In Absentia

August 26, 2014

I wasn’t there.

I can only guess,

Foundering in the mud

The gulf between sides dug in

A chasm of generations.

You were unable to give tongue,

Horrors left unsaid.

 

We weren’t there.

How can such voices span the gap of time?

Unamplified, analogue – signal is too faint,

Drowned out in digital dazzle,

The stampede of politicians,

Hypocrites all too eager to clamber

On bandwagons of false patriotism.

 

They weren’t there,

As realisation sunk in

War-tired, weary

Drenched by the same rain,

Battered by the same cold winds,

Existing on the same meagre rations.

Conscripts lusting after glory and honour;

The realisation – pawns

In someone else’s power game.

Eyeless in Gaza

July 29, 2014

Three ways of looking at a blackbird

 

Why did Blackbird, with beak and talon,

Eyes aglow with weltering anger,

Forged in furnace,

Come screeching and tearing,

Crying bloody vengeance,

Against innocent Earthworms?

 

Because . . .

 

Why do Blackbirds, with drinks and popcorn,

Eyes agog with excitement and tension,

Roll up, roll up, come bring the family,

Perched on deckchairs,

Revel in righteous carnage

Of innocent Earthworms?

 

Because . . .

 

Why do Blackbirds, with banners and placards,

Eyes brimming with tears at wanton destruction,

Comrades come rally,

Against injustice,

Senseless slaughter,

Poor innocent Earthworms?

 

Because . . .

 

Earthworm lay . . .

Bruised and battered,

Concussed and shattered,

Amidst ruins of what once was home.

She had no answers.

New collection of poetry out!

July 21, 2014

little red little green  

 

If you have enjoyed my poetry on this blog, my new collection, “Little Green Poetry” is now available from Lulu –  – £4+P&P (paperback) or £2.50 (for e-book readers) 

You can still order copies of my first collection, “Little Red Poetry” from http://www.leftbooks.co.uk or http://www.lulu.com – again for £4 (pb) or £2.50 (as a pdf for e-readers).

I hope you enjoy reading my poems, and, as always, all proceeds will go to help build the fightback against corporate political parties, to build a voice for the millions, not the millionaires.

To find out more about my politics, visit the website of the Committee For A Workers’ International, which is engaged in struggle in around 50 countries worldwide.      

Little Scotland

July 18, 2014

The Celtic knot, a twin S.

Adorned Ravenscraig’s gate.

Long empty, the husk. Silent, brooding,

Still casts a shadow.

 

Where there was industry,

Let us bring job seekers’ allowance.

Where there was militancy,

Let us bring sad resignation.

 

Steel-town of rusted girders,

Work transplanted wholesale.

Puerile promise of prosperity,

Evaporated,

 

Like the last dregs

In a once-proud steel can,

Our other national drink

Now lies crumpled

 

Beside  a torn up

Slip. A frustrated bet

On a winded nag which failed to

Deliver. A ballot

 

Thrown on the ground

To the skirl of pipes.

A cross beside “YES”,

A faded pencil saltire.

 

A broken outpost, aside from the battle

Where Sheridan tours,

Denounces the rule of capital

In stentorian tones.

 

Words echo around halls from

Alloa to Inverness.

They cannot carry

To far-off Northamptonshire.

 

 

Notes: Tens of thousands of workers from Scotland came to Corby, Northamptonshire in the 1930s and 1960s, on the promise of jobs in the steel industry. Thatcher destroyed much of the manufacturing industry in Britain, and British Steel was privatised – the jobs have long-gone. The town recently had a mock-referendum on Scottish Independence during the town’s Highland Gathering. Unlike the Yes campaign in Scotland, which is gathering momentum, the town voted No. Might this reflect a general mood of bitterness, anger and resignation to fate?

 

Tommy Sheridan on independence – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6GsEKrCvgw

 

 

 

 

If you can’t stand the heat . . .

July 17, 2014

I am waiting for the Quordleflesh to cook, and you know how long that takes. A minimum of five hours braising time in the plasma oven, followed by a gentle marination in the distilled liquid we brought back from the Sol system – what is it called now? My eyes glance upwards to the ranks of bottles overhead. They contain powerful spices, exotic seeds and a variety of sauces, marinades and preserves from Andromeda to Tau Ceti. I scan along the shelves until I locate the elusive bottle of brown liquid that I am after.

