Never a dull moment

Today’s guest picture is from one of my sister Mary’s walks. She was impressed by the disciplined formation of these gulls.

The seagulls do like to line up neatlyAfter a couple of tumultuous days of wind and rain, we were blessed with a day of peace today.  The wind dropped away to almost nothing and the sun shone and all was right with the world.  The temperature even played its part by keeping above 3° C and leaving the roads frost free.

It was still pretty chilly after breakfast so I had time before the thermometer crept up to a heady 4.7°C to look out of the window….


Goldfinches gather in the chilly morning light.

sparrow and goldfinch

The cold weather didn’t improve anyone’s manners.

chaffinch and goldfinch

robin….but in the end, I pulled myself together and set about getting the speedy bike out, pumping up the tyres, putting on several layers and arming myself with two bananas and a Kitkat chocolate biscuit.   I had had a route in mind but very fortunately Joyce, who works in the shop where I bought my bananas, told me that she had driven along part of it on her way to work and the farmer had been cutting the hedges so my chosen road was covered in thorns.

I changed my plan and after a quick stop to admire the larch trees at Mrs Tootlepedal’s manure mine…

larches in autumn….I headed over the hill and onto the road to Kirkpatrick Fleming.   I saw two interesting sights.  The first was Dropscone whizzing along past me in the opposite direction too quickly for me to get the camera out and the second was a large bunch of starlings in a tree.

starlingsI wondered if they had started to gather in large flocks at Gretna in the evening yet.

Dropscone told me later that he had done a thirty mile trip starting when it was still very chilly.  He had not wanted to come with me as he is suffering from saddle sores and thirty miles was his limit.

I pedalled on peering into the strong low sunshine and in the end turned down to Gretna and then crossed over into England.  My knee is a bit delicate and I was anxious not to put it under too much stress so I kept to flat roads.  I crossed the main line railway a couple of times and was impressed by the length of this goods train which was creeping up the slow lane near Todhills to let an express flash past.

goods trainIt makes the heart glad as a cyclist to see how many lorries a train like this keeps off the roads.

North Cumbria has many fine lone pine trees in its hedges.  This one was near Blackdyke.

Todhills pineI worked my way back to Longtown where I ate my second banana  just downstream of the fine bridge over the Esk there….

Longtown bridge…and then popped into our local bike shop to get an opinion on a rather loud and somewhat alarming bicycle noise.  The verdict was ‘nothing fatal’ so I pedalled on, passing this wonderfully bright gorse bush in a hedge on the way to Chapelknowe.

gorse buch

Not a common sight in late autumn.

From Chapelknowe, I took the direct route home and racked up 55 miles just as I came near the house.  Thanks to the light wind and the flat roads, I managed to keep up a respectable speed (for me)  and anyone with time hanging heavily on their hands can see the route by clicking on the map below.

Garmin 29 Oct 14After a late lunch, a relaxing bath and a quick look out of the kitchen window…..


A greenfinch glowing gently.

…I persuaded Mrs Tootlepedal that a trip to Gretna (by car this time) might let us see some interesting starling flocks.  I was quite wrong about interesting starling viewing although the trip was quite good fun in itself.

The evening light was lovely.

gretnaWe did see a few small bunches of starlings but there was nothing to write home about.  The views were wonderful as we drove over and the Lake District hills looked striking in the dusk on the far side of the Solway when we got there.

Lake District

You can see a tiny flock of starlings in the top left corner of this shot.

There was quite a good sunset going on too….

sunset at Gretna…and to add to the excitement, there was a terrific traffic jam on the motorway which had been completely shut because of a lorry fire further south so the normally quiet road through Gretna was awash with lorries that had been diverted.   As we drove home, I took another sunset with the outline of stranded motorway traffic in front of it.

Gretna sunset The traffic jam was so severe that the party of singers in our Langholm choir who come from Longtown were delayed on their way to the choir two hours later.

The moon was out in a light haze by the time that we got home.

autumn moonWe had time for our tea before going to the choir.  We had a very well organised and useful practice tonight.  As we have two concerts coming up in early December this was definitely a good thing.

Believe it or not the rather grainy flying bird of the day is not a chaffinch.

flying greenfinch

Today’s picture is another from Bruce’s cruise.  He tells me that they were enjoying a drink while taking in this view of the  caldera at Santorini, the site of a massive collapse in the Minoan era which caused a tsunami that may have been responsible for the story of Atlantis, the drowned city.  It looks deceptively peaceful now.

