Archive for Jan, 2012

Today’s picture, sent to me by my sister Susan and taken by my brother-in-law Huseyin, shows my great nephew Jamie. After yesterday’s treat from NZ, Susan thought that we ought to show a home grown nipper.


Another cold day morning greeted us but the temperature is staying just above freezing so getting about is no problem at all.  I had hung out my newly purchased feeder last night and I was keen to see how the birds took to it today.  There was a slow start but after a while things picked up.  Sadly the light wasn’t good enough to do justice to the shiny new contraption but poor light never stops me from taking pictures so here they are:

new feeder with brambling

A brambling has a go

As you can see, it is a four seater and I was hoping to get all the seats filled.

two filled and one coming

Two filled and one coming

three filled

Three filled

green and gold

Three again with a possible fourth behind

four up

Full house

and an extra one

and an extra one!

The next target was four different types at the same time…

mixed birds

Sparrow, goldfinch, chaffinch...and dash... another chaffinch.

More mixed birds

That's no good either

but I didn’t manage that.

I had bought the new feeder because I had thrown out a plastic feeder that wasn’t letting the seed through and I had started the day with the old metal feeder in the plum tree in its place.  It drew a good crowd up there.

chaffinch sparrow goldfinch

But then I brought it down to the front and put the peanuts up there instead as they are not being used much at the front.

Two feeders

The peanuts in the plum tree seemed to be a good idea.

sparrow brambling

At least a sparrow and a brambling thought so.

It all made for an entertaining morning for me while I rested the ankle.  Mrs Tootlepedal had gone to Carlisle on the bus to take back the foot she bought yesterday for her sewing machine as she found that the foot didn’t fit.  While she was away, I managed finally to do some form filling and letter writing that I should have done months ago.  I felt a better person for having done it.

Nevertheless, in the end the boredom of resting the ankle became too much and after lunch, without getting into any cycling gear, just tucking the trouser legs into the socks to show I wasn’t really cycling, I nipped out for a little ten mile stroll on the slow bike.

I went to Callister and back and just before the turning point I took this picture of new planting on the hillside there.

tree planting

Pretty well the whole of a hill farm has been put down to trees here. They believe in regimented lines of planting.

On my way back, I noticed a log lorry getting ready to pick up another load of trees from the felled wood at the Bigholms.

log lorry

Just before I got back to Langholm, a heron flew across the road in front of me.  This is not a typical place to see a heron.

heron among stones

I took just under the hour to do the ten miles and my ankle showed no ill effects so I might try it again tomorrow if the weather permits.

When I got back there was plenty of time to put a week of the E and L into the database.  My wrists were pretty sore but luckily I use a speech recognition program if I don’t feel like typing so the process was fairly painless.

In the evening, I went to Carlisle with Susan and in the absence of one of our members, we enjoyed a selection of quartets and quintets.  We were in fine form and felt that we had done justice to the pieces which we played.  The car is going well after its repair and got Susan and me there and back safely.

I should add that some of the birds had a pretty good look at the new feeder before trying it.


A brambling peers down at it.

Brambling chaffinch

Then it discusses it with a chaffinch





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Today’s picture comes from New Zealand after a request for something uplifting for the picture of the day.  This is Maisie, a rugby supporter of course and the proud owner of Jenny and David.Maisie

It was another frosty morning so Dropscone and I settled for coffee which I enjoyed all the more because Time, the great healer, had eased off the pain in my joints quite a lot.  I was even able to clutch the camera and take a few pictures, although the light was not as good as it looked and the pictures are not as sharp as they should be.

A brambling and chaffinch

A brambling exchanges views with a chaffinch

chaffinch landing

Chaffinches are always the easiest to catch flapping

green and gold

A greenfinch and a goldfinch look at things differently

chaffinches and greenfinch

The greenfinch is unmoved by busy chaffinches

siskin and goldfinches

No room at the inn for this siskin

It was very dull with no crossbills.

After lunch we went off for an outing to Carlisle, stopping on the way to buy some bird food and a new feeder which I hope will be smothered in interesting birds tomorrow.   We headed on into Carlisle to find that the weather was a lot brighter there than it had been at home.  The Town Hall glowed in the afternoon sunshine.