After staring at the strange writing for a minute or so, I give up the struggle to make head or tail of it, and resort to my auto-translator. It informs me that the label reads “Sarson’s Malt Vinegar”. On its home planet, it is a popular accompaniment to the tubers that are stowed in storage bay 567F, and is produced by the fermentation of . . . Hastily, I turn the machine off before it starts discussing the stuff’s chemical structure and medicinal properties. I open the vial gingerly, not knowing what to expect. However, the stuff smells quite pleasant and I splash a generous dollop into the steaming, purple mixture.

The oven’s timer alerts me to the job in hand. With an effort, I carefully ease the giant pot onto the hob, and the oven turns itself down to a modest 450K. A handy skewer allows me to prod into the heart of a large tentacle that is poking out from the surface, and I breathe in the rich, heady aroma of its juices. Sometimes I feel that I could float, suspended in mid-air on the vapours from all the dishes simmering away in this kitchen. However, the skewer comes out of the meat a distinctly light blue colour. Another twenty minutes, I think to myself. A pang of worry crosses my mind. Chef is not going to be pleased if the crew are left waiting.

[Editor’s note: beings living in the Sol system may want to try cooking this recipe for themselves. We have helpfully converted the measurements into the nearest metric equivalents, and reduced the quantities for domestic use. Whilst Quordleflesh is rather a delicacy, Cow can be used as a substitute. Aldebaran Sproutfish and Difluvian Watermelons can be obtained from most good ethnic supermarkets.

 

Quordleflesh Stew (serves 4)

1kg of Quordleflesh (dice the body roughly, leave the tentacles intact)

1 large Difluvian Watermelon (diced, de-seeded)

1 medium Snofflefruit (optional)

2 Aldebaran Sproutfish (filleted)

20ml Feffelseed Oil

50ml malt vinegar

 

Lightly fry the watermelon in the feffelseed oil until it turns green. Remove from the heat, and transfer the liquid to a pan containing the quordleflesh. Set the oven to 200°C, and braise in a casserole dish. You need to allow one hour per 500g of quordleflesh. Remove from the oven and add the sproutfish, snofflefruit and malt vinegar. Simmer gently for 20 minutes and serve with a leafy salad.]

There seems little more that I can usefully do in the meantime, so I begin to sweep the floor. As I am brushing, I become aware of an increased tension in the air. Our normal, rather lackadaisical pace suddenly gathers a frantic urgency. Everyone is doing their utmost to look busy and purposeful. This can only mean one thing. Chef has entered the room.

A voice like a foghorn blares out through the kitchen. Even the dust motes in the air scatter in its path. “Who was responsible for the Filet au Blubberfrog last night?” I look up from my sweeping and glance around the kitchen. All of us, from the most lowly kitchen porter to the chef de partie, become instantly engrossed in our work After the rash of acute food poisoning we left behind on Sirius V, we are only too aware of the damage an undercooked Blubberfrog can do to a delicate digestive system. Not one of us has the courage to meet the angry glare coming from the kitchen door.

“Whoever it was had better own up, sharpish.” Silence. I concentrate on scrubbing a particularly stubborn stain in the far corner of the kitchen, in the desperate hope he doesn’t pick on me. “The entire bridge has come down with food poisoning. If no-one is going to admit to making the meal last night, the cost of replacement crew members will be docked from all your wages. What’s more, we’re going to need some stand-ins. Anyone here know how to fly this heap of junk?”

I am helpless to prevent a mad thought from leaping into my brain. “It was me, Chef.”

The expression on Chef’s face changes from purple-cheeked, corpulent fury to goggle-eyed surprise. A semblance of a grin spreads slowly across his face. Coming from a member of his staff, such honesty must be a startlingly novel experience. “You, Charlotte?”

Uneasily at first, I scrabble desperately for an explanation. “Well, you see . . . I prepared the Blubberfrog, but I will make it up to you by helping out on the bridge. I used to be a trainee in the Fleet.” Once begun, the bluff comes easily. “I never actually qualified. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for my final training, but I could fly this old crate, no problem.” The atmosphere in the kitchen becomes almost pleasant again as the rest of the staff breathe a collective sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that there is at least one shmuck who is sufficiently stupid to take the can for this one.

