3 June

On Sunday morning Ads brought me a cup of tea in bed, and a story for a birthday card. The story was called ‘Diary of a Superman’, and was one of the funniest things he’s ever written. It contained seven short chapters one for each day of the week, and he explained to me that the first couple of days were not arc stories, but that the last few days were all arc - this is a reference to the way that the ‘Babylon 5’ stories are written with some episodes self-contained and some carrying important plot developments for the overall five-season arc. There were a few spelling mistakes, but on the whole it was very nicely written, with good grammar and a composed, rather than scattered, plot. Later in the day, B was in stitches when I read it to her.

B came over for breakfast, and then I opened a few presents - a cactus from Ads, some shrubs and a pocket radio from B. Somehow we got involved in a debate/semi-argument on whether A and B should have a pet. B has apparently put down a casual order somewhere for a kitten, but I feel strongly that they shouldn’t have an animal. I am against pets in principle, because they are no more than living toys for most people. I have absolutely nothing against animals being used for significant purposes - I think, for example, my mother NEEDS a dog, it keeps her company and obliges her to go out to the park regularly. I think, sometimes in some cases, a pet could be important for an under-privileged child, where he or she had a problem with responsibility or have nothing to care for or to be cared by. In other words, I am looking for a positive reason to have an animal as a pet. I can’t see this positive reason in the case of A and B. I have a kind of moral/philosophical argument against the idea. But there are also good practical points against him having a pet: notably that we do not have a central core family place, as almost all families do, and that Ads is not at B’s house half the week or more, and neither is B. So the cat would become rather disoriented and would probably find other houses/people to befriend in the absence of someone at Yalta half the time. It might follow Ads over to here, and get run over on the Thursley Road. It would also mean Adam having to traipse backwards and forwards from here to Yalta even more that at present. And, then, there is the fact that, to this day, Ads has still not been able to remember any one thing on a regular basis, like tidying his room or watering his garden plot (I don’t give him one any more because he doesn’t do anything with it). It’s a stupid idea, but neither B or A would bend to any of my reasoning.

Later in the morning we drove over to Hascombe, and went for a lovely walk by some hills there, which reminded me slightly of the South Downs. The wind blew wildly at the cusp of the hill, but it was almost muggy in the lee of the hill. We got somewhat lost on the way back - and thereby missing the pub lunch we had planned - and found ourselves passing through a stone circle. A stone circle in Surrey? I was well puzzled to find it and there was nothing on my map. One of the stones had a small glass skull sitting on its top, and elsewhere a large porcelain black dog stood guard. Slightly outside the circle, a tent had been pitched. I was mildly intrigued by the circle, but I was also lost and trying to find our way. As we came near to a road, a thin, tall, bald man dressed in black walked up towards us, obviously heading to the stone circle. He explained that he was a druid and that he and his group had built the circle over the last two years, using only wooden instruments that would have been available to mediaeval man - and a bit of meditation for the heavy lifting! I kid you (in the context of the journal there is no you, so I mean me) not. He pointed across the field to a farmhouse and told us the woman who lived there had wanted a stone circle on her property and so she had come to a deal with the druids. He also said regular ceremonies were held at the circle - and there had been one the night before, hence the paraphernalia, and the cars and the group of people in the car park just below us. There were would be no more ceremonies for the time being, he added, because the woman at the farmhouse had decided she needed some ‘space’. Instead of lunch in the pub, we stopped off at Secretts to buy goodies for a high tea lunch, and, by the time we got home, at nearly 4pm, we were starving.

In the evening, I went to volleyball at Ash Manor. I kept any diving to a minimum so as not to trouble my troublesome elbow.

3 June evening

As I write I am watching a televised live performance of Ballet Rambert performing Christopher Bruce’s ‘Ghost Dances’. Before the performance, there was a short feature about Rambert. Bruce was only just coming to fame when I saw him do ‘Pierrot Lunaire’ and then ‘Cruel Garden’ - now he is the choreographic director of Rambert. I was only recently retelling Ads about the importance of ‘Cruel Garden’ in my life, because I heard Ian Gibson on the radio, and I was explaining why it was such a coincidence to meeting Gibson, the author or Lorca’s biography which inspired ‘Cruel Garden’. Now, in ‘Ghost Dances’, there is some Spanish singing, just as there is in ‘Cruel Garden’ - how I love it. I’ve never seen ‘Ghost Dances’ before, but Bruce explains he wrote it after meeting Victor Jarra’s widow. He wanted to do something simple about the disparecidos. Now come the panpipes . . .

