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January 7, 2002
A comprehensive, all-inclusive lack of fame
People often ask me "do you really know Christine de Matos?"
And I have to say that, in all honesty, I do. We're in frequent contact, despite the fact that she lives in Sydney and I don't. I'm one of a small number of people who are proud to call her "The Lion Princess." She's just emailed me from Adelaide to report of the free ego trip that Google has generously provided her with. This is code for "enter my name on Google and look at all the hits! I'm famous! I'm famous!"
I'll show her, I thought, and entered my name on Google.
Self-esteem, you may plummet now.
To be honest, it's all been a little on the disappointing side. I've realised that I'm not famous at all, but several of my evil twins are.
So, just to clear up any possible misunderstandings, I'm not the Sean Hegarty who's wanted by British police for hijacking, theft and "offences against the person." Nor am I the Sean Hegarty who is a proud member of The Scotstown Club in Ireland. And I'm definitely not the Sean Hegarty who plays soccer for Barcelona, in the Under 7 age category.
No, I'm the Sean Hegarty who is less famous than all these people put together.
And proud of it, too.
The Lion Princess, part 2
Later, Christine clarifies her Google related excitement: what she was really pleased about was her discovery that one of her articles has been translated into Croatian. For all I know, she's a household name in Croatia. Crazier things have happened, especially in Croatia.
This seems an ideal moment to announce that one of my long term ambitions is to have a couple of my songs translated into Latin. Sure, I'm going to need to finish a couple of songs first, but I'm working on that.
January 11, 2002
The art of the obvious question
While on a recent walk around the Melbourne Museum I bumped into an old friend of Greek heritage. She's now working for the Immigration Museum, so I asked if she was working there as an immigrant.
I'm guessing, but I think she gets really sick of that question.
February 11, 2002
The advantage of fake blood capsules and rubber swords
The Lion Princess writes to ask what I would have done if I had been in this situation:
She's in a public place in a different city when a creepy guy who she vaguely knows from years before comes up to her and awkwardly asks her out. She has no absolutely no interest in this obviously undesirable man, and other people are within earshot.
This situation highlights the advantage of always carrying fake blood capsules and a rubber sword. Having been the unlucky recipient of an unwelcome offer, the first step is to loudly say "no, I don't want to go out with you. No way. In fact, I'd rather die than be seen in public with you."
This is the ideal time to pause dramatically and say, at maximum volume, "Omigod - I am in public with you. Aaaaarrrgghh."
It's then a simple matter to pull out the rubber sword and stab yourself a few times in the fake blood capsule area, and slump dramatically to the floor.
March 31, 2002
Stuff I never knew about notebook protectors
Saturday morning with Stig O. Walsh, founder and honorary chair of the Walsh Prize. We went to the Paddo Market, primarily to have a long, involved conversation about the ideal thickness of leather notebook protectors.
The standard model is relatively thick leather, which Stig regards as less than ideal. In fact, Stig tends to regard the standard model as a kind of disgrace, if not actually a heinous blasphemy, or some kind of sinister, unpleasant joke being carefully aimed at him.
So he'd come to an agreement with the Paddo stallholder to have a Special Edition Walsh ModelTM made, which is exactly the same size and colour as the standard model, but a slightly thinner leather. Walsh, understandably, was delighted with his Special Edition Walsh ModelTM, which is very much in keeping with the nature of Walsh. But after hours of conversation about notebook protectors, I found myself wondering if, in fact, we were both going deranged.
In the end, though, I bought a standard model, as a souvenir of this completely ridiculous conversation. I put it into my jeans pocket, and forgot about it until some time later, when I sat down on it. At that moment, I realised why I should've listened to Stig. The Special Edition Walsh ModelTM is more expensive, but it is sleeker, and it is sexier. And, more to the point, it leaves much less of a bruise on the backside.
Also got to meet Stig O.'s son, Stigson, who's now five days old. He was feeding or sleeping for most of the time I was there, but when he looked up he seemed astonishingly alert and happy. He's looking like an early contender for this year's Walsh Prize, especially in the nepotism division. And Lindy looked serene and calm and gorgeous. Motherhood seems to agree with her, and possibly because it provides her with a convenient reason to opt out of marathon discussions with her husband about notebook protectors.