The plan, according to the ship’s on-board computer, is to use the gravity of Kappa Ceti as a slingshot, propelling us into hyperspace and across the gaping void between star systems. My fingers are tingling with excitement as they caress the chrome controls of the dashboard, and ease the leatherette joystick to the left, in a motion that would send the ship diving in a perfect arc toward the main-sector star that we are currently orbiting. Well, it would do if any of the actual controls were functional. Fortunately, the beautifully engineered dials and advanced navigational aids are all for show; the autopilot will take care of everything. It always does.

I smile smugly to myself as I observe the stars outside. A whole week’s pay has been docked from my wages, but it is all worth it now. Eventually, of course, the crew’s immune systems will conquer whatever pathogen we unwittingly unleashed in the kitchen, and they will finally be able to prise themselves from the sick bay toilets. Until then, I am in control. A blissful rest from the stresses of the kitchen, and a chance to pretend to be a pilot. Of course, my knowledge extends about as far as making model ships when I was a child, but somehow they bought my story. At last, I am able to fulfil my immature fantasies. Most of all, I wanted to escape the orders of that domineering idiot of a head chef.

I don’t even have to do very much, just let the ship do the hard work: displaying the calculations for slingshot and preparing to boost the engines. Estimated time to the hyperspace vortex is a mere eight hours. Happily, I punch the button, which is helpfully labelled “Yes”, to confirm the automated procedure.

I while away the time until the routine hyperspace hop to Barnards Star by browsing through the ship’s security camera system. In the kitchen, the pace has slowed somewhat. Only a few light meals of rather watery-looking soup, since . . . flick . . . the entire crew are still lying, green-faced in the sick bay. They look in no fit state to be eating anything much. I switch view again and survey the vast panoply of the cosmos. The usual scattered pin-pricks of light are set against inky blackness, but looking at the forward view, I am dazzled by the blazing yellow disc of Kappa Ceti.

Sitting back in the luxuriously upholstered flight deck, I ask the computer to order me a bite to eat. With remarkable punctuality, a bowl of the same quordleflesh stew is served up to me. I choose the biggest tentacle and take an exploratory nibble. The juicy, tender meat is offset by the tangy sweetness of the sauce. Not bad, even if I say so myself. As I am heartily tucking in, I notice a small, red light ticking on and off in the corner of the display. I wonder whether to dash for the sick bay, admit my ignorance and get a real pilot to sort the problem out, but I am too much of a coward to put myself through such a humiliating admission of failure. In any case, apart from the little flashing light saying “Depleted Photon Drive”, everything appears to be going smoothly. I decide that, if the photon drive wants to be depleted, that is fine by me.

Eventually, a series of numbers begins counting down on my monitor. “All crew prepare for acceleration to hyperspace,” intones a prerecorded voice overhead. I am not sure exactly what to do at this point. I am still munching on the tender chunks of qourdleflesh in their delicious jus of Difluvian Watermelon and working out where all the buckles on the ornate safety harness are supposed to be attached, as the digital readout reaches zero. Almost instantaneously, G-forces pin me back to my seat with a massive jolt, almost spilling the remains of my dinner in the process.

It is probably far too late to do anything about the malfunction anyway, I tell myself. I find that it takes a massive effort to move my limbs much at all. All I can do is wait for the jaw-clenching ride to be over. The stars wheel in the sky. The monitor before me is bathed in a strange red glow as the heat shields are activated. The great, yellow orb of the star slowly engulfs the screen in front of me. Even a complete novice like myself knows enough about spaceflight to be sure that this shouldn’t be happening. However, trapped against my chair by the inexorable thrust of the ship, I am powerless to do anything about it. A hopeless feeling of impotent guilt rushes over me.

