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Film Preview: Military Wives

I will be honest, and I don’t mean this to be offensive to any film that is based on a true story about real people, with real life events and feelings, but I generally, and admittedly cynically, run a mile from anything that has a whiff of ‘feel-good’.

But I’ll happily (yes i can do happy) admit upfront that this film actually made me feel good. Very good.

Credit: Lionsgate UK

Starring the wonderful Sharon Horgan alongside the equally wonderful Kristin Scott Thomas, Military Wives is inspired by the true story of the world’s first military wives choir, and directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Peter Cattaneo.

Credit: Lionsgate UK

Read my review of Military Wives on my sister blog What the Projectionist Saw https://whattheprojectionistsaw.wordpress.com/2020/02/29/review-military-wives/

Now in cinemas across Greater Manchester, including:

Everyman Manchester

Vue Cinemas

Odeon Manchester

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Film Review: Greed

As a child i was terrified of the poem, The Lion and Albert, by Marriott Edgar.

Set at a ‘famous seaside place called Blackpool’, it was all literally a bit close to home for me (growing up in a small village about 3 miles out….)

It still haunts me. Anyway, I’ll just leave that here for now.

Michael Winterbottom’s Greed tells the story of self-made British billionaire, Richard McCreadie (Steve Coogan), whose retail empire is in crisis.

Copyright: Sony Pictures

What better way to save his flailing reputation and dwindling finances than the 60th birthday party to end all parties on the island of Mykonos.

Copyright: Sony Pictures

Go big or indeed go home (that lion though…)

Read my review of Greed on my sister blog What the Projectionist Saw – https://whattheprojectionistsaw.wordpress.com/2020/02/21/review-greed/

Opening in cinemas across Greater Manchester from 21 February 2020 including:

https://homemcr.org/film/greed/

https://www.myvue.com/film/greed

https://www.everymancinema.com/film-info/greed

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News: HOME brings in 2020 with a retrospective of award-winning Mancunian screenwriter, Robert Bolt

I’m currently trying my hand at screenwriting (under the excellent tutorage of Scriptwriting North), love a regular visit to HOME and dip my toe in the world of film both here and over at What the Projectionist Saw

So battling my way through a frankly annoying barrage of emails in my inbox about Black Friday,  there was only one missive which caught my eye and promised me the ultimate gift (and not a BF reference in sight – a GOOD thing).

HOME are seeing in 2020 with their annual British Screenwriters season, 5-22 January, and there’s a mancunian cherry on the cake.

Manchester-born and educated Robert Bolt will be the subject of a celebrated season of works including the infamous and frankly quite epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr Zhivago (1965).

Happy new year to us!

Curated by Andy Willis, HOME’s Senior Visiting Curator: Film and Professor of Film Studies at the University of Salford, the season will screen three of Bolt’s award-winning collaborations with Lean: Lawrence of Arabia, recipient of seven Oscars in 1963 including Best Film and Best Director, with a Best Screenplay nomination for Bolt; Doctor Zhivago, which won Bolt his first Oscar and Golden Globe; and Ryan’s Daughter (1970), a double Oscar-winning epic romance set against a backdrop of war and political turmoil.

Also screening is the 1966 screen adaptation of Bolt’s internationally successful stage play of the same name, A Man for All Seasons, with Paul Scofield reprising his West End and Broadway role as Sir Thomas More – for which he was awarded an Oscar – alongside a cast including Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, Vanessa Redgrave and John Hurt and directed by Hollywood veteran Fred Zinnemann (High Noon, From Here to Eternity). Rounding off the season is Bolt’s final film, The Mission – the haunting, epic tale of a missionary in 18th-century South America starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons and directed by Roland Joffé – winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival as well as a final Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for Bolt.

Curator Andy Willis heads up proceedings with a special One Hour Intro about Bolt and his career, commenting…

Bolt is a true Manchester success story – born in Sale and educated in Manchester, he studied at Manchester University before and after serving in World War II. We’re excited to be celebrating this brilliant writer who enjoyed critical and commercial success across such a vast range of theatre and film writing, and possessed a true knack for making history contemporary and tackling moral issues dramatically.

