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Before the Light Came

Sometime in 2014 I was invited to respond to a short section of archive film with creative writing. The request came from Filmpoem artist Alastair Cook. I’d responded once before to a 20 second Filmpoem (20 poets – 20s of film each) back in 2012 and really enjoyed the challenge. I also worked with Alastair and children at North Lights Arts Festival to help the children create their own film poem, Shaking Shells.

This time I was one of several poets who responded, we each got given a section of silent film and none of us saw each other’s footage. The short film has now been published with Rachel McCrum‘s beautiful voice narrating the piece.

At the time when the request came, I’d been listening to a series of podcasts about the illusive nature of happiness, if you try to chase after it or hold onto it – it slips through your fingers. I work with children lots and they laugh loads more than we do. I was thinking about how they seem to be better at happiness. They create things, like a lovely piece of art, and then they give it away. It goes something like this:

I love this star. I made this star. YAY it’s finished! I want you to have it! See you later…

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And then they’re off, doing something else. I studied physics so I often think about science when I’m writing too. In my piece of film there were people fishing – it looked like they were trying to catch light. I thought about the nature of light and it being like happiness and I thought about the things we try to do to prepare for happiness – when I get this job or this house or this relationship… I’ll be happy. But actually that doesn’t work.

So my poem is about chasing after happiness – trying to contain it and keep it. And how children just give it away and we need to be more like them if we want to be happy. With light as the metaphor – because it’s a wave (travelling through) and a particle. And we’re all made from stars:

Before the light came, we travelled in straight lines, with sunglasses in our bags.
Later, when it arrived we tried to catch it in our hands. Our jam jars labeled ‘photons’.

She was only three, but she knew how to share. Almost as soon as she held it, she gave it away. Without fear. Without loss.

She stayed bright, while the rest of us turned to shadows.

You can see my section as part of the beautiful Filmpoem Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared):

Amerika (The Man Who Disappeared) from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

It was amazing to see how well the individually written pieces worked together as a whole. Here’s how Alastair describes the complete piece on his website:

Watch Alastair Cook’s brand new film, three years in the making, with new writing by twenty of the world’s best poets, sountracked by composer Luca Nasciutia and read by poet Rachel McCrum – screens worldwide from Autumn 2016. New ekphrasis work by poets John Glenday, Vicki Feaver, Stevie Ronnie, Janie McKie, Brian Johnstone, Jo Bell, Andrew Philip, Linda France, Dave Bonta, Angela Readman, Michael Vandebril, Gerard Rudolf, George Szirtes, Emily Dodd, Ian Duhig, Rachel McCrum, Robert Peake, Polly Rowena Atkin, Pippa Little and Vona Groarke.

All images and films are copyright Alastair Cook 2016 unless expressly indicated otherwise.

My next book is a science book for children and by coincidence, it’s about Light!
 
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Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Film, poetry, Science, Writing

 

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Women and Science Festivals

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I’m excited to be taking part in Dundee’s Women in Science Festival this month. The festival is all about celebrating and supporting women in science, engineering and maths. I’m also off to Dunbar Science Festival this Friday on a similar theme – it’s a science spoken word night to celebrate international women’s day.

I’m doing seven events in total – for schools, families, mothers and other adults too. There’s a science poetry writing workshop and some spoken word and comedy shows. Men are also very welcome!

Here’s a wee summary of what’s coming up with links to get tickets, hope to see you at an event soon!

Wednesday 11th March: Can’t-Dance-Cameron school events

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Hillside Primary School, Hillside Nursery and Gowriehill Primary School in Dundee. Part of Dundee Women in Science Festival.

Friday 13th March: Rally and Broad, Dunbar Science Festival

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Rally & Broad are delighted to be coming to Dunbar Science Festival on Friday 13 March (8:30 – 10:30pm, Dunmuir Hotel, Dunbar)! We’ll be celebrating ‘Women in Science’ alongside Scots singer songwriter Kirsty Law; science writer and performer Emily Dodd, poet Russell Jones and the surreal musical stylings of Zara Gladman. Come with open ears…

More info and tickets here.

Sunday 15th March: Mother’s Day Science Shows (for families – Dad’s also welcome!)

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Can’t-Dance-Cameron tickets and info hereLove You to the Moon Rocket tickets and info here

Sunday 22nd March: Sparking Ideas From Science (writing workshop)

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I ran this workshop last year in the National Library of Scotland as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival. Really excited to be running it again using the D’Arcy Thompson collection for inspiration.

