Tag Archives: Stockport Art Gallery

Untitled Re-Told

26 Oct


Life on Mars Exhibition - Saturday 4th October

Image by Gene Hunt via Flickr

There is NOTHING going on in my life at the moment, and I have struggled all week to find something of interest to write about.  Today, I’ve had to resort to re-blogging an old post.  Like on the telly, however, this is not a repeat, but a re-telling, brushed up to look good and fresh and new.  Sadly, I don’t have any talking heads to pad out the dull bits; but feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

Spud and I visited Stockport Art Gallery. I don’t mind art. I’m not over-fussed about it, but I like to look at it occasionally. 

We have a fair bit of original art in the house because the Hub loves it. We had only been married a year or so when he bought our first two paintings at the Rand Show in Joburg. We got them on Hire Purchase: remember that? For those of you under a certain age, it was old-fashioned credit, long before plastic.  We also rented our video machine. Can you imagine it? It wasn’t that long ago, either; about 1986.  I guess those of you still under that certain age are now asking, What’s a video?

We even went into art galleries on our honeymoon in Cape Town, which reminds me of the biggest waste of money I have ever spent.  I know I have told this story before but I still feel enraged, twenty-six years on. 

Scene: a small gallery of modern art.  Entrance fee: 10 cents each.  Exhibits: everything was called Untitled.  Presumably because they defied description. Utter garbage – also what some of the exhibits were made of.  Twenty-six years, five months and three weeks later, I still begrudge that 20c.

An artist friend of mine explained to me that ‘modern’ or ‘conceptual’ artists will all have had formal training – the example she gave me was Picasso, which put my nose out a little – but they feel the need to experiment with form. That’s all very well, but don’t charge me an exorbitant 20c for it. To be fair (if I must), I like to play around with poetic form myself so I understand where they are coming from, but I really don’t get why an unmade bed with leftover food, yucky personal stains and other detritus counts as art. If that’s the case, tell Charles Saatchi to come round here and he can have My Bed for two hundred quid plus an entrance fee of 20c.

I do like a good sculpture.  Weirdly, however, I don’t like ornaments. Of course, I don’t have any sculptures in my house so I don’t have to dust them; I might change my mind if I did. I like those Liverpool Yellow Banana animals in particular.  Talking of Liverpool and art (don’t laugh), my favourite painting in all the world is in the Walker Art Gallery: When Did You Last See Your Father? I was about eleven and my Dad brought home some art prints, and WDYLSYF? was one of them. I was heavily into the Stuarts at the time, so I loved it. 

I didn’t know anything about the painting until the day I was in the Walker Gallery with Spud, killing time waiting for a train home after watching Joseph and His Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat at the Liverpool Empire Theatre (a Christmas present from the Hub, the most wonderful gift-giver in all the world); I turned a corner, and there it was, massive, beautiful, a real work of art. 

By the way, I know people claim to hate Andrew Lloyd Webber as much as I hate ‘modern’ art, but I don’t care: I love his musicals. While I’m at it, I might as well confess that I am an unashamed and unabashed Abba fan, being the one teenager in Runcorn to not only buy but also to display a poster of them on my bedroom wall. Those of you recoiling in disgust may leave the room.

Another of my favourite paintings is one we have of Tory Boy as a three-year old.

The Hub commissioned it for my Mum’s fiftieth birthday. He also commissioned the same artist (Theo Coetzee) to paint a portrait of his parents on their wedding day, from a photograph, for their Golden Wedding anniversary. 

The Hub commissioned this one from Theo (by this time we were on first name terms) as a Christmas present for me (told you, didn’t I?), because cosmos is my favourite flower:

As I said, the Hub likes art. He enjoys painting, but he feels he has no talent. I am a philistine so I can’t judge, but I like his stuff. He doesn’t paint now, though, as we live in a small house and things not in use have to be packed away. Because of the ME/CFS, by the time he gets his stuff out, he’s too exhausted to do anything with it, so he doesn’t bother anymore. Hope is in sight, however: we have three bedrooms and as soon as we offload the boys onto a couple of unsuspecting girls, we will have a room each to do our own thing: he can paint and do his aeroplane geek stuff and I can write scurrilous experimental poems on why Tracey Emin should be dusting ornaments for a living.

