Ireland For The Fit And Healthy. If Not???

As the title says, Ireland is a lovely place if your fit and healthy but if you have a twinge, a cough or a problem of any kind with your temporal being; stay away.  You could be on the road to perdition.

I’ll tell you a little story.  Two years ago after suffering with her knees for a couple of years, suffering brought on probably by four or five miles of a jog every morning for more years than I care to remember, my wife went to the doctor.  Now the doctors in Ireland in our experience, or at least the GPs are not the best people to approach when it comes to relief from pain unless you want a hefty and dehumanising painkiller.  If you want a blood test -€15, if you want a blood pressure check – €50, if you want an ECG – €20, a vaginal health and safety check -€60, it is OK, anything where they can increase the basic consultancy fee of €40  is good, they welcome you with open arms to keep the till jingling away.

Pain is different, there are no gadgets for measuring pain so they pass you on as quickly as possible and in this case the doctor referred my wife to Galway Hospital, some 90 miles away.  Which is far enough away not to complain when you hear nothing from them.  I have previous experience with Galway, driving down there on an early winter morning for a 9.00am appointment must surely shorten your life quicker than the medical profession could possibly do, even with their Agenda 21 programme.

To digress a little here, I hear that our old friend, Big Pharma, has brought out a new drug which can detect Alzheimer symptoms early so that life threatening drugs can be introduced into the human frame sooner.  Imagine being told at 25 that you are going to suffer from Alzheimer’s in 20 years time.  “It is not a pleasant thought but here take this pill because it will probably kill you before the onset, so that the few years you have left at least will be enjoyable”.

However to get back to my point.  I laboured down to Galway on three occasions for them to examine, scan and consult on my varicosed left leg.  They do not perform these three acts on the one day but on separate days, so I used up a lot of diesel and driver life going down , for what – nothing!  Then a year later they wrote to say they wanted to examine, scan and consult again, to be sure, to be sure.  I told them to kiss my arse and it seemed to do me a bit of good.  Do you hear me Mr Sultan, your department is in a mess.

Anyway Helen was referred to Galway in early 2013 and nothing until two weeks ago, over two years of patience, suffering and pain.  Galway wrote to ask her if she was dead or if not was she still interested in treatment.  By now, the knees although troublesome, but after two years the ankles, which had been under pressure for some time because of the poorly performing knees, were showing signs of distress and giving her little mobility.

Helen jumped at the chance of some attention, said yes and a week later Galway wrote back saying that because of a massive waiting list her case had been referred to a private hospital.  So lo and behold, she received a telephone call from South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.  South West that is of Ulster, a different country and there was I thinking we would have to travel 200 miles to Kerry, the country we live in.

The South West Acute said she had been referred to them from Galway which had a massive waiting list, they wanted to know if she could attend them on Saturday , two days hence, at 1.45pm to see one of their orthapaedic consultants.  Two thoughts came to our minds.  Yes Enniskillen is only half the distance but the roads are not good.  Since partition in 1922 all roads in Ireland lead to Dublin, but there are still ancient cattle tracks across the border mainly used by rustlers and the Provos.  Our other thought was because Enniskillen in Co Fermanagh is a little bit of England still, why were the National Health Service doing the job of the Health Service Executive in Ireland.  We said yes without considering peripherals.  Action we respond to, sluggishness appals us.

In the two days between phone call and appointment, the South West Acute rang us twice, once to make sure we were coming and secondly to bring the appointment forward an hour.  It all looked good, delay in Ireland was what we are used to, alacrity is to be admired.  So we went.

The South West Acute on the Omagh road outside of Enniskillen is brand new, opened in 2012.  It is the finest hospital I was ever in, more like a cathedral than a hospital, with high ceilings, wonderful art work and an absence of people.  It was a place you would not mind getting ill in.  We were called in dead on time for our appointment and ushered in front of an enormous Ulsterman, 2 metres high at least, 110Kgs of muscle and as brown as a berry.  I shook his hand and felt my fingers dislocate as he gave myself and Helen a warm greeting.

I asked him the obvious question, “Did you enjoy your holiday” and he boomed back “It was very good, thank you”.  I asked him why was the National Health Service looking after poor us from Ireland, “Is it because we paid all our taxes during our working lives in England”.  He said “No, the HSE are in big trouble with waiting lists and they are paying us to step into the breach”.  Well, I thought, if we are going to be treated anywhere, this certainly looks the place.