 Friday 27th March: The Lady Scientist Stitch and Bitch

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Tickets and info here.

FIND OUT MORE

Find Dundee Women in Science Festival online here and on facebook here. Download a copy of the Dundee Women in Science Festival Programme here. The twitter hashtag for Dundee Women in Science Festival is #womenscifest and you can follow the event organisers on twitter here

Find Dunbar Science Festival online here. Find them on facebook here and on twitter here

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Education, Events, poetry, Science, storytelling, Writing

 

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Sparking Ideas From Science

Just a quick blog to say I’m running a science and poetry workshop at the National Library of Scotland on the evening of the 2nd April. You can find the event (and me) in the Edinburgh International Science Festival programme – open it in the centre and I’m top right. Oscar the cat has kindly pointed it out with his paw:

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You can also find details online on the Edinburgh International Science Festival Website here.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Events, Science, Writing

 

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Working with Libraries

I wanted to let you know about a few projects I’m doing with libraries.

Forest Families in Gorebridge

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Tomorrow I’m off to Gorebridge library to run some woodland themed storytelling workshops with the local primary schools at the launch the Forest Families project. Here’s how the facebook page describes Forest Families:

A project providing positive, nurturing interactions and free play in natural environments, for children from Mid Lothian,aged 3-8 years and their parents

Oak trees are the theme for tomorrow’s workshops. We’re hoping the children will recognise the shape of an oak leaf. It happens to be the Midlothian Council logo so they won’t have just see it on trees. I’m even going to be wearing an oak leaf dress – now that’s commitment!

I’m working with craft maker and educator Jaimie MacDonald. The last time we worked together we were running crafty storytelling training for youth leaders. This time we’re storytelling and making crafts with the children ourselves. I’m excited to hear Jaimie will be wearing a mushroom jumper (in keeping with the forest theme).

Each workshop is a taster session. We’ll have an introduction from project founder Stephanie Walker. Then it’s me with the story bag, leaves, imagination exercises, stories and some songs. Then it’s Jaimie making nature journals and finally we finish up with a wee song from the little oak story as we plant some trees:

Wonderful, beautiful, there’s only one like you.

There’s only one who was made to do, the things that you will do.

Families in Gorebridge will have an opportunity to sign up to monthly Forest Families workshops. The first one is Saturday 22nd February.

Social Media Training for Edinburgh Libraries

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Last month I ran a training session with team leaders and staff from across the Edinburgh public libraries. I was asked to share examples of how we used social media to promote reader development at Leith Library during the 9 month residency I did with the Scottish Book Trust and Creative Scotland (read the highlights here).

The course was full and it was a good opportunity for people to share ideas between libraries. With that in mind I didn’t want to be doing all the talking. For part of the session I got people to slit into groups and discuss different ways to tell stories digitally – audio, video, photo and combinations of the above. Through the discussion and feedback people came up with loads of great ideas for things to do within their libraries and that was all before I shared some of what we did in Leith.

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Science Poetry at the National Library of Scotland

I was delighted to be asked to run a science poetry masterclass this April as part of the great big science read. I was also a little bit nervous since it’s called a master class. Did that mean I had to be a master of science poetry? Images of Yoda sprang to mind. But then we had a planning meeting at the National Library. We got excited about the titles of the science collection as inspiration for poems and I had a few ideas for exercises that the team really liked so that has put me at ease. There’s enough inspiration in that collection and in science itself so I figure I’m just going to be facilitating an opportunity for people to be inspired, connect and share.

If you’re interested you can find details of the event in the Science Festival Programme or in the latest National Libraries of Scotland what’s on leaflet.

You can read my most recent science poem ‘Relativity’ in the latest issue of The Istanbul Review.

 

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He Blew Me a Kiss

Last week EuroStemCell announced the winners of their creative non-fiction science writing competition. If you’re wondering what creative non fiction writing is it’s factually accurate non-fiction writing that’s creative in its approach to communicating science. I wrote a bit more about it here.

I was judging the poetry category so I want to say a big congratulations to the winner, GP Eliot North. Here’s her beautiful winning poem:

He Blew Me a Kiss 

She liked Frank, they connected
despite his expressionless face. Behind the wound-up limbs and tremor
a gentle man shone out from the mask.

When she visited they would share a cuppa.
Chat about this and that. Do the ‘medication shuffle’;
a two-step dance they both knew well.

