Mothering Sunday

If my Mom (and Dad – they came as a pair) were around, tomorrow I’d be going to their house for a sumptuous Sunday roast to mark Mothering Sunday. I could have cooked of course, but my Mom much preferred being in her own home. I’d have got her a card, of course, and some thoughtfully chosen presents. She was always delighted to be given presents, but what she really liked was looking at the card you’d chosen and the words you’d written inside.

She kept all those cards over all those years, as well as the cards she and my Dad exchanged over the years. Both sets are precious in different ways and, being born to a family of hoarders, of course I’ve kept them. In their cards to each other, you can see the passion and love settle into contentment, in jokes and general joy. My cards, on the other hand, don’t seem to display much understanding, gratitude and real love until I was in my 20s. By my 30s, I appreciated my Mom and Dad a damn sight more and didn’t hold back in saying so.

Tomorrow marks the sixth Mothering Sunday I haven’t had my Mom to fuss over. I’ll take flowers to the cemetery tomorrow, because that’s what we do. My Mom really isn’t there though; not for me. She’s there when I cook a Sunday roast, telling me to separate the beef essence from the fat, she’s there telling me the best place to plant bulbs in the garden and she’s there telling me that ironing is for bored people.

And I remember how she got so fired up playing Eco the Dolphin on my mega drive, her cigarette fell out of the ashtray and she didn’t (immediately) notice that it burned a hole in my duvet cover. I didn’t know for a few days, since she’d turned the duvet over to hide her transgression. When confronted with her crime, she dutifully owned up and said she’d intended to fix it before I found out.

She never did repair it and I didn’t care. It was just a duvet cover after all. My Mom would never have phrased it this way, but she was never one to worry about the small shit. All she cared about was making sure her family was well fed and happy. She did that in spades.

So on to tomorrow. if you still have your Mom/Mum, don’t tell us online numpties you love her, because we’re not interested. Get off your arse and tell her.


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Stormy night in King’s Cross

Ooh. Just found a draft blog post that I didn’t get round to posting. Bit behind the times now, but shush, still free.

In 1987, I was on my “sandwich” year of a four year Town Planning degree course, ostensibly undertaking research for a much published professor who I won’t name in case he reads this and comments on how idle and useless I was. Anyway, the Profs were holding a bit of a high brow learned type beano one night not long after I started my stint and I invited my bezzie mate Maz along to hold my hand through all the polite sherry sipping etc.  It didn’t last too long and so, sweet with sherry I’d purloined and sneaked back to my office, we then took off to King’s Cross, where my mate Ali was working in a gay pub/club,  the Bell, at Kings Cross.

I should say that I was only 20, and although I’d met and befriended some gay guys at college by then, I was still as green as could be. And I came from Walsall, so it wasn’t like I was hugely au fait with the gay scene. For younger readers, note that being gay in Walsall in the 80s probably wasn’t something to shout about.

We had a totally storming night in that place. Ali was a great host. We were completely accepted with no questions asked. Well… when I was queueing for the loo one pissed up queen did ask me if I was a floating dyke. It’s taken me 20 odd years to wonder if I should have been offended. I still don’t know, but I doubt it. Lager on top of the Profs’ sherry made us become total idiots when “Dancing Queen” and other classics were played and we danced like total loons until we were completely knackered and decided to get a taxi to Maz’ place in Hackney.  It was probably about 3am by then.

With the pub/club being just about opposite Kings Cross, getting a cab over the road wouldn’t be a problem we thought. It was raining so I got my brolly out. Man though, it was really, REALLY windy, so I gave up and put it away. We got a cab and dropped into our beds and slept like the drunken sods we were. I needed the loo in the night. I tripped over someone in a sleeping bag on the floor by my bed (still wonder who that was) then got to the hall and hit the light switch. NADA. Oh well, feel your way time and then back to bed, stepping over the person in the sleeping bag in the exaggeratedly careful way a drunk person does.

We woke around noon the next day. Maz’ flatmate either called us or came back (can’t remember) to say she and the person in the sleeping bag couldn’t get to college what with all the roads closed due to fallen trees. Eh? That was why the electricity was off. That was the night of the infamous hurricane when Sevenoaks became two oaks, or whatever. Me? I thought it was rather windy then went to sleep.

