family, her death due to ill health was unexpected and is terribly sad. I respected her as a member of staff and really enjoyed her company as a human being. I will miss her enormously but nowhere near as much as will her daily colleagues and her very close family.

Some things are just bloody rotten unfair. Anne’s death this year is yet another of them.


October 8, 2011

Central city plan day 6 #eqnz #Chch #CCC

Today’s hearing, in marked contrast to the wintry weather conditions, was largely upbeat and positive. Our new venue is the damaged Beckenham Service Centre. The earthquake attacked its lovely green heating system so we freeze or fry while we’re there. It’s only 3km from my home, so the bike ride there in the pouring rain warmed me up nicely. (I have yet to see a report on the building which won the National Architects Award when it was constructed. I hope ease of repair formed part of its sustainability indicators – not that anyone could have predicted the ferocity of February’s underground bomb.)
Today’s high point was the self described Japanese immigrant who urged us to build a city reflecting our identity, to paint it as the people we are. She wore vibrant yellow and her enthusiasm for living here was made doubly meaningful by her residential address – a red zone resident, not that she mentioned it in her submission.
The most poignant submission today was by Heidi Berg’s mum, Julie. Julie suggested that as part of the memorial, families be invited to choose a tree. They could be grown in time for the Ellerslie Flower show next year. Families of Japanese students might be offered a cherry, she suggested. For Heidi, whose memorial sheet sat in front of her throughout the presentation, a New Zealand native would perhaps be a good choice. Julie asked us to think about including volunteer gardeners in the development of our new city. She presented to us, she said, because she knew had Heidi not been lost in the CTV building, she would certainly have been having her say on the city’s future shape. (Rest assured Julie – she is.)
As it’s Saturday, Kim popped in at lunchtime and we shared the break together. A quick snack was followed by half an hour trying to rescue a mother duck and her brood from the despair of the near empty moat.
We finished around 4, and I biked home just in time to be in the garage for the first of a series of gnarly little shocks rumbling across from the peninsula – the first a 4.8 had me hoping the garage window wasn’t going to fall in again as it did in February.
We have walked the pooch, Kim’s cooking salmon for tea, and there are superb Rugby World Cup games on today. Wales/Ireland, England/France. Not a bad backdrop for another big evening’s reading.


October 4, 2011

Central city plan day 2 #eqnz #Chch

It’s afternoon tea break on day two. We sit today from 9am til 8pm. Two hour long breaks at 1 and at 430 give us a chance to recharge.
Submitters today have had an arts theme with the museum art gallery and court theatre coming in. This morning architects planners and urban designers were offered the opportunity to give us their thoughts on an idea I am mulling – a “what if the RMA were not the planning vehicle for the rebuild” concept. More on that in another post – suffice it to say I am wondering if there might be a better, smarter more intuitive solution that delivers what we want in a swifter timeframe than the outdated RMA under which our nation’s planning lumbers.
A diverse bunch of submitters are between us and the close of the day. The airport is followed by the national council of women, individuals speaking as well.
Highlights so far today include a magical submission from Deaf Aotearoa, a wow-factor presentation from Wiki Design, and a very cool app based car pooling solution which had me reaching for the install button.
The breadth of views and ideas is quite wonderful. My note book is a technicolour pastiche of ideas on colored sticky notes, sketches and jottings beside where I have been piqued into thought.
These submissions are offering great opportunity for creativity and imagination. Day 2 of 8 and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

October 3, 2011

Central city plan – the hearings commence

Our first morning session of central city plan hearings has concluded. We are in for 8 x 11 hour days. 4707 comments were received on the plan. 427 people/groups have asked to speak.
Our hearings are taking place at the Balmerino Room, Riccarton Racecourse as the council building is still out of action. A jockey exercising their horse entertained me before the hearings began. To my left is a full wet bar. Rest assured it will not be used otherwise there will be guaranteed nodding off before we finish day 1 at 8pm.
So far we have received (and I have read) 5 volumes of material from submitters who wish to be heard. We have three further volumes to come plus another 10 or so volumes of “not heard” submissions to assess before deliberations commence in two weeks. Each volume is roughly 500 pages long.
I have learned some lessons over the years about long haul hearings. I bring my mug and some flowers from home, my own favorite tea and coffee. I bring snacks (healthy) and Kim made my lunch (even healthier).
When I take notes from the submissions, they’re multicolored with a coding system I develop as I go. I take notes in sketch form as well as in written word – it stimulates my thinking (and helps me stay focussed).
People are given 5 minutes to be heard and organizations 10. No small ask to get everyone through in time but we are working to the government’s timeline. We have a job to do and do it we will. What is more, we will do it well.