Ads has had a nice day out at the Biggin Hill air show with Marcus and his father. He tells me about fancy flying formations, about a scary ride in which he was left hanging upside down for ages in an unsafe harness high above the ground, and a yoghurt-eating contest which, fortunately, he lost!

I have been in the garden today, although nothing is doing well because the ground is too wet. Having lost my potatoes, and having failed to grow anything significant from seed this year (my indoor grown seedlings died for an unknown reason), I now appear to be losing the courgette, cucumber and melon plants I bought because the ground has been so waterlogged - could any garden be as difficult as this one? And my vegetable plots are forever plagued with tough grass because the lawn I bought years ago seeds so easily. I weeded, I cut the lawn, I strimmed, and I planted a variegated holly that B bought me for my birthday.

22 June

Under normal circumstances, I should have been fast asleep on the other side of the pond, about to wake up and spend the day exploring Montreal. I was due to fly out last Saturday, and fly back this evening. I worked my butt off during the last few weeks so as to keep the Eurelectric project on track (and produce my newsletters), and to give myself the time to take a week off. I bought a small guide book, photocopied chapters from large guidebooks, and generally prepared for my first intercontinental trip since Brazil, since before Adam was born. (Tears come to my eyes as I think of the 14 years that have gone by since I was in Brazil - 14 years, what has happened to time. I lost my life to Adam and to Barbara, that’s what. But I doubt there was any better purpose waiting for it anywhere.)

I heard on the lunchtime news Saturday that air traffic control was experiencing problems. But, as one does, I didn’t relate the news to my own life. I called British Airways who told me there were serious delays and I should consider changing my travel plans if I could. I went to Heathrow anyway. B drove me. Terminal Four was packed with people standing around in meaningless queues - the longest one, though, was stretching across the width of the terminal for the British Airways ticket desk. I was told to wait until the flight appeared on the information screens, but when it did the message simply said ‘Wait in lounge’. Hardly a lounge as there are no seats! I sat on the floor and read the ‘Economist’. When I enquired for more information, I was told the flight had been cancelled. I had been prepared to wait for hours and hours if necessary, but I was not prepared for a cancellation. The BA staff gave me a letter from the terminal manager asking me to ring BA to make a new reservation. There was no possibility of me flying out that night, I was told. So I went home, by coach to Woking, and by train to Farncombe, from where B picked me up.

I had spent some time during the previous couple of days exploring the possibility - flagged to me by Chris Boothby at Eurelectric on Friday afternoon - of joining a full day trip on Sunday organised for journalists by Hydro Quebec to James Bay, 900km north of Montreal, to view their massive hydro operation. It was leaving very early in the morning and wouldn’t return until the evening. I had been in two minds about it, but would probably have gone. I was a little miffed, I suppose, that Boothby hadn’t told me about it earlier. Indeed, I was a bit miffed with Eurelectric generally for not having given me any information about the Congress at all. That was all by-the-by, because I clearly wasn’t going to arrive in time to have a Sunday in Montreal.

On the way home, I thought about what I should do. I decided I definitely wouldn’t go on Monday night because that would leave the trip too short to be worthwhile; and I felt fairly certain that is all I would be offered. As soon as I got home, I rang the BA number. It didn’t work. I rang customer relations, and the person who answered offered me a flight on Monday night. When I explained I was going for a fixed event, he offered me a flight late on Sunday night through Toronto, arriving just in time to catch the last flight to Montreal. Having just spent four hours waiting and travelling, I was in no mood to agree to such a long ordeal. I felt sure the flights the following day would be delayed also, and that I would then have to find somewhere to sleep overnight in Toronto, and that by the time I got to Montreal I would be a wreck. In time, I determined not to go. Later, after it was too late, I did think I should have taken the Toronto flight.

