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Ramblings · of · a · self-made · pauper


Failed aspirant aristocrat with lofty ambitions and no motivation

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A fortnight or so ago, I went out on the booze with my good friend, colonel_maxim.

The pub was packed, but he had discovered that the upstairs sitting room was both unlocked and its small bar staffed. We decided very quickly that paying through the nose for organic bottled cider was infinitely more preferable to traipsing up and down the stairs trying not to spill from pint glasses and hoping that no-one realised that there was additional seating to be had. It worked and we became expensively and extensively blootered over the course of the evening.

It was only during the early hours that I realised just how bladdered I’d contrived to get. I woke up sometime around 4am with a thumping headache and a full bladder. I scooted, as one does, to the bathroom and shortly thereafter I was suddenly and remarkably ill. I think my stomach attempted a complete escape – certainly it ejected its coronal layer. I wobbled back to bed and got up again, feeling ghastly, when my alarm went off at seven.

It was, as I recall, the work of but a moment to decide that actually, if it’s all the same to anyone else, I was going to go back to bed. ellefurtle was fully supportive of my ability to barely stand and think, so I emailed the office with the news that I was feeling awful, having consumed something the night before that had disagreed with me.

Which was, of course, true: I simply omitted any mention of alcohol; I felt it wise. I then went back to bed and failed to wake up again until gone midday, when I felt better, but not recovered.

Of course, taking a Thursday off sick looks suspicious in isolation, so I was forced to keep my head below the parapets on Friday, too. An unexpected 3½ day weekend had something of a transformative affect, I must say, but I should have preferred not to preface it with the worst hangover I’d had for over ten years.

Last night we met up again and this time Furtle popped along. We managed to avoid the excessive refreshment of the earlier escapade, but nonetheless managed to get a little frazzled around the edges. We wandered home in due course, getting back to the Gin Palace around midnight. A cup of tea and some toast, then bed. All was well.
Except that at 5am I awoke radiating heat like a furnace and with indigestion and a full bladder. There followed a minor, scaled down repeat of the previous escapade and I wobbled back to bed, re set the alarm for 8.30 and crammed in an extra 90 minutes of sleep. I made work, albeit half an hour late, but I’m still not fully recovered. Were it not for the fact that I have the rest of the week off legitimately, I might have sent THE EMAIL.

I don’t think cider and I are on quite the chummy terms we once were.
* * *
Ye Gods, but it's been a long week.

I have decided that I shall skulk off at 4pm and that's that. I want to get home early enough to collapse on the bed for an hour before we go out again: we are off to Leytonstone to meet up with jfs and ellefurtle's sister, Alix (some of you will know her, I'm sure), who is heavily pregnant. Due day is tomorrow, in fact. We are going for a curry so, in the absence of a catcher's mitt, I think we should try and restrict her to nothing more spicy than a chicken korma, or risk having to run down the high street screaming" The ababy's coming! The baby's coming!"

Furtle, as aunt in waiting, has been looking up suitable gifts. She shied away from buying a Yoda romper suit bearing the legend "wipe my bum, you must" and went for something else instead. Happily I was on hand to talk her into getting a Batman romper suit, so my first act from behind the scenes as disreputable uncle is already complete.

I suppose that tomorrow we shall have to do some gardening. In the year since we first planted any, I'd forgotten that borlotti beans have triffid DNA. They are slow to germinate, but then relentless. We have a bunch in pots that have grown six inches in the last week, after spending a fortnight seemingly dormant. It is probably too early to actually plant them outside, but they will need separating into bigger pots.

Last weekend we put a load of shrubs/bushes and grasses into the garden; we will soon have to add something to the new fence for a lot of it to climb up. Sadly, I think I overdid the pruning on the rambling rector rose, which, it seems is the only rose in Christendom that you don't prune back to a stump. It's still alive, but I think we are two to three years away from it blooming again.

Nonetheless, I have a good feeling about the garden for the third year in cussession, despite the complete lack of proper winter that should have primed the various plants' inner clocks.

I must tired. I am contemplating gardening.
* * *
Back at work after a good, if short, Easter break.

