Thoughts on Labour after #GE2015

My reaction to the General Election result was shock, horror, despondency then determination. I have a million thoughts in my head, and one blog post will not rule them all, so I’m going to try to order my thoughts in dribs and drabs.

I guess one of the biggest questions may be, what happened to Labour?

I’m reading some excellent post-mortems of the election, and many of them say (which I completely agree with) that one of the biggest ways Labour went wrong was to not challenge austerity and not challenge the deficit myth (not there wasn’t a deficit, before people pick me up on that, but that a government deficit is a completely different beast to a household debt, in which terms it was being presented to us; I can find economists who say this if anyone wants to challenge it, feel free). However, the problem I have with some of these analyses is that they are very generously attributing this failure to foolishness or lack of opportunism or vision. Unfortunately, I cannot see that Miliband and his merry men would lack that vision or that knowledge. They will have no lack of experienced, highly regarded economists telling them in no uncertain terms that austerity doesn’t work and that the deficit is misrepresented. The fact is that they are from the same background as Cameron, and austerity benefits them just as much as it hurts us. Those people, and those being held up as possible Labour leaders, are never going to put up more than a half-hearted argument against Labour because it’s just not in their own interests to do so.

If Labour are to really represent the majority of ordinary people in this country (I deliberately avoid ‘hard-working families’ because so many of those who we should be caring for are not in this category through no fault of their own, look at the disabled, the elderly, children, the sick, those in jobs yet below the breadline), they need to remember where they came from and who it is that is faithfully voting for them, despite everything.

In the meantime, we see the SNP answering the call of the disillusioned Labour voters in Scotland. Who is answering that call around here? UKIP and the Green Party. I know who I’m putting my faith in, but UKIP can and do shout very loud and very appealing messages. However, the Green Party is beginning to gain momentum. Over 2500 members joined since Thursday, only four days ago. We have to see if a calm, measured yet strong voice of reason can be heard over the hysteria of the right-wing.

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Tactical Voting

As someone with unashamedly left-wing views, I have to ask the question as to whether I should be voting for the Greens, as per my last post, or whether that will, in fact, split the opposition vote, dooming us to another five years of Tory government and wasting my left-wing opinion. This is a valid question. After all, with the ludicrous first past the post electoral system there would have to be some kind of divine intervention for the Green Party to form a government (and by the way, God, a little divine intervention is not totally unwelcome. Just, y’know, if you’ve got nothing better to do). Alternative electoral systems are a whole other post, but it is beyond hypocritical that a country which feels free to spout to anyone who is listening about democracy still has an electoral system that does not represent the views of its people. And I can understand why the current t0p two parties are disinclined to do anything about it, since it is basically keeping out the alternative vote and keeping in the established power base. I know something like PR opens the possibility of (God forbid) more seats for UKIP, but it is still a more ethical system than FPTP.

I digress. Where was I? Tactical voting.

Unfortunately, I cannot really in conscience support tactical voting. I do not agree with many of Labour’s policies, not least their austerity-lite approach. An article I read yesterday described the Green Manifesto as “Labour, but more so”. I don’t actually think that’s necessarily a bad thing, by the way, but clearly the writer did. Well, to be fair almost every policy forms a continuum with the major parties (including Greens and UKIP) placed somewhere along it, and I would put Labour as “Conservative, but slightly less so”. I do not intend to waste my precious vote on “Conservative, but less so”.

Looking at policies, the Green Party are those who are promising policies that make the country more fair, more sustainable and that enable us to look after each other. Data shows that if people voted on policies instead of other reasons like legacy, tradition or just fear that their choice won’t get in, the Green Party would be huge. But people are put off by the conception that since the Greens can’t win, why vote for them? It becomes a self-perpetuating circle.

I hear lots at election time aimed at those who do not intend to vote, or who do not know if they will vote. Particularly from women, who quite rightly point out the sacrifices made for universal suffrage. While I can, honestly, understand those who think their vote is wasted or who refuse to vote in protest (like Russell Brand, for whom I have a great deal of admiration) I personally don’t think that’s the way to do it. I said before that my vote is precious, and it is; it is my only voice. I do not have the abilities to be an MP, I am never going to be famous or have a wide platform to use. The only thing I have is my voice.

