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Archive for the ‘Experiences’ Category

I had hoped that I might be brave enough to speak about this or the previous post at my Dad’s funeral (held yesterday, 29th August), but in the end I wasn’t.

At St Mary’s Primary School in Tetbury they like to celebrate when children demonstrate the qualities for which they would like the school to be known,

  • Caring
  • Curious
  • Courageous

And over the last few days, as I’ve wondered what to say (if anything) at Dad’s funeral, I thought how these three values represent the best of him, and indeed of all of us.

If I’m honest, the first two of these are easy to talk about.

Dad spent a good deal of his ‘spare’ time getting involved, volunteering and organising events to raise money for deserving causes,, especially through the Lions Club, but also through the annual Stratton Show, volunteering at Cirencester Hospital, and others. In his later years he was also active in U3A, giving talks and sharing his passion for classical music with others. Virtually 100 people came to our memorial gathering yesterday afternoon, from so many different groups, and they were unanimous in their comments…

he was a Minister without Portfolio in our committee, because whenever you needed something doing, he would volunteer…

he didn’t do all these things seeking the limelight…

…you didn’t have to ask him twice… 

I’d always been aware of how much Dad did, both before and during his retirement. But yesterday I got an inkling of how many people his efforts touched, and it made me (even more) proud.

Dad loved learning. I think he prized knowledge for its own sake, and he loved exploring the world in every sense, physically travelling across most continents as well as intellectually – he was often a walking encyclopedia, a search engine before search engines existed. Moreover, he encouraged Mike and I to be curious, in our own studies and travels. Despite being a PhD Chemist himself, he was never anything but supportive as Mike pursued his studies in medieval history and I delved into the murky world of political theories (we’ve subsequently pursued careers in software development and marketing…!)

I spent the best part of two years abroad with a Gap Year in the US and a year studying in France. Mike travelled after university; across Europe, Venezuela, Africa and New Zealand. I skied, Mike discovered diving. Mum & Dad often joked about ‘spending your inheritance’ as they travelled the globe in their retirement, visiting China, New Zealand, The Far & Middle East, Russia…

But when I thought about courageous, I had to pause. I’d never thought of him as a stereotypical hero or a leader. He was self-effacing, not a show-off. He didn’t do a heroic job, saving lives or changing the world. But now I can appreciate his own brand of courage all the more.

Throughout his life he used his curiosity and caring to make a difference for others, on whatever level he could, but not for his own sake or pride; organising community events, researching and giving talks to inspire others about music, giving people lifts to Church.

But on a more personal level, my Dad, like Rachel’s Dad, was a miracle of modern medicine. He fell through a plate-glass door in Czechoslovakia in 1968, cutting his throat and losing far more blood than is good for anyone, especially when the Red Army was on the verge of invasion.
He had heart surgery in the late 1980s and a pacemaker fitted a couple of years ago. Significant and debilitating bladder problems for several years then turned out to be cancer. He had his bladder removed in early 2015, and enjoyed a few months of remission in between rounds of chemotherapy.

Through everything he continued to be positive, cheerful, musical, curious, charming – and all the adjectives his friends used to describe him in their cards of consolation. The consensus that rippled through the room yesterday was of a ‘gentleman’, on every level.

Only when the cancer came back in the lymph nodes and pelvis and spread into his spine did his joie de vivre diminish. Only then did we start to notice that he was no longer doing all the things he had done for years, that he had done seemingly forever.

Only when we took him out to celebrate his 79th birthday at the end of last month did I fully understand the extent to which he had been truly courageous. When the nurse instructed me how much morphine he was ‘allowed’, I realised this dose was more than 4 times he had been living on for the past few months. He’d been ‘grinning and bearing it’, ‘not making a fuss’ for so many days, weeks, months.

So just as Dad was openly and always curious, he was quietly caring, and especially brave. While I shall mourn his passing now and every day forward, I am relieved he no longer has to be so brave.

I will strive to live the best life I can in the same positive, charming and cheerful spirit he did. I hope I can be a gentleman like him.

