Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Does anyone out there know of a court of elders in ancient Greek times called something like "aeropage"? Need it desperately for my translation. It has to mean soemthing along the lines of "council of competent citizens", only in English.

My sister is trying to leave Nightmare Bloke. You wouldn't think it would be that hard once you'd made up your mind to just get the hell out of there and go. Unfortunately, seven years of communal living leave seven years of financial entanglement. Although she wants to leave, she is living in a police state under near-continual surveillance broken only when he decides to go out on some specious errand. She is reduced to going out all day with the children, touring estate agents in secret because he's still flipping his lid that she is talking about leaving.

Many tens of thousands of her own pounds are tied up in joint ventures with him, so she has to stay near her investments if she has any hope of ever being being able to buy her own house.

Meanwhile, she is continuing to go to work, and put a brave face on a situation her colleagues are aware of and know to be difficult, but are unable to help her with. She is going for promotion tomorrow, having not been at work for over three weeks. The promotion could be the path to complete freedom from him, since with the extra money, she would no longer have call on him to look after their children, which he does in increasingly poor grace. We're all crossing all our appendages for her.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I forgot to mention the power cut on Sunday evening, mainly because they're so common that I think nothing of them any more. The children just crack open the candles, we eat cold stuff, boil the kettle on the woodstove, and away we go.

Anyway , Sunday evening's cut was exciting for one reason at least. It turned out to be caused by a hot air balloon clipping a standard local power line, narrowly missing the high-voltage supply to Exeter which passes through the very same field. Now that would have been spectacular.

One hour's fun for five people: two hours' powerlessness (and cold suppers, grr!) for thousands. Priceless.

On the same day, pretty much at the same time, on the outskirts of Exeter itself, another hot air balloon made an unscheduled stop on a busy road. Well, obviously, as busy as it gets in Exeter.

I don't know much 'bout meteorology, but it seems to me that maybe the two events are not unconnected.

It seems that the elves around here do not specialise in French to English literary translation. No matter how many nights I hint by leaving it all out, they don't seem to learn any either.
I should probably switch to shoe-making.

One of my little silkies has started laying! Surprisingly, for a white bird, she is laying pale brown eggs, the sweetest little things you ever saw, so tiny that Dill had the first two for breakfast this morning, fried in olive oil.

Silkies typically take 7-8 months to reach maturity, so she is a little precocious considering that she was hatched at the beginning of March. Mr Silkie has been crowing for about two weeks now, and erm...jumping on his wives rather a lot. Bloody teenager- loud and sex-obsessed. He doesn't even have proper tail feathers yet, but the hens don't seem to be too picky.

She prefers to lay in the only one of the three nesting boxes that does not contain a china egg- she probably finds the size of them off-putting... As soon as I have another (probably Thursday), I'll take a photo of one alongside a "normal" sized egg.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Alien lands 

You're forced awake with a jump some time in the middle of the night, certain that you've failed in something. After a few minutes, you know. You didn't check on them last night, and you didn't even move them yesterday. You didn't count them before dark. You just know that something has happened to at least one them. A cat maybe, or a trapping somewhere. At the very least they're starving. 3:13am

Irrational, you think, turning over swiftly. The product of a fevered imagination fuelled by caffeine and lack of exercise.

A few hours later, 3:21am, and you can hear a foxes yelping menacingly outside, owls and other night birds agreeing. You're nervous, and you're a large creature tucked up in a warm bed beside a wiffling bedfellow. What must it be like for them?

You try to switch to a different train of thought, but the resposibilty keeps hitting you. It's your fault. You'll go down there in the morning to find one dead, just like the last one, and you'll know you could have saved it if only you'd gone to check a few hours sooner.

3:27am. Nothing for it. You jump out of bed, push your feet into slippers and creep down the creaky stairs.

What must your house-guest think, hearing strange steps upon the landing, and muffled yet deafening sounds as you crunch across the gravel? Will she awake in a similar cold sweat, convinced that there are burglars? Then you remember that she's known you since you were born, and is fully aware of your bizarre sleeping habits.

You make your way down the garden, suspended in a supernatural grey mist, like an alien land brought in to trick the unwary insomniac. This is not the garden that the sun went down on last night, for sure. Drips crash from the trees onto the ground below; even the grass is loud at 3:29am.

