Thanksgiving

​I tried to capture the beauty of this tree but the sunlight was overpowering. Maybe I was standing in the wrong position. Perhaps I should have had the sun behind me. Dunno. I’m not a photographer, I’m a writer; but I love taking pictures.

Autumnal colours were in full bloom on it. Nature is truly an extraordinary artist. I simply bow as the beauty of creation.

Lately I’ve been taking a lot of pictures on my phone. I post them every morning on my instagram account.  

And I’ve been wondering lately why I’ve suddenly started taking pictures and more importantly, sharing them.

Well my first thought was my route to work is absolutely gorgeous. It makes the gloomiest days perfect. If you ever visit Cambridge, you must go to Jesus Green. I’m sure I’ve said this before. Well it’s stunning.

I digress. As I continued taking shot after shot, day after day, I realised that they are my expression of gratitude.

All my ducks may not be in a row, they certainly aren’t, but as I look around me each day, there is something worthy of my undivided attention. I sometimes stop for a few minutes to take in the view and some days I don’t see it immediately but others, like today, it’s on full display. Not to be ignored or overlooked.

If you look around you I can guarantee you there is something to be grateful for, even on the darkest moments.

We as humans are really doing a great job of messing up this world but we as humans also have a great capacity to make it beautiful every day.

Today I am eternally grateful for life. To be able to wake up each day, get out of bed myself, walk, hug my children, yell at my children 😃😃, and just breathe and look up to the sky. I am simply grateful.

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Redefining Wonder Woman Series 10 – A Business Approach To Writing a Book

This month’s RWW Series features Katherine Mann, co-developer of a children’s books series based on the adventures of two Cambridge cats, Fitz and Will.

Katherine

RWW: Tell us a bit about yourself,  Laura Robson Brown and Jia Han. 
KM: Laura writes the stories, I oversee the business and marketing aspect and Jia is the illustrator. Fitz and Will, was co-developed by us in 2014. Laura’s writing and Jia’s beautiful illustrations, magically brings these adorable characters to life in  our three books, The May Ball, The Graduation and the Christmas Adventure.

 

RWW: How did you three of you meet?

Laura

KM: It’s funny. Laura and I met years ago in Fulham, London and then we found out that both our husbands attended the same university. By coincidence we moved to Cambridge in same month and have now lived on the same road for about six or seven years.

Jia

Jia was a post-graduate student at Anglia Ruskin University studying a MA in Book Illustration. Once we had the idea for a book, we approached the University and amongst a selection of samples submitted  by some very talented artists, Jia’s work stood out for us.

 

RWW: What led to the idea of writing a book for children?
KM: Laura used to work for a children’s books publisher in London and was keen to get back to work but couldn’t do it full time at the time because she had young children. One day, we found ourselves discussing the prospect of writing a book and it simply took off from there. 

RWW: You have taken a different approach to publishing your books.
KM: Having  a business idea and then weaving the creative around the concept was something we thought would work. We decided to set it in Cambridge and selected three Cambridge University Colleges to focus on – Trinity, St. John’s and King’s College. Our target market is Cambridge residents, alumni and tourists. 

Fitz & Will at Fitzwilliam Museum

RWW: Sounds like you had made up your mind to self publish from the start.
KM: Since it had a local hook, we were convinced it would work. We took the plunge and risked the funds to self publish. We set up Little Cam Books as a partnership and took it from there. Interestingly enough, we have had lots of people contacting us for illustration work as well as writers who would like us to publish their books. 

RWW: Would you say this approach has worked?
KM: Our first print run was a 1,500 copies and we set ourselves a realistic target of a couple of years to sell. We printed in May 2014 and had sold them all by August of the same year. We did another print run of 2,000 and have sold 1,500 so far. The second book, The Graduation Adventure was launched in April 2015 and we sold 500 in the first two weeks. So I would say it’s working for us. 

Fitz & Will (Illustration by Jia Han)

RWW: What’s the next for Little Cam Books?
KM: Our next phase is to sell nationally. The third book, A Christmas Adventure, was launched in October this year and will be featured at King’s College Carol service this year. 

RWW: Why cats and not dogs? 🙂 
KM: The initial story was actually based on mice that lived at the Round Church. However, when we started to look into illustrating the story, mice were quite small to draw and from an illustration point of view didn’t project quite as well. Also there was no affinity with mice so we then considered cats or dogs and went with the former. Maybe the fact that we both have cats contributed to that.