I never can tell a short story. In a dubious segue, I suspect this is because I was raised as a Roman Catholic and was duly trained to make a full confession. So, onto what I really want to blather about – marriages for gay people, since its in the news.

I get a little irritated with people wanting to get married in a church when they’ve not set foot in a church since the last wedding or funeral. Maybe they want the pomp and circumstance, or the nice photos, I dunno. I’ve never felt the urge to get wed, but if I had, I know Catholic guilt would have made me discount a church wedding. It might sound daft, but I do appreciate where the Catholics etc are coming from. If you don’t believe in God and all the rest of it, why get married in church?

The argument of the day is around, as I understand it, whether gay marriage, rather than Civil Partnerships, should be made lawful.  My gut instinct is YES, of course it bloody should. But then we maybe need to look at the religious side of things. I struggle with this. I’m not religious. I can’t get my head around why people would want to be part of a movement (yes, I’ll call it that) that thinks a same sex relationship way of life is sinful.

Why can’t people who love each other just be able to marry?


The text above is a blog post I drafted a year or so ago and. for whatever reason, decided against publishing. I’ll guess I was watching BBC Question Time or maybe Newsnight; something clearly wound me up.

I’m hugely chuffed that gay couples are going to be able to get married now. Civil partnerships were always a bit meh to me. I still feel for gay people who have faith, of whatever kind though. I feel for them, but wonder why they want to be part of a club that doesn’t accept them. I don’t have their  faith though, so I can’t walk in their shoes.

Huge DING DONG and woo hoo hoo for all the gay couples getting married tomorrow and onwards.

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Choosing where to live

I may well have ranted about this previously. Sue me, I’m not a librarian, I’m too lazy to look back, this rant is all yours for free and damn it, it stands saying twice.

  1. Don’t buy a house next to an alleyway/public right of way. People wee in them, PEOPLE crap in them even. Yes, I know, but believe me, they do. People have noisy drunken sex in them. In some places its probably not even drunken sex. It probably isn’t even good sex. People jack up in them and leave sharps behind. Dogs crap in them and their owners walk blithely on, trusting that they’re hidden by the fences either side and so don’t need to pick it up. Sometimes, piles of grass cuttings appear; I wonder where from? People drop drinks cans, kebabs they can’t finish and all matter of other crap that will keep the local foxes (even the wild ones) and rats happy. You may get burgled too btw. The worst thing though, and this is unconscionable, is that BLOODY WALKERS will have the temerity to want to use the alleyway/public right of way.
  2. Don’t buy a house with a bus shelter outside. Well. For a start, you’ll have people wanting to catch a bus hanging round outside your house. Yes, they’re thoughtless and should just get a car, but let’s move on. This is outrageous really, but buses will come to a halt by bus shelters to pick up passengers. This is nothing to do with convenience for passengers, oh no. The bus company has chosen that particular spot because they know that you don’t realise net curtains are see-through when you have the lights on in your bedroom as you’ve wandered in from the shower. You should complain. Hell, it’s easier than closing your curtains. Oh and people will probably talk to each other whilst in the shelter; you could report this as anti-social behaviour.
  3. Don’t buy a house by a school. Well, I suppose you can be forgiven if the school is decent and you want to get your kid in by postcode. If not though, you won’t appreciate the litter, from both the parents and the children, the dreadfully  inconsiderate parking of the parents (and we wonder why our kids are porkers) and the noise the little sods make whenever they’re outside.
  4. I’m pretty sure now that I have ranted about all this previously. I’m sorry. I’m way too idle to check though, so I’ll carry on and if any of you can be arsed, you can see if my rant is consistent.
  5. Don’t buy a house with a drive lower than the road or a cellar at about the same level as the road.  Very rarely, there may be a LOT OF RAIN, because this is the UK. It could be or . Yeah, I know, lots of science and formulae and so on. It is heavy stuff. In short, sometimes it rains a lot and the sewers weren’t designed for such downpours; be prepared. By ‘be prepared’ I mean get a yard gulley installed or umm …put your wellies on.
  6. Don’t buy a house with a tree in the footway outside it. You’ll love it when you first view the house. “Isn’t it lovely and leafy?” you’ll say. Then you move in and notice that your car is awfully sticky and horrid from the secretions of the aphids having a ball living in the lime tree outside your house. Tsk, the council should chop it down. What, the council won’t chop it down because they think the tree is important to the visual and environmental amenity of the area?  Oh no, you can’t get a satellite TV signal because of the 80 year old tree in your street? I’m no tree hugger, but just shush and get Cable TV instead.
  7. Don’t buy a house in a terraced street if you feel you have a Divine Right to park outside your house. This is the path to misery. Buy such a house and just be grateful if you get to park in your own street. And if you live in a one way street, please learn to execute reversing in quickly, as people aren’t patient. A resident in my street has a plastic pig older than Del Boy’s; it’s an absolute bugger to reverse up to.
  8. Don’t buy a house with a street light outside if you consider (a) voile curtains don’t make whatever you’re doing in there visible to everyone and (b) you can’t sleep with the light on.
  9. Don’t buy a house in a cul-de-sac or minor estate road if you’re desperate to see a gritting wagon pass by. They generally won’t pass by, because they’re busy keeping the main roads as clear as possible. The idea is that, once you get to a main road, you can get somewhere.
  10. Don’t expect a parking space if you buy a house with no off-street parking. Yeah, I know, revisiting number 7 a bit, but it felt odd to end on number 9.  To make it different then, I’ll dedicate this one to residents’ only parking schemes. Weirdly, if you want traffic wardens to visit and check people aren’t parking in your street who shouldn’t be, they’ll want paying, so it costs. Are you paying full whack for this service? No, you’re not. The rest of us are subsidising it. 
  11. Don’t buy a house next to a park or public open space. I thought I was done at number 9, but I’ve had a second wind. See, people want to visit parks and open spaces. They want to take their kids there, their dogs there, they want to play football of a Sunday morning. Selfish, noisy bastards. You think you’ve bought a house with a lovely view, next to a beautiful park, then all these noisy gits show up to enjoy their local space. You should definitely complain about it.
  12. Don’t buy an apartment with no parking space allocated if you have a car. Because there is no parking space allocated for your car.