We didn’t do much on Friday, beyond potter around and do a little cleaning. Largely we concentrated on winding down for the break and waiting for deliveries from Amazon (I am now the proud owner of a pair of 8x40 binoculars for bird watching – on the assumption that we actually do go bird watching. I have an RSPB book of British birds, too).

Saturday we wandered into the West End for a mooch around. We popped into Gosh on Brewer Street, but although I nearly bought something, I decided my reading list is already too long and needs culling first. Furtle decided that the next volume of Tintin compact stories would be best bought from Amazon. So much for us supporting the high street, eh?

We went from there to Old Compton Street, where we visited in turn, The Algerian Coffee Store and Gerry’s Wines and Spirits from where respectively we stocked up on speciality coffee beans and I acquired two bottles of ‘Oude Genever’ (one from either end of the dry/sweet divide), which I have been dying to try for some time. We then met up with Alix and jfs for a meal at the Brasserie Zédel just off Regent Street for a French meal. It’s my second visit and Furtle’s third. Highly recommended Art Nouveau style brasserie, with a small cabaret club and cocktail bar, all below ground. At ground level is a similar style if small, café, which gives no real hint about how large the place is. It isn’t cheap, but neither is it a rip off.

The evening was spent baby sitting for our neighbours, who had a rare opportunity of a night out. So we watched a movie on the iPad and rad for a bit.

Sunday saw us driving up to Chelmsford to visit the in-laws. A visit to the local followed by dinner saw the afternoon away and faced with an evening sitting doing very little, Furtle discovered that the local ice hockey team, the Chelmsford Chieftains were playing the Streatham Redskins, so we went to see that. Furtle has been hoping to get to see some ice hockey for ages and this seemed to be just the job. It turns out that not only have Chelmsford won their league, but Sunday night’s game was the second of a two-leg cup final. Chelmsford went into the game with a healthy 7-2 lead and won 10-3 on the night, which made it all rather comprehensive.

I must admit to enjoying it, despite reservations beforehand. I can’t pretend to have understood many of the nuances, or why certain things were penalties and others weren’t. Ice Hockey seems to be rather more about speed and aggression rather than nuanced tactics, so I doubt my ignorance made much difference.

Had the Chieftains had any remote concept of merchandising, I probably would have bought a replica jersey, but I was saved the expense. I know they’re available, people in the crowd were wearing them, but I assume they are only available from local sports shops. They were certainly not in evidence at the ice rink.

Monday saw us drive up to Audley End to meet friends and have a wander around. It’s the place where the duck kept pecking my boot last year, trying to get be to feed him. It was a bit too blustery this year and the ducks were wisely elsewhere.

Next weekend, we’re thinking about visiting RHS Wisley, but for now I’m back in the office.

Dreary, My Dears. Dreary.
* * *
A couple or three weeks ago ellefurtle and I attended an after hours talk and tasting on the history and revival of absinthe at the National Gallery. It was quite interesting, particularly as the main speaker Ted Breaux (https://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2012/07/ted-breaux-jade-liqueurs-and-the-green-fairy/), was incredibly enthusiastic. This all rather followed on from a visit a bunch of us made to the Absintherie (http://www.absintherie.cz/en) in Prague before Christmas.

In Prague I declined, killjoy that I am, to try any and just drank water while the other three tried a couple of glasses. I don’t like aniseed drinks see, absinthe or not. I had a sip of each of the varieties on offer at the talk at the National, but despite all the enthusiasm around me, I couldn’t really tell the difference between any of them and frankly they taste pretty much the way I imagine the devil’s earwax would. Of course, if there had been any sugar around that might have made a difference, but frankly, you shouldn’t need to add sugar to make something palatable.

Since all this happened, an enthusiastic Furtle has obtained a couple of absinthe glasses, an absinthe spoon and a small carafe to keep the water in. She has also acquired a half bottle of a particularly posh absinthe. This will all go into the cupboard with the whiskies, whiskeys, vodkas, brandies camparis and other suspicious liquors that I shan’t be touching. There is just room for my single bottle of Madeira (which remarkably, ‘evaporates’ faster than I can drink it myself) and the gin, which I do like.

