Zulu Sierra Two Delta Hotel

Hogsback 2017 SOTA

The saltmine has kept me from SOTA and playing radio in general, but when I told the XYL in March that the long weekend in June would be a SOTA weekend she agreed.  She probably needs the quiet time as much as I do 😉

The months and months between March and June saw me getting more and more excited about getting out of the office and into the mountains.  Hennie (ZS2HC) was on standby (since March) and also keen.  It was agreed we would meet in Hogsback and stay at the Swallowtail caravan park as our regular (Forresters House) was booked.  The Swallowtail caravan park is over priced, unlevel, and offers campers no shelter from the wind.  That said, it would be home from Friday midday to Monday morning.  Swallowtail charges R140 pppn for a camp site.

Time being the biggest resource constraint, we planned to do 4 summits in 2 days.  A tall ask, but we had done them all before and now we knew some shortcuts.

Friday I drove through to Hogsback leaving an hours or so later than I had initially planned – my day off was not a full day off, but the weekend was calling!  The drive was long and the stop-go strips (near Fort Beaufort) were tedious.

Friday afternoon was spent with Hennie in the camp and making an early braai.  Some Whisky was consumed (for medicinal purposes and to keep warm) and the evening was pleasant.  We had set up a 160m dipole across the lawn of the caravan park (it was just about empty and I know why).  We called but with no joy it was decided rather an early night for a big day awaited.  Neither could sleep, so plan B was implemented.  Pub-crawl through Hogsback village.  Well I am sure there are places one could have gone that we missed, but the two place we visited proved worlds apart.

The first was a small pub in town next to the hardware store – called the Hog and something (didn’t read it on the way in and couldn’t on the way out).  A single Whisky sets you back R15, the bar lady drinks red wine by the glass while she slowly drinks her patrons clever.  After that Hennie insisted we go to “Away with the fairies” and have “one for the road”.  It was of course almost 500m we had to travel, so a stop over was agreed.  Away with the Fairies is a nice place to stay, but it is more of a “hippie” sort of camp where you pass out rather than the traditional (more structured) caravan park we had made our home.

We arrived just in time for the last round and took the drinks to the communal fire outside.  Around the fire we chatted to a Scotish lass whos smile and bust negated the need for a name, and we eventually left there (having to wake the groundsman to let us out).  A single Whisky here sets you back R37.50.

The wind on Friday night was gale force.  The tent took it but flapped and flapped.  Although we were warm and out of the wind, the night’s sleep was not as wonderful as it might have been.

Saturday morning after breakfast we headed off to conquer the Hog itself!  Now I climbed the Hog last year with my son Graydon (ZU2GH) and it was an all day affair – from pre-dawn to after sunset.  This time, however, we did not need to climb from Madonna and Child – we had found a road to the saddle just below the Hogs themselves – and this saved us hours and a LOT of effort.  From a full day to a morning (and a bit) and that is what we call progress.

The afternoon saw us across town activating Menziesberg.  It was great to “bump into” our old friend Gerald (ZS5GS).  We also bumped into ZS6TAN, Mario who was banging out a great signal from ZS6 land – on World QRP day.  Menzies is an easy one – really points for nothing compared to some other SOTA climbs around here, but is offers incredible views across the valley and the village.

Saturday evening saw us making a potjie and later again trying 160m.  Ok, Hennie did the potjie and I worked 160m.  Andrew Gray (ZS2G) heard me on 160m, but since I was using HIS dipole, he could only receive and that meant the scorecard for 160m contacts remained at an all time low of 0.

Sunday morning on Tor Doone is a sight to behold.  Breathtaking beauty as you look back across the village toward Menzies where we had been the previous afternoon.  Tor Doone holds a big spot in my heart – it was the first time I worked “DX” – I worked Namibia on 5w from a mountain top.  An awesome feeling!

After Tor Doone it was “the big one”.  Gaikaskop.  We have only climbed Giakaskop once before, and that was on a very misty day and navigation was by GPS – step by step.  I know you think we crazy, but we had checked where the cliffs and dangerous areas were on Google Earth and maps while still planning the trip, so it was not as dangerous as it might sound.  On that occasion the view from the top was limited to say the least – and we had felt robbed of part of the reward.  This time, however, there was no mist and the view was amazing.  See pics below…(I have not posted the usual tons of pics for the other summits – you can catch them in past articles if you want to.)