“Now Helen”, he said in his 200 decibel Ulster brogue, ” Tell us what is wrong.  It’s the knees isn’t it?”  “Well yes” said a timorous Helen “But it is affecting my ankles as well.”  “Oh” said the mighty Ulsterman, “I’m knees and hips and I will not get paid to look at your ankles.”  I retorted “Well I’m a tits and arse man myself but I do not object to looking at other parts of the anatomy, if proffered.”  He looked at me and gave me a shy north of the border wink and explained that the HSE only pay him for the original referral of knees.  “So even if you had been shot through both ankles, in a case of this nature all I could do was rub your knees and send you down to A & E in Galway”

He then gave a swift examination which entailed listening to the bone movement in Helen’s two knees.  “yes there is wear and tear and it looks like a problem at the back of the patella, but I need an x-ray to be sure, to be sure.  Our x-ray department is not open Saturday afternoons, so go to your doctor and tell him to organise one and I will see you again in a months time.  Good day to you Mrs Malpas and to you sir.  By the way where does that name come from.”  “Normandy” says I.  “Are you French?” says he.  “No, we are descendents of the Normans who came over with King Billy the Conqueror.  That King Billy was a good old skin, he gave us land in Cheshire.”  He looked at me quizzically as he towered over us and shunted us out the door.

We wiped the sweat from our brows and wondered where we were at, as we walked down the South Aisle of the cathedral and we both thought that while the National Health Service is at least fur coat and no knickers, the Health Service Executive has neither.  It looks as though we are back to ancient natural remedies and I have started saving for a wheelchair.  I can see me taking up the position of pusher shortly.

Anthony William Martin “Spike” RIP

Well I was here back in Manchester for the second time in a month, the last time was full of joy for my new grandchild but this time was a sad mission.  I was here to attend the Requiem Mass of a truly great and good man.  I had been ferried over from the West of Ireland in a make of a plane called a Dash 400 and the last thing you want in going to a funeral of a friend is a dash.  You want calmness, circumspection, a measured head and certainly not dash.  The plane was full of people my age, no youngsters at all.  Are we baby boomers the modern mid-week argonauts?  We all looked as though we were travelling the same path.  We all looked as though we had seen the dark days.

Because make no mistake the twenty years after the war, the second war that is, Manchester was enjoying dark times and to make matters worse we were led by a Church that wanted total obedience and gave nothing but fear, led by priests who offered damnation and took away our souls and into this darkness I entered St Bede’s College in Manchester to start my second level education in 1957.

We did not know it then but we , the product of VE Day excitement, were a different breed to those who had come before us.  We did not accept what had been landed on and forced into previous cohorts who meekly swallowed what they were taught .  We wanted questions answered, we wanted a fresh look at the dichotomies that life threw at us but all we got was gloom, depression and fear.  Fear in the respect of the need for discipline, fear in the respect of bullying, not by our peers but by the generation or two older who taught us and had not the wit or ability to answer our questions.

But in this opaqueness there shone a light, a light that opened our eyes and helped us to see.  A light that not only answered our queries but a light on full beam that showed us the way ahead.  That light shining in the torpid, black vacuum that was St Bede’s, was Mr A W Martin or Spike as he was known to over 30 years of pupils.

In the formative years of 12-16, when you need a helping hand often, when you need a nudge in a particular direction, Spike was there to help, advise and guide.  His gentle persuasiveness set our course through life.  If not obvious at the time, it became obvious as we notched up the years and that is the mark of a true educator.  Not to be bullied and beaten into success in a subject, a way of life, a subject and a way of life that you soon rebel against and cast aside, but Spike’s gentleness, Spike’s wit, Spike’s interest made you return to those qualities time and again as you past through your adult years when all exams were past tense.

He took us out of the dull classical past and made us look ahead to a bright, brand new modern future.  His teaching of English and History made us appreciate the value of words, the lessons of the past, the joy of being in your own time and space as apposed to someone else’s of a hundred years previous.