And breathe…

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#UK storms – Tywyn

Amidst all the media coverage of storms and floods in the UK over the last week, and the usual media focus on a vulnerable soul trapped in a lonely cottage – this time a lady called Anne-Marie and Elvis, her Yorkshire terrier – it would perhaps have been easy to have paid scant attention to the havoc wrought upon a number of Welsh seaside villages.

Take Tywyn for instance. A wee place of little significance in many ways, but a place I’ve come to love over the last few years, having taken several holidays there with my gorgeous Cassie-dog, who was sadly put to sleep just before Christmas.

As a bit of a net-head, as my brother calls me, I’m an avid user of both facebook and twitter. On these sites, I was in turn horrified, humbled and fascinated at the sheer force of nature at work via videos and photographs captured by people who were probably chancing it. I was then even more fascinated (yes, in a sad engineer type of way) at what was left behind, but more so, I was entranced by what the storms had uncovered. Have you not seen? I’m guessing not, since its been news to everyone I’ve mentioned it to today.

Generally, take a look at - some amazing stuff, so fill yer boots.

But when you get to the photos like this and this well…oh wow! All those walks I’ve been on along that beach and I had no idea an ancient forest and peat cutting sites were just feet below me.

Here’s the Prom I have pix of Cass paws up and ready to jump here. Hard to imagine the sea being so violent.

And then there’s the train

I’ve read differing reports that the beach has lost a depth of between 3 to 6′.  Looks like it ended up in Aberystwyth and note the bollards If i lived in the house nearest to the sea here, I think I’d be nervous. Proud that the bin stands up to the assault though.

And then we whine about puddles on the roads.

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Cassie has left the park

I had to have Cassie-doodle put to sleep today.

6-9-13 008I’d been concerned about her for some time . I felt like she was a ticking time bomb and worried over her and watched her incessantly. And I got REALLY annoyed by people who said, in a well meaning way, “I’m sure she’ll be fine”.  I’m sure I mentioned that her kidneys were crocked?