At least they are still there. You lift the lid. Little creatures scatter indignantly. You pick up one that hasn't run away, press it to your face and inhale the warm beeswax and hay smell until it starts to squeak for its mother. You kiss it gently, count its fellows, and return to its family. All present, all well, but all a little startled at being disturbed in the middle of the night.

You return to bed, and reassured, fall asleep. 3:33am

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lean closer, or they'll hear me.

Does anybody out there know anything about freaky nocturnal wasps? We're being plagued at our front door, by these horrible creatures, and only at night. It can't be right. No sign of 'em in the daytime whatsoever. And they're huge and scary-looking, and strangely impervious to ma-in-law's fifteen-year old squirty stuff.

The Boff reckons they're living in some part of our extensive atticking, but we don't hear a squeak from them at normal awake time for wasps.

Anybody out there a bit of an entomologist?

Update: Having nuked one unwise enough to sneak into the house*, I've since discovered that they're hornets, and are a good thing. They could be the reason we don't have many flies this year. Lucky us. I just hope they don't sting anyone

*It subsequently fell into the halogen lamp and exploded. Messy.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Egads and all things holy, is it Thursday afternoon already?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Sunny summer sunshine 

There's a deluge pouring out of the sky, and we've lit the first fire in the wood stove since April.

Will probably have to turn on the water boiler today as well, as the sun is unlikely to make enough of an appearance to do its job. Bah! Autumn really is on its way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The day I went to Bournemouth 

I suppose I really should tell this story, if only as a cautionary tale to anyone foolhardy enough to venture into England's Grey Pound capital.

I was on my way to Eastbourne you see, 200 miles along the southern coast from Exeter, to collect Dill from my mother, who'd just crossed the Channel with my abandoned (see previous post) sister and her children, and brought Dill back from her travels at the same time.

They were due to be in Eastbourne at 1pm, so I set off on the four hour drive at 9am, Sim map-reading at my side. All went swimmingly until we reached the outskirts of Bournemouth, where we should have taken the road that goes around the north of the town and joins up with the east road again.

Alas, we failed to take that road, and ended up staying on the main road we were on right into Bournemouth. Only not into the centre of Bournemouth, no no. That would be far too easy. Everything would be signposted from there.

No, we ended up on some godforsaken bypassy-type thing which passed a number of large shopping complexes, including one containing a B&Q Warehouse. We've been on the lookout for a particular barbecue since mid-July, but since they clear the shelves in July of summer things to make way for Christmas decorations, we hadn't been able to find one in our local B&Q since the weather turned nice.

"Look," say I, doing a U-turn at the next roundabout, "let's stop and see if they have one."

They have two, in fact. High up on a storage shelf, still wrapped in cling film. Possibly the last two left in Britain, since they "should", says shop lady, meaningfully passing the buck, "be down on the shop floor already". No amount of sweet-talk, however, can persuade them to shut the aisle and get them down with a fork-lift truck.

"Come back tomorrow", suggests shop lady in a friendly way.

"But I can't", I wail. "I need to fetch my daughter and I live two hours' drive away."

I wonder suddenly if I could pay for the damned thing before shutting time, and come to fetch it as soon as the doors shut at 9pm. The shop lady will ask the manager, and I'm to ring later in the afternoon.

So it is arranged. I speak to nice shop lady in the afternoon, after the rest of the epic drive to Eastbourne. I will go to the warehouse at about 8:30pm and pay for the barbecue, and pick it up at closing time.

Imagine if you will my smugness as I pull into the car park of a fish and chip shop on the outskirts of Bournemouth shortly before 8pm. I am Superwoman, with the organisational skills of Nicola Horlick. I will have a barbecue.

We buy the fish and chips, and decide to drive the short distance to B&Q before eating them.

And this is where the plan breaks down.

We never did find the damned B&Q. Or rather, we do find it, but only at 10:20opm, after wandering aimlessly around an area that would probably be welcomed into the seventh circle of hell, if anybody could be bothered to ask it, for nigh on 2 hours.