At some point today I found myself listening to Celtic FM, which was astoundingly amateurish. They had a special phone-in competition to mark the end of daylight saving tonight. All you had to do to win a not-very-valuable prize was ring up and tell them in what direction the clocks were moving.
"Hey," I thought, "that's the worst radio I've heard since listening to Ulladulla's local road and weather conditions yesterday." Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be an unpopular competition. After twenty minutes of trying to get someone, anyone, to ring up and win the prize, the DJ admitted that he'd only had two calls, and both guesses had been wrong. The DJ spoke in a strong Irish accent, not that that's relevant.
Afterwards, on the way to Geri and Houston's wedding, I turned the radio on again. Then I focussed on the draining task of driving an antique Kombi up and down steep hills on the way to South Head, which was surprisingly difficult to find. Only after getting there did I realise that I'd spent half an hour listening to two people converse in a language that I couldn't even recognise, and I hadn't noticed.
One of many highlights of the wedding was an absolutely stunning speech from Julia Zemiro. Julia shared a house with Geri for six years, and spoke with great humour and vulnerability about that time. She revealed a great deal about Geri, but, even better, she was also very revealing about herself.
I've seen Julia perform improvised theatre dozens of times. She's a wonderful improviser: very fast, very flexible, very dazzling. She can speak gibberish better than anyone I've ever seen, and can do an enormous range of characters and accents. And the best thing I've ever seen her do was this speech. For the first time, she didn't hide behind a character. She stood before us and was completely honest about herself. It was spellbinding.
I spent a bit of time talking to Bernard Zuel, of The Sydney Morning Herald, and at some point there I realised that many of the people I know in Melbourne are intriguing failures, and that many of the people I know in Sydney are actually getting paid to do what they love. That seems like a huge difference.
But perhaps Sydney people are more aware of the need to, as it were, sell themselves. People here are much more conscious of the need to market themselves, whereas Melbourne people are simply at some other point on the space-time continuum. And, as a general rule, staying there.
Just before arriving at the wedding, the road swooped down towards South Head, and for the first time on this visit to Sydney, the harbour suddenly came into full view. And just at that moment the rain lifted and the sun came out, and I was hit by the full pyrotechnic beauty of a stunning harbour view. Melbourne, for all the fascination of its intriguing failures, doesn't have anything like that. Maybe I should move back here.
So. I drove 900 kilometres in an antique Kombi to be at the wedding, and it was well worth it. Geri was the first real friend I made in Sydney, and I was very proud to be at her big day. As a wonderful additional bonus, I also finally got to meet Houston. A while back I did some anagrams of "Geri and Houston," and the first one I came up with was "resounding oath," which seemed appropriate at the time, and even more appropriate today.
April 2, 2002
Beirut and the Coaxer
Yesterday contained a relaxing afternoon of browsing through secondhand bookshops on Glebe Point Road with the Coaxer. The Coaxer has a high speed, glittering intelligence, which I very much like, and the ability to express herself with dazzling clarity and skill, which I love. I greatly enjoyed being in near proximity to her. She'd also come up with her own anagram for "Geri and Houston," which was "Hi, not dangerous."
Afterwards I walked over to Chippendale to interview Greg Shapley. I suddenly realised that Chippendale should actually be spelt Chip 'n' Dale, and that Newtown and Redfern, just nearby, might be better off being called Skubidu and Tominjeri.
The last part of the walk was frightening: once I got off Cleveland Street, and closer to the house, several stray packs of angry children loomed into view, throwing rocks everywhere and mouthing off at anyone in earshot. I wasn't much bothered with the verbal abuse, but I did develop a realistic concern about meeting an airborne rock. Despite the presence of a famous university a short distance away, I felt like I was strolling through Beirut on National Rock Throwing Day.
Greg is just about to release his debut CD, so we had a chat about that. But the interview was conducted under less than ideal circumstances. In addition to all the noises coming from outside (which included police sirens, fighting and the ever-present whistling of flying rocks), we also had to contend with Oscar and Taco, two absurd dogs. Oscar is a kind of criminal lunatic, and Taco is very sweet and not too bright. Both of them kept alerting to us to all the noise outside by making a lot of noise inside.
(Note for future interviews: try to conduct them somewhere peaceful. It may not even be worth the bother of setting up a tape recorder if you happen to be in a bowling alley, or an airport, or Beirut.)