(and happy birthday Warren Brixton)


August 11, 2011

Christchurch adopts the draft Central City Plan. #eqnz #chch

Filed under: Uncategorized — Sue Wells @ 8:30 pm
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“Make sure it’s environmentally friendly,” said everyone from my 81 year old dad to the neighbours to my kids. “Make it about people. About bikes and pedestrians more than just cars. Make us the safest city in the world.”

Today the Christchurch City Council adopted the draft Central City Plan which will now go out for consultation. When the CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act) legislation was passed in April, we were given 9 months to develop an implementable vision for our destroyed central city. Today we moved into the second phase of a three step process.

Since April, the council has met at least weekly on the plan. Our incredible staff and consultants have worked the most phenomenal hours. Together we identified the key themes and strands of the plan. They were teased out through the Share an Idea programme of consultation. Our staff brought back in distilled form the 106,000 opinions and suggestions offered by our community.

Our debates have been behind closed doors, and for good reason. Some of the ideas we canvassed were wild and wonderful and would have made great headlines that would not have helped move us forward. Our discussions have been free and frank. At times there have been cross words, stormy departures.

There was none of that today. The plan was adopted unanimously and consultation opens on it next week.

My kitchen played host some of the first informal discussions on the plan. When the senior staff saw my stove I had to stop pretending that I can’t cook. Even feeding them didn’t seem to alter their perception.

Our staff today looked absolutely knackered. The hours they have been putting in are just mind-blowing. I’m shattered after today. If they’re not tucked up in bed by now (it’s just past 8pm) I will be very surprised.

I’m going to offer more detail on the plan over the next couple of days when I can keep my eyes open properly. In the meantime, here’s the link so you can have a look at it yourself –

What I will say to you is it’s green, it’s people focussed, and I don’t think Dad will be disappointed when he reads this first draft. I hope that he (and you) will take the chances starting from next Tuesday and again share your thoughts on it. This plan needs to belong to us all.

Very tired. Bed beckons. Going to leave you with this lovely comment from Suzy who brought tears to my eyes when I read it.

“I’ve just read the plan cover to cover. I had expected to be disappointed however it’s bold and visionary. Inspirational even. It makes me want to stay, to live and to invest. It gives me hope. What an incredible gift it is to this city. To those responsible – thank you.”

Suzy – right back at you. To you and all the 106,000 contributors, to the staff, the consultants, my colleagues, I thank you too.


August 8, 2011

Shove over Gordon Ramsay – make way for the New Central City Plan #eqnz #chch

A courier delivered me a parcel tonight.

Wrapped (unusually) in crisp brown butcher’s paper, it contained the draft Christchurch Central City Plan, the first Council agenda I have ever seen protected by bubble wrap.

The culmination of months of work, the draft plan becomes public on Thursday and it’s embargoed until then. When we adopt it on Thursday, it doesn’t become the final version. It remains the draft and it is anticipated that it will change through the consultation phase. Here’s a website to keep an eye on:

I suspect it will be a love/hate document, because it deals with something so important to us all that I’m not expecting reactions to be other than visceral. I hope some of it will delight, inspire, enchant, I suspect that some may disappoint, annoy, offend.

Given all we’ve been through and what we’re trying to do, that’s the nature of the beast.

Here at home, we’re still recovering from a beast of a different kind.