Well, they were a bit right, but I was more right to be concerned. They were a bit right because, since the episode I’ve linked to above, she had a fine time, with lots of walks, lots of fuss and much tail wagging. Sadly, I was more right. She, really wasn’t ‘right’ for the last few weeks. She started getting very picky with her food, was quite subdued unless out walking or I was playing with her, and, on the evening walk, would turn round for home after doing her business. If you’re not a dog person, trust me on this – border collies are like Duracell batteries claim to be. I tried her on different food, which worked for a few weeks, although she was eating less. I could feel her shoulder blade dig into me when she snuggled up. The last week, I could feel her spine quite markedly when stroking her. I knew she wasn’t right.

Soggy dog

Soggy dog

So I tried buying chicken breasts and cooking them up for her, served all chopped up with some freshly cooked rice. Oh hello, she seemed to like that. I was so relieved. But that only lasted for a few days. This morning she ate some of a dental chew, which really pleased me. We went for a walk and she was fine – even broke into a canter now and then. An hour later I offered her some chicken. She sniffed it briefly and gave me a look that said “I’d like to, but I can’t”. That was worrying.

It wasn’t long after that that I had a call from the vet’s. She was booked in for this afternoon, but the vet, on reading her history and latest symptoms, was very concerned and asked if I could bring her in more quickly. We were there 10 minutes later. I was shaking and dry heaving whilst we sat waiting for the vet to finish an op. Cassie alternated her time (on the extendable lead) by wandering to the door and looking hopeful, and sitting and leaning against me and doing some serious nose-nudging.

I had to leave her there whilst they did blood tests, an ultra sound scan and so on, to see what was going on with her kidneys and to see if she had a pyometra (serious womb infection). Coming home alone felt weird and I rattled around doing not very much for an hour or so. It was about 12.30 or so by then. I was feeling both starving hungry and sick as a dog and thought some toast might go down OK. I’d taken about 3 bites of it when the vet rang and told me “we’ve done all the tests and I’m so sorry, but it isn’t good news”.  Needless to say, the toast got pushed aside.

Trying to look vicious. I think the stick bought it.

Trying to look vicious. I think the stick bought it.

So what was wrong with my beautiful doodle-dog? Well, her kidneys were absolutely knackered for a start. The vets measure functionality with a score of 1 to 4, with 4 being really bad. That score consists of three components, of which Cassie was so far above 4  on two of them that they couldn’t actually get a reading. Her red blood cells were very low too.  My head’s fried. I can’t remember if this was the same thing, but she was very anaemic. From the ultra sound scan, there was what the vet called a “structure” in her abdomen. This was probably a tumour, but of course she couldn’t confirm this without opening her up and taking a look. And of course she couldn’t open her up and take a look because of the condition of her kidneys and the effect anaesthetic has when kidneys aren’t working properly. And then, as the vet gently explained to me, there’s the danger of the tumour (if it is one – and i think we both knew she was trying to hint she was sure it was) would have a massive bleed out. “I’m so sorry” she said, “but I think we’re at decision time”.


Cassie – the day I decided to have her

The vet then talked about how dogs love to please and how busy, intelligent dogs like border collies doubly like to please. What she really meant of course was that she thought Cass was suffering now and could suffer much more if I delayed. She went on to recommend euthanasia within no later than 48 hours.  You can perhaps imagine my shock; we were talking about the dog who’d been happily ambling over the field not three hours prior to this telephone conversation.

Fishing pool, with dog being shouted at

Fishing pool, with dog being shouted at

At such times, I totally trust vets. I strongly believe there’s no way a vet would recommend having your pet put to sleep if they thought it had a decent chance at a happy healthy life. So, I made the choice, over the phone, then had a horrid wait of nearly two hours to go back and spend some time with Cass before the deed was done. It was a long two hours and I felt so, so sick.

On the way there, I stopped off to get some milk. Weird? I won’t have enough for all the cups of tea I’ll be drinking tomorrow and, for the first time since 29 April 2011, I won’t be going out tomorrow. Especially not with these eyes.

The staff at the vet’s were lovely. The receptionist seemed a bit confused when I asked to pay in advance as I “will want to just go afterwards”. “That’ll be £223 and you’ll need to bring her back in three days for her post-op check” she said. My face must have been an absolute picture. She was very apologetic.