RWW: My daughter can narrate the whole story without looking at the book. You seem to have created memorable characters. Are Fitz & Will based on any of you? 
KM: No! They are based on our cats. (she laughs out loud)

Prince William reading The Graduation Adventure at St John’s College

RWW: How did you go from idea to print?
KM: Took a while. We had the idea a year before the first book was written. Then we procrastinated a bit but talked about it to a few people who we thought would be the target audience. Once we made up our mind, it took six months from choosing an illustrator to writing right through to print. 

RWW: What would be your advice to anyone thinking of writing a children’s book?
KM: Hmmm …..

  • Firstly, consider whether you are trying to fill a gap in the market or if your aim is to create the best children’s book
  • Read other children’s books
  • Dredge up old contacts who might be able to help
  • Do your research
  • Make sure your book is the right length for a bedtime read
  • Have enough quirky details for a younger audience but not too basic for a broader age range
  • Get the main protagonist lovable and create an affinity. Very important
  • Be determined but give yourself the right amount of time and set realistic targets
  • Be kind to yourself

RWW: How would you sum up your experience so far?
KM: Quite a good laugh. It has strengthened our friendship and we’ve learnt to appreciate our respective skills in ways we couldn’t have done before we started writing together. I love the idea of creating a legacy – something to treasure forever. It is super that people read the books and say they have it and love it. Receiving the appreciation is quite heart warming. And it’s a nice feeling to know that this Christmas, some children will be unwrapping our books as gifts. That’s special!

RWW: What has been your highlight to date?
KM: Opening the box of our first print. 

RWW: What comes The May Ball Adventure?
KM: So we launched the Graduation Adventure at the Cambridge Literary Festival this summer and will formally launch the Christmas Adventure at the King’s College Christmas Carol Service as the book is set at King’s. The bookshop is keen to stock copies for the service as well so hopefully we will have some other merchandising ready for Christmas as well.

RWW: I presume you all have full time jobs. How have you been able to juggle family life, work and the book?
KM: I don’t know!  My husband does think I might have taken on too much but I do enjoy a challenge.

RWW: My daughter had a question. Why were the lions grey and then at the end in colour?
KM: The come to life. 🙂

Love the funky boots & fashion sense by the way. Thanks Katherine.

The books are available in Cambridge at Waterstones, Jeffers, The Fitz William Museum and several independent shops in Cambridge. For a full list of stockist, visit http://www.litlecambooks.com

You can also get copies online at Little Cam Books 

 

 

 

Everyone Needs Friends

I got a cold just before Christmas! Passed it on to my husband and daughter and they graciously passed it right back to me. Happy New Year to me. -|)

Having pushed myself through the first week back at work, by the end of the week I just couldn’t cope anymore and had to take the day off. I knew the only solution was to sleep it off but there was the issue of the school pick up which would undoubtedly break into the sleep. You know when you’re asleep but awake at the same time because you know you have to be up for something? So I sent a text to a friend and asked if she would take my children home with her and I would pick them up about four-ish. That would give me about three hours sleep. And then she replied to say I could leave then till later. I could have kissed her. It was so nice to know I could really rest. I felt blessed, really blessed.

One of the questions people often asked me when we were moving to Cambridge was, “do you have friends or family there?” No was always my answer.

I’d lived in London for seventeen years and had a few friends but never friends from my immediate community. I hardly ever saw my neighbours talk less of hanging out with them. A couple of years before we moved, a group of American students rented a flat on the ground floor of our building. Of course being American, they had a different concept of neighbourhood and it wasn’t nod and smile at each other in the lift.

Within a couple of months of moving in, they started to run monthly bring and share events which were just for people to get to know each other. I never had the opportunity to go to one as with two children under five, it was frankly the last thing I wanted to do. However, I often chatted to them in the hallway or when they knocked on the door inviting residents to the party. I regret not going to one because they seemed so nice. As I got my groove in parenting, it was time to leave so that opportunity passed me by but I admired those guys.

However I’m talking about friends not knowing people. I’m talking about people who share your life; people you can run to when you need help; people who will comfort you, strengthen you, listen to you; people who won’t judge you for your failings; people who are supportive; people who put a smile on your face; people who tell you the truth and don’t mind that you tell them the same. People you can be yourself with – friends. Not acquaintances, not the crowd – friends.

They are rare, they don’t often hang out in the crowd and I suppose to an extent that’s why people asked me if I had friends or family in Cambridge. Perhaps deep down they knew that friends were not easy to come by. Perhaps they weren’t ready to build a new network of friends. Whatever their reasons, I think the question was justified because we needs friends.

I had thought my friends in Cambridge would be church members or fellow students and partners from my husband’s college. Surprisingly, they are parents from my children’s school. You never know what surprises new friendships can bring. Whether they are your family or strangers who become family, we need them. Without them life would be dreary.

