Bubbles, Bees and Blake

Written by Stephen Barnaby

Quentin Blake is, of course, a hard act to follow, so no grown adult would bother trying. Here’s where the idea of getting children to illustrate the 26 Twits stories is a stroke of genius. Children aren’t bothered by reputations. No self-respecting child would have any problem with stomping up to Turner, Picasso or Titian and telling them they were rubbish.

Which partially explains why, excited though I was by the idea of a child illustrating my piece, there was no way I was going to entertain the accompanying suggestion: getting involved in some kind of school project. The very words fill me with horror. I just about know how to talk to my own children, but I haven’t the first idea what to say to anyone else’s. That’s the kind of thing best left to people with baffling qualities such as boundless enthusiasm, perpetual energy and basic communicative abilities. Which may not necessarily describe the primary school teachers of my childhood but, by and large, seems to now.

So, I thought I’d stick with what I know, safely within my comfort zone. Not terribly heroic, but history is full of battered heroes.

Consequently, I turned to my younger daughter Polly, who can usually be trusted to rustle up something artistic and a tad off the beaten track. This is generally while turning the house into a complete bomb site and getting twice as many artistic materials on herself as on the paper..

What’s more, the theme of flatulence, I thought, would be right up her street: it’s one in which she takes an intense and, erm, personal interest.

So Polly went off to her room and all fell silent. This is when my partner and I start to worry.  It usually means the house is undergoing a spot of unscheduled redecoration, if not structural alteration.

It transpired, though, she actually had been hard at work – well, she’s always hard at work, just not necessarily at the things we had in mind. The resulting opus was inimitably Polly. Or perhaps not. Maybe everyone imagines the world like this: why wouldn’t a gathering of contemporary world leaders feature Winston Churchill, David Cameron holding a balloon emblazoned with the legend ‘DC PM’ and bees randomly flying about (including one in the BFG’s ear)?

All in all, I think Polly’s picture does this lovely project justice. It admirably captures her own effervescence and that of Dahl’s legendary beverage, not to mention, in a very literal sense, that of those who imbibe it.

I think Quentin Blake would approve, although whether he’d tell Polly I’m not sure: I once saw a film of him talking to a small girl about illustration and was amazed that someone with such an incredible ability to depict life from a child’s perspective, with all of its gleefully exuberant naivety, appeared to have no actual natural rapport with children whatsoever. Indeed, when the doyen of children’s illustration was confronted with an actual child, he seemed intensely uncomfortable.

Which I find oddly heartwarming.

Perhaps there’s hope for me yet.

26 Twits – about ‘postcards from retirement’

Nick Parker and Maya Chapman.


It’s always struck me that although a unique and magical place, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory still has the same pressures as any business: recruiting good staff, developing new products, and, of course, ‘succession planning’… so it seemed likely that Mr Wonka would have the same trouble letting go as any other workaholic CEO.

I asked Maya to illustrate my story because her dad had posted some of her pictures on Twitter. I particularly liked the one below, which she drew when she was cross because she didn’t think her drawings were turning out any good. I think she captured Willy Wonka’s sudden retirement loneliness perfectly.

Me and Maya have never actually spoken. This is because she is very busy with other important illustration projects. I asked her assistant to pass on a few questions about the Willy Wonka story. Here are her answers:


What did you like about Nick’s story?
I liked it because it was different to the other Charlie ones.  It wasn’t about people doing loads of different stuff, just Willie Wonka writing letters.


What made you decide to draw what you did?
I just tried to draw it exactly what I thought the scene would look like. 


What would you like people to think when they look at your picture?
I’d like them to think that it is exactly like Nick’s story.
What’s your favourite funny-sounding word?

Dahl Workshop Account

Written by Olly Davy

Make it kinaesthetic, my teacher pals advised. But advice based on a word you don’t understand is not the most helpful kind. Of course, I murmured, reaching for the dictionary.

I’d already spent an hour with my very own Quentin Blake, my friend’s delightful daughter, Rosa, bouncing around mad theories about the Enormous Crocodile’s motivations for eating children and discussing the heroics of the jungle creatures who foiled his schemes. The session was guided by the focus of my response to Dahl’s book: the belligerent beast’s final, fatal journey to the sun. Now it was time for the (self-inflicted) workshop at Rosa’s school – 26 (how apt) five-year-olds and me. Oh dear.

