King Chuck is Here: Why Does the King Matter to Americans?

Friends are arriving at my home very early tomorrow morning for a Pajamas and Tiaras party. With mimosas in hand, we’ll watch King Charles III and Queen Camilla take ancient oaths with their medieval garb and platter-sized diamonds. 

My interest in the royal family dates back several years, when a bad bout of insomnia had me reading gossip blogs at 3 am. (Archives here.) Harry and Meghan already had insiders buzzing about bad behavior. Later, the royal soap opera became front page stories in the American press when they stormed out of the country in 2020. 

So, why is this American, with ancestry from County Fermanagh, watching the King’s Coronation? We still have family stories about English cruelty to our people. Personally, I am repulsed that we have people trotting about on our side of the Atlantic, who are using their titles here

I’m watching because, in addition to the Shakespearean family drama, this event itself is a time machine to 1066, when the magnificent and the horrific stood side by side. From a safe distance, we are monarchy-curious, when our own rudderless democracy seems to be on the verge of another messy election. And I like quiche and mimosas.

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36 thoughts on “King Chuck is Here: Why Does the King Matter to Americans?

  1. Well, Fermanagh is one of the six counties of Ulster, after all. Charles is practically a homeboy.

    I lived in England in the early 1960s (my Navy dad was stationed in London)–we loved it–attended Trooping of the Colours every year, visited every castle we could (not as many open then as now), and spent a lot of time taking visitors to Windsor (which was very open in those days). Later, in the Army, I lived in a British officers’ mess in Germany for months and commanded a company that was located on a former British maintenance base–we became the landlords to, among other things, a British rail squadron–only time I’ve ever driven a train. All of it was great fun. Though I am sympathetic to many English customs (except Mermite and mushy peas), the drama of the Royal Family is, frankly, too much for me. I am wondering, like others, if this is the last large-scale coronation we’ll ever see. I can imagine the monarchy becoming more like the Dutch one.

    Hope you’ve got lots of Pimms on hand!

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  2. “The coronation itself is going to cost around $200 million with most of it going towards security. Every Western democracy will be represented there. ” British taxpayers are paying a LOT of money to support this show, and huge amounts of benefits go for free to tabloids in other countries (NY Post I am talking about YOU) seems like the incentives are not aligned properly.
    Meghan/Harry in this view are kind of a godsend in making the whole stodgy show interesting. Will it draw enough tourists to pay for itself?

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    1. “Will it draw enough tourists to pay for itself?”

      The simple answer is yes.

      The royal family with the associated pageantry more than pays for itself in tourism numbers.

      Just looking at American visitor numbers alone. There are 3 million to London, and only 2 million to Paris (equally historic city, with the added bonus of its romantic reputation). [NB: the most popular tourist destination in Paris – you guessed it, Versailles – even more so than the stunning art collection in the Louvre]

      Monarchy pays dividends for the British taxpayer.

      Turn it around.

      Given that the American inauguration costs $100 million (and has to be repeated every 4 years) – and has zero impact on tourism numbers (people visiting Washington DC will get to see almost nothing of any president).

      Is it a worthwhile expenditure for the American taxpayer?

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    2. There are people kvetching about the three events in a single calendar year and, even if one thinks that the historical monarchy brings tourists, a 100m/year grant to a reigning king might not be necessary (as the cite to Versaille bringing tourism without a king might suggest).

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      1. But Versailles doesn’t bring anything like as much tourism, as London.

        An active monarchy, with the associated ceremony, does make a difference. The numbers crowding to see the most routine changing of the guard – bear this out. As does London, full to the brim with visitors to see a glimpse of the Coronation parade.

        Not much you can do about the timing of funerals and subsequent coronations. They do happen in fairly close succession.
        I’m sure everyone would have been delighted if QE2 had had a couple more years in her (although, personally, I wouldn’t if she was ill and in pain, as I suspect she was).

        Charles and the other working members of the RF, get an annual stipend from the Civil list. The bulk of this goes on maintenance of the various houses and palaces, and on staff (i.e they are costs that would have to be paid directly by the government if there were no RF).