SantoriniWe had nothing to look at in Langholm this morning except pelting rain and the day was so gloomy that you could hardly even see the rain.  You could certainly hear both it and the heavy beating of the gusts of wind that came with it….not to mention the drips coming through our end wall.

I did wrap up well at one point and step out to see what the state of the river was.  It was well up but it wasn’t as exciting photographically as I had secretly hoped.

Esk in autumnThere was almost as much water lying in our drive at home.

Drive puddleWhile I had my umbrella up, I took a picture of a bunch of marigolds just to get a little colour into the day.

marigoldsThe rain kept going and this being the situation, I made the best of it by using my time to put a couple of weeks of the newspaper index into the database and practising some of the skills that the judge at the camera club had been talking about last night.

I even went to the lengths of shooting some of the birds at our feeder using the camera raw format, though whether using the raw format when the ISO is set to 4000 is a sensible thing is another question.

chaffinch approachingThe other point is that I put my pictures on the blog at 800px so the raw format provides me with far more information than I can possibly display and it will really come into its own for prints.  Still, it does leave me to do my own processing instead of relying on the camera’s own program and this provides me with a lot of interest.

People often say, “Oh I never do any of that fiddling about on my computer with my pictures,”  as though there was something a bit naughty about using a photo editor but of course every digital camera that produces jpegs does any amount of fiddling about on behalf of the user.  If they use different settings on their cameras, they are editing the photos whether they know it or not.

Here is another one which I took today where the camera did the decision making before I got to play with it….

flying chaffinch and sparrow…and here is the same shot where I did all the decision making.   (The camera recorded the same shot in jpeg and raw.)

flying chaffinch and sparrowThey may look exactly the same to you but they are subtly different, especially as far as the background goes.  Of course the camera processed shot might still be better than my effort because the processing program in the camera was written by very clever people.

We were visited by Mike Tinker in the afternoon.  He has come back from a holiday on the west coast of Scotland where the weather was uniformly awful for the whole week but he was very cheery all the same.

We became quite cheerful ourselves when we were also visited by our builder who told us that he really is making preparations to sort the famous end wall.

In the evening, the day cleared up remarkably and we even had a brief sunset.

sunsetThe down side of the this was a big drop in temperatures and by the time that Susan came to pick me up to go to Carlisle to play recorders, the temperature had fallen by 10°C since the morning and by the time we came home, it was bumping along at just a degree or two above freezing.  This meant that Susan had to drive in some quite foggy conditions and I was very pleased to be in her car which has good fog lights (and a keen eyed driver).

The recorder playing was most enjoyable, with another fine selection of music, much of it unfamiliar, produced by our librarian Roy from his seemingly inexhaustible supply.

We are promised a sunny day with light winds tomorrow so I am hoping that I won’t wake up to icy roads, as I need to get out on the bike.

Here is another flying chaffinch in the rain to end the post.

flying chaffinch


Today’s guest picture comes from Gavin, one of my neighbours, who wonders whether having the builders in can have caused this overnight outbreak of toadstools on his lawn.  I would be more worried about what has been taking the great bites out of them.

toadstoolsDropscone came round with some scones in hand to have a cup of coffee this morning but we hadn’t bothered with cycling first as the forty mile an hour gusts and the driving rain had made cycling an unattractive proposition.  In fact it made more or less everything rather gloomy and we are badly in need of a burst of sunshine to cheer us up as we are in a run of very grey days at present.

The wind and rain made bird pictures difficult to come by and I had settled for a chaffinch perching, or rather hanging on for grim death in the plum tree as my only shot of the  morning….

chaffinch in plum tree…until a robin popped in and brightened my day.

robinThe bird possibilities were not just limited by the weather.  Our local sparrowhawk spent a good deal of the morning flying low passes past the feeder too.  No small birds were harmed in this process but it kept the feeder pretty quiet.

I did pop out into the garden during a drier spell to see what the wind damage was like.  It was noticeable but not too severe.

casualties of the wind

The watering can was retrievable, the delphinium was not.

In the sheltered spot under the walnut tree and between two hedges, Lilian Austin survived

Lilian AustinAnd my favourite Fuchsia flourished.