For more details including the full programme list and to buy tickets, head to the HOME website at https://homemcr.org/event/british-screenwriters-robert-bolt/

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Film Review: Mrs Lowry & Son

One of my favourite sketches, amongst thousands (which, incidentally, does not include the bloody parrot one), is Monty  Python’s irreverent (could it be anything else) look at working class life:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2q1ojy

Turning matters on their head, whilst t’father in ‘is rolled up sleeves, braces and britches, sweats over his work as an award-winning playwright in ‘ampstead, his well spoken son who previously has gone ‘poncing off to Barnsley’ to be a coal miner, returns home. Concerned about his mum, he exclaims

Look at what you’ve done to mother! She’s worn out with meeting film stars, attending premieres and giving gala luncheons…

Well there’s nowt wrong with gala luncheons, as Graham Chapman furiously retorts, and to that end, nowt wrong with gala premieres.

And so (somewhat tenuously), we come to the Gala Premiere showing of Mrs Lowry & Son, at, where else, Salford’s very own Lowry Theatre.

Starring the wonderful (and no introduction-warranting) actors Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Spall in the title roles, the Adrian Noble directed film takes us to Pendlebury and almost exclusively to an elderly Elizabeth Lowry’s bedroom where, from a bed, she relies on  (how much this is actually required is unclear and a point which Redgrave refused to speculate on during the Q&A following the screening), berates and manipulates her ever-patient but very much grown up bachelor son.

Exuding regality (and extreme fragility when, perhaps suited), Redgrave’s Mrs Lowry is quick to criticise her son’s ‘hobby’ and any artistic aspirations (which, would always be quiet and humble) he may dare to have. Indeed any praise or commendation is reserved for the buying of sausages from the ‘correct’ butchers (although did he buy them from the father or the son in the shop because this is important…).

As we see Mrs Lowry bemoan the fact that her previous middle class standing had given way to what she sees as a low class existence in 1930s Pendlebury,

I haven’t been cheerful since 1898

the irony is, of course, there in spades, given the reverence, value and respect in the history of art which was to come to one L.S….

Occasionally venturing outside the terraced house and into the streets as our Laurie goes about his day job collecting debt, the film is careful not to litter the screen with obvious and clichéd nods. We’re not bombarded with matchstick men, cats and dogs in the frame, but we do see landscapes and scenes of inspiration for paintings which were to become.

As Timothy Spall so beautifully put it in the Q&A, Lowry saw the ‘gorgeous decreptitude’ in his surroundings.

That can only sound like an oxymoron if you’ve never seen one of his paintings. Then it makes perfect sense.

One direct and glorious reference we are treated to in the film, deals us a live version of  one of my favourite Lowrys…

Lowry was to turn down a knighthood, later in life, reasoning that as his then late mother wasn’t there to see it, there wasn’t a point. One wonders what Mrs Lowry would have thought (perhaps even if it was secretly, dressed up in critique), were she to witness her son’s legacy – right up to last night’s Gala Premiere.

Whilst we’ll never know for sure, with writer Martyn Hesford’s screenplay, we’re probably as close as dammit to guessing.

Mrs Lowry & Son is released in cinemas nationwide from  Friday 30 August.

The permanent and rather wonderful exhibition L.S. Lowry The Art & The Artist at, where else, The Lowry, is open daily and free to visit. See thelowry.com for details.

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Review: Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story

My mum told me this story of being at the cricket at Old Trafford.

Frank Sidebottom had made a glorious appearance (actual Frank – there were many pretenders to the papier-mâché head aesthetic with ‘hilarious’ consequences…)

In fact in Being Frank… John Thomson tells us of Chris Sievey getting out a scrap book he kept at home, of pictures of fan tribute Franks. Terrible, terrible, brilliant tribute Franks.

Some with square heads.

There was only one Frank and that was Chris Sievey (on this occasion, being ejected from Old Trafford for causing a distraction, prompting the ground to erupt in a chant to get him back).