Not being a fan of pretty much any spirit, other than gin with a healthy dollop of tonic, (I used to like Southern Comfort, but having made myself very ill on it over 20 years ago, I can no longer face the stuff), I have decided that I shall have one last try and but some jenever gin – the ancestor of modern gin and still popular in the Low Countries. I am beginning to fear an attempt to keep me away from it, however. A number of times now, when I have pondered buying a bottle in one of the larger supermarkets, Furtle has suggested that I wait and get advice from a specialist.

Hmm…
* * *
Despite the best intentions I seem to have allowed some time to pass by since I last updated. I guess I’ve just got out of the habit.
So where are we and what have we been up to?
Primarily, I guess, the news is that we took the first week of February off work and took the opportunity to go to Stockholm for a few days on the run up to my birthday. Last year I didn’t really celebrate my birthday on account of Mum dying, so this year I wanted to do something and I’ve been trying to persuade ellefurtle for some time that Sweden is a nice place to visit and that Stockholm is a major European capital where they do more than shoot stray elk and eat pickled herring.
The other reason I fancied it was to go during winter when hopefully the waters around the archipelago might be frozen and there would be some snow lying on the ground. Even on the rare occasion we get a proper winter in the UK – particularly the south, it is so seldom as to be noteworthy when the mercury drops to anything close to the seasonal average for Southern Sweden. I spent a fair while during January monitoring the weather in Stockholm and was gratified to see it varying between -7˚c and, when the wind was in the north, -20˚c. We hit Amazon and various other retailers and ensured that we had appropriate gear for the cold weather – not arctic quality, obviously, but certainly warmer than normal UK clothes – and prepared for the trip.
Of course, it rained before we got there, didn’t it? Temperatures rose to UK winter cold, which is positively balmy for the region. The snow melted and the sea and lakes thawed. By the time we got there, there were a few sheets of ice bobbing around in the harbour and we did find one sheltered corner where it hadn’t melted, but by and large…
It did snow on our last night, so we did manage to get out and have a taste of proper winter, albeit briefly.
Annoyingly, the only flights, or at least the only reasonably priced flights with airlines we are prepared to entrust our lives to, go from Heathrow terminal 5. I’d never used that terminal before and it turns out that it is pretty good and rather easier to use than I recall being the case with the other four. Nonetheless, it is still the ultimate drag getting across London by rail ands tube from Ilford (coming back was worse) and if I ever get to be in a position to decide these things, there will be flights from City Airport, so there.
The flight itself was unremarkable – unlike the pre-Christmas trip to Prague, we left on time and were not cramped into tiny seats – this flight was BA, the other was Czech Airlines. (We are never flying Czech Airlines again, unless it is a straight choice between them and Ryanair). Passport control at Stockholm Arlanda Airport was easy enough, though it is clear that Schengen, if not dead, is coughing up blood. Baggage reclaim was simple enough.
I had prebooked a return ticket for both of us on the regular bus/coach service. Unfortunately the driver was disinclined to accept the e-tickets on my iPhone, so we were left stranded until the next bus arrived. That time was spent in discussion with equally baffled information staff who couldn’t see the problem, followed by me trying to look something up on a Swedish computer, where the default language for everything was, naturally, incomprehensible to me. In the end we just waited for the next bus and that driver, having tried and failed to scan the bar codes, just punched in a couple of numbers on his keypad and let us on.
We arrived a little later than anticipated at the City Terminal in the city centre, where we were met by our friend, Niclas, who walked with us to the hotel, Hotel Victory on Gamla Stan – the old town area of Stockholm, on its own little island. We checked in and then wandered out to find beer and food.
Anyone planning to visit Stockholm could do far worse than book the Victory. It is one of a small chain of three, all based on Gamla Stan and all nautically themed: ours after Nelson’s flagship, the others being the Lord Nelson and the Lady Hamilton, respectively. Our room was small but cosy and it is the only place I’ve ever stayed where they provided the guests a small decanter of port gratis every night as a night cap. There was also unlimited, albeit make it yourself, tea and coffee available. Each room is named for a Swedish naval captain and the whole place is filled with antique bric-a-brac with a nautical theme.
Stockholm in the winter is remarkably quiet – or at least it was while we were there. The amount of traffic on the road felt more like a reasonably prosperous north midlands market town and down by the harbour, most if not all of the tours/bars etc were closed for the season, lending a similar air to off season in many a British seaside town. Away from the harbour, though, it was much busier. We only made a couple of museums – the Vasamuseet – the purpose built museum holding the restored remains of the Vasa, a warship that sank in the 17th century (and one of my favourite all time museums, by the way) and the Nationalmuseet, which is a mixture of local history from Viking times onwards with some natural history thrown in.
We avoided the Nordiska Museet, as it features aspects of Nordic (primarily Swedish) life etc and we thought it sounded worthy but tedious. We decided to leave the remaining museums until Monday, only to find that Museums in Stockholm do not open on Mondays. And the Army Museum is closed until the summer for refurbishment.
Nonetheless, plenty to see and do and lots of good walking to be had.
I think next time we go there, it will be in the summer so that we can take boat trips out and about, but I’d like to go again in winter, but when the winter is behaving itself.
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* * *
So this weekend I went to play board games in Marlow at my friend Martin’s. This was the first time in over three years – the first time, I think, since Furtle and I got married, so probably four years.