Greg, who's as intelligent and as underground as anyone I know, voluntarily used the word "marketing." But not in a financial sense: he was just interested in alerting people to what he was doing. He made me realise I have never devoted even a second's thought to this subject, and perhaps I should. Along the way, perhaps I could also try to figure out what I'm doing. Perhaps I could make some notes in my notebook, which is now being safely looked after by a sturdy leather notebook protector.
As a general thing, I've noticed that I feel healthier in Sydney. I'm still walking everywhere, as is my custom, but this is far more exercising here than in Melbourne. Whereas Melbourne has long straight streets, Sydney has a jagged shoreline and a strange geographical feature called "hills."
May 27, 2002
Woke up this morning in the Kombi. I'd parked by the beach just past Anglesea. No one was around. The sun was shining. The waves were pounding. It was all very, very pleasant. I had a variety of things to do in Geelong, but I delayed my departure from this beguiling coastal scene as long as I could.
I curled up and continued reading James Gleick's Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. I was amused by the contrast between the book's subject and the surroundings in which I was absorbing it. It's an interesting read, and it's a good choice for a relaxed day on the beach. It helped me appreciate being away from the phone and the computer and the net and the whole damn lobster trap of technology, and I was grateful for that.
Recently I had dinner with Flash, which was immensely enjoyable. We met up on a cold and rainy night. I asked her if she was hungry, and she nodded and said "yep. I could go food."
That's what she said. I'm not making this up.
But wait, there's more. About thirty seconds later, when I made some reference to the unpleasant weather conditions, she nodded and said "winter is upon us."
I must admit, I like a woman who is capable of expressing herself across a wide verbal range. And she glided from comic abbreviation to poetic observation without any apparent effort, and she continued to be sparkling company for the rest of the evening.
This I also liked.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Flash is not her real name. Normally I don't explain the names I use, but I'm going to make an exception here. Her real name is Funny Little Aussie Sheila. I know I'm taking liberties by shortening that, but liberties are there to be taken. And this is one liberty I have every intention of taking.
Flash passed the Beautiful Woman Test.TM Boy, did she pass the BWT. Flash passed the BWT in a flash. It was all very impressive.
The Beautiful Woman Test?TM
Not much equipment is needed for this, apart from a busy road and the company of a woman. The test goes like this: you cross the road with her.
At this point it might be worth pointing out that I'm not claiming that this is a very sophisticated test.
As you approach the busy road, hover back. Let her take the lead. Observe her style. Does she ignore the traffic and walk straight across the road, or does she warily study each and every vehicle on the road, waiting until it's completely safe to cross?
If she walks straight across the road, then you're dealing with a woman who knows she's beautiful. Her behaviour, which may appear suicidal, is simply a reflection of her attitude of "they'll see me."
But a woman who genuinely believes that she's unattractive will cross a busy road like I do. Nervously. Watchfully. Carefully. She'll regard herself as invisible to the traffic, and will have use her brains and fear to get across safely.
Just for the record, when I crossed my first busy road with Flash, she got to the other side in no time. As a kind of encore, she turned and waved. Stranded on the other side of the road, I waved back.
June 29, 2002
Hobby and the Lion Princess
The Lion Princess is in town with her friend Hobby. They've come to Melbourne to stay at a plush hotel, to shop on Bridge Road, and to check out some of the city's more enigmatic nightclubs.
At least that's what they're telling their families. But the real reason for their visit is to hang out in a tattoo parlour. Hobby got a tattoo on her shoulder and the Lion Princess had her navel pierced. I went along to make notes and watch. If I wasn't completely sure whether or not I should get a tattoo, I am now. I've moved from uncertainty to complete conviction.
So if someone asks if I'm ever going to get a tattoo, I can nonchalantly reply:
If pressed further, I can also add:
Not a chance in the world
It just ain't for me. A tattoo is too permanent. I can't do permanent.
Temporary's fine, though. I can help you with temporary.
Half an hour in a tattoo parlour
Still, it was a good opportunity to meet some people that I probably wouldn't have otherwise met. Ken, the parlour's main man, was a great guy. Very relaxed, very observant, and very good at dealing with people. He said that people's tastes in tattoos have changed radically over the years. The fashion now is for designs of psychotic ultraviolence. Some of the designs available were horrifying combinations of eyes, foetuses and barbed wire. Ken himself had little interest in this kind of material. On one of his arms is a tattoo is a bluebird.
