In completing my eighth task, I am officially one fifth of the way through my challenge—but due to unnecessary pressure from three of my colleagues at work, it looks like one or two items on the list may well be amended..
Jen, Steph and Nik are the guilty parties, and I’ll post an update as soon as I’ve narrowed down their list of suggestions by removing those involving nightclubs, potential physical harm, or indeed both...
Yesterday, I paid a visit to the BBC studios in Newcastle, just a few hundred yards from where I work (perhaps I should have included the word “currently” for the sake of factual accuracy). I was met by Hannah Bayman, a regular on Look North both as a reporter and weather presenter, who had agreed to show me round the studios and add one more to a growing number of ticks on the list of completed tasks.
We had a walk round the offices, then chatted about the vagaries and extremes of the British weather, before heading off to what Hannah called “the gallery” (effectively the control room) to watch the live lunchtime news bulletin, which was being presented by Colin Briggs.
The fairly small room was dominated by a wall of monitors showing the various static camera views of Colin, alongside concurrent national broadcasts and filmed inserts. A handful of people sat at the consoles ensuring everything ran smoothly. Anything spoken by the director or his team would be relayed through the presenter’s earpiece, so there was very little noise, more an air of calm assurance. The job that particularly interested me was that of overseeing precise continuity, counting down to the end of a report and ensure seamless transitions throughout the programme (and to prevent Colin being seen yawning right across the region).
Now I’m not naive enough to think that the job is anywhere near as easy as the lady made it look, but if the essential criteria comprised “an ability to count down from ten” and “a willingness to press buttons and flick switches”, then I’d definitely be interested should a vacancy arise!
There is certainly a lot that goes into making even a short bulletin, but to my untrained eyes everything seemed to run perfectly. The programme ended, the director thanked everybody, and the room emptied every bit as quickly as Hannah said it would—so as well as the team’s collective technical expertise, potentially there’s a seriously good 4x100m relay squad in the making I’d say.
Hannah then took me to the studio. I sat on Colin’s chair (it swivels) and the Look North red sofa (very comfy and probably available with a DFS double discount), and then stood in front of the black wall that miraculously appears to the viewer as a map of the north east at weather time. Hannah then went and found a willing volunteer to take a few photos—rather randomly he also volunteered to set up an arm wrestle against a local cage fighting champion as one of my challenges. Really? With my guns?!!!
One of the hardest things about this kind of undertaking is knowing you need help to make things happen, but have to effectively get in touch with strangers to ask for that help. Irrespective of a charitable cause, it’s quite humbling that there are people who are willing to give up their time for someone they’ve never met. I’ve been very lucky so far, and I want to finish by saying a massive “thank you” to Hannah—you were wonderful company and I’m really glad I had the chance to meet you x
I received a phone call early on Monday afternoon, inviting me to be interviewed live on BBC Radio Tees about the 40Fify challenge and my own personal experiences of anxiety and depression. Whilst I had e-mailed to ask if the station would be interested in my story, I hadn’t really anticipated a positive reply, but the response was so quick and unexpected that I didn’t have time to say “no”!
Writing about what are essentially personal experiences isn’t easy, but something you do get used to: talking about them (essentially to strangers) is another thing altogether. But if I’m going to do this challenge justice, then certain things I’d probably prefer to avoid need to be faced head-on. And this was one.
I did make a few crib notes beforehand, in case the words dried up when I was faced with a microphone and I will admit to being far more nervous than I’d expected – I checked my pulse because it felt fast. It was fast.
I was to appear on Mike Parr’s morning show, and I was shown to the studio by one of the producers, Donna Haynes. Mike and Donna made me feel more at ease, but when the music stopped and Mike introduced me, there was a moment’s panic as to whether any words would emerge and be picked up by this bloody great big blue thing right in front of my face.
The words did come... thankfully and we discussed some of the challenges before moving onto the more serious part of the conversation. I must admit that talking so openly wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined – perhaps that had more to do with me knowing about the subject, rather than the actual nature of the subject?
Our chat was interrupted by some travel news (I think), which totally passed me by, before a brief resumption and a chance to give out my web and Just Giving addresses. And that was just about that. It was all over really quickly and both Mike (who was sat opposite) and Donna who was listening in the adjoining studio, both said that if I’d been feeling nervous, it didn’t come across during the inter-view. There was just time for a quick photo with Mike, before he returned to the airwaves... and I returned to my car.