If I don’t use my voice to vote for the policies that I believe in, then I am letting the Establishment steal it from me.

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Why I’m voting Green in May

I have absolutely no intention of voting Labour or Conservative in May. I have no interest in the old boys’ club currently in charge. I have heard it said that there is no point in voting Green, that they will never get in and that my vote could have been used to vote Labour and oust the Conservatives.

I think not. I’ll come on to the reasons why I have nothing but contempt for the Conservatives in a second, but firstly I’d like to vent about Labour. Labour, I’m disappointed. Deeply, deeply disappointed, and betrayed – as a member of the 99% whose interests should be not just top of your list but the ENTIRE LIST, you have let me down. I learned about the Labour party at school, the original Labour party who actually stood for Labour. They brought in the NHS, National Insurance. They actually cared about the Welfare of the state. They brought in the Welfare State when Britain was recovering from the war. Now Labour seems to me to be little more than a slightly-less-Tory Tory Party. I have heard nothing substantial, nothing that makes me feel that yes, these people might actually improve things for me. I’ll be honest, Ed, I don’t want tough immigration laws or higher school standards – I am becoming increasingly nauseated at the emphasis on monitoring standards through test, and working from one set of SATs to another. I dread seeing my currently 7 year old son bow under the weight of tests before he has even left primary school. I want to know that you will do something about the massive inequality in the country.

Which brings me nicely onto the Conservatives. It really doesn’t matter how many times and in how many different ways Cameron says that other people will “take Britain backwards”, the fact is that we are rapidly returning to Victorian ages where the working class don’t get a living wage, we increasingly have to pay for healthcare (£8.05 for essential medication? Really?), the poor are an ‘undeserving poor’ who would be fine if they would just get up and do something, while the rich pay £15000 for a table at a ball. The elite who believe that the rules don’t apply to them (Rifkind, anyone?) sit back and watch, without having to lift a finger, as we tear each other apart looking for ‘benefit scroungers’ and illegal immigrants and possible paedophiles and anyone else who is frankly a far more nebulous threat than the Conservatives. The ‘desperately needed austerity’ is no longer even their problem – when was the last time you heard Cameron even attempt to suggest that we’re all ‘in this together’? To be fair, no-one could pull that off with a straight face.

Actually, I don’t think I’ll bother to talk about them for much longer. Not really worth my attention – who could expect anything but what we got from this party?  We voted for them – now we need to vote them out.

And on to the Greens.

The last twice I voted Green, although it was with a sense of frustration and futility. I just wanted to have an answer for people who said ‘we voted them in’, much as I just did i fact. Not me, mate. But they were never going to get in, were they? Now, I’m voting for them with a bit of hope and excitement. I’m thinking that perhaps we’ve finally been pushed too far. The Green Surge is a sign that people are less worried that their vote might be lost, more that they desperately have to vote for something different, something that actually might mean a redistribution of the cherries from those magpies at the top of the tree. I mean seriously, what is so outlandish about the idea that we might look after one another?

The way I see it, we were all born and thus required the services of midwives and doctors. We were children, and needed a decent education and caring, enthusiastic teachers who weren’t forced to care more about results than children. We were adults, who needed (by some means, according to need) the means to live. We will grow old, and unable to work, and require still the means to care for ourselves. We will die one day, and we will need the help of caring nurses more than ever. These are truths that are universal – why should these things come more easily to an elite few, and why should we not support each other? The Green Party are our best hope since the Welfare State of achieving this.

And I really don’t care if Natalie Bennett froze in an interview. I’d be more put-off if she had answers as easily and glibly as Cameron, Milliband or Clegg. I want her to recognise that these are problems that need to be addressed and that there is no easy answer and that inequality and suffering cannot be swept under the carpet at a press conference.

I will be voting Green.