So how come I arrived at the decision not to go. I’ve had time to think about this. There was the failure of Eurelectric to give me any information, so I knew nothing at all about was happening at the Congress, so I had nothing particular to look forward to. I was smarting from the fresh experience of half a day of logistics messing around on Saturday, and the thought of much more to come. Moreover, I think, in my internal calculations, I only weighed up the benefits (basically, of wandering around Montreal for a day and a possible cultural event connected with the Congress) against the disadvantages of all that travelling, there and back in such a short space of time. I think I forgot about the social aspects. I am so devoid of chances of normal society in my daily work, that I am usually very grateful of a conference simply to chat to people. I would have met journalists on the Sunday trip, and I would have talked to other delegates at the dinners. I would also have met up with the various Presidents who I was supposed to interview for the book. It would all, I’m sure in retrospect, have been a good experience. I am now engaged in trying to get the ticket money back for Eurelectric, but my claim for a refund is somewhat hampered by having been offered the Toronto flight.

By chance I hear David Winner on ‘Start the Week’ talking about his new book ‘Brilliant Orange’. Given his previous lethargy, I am surprised he has completed it so quickly. Of course, it was essential to have it ready in time for Euro2000 given that the Netherlands is cohosting the competition, and that every element of the media is looking for a different way of covering the current football madness. Under fire from Jeremy Paxman (a real thrill for David to meet the icon of journalists), and sitting next to A. S. Byatt, David remains remarkably calm and composed. He talks about one of his main themes, the link between ‘total football’ and the Dutch landscape. Interestingly, he also touches on the Jewish background to the club Ajax Amsterdam where total football originated. Suddenly, David’s interest in Dutch football becomes clear. He is not a religious Jew, but he has always been driven intellectually by his Jewishness, hence his working on the ‘Jewish Chronicle’. Soon after hearing him on the radio, I order the book from Amazon, but it arrives with the cover the wrong way round, and I have to send it back. Although Amazon are so efficient when you order (several emails confirm the order, and the books arrive within 36 hours sometimes), there has been a total lack of efficiency concerning the return, and no communication whatsoever.

David rings me from Amsterdam where he is still living, and enjoying the Amsterdam lifestyle. We chat about the book and the publicity, and, unsurprisingly, he is well pleased with the whole project. He wants to use my flat in Brussels to stay over after going to one of the Euro2000 matches - it would have been England if we, Neville, hadn’t conceded that penalty in the last minutes of the game against Romania - in Brussels. I organise for the keys to be Fedexed to Amsterdam for him, at a cost of £30 which he says he will pay.

It cost me £250 to get the Escort through the MOT, I’m now trying to sell it for £500.

In the new car, the Mondeo, I drove down to Swanage first thing on Monday morning. I needed to get away for a few days, do something different. Not being in Montreal was one thing, but sitting around moping in Russet House would have been another. I had thought, perhaps, to walk down from here to the coast, but I felt I needed some open spaces, some cliff walks, some sea, some beaches. I arrived in Swanage a little after 8am, but then I couldn’t find anywhere to have breakfast. Why are British towns so slow at waking up. A French town would have had a bakery open and several cafes from 7am probably. I last came here in 1992 with A and B. We hired a cottage in Studland. I walked parts of this coast then, and remember it fondly. Oddly, I couldn’t find, on my bookshelf, the right maps or guide books of the area. I usually buy a good collection when on holiday and then put them in my store for future use. So I had to buy those in Swanage too, and had to wait until nearly 9 for a shop to open.

I started by climbing out of Swanage to Durslton Head country park, and along Seacombe cliff. This is a part of the coast where enterprising masons used to hack out portland stone from the cliffs and stack it straight onto boats. A number of caves and ledges are visible as one walks along the cliff tops, although several are closed up now because of the danger of rock slips. After a few miles, I diverted inland across a beautiful stretch of green countryside, to Worth Matravers. I remembered the teahouse there where the robins come in and steal your cake. I wanted to see if it was still there. It was, all pink and fussy, inside, conservatory and outside. I was going to sit outside, but then thought I was spending the whole day outside, and anyway I wouldn’t be able to see the pretty young girl waitress from inside. There were no signs of the robins when I arrived. But, after I’d been served with a chocolate cake and pot of tea, the girl, also in pink and with pigtails, sat down for a snack, and was soon talking to a tiny little bird. It then came over to steal crumbs from my plate. This could not be the same bird of nine years ago, so the parents must have passed on this fearlessness of humans to offspring. I wonder if the teahouse will still be there 10 years from now. I decided not to walk strictly back to the coast path but to cut off St Aldhelm’s Head and save myself a mile or two. I was hoping to find a beach, but, in fact, the coast is all cliffs along this way. I might have been able to swim at Chapman’s Pool, but because of crumbling cliffs the path veers inland some way and only returns to the coast at Houns-tout Cliff. By this time, the early morning mist had thickened up into a kind of fog. I was barely able to see far in front of me, let alone the views along the coast. Early on, I saw a fox, which crossed my path as cool as a greyhound on display at a dog show, as well as several large deer.