On Saturday we became the beneficiaries of a piece of wild boar. After much research involving watching lashings of Food TV while sipping on a decent pinot noir, Kim fashioned a plan involving our piece of piggy, kumara, potato, carrots, brussel sprouts, crackling and gravy. Dessert was compliments of Gordon Ramsay. Pain Perdu with caramelized peaches, raspberry coulis and chantilly cream. Who knew dessert could involve basil?

In order for our dinner party to happen, we had to clean the house. Yesterday we cleared the lounge of the debris of February 22nd. The books are back on the shelves, the plaster dust is gone. It almost feels like a home again.

We were seven at the table last night and we counted it a roaring success. Rachel licked her dessert plate clean. Big Nick ate his brussel sprouts. I tried hard not to calculate the calories as the dishes were assembled – that proved easy because I soon ran out of clean fingers on which to count. There was great conversation, lots of laughter, and chop bones left for the dog.

It was a glorious confection of a meal and today we are all still groaning. Tonight’s dinner was a much simpler affair involving chicken, rice and a renewed commitment to burning off the flab that has settled over the long nights of winter. The prudent need to use up the left over raspberry coulis and the whipped cream meant we had to curtail our good behaviour long enough to hoover a couple of bowls of icecream. Each. No point in letting good food go to waste. (There’s still a brioche left in the fridge. If I’m going to eat it without wearing it, I have some cycle route planning to do.)

Today was gorgeous, a hard frost leading to an 18 degree day. The dog had an early run this morning, then I dusted off the mountain bike, Kim blew up my tyres, and I rode to work and beyond. The need to battle the winter bulge has been thoroughly kick started by last night’s epic gastronomic adventure.

Gordon Ramsay has a lot to answer for.

August 6, 2011

About leaking, and the Christchurch Central City Plan #eqnz #chch

I was trapped in Dunedin, snowed in for three days. While Christchurch was (according to my teenage sons) a beer bottle deep in snow, Dunedin was an ice rink. Flights were chaos. You couldn’t even reach Air New Zealand on the phone, let alone reschedule a flight. Instead of flying out on the Monday morning, I ended up as a voluntary barista until the Wednesday. It was just as well – the staff were stranded on the Monday, unable to get to work, and so while Kim spent the day slaving over a hot stove and up to his armpits in rubber gloves and dishwashing liquid, I finally conquered the coffee machine and remembered how to mix a martini.

I arrived back to a house that was beyond clean – it was shimmering. The boys had coped magnificently without me. I chose not to look in the recycling bin, but if they had partied, they did it with all the cunning and aplomb that could be wanted. “We were fine, Mum”, one of them groaned after yet another ‘I missed you’ hug. “We went for a walk at four in the morning in the snow and there was a big crack just in front of us and these branches crashed to the ground. It was awesome.” I hugged them again.

I’d missed part of the conversation on the central city plan while I was away, but that couldn’t be helped. I was back for the mammoth council meeting that awaited, with 58 items in three volumes keeping me well and truly occupied with reading upon my return. Blogging has been the victim of my choice to have something of a life, and make time for those I love.

Exercise has been nowhere in the picture – a revolting little lurgy has had me by the throat. I’ve been tired, sick and thoroughly out of sorts. There’s a lot of it going around – so far Kim and the boys have avoided it. I’m putting it down to stress. There’s certainly been plenty of that at work.

In the last couple of weeks we have concluded the drafting of the Central City Plan. It goes to Council this coming week. From its adoption there, it becomes a discussion document, open for public submission and hearings later this year. Once it’s published, we get our listening ears on so that you can tell us what you think of it, whether it’s about right or not, how it should be improved, whether we’ve gone far enough or not, or too far.

The planning process has been exciting as well as exhausting. I would love to have been writing about each day’s discussions, about the personalities at the table, the great debates we’ve had. Obviously (or so I would have thought) I can’t do that – and I won’t do that.

What I will share is that I have found it draining and physically challenging. Sitting on hard chairs hunched over a table for 8 hours at a stretch, straining to hear and concentrate on the detail of the documents while listening attentively to your peers is no small ask, particularly when you consider the vehemence and passion of each of the contributors. I’d go home at the end of the day with my back screaming and my head pounding. It is very easy to lose sight of the immense opportunity presented to each of us steering this plan into fruition.

