Simon Wood

Posts Categorized: hump day post

I can’t handle orzo pasta. Like the Eskimos and the concept of snow, Italians have 300 hundreds different words for pasta. For those of you who don’t know which is orzo, it looks like a giant grain of rice.
And that’s where my problem lies.
My brain strips a thread when it comes to orzo and I can’t eat the damn stuff.
The problem is that my eyes see rice, but my tongue tastes pasta, and my brain merges them in a bad scientific process to create a taste that is neither. My mind totally crashes and I have to spit the stuff out. For me, it’s totally inedible.
I’ve tried a few times, but I can’t do it. I’ve tried conditioning myself before eating it. I look at the plate and I chant to myself, “This is pasta. It’s no different than fusilli or penne. It’s pasta. Not rice. Pasta. Got that, idiot.”
I pick up a forkful of the stuff and it all goes to pieces. My brain starts thinking. “Hey, I know its pasta, and don’t call me an idiot, idiot. But it does look like rice. Rice. Ew, this rice tastes funny. I don’t like this.”
So, I don’t eat orzo. Just the idea of the stuff makes me wrinkle my nose. Julie has to act as monitor, so that I don’t accidentally order it with something.
She says things like, “Remember, that’s the weird pasta, Simon, so don’t order it.” She says this like I’m weird or something and shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised.
Now that’s weird. Don’t you think?

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For my birthday, I saw a stage production of SLEUTH.  A few minutes into it, someone complained, “I don’t understand what they’re saying.”  Well, that person was in for a long night.
As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘England and America are two countries divided by a common language,’ and despite the fact we watch each other’s TV shows on a regular basis, that truism is as true today as it was then. And it’s something I learned the hard way as a foreigner on these shores.

American-English and English-English are very different. It’s more than the US’s predilection to drop the letter U from words like colour and to ration double L’s. Slang is different. Sentence structure is different. Pronunciation is different for the same words. The English accent, despite everything, is still relatively unfamiliar to the American ear.  Watch this Geico ad.  Julie and I have had this exact argument—almost word for word:  

All these things made life difficult for me as an immigrant in the US..  I would ask for something in a store, and watch the person nod, but see they didn’t have a clue what I was saying.  I remember being asked to write down what I wanted in a Starbucks after saying “Coffee, coffee, coffee” in a number of different ways. After handing the note over, the barista said, “Oh, you mean, coffee.” It was quite a humiliating experience. For about six months, I used hand gestures instead of words to get what I wanted, which seemed to get me further with fewer incidents.

This was a pretty sorry state of affairs. It wasn’t like English was my second language, but it was proving that American was. In a state of frustration, I complained to my wife. “What is wrong with everybody? I’m not speaking a different language.”

“Well, you kind of are,” she said tactfully. “You do have an accent.”

“A what? An accent? I don’t have a bloody accent. You people have the accent.”

“Yes, I know, but you have to appreciate the differences.”

“What differences?”

“You are a low talker. All English people are. You speak on a low and level tone. We don’t.”

You mean Americans are loud, I thought unkindly, but I accepted the point. I looked at the way I spoke and listened to Americans in conversation. I changed my lexicon so at least the words I used were the same ones everyone else used. I also changed the way I spoke. I didn’t affect an American accent, but I did speak up a tad and develop a Hugh Granty kind of an accent which was a little more formal than the way I spoke, because Americans seemed to understand him.  One thing I had to let go of was the slang and I did say all my letters—no dropped H’s, etc.  Terrance Stamp from THE LIMEY illustrates the point here:

Sixteen years later, I speak fluent American, although I still speak it with an accent. My accent is now a little mellower on the American ear. I can laugh (most of the time) about my past problems, and I can even see where you lovely Americans are coming from and where my people go wrong when they visit the US. A little while ago I was having lunch with another ex-pat friend of mine, and we saw an English family having a hard time getting their order over to the waitress. My friend and I smiled.

“Fresh off the boat,” I remarked.

My friend nodded, and we offered our assistance.

This isn’t the first time I’ve offered my translation services to English newbies. It’s almost like the scene from AIRPLANE where the old woman proclaims that she speaks Jive.

