Would have been mother's birthday. Meet
drop in at his artist friend
exhibition opening. Then we go to Daniel's guitar session, and on to Franc's
for wine and Stilton dinner. Here's
commissioned by British Airways.
Idle day in Budapest. Late lunch with charming Alina. Write to-do list. Listen to more of
Early flight out of Rome takes me on a walk of at least a mile through part of the
airport at Fiumicino. But even the security guards
checking our baggage at six in the morning are laughing and enjoying life. Once
in Hungary, normal gloom settles back into place. After a midday sleep, I visit Heikki
& Isabel at
office. Isabel says I look so
I seem stoned. This is probably a compliment.
More wandering around Rome with Bob. Our hotel is near the Spanish Steps. The area
where John Keats died from tuberculosis is now filled with prosperous, tasteful
boutiques. Department stores have made very little headway here. It is still a
town of small, elegant specialist shops - the idea of buying things
anonymously without meeting shopkeepers probably seems odd to Italians. Even in
bookshops, Romans chat and laugh in small groups. The police kerbcrawl
down pedestrian alleys in powder-blue Alfa Romeos with go-faster stripes.
We visit the
Museum of Oriental
Art and see some lovely Persian ceramic work. We enter an
church that looks as if chunks from several different centuries have been grafted together.
Inside, a glorious Baroque false ceiling hangs low over rows of red plastic chairs.
One peculiar aspect of my
room is that the lights only work if you leave the
keys in a sort of control slot near the door, and conversely you cannot switch all
of them off unless you take the keys out. This means waking up at night and finding
the time is tricky, and involves stumbling through complete darkness to the door with
the keys. Roman centralisation taken to a slight extreme.
Very good breakfast nearby with Bob. Quite striking that the simplest
food items you get here are both good to eat and reasonably priced. All Romans
want to do is dress well, eat well, chat each other up, stroll around among
dramatic architecture, and fuss over beautifully groomed fluffy dogs and
adorable toddlers. That and a bit of stylish driving. Hard to argue with. Delicious lunch
just outside the centre at a restaurant just above the beginning of the tram tracks
as Bob tells me about vindictive students. Later we revisit the
and later the
As dusk comes on, we see an extraordinary sight while I finish some
[predictably good] roast chestnuts. At
a monument to Italian unification, first it looks as if wreaths of smoke are billowing
above the square. Then we notice they are moving fast for plumes of smoke and changing
direction too quickly. These are clouds of thousands of birds, wheeling and turning
together in the air to form pulsing balls, columns, and ribbons of dots, all moving
in perfect unison. At a rough guess, there must be about ten thousand birds taking part
in this display at least, always forming three or four rival plumes of rippling
pseudo-smoke, each made up of at least a couple of thousand birds. Hypnotised, we
watch this for about twenty minutes as night falls.
Early morning flight to Rome. As the aeroplane waits on the runway, I finish
Robin's copy of
Shepherd's Calendar' by John Clare. Each month is headed by a woodcut from
Gentleman, working surprisingly well, though done in the 1960s. Clare's writing
has a convincing elegaic quality. He mourns the disappearance of Northamptonshire
country customs even as they were still alive. Clare was a farm labourer, and his
writing shows a detailed love of the land as well as a sense of what tiring
physical work feels like. He imagines how fairies & sprites "thro each
key hole pop and pop / Like wasps into a grocers shop" - saying
goodbye to a
time when earthly and imaginary lived side by side. Clare uses no full stops and
keeps his rhyme schemes [AABB and ABAB] straightforward, only introducing
some complexity in November so that we feel the arrival of dark, disturbing storm
weather. Haunting to realise that Clare's declaration of love for
the rhythms of country life was at the printers in 1825,
the year the first steam locomotives on steel rails
in a few parts of England were changing everything.
At the airport various Italian men in different uniforms
all give me a shrug which translates roughly as "Yes, I'm good-looking.
