Category Archives: Travel

Getting Lost and Secret Records | Banff Diaries 4

The slideshow is staying! In this video, I explain my plans for executing the slideshow while I perform and… I also get a bit lost in the mountains! It’s a short and sweet one today, hope you enjoy!

Check out my last video, where I talk about the wonderful live poetry reading I went to and also give you an update on how the whole project is coming together!

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Shedding Light on Female Artists | Banff Diaries 2

In this video I talk about the questions that have been on my mind since being at the Banff Centre; about staying motivated to make music and art in a world full of monsters like Trump and, particularly, about all of the women artists that have been forgotten or were never known, simply because they were women. I am hoping, with my project, to shed some light on this issue, and to give at least one of these women a voice.

Check out my last video, where I arrived at the beautiful Banff Centre and began my artist residency here!

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Arrival and Feeling Inspired | Banff Diaries 1

 

I’ve arrived at Banff! With its staggering natural beauty and community of creatives with completely unique artistic projects, I’m feeling really inspired to get down to work. In this video diary, I take you from Germany to Calgary, up Tunnel Mountain, and around the Banff Centre campus (*complete with a tour of the breakfast buffet!).  Hope you enjoy!

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Salzburg Concert Vlog

 

Here is my video diary of my trip to Salzburg to perform 6 of Sonia Eckhardt-Gramatté’s 10 Solo Violin Caprices in a concert for my classmates and teacher. I am getting to know this music better and better and this was a valuable experience, to hear their reactions to the music as well as experience for myself what it was like to perform it.

 

 

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Inspirations from India

The Gateway of India, Mumbai

I spent this Christmas (2017) in India.  It was my first time visiting this country, and it was a more intensely life-altering and challenging experience than I ever imagined it could be.  Since coming home last week, I am finding that I am re-evaluating everything and looking at my life completely differently; I am seeing with new eyes what is truly important to me, considering myself extremely lucky in areas that I previously had ignored, questioning my automatic reactions to my ‘stressful’ problems, and disregarding the attitudes of others to things that have no real value to me.  Before my trip I had lost sight of the importance and truth of what I have.  Things like my nice, warm home, fast WiFi which connects me directly to everyone I love, the freedom of doing a job that I have chosen because it is work that I love, feeling safe and the luxuries of going food shopping or having a vast choice of different restaurants to go to.  In India, I saw life without any of these privileges, people forced into jobs in toxic conditions, tiny children trying their best to pickpocket and people working so hard everyday just to make some small amount of money to live by.

But more than all of this, I met a richness of culture that I really han’t fully anticipated.  The sights and smells, the people and how they communicate, the food and the overarching beauty of the country swept me away and have very much stayed at the forefront of my thoughts and dreams this past week.  I wanted to take you through my experiences with this blog post, so I hope you find it interesting and feel encouraged to explore this country that has so much to offer one’s soul!

Smiling at some cheeky children on the beach at Marine Drive, Mumbai.  I found this city to be full of a disparity between the rich and poor; you would see run down, ramshackle buildings right next to modern and luxurious sky-scrapers.  But on this piece of beach, at sunset, we met all kinds of people, just enjoying themselves, with a real sense of community and ‘togetherness’.

Markets or Bazaars

The infamous Fashion Street – a street full of vendors all trying their hardest to direct you towards their stall by thrusting some pair of ‘Levis’ in your face.  Before we went to Fashion Street, I had read that one must absolutely haggle and bargain to the fullest but actually experiencing this type of selling was CRAZY.  We quickly learned the trick of walking away, and once we started putting this in practice we found that the so-called ‘fixed price’ of any garment suddenly dropped to a quarter of the price!

Here, the fabric markets.  The colours of India definitely jumped out at me straight away when I first got there.  They are so exotic and bold, somehow reminding me of birds of paradise.  The women’s saris, or sarees, are absolutely beautiful and are largely made by hand from different fabrics that are bought here (if you are more well-off you might prefer to get your sari custom-made at a fancy shop).

In India, all kinds of animals freely wander through the city streets, and particularly through the bazaars, where they possibly have the greatest chance of nicking something to eat!  There were goats, chickens, stray dogs and cats, monkeys and, of course, the holy cow.