Wining And Lining

12 Jul
Portrait of Francois de le Boë Sylvius and his...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m a member of Write Out Loud, an organisation that promotes the reading of poetry aloud.  ‘Member’ is a strong word: all that is required is to show up and read.  No fees, no forms, just a love of poetry and a working mouth.  The Stockport group meets every second Sunday of the month at Stockport Art Gallery, upstairs.

Upstairs because the Art Gallery Art Group meet downstairs every Monday.  We don’t mind, because it means we only have to pay 25p for a brew in the break, instead of the 50p that is charged at other times.  Poets tend not to have much money; especially unpublished poets.

The WOL sessions are billed as ‘open mic’, meaning anyone can join in; but there’s no actual microphone at our sessions.  We sit in a circle amongst great, not so great, and, frankly, pretty naff at times, art, fighting the dreadful acoustics as we ignore each other’s work, interspersed with polite clapping and rhubarbing, while we wait for our turn to prove that no one else in the room has talent like we do.  Though that may be just me.

Last night’s session was a little different.  There was a real mic; and an audience.  Dim lights.  No tea.  I knew the Art Gallery was running a festival of sorts and I knew WOL had agreed to run a public session, but it didn’t occur to me that it might be an actual, formal thing, even though I had formally put my name down to read.  What can I say?  I’m a poet: I’m too busy thinking about words to ever listen to them.

I arrived last night to discover that I was to read two poems, eighth on the list, before a microphone.  Gulp.  Double gulp.  Several gulps, fortunately, because there was wine instead of tea (no charge) and my spot was after the break so I had time for a little Dutch courage.

I have always wondered about the phrase ‘Dutch courage’ so, in order to give me time to think about where my next paragraph is coming from, I Wikipediaed it.  I might have known: it is of Dutch origin.  Or Dutch gin, to be precise:

In 1650 Franciscus Sylvius, a Dutch doctor, created Dutch gin in an attempt create a diuretic medicine. This was then used by soldiers in the Thirty Years’ War by English troops and was an instant success for its warming properties on the body in cold weather and its calming effects before battle. Because of the effects of Dutch gin English soldiers fighting in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century apparently called the drink “Dutch Courage”.

Feeling slightly Hollandaised in my Netherlands, I got up in front of the mic, read my two poems, and sat down again.  Aren’t you proud of me?

Every recital teaches you something (my last one taught me how to shout over a heckling, dancing audience); this one taught me to choose my poems carefully if I don’t want to bore people.  My second poem was a fun poke at a A Tale Of Two Cities, into which I have shoehorned every Dickens title I can.  That’s great for an audience of, say, literature graduates or old people who got a real education before the Sixties; not so great for a bunch of twenty-somethings who pass their English exam by being taught certain passages only of a Shakespeare text, never having to read the whole thing.

To be fair, however, I’m only surmising the audience didn’t like it – I never actually looked at them the whole time I was up there.  I have the same problem when I read the lesson at church: I have no idea what the building looks like from the front, because I only see the words and the carpet.  I can’t believe I once dreamed of being an actress.  Though many of them do appear to spend their time looking at the ceiling these days, so I’d probably fit in.

We had more than double our numbers last night, and several children.  A boy of eleven read a wonderful poem that he’d written about being a pirate; and it was better than some stuff I’ve heard by professionals.  He was the youngest to read, and his grandmother the eldest.

It was an enjoyable night, and I’m thinking of moving to Holland as a result.  Their courage is way better than ours.



Buy The Book (2)