It’s not even my anecdote.

Another is when a friend of a friend went to see Frank perform in a pub, leaving a bag of CDs out on the table (it was the 90s, we bought bags of CDs), only for Frank to casually swipe them on his way past. Said friend of friend never saw them again (it’s ok, it was a cold day in hell when HMV didn’t have a cheap offer on, on CDs).

Again not my anecdote.

They’re not even salacious, exciting, dramatic anecdotes. Just normal ones. But they’re mine (well, not mine).

If you want some others, look to Director and Producer, Steve Sullivan, and the family, friends and acquaintances of one Chris Sievey – the man beneath (in?) the head.

Chris Sievey passed away in 2010 and left behind not just memories of some brilliant, silly, smart, daft, wonderful performances as Frank, but an attic full of notebooks, records, tapes, art and home movies.

I went to see Being Frank previewed at HOME Mcr a few weeks ago and spent 100 minutes that Thursday morning, catapulted into the world of Frank Sidebottom and, indeed, the somewhat lesser known but equally if not more ludicrously fascinating world of Chris Sievey.

Punctuated by previously unseen footage of home videos, art, music and memorabilia, we hear people speak with love, warmth, raw honesty, sometimes sorrow but mostly with laughter, of the person who was a one-man band of creativity and energy.

I sat there and laughed until I cried. Fancy crying on a Thursday morning in t’pictures. Pretty sure I wasn’t the only one.

Frank Sidebottom was and is legendary in these here parts of the North West. And getting to know the brilliant Chris Sievey more only enriches your love for Frank.

Find out:

  • What scuppered Chris getting on TOTP with band, The Freshies,
  • Why his ex-wife ended up having to take the home phone off the hook,
  • What Chris and Bob the Builder have in common; and
  • Just what happened to the head of Little Frank’s girlfriend…it’s dark (it’s not)

By the time, the first time (and only time) we see Chris emerge from within ‘the head’ you won’t be shocked.

Oh hi Chris

(If you know, you know)

You’ll have come to know them as one of the same (although I must be the only person on earth not to have figured out the method behind the voice…)..

With contributions from Jon Ronson, John Cooper Clarke, John Thomson, Johnny Vegas and some other people not actually called John or variations thereof (Mark Radcliffe), it’s a poignant, brilliant, silly, moving, wonderful journey into the head of Frank, the mind of Chris and, well, Timperley.

I do declare it to be the antithesis of bobbins.

Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is out this Friday 29 March, at HOME Mcr and in cinemas across the U.K. and Ireland.

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Head HOME for Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year and so on and so forth.

In fact, let us not mess around.

Let’s just go straight to Chris Rea. Ish.

Because this year, Mancs, Honorary Mancs, Visitors to Manc…

I’m going HOME this Christmas…

Why, you ask? Well I can’t wait to see those faces.

Whose, you ask?

Well everyone who frontline works there from Box Office to Bar. But of equal measure, I can’t wait to see some of the films and theatre productions that HOME Mcr are treating us to this yuletide season. Because, frankly readers? We’ve all been very good and have swerved the naughty list.

First up, At Home in the 80s.

I love three things (I mean I love more but for the purposes of the here and now, I love three):

  • Being at HOME
  • Christmas
  • The 80s

And so those clever people combine all three with their season of films inspired by this devastatingly brilliant decade.

Image courtesy of Park Circus/Disney

We all live for nostalgia at Christmas and these films deliver it in spades:

  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?;
  • An American Werewolf in London;
  • This is Spinal Tap (watch out for more on this on sister blog What the Projectionist Saw;
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark;
  • Bill and  Ted’s Excellent  Adventure; and
  • Heathers.

Image courtesy of Park Circus/StudioCanal

We love the 80s and this is the only decade to bring us significant films.

Hey, who said that? HOME and I beg to differ. What about the era of slapstick?