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Photo credit: Warner Bros

My First Tour de France

Yesterday was one of those days I wished I had begun to cycle in Cambridge. On a whim I decided to take the day off work to be a part of Le Tour de France. Not that I had ever watched it before but as it was passing through Cambridge for the first time, and I happen to live here, I had to experience it.

We parked our car as close as possible to our walking route and set off on our 3.5mile journey on foot and scooters.

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Almost immediately we saw cars with spare cycles driving past and the excitement began to set in. Le Tour de France was in Cambridge. Aaaaaaaaargh!!!!!!

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It was such a lovely day and going on the journey with two young children would have it’s share of challenges but I was determined. 🙂

It was a surreal journey walking on roads that were usually busy, now closed off for the tour.

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And then we saw saw some cyclists. I don’t know if they were part of a cycling club or  Le Tour de France party but it was exciting all the same. 🙂

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And so our journey continued, navigating through the crowds. I thought it was more sensible to avoid Parker’s Piece, where the race kicked off from, and secure a place along the route closer to Round Church or St John’s College. Considering some people were up since 7am, arriving at 11am, we were greeted by crowds.
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Undeterred, we snaked our way through, scooters in tow, and found a spot that gave us all a vantage point. And THEN we waited an hour and half, entertaining ourselves by cheering whenever police cars, ambulances or sponsorships cars passed through the route. There was a funny moment when an elderly gentleman passed by on a moped and the crowd cheered him through. The atmosphere was amazing! Children sitting on their dad’s shoulders because they couldn’t see the street, little ones asleep in their prams, the less able to stand brought along benches, staff from surrounding shops cheering from door frames, students leaning over windows above us – all under the gaze of a bight blue sky and hoovering helicopters of course. It was simply amazing!

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Just as my children were getting restless, my son had the ingenuous idea to set a timer to count down. It certainly helped to while away the time for them. They stared at it for thirty minutes believe it or not. As we got to 5 minutes to go, cameras were at the ready all over the street. And then the moment arrived. The peloton rode by!

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

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I heard a volunteer make a comment just before it happened. He said most of the people here are not going to actually see the Tour de France but will be watching it through a lens and when the moment passes by they would realise they hadn’t actually watched it all. Well, he was partly right. My son was trying to capture the moment on my phone and missed it all. He burst into tears instantly. I guess he got his first lesson on being in the present but how could you not try and capture the moment? You have to. To be fair to him, as soon as the cyclists came through, the maddening crowd blocked the perfect view he had all along. I felt really bad for him though. So I’ve told him what to do the next time we are at a similar event – put the camera down.  🙂

Nonetheless, we had a pretty good time going round car-less Cambridge roads and ended up at Parkers Piece where my son could watch the rest of the race on a big screen.

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And then we commenced our 3.5 mile plus walk cum scoot home.

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I Give My Children Too Much Choice

Sometimes, in a bid not to stifle them, I just think I give my children too much choice. I wanted my son to attend a poetry writing class during the Cambridge Literary Festival. He was adamant that he already knew how to write and did not need to go. I should have insisted. Two weeks later, he tells me he would like to go. 😐

Trying to get him to understand that even if he is ‘perfect’ he can be better than perfect is the phase we are currently challenged with. Or maybe I didn’t pitch it at the right level for him. I should have said, “you know you are the best writer in the world but there is a course where others can benefit from your 7 year old wisdom. What do you think about sharing your knowledge with them?”

Of course by this time the tickets were all sold out. Sometimes (if not ALL times) mum knows best – note to self.

For all those whose children love reading, try a day trip to the Cambridge Literary Festival. It’s really fun for kids and usually during the school holidays.

Diary of a Guilty Mum

I think we all suffer from guilty mum syndrome from time to time. Actually it should be guilty parent syndrome as I think some men suffer from this ailment too although not as prevalent as with women. It might be not being able to do the school run, coming home after they are in bed or missing sports day. Sometimes it sucks being a working mum.

By now, you must have guessed I love hanging out with my children. They do my head in with their slowness to comply and doing-the-wrong-thing-at-the-wrong-time-isms but I love it all the same. Every time they are on holiday, I feel guilty that I work and can’t spend more time with them particularly when we haven’t planned a holiday. This Easter holidays, my plan is to work a three day week and spend a four day long weekend with them. I was very excited to book my time off. I just could not wait! Last week was our first run at this and we are all spent. Here’s the reason why?