Sweat pours down my brow. Alarms begin to shriek. A countless myriad of red lights are flashing at me from the dashboard. The monitor in front of me displays the corona of light around the ship. It turns orange, then yellow and finally white hot as the heat shields fail in their unequal task. I see jets of flame bellying out from the surface of the star. Soon my entire field of view is lit up by the deadly furnace. The screen abruptly blanks out as its vital circuits fail. Not long after, the whole ship is plunged into darkness. I cry out in agony as the temperature becomes unbearable . . .

Extract from a report by the Tau Ceti Institute of Space Travel (Incident X7695)

Judging from the radio signals beamed from the trader Genuflex on the day before impact, we can assume that a leak or asteroidal impact had knocked out most of the ship’s propulsive capacity. As the slingshot was attempted, only a fraction of the required antimatter remained in the fuel bay. As a result, the ship lost power and was sent spinning on a fatal collision course with the corona of Kappa Ceti. We can only speculate why a trained officer did not pick up the malfunction, or why the run was not aborted and the ship returned immediately to dock for repairs.

Minutes before all contact with the ship was lost, a final message was received. We have not been able to make much sense of this garbled cry: “Tell Chef I didn’t cook the Blubberfrog.”

From cradle to grave?

July 6, 2014

This is a recent article I wrote for the socialist newspaper on the state of the NHS in Leicester and the need to fight against cuts and privatisation.

The Chief Executive of University Hospitals Leicester is being paid over £200,000 a year to slash jobs and services. He is planning to cut maternity services at Leicester General Hospital, so that care for “low-risk pregnancies only” may be delivered at the hospital – he says that a full maternity service is not viable in the future. As well as this, intensive care will be reduced from the three hospital sites in Leicester to just two. This is to avoid a projected £400m funding gap by 2019.

These cuts will inevitably cost lives – critically ill patients and women with complications in childbirth will have to travel from one side of the city to another. A pregnancy can start off normally, but complications can be fatal. The loss of beds will have a further impact on the hospital’s ability to treat patients, especially in the winter. Locally, hospital services are already hugely stretched and the waiting time for A&E treatment is more than four hours. At a recent public meeting on the state of the NHS organised by Keep Our NHS Public, a nurse spoke of patients having to be sectioned, not because they needed psychological treatment, but simply to ensure that they would get a bed.

The Trust gives excuses for the cuts, talking about a move towards “care at home”. When it was set up, the NHS was intended to provide a “comprehensive” health care service, “from cradle to grave”. This responsibility was torn up under the Tories’ infamous Health and Care Act. But would Labour do anything any different? They introduced “Foundation Trusts”, making hospitals compete with each other for funding,rather than co-operating to deliver the best possible care and opening up the NHS to the private market. Labour also expanded the use of PFI, or “Profit From Illness” as Dave Nellist has called it. This has allowed private companies to take over the running of facilities and services. The profits of companies such as Capita, Serco and Interserve are the real reason for the cash crisis in our hospitals.

The Socialist Party would end our reliance on PFI, and kick out fat cats from our NHS, without any compensation. If capitalism is not willing to pay for decent healthcare, then it is not the NHS we cannot afford, it is this rotten economic system itself, which puts profits before people.

The Socialist Party stands for the complete renationalisation of NHS services and democratic control by workers and patients in the NHS. The NHS has had its funds frozen by the government, breaking promises made in 2010 that front-line staff would not be affected, and there would be no major top-down reorganisation of our hospitals – just before the government pushed through a major privatisation of services, seeing billions of pounds of funding going to the private sector. That money could instead be invested to meet the needs of the people of Leicester, but it is only going to happen if rapacious companies are kicked out of our public services for good. This would get rid of costly middle-men and reduce bureaucracy in our NHS.

Trade unions on July 10th, representing 1.5 million workers, are taking part in the biggest strike action since the pensions dispute of November 2011, in defence of members’ terms and conditions. We must pressurise the leadership of unions to keep up the pressure this time and refuse to climb down. Health workers have faced the same squeeze on our wages, with years of below-inflation pay rises, outsourcing and underfunding and therefore their unions also need to take part in joint strike action. It is difficult in a caring profession to abandon your job, but the reality is that the NHS will be destroyed unless we fight to keep it.

Support TUSC and join the Socialist Party to campaign to save our NHS services.

