Tuesday 29 April 2014

The Clip On Earrings & The Daisy

When I was around seven, I used to want to have my ears pierced. I would ask every so often, only to be told that I had to wait until I was older. I can’t remember if the imposed age was 14 or 16, but at the time it felt like ages away. Some of my friends had pierced ears, and others were planning to follow suit.
I once went to my friend Laura’s house for tea when we were at primary school. We discussed my predicament, and decided that the best way to convince my mother that pierced ears weren’t so bad was to pretend I’d already had them done. Luckily, Laura had some bright red (slight Pat Butcher-esque) plastic clip on earrings that I could borrow, so I wore them home. At bedtime, I was surprised to discover that, despite my earlobes turning the colour of beetroot after hours of being tightly pinched, my mum didn’t fall for the trick.
I thought that the effort and throbbing lobes would at least go some way towards convincing her of my genuine desire for pierced ears, but alas, the age limit was still in place. And so, my friends around my decorated their ears with sparkle throughout the years, while I stood awkwardly next to them in as many bracelets, shag tags and snap bands as I could find.
Unfortunately, my neuroticism set in early, and by the time I reached the long-awaited age of ear piercing, I was too scared to get them done. Perhaps it was accompanying friends and seeing their faces as the trigger was pulled, or watching the thick crusted infected earlobes of fellow pupils at school, but something had changed my mind. I no longer wanted to, as my mum would say, “put holes in my body.”
So I endured many years of disbelief at the hands of my peers who simply could not believe I had made it through life without having my ears pierced.
Then, as I neared the age of tattoos, that started to appeal more. I toyed with the idea, but was always too terrified to commit to it, until one very hungover day when I was 18. I rang my friend and begged her to come with me, and together we headed to the tattoo parlour. The walls were covered in photographs of infected tattoos, with warnings of how awful all of the other local tattoo artists were, I have to say, I did not find this marketing strategy particularly reassuring.
I wanted something small, and something that I thought I would love forever. In the end, I chose a simple daisy, the sort you might doodle on your exercise book during maths. It was small, pretty and, I reasoned, when will I ever not love daisies!? And so, it was decided.
I wanted it to be hidden, so I asked to have it on my hip. I lay down, and began to sweat, as the tattoo artist scratched at my skin with his needle. After he was finished, the man told me I had radiated more heat than any person he had ever tattooed, which I can only assume was a nice way of acknowledging the nervous sweat dripping from my hairline.
That little daisy will be my last ever tattoo, mostly because I hope never to sweat so much in front of another person again, but I do love it. I haven’t grown tired of it, or felt embarrassed of it. I think this is due to the placement, it is hidden away on my hip, if it was on my forehead I would probably have had laser tattoo removal by now.
When I was pregnant, I was terrified that the tattoo would stretch and distort, leaving in its place a malformed genetically modified super plant that would stretch across the outline of my unborn child. And that as my stomach shrank back down, I would be left with a deflated, sagging flower etched across my stretch mark riddled skin. In actual fact, the tattoo has remained unharmed, totally oblivious to the stretching skin above.
Research by the British Institute of Dermatologists found that as many as a third of people later regret their tattoos (you can find out about this, and more, here). Do you have any tattoos? Are you filled with remorse about them, or do they feel like part of who you are?
Disclaimer: I was compensated for writing this post, but all thoughts, words and daisies are my own.

Monday 28 April 2014

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #42

Uch, I’m really struggling to find the time to blog these adventures at the moment. Fear not though, we are still heading out on our regular adventures, it’s just that I then let the photographs gather dust for a while before writing them up.

Last weekend we went for a walk at Etherow Park, we’ve been there lots of times on these adventures, but it’s always worth another visit. The area around the lake itself is slightly terrifying because I’m always sure this will be the walk where Ebony plummets into the lake and I am forced to dive in after her. I don’t even know how deep the lake is, and I can’t actually dive, so this fear plays on my mind. You hear of mothers lifting heavy vehicles off their trapped babies, but never dive-bombing into shallow lakes to save them.