12 Feb


The Houses on the Green is the story of a small community living in terraced property in the Ardwick area of Manchester, and is set in the late 1950s. 
Their homes lie on the edge of a clearance area and have been subject to a compulsory purchase order. The owner of the five properties, an ex-army officer, leads the fight to save them.  He is backed by the other residents: a young single mother, a Jewish couple who fled Austria just before Hitler entered Vienna, a hard-working secretary in the city centre and a slow-witted young man coping alone after the death of his parents.  Each of the characters bring their own strengths to the conflict. They take the fight to the Town Hall and encounter a planning officer with old scores to settle.  
Set at a time when massive slum clearances were taking place in most major cities, the story is a realistic representation of life in Britain in the Fifties.
Currently living on the edge of a reservoir in Stockport, Eileen has worked variously as a barmaid, interpreter, secretary to an MP and as a teacher. Eileen travels extensively, frequently alone, both in Europe and farther afield; Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Hong Kong, San Francisco and Cuba. She has had work published in Good Housekeeping, was winner of a local short story writing competition and has had a poem displayed in Stockport Art Gallery. 
Eileen is a friend of mine and kindly let me read the book before publication.  It’s a real page-turner!  The book’s strength lies in the well-drawn characters.  I found myself really caring about these people and their fight.  So much so, I demanded that Eileen write at least one sequel, and preferably more. 
If you have ever lived in or around Manchester you will enjoy the references to real places.
You can purchase a copy from Eileen’s website
Alternatively, she is launching the book at Stockport Art Gallery on Sunday, February 20th, from one o’clock to three.  Pat Fox-Leonard will read excerpts.  If you would like to own a signed copy of The Houses on the Green, or to hear a good book read well, please come along.
You can also read excerpts here.
Come on Manchester, let’s do everything we can to support a local author!

Annual Review

31 Dec
Bramall Hall, in the County of Greater Manchester.

Image via Wikipedia

The last day of the year seems like a good time to re-hash the last twelve months – not much point doing it next March, is there?  I won’t include links to previous posts because I don’t expect you to go and read them again; I’m just glad you showed up at all today.

On a personal level, we acquired a new dog and six fish (now, sadly, five fish).  I went on a back-to-work course; had a work placement and one interview but still no job.  I was in the audience for the first leaders’ debate and was given a new kitchen and bathroom by my landlord.  The whole of my downstairs and part of my upstairs has been re-decorated this year, and it’s all hidden by the Hub’s ever-growing mountain of crap.  I discovered I am two inches taller than I thought I was; and Glee.  I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary; witnessed a police siege in my street; and won £100 in shopping vouchers.  The Hub’s CFS/ME got steadily worse and he was diagnosed with anaemia and restless leg syndrome, so I doubled my fun-poking efforts.  I became a pirate for a week; had several colds and infections and a wisdom tooth extraction; and still claimed to be as healthy as an ox.  Have you noticed that you never see oxen anymore?  Spud had three holidays – two courtesy of friends – and Tory Boy helped win the election (sort of) and saw the Pope’s back while interning in Westminster.

The general election threw up my favourite quote of the year:

Paddy Ashdown: 

The British people have spoken; now we just have to work out what they’ve said.

As far as the writing goes, I was published in several poetry ezines and two collections; was counted part of the Manchester blogging scene; and saw one of my poems turned into a piece of art work.  I took part in April’s NaPoWriMo and November’s Poetic Asides Poem A Day challenge; performed at Bramhall Hall with Manchester Camerata; and at Stockport Art Gallery with its vanishing audience.  I completed an excellent creative writing course at a local college and was a founder member of Stockport Art Gallery Writing Group.

My blog was given a makeover and I had three guest bloggers.  This blog is growing exponentially.  In March I was thrilled to reach the magic figure of 5000 hits; in the nine months since then I have had over 21,000 hits with the figure at this moment standing at 26,671.  I started a new blog for my South African poems and sometimes it gets as many as three readers a day. 

Not a bad year, overall.  Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share it with me.


The prompt for Big Tent was to write a list poem.  I was inspired to write a haiku by today outside:

A Stockport Winter

dull grey cold muddy
miserable the same as
a Stockport summer

Art? Bllllggrrrhhhs##!

12 Dec
Photograph of Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain&...

Image via Wikipedia

I am off to my writing group today.  It is our Christmas social so we are each taking a plate of food to share and a Secret Santa gift.  The gift is an envelope of writing prompts – pictures, newspaper cuttings, headlines, that sort of thing.  It was suggested by our leader; what a great idea for impoverished writers!

I remember the first time I went to a social event at Stockport Art Gallery: I gasped in horror when someone ate from one of the exhibits.  It was only when everyone started doing it that I realised it was not, in fact, a piece of modern art, but the refreshments.

I think I can be forgiven: four wicker baskets propped at an angle, each containing a single colour-food and sat on a table in the middle of a gallery full of conceptual art pieces sounds like a Turner Prize-winner to me.

