Summer holidays 2014

It’s been a while since I updated my space here. I know holiday photos are boring but this is mainly for me and my family archive. If you want to see some happy pictures, feel free to read on.

Our holidays started with a trip to Shap to take part in the 2014 ‘Total Warrior’ 10km muddy obstacle race. This is the ‘before’ picture.before total warrior 14This is one of the most energy sapping obstacles we did. The Husband and I are smack bang in the middle of this photo. I’m the one up to my chest in mud. I was very grateful to swim through a river shortly after this! The weather was dreadful, which didn’t make much difference to us as competitors but it wasn’t much fun for spectators.total warrior 14 in the mudFortunately, things improved the day we drove to Beddgelert in North Wales. The mountain you can see in the distance is Snowdon, the highest in Wales and England. This was taken from in front of our caravan, which was parked at Cae Du campsite, a site that prides itself in providing a peaceful, quiet environment. Driving the caravan there wasn’t an experience for the faint hearted but Beddgelert proved to be a good base for exploring Snowdonia. View of Snowdon from CampsiteOne of our first days out was to Criccieth, a little coastal town which had everything you could want (except perhaps sand). We found a patch of sheltered pebbly beach and settled in to eat freshly fried chips. We spent the rest of the afternoon building rock caves instead of sand castles. I could have spent a few days here as there seemed to be a high street filled with delightful, independent shops but I never got any closer than admiring them from the car. There was also a cute little castle close to the beach but we never made it to that either, we were contended enough on the beach.Sea at Cricceth North WalesCaenarfon Castle however, was unmissable. It is truly spectacular. There were so many towers and turrets to explore that we spent hours there. You need plenty of stamina and a head for heights. Climbing the towers gives wonderful views over the town, the Menai Straights and the mountains of Snowdonia.Canaerfon CastleThis is the view from the Snowdon Mountain Railway. There aren’t many mountains you can ascend by rail in the UK but Snowdon is one of them. It was very expensive for us to do this trip as a family of five so we were very grateful for mostly good views. The summit was cloudy, cold and windy but I suppose that was a good experience too. Our children now know how true it is when people say that the conditions can change quickly in the mountains.View from SnowdonWe did have some rainy days during our holiday. This photo was taken the day that the remains of Hurricane Bertha passed over. Apart from putting the storm straps on the awning, it didn’t affect us too much. We just settled in with games and crafts and eventually dodged the showers for a walk to the village.Indoor games caravan Wet Wales hillsidesAnother of our days out was to Plas Newydd, a stately home on the Anglesea side of the Menai Straits. The estate is owned by the National Trust, who have made their properties very family friendly in recent years. Our children generally enjoy the quizzes that the NT provide and the Plas Newydd experience was no different. They also took full advantage of the playground and happily explored the terrace and formal gardens. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me because although I’d never really visited the house or gardens before, I stayed at the adjacent outdoor education centre a few times when I was a biology teacher. I used to visit with the 6th form on their field trips and we spent many an hour foraging in the seaweed on the shore below the house.Garden at Plas Newyyd AngleseaSnowdonia has some fabulous coastline. This picture was taken at Nefyn on the Llyn Peninsula. The colours and the light are a wonderful combination of blues, greens, browns and white. We got quite a taste for swimming in the sea, with the beach at Llandanwg, near Harlech having water that seemed surprisingly warm.Ready for swimming Into the Sea North WalesHarlech and Nefyn both had great sandcastle sand too.