Giakaskop climb starts from the abandoned fire lookout tower.  From here you climb onto the saddle and then ascend from the back to arrive on top – a flat expanse of land you would never expect when you look at the cliff-face.  An amazing view of Tor Doone “down there” tells us the view was awesome.  See the pictures below…

Now I’m not one to complain much, but there is something that bugged me while on Gaikaskop.  There we are – backs to the wind, lying down next to the base of the trig beacon with a simple wire dipole a few meters above the ground and we pumping out 5W.  We calling CQ SOTA and mentioning QRP and there are a few stations who reply wanting to make contact with “the QRP station in Hogsback”.  Each time we try call one of these stations, a certain ZS6 QRO station asks the other station if they can copy “the QRP station in Hogsback”.

In spite of the other stations asking him to give us a chance, it takes nearly two and a half hours to get the required 4 contacts.  We needed the contacts before we could pack up and get off the mountain.  The other factor, of course, is that we do not have an endless supply of battery power either!  As a general request, please, if you hear a QRP/SOTA station, please give us a chance and DON’T talk all over us.  There is a place for linear amplifiers, big rigs and super yagis, but there is a place for QRP too.

We got off the mountain in time to see the sunset dipping behind the horizon and headed back, tired but relieved, to the campsite where we celebrated with a few beers, a fire, some meat and the rest of the whisky.

Monday morning we packed up in the rain and headed our separate ways without breakfast.  Home safe and sound, we start planning the next thing!

Potjie on its way...

Potjie on its way…

Hennie fixing the radio!

Hennie fixing the radio!

SOTA Mast with no guylines!  Like magic!

SOTA Mast with no guylines! Like magic!

Looking down on Tor Doone from Giakaskop

Looking down on Tor Doone from Giakaskop

The top of Giakaskop

The top of Giakaskop

Giakaskop trig beacon

Giakaskop trig beacon

Campsite at Swallowtail

Campsite at Swallowtail

A view of Hog 1 over the dam

A view of Hog 1 over the dam

Ironman 2017

Why would you want to be an Ironman when you are already a Tin God?

Ok, that is just because I don’t train nearly enough for that sort of thing.

I have done a couple of Ironman events – and they all basically setup a station along the route and report in race leaders, tail enders, and anything interesting until they all past your point and you can go home.  Ok, there is a little more to it than that, like some mobile hams – traveling the route in a vehicle checking on things.  Oh and the larnies – keeping the race coordinators, owners, and managers in contact.

This Ironman was different.  Well at least for me – I had some Hammies and they made me proud!  I was asked if I could man a station which would be on the cycle and the run routes.  This means get in before the road closures and leave after midnight.  I was then asked if I could man the route clear vehicle (the vehicle that drives the route before things get going to make sure the route markers, bollards, traffic cones etc. are in place.  A lot of fun driving around, but who would setup and man my station in the mean time?

Dakota and Mike (ZU2DW and ZU2MOO) not only setup the station, but the ran it until I could get back there after my “morning drive”.

This was not the total Hammies involvement either – by special request, Graydon ZU2GH was assigned to the race coordinator and followed her around like a lost puppy.  A responsible job, well done. Graydon also assisted with the deployment of the temporary repeater on the Radisson Blue hotel (see pics below).

I was so proud of my Hammies!

On a personal note, my brother did not take part in the event this year, but had completed an Ironman the previous year – along with a Two Oceans Ultra and the comrades.  Proud of him too!

Ironman 2017 - ZU2GH Graydon - Radisson repeater installation

Ironman 2017 – ZU2GH Graydon – Radisson repeater installation

Ironman 2017 - Radisson repeater installation

Ironman 2017 – Radisson repeater installation

XYL with the tent behind her - prepared for sleepy Hammies!

XYL with the tent behind her – prepared for sleepy Hammies!

Ironman 2017 field station.

Ironman 2017 field station.

Ironman 2017 - antenna for Radisson repeater

Ironman 2017 – antenna for Radisson repeater

Ironman 70.3 East London 2017

I needed an excuse to go see my mate Hennie in East London.  Ironman South Africa obliged by arranging the

Half Ironman, East London, 2017

Half Ironman, East London, 2017

70.3 event in East London and the universe aligned so that I could go through for that.