The Chor Bazaar, or Thieves Market.  I would say that walking through the streets of the Chor Bazaar was one of the more challenging experiences we had.  Firstly, the smells really hit you, and are constantly changing – we found each smell would last for approximately half a second! – and while some of them are welcomed, like the smell of sugar cane juice being made or masala chai tea, some also have the power to make you feel ill (you can imagine what these were).  In the Chor we also faced watching the butchering of chickens, and although this may sound ‘white’ or ‘naive’ of me to say, it was pretty shocking.  The chickens were kept in a cage, directly on top of which they were slaughtered and butchered.  The fresh meat was then placed in a bucket, and left to sit there for hours in the sweltering 33 degree heat of the day, surrounded by flies and rats.  We needed no convincing to stay vegetarian for the rest of our trip.

I would also say that something I really hadn’t expected was that Mumbai was not touristy at all – somehow I thought we would see lots of tour groups at this time of year, but we really didn’t.  In fact, we found that we absolutely stuck out a mile because of our pale skin colour, and this made us into real targets when we walked through the markets.  White people, and I understand why, are thought of as being incredibly rich and sellers really start to harass you, which is OK for a while but really does start to get to you.  I think I also found, more than Logan, that I particularly received a lot of attention, from both males and females, perhaps for what I was wearing (western-style summer clothes), perhaps for my skin colour, perhaps just for being a girl (of which we did not see many out and about, mostly men and boys worked at the markets)… I’m not sure.  But the constant staring also became waring.

A typical sight in the Chor Bazaar, and one which really struck us – heaps and heaps of scrap metal and car parts.

People

Football and, especially, cricket games are going on all the time in the green spaces of the city!

Some sweet schoolgirls, followed by beautiful women, whom I wanted to capture.  I found it very interesting how divided Mumbai was between its Muslim and Hindi populations, and this was another aspect that I hadn’t known about before being there.  It is very striking how differently the women of these two religions present themselves, and amazing how each can coexist in this city peacefully.

Elephanta Island and Caves

A ferry ride of about an hour takes you from the Gateway of India to Elephanta Island.  They pack the boats up pretty full, and it definitely feels really nice to get out of the hectic city for a bit.

Trying out some new spicy flavours of crisps on the ferry!  The seagulls have learned to follow these passenger boats and after a while everybody was feeding them crisps by hand!

Once you dock at the island, you have the option to take a cute little train up to the caves.  We walked it ourselves – it is not a difficult hike, and is formed of stairs with market stalls lining the path.  There are also a few places to eat on the way up to the caves (although we ate on the way back down) and even if they don’t look very promising, I can attest to the fact that I had a really tasty Biryani and didn’t get sick 🙂

Exploring the old 5th century caves and ancient carved rocks and temples inside.  It is absolutely stunning; each cave is different and magical, showing the Hindu God, Shiva, as well as other Hindu mythologies and ideas.  The island also feels so peaceful and has some gorgeous views too.  In total I would say the trip took about 4 to 5 hours.

There are loads of pesky monkeys on Elephanta Island and you definitely have to watch out for them – they will try to steal anything edible.  One monkey took a new unopened bottle of Pepsi directly from Logan’s hand!  And once they’ve got it, you just have to let them have it – you can’t fight them (just look at his teeth…).

Around Mumbai

The main train station in Mumbai, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus.  It really is a sight to behold, with its stunning gothic architecture, and it is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is also one of India’s busiest railway stations.

We had a lot of fun scouring through all of these narrow alleyways and side streets, trying to scout out the best spice shops!

I feel strange including a photo like this, and I really don’t want to be offensive in any way to anyone, but I wanted to be as real as I could and show the city for what it really was, as I experienced it.  For some, the street is home and so they make the best of it that they can.  Apparently, they are known as the ‘pavement dwellers’.  It was pretty heartbreaking for us to see, especially when we were walking home at night and these people, most often with young children, were either cooking their dinner on camp stoves or going to bed.

Now here is a puzzle that we really can’t figure out.  During our whole trip, not one day went by when one of us was not asked to take a selfie with someone.  Can anyone explain why this could be?!