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No excuses…

… anywhere is a good place to read if you want to. These were all the same journey home this afternoon! 

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Outside the doctor's

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At the park

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At the park (still!)

That’s my boy :-)

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Exercise and Depression

It’s the most obvious thing you get told when you have depression: try exercise, it will make you feel better. While it’s true it’s also one of the most difficult and hopeless things to even think of.

When you have depression getting out of bed feels like a marathon. On the worse days getting through the day is like wading through quicksand. So getting out of the house to the gym or for a walk seems like the advice-giver is having a particularly cruel joke at your expense.

I have struggled with depression for a few years now. I’ve also seen it from the side of a carer so I also know how painfully frustrating it can be to suggest even mild exercise, desperate to help but knowing that it will most likely feel very unhelpful to the listener. I also have a fairly rubbish history of exercise – I hated PE and our teacher’s comments which were repeatedly cruel and hurtful, and combined with the natural grace and coordination of a cabbage, that has left me with a lifelong hatred of anything that resembles physical activity. You can guess the result – I am chronically unfit,  overweight and suffer from lower body pains most of every day.

And I’m supposed to exercise to beat depression?  Uh-huh.

Except the only thing I can say is, actually,  yes.

I was referred to my local gp fitness scheme. I’ve been to the gym 3 times (yes! count ’em!) and there has been an impact already. I couldn’t have done my Memory Walk on Sunday before this. I have done gardening. I have even been able to say that I don’t feel depressed – I don’t remember the last time I could say that.

So, honestly, all I can say to anyone feeling depressed (and ready to throw the nearest heavy object at the next person to use the ‘E’ word) is: don’t give up.

If you want something more specific,  I’ll try. One of the least helpful things in depression is general,  vaguely-positive bits of advice. When you’re depressed you don’t want to know what you should do. I KNOW I should exercise,  I hear it all the **/@^*^/$* time. What I need to know is HOW.

1. Try,  in the good spells (you will have them, promise) to be open to suggestions of different kinds of activity. Activity isn’t necessarily going to the gym, it is anything that lifts your heart rate and gets you moving even a little bit. As far as I’m concerned, all of the following count:
Gardening
Wiggling your bum to spotify or radio or anything with a beat
Wii games – yes dance or wii fit but anything will do to start
An extra trip up the stairs
Any length walk if it’s longer than you might usually do – I mean just 5 minutes longer
Obviously, swimming, dance classes, tennis or any other vaguely sporty thing

2. If you ask me, the important thing is to do something that’s a tiny increase on your current level and congratulate yourself for it. You get the self-esteem boost and you get a little taste of the endorphins that everyone bangs on about. You might not do another thing for the next 3 months but that one little step will make it that bit easier next time, and the time after, and the time after that.

3. Be kind to yourself when you really, really can’t do it. I know you feel worthless but a) you will not always feel like that and b) when you do, it’s really not helpful to have another thing you can beat yourself up for. Activity is an amazing thing when you can do it but it’s not a crime when you can’t and any other attitude will beat you down every time you even think about being able to try something. “Oh what’s the point,  I never stick to anything, I’m too unfit,  some days I can’t even get off the couch so how do I expect to do exercise?” Yes, I know sweetie. Have a hug, have a lazy day (or two), then when you feel better (can’t say it enough, you WILL) have a go at something that takes your fancy. No pressure.

4. Make sure you rule out physical factors that get in the way. Yes I’m unfit and depressed but the levels of tired I felt a couple of months back were off the scale. Sometimes you know deep down the difference between the sludge of depression and just plain old bone-aching exhaustion. If so get it checked out. My thyroid levels needed checking as it turned out; you could also need to check iron levels, underlying infection, inflammation, diabetes. If there is something it is usually easily treated,  so why leave yourself with an unnecessary extra burden?

5. While you’re at the doctor’s, ask about talking therapies. CBT can help you tackle thoughts and feelings that are basically ruining your life and help you solve problems like how to build gentle activity into your routine. And tackling unhelpful thoughts about one thing can lift your mood a fraction, enough to make other things seem possible that just weren’t before.