My nerves were calmed by the charming Miss Hutchinson at Halley House School in Hackney. She glided around the class arranging things for the afternoon while I gawped at the alien yet ever-so-familiar surroundings. I realised it had probably been a quarter of a century since I’d been in a room like it. Not that much has changed. The large interactive whiteboard dominating the front of the class is the most obvious addition.

“Thing is,” I explained to the unflappable Miss Hutchinson, “I’ve never done anything like this before and I’m worried they might, I don’t know, pick up on that…figure me out somehow.”

“They’re five,” she responded, somehow managing not to sound like she was talking to a simpleton. “Get their imaginations fired up and you won’t have any problems.”

The little people arrived, filing in wearing Roald Dahl-inspired fancy dress. There were several Charlie Buckets, a wicked witch, a Fantastic Mr Fox and some looser interpretations of characters that I couldn’t pin down. And there was Rosa, poorly that day but valiantly present and sporting a homemade Willy Wonka hat.

After a rousing welcome, I flicked through some illustrations from the book, gauging their interest in the story, which had been read to them the previous day.

“Can anyone think of other words that mean ‘enormous’?” I asked, tentatively.

Hands shot up and the kids lobbed me an audio thesaurus.




As arranged, I then left the class, claiming I’d forgotten something, before creeping back in wearing a wolf onesie (the closest I could find to a crocodile). I paused at the door. Their backs were to me. I gave a fearsome roar. They turned as one.

“I’m going to find some delicious children to eat for my lunch!”

They screamed. I crept through the class, pretending not to have seen them. What next, I thought to myself, not knowing how this was going to develop or conclude. I suddenly ‘noticed’ the throng of children and let out a shriek of my own:

“So many! I can’t possibly eat them all.”

I made for a giant cardboard Wonka bar, snatched it up and fled the room.

“Sorry about that.” I offered on my return. “I heard a strange noise. What was it?”

“IT WAS A WOLF AND IT WAS YOU!” came the unanimous declaration.

“What? A wolf? Goodness. Let’s hope he doesn’t come back.”

The wicked witch was weeping, shocked by the dramatic episode. Miss Hutchinson offered consolation as tears rolled down the witch’s green-painted cheeks. Does making children cry count as engagement?

The next hour was a journey through illustration and ideas – encouraging, questioning, praising. I marvelled at the children’s boundless imaginations. I thought of Ken Robinson’s compelling argument that “schools kill creativity” and wondered how something so effervescent could be quashed, especially with talented enablers like Miss Hutchinson at the helm.

The children rotated between the desks where they worked with me, and other creative activities. The building sets were a particular favourite with the boys who came to show me their efforts.

Boy One: “It’s Optimus Prime.”

Boy Two: “I love Optimus Prime.”

Boy Three (to me): “You should marry Optimus Prime.”

—sniggers all round—

Me: “Um, I don’t really want to marry a robot.”

Boy One (in revelatory tone): “You could marry a girl robot!”

I closed the workshop with a final frolic in the wolf outfit. No one cried this time but the class did reach manic levels of excitement as they turned on the child-eating transgressor. I was practically lynched and dashed away howling to avoid a forest of clawing hands.

The workshop was a rewarding and exhausting experience. I now have even greater respect for those who run classrooms day in, day out, not just for a couple of hours. It was thrilling to share the delights of Dahl with the next generation and my own imagination was nourished by the fearlessness of theirs.

Huge thanks to Halley House School, and Miss Hutchinson in particular, for making the workshop possible.

Writing about the BFG

Written by Mavis Gulliver

What I love best about Roald Dahl is the way he played with words.  His Big Friendly Giant speaks in a delightful mix of made-up muddled-up words and it was an absolute joy for me to do the same.

When I write a story, I imagine that I am one of the characters. I find it easier to write if I imagine myself walking in my character’s shoes, seeing the things they see and speaking the way they speak. So I turned myself into a grandmother, and called my story ‘Grandmamma and the BFG.’

At first, I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I read the book again and was reminded that the BFG had a dream. His dearest wish was “to ride a jumbly big elefunt through green forests picking peachy fruits off trees”.

