Sunday, January 03, 2016

a good year

Monday, October 26, 2015

mindful capitalism: oxymoron or just New Age mumbo jumbo?

I notice an Australian 'Mindful' organisation advertising a part time job for a content producer. I’m not looking for work, though I know others who are. It’s an organisation I admire. How wonderful it could be to be part of something committed to “dedicating our efforts to something greater than ourselves”. 

“We are the change cultivating consciousness, self-care
and kindness”
organisation's manifesto

So how did this job stack up compared to working for a bog standard unmindful company?

The job description has the usual go-getter wording which seems at odd to the basis of mindfulness. For example, it enthuses the successful participant to multi-task, work out of hours and go above and beyond the call of duty.

It also fails to mention the salary range and terms and conditions of such a position. 

Is this mindful work or just the same old capitalism, dressing exploitation up is the latest version of New Age speak?

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Friday, October 31, 2014

What I learned from my first year of cancer

A few months after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2013, I published the beginnings of this article elsewhere. This is an updated version, looking back on the first year after diagnosis and treatment.

There’s nothing like staring a life challenging diagnosis in the eye to get clear on what matters, is there? I’ll let you into a secret; there have been no revelations. Everything I’ve learned has confirmed the work I’ve already done.

The joy of journaling on a regular basis means that I have my first year of this strange new world in writing, along with my thought's before diagnosis.

What I know for sure

Love and connection is the most important thing:
Family and friends matter. And they’ve been there in spades for me at such a humbling time. I’ve shed more tears of love than sadness.

Travel feeds my soul:
As much as I love working for myself, I've always loved travelling. The last few years have seen my passport getting a workout, journeying to Bali, Europe, Russia, UK, USA Thailand, and to walk the Grand Traverse in New Zealand. Relieving my holiday three months earlier Chiang Mai kept me calm as I waited to be wheeled into surgery. Planning my next overseas trip cheered me up on the tough days through treatment.

I’ve been banging on about the philosophy that I try to live by for the last 15 years. For me it’s largely about finding the balance between work and living, exploring conscious consumption, being an active part of the community I live in and trying to decrease my carbon footprint.

Connections and experience ultimately mean more to me than me than ‘stuff’ Having said that, I needed to do a huge declutter before moving to Sydney. What I really enjoyed giving a large chunk of my possessions away to friends before relocating. I still have more than enough. But I'd trade 'stuff' for more time with friends and further adventures, any day. 

I admit resilience is an overused word, especially in the context of cancer. However I see it as the "work" I've done on myself through my adult life, that's been vital to help me through traversing this uncertain episode. The Buddhist study I explored in my early years  in Melbourne gives me insight into sitting with impermanence. The good food and healthy lifestyle, helped my body deal with the physical assaults of conventional treatment. Meditation and mindfulness training keeps me sane, Following the wonderful Brene Brown’s wisdom provides a mantra there’s no shame in having cancer”. Talking to a skilled psychologist, keeps me real.

I’ve often danced with the darkness in the past and am no stranger to grief. I accept that the shadows have as much right as the light, in my life. That’s not to say I don’t feel fear, just I’m not afraid to sit with it. Invite it in and become friends with it. If I’d spent my life running from difficult emotions, I know confronting time would be even more challenging.

Work is not static, it evolves:
Over the last decade I’ve watched so many valued colleagues and mentors burn-out. Partly it’s the nature of doing such intense work but it’s also the increasing strains of running a small business. Sometimes being both an advocate of work/life balance and an early adopter of social media can be at odds with each other.

Before I got unexpectedly sick, I knew I had to make some changes. It was time to move to Sydney to be with NB as we entered our second decade of loving each other. I just didn't want to reinvent the wheel and build my business from scratch. So I begun investigating how I could work online, be location independent and still give my clients what they needed.

I'm now hitting the quarter of century in my profession. I love mentoring the new generation and going back to the grass roots of what I believe. I no longer have the ongoing agony of dealing with landlords or the tedium of physically managing a clinic. Life really is a breeze without those burdens.