6. Be patient. It might take years, medication, courses of therapy and a kick up the bum to get you into the place you need to be to make exercise an option.

For me it was chronic pain and health risks, and I might easily fall back into depression tomorrow for all I know. But hopefully, if and when that happens, I can build on what I feel are very real victories here and it will be that tiny bit quicker and less painful to help myself again.

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Memory Walk

A few weeks ago on a whim I signed up for the Memory Walk at Chester-le-Street in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society. It is a fantastic cause and my grandma has dementia so it’s a personal cause too.

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My grandma with me and the kids

Now, it’s only 3 miles but it is worth bearing a few things in mind. First, I’m coming from a basic activity level of 0 and the fitness levels you might expect as a result. Second, I suffer from pains in my legs and lower joints so it’s going to be a bit of a push. Below I’ve written up the walk as it happened, only really cleaned up mobile-thumb-typing errors.

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Gathering at the start

10.35 Arrive at Chester Park. Loads of people already here mostly in small groups. Quite a few elderly in wheelchairs.
Go to the gazebo with AS on to see if I need to register or sign in but no, it’s all done online. I’m given a tag, though, to write about why I’m walking to hang on a memory tree during the walk.

10.50 A guy is leading warmups. You need to either have the honed body of an athlete or be in a group to pull this off and I’m on my tod so I watch, kind of wishing I was in one of those categories. Ideally both.

11am Someone from Beamish is leading a Geordie folk singalong with Blaydon Races, Cushy Butterfield and Keel Row. Great atmosphere! Local MP Kevan Jones cuts a banner and we leave.  The family in front of me are wearing the official t-shirts but have printed on a photo of the old lady they’re walking for. It’s a lovely, poignant touch.

11.20 Arrive at memory tree. A couple of people taking a moment. Most people taking photos. I’m fairly near the start so there’s not really many on yet.

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My tag on memory tree

Doubling back we can see the end of the walk. We’re pretty much back at the start now, I think that’s the 1 mile walk finished maybe.

Yes, a steward is directing us right to finish the 1 mile, and left to continue the 3 miles,  so that’s half an hour and a third of the distance gone.

11.35 Passed the amateur rowing club. I had no idea there was such a thing here. There’s a group all ready to go out on the water.

A volunteer is sitting on a bench with an old man, probably in his 80’s or early 90’s. He can’t walk any further, but rather than give up and get help back to the tent he’s waiting and will rejoin the walk on the way back.
It is surprisingly hard to type on the move! Plus I want to enjoy the experience. My ankles are giving me some pain but the rest of me is fine. It’s quite warm but there’s a lovely, very welcome, breeze.

12pm Left the wilderness of the riverside path behind and cut through a housing estate.  We are much more spread out now; only a group of 3 in front of me and none directly behind. Think I gave them a shock in the last wooded bit as the text alert on my phone sent the hunger games whistle out…

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12.10 Keeping a nice steady rhythm going. It doesn’t matter that I’m alone or that my ankles are hurting or that I’m really hot. I feel calm and happy.

We are doing a circle, not going back the same way. I hope someone’s told the old man who was having a rest…

12.15 Arrived at finish line!  I’m one of the early group back and met by smiling husband and kids.  Got a medal and a perfectly timed bottle of water!

I would totally do this again. Get my fitness levels up and go for a more ambitious one too perhaps! I didn’t raise that much but it was so worthwhile; I enjoyed it, and I put myself out for something. I’m proud of myself.
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The Fairy Liquid Myth

shutterstock_99587318There’s a myth that’s been around for a few years and I’m coming to realise how damaging it is, on very many levels. It’s the myth of the Fairy Liquid Ad.