Brazil 2014

June 16, 2014
Brazilian street artist Paulo Ito has created the World Cup's first viral image. Photo courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pauloito
Brazilian street artist Paulo Ito. Photo courtesy: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pauloito

It is all kicking off.

Riot police go in hard, storm the favelas

To sweep away the poor,

And money is passed

To FIFA – look at that corruption!

Surely a yellow card there?

But no – the referee waves play on.

Demonstrators gather in defence

Link up with strikes and protests

Face a hail of rubber bullets, clouds of gas,

Inequality to bring tears to the eyes.

And those who can afford a ticket

Enjoy the carnival.

£13bn for stadia but nada for the people.

Movers and shakers are in the royal box.

But where are the slums, the homeless?

Nowhere to be seen in sanitised coverage.

From satellite to satellite, the signal is passed,

And the police take up an attacking formation -

Clash with the millions occupying the squares.

As money-men do backroom deals,

Wads of cash change hands

And stones pelt the commentary box,

A boy holds up a banner in protest

To win indigenous land,

But we didn’t see that.

We are not in control of the footage.

Just feast on the football,

The samba, the passion, the silky skills.

Forget about grinding poverty.

Football and beer numb the pain of life.

And a scything run by Death

Into the penalty area, the grass fed with the blood

Of workers who built this magnificent spectacle,

And as the ball passes to Qatar

In a move worthy of Sepp Blatter,

There is a world still to play for.

The revolution is far from over,

We still have a chance to equalise.


You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’ (£4 pbk, £2.50 pdf e-book).

All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books

When Words Won’t Do

June 10, 2014

An empty bookshelf stands in the corner

Inhabits space where works would go.

 

Iain M Banks’ rollicking epics

Will not entrance with intricate inventiveness.

 

Volumes of Maya Angelou’s poetry

Will not move us to tears of anger.

 

Tony Benn’s diaries

Will not echo down corridors of power

 

Bob Crow’s speeches

Will not lead us into battle.

 

Rik Mayall’s slapstick

Will not give us respite from austerity.

 

Let us celebrate the legacy of those who went before.

Let us fight back, in a riot of creativity.

Let us unite against those who would silence us.

Let a new generation find their own voice.

Let us fill the bookshelf with stories of our struggles.

 

 


You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’ (£4 pbk, £2.50 pdf e-book).

All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes

June 8, 2014

The title of this book refers to a saying which is a piece of literal advice, on how to survive during a night in the Amazonian rainforest without being bitten by poisonous reptiles. The book itself is a complex, multi-layered and personal account of Daniel Everett’s and his family’s time, over 30 years, with the Pirahã, a little-known tribe in the Amazonian jungle.

Initially, as a devout Christian missionary, Daniel Everett is sent to translate the Bible into the local language, one which very few outsiders at the time had any knowledge of. He describes his own journey of self-transformation, the bravery to question cultural and scientific assumptions and an investigation into language and culture, all of which are revolutionary.

The Pirahã regard their own way of life and the place where they live as the best of all possible worlds. “This is a beautiful place, the water is pretty. There are good things to eat here. The Pirahãs are nice people”. Everything they need is to hand; the jungle provides a sustainable existence. They are extremely independent and self-sufficient, but also compassionate, sharing resources and caring for each other. Friedrich Engels, in his masterpiece “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State”, which was based on anthropological studies of the Iroquois Native-American Indians, would recognise Pirahã culture as primitive communism.

The  Pirahãs live in a simple hunter-gatherer society, with few material possessions. They eschew technological advances, even when these would make their life ‘easier’ – they neglect even important, labour-saving tools such as machetes, and allow their children to play with them. However, they are expertly adapted to life in the rainforest. Pirahã ideas of morality, of discipline, and the way they look at life are completely different to Western “civilised” values, and are in many ways quite unique. Everett argues that this is in no small part to their unusual language. At the same time this makes the Pirahãs vulnerable to exploitation by traders, but they have no conception of war or conflict.

Everett’s thesis is that the language of the Pirahãs, defies Chomskyan linguistic analysis and his concept of a Universal Grammar. The tribe have no concepts other than those they have immediately experienced, or that they have heard through the first-hand testimony of other people. Dreams for the Pirahãs are as real as everyday experiences. The tribe only has eleven different sounds in its speech, so, Dennett argues, their culture also plays a part in eliminating outside influences to their language. They have no counting system, idea of personal property, and no idea of the past. The only thing which matters to them is the here and now.