Some of the shit that people don't tell you about cancer and being in treatment

You really do find out who your friends are:
NB excelled himself. He literally dropped what he was doing and drove through the night to be with me. For the next 6 months he did almost everything for me. Actually I've not vacuumed the house ever since! As humbling as it is to accept the full help of a partner, so many friends amazed me with their time, love and support; helping out, cooking great food, going for slow walks with me and having a chat. But a year on I have to say I still feel utterly hurt by those who for whatever reasons were too immobilised with their own issues, that they disappeared off the face of the earth. Loosing my ovaries is one thing, a couple of good friends - a totally different issue. 

I've had no significant income for this first year and a truckload of life expenses (fortunately due to Medicare my treatment has been almost free). Starting a new business, even on a shoestring has been costly. I also supported NB, when he took months off care of me. Without substantial savings, I don't know what I'd have done. I was too sick to apply for government assistance. Being self-employed requires a ream of paperwork, old tax returns and masses of other documentation. I just physically couldn't do it. So I went it alone. My advice for anyone who doesn't know what they can do for a self-employed or single friend going through cancer treatment is if you can't cook or clean - give them money, pay some bills, and when they're well enough - take them out to lunch.

Being part of a club I never signed up for:
I’ve learned a secret, it’s not just health professionals with cancer that believe they belong in the “cancer club”. It’s universal. But I’m in some illustrious company of some Australians who I admire who were diagnosed in the same year, including Anna Bligh and Phillip Adams.

“The woman told Bligh how early into her first chemo round she phoned a friend and told her how she felt she didn't belong there among her fellow chemo patients. "Honey," her friend had said flatly. "They don't belong there either."
"It was the best thing she could have said to me," Bligh says now. "It's true, none of us belonged there."The Australian

I felt emotionally bruised for the best (or rather worst) part of a year. My time in the world has had a tentative quality, even after the 'all clear for now' blood tests. Losing the illusion of immortality, while an amazing but humbling experience, infuses body, mind and spirit with utter vulnerability. Nothing will ever be the same.

Our healthcare system is better than most but it's still f*cked
I'm incredibly grateful to have gone through treatment in Australia but gratitude doesn't mean we don't need to improve it. Did you know 50% of women with ovarian cancer have multiple visits to their GP before they're correctly diagnosed, despite displaying cardinal symptoms of the disease? That time is almost always deadly. Why aren't we instituting further training for each of them that miss it the first, second or third time? In the past twenty years there has been no significant change in treatment or survival. Think of the advances in HIV, HCV and other cancers? A disease of women, predominantly older women, just isn't that important. Or so that's how we're made to feel.

Everything changes, everything stays the same
The little niggles in life that should seem so insignificant actually don't go away. You change. You understand fear. You sit with the loss of innocence around impermanence but life just goes on around you.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

year in pictures


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Anne Summers in conversation with Julia Gillard

I’m not sure what I expected when I leapt online and grabbed a couple of tickets to this talkfest.

Who am I kidding? I know exactly what I hoped for. Spilling the beans on Kev. That’s what I dearly wanted. A bit of behind the scenes gossip.

And did we get that? Nope.

Was I disappointed? Just a little.

I guess the other thing I wanted was to see Gillard close up. To get a glimpse of the “real Julia” that I suspected was there during her steely leadership. That was something we got in spades.

Julia Gillard was warm, strong and amusing. But a bit evasive. The answers were short and pithy, skating on the surface.

Questions of her stance on asylum seekers, marriage equality and single parents were all answered with a smile. I sifted through her responses for any depth or a glimmer of something that would leave me feeling reconciled.

I really wanted to hear about some dark night of the soul, wrestling with her conscience on these issues.

But there was none.

What there was, by the bucket-load in Melbourne, was a room full of love. Staunch ALP love (I’d almost forgotten that the party stalwarts would of course be there in droves) and also deep female solidarity.

As much as I hoped for some goss and blood about the egotistical little man that toppled her, in some way our attendance was also a much needed thank you.

Thank you Julia for putting up with so much shit, just because you have a cunt not a cock between your legs.

Thank you Julia for demonstrating that a female leader can rule with both steel and grace.

Thank you Julia for publicly acknowledging that you choose not to be bitter, that you’re getting on with your life and seeing the bright side.

