Blackpool: 2001

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I bought this tea towel in Blackpool, on a brief trip into the town, when I was staying in Southport; we were in a search for a good tea room with loose leaf tea, a failure I would have to say! I thought it was worth buying this tea towel because it was bright and gay, and a different size and colouring from the rest of my tea towels; it is big.   I love the bright green background, vivid and vibrant, together with the cartoon pictures of the  clowns, Blackpool Tower, trams, ballroom dancing and the Big Wheel.  It takes you back to a time past.

As I use the tea towel it reminds me of my trip, as a child, to see the Blackpool Illuminations. We went by coach and stayed overnight in a hotel on the sea front.  My abiding memory is that the illuminations were wondrous; as a small child, I had never seen anything like it, lights as far a the eye could see.  I always wanted to go back but I have to say that I never have; you’d think I could squeeze a trip on one of the 66 days that they are alight!  The Illuminations have been a feature of Blackpool since 1879, described as “artificial sunshine”. This was 12 months before Thomas Edison’s patent for the electric light bulb; there were 8 carbon arc lamps which bathed the promenade.  In 1912, the Royal Family visited Blackpool and to mark the occasion the Illuminations were as they are now.  Today there are six miles of light bulbs, with one million bulbs ‘The greatest light show on earth’.

One look at the tea towel, with the famous Blackpool Rock, takes me back.  That’s what I love about tea towels, the ability to recreate memories.  However, my ambition is to go the beach at Crosby to see Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’, his statues in the sea.  This tea towel has reminded of that, perhaps later this year!

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Anton and Erin: 2009

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Every time I go to the theatre or to a concert I look for a tea towel.  This is a ‘hit and miss’ exercise; there is no consistency to it: Only Men Aloud, Matilda, the Seekers all had tea towels.  I expected Priscilla Queen of the Desert to have one, all that colour and bling would have made a great tea towel.  From Strictly Come Dancing, I have seen the show on the road, no tea towel, Brendan Cole, no tea towel, Vincent and Flavia, no tea towel but Anton and Erin, yes a tea towel.  They have style, after all.

I am a huge fan of Strictly Come Dancing, since the very first episode in 2004.  Strictly Come Dancing is one of those shows that lots of people watch, yet few people publicly admit to watching; it’s a secret passion for lots of us.  I started watching because I really liked the newsreader, Natasha Kaplinsky, who was taking part in that very first show.  I thought she was both intelligent and charming, serious and funny but an unlikely contestant for a Reality TV Show.  But she was great; by the end she was so elegant.  I never thought she would be able to do the Paso Doble with such gusto and passion.  After that I was hooked.  I couldn’t wait for the next series to start.  I have now watched every episode, of every series, over the last 12 years.  On the whole, there has never been anything that I have disliked about the series, although there may be some contestants that I have thought ought to have been voted out much earlier than they were!

I have always liked Anton and Erin and was very disappointed when she finished in 2012.  I liked Arlene Phillips as a Judge but have enjoyed her replacements – Alesha Dixon and Darcy Bussel.  I loved Jill Halfpenny’s Jive and Tom Howard’s American Smooth; I thought Pamela Stephenson was magnificent, fighting the cause for women over 55; I thought Austin Healey went too early and Ann Widdicombe too late; I loved watching the ‘journey’ that people like Harry Judd, Susanna Reid and Frankie Bridges went on but my favourite partnership was definitely Aliona and Jay, that Jive made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.  I now have honed my preference for various dances, as if I was some kind of expert; but then half the population do exactly the same thing.  My favourite dances are undoubtedly the Paso Doble, Tango and Argentine Tango; I love the drama, the passion, the theatrics, the costumes.

The exciting thing was that in 2008, I heard that Anton and Erin were doing a tour in the early new year; I immediately booked my ticket at Nottingham.  The show was brilliant; Anton and Erin danced beautifully; I didn’t realise that Anton could sing so well or that Erin could change costumes so quickly.  She must have had an enormous wardrobe; I couldn’t believe anyone could change so many times in one show!  They were even better than on TV (and they had a tea towel!).  For any Strictly Come Dancing fan, they wait from Christmas Day to the following September for the next series to start.  So shows like this one bridge the gap.  I even went to their show in 2010; my only disappointment was that there was no new tea towel.