So?" Rome's metro has a faded 1970s retro-fascist feel, with grubby cream marble,
white concrete, and fibreglass panelling in brick-orange. Find the hotel, get a note from
Bob, and locate Flavia at
We chat, and she tells me something odd about
Rome traffic - that it's not as bad as London driving. On my way to meet Bob, I start
to see what she means. Everything is negotiable. Roman drivers with their sunglasses
on their heads are simply too cool and vain to actually kill anyone. Pedestrians and
cars mix at various speeds on all roads, and it works rather well. Back in my strange but
comfortable hotel room, if I walk across the
terracotta-tiled floor in bare feet, I can feel where the underfloor
heating pipes are laid.
computer shop in the village last night let me use their hot spot
to buy myself a cheap train ticket online. Travel down to London, intrigued to
see how much
Express has changed since the bad old days - they run train
services now, and this one offers free WiFi on the train! However, it doesn't work,
so perhaps not so much has changed after all.
This forces me to socialise with a real person, a doctor in training in the
next seat who wants to specialise in plastic surgery. He tells me about his volunteer
work in Cambodia where apparently paying people to throw sulphuric acid in someone's
face is rather common. Disfiguring a Cambodian costs five dollars he says, but
melting the face of a foreigner is usually twenty dollars. Meet Piera briefly, but
I must cruise outlets of the 3 firm in a continued struggle to make my modem work.
Kensington 3 direct me to Oxford Circus 3, and the latter put me on the phone to
customer support again. As the clock moves towards 8pm, their closing time, I see
I am still getting nowhere. Some of the old edge comes into my voice at 7.50pm, and customer
support suddenly put me on the phone to another Indian, who knows exactly what the problem is.
At two or three minutes to closing time, with a ring of retail staff standing
[fairly sympathetically] around me, the Indian down the phone who has seen the
problem [or "issue" as we have to say now] before directs me to download new drivers
for the modem from the
Republic website, not the UK site. The third file, missing from the British
download page, does the trick, and the modem finally works. The Oxford Circus staff seem
happy for me. I go straight to Charing Cross for a train to Gatwick, having decided
my flight is so early I need to sleep at the airport. A cheery group of Londoners on the
first train are talking about hitting a rat on the head. "I felt sorry for it" says
one, "I couldn't kill it, so I carried it outside and let it go." He adds that he
went back to the place where the rat had appeared, ate a lot of food and "felt
pleasantly sick". I ask them if they realise this is going on the Internet, and
they all laugh.
At Gatwick I find myself signing into a slightly sinister windowless hotel
to indicate its youthful
hipness. The corridors have violet
lighting, there is lots of curved white plastic, and it feels
I am in the disabled person's
sleep cubicle, where I accidentally pull a
distress cord and set off a piercing
alarm noise. The coat hanger is very design-awardy, with a
closed loop instead of
a hook, so I have trouble hanging it where I want it. All a bit
though very convenient for 6am check-in a couple of hundred yards away.
Go back into Manchester to ask the 3 team why their modem is no good. Spend another
hour in their showroom on the phone to customer support to no avail. Cheer myself
up by buying a short Muriel Spark novel on the way back to the Yorkshire village, called
Finishing School', nicely written, slim, easy to finish before
my evening bath. Rowland teaches creative writing in a modern-day Swiss finishing
school he helps to run while struggling with the novel he is writing. He becomes
gripped by obsessive jealousy when it seems one of his students, 17-year-old Chris,
is also writing a novel, probably better than his and destined to be
published at once. I'm not really a Spark fan, but the story-telling is elegant
and her touch couldn't be lighter. Not bad work for a woman of 87 in 2004, when she
wrote it apparently. The handful of rich, brittle adolescents is well portrayed:
characters like Princess Tilly are depicted in a handful of words. The fashion show
they organise is especially enjoyable. One or two mild echoes of the weekend past.
Train up to Manchester. John K meets me in town. He has a keen interest in local
history, so we look at some paintings in the
art gallery partly recreating an exhibition that took place in 1857. It seems that the
paintings thought in 1857 to be Giottos are now known not to be Giottos, and the
paintings thought in 1857 to be Duccios are now known not to be Duccios. We dine in an
almost empty restaurant opposite the town hall, getting a bonus free sponge pudding,
and John shows me two of the
signals he likes.
Afterwards John patiently waits while I buy a modem device to go with
my laptop. At one point we are queueing in a brightly-lit telecom store full of pink,
orange, and lime green, and I ask if
he has ever tried magic? He says do I mean conjuring, and when I say no he eyes me
carefully, asking "so this would be magick with a k, would it, Mark?"