FuchsiaBut the healthiest and sturdiest plant in the garden at the moment is Mrs Tootlepedal’s kale.

KaleShe is living on a kale heavy diet at the moment.

I was able to dig up, cook and eat some very tasty beetroot today.

After lunch Mrs Tootlepedal and I set off for Carlisle where we combined a little shopping with a visit to the infirmary for me.  I enjoyed two happy moments there.

The first was when I arrived twenty minutes early to get as far up the queue for the clinic as I could and met my consultant waiting at the desk.  Within minutes, I was consulting him and before my appointment time was even due, I was back out on the street.  This was very good and even better was the fact that he said that I could stop taking the medicine for my rheumatoid arthritis and see if I was one of the fifty per cent who don’t need to start on it again.

As it is the sort of medicine where you have to have a blood test every month to see if it is doing more harm than good (and you can’t drink alcohol when you are on it), I will be pleased if it turns out that I am in the lucky half of the draw. Interestingly, the consultant says that the figures that say 50% can stop are very consistent but there is no way of predicting who will be in which 50 %.  I am feeling very optimistic that I will be one of the lucky ones.

Here is a picture of the original part of the Cumberland Infirmary, a building which I hope that I won’t have to see for a while at least.

Carlisle InfirmaryHaving been given my discharge, I walked back to town to join Mrs Tootlepedal in a shopping extravaganza which included a new pair of shoes and some delicious cheese.  On my way into the centre of town, I passed through the cathedral precinct and got my phone out to snap a building which can only be described as a very desirable residence…

Cathedral Close…although from the shuttered windows, it looks as though it might be offices now, at least in part.

The shoe shop was offering three pairs of shoes for the price of two and since Mrs Tootlepedal and I both bought a pair, we were entitled to a third pair.  After considering the wisdom of buying one shoe each, we settled for a second pair for Mrs Tootlepedal.

Although it is still October, the centre of Carlisle is already getting dressed up for the Christmas shopping spree….

roundabout….but we haven’t had the obligatory German Market yet as far as I know.

My flute pupil Luke came in the early evening and we worked hard on some Grade Three pieces, which should be well within his capability with some practice.   They will stretch him a bit and this can only be a good thing.

During the day, I prepared another sourdough loaf using Sue’s excellent starter and it came out very well.

sourdough loafIn the evening, I went over to Newcastleton to the Liddesdale Camera Club.  Sandy is away enjoying some gales and heavy rain in the West Highlands so I went by myself.  We were treated to a judgement on our entries in an open competition by a very competent and expert competition photographer.  He had many useful things to say and I hope to have learned quite a lot  from the evening.

Competition photographers, he told us, start with what comes out of the camera and then make an image using one or more photographs as a basis for the finished work.    This makes for some striking images but the connection between them and real life is often tenuous and not being very good either with design or colour and being very short of patience too, I find it hard to produce work of this nature so unsurprisingly, my efforts this week didn’t detain him very long.

I would like to produce some good images though so I shall persevere even it means taking pictures in RAW format which I find adds a lot of work at the end of the day.

I shan’t stop taking dodgy pictures of flying chaffinches in poor light though.

flying chaffinch

Short day, short post

Today’s guest picture is another from my friend Bruce who has been cruising the Black Sea.  He and his wife went to Istanbul one day and paid a visit to the celebrated underground cistern.

istanbulThe older you get, the longer it takes you to get your day re-established once the clocks have changed.  It is easier when the clocks go back but meal and bed times still take a few days to become habitual.  This being the case, I was more than happy to have the excuse of a howling wind and heavy clouds to keep me off the bicycle and let me have a lazy morning of acclimatisation.

It meant that there was nothing to be done photographically other than to venture out into the garden for a moment to pay tribute to a sturdy marigold….

marigold…before hurrying back inside and setting the tripod up at the kitchen window.

I retracted the zoom a little today to give you the fuller picture  (and because the light was very poor for close ups) and here are some of today’s visitors.


A full house of goldfinches coming in and going away.

A  mixed bag

A mixed bag

I cropped a couple of pictures.

chaffinch and goldfinchgoldfinchBut the light didn’t get any better so I retired for a relaxing soak in the bath and then after lunch, we went off for our regular Carlisle choir practice.