This time we headed straight down into the education area, there are no terrifying drops or tempting lakes there so it felt like a better option. It was cold and drizzly, but not raining. We were dressed for cold weather, because Etherow is always ridiculously muddy even during droughts. The lovely people at Mountain Warehouse sent Ebony a waterproof jacket to wear on our adventures. It’s a magic jacket, and a pattern appears when it gets wet. Ebony chose the blue one which reveals a camper van pattern when wet. Ebony loves it, though once cried because the cars hadn’t appeared (could the lovely people at Mountain Warehouse not also have guaranteed rain?) I ended up having to pour her drink on her arm to stop her crying. Then of course she cried because she was thirsty.

They were also kind enough to offer me a coat too. I chose a waterproof jacket because I didn’t have one. That’s right, I have been on 41 whatever-the-weather great adventures without a waterproof jacket, and yes, mostly I got very wet. So I cannot explain how wonderful it is to finally have a waterproof coat, especially one with a hood because, let’s face it, umbrellas and toddlers do not go well together.

I was sort of hoping it would chuck it down so that we could get the most out of our new coats, while laughing at Laurie getting soaked in his sponge-like coat, but alas we were not in luck. We did, however, stumble across an amazing play area. One of the reasons I go to Etherow Park so much is that they don’t have a playground, so there’s no risk of Ebony sobbing the whole way through the ‘adventure’ because I dragged her away from the slide (anyone who was in the vicinity of Romiley Park on Thursday lunch will attest to the fact that she does not like to leave the slide). It was the end of Easter break, and I think they must have been holding holiday activities at the park, because there was an amazing set up in the education area.

A pile of pallets, large piping and hay had been set up, this was a ‘creepy crawly hotel’, and there were tree stumps scattered round a huge pile of bark. There were planks to climb on, and one to run across as it tipped from one direction to another. Ebony loved it, and spent ages climbing, exploring and running around. It’s lovely to see her excited about a makeshift play area like that, and gave me some inspiration for our new garden.

After a long time spent playing amongst the tree stumps, we eventually managed to persuade her to go for a walk. Ebony was really excited and kept pointing things out to us. We played pooh sticks on the bridge, but the water was flowing too fast so we improvised a few rounds of pooh flowers before calling it quits.

As we reached the river, I climbed into a tree, and Ebony immediately tried to follow me. It was quite steep, so in the end Laurie had to help her up, and we perched there for a while discussing the benefits of climbing trees. It was a really fun outing, definitely one of my favourite adventures yet.

Have you been on any great adventures this week?

You can buy a magic waterproof jacket like Ebony’s in the sale for £24.99 here. Ebony chose a blue one which is now out of stock, but there are other colours still available. The jacket I’m wearing is now in the sale so you can pick up to for just £39.99 here.

* We were sent the coats for free, but our hair, integrity and knickers are our own.

Saturday 26 April 2014

Living Arrows 16/52

Ebony asked for some spinach to give to the rabbits today, but ate most of it herself while the rabbits looked on hungrily. She loves the rabbits, but hasn't quite mastered the right way to act around them yet. Her enthusiasm is quite terrifying for our newest bunny, Hazel, at times.
living arrows

Wednesday 23 April 2014

A Vegan Easter Egg Hunt

Everything is so much more exciting now that Ebony is old enough to understand concepts like Easter. Not the whole Christian backstory, just the fact that there’s a rabbit and he brings eggs. Last year she was bemused when we handed her an Easter egg, but this year she had been looking forward to seeing what Easter bunny was going to bring.

After much discussion, we decided to get her a box of smaller carob eggs, rather than a big one like last year. The big one came in a pretty dull box, and looked really uninspiring, so instead we got her some foil-wrapped sugar-free carob mini eggs (Don't let the name fool you though, they're not like mini eggs. Vegan mini eggs would be my dream come true, please make it happen). She has had sugar now, but only on the odd occasion, and I think it makes sense to limit the amount she eats while she's happy to do so. Under strict orders to avoid sugar, her grandparents got her a couple of these Playmobil eggs which I was really excited about.

On Easter morning, while Laurie got Ebony dressed, I ran outside in the gale force winds and hid all of the eggs, and the big bottle of gin Easter bunny had kindly dropped off for Laurie. Most of our garden it taken up by the rabbits, and the rest of it is in a state of disarray, so it wasn’t that easy finding suitable hiding places.