As I write these words, it is nearly 6.00am in the early morning of what looks like a cloudy, sad day.   I am nearly 70 years of age and I am thinking back over all those years and trying to think of iconic figures in my life.  There are one or two grey shapes who I think could be this one or that but in the middle is that clear image of just one man, Spike.  And dear reader, do not think I have gone over the top, that I am full of sadness for our dearly departed or that I am overcome with emotion.  Yes there are tears in my eyes at his leaving us but as I have said before, I am what he made me into.  He will never leave my mind and that cannot be said of many.  How lucky we were to have that experience.

Spike’s funeral mass is at 12.00 noon, I will prepare myself, keep emotion in check as best I can and hope everybody else does the same. The last time I was in that church of St Catherine of Siena in Didsbury to wave goodbye to another good man, Dave McGarry, three or four years ago, I received a punch in the back and called a hypocrite by a worthy parishioner.  I could well get the same today and more, but Spike taught us to look with disdain on blows, he taught us how to be men.  My mind goes back immediately to the figure of a bullying, useless priest who was taking nets practice at the playing fields on one lovely summer evening in 1963, who scathingly put me down after I had bowled him out and Spike who witnessed it and condemned his behaviour later, gave me hope.  I will not bother with details as I have told the story so often but concentrate on Spike’s little nudge.

Another thing about Spike was his marvellous memory.  I met him in Rome some years ago and although I had spied him from a distance before, I felt unable to approach him.  He was the master, I was the fool, I felt sure he did not want me in his life.  My maturity took a long time developing. Anyway this time I determined and went up and introduced myself and before I could continue my praises, he interrupted me, “Paul Malpas, yes the lad with the pikes in Cheshire”.  He was referring to an essay I wrote some 38 years earlier of which I was rather proud and of which Spike was not.  “D slapstick, write again” was his comment.I did not and he did not insist, but why should he remember such an insignificant piece?

He used to give us reading lists at the end of each term, books the College would never have heard of and even less approved but books which opened our minds, books by angry young men and not so angry old men but books that made us think and made us ask questions, books that made us understand the joys of reading and made us appreciate words.  Certainly books that could not be obtained in the College library as the last new book had slithered in unrecognised sometime around the time Duggan, the Rector of the school, had been a pupil there before the Great War.

But I digress a little, I like to keep these postings down to 1ooo words but I have already used that up and I have not arrived at the ceremony.  Eulogies and no ceremony is my wish but I suppose Spike would rather ceremony and no eulogy.  Ceremony not for himself but for the boys he turned into men, to remember him by.  So let the ceremony begin.

I was there 45 minutes before the appointed time, it was nice to sit there in the deserted church and think of the man, but my dreams were interrupted by another early bird, John Byrne, the cause of Spike’s early retirement 25 years ago.  Byrne was the thrusting new Head put into place by the Governors in the mid-1980s.  Byrne’s view on history was not as Spike would allow and as Byrne was boss in position but not in intellect,Spike took the honourable course and divorced himself from Byrne’s hostile company.  I guessed he had come early to expiate for past sins and so he should.  Byrne was closely followed by Moynihan, Byrne’s side winder during that painful but successful epoch, who generously but unknowingly came and sat next to me.  We had past history and I was half expecting a stab in the back and a dig in the ribs.

There was a sprinkling of teachers from the school from Spike’s day, Barnes, the admirable Berry, Noonan, Weiss, Gibson brother and sister, one or two old boys, I was surprised how few and a lot of parishioners, all to a man and woman, a lot older than when I had last clapped eyes on them.  However the church was only half full, I have seen more at a villain’s funeral.

There were four clerics on the altar going through the motions.  I am that far removed from the Catholic Church and its witchcraft, the action meant nothing to me but I was nicely surprised to see my photograph on Spike’s mass card.  A picture of the U 15 cricket team in 1961 prior to our trip to Rome to beat the Venerabile into submission on the hillside overlooking Castel Gandolfo and Lake Albano, surrounded by cardinals and bishops to numerous to mention.  The game after the ceremony was to match a present day’s face with that of sleek youth.

One of the team gave a eulogy and more or less said what I have just written, it needed saying and I stress again how lucky we were and after that I wanted my own thoughts.  I did not bother with the crematorium or the funeral breakfast after, I just wanted my own peace, so I returned to my daughter’s house and shortly afterwards headed west.

If there is a God and he certainly is not the God of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic  Church let him please look after Spike because he has a gem of a man there.