We will need some colder weather to bring some different birds into the feeder.  There is plenty of food about out in the country at the moment.

The car got quite a buffeting from the wind as we went down the road but we arrived safely.  The conductor was in a very good mood because of the excellent turnout of singers and he rewarded us with an even more busy and productive practice than usual.

I am getting a bit more confident about singing than I was when I started and I am now able to enjoy the considerable pleasures of singing in harmony with seventy other people without being perpetually worried about singing wrong notes.  I still sing quite a few wrong notes or have to stop singing until I find the right pitch again but these occasions are now the exception rather than the rule.

Tomorrow looks as though it is going to add heavy rain to strong winds so I am not expecting to get much use from my camera for a second day running.  I might have to turn my hand to useful tasks instead.  There is always a first time for anything.

Today’s flying bird is a chaffinch putting the flaps down as it comes into land.  Full frame….


…and cropped

flying chaffinch


Autumn fruit

Today’s guest picture comes from my nomadic friend Bruce who found himself in the Odessa Opera House in Ukraine during a rehearsal earlier this week.

OdessaWe had a day of two halves today.  The morning was grey, wet and windy and the afternoon was grey and windy but not quite so wet.  This gave us the perfect excuse for a lie in and a leisurely breakfast, an opportunity which we seized with both hands.

It was one of those days when almost as soon as you have finished breakfast, it magically seems to be time for lunch.  My Mediterranean diet theme continued with a plate of sardines on toast.

After lunch, I set up my tripod at the kitchen window and sat back to watch the birds.


A pecking order was established


Male and female chaffinches arrived with commendable frequency.


Goldfinches came too

goldfinch and chaffinch

And sometimes goldfinches and chaffinches came together.

It looked a little better in the afternoon so we put on our coats and hats (and gloves) and set out for a circular walk a little way up a hill track and then back down into the park and home.

The recent rain has filled the Wauchope up and Pool Corner was looking rather sombre as we passed.

Pool CornerWe kept an eye for fungus but only saw one the whole way round.  It was beside the track up the hill.  I have put it together with a peltigera growing on a wall near Pool Corner.

fungus and peltigeraThere were plenty of lichens to look at.  The pixie cup lichens all seemed to be fruiting.   The light was poor and I didn’t have my macro lens with me so the pictures aren’t good  but I thought that they were interesting so I have put them in.

lichenI liked this very colourful lichen on the stones beside the track.

lichenI have mislaid my lichen book and my brain so I can’t tell you what it is.

The rain threatened now and again but never came to enough to discourage us so we strode on as best we could, enjoying the views as we got up the hill.

Meikleholm Hill

Meikleholm Hill looking very autumnal.

Castle Hill

A tiny patch of sunlight falling on the flank of Castle Hill

Once over the shoulder of the hill, we looked across the Stubholm towards Whita.

StubholmAlthough the camera can make it look quite cheerful, we were well wrapped up and needed to be in the strong wind.

Mrs TootlepedalThe brambles provided a bit of colour as we went down this lane.

brambleWe were walking through the park when the sound of splashing told us that a brave horse and rider had forded the river on the other side of the wall.  We saw the back of this competent equestrian walking off up the track.

RiderAlthough it was only about three o’clock when we got home, it was so gloomy that I put the camera away for the day.  Things will be worse tomorrow when we will have entered the six months of dark nights as the clocks go back tonight.

In contrast, I will put in two flower pictures which I took yesterday but forgot to include in the post.

cosmos and geranium

Cosmos and geranium, the last in the garden this year.


Two stalwart ladies, Lilian Austin and Special Grandma putting on a late show.

I did have time to go out and see if there were any raspberries worth picking and I was able to fill a generous bowlful for my tea tonight.  They still have excellent flavour and sweetness.  If we could get a couple of dry days and a little sun, there are plenty more waiting to ripen.

In the evening, Mrs Tootlepedal went off to see a production of Verdi’s Macbeth at the Buccleuch Centre.  I like Verdi but you have to be feeling quite fit to sit through one of his  more dramatically gloomy operas and  I didn’t like the idea of the updated production we were promised either so I lounged about at home in an uncultured way while she took in the show.

The flying bird of the day is a goldfinch at full stretch.

flying goldfinch

Home and away

Today’s guest picture comes from the camera of Mrs Tootlepedal, who was away in Edinburgh visiting the WGB.  It shows Matilda in animated discussion with a duck.