So now I’m very comfortable when speaking around Americans. Now I just wish they wouldn’t confuse me with an Australian nine times out of ten.


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The future! It’s so full of potential—until it arrives. Then it seems to lose something when we catch up with a point in time that we’ve looked upon in wonder or trepidation (if you’re a dystopian kind of a person). The reason for this “Future is Now!” jag is that I was watched Escape From LA the other week. Not a great movie, but the interesting point is that it’s set in 2013. In their 2013, LA is an island after an earthquake and the country and the world is falling apart, run by untrustworthy politicians. So way off the mark!!! The big one hasn’t hit LA…the rest, I won’t comment on. This inspired me to watch a bunch of my favorite sci-fi movies and I looked at their predictions and how close they’ve come in this 2013.

1. Robots
What we were promised
: Android butlers like C3PO and Data from Star Trek

What we got: The Roomba! I guess we got a robot in every home…kinda.

2. Ray Guns
What we were promised
: The phaser and blaster

What we got: The Taser

3. Sentient Psycho Computers
What we were promised
: Supercomputers like the HAL9000 and those made by Cyberdyne System’s would rise up against us to ruin our lives.

What we got: Window 8. Not especially equipped with super intelligence, but just as disruptive to our daily lives.

4. Lasers
What we were promised
: Death ray lasers emitting coherent light powerful to destroy cities.

What we got: Unfortunately making a death ray is harder than you think, so the nearest we’ve come to lasers in our daily lives are in CD players and checkout scanners. Not lethal but useful, so no complaints there.

5. Space Bases
What we were promised
: There’d be colonies in space just like Moon Base Alpha here.

What we got: Newt Gingrich saying that he’d build one and make it the 51st state of the USA. Pipe dreams have their place, I suppose.

The problem with our predictions for the future is that we inject them with our hope and dreams and fears and paranoia, instead of a healthy dose of pragmatism. That just shows that we humans are natural born dreamers. Aren’t we, Newt. 🙂

If you’ve got any predictions for the future, feel free to share, but I will check in on you when time catches up with them…

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Driving Julie to the airport last week, I got a little reminder of my dyslexia.  Most people know dyslexia as a word related problem but it’s bigger than that.  Spatial awareness is also a symptom.  Personally, I don’t know left from right.  This isn’t strictly true.  I do know the difference but I get confused when faced with the notion of left and right.  If I see a symbol for a left turn or someone says something is on the left, the instruction gets garbled on the way to my brain.  I know what left is, but for the life of me I don’t understand the concept of left.  I end up standing there wondering which left people are talking about.  Mind-blowing, I know.  You really should take a spin in my brain for a day.
So how do I get about?  With great difficulty if I’m honest.  My internal compass is a little scwiffy. Consider a simple main street: if I look down it from one end, then look at it from the other end, I don’t recognize the street as being the same one. My brain doesn’t make the correlation and I see two totally different streets. Only after 20 or 30 times will I realize that the supermarket on the left side of the street going south is the same one as is on the right side going north. Naturally, this problem is compounded exponentially when you add cross streets and the complexity of traditional towns. 
So when I get to know a town, I don’t get to know a town.  I have to get to know dozens of parallel towns all the same but just seen from different directions.  It’s a lot of work.
To combat the problem, I tend to follow distinct routes that I know so I don’t get lost, but most of the time I had no idea where I am going and I have to rely on blind faith that I will find my destination…eventually.  You wouldn’t believe the prep I do before going somewhere new.  I memorize Google maps before the trip.  Thank God for the US’ love of grid systems for street layouts or I would be generally lost most of the time.
So what happened on airport run?  On the drive out, we saw a snarl up pretty close to home that would be there for me on my return trip.  I was looking at a good half an hour of sitting in gridlock, but luck was on my side.  The snarl up was close to one of my bicycle training rides.  I could dump off the road, follow my cycle route and circumvent the traffic jam.  What a star I am.  Except, there was a problem.  I would be going in the reverse direction to my cycle route—and I’d never ridden it in reverse.  Usually in these situations I wouldn’t try this but I really didn’t want to sit in traffic and I had committed a number of landmarks to memory which I knew I could rely on, so I was feeling somewhat confident of a journey into the unknown.
Oh, how naïve of me.
I was OK for the first mile or so, but that was because I didn’t have any turns to make.  When I made the first one, I was lost.  The street was not familiar whatsoever, although I did know the name of the street.  I followed the country road hoping for a familiar landmark but saw nothing.  I took to checking the rearview mirror hoping to see something in reverse that would be recognizable but to no avail.  After several miles of taking turns, I didn’t recognize a damn thing in front of me or behind me.  I was lost, well and truly.  I surrendered and decided to drive purely on instinct.  I decided that if I kept on northerly course (using the sun’s position in the sky) I would end up somewhere close to home.  If not, I was going to be in Oregon by nightfall.  Eventually, I came to a crossroad  and against my better judgment, I make a left and lo and behold, a mile later I recognized a park  and know I was going in the right direction—much to my joy and astonishment.  Even though I knew I was on the right track, I still didn’t recognize any of the roads for the next three miles although I knew I’d ridden these roads for close to ten years on my bike—only in the opposite direction.
Only when I’d gotten home and pieced together my route did I realize the roads I’d taken.  I was astounded that I’d blown by a bunch of landmarks such as houses, funky looking trees, signs, etc. and not recognized a single one—and all because I was coming at them at the wrong angle.
I’ll be honest, I know my dyslexic brain has this major fault but even I marveled my incapability to recognize the route I took.  I’m still reeling that I didn’t recognize one particular house that I think is stunning but seeing it from the reverse angle, it meant nothing to me.  I really shouldn’t be allowed out of the house without a caregiver…seriously.
Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey into the unknown with me and that you’ll view dyslexia with a difference perspective.  And kids, the moral of this story: don’t stray from the path…especially if you’re dyslexic.

