Category Archives: Nottingham

Earthquakes and Lights in the Sky

At least one physical phenomenon is very rare in Nottingham. Would that it were not so:

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“Northern Lights,” or “Aurora Borealis” was first recorded as having been seen in the neighbourhood of Nottingham during the winter of 1755-1756. The Northern Lights appear at their best according to an eleven year cycle, and 2015-2016 was quite a good year, so keep yourself entertained by doing a very long backwards calculation!
Here is a website which will tell you when is a good time to look for the Northern Lights.
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Another physical phenomenon is almost equally infrequent in Nottingham…Thank Goodness!
And luckily, when it does happen, it tends to do little damage, and it soon gets forgotten. Who remembers this one now?…

August 23 1752  The severe shock of an earthquake was felt in Nottingham and the surrounding district, about 7 a.m. Great alarm, but not much damage, was the result. The day was remarkably fine, both before and after the shock.”

And forty years later, another earthquake came to nothing…thank goodness:

February 25, 1792  Between the hours of eight and nine this evening, an alarming shock of an earthquake was felt in the Midland counties, but particularly at Nottingham, many of the inhabitants running out of their houses, expecting them to fall upon their heads. The shock was preceded by a rumbling noise, like the rolling of a cannonball upon a boarded floor.”

Another Victorian source mentions an earthquake on October 6th 1863:

“The earthquake appears to have been felt over a great part of England” and it was decidedly more severe in the western parts of the country, especially the West Midlands:

“At Birmingham walls were seen to move, and people rose from their beds to see what damage had been done, for though the rumbling, grating sound is like a passing train, it was known at once to be something more. At Edgbaston successive shocks were plainly felt, and houses were shaken to their foundations. At Wolverhampton everything in the houses vibrated. The houses cracked and groaned as it the timbers had been strained. The policemen on duty saw the walls vibrate, heard everything rattle about them, and were witnesses to the universal terror of the roused sleepers.
At Cheltenham, a deep rumbling noise was heard, the heaviest furniture was shaken, the fire-irons rattled, heavy stone walls were heard to strain and crack, and the boys at Cheltenham College were all under the impression that the rest were engaged in making the greatest possible disturbance.”

I was unable to find a picture of the boys of Cheltenham College, but, much better, here are the splendid young ladies of Cheltenham Training College around the same period:

chel traoining

And what of Nottingham? Well…

“October 6th 1863  A slight shock of earthquake was felt early in the morning in Nottingham, and in most parts of the country.”

and then, just over a year later:

October 30th 1864  Slight shocks of an earthquake were felt in Nottingham, and in various parts of the country.”

Those two earthquakes were so insignificant that they have, literally, not passed “the test of time” and I have not been able to find really very much at all about them.

In fairly recent times, my Dad experienced an earthquake in South Derbyshire:

“On one occasion when he was walking home from his job as a teacher at Woodville Church of England Junior School in Moira Road, Woodville, Fred was the hapless victim of an earth tremor. It must have been quite frightening because, as he was to relate many times in subsequent years, he was able to watch the pavement rippling up and down with the force of the shock.

Seismological records for the local area show that this event occurred most probably on February 11, 1957. Here is my Dad’s quiet little mining village around that time, in the late 1950s:

 

If you want to check the history of known earthquakes in England, then this is the link to the relevant Wikipedia page.

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To bale out or not to bale out? (1)

This post is about an Avro Lancaster III of 61 Squadron, serial number DV 232, squadron letters QR-K. They took off, one of many, at 20:15 on September 5th 1943, from RAF Syerston near Nottingham to go and bomb Mannheim. This was a huge operation and involved 605 aircraft including 299 Lancasters, 195 Halifaxes and 111 Stirlings.

This is a Lancaster:

This is a Halifax:

And this is a Stirling:

Of the 605 aircraft, 34 were lost, some 5.6% of the attacking force, an unsustainable casualty rate.