These are weekends I used to attend rather more often – two or three times a year, for many, many years. A bunch of friends would descend on his house for the weekend and we would play games. In later years this normally meant one of the 18xx train variants and they always took ages to play. Far longer than the designers intended, simply because more than one of the people there would analyse each move as though their life depended upon it. My preferred tactic was to make my move and then wander off into the living room and, depending upon circumstances, chat with the lady of the house, read a book or nervously track the football scores – or, indeed, and combination of the three. Between times we would play shorter, less complicated games, but Saturdays were nearly always set aside for THE game, a big game.

My attendance has fallen off to zero in recent years for a couple of reasons: it is an absolute bloody bind getting between Ilford and Marlow by public transport – though this tends to be the Sunday travail (!) as I go direct from work on the Friday; and over the past few years nearly every games weekend has been unerringly set on the one week in five that I have something else to do. That said, there was one, which when it came to it, I simply couldn’t be arsed.

Anyway. This weekend we played Civilisation. It’s a long way from being my favourite game. It is one of those that with seven players is expected (even by the designers) to take about twelve hours to play. That wouldn’t be so bad (though bad enough), but it is also the same kind of game where you can realise a third of the way in that you are losing and that there is no way back. Eight hours of losing ever more badly is not my idea of fun. I don’t mind losing games. If I did, I’d almost never play them, but usually they are either short games, or you can retrieve a poor situation for most of the game, or both. This is not possible with Civilisation.

We hadn’t played (or at least I hadn’t played) for at least fifteen years. Martin wanted to play it and we grudgingly agreed. It wasn’t as tedious as I’d remembered, but I was aware that I was getting nowhere after about four hours and despite having more victory points than two other people in the game, the odd faction rules (which are different for each civilisation) meant that I came a resounding last. Still. It’s played now, so we can put him off for another fifteen years or so.
* * *
During the Christmas Holidays Furtle and I bowed to the cultural imperative and wandered along to see the new Star Wars movie. She was looking forward to it more than I was, I mean the original trilogy would have dominated her childhood in a way it missed mine by a number of years. I was 18 when the original came out, and I’m pretty sure I never saw Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi at the cinema. Well, nit until the late eighties when they showed all three back to back at the Prince Charles off Leicester Square. My main memory of that event is blinking in surprise that it was still daylight when I exited the cinema, and being barely able to stand upright as my legs were so stiff. Left to my own devices, I should probably have waited for the DVD release, or watched it on telly in 4-5 years’ time.

I think I watched the prequel trilogy at the cinema. I know I watched one of them there, but I can’t remember which. Liverpool were busy coming from 3-0 down to win the European Cup on the same night, so you can probably work it out from that if you’re so minded. I’m not.

Anyway, Furtle was clearly more excited than I was at the prospect of seeing the seventh film in the franchise. I’m not done with franchise movies by a long chalk, but this is an idea that goes back 40 years and I have a feeling that someone should come up with a new franchise. For what it’s worth, I think the same about Trek and I used to be an enormous Star Trek fan. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t paled for me yet, but it has its fair share of duds and I’m not sure how much longer they can milk it before it is clear that someone needs to call it a day. I suspect the first time they recast one of the main characters will start the unravelling. The Hulk is a special case; most of the time he’s just CGI anyway and we can safely quietly pretend the solo outings never happened. They neither add to nor subtract from the overall narrative.