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much:
who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
who has filled the niche and accomplished his task;
who has left the world better than he found it;
whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had.
Whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.
Bessie Stanley – ‘What is success?’

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R.I.P. Anthony (Tony) Moody – 29/07/1938 – 14/08/2017

The Mr Moodys

 

Of all the kind messages I’ve received since my Dad passed away last week, one text from a friend has enveloped me ever since; sometimes in grief, but also in happiness.

…things may feel tougher and sadder, but remember you are made from him and will hold him with you for ever

It has struck me in these last few days how much I’ve reflected on his life and qualities only after his passing. Of course I wish now that I’d done it more, and sooner, and told him. I suppose I did now and then, and I hope he saw it for himself.

But it’s true that I am made from him, and these are just a few of the ways…

Sand Castles
Building sand castles, and indeed the moats, tunnels and trenches that go with them, is both an art and a science. It requires an understanding of the properties of wet sand, a creative flair to adorn your castle with shells, seaweed, pebbles and rocks. And it requires timing.

According to Dad, sand castles should always be built knowing they will be destroyed by the incoming tide. In fact, you should make every effort to ensure you are present to see this destruction. It’s about learning about loss, or something.

Swimming in the Sea
I was a nervous childhood swimmer, having dreadfully short sight. But I inherited my myopia from Dad, and he was a bold, committed swimmer, seemingly even more so in open water. He’d plunge through the waves and swim straight out to sea, sometimes stopping quite a long way out, before turning and swimming up and down, parallel to the shore. He swam several times a week right up to having his bladder removed a couple of years ago, and even occasionally afterwards.

Earlier this month we had a week’s break in Devon with friends, where we went bodyboarding at the fabulous Sandymouth Beach. I knew he was declining, and all the time I was amongst the waves I was thinking of him and how he would have loved it, and how he had helped me to feel confident there as a child.

“Ooh look! There’s [insert ANY sport] on…”
Dad was a keen rugby player in his younger days and all-round sports fan. He was pleased that rugby seemed to be my best sport at school, but more, I remember enjoying watching sports with him.

Rugby (the 5 Nations) was his favourite, and the 1980 England Grand Slam (capt: Bill Beaumont) a highlight, but we weren’t fussy. Snooker became a fixture of the TV schedules in the 1980s, and it rewards the long-term investment a best-of-35-frames final requires across a whole weekend. Similarly, test cricket unfolds over days, or even weeks in a 5-match series: we watched Botham’s Ashes explode in real-time. We revelled in track & field, we loved the great commentators. Sunday teatime was Ski Sunday and its iconic theme tune, and then there was the Tour de France, which combined his passions for long-form sport and the natural beauty of France…

Exploring the World
I’m not sure that Dad was a fan of going somewhere twice. During my childhood we visited Eurocamp sites in virtually every corner of France from Brittany to Biarritz to Briançon, as well as The Black Forest, the Italian Lakes and Tuscany. He drove us all over the place, including an American road-trip from San Francisco through Yosemite, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon, coming back to Los Angeles. I loved it. All the while he was a walking travel guide, talking history, geography, geology, everything.

Curiosity
Dad was a PhD Chemist (polymers, I think), but wore his intellect lightly. He read widely and absorbed facts and information like a sponge. There seemed no limit to his ability to relate one thing to almost any other thing. He sought out knowledge for its own sake, he was interested in learning, all the time.

A Wicked Thing (6)
Related to this, he loved puzzles and quizzes, especially cryptic crosswords. I swear he spent more time with the newspaper (remember them, kids?!) folded to the crossword page, and he carefully explained clue definitions and the wordplay, clues within clues and so on.

Make a difference
Dad got involved. He took part and got off his backside to do something; voluntary work, teaching, participation in community groups, organising events. None of this was to further his own position or recognition, but simply to make sure things happened, to make sure other people could enjoy the event, or benefit from the fundraising. He didn’t set out to change the world, but he did make it better.

A word in your ear, from Father to Son…
I’ve written before about my love of Queen, and it was Dad who got me started. From there I moved into ELO, Rock (both Heavy and Prog), as well as exploring his greater love of orchestral music. He encouraged me to take up the French Horn and hardly missed a concert I’ve played in over more than 20 years.

