I Was Swallowed By A Hippo

Castle life, Aga strife, slummy mummy, average wife

Damp

Fuck off January

I hate you January

January was rubbish. It rained so much I thought I might have to bring the animals in two-by-two, before I remembered  all the chickens died (natural causes, honest*) so there’s really just the dog. Oh, and the feral kids. At least there are two of those.

You know its a bad month when the most uplifting occasion is a funeral. My aunt passed away peacefully and surrounded by love, on New Year’s Day after a tragic battle with dementia. Her funeral was beautiful, life affirming and inspiring. My cousin’s husband summed her up wonderfully in a poem entitled, “Quietly Remarkable” and left me wondering if I might have time to learn new skills like Aunty Judy constantly did. I think silversmithing, stained glass, stone carving, needle point and building schools in impoverished African countries (seriously, this woman was amazing) are perhaps a bit beyond me but I might at least learn a new crochet stitch.

Three solid weeks of relentless downpours nearly broke me.  A significant low point was being woken in the small hours to a gentle pitter-patter sound, not of feet (which is common) but of bloody raindrops. Inside. Our bedroom.

 

My new pyjamas

We fixed the situation temporarily with towels and have now grown quite accustomed to the sound, much the same as one does with traffic sounds in a city. Its almost soothing.

 

Proud

There were some high points. Weirdly, I thoroughly enjoyed my six-year old’s birthday party especially as I learned from previous disasters and outsourced the cake. That afforded me more time to magically transform a bog-standard piñata into a fire-breathing dragon to fit the ‘Knights and Princesses’ theme that was demanded at the last minute.  I could barely watch as the kids took turns at bashing the bejeezus out of my work of art but it held fast and refused to break. Things were about to get ugly as frustrations grew but the day was saved by my mate’s husband who is also our friendly local policeman. He whipped out his retractable baton, wielded it like Zorro and severed the beast cleanly in two. I wept silent tears over my artistry while the wee shites scrambled around for the chocolate coins** that spilled from it’s cardboard belly.

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Outsourcing. Where have you been all my life?

Luckily I had the foresight not to even entertain the idea of Dry January*** (I couldn’t deal with the irony) and was able to numb the pain of indoor puddles, wet dogs, David Bowie, damp logs and dear old Terry Wogan with plenty sauv blanc, cheap cider and malt whisky.

Sláinte.

 

*Their days had been numbered since the wee bastards had stopped laying but fortunately mother nature stepped and kindly dealt with Steve, Daphne, Velma and Scooby.  The fireworks on bonfire night finished off poor old Bunty.

**50p a bag, post-Christmas. Winning.

***a ridiculous fad in which participants avoid any kind of alcohol for 31 whole days.

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Hebridean Hideaway

I am back in my happy place (i.e. away from my ironing pile). We are on our annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Tiree for a whole week of spending lots of time together in close quarters. So far so almost relaxing.

The journey to get here borders on the off-putting as it involves a 3.30am wake-up, a two hour twisty drive and a four hour ferry trip. Our hopes that the kids will sleep in the car on the way are always dashed and the little darlings manage to summon vast amounts of energy from hell-knows-where as soon as they are trapped on the ferry with limited entertainment.  I caught myself staring enviously at the parents of two pre-teen girls nearby whose sullen daughters totally ignored their mum and dad for the whole four hour sail.

Having not taken a long-haul flight since the Blair Administration, when we finally arrived I experienced the closest thing to jet lag in nearly ten years and crashed out halfway through a Good Housekeeping* article (How To Look Good in Selfies. Noted.).  The kids continued to bounce around like lunatics as they explored our (different from the previous three years) holiday house, culminating in a monstrous meltdown from the youngest who declared, “THIS HOUSE IS NOT TIREEEEEEEE”. Quite.

Appeased by giant Jenga, Nutella on white bread and 10pm bedtimes, they have settled in admirably. It also helps that my parents are also holidaying here in what must be their 33rd consecutive year (bar one**). We are on the other side of the island (5 miles away) this year but still see them everyday as mum needs her WiFi and Wimbledon fix (their cottage has remained largely untouched by modern technology in the 33 years)  while poor dad gets cajoled into playing My Little Ponies with the girls.