On their way to the target, Lancaster DV 232 and QR-K had severe engine problems, with the port outer engine failing and the pilot unable to maintain height. And then the port outer engine caught fire. Pilot Officer Peter Todd, the pilot, extinguished it and feathered the propeller. The decision was taken to carry on and not to bale out. The aircraft’s 4,000lb cookie and the rest of the bombload were all duly dropped on Mannheim from around 15,000ft:

The crew then turned for home, full of a strange mixture of trepidation and perhaps misplaced hope. All credit to the plane, though, as the aircraft flew on sedately with Todd at the controls. Eventually he crossed the North Sea, crossed the English coast and discovered that the crew still did not want to bale out, even though they were over English fields. They wanted to stick with the plane which had faithfully brought them so far. They finally reached RAF Syerston where Todd attempted a landing. It did not go too well as the three remaining engines all stalled and the bomber began to sheer over towards the left. Todd missed the airfield buildings but soon found himself skipping too low and too fast over a landscape of fields unfamiliar to him. To the south was the River Trent and eventually the aircraft somehow skidded to stop in the welcoming waters of the river:

The crew were all completely uninjured, floating gently on the river’s calm cold waters:

And just in case you were wondering, the Lancaster was removed by floating it downstream and then rescuing it from the foaming torrent on the southern bank where there was a large flat area just before the village of East Stoke.

This story also turns out to be a very good example of how paperwork often went wrong in WW2. “We had more important things to do than get the bloody paperwork right!” as one high ranking RAF officer once said.

I mentioned just recently that research nowadays, especially with the Internet, can reveal many, many details about the events of the Second World War. But sometimes, quite basic details are lost. One website therefore, the best one, I would say, gives the crew as

Pilot Officer PH Todd (pilot), Sergeant S Robson, (flight engineer), Flying Officer J Hodgkinson, (navigator), Sergeant VR Duvall, (bomb aimer), Sergeant W Housley, (wireless operator / air gunner), Flight Sergeant Patrick , Sergeant John Cartwright, (air gunner).

 

An RAF Forum says, though, that the original Todd crew, posted in to 61 Squadron from 1661 Conversion Unit on August 25th 1943, was:

Todd, Robson, Shergold, (navigator), Duvall, Housley, Debnam, (air gunner). Cartwright.

Sergeant Patrick came from 1654 Conversion Unit on August 25th 1943 and he replaced Debnam for their first operation on the 3/4th September 1943. This was a disastrous raid on Berlin with 316 Lancasters and 4 Mosquitoes. 22 Lancasters were lost, an unsustainable rate, just below 7.0%. At least 70 aircrew were killed:


In Berlin, destruction was caused to major water and electricity works and to one of the city’s largest breweries. A total of 422 people were killed, namely 225 civilians, 24 servicemen, 18 men and 2 women of the air-raid services, along with 123 foreign workers made up of 92 women and 31 men. Another 170 civilians were missing. Two delayed action bombs eventually went off and they killed a soldier and seven “criminals”….convicts who could earn remission of their sentence by volunteering for this work. Later in the war, of course, when they ran out of convicts, the Germans made extensive use of Jews for the manual transportation of apparently live bombs which had failed to explode.

The same crew which flew to Berlin was used to fly to Mannheim. They were the ones who returned ultimately to slither rather ignominiously into the River Trent. My belief is that they were:

Todd, Robson, Shergold, Duvall, Housley, Patrick, Cartwright

All of the crew were able, incidentally, to walk to the bank of the River Trent along the fuselage and then out through the front gun turret:

 

 

 

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Staff cricket : the Golden Years (4)

I know of only one photograph of the staff team in action. I don’t remember who the opponents were, but I believe the picture was taken by Allan Sparrow who was very keen on photography and who ran the School Photography Society which had its very own dark room in one of those tiny rooms off the very short corridor which leads to the Language Laboratory. Anyway, here is that photograph of a split second in time, forty years ago:

The batsman at this end, his name, alas, unknown, has been, literally, caught out, and the bowler, Clem Lee, makes his loud appeal, “Howzat !” to the Umpire. This is Me, dressed as Ché Guévara in a Surgeon’s outfit. On the left, Tony Slack, who, in one game he played, once hit the England fast bowler Freddie Truman to the boundary for four runs, adds his voice to the appeals. The only one not appealing is the batsman near me, who just turns around to await my decision. My raised index finger signifies “Out!”