She’d heard about stem cell research.
How they’d taken swabs from patients’ skin. Growing stem cells
from skin cells in dishes, right there in the lab up the road.

These stem cells would then become brain cells.
Models of Parkinson’s just like Frank’s. For testing newer and better
medications and perhaps one day even a cure.

The last time she saw Frank it was snowing
but he insisted on accompanying her out. Standing by the gate like a sentinel
he’d wave her off that one last time.

Later she’d think of stem cells like kisses
blown on the winter air. A hand lifted slowly towards a frozen face.
The moment captured in her rear-view mirror.

by Eliot North

You can find the winners of the imaginative science writing and graphic non-fiction categories on the EuroStemCell website here.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2013 in Education, poetry, Science, Writing

 

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Shaking Shells

Last month I led a 3-hour Filmpoem workshop with five children aged between five and ten as part of the first UK Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar.

The workshop started with exercises and games to get the children thinking like poets (I wrote a bit about it here). Then we spent the second half of the workshop writing a group poem on a poetry walk.

Each section of the walk involved a different poetry challenge and at the next stop we heard the results of the last challenge and I set the next challenge. For example when you’re walking:

  • Explore the wall, touch it, smell it, describe it
  • What sounds do you notice? Describe them
  • Find your favourite object on the beach, if you find a better one, swap it. Describe it.

Each child worked independently during the challenge but we came together in a circle at the end of each challenge and each contributed one line to the poem.

Favourite Moments

Three moments really stood out to me. The first was when we stopped after the first poetry challenge. I wrote down each of their lines as they said them. I rearranged the order slightly and read it out. All of the children looked at each other with amazed faces and they said things like “Wow!”. From that moment on they were totally focussed.

During the walk artist Alastair Cook was capturing film and composer Luca Nasciuti recorded sounds. When we were down on the beach Donald (5) was in the process of finding his favourite object when he made a discovery….

“I’ve found a sound for the film!” he shouted. He was sitting down with a handful of mussel shells in his hands and he shook them to show me. He tipped his ear towards the shells again to make sure they sounded right. “That’s brilliant Donald” I said. “Let’s show Luca so he can record it” and I called Luca over and Donald shook his shells again.

My final favourite moment was the screening. The film premiered later that day at the Filmpoem Festival. The children brought their parents along to see it. I think you’ll agree their poem is amazing and the film (thanks to Alastair and Luca) is wonderful:

Filmpoem Workshop – Shaking Shells from Filmpoem on Vimeo.

I want to add at no point did I suggest lines or change their words, I only changed the order of some lines so perhaps Donald’s line came after Kitty’s instead of before. Every section was written during that stop on the journey and so the poem is linear in the order of the journey made.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed planning the workshops activities and the stops on the walk. I hoped it would work well but until you actually do something you don’t know how things will turn out. I was impressed by how well the group responded and how they worked so brilliantly as individuals to create something wonderful together. It was as if something magical happened, they seemed to share one collective creative brain that was five times better than any individual’s could be. Their lines fitted perfectly together and each section fitted perfectly with the last. They had so much freedom to create and they were enjoying every minute of it.

I love the film, Alastair and Luca did an amazing job of putting it together.

What did the children think? 

They were proud of their poem and they said it was fun and not like writing poetry at school. They also said it was easier to write about things when you’re outside experiencing them.

Here’s some of their comments:

Today was a very good workshop because we were all working together making a beautiful poem in Dunbar…

I loved working together with everybody and thinking of good words for the poem…

I loved feeling the wall and going to the beech..

You can see the rest of their comments below, It’s good to see Donald wrote about his shells!

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The Filmpoem Festival was created by artist and Filmpoem project founder Alastair Cook. The Filmpoem Festival was supported by Creative Scotland, East Lothian Council and North Light Arts. Find Filmpoem online or follow Filmpoem on twitter (@filmpoem). 

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Education, Environment, Events, Film, nature, poetry, Writing

 

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Filmpoem Children’s Workshop

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This weekend I’m running a three-hour Filmpoem workshop with six children aged between 6 and 10. The workshop is part of the first Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar and I’m excited to be facilitating the workshop with artist and Filmpoem project founder Alastair Cook.

What is a Filmpoem? 

The programme puts it like this:

A filmpoem is a single entwined entity, a melting, a cleaving together of words, sound and vision. Poetry often tries to deal with the abstract world of thought and feeling, rather than the literal world of things. The filmpoem is the perfect marriage of the two.