I’m not having a go at Fairy Liquid itself, per se; I’m sure it really does clean with the power of an overnight soak in just ten minutes *sparkly wink*. It’s more the idea behind it. Check out the video below: beautiful, perfectly made-up mother with healthy, glowing daughter and an immaculate house. There’s an obvious, feminist objection to this, but it’s SO obvious that I’m not going to waste space on it here. What I’m really becoming aware of is the idea that life should be like this, sparkling and happy and whatever troubles you have, they can be washed away like the built-on grease that other detergents just can’t shift *repeat sparkly wink*.

I can’t take the credit for this observation, it’s my mum’s, but I am coming to realise how true and how damaging it is. Just don’t tell her, or she’ll be unbearable. The truth is that so many of us struggle with the idea that life should be perfect. Not just mothers with an immaculate house and/or a successful career, but a general Happy Ever After for everyone – the perfect job, the perfect house which is in the perfect neighbourhood with perfect decorations and perfect children singing Christmas Carols around the piano which Mother plays perfectly while Father puts the perfect star on the perfect Christmas tree. Or, perhaps, the perfect holiday in a Mediterranean resort where children splash merrily while Mummy relaxes with War and Peace and Daddy doesn’t need to check his stockbroker because his perfect PA is taking care of everything (but he might just check in anyway to make sure). And after they come home from their wonderful holiday the rest of the summer is a glow of green and gold and blue and paddling pools and fresh orange juice every morning. Anyway, you get the idea. Advertising has been drumming it into us for the last, what? 50 years? that unless you have some version of this life, you are a FAILURE. You have failed your family, your society, your own potential. You contribute nothing to the community, you are a waste of space, you’re obviously not trying hard enough. Is it any wonder so many of us end up with depression and anxiety?

There’s a growing awareness of this pernicious culture, for example Oliver Burkeman’s book The Antidote or The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. But I’m not sure there’s enough, given the growing invasion of advertising into our lives. We still persist in the idea that there’s some elusive THING – a book, a gadget, an experience, a way of life – that will give us the life of the Fairy Liquid adverts. I was delighted lately at a meeting of school governors to hear that County Durham is intending to roll out a mindfulness programme across its secondary schools; I wish everyone had access to something like this. I’m trying to begin meditation and mindfulness myself, to become aware of the fact that this, what I’m living now, this is my life. It’s far from perfect (particularly lately) but it’s what I’ve got and the Fairy Liquid advert isn’t just difficult to obtain, something that I can aspire to  – it’s completely fictional. IT IS NOT REAL. It is unattainable and two of the greatest lies being fed into our brains at the minute are that it is attainable, even necessary, and that if I’m not there yet it’s because I’m just not trying hard enough. It doesn’t help that there’s a scarily fast-growing blame culture – our problems, the reason we’re not in the Fairy Liquid ad, aren’t just our fault, they’re the fault of immigrants or single mums or the unemployed. If I’m not trying hard enough, they mustn’t be either. Well guess what – they’re trying their damndest too. We all are. So don’t blame them, or your spouse, or yourself,  if you’re not in the Fairy Liquid ad.

No-one is, and no-one ever will or should be.

Fairy Liquid advert

 

 

 

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Arbitrary Politics

So, here’s a random thought that’s been building up in my mind over the last couple of weeks. Ever since I completed the political philosophy unit of my OU degree actually, so it really is very random, with no pretensions to political, economic or any other kind of expertise.

BUT.

How are countries formed? They’d appear to be formed by processes of landgrabbing by various parties, usually begun centuries ago. So the country boundaries we end up with today are basically the arbitrary results of these long-long-term processes. In this way you get countries made up by the elite few in government which will contain various communities with their distinct identities, languages, cultures, and the borders are made to suit the particular political and economic needs of the governments concerned at the time. Sometimes the boundaries are set by outside governments who are remote from the countries that they’re playing around with – I’m looking at you, UK and USA.

This situation will come back to bite sooner or later. Look at the Middle East, Ukraine, Ireland, India. Those arbitrary political borders suit the top guns but cause divisions where there don’t need to be, and lump together different communities because they happen to be geographically close. And we don’t yet know what will happen in the future; there are probably many old sores caused by these types of policy. A Victorian attitude that lingers like a nasty smell was that Africa was made of savages who had tribes rather than countries; luckily for them, we went in and sorted that out and created nice civilised political boundaries (with nice, civilised armies and guns to maintain them) and rearranged the place to our hearts’ content. I think we could perhaps take another good, hard look at ourselves there, people.