Here’s the second photograph:

This photograph shows the staff team, I suspect, on the same summer’s evening as the previous one. In the back row, on the left, is three quarters of Chris Smith, the English  teacher who left the school as long ago as 1992:

Next to him is Richard Willan, the best Chairman the Staff Common Room ever had:

Then there is Phil Eastwood, who must be very pleased indeed to see Manchester City doing so well:

Then Bob Dickason, teacher of German and French, who I haven’t seen for a very long time. He left in 1983, to go and teach in France, I believe:

Then there’s Clem Lee, the Head of Games:

There’s Ray Moore with his hair much shorter than when he first arrived. He went to West Bridgford School, I have heard, and had unbelievable success running the girls’ football team.

Then the best man at our wedding, Bob Howard, a friend I miss a lot and who I wish I had seen much more of over the years:

Then Me. That umpire’s coat must be the only thing I have ever worn that’s been too big for me. It also gave me the magic power to balance things on my head with consummate ease:

On the left of the front row is Norman Thompson the Head of Economics who taught at least one future Chancellor of the Exchequer:

Next to him is Harry Latchman, the Groundsman and Cricket Coach. He was the only proper cricketer in the team, having played for both Middlesex and Nottinghamshire and in Minor Counties cricket, for Cambridgeshire. He was elected President of Middlesex County Cricket Club in 2015:

Then comes Tony Slack:

He has already appeared in a post about the First XI football team. In fact, a number of posts about the First XI football team. One. Two. Three.Tony taught Chemistry and then he took charge of the School’s computers. More impressive, he played for the reserves at Rotherham United, and in one game was personally threatened by Charlie Hurley, Sunderland’s Player of the Century:

The final player is the Team Captain, David Phillips, the Maths teacher, who used to run both the Second XV and the Second XI if my memory serves me right. He worked at the High School for 37 years where he was an important rôle model for vast numbers of junior boys:

I don’t know if the staff still have a cricket team. The summer 2017 would mark their 70th Anniversary if they still played any fixtures.

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Staff cricket : the Golden Years (3)

In a previous post of this series on the heroic deeds of the staff cricket team, I had started going through a number of episodes which are also mentioned in my bestselling book, and my Hollywood and Bollywood screenplay, “Nottingham High School: an Anecdotal History”.  If I remember rightly I had just discussed how crap I was at cricket compared to one prodigiously gifted member of the team who merely needed me to be there to do the fielding while he and the other superstars did all the batting and the bowling and showed off all their talents.

Not that I felt insulted by his words. They did not make me angry. No, Not at all.

The next mention of staff cricket in the book comes on the evening of Wednesday, June 21st 1978.
By then, the staff cricket team had two usual umpires, the young idiot Me, and the much more experienced Allan Sparrow, a History teacher. Whereas the first named umpire, Me, lived in permanent dread of having to make a decision which would upset his elders and betters by sending them back to the pavilion some 96 or so runs short of their century, the senior partner,  Allan Sparrow, true to his own wonderfully analytical character, had no such scruples.
This particular day, in the very first moments of the game, the opposition’s opening bowler managed to trap, plumb in front of the wicket, with his score still stuck on zero, a very important batsman indeed. Standing far away at square leg, the young idiot, Me, thanked the cricketing gods that he was standing far away at square leg and would not be required to make a decision. The shrieked appeal  of “howzat” died away in the quietness of the evening:

Umpire Sparrow waited for a moment. Then he raised the dreaded digit to the skies. What an angry trudge back to the pavilion for a very disappointed batsman . It was the bravest thing I have ever seen in the history of sport.

During the following year of 1979, staff cricket continued on apace, counting among its stars such sporting luminaries as Chris Chittenden, Paul Dawson, Bob Dickason, Claude Dupuy, Phil Eastwood, Steven Fairlie, Simon Jenkins, Dave Phillips, Graham Powell, Tony Slack, Chris Smith, Roger Stirrup and Norman Thompson.