It’s very hard to put into words what I love about this place (because I am on holiday and cracking open the Strongbow™ at lunchtime) so here are some of the photos I have been posting on Facebook, just to piss off everyone on the mainland who are experiencing much shitter weather:

Tiree machair

Glorious machair

Ballevullin Beach, Isle of Tiree

Beachy mornings

Crochet blanket

Rainy afternoons

A swing park with a view

Play parking

Stunning Ballevullin beach, Tiree

Despite living very close to the sea, I can’t get enough of the sea.

I love that the Tiree 2015 album is almost identical  to the Tiree 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011 albums but with slightly bigger and curlier-haired children in the photos. Old friends I’ve known from childhood are also holidaying here with their kids so it’s lovely to see the next generation relentlessly digging holes on the beach and frolicking in the waves.

We are nearly mid-way through the week, and already I am dreading leaving.  We have been blessed with better-than-predicted weather so have enjoyed happy mornings at the beach before retiring to the cottage for leisurely lunches followed by afternoons of blissful inactivity. Niall watches Wimbledon and deals with near-catastrophic bio-mass boiler issues back home, I crack on with my latest epic crochet project and the girls amuse themselves, twatting about pretending to be dogs or ponies or spies. It’s heavenly. Thoughts of epic laundry piles and monstrous baskets of ironing have been quelled by copious amounts of Strongbow™ and the obligatory Prossecco.  There is also still so much to do: the seals (we never make it), the north end (ditto), the pottery, the gallery, the weird shop that sells everything, run by a family that seemingly hasn’t aged for forty years (Niall thinks they are vampires), boogie boarding,  pony trekking and the annual lawn boule tournament which my mum takes Very Seriously Indeed.  I think we’ll need at least a month next year.

 

 

 

*For years I’ve been persevering with Glamour and occasionally Cosmopolitan, though they leave me feeling utterly inadequate in every way. Recently, however, I had an epiphany in the doctors waiting room whilst leafing through a Good Housekeeping. I loved reading about  Clare Balding’s style secrets,  how to detox my finances (should I ever accumulate any) and coping with empty nest syndrome (one can dream) and I have now fully accepted that I am well within their demographic. Also, I can steal my mum’s copies.

**dad took us to  Australia for six months, on sabbatical.  After much discussion, Tiree was declared too far for a holiday

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Oranges and Angels

There are three more days until Prosecco Day Christmas Day and I am safely ensconced at my parents’ house with the girls. My husband is sensibly minimising exposure to the chaos and arrives on Christmas Eve. I am feeling pleasantly calm about the whole thing, having gone through the stress of having to be hyper-organised before we left. ‘Santa’ presents (for how long must we peddle this lie???) were dispatched, all wrapped, last week with my parents who came down for the unmissable school concert. Shoddy handcrafted efforts have been hurriedly finished off and wrapped before I change my mind and rush off to M&S. I’m even up-to-date with my Christmas cards , which is a miracle considering they were a week late arriving from the printer.

I strongly suspect that this is the last year of our exploitative festive greeting. Even the youngest was reluctant and I had to change the theme at the last minute as they refused to be wise men – “WE ARE GIRLS”. A mere nuance if you ask me but I respected their wishes and hurriedly hacked up a duvet cover to make angel costumes. Only the dog seemed up for it and is the only one in focus but we got there in the end and some have said it’s our best yet.

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I am unapologetic for that pun. Deal with it.

 

As part of my ongoing, ‘Christmas Is Not Just About Santa’ series of daily lectures, I took the girls to church on Sunday so they could hear it from an expert who I hoped would carry more clout. It was a special family service and lovely minister Steve had organised some activities to hold the children’s interest. We had all been handed an orange and a bag of sundry items on arrival and after listening to the story of the first Christingle, we were encouraged to make our own. Soon the dulcet sound of muttered swear words echoed round the little church as we tried to pierce our oranges with a birthday candle then secure a ribbon round it with cocktail sticks. I was doing quite well until I discovered my youngest was happily munching away on my ‘fruits of the earth’ (dolly mixtures) and the eldest had expertly peeled her orange representing the world and was greedily scoffing the lot.