On reflection, I can say that I actually quite enjoyed the experience of appearing on live radio and talking about something so important. It was incredibly kind of Mike and Donna to give valuable air time to someone like me, and to show an interest in what I am doing. I know one or two people who listened to the broadcast – thank you! – and I hope I came across reasonably well.
So, having done a pre-recorded segment for Miskin Radio, I can now include this live BBC Radio Tees appearance to effectively complete challenge no.10 twice – which is brilliant, but not a precedent because anything remotely reptilian is definitely one time only. If you want to listen to the interview, here is the link – I’m on around 2:07:35 (give or take):
During last Thursday’s question time in the House of Lords, the Labour peer Lord Dubs claimed that “the conviction of Stephen Ward is probably the most significant miscarriages of justice in modern British history... It seems to me part of a cover-up that has gone on since 1964.”
That “cover up” concerns documents relating to the case of Ward, a high-profile figure in the Profumo affair, and events which ultimately led to the resignation of Conservative Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, and a Tory defeat in the 1964 General Election.
Earlier this month, Mandy Rice-Davies – a former model who lived with Christine Keeler, the young woman at the centre of the Profumo affair – challenged a government assertion that potentially crucial documents concerning Ward’s case “could not be located”. Those documents are apparently in one of six files pertaining to the case, the other five of which are all available to the public.
Some have claimed that Ward was made a scapegoat in the scandal that rocked Parliament. Ward had introduced Keeler to John Profumo, the secretary of state for war: the couple embarked on an affair, before it was revealed that Keeler had also been involved with a Russian spy named Ivanov. Profumo famously lied to parliament, but his political demise was only delayed. Ward, however, was put on trial for living off the earnings of prostitutes, and the society osteopath committed suicide after he was found guilty.
Ms Rice-Davies believes the closed file contains a full transcript of the court proceedings and witness statements given in the lead up to trial, which could perhaps highlight issues with Ward’s conviction. But irrespective of what secrets the file may hold, and whether or not some documents have been mislaid, it looks like the truth may remain hidden until well after all the main protagonists have died.
With the fallout from the affair being felt during 1964, it is curious to note that the actresses who played Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies in the 1989 movie about the scandal... called Scandal were both born in 1964. Whilst Joanne Whalley (left, who portrayed Keeler) will celebrate turning fifty in August, today is her co-star Bridget Fonda’s birthday.
Bridget hasn’t been seen on the big screen for over a decade now, but as I approach my own half century, I just wanted to wish Bridget many happy returns, in the hope she’ll send me a card in June!!!
What else was there to do on a cold, wet and windy Saturday, than to have a go at another challenge? The seventh completed task was no.14 on the list—yes, the one involving the snake.
Now if you were hoping to see me enveloped by a twenty-something feet long reticulated python, you are going to be disappointed. Firstly, the local pet shops don’t seem to stock anything quite so big—the second reason has a lot to do with cowardice.
Earlier today, I ventured into Midchew Pets, which is in the Parkway Shopping Centre in Coulby Newham near Middlesbrough, and very nearly ventured straight back out again. The shop does have quite a few snakes, but the animal that was chosen by Anne to be my photographic companion for this task was an adult corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) measuring five feet in length.
There were one or two other candidates, but the dwarf boa (tightus squeezicus) in the next case threw a look that simply said: “Don’t even think about it. . . .”
Anyway, corn snakes are usually fairly docile, rarely bite and are blessed with attractive patterning that it’s hard to notice when you’ve got your eyes closed. This particular snake was around four years old; in the wild they usually live for six to eight years, but can live considerably longer in captivity.
Anne encouraged me to place one hand fairly near the snake’s head (easier said than done) and explained that the snake would curl its body around my arm. The snake did pretty much what Anne said, and although its body was relatively thin, it certainly wasn’t without strength (the corn snake kills small prey by constriction).