Here’s Bob Dickason, Phil Eastwood, Dave Phillips, Tony Slack, three quarters of Chris Smith, and Norman Thompson:

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Claude Dupuy, by the way, was the French assistant, who, after living for a year in Mansfield went back to win the All-France University prize for speaking colloquial English. Chris Chittenden was a Geography teacher who worked at the School in the interval between Charlie Stephens and Bob Howard. Chris had four nationalities. His father was English, he was born in India, his mother was from New Zealand and he was brought up in Australia. Poor, poor man, he lived a healthy life only to be cut down by cancer at just 40 years of age. I will be eternally grateful to him because he was the man who organised for three of us to drive down to Wembley after school one evening to watch England-Holland at football and we all saw Johann Cruyff play at Wembley. And we saw him introduce the Cruyff turn to the world. Here’s Bob Howard:

Such was the fame of the staff team that a member of staff appointed as a teacher for the following Christmas Term actually came along to play in a number of fixtures.

This was Ray Moore, who at the time sported a fashionable Afro hairdo, unencumbered by any such refinement as a protective helmet. Here’s a picture of him a week after the game, when he’d lost that Afro:

On one occasion, Ray was facing an extremely wild fast bowler, whose main interest in life seemed to be scaring the living daylights out of opposing batsmen, with bouncer after bouncer. After a series of whistlingly fast deliveries, he finished his over with a fast, lifting ball, which actually went through Ray’s hair. The moment when Ray advanced down the wicket, shouting loudly, and waving a menacing cricket bat, was, I believe, the closest the staff team ever came to an actual punch-up.

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Staff cricket : the Golden Years (2)

I was talking last time about my glittering career with the staff cricket team.  I can actually remember taking two catches, probably in 1976. One was a steepling ball, hit so high that I had time to eat a chocolate bar before it came back down. By the time it finally returned from earth orbit, everybody for miles around was watching me. Some with binoculars. I was the cynosure of all eyes. Players, umpires, spectators and people in the street and people in buses going past the ground. And I caught it. I really did. I caught it. Nobody was more surprised than me. And the batsman was O. U. T.  spells OUT !!

The second catch was when I was fielding about ten yards away from the batsman, as fellow French teacher David Padwick bowled his slow spinners, just like Bishan Bedi:

According to Bob Dickason, our wicketkeeper, the batsman hit the first ball so hard that I did not react. It passed under my arm, brushing the shirt in my armpit and the side of my chest. I just didn’t realise that this situation was really bloody dangerous and it was highly irresponsible of the captain to ask a naive novice to field there. The second ball hit me in the chest. It didn’t kill me by stopping my heart. It bounced up into the air. I dived forward and caught it one handed before it touched the ground. The batsman was O. U. T.  spells OUT !!.

I had a stunning bruise for weeks. You could read the name of the company who had made the ball. And their phone number.

Here’s Bob and his curly red hair, pictured in black and white:

It may have been in that match that I was allowed to bowl an over…six balls that is. It didn’t go too badly. First one—a run. Second one—a run. Third one—a run. Fourth one—a run. Fifth one–the ball hit the edge of the bat and if they had let me have a fielder there as I had previously requested, it would have been a wicket taken. Sixth one–the batsman hit it to the boundary for four runs. And that was my complete cricketing career. I was never allowed to bat because they presumed I would be crap.

A couple of years later, one of the Top Men of the Staff Team, the Golden Boys, told me that “The Star Men of the team need ordinary people like you to do the fielding so that they can do all the batting and the bowling and show off all of their many talents.”  Yes, milord.

Incidentally, I had a second hand operation on February 8th, so I won’t be able to reply to any of your comments for, probably, a couple of weeks. As soon as I am able to, though, I will answer what you have been kind enough to contribute.

And everything in this post is 100% true, particularly what one of the Top Men of the Staff Team said to me.