It’s possible to get a better idea of actual communities by looking at the linguistic features of the landscape, as accents, dialogues and creoles etc don’t respect political borders. People who form a community influence each other’s, and their neighbouring communities’, linguistic features through natural contact; people either side of a border will share features such as dialect or cultural practices. Why shouldn’t these things be more important when the big boys are playing real-life Risk?

As an example close to home, the current campaigns for and against Scottish independence bring up interesting questions. If there is a yes vote, what happens to those border countries that share far more with Scotland than Westminster? What happens to Berwick, for example, which is de jure England but perhaps de facto Scotland? Obviously it would be impractical to have a Berwick referendum, so they are lumped, whatever the outcome of the vote, with the existing political borders. Further south, Northumbria is an area with a distinct heritage and identity, a distinct regional dialect (with its own subsidiary dialects and accents) that is often almost unintelligible to Standard English speakers, and ten times as far removed from London culturally as it is geographically. Maybe it should be independent too? From an economic and political point of view this is ludicrous of course, but I can’t help thinking that if we could get past these ancient, arbitrary ideas of country and just look at communities, it wouldn’t be quite so unthinkable.

And of course, independence (based on community) doesn’t mean that anyone is taking their toys home in a huff. I mean, surely people can co-operate? I realise this is incredibly naive and idealistic, but let’s face it, political and economic borders haven’t really done wonders for World Peace now, have they? If Scotland vote for independence, it does NOT automatically mean they want nothing to do with England, and it does NOT automatically have to mean that England snatch back everything that they cast a possessive eye over, such as the sterling or the BBC. I don’t think Scotland are rejecting The Great British Bake Off along with Cameron and his cohorts, and I don’t see how it would benefit the UK to have such a dog-in-the-manger attitude. Share and share alike, eh? And perhaps respecting the boundaries of community rather than politics might make people MORE inclined to co-operate with each other. I don’t know.

That’s my five minute rant for today anyway. I expect there’s a million reasons why this wouldn’t work, most of them involving £, $ and € and anyone is very welcome to comment with those reasons. As I said, I have no illusions about my inexpertise or naivety. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion, however unrealistic, now does it? After all, being out of touch with reality never yet stopped someone getting into Downing Street…

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The modern princess’ transport. Horses are soooo last century.

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Cooked

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I’m currently reading my way through Cooked by Michael Pollan, which I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about it and was lucky enough to pick up for half price in Waterstones recently.

I love Michael Pollan’s food writing; he takes a great deal of responsibly for slowly changing my attitude to food and grocery shopping. I highly recommend Food Rules,  for more on this. In Cooked, he turns his attention to what is actually going on when we cook;  the chemical reactions for example. I’m about a third of the way through and I love it. There are lots of moments when I think “ah, so that’s why that happens…”, and it makes me want to try cooking something a slightly different way.

More importantly, for me at least, is the fact that it’s reawaking my desire to cook. I’ve enjoyed cooking for a while but not lately. I was struggling with depression again in the later months of 2013 and since January our family life has been completely overturned. But Cooked is helping me remember how much I like making proper, tasty food and rekindling an urge to get back into my kitchen, get my lovely recipe books down and spend some time planning meals that I will enjoy cooking.

An example, to ponder: Pollan has been talking about the chemistry of onions, followed by mentioning the fact that they contain powerful microbial compounds which help make meat safe to eat.

Cooking with onions, garlic, and other spices is a form of chemical jujitsu, in which the first move is to overcome the plants’ chemical defenses so that we might eat them, and the second is to then deploy their defenses against other species to defend ourselves. (Cooked, Pollan,

2013, p145).

And now after all this talk of food, I’m starving so I’m off for some chemical jujitsu…

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