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Julie is in Switzerland for business this week, so I am left to hold down the family fort. This is the first time since we’ve been married that this has happened. Usually, it’s me who flies off to somewhere far flung, but because I’m away doing something fun or different, I don’t feel I’m being separated from her. So, this break looked to be interesting. Having not lived on my own in fifteen years, I wondered how I was going to get on being a single guy again. Could I slip into old routines again? So how did I fair?

Actually, I did alright. Not having my Julie appendage, I seemed to have a little extra time on my hands in the evening. The odd thing was that although I had more time, I didn’t write as much. I’m not sure why this happened. I didn’t start writing until I was living with her—just goes to show what living with someone will drive a person to do. 🙂

Maybe she’s some talisman that I need to have about me to inspire me to write tales of murder and destruction. (oh, that doesn’t sound good–oh well).

Moving swiftly along. I thought I would have more room in the bed, but that didn’t work out either. Royston and the cats who sleep on the bed saw this as an excuse to spread out and I was still confined to the edge. Who knew a dachshund and three cats could take up so much room?

Some of my single boy habits returned. I indulged in using the bathroom with the door open. Still a favorite with Royston and the cats.

I didn’t eat alone. My meals were served at the same time as Royston and the cats’. Very much a lad’s night in feel.

Something from the forbidden kingdom, I got pay-per-view all the crappy/b-grade horror movies that have to be rationed and can only be watched with the proviso that, “if you’re getting that, we’re getting something funny too.”

My single life comes to an end tonight when Julie gets back and we will no doubt fall back into our normal routines. Although my exploit was fun, I did feel a little gap where there was a little something missing from my life that bad movies and open toilet doors couldn’t fix. Welcome back, Julie.

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A little while ago, I had laser eye surgery to correct my distance vision. I decided to have it done after needing glasses a couple of years ago. I just couldn’t get used to specs. I was forever cleaning the buggers. I didn’t have that problem before glasses. If my vision got foggy because there was something in my eye, I blinked and it was gone. Sadly, glasses technology has failed to satisfy my need. Also, because I only needed glasses for driving or the movies, etc., I didn’t wear them all the time and kept misplacing them. I still don’t know what I did with one pair.