That reminds me of my honeymoon: we went into a museum of modern art in Cape Town.  Everything was called ‘Untitled’, presumably because it defied description.  We came out of there enraged at the biggest waste of money we ever spent, but they refused to give us our twenty cents back. 


If you’d like to know how I became a South African citizen (and it was as big a surprise to me as it will be to you), pop over to my other blog.


If A Poet Falls In The Forest, Does She Make A Sound?

28 Nov
Playtex panty brief ad, 1950s

Image by genibee via Flickr

It wasn’t so much a forest last night, as a desert.  I was at a poetry reading and someone stole our audience. 

Stockport Art Gallery hosted an evening of music, poetry and crafts, and my writing group was invited to perform.  There was a lot of interest from group members until it was mentioned that it would be nice if we wrote on the theme of the Pre-Raphaelites.  However, five of us did pitch up, one couldn’t make it but sent his poem along and one came to offer moral support (thank you, Eileen), so we had enough of a showing to warrant our continued free use of the gallery for meetings.

The big event of the evening was the choir, which gave us songs in those well-known pre-Raphaelite forms: slave chants and sea shanties.  They were pretty good and, when the choir master invited everyone to the upstairs gallery for a singalong session, everyone went.  Which was unfortunate for us poets, because we were on next: we were left with two members of staff and the dj.  Still, for nervous readers like me, the smaller the audience the better, I say.

We had a good variety of poems between us, as we had each written at least one (and one of us had written four) all from a different pre-Raphaelite perspective – mine was somewhere in the region of que

I was persuaded to recite a conceptual poem of mine called Writer’s Block, which you can read here.  I wonder what it says about my poetry that I got the best reaction for a poem with no words?

Despite, or perhaps because of, having no audience, we had a good night anyway, and I was smiling as I made my way to the exit.  Until I took my gloves from my bag and accidentally pulled out my spare, clean knickers as well.  Carrying them is a throwback to my pregnancy days (are you with me, ladies?) and is a habit I’ve never managed to throw off.  As I haven’t had a new bag in fourteen years, it is also possible they are the same pair I carried back when I knew exactly where Spud was for nine whole months.

Why do they call them a ‘pair’ of knickers, anyway?  It’s one item.  I thought it might be because there are two leg holes, but there’s also a waist hole – and probably more if they are as old as last night’s pair/one.

So there were my spare knickers and the plastic bag I keep them in, in two neat piles on the floor.  Luckily for me, no one saw them fly out of my bag; but someone did turn around as I bent to retrieve them.  For the only quick-thinking moment of my entire life, I straightened up, nose wrinkled in disgust, tutted and said, ‘It’s ridiculous what passes for art these days, isn’t it?’


Harry Potter Must Be A Soccer Fan

27 Jul

Check out my poem Electoral Math, South African-Style, published today in the ezine Streetcake.  It’s a magazine for experimental writing.  The poem is called Electoral Math in my SA collection but I added the last bit when I submitted it, to give it context.


I have my niece and nephew staying for two weeks.  They are adorable children (I have to say that because their parents read this).  Whenever they visit we go for lots of long walks.  They arrived on Saturday and so far we have been to Alexandra Park, Bonar Park and Hollywood Park; coming up are Abney Hall Park, Gorsey Bank Park and Reggie the Roller Skating Dog at Stockport Art Gallery.  The appeal of these Stockport attractions are two-fold: they are free and they tire everyone out, including Toby.

I’m a great believer in exposing children to fresh air.  Even wet air, which is what we had yesterday: constant rain.  It’s nothing new; if we didn’t go out when it rained we’d all be as pale as the aliens in Signs, and just as cranky.  It rains a lot here in Stockport, aka Greater Manchester – hence, Manchester Cotton, for which we are famous, and all because of the rain.  Soft rain, of course, or we’d be famous for Manchester Starched Linen instead.

The problem with taking children out in the rain is not that they dislike it, but that they object to wearing coats.  The rellie kids, being well brought up, didn’t argue; but Spud, being mine, argued and complained the whole way about having to wear a cagoule, pausing only when we collected a spare child from his house (spare child being in possession of a football and Spud ensuring he didn’t leave without it). 