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This was not achieved.

By the time I got over the shock of her eating a piece of fruit without emotional blackmail or threats of violence, Rev Steve had moved on to Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

I shudder to think what their interpretation of the true meaning of Christmas is now but it was a lovely service and I feel spiritually nourished and prepared for the festive onslaught ahead. Did I just hear a cork popping?

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Puddings and Panto

When shall we three meet again? Next week for wreath making of course!

When shall we three meet again? Next week for wreath making of course!

The Christmas Countdown is ON and I can already tick Christmas puddings off my festive to-do list. A lovely morning was spent with two pals, pooling our ingredients, weighing, measuring and blatantly guessing before chucking it all in a giant toy tub (sterilised) before taking turns at stirring. I stayed faithful to Delia as she’s never let me down before but we doubled the recipe as we were aiming for four puddings. Stirring help was drafted in from the Inlaws downstairs and auntie and uncle from across the way and everyone had a wish or two. It was very special and reminiscent of the times I used to make the puddings with my granny. We’d always have a stir, then a wish then a wee kiss and a hug.

They smell a lot nicer than they look

They smell a lot nicer than they look

We made four puds altogether which were cooked in two batches in the Aga and the kitchen smelled Christmassy for days. The cooked puds have now been parcelled up in foil and distributed accordingly. I’ve stashed our own one in a cool cupboard in the dining room where it will no doubt sit, forgotten all about for decades until my grandchildren unearth it in a clear out in 2045. A wee reminder nearer the time would be appreciated.

Nothing says Christmas like upcycled blankets and crochet balls.

Nothing says Christmas like upcycled blankets and crochet balls.

Homemade decorations have also been achieved along with several hand crafted presents for some unlucky recipients (I can almost hear the audible mutterings of “why can’t she just go to Lush?”). The reason for this crafty flurry is that our youngest now goes to nursery five mornings a week allowing me three whole hours of festive-fannying-around-time. It’s sheer bliss and I intend to enjoy every second until I am forced back in to work by my husband who keeps subtly hinting that whilst my woolly stars are very nice and everything, they won’t mend the leaking roof or load the boiler.

This. Sort of.

This. Sort of.

As if I didn’t have enough to do with unfinished, mediocre crafts, I only went and got myself involved with the local pantomime which is being directed by Martin Scorsese my mother-in-law. Due to my almost global (3-mile radius) reputation as a kid’s face painter, she asked very nicely if I’d do the make up for the production of Dick Whittington. Of course I jumped at the chance – chiefly because it gets me out of the kids’ gruelling bedtime routine (which is, in itself, a pantomime) for three nights.

Curtain up was last night and the smell of the grease paint and roar of the crowds* will stay with me forever (well, give it a couple of days). I am watching the matinee today with the kids and am hoping the littlest one won’t have an epic freak-out when she sees Grandpa prancing around the stage dressed as a giant rat. As a precaution, I have volunteers on hand to escort her off the premises because as we thespians say, the show must go on.

*this is a small village. It’s all relative.

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Desperate Housewife

I’ve been feeling pretty pleased with myself lately as I finally seem to be getting the hang of living in a castle, hundreds of miles from the nearest Primark, with two despot ‘tweenagers’ and a workaholic husband. There is a happy rhythm to our lives at the moment and we seem to be bumbling along quite nicely. It helps that the schools are off so there isn’t the usual frantic last minute rush in the morning, hunting for shoes, stuffed sheep and random items for show and tell – pine cones, shells, dental floss etc. This is despite the day generally starting at 6am so by the time we’re running 10 minutes late for the nursery run, I’ve been up for over three hours.
My time management has definitely improved and I seem to be most productive in the early hours, when sane people with considerate children are still tucked up in bed. On a good day, by 9am, I have often ironed a load of bed linen, made a pot of soup, completed a 20 minute fitness dvd and made a few cushion covers.