In Memoriam

Spike has died.  Anthony Martin, a teacher who gave his life to teaching at St Bede’s College died yesterday in Wythenshawe Hospital after a long fight with a failing heart.  My heartfelt condolences to his wife, Veronica, who has suffered unbelievably over these last months as Tony’s life dwindled away.

Spike as we knew him as been part of my life for59 years.  He started at Bede’s in 1957 as a master whilst I started as a pupil.  He was from St Robert’s parish in Longsight, the same as myself but he was from the posh end, up towards West Point, whereas I was from the rough end in Duncan Road.  Later on we met up again when we were in St Catherine’s parish in Didsbury together under the stern eye of Dave McGarry, Parish Priest extraordinaire.

From the age of twelve to sixteen he filled our heads with the power of literature.  He expanded our young minds to bursting, giving us reading lists to fill a library and it was never a chore.  Whatever he recommended worked and it was a pleasure returning after holidays to tell him of the pleasure we had in carrying out his tasks.

In my mind St Bede’s was a black period in my life, taught by teachers stuck in the 1930s or hell bent on punishment, discipline seeming more important than learning.  Spike’s softly softly gentle approach held the class in rapture, many taking the thug approach failed.  He was a shining light in a dark age.  As the years slipped away at Bede’s my performance went from good to poor, faced with the negativity of the staff in education and also sport.

He commiserated with me in the nets when faced by clerical sneers, he gave me extra-tuition for my GCE examinations in various subjects, the only one we did not touch on, Greek, was the one I failed.  I am what he made me.

In later years he could not agree with my hard approach on Duggan, he was too decent a man to be outspoken on the subject but he did say once to my friend Dave Smith that once he found out about boy’s trips to the Rector’s study, he never sent boys there.  He told me in a letter that Duggan nearly drove him to a nervous breakdown but he would say no more.  His love of Bede’s overpowered everything else.

Farewell gentle, kind and honourable man.  As I said this morning when talking of him, I can count on the fingers of one hand the truly good men I have ever met in my nearly seventy years and Spike is definitely one of those digits.

I would also at this point pass on my kind regards to Dave Smith in New Zealand, fellow pupil with me, who kept us all up to date with the highs and lows of Spike’s last few years and especially for organising the party we had in West Didsbury on the occasion of Spike’s 80th birthday.  Spike was in top form that night as we revelled in his unquenchable humour.  Certainly something has been removed from my soul today but at least I had the honour and pleasure of knowing him.

PS:  Stuck out here in the west of Ireland news of arrangements for Spike is hard to get.  So would any reader who reads this and knows any detail  please let me know.

A Pregnant Pause – Part 2

Well there we were half way through Day 4 of our pregnant pause stuck in south Manchester with nothing to do but wait.  As recompense we were sitting in the lap of luxury.  Two daughters and spouse went out shopping thinking it good therapy for the expectant mother, I sat and watched the third day of the 1st Test at Lords where I saw the new England team with I have to say some promising players being slowly and painlessly taken apart by a very useful New Zealand team.  At close of play England are about 60 behind for the loss of two wickets.  They will have to struggle to even draw on 2nd innings with two days left.

However the landlady beckons, she has made two superb fish pies for the assembled gathering of sons, daughters in-law and other grateful in-laws.  The pies were washed down with Malbec and Carmenere and some cheery white stuff for the ladies and bottles of beer for the old timers and then followed the inevitable tot from the Cooley peninsula whilst we languished dans le jardin in the unusual early evening sun.  With most gone for their various abodes, we settled round the chiminier with logs aplenty and time to spare and discussed the present and the future.  There is something in the air in South Manchester, never have I seen so many pregnant women.  This house I am in are expecting three new borns in the next couple of months and my son in Yorkshire who has South Manchester connections is waiting for his pregnant bride to deliver shortly.  I feel like a nurse in an ante-natal clinic surrounded by blooming and shortly to blossom ladies.  But enough, one has to remain aware in these anxious moments before the world powers become dismayed as another live birth upsets their Agenda 21 programme.