The skin was dry and smooth, not entirely what I’d expected, but apart from a couple of moments when its head turned and brushed against my hand, snake and human got on famously. Here are a couple of pictures by way of proof, and a massive thanks to both Anne and the snake for helping me to tick off another task.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the sixth of my forty challenges was completed today, with the publication of The Canarian Weekly, the Canary Island’s only English newspaper. On page 37, was the above article and photo all about my 40Fifty challenge along with some of my own personal experiences of mental health issues.
It wasn’t easy to write—it’s not supposed to be—but in the week of the announcement that our department will be closing at the end of the year as part of ongoing NHS cuts, I was determined to stay positive, speak openly, and hopefully prove that for all that whilst there are some fairly light-hearted tasks in my challenge, the message… the cause… it’s really important to me. If reading the article prompts even one of you to visit my Just Giving page and support the work of the charity Mind, then baring my proverbial soul (as opposed to my literal chest—that comes later) will have been worthwhile.
I am indebted to Maggie Lennard for helping to get a whole page devoted to some old bloke from Middlesbrough. I’ve known Maggie for something like thirty years—she’s actually my elder daughter’s godmother—but we lost touch and hadn’t seen each other for more than quarter of a century—until last August, when we belatedly met up in Tenerife, where Maggie and her husband Ian now live.
Anyway, rather than ramble on, I’m going to simply add the trans-cription of the article, in case the scan is difficult to read. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, any encouragement or support would be brilliant.
The first question I get asked about the 40Fifty Challenge I’ve set myself for the year in which I reach my fiftieth birthday is “Why are there forty challenges and not fifty?”
The official answer is that I wanted to recognise how much my life has changed since I turned forty—the real reason is I ran out of ideas! That said, I have compiled a list of pretty random tasks, some on the face of it relatively easy, others less so, but which I hope will be interesting and diverse enough to create some interest, and ultimately help me to raise some money for the mental health charity Mind.
So whilst I will hopefully bowl at a county cricketer, visit a television studio, sell a picture that I’ve drawn (I can’t draw), have a photograph taken with a London 2012 medallist, have a bird of prey fly onto my hand, attempt the hottest curry on an Indian restaurant menu, shave my head, track down a class-mate from my first school, play goal shooter in a netball team, bid at an auction and hold a snake (a real one I hasten to add) et al, I do not wish to lose sight of the charitable cause.
A number of years ago I was diagnosed with a form of depression: unseen, but so horribly debilitating. I’d outwardly cope with life’s ups and downs because... well because isn’t that what everybody does? And I’d try so hard to hide the occasional irrational thoughts, but there comes a point when it just gets too much.
This is basically what happened back in 2011 and resulted in two incredibly difficult, yet significant moments. The first was to sit down in front of the team I managed at work and explain I was suffering from depression. I was “encouraged” not to do it because it was so personal, but I just had to—and given their response to hearing me speak so openly, I’m so glad I did. The second was to post a blog about my experiences, written in the
aftermath of the tragic suicide of Gary Speed. I didn’t want sympathy, just to tell my story. The reaction from family and friends was so positive, and I know I am incredibly lucky to be married to Elaine, whose love and support during the occasional dark times has been wonderful beyond words.
In the scheme of things, I’m nobody important, but in a sense that’s just the point. Sufferers from mental illness in whatever form can come from any background, any walk of life: even the strongest aren’t immune. But standing up and asking for help is not a sign of weakness—in actual fact acceptance is the first, the hardest and the bravest step on the road that will hopefully lead towards recovery.
I might not make much of a difference, but one thing’s for sure if I do nothing, then I’ll make absolutely no difference at all. So over the weeks and months that follow, I’ll be doing my best to add more challenges to those I’ve already completed, which currently comprise receiving a tweet from Spice Girl (Mel C), an appearance on a radio show, visiting my first home and finding someone born on exactly the same day as me—even though I look at least ten years older, which was a blow...
And last but not least a game of 501 against an international darts player. Actually it was several games against England’s Glen Durrant, who recently lost out to eventual runner-up Alan Norris in the BDO World Championship. I may have lost every game, but threw pretty well, had a great time—and Glen has arranged for me to play him in front of 400 people at a charity exhibition in August. I’ve already decided on my entrance music: “I Missed Again” by Phil Collins!