You can never have enough.

You can never have enough.

My latest fad is soft furnishings, ever since a talented friend showed me how to work the ancient sewing machine my MiL left behind. There is a ready supply of material all over this house which is begging to be upcycled so It’s a cheap hobby at the moment and I can furnish the holiday cottages with my finished creations, once I’ve filled up the castle.

I’ve also rediscovered crochet recently after a long break due to bad associations. I made a ripple blanket for a family baby whilst watching the box set of Breaking Bad and the whole experience left me traumatised. I loved making the blanket but that overrated, soulless series left me cold and unable to pick up a hook for months. Thank God for Homeland 3 which arrived via a friend last week and which we are binge watching at a rate of three episodes a night. I’ve made 16 granny squares (another cushion, there is still space on the Chesterfield) and am half-way through a hat.

'Nuff said.

Nuff said.

If I was ever worried about morphing into a ghastly Martha Stewart/Bree Van Der Kamp hybrid, there are plenty of days when things don’t go according plan. This week alone I have unwittingly flashed the stonemason from the bedroom, pranged my MiL’s car in Tesco car park and served coffee to an important client of Niall’s in the “I’m a twat” mug.

 

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Santa: nil, Baby Jesus: 1

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Wise men and glitter fun

The turkey has been ordered, the Christmas cards are on their way around the world and the staircase has been garlanded.  There is still a big Christmas tree-sized hole in the hall but I’m trying not to nag Niall about it, even though this is his ONLY pre-Christmas task whilst I have written 150 Christmas cards, bought and wrapped all the presents (including my own from him), stressed myself silly about turkey and engaged the children in countless Christmas crafts involving glitter. I might allow myself a small nag*.

We have had several encounters with “Santa” this week, with varying degrees of delight and horror. India, aged 2, is justifiably terrified of the white bearded figure in red who has been popping up all over the place, and worst of all, at playgroup. The mere sight of him entering the hall, sack in hand, induced prolonged hysterics which would not even be stemmed by a present. She can not be bought. Her big sister faired slightly better in that she willingly accepted the gift but insisted on a go-between (me) and refused to make eye contact with the jolly fellow. Weirdly though, they both seem comfortable with the idea that he is going to enter the house on Christmas Eve via the chimney, scoff a mince pie, leave some gifts then bugger-off to re-join his sleigh and flying reindeer he left on the roof.

I’m starting to feel uncomfortable about the whole Santa-lie that we are forced to perpetuate, year on year until some cheeky gob-shite at school blurts out the fateful words, “it’s just your mum and dad”**. I hate the commercialism of Christmas that Santa reinforces and have started my own campaign to drill home the true meaning. The children love the nativity story and baby Jesus gets a lot of air time around here. Last year Zoë and I cuddled up to watch a film of the Christmas story, complete with circumcision, a traumatic birth scene and a gruesome beheading. It was screened a 2pm so I assumed it would be suitable for a nearly-3 year old. She thoroughly enjoyed it though so I’m hoping it will be on again.

The Christmas activities really snowball*** this week with the pinnacle being the school concert, complete with the nursery nativity and rendition of Five Tubby Snowmen. Zoë is playing an angel and I predict that I will be in pieces, either with laughter or tears or perhaps both. Term ends on Friday and then the excitement will really start to build. I mean my own, of course and I hope I won’t be burned out by the 25th and be too knackered to enjoy it. I will perhaps slow down with the glitter activities and focus on more important tasks such as getting the sprouts on and decorating the tree*.

Ten more sleeps!!!