Thursday 2nd of April
1400 After a lazy morning, drove to City centre
1430 Park at daddy’s college and walk to city centre
1440 Arrive at library and borrow films and books
1515 Leave the library and get some ice-cream
1535 Walk to Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) just to look around
1555 Not enough time before the museum closed so we’ll return another day
1600 Get the car and drive to Jesus Green (local park)
1625 Arrive at park, kids get scooters and play in the playground
1730 Leave park
1800 Sort out dinner and collapse in heap

Friday 3rd of April
0800 Get ready for Cambridge Literary Festival
0915 Get on bus to City Centre
0930 Get off at Midsummer Common and walk to Bridge Street
1000 Bump into friends and pick up tickets from Cambridge Union
1015 Arrive at Trinity College for Kipper’s 25th birthday
1030 Sit up front whilst 7yo dissociates himself with 5yo and sits at the back
1100 Spy on 7yo sitting at the back joining in the fun
1130 Walk to Michaelhouse café; it’s full so walked to Waterstones Café with friends
1230 Say bye to friends after brunch and walk to Kings Parade to run a quick errand
1245 Then we walked to Kings street to visit Afternoon Tease for cake
1400 Convinced kids to go back to MAA to see the Fiji Chiefs and Governors exhibition
1500 Children filled the A-Z of anthropology worksheet; had a blast
1605 Caught the bus back home
1645 Got home, had dinner and collapsed in a greater heap

Saturday 4th of April
0800 Lazy morning and then did some chores
1245 Daddy drops us off at the Botanical Gardens and returns to essay writing – all work and no fun for daddy at the moment 😦
1255 We start Easter Trail at the Botanical Gardens and need to discover fIve flowers to discover; proved once again that women can indeed read maps. 😉
1355 After lots of messing about and general fun, we finish trail
1400 End up in Garden Café to refresh ourselves and enjoy the sunny day
1500 Make our way back to the main gate
1545 Picked up by daddy
1605 Children start to wane a little; I bet they wished I’d never taken the time off LOL
1700 Fortuitously pick up Cambridge Edition magazine and discover the Jungle Book is playing tomorrow; book tickets pronto

Sunday 5th of April
0800 Woke up late, just enough time to get ready for church
0955 Arrive in time to discover gladly that I’m not on coffee rota as I had thought
1115 Service over – Passion Sunday was amazing; more layers unpeeled about the sacrifice that Christ made, lots to think about
1130 Home and had a quick lunch and planned a couple of activities for next week
1345 Intended to set off for Cambridge Junction
1400 Eventually set off for Cambridge Junction. I will spare the child that caused this and not mention any names. Tres stressed at this point
1420 Park the car and walk quickly to the venue; faster than their aching legs could carry them as we had to pick up tickets from the box office
1425 Join the queue and by misadventure we miss probably the best seats in the room. Never mind, we got seats at the top which perhaps had a better vantage point. Children not happy with me but I manage to convince them that they were not that bad
1430 Quirky version of Jungle Book starts; not the version the kids know so causes a bit of confusion for them initially but they soon get used to it.
1525 Show ends and the narrator takes questions and invites us to find out more about how show was created; the most fascinating bit for me
1600 Bump into some other friends but there was no way we were going to hang out, tres tired
1630 Drive home and prepared dinner; we are all well and truly knackered
1700 Apologise to children for packing in too much activity into four days and promise a lighter next week. NOT!!!! 🙂

Maybe this should have been Diary of a Mad Mum. 🙂

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Afternoon Tease Is King Of The Street

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Ever since I heard it opened last October I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to visit Afternoon Tease. I finally got a chance to on Friday and it was well worth the wait. Owned by Jo Kruczynska, Afternoon Tease is situated on Cambridge’s foodie lane, King Street. The café boasts a fine selection of cakes (gluten free options included), quality tea and coffee as well as a great breakfast, lunch and brunch (weekends only) menu. As with any worthy independent, most of their ingredients are locally sourced and before I forget, I must mention that they are credited with introducing ‘Bacon Bap Friday’ to Cambridge.

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With it’s quirky mismatched vintage crockery, complete with up-cycled sugar bowls (syrup tins), you’ll be forgiven for thinking you are in your favourite aunt’s home. You feel very much at home at Afternoon Tease. I had a raspberry sponge washed down with a Moroccan mint tea which was just what I needed after traipsing round the city centre with two children. The tea earned me a stamp on the café’s loyalty card which I’m very much looking forward to filling.

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I’ve only met Jo once and we have exchanged the occasional tweet, yet she made the time to pop over to our table to have a long chat, despite it being such a busy day. I didn’t feel like I was being served by a waitress but by a friend. Even fellow customers become friends in such an an amiable setting. Sitting next to me that day was an Anglian Ruskin student who was having the most gorgeous smelling lentil and sweet potato soup. How do I know? I asked. That’s how good it smelt so I have to go back to try some of their homemade cooking.