There are stirrings about 4.45am, things are about to happen.  Lady in law, mine hostess, with husband, Lord in law, receive a call and slip off to baby sit the second row forward.  Spouse and I wait anxiously sipping coffee and with one eye on a possible serve yourself breakfast as miracles are happening only a couple of miles away.  It is the start of Day 5 or for our little mite Day 1.  Names have been bandied about for the last few days but they are hanging in the air like the washing on the cloths rack.  Will it be a beautiful girl or another second row man, I always say you need two of them in every team.  However a little lady will temper the mix wonderfully.  I stop here to weep with anticijoy.  I am on my own for a few minutes.  It is 6.30am we await news but decide at 8.00am to go round to the parents house to join in-laws and second row man.

At the door is Mrs in-law with a big smile, “It’s a boy, 10lb 1oz born at 7.40am and 54cm long (21.5″), big weight, average length, not a second row but possibly a prop.  In all the excitement the 4th day at Lords starts, Lee chases a ball outside off stump and is out.  There is a phone call from father.  We can go down to the hospital, mother still in birthing suite but will be moving to ward shortly.  We dash down and a site to behold, boychild just starting his third feed, latched on to mother’s milking apparatus and will not leave it for love nor money.  Because he is a big baby they have to test for low blood sugars, so the pair will not be out until late afternoon.  A head of dark hair and wide open eyes, this fellow knows what he wants.

The facilities at Wythenshawe Hospital Maternity Suite are now second to none.  The mother had given birth silently and quickly within two hours of arrival in a birthing pool.  Strangely his right hand came out first waving to the world, his head and rest quickly followed.  Mother dazed, tired but swearing by the qualities of the pool.  We left after 30 minutes and went and celebrated with another Dim Sum lunch in the Tai Pan and then a much needed rest.

The baby with no name munches merrily away and then falls asleep with the effort.  Because he is such a big lad, they want to err on the side of caution and require three positive tests for sugars which have to be taken after each feed.  The midwife suggests a formula meal which has little goodness in it which might keep him awake, the mother said “F… off Mrs Midwife” a common enough utterance in our house.  So they kept the pair in overnight in the hope that the series of three tests might be achievable on his second day.  Why they are worrying, heaven knows.  He is fit to pack down for the country of his choice never mind tests for bloody sugar.

As it panned out with all the excitement, and by the way England recovered from hopelessness to probable victory thanks to fantastic innings from the captain and all rounder, me and the spouse were in bed for 9.00pm and I jumped out at 5.00am, the start of Day 6, lively as a cricket and hungry as ever and hoping mine hostess awakes soon.  They were partying last night and things could get delayed this morning.  I’ll be cheeky and make myself a cup of coffee and see what the day brings.

As I wait I ponder over recent conversations, the Mancunians consider that Manchester has become a tourist destination, that the vibrant heart of the city is booming out, hotels opening all over the place, class and distinction at its best.  I tend to disagree.  It strikes me that it is a town with a fur coat and no knickers.  On the surface good but lift the hem and prepare to be shocked.  For all the money the movers and shakers have ploughed into the tramway system and bright new inner city development, they have taken away funds for the basics.  The road conditions are a disgrace and have been for the last six or seven years.  The maintenance budget for resurfacing the roads must have been cut by half, leaving the roads in the West of Ireland far superior to this modern metropolis and as my daughter says they are something akin to the roads of Morocco.  But let us try and be positive and mention the things that have impressed.

Definitely the trams but even they at rush hour reduce the population to sardines.  The maternity suite at Wythenshawe Hospital as impressed beyond all expectation but as soon as you transfer to ward, you are met with the detrita of modern day living, emotional teenagers weeping into their pyjamas having paid the price of a drunken night of passion in the balmy air of August 2014 and looking into the adjacent cradle and wondering what the future will bring.  But even here there is redemption, right outside the hospital is a tram stop to whiz you and sprog back to joyless seclusion in an inner city estate.

Be positive, be positive, my inner sense is saying and yes I admire the growth in community spirit and affairs, especially in the areas I am familiar with, that south city belt of Withington,  Didsbury,  Chorlton and Heaton Moor.  Little festivals springing up complete with food and drink, hopefully making people proud of living where they do.  Certainly the growth in numbers of restaurants suggests there is better money knocking about, people are out communing, rather than taking the boring way of cooking for one in a garret.  The overiding feeling I get is that there now seems to be an opportunity today and for a long time that was missing but with opportunity there needs to be thought and hard work but certainly the entreprenurial spirit is alive and kicking.