        The bulk of his actual income derives from his inherited wealth (on which he now pays voluntary tax)
        https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/money/bills/royal-family-how-much-cost-uk-what-spend-money-who-paying-coronation-2317652

        Part of the Meghan issue, is that I believe that she thought that H was independently wealthy, and was horrified to find that he was comparatively poor in cash terms, and required to ‘work’ (as in participate in the RF do-good activities) to retain the income he did have, as well as not ‘monetise’ his royal status. Most of his rows with Charles (post-Meg) seem to have been about money.
        This way of operating appears to have been totally foreign to her.

        Parliament (i.e. the Government) traditionally pays for state occasions – royal funerals, coronations. And, as I said, makes it all back off of foreign visitors.

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      2. The Wall Street Journal had a couple of wonky articles on “where does Charles get his money”.

        In the article, they detail the royal grant (which is given by the state to the monarch as part of an agreement in which the income of the Royal Estates is donated to the state). In 2011, a percent of the profits (15%) of the Estates was guaranteed as the royal grant, with a “ratchet” clause that means that the amount never goes down (even if the profit of the estates decreases). That grant has been temporarily bumped to 25% of the profits (of about 320m pounds), 80m pounds in 2022. Other costs (taxpayer-funded protection) are secret and unknown.

        The monarch also receives the profits of the Duchy of Lancaster which used to be small (1m) but have increased to 20m/year; with the grace of the monarch, William, the heir, now receives the 20m/year from the Duchy of Cornwall. They pay no inheritance or corporate taxes on those properties and do pay an undisclosed income tax, voluntarily.

        The Royal grant is subject to agreements with parliament and there are rules about how it can be spent, but the profits from the Duchy’s are theirs. Other Royals are, as you say, subject to payouts at the whim of the monarch.

        Is this worth it economically? I think a very difficult calculation to make, and in my mind suspect as I always think “tourism” arguments are (for example, does the Space Needle pay for itself in tourism? the Smithsonian museums?). Maybe (and the space needle is privately owned, so isn’t vulnerable to exactly the same taxpayer arguments).

        (Oh, and the parts of the sea bed, on which windmill farms are being built are part of the Royal Estates and might yield 1 billion pounds in licensing fees — Charles is owed part of that profit, though he says those moneys will currently be donated).

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      3. Well, yes. The Government could cease paying the sovereign grant, and the King could take back all of the land he actually owns, including swathes of large cities, and all of the foreshore.

        Really, the current arrangement is much better. It puts the monarch at arms length from commercial exploitation of those resources; in return for a fairly modest annual payment (most of which goes on upkeep of royal buildings and staff salaries – which the government would have to pay for in any case).

        In the very dim and distant past, there were lots of issues about Charles II (and his brother) being heavily involved in commercial activity (shipping and trade, but also other things), and the problems that this entailed (influence was only one of them). I think that’s a big part of why the RF were so much against M’s ideas about monetizing H’s title.

        The Duchy of Lancaster is the monarch’s private inheritance – nothing to do with the Government.

        I suspect the security costs are much the same as those entailed by any Head of State (the US President for example). Perhaps the Brits just do it all more colourfully (changing of the guard, etc.).

        While I, too, am often sceptical about the tourism benefits of public spending. I think in this case, it really is justified. Tourism in London in particular is very heavily influenced by the RF and adjacent ceremonies – which are *immensely* popular with tourists (perhaps especially those which don’t have any home-grown ceremonies). The 3:2 difference between Paris and London speaks volumes.

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      4. Yah! Charles II commercial activity!
        “Britain played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade. Not only did slavery exist on the British mainland, but British sailors transported slaves all over the world. The slave trade was proliferated by King Charles II’s chartering of the Royal African Company in 1660. This organization held a monopoly on British slaving endeavors in West Africa and transported over 90,000 slaves all over the world. The company also established forts and trading posts on the West African coast with the help of the army and navy. Half of the earnings made from the trade was given to the King. “

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      5. While I, too, am often sceptical about the tourism benefits of public spending. I think in this case, it really is justified. Tourism in London in particular is very heavily influenced by the RF and adjacent ceremonies – which are *immensely* popular with tourists (perhaps especially those which don’t have any home-grown ceremonies). The 3:2 difference between Paris and London speaks volumes.