 

 

 

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Staff cricket : the Golden Years (1)

Just after I started work in the High School, my interest in cricket began to grow. Luckily, there was a well established Staff Cricket Team. Indeed, it was during the Summer Term of 1947, that the staff had fielded their own cricket team for the first time ever, playing several friendly fixtures against the staffs of other schools. The most likely suspects would be the local Grammar Schools, Bilborough and High Pavement, and possibly Henry Mellish and the Old Nottinghamians.
Sooo….I decided to give it a go and I asked the team if I could play. I am no expert at playing cricket, but I was assured that this was just social cricket, played merely for amusement and companionship. Weeks later, I realised that the staff matches that I played in were played for amusement and companionship as if they were the last decisive test in an Ashes series in Australia:

In my bestselling book and my two screenplays for both Hollywood and Bollywood films, “Nottingham High School: an Anecdotal History”, I mentioned staff cricket on a number of occasions. The first occasion was the year before I began at the High School in the Summer Term of 1974:

“One of the most famous incidents in staff cricket occurred when according to “The Nottinghamian”, David Matthews “courageously stopped the ball with his head”. It cost him a pair of glasses, and two black eyes. Other participants during the season were Paul Dawson and  Brian Hughes, specialist batsmen David Padwick and Dave Phillips, specialist bowlers John Hayes and Marcus Coulam, and Jimmy Sadler, who in one match took four wickets in the last over, to snatch an unlikely victory.  John Hayes and Allan Sparrow were the usual umpires.”

This old staff photo from 1973 has John Hayes (front left) and in the centre of the front row, Dave Phillips.

Alas, David Padwick has now passed away and the rest of those names must be well into their sixties if not older. Certainly, it is a good while since any of them taught a lesson at the High School. I did find one or two of them on some pictures of the staff which I scanned in the early 1980s. They are not very good, but they are recognisable. On this photo are Bob Dickason, Ed Furze, Chris Smith and Me on the back row, and Ian Driver, John Hayes, Edwin Harris and Dave Phillips in front.

Here are David Matthews and David Padwick :

Luckily, colour film was invented in time to capture the greatest moment of John Hayes’ life. The day he took delivery of the High School’s first ever minibus::

It was during this season that David Padwick passed into legend. In a game against Trent Polytechnic, as it was then called, played at the Clifton campus, there was a fairly steep bank on two sides of the ground, about three feet high, just inside the boundary. Padders was fielding on the long on boundary, where he was theoretically unlikely to get up to too much mischief. At this point he was standing quietly at the top of the bank.

Suddenly, the ball was hit high, high, high into the sky in his direction. But he couldn’t judge the ball’s trajectory properly. Surely he was too far back to catch it. Quick, go forward, down the bank!  But no! Surely he was now too far forward to catch it. Quick, back up the bank! No, that’s wrong. Quick, quick, down the bank!  No, no, no!  Quick, back up the bank! For a good fifteen seconds or more, Padders became the cricketing Grand Old Duke of York. And did he catch it? Well, what do you think?

The next mention of staff cricket comes when:

“There was a report of staff cricket in 1977 in the Nottinghamian of December 1999.  It appeared in William Ruff’s “From the Archives” section of the magazine. Mention was made of Tony Slack, “our benevolent dictator”, Dave Phillips who “wields the straightest golf club in the business”, Phil Eastwood, “for whose particular torture the LBW rule was invented, and Clem Lee, “whose pectorals imitate the motion of the sea as he runs up to bowl”. The regular umpires this season were Allan Sparrow and John Knifton, although the latter did play in one game, “and took an impossible catch to win the game”. The more often I read that, the less possible it seems.

Again, I have found one or two old staff photos to enlarge. On the 1970 photo, there are Phil Eastwood (top right) and David Matthews again (No 3 on the front row). The back row also has Allan Sparrow and, I think, Brian Hughes  :

This photo has at least one more cricketer, Marcus Coulam, the young man to the right on the very back row:

The photograph also shows Norman Thompson, Dick Elliott, Stanley Ward, Ian Driver, Martin Jones, Chris Curtis, Jeff Leach, Gerry Seedhouse and, I think, Will Hurford. The two young ladies, I do not know.

More chat about the sporting superstars next time. Incidentally, I had a second hand operation on February 8th, so I won’t be able to reply to any of your comments for, probably, a couple of weeks. As soon as I am able to, though, I will answer what you have been kind enough to contribute.