Back in the Yorkshire village, I find that my new
modem does not work. I spend two hours on the phone with some earnest
Indian people at customer support trying various options without success.
Monday. We prepare for the journey back to London. Breakfast. Someone in a small
office off the side of the hall gets "regressed" in a special one-to-one session with
Piera burns a legal document in the fireplace, and Nora tells us about a man called
Holzer, a self-taught gardener and agriculturalist
helping to cure a disease affecting some trees in Spain. Katharina drives at impressive speed
along country lanes so that Piera, Nora, & I can catch the right train. Piera & I regroup with
Eugenia & Pablo at Piera's in London. This morning I missed a lovely downward movement
in the FTSE, but you can't have everything.
Helping out with other people's constellations today I act [or at least stand still as]
someone's murdered Spanish royalist great uncle from the
War in the 1930s. If I cannot quite imagine
I am in touch with this dead relative, it is clear from the tension in the room that
others feel strongly affected. Then am asked by The Master to stand in for Archduke Franz
Ferdinand, shot in Sarajevo in 1914, who it emerges was someone's father's uncle.
While standing still & silent, I try to feel suitably historic. The therapy is a blend of
Jungian psychoanalysis, spirit channelling, sacred geometry,
charades, and ancestor worship. Some people
here seem to really feel emotions and moods belonging to the people they are standing
in for, and the therapy is clearly helping one or two participants a great deal. In the
afternoon I do my own constellation, with special reference to a dead brother
and a polygamous Gypsy grandfather. While kneeling at the feet of
some dead relative of mine as instructed I feel the powerful grip of The Master
kneading the back of my neck - still trying to get those cathartic tears out. My inner
resistance to his healing must be stubborn! [What other explanation could there be?]
The whole weekend reminds me a little of the enjoyable HRF Keating novel
there was murder'.
Another tasty meal. No-one seems to like the delicious treacle tart left over from
several meals, so for pudding I have some again.
is interesting. The Master explains that emotional crises reverberate through
families over generations, and that often people take on grief or guilt on behalf of
another family member. An individual "constellates" their family's systemic problem [not
traumatic problem - that's a different kettle of fish, apparently] by explaining the bare
facts to The Master, and being invited to choose from the ring of people some participants
to act out family members. That person asks each person in turn to be their
mother/brother/uncle/whoever and gently pulls them into the ring. Then they move them by
their shoulders, standing, to an arrangement that represents how the family members
related to each other. Then Norbert asks the actors how they feel in their roles, and
moves people into different arrangements until harmony is restored, sometimes asking the
main plaintiff or patient to bow to this grandfather, speak to that long-dead sister,
asking their forgiveness, inviting them back into the family, and so on. Everyone feels
that at a certain moment all is in balance again, and that person's constellation is
finished and set in a final, healthy formation. During the three-hour midday break,
from 12 to 3, a group of us walk to the chalk drawing of a giant man on a nearby shallow
hillside. George finds he has started out on our walk still carrying his mug of coffee.
man, with his cheerfully erect phallus, might date from the Bronze
Age, or might only date from the 1650s, the sign says. Rudolf reveals that last night he
had a dream inspired by my teddy bear swinging on a string. I am thanked for helping
Rudolf to articulate an inner idea with my image. Until we are joined by a new couple,
I find I am the only English person in the house. There are two Italians, several German
speakers, an Austrian, two Spaniards, plus someone part French part English and part German.
Discussion frequently switches into German, because only one Spanish girl and I do not
speak it. Despite the Dorset countryside outside, it feels strongly as if we are in
some Austrian or Bavarian schloss or perhaps somewhere low-lying in Switzerland.
One of the new two people is English, and the other French.
Over dinner I ask her, a rather right-bank Parisienne,
if Lyon is the true centre of French cuisine. Smiling, but also bristling slightly, she
says "One of the centres!"
Today's exercises included a baby regression exercise, in which we all have to lie on our backs
in the cream-carpeted work room with our legs & arms in the
air, screaming for Mama [who, naturally, never comes] to the accompaniment of loud
music. At one point, under my eyelashes, I watch one of the therapists coolly surveying
the roomful of bawling adult infants. After a few moments, feigned baby pain becomes
sincere grown-up pain as the strain from leg and arm muscles begins to bite. Our
screaming gradually grows more authentic.