I’d managed to get a basket from a charity shop a few weeks before, so we left that on the fireplace in the living room for Ebony to find. She was so excited about the Easter egg hunt, having a two year old is so wonderful. Most of the time.

We went outside and Ebony immediately marched over to the rabbits and demanded to know where the eggs were. Luckily Sweep and Hazel weren’t giving anything away, so after a while Ebony began her hunt around the garden. Every time she found a foil wrapped egg she wanted to eat it, but I managed to convince her to find them all first and then we could take them in - it was really windy.

She found the Playmobil eggs easy enough because they were huge and bright, but some of the foil-wrapped ones took a little longer. Once she’d found all her eggs, and Laurie had spotted his gin, we went inside. I think she wolfed down three of the carob eggs within a few minutes, and then started trying to get into the Playmobil eggs.

I loved Playmobil when I was younger, so I was really excited for Ebony to get her first set. She was given two eggs, and has already spent a good few hours chattering away for the little people. She gets lost in her imaginary world now when she plays, so it’s been really nice watching her with the Playmobil. She’s also somehow managed to get through most of the carob eggs in that time.

I hope you all had a great Easter too.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #41

I was meant to write this post last week, but alas I was so busy with work that I didn’t have the time. Ebony was up early last weekend, and by 10am we were all dressed, fed and ready for an adventure. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I didn’t want to spend too long stuck in the car so we decided to stay close to home.

We decided to pay our first visit to the Roman Lakes in Marple. As we drove along the country lanes leading to the lakes, we talked about how beautiful it would be to live round there (in this house). The country lanes were really quiet, so when we passed a field of lambs, Laurie decided to get Ebony out for a closer look. Predictably this led to a ten minute struggle of pleas and reasoning to get her back into the car seat after the lambs had run terrified from the shrieking toddler.

It was quiet at the Roman Lakes, with only a handful of other people walking around. The lakes are beautiful, surrounded by grassy banks and colourful flower beds. There was lots of wildlife, and we managed to see a duck leading her adorable fluffy ducklings into the lakes for a swim. We also saw a heron by the side of the lakes, and were able to get quite close to him before he took off with the help of his impressive wing span.

We saw a goose do a big poo, and then spent most of the walk with Ebony pointing out each and every pile of goose poo we walked past. Ebony had fun throwing sticks into the lakes, and collecting sticks (Stick Man) to take home.

The lakes were beautiful, we’ll definitely visit again. Despite being a sunny day, it was quite windy by the lakes, so next time we might try to go down on a less breezy day.

Have you been on any adventures this week?

Find out more about my blog challenge here.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Living Arrows 15/52

 Look at Ebony's sad eyes as she watches her Daddy walk away. 

We went for a walk last weekend, and Ebony was having lots of fun with Laurie. They were throwing sticks into the lake, looking for birds, and talking about the plants. Ebony was momentarily distracted by a very big stick, and Laurie had walked off to investigate something in the meantime. When she realised he had gone, she looked heartbroken, and shouted for him until he returned. 

She loves spending quality time with Laurie at weekends. 
living arrows

Monday 14 April 2014

Please Don't Tell My Daughter She is Shy

My two year old is lots of things. She’s loud, determined, curious, thoughtful and always changing. She might be loud and excitable one day, and quiet and thoughtful the next. She might be daring and fearless one week, and cautious and unsure the next.

My daughter is a work in progress, she hasn’t yet figured out who she is. She is still trying things out, being shaped by her experiences, and, sadly, listening to what the world tells her she should be.

I try not to use labels to describe my daughter, I want her to figure out who she is, I don’t want her to be who she thinks I expect her to be. I don’t want to tell her she’s messy, or clever or creative. I just want to let her be, and I would really appreciate if the rest of the world would support me in this.

I hate hearing people assign traits to her, I hate listening to people tell her she is quiet, or clever or ‘bossy’. I hate when the same words crop up, reinforcing society’s ideals of who my daughter is, before she has even worked it out herself. I worry that if she is repeatedly told she is something, then that is what she will grow up to be, because she will think it is who she should be.

We went for a walk today, and Ebony wanted to go over and look at some horses. A rider was stood with the horses, and seemed over the moon that a child wanted to look at her horse. The rider went into CBeebies-mode and started talking in a very loud sing-song voice. She was so pantomime that I half expected her horse to actually turn out to be Ant and Dec or the Cheeky Girls.

