The Deer Hunter

Cue Cavatina. Have it playing in the background as you read. You can think of me as Robert De Niro as well, if it’s not too great a challenge.

Yesterday. Rufus and I went off to one of our regular locations, the hills above the Upper Lliw reservoir. I always check to see that it is cow and shgeep free and sure enough, all the cows were on a different hill. So I parked up and off we set. We had just got to the man-made ridges where the US army trained during World War 2 when I heard and saw in the distance a pack of dogs, a rider and a quad bike. I managed to get Rufus on the lead and we headed for the high ground, the four foot mound, just before we were engulfed by the dogs. They were hunting dogs, out having exercise I assume, and I was worried about how they would react to Rufus.

Rufus was right next to me and clearly overwhelmed by all the hounds. They were all around us, stinking of dead things and shoving their noses into everything. Rufus was growling and I would have been too, if I hadn’t been trying to calm him down. The hunt master (I assume that was his title) was blowing on his hunting horn but didn’t seem that interested in controlling the pack. Fortunately, the dogs were in a good mood and Rufus was his usual restrained self, so there was no trouble and the pack moved on. All the way back to the car I could hear the hunting horn being blown, a brash, childish sound.

Today, after we’d been for a nice walk around the estate, I left Rufus guarding the house and went off to hunt deer. Margam Park has a herd of wild deer consisting of Fallow, Red and Pere David breeds. They’ve been on the site since Medieval times and there are references to deer there in Roman times, too. October is the rutting season and I’d long planned to try and get some photos of the bucks in action as they battled for top spot in the harem.

Fortunately, I met a jogger who told me where the deer could usually be found. I decided to climb the hill behind the park to get an idea of the layout and sure enough, I spotted a herd of about 15 deer in the fields below, right where the jogger said they’d be. I dropped down the the fields but the deer had disappeared. I’m a novice deer stalker but I understand the principles – stay down wind of them, move slowly and quietly and slowly. It only took a few minutes to spot them in a mud hole and although they had seen me as soon as I had seen them, they didn’t seem spooked, possibly as I was half concealed behind bushes. I was about 200 yards away but I couldn’t get any closer without being in full view so I backed off and headed around a low rise in the ground towards another bush, staying below the brow of the hill and trying to remember where they were in relation to my position.

Eventually, I reached the bush, which turned out to be an overgrown stone monument of some sort. I was now within 100 yards of the herd. They were still aware of me but as I was not moving, they didn’t seem concerned. The big male was more interested in something on the opposite side of them, which was closer to the main part of the park. I used this distraction to make my way a little closer, using another clump of bushes to approach without being seen. Eventually, I was within 70 yards of the group and I got some nice photos.

All this time I was eyeing up the path that would take me back to the park. I’d read that one thing to be wary of was the rutting males, full of testosterone, might decide I was a threat. I was aware of my escape routes, should I need them. But the path would take me closer still to the herd and in full view. I decided that they would probably run away rather than charge me, so I made my way along the gravel track, slowly getting closer in a round about way. I ended up around 50 yards from the herd, and apart from watching with some curiosity, they showed no real concern that I was there.

It was only while putting my camera away again later that I realised I had dropped a lens cap and a body cap somewhere along the way. They’re probably in the trophy cabinet of the male Fallow deer.

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Cb

When I was a kid (yes, it’s one of those posts – please don’t interrupt.)

When I was a kid, living on RAF bases, I used to listen to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, (BFBS) in the mornings. One thing I remember from those days was the daily early morning weather report. BFBS did the equivalent of the shipping forecast for airmen. There would be a detailed weather forecast along with cloud types and heights to give the flight crews an idea of what to expect that day. I remember the strange sounding names, Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus and their variations, and the figures that gave cloud cover and cloud base height.

Just over two years ago, Rufus and I got caught in a thunder storm while I was training for a trek. Ever since, I’ve taken an interest in weather prediction and in particular the early warning signs of thunder storms. We had a heavy storm here yesterday, with a lot of lightning and very heavy rain preceded by hailstones. It was well predicted and before the weather changed, I decided to read up on the cloud types. I wanted to try to identify them as they built up and so see first hand the early stages of a thunder storm.

Classic thunder clouds are generally Cumulonimbus clouds, (abbreviated to Cb). They are instantly recognisable as massive and billowing. They can form quite quickly, within 20 minutes sometimes, by warm air rising within the cloud and drawing cooler air in from below. The billowing part is sharply defined while it is formed of water droplets, although this sharpness may fade as the water freezes at higher altitudes. There will almost certainly be rain beneath this cloud, and more often than not hailstones and lightning.

I watched these kinds of clouds forming to the north of the house yesterday. They were so massive and high that it was hard to judge how far away they were. A quick check on the weather radar ‘app’ I have showed they were about 10 miles north, and they were indeed producing lightning. Later that night, the clouds formed over the house and we had our own storm.

This morning was bright and clear of cloud and I decided an early start was in order. There was still some humidity in the air and although the forecast said no clouds or rain for us, there was a lot of lightning activity in Europe and we often get their weather. So I read a little more from the cloud book and found out that there are a couple of early warning cloud species to keep an eye out for.