Find out more and see examples the Filmpoem website.

How do you make a Filmpoem with children?

I’ve been planning lots of short interactive activities to get our workshop participants thinking like poets.

  • We’ll explore how we interpret our world through memories, imagination and observation
  • We’ll investigate rhyme, rhythm, meaning and anthropomorphism
  • We’ll take a sensory walk to collect new memories, objects and words

Every time I introduce a new concept we will do an activity or game to make it fun and relevant. So we’ll meet the camera as an example of anthropomorphism (he has three legs, one eye and 1 ear – he hates having his ear tickled!) and all of these activities will help us to think like poets and will work towards producing a brilliant final Filmpoem.

The workshop concept was created over tea and cake at Alastair’s many months ago. I chatted through ideas with Alastair and following that he ran a pilot with poet in residence Rita Bradd. Here’s the film they created:

Filmpoem Workshop/ All Tangled Up from North Light Arts on Vimeo.

I’m really looking forward to creating something wonderful with Alastair and the participants this Sunday. I’m also looking forward to the rest of the Filmpoem Festival!

The Filmpoem Festival is supported by Creative Scotland, East Lothian Council and North Light Arts. Find Filmpoem online or follow Filmpoem on twitter (@filmpoem). I contributed to one of Alastair Cook’s Filmpoems last year and blogged about it here.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Education, Environment, Events, Film, Media, poetry, Writing

 

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Poetry, Science and Harry Baker

On Monday I’m performing at the Inky Fingers Minfest opening event, ‘Science and Poetry’. It takes place at Pulp Fiction Books on Bread Street, Edinburgh at 6.30pm. Here’s how Inky Fingers describe it:

Seven incredible spoken word artists present brave new explorations into strange worlds of experiential double helixes, the perfect sine wave bounce of squirrels, love between prime numbers, and more, all conducted to you, dear audience, via electric words and catalytic poetry.

There will be a robot called Sarah. There will be the startlingly incredible presence of Harry Baker, current World Slam Champion (and with that, probably a love poem to a dinosaur). There will be a geophysics hokey cokey. Hosted by yours truly, Rachel McCrum.

Just a few weeks back I wrote a blog trying to explain ‘What is Spoken Word?’. I posted a video of Harry Baker performing a bumble bee poem, he was my example of brilliance – the world poetry slam champion and I get to meet him, we’re in the same show! Harry if you’re reading this I hope I’m not freaking you out – you stayed with my fab friend Reuben over the festival a while back, he can vouch for my sanity.

This weekend I’ll be practicing the Ukulele version of the Geophysics Hokey Cokey. I’ll also be practicing Starling My Darling, Sine Wave Squirrel and a yet to be confirmed science experiment. I’d love for you to join me and the rest of us at Pulp Books and the event is free.

The Spoken Word Artists for the evening are Anne Connolly and Anna Dickie, Russell Jones, Kate Adamson, Sarah the Poetic Robot, Ruth Aylett, me and Harry Baker.

Read all about the event and the artists on the Inky Fingers Blog. RSVP to the Facebook event and check out the rest of the Inky Fingers Minifest Programme

Image Credit: Harry Baker Poetry

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Events, poetry, Science

 

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Memories Are For Remembering

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of working with Generation Arts, a retired arts group from West Lothian. I last worked with them on National Poetry Day as part of the Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. This time I was running a Creative Writing and Reminiscence workshop for the annual Generation Arts Celebration Day.

My brief was to facilitate writing memories of old West Lothian and to share these with the Generation Arts participants at the end of their Celebration. There were 80 people coming to the event with an average age of 80 years. They did not all know each other so I needed to facilitate a space safe to encourage people to share with each other.

To help spark memories I had old photos of West Lothian and a box of objects from the West Lothian Museum. The objects included a miner’s helmet, a wage slip, a pinafore and an old brush. I also brought along some smells that I hoped would help recreate childhood experiences. A sweet shop, wood varnish, Brasso, coal tar soap…

The workshop was to be 45 minutes and it was brilliant to talk through my ideas for the session with my Poetry Mentor, Elspeth Murray a couple of weeks beforehand.

The plan was to do an ice breaker, to share an encouraging poem, to pass round some objects and to set a simple writing task. I had paper and pens and luggage tags.