I travelled through and spent a great weekend in East London helping the BRC with the Ironman 70.3 event.  It is a much smaller event (logistically) than the full Ironman as run in Port Elizabeth, but actually is a half Ironman.

Breakfast next to the road was one of the first things I thought about.  Apparently this is not done in East London – well at leaste not prior to our groundbreaking photos as posted by Hennie on the East London Whatsapp group!

Half Ironman, East London, 2017

Half Ironman, East London, 2017

Not much to report, except that we manned a station on the cycle leg (out on the N2) and then moved to the turning point of the run.  After that we could stand down.

As you can tell from the pic of Hennie on the radio – the stress levels were low to say the least!

Thank you BRC!

Second Hammies Camp also 100%

The second Hammies camp was held in December 2016 and attended by Colin, Caitlin, Nicole, and Logan.  Apart from Nicole, all were from the First Walmer Scout Group.

The camp was not a residential one – just a day-visitor format with classes and practical in the First Walmer Scout Group hall.  Andrew Gray and I once again divided the work and managed another 100% pass rate.

A special thank you goes to Donovan ZS2DL who came out to invidulate the exam for SARL.

ZU2MOO helping Caitlin with her Q-codes

ZU2MOO helping Caitlin with her Q-codes

One thing we tried that we will be doing again is using Hammies to teach Hammies.  We had Mike Higgs ZU2MOO and Dakota Watson ZU2DW on staff helping with phonetics and Q-Codes.

It has been decided that, although this camp was also a success, the original format produced a better atmosphere and more was achieved in the limited time available.

Welcome Logan – ZU2D, Caitlin ZU2CG, Colin ZU2CGM, and Nicole ZU2NX.


Every one has one of those moments!

Every one has one of those moments!

How to setup a radio

Andrew Gray (ZS2G) showing how to setup a radio

MCSA Search And Rescue Training 2016

Hamnet Eastern Cape was approached by the Search and Rescue (S&R) team of the Eastern Cape branch of the Mountain Club of South Africa to assist in a training exercise by providing a communications network over the Groendal nature reserve outside Port Elizabeth.

The event took place on 5 and 6 November, with the Eastern Cape Hamnet team only being needed for the Saturday.

The idea of the exercise was to get various role players together to get on a first name basis with each other and to establish needs and resources. Hamnet Eastern Cape, along with some members of PEARS, provided radio communications over the entire Groendal nature reserve – linking teams on the ground to the Joint Operations Centre (JOC) and the other teams – wherever they were deployed.

20161105_095431This was achieved by deploying two cross-band repeaters – VHF simplex to the teams on the ground and linked by UHF. This gave the mountain club the ability to talk directly to teams involved in the exercise – wherever they were deployed.

The day started with everyone meeting at the Rooikraans picnic area in Groendal at 07h30. As soon as the helicopters (2 BK helicopters) arrived, the Hamnet members going to deploy the repeater network were loaded and deployed. Within minutes of us being dropped off at the various sites we had comms up and signal checks done. Signal reports suggested we had the perfect spots for the repeaters.

20161105_164634While this was happening, a JOC was setup – giving the mountain club maps of the area and radio hams to keep everyone in touch.  four hams operated the radios in the JOC relaying messages to and from the event organisers/JOC control.

After some additional training (how to enter and disembark a helicopter) the teams were ready to be deployed to various sections of the reserve. The exercise involved the teams (or sticks as they are called in S&R lingo) being dropped off, establishing their coordinates and sending in reports – everything from location to weather and visibility. Some basic drills for spotting were done and then it was getting a helicopter to pick them up and return to base.  The teams had to identify a safe Landing Zone (LZ) set up a windsock of sorts and navigate the pilot to their location using any and all means at their disposal.20161105_104450

As mentioned, radio hams  assisted in the JOC – relaying messages on behalf of the organizers. This gave a good sense of radio procedure to the teams who soon followed suit. Tactical call signs were used where appropriate and members within the teams rotated the responsibility of reporting in on the radio.

The two pilots (Havoc and Sandman) fitted in as if they were part of the team for ages! JOC and the teams can only say a huge THANK YOU to the pilots (and their engineers) for a totally top class performance.

20161105_095453Late in the afternoon, the exercise was suspended and the repeater network removed. The hams then “stood down” – meaning that we packed up and went home.