Guess what, reader, HOME are bringing this to us as well with a season of Slapstick featuring the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and The Marx Brothers in:

  • A Night at the Opera;
  • One Week/Sherlock Jr – a Buster  Keaton double bill accompanied by live musicians HarmonieBand; and
  • Modern Times – again, watch out for feature on film blog What the Projectionist Saw, coming to a screen near you…

For full film listings head to www.homemcr.org/cinema

I love slapstick and I love HOME. But is there a second cultural medium bringing the two concepts together? I hear you ask (you’re saying a great deal today, reader).

Why yes! HOME may be inviting you into their intimate grown up cinemas this Christmas, but they haven’t shut up shop at their theatre spaces.

For older children (and adults), the Dutch musical explosion that is Slapstick (anyone know how to do an umlaut on a laptop – anyway there should be two dots of the ‘a’), hits HOME, with an ode to the timeless comedy of Messrs Chaplin, Keaton, Marx, Laurel and Hardy, with five world class performers combining musicianship, mayhem and physical comedy to bring a show that will mesmerise from start to finish. Running from 13-22 Dec.

For the little Mancs, Honorary Mancs, Visitors to Manc, (let’s say between the ages of 2-4)there is the delightful White, a fully immersive show where the little ones sit on bean bags in a magical white tent and hear the story of two friends in a magical white world whose job it is to watch over the birds and their precious eggs. Sarah Jessica Parker described the show as

One of the greatest experiences of a lifetime and the best 40 minutes of my life.

and you can’t argue with SJP. Running from 13-23 Dec.

And so we have it, for all details of dates, tickets and the venue itself, head to www.homemcr.org

For Christmas, there’s no place like HOME (I know it’s twee, but it works so…)

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‘Mandy’ at HOME Mcr

Earlier in the week I told you about the brilliant FilmFear season at HOME Mcr until 31 October 2018.

Review on Mandy now in on sister blog What the Projectionist Saw and all I will say is two words: Nicolas Cage….

https://whattheprojectionistsaw.wordpress.com/2018/10/28/mandy-how-happy-you-made-me/

Next showing at HOME on Monday 5 November and Friday 9 November.

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HOME – it’s where the FilmFear is…

The third annual horror fest, FilmFear, returns to Manchester’s HOME this week – in association with Film4.

From 26 – 31 October, residents, visitors and all round horror fanatics from Manchester can enjoy 6 days of cult films, extreme cinema and an all round fright fest on the big screen.

With a mix of new and classic, audiences will have the chance to attack the Hallowe’en season like a Michael Myers attacking a babysitter, a bloodied prom queen attacking her classmates or a Jack Nicholson attacking a bathroom door.

Highlights from the new stable includes:

  • Everybody’s favourite human Nicolas Cage, sharing the screen with Andrea Riseborough and Linus Roache in Mandy, a story of love, revenge and the supernatural (head back to the blog for my review of the film in the days to follow);
  • British film Possum, starring Sean Harris and  Alun Armstrong, which debuts the work of film-maker Matthew Holness who will be signing books before the screening and then returning afterwards to take part in a Q&A with audiences,
  • St. Agatha, the latest in a possibly one of my favourite ever named genres – Nunsploitation – as brought to us by filmmaker, Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III and Saw IV; and
  • Swedish title Videoman; a mystery thriller which, again, this blogger will be reviewing like a good’un shortly after the screening.

Audiences can also expect to revisit or even discover for the first time three vintage spine-tinglers (where have you been?), including:

  • The Fog from the puppet-master of horror, John Carpenter; and
  • The Evil Dead (possibly the most horror film title of all time).

For those not fortunate enough to have access to the cultural Manchester mecca that is HOME, the FilmFear season will also be returning to Film4, with a season of premieres and favourites, running for six nights from 26 – 31 October, including:

  • The Witch;
  • The Visit; and
  • Kaleidoscope – the psychological chiller which featured in last year’s programme at HOME.