I should have the surgery first time around and skipped the whole glasses thing altogether. There was a reason I didn’t. Despite this big, rough-tough exterior that you’ve come to know (and love—don’t deny it) I’m a complete big girl’s blouse when it comes to anything medical. Crap can go wrong. I don’t mind so much if it happens to someone else, but I do mind when it comes to me. I also have a tendency to be a catalyst for trouble. Anyone who read my essay about my knee surgery in Morbid Curiosity will know what I mean. The night before my surgery, I overheard my surgeon pouring his heart to a friend that he couldn’t deal with his job anymore in a restaurant with a drink in his hand.

Needless to say when it came to eye surgery, I procrastinated for a little while, because basically, I was bricking it. My imagination kept inventing new and scary ways how this thing could go wrong and I would end up blind or something.

I have to say I’m a little twitchy when it comes to my eyes. I can’t stand having anything close to my eyes. It was the reason why I didn’t have contacts. There was no way I was putting a piece of plastic in my eye because it meant touching my eye. Also knowing my luck, the contact would move and get lost in the back of my head somewhere. And yes, it could happen.

I warned the Lasik people I was twitchy about my eyes and would prove quite wriggly. They all said no problem. Let’s just say the exam took a lot longer than normal and ended up with the nurse pinning my head against the wall just to put the eye drops in.

I have to admit that the outfit that did the job was very professional and had no problem telling every detail of the procedure. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I don’t want to know everything. I view any kind of medical procedure the same way I view sausage. I love it, but I don’t need to see how it’s made. So I read nothing about the procedure and I listened little to what was being said, but my ears did prick up when they informed me that they would be cutting through the cornea.


I didn’t know this and I could have lived a long time not knowing it, but obviously that nugget of terror kept driving a red hot needle through my mind.

Still, I agreed to do it. Millions of people have gone before me and they still have the power of sight. It won’t be any different for me. All the kinks have been ironed out. I am golden. Quite a pep talk, if I do say so myself—which I didn’t buy for one second. All I could think about was THEY’RE GOING TO CUT MY EYES OPEN.

The big day came and I was a tad nervy. I wanted to get general anesthetic. They assured me I couldn’t. They couldn’t perform the procedure if I was out cold.

A nurse came and got me and walked me to the laser room. I wondered if it was going to be the last time I’d ever see my little Julie’s face giggling at my discomfort about the whole thing.

The nurse opened the door and there was the Lasermatic 10000 or whatever the gizmo is called. It wasn’t what I was expecting. As part of my ignorance is best policy, I wasn’t expecting this giant machine with a bed sticking out of it.

They dosed me up with a bunch of eye drops to numb my eyes, but nothing to numb my rampant imagination. I lay down on the bed thingy and they proceeded to tape my eyes open. That just freaked me out. I couldn’t believe I was going through squeamish issue I have with my eyes so that I wouldn’t have to have anyone go near my eyes. There’s logic there, but I’ll be buggered if I can work it out.

Let’s just say I didn’t like the taping my eyes open thing very much. I may have whimpered and even given away a few NATO secrets in the process.

Once that crap was out of the way, the doctor told me to look at the red light and not move. I told myself to look at the red light and not move. The red light was my friend. Not moving was my best buddy.

Dr. Vision put something over my eyes and I knew without asking what he was doing–he was cutting through my cornea. Aaarrrggghhhh!!!! But I was mummy’s brave little soldier. I thought about cool, green grass, puppies in a field and the flap of my eye hanging open. Eek!!

When in God’s name were we going to get to the laser bit!!!???

Apparently, straight after. Let me just say, you haven’t lived until you’ve smelled the stink of your own burning eye. You won’t forget it. Trust me.

And that was it, we were done. Well, one eye was. We had to repeat the whole thing over again. Some days you just wish you were a Cyclops. As so did the laser eye people. They told me they used 5 times as much numbing solution on me than they normally do. It’s amazing what adrenaline will do to a person.

And before I knew it–well, not really–it was all over. I had brand new eyes. They didn’t see very well at first, everything was in Star Trek soft focus and I had to wear sunglasses for a day and keep my eyes closed for five hours. But my vision was pretty sharp before the day was out.