Even when we realised that we would not make it to the shop by the 9pm deadline, Bournemouth refused to loose its vicious little grip on us. If we'd wanted to go to Southampton (wrong direction), Ringwood (also wrong) or any one of the intangible little villages that make up the outskirts of this festering place, we would have been fine.

Sadly, we wanted to go West. Therein lay our mistake. We found no signs whatsoever to Dorchester (30 miles away, tops), to Poole (5 miles away), or to Plymouth or Exeter (both major towns less than 100 miles away). We meandered, sending out increasingly desperate calls to the Boff, who answered with a reassuring "see you soon" each time, but was no use whatsoever. The many locals whom we stopped seemed unsure how to direct us, flummoxed by their own geography.

Finally, I decided to follow signs to Wimborne (about 7 miles north of Bournemouth), on the grounds that we could not fail to pick up the right road. That is when we went past the B&Q, glinting malevolently in the over-enthusiastic car park lighting. Too late. 1 hour and 20 minutes too late, to be precise.

At Wimborne, we found signs to Dorchester, and reached home at midnight.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I hear my sister, aged 18 months, all blonde curls and flowery hand me downs. "No, I can't say 'bumble bee'!" (said perfectly, of course).

I picture my sister, naked in the bath aged 7, telling us all a story she'd made up, my father stage-whispering in the background how clever she was, and how far she'd go.

I remember my sister aged 15, sitting in our local in Cambridge, passing herself off for eighteen, weeks before setting off for southern France on a three-month archeological dig by herself.

I contemplate the succession of boyfriends from the time she starts university, mostly derailed products of neurotic middle-class homes, each with a problem of some description: she is collecting waifs and strays. She is so strong she knows she can part with some of it, and so innocent she imagines that her strength will help them.

I recall her complaining that boyfriends her age were too shallow, too boring.

Then a last one, so much out of the mould we knew it couldn't last: twenty years older than she, but friendly and down-to earth. He has fought hard, both in his life and in karate at which he is a black belt- she meets him while taking his self-defence classes in London. She has graduated, has a very good job, a flat and life seems to be going well for her.

We none of us expect it to last, but we are wrong. Apparently the lack of common interests is not a problem- he is another bit of a social case, but old enough to provide some interest for her. My sister begins to make excuses for him, to parrot the excuses he provides.

After a few years, a pregnancy, planned. Miscarriage ensues, and the foetus is much-lamented by all. A couple of years later, another pregnancy, successful this time, but the baby nearly dying shortly after his birth.

I see her now aged 31. She has two children, a partner who is often away, a ton of excuses which lose colour with each wash. She has a car which she can never drive, friends and family she can never visit, a house she can barely afford to heat.

Earlier this year, she discovered the hard way, the way you should never have to, that he was and had been cheating on her in just the same way he'd cheated on all the others.

She hammered out an uneasy truce on the kitchen table- he brought some sops to the debate. He would stay and look after the babies while she returned to the good job from which she'd been on parental break for four years.

Three months is all it took for him to crack up. Something inside his head snapped and he tried to strangle her. Twice. Both times she went back to him, against the advice of her colleagues, and without telling us.

Only last week, when he left her in France, taking her car and leaving her and the babies without transport back to England, did she seem to stop believing the excuses and regain resolve, a shadow of her former strength.

And now she has gone back to him. We can only hold our breath, and hope and wait.

*raaargh* (That was me, coming up, gasping for air, after a week without a keyboard, in case you were wondering)

Unsolicited advice of the dayweek: never, ever, mix lemon squash and keyboards. They just don't get along very well.

I'm going to have work like buggery to catch up with taking a week out. Still, the house has benefited from my enforced time away from the Internet.

I've painted walls while phoning family (due to ructions etc, as outlined in previous pathetic post).

I've killed cubits of bindweed using muscle power rather than glyphosate.

I've attempted to teach a reluctant Sim about meditation through weeding the gravel in very small squares, and ended having to teach mediation instead as he lost his temper with tiny defenceless plants.

I've thought a lot about my dissertation, and woken up in cold sweat about it many times over the course of the last week.

Mostly, I've marvelled at how much more I get done without a keyboard than with.

Monday, August 15, 2005

So, where the devil is she? I hear you cry.

Working *ahem*, that's where. If we want to go on holiday, I have to finish this damned thing by the end of the month.