His parlour was something of a mess, which was causing Hobby a little consternation. It very much had the look of a transient, shifty operation. Initially I leapt to the embarrassing assumption that tattoo parlours just had to look this way, that their essential nature was to look transient and shifty. "Uh, no," said Ken. "Actually it's a mess because we've just moved."
And there's a sad story in that. Until a few weeks ago they'd been in the same shop in Flinders Street for decades. The place was an institution. Fathers took their sons there. But then their landlord decided that a tattoo parlour didn't suit his corporate image, so he asked them to move on. One of the last customers was an old American sailor, who told them that there'd been a parlour on that site for most of a century.
Ken has now moved four doors down the road, so he's been left with a close-up view of a long history that's been lost. It seems that if you run a tattoo parlour, you don't get much help from the Trade Practices Act, or the various historical preservation societies around town. Even if you've always paid your rent on time, and you have a very pleasant tattoo of a bluebird.
July 5, 2002
Elephants vs. mice
Recently I had a wonderful dinner with Una and Lynn, who are my other, unofficial family.
Una has written a great children's book called Mango the Elephant. I've only read the story once, but it's instantly memorable. Short and punchy, and written in rhyming couplets. There's one couplet to each page, and each page has been beautifully illustrated. One of those pages, featuring Mango, is now available as a mousepad. Even better, I'm now the proud owner of one of those mousepads.
Lynn pointed out that the well-known enmity between elephants and mice. I like that. Mango is now sitting on a trestle table in close proximity to my mouse. Mango seems calm, so I'm hoping that calmness will do something to shake up the mouse. Really, I'm just trying to make the computer nervous. I'm not sure it's working, but I'm enjoying trying.
July 19, 2002
Hitching a ride with Willy Russell
September 20, 1998. Watford Gap, just out of London. I'm standing next to a petrol station, trying to hitch a ride north to Glasgow. A beat-up old car stops and the guy inside offers a lift. He's driving to Liverpool, 200 odd miles in the right direction. I get in.
After a few minutes of conversation, I realise that I can't figure this guy out. He seems to own or rent property in both inner city London and Portugal, yet he's driving a rustbucket to Liverpool. And his accent doesn't add up. It's half Liverpudlian, and half something else. And he's got a suntan. And he's really, really interesting. He seems to have met all kinds of people, and he's got a wide perspective, and seems to have a well thought out opinion on virtually everything.
When the motorway takes us through the centre of Birmingham, we suddenly get a close, intimate view of some of the worst architecture in the world. There are horrifying slabs of high rise concrete all around us, and the guy tells me that this is where thousands of people on low incomes live. Indicating the buildings, he says "if you're going to build something brutal and inhuman, do it properly."
The conversation is wide-ranging. We talk about families, about Japan, about alcoholism. Eventually he says that he was lucky in Japan, because his work allowed him a foot in the door. I've been in the car for nearly an hour, and this is the first time he's mentioned his work. I figure it's a good moment to ask him what he does.
"I work in the theatre," he says.
The theatre, I think. I'm really interested in the theatre. I make a vague note to ask him what he does in the theatre, and then I forget. More time passes. Eventually I remember my vague note, and I ask him what he does in the theatre.
"I'm a writer," he says.
A writer, I think. I'm really interested in writers. I make another vague note, and let more time go past. But eventually I ask the question. "Have you written anything that I might know?"
"Well," he says, "Educating Rita?"
"Oh," I say. "You're Willy Russell."
"Yes," he says, "I am."
And I think: this is the guy who also wrote Shirley Valentine. This guy is a wonderful writer. And I think: perhaps I should let him know that I haven't just seen his name in lights in the West End. I really do know who he is and what he's done. So I ask him about something he'd said in an interview, that if you write well enough about a particular place, people in other places will be able to respond to it.
"Yes," he says, "I did say that." Then he pauses for a moment and smiles. "But it's not my idea. It is a good idea, and I think it's true, but I was just paraphrasing Isaac Bashevis Singer."