        I think the majority of that ratio (which is a ratio of *American* tourists) can be explained away, not by an affinity for the royals or their ceremonies, but instead by the fact that the UK is an English speaking country and there are a vast number of Americans who refuse to vacation anywhere where they can’t be obnoxious in their native tongue.

        I lived in the UK for nearly five years and despite spending a fair amount of time in London, both while I was living there and on work trips, the only royal-related activities I took part in were walking past Buckingham palace on the way to somewhere else, the obligatory trips to the Tower and Hampden Court, and a Jubilee block party that my street threw in 2012.

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      6. I’ve been enjoying reading about the Crown Estates and the law of conquest. I am clearly more comfortable with following the discussions in parliament than the battles a field where young men are killing each other.

        George III made the deal about the remaining land in the Crown Estates in 1760, in exchange for a sovereign grant (formerly the civil list, but now a percent of the profits, since the 2011 act of parliament). By 1760, the Crown Estates had diminished in value to the point that George could not fund his responsibility for “civil government” through the estates. So, in exchange for being absolved of that responsibility and absolved of his debts — and receiving a stipend in return, he gave up the revenue of the estates. In my mind, if the agreement was revoked, Charles would have to take over funding “civil government” in Britain, which I suspect is probably more than the revenues of the Crown Estates 🙂 https://www.themonarchists.com/the-crown-estate/

        As an American, I had previously known of George III only as the king in Schoolhouse Rock :

        .. But George the Third still vowed He’d rule them till the end. . . .
        Don’t you get to feeling independent
        ‘Cause I’m gonna force you to obey.”

        and Hamilton:
        “And when push comes to shove
        I will send a fully armed battalion to remind you of my love!”

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      7. “Britain played a prominent role in the Atlantic slave trade”

        IIRC (and this isn’t really my field of history) the issue wasn’t with Charles II and James’s involvement with the slave trade (which was just standard business practice – virtually everyone on both sides of the Atlantic was involved at the time), but that they adjusted laws to suit their commercial enterprises (and how do you sue the King for non-payment, or take him to court for illegal practices?).

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      8. ” In my mind, if the agreement was revoked, Charles would have to take over funding “civil government” in Britain, which I suspect is probably more than the revenues of the Crown Estates”

        Maybe, maybe not. The tax take (which technically goes to the monarch) is immensely greater than was the case in George III’s time. There was no such thing as income tax, or estate duties, or sales tax. And rents were a pretty low income stream – whereas these days the Duke of Westminster (who owns a big chunk of London) makes a fortune off the rents.
        The only taxes were commodity ones (on things like wool or salt). Although the Stuarts had made a pretty good thing out of piracy (privateering with letters of marque) – any ships captured had a 15% tax to the sovereign, and a 10% tax to the admiralty.

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      9. Jay said
        “I think the majority of that ratio (which is a ratio of *American* tourists) can be explained away, not by an affinity for the royals or their ceremonies.”

        Possibly. But that doesn’t explain why the crowd at many of the ceremonies is wall-to-wall Americans. [Speaking hyperbolically – of course there are other nationalities present- but a huge number of Americans present]

        Of course: #notallAmericans. Some come for other reasons, and never set foot inside a tourist attraction, or pay any attention to the RF or their ceremonies. But certainly enough to be a darn useful income stream.

        It always bemuses me that a country which *exists* as the result of republican sentiment – contains so many people fascinated with royalty. But it does seem to be the case.

        Witness the fascination with Meghan – who from the American perspective should be a C-list TV actress, who married a foreign bloke, and is having a stoush with her in-laws. Why would any of that be headlines in the US?

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  3. 200 million is the cost of a modern inauguration in the US, too. Yes, some of that money is “donated”, but I am unsure whether I think that (and the access I fear it buys) is worse than taxpayers paying the bill and, we do it every four years.

    I think significant milestones should be celebrated with pomp and circumstance and unless the Brits got rid of their monarchy, this coronation is a significant milestone.

    I was disappointed that the NYTimes promised me tea sandwich recipes in their Coronation party recipe list, but didn’t have any! I am hoping to make some for mother’s day tea.

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    1. What? I was also going to look for tea sandwich recipes per the NYTIMES. I did make my own version of the lemon and elderflower cake because those flavors intrigued me. (from Megan’s& Harry’ wedding )and it was tasty.