The mountain club and air force were to continue on the Sunday with some drills – hoists and more advanced helicopter work.

Talking purely from a radio perspective the communications network established was adequate, deployed in minimal time and stood up to the task at hand. It should also be said that as a team we were stretched in terms of equipment and it would be great to have a few more “repeater-in-a-box” solutions. If the area had been bigger, we might not have been able to cover it adequately.

This event was also registered as a training exercise with SARL and we believe it was hugely beneficial.

International Lighthouse and Lightship weekend 2016

ILLW 2016 with the Hammies

ILLW 2016 with the Hammies

Al got there a lot earlier than planned and managed to work quite a few stations before the Hammies arrived.  The Hammies were all very impressed with the kombi and loved the whole “camper” idea.
Dakota, in particular, enjoyed operating from inside the bus and Ryan enjoyed exploring the back of the

Andre (ZS2ZA) and Andrew Gray (ZS2G) also arrived and set up stations.

Go Hammies!

Go Hammies!

The Zulu set up an impressive 2m station and Andrew set up a 20m station which later saved us on 40m too.
Juanita (Mom of Ashton and Ryan) and Beverley (XYL of Dave ZS2DH) kept the catering side of it all going.

While we did not make as many contacts as the ZS9V station (who made a mere 700 or so more QSOs) but
we had a lot of fun and it got the kids on the air and the adults out for a day in the sun!

A number of stations became extremely tollerant of the youngsters when the heard their personal callsigns.

It is amazing the support the Hammies get from oms out there!

ILLW 2016 with the Hammies

ILLW 2016 with the Hammies

Many thanks too to Gert ZS2GS and Mike ZS2MDL who made the effort to pop in and visit inspite of being
involved in the Baviaans the night before.

Thank you too to Bill Hodges ZS2ABZ who came out for the morning and joined us before having to go off
for the Maritime Net.  Bill also manned the Cape Recife lighthouse on the Saturday.

Unfortunately plans for the Seal Point lighthouse in Cape St Francis were washed away.

ZU2DW in action

ZU2DW in action

Graydon ZU2GH with Ryan

Graydon ZU2GH with Ryan

First Hammies Camp gets 100%!

Hammies Eastern Cape

Hammies Eastern Cape

Just a brag note here to say that today we heard officially that the pass rate for the first ever Hammies Boot Camp was 100% Thanks to the hard work of some people like Andrew Gray ZS2G, Juanita, and Beverley, I can now introduce the following new hams:

Ashton ZU2A

Dakota ZU2DW

Graydon ZU2GH

and Michael (Moo) ZU2MOO


VW Rally

20160716_114019Possibly the last VW rally as we know it, but an event well worth the effort. A firm favourite with the Eastern Cape Hamnet team and the members of the PEARS.

Months of planning go into these events and as Tony Allen ZR2TX (EC Hamnet deputy director) will attest, the radio communications take a lot of planning too. Tony gets involved early in the process and plans the deployment based on the stage routes, potential dangers, mobile support required, and terrain.

In short, use was made of the clubs Lady’s Slipper and Longmore repeaters for general VHF coverage. JOC was for the most part inside the Bay West Mall and using UHF cross-banding to a vehicle in the parking lot. Due to the general coverage of the repeaters very little relaying was required.

20160716_095124The rally this year was Friday 15 and Saturday 16 July and based in and around the Bay West Mall with 12 stages ranging from a few kilometres around Bay West Mall (a crowd pleaser) to a 43Km stage in the Longmore forest.

Mobile stations included Clerk of the Course, Deputy and Assistant Clerk of the Course, the Chief Marshal and his deputy, the equipment logistics coordinator, Car 0, Car 00, Medics, crowd control, sweep, and the PA van. All these functions are vital and constant communications are required throughout the event. These radio operators had to get their rigs installed into the marshal’s vehicle prior to the start of the rally, and retrieve them again after the event.

20160716_053927In addition to the mobile radio operators, PEARS members also manned the start and end point of each stage and even manned mid points on the longer stages. This made for a massive deployment involving some 30 hams and their friends. Most hams covering more than one stage during the weekend.

Tony operated the JOC with Patsy ZS2PTY and as usual kept all the balls in the air. Stage operators were responsible for notifying the JOC of asset movements (such as Medics), car start/end times and any team withdrawals. Emergency traffic was given priority.