I knew this was impossible because the BFG riding an elephant is about as ridiculous as you trying to ride a chicken. But the BFG wanted an elefunt and I was determined to let him have one.

From that single idea my story grew. As soon as it was written I read it to a group of children at Port Ellen Primary School. This is a small school on the Isle of Islay off the west coast of Scotland. It is so small that nine, 10 and 11-year-olds all share a class with their teacher, Miss Clark. I already knew the class because I’ve done workshops about my own books and the children have written stories about my characters.

On this visit, I read my story and asked them to illustrate it. There were enormous BFGs – even a Scottish one in a tartan kilt. There were elephants galore, all of them better than any I could draw, and there was at least one grandmamma that looked like me.

Port Ellen pupils with their illustrations.

There were lots of good pictures but Bronagh Newman’s stood out from all the rest because it wasn’t just a picture. It was an illustration of my story and she hadn’t missed anything out. Her BFG was very BIG – so BIG that he could dangle the elephant from his little finger. His lovely smile and twinkly eyes made him look really FRIENDLY. Grandmamma was waving from her bedroom window and there were hundreds of golden phizzwizards behind her. Lastly, a full moon in a dark sky showed that the story was happening at night.

Bronagh Newman with the chosen illustration.

Bronagh, my young artist, had her eleventh birthday in February. Our island is a quiet place and we have to make our own entertainment. Bronagh keeps herself busy with reading, writing and drawing. She plays bagpipes and flute and goes for long family walks with her sister and their three dogs. She loves going to farms when her mum, who is a vet, has to treat sheep, cows and other animals. And she enjoys helping her dad when he’s building boats and taking visitors on fishing trips.

In September, Bronagh and some of her classmates will move to Islay High School so I hope to celebrate the Roald Dahl Centenary twice. I will return to Port Ellen School to display the paintings and to tell the younger children about our favourite Roald Dahl characters. And I plan to take my story and Bronagh’s illustration to Islay High School.

Roald Dahl has entertained us, inspired us and made us love reading even more than we did before. He deserves a most humungous ginormous bat on the pack.

Three cheers for Roald Dahl – Rip rip roohay – Rip rip roohay – Rip rip roohay.




Written by Mandy Lee

When I heard that 26 would be joining in the centenary celebrations of Roald Dahl’s life with a new project, 26 Twits, I knew I wanted to be involved. As a life-long member of the Dahl fan club, I’ve enjoyed his stories for what seems like forever.

I was delighted to be given my chosen character of Slugworth, Willy Wonka’s enemy from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. So, first things first, I re-read the book, then re-watched the film adaptations. In both films, Slugworth is given more invented story than in the original book. I decided I wanted to work from something that Dahl had created, rather than subsequent interpretations. Using only the book proved more challenging than I expected as he’s only mentioned a couple of times; no physical description. But what shone through, for me, was the man’s determination to succeed (even if it required stealing ideas) and his envy of Wonka’s success. These were my starting points, and I knew I wanted my 100 words to be suitable for children, and (hopefully) fun.

In the end, “my” Slugworth is in rhyming poem form, which seems to fit as a Dahl piece, and the man emerged as an egotistical, somewhat deluded character who is rampantly jealous of Wonka. He feels hampered by people’s perceptions of him and his “sluggy” name, and can’t understand why his own disgusting recipes aren’t as successful as those of his nemesis. My made-up word, “slurraping” came quite easily as I wanted something to represent the sly, sneaky way other people perceive him.

26 also wanted us to link up with a child, or children, to illustrate our 100 words. I was lucky enough that Aberlady Primary School in East Lothian agreed to work with me, and despite not being an experienced workshop leader, was warmly welcomed into the school and given lots of support by the staff. Primary 4 and 5 proved really enthusiastic collaborators with lots of ideas, inventive creations, and a few complicated questions (there really isn’t a reason why Slugworth has to have eyes, can’t have robot hands, or wouldn’t have an insect’s body…), resulting in a magnificent 45 illustrations to choose from! It was a tough decision selecting just one, but I eventually chose a drawing by Oscar Mackenzie (from Primary 4) that best suited my take on Slugworth (I loved his sluggy body and movie-villain moustache).