“Hello! Oh wow, you like horses? Great! Do you want to know my horse’s name?”
Ebony stared at her awkwardly from a distance.
“Oh, are you shy?”
More staring.
“You ARE shy! Little girls aren’t usually shy around horses.”

Because, y’know, it takes testicles to truly understand the motivations behind horse-induced shyness. Of course.

This was the first time Ebony has ever been described as shy. I have never described her as shy, and I have never heard anyone else say it to her. And yet, this afternoon, as we were sitting on the sofa, she turned to me and told me she was shy.

It’s so depressing that an off-the-cuff remark from a strange can resonate with a child, and that it could actually affect how they think about themselves. I don’t want my daughter to classify herself as shy, or even feel that she should be shy. I want her to talk to people, and not talk to people, as she sees fit. And if she grows up with a dislike of painfully over the top friendly patronising horse riders, then that is fine by me. She is going to have to put that already impressive shit-eye to good use at some point.

Firstly, she isn’t shy, but I suppose she’s slightly cautious of strangers. Isn’t that normal? And anyway, if she was shy, rudely pointing it out is hardly going to make her warm to you. And finally, perhaps, she’s not shy, maybe you’re just being weirdly over familiar towards a total stranger.

Next time, I’m definitely going to reply with, “Oh, she’s not shy, I think she just thinks you’re weird.”

Thursday 10 April 2014

Living Arrows 14/52

We were enjoying some time in the garden yesterday - stroking the rabbits, kicking a ball around, and searching for snails. The lawn is waterlogged, muddy and, I fear, now ruined, because Ebony spent a good 20 minutes running and sliding across the muddiest patch.

As she was running towards the mud, she lost her balance and flew forwards. She landed face down and skidded into the flower bed. I waited for a moment, unsure as to whether this was going to cause tears, only to watch her jump up and squeal, "Muuuud!" before laughing loudly and going in for a second skid.

She was coated from head to toe by the time we went back indoors. I'm so glad she's not afraid of a little bit of mud, all of these outdoor adventures must be paying off.

living arrows

Wednesday 9 April 2014

We Like to Read: Cautionary Tales for Children

My Granny’s house is filled with old books. The covers are fading, the spines are damaged and the pages are darker at the edges. Last time we went to stay, I was having a look through some of the children’s books upstairs. I have a bit of a thing for old children’s books, and love nothing more than stumbling across a collection of vintage stories in the charity shop (the other day I came across an original Nancy Drew story!).

Last time we visited my Granny, I was looking through the books in the upstairs bedroom when I stumbled across Cautionary Tales for Children. First published in 1907, a 1957 reprint, this book is old. It is falling to pieces, and must be read with great care. On the inside cover, in my dad’s illegible scrawl, his name is smudged in fountain pen. He very kindly said I could have the book, well, he said Ebony could, but she isn’t great at taking care of things, so I’m holding onto it for now.

It currently resides on the mantelpiece in the living room, and Ebony points to it most days and asks me to read it. It’s a collection of funny stories and is lovely to read. It reminds me of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, because the rhythm is similar. Cautionary Tales for Children features funny stories about children who misbehaved and lived to regret it. Like the little boy who ran away from his nurse only to be eaten by a lion, and the little girl who burned to death for lying. Jolly book.
I’d never heard of it before, but it turns out it is a very popular and well-known book. I think Ebony likes the rhyming nature of the words, and the fact that it once belonged to her Papa.


Tuesday 8 April 2014

Please Vote for a New Playground

A few minutes walk from my house there is a community space. A couple of fields, filled with fruit trees, benches and football nets. There is a running track, and a lit path to guide children home from school in the winter months. There is basketball court, and, once upon a time, there was a park.

I don’t know what happened to the park, but I know it needs updating. There are railings with paint peeling off, bordering an expanse of uneven concrete. Weeds grow between the softer pads that once housed park equipment. If you squint, you can make out the foundations of a long departed climbing frame. When we moved here, all that stood at the park was a swing set.

The park is not filled with the sounds of children laughing, nor is it filled with the echoes of footsteps as children run between equipment. Perhaps it was, once, long ago. Ebony has spent a good few hours on that lone, creaking swing. But now, even that has gone, replaced by yet more emptiness.