My Anton and Erin tea towel does what all good tea towels should do, brings back memories, helps me relive past performances and look forward to the future Strictly Come Dancing series with eager anticipation.  It’s only four months to go to the next series!

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Cemaes Bay: 2016

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I have known Gwyn since April 1979.  We worked together at Glenfrith Hospital, a large, multi-sited, hospital for people with learning disabilities.  Gwyn was a trainee psychologist and I was an unqualified social worker.  We were based in a suite of offices at the end of the long drive up to the hospital.  We worked with the same patients, we attended the same meetings, we went on  several courses together.  We were both young, inexperienced and naive; we both smoked and drank; we both liked Gilbert and Sullivan; we both had parents that lived some distance away.  With Pete and John, we often went away for the weekend, especially to celebrate our birthdays; we went to Paris to celebrate Pete’s birthday.  Those were good times, with good memories.

It was inevitable, from the beginning, that Gwyn knew about my interest in, and love of, tea towels.  If we went to a National Trust property or to somewhere like London or Paris she would see me buying tea towels; she witnessed many of my early purchases.  Not only that, Gwyn contributed to my growing collection with some beautiful birthday presents, often with a cat or chicken theme.  Latterly, when Gwyn has been to Anglesey on holiday she has bought me a tea towel back from there.  I certainly have a wide selection of Anglesey tea towels.

Last year, Gwyn gave me this tea towel with a note:

“Barbara,                                                                                                                                                      I know that you have enough tea towels already to write about, but we bought this in Anglesey this year and it comes with it’s own blog (well, almost).

Most of my childhood holidays were spent on Anglesey, staying with relatives (except for one glorious occasion when we went to Butlins in Skegness).  For the first five years we stayed with my grandparents in Pen-y-sarn.  They lived in a tiny cottage with no running water or electricity, and I have memories of oil lamps, visiting the privy at the bottom of the garden and fetching water from the spring in an enamel bucket.  I don’t remember much about my Welsh grandparents, because they were Welsh speakers who both died when I was five.

After this, we spent our holidays in Llanfechell with my aunt and uncle in their council house – much more luxurious.  The nearest beach to Llanfechell was Cemaes Bay – a round trip of three and a half miles, which we had to walk carrying all our beach paraphernalia, as neither my parents nor my aunt and uncle had a car.  Traeth Mawr (Big Beach) in Cemaes is beautiful but the tea towel shows the harbour and the little beach. 

Cemaes is the most northerly village in Wales and has been visited by many eminent people including Dafydd ap Llewellyn, Prince of Wales, in 1238 and David Lloyd George.

In later years, we hired a fishing boat (and its skipper) and set sail for the Skerries but had to turn back because the sea was too wild so it is lucky we didn’t need to call on the services of the lifeboat shown on the tea towel.

Tywyn is a National Trust Cottage.

As you have demonstrated in your blog, tea towels are really exciting and bring back many memories.

Gwyn xx”

I am delighted that my Blog has been able to demonstrate to more people that tea towels are wonderous, memory joggers which can all have a tale to tell, in the right hands.

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Truro Cathedral: 1982

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You can tell this tea towel was bought 35 years ago, not because it is a bit faded but because it was of its time.  The 1980s were when tea towel designers were taking a different look at a tea towel for tourists.  Many moved away from the garish, brightly covered maps of everything to a more sophisticated and artistic approach.  A black and white sketch of a particular building, a cathedral or castle, usually a very good and accurate sketch.  There was a move away, especially in Cornwall, from busy tea towels with lots of pictures to a single image like this one.  It is a shame that it wasn’t larger and took up more of the tea towel.