Carlisle Town Hall

Mrs Tootlepedal and I think that this rather modest but charming building reflects the spirit of Carlisle well. It’s a hard working, unfussy little city with a friendly population.  We did some satisfactory shopping.  I bought a pair of shoes and Mrs Tootlepedal bought a foot.  She is experimenting with appliqué and the foot was a free floating affair for her sewing machine.  Exhausted by this outburst of consumerism, we enjoyed a cup of coffee in a coffee house which was new to us and then made out way to the Carlisle Infirmary.

The Infirmary has fairly recently undergone a new building programme but the old building is still in use for some puropse, probably administration.

Old infirmary

A pretty plush office.

In between the old building and the new is an intermediate block fairly recently built and now unused.  It is hard to know what to make of a situation like that without being uncharitable.

New infirmary

The unused block on the right, the new infirmary on the left.

I got a couple of pictures of my ankle taken but they wouldn’t give me a copy for the blog so I will have to wait to see what they show.  I am not expecting anything interesting to show up as these x-rays are rather more for the purpose of ruling things out than finding things in.

The journey home was uneventful and the early evening was brightened by the appearance of Luke, my flute pupil, with more evidence of hard practice.  I am in the tricky position of saying simultaneously to him how well he has done and how much more he needs to do.  He is taking it well so far.

I had a delicious meal of roasted veg (carrot, turnip, potato, pepper and mushroom) with a fried egg on top.  Roasting veg is a bit hit and miss but when it comes out right, you can’t imagine why you don’t have it more often.  It is well within my area of culinary competence  i.e. peel veg and put in oven, which is a bonus.

Mrs Tootlepedal is looking forward to using her new foot and I am looking forward to seeing my new bird feeder in action so tomorrow looks like an exciting day.


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Today’s picture shows a really welcoming green waste site visited by my brother.  It’s not easy being green.

green waste

This morning, I got up promptly, ate some cereal and set off in the car to the Moorland bird feeders where Cat Barlow had told me that she would be netting birds for ringing again.  She was already there and set up by the time I arrived.

Cat ready to go

The first birds already bagged and ready to ring. Cat looking keen to get going.

We were sitting in the car for the ringing as it was pretty chilly for her to do work outside that can’t be done in gloves.  (I have fully mastered photography while wearing bicycle gloves.)

While the first batch was being ringed, a woodpecker arrived in the nets.

woodpecker netted

This one turned out to have been netted some time before but it is still re-recorded before being released again.

woodpecker recording

After quite a slow start, a good number of birds found the nets and Cat was very busy untangling, recording and releasing.  As always, the blue tits gave her the hardest time and their handling was accompanied by many merry squeaks of agony.  Luckily there weren’t too many of today.

We had an interested spectator…



… possibly auditioning for a role in a black and white film.

If we got bored, we could always admire the distant snowcapped lakeland fells.

snowcapped hills

Many birds were dealt with and as I have showed pictures of the ringing before, I have put the pictures I took on my facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.376905918992782.110344.100000201310181&type=1

Dropscone points out to me that you must be signed into Facebook to see the photos.

I have put this coal tit in here regardless because I like them so much.

coal tit

Gavin Graham turned up and as I was quite cold by now, I went home and put the coffee on.  Before I had a chance to drink it, I got a call from Gavin to go back up to the feeders so ignoring the wonderful smell of freshly brewed nectar, I drove back up the hill.  It was worth missing the coffee.

male crossbill

Cat had netted a pair of crossbills, a bird I have never seen before.  They are truly handsome little birds, a little bigger than a green finch and wonderfully coloured as you can see.  That is the male in her hand up above and below.  You can see why it is called a crossbill.

crossbill male

As they are usually found at the top of trees, I was very lucky to be able to see one so close.  The female is not quite so gaudy but still beautiful.

female crossbill

Don’t tell the Leveson enquiry but this lovely girl was soon surrounded by photographers.

belle of the ball crossbill

Since they were a pair, Cat carefully released them one straight after the other.

female crossbill flying

Ladies first

male crossbill flying

That was an unexpected treat and I am grateful to Cat for letting me share it.  Dr Barlow was so delighted that I can’t help remarking that she looked like the Cat that had got the cream.