So I’m pleased in the main. I do feel a little jipped that I don’t have laser vision, because I thought that was going to be my ticket in to join Dr. Xavier and the X-Men.

There’s has been one side effect, I now see a halo effect around anyone with twenty-four hours left to live. Now there could be a book in that…

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I try to be a good person.  I swear I do, but from time to time, I get a little impish.  These teeny-tiny horns pop up and I can’t help being a little mischievous.  Small, devious ideas and concepts come to me—even if they’re just for my mental amusement.  Here’s just a few of them:
1.      Buy a happy meal when you’re feeling sad.
2.      Leave a treasure map in your will.
3.      Reserve a table for ten at a restaurant but eat alone and if someone from the restaurant complains, tell the person your other personalities have to eat too.
4.      If you’re stopped by a cop or an authority figure and they give you static, then quote the sage Katy Perry, “‘Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar” — then roar.
5.      File a change of address for someone…without their knowledge.
6.      Report a bad driver to your state’s smog line.
7.      Buy a kid’s meal on someone’s 18th birthday.
8.      Sit in someone’s chair when they leave the room so that the temperature is a little off when they return.
9.      Leave a small bottle of lotion in your carry-on to make a TSA agent say “Put the lotion in the bucket.”
10.    Pick up the in-flight magazine and flick to the Sudoku page, pause for a second, write the first numbers that spring to mind then turn to your fellow passenger and say, “That was a tough one.”
I won’t say how many of these I’m guilty of.  I’ll leave that to your imagination.
And I DON’T suggest you try any of these yourself and I take no responsibility for YOUR actions.  However, I would like to hear some of your impish ideas…   J

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A little while ago, CrimeSpree Magazineasked what five books, movies or songs changed my life.  Well, here they are:
THE DAY OF TRIFFIDS(1962) turned me into a horror movie fan at the tender age of 6 years old. I hid behind my mum’s armchair watched it while my parents did. I was scared and thrilled all at the same time and knew I needed to see more.
A FIELD OF DREAMS(1989) convinced me to pursue my dream of motor racing. I watched these people give it their all for something they believed in and knew I’d regret my dream to race cars if I didn’t do the same.
Alanis Morrisette’s song ONE HAND IN MY POCKETgot me out of a PTSD funk. I’d been in a car wreck where I’d walked away and the other person hadn’t. I was in a very sad place and I wasn’t sure how I was going to move on with my life until I caught the video on MTV. The song for some reason woke me up. I took a look at my life as it was and made changes.
A high school friend gave me a copy of Raymond Chandler’s THE LADY IN THE LAKE when I was thirteen because I needed a book for a school report. I fell in love with the hardboiled and noir genre and I never looked back.
Gomez’s song WHIPPIN’ PICCADILLY was the last song I heard before leaving the UK to move to the US. I’d never heard of the band up until then but I liked their sound and discovering a new band as I was about to embark on a new life seemed fitting. The first thing I did upon arriving in the US was to buy their album BRING IT ON. It’s something I listen to while I’m writing and it already reminds me of new beginnings. 
These are the five books, movies or songs that changed my life, but what are yours?

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I’m in my sixteenth year of living in the US—which is a third of my life.  That’s a scary thought.  Naturally, that length of time in any place is going to have an effect on a person, especially when it comes to your cultural upbringing, speech and the way you go about life.  So from time to time, I get sudden attacks of conscience when it comes to my Englishness.  Namely, is it being eroded?  I’ll be honest, there are times when I won’t know if a phrase is English or American.  Or a word will pop out with an American twang, like omitting the letter T from the word twenty and pronouncing it, “Tweny.”  Absolutely frightful.