This is the first 26 project I’ve undertaken where inspiration had to come from another author’s words, which was challenging and, to be honest, a little intimidating. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone. That, along with the (unexpectedly) creative burst that came from working with enthusiastic children, made for a really delumptious project!

Many thanks to Head Teacher, Mrs Currie, and all of the teachers and children at Aberlady Primary School. And thanks to Mr Dahl for inspiring me as a writer, and continuing to inspire generations of children in all kinds of different ways.

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Absolutely phizz-whizzing illustrations of Slugworth, from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Aberlady Primary School’s P4 and P5 classes.

Aimee and the Twits

Written by John Simmons

In a house in north London lives a family who are nothing like the Twits. But it’s here that Aimee Simmons, aged 9, lives with her mum and dad and younger sister Ada. Aimee’s mum Mathilde is French so Aimee has learnt to speak two languages. She reads Roald Dahl books a lot and one of her favourites is The Twits.

Aimee is my granddaughter and some months ago I asked her if she would like to take part in a project called 26 Twits. She said Yes and we started thinking about which character we might feature in our new story. We agreed it should be a character from The Twits so I read it again. One character caught my attention – the Roly-Poly Bird who frees the Muggle-Wump family of monkeys. So we talked about this, in particular the part where Muggle-Wump asks the Roly-Poly Bird about speaking other languages in the countries he visits. “Of course I do,” said the Roly-Poly Bird. “It’s no good going to a country and not knowing the language.”

Aimee was about to go to France for a few weeks to stay with her French grandparents. Which is lucky for Aimee but also very clever because she can speak French perfectly. This gave us the idea for our story and our invented word for a hot-air balloon, a chauderairee. We wrote the story and Aimee took it away with her to France.

When she was away her parents (who are really not like the disgusting Mr and Mrs Twit) played a Twit-like April Fool’s joke. They said they had been repainting rooms. Aimee replied by email to her mum like this:

Is it a joke?

You and daddy painted my room DARK brown with PINK (I don’t really like the colour pink) sploodges and Ada’s room BLACK just black! Could you (if this whole thing isn’t a joke) make Ada’s room a bit more colourful.

Mathilde confessed that this was an April Fool, and Aimee replied:

So you mean you haven’t painted our rooms brown, pink and black at all!

You haven’t even painted one wall?! Gosh, you need to start doing some house work BOTH OF YOU, yes, that means you as well dad.


This seemed very much in the spirit of Roald Dahl, as were the illustrations that Aimee made to go with our story. She decided to do one as a comic strip because she loves Asterix. For a bit more inspiration we had a great day out with Aimee and Ada at the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden, where you are surrounded by Roald Dahl characters and art materials to make your own creations.

In The Twits there’s a simple message that kindness can beat nastiness; and that we should look after people for their difference not despite that difference. We tried to put similar ideas into our story, hoping that children will grow up in a world that encourages the same.


How We Stretched Our Imaginations with Mike Teavee

Written by Jane Berney

Who to pick for 26 Twits? Mike Teavee was top of my list; I was interested in this mercurial  character because of his obsession with the screen, a topical issue for any of us who care about children.

At about the same time as this project started, SKY (the local TV provider) emailed out a promotional message to all subscribers. In bold purple lettering, they proclaimed, “School holidays are better with great TV.”  Crikey!

I had seen some of my neighbour (12-year-old) Meagan’s drawings when she’d scribbled away on visits with us. I adore her whimsical ways while she balances a life that includes karate and horses and being the head girl at Hunua School.  I didn’t want to make her life too much busier with this project, but she jumped up and down and said Yes at the same time.

Fuelled by hot chocolates, we plonked ourselves down at the dining room table and started exploring life post-Wonka. In the book (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Mike  is shrunk to fit into a TV, which, despite his distraught parents, he seems to be pretty chuffed about. In an attempt to correct the situation, Wonka decides to put the gun-toting kid through a stretching machine.  With rather extreme results.

Meagan says, “I looked at some photos from the movie, and read Mike Teavee’s part of the book, and I reckon all those video games have made him violent, and rude, and bored with life as he always has a blank look on his face. But why? I don’t have a clue.”

We wondered about his life with his parents:

“Hey Mum, can I…?”