The last bird to be ringed was a greenfinch.


A close relative of the crossbill and a handsome bird too.

When I got home, it was lunchtime and I had a plate of sweet potato soup.  Looking at the thermometer, I saw that it was warm enough for a pedal but, for once, good sense kicked in and I really did rest my ankle.  I am going for an x-ray on it tomorrow and I will know more about what I should and shouldn’t do after that.  On top of the ankle, my joints have started to hurt a bit in a general sort of way and I am wondering if I have contracted something that is causing this.  Mrs Tootlepedal feels it may not be unconnected with the march of time but if it doesn’t fade away, another visit to the doctor looks likely.

Instead of cycling, I put the programme for the Langholm Walking Festival on to the walks website and those interested in a guided walk in beautiful country can see the programme here.

I did take a couple of pictures of birds in my own garden too.

a brambling feeling the cold

A brambling feeling the cold

a rook on the flat feeder

A rook.

In spite of the chilly weather, I have had a really interesting week what with going to Newcastle, the rugby and the ringing.  Next week has a lot to live up to.

Note: if you would like to see the ringing or the rugby pictures and don’t have a Facebook account, ask anyone you know who is under thirty.  They’ll have one.

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Today’s picture is from the hills above Wellington, NZ.  Needless to say it was sent to me by my very vigorous brother Andrew.

Hill walk

It was, as forecast, a sunny but below freezing start to the day.  Strangely, once again the pavements were ice free and I was able to go and get some milk from our local shop without difficulty. Even so, I wasn’t going to risk cycling as you can easily find ten miles of ice free pedalling with ten yards of ice in it somewhere and it is those ten yards that tip you off the bike if you are unlucky.

Instead, I put out fresh seed for the birds and watched an invasion of rooks and jackdaws.

rook arriving

A rook lands in style

rooks and jackdaws

A selection of rooks and jackdaws jostle for space.

rook stocking up

Finally a rook claims precedence and fills up its beak with my food while others pick up crumbs below. In an earlier life it was a financier.

Otherwise, the garden was mainly full of chaffinches although a very green greenfinch did make an appearance.

bright greenfinch

After lunch I was faced with the choice of joining Dr Barlow as she worked at bird ringing or going to watch a game of rugby.  As Dr Barlow is going to ring again tomorrow and the chance to take the cameras to a game of rugby on a still sunny day might not come again, I chose the rugby.  I was surprised that the pitch was playable but it was in good condition in spite of the cold.

Slinging the camera bag onto my bag, I pedalled up to the ground on the slow bike.  It has been a good few years since I last went to watch Langholm play but, reassuringly, everything looked much the same as before including the home crowd which must have very loyal supporters.

It would be tedious to explain in detail what is going on for those of you who do not follow rugby football but here is some information.  Scrums and  lineouts are ways of restarting play after an infringement of the rules or when the ball has gone out to play.  Rucks and mauls are piles of bodies heaped in an artistic fashion. Although the ball can be kicked forward, it must be passed backwards.  Points are scored by tries (similar to a touchdown in American football, except that you do actually have to touch the ball down to score not just caper over the line),  kicking a field goal after a serious infringement by the opposition and drop kicking the ball over the bar from open play.  The rules are very complex and often impenetrable not only to the spectators but also to many of the players (and even the referee, if you believe the crowd).

Here is a small selection of the pictures I took.  The title of each picture includes the time when it was taken.  Langholm are in red and their opponents are Edinburgh University (a fine place of education).

14.06 lineout

14.06: lineout

14.07 University attack

14.07: Edinburgh University attack

14.07 University attack halted

14.07: The attack is halted

14.09 Scrum

14.09: A scrum early in the game when everyone is still nice and clean

15.02 University going nowhere

15.02: A maul in the second half of the game

15.16 Dirty work

15.16: Another scrum. Things have got a bit down and dirty by now.

15.16 Gone to ground

15.16: A ruck, with a player enjoying a fine mouthful of muddy leg.

15.32 Handshakes - Langholm win 14 -5

15.32: Handshakes - Langholm win 14 -5

Langholm won by a try, a penalty goal and a dropped goal to a try.  I did avert my eyes from the game long enough to take a picture of the view of Warbla from the ground.