It looks like she's skidding downhill on her jacksy, but she's just lying down enjoying the view. Honest.

It looks like she’s skidding downhill on her jacksy, but she’s just lying down enjoying the view. Honest.

They brought Cass in to me in a consulting room and left us alone. The vet offered me a chair. I said I’d rather sit on the floor so she asked if I’d like a blanket. I didn’t need one – Cassie wouldn’t use the expensive bed I bought for her after all – but still, thoughtful to offer. We had a lovely 10 minutes or so. Cass came and landed on me and had some belly tickles. I cried a bit and she licked my face. Then more belly tickles. It can’t go on though. You have to let them know that you’re ready. Ready? I’m not ready now and it happened  4+ hours ago.

I picked Cass up and put her on the table, her head to my left. She leaned heavily on me. The vet gently shaved a little bit of her leg and Cass turned her head over into my right shoulder, so her muzzle was against my neck. I held her tight, whispered rubbish in her ear and kissed her. It was only moments before she was gone and I laid her down on the table. She looked as adorable as ever and very sleepy. Turning around and leaving her was more painful than I can articulate.

Many of you reading this will know that Cass was a rescue dog. I didn’t rescue her though; we rescued each other.

Huge thanks to all of the lovely people who’ve sent me condolences via twitter, facebook, email and text messages. I’m very touched. Either you love me, thought she was an ace dog, or maybe both.

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Cogitation, cogitation, cogitation

This is just a bit of nonsense really. Call it my curious mind if you like.

At about 6pm last night, Alison, a member of the Creative Development team (they’re the folk who do community art/dance/performance projects, and MUCH more) couldn’t remember how to log out of her work phone. We all have the same phones now so I looked at mine and said “press, the button on the left; the one with a cog on it”.  There was a brief silence and then she said “oh, you mean the one with the flower on it”.  At this point, my boss hooted with laughter and, turning away from his computer, held out his arms and said “behold… the engineer and the artist”.


It was funny and we all laughed, but it did pique my interest. To me, you see, it was blindingly obvious that it was a cog and, because it was blindingly obvious to me surely it should be blindingly obvious to everyone else? So, in odd bits of time today I did a bit of empirical research to satisfy my curiosity. Surely identifying the object couldn’t be down to profession?

The first two people I saw at work today were Deb and Sharon, also from the Creative Development team (CDT). On asking them what the object on the button was, they sang out in unison “a flower”. Hmm. Then I asked Donna, my boss’ PA, who declared it to be a daisy wheel. Interesting, if you’re old enough to know what that is. And yes, she would have been learning to type circa 1983. Over to Ally, who has worked for a long time with the leisure and creative types; she had no hesitation in declaring it to be a flower.

At this point, someone piped up that it could be a male/female thing.  Oooh interesting. This guy doesn’t use social media though, so he hadn’t reckoned on the geeks, who added a new dimension. The Belbin Team Inventory, if I’d been ticking boxes, would really have been shaping up by now.

So over the course of the day, whilst waiting to talk to people on the phone, plans to load on-screen etc, I did a trawl around ‘the engineers’. I use the term loosely because some aren’t engineers, but local gov being what it is, find themselves shoehorned into a department. And yes, the majority were male. I asked them to write their answer down so the person at the next desk wouldn’t hear. Whilst around 90% went for cog, or an approximation thereof (I’ll come back to this), I was bemused when one wrote ‘flower’. I won’t name and shame him (tempting as it is) since he then said ‘”I’d have written cog but my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember how to spell it”. This caused considerable mirth and leg pulling. The consensus was that his mate would find this hilarious when he came back in from site. However on asking said colleague at lunchtime, he immediately wrote down ‘cog’, then turned to me with the face of an innocent choirboy, and said “but it does look like a flower”. The CDT folk were thrilled that we apparently have some creative engineers.

I couldn’t help but note that, whilst up for humouring me and having a go, many seemed disbelieving that there wasn’t a right or wrong answer. These guys clearly like problem-solving, or maybe they’re just fiercely competitive.