Matilda with duckI stayed at home this week, partly because mother and grandmother can manage surprisingly well without my help and partly because we were promised a reasonable day with gentle winds and my cycling mileage has fallen a bit behind schedule.

I haven’t had a ride of above 22 miles all month so I thought that I would get a little further today if I could.  I offered Dropscone the chance of a longer run but he politely declined it and I met him whizzing home from his favourite morning run shortly after I had started out.  I was a bit late setting off as I had to wait for our plumber to finish a job before I went.

The weather looked a bit changeable so I was well waterproofed and was able to laugh in the face of a shower that chose exactly the same moment to start raining as I started pedalling.  It was not long though before I was out of the rain and able to enjoy the scenery….

Wauchope Road….and again not long before the clouds cleared and I had a good spell of pedalling in sunshine.  I was aiming for a three hour journey and hoping to do at least forty miles so I had to keep calm when I only managed 12 miles in the first hour.  This was due to some hills and a breeze in my face so I wasn’t unduly worried.

I stopped to take a picture of the ruined church at Hoddom Cross….

Hoddom Cross…before turning left to head down towards Annan.

Most of our autumn colour this year is coming from beech trees and hedges and I enjoyed this fine hedge on the road to Annan.

Beech hedgeI didn’t go into Annan itself but turned left to go past Chapelcross Power Station.  A substantial body of workers and considerable amounts of money are going into decommissioning this old nuclear power plant but it never seems to have changed as I go past it.   It will be a long and expensive business.

At the top of the hill above Eaglesfield, I paused to admire a rainbow…..which faded away in perfect synchronicity with my withdrawal of the camera from my pocket, leaving just a faint a Cheshire Cat smile behind it by the time that my finger hit the button.

faint rainbowMy route took my down through Kirtlebridge to Kirkpatrick Fleming and thence it was plain sailing with a following wind back home.  It had started to rain in quite a threatening manner near Chapelcross but for once, I managed to get ahead of the rain and got home dry and with time to admire a nice pair of hedges near Canonbie….

beech hedges…and the some bright colour at Knittyholm, just four miles from Langholm.

KnittyholmI arrived home bang on three hours of cycling time (with a little stationary banana eating time added on) and hit my forty mile target too.  In the first hour, hilly and into the wind, I covered 12 miles, in the second hour, less hilly and turning half way through, I covered 13 miles and in the last hour, flat and with a favouring breeze, I managed 16 miles.  I call that good route choice.

Those idly curious about the ride can click on the map for more details.

garmin 24 Oct 14I would have hoped to do more miles in the time but not only was my boiler a bit short of steam today but I can’t put full power through my bad knee any more so I have to be grateful for what I can do.

My friend Sue’s sourdough starter is behaving brilliantly and I was able to have a couple of slices of very tasty bread from the loaf that I made yesterday with home made raspberry jam for my lunch.

I had some time to spare for staring out of the kitchen window after lunch and I did what I should have done more often and put my camera on a tripod and used a wireless remote to fire it off.   I got a triple bonus.  The birds weren’t alarmed by my looming presence at the window, I was able to keep a better eye out for approaching birds than I could if I was peering through the view finder and the camera was a lot steadier than I can hold it.

The results in my opinion made the extra trouble worthwhile.   The first picture was taken while I was still hand holding the camera….


A bunch of house sparrows appeared and left soon afterwards.

…but the rest are from the tripod.  Although the light was not very good, I was spoiled for choice of chaffinches.

perching chaffinchchaffinch arrivingchaffinch arrivingchaffinch arrivingflying chaffinchflying chaffinchI put down the remote and walked up to the High Street to pay for my next  bag of bird seed and some Ethiopian coffee.  Both come in big bags but fortunately the 25kg bag of sunflower hearts had been delivered to my door by the time that I got home.  I was able to carry my own coffee.

When I got home, I found a message on my answerphone to ring the hospital and when I did, they told me that they were just organising the theatre list for knee operations and that I should expect to get a date for my proposed new knee before the end of November.  This is both exciting and rather alarming.

In an effort to get nearer a Mediterranean diet, I made a large bowl of mushroom risotto using Arborio rice for my tea.