When we hit the park, the first thing Spud spied was a girl he knew, which increased his outrage: ‘See.  This is exactly why I didn’t want to wear one.’  I didn’t say it but it occurred to me that the girl wouldn’t have noticed the cagoule, being too busy being unimpressed with seeing him in the park with his mother and his eight-year old girl cousin.

I trundled around the park with Tobes while the kids played football in their t-shirts.  Can you tell me why I insisted they all wear coats as we walked but allowed them to be coverless as they ran around?  It’s not as if football has rain-repelling magical properties, is it?

After an hour or so, Bobo decided enough was enough.  He parked his soaked and skinny carcass on the ground and refused to sniff another soggy leaf.  He was shivering from the wet & cold and demanded to be picked up and cuddled, making pathetic noises that I interpreted as, ‘I wanna go hoooooome.’  So we did, to hot showers and pyjamas.  No-one was the worse for not wearing a jacket the whole time.

I never took off my coat and guess what?  I have had a sore throat and headache since we got home.  Maybe football is magical, after all.


Fully Booked

22 Jun

This is the fourth and last week of my work placement. I have enjoyed it and I have learned quite a bit as well, especially about Excel. I have also experienced new jobs like diary-keeping and I think I’m rather good at it.

However, it is possible that all of that thar noo larnin has addled my brain, if yesterday is anything to go by. My good friend J and I and some of our writing buddies are trying to set up a writing group at the art gallery. It’s a long story that I will share with you another day. J has been trying to organise an evening meeting for tonight that everyone can attend but I can’t go because I’d arranged to visit my blonde friend. When I was doing my back-to-work course at the same place as my work placement, she and I met once or twice for breakfast beforehand, so I suggested that we do that yesterday morning. She emailed on Sunday to say she could make it, and we arranged to meet at nine.

Being so busy on Sunday, with ironing and gardening and shouting at the Hub, I forgot to tell him about it. In fact, I forgot all about it myself until I was dropping off to sleep and suddenly sat up in bed when I remembered. I wrote myself a reminder note and fell asleep. Do you ever have those dreams where something is not quite right and it niggles at you but you can’t work out what it is? At five-thirty in the morning I startled myself awake by shouting, ‘Nine o’clock!  Nine o’clock!’ Nine o’clock was when I breakfasted with J before starting my course at ten o’clock; nine o’clock is also the time I have started work every morning for the past three weeks.

I emailed J as soon as I got up, passing the post-to-be-posted in the hall as I staggered into the lounge at six a.m. and reminding myself to take it with me when I went out. I thought I would text J in case she didn’t read her emails before she left, and at six-thirty I managed a jokey message and tried to send it to her. That’s when I realised I didn’t have her number. Well, I did; but it was on the phone I had previously run through my washing machine’s hot cycle and therefore lying in a landfill on the other side of Stockport.

Thus, at six-forty-five I was rifling through notebooks 15 to 26 in the hope of finding her number written down; but it was not to be. Panic set in at about six-fifty-three: can’t leave J sitting in a café with a coffee, a tea, four slices of toast and an ‘I’ve been stood up’ look on her face. Can’t be late for (unpaid and with no job at the end of it) work. What to do? What to do?

I emailed J with a brief explanation (she had it luckier than you) and asked her to text me if she received it; and would she like to meet for lunch instead? My plan was to go to the café if I didn’t hear from her and grovel an apology before abandoning her. I usually arrive at work with ten minutes to spare and she is always chronically early so I thought I could abase myself and still get to work on time.

The bus chose to be late; so late, in fact, that it arrived holding hands with the one that comes thirty minutes after. This was highly unsatisfactory to the student at the bus stop who complained to me that she would miss her exam which was a re-sit because she failed the last one and she knew she had it from May 31st so she had weeks to revise but she still managed to forget so now she was going to be late for an exam that she couldn’t pass last time and wouldn’t pass this time because Geography was so hard and they wanted specific answers and it was so hard to write exactly what they wanted and it was all too much and she had waited for the stupid bus since ten-past-eight and it was now ten-to-nine and she wasn’t going to make it because it was all so hard life was so hard. When she paused for breath I filled the gap by asking her what she wanted to do after college. Her reply? You couldn’t make it up: ‘a counsellor.’