I still mightn’t support many of your policies or those of your party but sneakingly admire that you still defend them, instead of doing a hasty U-turn in the hope of garnering popularity.

I attended last night’s event because I’m a feminist. It felt good to be in a room with so many other feminists. Like our first female PM, I look forward to the day when gender and equality are no longer an issue in Australia. But for now it is, even more so with a new government that has Abbott as the self-appointed Minister for Women and Julie Bishop as the only cock-less member of the cabinet.

We’ve come a long way baby…but just not far enough.

Update 8.10.13: I've been ruminating on Gillard's response to the marriage equality question, relating her stance to her socio-generational roots. As a contemporary, I totally get the whole notion of 'we thought they'd be a whole new structure for relationships' philosophy but that's not what got stuck in my craw. Why now does she pull the personal ideology card over this policy, when she conveniently disregarded it over others. For example, as an atheist why increase the funding for the school chaplaincy program? Surely, she also thought that religion like marriage would loose relevance in an evolved society? The only reason I can come up with for her pick and mix approach to aligning personal belief with policies is that of vote buying. Why else would she pander to conservatives and christians on these issues?

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

farewell Julia

I got a girlcrush on Julia, way back before she was deputy PM, after reading a Good Weekend piece on her. It felt a little dirty because I’d long ceased believing in the ALP, even way back then.

But there was something about Julia. I found her forthrightness kind of sexy. I couldn’t help it.

When she ascended to the top political job in the country, a few of us snuck out to the pub and toasted her with champagne. None of us supported her party but finally the country had come of age, sexism was dead and that was well worth a drink.

How wrong we were.

In retrospect expecting maturity of a nation that still idolizes football thugs, Alan Jones and fart jokes, was naïve to say the least. Julia Gillard copped more flack than any Prime Minister before her. The sexism was blatant, relentless and just plain embarrassing.

She met each attack, from the opposition, the media and her own party with a kind of fortitude rarely seen in politics. She never faltered. Right to the end.

However I’m still mystified how she let us down so badly on equal marriage, the inhumane refugee policy, slicing and dicing the Single Parents Benefits, fortifying the school chaplaincy program, rendering the Resources Super Profits Tax impotent and dishing up a piss weak carbon tax.

It seriously killed the girlcrush!

But in the last year she began to redeem herself. Thanks for the NDIS, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Gonski, and the forced adoption apology. Protecting the preyed upon, the vulnerable and the young harked back to the Julia I’d once admired.

And in the midst of all this rhetoric, let’s not forget about her keeping the global recession from nipping too sharply at our heels

Julia Gillard will have a place in the history books as our first female Prime Minister. Let’s not forget how she shot to world fame with The Misogyny Speech. Now that’s the Real Julia we all wanted to see more of.

Can’t wait for her parliamentary valedictory swansong. Let’s hope the gloves stay well and truly off.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

the comedian and the Grand Hotel Mildura

Dear Grand Hotel Mildura,

I'm sad and disappointed you cancelled a local comedian's recent booking on the grounds that it 'damaged your brand' to have her stay in your hotel. Sorry guys but it's your action that has done the damage, not the comedians views. I've eaten at the Grand before and if staying in Mildura in the future it would have been my first choice. Not now. Unless you make a public apology to the person concerned. No doubt you'll remove this comment but you still can't stop the news from going viral.

(take a closer look on her FB page)

It's become de rigueur to be a Deveny hater in the last couple of years post Bindigate. But when did it  become ok for hotels to cancel bookings on the basis of the client holding anti-war opinions. What next? White feathers?

But this is just small potatoes compared with the hate mail the comedian gets on a regular basis. If I opened my mailbox to being repeatedly being told I was a fat, ugly cunt who should be shot/murdered/raped it would do my head in. Take a look at her Top 100 Hate Comments, take a good look...what does this say about the world we live in? She must be the second most hated person in the country after our Prime Minister. This is more than a difference of opinion, this is person, it's sexual and it's sexist. Can you think of any Australian men who constantly cop this kind of repeated and disgusting abuse? 