Sandcastles 2014In truth, we could have spent a lot of time just exploring the area around the campsite and Beddgelert. This lake was a short, easy walk away along a quiet lane and scenic footpath.Paddling in lake near Beddgellert Beddgellert scenery lane at BeddgellertBut, North Wales has plenty of attractions too and and we couldn’t resist another rail trip from Beddgelert to Porth Madoc on the Welsh Highland Railway, a narrow gauge railway that runs North to Caenarfon too.Dragon bench on Welsh Highland RailwayWe could have spent lots more time exploring North Wales but our time was up after 11 nights. We had a pressing deadline. The Middle Miss wanted to be home in time for her seventh birthday. However, staying on a site with tents stimulated a short camping trip over the August bank holiday weekend. I told Son Number One that I was never camping again and that if he wanted to I was happy to keep paying his subs at cubs. The Husband fancied a trip though and planned to take the older two children to a site near Robin Hood’s Bay, which is just an hour away down the coast. I hummed and ahhed about joining them and eventually I felt sorry for Babykins, who was going to be left behind if I didn’t go. Luckily, it was a great trip on a pleasant site with plenty of sunshine.tent set up camping camping tea timeOn the Saturday, The Husband, Son Number One and The Middle Miss embarked on a bike ride from Hawsker to Ravenscar, the same trip that we did last September with the local scouts.


Coastline from RavenscarBabykins and I explored Robin Hood’s Bay itself.

IMG_1698IMG_1670IMG_1668IMG_1655IMG_1652IMG_1651IMG_1645IMG_1644 It’s an incredibly photogenic place but I just haven’t captured it. The houses appear to be piled on top of each other and cling to the sides of a steep road down to the harbour.

robin hoods bay housesEverything about it is quaint and picturesque.

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As you can see from the picture below, fishing is still a part of the town’s activities.

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I didn’t know it had it’s own sea monster!

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Mainly, I think, it’s a place to make happy holiday memories…

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2013 was…Full of fun times.

We had sledging adventures, days out at the beach, nights at the beach, visits to the farm, visits to the caravan, looked for Old Jack’s Boat, had Summer in Somerset, fresh air at the park, climbed hills, rode bikes (a long way), carved pumpkins and fed ducks. Not a bad year.
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Getting out

IMG_8706I’ve been feeling a bit cooped up lately. Maybe it’s winter time, maybe it’s the demands of a toddler who is swiftly growing up, knows his own mind and seems to require a lot more ‘entertaining’. It used to be the case that I could scoop him up and drag him out to the shops to do the errands without much complaint. Lately I feel like it’s a struggle to get him out of the house and away from the television. Whatever the reason, last Monday felt like a good day to escape to one of our local parks. The weather was fine and mild…

IMG_8725 but the play area was empty.

IMG_8686These are the days that I feel I should be taking advantage off. I know that when school really takes over there will be no more empty play areas. However, proper school, reception year, is a long way off yet. Plenty of time for getting out and about.

IMG_8694My boy is pretty confident in his climbing and balancing. It’s just a shame he didn’t have his siblings to play with.

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IMG_8710I had a few opportunities to enjoy the bits and pieces of nature scattered around by the previous weeks high winds. Babykins wasn’t really interested.

IMG_8716I am always drawn to looking at lichen it’s so delicate. Silly really but I do like both the texture and subtle colours.

IMG_8720In the low winter sunlight even the dried up leaves with grass sticking through looked pretty.

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Autumn in the Park

We took advantage of the clear skies today to enjoy a trip to the park. We used to come to this park a lot but for some reason I don’t think we’ve been since Babykins was born. Visiting today reminded me of how different things were when Son Number One was last here. He was still on his leukaemia treatment then. I felt that I had to keep my eye on him all the time because he was so apt to trip and stumble. Neither of us was particularly confident about his climbing, running or jumping. What a joy it is now to see him tackle the zip-wire with ease, to scale the heights of the climbing frames and to generally run around without a care in the world.

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Off the Rails – Tips for Family cycling

A couple of weekends ago we took part in a sponsored bike ride, organised by Son Number One’s Scout group. The challenge was to cycle from Hawsker, near Whitby to Ravenscar and back again, a distance of 17 miles. The weather was perfect, sunny but not too hot. Nevertheless, it was still quite a challenge, especially for The Middle Miss with her little bike and me with Babykins on the back.