So whether my adventures require some sporting ability or athletic effort, a camera, a paintbrush, an eagle, a roll (or two) of toilet paper or a large slithery reptile, you are more than welcome to follow my progress by visiting my website www.richard.kirby.org or, if you feel like going one step further, www.justgiving.com/40Fifty. I’m incredibly grateful for any support.
Well another task has been completed, but in playing a leg of 501 against an international darts player, another much bigger challenge has emerged.
Actually it was several games (all of which I lost) against Glen Durrant, whose progress in the recent BDO World Championships was only ended by the eventual runner-up Alan Norris.
I was pretty nervous before I met Glen at the North Ormesby Working Mens’ Club. The main reason was that despite being a reasonable player in my teens and early twenties, I then started to suffer from what is called “dartitis”, an ability to let go of a dart properly—or even at all. In the end, I just stopped playing and this was my first throw in public for something like a quarter of a century.
There is a dartboard in our garage and I have been braving the cold to get in a bit of practice, but it’s not the same as facing an opponent (of any standard) in a pub or a club. Glen chatted away and really put me at my ease, but I think we were both surprised when my first three darts landed not only in the board, but in the twenty. There were plenty of wayward arrows over the next ten or fifteen minutes, but more than a few landed near where I was aiming, and so we decided it was about time to set the electronic scorer to 501 and play a proper game.
It was brilliant to stand behind Glen and watch as he hit big score after big score. I hit a ton in the second game and a few more in the legs that followed. I even managed one 140, with the third dart very close indeed to finding the treble for a most unlikely maximum. In the second-last game, I threw my most consistent darts and actually had two shots at a double to sneak the leg. I missed and whilst the competitor in me was annoyed, I was only too well aware that in years gone by I would have just stood at the oche, with a trembling left arm and precious little chance of letting the dart go, so this was actually a real achievement.
Glen closed out the last game with a brilliant 149 finish—just as I was finding my range!—he’s a quality player, but he was also incredibly encouraging throughout and the whole experience was a genuine thrill.
And now for the even bigger challenge...
Glen has offered me the chance to face him again; this time in front of 300-400 people as part of the annual Boro Boys charity exhibition in August. The event will feature the best local professional players, alongside other big names and "surprise guests". The prospect is incredibly daunting (under-statement), but there was no way I was going to turn down a once in a lifetime opportunity.
So with a massive thanks to Glen, I will close with the link to his web site www.duzzadarts.com, so that you can find out a bit more about his darting exploits, and my now customary plea to consider supporting me on my 40Fifty challenge, which is raising funds for the mental health charity Mind: www.justgiving.com/40Fifty. Thank you so much.
Yesterday, Elaine and I made the relatively short trek down to York, not only to spend some time with my parents on what was my Dad’s birthday, but also to complete one of the 40Fifty challenges— that of visiting my first home.
No.7 St Peter’s Grove, in the Clifton area of York, was built towards the end of the nineteenth century, when it was home to a well-to-do Coney Street pharmacist named William Thompson, his family and five servants. By the time I entered the world in June 1964 however, the property had been acquired by St Peter’s School as teacher accommodation, and split into two flats, with the upper storey being renumbered 7a. These two pictures show the house in 1970, and 2013 respectively.
Obviously, there have been massive changes over the past fifty years. The most obvious difference is that flats have been built on what was our garden. I had spent so much time playing in what (through a child’s eyes) was a massive garden and I actually felt quite sad that all those memories had been covered by bricks and mortar.
The building itself is no longer flats. It is now known as The Four Seasons Hotel, and has been owned and run by Steve and Bernice Roe for the past fifteen years or so. It is really nicely furnished and decorated and it’s almost impossible to picture how it looked back in the mid-60s. Just as with the garden, what was my bedroom also seemed so much smaller than I remembered, and even though the inside of the house bears very little resemblance to the place I called home all those years ago, it was still quite nice to think that I had spent some of my formative years in those very rooms.
I had wanted to faithfully recreate a photograph taken around 1967, of me sitting on the steps outside the front door, reading (well, looking at) a newspaper. Sadly, it had rained all morning . . . and we had forgotten to buy a newspaper . . . and my dungaree shorts were still in the wash. So I adopted a casual crouching position for the picture that follows and I managed a nice smile, even though my knees were about to lock! The original photo is shown as in inset and challenge no.26 can now be ticked off the list!