      I might try to catch a glimpse of the coronation but it’s too early for me, being in mountain time.

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      1. Goodness, what a thing to need a recipe for!
        It’s something that we just grew up making, for virtually every family event ever.

        Some tips:
        * Use day-old thin sliced bread (it will cut better, than fresh). If you want to be fancy, you can use, both white and brown bread.
        * Use supermarket loaves – rather than fancy bakery ones.
        * Make sure your ingredients are room temperature (softened butter) – so they will spread easily. Spread evenly right up to the edges of the crust (you want to have a nice even layer in the sandwich when you cut the crusts off). [Small children will sit and beg for the crusts with the delicious extras as you cut them off]
        * Generally butter both slices of bread (though if you have cream cheese in the filling you can skip this step.
        * Make your sandwiches, then cut off the crusts, and slice into rectangles (usually 3 rectangles to a slice of bread).
        * Use a serrated knife for cutting. Don’t press down on the sandwich, just hold it in place.
        * Put completed sandwiches under a damp teatowel, if you’re making an hour or so in advance.

        Filling suggestions (though, you can actually do whatever you fancy)

        Ingredients are pretty much traditional British ones (so no basil, or mozzarella, or hummus, etc.) And are intended to be able to be bitten off delicately (so no great slabs of meat to be bitten through), without dropping anything down your floral summer dress. [Of course, you can adapt to whatever you want to eat!]

        * Smoked salmon and cream cheese. If your salmon is beautiful fine slices, do it in separate layers. If not, dice the salmon, whip the cream cheese and mix together. Or blitz in a food processor to a lovely gentle pink spread (This one mixes really well with cucumber)
        * Cucumber. Finely sliced. Salt and pepper.
        * Egg salad (Hardboiled eggs, mashed with a little mayonnaise or melted butter, salt and pepper). Add very finely chopped chives if desired.
        * Deviled eggs (Hardboiled eggs, mashed with mayonnaise and curry powder – or mustard and vinegar, or tabasco sauce – however you like them ‘deviled’)
        * Ham (thin sliced ham, cut into ribbons, and piled high), dijon mustard spread finely on the bread and butter. (A traditional replacement for mustard is a thin layer of marmite or vegemite – but this may not go down well in the US)
        * Chicken salad. Poached chicken, diced fairly finely, mixed with mayonnaise. Mix in finely sliced spring onions.
        * Tomatoes – diced and drained (or your sandwich will get soaked). Salt and pepper.
        * Tuna (tinned) mayo, chopped chives- maybe a little lemon, salt and pepper.
        * Cold roast beef, very finely sliced, and then chopped into ribbons (as with the ham above) with a thin layer of horseradish on the bread and butter.

        If you want to make multiple layer ‘ribbon’ sandwiches – you can combine any ingredients you want to (from the above list), or add a layer of lettuce with mustard, for crunch and texture. Generally look for both complementary taste, and visual differentiation.

        Sandwiches are never sweet. Only savoury.

        The sweet elements of the tea tray come from scones with jam and cream, mini tartlets, petit fours, etc.

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  4. Saw an article pop up in my feed about “debt chicken” and wondered for a few seconds what that might taste like 🙂

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  5. And, instructions on placing tiaras in hair, from Tatler: https://www.tatler.com/article/rules-for-wearing-tiaras

    “. . . be conscious of proper placement. Put your thumb on the dimple of your chin and your index finger on the gap in between your eyebrows. Keeping that measurement, move your thumb up to where your finger was. Your index finger should now be touching the base of the tiara in your hair. Anymore than an inch and a half from your hairline, and people will talk.”

    (and, you don’t want people to talk, right?)

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  6. To our New Zealander — is the perception of the coronation different in NZ v Australia? I saw articles on the shifts in the Commonwealth Realms, and Australia is not going to put Charles on the new 5 pound notes. In other Realms, Jamaica is also starting the process of removing the Sovereign as head of state and Quebec has made swearing the oath to the King voluntary.

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    1. There’s a little flurry of republican anti-Coronation reaction.

      However, they are very much a radical minority. The majority are of the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ school of thought when it comes to our constitutional arrangements.