Kanheri Caves

Visiting the Kanheri caves was probably one of my favourite things that we did in Mumbai, and we managed to hit them right at golden hour, so they just looked so gorgeous.  Like Elephanta, these caves also contain rock carvings, but these ones are Buddhist and date back to the 1st century BCE.  The caves are located in the Gandhi park, towards the north of the city, and I would say that if you are traveling with a family, this would be a fantastic activity, as there are loads of other things to do in the park too.  The caves themselves are a 7km hike from the entrance of the park, and as we got there pretty late in the day (it was a last-minute decision) we got a cheap taxi, albeit one of the most harrowing taxi rides of my life, up to the caves.  Once we were up there we had a lot of fun exploring all the secret spots and got a great view too, although that smoke haze in the picture is real, and we are still recovering from the effects of that.

By the way, the red trousers I am wearing here were a very proud and cheap purchase of mine from Fashion Street!

Some final lasting memories

Such a fun tuk tuk ride in Delhi! We were only in Delhi for a day or so, and I really didn’t take any pictures, except for this one, and what a memory it is!

Marine Drive

This last picture is my favourite.  I love it because, to me, it sums up so much of what I experienced in India; so much going on, so many busy people working away and doing different things, bright colours, animals climbing up walls, always so much to look at and see, such a high energy.

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My Podule Hotel Experience

Podule hotels seem to have taken the commuter and international travel world by storm. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a podule hotel is a hotel, often located inside an airport terminal, with tiny podules or cabins instead of big, fancy hotel rooms. The idea is that travellers who might have a few hours to kill between connecting flights, or even an overnight stay in an airport, can rent pods by the hour so that they can catch a few zzz’s or have some quiet and private relax time before their onward travel.  The pods are simple, just what you would need for a few hours kip (i.e. a bed) and are much more hassle-free than a hotel.

My podule bed…

I have always thought that the idea of podule hotels was so futuristic – like staying in tiny space cabin that looks like something out of star trek! But it wasn’t until I recently got the chance to finally stay in one myself that I realised how great they are and what a genius idea it really is. I wanted to write a blog post about my really positive experience staying at a podule hotel in case, like me, you have considered it but weren’t sure about it or preferred to choose a normal hotel option because it was the one that you know.  This is just my personal experience, I’m sure there are some that would disagree with me, but I always find real, personal recommendations written by real people to be the most helpful!

So how small are we talking? Well, of course pods come in different sizes according to the number of people in your party.  I stayed at ‘Yotel’, in London Gatwick’s South Terminal and I rented a single ‘standard cabin’, intended for 1 person comfortably or 2 at a tight squeeze, that was 7 sqm. But this particular hotel also offers a ‘premium cabin’, for two people sharing a bed (10sqm), or a ‘premium twin cabin’, for 2 bunk beds (10 sqm).  All cabins come with an ensuite shower/toilet.

My singe podule was just able to fit my violin width-ways!

The really great thing about podule hotels is that there are no check in/check out times.  When you make your reservation, you simply book the number of hours you need, and this is so perfect for matching the needs and requirements of each individual guest.  You don’t have to worry about meeting standard hotel times – you just book your pod and go!  I also wanted to mention, in case you were worried that you wouldn’t know exactly what time you would be arriving, as I was, that when I arrived half an hour early (and very late at night) to my podule reservation, it was absolutely no problem – there is someone on reception 24 hours a day and they were extremely friendly, helpful and kind.

The cabin itself really is tiny – hopefully you can get a feel for it’s size from my little video below! It was just wide enough for my violin case and once I had opened up my suitcase there wasn’t much floor room to be seen!  But, the bed was really comfortable, and it was nice to have a private toilet and shower too. If you choose to share a cabin with another person, it might be helpful to know that there really isn’t room for any privacy in the pod, and there is only a glass divider between the toilet and the bed space, so make sure it’s someone you know well!  There is, however, a blind on the door window, so you can feel very private from the outside corridor and other hotel guests.  On that note, it may also help to know that, although I slept very well, at about 5am it became very busy outside with people getting up to catch their early flights.  If you are a light sleeper, definitely wear some earplugs!