She phoned for a taxi and when our two buses came she decided to forego both and wait for her cab. The last I saw of her, she left her giant blue handbag on the wall of her house, went inside and closed the door. I’m betting she never made her exam. I did make it to work on time, however; the marvellous J read her emails and texted me just before my stop.

I had a nice morning at work and then phoned the Hub to tell him that I was drawing money out of the bank to pay for the postage and to ignore the note I left him because I wasn’t meeting J for lunch because she couldn’t make it. He was a bit short with me but he was still cleaning grass from his teeth so I didn’t think much of his, ‘What happened to us going up to the post office at Edgeley and then taking the dog to the park like we arranged?’ But he had left the post for me, hadn’t he? It was only after I hung up that I remembered that on Sunday we had, indeed, made plans to go up to the post office at Edgeley on Monday and then onto the park with the dog, and I was still on the timetable we had planned before the new plan and the post-to-be-posted just happened to be sitting in the place where the post-to-be-posted always sits.

Having grovelled to the Hub in lieu of J, I thought that at least I knew I was safe on Tuesday, visiting my blonde friend just after seven in the evening, and I turned to my diary for comfort. That’s when I noticed I had pencilled in a meeting for those adults involved with the church holiday club… at seven-thirty.

So, I ditched my husband in favour of my friend; I ditched my friend in favour of work; and I ditched another friend in favour of strange children. I think I might have to take ‘excellent diary-keeping skills’ off my CV.

Word Music?

15 Mar

On Saturday I took Spud and Spud’s best friend to the art gallery to watch (hear, surely?) some live music.   Not classical this time, but a  mélange of styles from across the borough.  Due to an unfortunate timing issue, we missed the beginning because Stockport County’s match had just finished.  The ground, Edgeley Park, is just up the road from us. 

When we arrived, there was a young band playing and the musicians were good, the boy wasn’t bad but the girl was flat with a capital flat.  Then our old friend Paul Usher came on, he of the no nits.  Paul (several of us from our writing class had promised to support him), the chance for two teens to experience live music and the fact that it was free are the reasons I went.  I hope to be like my mother one day, who saw the Beatles at the Cavern before they were famous; Spud, his friend, my writing buddies and I can all say, ‘We saw Paul Usher at Stockport Art Gallery before he was famous.’  He’d better be famous because I’m tired of being let down by the boys’ school friends who form bands, let me watch them, then split up to go to university or work.   P.U. was amazingly good; much better live than he sounds on the net, and his playing is fabulous.  One of my writing buddies spoke truth when she said, ‘I wouldn’t want to be the act that follows him.’  As it turned out, nobody did.  Want to be that act, that is.  Spud and SBF were not impressed by the country & western duo who followed, though the woman was pretty good.

The best was yet to come, however.  One of the gallery’s staff advised us to stick around and listen to the next band: ‘A lady who chants poetry to music.’  Hmm.  You can’t whack a good poem, it’s true; but try listening to a woman in a Harry Potter cloak and her wild-eyed band mate – if I tell you he could look at the pictures on either side of the gallery at the same time, you’ll get my drift – read what was possibly good poetry but we couldn’t tell because all we could hear was ‘Mmffff ggghh hhhrret tttssd ddeeyy uhnx nmdjdhggfh’ from him and a wobbly, reedy, way flatter than the earlier girl, ‘Can’t get you outta my head’ from her, interposed after every fourth line of  ‘Mmffff ggghh hhhrret tttssd ddeeyy uhnx nmdjdhggfh.’  The boys needed to leave immediately so they could laugh outside without choking.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for experiments in poetry and music and supporting local artistes, but the boys are in favour of breathing and they just couldn’t stifle their laughter any more.  They will definitely remember the band, called Word Music, because they made up poems and interspersed them with increasingly hysterical  ‘Can’t get you outta my heads’ all the way home.


It Has Only Just Hit Me

6 Mar

I was at Stockport Art Gallery this morning, at another of their free poetry workshops, run by Terry CaffreyIt was great fun and I have the bones of at least three poems from it.  The reason I mention it is because he has somehow talked the six of us who attended the workshop into going to Stockport’s Bramhall Hall on Wednesday night, to recite our poems to a paying audience who will be expecting Manchester Camerata, but not six bewildered would-be poets. 

We have been promised a free glass of wine for our pains.  I think I’m going to need it.

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