I was chatting with one of our temps after we wrapped things up on Thursday. “Did you enjoy doing this?” I asked her. Her face lit up, she nodded. She couldn’t believe her luck, she told me. She was stuck in a building in town on the 22nd of February, and at that stage vowed and declared that she would do anything in her power to rebuild this town until the last brick was put back. To have the chance to be part of the process was something she couldn’t have dreamed of – she couldn’t believe her luck. “I don’t believe in luck anymore,” I told her. “I believe in fate. You were meant to be here.” I asked her what she thought of the plan. “If even half of what’s in there gets done, it will be the most amazing city in the world in which to live,” she replied.

I was drained, exhausted, grumpy. She was glowing. In her face, I saw the belief that there is a bright future that we all share, and that the possible is the achievable. I’m so donkey deep in the process and so focussed on getting it as good a draft as it can possibly be that at times I’ve found it hard to keep my eyes pinned on that hope.

That conversation with her reminded me just how immensely privileged I am to have a place at the Council table at this moment in our city’s history, no matter how heavy the responsibility sometimes feels. I hope when you see the plan in the coming days you will feel like we haven’t let you down. I want you to know that for the last few months I have watched our planning team sweat blood to bring this document to life, and I am grateful to each and every one of them. They are absolute heroes, they just don’t give up.

I have been very disappointed with certain things which have involved council in the last little while. Incredibly sensitive private discussions and legally privileged information have found their way into the hands of the media. I don’t know how that has happened, but as far as I am concerned whoever the parties are that have participated in making that happen have committed an unforgivable act of contempt for fair process and democracy. It is the worst kind of disgraceful behaviour that can only have been done by someone who has no ethics, no moral compass, no integrity. Whoever you are, I hope you read this and know how profoundly you disgust me.

This is a time when our city needs to be pulling together, not engaging in moronic gamesmanship. I have a message for you. Grow up. Stop being so selfish and pathetic. And if you can’t do that, rather than enable the disclosure of information in the shadows, have the guts to do it publicly and not skulk behind the blanket of the media like the coward you so clearly are.

There – I’ve said my piece. You know how I feel. That’s because unlike you I have the courage to put my name to my actions and wear the consequences.

In other news, Kim and I had a lovely day off today. It was warm and beautiful. We rose late after a night of earthquake and teenager induced insomnia, brunched, then took Pepper for a walk around North Hagley Park. We picked up pine cones, marvelled at the hole that used to be Victoria Lake, watched a game of rugby being played, hollered at Pepper to leave the golfers alone, and made it back to the car just as the wind turned chilly. Then we took our smelly girl to Splash’n’Dash on Blenheim Road.

It’s the most wonderful facility for hosing down a humming border collie. While I fetched the change, Kim manhandled our reluctant beauty into the washing box and chained her in. The look on her face was of the most unwavering disgust. I sobbed quietly with laughter as we went through each of the stages of cleaning her up. As Kim tried valiantly to steer her into open waters, she glared at him and leaned as hard as she could against the wall of the box so the lovely warm water couldn’t reach her.

We won. She’s lying in front of the fire now smelling of talcum powder and flea spray and has all but forgiven us for tormenting her on such a lovely day.

As I write, the Bledisloe has just drawn to a close. Piri Weepu’s savage haka foretold the result – 30-14 to our All Blacks at Eden Park. Richie – you may not have had the chance to hold up the Super 15 trophy – you’ll get the chance to heft a bigger one in a moment. Long may that trend continue.

June 29, 2011

News on White Zone repairs, CCC insurance, Annual Plan, Building Design #eqnz #chch

There’s something funny going on with the seasons. I still have roses in bloom in my garden. The lemons have turned bright yellow with the first frosts. There are sol d’ors and earlicheer in the planter boxes, and most oddly, the daphne is out a full two months early.

Its fragrance always spoke to me of spring and the end of winter. I have it in our lounge now as winter starts. The last time I smelt it was the week of September 4th. One of the casualties of the Darfield earthquake was an enormous vase of daphne in the hallway which ended up on the floor. Like so many other things at the moment, the fragrance of daphne triggers little pictures in my head, little memories which I suspect may never fully leave me.