 

Some other useful things to know about Yotel:

  • Towels are provided.
  • Free tea/coffee and bottled water from reception 24/7.
  • Free WiFi.
  • Yotel has an interesting blog,  featuring tips for travellers, interviews and recommended apps for meditation amongst other things.
  • Food menu including breakfast, sandwiches, hot meals and snack options, all very affordably priced (around €5).
  • TV in cabin.
  • There are Yotel hotels in London Heathrow, Amsterdam and New York airports.

A podule hotel is really the perfect solution for weary travellers and anyone who just needs to sleep. I will definitely be staying in them again in the future and really recommend you check them out of you need a few hours of down time while en route.

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Update!

I am really excited to share with you that I have finally moved my blog over to wordpress!  There’s nothing quite like a good old spring clean, and this feels like the mother of all (metaphorical) clean slates.  My life as a musician and blogger finally feels beautifully connected and I can’t wait to get back into my full blogging routine!

On this site, you will find all my usual blog posts in their normal categories, and you will also be able to catch a glimpse of what I’m up to in my musical life; what projects I’ve got going on, concerts coming up, travel plans etc.  Everything else will all stay the same, but do make sure to subscribe and follow me on my social media so you don’t miss out on anything!

For now though, must get back to packing; I’m travelling to Seattle tomorrow for two weeks of Beethoven Quartets and I CAN’T WAIT.

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Edinburgh Tales #3: Sh!t-faced Drunk

As you walk around the beautiful ‘old town’ of Edinburgh (slightly ironically named, as ALL of Edinburgh is old, just that the ‘old town’ is a bit older than the ‘new town’), you might notice that many of the tall townhouses have rather luxurious-looking first floor apartments; they often have gorgeous balconies, which the other floors do not have, and generally look much more up-market and better kept than the rest of the building.  The reason for this is a historical one, and has a pretty hilarious relevance to an expression that still we use today!

There are many common reasons for placing high value on first floor apartments, as opposed to ground floor or much higher floors, and I am sure you are familiar with them (especially if you have lived in city apartment buildings); you don’t have to worry so much about burglary or privacy, as perhaps you would if your apartment was at ground floor level and looked directly onto the street, and you don’t have to walk up mountains of stairs to get home everyday, which is especially inconvenient in old buildings where there are surely no elevators!  But in the old days in Edinburgh there was an extra reason for desiring an apartment on the first floor instead of any other floor. 

Up until the early 20th century, Edinburgh did not have a proper sewage or waste system installed!  This meant that everybody had to chuck all their waste, and I mean ALL their waste, out of their windows onto the streets below.  Some parts of the Royal Mile – the old (often extremely narrow) streets and courtyards in the Old Town – were constantly knee deep in this nastiness.  Can you just imagine how horrific and unbearable it would be to live on the ground floor or, even worse, in the basements, in this kind of environment!?

In order to try and gain some kind of civility, a French phrase was adopted, ‘Regardez l’eau’, meaning ‘watch out for the water’ (although water was the least of it).  ‘Regardez l’eau’ was quickly turned into ‘Gardy Loo’ by the Scots, who were supposed to yell this before throwing our their waste, to warn and save the poor hapless people down below from a terrible experience!  I am imagining the panic and fear of hearing those fateful words, ‘Gardy Loo!’. 

In 1749, a ‘Nastiness Act’ was passed, which meant that it was only allowed to throw your waste out of the windows between 10pm and 7am.  Now, it’s no secret that the Scots love a drink – this is definitely a country of fantastic whiskey and beer.  So, picture this, if you will.  The poor worker, who has had a few too many drams, makes his way home late one night, hears the dreaded ‘GARDY LOO’ but is unfortunately a little to slow and encumbered to get himself out of the way in time…. hence the coining of the phrase ‘shit-faced drunk’!  What a souvenir to have of such a time! 

Eventually, a proper sewage system was installed in Edinburgh, which must have been a huge relief for everyone.  However, the Nastiness Act was actually never repealed – if you wanted to, it would be perfectly legal for you to throw your waste out of your window over night!  Might not go down so well with your neighbours though… 

Read ‘Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet’ here!