Somewhere around Houns-tout, I went very wrong. I didn’t consciously stop at any junction, I just carried on walking along the path. On my left the ground gave way to mist, and on my right there was a fence and fields. I carried on walking along this path for some time, thinking I know not what about, when suddenly I entered woodland. On checking my map, I was disturbed to realise there was no woodland anywhere on my route. Nor were there any houses, which I had just passed, nor any roads, which I had just arrived at. I was totally flummoxed. Finally, I asked someone in a car park, and was told I was at Kingston - two miles inland! I had walked two miles thinking the sea and cliffs were on my left, whereas in fact I must have been walking along the side of a steep valley which just happened to have a flat field system along the top. I was so staggered by my self-deception I couldn’t help repeating expressions of astonishment to my informant. Fortunately, I was able to work out a reasonably straight forward route back to the coast; but it was not made any easier by the fog, and, whereas, without the fog, the route would have taken me past a notable beauty spot - Syre Head - I couldn’t see a thing when I got there. I also went wrong near the end, and found myself traipsing through a wheat field for half a mile or so. From there on it was a trudge through featureless mist to Kimmeridge Bay.

The sound of children laughing and playing greeted me long before I could see them, but once down at beach level, the mist was not too bad. I sat on the rocks of Kimmeridge Bay and ate my rolls and cheese and apple and sung a rhyme to myself while watching the schoolchildren explore rock pools in the distance, a middle-aged couple tow their small boat out of the sea, and other people come and go across the pebbles. It was already well past 2pm, and I still had a long stretch to face before Lulworth Cove, my chosen port of rest. I hoped to stay at the Youth Hostel there, although my membership card expired some time ago. Unfortunately, I ran up against the army problem. There is a large chunk of land, between Kimmeridge and Lulworth, which is an army firing range, and which is very closed to the public for much of the time. There was a notice in Kimmeridge saying that the Range Walks were closed that day, but I wasn’t exactly sure the coastal path was included as a Range Walk. It was also hard to get information, and I couldn’t see the flag on the other side of the bay which, if red, would indicate the walk was closed, I was told. In fact later, I was told the red flags fly all year round. The notice, however, which I had read, was specific for this particular week. I didn’t have much choice but to start walking around the area. Just outside Kimmeridge I stopped to talk to a toll booth man. He said there was one road across the area, open at 5am each evening, which would save a long route much further round. He was going that way himself at about 5 and would give me a lift, if I was still walking. In fact, I did walk much of the way without getting lift. I took one small field diversion (the only footpath open to me), which led me to Steeple Church, a lovely calm modest resting place. I read out loud a section from the bible about love being the greatest virtue, and recalled how I used to enter bible reading contests as a teenager.

I was well thankful for the tollman’s ride when he came because I was fed up of walking on roads. He drove me into Lulworth. But when I located the Youth Hostel, I was told it was full through until Friday. Great. I was given the name of a B&B down the road, which took me in for £18 (although the landlady was so chatty, I felt she should have paid me to listen!). The room was clean and tidy; and had tea-making facilities and a TV. I was so tired, I just lay down on the bed and dozed. Later, after a shower, I wondered down to the cove itself, which is moderately attractive, with its curved beach and grass hill backdrops. The village itself is something of an eyesore, especially the massive great car park, which dominates the vista down to the cove. In the rock above the cove, there is a spouting hole where the sea gushes up, but I didn’t go to look at it. My legs were so stiff, I could barely walk. I walked back up the hill to the British Legion, where my landlady had promised me I would get a good meal at reasonable rates. Steak pie and chips, and half a bitter. I watched a father and his son play pool, and a rotund middle-aged wife tussle with the fruit machine. The bar landlord, who stood guard over the beer pumps, was a big burly man, with lots of sideburns and thick wavy hair - I could imagine him as a dart player, or a wrestler, or even a morris dancer. His wife, who served the food, was small, thin, almost-waif like, but chirpy, crisp and colourful. I supposed they were man and wife, but it was difficult to imagine them sharing the same bed.