Also, many ructions in my immediate family. Of which more anon.

Friday, August 12, 2005

It's 5am, I've been awake for nearly two hours, exhausted and bleary.

Conclusion: Not enough exercise. I've been slacking recently. Poor dog desperate for run in forest, but has to make do with multiple runs around garden. Also too much Devil Juice, aka coffee. Any more than one a day and I'm anybody's. I don't seem to build up a resistance to caffeine. Perhaps I am a slug.

Rant: I hate insomnia. I'm fed up with feeling tired all the time.

Solution: Make damn sure I take plenty of exercise every day.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

I procrastinated over the slash and burn of the tomato plants for too long, and now my potatoes are blighted as well. I spent some time yesterday digging up the tubers and putting them in my trug, so that we could eat them as soon as possible, consigning the leaves to a bonfire (note to self- need more petrol).

Later, over supper, I quizzed my two remaining children on their knowledge of the Irish potato famine.

Sim thought that the poor starving peasants should have set up cow-stealing collectives to rustle meat from the local squires, and hide them pronto in people's stomachs. He also reckoned you shouldn't ever grow only one crop.

Hen's suggestion was that they should have got themselves down to Kwiksave if they hadn't have a decent Sainsbury's nearby. I sometimes think I'm failing my middle child.

It was sobering to think that if my hobby potato farming failed completely, I do not care because the cheerful Riverford Organics delivery man is coming on Friday with all my fruit, vegetables and meat for the week.

It is even more sobering to think that millions of people in the world right now live a hand-to-mouth existence like those 19th century Irish peasants, and that if their crop fails, either through drought or insects or both, then they have no fail-safe, no safety net, no family or shelter to turn to, because everyuone else will be in the same boat.

Meanwhile, we privileged few have three times more than enough food for everyone. I am privileged because I will almost certainly never see any of my children from hunger. I can afford to neglect my potato harvest, and laugh about it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Just to prove that we're not all eccentric here in England... Some of the eccentric people are Welsh.

About two years ago, our university friend Tall Welsh Git, known widely for his published biography of Richard Burton in Welsh (please buy a few copies) was striding upon the Pelopponese (SP?) when he chanced upon a lonely walnut tree. The tree was groaning under the weight of walnuts, which TWG plucked and filled his pockets er...with. (don't you just hate that kind of sentence construction?)

Having consumed most of them during the course of the walk, he was left with one, which stayed as a kind of memento/ keepsake in the bottom of his pocket, and was still there when he got back to sunny Cardiff.

What else could he do? He could not now eat the orphan he'd so cruelly dragged away from its native sunshine. The only solution was to plant it. Which he did, lavishing every care and attention on the little seedling as it emerged.

Some eighteen months later, 'Nutty', as he became christened during a flurry of emails about his fate, stood at an impressive 18 inches tall, possessed a fine mantle of glossy green leaves (testament to TWG's excellent care) and needed to spread his roots further than the confines of his pot.

TWG asked if we might consider fostering Nutty, and safely bring him to adulthood in the good red Devon soil. We were delighted to accept, and so it was that last weekend an Official Transfer Ceremony was held.

TWG, who is becoming a veritable Johnny Appleseed of Wales, had brought along some little oaks he'd also been nurturing as compensation for the several long-distance air trips he will be taking in the next few months. The oaks were called John (Noakes) and Gemma (Nye). Along for the ride, hoping to gain a place in nearby Ashclyst Forest, were Arthur and Lesley Ash(e).

So we spent most of last weekend planting trees and drinking their health, with she being frog-marched far into the forest to the Ash(e)s final restingdwelling place for the short planting ceremony.

Unfortunately, we'd used up all the batteries on John, Gemma and Nutty, so there are at present no photos of Arthur and Lesley- I just hope a deer doesn't eat them before I've had time to go up and snap them. (yes, figuratively!) I'm rather hoping that she will go up the forest with me on Friday to take their photo.

And that is all I have to say 'bout that.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I don't normally believe in fate, destiny and other such things.

However, as the flight from Toronto passed over the house a few moments ago, above my dog, slumbering in the sunshine on the front step, it suddenly occurred to me that as we landed in Exeter on the 17th of August last year, virtally at the very moment we touched down, across the other side of town, some people were taking their beautiful labrador dog on a one way ride to the RSPCA.