Wake up somewhere beautifully quiet and rural in
Several of us spent the night
in a cottage a hundred yards away from the main building where we walk over a
four-foot long flagstone to cross a little gurgling stream. Our cottage is called The Pink
House. If I squint at the outside carefully I can just see a very faint pink tinge
to the rendering. Obviously I've been too long on the Continent. In the main house
there are deep pink carpets and some pink wallpaper though, as well as roughly 150 numbered
and dated bambi skulls mounted on small plaques. These are crowded together along one
wall in the main hall. In the morning session, we do some exercises, such as
rebirth. I am reborn between the corduroy-trousered thighs of a likeable German called
Rudolf. Lovely food for lunch after our first three-hour work session
from 9 to 12. Big green trees outside sway and shush in the wind, sounding like
approaching traffic to my city-conditioned ears, but there are no cars anywhere.
In the session where we are asked about nursery rhymes and memories from early childhood,
I can only recall that I used to get my mother to swing my teddy bear [attached by a
long string to bannisters two storeys above] and sing a song. Apparently this
indicates a spirit twin in the womb strangled by an umbilical cord. No nursery stories come
to mind. Perhaps just as well.
to Luton, with some turbulence making me feel a bit icky. Get coach to London
and feel a bit poorly on the motorway.
Reach Giacomo & Piera's half an hour late and enjoy tea and cola with their Spanish
friends Eugenia & Pablo. Then around four thirty we drive off in Giacomo's car to the
West Country as night falls. My travel sickness returns, but we break the journey at
a motorway service station. Finally we drive up the gravel path of an early 17th-century
country house after dark, just in time for our welcome meeting in the work room - a ring
of chairs in a cream-carpeted sitting room. With Austrian hostess Katharina interpreting,
a muscular bald man from Munich called Norbert, explains the therapy to us.
Last night, could not wash my clothes until I found that the supposedly competent
washing-machine man left the water inlet shut off without telling me. This morning
I buy air tickets to London & Rome, meet Daniel the guitarist, do half an hour of
sound work with Kalman & Sam the film-director [voicing over Chinese and Iranian
weightlifters in a film made in Thailand], have tea & cake with
visit an art-exhibition opening
where we meet
the artist who recommended Robin read up on Osman Spare, and have more tea & cake with
Robin and I drive with my boxes back to Budapest through chilly fog, after a brief trip
to a giant Tesco branch outside Kecskemet to buy him a new mobile phone. We reach
the Siberian pine timber merchants just as they are closing at 3pm, so no kitchen
table for now. In Budapest, we eat pizza in a small empty restaurant. I sit next
to the giant wall mirror in the shape of a cut-out palm tree. Later we meet Istvan
and Miki. As we get out of the car near
Palace, Miki says something within
earshot about putting chocolate into a hole until it melts and then licking it out.
I ask if I can quote him on the Internet, and he says yes, adding that it is most important
there should be no nuts in the chocolate. Inside, Andrea is holding court with three
friends and a dish of olives. Miki explains his business in Germany. Piera sends news of
an intriguing gathering in Dorset this coming weekend.
makes an art portfolio with big pieces of cardboard. More browsing
Lots of lazy sitting around indoors with books, log fires, and local white wine.
of Grant Morrison sent me by
Vanese to play with sound.
Wake up in Robin's library with my nose almost on a low-shelved blue book of mid-1970s
pen sketches by
Thaw begins and snow starts to melt. I bring
half my boxes down from garage attic.
makes bird table, and is particularly
pleased with a pair of second-hand bellows he gets cheaply and is able to mend with
some little strip of copper tape he has been hoarding for several years. Explains plan
to obtain 1000 moles for covert purpose, part of which involves a boat drawn by swans.
By evening I find an article about
Apparently Jean Dubuffet was an early champion of these artists.
Wake out of vivid dream about pieces of cardboard manifesting as easily as clicks
on a URL invoke new browser windows. A majestic figure arrives to save me, and
I wake up as he is writing I Am The Legislator in red biro on a candle-wax-smeared
piece of paper. Am ready just five minutes before Robin turns up in Zita's old green
Benz. Drive to countryside. We lunch in Kecskemet and visit a delicatessen
where Robin tries to buy some Appenzell cheese for reasons unrelated to
being the last Swiss canton, in November 1990, to give women votes. The shop is
out of Appenzell, so he buys a similar cheese. Snow, mist and avenues of absurdly
photogenic frosted trees line the drive into the Great Plain. As the light fails in
the late afternoon, we don wellingtons to walk round the outside of his fields,
and find deer tracks in
the deep snow. Next to them, rather oddly, is a bloody detached deer's foot.