Then I threw it out to Twitter. Straight away, I had two responses saying ‘settings’. I could perhaps have been clearer in my tweet and said “what object does the image on the button look like?” rather than “what does the button on the left look like to you?”. Interesting though that these folk homed in on the meaning of the symbol rather than what the symbol looked like. When I re-phrased the question, they both quickly came back with ‘cog’. And then there was the deliciously quirky Cat, who tweeted ‘a fudge wheel’. When I asked what that was, the disarming response was “a shoemaking tool. Doesn’t everyone have one?!”

Later in the day, I was over by the structural engineers trying to find out some info to answer an enquiry that had come in, so they were fair game too. One tried to insist he couldn’t write, but I was having none of it. To his credit, he wasn’t one whit abashed that he’d written ‘star’; he wasn’t the first. Not that it was a competition of course, but if it were, then I could report that his two colleagues went for ‘cog’.

Back home this evening, I put another call out on Twitter. Again, there were a few first calls of ‘settings’ until I specified I was after what object the image looked like. And again, these people immediately came back with ‘cog’. There was also mention of sphincter, a cat’s bum and what an 18th century ploughman had to look at all day. Gentlemen, I’ve known some proper arses in my life, and I can assure you none looked like that.

Looking now at some of the more detailed responses, there were people who couldn’t content themselves with just using ‘cog’, which I’m assuming (sue me, I’m not a mechanical engineer) is a pretty generic term; these people had to be more specific and chucked in sprockets and maybe a bit of torque. It’s no coincidence that I call one of these guys ‘mad scientist’. Shush, he likes it. I understand that need to be precise though; it is, after all, why I’m forever telling people that the thing you walk on next to the road is the footway and not the pavement or the footpath. Some of us are just buggers for detail and can’t bear that other people may not be entirely clear what we mean. Yeah and if you’re familiar with the Belbin thing, I’m apparently a monitor-evaluator.

And then there are the people who answered ‘cog’ and further qualified this by explaining that its the universal symbol for ‘settings’. I can understand this too I think; sometimes we think the person asking a question hasn’t been sufficiently clear what it is they want to know or why and so we try to cover all the bases.

I don’t know whether to be ashamed or not that I know full well what the symbol means on my phone or my PC browser but just saw it as a cog on the work landline. I’m clearly not destined for geekery.

It was a fun experiment and probably useful too if I look at it in terms of communications, which, after all, is pretty important to what I do for money. So what did I learn?

  1. Be very, very clear what you want to know when you pose a question
  2. Some people will give you more information than you asked for if you let them. This is why we should ask people who know what they’re doing to help us when we consult.
  3. Some people will do exactly what you ask and not question why you’re asking (lovely people)
  4. Some people will be suspicious and want to know why and what for; they won’t be honest unless they’re happy with why they’re being asked the question and, importantly, what will be done with the responses. Can’t argue with this; I’m one of them.
  5. If I can’t get colleagues I’ve known for 20 years to answer a simple bloody question with no agenda, why would anyone think public consultation is easily done?
  6. Some people are just ‘out there’ and should be celebrated for being delightfully weird

ps The answer from @hapdaniel was “ (or a cog)”. Bless him. Always the unexpected late entry.

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Five years

Five years ago today, at the time I’m starting to type this, my dear and incomparable Mom slipped away from us, just minutes before Dad and I got to the Manor Hospital after a frantic call. It was a harrowing night. My uncles Alan. Colin and Brian – Mom’s brothers, met us on the ward, so they could say their goodbyes too.

Even if you suspect its going to happen, I don’t think anything can prepare you for the death of a much loved parent, who was so much a part of your life. Losing my Mom was, and is still, so very painful I can’t begin to articulate it. If i was reeling though, my poor old Dad had truly lost his life’s anchor. He was lost. He was raised in an age where men were miners and ‘real men don’t cry’.

Understandably, Dad lost some of his composure on that sad night. Who wouldn’t have? After that though, he tried so hard to rein it in. Men of his age and upbringing just didn’t do crying in public.  Those of you who know me know what happened next with Dad :-(

So, five years on since Mom died. I could sit here crying (yep, I am) but I’m also sitting here thinking wasn’t I bloody blessed to have such utterly fabulous parents?

If you never had the pleasure, take it from me, they rocked. And then some.

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