For full details of FilmFear at HOME Mcr, including titles, dates and tickets, head to www.homemcr.org/filmfear

For details of the Film4 line-up, head to www.film4.com

See you on the other side…

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Theatre review – War Horse at the Lowry

A (by no means exhaustive) list of popular films and programmes that traumatised me as a child:

  • Dumbo
  • E.T.*
  • Born Free
  • Dot and the Kangaroo
  • Watership Down

They all have one thing in common – creatures and animals in challenging and sad situations. *Ok, technically E.T. was an alien but he’s pretty much in that category.

The last title (I can’t bear to even type it out again), is top of the trauma list. ‘That’ song (the name of which I cannot type lest it lead to floods of tears), used to send me behind the sofa to cry when I was little. It still would.

A (by no means exhaustive) list of popular films and programmes I have vowed never to watch, becoming aware of them when I was old enough to know better:

  • Tarka the Otter
  • The 9 Lives of Thomasina
  • The Lion King
  • Marley and Me
  • War Horse

See, I came to it.

Troubled as I am by my sensitivities to our furry, hairy, scaled, feathered…erm tusked and hooved friends, there is no way on this earth I will sit down with a bag of maize based onion rings (popcorn is literally not my bag) and subject myself to the film War Horse. The title screams out sad animal.

And I have to say, I allowed my ridiculous drama sensitivities to influence my thoughts on going to see the stage play.

However, the theatre-lover in me allowed myself to be taken in by the promise (yes promise – you know who you are) that puppets couldn’t possibly invoke woe and despair in me (that person obviously didn’t know me when Animal from The Muppets was my number 1 fear in life).

Furthermore, they didn’t reckon with South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, Puppetry Director, Matt Forbes, and the wonderful actors bringing Joey to life in front of our eyes last night.

The National Theatre’s production of War Horse first visited The Lowry in 2013 and so I had managed five years of stubbornness and resolve.

The heart-warming/wrenching story centres on the character of Albert Narracott (Thomas Dennis), his horse Joey and their journey throughout the First World War.

Thomas Dennis as Albert Narracott, with Joey

It’s certainly no spoiler to say that this journey is not a smooth one, the narrative taking audiences to the brink with its highly emotive highs and lows along the way.

Jo Castleton as Rose, Gwilym Lloyd as Ted

And is not a stretch to suspend your disbelief (more’s the pity) at all. I gave it my all I’m telling myself it was a mechanical puppet, it was a mechanical puppet, it was a mechanical puppet.

No use – I was in tears by the second scene and nothing ‘sad’ had even happened.

The attention to detail in bringing Joey and the other horses to life (yes, you have more to contend with) is just staggering – a subtle swoosh of the tail, a flicker of the ears; the senses are even tricked into seeing and hearing the horses breathe.

And then there’s the goose. Thank goodness for the comedy goose – watch out for the goose!

Billy Irving (Goose)

The goose and indeed the sergeant major bring the laughs and light relief and to be fair there are many moments where sadness gives way to smiles, particularly with the boyish innocence of Albert who by the end of the production is indeed a man whilst managing to retain a wonderful air of vulnerability and warmth.

Thomas Dennis as Albert Narracott, with Joey

The actors, lighting, sound and set design take you straight to the battlefields of the First World War, and horses aside (yes, I managed to tear my focus away from those woe-inducing creatures), the production is truly an assault on the senses and emotions – and I mean that in the most positive way possible.

Special mention must also go to our musical ‘narrator’, Bob Fox who, as ‘Songman’ takes us from one period of time and scene and into the next. And beautifully so.

Bob Fox as Songman

Stock up on your resolve and tissues, and don’t (I swear the phrase came to me before realised the abomination that is this pun) look a gift horse in the mouth, by not taking advantage of War Horse’s glorious return to Salford.

On a two week run until Saturday 30 June, head to the Lowry website here for all information and booking details.

If I can do it, you can…

and I’m so glad I did.

Dumbo can still do one though.

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All aboard for Brief Encounter – destination West End, first stop Salford…

I’ve been commuting since I was 12 years old, getting the bus to school, 2.9miles away (that 0.1 is very important given that it disqualified me from the free bus pass that the elusive and illustrious 3 mile commute brought you).