It is, without doubt, the most depressing park I have ever seen. Hardly deserving of the title playground.

But, there is hope for the children who live in these parts. The community group who planted the fruit trees, and campaigned for the lights to guide children home on dark nights, are now fundraising for a new playground. A real park, with swings and slides and laughter.

The community group have organised events, applied for grants and engaged with councillors and local people to try and get this project off the ground. Local children, the ones who sometimes swing on that one lonely swing, have raised £12,000 through cake sales and other events.

And now, they have the chance of securing another funding bid for the pot. In fact, if they get enough votes, they could be awarded up to £25,000 towards the cost of a brand new playground.

It would be great if you could spare a couple of clicks to vote for them to win.

Please follow this link to vote for Cherry Tree Park project to win the money:

Thank you so much!

Monday 7 April 2014

Leave Childhood Alone, Ofsted

Another week, another headache-inducing headline about our education system. This time it’s Ofsted’s Chief Inspector complaining that nurseries aren’t doing enough to prepare our children for school (article here).

Is it just me who is glad that three year olds aren’t being prepared for school? I mean, isn’t that what reception year is for anyway? I believe three year olds should be busy being three year olds. They should be free. To do whatever it is that three year olds do. And the beauty of three year olds is that this varies between three year olds.

I don’t think three years old are built to sit down, shut up and listen to a teacher. Three year olds are curious, inquisitive and adventurous, and they are perfectly capable of being their own teachers. Three year olds are scientists, explorers and expressive artists. They are scholars and academics who learn through play. They can’t spend hours chained to a library desk researching, but they would love nothing more than hours of freedom to have new experiences and find new things to figure out.

It seems that each time a problem is identified, our government is quick to leap in the wrong direction. If children are struggling in the early years of schools, perhaps the answer is to invest more in those years of school. Maybe a better child to teacher ratio is required to make sure all children reach their potential. Maybe we need to find new ways to unlock the potential in these children. Maybe, just maybe, these children aren’t actually ready for school yet. Maybe they haven’t finished exploring, climbing, and having fun. Maybe they’re not ready to start the daily grind of school just yet.

But no, of course, the problem must be that our children are learning too late. If only we could shove dictionaries up our fannies to have them practising for spelling tests in utero. Maybe then we could fight our way to the top of the global education tables.

As a parent currently looking at nurseries, I am instantly put off any nursery who claims to prepare a child for school. I am much more interested in a nursery who develops the whole child, and a nursery who prepares a child for life. Because that’s what we really want, isn’t it? A child equipped with the skills for life, not just for eleven years of conformity at the hands of teachers.

I want to send my daughter to a nursery who will embrace her as an individual, allow her to take the lead, and support her in discovering new experiences. I don’t want to send her to a nursery who will prepare her for years of sitting at a desk.

I have only looked round one nursery so far, but it was amazing. The whole day was filled with free play, with the teacher sitting at a desk doing a structured activity (baking bread on Tuesdays, making soup on Wednesdays, and knitting or another craft on other days). Children were free to join in, or not join in, as they wanted. It was totally up to them. They spent a couple of hours outside each afternoon, whatever the weather, growing vegetables, gardening, climbing trees and exploring. It was really lovely, and had it been closer to home, I would have sent my daughter there in a heartbeat.

I am going to visit another nursery at the end of the month, and I can’t wait. It sounds lovely, the website talks about teaching life skills, being child-led, treating children with respect, and there is no mention of preparing them for school. Childhood should be about play, confidence and independence. It shouldn’t be about exam results or league tables. Life should be about enjoyment.

In response to Ofsted, 235 child education experts came together to pen a letter to the Telegraph about the importance of protecting childhood, you can read it here.

Saturday 5 April 2014

Living Arrows 13/52

Gazing lovingly at her grandparents. I think it's safe to say she is going to miss them when they head off on their travels next week. 
living arrows

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Blog Challenge: Great Adventure #40

Sunday was Mother’s Day, and we were meeting my parents for lunch at Dandelion and Burdocks, a lovely little vegan restaurant in Sowerby Bridge. It’s really beautiful in that neck of the woods, so we left sun-kissed Romiley to have an adventure in Yorkshire. 