I love their handwritten menu and sign boards which Jo employs to lure unsuspecting would-be-customers on twitter. 😉

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You can see they don’t take themselves too seriously but don’t let the quirkiness deceive you though, the quality of the food is fantastic. This is one café that should be in every guide on where to eat in Cambridge.

After my children scoffed their faces with generous slices of chocolate cake, my son walked up to Jo and said “your café is superb” and my daughter said “your cakes are better than my mum’s”. For someone who often says I’m the best baker in the world, that’s saying a lot.

Visit Afternoon Tease at 13 King Street, City Centre, Cambridge, CB1 1HL or find out more at www.afternoontease.co.uk

Children Know What They Want To Do

I thought it would be a great idea if we went to Wimpole Farm today. They were having a kite making session and it was certainly windy enough to fly a kite. Wonder Boy and Girl have been harassing me all day to take them to the park to ride their bikes but I thought KITE making was a more enriching experience. As we left the house I told them with glee, “we’re going kite flying’. My statement was met with semi-glad-ish curiosity. “Can we take our bikes along with us” they asked. “No” I said. That should have been my first hint that this kite flying escapade was not their idea of fun. We only had an hour to get there before the session was over but with dogged determination I made way for the motor way. Twenty minutes was all the Satnav said, I was sure we’d be there in fifteen.

As I pulled up to Wimpole Estate there was a queue of cars eating into our hour. We eventually got into the car park, passed some delightful sheep.

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Then we were assigned a space by a parking attendant with only fifty minutes to spare. As I didn’t think this would be enough time for kite making, I decided to entice them with a walk round the estate but called it “exploring”. That suggestion was met with, “if only we had brought our bikes”. So I said, “ok, let’s explore and when we get home we’ll see if it’s warm enough to go bike riding”. With semi acquiescence, we were off to explore the beautiful grounds. By now you’re guessing this trip was all about me. It was MY ideal day out. My son frowned throughout but I was determined to the defy the temptation to rebuke him. I marched up the stairs to Wimpole Hall, a beautiful National Trust mansion, and the view from the top was breathtaking.

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Sadly my iPad does not do it justice. We walked into the Hall but we didn’t have enough time to explore to justify paying so I decided we’d do that another day. Much to my surprise, Wonder Boy was interested in going though the house but unfortunately not on this occasion. So I promised we’d be back. We walked towards the restaurant and bookshop and saw some children playing with some kites. I coaxed mine to see if they wanted to catch the tail end of the craft session, but still no movement. You can also tell I don’t give up easily.

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Outside was a queue for a tractor ride to the farm and since it was free, the ride not the farm, I thought let’s give it a go. Only Wonder girl was interested.

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We saw the sheep again (I like nature) and ended up at the entrance of the farm which had a lovely pond with ducks and geese I think. The smells put off the kids so we didn’t look round the farm plus I think we had to have paid somewhere anyway. Not sure what sort of smells they were expecting from a farm though.


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We took the same tractor back to the hall and set off home. Of course I got asked if they could ride their bikes when we got home. I said well we don’t always get the chance to go to Wimpole farm, but your bikes are always there and we can ride them anytime. Wonder Boy replies, “that’s what you always say but we never get to ride our bikes”. And he was right. They have not fully mastered bike riding, so I always leave it till when their dad has spare time to do it but as he’s a student at moment, that time is very rare.

I thought, you know what? If I had listened to them all along, we might all have had a nice day out. Sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, it pays to just go with what they want.

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At the end of the day, I got a huge hug and thank you for taking them to Wimpole and letting them ride their bikes and to be honest it was actually heart warming watching them have fun.

Playdate, Bubbles And Cake

My sisters and I always had friends over for playdates when we were younger only they weren’t called playdates then.  I remember pretending to smoke by rolling up paper filled with talcum powder; emptying a bucket of water and detergent on the floor so we could ‘skate on ice’; jumping off scaffolding next door pretending to be acrobats and so much more.  By the look of things my children’s lives are quite sedate. 🙂 

They have a friend over and thankfully there’s no rain today so they are out playing football. Oops I spoke too soon. I’ve just seen Wonder Boy charging at his friend with a rake.  They must be playing knights then.  Not so sedate after all.

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We’ve brought out our bubble machine which kids never fail to like.

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And there’s cake for later.

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And I got flowers.

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Now it’s time for popcorn and Winter Olympics. No rest for the wicked. 😉
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