It may be tempting to denounce such hunter-gatherer cultures as “primitive” – yet Western observers, ironically, are the ones who have lost all trace of a deep knowledge of the natural work around them and any idea of how to live sustainably. We have become removed from Nature, and are in the process of destroying our environment. As to the eternal question of where we came from, it is assumed generally that “primitive” tribes have superstitious beliefs, ironically ignoring our own dominant set of superstitious beliefs, which we call organised religion. This is completely absent from Pirahã culture, and provides the key with which Daniel Everett re-evaluates his own belief system.

This is an eye-opening, and surprising book, which tells a story of human courage – the courage to cast aside preconceptions about the world, and to evaluate situations according to the evidence we are presented. It makes bold, controversial assertions, but is at the same time accessible to the lay-reader. It forces us to re-examine our relationship with different cultures, punctures any ideas of Western cultural supremacy and makes a forceful argument that preserving indigenous cultures and languages is of crucial importance, if we are ever to be able to live sustainably as a species.

As the people of Brazil, protesting against capitalism, make their way on to the world stage amidst the whitewashing of the continent’s problems in the name of football, at a time when when native languages and cultures are at risk the world over, and when we are exploiting our natural resources in the relentless pursuit of profit at the expense of whole ecosystems, whole tribes and cultures of indigenous peoples, this book is vital and important reading.

Lines Written on the Occasion of the Queen’s Speech to Parliament

June 3, 2014

In the UK, the Queen’s speech is apolitical – she merely gives royal assent to Parliament’s wishes. This year, the Queen’s speech includes legislation removing the right of landowners to object to underground pipelines traversing their property. Should this right then not extend to fracking beneath Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle or across the Duchy of Cornwall?

Companies such as Cuadrilla have bullied and strong-armed our government, corrupt and spineless as it is, into allowing the spread of fracking and underground coal gasification, to the extent that local authorities are being given money to continue with these insane and inefficient practices. Large swathes of Britain, including National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest have been given over to exploration of underground reserves of shale oil.

Fracking and extreme energy present huge risks to underground aquifers. We are continuing to fuel the greenhouse effect by burning our remaining sources of fossil fuels, releasing CO2 and methane in the process. Moreover, each fracking well uses up millions of gallons of water, which requires thousands of lorry miles to transport it, in order to pump the shale oil from beneath the surface. The whole process is therefore an extremely inefficient way of obtaining energy.

The only sustainable solution is for massive investment in renewable energy and to take energy out of the hands of private companies, greedy for profit at the expense of our environment. We need a socialist solution to unfettered capitalism, and we need to move towards a sustainable economy.

Oil may bring wealth to a tiny elite, but we cannot drink the stuff!

 

The Queen’s Speech

 

Anachronistic, antagonistic. Angry activists

Bellow, “Bury beneath Balmoral, Buckingham Palace!”

Campaigners contend controversial

Decision. Delving deep,

Earthworks excavate energy.

The futile failure of fracking’s

Grip on government. Greenhouse gases given go-ahead.

Halliburton harvests heinous haul.

Idiotic, ill-conceived idea.

Judgement jettisoned, unjustified

Knackered, kaput.

Loot and lucre

Make maleficence mellifluous.

Nullify necessary, natural,

Overwhelming objections. Obeisance to oil,

Petrochemical pollutants proliferate.

Queen quells queries. Aquifers

Ruined. Removes right to refuse.

“Shovel under Sandringham. See how she suffers.

Transport tragic teratogens ‘twixt tubes

Underfoot, underground.”

Vehement, vociferous, vexatious, vengeful,

Wondrously wilful. We won’t wait to

Extinguish extreme exploitation.

Won’t yield to yellow-bellied, oily political yes-men.

Zero tolerance. Zero fracking. Zero royal assent.

 


You can read some more of my poetry in ‘Little Red Poetry’ (£4 pbk, £2.50 pdf e-book).

All proceeds go to build a new party for ordinary people, against cuts and privatisation. Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Copies are also available from Left Books


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