I visited Truro Cathedral in the days before they charged tourists to visit places of worship.  What struck me about Truro Cathedral was its size in relation to the surrounding town, its majesty in relation to the ordinary housing around it.  I remember that 1982 holiday being one of contrasts: walking along the amazing coastal path and down Bedruthan Steps, visiting National Trust gardens, crawling through the Fougou at Chysauster Village, trudging through fields in search of Standing Stones and then visiting  Truro Cathedral.

While Truro Cathedral may not be as old as Canterbury Catherdral, being built between 1880 and 1910, it does have a presence partly because  it is of Gothic Revival design.  It is one of only three cathedrals in the UK with three spires and it was the first cathedral in England, since Salisbury Cathedral was built in 1220, to be built on a new site.  The same architect that designed Truro Cathedral also reproduced a reduced format in Auckland, New Zealand.  The Wills Organ, built in 1887, is said to be one of the finest in the country.  It was built in London and arrived in Cornwall by boat: “It is not easy, even today, to think how the magnificence of the Wills Organ in Truro Cathedral could be improved” said W.L. Sumner in 1952 in his book ‘The Organ’.  A great building, with an understated tea towel with a pretty border, but at least it had one.

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum

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Setting Up a Tea Towel Museum: Preparatory Work

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The last week has been consumed with taking photographs of my tea towel collection.  You may be thinking that you have already seen a lot of photographs of tea towels on this Blog, and you are right.  There can’t be any more, you may say.  How wrong can you be?

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Most of the photographs that appeared in the Blog have been taken by me.  You can immediately see why my Blog is not about photography – because I am rubbish at it.

Two things have prompted me to start on this journey of photographing my tea towel collection:  firstly, my friend Fee has often said that she has enjoyed reading the Blog but has felt that a photograph of a tea towel over the back of my armchair detracts somewhat from the Blog.  I know I have been a little bit defensive about this; I know she was right but I couldn’t see how to problem-solve this situation.  In my house, it is difficult to take a ‘full-frontal’ of a tea towel without getting a door handle, shadows or only part of a tea towel in the photograph.  There is also the problem of very used/worn tea towels hanging at strange angles, looking ‘saggy’ and sad.  Sometimes I have had to take photos at short notice because I haven’t enough photographs prepared to blog about. I have looked online.  Many sellers of tea towels advertise them by either taking photographs of folded piles of tea towels or hanging them up by the loop on them so they hang in a linear shape.  Unfortunately, then, you can’t see the full picture (and that won’t work for me if I am telling a story about a tea towel).  The most popular alternative is hanging tea towels on a washing line.  I have a washing line; maybe that was the answer.  Maybe my tea towels would look much better.

 

The second reason I embarked upon this crazy task is because the Tea Towel Museum, that I have dreamed about for so long, will be open to the public by 1 July 2017.  I hope my readers will not get too excited.  Opening a Tea Towel Museum takes a lot of work!

My first task was to catalogue my tea towels.  The airing cupboard was full to bursting so, as many of you know, I finally devised a system of hanging the tea towels on trouser/skirt hangers, similar to those used in M&S.  Each hanger takes ten tea towels and each hanger is numbered.  They hang in an spare  built-in wardrobe (it became spare when I got rid of all my ‘work’ clothes, on my retirement).  Numbering the hangers ensures that the tea towels are used on a strict rotational basis; when I have used, washed and ironed all the tea towels from Hanger Number 1, it goes to the end of the line.  However, there is only a point to this if I could identify where a particular tea towel was at short notice.  With more than 800 tea towels I have no intention of going through all the tea towels until I found the one from Cromer or Martha’s Vineyard or Cragside or Venezia or Nottinghamshire WI or Harrogate: you can see my problem.  So I now have a notebook which lists the tea towels on each hanger and the date of the Tea Towel Blog (if they have been written about).