At dusk, Robin & I drag a sledge full of rooftop 'ridge' tiles across thick snow to
stack them on a spare pallet. As we do this, grey sky is underlit by a horizon
strip of sunset salmon cloud. This is edged by a trembling pencil line of red gold.
Indoors around a roaring fire we watch James Bond film 'Octopussy' with the boys on video:
O herself calls the plural of octopus 'octopi' [rather than the technically
correct 'octopodes' or the obviously English
'octopuses']. Then Bond throws the glamorous girl down onto
an expensive-looking mattress and 8-year-old Bela sagely asks if that's a
waterbed? In garage, I glue my split shoe with a tin of Evo-Stik.
At the urging of
Robin & I read web article about
Man from washing-machine service people comes round to replace the broken foot of my
Polar PDT 519. He has bad breath but is fast, friendly and conscientious. He quickly
and expertly unplugs the machine, gently wrestles it to the floor so we can look at
the feet together and has it all back in the wall niche in my flat before I remember
the spilt washing powder back there I meant to sweep up while he had the machine out.
I suppose if I was
a woman, I'd have made him remove the machine all over again so I could do a moment
of self-important cleaning, but I'm not, so I'll deal with it later.
Go to dumpy, cellar-based white-goods store and rage at muppets. Skype my bank and find
that - again -
security "team" have noticed me making withdrawals in Budapest, and
blocked my card as a result. Apparently, they do not recall our conversation of
the autumn where I revealed to them [as I regularly do] that I have lived here several
years. "Press for action",
as we used to jeer whenever the NatWest trader stepped into
T-bond pit... Relaxing Italian dinner with Robin.
To do this, I have to climb over machine into cramped space behind it.
Find one foot is not only not fixed, but is cracked and damaged, making it unfixable.
Fume quietly. Go out to cash machine, and three machines tell me I am not allowed to withdraw
money. Since I phoned the bank this morning and found I was comfortably in credit, the problem
must be the card. Three other cash dispensers are not working.
I go back to the kebab place and apologise, saying I cannot buy the two
pistachio-flavoured things I had ordered. The Turkish owner insists on giving them to
me on credit, despite the fact that this is only the third time he has seen me. Racism
perhaps - he trusts me because he knows I'm not Hungarian, but a fellow foreigner like him.
Slightly groggy. Roads less slippery. Do a couple of bits of editing for
friends. On one
Mr P urges us to discuss spoons. Chat goes from
absinthe spoons (thesis) through
more spoons to
revenge of the forks (antithesis) to
cutlery glasses (synthesis).
Streets very dangerous today, the rain-melted ice like greased glass. I walk at half
speed, inadvertently carrying out Coelho's
At swimming bath I do have to walk barefoot across ice to get into pool, because
the snow has melted and refrozen, and then it starts to rain. This persistent, irritating
rain brings to
mind a sci-fi story I read when I was small about a planet where the rain never stops, and
astronauts are occasionally driven insane by the drumming of the rain on their helmets.
It takes all 20 lengths for me to lose
the maddening feeling that someone owes me an apology for the fact that cold drops of
water keep falling on my head while I swim through the warm water. Out of the pool,
I walk gingerly down an icy path and find
Jeremy & Zita
and their child at the bus stop.
We chat for a couple of bus stops until they get off.
Franc drops by at my
flat, but I have no kettle yet, so we repair to his square and chat in the cafe next door
to his flat, and then more over a lovely dinner and some beers. We talk about
glue, and I get drunk enough to start banging on about
Swim at outdoor pool again, this time after dark. Quicker today.
Meet Marion & Paul at 6.30pm for a charity evening concert at the
Academy to raise money for a Liszt-focussed annual event
in Esztergom. One of the pianists is wearing a rather nice shoulderless
frock, though Marion tuts at me gently when I describe her as tasty.
Something to do with her being "only" 17. The three pianists play
Bach, Chopin, Liszt, and Brahms. I rather enjoy a
piece and a slightly flashy Bartok number towards the end.