20160716_053959Once again the organisers thanked EC Hamnet and PEARS for our continued support over the years – this being our 34th year!

A special note should be made that Bill Hodges, ZS2ABZ, has provided communications support for all the VW rallies with the exception of last year when he was ill.

As part of our growth and sustainability practice, some of the hams deployed were new hams, having passed the RAE earlier this year.

A point worth mentioning is that the final stage was at the Oval race track and done ona course – racing two at a time.  This was the only stage where there was more than one at a time.  It made for some dust I can assure you!  Below are some pics and a video of some of the dust at the final stage.

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Cockscomb. A bucketlist item marked off!

My mate, Andrew Gray belongs to Voetsak, the Mountain Club, and of course our little club ZS2FUN! Andrew and Mandy had the Cockscomb climb on the Voetsak calendar noted and slipped me an invite.

Cockscomb - our destination for Sunday morning!

Cockscomb – our destination for Sunday morning!

It was the weekend of 9/10 July – and the Knysna marathon – another thing on my bucket list, but a chance like this I could not miss. Treffor Lloyd held the pre-hike meeting at the German Club and then we were all set. Saturday early morning saw a bunch of crazy people meeting up at the parking lot of the local ULTRA bottle store and heading out to climb Cockscomb.  I went with them because it seemed like the right thing to do 😉

One thing no one tells you about the climb is that it is miles away! Pass Uitenhage and then onto the gravel. Something like 70Km of gravel, dust, and anticipation.

The next thing they don’t really make sure you understand (it was mentioned at the pre-hike meeting) is that you have to carry the firewood up from the bottom! We were each given some wood to carry. A big group means many carriers and so this was not a big problem. Go in a small group and I’m sure you feel the pain!

Treffor on the ledge

Treffor “I’m scared of heights” Lloyd.

We climbed up onto the top of the ridge by lunchtime. This was a great view and with most of the work done, a pleasant walk from there to the cave. Don’t get me wrong – you are climbing all the way, but the climb is more gradual from here and often you are basically contouring.

Afternoon tea in a cave – where I took the pic to the left of Treffor Lloyd. As we head up the ridge, across the valley we can see the other cave – perhaps the more famous cave – with build-in cabin.

Up onto the saddle and a quick look at the climb to the summit – work for tomorrow morning, but an intimidating view to be sure! A 5 minute walk from the saddle to the cave and we pass the “drip tank” system everyone talks about. I had been told there was water at the cave and then when we arrive they say “hope there’s water there” and I start to panic. There was water there -and pretty much plenty of it too.

If you ever stuck here without water, the other cave is about an hour away and has water.

The fire in the cave that evening was pleasant and informative too. My plans for a “big trek” in “the berg” next year took a big step forward thanks to Serge and his idea for power!

Sunday morning started off with a trip to the “loo with a view”. On the hillside is an all-but flushing loo! From there the day just got better!

We made our way back to the saddle where we stashed our20160709_132055 gear and started up the seemingly impossible trail to the top of the summit.

There is a ‘ledge’ you need to look out for! I was worried about it – and nearly did not go on the hike because of the dreaded ledge. I had heard so much about it and never actually saw it! By the time we were about half way up I asked Treffor where the ledge was (secretly hoping we had passed it) and he told me well, that we had passed it. (His choice of vernacular being unsuitable for a family blog like this one lol)

Arriving at the top of the summit is always a moment to be cherished. You can stop for a moment and reflect on your accomplishment before the fear of “how the hell do I get down again” kicks in.

20160710_102908There is something about the summit of a mountain – something almost distinctly common to summits: They have rocks on top – but this one has a rock taller than me! I know the entire mountain was taller than me! But when you get to the top of the climb and look for the trig beacon only to find it “one more story up” on a large rock that is something else!

Andrew, Serge, Mandy, and I eventually got everything needed up to the top and set the mast up against the trig beacon in a style that is becoming predictable. Andrew played around and we found some contacts.

Now, just because I like the Zulu so much, I feel I must put this piece in…

When you need to break into a QSO to make a contact one normally does it between overs – hoping not to offend the parties concerned.