In a museum, it is good to know exactly what items you have (and therefore what you need to collect, or not, to improve the museum’s collection).  In this process, I identified 19 duplicates; I am surprised it was so few and at least five of them were either from a multipack or were related to my former work and I was given several of the same design.  There were only two that I had actually bought twice, others were gifts.  So I removed the duplicates from the collection and am in the process of passing them on to other people, in their pre-loved state.  On the other hand, they might become competition prizes at the opening of the Museum!!  At this point, having removed duplicates, I thought I had 670 tea towels.  But what about the 35 Christmas ones? (In with the Christmas decorations) 701.  Then there are 17 that I was given by Nicky’s aunt, all unused and not yet fully integrated into my collection.  718.  What about the 39 that my friend Jean gave me, also not fully integrated? 757.  Then there are 21, still in the airing cupboard, that are a little fragile and only get used for delicate tasks. 778.  I forgot those that hadn’t been ironed. 791.  What about the 9 that were hanging on a hanger marked ‘spare’ because there were less than 10 so couldn’t become part of the collection. 800!! Until today, when I bought two in a charity shop – the first time that I have ever done that.  Now the collection is fully accounted for: 802 today.  I am going on holiday soon so that might mean more!!

I thought perhaps I could re-take some of the worst photographs but then that wasn’t going to work.  About a week ago, when the sun was shining, the weather warm, I set up a place in the garden to photograph 800 tea towels.  For a woman with a twisted spine this was definitely a ‘back-breaking’ job.

I was helped by Isabella and Benjamin (the cats) and Liz (the photographer); we were watched, in disbelief, by my neighbours and Paul who mows the lawn.  There was no way in which I was going to get a ‘uniformity’ to the photographs: there was varying degrees of wind and breeze; the clouds moved quickly, changing the brightness; as the sun moved round the garden, there were different shadows.

But the overall effect is fine; I think Fee will approve, of most if not all, of the new photographs.  In due course I will actually replace the photographs on this Blog, but is for another day!  These are for the Museum initially.

It will come as no surprise that this project is about a virtual world, hence the need for photographs.  If you had asked me five years ago whether I would have embarked upon any project that involved the use of a computer, IT in general and social media then the answer would definitely have been “NO”.  For so many years I have had to avoid the use of a computer, or at least keep it to a minimum, because of photo-sensitivity epilepsy.  But then I was introduced to Apple; the world is now different for me but I have so many years to catch up on all that I have missed.  There is  something about “teaching old dogs new tricks”; I definitely need a tea towel with that quote on it.  So here I am, putting the fine detail together, a laborious task and then soon the doors of the Tea Towel Museum will be open to you.  Julia Child once said “Find something you are passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it”.  That is exactly what I have done; I can imagine her saying it, while in front of her cooker, but she was talking about cooking and that certainly doesn’t apply to me.

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR FURTHER NEWS!!!!

Kew Gardens: 2017 (going back to 1968)

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When I visited Kew Gardens a couple of weeks ago, it was a real ‘find’ for tea towels.  They have taken to using poster images from London Transport Museum Archive.  Posters always are a great starting point for a tea towel, especially when so relevant to the place that is selling them.  I would have to admit that I have never been to Kew Gardens by Underground: by car, by boat from Westminster Pier and from Richmond Bridge, by the number 65 bus, by bicycle (tandem actually) and on a Coach Tour but never by Underground.  While Kew Gardens had a number of tea towels, I did restrict myself to only having two; any more would have been excessive.  I chose this one for three reasons; firstly, I love a London Transport poster.  They are iconic, take you back to the day when travelling was a real adventure, no matter how near or how far you went.  Secondly, I love a map; I love putting places in context with a map, especially one drawn by Herry Perry with the date of Maunday Thursday 1925.  Thirdly, I looked at this tea towel and saw Richmond Hill, located in the centre.  Richmond Hill was one of my favourite places in London, when I lived there.  That made my choice for me.