View from the ground

Here is part of the home crowd, demonstrating their unbridled enthusiasm for the game.

15.31 The home crowd very excited

And here are the visiting supporters.  Students drinking beer.  Whatever next?

14.39 University supporters

When I got home, there was still enough light for a couple of goldfinch pictures but there were no goldfinches to be seen.  Mrs Tootlepedal drew my attention to the probable cause.


I am going to take part in the RSPB garden bird count tomorrow.  It could be quite simple if this bird returns in my designated hour.

I took a great many pictures at the rugby and for anyone interested, I have posted a large album on my facebook page which can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.376213235728717.110187.100000201310181&type=3

Note: you need to be signed in to Facebook to see the pictures

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Today’s picture is from a hunt through the archives for something bright.  It is a cosmos.


It was too cold and my ankle was too swollen to go cycling this morning so my day was brightened instead by a visit from Arthur and Dropscone for coffee.  Arthur is shortly to move house and the myriad difficulties he is encountering make me very happy to have stayed in the same house for nearly forty years, however rackety it is.

Mrs Tootlepedal continued on her campaign of cycling on the bike to nowhere upstairs and I must say that I am very impressed by her staying power as most people give up exercise bikes quite soon after starting them.  In the endless pursuit of perfection, she has acquired a steam mop from the internet (very reasonably priced) and we will live in  a state of exceptional cleanliness from now on.

While she experimented with the mop,  I stared out of the window at a maelstrom of chaffinches and occasional goldfinches.  (I should note that this also allowed me to avoid the pain of watching Andy Murray finally being defeated in the Australian Tennis open after a great battle.)

table top chaffinches

There were table top chaffinches

flying chaffinches

Chaffinches eyeing each other warily

rising chaffinches

Rising chaffinches


singing in the rain chaffinches

Singing in the rain chaffinches

artistic chaffinches

Artistic chaffinches


chaffinch getting stuck in

And chaffinches who knew where the food was

Although the vast majority of birds in the garden were chaffinches, other birds were available too.


A goldfinch gives up and passes on in the face of fierce opposition.

Hm, I see that I need to clean the windows again.

fluffy goldfinch

This goldfinch was obviously feeling the cold

goldfinch surrounded by chaffinches

This one was trying to keep a horde of chaffinches at bay

I made a sweet  potato soup for my lunch and then checked the thermometer again.  It had risen above 4° and there was a hint of blue sky about.  My ankle was still swollen but the forecast is for several very cold days to come and it seemed a crime to waste what was a perfect day for pedalling so I got on the gear and set out on the speedy bike in a very gentle way.  I told myself that it is perfectly possible to cycle without putting any pressure on an ankle and tried to put this into practice.

I stopped frequently to take pictures and told myself that this would enable me to rest my ankle.  The hills immediately around were clear of snow but further away, the hills showed how lucky we were to have missed it.

snowy hills

The hills beyond Whita

The hills to the north

The hills to the north at the Bigholms

In order to avoid going up any long hills, I turned at the five mile mark and headed home before having to climb Callister.  I then checked the ankle and did the same ten miles again.  The trees offered quite a varied palette of colours even in the depth of winter.

trees in winter

A week or so ago, I took this picture looking down from Warbla when I was out walking with Mrs Tootlepedal.

morning road

It was sunny then

I took this view today from the road in the picture looking back up the hill.

Warbla slopes

At the corner at the bottom of the straight, there is a bridge which you can’t see as you pedal over it so, as  I  was not in a hurry today, I stopped to snap it.

Bridge over Earnshaw burn

A big bridge for a little burn. I like the hi-tech sheep catcher.

The ankle was a little swollen when I got back although I had tried really hard to achieve a *smooth pedalling style but with several enforced days of rest to come, it should get a chance to recover.

In the evening, we were visited by Mike and Alison and Alison and I enjoyed playing some music for harpsichord and recorder.  We are sticking to playing the same five pieces at the moment and the practice is paying off as we are getting much improved performances week by week.  The harpsichord in question is provided by the electronic genius of Roland and while it might not be the same as the real thing, it has the undoubted advantage of always being in tune and being able to vary its volume at a touch.  Mike and I enjoyed a bottle of what was described as  ‘Good ordinary Claret’.  It was.