      We don’t have a written constitution (although we do have a Bill of Rights, which is now causing issues with judges interpreting it – against the wishes of Parliament). Supporters of a written constitution are having a very uphill battle over that issue.

      Legally, our monarch is the same person as the Great British monarch (two identities in a single body). Which is the same for most of the Commonwealth. Practically, we have a Governor General appointed by Parliament for a 5 yearly term, who exercises the legislative functions of the monarch (summons and dissolves Parliament, signs off legislation, appoints ministers etc.).

      The GG has to be acceptable to Parliament (appointed by the government), AND acceptable to the monarchy. This unspoken, but very real, limitation has (so far) prevented overtly political nominees.

      There is a very real worry, that moving to an elected President (replacing the King and the GG), would politicise this role – placing them in competition with the Prime minister. There is also concern that elections and electioneering would be highly divisive (I guess you’ve had experience of this!)

      There is also the cost element. We (pretty much) get our monarch for free. Paying for an election every 5 years would be an additional cost – for pretty much zero benefit.

      Finally, we have a slightly unusual legal situation here in NZ, with the indigenous Maori people. In 1841, many of the tribes (iwi) signed a treaty with the British crown (Queen Victoria) – which guaranteed them their lands, in return for the rights and privileges of British citizenship. There is a *lot* of legal debate over exactly what that meant at the time, what the different versions of the Treaty of Waitangi say, and what it continues to mean now. But at the most basic level, the Maori have a relationship with the British crown, *not* with the government of NZ. While the GG acts as the representative of the King, and his authority is devolved on the NZ parliament, this is not an issue. But it would almost certainly become one, if NZ became a republic.

      About 9 or so years ago, a very popular Prime Minister instituted a referendum on our flag (it’s currently rather a dull ex-colonial one). This was massively divisive – and a bitterly fought campaign. The referendum was lost. And the popularity of the PM much dented. The lesson has not been lost on any of the parties in Parliament. None have any platform of legislative change towards republicanism – even though several senior politicians (including some at the Coronation) are personally republican in sentiment.

      Many people have watched the Coronation (it started at 10.30 last night) – most probably for the spectacle, and the feeling that this is a once in a generation moment. I doubt there is a significant degree of personal loyalty to Charles as King. But, really, I’m pretty sure that would be the case for a President (either in NZ, or in any other country).

      Those who are not interested, are simply quietly not interested – and went to bed.

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      1. “But at the most basic level, the Maori have a relationship with the British crown, *not* with the government of NZ. ”

        Heard there are similar issues with treaties with First Nations in Canada that would have to be resolved if there were any change in the sovereign.

        “Legally, our monarch is the same person as the Great British monarch (two identities in a single body). Which is the same for most of the Commonwealth.”

        Commonwealth Realms;

        the Commonwealth is a larger organization (which includes more former colonies and, recently, the addition of a couple of countries like Rwanda, that were never British colonies). The head of the Commonwealth apparently doesn’t have to be the sovereign of Britain, but in 2018, it was decided that Charles would be the head of the Commonwealth when the Queen died.

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      2. “Heard there are similar issues with treaties with First Nations in Canada that would have to be resolved if there were any change in the sovereign”

        I think it’s very weird up here. I turn to Wikipedia

        Crown land itself is weird:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_land#Canada

        “Within Canada, Crown land is a designated territorial area belonging to the Canadian Crown.[8][9] Though the monarch owns all Crown land in the country, it is divided in parallel with the “division” of the Crown among the federal and provincial jurisdictions, so that some lands within the provinces are administered by the relevant provincial Crown, whereas others are under the federal Crown. About 89% of Canada’s land area (8,886,356 km2 or 3,431,041 sq mi) is Crown land: 41% is federal crown land and 48% is provincial crown land. The remaining 11% is privately owned….

        Crown land is the equivalent of an entailed estate that passes with the monarchy and cannot be alienated from it; thus, per constitutional convention, these lands cannot be unilaterally sold by the monarch, instead passing on to the next king or queen unless the sovereign is advised otherwise by the relevant ministers of the Crown. Crown land provides the country and the provinces with the majority of their profits from natural resources, largely but not exclusively provincial, rented for logging and mineral exploration rights; revenues flow to the relevant government and may constitute a major income stream, such as in Alberta. Crown land may also be rented by individuals wishing to build homes or cottages.”