This is a great map, the detail is a delight, with little snippets of information like ‘A little ancient church and a large new one’ (Teddington) or ‘The tower is ancient and very fine’ (Barnes).  The Maids of Honour Tarts also get a mention, one of my mother’s favourites when I was a young child.  The map is full of places that are significant in my life: Isleworth where I was born; Chiswick where Chris and Pam lived, in a small flat under the M4 flyover, when they were first married.  It was there that I used to go during the day to revise for my exams in my first year at Swansea University and where Pam patiently tried to get me to understand the intricacies of Statistics; she was a mathematician and I hated maths; with her help I passed a seemingly impossible exam.  Mortlake where the crematorium is and both my parents were ‘done’ there.  The only thing I remember is that it is a very long way from St Barnabus Church in Ealing to Mortkae Crematorium, travelling through the traffic at a slow pace, probably causing everyone else on the road a great deal of frustration.  There is Strawberry Hill where Nicky lives; we have exchanged Christmas cards every year for the last 25 years or Twickenham where I went to my first conference run by people with learning difficulties, a great international event.  And so much more….

What about Richmond Hill?  I am not sure how I first came to discover Richmond Hill but my mother used to drive me up there on an evening in summer.  We would drive along side Kew Gardens, left down Sandycombe Road, along Queens Road and turn right onto Richmond Hill itself.  We would park the car and look down from Richmond Hill, over the Terrace gardens;  the view was amazing.  There was a row of Georgian houses along Richmond Hill, with an uninterrupted view across the river, which were owned by some very wealthy people.  As Queens Road turned into Richmond Hill there was the house owned by Sir John Mills and where Hayley and Juliet Mills lived.  We used to imagine what it must be like to live in such a place.  This was the time that the films Pollyanna and Whistle Down the Wind came out.  As I grew older, if my mother wanted to go for a drive, this is where we would go, passing the Star and Garter Home on the way.  Those trips ended when I passed my driving test in 1967 and I could drive myself there in my beautiful, dark green, very old Morris 1100.

Having a car was a great social advantage.  One evening, in Summer 1968, I went to a party with friends from school.  It was warm and I remember wearing a black trouser suit with ‘bat wings’, made from some kind of man made fabric, bought from Wallis.  I thought I looked like the ‘Bees Knees’; I think I probably looked absolutely ridiculous.  As a driver, I didn’t drink any alcohol and was free to give someone a lift home.  I also remember hating parties but it was one of those things you did because everyone else did.  As I was leaving (early as usual), Rory asked for a lift.  I was acquainted with Rory but did not know him well.  I don’t remember whose idea it was to go to Richmond Hill but we went.  Arriving at about 10pm and leaving at about 4.30am.  We had sat on the steps on the middle of Richmond Hill, overlooking the Terraces, talking; talking about everything and nothing, music, football, school, friends, parents, family, holidays, interests, books…… Although I had met Rory before, I didn’t know him, we weren’t friends, we hadn’t been out together.  That was the most magical evening I can remember ever spending.  He was  a great guy; amusing, intelligent, well read, enjoyed sport (watching and playing), handsome and great company.  It was at that moment that I fell in love for the first time; it was the sort of love that was innocent and naive, the sort of love that didn’t have to face the realities of work and the hard grind of every day life.  Every day was a joy; I’d never enjoyed myself so much.  We were together for five years; we went all over Britain on camping holidays in the summer, following Brentford Football Club in the winter, standing on the terraces in places like Crewe and Workington in the pouring rain, going to the Royal Show and the cinema, celebrating 21st birthdays of everyone we knew, watching England play football at Wembley and rugby at Twickenham, taking gruelling holiday jobs so we could afford to get to Shetland and Skye, the Lake District and Cornwall for six weeks at a time.  We got up one morning in March, at 4am, and drove to Stonehenge to watch the sunrise over the stone that Tess of the D’Urbevilles lay on.  I have scrap books full of photos, ticket stubs, programmes, memorabilia to remind me of that time.  It would never have worked out; we were too young and too different.  He came from a big family and wanted a family; I didn’t.  He came from a family of accountants and business people and I wanted to be a social worker.  We parted in 1974 when he went to France for a year and I went to Nottingham.  But they were five great years which started on Richmond Hill, five years that I will never forget and five years that I will be reminded of when I look at this tea towel telling me to go to Kew Gardens by Underground.