I certainly have changed in the last ten years since leaving England.  I have observed, researched and tried to remove myself from the cloying and desperate way central government are roping us off into deluded and easily controlled units.  I have empowered myself and feel I have left an awful lot of people behind.  I feel uncomfortable with what I see around me but feel that I cannot make changes.  People can only change themselves.

But enough of Manchester, I would not swap my own little home in the west for all the tea in China.  I have booked our passage home on Day 8 and look forward to quietness, solitude, comfort and a rigid diet.  Funnily enough I learnt yesterday that my father, who at the age of 97 is entertained by the Little Sisters of the Poor in their care home in Longsight, does not take one gramme of medication.  The nuns could not believe that when they admitted him 18 months ago he had no medical records.  At the age of 95 he had never been to a doctor in his life.  The doctor, who delivered him in 1918 a 2lb baby, threw him to the end of the bed and said “he’ll not last” was my father’s last brush with the medical profession.  His only complaints are that his facilities are now closing down slowly as he strives for his century.  The medical profession have no pills for longevity.  I hope that I, who fought back from the pharmaceutical hordes that surround us all, can continue this amazing life style.  Having eschewed Big Pharma nearly three years ago not a pill has passed my lips and now never will.  Fair play to you Dad, may you attend several hundred more morning masses, although personally I could not recommend  that course of action for myself.

Well Day 6 passed quietly, all of a bit of an anti-climax after the blaze of the birth.  Mother and child are well both as fit as fiddles and eventually at 6.00pm they are let loose on society away from the cloying but caring arms of the NHS.  We left the couple and second row man alone this evening, this first night, so that all four could bed in.  The in-laws made a celebratory meal which went down well and so did the Amarone that accompanied it.  On the table was a Sicilian ricotta cheese and what a splendid ricotta it was, there was a hint of sweetness with it that you do not get in other ricottas.

After a late night for me, 11.30pm was the witching hour, I was up at 6.00am ready for our last day in Manchester.  The day for bringing back items of clothing that were bought yesterday.  I have to say that everything I bought fits but other people presume they are as skinny and lithe as they were 50 years ago.  I now understand the policy of large stores who say “if it does not fit, bring it back”.  We brought a£2o pair of trews back and spent another couple of hundred on other stuff.  Who is the mug?

Today besides looking in on Albie, yes the newborn now has a name, we are meeting for only the second time another grandchild, Hamza.  The mother being of Bangladeshi extraction, the father Irish Cestrian make up, an interesting combination.  I remember Hamza when born had the beautifully long fingers of an off spin bowler.  We will see today how he has matured.  Helena, his mother, is well into the final months of her pregnancy and looked lovely.  a very confident young lady with a great sense of humour.  I am honoured that she decided to be part of the Malpas family.  Her baby when born will be a boy and they have named him Yahya, which is the Muslim name for John.  Hamza’s fingers are progressing nicely and I would ask Yorkshire scouts to deal with me in a few years time.

Well Albie is our eighth grandchild with Helena to produce No 9 in August so after waving our good byes to the Bradford lot it was back to the digs where the matriarch of the family, great grandmother of Albie was celebrating her 89th birthday.  Albie should not need to worry, on both sides of his family there are great genes.  He should live to be a 100 easily unless of course Agenda 21 gets him first.

We are back to the Ould Sod tomorrow. booked on the 11.30 sailing out of Holyhead and the weather seems set fair.  We should be home for 4.30pm providing we meet nobody on the way.  It will have been a great eight days made especially memorable by the welcome the in-laws gave us with the run of their 5 star mansion in Didsbury.  The cuisine, our digs, the wine cellar were first class and I would like to thank them for all their attentions.  Don and Sue thank you for making our stay so wonderfully easy.

As usual I was up early, the crack of sparrow fart, it is called by many.  We call in on Albie, it will be months before we see him again.  There will be big changes.  Albie’s mother and father are two lucky souls, having fine children and fine lineage.  And so that was that, all goodbyes emotionally given we hit the road.  A pleasant drive down to Holyhead, and an easy sailing to Dublin.  We call in on Daughter No 4 in Dublin for a cup of tea, all is well in that quarter also and so off to Boyle and traffic free Roscommon.  We are two lucky buggers also having a great family and having met some very decent people.

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