20160709_154936However, when ZA is talking you actually have time to leave him a voice mail message saying that you are trying to break in and could he please STFU 🙂  ‘nuf said. We made our contacts and 4 more points in the bag! Yay for us.

Back down the mountain was not nearly as daunting a task as I had imagined it was going to be. Lifting yourself up vertical “cliffs” of 2m to 3m at a time takes effort. Fortunately on the way down, gravity has its way with you and you get down a lot easier than you get up. Of course if you miss your footing then … OK – I can’t resist: A quote from Space Quest 3 – “gravity has it’s way with you and you assume the dimensions of a manhole cover” If you don’t know Space Quest then you won’t get it.

The saddle was a welcome break and one where we gathered up again before starting off on the trek back to the cars. The path back was via the “other” cave and the ridge next to the one we had followed up. We could have gone back the way we came up, but this was different and different was good.

We followed the ridge for most of the afternoon until finally dropping down a steep path into the river bed below. From here it was a few minutes and we were back at the cars.

I’d have to say the climb was not nearly as bad as I had been lead to believe. I’m not saying it was a walk in the park – but I’ll do it again.


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SARL Top Band QSO Party

The South African Radio League Top Band (160m) QSO party was held 23 to 27 June this year and I wanted in on the action.  I mentioned this to a few people and received mixed reactions.

Hennie was just not interested.  Which was interesting, because there is not a lot that does not get the rock spider going, but this was something that did not seem to excite him at all.

Andrew Gray – my other SOTA partner in crime – and Hamnet director for the Eastern Cape was keen and said he would think about it.

I spoke to Al Ackers (ZS2U) about an antenna and he got excited.  A few phone calls, a trip to the hardware store, and a few test-deployments and the antenna was there.  An inverted L with a matching unit.

I mentioned it to Andrew Gray and it was on.  So, after the Hamnet Field Day we set off to the park in Lorraine where we normally deploy.

160m is a nighttime band.  A lot like the Rolling Stones – unpredictable, but better at night!  As a nighttime band (ok, maybe I could have made a plan) we did not take ANY photos 🙁

In my normal, loud mouthed approach to these sorts of events, I told everyone where we would be and invited everyone.  Andrew and I managed a contact each and that was it – slim pickings.

Sunday saw the news bulletin and we pushed it again there.  Sunday evening saw more contacts.  Many more,  but not enough for the SARL TOP BAND AWARD.  I was missing a ZS5 contact and had a ZS1 contact that was probably not going to confirm on the SARL site, so I needed an insurance contact there as well.

A bunch more people visited: Andre (ZS2ZA AKA The Zulu) returned from his roadtrip to find us knee deep in something again.  Bevan (ZS2RL)  also popped out.  Al was planning to, but caught short with car problems and so did not manage to join us.

At the end of the Top Band QSO Party I was just missing ZS1 and ZS5 in terms of confirmations of the website.

Well, having fun is the main idea right?  Bull!  We started something so we will finish it.  The following weekend was the Hammies Boot Camp and Andrew and I would, once again, be out in the sticks playing radio.  Not a lot of arm twisting was required to get Andrew into redeploying the tiny little dipole antenna again the following weekend so that I could get my remaining contacts.

The week was full of all sorts of work which seems to intefere with my radio activities on a regular basis.  I did however manage to send off a few targeted emails to 160m-capable stations and get some interest in coming up for the QSO the following weekend.  Obviously wx dependant and being off the grid at the Hammies Boot Camp, meant I was not able to put in the exact time for the QSO.  Hit and miss is how it will have to be.

Saturday evening, once the day time activities were over,  I made my way down to the edge of the gauge and got ready for the final straight (so to speak).  Andrew and I had hung the dipole (Andrew made a dipole, Al made an inverted V which we used the previous weekend) earlier in the afternoon and dropped the battery off under some trees.  I carried in the radio and hooked it all up.

It only took about 3 minutes to make the contacts, but I was there in the bush until after 10pm!  Lloyld (Juanita’s husband) accompanied me – with a few little faces who faded early.  As all good things must end, I eventually signed and we carried the battery and radio back to the hall.

Andrew and I are not known for doing things in small doses – Andrew was reading the PEARS news bulleting on the Sunday morning (just before the Hammies wrote their exam).  On the news bulleting Andrew mentioned that the Hammies were about to write and that I had completed my Top Band Award.  Talk about breaking news!

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