Another single man came in soon after me - I knew it was the other lodger at the B&B who I’d been told about but not seen. If he had sat within talking distance I would have opened a conversation but he didn’t. Our short exchange of experiences had to wait until breakfast in the morning. I struggled back the few hundred yards to the B&B, went to the toilet (didn’t brush my teeth because I’d forgotten a toothbrush) and flopped on the bed. It was such a pleasurable experience, lying there on the bed, still, still, not having to move, or walk, or go anywhere, just being able to lie there and rest my oh so very weary muscles. As I write now, three days later, my leg muscles are still stiff. I’ve just calculated my mileage, and I don’t think I walked more than 16 miles.

I slept like a log for about 10 hours. I watched the breakfast news from about 7 and went down to breakfast at 8. It was a huge breakfast: 2 sausages, hashcakes, mushrooms, tomatoes, egg (I could have had two), bacon, toast, cereal, juice, tea. My fellow lodger was on the final days of walking the whole south coast footpath from Minehead to Lands End to Poole. He was on his 37th day and would be finishing in two days time. He told me that he had been given a three month sabbatical from work, and that he had chosen to use six weeks of it for this walk. There had been a few other long-distance walkers, but not many he said. North Devon was the most difficult, and he had got through one pair of boots very quickly. The landlady, who had done washing for him, commented on the fact that there was an odd sock, but this was because he wore three on one foot and two on the other to compensate for a slight difference in feet size. When he got home, he said, he was off with his family for a holiday in Florida.

I was in no state to walk anywhere, but I did, and up and up and up - having to stop every five minutes to catch my breath. Mist and light rain were not enough to dampen my spirits (although I have to confess that earlier in the morning, when the rain was storming down, I did think about making my way straight back to Swanage and shooting off home).

As luck would have it (no irony intended) by the time I reached Durdle Door, the mist had cleared sufficiently for me to get truly good views - the only ones in fact I’d had during the entire two days. Durdle Door itself is a largish rocky outcrop, dividing two bays, with a kind of rocky extension in the shape of a hollow arch. From a small saddle between the two bays, I watched a girl, or was she a woman, climb up the steps from the southern beach. It was still rather wet and dreary and quite early in the morning, and at least a mile from Ludlow village. How surprising, then, to find anyone here. I asked her which beach was better; for swimming, she asked. I said yes, which has the calmer water. She told me the one below her, just in the corner by the Door itself where the water is sheltered from the ocean. I think she said she had been in the water already and was now going to the other beach. She had no towel but looked a bit wet. I don’t know what my mind was thinking of, but I must have acted rather shyly, for I sped off down to the beach without trying to engage her further in conversation. Such a strange chance encounter, the kind one might even dream of, and yet there I was speeding away. Within minutes I was regretting my hasty action, so that, after a quick swim - and a wonderful one at that - I only half dressed and walked back up to the saddle to see if I could see her, perhaps in the water down on the other beach. But there was no sign. I descended to the beach level, and there was still no sign of her, nor could I see where she could have gone. So I (half) undressed again and again swam naked, for longer this time, in the cool (some might say very cold) but gorgeous waters of the bay. Here I am alive. Here is the best moment of the two days. Here I am at one with nature. Later, I wonder if I imagined the girl - from the saddle where we met, there are only four ways to go, to the two beaches or either way along the coastal path, and I don’t understand how she disappeared so fast from view.