But back to Star Wars.

Maybe we left it too long and allowed the media hype to get to us. Maybe we were so jaundiced by the quality of the prequel trilogy that there isn’t quite enough goodwill left to prop the franchise up. I don’t know. What I do know is that while I wasn’t actually bored by the film, I did spend a lot of it yawning mightily and we both left the movie feeling rather flat rather than elated.

Visually it was right, but the pacing was off – too much catch up plot and not really time to develop it. I know that it is inevitable that the movie should centre around and showcase the new characters, and rightly so. The Old Guard is getting a little long in the tooth and the Star Wars universe needs its generational change. But I didn’t feel the chemistry, or any particular strength of acting from the younger characters. The movie only came alive for me when the older characters were on screen and I think that might have been nostalgia more than anything.

Of course there was also THE THING that happened. THE THING should have waited until midway through the next episode in my opinion; it felt too rushed.

I probably need to se it again at some point, to appreciate it better, but at the moment, six out of ten is the best I can muster.
* * *
If there is one positive aspect to commuting into central London in the first week of January, it is the fact that it is quiet.

A fair number of people have clearly extended their Christmas break until midweek, or even until 11th January, which is nice if you can manage it. I suppose that school holidays play a part in this, but whatever the reason, the Tube isn’t too crowded and you can navigate the pavements around Westminster without getting too annoyed by the crowds. This is aided by the post-New Year lull in tourists. January is a good month for tourists, by which I mean they are relatively few and far between. Of course, those who do come to visit up their game in the annoy-the-commuter stakes, but nonetheless, this is a time of year when my blood pressure is spared seas of radio controlled Asian tour groups, or randomly swarming Italians and Spaniards. There are also – and this is an important factor – no squealing masses of over-excited school children being herded from one piece of cultural heritage to another.

Sadly, Easter is early this year, arriving at the end of March, rather than mid April as it usually does. That means that the early year tourist gap will be short this year.

For 2016 this all has a greater impact on me than in previous years. As ever, I start the year with a view to losing weight and trying to get a bit fitter. I am close to attracting my own moons into orbit around my waist, so I need to at least try.

Since I am notoriously poor at keeping to strict diets, I am going to try a combination of eating less and better, but not structuring it as a diet as such. In addition, I now have and have had since a couple of weeks before Christmas, one of those FitBit fitness bands that you wear on your wrist. It’s a fairly basic version, which measures the approximate number of paces you take during the day, approximate minutes of activity, and if you remember to tell it when you went to bed and got up the next morning, it will have a stab, based upon the amount of thrashing around you do in your sleep, how much proper rest you got.

The upshot is that I am trying to make sure that, on average, I manage 10,000 steps a day. This equates to about 5 miles and even wandering to the tea point and back adds a few paces. Interestingly, even I find that if I synchronise the fitness band to my phone and find that I am a couple of hundred paces short, I am happy to take a couple of ‘long cuts’ to get the pace count up. A couple of times I’ve even broken the 15,000 paces barrier, but ironically this seems to happen when I wander off to the pub to meet friends, though I did manage to get some good numbers up when we were in Prague.

Even if I forget to synchronise at any point, the wrist band buzzes when I hit a milestone.

Anyway, so far, so good. It’s early days yet and I haven’t bothered to weigh myself. I find that to be too depressing. I shall measure progress by belt notches and shirt bulge (or even the ability to wear the waistcoat I got for Christmas fully buttoned whilst sitting down). As has been the goal for the past nine years, I want to be able to wear my leather submariner style jacked buttoned up. Not that I shall wear it buttoned up, of course, but they hang better if they can be buttoned. I managed that briefly for a few weeks a couple of years ago, but then I wasn’t trying to maintain a five miles a day walking average.
* * *
Happy New Year, mes amis. I see that I’ve managed to go an entire month without posting, which is clearly remiss of me.

Must do better.

So, what’s happened since November? Christmas and the New Year Break, obviously. Today is my first day back and I have to say (and this will come as no surprise to you) that I would really be pretty much anywhere else but here, but as usual there are bills to pay et cetera and so forth.