That's Willy Russell for you. He's an immensely likeable guy. Not only does he give long, brilliantly entertaining lifts to Australian hitch-hikers, but he's also incredibly honest.
200 odd miles later
Shirley Valentine is about a woman who's trapped, and who finds a way out. Her normal life has robbed her of self-esteem, of power, of respect. She has the opportunity to holiday in Greece, and while she's there she starts to re-evaluate herself. It's a difficult journey for her, and a fascinating one for the audience. Towards the end of the play she says "I think I quite like myself, really."
I always really liked that line. And on a Sunday afternoon in 1998, I had a wonderful conversation with the man who wrote it. When he slowed down to drop me off, I quoted that line to him.
"Thanks for writing Shirley Valentine," I said, "and thanks for putting that line in."
He smiled with an easy grace, and said "oh, no problem."
"And Willy," I said, "thanks for the ride."
August 11, 2002
Poppy used to be my boss, which in itself was a major source of conflict. "You don't work for me," she'd say, "you work with me."
"OK," I'd say, "whatever you want, boss."
Poppy hated me saying that, and expressed her disapproval by throwing things. "You have every right to throw whatever you like," I'd say, "you're the boss." Eventually I went to work in a suit of armour.
The intriguing thing about her was her truly astonishing command of the English language. She's the kind of person who just decided one day to use words in a different way from everyone else. As a result she was a never-ending supply of unexpected phrases and sayings.
Consider this. Everyone in our office was at a lunch somewhere, so our building was locked up. I had to go back earlier than she did, so she lent me her key. But there was a complicated alarm routine, which necessitated me walking up an outside flight of stairs, unlocking a door there, going through it, and then going down another flight of stairs inside. Just as I was leaving, Poppy reminded me of this arrangement.
How many words do you think it would take to remind someone of all this information? Twenty? Fifty? More? Poppy did the whole thing in three words: "remember: up, down."
On another occasion I had some kind of problem with something I was doing. When I reported it she responded with "build a bridge." Ah, I thought. Er, I thought. Um, I thought, and realised that I wasn't getting very far.
"Build a bridge" gobsmacked me. It seemed to make no sense whatsoever. This left me with the feeling that I was missing something obvious. Perhaps she meant that I should emulate a famous bridge. I should approach my problem as if it was the Sydney Harbour Bridge, say, or the Brooklyn Bridge. This approach, quite clearly, didn't work. So I tried other approaches. These also didn't work. Reluctantly, I had to go back and ask her what she meant.
"Build a bridge," she said, "and get over it."
After a while of this kind of treatment, it became obvious that I needed to take action. So I started collecting Poppyisms. Whenever she said something particularly distinctive, I made a note of it. After ten minutes or so, I'd collected twenty-five Poppyisms. I drew up a five by five table and arranged them on it. I gave it a title - Poppy Bingo! - and printed out a few different versions and distributed them around the office.
The idea was that whoever got five Poppyisms in a row would yell "Poppy Bingo!" and win a small prize. Unfortunately, there was a lapse in security, and Poppy herself got a copy. She read it with a stunned expression, and then she did something totally out of character. She went completely silent.
This was an outrage of justice. Especially given that people had gathered around her, clutching copies of Poppy Bingo, and eyeing off a bowl of lollies.
Poppy stayed silent for a while, and when she spoke, it was different. She became more formal, more careful, more conscious of what she was saying. It soon became obvious that she had decided that no one would ever win Poppy Bingo. Over the course of the next hour or two, she did something remarkable. She voluntarily removed twenty-five phrases from her repertoire, and invented an entirely new set.
I have to admire anyone who can do that. Even if they do it out of spite. And even if they do it out of a determination to stop anyone from winning a bowlful of lollies.
November 10, 2002
Key news item #1: the Coaxer made a recent appearance in Melbourne.
Key news item #2: I got a lock of her hair.
At this point you might want to put a "do not disturb" sign on your door. This is important stuff.
Some time ago I described the Coaxer as having a high-speed, glittering intelligence. As far as descriptions go, I like this one. It's happy proof that I'm occasionally capable of understatement. The Coaxer is ridiculously clever. Her nickname at work is "Brainhammer." Her workmates defer to her on every issue, usually from a cowering position on the floor. She knows how everything works, she remembers everything, and her verbal facility is extraordinary. Intelligence, it seems to me, is how you express it, and her powers of expression defy belief.