If you still don't like Dev, that's your choice. Got to say I like and admire her even more in the face of this vitriol. It takes a lot of  guts and self-belief to soldier on through these kinds of threats.

You can email The Grand Hotel if you disagree with their policy of rejecting customers on the grounds of their political or social views. I really don't want to damage the business of a small business or a struggling town. I just want them to realise the error of their ways and apologise.

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Sunday, February 03, 2013

new year

How's your new year going? Here's a short synopsis of the last couple of months.

Hung out in Newtown and had a big, combined family Christmas in Sydney.

We all survived.

And Sin City? This sign on Enmore Road sums it up nicely.

We did that loooong drive back to Melbourne. Really it's a boring trip. 

This summer I discovered I liked Campari. I'd never been able to stand the bitterness before. Now I love it. Does that mean I've become a grown up?

Hung out at the People's Market. Amazed to find the vegan food stall had the longest queues. Perhaps this is the year tofu triumphs over the pig?

 It's been the summer of home-made ice blocks. The mango/orange/lime/mint are my favourite.

Looking forward to summer school, getting on with a backlog of work projects, more trips to Sydney, planning my next overseas trip and my next meal.

It feels like it'll be a huge year but a more positive one than the last. I'm a year behind myself and the drive to catch up is ridiculous.

And you?

Monday, December 03, 2012

other rants turns eight

I don’t know why I started blogging.

I have no idea what was going through my head and lead me to start my first blog. But I did.

It’s now eight years since I started blogging in December 2004. I miss the concept that I started with way back then. They were rants, often written straight into blogger with little or no editing.

They were long rants. They were about politics, human nature, health and my own personal philosophy.

Not many people read them then and even less do now.

But then again, I rarely post anything more that a photo these days.

My first post was triggered by having lunch with an ex and being both intrigued and repulsed by his smell.

A part of me feels sad that I don’t have the desire, energy or motivation to write posts like that any more.

As for politics, with Bush and Howard now gone, it was only Occupy Melbourne last year that briefly got me back into the saddle. It was exciting to witness a new political movement that wasn’t dominated by the usual lefty players. There was space for politically non-aligned individuals to stand up and speak. Some had solutions. Others didn’t. It was a truly organic movement.

So of course Doyle and his henchmen had to shut it down. It was brutal. Even standing on the sidelines, watching the destruction of the City Square camp changed me.

I attended my first political protest in primary school, not with my parents who’d never been to a demonstration in their lives but in response to an anti-nuclear group I heard about on local radio (ah radio, you’ve always been a part of my DNA) asking for children to be involved in “Flowers for the Fri”. My mum took me along to the meeting at the station and the following week to the demo, standing on the sidelines without comment. Supportive as always, yet neutral.

It was the beginning of many, many political actions to come. But the last one my mother drove me to.

I attended a number of Occupy marches on my own. I met wonderful people of all ages doing the same thing, excited and unified by a sense of hope. It made me blog again. For a while.  But like the movement itself, my blogging mojo fizzled out once more.

In my second year of blogging I wrote a piece I still remember fondly. Written on the body was spurred by seeing a tattooed arm on a tram ride. I was touched that the post moved others in some way. It reminds me that pieces like that, written in one hit as if purging a notion from my psyche, are worth writing and putting out there.

Like most bloggers, there’s been a point where I’ve said, “this is it, I’m not blogging anymore”. It’s a natural part of the blogging cycle. Now Other Rants remains semi-dormant, though I still blog in different forms elsewhere on the net. Those other platforms also wax and wane.

Blog authors and readers have changed. Initially they were greater in number, more engaged, both on the web and through actual in-the-flesh gatherings. Blogs have become highly niched. The Australian political blogging scene has largely risen and fallen with the birth and demise of collaborative venture Larvatus Prodeo. Actually it was LP that put me off blogging. There were some great collaborators and exquisite writing on the site but it was equally spoiled by vicious egos with too much time on their hands.