IMG_3537There was much stopping and starting on the outward leg of the journey as my girl struggled to get to grips with her gears. Let me tell you that stopping and starting when you have an almost three year old on the back of your bike is no fun. While you are stationary it’s hard work holding the bike up and keeping it steady and when you set off again it’s just darn heavy.

IMG_8292Of course, there are incentives to spending the day cycling in Autumn….

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IMG_8308If you are thinking of cycling with small children here are my tips:

1. Aim for as much off road cycling as possible but check the state of the tracks. Too much gravel, mud or rough track makes for accidents.

2. Avoid hilly terrain. Obvious really. Disused railway lines are often great cycle tracks. Steam engines don’t like steep hills any better than small children.

3. Try and cycle where you will have a mobile phone signal. We didn’t have any signal for a lot of the time so we couldn’t let our friends know how far behind we were. As part of an organised ride with regular checkpoints it wasn’t really a safety issue but had we been on our own, it might have caused problems.

4. Encourage children to carry their own drink and snack but be prepared for taking that responsibility from them. It made all the difference to The Middle Miss when we carried her bag.

5. Make sure that non-cycling children who are being towed or carried on a seat are well wrapped up. They are much more likely to get cold than the person transporting them! You can buy cape style covers for children in bike seats. I improvised by wrapping an old rain coat of mine right around Babykins and zipping it up at the front (see the first picture). Gloves are well worth having. Warm shoes or boots are also important.

6. Cycle with friends. I barely saw Son Number One on this ride because he shot off with his friends from his Beaver Scout group. There were three other families doing the ride with us and all the children knew each other. They really kept each other motivated. Having other adults on hand was a blessing and had there been any serious difficulties, we could have split up and still supervised the children.

7. Take a first aid kit, wear a helmet and be prepared for running repairs like punctures.

8. Check the weather – too hot, too cold, too windy or too wet – don’t even bother. It won’t be fun.

9. Know your limits and the limits of your children. Don’t push them too far or everyone will be frustrated. If possible, start small and build up over time.

10. Take plenty of snacks and drinks. Be ready with cash for an ice-cream at the end. Or in our case, fish and chips in Whitby. The perfect way to end the day.

Holidaying to the very end

My children’s school didn’t start until the 5th of September so we took the opportunity to get away for one last summer holiday trip. This time it was me, my Mum and the children who took off in the caravan. Our six nights away in York went by very quickly. It seems strange to only just be writing about this now, when autumn seems to be very much here.

Our original pitch at the caravan site was not great – as far away from the play area as it was possible to be. Luckily for us we managed to move to a much more suitable position – right next to it! It was a move that was well worth making. In our new position, we could supervise the children in the play area without leaving our chairs. It also meant that we could let Babykins have a lot more freedom than he would otherwise have had. And if there’s one thing that defines a caravan trip for us, it’s the freedom the children have to run, play, shout, jump and make heaps of new friends. As the days of our trip wore on, the number of children dramatically decreased as everyone went back to school and work. Still, there’s always plenty to do in a caravan.

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Son Number One practised some life skills : grilling sausages….
IMG_8211Babykins also practised some life skills: using a hammer.

There is so much to see and do at York, but it isn’t cheap. It is a relatively compact city (as most ancient cities are) so easy to navigate on foot. However, we bought a ticket for the hop-on, hop-off, open top, sight-seeing bus one day and it was well worth it. The children got to see parts of York and hear history that we wouldn’t have had time for on foot. Of course, the novelty of the open top bus is enough to please children.

If you are staying for a few days, live far away and want to see all the attractions you probably need to buy a York Pass. In our case, I decided to buy a full ticket just for the four Jorvik attractions (Jorvik itself, Dig, The Barley Hall and the Micklegate Bar Museum) because it lasts a full year and since we were visiting at the end of the summer holidays, I figured we could get a lot more use of it. York is not so far away from us.