Christmas itself was quiet – we stayed at home and hid from the world, though we did have colonel_maxim over for two nights, which was good (we got the band back together). Apart from (over) feeding and watching Doctor Who and a couple of other telly progs, we didn’t actually do much. On the 27th we went to ellefurtle’s folks for a second Christmas with her side of the family. Being a couple of days after the actual day, it meant the pub was open properly, so we took advantage of that for a couple of hours while Elle’s Mum wrangled the duck, which was stubbornly refusing to cook at the anticipated rate.

For New Year itself, we simply hid. We did nip out to buy a few essentials – the place was, and to an extent still is, stuffed with seasonal fare, but we needed bread and other staples (and, of course, cat litter. The little blighters are just digestive tubes).

Earlier in December was rather busier. Right at the beginning of the month I attended the eighteenth Annual GASP weekend – that’s eighteen years we’ve been mooching off to Norfolk (mainly) for pour long weekend of lads-only boozing and gaming (the actual event has been going a few years longer, but used to be held in North London, when three of the crew had a house large enough to accommodate us all).

I managed two whole days back in the office before we slipped off to Prague for a few nights for the Christmas Markets. I’ve never been to the Czech Republic before and was rather surprised – in the Old Town at least – at just how Anglicised everything is. By which I mean that even the shop names were in English. In fact, other than the currency and the fact that they drive on the right, it might almost have been a very old and ornate city in England. This was a bit disappointing, though I still enjoyed the trip. Last year (um… 2014), we went to Heidelberg in Germany, which is smaller, but I think the compactness helped, at least from the point of view of the Christmas markets. Prague was rather more widely spread and that, together with the unseasonable weather meant that it felt rather less Christmassy than I’d hoped. Nonetheless, we enjoyed ourselves immensely and I think we will go again, though perhaps not at Christmas.

The weather was weird though. I managed to wander around in tee shirt and jeans much of the time – though the locals felt the need to wrap up- as it was so mild (it did get chilly at a couple of points, so I was glad of my sweatshirt and, once, my coat). Clearly Central Europe doesn’t get as cold as we’ve been led to believe. I need to check the average and projected February temperatures for Stockholm as we are intending to go there in early February. That’s somewhat further north, so it might actually be chilly up there.

Right. Better get on and do some work. I’ll try to update more often. Honestly.
* * *
We had our first proper cat fret this morning.

The cats have been allowed out of the house unsupervised for a little over a week. We showed them the cat flap and since then there has been no stopping them; we still leave them in the kitchen over night for the purposes of maintaining our own sanity, but they have their beds and water and access to the garden, so it’s not so onerous for them.

Even allowing for their roaming, there are usually a couple of furry bodies waiting patiently by the kitchen door to be allowed in and bounce on ellefurtle in bed on a morning when I go down to make the coffee. If they aere not there immediately, they are back in through the flap within moments once they realise that there is activity.

This morning it was just Peploe? There was no sign whatsoever of MoneyPenny. His Nibbs went bouncing upstairs as usual, but I have to confess to a little low level fretting when she didn’t show up. Three-quarter of an hour later there was still no sign, even after Furtle had wandered down the garden with the bell that we ring when we feed them, which normally brings them scooting at warp speed. Furtle did find MoneyPenny’s collar on the garden path. She even wandered up and down the street out front for a few yards in either direction in case the cat had got out the front.

Still no sign.

We put the biscuits out for the cats – usually a good way of having their radar ears guide them in. Just Peploe? again. I have to confess that by this point, there was some serious fretting going on. I took the bell down the garden and we thought about hailing the builders next door (in the never quite finished bungalow), when Furtle saw the cat in the cherry tree. Just a little higher and a little further along the bounciest of branches than any cat we’ve ever seen up there. She clearly had no idea how to get back down and was looking very nervous. Furtle managed to coax her back, but she slipped on the last yard by the trunk and landed on it with a bit of a thud before scooting under a bush, all wide-eyed and panicked.

Shortly afterwards we got her back in the house and after she’d wandered around a ;little she trotted over for breakfast and since we’d got ready early on her account, we managed to squeeze a bit of fussing in too, which the normally slightly stand-offish creature seemed to appreciate.

It took most of the walk to the station at Ilford for the adrenaline to wear off. I guess we’re proper cat parents, now.
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