Father to Son is a Queen song from their 2nd album. I always loved it for its blinding guitar work by Brian May, but also for its message.

A word in your ear, from father to son: hear the word that I say.
I fought with you, fought on your side long before you were born…

…Take this letter that I give you. Take it sonny, hold it high.
You won’t understand a word that’s in it but you’ll write it all again before you die.

A word in your ear, from father to son: funny, you don’t hear a single word I say,
But my letter to you will stay by your side through the years till the loneliness is gone.
Sing if you will – but the air you breathe I live to give you.

I am proud to be made from my Dad, and I hope to keep writing the letter he gave me.

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Sticks and stones I can cope with, but the past couple of years has thrown up an almost relentless series of words and sentences that I’d never heard before.

Individually they’re unpleasant.

Cumulatively they’ve been as draining as anything I can remember, and their impact has been much deeper and persistent than any bruise or broken bone.

 

Aggressive T2 tumour in the bladder… radical cystectomy…

We think you should involve the police… “I just want it to stop“… 

Congestive heart failure… passed away peacefully on 14th September

masses in the lymph nodes and pelvis… chemotherapy… inoperable… balancing quality vs quantity of life…

the diagnosis of Dementia is confirmed – Alzheimer’s/Vascular mix… unable to live independently at home… had another fall last night…

Anxiety attacks… learning support… there was an incident… not engaging in class… found crying in the toilets… didn’t turn up…

Significant degradation in the visual fields tests… low-pressure glaucoma… repeat these tests every 6 months… if it affects the other eye you will have to inform the DVLA…

‘Concrete thinking’… sensory overload… problems with language processing… gender dysphoria… meltdowns… 

…confirm the diagnosis of Autism – Asperger’s Type… Cognitive Behavioural Therapy… 

 

I know that everyone goes through this sort of stuff. I know that many, many people have it much worse.

I know I am blessed with loved ones, family and friends.

I know I have much to look forward to, much to be thankful for.

I know that diagnosis is a starting point, an opportunity to shape a new normal.

But right now I’d take a beating to not have heard some of these words, or to not hear them again.

 

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Theresa May is the British Prime Minister. She was appointed 6 months ago after becoming leader of the Conservative Party by the votes of just 199 MPs. Barely 6 weeks before that she had unsuccessfully campaigned for her country to Remain in the European Union. In October 2016 she spoke at the Conservative Party Conference and proclaimed

…if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.

I could launch into dictionary definitions and how her blinkered ‘vision’ is inadequate for the complexity and interdependence of the world in 1917, let alone 2017…

…but instead, here are three reasons why I believe in my heart and soul that she is wrong and why, despite all the Brexit sound and ‘America First’ fury raging against me, I’m proud to think of myself as a citizen of the world and a citizen of my country. Indeed, I can only think of myself in that way.

Eurocamp

For virtually all of my childhood that I can remember, I enjoyed family holidays in France, Germany and Italy, usually staying in Eurocamp tents on sites from Brittany to Tuscany, from The Dordogne to the Black Forest. I learned how to ask for baguettes and croissants, understand different road-signs, convert kilometres to miles. I discovered the joy of Orangina in funny-shaped bottles. Europe wasn’t something to be feared or resented, it was full of people quite a lot like us, with fabulous countryside and terrific summer weather. I’ve tried to pass on these attitudes to my children.

orangina

Put the Zep on…that snowpile is dead.

Between school and university, I went to the US for 6 months on an English-Speaking Union exchange to a High School in Princeton, and this boy from the Cotswolds discovered the world…

I found I could escape my (self-imposed) teenage persona of clever but never ‘cool’, often painfully awkward. On the very first morning, I was invited to skip class by other guys in the Senior Year, and we went out to get ice cream (it was January and about 5 degrees below zero), before one of them drove his car around the icy carpark, spinning and wheeling in all directions, ultimately ploughing into a snowbank. This seemed a long way from Gloucestershire.