Read ‘Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson’ here!

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Edinburgh Tales #2: Maggie Dickson

One of my favourite corners in Edinburgh is Grassmarket Square. Not only is it exceptionally pretty, full of gorgeous, old, stone buildings and with a perfect view of the castle, but there are also many nice pubs, bars and cool little shops in the area too!  If you ever find yourself with a free afternoon in Edinburgh, I seriously recommend exploring around here and whiling away some time in one of the many cute cafes!

While I was in Edinburgh recently, I discovered that in the 18th century Grassmarket Square was the site of all the public hangings that took place in the city.  These events were extremely popular; apartments that looked onto the square, which are still there today, were highly expensive and much sought after, and if you were lucky enough to own one, you could rent out your front windows to visitors seeking the best view of the hanging!  It seems quite strange to think of this dark part of Edinburgh’s history when you are there nowadays, in this place that seems so vibrant and lively, the real heart of the city! In fact, in the exact spot in the square where the gallows were located, there are now outdoor tables and chairs full of people laughing and enjoying their beers! 

I learned of one particular story concerning the public hanging that really stuck out to me, though, and I wanted to retell it in a blog post as part of this little ‘Edibnurgh Tales’ series.  The story is about the unique and somewhat unbelievable life of one Maggie Dickson.  Maggie lived in Edinburgh at the beginning of the 18th century, and was by all accounts and purposes, an extremely normal girl – there was nothing particularly special about her.  She worked hard in the city and got married, after which, as was quite normal for women at that time, she gave up a lot of her independence.  

However, one day, her husband left her and Maggie found herself totally alone – she had no friends, no work, no money.  Because of this, she was forced to recreate her life; she found work at a local inn, served in pubs around the city and became a total girl boss!  She also fell in love with the innkeeper’s son and, after some time, found herself pregnant with his child.  This was bad news for her – she knew that if it was discovered that she was pregnant she would lose her job and be charged with having an extra-marital affair.  And so, Maggie hid her pregnancy for as long as possible while she desperately tried to find relatives who would take her child for her, but since her failed marriage and unconventional feminist lifestyle, no family relatives wanted anything to do with her.

Finally, left with no other options and in total desperation, Maggie decided she would have to kill her own baby.  One night, she took the baby to the bank of the River Tweed with the intent to drown it, but at the last minute she couldn’t bring herself to go through with it.  Instead, she just left the baby by the river and it was found dead a few days later.  

It was eventually discovered that the baby had belonged to Maggie and she was charged to be hanged, NOT for murdering a baby, but for concealing a pregnancy! The day for Maggie’s execution arrived and she was publicly hanged as normal in Grassmarket Square.  Afterwards, her body was placed into a coffin and was being taken to the cemetery, as was the normal order of events, when the driver suddenly started to hear some banging noises coming from the back of the cart.  He pulled off the road and saw that Maggie’s coffin was moving, so he opened it up to find her alive!! She was immediately taken back to Grassmarket Square, where she was about to be hanged for a second time when it was stopped, just in time.  The law claimed that, technically, Maggie’s punishment had been followed through – she had been hanged and therefore served the court’s ruling and now, in the eyes of the law, she didn’t exist and should be free to go!

After all of this drama, Maggie found her feet again in Edinburgh; she became known as ‘Half Hangit’ Maggie’, and opened up her own pub in Grassmarket Square, called Maggie Dickson’s Pub, which is still there today!! It is said that she used to open the windows of her pub every time a hanging was taking place, and would shout out to the convicts, ‘Ah, it’s not that bad, what are ye complanin’ abou’!’.

Check out ‘Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet’ here!

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Edinburgh Tales #1: In Celebration of a Terrible Poet

Having just returned home from a brilliant trip to Scotland, where I spent most of my time in the glorious city of Edinburgh, my head is so full of stories that I picked up there that I want to get them all down as soon as possible, before I forget any!  The fact is, Scotland is just SO full of history; it is such an old country, which is something that really strikes you as you travel around, and it has been home to some fantastic characters throughout history.  Edinburgh itself is an incredibly unique city – it’s dark, old, gloomy and romantic, the perfect backdrop to some truly gruesome and horrific stories from its past (think Game of Thrones, which is actually pretty tame compared to the real stuff, on which the show is based).  Maybe it’s that I have a dark side to my personality that absolutely loves this kind of thing (the more gore the better), but it became clear very quickly that I had too much to write about and too many tales to recount in one blog post alone, which is why I have decided to split them up, giving each story it’s own deserved space.  I have also decided to start off with one that is not so gory, but more comic, about a certain poet who had quite an interesting life.