*GETTHEFUCKINGTREEUPNIALL!!!!
**in my case it was my big sister. I can still recall the brief devastation followed by reluctant acceptance.
***see what I did there…

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Seasonal Blackmail

My every waking moment continues to be occupied with all things Christmassy and I can’t help but wonder, what did I do before, when I wasn’t drying oranges, making play-dough stars, crocheting snowflakes or playing God with my Christmas card list? I’m starting to dread January, when there will be NOTHING TO DO. I’m so ahead of myself that my clothes are already too tight and the gluttony hasn’t even begun. Having said that, I STILL haven’t ordered the bloody turkey…

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Blatant child exploitation

The biggest tick off my Xmas to-do list was our Christmas card which is now one of those traditions that must be upheld, come hell or high water. It began, innocently enough, when our first-born was a baby and we thought how cute it would be to stick a tea-towel on her head and snap her surrounded by toy sheep, dressed as a biblical shepherd. People LOVED it and it stayed on many a mantelpiece well into the spring. The following year we upped our game with the convenient arrival of our second daughter who was type-cast to play baby Jesus. With the addition of a few tin-foil props and some shoddy PhotoShop(tm) effects we triumphed once more and there was no going back. As they are still little and not yet jaded or cynical, it’s relatively easy to get the children to play along but I realise that eventually they will rebel and refuse to be part of this shameless act of child exploitation. I think we have another two years, maximum. I am delighted with this year’s effort though, and for the first time we’ve splashed out and had it properly printed. This means no blank card and pritt stick marathon for me which will free up at least three evenings to thread up my dried oranges and hang the paper chains.

The children are almost enjoying the preparations as much as me and are just young enough not to be demanding of every toy in the Tesco Gift Guide but still old enough to properly enjoy all the glittery, crafty homemade stuff (when my blood pressure is low enough for me to let them join in….). They are also at that truly wonderful stage where they respond brilliantly to Christmas blackmail. I have been shamelessly wielding the threat of Santa not coming and disallowing advent sweets for petty misdemeanours. Behavior has been transformed and mealtimes are almost bearable. This is another reason to dread the new year. It’s a long wait til the Easter bunny and I don’t think he has the same clout.

In other, non-festive news, we have waved off our last lot of WWOOFers, I have successfully catered a lunch for 22 people and best of all, I have become a Guest Blogger! Happy days.

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I Heart Scotland

With less than 640 hours to go, my Christmas preparations are gathering momentum. As well as some tinsel and a couple of woolly snowflakes, I now own enough baco foil to wrap the castle in, Christo-style. I must remember to acutally order the fuckingturkey though. I fear it may get forgotten about amidst the excitement of DIY decorations and crocheted gifts and it would be monumentally tragic if we were forced to split cousin Janey’s vegetarian haggis 13 ways.

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Stitching and bitching

I decided to take another wee trip ‘up the road’ at the weekend under the guise of doing some Christmas shopping somewhere other than the evil blue, red and white supermarket*. My real motive however, was to spend as little time with the children as possible and wallow in the lake of ME for a bit whilst my parents and sister rushed around after the wee terrorists, exhausting themselves trying to meet petty need after petty need. It was bliss.

I even managed a Girls Night In with two of my oldest and bestest pals. It was WILD. Over half a bottle of prosecco, I attempted to teach them how to crochet a stylish winter headband. I’m sure they won’t mind being described as beginners but by the time my parents came crashing in, drunk, at midnight, they had both cracked it and were well on the way to a finished item. I was so proud. In my review of 2013, that night comes top of my list of nights in or out. I haven’t laughed so much in ages but it really made me miss the girls when I got home. Luckily they’ve both been harassing me on Skype and Facebook for emergency crochet advice so I don’t feel so far away.

Back at the castle, winter is settling in nicely and is rewarding us with spectacular colours and views and crisp, sunny days. Even the mundane school run is a joy as I try to concentrate on the road whilst soaking in the astounding scenery. I am feeling very much in love with Scotland at the moment and VERY protective of my amazing country. My heart has always said ‘no’ to independence, but as the campaign gathers momentum, I find myself drawn to points from both sides. I am only beginning to realise the vastness of this decision and it terrifies me just a little bit but I am determined to arm myself with as much information as possible and remove my ‘politics filter’ that I usually apply to printed and digital media. I have even downloaded the referendum white paper on my kindle which I will peruse shortly. Just as soon as I finish Bridget Jones’ Diary. One must prioritise.