I’ve participated in the phenomenal rise of food blogging niche. I caught the rise of the first wave of Australian flogging (food blogging) when we were relatively few in number and even more sociable and harder drinking than the political bloggers. Then, almost overnight, the landscape changed to a world of look alike blogs, mostly highly opinionated accounts of their last restaurant meal or recipe sites with identical Donna Hay-style photos. There’ve now been three Eat.Drink.Blog events in different parts of the Australia. Perhaps the starkest contrast between the first one in Melbourne and the latter two in Sydney and Adelaide demonstrate a shift in the demographic. It was a blast to be part of the first EDB and talk about why I keep a food blog as cook’s journal. It was a free; invite only/balloted conference funded by sponsorship from small local producers. It was definitely a day and night to remember that bonded all the participants. The latter EDBs have been sponsored by the likes of Meat and Livestock Australia and other corporates. A far cry from the little grass roots guys we were happy to support.

There’s also been a rise in recent years of a new profession, that of the “full time blogger”. Imagine putting that on your immigration form (especially if say, you’re Syrian or Egyptian)? People who eek out a living from sales, sponsorship and freebies on their blog. This is a big thing in the food and mummy blogging niches. The world of sponsored posts and dubious transparency has divided the blog world between those who rail against and others who enviously aspire to it.

So much has changed in the scene since I first wrote about how my ex-boyfriend smelt. The readers too have changed. Attention spans shortened. The exodus to twitter. The rise 140 character ‘micro blog’ (what a ridiculous term). A world where traversing a paragraph can be a bridge too far.

So congratulations to you for making it so far through over four and a half thousand characters and turning up at the page after eight years.

I think blogs are establishing a new niche, a twitter backlash, where a discerning reader craves a world with full sentences and space to develop concepts and share ideas. It’s a smaller and potentially subversive audience in a world of increasingly foreshortened concentration spans.

One thing I’ve learned in eight years of blogging is once you’ve blogged for a few years it gets into your blood. You swear you’ll not be back and the next minute the urge to blog drives you crazy.

But whether I’ll be part of this new wave of blogging or not, is yet to be seen.

Thanks for reading.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

a riddle wrapped in an enigma (but with better than expected noms)

Some lazy cross-posting for those who don't read my food blog.

“Russia is better to see once, than heard hundreds of times” 

Iceland, Portugal and Brittany headed my list of where to go for a spare week in Europe. Russia was someone else’s idea entirely but somehow it wormed its way to the top and we found ourselves in the most intriguing countries I’ve ever experienced.

From the bowels of the grey, smoky confines of St Petersburg airport, eventually the unsmiling immigration officers spat us out one by one to wait for our luggage. We’d read that taxi drivers were rogues but after a relatively smooth transaction at the kiosk we found ourselves travelling at good speed to our hotel, just in time for the tour briefing. Actually we were two minutes late and the guide let us know of her displeasure (though not as severely as the hapless travellers whose plane got in even later than ours). 

It’s quite possible at that point, after travelling all day from Amsterdam, we wondered why we’d come to Russia. Even more so after an unappetising hotel breakfast that segued into a bus ride in the rain to a large souvenir shop.

Perhaps it was the first shot of vodka that welcomed us to the retail haven, or the break in the clouds that appeared later in the day but  from then on St Petersburg began to shine. Though sadly not in time to illuminate the Church on Spilled Blood, for the iconic photo opportunity. However for a city that reportedly has only 40 sunny days a year we managed to score a number of them. 

And a bit like the weather, the earlier school-mistressy manners of our guide also blossomed, revelling a friendly and amusing soul beneath her initial strictness.

What I dreaded most about Russia was the food. Avoiding meat and dairy I feared this could be the worst culinary week of my life, as all the national dishes are laced with sour cream or cooked in a meat stock. But fortunately it turned out to be quite the opposite.