You might not know, I didn’t anyway, that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter, at least the first book for sure, in a cafe in Edinburgh.  She has described how she used to work for hours at a time in this particular cafe, taking breaks to stroll around the neighbouring old Greyfriars graveyard.  Well, in this graveyard, you can find a few graves where Rowling evidently took inspiration for some of her own character names; there is one Tom Riddle, who became Rowling’s Lord Voldemort, and another William McGonagall, Professor McGonagall in the books, although a character of the opposite gender.  I was really interested to learn that this William McGonagall was a very well known, and very bad, Scottish poet!  In fact, he is famous for being the writer of some of the worst poetry in the English language!

William McGonagall, who was born in 1825 and died in 1902, wasn’t always a poet – he actually began his career as a budding actor.  Already though, he was known amongst his peers and friends for being atrociously bad on stage and the theatre where he performed only allowed him to do so if he paid for it!  On one occasion, performing the role of Macbeth, who is supposed to die at the end of the play, McGonagall felt that one of his fellow actors was trying to upstage him, so he refused to follow the script and die!  I would have loved to be in the audience for that one.

McGonagall began writing poetry after he felt a wave of divine inspiration to do so, and he actually has a vast catalogue of work, including about 200 poems!  He performed his poetry in pubs and music halls, recited and sold it on the streets of Edinburgh and London, once tried to become ‘poet laureate’ to Queen Victoria, and even worked for some time in a circus, where the audience was allowed to pelt poor McGonagall with eggs while he recited his poetry!  However, he never really made any money from writing; instead he survived off loans and donations from his friends. 

Unfortunately, for his whole working life, McGonagall was continuously mocked and made fun of for his terrible poetry.  His friends detested his work so much that they once came up with quite a devious plan to get rid of him; they fabricated a letter from the Mayor of New York, requesting that William McGonagall come to New York, offering him the position of resident poet there.  McGonagall believed it immediately and set off on the long voyage to the new world by boat.  After months of being cooped up on the boat, McGonagall finally arrived in New York and declared his presence to the Mayor himself, who, as you can imagine, was extremely confused, angered and sent him right back to Scotland on the boat!  At least his friends got what they wanted – a few months of peace!

What I find really amusing though, is that, throughout his whole life, McGonagall never seemed to realise that he was a terrible poet!  He never noticed his bad reviews or heard his critics, he paid no attention to his friends when they made fun of him and when his job in the circus, which consisted of having eggs thrown at him, was cut, he was disappointed and argued to get it back!  His belief in his own work was so strong that he left for New York straight away, without even questioning the letter.  Isn’t there something remarkable about that?!  If ever anyone was hurt by a stupid/bad review or an insensitive remark by a colleague or critic, take some inspiration from old William McGonagall!

Lines in Praise of Sunlight Soap
~William McGonagall
Ye charwomen, where’er ye be,
I pray ye all be advised by me,
Nay, do not think that I do joke,
When I advise ye to wash with Sunlight Soap.

In my time I’ve tried many kinds of soap,
But no other soap can with it cope,
Because it makes the clothes look nice and clean,
That they are most beautiful to be seen.

Ye can use it, with great pleasure and ease,
Without wasting any elbow grease,
And, while washing the most dirty clothes,
The sweat won’t be dripping off your nose.

Therefore think of it, charwomen, one and all,
And, when at any shop ye chance to call,
Be sure and ask for Sunlight Soap,
For, believe me, no other soap can with it cope.

You can wash your clothes with little rubbing,
And without scarcely any scrubbing,
And I tell you once again without any joke,
There’s no soap can surpass Sunlight Soap;
And believe me, charwomen, one and all,
I remain, yours truly, the Poet McGonagall.

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