“Not now Mikey, I’m busy.”

“Hey Dad, can we…”

“Aw Mikey, can’t you see I’m working?”

“Mum, Dad, what about…aww, forget it.”

And we could kind of see how he had turned to TV. But now, after the Wonka experience, his life is a different size. What would it be like if you’d been stretched? Meagan drew a picture of Mike and his family on a car ride. Mike is too big to fit inside the car, so he’s sitting on the roof. Mr Teavee is driving while Mrs Teavee is blushing.

The drawing that we chose shows the Teavee family standing together. Meagan has placed father Teavee standing within arm’s distance of Mike, but his mother is right in beside him. The only one who looks genuinely happy is Mike in his basketball gear, because, that’s right, basketball is his activity of choice now he’s too tall to get in front of a TV. And perhaps, just perhaps, it has shifted the dynamic of the family. In a good way.

We really like the way that he’s so stretched that even his gear is not quite fitting, but he’s all smiles.

Then, we thought, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was written when TV screens were the size of ovens and we’re imagining this in the 21st century; could we give Mike access to a device of the time?  This is the little twist at the end of it.

The first round was a rather podgy 114 words, however, with the gentle guidance of Jayne Workman, we reduced it to the requisite 100.

Now Meagan and I are trying to work out how to shrink her to fit into my suitcase to take to London this September.

Mary, Mary

Written by Irene Lofthouse, illustrated by Leo Stanley Goy
Inspired by Mary in Rhyming Stew

Eight year old junior artist Leo Stanley Goy told his collaborating writer Irene Lofthouse, that the idea the design for ‘Mary, Mary’ came very quickly.

‘I decided that three separate images would illustrate how Mary got happier through the story,’ he said. ‘I wanted to have the mic on the first picture to show the man was a reporter, and he’s wearing a hat as I think he’s bald.’

Irene asked Leo what parts of the story had influenced him. ‘Mary being unhappy and ‘the brat’ wanting her to be happy. The greyness of the high rise and the yellow grass show Mary’s unhappiness in picture one. Then she tells of her lovely garden and goes to sleep. I thought she would dream of it, so did a blue wash for night, golden stars and some flowers. The colours show how he flowers make her smile. My last illustration has a green wash and I wanted the flowers and plants to explode with colour from the canvas.’

Leo experimented with techniques, like blowing through straws, using his nails and foam leaves to get the effects he wanted.

‘I’m impressed with Leo’s ideas about colour indicating Mary’s state of mind,’ commented Irene. ‘That’s a sophisticated approach. The depiction of the flowers and plants is fabulous; deep purple of the rambuculating rodidodis, the sparkling spangalicious look like they are spitting, and there is movement suggesting the breeze and dancing. It’s also interesting that Leo concentrated on Mary – so ‘the brat’ of Dahl’s poem is still nameless and faceless. I like that mystery.’

Leo’s school, Low Ash Primary in Bradford, was also involved in the 26 Twits project. Year 3 classes did a week’s research into Dahl, his life and writing. When Irene visited they did a Q&A about Dahl and her own writing before creating a Dahl character out of plasticine. These would feature in a flash fiction challenge set by Irene: no more than one side of A5 paper.

‘It’s been brilliant,’ Leo’s class teacher, Mrs Nellist enthused. ‘We found out lots that we didn’t know about him, stories we hadn’t heard of, and it gave us material for our guided reading and writing development. Many children did lots of research at home, they were so inspired. They had a fabulous time as it’s rare for them to indulge in free writing activities. And of course, they loved dressing up!’

‘We certainly had a fun time,’ continued Irene. ‘Each story was different but they had captured the quirky and sometimes surreal approach that Dahl employed. There were time-shifts, giants, Charlie as a chocolotier in Ancient Greece, stories in the past, present and future. What a fantabulous way to celebrate Dahl and 26 Twits!’

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The hunt for the Nibguzzler

By Ceri Tallett, illustrated by Vera Lily Palacio-Knight 
Inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Vera Lily eats books.

Photo 1



She devours them.

Reading, horse riding and writing stories have always been her thing and since her latest fascination is writing stories on the Wattpad app, I thought she’d be the perfect person to invent a new word with.