A few years ago, she turned her intelligence in my direction, and I'm not expecting to ever be the same.
So seeing her again was lovely reminder of the incredible appeal of intelligence. It was also a reminder of the appeal of very long hair. The Coaxer has such long hair that she has a little ritual to deal with it.
The Coaxer versus her own hair
On the first day of every month, she cuts an inch or two of it off. Her hair grows to her waist, but she doesn't let it grow any further. When she announced this policy, I immediately jumped into the queue to grab this hair.
While in the queue I realised that I didn't actually know what I would do with a lock of her hair. But years of travelling have taught me to take opportunities while they're there. So I figured: get the hair first, and then work out a use for it later on. I also became dimly aware that I was in a very short queue. It started with me, and thinned out very quickly.
The Coaxer produced a pair of scissors, and I suddenly realised that I'd have to find something to contain the hair. After all, a lock of hair needs active guidance and encouragement to remain a lock. Otherwise it scatters into its component pieces and becomes extremely difficult to reassemble.
But the only thing I could find was a wooden clothes-peg. This didn't seem enormously appropriate, but I looked at it as a stopgap measure. The Coaxer used the scissors to make the snip, and I used the peg to snap the lock.
A few days later she returned to Sydney, and I was left with this incredibly cool souvenir of her visit. I put it on top of my CD stand and commenced a rigorous routine of occasionally looking at it.
Eventually this strategy paid off. I picked it up.
And if you're one of those people who took my advice and put up a "do not disturb" sign, you'll want to know exactly how I picked up the hair. So let's be clear about this: I picked it up by the peg. It seemed the obvious thing to do, the clearest strategy to take. And thus we come to ...
The crux of the issue
Key news item #3: to the enormous astonishment of this correspondent, a lock of the Coaxer's hair makes a surprisingly effective fake moustache. True, you need to use one hand to keep it in place, but that's a small price to pay for the convenience. And it's an even smaller price to pay for the style. Let's face it: you get an enormous amount of style for almost no price at all. A century ago it was fashionable to stroll around holding a monocle to one eye. This is a bit like that, except you hold your hand a little lower and never need squint.
I've taken to striding around Fitzroy holding a lock of hair over my lip with a clothes-peg. It's surprisingly satisfying to be a world leader in portable hair fashion.
But, sadly, it's not always easy. Recently, on Brunswick Street, I was confronted by an agitated passerby. This poor, downtrodden soul obviously scratched out a meagre existence in some kind of retail area. Jangling what looked like keys to a BMW, he loudly asked "what the hell is that on your lip?"
If memory serves me correctly, this was the one and only time I used its full name. "It's a Coaxer Moustache," I responded, "and I bet you're jealous you don't have one."
My interrogator, a man of no breeding, no education, and no Kombi Van, snorted in disgust. Then he got into his expensive car and drove off. Cacophonous music played, headlights flashed, and the attractive blonde woman sitting in the passenger seat smiled at him.
I was left standing on Brunswick Street, a confused soul in the middle of a changing world.
But I was a confused soul with a souvenir of the Coaxer, and that makes all the difference.
I've spent a month away, but I'm back now. I use a NoPro and wear a CoMo. If you've been checking my site in vain for the last few weeks, thank you. I'm honoured by your interest, your patience, and your willingness to put up a "do not disturb" sign. And if this is your first visit, welcome to SoFo.
May 25, 2003
Happy birthday, Cousin Em
Instructions for use:
Take your favourite photo of Cousin Em and blow it up to poster size. Print this entry at the same size, and mix well.
Cousin Em: the chaos. The energy. The ideas. The art. The movement. The extra additional chaos and energy available (if needed) for special occasions. The ability to express joy and amusement far, far beyond that of other mortals. The animated approach to life, love and mime.
Cousin Em: the mimic. The comic. The mover, the shaker, the dancer.
Cousin Em: the first draft. The stage workshops. The pilot episode. The series. The runaway hit. The spinoffs. The movie. The sequels. The soundtrack album. The comic book. The merchandising. The Tshirts, the posters, the extensive range of cuddly toys.
Cousin Em: the celebration of chaos.
Cousin Em: bringing out the best in others.
Cousin Em: the poster.
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