I played baritone sax in a jazz band, played alto sax in a student rock band, started to write a screenplay, skied in Colorado. I travelled alone from New York to Seattle and San Francisco and back again. I was refused re-entry to the US at Niagara Falls. I gambled in casinos in Reno. I thought I was Don Johnson on top of the World Trade Centre…

world trade center

I grew up and grew out of myself in America. I couldn’t understand it in this way at the time, but travelling and living in another place made me appreciate my home all the more, while respecting and loving the differences.

Erasmus

At the end of my 2nd year at university, I signed up for an ERASMUS exchange to study in France, without consulting anyone, let alone my parents. A real snap decision, it was also a brilliant and far-reaching decision, as I got to go skiing in the French Alps A LOT, enjoyed a long weekend on the Mediterranean coast, and a week travelling into Italy to Genoa and Florence. I met and studied with multi-lingual French, Italian, Dutch, German students.

Most far-reaching of all, it was in Chambéry that I studied marketing & market research for the first time, and discovered more human, real-world ways to apply my thinking beyond the abstract, macro-economic aspects of my degree course.

Even more so, if I’d not studied in France I wouldn’t have been at university in Exeter for a 4th year, and almost certainly wouldn’t have met Rachel.

Erasmus

Erasmus. A scholar and citizen of the world.

I once gave a pecha kucha presentation about key moments in my life. Two of those focused on the experiences I had in Princeton and my decision to study in Chambéry: they have been that fundamental to my life since, the way I see myself and the way I see the world. I Reckon it’s simplistic to say the least, and actually insulting to suggest that people who think beyond their own country misunderstand the concept of citizenship.

So I encourage, implore you, dear readers, to think broadly about how we depend on each other, how we are stronger for being part of things that transcend nation-states. Be citizens of the world. The world needs us.

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Right now, in the afterglow of 2016, there are a few things I know to be true.

2016 was not the Worst Year Ever

  • To be sure, the ‘important’ celebrity deaths seem on a different level, especially as they now include stars who came to world attention in the broadcast media age. It’s very sad that Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (her Mother) died within hours. But please, it’s only a tragedy for their friends and family. It makes me sad for them, and a bit sad for me as I’ve loved their films, but it’s not life-changing or tragic or unbearable. Really, it’s not.
  • Brexit and Donald Trump have rattled my cage and dented my rose-tinted liberal view of the world, but they’re not massively unsurprising. With a smidgen of hindsight, it’s quite easy to see them as a natural progression of where we’ve been going in recent years, perhaps somewhat extreme, certainly upsetting for me, but actually almost inevitable.
  • Similarly, while stories and images from Syria have been uniformly depressing and the scale of destruction seems more catastrophic, how different are they from Chechnya, South Sudan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Kosovo and other conflicts of the last 25 years. The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ is  similarly the natural extension of what’s been building for a long time.

I’m done with thinking of The New Year as Something Transformative…

Just because the year changes on the calendar doesn’t mean I can swivel on a sixpence and turn things around. There are things I can control and things I can’t, things that actually affect me and stuff that simply bothers me. I’m trying to stop caring too much about celebrity deaths, or what Donald Trump has proclaimed about Vladimir Putin, or what kind of Brexit we apparently want today.

But I can’t shrug off or simply change my attitude about a whole shitpile of things that affect me directly and are at least partly beyond my control. I can’t pretend to even consider the sort of upbeat “let’s make 2017 AWESOME” posts that are just about everywhere. Because while I am privileged and lucky to be British, white, born to affluent parents (etc), and we had many fine experiences last year, I can’t hide that, overall, 2016 was bloody hard. And the things that made it hard aren’t going away anytime soon.

  • My Dad still has inoperable cancer and has been increasingly breathless, which unsurprisingly is taking its toll on Mum, so they need our support more than ever, emotionally and physically.
  • Christmas 2016 was the last that Rachel and I will celebrate in either of our childhood homes.
  • We’re still helping Hannah through a protracted process to get her the support she needs to make sense of herself, feel less anxious at school, and to give her a shot at achieving her undoubted potential in an education system that seems to be going back generations in its approach to testing and exams.