During the day I noticed promising signs of spring to come in the garden.



I was hoping that the crocus and the daffodil would flower before the end of January but the forecast cold weather will put a stop to that I fear.  Mrs Tootlepedal was sighted digging in yet another bucketful of muck which she had collected while I was out pedalling.

muck spreader

Along the back path, the snowdrops are making a fine show.


To round off a good day, we got the car back in fully working order.

*Technical note: smooth pedalling style: this is where you try to use your legs in a circular way, applying pressure all through the pedal stroke rather than pumping the legs up and down like pistons.  If you can achieve it, you find yourself going at least two miles an hour faster for the same cadence.  This is wonderful except of course, it means that you are using more effort and I get puffed very quickly.  If I am to use this style consistently, I will have to learn to use a lower gear to make use of the extra efficiency without using up all my puff.

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Today’s picture is another from Alistair’s walk.  He included a necropolis in his itinerary.


The first task of the day was to return the borrowed car to the garage.  On my way back, I called in on Dropscone who was eating his breakfast resplendent in a fine dressing gown and arranged to delay the usual start time for the morning run by an hour to allow the temperature to rise.  I then visited Arthur to assist in the revivifying of his wireless mouse in which the batteries had sadly  passed on.  This accomplished,  it was home and porridge.

Even after an hour, the temperature was still hovering perilously close to freezing but we set out carefully, prepared to return by a short route if conditions dictated.  In fact, after a chilly mile or so,  the day was almost perfect for cycling with light winds and a hint of sunshine here and there and we got round the morning run in the best time of the year so far.  We still have some way to go to reach the standard time for the trip but we are moving in the right direction.  The coffee and scones tasted extra good.

The bird action after coffee was well up to its frenetic standard.  I spent some time trying to get as many flying birds into a reasonably close up shot as possible.  The best that I managed was five.

five flying birds

You can see by the rain in the picture above that we did our cycling in the right part of the day.

I got a number of flying shots before the light went off.

siskin and chaffinch

Shy chaffinch

chaffinch almost flying

I was a fraction of a second too late with this one


Is this a look of affection or impatience?

goldfinch and chaffinches

Coming in from both sides at once


goldfinch and chaffinches

Coming in mob handed from one side

chaffinches high and low

Chaffinches high and low

It wasn’t flying when I caught it but I think I enjoyed this punk chaffinch most of all today.


I wonder if it had tried to go through a hedge backwards.

I was pleased to see that the new position of the fat balls is still paying off.

fat ball sparrows

The rain came down steadily in the afternoon so plans to do some shredding to reduce the pile of cuttings that have accumulated as Mrs Tootlepedal has prepared for spring, had to be put on hold and I put a week of the E and L into the database instead.

Mrs Tootlepedal gave me a lesson in making risotto as I was keen to try to copy the excellent meal I had had for lunch yesterday in Newcastle.  Our first effort was not bad but there is room for improvement.

In the evening, I went to the Archive Centre with Jean and Sandy and put another week of the E & L into the database.  The indexers have returned to work after the holiday break and I shall have to be on my toes to keep up with them.  Luckily, I have Sandra as back up and together we will keep up.  We retired to the Douglas afterwards and I was happy to find that the good beer was on tap again.

Not all the birds in the garden were flying about frantically.  This blackbird enjoyed a sedate tea party with some chaffinches.

blackbird at the seed

It turns out that car is not seriously ill and it only needs a new exhaust gas recirculation valve and should be back home tomorrow.   Perhaps I could get one too and it would help my pedalling.

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Today’s picture is another from my brother.  In contrast to yesterday’s hard won crow picture, he says these NZ native pigeons are so fat and lazy that they are easy to photograph.

NZ Pigeon

We were up early, getting ready to have a day out in Newcastle to celebrate our wedding anniversary of yesterday.  First the bird feeders had to be filled and then a single photograph taken just so the birds didn’t feel neglected…


…and then we were off in the Kangoo and a cloud of smoke.