So imagine my dismay when I came to an odd and frightening realization the other day that I have been driving on the right side (aka the wrong side) of the road longer than I’ve been driving on the left side (aka the proper side).  Naturally, the left side is the correct side.  I believe it’s the side of the road God would choose if asked.
I don’t think this revelation has changed me as a driver or a person.  I’m comfortable driving on either side, although I wish Americans would learn how bloody roundabouts work.  Airdrop me in good old Blighty right now and I wouldn’t miss a stroke driving on the left.  I have been concerned by this in the past but every time I’ve gone back to the motherland, I’m back in the old groove.  There’s something about the gear shift being on the left side that flexes some old muscle memory and alerts my brain that I’m in England again.  So at least on that front my Englishness is as rock solid as the white cliffs of Dover. 
Where things get a little crumbly is with the time factor.  I think my Englishness and English identity is hardwired into me, but time is a great leveler.   Every year that I stay here, the more my identity shifts.   For example, I still feel like a tourist in America but I’ve spent more of my adult life here than I have in the UK.   There’s a sobering thought. 
To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I know there have to be consequences—and big ones!  Does this mean I’m more American than English?  Icky.  Will the embassy stop taking my calls?  Hope not.  Does this jeopardize my knighthood chances?  I may need counseling over this.
Oh God, this is getting to be a little more than I can handle.  I feel like a traitor.  I’m frightened that people will put me in the same company as other British traitors such as Guy Fawkes, Burgess, Maclean, Philby and Jonathon Ross. There’ll be a day named after me where kids will sing “Simon Wood is no good, chop him up for firewood” and burn copies of my books…which is OK if they’ve purchased them first because I’ll still get the royalties and that would be some comfort at least.

Then again, I could be overreacting.  That’s an American thing, right?

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I know you will think less of me when I share this idea with you and that’s okay.  All I have to say to you is…
Chip butties to be exact.  I’m sure there are quite a few of my English compatriots who’ll be groaning in shame now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag.  For those who don’t know what a chip butty is, let me explain.  It is a masterpiece in comfort food.  It’s essentially a French fry sandwich.  Yes, a French fry sandwich.  Fantastic or what!?!
Hey, don’t give me that look, rest of the world.  Every nation has its questionable culinary moments.  America, you’ve served deep fried butter.   Canada, you put cheese curds on French fries.  Italy, you have that cheese with maggots in it.  So get down off those high horses of yours before the French come along and eat them.
A chip butty is one of those things you learn to love as a child because it’s so simple and innocent.  It’s just some French fries slapped between a couple of pieces of buttered bread.  The butter melts onto the chips giving them an extra dimension.  The bread is soft against the crunch of the fries.  It’s childhood on a plate.
Chip butties are things that stick with you into adulthood regardless of how decadently juvenile they are.  I’ll be honest I would still have one from time to time as a single chap in his single home where no one was watching.  I must admit there has been a little bit of shame factor associated with the CB (slang for a chip butty that I just invented and trademarked).  When I moved to the states, I didn’t tell Julie about them and nor did make one for her.  For more than a decade I went without one.  Then in a sudden bout of nostalgia, I made one and came out to her, saying, “My love, this is a chip butty, they are food, I like them and I am going to eat this one.  I hope you can accept my lifestyle decision.”
She tolerated my lifestyle but didn’t embrace it.  I think that was the best I could have hoped for.  Sometimes being different is a lonely road.
But I have not brought up the humble chip butty for confessional purposes only but as a business opportunity.  Fast food and casual dining has stagnated.  It’s all variations on the same theme.  I think the world is ready for a new meal option—yes, the chip butty option.  I’m thinking of offering a chip butty franchise.  Naturally, it would be called BUTTIES!!  Like a Subway, people would get to build their own butty.  There’d be a choice of bread from white through to whole grain for the health conscious.  There’d also be a choice of butters from plains, garlic, herb, what have you.  There’d been a choice of French fries—steak cut, crinkle, shoestring, sweet potato, etc.  You name it, I’d have you covered.  Finally there’d be a choice of condiments if you want to spice things up beyond just butter.  I’d have ketchup, brown sauce, BBQ sauce, gravy and curds (for the Canadians) just to name a few.  Now doesn’t that all sound awesome.  Don’t you want to invest in a franchise like that?  I know I do and you will too.  I will be announcing a Chipstarter campaign real soon so you can all get on at the ground floor.
Now I know some of you will mock and scoff and that’s fine.  But have you tried one?  No.  Maybe you should.  It might just rock your world.  CBs have the power.



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