I meet Jutka afterwards who is a potter, and also knows
Bartha, whose studio I used to pop into years ago to play with his clay.
Swim twenty lengths at the outdoor pool on the island in the Danube again. Since
I was at Robin's, snow has covered Budapest's streets and frozen into a ridged carpet
of lumpy ice. Quite grateful at the pool that someone swept paths through the snow across
the tiles to the pool edge so I don't actually have to walk barefoot across ice to
get into the water. The strange high returns in the afternoon: I feel as if,
should I wish to, I could bend metal bars with my bare hands. Franc spots me on the
street, tracks me down to the photographic studio, and shows me inside the gallery he is
sharing with Stephen before a quick fruit juice with Tomi & his girlfriend.
Meet Marion for mulled wine afterwards, and lack of sleep from
last night starts to hit me during the second glass of warm wine. Since I have to
stay up for Terri's party later, I finally allow myself a coffee, and alertness returns.
Marion & I talk about duty, love, and the difference between private and public.
Get to Terri's.
She is looking rather slinky in black, and talking about what
outfit she should have worn to be rescued from a dragon [one of her guests is a
Sir George]. She introduces me to Ronan and Buba, and I start downing glasses of wine.
Ronan has an identity-card book idea for me inspired by something he read during
his Tantric phase. With two flamboyant interpreters
we get talking briefly about sleep deprivation.
Terri has a
friend called Inya who tells me that the human sciences are still
Aristotelian in structure. Handsome escapologist Mr Merlini turns up and,
when Terri mentions bondage and catsuits, recommends me a pretty full-on S&M
website. Since his job involves being padlocked inside tanks full of water and ice,
he should know, I suppose. At this point,
reappears at my side like the fancy-dress-shop owner in
Mr Benn and
says it's time to go home.
Bela drive me to Lakitelek to meet my train. I have a worrying moment in the car
when I cannot find my keys. Life tests us every day. We arrive at the snowy station as
darkness falls on the Great Plain, and we munch a pizza while waiting for my train.
In the small pizza restaurant at the station, Robin & Bela change the television
channel to watch an extraordinary cartoon called 'Count Duckula'. A Donald Duck vampire
in a cartoon version of London is helped or hindered, I couldn't tell, by some animal
dressed as Sherlock Holmes. The cartoon's closing credits include script by
[the man has to make a living, I suppose] and someone in charge of make-up. Last
high returns - people seem to be looking at me, waiting for me to
say something to them, waiting for me to transform their lives.
I miss my train, and one five minutes later turns out to meet the
same connection. This train changes at Kiskunfelegyhaza, a new route. The station has
a quite smart early-modern pre-war ticket hall, with comfortable park-style wooden
benches of the kind they withdrew from Kecskemet's ticket hall so you can only sit
down there if you sit outside in the cold. A curiously deserted train into
Robin & Georgina sweep snow off the frozen pond. I now cannot remember when the
three of us watched a repeat of
the Opera' on television. 31st? 30th? This was filmed in October - made up of
bits of different operas sung by choirs dressed as policemen and football supporters
wandering around the concourse of Saint Pancras station in London on the station's re-opening
night. Supposedly the flashmob people organised much of it.
A romantic aria brought tears to my eyes again - the same one that
played me off YouTube
the summer. Must think again about classical music.
Mid-afternoon, Robin returns late having picked up Letty from somewhere. They describe
finding a 19-year-old girl stumbling in the snow by the roadside. She had taken an overdose
saying she wanted to die. She was trying to cycle to a neighbouring village, but had
grown tired in the cold. The nearby village was where the father of her child lives.
Apparently she wants to die because the Hungarian equivalent of Social Services are
going to take her two-year-old child away from her. Robin phoned for an ambulance and
drove her back home. Shocked, Letty described how the girl's father opened the
car door and pulled her out by her arm, shouting abuse. Robin said the girl, a
Gypsy, was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. They had to keep her awake
in the car so that she wouldn't slip into a coma.
Thick snow lies on the ground. Muffled quiet outdoors. Perhaps
friend Zeno was right. He predicted a long, cold winter. This is because he saw wild boar
snuffling around in the woods late in the autumn, looking for some nut-type-thing to
fatten them up for the coming cold.
Mark Griffith, site administrator /
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