Running helps. I’ve been slack lately and it shows in my lack of blogging. The more I run, the easier it is to write. Running, like writing, is sensitive to the pressures of light and time. All last week I went to work in the dark, came home in the dark, and the chance for exercise was almost nil. Over the weekend I gritted my teeth and Pepper and I launched an infantry assault on the Victoria Park dog park. Uphill hurts at the time. Downhill hurts the next day. We ran again. And the following day. And the day after that. Snuck in runs before work and between meetings. We both needed it.

Work-wise, it’s one of the weeks from hell. They’re relatively common – every couple of months you get phases where meetings are so frequent and so long that reading and preparation for them can eat into sleep time if you let them.

There is so much happening all over the city too that I could be at meetings every second of every day, and it would be very easy to drown under the weight of everybody’s individual circumstances. There is so much hurt and heartbreak at the moment, so many stresses and unanswered questions that some days the sun just never seems to shine.

This is a time of change, and challenge, and choices. For the residents in the suburbs designated “red zone”, the choices that the government has provided will start to open up a new reality to them in the next little while. Some will stay, some will go. Some have left already. The offer is too generous, not generous enough – there is much to debate and no right or wrong answers. Often there seem to be no answers at all.

When will the tremors stop? When can we rebuild? On Monday, Fletcher Building’s CEO Johnathan Ling is reported by the Herald as saying

“We prefer to fix things once and do it properly and be done with it but while the aftershocks continue, and continue to do more damage, it’s very difficult to really get going.” … “Every time you start to rebuild something and we have an aftershock, it has got to be inspected again and evaluated to see if there are cracks in foundations and all those sorts of things. The last thing anyone wants to do is rebuild twice or three, or four or five times. I think the reality is that the rebuild in proper won’t really start until the aftershocks really cease.”

(Source NZ Herald )

Last week, before the coloured zone announcements I had dealings with a family who live on the hills. They had all their EQC assessments in hand, had been visited by their insurer’s loss adjuster, and were all systems go waiting for repairs – only to be told they weren’t going to happen. I rang their insurer. Wasn’t satisfied with the response. Went higher up the food chain and got similar messages about “on hold until aftershocks stop/cease/diminish”. Those varied throughout the phone call. I’m completely unclear about what insurance companies are waiting for in order to start repairs – although perhaps a little more reassured today with this latest piece from EQC.

EQC Update – White Zone Information, Port Hills
June 29EQC response in the Port Hills
*            EQC is continuing to repair dwellings in the Port Hills where work has already begun
*            It has a team of 20 dealing with landslip issues
*            Another team is doing full assessment on severely damaged properties
*            EQC is not starting new repair work on houses and is waiting for information from Tonkin and Taylor about land stability, which is expected in the next 10 days
*            Once the Tonkin and Taylor work is completed than EQC can determine what new repair work can occur
*            The land issues in the Port Hills are different from other parts of Christchurch.   The major issue is the danger of rock fall on to houses
*            The 5.7 magnitude and 6.3 magnitude earthquakes on 13 June 2011 caused further land damage in the  Port Hills area (including Lyttelton). This requires rapid mapping so EQC can triage appropriate areas and deal  with urgent claims appropriately
*            Rapid mapping involves geotechnical engineers physically observing land damage and recording it on maps of the area. It gives an overall picture of area-wide land damage and identifies properties that require urgent attention. It will be followed by individual property assessments for properties with EQC claims.
*         Christchurch City Council teams are also continuing to work in these areas assessing lifelines and life safety issues from rock falls and loose rocks. The information gathered by these teams will also inform the assessments made by Tonkin & Taylor for EQC, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) and the Government.
*           Tonkin and Taylor has advised EQC its land assessments in the Port Hills are about 70 per cent completeMeanwhile, the Royal Society of New Zealand and IPENZ (I’m a major fan of that organisation – I think I’m their token arts grad fanbase) have released a brilliant, easy read publication on building design in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes. You can download it here:’s not the report of the Royal Commission into the collapse of CTV and PGC – that’s yet to happen. There is more information too on the Department of Building and Housing’s website if you’re really keen – codes changed as of May 19 this year. they will change again after June 13 is anybody’s guess. That nasty little earthquake changed the city for a lot of people. Whether it’s changed perspectives permanently or temporarily remains to be seen. Another of the things that is hanging over us at the moment is the lack of reinsurance we are able to access as a community. This, today, from our Mayor Bob Parker.