We visited Dig, the hands on archeology museum, on the last Sunday of the summer holidays and it was very quiet. You have to book a slot for this museum as you are guided on a ‘dig’ by an archeologist. We had the guide to ourselves, which was brilliant. Not only because of the undivided attention he was able to give to my children but also because I didn’t have to worry that my children were bothering anyone else! It was a really well set up and organised attraction that got the children thinking about how archeology works. In many ways, it was better than the famous Jorvik museum itself, which was a little scary for The Middle Miss. It was almost worth the trip for the dressing up box in the Under 5’s area. Babykins has taken to slaying imaginary dragons since we visited.

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IMG_2023We also visited Jorvik itself (twice, so that The Middle Miss could get to grips with it without being too nervous).  All the children enjoyed the demonstration of creating Viking money and I think they might even have learned something.

One of the things we always do in York is visit Cliffords Tower, because we have English Heritage membership. The wide, circular tower is all that remains of an old castle. It is a very impressive building on an imposing slope. The view from the top is great, especially as there are interpretation boards up there that allow you to pick out and name the buildings you can see.

The day we visited English Heritage were running one of their ‘Time Travellers Go’ events. This one was ‘Knight and Princess school’ and it was a lot of fun. The man in charge of training the brave ‘Time Travellers’ had a sense of humour that really worked with children. He asked them what their favourite food was and when he invested them as knights, he used their answers: “Arise Sir Babykins of the sausauge, chips and beeer” (don’t ask).

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The children before us were dubbed in the language of toilet humour, which, as you can imagine, made them all giggle. The dressing up props were beautiful and my brood did indeed look very regal in their crowns and cloaks. I don’t know where they got the chap from who ran the event but he was absolutely perfect. Fact filled and funny too.

IMG_1966Our last major jaunt was to Lightwater Valley, another day out paid for by my Tesco Clubcard points. The main attraction as far as Son Number One was concerned was the new Angry Birds play area.

IMG_8202If, like me, you mourn the passing of ‘Fort William’, the log based adventure playground that used to be the best bit of Lightwater Valley, Angry Birds goes some way to compensate. The play area is large, well designed for different levels of ability and reasonably contained. There is even an indoor, Angry Birds ‘Space’ play area.

IMG_2039 I held my breath as Babykins ran, climbed and balanced his way right around, to the highest levels. Luckily, his sister was brilliant at looking after him, running ahead but always checking that he was one step behind. Otherwise I would have worried about loosing him.

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IMG_8187Of course, we went on quite a few of the other rides in the park but it wasn’t always easy to please everyone. Because Babykins is under one metre tall, he could only go on the smallest and lowest risk rides which thankfully, there were enough of. Probably the trickiest part of the whole day was finding things that all three of them would enjoy together. Luckily, because we had two adults, we could split up from time to time so that everyone got to do what they wanted. Unfortunately, the other down side to the day was the bored looking attendents. Most of them looked like they wanted to be anywhere but there. It didn’t make for a fun atmosphere. There were some notable exceptions so perhaps I shouldn’t tar them all with the same brush.

We were very lucky with the weather while we were away, it was still warm and sunny enough for shorts, as these pictures show. Our caravan site was close to the Monks Cross Park and Ride area and the tourist attractions were starting to get a little quieter. All good reasons for holidaying to the very end.

I love the ability to be able to stretch out the summer holidays. We have had such a busy time this year. We have visited Shap for the ‘Total Warrior’ assault course/mud race, Somerset for our main holiday (which was interspersed with jaunts to Wiltshire and Dorset that I haven’t blogged), Penrith for the Bank Holiday and finally York. In between that we have had two birthdays, complete with cake and parties and a first family trip up Roseberry Topping. All in all, it hardly felt as if we were at home at all.

Foraging

Even by the August Bank Holiday, summer is slowly slipping into autumn and a walk out in the country can unintentionally turn into a foraging trip.