Too many meals were on a tight deadline, with so much to do and too little time to do it (and large chunks of time gobbled by the unpredictability of some of the worst traffic congestion in the world). Despite the prevalence of global brands everywhere reminding you that urban Russia is a first world country with barely a visual reminder of its communist past, restaurant service can be notoriously slow. If you have less than two hours to eat, self-service cafeterias are the way to go. And they are everywhere we went in the cities. Unlike some of the modern full service restaurants, there is no menu and certainly nothing in English to inform your choices. There are rules around where and how to queue for hot or cold dishes, drinks and what not which we no doubt blundered through. Like all good cafeterias you grab a tray. There was always an amazing array of salads, some even vegan, most vegetarian. On the subject of vegan food, these self-service restaurants will inevitably have more than salads to fill you, with hearty bean dishes and potatoes in some form. But having said that, the salads were good and with a more lavish selection of vegetables than we’d experienced throughout central Europe. Hot food was always presided over by non-communicative servers. Unless you speak the language, there’s no point asking but all my guesses paid off and I managed to find something hot and tasty sans-meat every time. There were chunks of perfectly cooked fish, cooked vegetables, spicy red bean stews and veggie or fish based patties. Then there were the spuds. Fried chunks of potatoes cooked with crispy mushrooms. Not sure if this is a year round dish, or just for autumn with the abundance of wild mushrooms. Every Russian, our guides asserted, knows how to identify edible fungi. Foraging, once a necessity for survival, seems permanently imprinted on the DNA.

While the cafeterias aren’t haute cuisine, they were always tasty and I never had a dud meal. They are also a bargain, which in Russia is rare, filling up for $5-10. I even enjoyed the excitement of not quite knowing what I’d chosen. A simple beetroot salad in Moscow was an unexpected winner (a small dish for about $2). Now I write about this six weeks later, I’m wishing we had a few of these iconic eateries in Melbourne.

However it was a hip, regional restaurant that kidnapped my tastebuds and made me fall in love with the cuisine. It may have cost ten times that of the humble cafeteria but that’s small potatoes for Russia.

Baklazhan (Aubergine in English) is nestled on the top floor of Galleria, a big new shopping centre near the Nevsky Prospect in St Petersburg (not unlike Chadstone). The food is Caucasian (Georgian) and Uzbek, with an arresting spiciness and freshness. But I’m getting ahead of myself. From the confines of the shopping centre you enter a different world, met by some, lithe young woman who is surely a model on the verge of her big break and ushered into a large but comfortable restaurant, fitted out by an interior designer with a world-class eye. English menus are available; waiters likewise speak the language and serve efficiently with a smile. With comfortable banquettes and seating that accommodates cozy couples, through to large celebratory groups this restaurant was buzzing with a wide variety of well-heeled diners. A seduction was underway to one side, two professionally attired women caught up over a glass of wine and shared plates on another, a multi-generational family group arrived with presents and flowers and behind me an impeccably dressed gay couple in their thirties sat with their small but well-behaved dog.

And the food was spectacular. Now that I’m home I’ve already begun experimenting with making the starter – a walnut dip with a hint of chili wrapped in sliced of grilled eggplant. The chili beans were the best I’ve ever eaten. While the ubiquitous fried potatoes and mushrooms were studded with chanterelles. Spectacular.

(yet again my desire to eat won, the camera only came out after eating two of these delicious offerings)

Both St Petersburg and Moscow are known for great sushi and it came in handy when wanting a change from the cafeterias. Despite the geography, food seemed amazing fresh in these cities (though much is imported). But what amazed me most was the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially the abundance of seasonal produce like mushrooms and berries.

At a small market just off one of Moscow’s biggest tourist strips, Old Arbat Street, locals picked over some of the best raw ingredients on offer. After trawling through the street markets in Austria and Germany that had such a narrow and boring array of goodies, my heart sang to see the variety of fruit, vegetables, mushrooms and nuts on display. It was just a pity this was our last day in the country, my belly was full (of the aforementioned beetroot salad and fish) and the supermarket beckoned to stock up on vodka.

While I ate no borscht of perogi in Russia, I’m inspired by Georgian food, the humble beetroot and oh, my, all those amazing mushrooms. St Petersburg also fed my soul with other worldly opulence (Catherine Palace, it’s amber room and mirrored ballroom that I plan to revisit in the new Anna Karenina movie) and art to die for (The Hermitage, need I say any more?). It’s the Venice of the north and exceedingly pretty. Moscow had an edginess that thrilled me. I loved the short rides on the subway with it’s opulent Soviet era stations adorned with art and chandeliers but it was the city by night all lit up for a party and a quiet cemetery by day that made me want to come back for more. 

And the food, way much better,and often cheaper, than expected.

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