I totally changed my plans once the workshop started, here’s what happened. There were eight participants and we sat in a circle. I introduced myself and asked people to share their name and one of their earliest memories as an ice breaker. The conversations that followed were wonderful. Memories shared would spark off one another and I realised my role was no longer to try to jog memories. Instead it was to say things like “Hold on Robert, Anne’s talking just now. Carry on Anne!”.

I dropped plans to tell them more about me and to share a poem. I was going to do that to help encourage people to share but they were already doing that. I didn’t want to break the wonderful atmosphere of sharing that were experiencing. Instead I thanked them and explained I had a whole bunch of objects and photos I brought along to help jog memories, but since we were already sharing so brilliantly that we didn’t need props to help us to remember.

We needed to capture some of their wonderful stories to share at the end of the celebration event. Several members of the group said they were enjoying the conversations so much they didn’t really want to write. I asked if they minded me writing down some of their memories instead. This worked well and I made sure I wrote down at least one memory from every person in the group. Some members of the group did write. We passed round the photos and objects and continued the conversations together.

After the session finished Robert came over to thank me. He showed me the picture of his Dad that he kept in his breast pocket. He also carried a threepennie piece. He told me more about what these objects meant to him. He said “memories are for remembering.” Robert’s words ended the poem created from the wonderful memories shared during the workshop.

Generations Arts Co-coordinator, Joanne Brown read the poem to the assembled masses just before the tea dance started. She did a brilliant job and we laughed and smiled as I hope you will:

These are the memories from Marion, Jane, Malcolm, Anne, Grace, Bill, Sib and Robert. 

I remember
I was the first teacher at Riverside Primary School.

I remember
Dancing the eightsome reel in the hall.

I remember
We used to go down on a Saturday to buy paraffin. 
Me, my Mum, my Dad and my dog.

I remember
Every miner had a number. 
When you finished your shift you got your token out of the pit heid. 

I remember
You got a threepennie piece for pocket money. 
You could get a lot with that, back then.

I remember
The bombs were falling..

I remember 
“What the hell are you going to do with that hand grenade?”
And I said.. “Get some fish!”

I remember
The steam trains. 
The kiddies loved-em. 
The steam used to go all over them.

I remember
Gala Day. 
You had a ribbon taped around your neck with a tinnie, hanging… 
for your milk when you got to the park.

Memories are for remembering.
***********

Read more about the event and see photos on the Generation Arts website.

Image Credit: Generation Arts, West Lothian

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2012 in Education, Events, poetry, Writing

 

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CBeebies Glasgow and Edinburgh Gigs

I started a new job at BBC Children’s Scotland last Friday. I’ve been commissioned to develop some new science programmes after pitching a science related idea during the Scottish Book Trust CBBC Lab. This is an exciting new step for me. I’ll be working in Children’s Development until the beginning of May.

It wasn’t too long ago I blogged about missing science. I’m delighted to be working on CBeebies science projects. Since the projects I’m involved in are in development I can’t tell you about them, sorry.

I can tell you that I’m staying with lovely @suddenlymum and her family. I can also tell you I’m very excited to have a BBC email address. I can now work the printer and I DJ-ed on the water cooler today and felt quite pleased with myself. That is I filled up my tea-cup with boiling water at the same time as filling my water bottle with cold water, I’m working that water like a BBC pro…

I owe a big thank you to BBC Children’s Scotland the Scottish Book Trust for training me to write for CBeebies and CBBC in their writer development labs. If you want to find out more Anita Gallo wrote a lovely piece about the recent CBBC Lab we both attended on the Scottish Book Trust Blog.

Edinburgh Gigs

I’ve a few performances coming up, it would be lovely to see you there! Just click on the links for more info.

April 24th: Electric Tales at the Stand Comedy Club Edinburgh: I’m doing a 15 minute storytelling slot, I’m also bringing along my solar-powered bees…

June 11th: Blind Poetics at the Blind Poet: Massively chuffed to have been asked to headline this, I’m doing a 20 minute performance poetry slot, yikes!

June 13th: TenRed Spoken Word at the Persevere, Leith Ten poets, 10 minutes each, should be fun!

If you’re a West Lothian Primary or Early Years Teacher I’m running storytelling training on the 11th May, you can book it through the Council CPD.

If you’re part of the Lothian Association of Youth Clubs I’m running Crafty Storytelling training on the 23rd June, book it through their website.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in Banana me beautiful, Media, poetry, Science, Writing

 

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