Believe in Better

I do believe that it will be all right in the end, but I can’t see the end right now. So please, try not to encourage me to make 2017 amazing or exciting. Please don’t tell me to ‘consume less/create more, frown less/smile more’.

If I’m lucky, stay focused and can stick to my intentions, I’m hopeful I can be enriched in 2017 by

  • moving house (while staying local)
  • helping my parents downsize into a smaller home
  • spending more time writing this than getting annoyed on Twitter
  • continuing my cycling evolution; ride more often (commuting), further (100 mile rides), in new places (Wales, Yorkshire, France?), and more with our children
  • (re)watching Mad Men
  • helping our children to thrive, laugh and be everything they can be
  • the love and support of Rachel, Hannah & Eleanor, as well as my family and friends

Wish me luck…

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You have glaucoma in your left eye.

A few months ago I had a routine eye test at our local opticians in Tetbury, part of which was the normal visual field test. I stared into the eyepiece, waiting for the machine to whirr and flash a series of tiny pinpricks of light, to which I would respond by clicking a button whenever they appeared. All-so-normal, until it seemed my left eye wasn’t quite so good at noticing the dots. This was unexpected, and very different from just 12 months earlier, so the optician asked me to repeat the tests. The results were the same.

I can still sense the whirring of the machine as it flashes lights that I ought to be able to see. There’s a rhythm to it that I can recognise. With my right eye there’s a regularity to the button clicks as the lights register in my brain. For my left eye there are gaping silences where clicks should be. I’m staring, squinting, aching to see something that means I can click. I’m tempted to cheat. The test takes longer as the machine gives me more chances, makes the lights brighter, trying to understand what’s there and what’s not there for me. And while I know it’s only minutes it feels much longer. I sense the nurse knows what the silences mean: this isn’t normal.

Visual Field Tests Glaucoma

This isn’t mine… but it’s sort of similar

 

And so last week, after further tests, a precautionary MRI scan and a couple of months of eye drops, I sat with the consultant as he confirmed the inevitable, and talked about my glaucoma.

There are fairly significant differences in the visual field tests in your left eye, notable damage to and thinning of the optic nerve…

…but your IOP (intra-ocular pressure) is normal, much lower than often is the case with glaucoma…

…you’re really quite a lot younger than the typical progression, a bit of an outlier on that graph…

…nothing on the MRI scan, so we can definitely rule out anything like a tumour pressing on the nerve…

…there’s no increase in your pressures since taking the drops, no real progression since the last tests (3 months ago), so that’s pleasing…

…you probably won’t notice anything different, until you do bump into something (joke)…

…playing a wind instrument like an oboe or French Horn can cause spikes in IOP, although I’m loathed to tell someone who loves playing music to stop…

So the long and the short of it is that I’m now taking daily eye drops (painless, no hassle at all), and will have repeated tests every 6 months. And that’s it.

Except…

The following day, at my regular orchestra rehearsal, I was acutely conscious of sensations of ‘pressure’ when playing, especially loud and high notes. We’re playing Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, which has plenty of loud and plenty of high, especially for 1st/3rd horn. In fact there’s mostly a lot of notes that are both loud and high, in rapid succession, in violently percussive chords and fanfares. In exercise terms it’s high impact, like running up and down stairs. I could feel the impact inside my head, around my eyes, behind my eyes, in ways I’ve never actively noticed before. And all the time I was thinking

Should I be doing this? Am I risking my sight?

There were moments when I wanted to play quieter, or stop. There were moments when I didn’t want to play my Horn any more, at all, ever again.

Apparently the mean time for progression from early diagnosis to loss of vision is more than 20 years: for normal tension glaucoma and for younger (under 60) patients it’s even slower than that. So I’m probably being over-sensitive. But if the visual field loss starts in my right eye, I’ll have to tell the DVLA. And then I’ll have to be reassessed for driving.

So.

I’ll take the drops every morning, and play 4th horn instead.