As it turned out, the sun hadn’t stretched quite so far north, and I was slightly under-dressed in my summer dress and cardigan. We all had wellies on, and Ebony had waterproofs to protect her clothes so she didn’t turn up to the meal covered in mud.

We parked up for the restaurant, and then made our way to the canal for a walk. There were lots of ducks and geese on the canal, and Ebony wanted to sit down and watch them for a while. The ducks were very interested in us, and seemed to be trailing us for most of our walk.

The canal path was muddy, and Ebony was running around stomping through puddles, trying to get close to ducks, and hiding for cover from passing dogs. She has developed a real dislike of dogs recently, and no longer wants to say hello to them.

Ebony has developed a slight obsession with mounting blocks, and now wants to climb up whenever we come across one. There was one by the side of the canal, so we were stuck there while she climbed up and ‘jumped’ off a few times (not jumping at all, but being lifted down while saying ‘weeee’).

As we walked further down the canal, and away from civilisation, we noticed an increase in flies. They seemed to be aiming for Laurie’s mouth, and to say he was getting a little annoyed would be a massive understatement, so after 10 minutes of trying to reach the end of the flies, we decided to turn back. The ducks who had been following us, stayed still as we turned back on ourselves, and ended up right next to Ebony. They were fine with her saying, “helloooo”, but fled to the canal when she lurched forwards to stroke them. 

When we reached our starting point again, Ebony wanted to investigate the barge parked up on the canal. She ran along next to it, trying to peer in the windows, luckily the curtains were closed (sorry, barge people). At the end of the boat was the lock. It was a huge lock, much bigger than the ones she has seen before, so Laurie took her (because, it turns out, he really likes locks) to see how it worked. As he was explaining the finer points of lockery (not a real word) to her, the Lockmaster invited them into the ‘authorised personnel only’ section. I followed, and immediately regretted it, the drop down into the lock was HUGE, and I felt beyond terrified every time Laurie leant over to point something out to Ebony. What kind of person leans over a perversely high drop carrying a child?!

After that it was time for lunch, so we made our way over to Dandelion & Burdocks for a truly amazing Mother's Day lunch.

Have you been on any great adventures this week? ,

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Through Young Eyes: Three Million Children in Poverty

In the UK today, three million children are living (read: surviving) below the poverty line. 4,584 of these children live in the same parliamentary constituency as me (Stockport), and make up 24% of the total child population of the constituency (according to these 2012 figures). These figures are now two years out of date, and it is safe to assume that the situation has worsened since then.

The Children’s Commission on Poverty was set up by The Children’s Society last year to give a voice to the children and young people living in poverty. As is far too often the way, those who truly need it, are the ones denied the voice. Politicians discuss solutions without ever talking to those affected by the problems. The Children’s Commission aims to end that. A team of 15 young people are leading an 18 month investigation into what life is really like for those three million children. The Commission exists to bridge the gap between the decision makers, and the children whose futures are being decided in Parliament.

Growing up in poverty has a detrimental effect on the future of young people. Children living below the poverty line are:
  • less likely to go to further education
  • more likely to live in poor quality housing
  • more likely to experience social exclusion
  • likely to suffer poorer physical health
  • more likely to suffer from mental health problems
  • more likely to be victims of bullying

Financial worries do not just affect adults and parents, children are also losing sleep and suffering ill health as a result of financial insecurities. The Children’s Commission has found that children living in poverty are not only aware of the financial problems faced by their families, but are very worried about it.

These children are not often given a voice. They are not seen on the news discussing how cuts and falling pay has affected their families, and they are not receiving the column inches they deserve to share their story. The Children’s Commission was launched last year, and has already heard from thousands of children about their experiences of poverty.

At the end of the investigation, a final report will be released detailings the findings of the project. The Children’s Commission is not only looking to understand life for children living in poverty, but also how this can be turned into meaningful action. The Children’s Commission wants to put these three million children in touch with politicians, in touch with the media, and in touch with the campaigners and policy-influencers who fight on their behalf

The Children’s Commission wants to hear from you. Are you one of the three million children, or one of their parents struggling to make ends meet? Do you work with children affected by poverty? The Children’s Commission wants to hear your story, and to make sure other people hear it too. You can contact the Children’s Commission here to help them see poverty through young eyes.

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