And there he waited until a week later, he released for adoption that very morning, a jet-lagged woman and three children arrived at the kennels nestled in the shelter of a small valley, on a chicken pretext, and thought to ask in passing if there were any labrador type dogs available.

He stared out at us. All around him, often-disappointed hounds bayed through the wire. Not him. He looked, he wagged his tail, his lumpy body swaying in rhythm. We were smitten. He was ours. He was perfect.

He is still perfect, nearly one year on. He is less lumpy now, and knows how to run, break through hedges and chase things. He does not bark. He is still the same lovely personality.

We can't imagine how those people could have dumped him as we arrived back in the UK. They must have left him for us.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Object lessons 

Yesterday we had Mammalian Birth, in all its gory, placenta-consuming detail.

Today we had Butter.

Sim and Hen have mostly been cooking today. The first batch of profiteroles was a bit of a tough, unrisen disaster, but a different recipe book was consulted, and another load got underway, looking promising.

Flushed with success, Sim decided to beat some *highly expensive Riverford Organics* double cream for filling the profiteroles.

"Mummy, can I use the Kenwood to do this?", he called.

"Of course", replies fond Mama -or should that be Relieved-because-she-is not-having-to-help Mama?

Sounds of whirring food mixer.

"Oh", cries Sim amazed. "It's gone like butter".

"Yes, you fool", replies Not-so-fond-Mama, entering the kitchen. "That's because it is butter."

He'd used the pastry hook instead of the whisk.

"Ah, yes", rationalises Sim, watching the butter gradually shedding the buttermilk as it whizzes the bowl. "It's going around like the planets around the sun. That's far too much beating. But it's very nice butter."

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Young Lola brought forth three little piggies at lunchtime. No wonder she was so huge- the babies are very large for triplets, certainly already bigger than the ones born on Monday.

She looks a little careworn already, poor creature, especially since she is more maternal than her sister and seems to be pig-sitting Thelma's infants as well.

I rather suspect the babies will feed from whomever is nearest, and hope that it isn't Lola every time- 7 babies would be quite a handful.

Picture later when the man gets home to take them.

July and August are usually pretty fraught times of the year in our family. Not because the the children are off school, but because the Boff suffers from terrible, divorce-inducing allergies for about ten weeks of the year.

Now before anyone tells me I'm being callous, and didn't it say in the small print something about looking after each other no matter what, I should point out that at no time did I promise to love and honour the grumpy Mr Hyde that he becomes for a 1/6th of the year.

The illness itself is rather nasty for the poor man- the classic hayfever symptoms, plus asthma plus extreme tiredness, accompanied by a complete inability to sleep through the night on account of the choking sensations. This has been going on for thirteen years, staring reliably at the beginning of July and ending some time in early Septmeber.

Conventional medicine's response has been classically ineffective at dealing with it, doping him to the eyeballs with anti-histaminesa nd puffing his lungs full of noxious steroids without once pausing to wonder why he is sick.

He has tried acupuncture in the past, but with few clues as to what causes the allergy in the first place, it is difficult to know whether or not the ensuing lessening of symptoms was a result or a coincidence. We never found the right remedy in homeopathy, so it remained ineffective for us.

The last two summers, marooned (in a nice way) as we were in North America, have been eye-opening, since he was almost entirely symptom-free throughout both summers. In fact, since we travelled to Canada on July 14th, 2003, his symptoms having begun quite early that month, the total disappearance of them within two days or so led us to believe that whatever it was that causes it, there is less of it in Canada.

As a teenager, he was tested for allergies (eczema at the time- he comes from an atopic family and was breast-fed for only a month, before being weaned on scrambled eggs-yes, the medical profession really knew their stuff in the late 60s and early 70s).

All they revealed was a sensitivity to fungus, and possibly to tree pollen. We hadn't thought much of them until The Boff drank deeply from his first pint of proper beer in over a year, in August last year, and promptly erupted in sneezes and snot, his illness hitting him in a split seccond in a pub in Exeter, completely out of the blue.