When Mrs Tootlepedal got home in the evening, she told me that she had met the World’s Greatest Uncle  (our older son Tony) while she was in Edinburgh.  He told her that he had just done four days of jury service in a very distressing case and moreover, that he had been foreman of the jury.  He was pleased that he had been excused further jury service for at least five years as he had not enjoyed doing his duty very much, though he was proud that he had done it.  He couldn’t stop long as he was scurrying around trying to catch up with all the jobs he had missed during the week.

The flying bird of the day is a sparrow, a female this time, in one of the very few brighter moments of the afternoon.

flying chaffinch

Eyes down

Today’s guest picture shows Queentown’s harbour taken in the evening by my brother Andrew when he visited the town earlier this month..

Queenstown Another windy day discouraged me from going cycling and I was secretly quite pleased as I am going through one of those periods when I am feeling a bit tired.  Doing nothing more strenuous in the morning than entertaining Sandy to a cup of coffee, making some sourdough bread and doing the crossword was just what the doctor ordered.

After lunch though, Sandy and I agreed to go for a short walk as the weather looked a little brighter.  No sooner did we put the phone down than it started to rain so Sandy came down and we put a week of the newspaper index into the database while we waited for the rain to stop.

It did stop and we went to Whitshiels in his car so that we could do one of my favourite short walks.  We were determined to try to use our eyes as much as possible as we pottered up the the hill.


It wasn’t too hard to see this little cascade at the start of our walk.

wild flower

A tiny pink wild flower stood out against the green background.

Moss with raindrops

This spiky moss was sparkling with raindrops.  It is amazing how such small spikes can such large drops of water.

I knew in advance that I might find some interesting lichen and moss on a gate beside the track and I wasn’t disappointed.

gateMy real target were these striking but tiny red dots.  I needed the camera to bring them up to a size that let me see them properly.


British soldier lichen

There were other items on interest (to me at least) on the way up the track.

fern spores

The underside of a fern

nettle leaf

And a nettle leaf

We went only as far as the top of the track as the fields were soggy and we weren’t wearing heavy boots but when we were there, relentless detective work was rewarded by some fine birch polypores of all ages.

birch polyporesJust how hard they were to find is illustrated by this picture of Sandy searching in vain for them.

Sandy and the polyporesWe were intrigued by a strange growth on some old trees nearby.  Is it a fungus, a lichen, a slime mold?  Surely some knowledgeable reader can help us out here.

Tree growthIt was quite large,  The central coloured section is as a large as a hand.

It wasn’t really a day for taking landscape pictures but I was quite taken by two views which I thought showed the characteristic colours of the hills at this time of year.

Across the EskTimpenWe normally do a circuit and return by the hill road when we do this route but today, in honour of my dicky knee,  we simply retraced our steps back down the track.

We rejoined the track at this leafy corner.

We rejoined the track at this leafy corner.

 Rather soberingly, we saw quite a few interesting things on the way back that we had missed on the way up.


How could we have missed this?  Sandy spotted it on the way back.


And these?  I saw some of these and Sandy saw the others.

The track itself looked more interesting when seen on the way down.

Whitshiels trackAt the bottom, I paused to take a picture of a leaf which the nature writer in my morning paper today had described as ‘unattractive’.

leafPerhaps it is when found in great heaps but it looked very nice to me, lying in solitary splendour.

We were soon back at the main road with half a mile or so to go to get home.

A7I cooked a pan of roast vegetables for my tea.  My daughter, who rang up while I was getting things ready, asked if I was using a Mediterranean vegetable selection.  Sadly, I don’t think that swedes, turnips, carrots and potatoes are Mediterranean but I did put half half a red pepper in it.  And once again, I used very expressive hand gestures while I ate it so I tried my best and I was at least eating a lot of things from our own garden which must be a good thing.

In the evening, Sandy came round again and we went up to the Archive Centre.  We put in an hour and a half of solid work and rewarded ourselves with a glass of wine afterwards.  Interestingly, in light of the current Ebola alarms, the Langholm local authority in 1888 was meeting to discuss the best ways of preventing a smallpox outbreak spreading.

I didn’t spend much time looking at the birds on account of the gloomy weather but by dint of putting the ISO up to a heady 4000, I was (just) able to catch a flying goldfinch of the day.

flying goldfinch


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