The next few miles of the walk are killing. Steep declines, and steep climbs over chalky cliffs, not dissimilar from the Seven Sisters on the Sussex coast. The mist re-descends and I can rarely see much further than 30 metres in front of me. This is particularly galling when I am following the undercliff path through Ringstead Bay and can see nothing at all of the coast or inland. There are stone waymarkers along the path which occasionally tell me how far I am from Lulworth or from Weymouth, and I am surprised at my slow progress. It is already midday when I arrive at Osmington Mills, and I have only walked six and half miles from Lulworth - yet I feel really tired. It is still four and half miles to Weymouth; and, although it is relatively flat walking, mostly at the sea level, I waver from my original plan. There is a bus stop at Osmington Mills, and I decide to see whether I can catch a bus into Weymouth. I am also aware that Ads will be home from school at 4pm, and although there is no desperate need for me to be there on time, I don’t want to be too late. It turns out there is no bus until much later, but there is a main road, not too far away, which runs through to Wareham, from where I know I can catch an hourly bus to Swanage. I decide to hitch. Within a few minutes a car pulls up at the end of the layby behind me. I run up. The driver opens the door, shakes her head and says ‘no, no I’m not allowed to take you’. I don’t understand why she has stopped. I say not to worry and return to my post. For the next half an hour, I hitch without any success, even though there are many cars. Meanwhile, the first car does not move. I cannot imagine what she is doing there, and it annoys me a bit, that the presence of her car in the layby makes it slightly more tricky for anyone else to pull in. But all’s well that end’s well. She suddenly gets out of the car and calls me over. I am bit suspicious and ask her why she’s changed her mind - she says because she’s woken up, and I’m still there. She drives me to Wareham, full of chatter, mostly about birds and other drivers. I walk around Wareham, recalling that we must have visited this pretty town in 1992, before catching the bus back to my car. I am home before five.

23 June 2000

I have bought a book about teenage development (after a search on Amazon’s site). Although it is American and, if the chapter titles are anything to go by, strays too far into excessive behaviour patterns for my liking rather than focusing on normal ones, it does appear to have some interesting insights. I’ve bought it because I feel I simply do not know enough about teenage development, and that instinct, which has guided me until now (I don’t know how - although I did read a lot of books about babies and toddlers and early child development), will be an insufficient guide. I live in fear of Adam going the way of all teenagers shortly, any day now, overnight even! Yet he remains the most charming and obedient of children. Yes, of course, he fails to tidy his room, to wash hands often enough, to stop banging around the house, to do his homework when it’s set rather than the night before it is handed in, to not check his work or plan properly, to do things without enough attention often, to get his clothes dirty at school, and so on; but these are so normal that, despite my constant carping, I might be horrified if he were not to be guilty of some of them. But, on the plus side, he is such good company; he is not only charming and funny, but is always willing to engage in conversation about anything, as well as initiate much talk himself; and he never complains. He very often says thank you after a meal, or after been given something, or after I’ve played a game with him. He does a good deal around the house now: he clears away the dishes after a meal, he washes up, he clears the draining board, he puts clothes, which have been drying on the radiators, away, he helps me with the shopping and puts it all away on our return. He mows half the lawn as standard (and sometimes I pay him to mow my half). He will do any job I ask him to do almost always without complaint or demur. In the last few weeks, he’s taken to coming up to me, rather too often, to cuddle me, and to say ‘You’re a lovely Dad.’ Yesterday, the cuddle went on for a minute or so, so I said that’s your quota for the week, but this morning, he was buzzing up to me, to give me a very quick one so as not to use up his ‘allowance’. I don’t think it has anything to do with his upcoming birthday! He will still climb onto me whenever he gets a chance, when I’m sitting at the table, or on the sofa, but he really is getting too big for that now. It only encourages him the more, if I try and tickle or wrestle him off. Last evening, we sat close together on the sofa, reading a new ‘MacWorld’ magazine and discussing the articles therein.

Ads and I joke and laugh all the time. This morning, just before he was leaving for school, I noticed his socks were on the wrong way round (when are they not?). I pointed it out. As he was changing one of them, I noticed the dirt on his shin, still there from yesterday when he went out for a run. I had asked him a couple of times yesterday to clean himself down; so when he saw me glancing over at his leg, he quickly pulled down his trouser leg to cover the shin, and tucked his head down to hide his guilty smiling face. I didn’t need to say anything, because he saw my look of humorous exasperation, and pressed down on his trouser leg even more firmly as if to press home the fact that the truth was hidden and I couldn’t prove a thing. Then I diverted on to his tie, which he likes to keep short, very short, only half way down his shirt. I, on the other hand, try to insist it is long enough to tuck into his trousers. Sometimes, I make him do his tie again. This morning, though, I told him he must have studied the matter very carefully and worked out exactly the minimum length he could get away with, because it was definitely too short, but not so short that I felt I had to make him redo it. Another little battle he’s managed to win.

July 2000

Paul K Lyons


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