This year, we're being crafty. He is avoiding funguses, on a trial basis designed to work out whether the medics were right about them in his tests*. Avoiding fungus sounds easy, but it's not quite as simple cuttng out garlic mushrooms at breakfast.

Breakfast now comprises of soda bread** (yeast is a fungus), very fresh jam (beware mould growing on it), honey (nothing could grow in that, surely?). Lunch is a wrap or potato, no cheese, no salami, both of which are riddled with funguses. He may not drink beer or wine, nor ginger beer. Supper- I confess that I forgot the other day and put mushrooms in the supper, with poor results. We run the dehumidifier full-time to cut down on air-borne fungus indoors.

All of this does seem to be working at the moment, but I'm at a loss to understand why. After all, there must be funguses in the air all year round, dehumidifier or no. Why does the Boff only have these extreme symptoms in the summer? And if this restrictive approach is working, why would dietary funguses push him over the edge from well extremely unwell only in the summer? If anybody has any ideas, I would be glad to hear them.

In the meantime, we're quietly pleased that he has not had to have any puffs of his steroid inhaler recently, and that he is generally managing his illness without medication.

*Luckily, being a scientist, he is very happy about being experimented upon. I wouldn't like to try this on an already grumpy non-scientist.
**Which incidentally is so quick and easy to make that even I can produce it before breakfast. If I get up before the Boff leaves for work, which is not happening at the moment.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

As I waved bye-bye to our elderly fridge freezer today- 26 years old seem to be the family consensus, I felt more than a a pang of regret at dumping an old friend who'd just become a little unreliable in her dotage.

The delivery guy remarked that you'd be very lucky indeed to get 26 years from a modern appliance- some kind of built-in obsolescence, he said, makes them pack in after about five years. Our new one might last ten years if we were lucky.

The main reason we decided to dump the old lady, apart from our weariness at never being able to keep the salad in a usable condition, was that appliances consume so much less power these days, that replacing the old dame would actually save us money in the medium term.

We reckoned that we would probably recoup the cost of the new fridge in about three years, just in electricity savings, bearing in mind that the new fridge-freezer will make another old freezer redundant as well.*

With appliances such as fridges that run all the time, this is a very important aspect for us. Forget about design (although we did end up with a rather fetching-looking thing *simper simper*)- saving that much electricity meant waving bye-bye to the hormonal old cow a lot easier.

*Ma in law went through a phase of offering sanctuary to any appliance being donated by friends and colleagues, with the obvious result, after the dumping charge was introduced, that we ended up the owners of three separate cooling appliances.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

How cute? The orange one is the boy.

Thelma the guinea pig gave birth during the night to her second and final clutch of piggies- four this time- three sows and one boar. The only boy is the spitting image of his father, so we're calling him Rogertoo for the time being. Thelma, who is a slight young lady when not preggers, measured 37cm in girth yesterday evening, so I'm sure she is very relieved this morning. Her sister Lola, at 32cm around, is not far behind in her pregnancy, so we expect her to produce two babies very soon.

Here, for comparison's sake, a picture of the new babies with their brother born on May 10th, whose baby photo is to be found here.

Monday, August 01, 2005

And to cap it all, my tomatoes have the blight and are keeling over faster than I can work out if they're worth trying to save or not. Bloody English summers.

Little Dill left two hours ago with Mélisande, for a fortnight in France. It's the first time my last child has been away by herself, and I'm a lot more worried about it than she is.

I've no idea why I'm so neurotic about her in particular- the boy had been away by himself for two months by the time he was 7; he somehow seemed so much more grown-up, although I suspect he wasn't.

The child's fine- her plane landed 30 minutes ago and she just rang from the car.

Every time one of them leaves me, I feel happy that they're becoming independent, and desperately sad that they don't need me as much any more.

I think I'll just go and lie down with a book and feel sorry for myself.

Masklin clenched his fists. "I'll never be well-prepared! I was born in a hole, Thing! A muddy hole in the ground! How can I ever be well prepared for anything? That's what being alive is, Thing! It's being badly prepared for everything. Because you only get one chance, Thing! You get only one chance and then you die and they don't let you go round again after you've got the hang of it! Do you understand, Thing! So we'll try it now!"
The lights formed a spiral.
"You're learning fast", said the Thing.

From Diggers- Terry Pratchett

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