I want to say a huge thank you to Bernice and Steve, who really made us feel welcome and were only too happy to show us round, and to listen to me ramble on about “the olden days”. Next stop is the dartboard: I’ve got some serious practising to do!
Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on this day seventy-two years ago. As Muhammad Ali, the self-styled “Greatest”, he remains arguably the supreme sporting icon of our time, and for me his (first) victory over Sonny Liston in 1964 is my absolute favourite moment in sport.
It wasn’t just the manner of the victory against the seemingly invincible Liston, in which the brash challenger Clay made the champion look like a novice at times. It was the youngster’s unshakeable confidence (outwardly at least) that he would defeat Liston and prove all the reporters and odds-layers wrong, because almost to a man they had given the Kentucky-born fighter virtually no chance at all. And it was also the fascinating sub-plot that would see Clay renounce his “slave name” and join the Nation of Islam in the aftermath of the fight.
Ali remains a boxing legend, but his exploits outside the ring are every bit as worthy of mention and his reputation has transcended the sport in which he excelled. Most of his life story is relatively well-known, as are the massive heavyweight title fights during the 1970s that arguably defined his career. However, I must admit that I have always been fascinated by his early career, the twenty fights that culminated in that incredible night at the Miami Beach Convention Hall.
The names of most of the fighters he defeated will be unknown to all but the most ardent boxing aficionados, but they chart the incredible rise of a boy venting his fury at the theft of his bicycle through to heavyweight champion of the world in just ten years. To me, the young Cassius Clay was the ultimate boxer, with agility and fist speed that was practically unheard of in the heavyweight division. The heavier Ali that emerged from an enforced absence from the ring was still quick, still powerful, and still hard to hit, but the young Clay had confidence bordering on arrogance that divided the boxing world.
Most were waiting (even hoping) for Clay and the associated hype to be dismantled by one of a number of experienced fighters who took on the precocious youngster, but despite the occasional under-par performance that defeat never came, and by the time Sonny Liston was left crying on his stool, Clay knew the world was watching and listening, and the legend was born.
Perhaps the boxing writers should have taken more notice of Clay’s sparring session with Ingemar Johansson in 1961. The Swede was preparing for a title clash (and third meeting) with Floyd Paterson, but was made to look foolish during a short meeting with the teenage Clay. In fact, Johansson’s trainer called a halt to proceedings after just two rounds, during which Clay was so dominant, he actually started taunting his more experienced rival. The episode prompted Gil Rogin of Sports Illustrated to say: “I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.”
However it wasn’t all plain sailing for Clay, who had turned professional in 1960, after claiming the light-heavyweight Olympic gold medal in Rome earlier in the year. Henry Cooper famously floored Clay in their fight at Wembley Stadium in June 1963, however he had previously been knocked to the canvas by Lucien “Sonny” Banks (although Clay still won in the fourth round, just as he had predicted) and he was arguably fortunate to be awarded a points decision against Doug Jones.
Tragically, Sonny Banks would die in May 1965, following injuries sustained in a ninth round knockout loss to Leotis Martin. A later opponent of Clay’s, the handsome Argentinian Alejandro Lavorante (pictured losing to Clay), would also die as a result of a serious head injury suffered in the ring. He passed away in April 1964, after having spent a year and a half in a coma following his fight with Johnny Riggins. I am remembering both of these brave but tragic young men today.
For the young Cassius Clay however, fate had other things in store, and in celebrating the birthday of “the Greatest”, I will leave you with a short story concerning Clay’s defeat of Don Warner in February 1962. In the lead up to the fight, Clay had predicted a fifth round victory, but a bloodied Warner was hammered through the ropes in round four to bring the contest to a close. A reporter challenged Clay about his failure to predict the correct round, but the young fighter immediately replied that as Warner had refused to shake hands at the weigh-in, he had been docked one round for poor sportsmanship!
Although my 40Fifty challenge has only been underway for just over a week, several people (and one radio station) have asked why I didn’t set myself fifty tasks to match my upcoming birthday.
Well the official answer was that the “forty” recognised my age at the time when my life changed direction completely, and ultimately led to being with Elaine, and I reckoned that was important enough to recognise in the challenge…
The other reason is that I ran out of ideas.