Especially as I still write most things long hand first and use phrases like ‘the app’.

Having both reread Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we talked about the bits we liked best. As that list got long, fast, we decided to randomly choose two as a starting point for our new word.

The two we picked were Quentin Blake’s disheveled line up of the other four children sheepishly leaving the factory and the whangdoodles, hornswogglers and snozzwangers that Willy Wonka saves the Oompa Loompas from.

Picture 2

What happened to Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike TeaVee and Veruca Salt once they got home?

Did they go back to being spoilt brats? Was being stretched like chewing gum or turned a fine shade of purple enough of a lesson to leave those greedy, TV watching ways behind? Did some time in the rubbish shoot reform dear Veruca Salt? Or did she need more of longer lasting reminder?

In keeping with Dahl’s darker side, we decided she did.

Since Veruca falls foul trying to steal a magic squirrel, we thought that should be part of our word too.

So an impish memento with a name worthy of ‘whangdoodle’ and a moral tale involving a tail.

But what would this inescapable reminder be?

Growing a tail? Slightly obvious. Plus you could probably hide it.

Burying things all round the garden? Funny but not quite right.

Having your face go all furry? Too cruel.

Having teeth that grow forever more?


That sounded good.

As the devoted guardian of two rabbits called Tiggy and TokTok, Vera told me that rabbits and squirrels have to constantly keep gnawing to stop their teeth from growing through their mouth.

Having teeth that grow nonstop would be a fine reminder to say please, thank you and keep any demanding on the down low.

We had the definition. Now we needed the name.

As most of the made up names Dahl gives his beasts conjure up some idea or inkling of what they do or what they might look like,

we started looking up words for gnawing.

Nibble. Munch. Chew. Graze. Gobble. Guzzle. Chomp. Champ.

They all had potential.

After much debate, we agreed ‘nibble’ had a nice ring to it, ‘guzzle’ had Dahl stamped all over it and that ‘nibguzzler’ was a wonderful marriage of the two – the perfect word for a beast that must chew, chew, chew.

Great, said Vera Lil. I’ll draw the picture, you write the words.

Photo 3

I’ve always liked the moral-of-the-story ditties that the Oompa Loompas sing at the end of each fallen child’s tale in that Aesop’s  Fables sort of way.

So I thought I’d try to tell the story of Veruca Salt in 50 words, use the other 50 to write a cautionary rhyme and then write another 500 to explain the process of how we got there.

Maybe next time, I’ll just draw the picture.

Mr Fox, meet Millie and me

Written by Andy Hayes


Truth is, I don’t like foxes.

They drop their mess on my front door step. Spray their scent to drive the local mutts crazy. And stare sullenly at me, sloping off insolently as I try to shoo them away.

Dahl’s Mr Fox was confident and triumphant. But he was also arrogant and I wanted to take him down a peg or two.

Millie was keen to draw him, as long as she received payment upfront. We agreed on a Hershey Bar. She ate it, did nothing, and then blamed me for not giving her a hard copy of my story to work from. I’ve never quite mastered the printer at home.

I started to hound her. It was half-term and she had time. Then one day, she put her mind to it and got the job done. It was good, but not quite right.

Mr Fox looked like a fox, but he was a bit too smart. He looked sad, but wasn’t fat. He was eating a burger not fried chicken. And, to cap it all, he still had a tail.

I rejected her first attempt.

Millie wasn’t happy. She’d researched foxes on Google images, and they all had tails. The drawing had taken her one whole hour, and she felt that this in itself was beyond the call of duty.

I focused on what she’d done well, and gave her a couple of tips. Read my story again. And even better, read Dahl’s too. But Millie’s not a reader. Not like the rest of my family. She prefers YouTube and Netflix so hasn’t got time for books.

I got specific with my feedback. I was too prescriptive. I was taking it far too seriously. Truth is, I’d grown attached to my Mr Fox. I was only trying to help. But I should’ve let her do it her way.

I bribed her with another Hershey Bar and this time she cracked it. Mr Fox the second was fatter and didn’t have a tail. His once-smart clothes had become shabby. I liked the fact that the chicken drumstick he was holding could’ve been a glass of bubbly.

How the mighty have fallen. Sorry Mr Fox.