IMG_8085In this case, we set off to simply blow the cobwebs away with a walk near this flooded quarry and the neighbouring woodland.

IMG_8089The path we were taking passed some exposed rocks that I think are limestone pavement. The dips and troughs in the rock are like little micro-habitats. Look at the delicate plants and bright lichens within them.

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IMG_8087As I was taking pictures, the rest of the family were beginning to hunt for something else: mushrooms. My husband has often reminisced about mushroom picking in his younger days.  As I was brought up in town and warned never to pick or eat wild mushrooms, it always seemed like a mildly risky thing to do. However, I figured that in the company of two older family members who have been picking  (and eating) mushrooms from this area for years, we were probably safe. We sent The Husband back to the car to collect a bag and we all spread out on the great mushroom hunt, combing the field and darting off after white blobs on the horizon. Alas, many of them were just stray bits of fleece from the sheep that were grazing nearby. By the time he got back we already had a couple each. We searched for a while, with reasonable success but soon the children wanted to retrace our steps and head into the wood. The Husband’s Aunt decided she would go on alone and look for some more, so the rest of us trooped off to explore a different habitat.

IMG_8102Son Number One was keen to build a den. Between him, Babykins, The Husband and Grandma, they did a pretty good job. The Middle Miss was not so keen to pick up soggy, spiky bits of wood and haul them across rough ground so I took her off to explore and again, I was taken by the smaller plant life of this damp woodland.

IMG_8092We enjoyed looking at these tiny, star-like plants and spotting the even smaller creatures running among them. Then I gave her a little lesson in using a compass, with the built in app on my phone. We tested the theory that moss grows on the north side of tree trunks but it didn’t seem to be a very good theory in this particular conifer plantation. All the time, The Middle Miss was looking out to see if her Great Aunt had returned. As soon as she was spotted we ran to see what she had found.

IMG_8143Sure enough, the little bag she had taken was full up with mushrooms of varying sizes. By that time, everyone was ready to head back home.

IMG_8100I tried really hard to capture the view of the fells as we drove back in the car, they looked so dark and dramatic. The eastern Lakeland fells that surround Haweswater hold special memories for me and I will enjoy looking at this picture, despite the poor quality image my iPhone produced.

IMG_8105And finally, the only way to eat foraged field mushrooms (according to The Husband anyway). Mushrooms cooked in milk, with a little cornflour to thicken the sauce and served on toast. A taste of his country childhood.

An evening at the beach

WARNING – This post is overloaded with photos!

Remember summer? You know, that bit of nice weather we had a week or two ago? I managed to take advantage of it by going to the beach one night after school. I really, really, really wanted to go and visit the great new Yarnbombing at Saltburn. I have posted about the Saltburn Yarnbombings before (you can find the posts here and here) so I felt the need to catch up on the wooly happenings down the coast. This time I managed to drag The Husband along too, thanks to the privilege of working flexi-time.

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First we set ourselves up on the sand with our blanket and picnic and indulged in the usual seaside pursuits of digging, burying and  ‘foraging’. Babykins was completely tickled with the experience of having his feet buried in the sand.

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The foraging in the pools underneath the pier was fruitful. We caught a few tiny flat fish and shrimp, though I only got a picture of the flat fish. I have never caught anything like it before. It was perfectly camouflaged – almost transparent with tiny brown dots all over it.

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We ate fish and chips and ice cream and eventually decided to head for the top of the pier, where the yarnbombing was located. By this time it was getting quite late and we were running out of dry clothes for Babykins. I think we were the last family with young children off the beach (tut, tut).

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The Yarnbombing was fabulous. Bigger than the last two I’ve seen here and so much fun. I photographed it all and I have been hard pushed to take out many of the images, I love them all. So, here goes photo overload. If you haven’t been to see it or if you are far away, I hope you enjoy it

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So, there you have it. Somebody worked long and hard on that lot! What was your favourite. I think mine is the fish and chips, though the donkeys ‘Knit and Purl’ are very cute too. Did you notice the crochet? I was very pleased to see some of that. What a lot of inspiration….