        But where did the Crown Land come from?
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_ownership_in_Canada

        “In Canadian law all lands are subject to the Crown, and this has been true since Britain acquired much of Eastern Canada from France by the Treaty of Paris (1763). However, the British and Canadian authorities recognized that indigenous peoples already on the lands had a prior claim, aboriginal title, which was not extinguished by the arrival of the Europeans. This is in direct contrast to the situation in Australia where the continent was declared terra nullius, or vacant land, and was seized from Aboriginal peoples without compensation. In consequence, all of Canada, save a section of southern Quebec exempted by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, is subject to Aboriginal title. Native groups historically negotiated treaties in which they traded tenure to the land for annuities and certain legal exemptions and privileges. Most of Western Canada was secured in this way by the government via the Numbered Treaties of 1871 to 1921, though not all groups signed treaties. In particular, in most of British Columbia Aboriginal title has never been transferred to the Crown. Many native groups, both those that have never signed treaties or those that are dissatisfied with the execution of treaties have made formal Aboriginal land claims against the government.

        The English Crown also gave tenure to much of Canada to a private company, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) which from 1670 to 1870 had a legal and economic monopoly on all land in the Rupert’s Land territory (identical to the drainage basin of Hudson Bay), and later the Columbia District and the North-Western Territory (now British Columbia, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) were added to the HBC’s lands, making it one of the largest private landowners in world history. In 1868 the Imperial Parliament passed the Rupert’s Land Act that saw most of its land ownership transferred to the Dominion of Canada.”

        I don’t think you can mention Treaty land without referencing the #LandBack movement: https://landback.org/manifesto/

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  7. If he gets executed, by Fishers Exact Test, being named “Charles” would be significantly associated with execution in British monarchs.

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  8. People did talk about whether he was going to chose another name (as apparently is a tradition I don’t understand but probably has some mystical meaning about kings). I would have been amused by King Arthur.

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    1. Not really traditional. Occasionally an option used by 20th century Monarchs who didn’t care for their (first) given name, or wanted to establish a link to an earlier Monarch.

      Elizabeth II – retained her given name (presumably she liked it, and it was also a link to another great English Queen)
      Her father, George VI, changed his regnal name from ‘Albert’ (called Bertie by the family). Largely to maintain continuity with the reign of *his* father, after the disastrous interregnum of Edward VIII (before his abdication)
      Edward VIII (called ‘David’ – the last of his 7 names by the family). Kept Edward as his regnal name. Wanted to explicitly differentiate himself from his father (whom he disliked). Although, I suspect he didn’t really consider the decision carefully (much like his approach to being King in general).
      George V – retained his given name.
      Edward VII – changed is regnal name from ‘Albert’ in favour of his second name, Edward. I’ve always thought this was a backhander to his domineering mother, Queen Victoria – who was determined that there would be a King Albert, after she had failed to get her husband the title.
      Victoria – retained her own name. Could be considered an unusual choice. No previous Queens with that name, and as a very young queen, could have wanted to establish a link with a previously successful queen.
      Most, if not all previous monarchs – simply retained their own name. They had little interest in the opinion of others…..

      Current British royals in the direct line of succession appear to have one eye on the regnal name when they are being christened. After Charles, we have William and George – both names with good strong royal history links.

      If we had a massive disaster, and we had to suffer Harry or Andrew on the throne, there might again be a regnal name.

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      1. “Daddy didn’t give affection, no, and the boy was something that mommy wouldn’t wear”

        Somehow seems appropriate to the current king. A missed opportunity.

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    1. The Australian Melbourne Cup (horse race, run in November) is also famous for the hats – in the crowd, at least – though I understand there are horses there, too…:-)

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  9. ” We still have family stories about English cruelty to our people. ” All of them, sir? Yes, all of them. Even the little babies? Yes, nits will be lice”

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    1. We do too. Coming from an Irish background, and 3 word-of-mouth times removed from the stories of the Irish famine – me, my father, his grandfather (who immigrated to NZ)

      However, that was then, this is (100+ years later), now.

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