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For years I’ve been an armchair cycling fan, following the Grand Tours on ITV’s excellent coverage, and everything else through a terrific range of podcasts including The Cycling Podcast (hosted by proper journalists) and Velovoices (run amazingly by passionate amateurs).  But for the last 6 weeks I have been the proud, obsessed, small-boy-excited owner of a spiffy new road bike. I have become a MAMIL.

Cannondale Caad8

My new favourite thing. No, not the chair.

Where’s the Harley?

Perhaps this is the third phase of my ongoing midlife crisis, which started with this blog just as I turned 40. I try not to think of this blog as a slightly crosser version of my teenage diaries, but with a name like What I Reckon and my built-in tendency to rant, I realise I’m not fooling anyone. The middle phase perhaps started with my fitness/weight loss drive a couple of years later, which then morphed into occasionally taking part in Obstacle Course Races. That has now become a more esoteric and possibly fair-weather pursuit along the gorgeous lanes of the Cotswolds.

As a brilliant spoof article exclaimed, midlife crises ain’t what they used to be. Instead of a boozy trip to Vegas or the guttural roar of a sports car or motorbike, I’ve instead opted for losing 2 stone (and keeping it off), sessions of circuit training and paying for the privilege of getting filthy and knackered, and now Sunday morning outings on a very expensive, but beautiful piece of engineering and design.

Just set up a separate bank account…

Perhaps in an earlier century, middle-aged middle-class men would have sought outlets for their angst in the arms of younger women (OK, I’m thinking of Roger Sterling from Mad Men). Nowadays we’re still finding ways to spend our money, just in more family-friendly ways. There’s a lot of kit involved. Having not really cared too much for my gym/obstacle course appearance (we all look the same when we emerge from a filthy swamp), I now find myself getting very choosy about colour-coordinated tops and bib shorts, even socks and sunglasses… there’s always new tyres, gears, brakes, shoes to consider, not to mention the branding.

It appeals to my inner statto

While I’m less obsessed about the telemetry of my bike (give it time, I’m still a newbie), the whole process of planning routes and measuring my ‘performance’ really brings out my geek tendencies, and there’s no shortage of technology to help me. Apps like Strava are heavenly, measuring segments of rides where I can compete against myself or others. It’s like I’m 16 again, doing the scoring for the school cricket team, looking at patterns in bowling performances or great batting statistics (have you read my posts about cricket!?) .

A bit of self-awareness

Just a few weeks of being a MAMIL has made me more self-aware and aware of others on the roads. I’m understanding how I enjoy climbing hills for the challenge, but also regaining my exhilaration at speeding downhill (just not so much on the steeper, twisty, narrow, sandy lanes…).

When I’m driving I find myself much more aware of potholes and the state of the road surface. I’m more considerate of cyclists, but also more frustrated when they occasionally ride poorly (3 abreast on a busy road, really?).

It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster…

These words of wisdom were offered to me recently, after I had remarked that I could already feel I was improving after just a few rides on my new bike. I’m smoother in my pedalling and gear changes, maintained momentum better on rolling roads, and I haven’t got my shoes stuck in the pedal clips and fallen over while stationary for at least a couple of rides now…

…but last Friday my growing confidence was truly put to the test in the Tour de Creston, an annual event organised by my company’s ‘parent’ group. About 60 of us set out from our offices in Bristol to ride 57 miles to Amesbury (near Salisbury). This was easily the longest ride I’d attempted, and it also included the longest and steepest climb I’d ever encountered.

For the first 2/3 of the ride I was doing just fine. I took it easy to start with, I felt great on the long climb, I enjoyed flying downhill at every opportunity. As we climbed up onto Salisbury Plain, the terrain got lumpier and more exposed, and in 80º sunshine we also faced a breezy headwind that really made me understand what is meant by “leg-sapping”. It was harder to maintain 13mph in the afternoon than it had been to ride at 18mph in the morning. I rode with four colleagues who were both patient and brilliant at pacing This Old Man up the hills. I was broken as we rode into the finish, but my memories of the day are hugely positive. I want, I need to get better at this…

Tired. Happy.

Tired. Happy.

And now the 2015 Tour de France has started. There goes my productivity for the next 3 weeks. I’d better get route planning for their rest days…

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