Anyway , here we are on the eighth day of the year and I have news of a third, yes THIRD completed task: finding someone born on the same day as me.
As far as celebrities are concerned, I could find only two people who entered the world on 3rd June 1964, the handsome actor James Purefoy, and Kerry King, the much-tattooed and slightly less handsome guitarist with the heavy metal band Slayer. Quite remarkably however, working away in the same department as me, but based in Leeds as opposed to Newcastle was the young lady pictured below: Gill Meston.
The fact that we share the same date of birth is amazing in itself, given the combined number of employees across the two offices is no more than two dozen, but we were born only twenty-five miles apart and Gillian Collins arrived at 6:30am, just FIFTEEN MINUTES before I decided to make my appearance. So presumably, whilst the Collins’s were celebrating the safe arrival of their daughter at their Leeds home, my Mum was pushing for all she was worth, over in Fulford Maternity Hospital!
As you can see from the photo, despite being fifteen minutes older, Gill looks about fifteen years younger than me – although in my defence I’d had an early start and the facial hair does me no favours. But no matter, task no.22 is now officially ticked: only thirty-seven left to go. Once again, please “like” my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/40fifty and please also ask your friends to do likewise, because any and all support is much appreciated.
I know that there are a few of you who are regular readers of my blog page, some pass by every now and again, and for others once is enough! But if you only read one of my 2014 blogs, I really hope it’s this one because… well you’ll just have to read on…
To mark my half century (which I am due to reach six months from today) I wanted to do something slightly different. Rather than one huge adrenaline-rush challenge – parachute, schmarachute – I’ve decided to set a number of smaller, more random goals to try and reach during 2014. I don’t want to do these things purely for the good of my health – although rather fortuitously some may have that effect – and fairly soon, I will hopefully finalise arrangements to do formally do this challenge for a charitable cause (the mental health charity Mind).
For now though, it would be BRILLIANT if you could do three things:
1) Like this Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/40fifty
2) Share this blog or the Facebook link with your friends and ask them if they would like the page too
3) Feel free to help with no.2 (so far I’ve got friends in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, USA, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Romania and Spain – which means I’ve got 39 to go, so any friend requests from around the globe would be wonderful – and accepted!!)
The list of tasks can be found here:
but I’ve listed them below as well. I might some help or advice at some point, but for now please like and share like you’ve never like and shared before. I will do all I can to fulfil my side of the bargain and the bottom line is that ultimately it will all be for a great cause.
1. Aim to raise £1,000 for Mind
2. Have a Facebook friend in 50 different countries
3. Sell a picture that I have drawn (even though I can't draw!)
4. Have a game of 501 against an international darts player
5. Meet a current or former Doctor Who companion
6. Bowl at a county cricketer
7. Record a song (earplugs at the ready)
8. Complete "Dry January" (i.e. no alcohol)
9. Lose a stone in weight
10. Appear on radio
11. Sit on a racehorse
12. Have a picture taken with a London 2012 Olympic medallist
13. Obtain signed photos from the 2013 Strictly Come Dancing finalists
14. Hold a snake
15. Have an article or blog printed in a newspaper
16. See one of my books on sale in a high street book shop
17. Visit a television studio
18. Receive a letter from a member of the Royal Family
19. Shave my head
20. Sit in the dugout at a Premier league football ground
21. Have a belated first go on a rollercoaster
22. Find someone who was born on the same day as me
23. Receive a Tweet from a Spice Girl
24. Attempt the hottest curry on an Indian restaurant menu
25. Have a bird of prey fly onto my hand
26. Visit my first home
27. Get a tattoo (don't tell my parents)
28. Complete the novel I started in 2004
29. Get an autograph from the 1965 Eurovision winner France Gall
30. Run two miles at Gateshead International Stadium
31. Finish the book about my top ten songs and raise £100 for Children in Need
32. Visit a Mosque
33. Get in contact with someone who shares my name
34. Go a month without any fizzy drink (this may prove impossible)
35. Track down a classmate from my first school (1968-72)
36. Get a photo with an international rugby league player
37. Bid at an auction
38. Play goal shooter in a netball team
39. Appear topless on my friend Louise Gallagher's Facebook timeline (you have been warned)
40. Free to be decided by a friend!
THANK YOU X
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