Buses gave way to trains once starting uni and then work, and I seriously think after daily commutes including Leeds, Liverpool and Wigan from the Manchester ‘burbs, I should be decorated with some sort of honour – bravery through adversity or something…

These days I’m back working in Manchester city centre, delivered there through the medium of tram.Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love them, they are not without their issues and, as with most commutes, the issues are the other people Recognise the Tram Tribes?

And so, we come to Brief Encounter, one of my favourite stories and films.Noël Coward’s story and 1945 film directed by David Lean, tells the story of two commuters who meet by chance in a station waiting/tea room.

In roles made famous by Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson, He a doctor, removes something from her eye. She, a housewife, lets him.

And so, a love affair begins, made ever more powerful that…(Spoiler Alert – scroll below the train if you haven’t seen the film)


***…it remains unconsummated before both parties go their separate ways, back to their spouses, children and lives; she in 1930s surburbia, he in a hastily yet convenient decision and opportunity to work out in South Africa.***


Now don’t get me wrong, very happily paired up with my plus 1, I’m not seeking out my own station tea room tryst (aka Starbucks), but there is something romantic about the train station (stop picturing Piccadilly Station, naysayers). People being reunited, saying goodbye…and, in this case, meeting for the first time.

If you haven’t already, go forth and watch the film.

But enough of the original source and basic premise, this week (20-24 February 2018), the North West is being treated to an original take on Brief Encounter as brought to the Lowry Theatre, Salford by company Kneehigh Theatre.

Like nothing I’ve seen before, the award-winning production, is adapted and directed by Emma Rice, and produced by David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers, Jenny and Steve Wiener and The Old Vic.

It brings together a stellar cast who deliver energetic performances non-stop, from their interactive relationship with the audience from before curtain up (keep your ears open and your eyes peeled) to curtain down.

(Jim Sturgeon as Alec and the full cast, credit: Steve Tanner)
(Dean Nolan as Fred and Isabel Pollen as Laura, credit: Steve Tanner)

Between them they bring the music, the singing, the acting, the props, the almost tongue in cheek special effects, and the laughter.

(Jos Slovick as Stanley & Beverly Rudd as Beryl, credit: Steve Tanner)

You may be surprised about the laughs. Admittedly there are more than in the more emotive film version of the story, but it’s important to remember the light relief brought by characters Albert Godby, Myrtle Bagot and Beryl Walters on the big screen.

It is perhaps in all of the supporting characters (but by no means supporting cast) that this production excels – the story of Laura and Alec almost providing the bridges to the next scene involving the other characters. At the very least, the footing feels equal.

(Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle, credit: Steve Tanner)

This is absolutely no slight on the scenes involving the central players, more a compliment to the production that the limelight was shared so well between all characters in a story where this would be thought impossible.

(Isabel Pollen as Laura, Jim Sturgeon as Alec, credit: Steve Tanner)

The final station tea room scene (no spoilers, fear not) is no less powerful and moving than that of the film (anyone seated next to me – I just had some grit in my eye, is all).

Lucy Thackeray as Myrtle, credit Steve Tanner

The original music by Stu Barker, and performance of said music, is jaunty and humorous, moving and sometimes melancholy- all as appropriate.

(Katrina Kleve, Lucy Thackeray & Beverly Rudd, credit: Steve Tanner)

Cue outcry from those, who like me, insist that in Brief Encounter there are three in that affair; Laura, Alec and Rachmaninov.Fear not, the stage production brings those powerful strains to the table as well.

At 90 minutes, without an interval, the audience is kept captivated by constant switches between music and word, live action and projected images, costume changes and the aforementioned ingenious props (look out for the toy train).

(Isabel Pollen as Laura, credit: Steve Tanner)

With three more performances at The Lowry before the show moves to a run in the West End, jump on board and don’t miss your chance to see this original take on a classic story.

Failing that, there’s always the Pendolino, but watch out for those lurking in Starbucks whilst you wait…

All the Deets.

ps thank you for retaining my two favourite lines…Funny

Oh mummmyyyy

And heartbreaking

Thank you for coming back to me