 

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum

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Nessie: 2015

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In the past, I have introduced the idea of a U.T.T (Unidentified Tea Towel) in the world of Tea Towel Blogging.  Today’s tea towel, Nessie, is the complete opposite.  I bought this tea towel on 16 December 2015 at 6.45pm from the small gift shop, opposite the Departure Gates, at Aberdeen Airport.  I was waiting for the last FlyBe plane to Birmingham.  I also remember buying a small stuffed Highland Cow, several boxes of Walkers Scottie Dog Shortbread biscuits and a packet of crisps.  Yes, that day is imprinted in my mind and this tea towel jerks my memory.

16 December 2015 was a weird, emotional, sad, happy, odd, funny and, clearly, memorable day.  This one-day visit to Aberdeen had been planned and booked in November.  The idea was to catch an early flight from Birmingham to Aberdeen, take a taxi to Jean’s Care Home, spend sometime with her catching up on family news and checking on her health, drawing up her Christmas shopping and Christmas card list, leave Jean to have her lunch while we went into town (mainly M&S) to buy the presents, cards and wrapping paper she wanted.  After that we would return to Jean, show her the presents, wrap them up, help her write her cards.  Having spent a bit more time with her we would return to the airport to catch the 8pm flight home.  Simples, as the Meerkats say!  Maybe a hectic and busy day but should be enjoyable.  All of that actually happened, together with M&S mini  Mince Pies for all the residents, staff and of course us and two bottles of sherry for Jean!  What we didn’t know at the time of planning was that we would be telling Jean that her ‘baby’ brother, David, had had a massive stroke a few days before and that the prognosis was uncertain.  Jean was much too frail to travel nearly 500 miles to see David and it was agreed that she would be told in person so she could ask questions and have time to take it in.  This was very emotional, full of tears, especially since her sister had only died 6 weeks previously.  Jean is a very measured person with a positive outlook.  As she said, “If I can get through the last 6 months, then I am sure David will”.  I am not sure that I felt quite so positive but she was right and I was wrong.

It was sad leaving Jean; if we had known what was going to happen then we would have planned to spend a few days in Aberdeen but we were going back for her 90th birthday in two weeks time.  The staff were well briefed about supporting her emotionally.  Sitting in the airport, with loads of time to spare because of all the security checks, I wandered around the shops (I say shops but what I actually mean is ‘shop’.  Aberdeen Airport is no Heathrow with huge shopping malls).  We saw the stuffed Highland Cow and felt we should take it for David, to remind him that we had been to see Jean, that she was ok, that she knew about his stroke and that we hadn’t forgotten to help her prepare for Christmas.  That Highland Cow has followed David from hospital ward to hospital ward, from Rehabilitation Unit to Care Home, and even spent three days with Dorothy, his wife, when she was dying.  It has been through the washing machine several times but still looks as good as new.  I bought Walkers Scottie Dog shortbread because I always buy shortbread in Scotland; it became everyone’s additional Christmas present.  But I wanted a tea towel.  Aberdeen Airport isn’t the place for stylish tea towels but I quite liked Nessie; it’s cute.  I like the ‘play on words’; I particularly like the ‘cool dude’, Cool-ness, that pompous Smug-ness and Wingy-ness (but I did think ‘winge’ was spelt with an ‘h’).  It is a typical, Scottish touristy tea towel with a red tartan border.

People don’t often understand why I might want a tea towel to remind me of something like that strange day in December.  The fact is that, for me, tea towels can be a prompt, a memory jerker; if I use them on a regular basis, in daily life, I have a way of saying ‘I will always remember’: whether that is about Ian Harrison (Blog on Skegness dated 13/9/2016), Haydn Paul (Blog on Eden Project dated 1/10/2016), Dave Morris (Blog on Stoke Bruerne dated 13/3/2017).  Nessie is my reminder that Jean is a brave woman and David a fighter.  Tea towels, for me, are also a great way of remembering the good times.  Whatever happens, blotting things out is not a good idea.

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PS: Benjamin, my cat, also believes the same about tea towels and wanted to show his support of this particular Blog by appearing in the picture.

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum

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