” Tomorrow is D-day for the Council as we continue to try to secure insurance for the city’s $4.7 billion assets, which includes our underground pipes as well as facilities.

If the Council fails to get insurance cover by Thursday then our assets are uninsured – and that’s a very serious situation, particularly given the times we are in when there is always the possibility of further aftershocks.

Our predicament is because the Local Government-owned Civic Assurance will not take on the risk of insuring the assets of the Council and the Waimakariri District Council past Thursday. It in turn can not get the reinsurance it needs to protect itself. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that the Canterbury earthquake could cost about $15 billion which would make it one of the most expensive quakes for global insurers. Recent earthquakes in Japan and Haiti and floods in Australia, Pakistan and China have also hit insurers hard.

Council staff are looking at all possible avenues to get reinsurance, including talking to the Government. Even if we can secure reinsurance, it is very unlikely it will be at the same price and coverage as before the earthquake. And there is possibility we could have to self insure and rely on the strength of our balance sheet and the support of central government

We received a glimmer of hope for a solution on Monday when the Finance Minister Bill English announced that if our roads and sewers were damaged in another aftershock, then they would still get fixed. In Mr English’s view the question was where the balance of costs fell between ratepayers and taxpayers.

While that is some comfort, the ideal would be for us to secure insurance.

The Council is intent on absorbing as much of the extra cost of the earthquakes as possible, but it is inevitable that ballooning insurance costs would be passed onto our ratepayers.  Our situation also raises yet another question about insurance cover in our region.

I’ve been out and about at community meetings organised by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority this week and insurance cover has been one of  the most frequently raised issues. Homeowners are concerned that even though their homes are in the red zones, if insurance companies deem that their house can be repaired then the reimbursement they are being offered is the cost of those repairs. Individual property owners will be taking this up with their insurers, just as we as a Council are also try to get the best possible insurance outcome for our ratepayers.”

That nasty little insurance issue is one of the things yet to vex us as we go through our Annual Plan process. As I write we are at the end of day 1 of 2 of the most unusual process I’ve ever seen. If you can wade through a few pages of the agenda, I’d commend it to you. Our staff have put a huge amount of work into it and so have the submitters who wrote in, and the community boards who came and spoke to it in person.

What I would say to you is do not take it as gospel. We all know the thing we are most certain of is we don’t know what we don’t know. Rather than our nice polite three yearly major budget process followed by polite annual tidy ups, we are likely to see major revisions every year (perhaps more frequently) for the foreseeable future.

Add to that our continued work on the Central City Plan, all the regular business of council, the CEO review process, the occasional interview and a bit of filming and the reason for my dismal lack of blogging perhaps becomes apparent.

Let’s be clear. This may sound like a litany of woes – it’s not meant to be. I’ve taken to heart the Stockdale paradox. Accept the world in which you live. Acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead. Identify what success looks like. Find ways to overcome the obstacles. And understand that this is not a sprint.

I’ve said all the way along this event is more like a marathon. Community Board Chair and all around great guy Chris Mene said something even better today. “It’s an Iron Man,” he said, and gave me one of his great big hugs. I needed one at work today – no complaints about the ones at home, I hasten to add!

We’ll all be getting hugs tomorrow – the last day of June 2011 is a massive day. Not only is it The Alasdair Thompson Women’s Monthly Day Off (\) – it is Hug a Cantab Day.

If you’re a Cantab by residence, by birth, by association, by your passion or compassion or your generous donation – then feel free to put your little red and black paw up baby and tell your world it would be a much better place with a pair of arms wrapped around it.

Ka kite my friends – stay warm.

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