Looking for Old Jack’s Boat

Monday was a bank holiday in the UK and amazingly it coincided with the best weather of the year so far. Actually, the hottest, sunniest day was Tuesday but luckily for us, my children had an extra day of holiday due to school being closed for staff training. Days like these are few and far between. It was a great opportunity to get out and about.

I have been promising The Middle Miss a trip to Staithes for a while now. It’s not far from where we live – less than an hour away in the car. Usually, if we are heading that far along the coast we aim for Whitby but Staithes is actually closer and we had a reason to visit.

If you have small children and you watch CBeebies you will probably know where I am going with this. If not, I will explain… Old Jack’s Boat is a relatively new series starring Bernard Cribbins as ‘Old Jack’, the captain of a magical boat called The Rainbow.

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Now, I have yet to watch a full episode, but, a while ago I saw the opening and thought “That looks a lot like Staithes”. As I watched a bit more I heard the words (that begin every story that Old Jack tells) “Once upon a twinkly time The Rainbow set off from Staithes, waved goodbye to Whitby and headed off over the horizon…” Not only had the BBC filmed the series in such a lovely, local place, they had also chosen to keep the real name. I hit google to find out more and discovered this quote from the show’s production team “Staithes was a wonderful backdrop to the series and we took the decision to retain its name as we wanted the programme to feel rooted in a real place.” I was immediately excited by the fact that I could take my children to see this very real, very special place.

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Staithes is a very magical looking little village, especially on such a sunny day. There is one main street winding down the steep cliff side to the quay. The houses seem to built on top of each other, each one clinging on to it’s place alongside the road or the river. It’s not really the best place to visit with a pushchair because of the gradient of the hill….I’m not sure which is worse, going up or down.

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IMG_2313We wound our way down to the seafront, ready to look for Old Jack’s Boat. Alas, it wasn’t in port. If it had been, it would have been moored up on the far side of this picture, just in front of the lobster pots and the small stone building with the red square on it. If you watch the opening sequence on the CBeebies website you will be able to see it.

Undeterred, we went on to the small crescent of beach where, I was reliably informed by The Middle Miss, Jack’s dog, Salty, lost his blanket. We thought we had better go and search for it. In fact, the children just got stuck into digging in the sand, enlarging big holes that someone else had previously begun.

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We had the beach pretty much to ourselves, the sun was shining (have I mentioned that already?) and we were sheltered from the wind. Bliss, a chance to sit back and feel the sand between my toes or skip off to take a few more photos.

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The digging progressed into seaweed gathering, which was then turned into ‘hair’ on a very sandy face by The Middle Miss. The only downside of the beach being so quiet was that I think the whole of Staithes could hear my darling daughter keeping her brothers in order. She told them in no uncertain terms just what she required for her work of art. Eventually Son Number One resigned from her work force and it was time to head back up the village.

IMG_7063On the way we passed Captain Cook’s Cottage, where, as is says on the plaque, a young James Cook got his first taste of the sea while working as a shop apprentice. Both my children have studied Cook at school and Son Number One was quite taken with the idea that he actually lived in this house. Another example of a story coming to life in Staithes.

IMG_2331A bit further up the hill, we found a craft gallery selling all kinds of things knitted, stitched and painted. This beautiful mermaid sculpture was in the sunny courtyard behind.

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IMG_2341Finally, we crossed the little foot bridge across the river to see if we could spot Old Jack’s house but we weren’t very good at that. We had a little peek in at the lifeboat station and stood on the quayside where Old Jack would be coming back soon to moor up The Rainbow, next to the lobster pots. After that there was nothing for it but to drag ourselves (and push the pushchair) back up the hill, just in time for tea and cake.

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