A cloud of smoke? That’s not right, we thought and it wasn’t.  The car coughed and spluttered, now stopping, now going.  We got as far as the High Street and wisely turned into our local garage just as the car gave up the ghost.  We were worried that it would prove to be one of those intermittent faults that never show up when a mechanic is near by.  We needn’t have worried.  He couldn’t get it to move an inch.  We were just contemplating the bus timetable when he kindly offered us the use of a car for the day which we gratefully accepted and off we set again.

Our plan was to drive to Hexham where there is ample parking  and then catch the train to Newcastle.  This avoids city driving and expensive parking and turned out to be a very good idea.  The parking cost us £2 and the trains were punctual and warm.

Hexham Station is charming.

Hexham Station

We liked the cast iron footbridge

It has an elegant signal box too.

hexham signal box

We arrived in Newcastle to find pleasant weather and a busy but not overcrowded town centre.

There are many fine buildings in the main shopping area and stone cleaning has changed the whole look of the place.

Newcastle centre

This church nearby gives you an idea of what the soot covered buildings used to look like when I was a boy.


Clean in patches!

We went into an enormous shopping centre as Mrs Tootlepedal was looking for bits and bobs for her embroidery.  Not finding what we wanted in John Lewis, we went into their brasserie to have some lunch.  I wasn’t expecting much from a department store eatery in a shopping centre but I was very pleased to be proved wrong and we had a delicious lunch in comfortable and elegant surroundings.

After lunch we went into another famous Newcastle store and there Mrs Tootlepedal found that her wants were catered for and made several small purchases.  These included a pen that doesn’t write and glue that doesn’t stick but she seemed very happy with them.

At this stage we encountered the only downside of the whole day.  We couldn’t get out.  It was a massive shop of many aisles and floors in the middle of an even more massive shopping centre  and there was no indication whatsoever of where the escape route might be found.  We didn’t panic though and wandered about until we found the ladies perfumery department and then we knew that freedom was near because for some reason, this department always seems to be near the front door of big stores.  We were not disappointed and emerged into a sunny street.

This was the building opposite.

building opposite

The black part is the building opposite.  The stone building was behind us and we were looking at a brilliant reflection.  Here it is again.


The Boots store is part of the building we were looking at.  It was quite unnerving until your brain had sorted out what was happening.

We were near the monument to Earl Grey

Grey monument

It was built in 1838 to mark his work in the passing of the great reform act of 1832.  Rather charmingly it has an additional inscription added in 1932:


It makes a contrast to the carefully cultivated contempt for politicians exhibited by our news media today.

We were pleased to see that Newcastle has a bike hire scheme…

hire bikes

…but we didn’t notice anyone riding one.  Perhaps January is not going to be a top month for tourist bike hire anyway.

There are many pieces of architectural brutality along side the fine old architecture and I liked these hopeful cupolas perched on top of a big lump of concrete.


Mrs Tootlepedal added a splash of colour to the streets.

Mrs T in Newcastle

She was struck by this example of pargeting in the pedestrian precint near the monument.


After our shopping, eating and wandering,  we just had time to dash into an art gallery and enjoy a quick burst of culture for 15 minutes before we got down to the main business of the day which was going to see the much praised film, “The Artist”.  It was being shown in a wonderfully old fashioned cinema with a balcony in which we sat.  We enjoyed the film but thought that it didn’t deserve the huge amount of hype it has had.   We were pleased to have seen it though, if only for the top notch acting of the star of the show.

We came out of the cinema and walked down to the station in perfect time to catch the train back to Hexham and this rounded off an excellent outing to Newcastle.

The pleasures of the day had not finished yet though as we got into conversation with a bloke in the next seat to us on the train and it turned out that he knew our daughter Annie, having lived four years ago in the same street in London as she did.  There is nothing like a thoroughgoing off the wall coincidence like that to make you feel good and we got out of the train at Hexham feeling very cheerful indeed.  Then we made things even better by having a quick trawl round a Waitrose Store near the station where we were able to buy several nice eatables which are not readily available to us poor people in the south of Scotland.

An easy drive home rounded things off nicely and now we are looking forward to next year’s anniversary already.  There is just the small matter of finding out what is wrong with the car looming on the horizon.  As the garage only serviced the car last week, we are hoping that they will be as keen to find out what went wrong as we are.

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