*because the evil green and orange supermarkets are so much better. :-/

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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like…..

Sparkly Tat

Sparkly Tat

The castle is gradually filling up with sparkly tat which can only mean one thing – Christmas is so close I can SMELL it! Or is that my christmas pudding burning in the Aga? According to my Christmas Countdown twitter feed, there is only 5 weeks, 5 days, 1 hour and 38 minutes until the Big Day and I can’t bloody wait. This year will be extra special as it will be our first in the castle*, and my first experience of hosting, EVER. There’ll be 13 adults plus the two weans and four dogs and I’m already getting nervous about the turkey. I predict that by 8am on Christmas day I will be referring to it as ‘thefuckingturkey’ but be too pissed on cava to really care about salmonella or campylobactor**.

Meanwhile, with just 39 days, 1 hour and 48 minutes to go, I need to get busy with lots of homemade attempts at presents and decorations. Plans are afoot for a garland for the staircase made from forgaged greenery from the castle grounds. Handily, we have an expert florist living on the estate who has kindly offered to help so I’ve organised a ‘mulled wine and garland’ evening in a couple of weeks time. I suspect the emphasis will be on the mulled wine rather than the garland but we’ll give it a crack.

Other plans mostly involve crochet, including these lovely snowflakes. I’m thinking some snowflake bunting round the hall would look fabulous and it would just be rude NOT to hang baubles from the antlers of all the dead stags on the wall. I’d like to try and make as many presents as possible this year, which is a thing I say every year but still find myself panic buying at the last minute from Amazon.com. If I get my arse in gear, this years’ lucky recipients could be unwrapping hats, headbands or hedgehog mittens.

Yikes, now there’s only 38 days, 10 hours, 53 minutes and 20 seconds to go. Better get the sprouts on….

 

*Sore point. I played the, “but it could be granny’s last Christmas” card for years. She died aged 100…

**My old pal…

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Early Rising

20131027-070846.jpgI generally consider myself to be a happy, positive, cup-half-full kind of person. Hopefully not so much that people want to slap me but I really haven’t been depressed or angst-ridden since my teens and my brief Morrisssy/fringed skirt/black bedroom wall phase. I am doing my best to channel this sunny outlook into trying to see the positives in starting the day between 4.30 and 5.30 am. This is where we’re at just now and have been for weeks thanks to our darling terrorist nearly-two year old who insists on getting up at stupid o’clock. We’ve tried to break the habit – gentle singing and a story and back to bed, no communication at all just lying her down and stroking her head*, controlled crying**, but it always ends the same way – her happily scoffing cereal followed by back-to-back Peppa Pig and me resentfully chewing away on my yogurt and muslei, trying not fixate on bacon rolls.

But there IS a positive to this tortuous early-rising. It’s the perfect time to crack on with crochet projects and in three weeks I’ve churned out a load of baby hats in various guises – penguins, puppies, Vikings, centurions, pilots and sundry floral efforts. There has been a spate of babies lately, including three born locally which is great news for our wee playgroup and the school.

Another bonus is the sunrises. They are beginning to be pretty spectacular and will only get more so as we head in to winter. It just takes the edge off my mood if, after angrily ripping open the curtains, I’m presented with neon pink fluffy clouds.

In other castle news, the central heating is up and running and keeping us toastie warm which is just fabulous. I’m already taking it completely for granted and have even uttered the fateful words, “it’s too HOT”. Also, we have two more WWOOFers who arrived a fortnight ago. They are a young couple from Spain (him) and India/UK (her) and it’s lovely to have more people around again. Best of all, Shanthi, expressed interest in helping me in the house rather than working in the rain. There was a can of pledge in her hand before you could say ‘exploitation’ and between us we scrubbed the castle almost clean. Happy days.

*I’m sure during this attempt she was trying to articulate, “whattheactualf@!k are you doing?”, with her relentless shrieks
** we take it in turns to shut ourselves in the spare room and sob for 10 mins each at a time.

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