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The Hen Harrier in Victorian Nottinghamshire

The Hen Harrier is a bird of prey which is called in North America the ‘Northern Harrier’ or the ‘Marsh Hawk’. These days it is becoming an increasingly rare and endangered bird in England because of the activities of the large shooting estates. Hen Harriers are harmful to Red Grouse, the quarry species for the man with a £3000 shotgun, so, completely illegally, many gamekeepers kill Hen Harriers on sight. Prosecutions are extremely few and far between because effective evidence needs to be gathered in very remote places where trespassers are far from welcome:

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In Great Britain we have the wild spaces for more than a thousand pairs of breeding Hen Harriers, but this illegal killing for commercial reasons has limited the number to fewer than ten pairs. There are those, myself included, who think that the law should be changed. Instead of trying to prosecute individuals (who are quite often disowned by the estate owners), the estates themselves should be brought to account. Any estate found guilty should have their enormous subsidies of taxpayers’ money withdrawn.

Interestingly enough, just after I wrote this article, a fine example of what happens to Hen Harriers in northern England came to light. It is totally typical of the contempt which the moneyed classes have for the ordinary person who lives his or her life not to accrue wealth by any means whatsoever, but instead to delight in the wonders of the natural world. And look too at what the police managed to do after other people had done more or less 99% of their job for them.

In Nottinghamshire, therefore, the Hen Harrier is not a particularly common bird. The male is very distinctive, but the female or the young bird, the so-called “ringtail” stands out a lot less:

hen harrier

In 1857 William Sterland recounted how, on an unrecorded date this year:

“I was walking past Lord Manver’s poultry yard at Perlethorpe, which adjoins Thoresby Park, when a ringtail came sailing over, evidently intent on plunder. Three times she soared around the large enclosure , which contains several hundred head of poultry, and although it is bounded by a high wall, and is surrounded by the dwellings of the gamekeepers and others, she was only deterred from carrying off a chicken by the presence of some of the men.”

ringtil

In 1866 William Felkin spoke of birds of prey in general:

“On the whole, this noble tribe of birds is fast decreasing, and some species, if not yet extinct, soon will be, under the deadly warfare waged against them by trap and gun; and thus the finest ornament of English forest scenery will be for ever lost, for the paltry gain of the few head of game they might possibly destroy.”

How true that has turned out to be. The Hen Harrier is well on its way to extinction as a breeding bird in this country, and before their recovery in modern times, both Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Osprey had been exterminated by gamekeepers from most of the country.

male

William Sterland wrote in his “Birds of Sherwood Forest”:

“…the blue hawk as the male is called, is not by any means uncommon ; and both male and female being considered, and I fear not unjustly, as very destructive to game, are visited, whenever opportunity offers, with condign punishment, and their once buoyant forms are seen nailed up in terrorem amongst others of their order, in grim companionship with stoats, weasels, polecats, and other vermin.”

Flying-Male-hen

Indeed, by the end of the nineteenth century, polecats themselves were extinct in England. And only the departure of all the gamekeepers to the trenches of the First World War prevented the extinction of the ordinary fox from many areas, especially in East Anglia.

Before 1907 Joseph Whitaker had seen only five or six Hen Harriers in thirty years of birdwatching.
He relates how:

“…one of the Hen Harriers I saw close to my home in Rainworth, was a male in full plumage, coloured pale lavender slate.”

hen peak

Whitaker took great pleasure in this, and other birds of the same species. Rather like William Felkin, he thought that:

“An odd harrier or two do very little harm, and the graceful flight, which I may describe as a cross between that of a Hawk and an Owl is always pleasant to see and adds immensely to the delight of the country walk.”

hen_harrier_470_6_470x300

In his own copy of “The Birds of Nottinghamshire”, he has written of his own sighting:

“About  Xmas 1914 a Hen Harrier female flew over the road at the head of my pond within 20 yards. It had been seen earlier by Blackburn (keeper) today, March 19 it again passed over the same road, but at the top of mill by our gate it looked grand in a clear sun light. I am so glad it has escaped the keepers snare + hope it may like to lay a clutch of Cambridge blue eggs amongst the heather of the windswept Orkney Islands.”

henharrier_sr_tcm9-91147

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