Altocumulus Floccus (small tufts of clouds) indicate humidity and unstable conditions at high altitude. These conditions can feed and energise cumulonimbus clouds, an already energetic cloud system. They can indicate a coming storm. Altostratus Castellatus clouds also reveal instability at higher altitudes but the clouds are more dense and usually result from more energetic conditions. Again, these clouds herald a coming storm (or at least the conditions necessary for one to form).

Armed with that information, Rufus and I headed north to Mynydd y Gwair. Yesterday, this seemed to be lightning central according to the website I’d been watching, with several dozen strikes recording in the area. I almost expected to see smoking craters but there were none – I guess that only happens in movies. The sky was clear and the morning was warm as we set off over the moorland north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. Sheep parted before us as we squelched through the surface water. Here at least was evidence of last night’s storm.

At the little river that feeds the reservoir, Rufus jumped in and paddled upstream while I walked the bank looking for little waterfalls to photograph. I’d forgotten about checking the weather until I noticed the sun had disappeared. I looked up and saw a few puffy clouds dense enough to obscure the sun. Nothing to worry about according to my new found knowledge, so I went back to setting the tripod up. I was using a very dense filter so exposure times were in the order of a minute or so. The next time I looked up into the sky I saw some familiar clouds; Altocumula Floccus.

I decided to move out of the river valley as it was hiding the horizon and most of the sky. I wanted to see how widespread the clouds were and what was coming up. I moved downstream and saw that it was a very isolated patch of cloud which was clearing to the west. So I went back to photographing waterfalls again. Rufus, uncaring of the cloud types, splashed and paddled and bobbed his way downstream. We played in the water and I threw stones for him to catch and dredge. In a deep part of the river, I threw dead bracken stems for him to swim after.

I looked up again and saw more Floccus. But now, to the south, a larger bank of cloud was forming beyond the reservoir. It had the appearance of an early thunder cloud and I decided, given the conditions, that we start heading back to the car. Out of the valley, there was a breeze blowing towards the reservoir. One of the signs of Cumulonimbus is that as the warm air rises within it, it drags the surrounding air towards it, causing a breeze. It often leads to people thinking the cloud is moving against the prevailing wind. A wind in the direction of the cloud is a warning sign.

The breeze also made the walk back pleasant and Rufus ranged far and wide, unconcerned about any coming storm. And after a few minutes, although the cloud was growing, I wasn’t so concerned either. By the time we’d reached the car, the cloud had grown but hadn’t moved and rather than jumping in and driving off, I left most of the kit in the boot and we walked off onto a man made bank on the opposite side of the moor. We spent another 10 minutes or so exploring the surroundings before finally making our way home. Ahead, over Morriston, the clouds were thick and dark but as we neared home, they broke up and as I write this, the sky is full of larger Cumulus clouds (‘fair-weather clouds’), normal for the time of day and year.

Which means I have no excuses for not finishing off the lawn, tidying up the boarders and cutting down a couple of dead bushes.

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Kitchenwatch 3 – the canine perspective.

Dave’s finally lost his marble (there was only ever one in that big head of his). I was having a post breakfast doze on Wednesday when all of a sudden there were some people in the house. I barked a bit for appearances sake and went back to lie down, as Dave seemed to have it all under control. Next thing I know, there was a lot of odd noises coming from the kitchen area. I had wondered why a lot of my food was in the living room – I guess it was luck he’d moved it there before they came.

Anyway, I took Dave out for a walk and when we got back, the people had moved bits of the kitchen out into the drive. Including the cupboard where my food is kept! Dave didn’t seem too surprised and that’s when I began to suspect a conspiracy. Sure enough, for the rest of the morning Dave was quite relaxed while the people cleared the kitchen of everything. Even the fridge, that sanctuary of ham. Gone! He knew what was happening and hadn’t told me.

I had an appointment at the hair stylist in the afternoon and when Dave picked me up afterwards, we went straight off to the river where we had a splash about and then a picnic on the river bank. It was most enjoyable but I knew he was only trying to make up for the disturbances of the morning. Sure enough, when we got back to the house, the people were gone and so was the kitchen. It was just an empty space.

Thursday was more of the same. The people returned and this time they dug the floor up and dug holes in the walls. We went walking in the hills but it was all still going on when we got back. By Friday I was tired from all the walking and having to keep an eye on the people and on Dave in case he did something equally silly with the living room. But fortunately we had a lie-in and the people didn’t show up until the afternoon, after we’d strolled around Fairwood Common. After they’d gone, Dave pointed at the ceiling and went on about ‘fresh plaster’ and ‘looking good’. It was pink, and I don’t do pink. I wasn’t impressed and instead I used mind control to get him to give me more than my usual portion of ham.

This morning, I was up ready to take on the people and find out when the kitchen was going back in. But they didn’t show up and instead Dave disappeared off mumbling something about new tyres. It’s a rubber thing, apparently. Not my scene but I don’t judge. It turns out we have the whole weekend free of the people before they come back to make more noise next week.

I indulge Dave some of his bizarre whims despite not really understanding them and I’ll give this one time. But it better be good!

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More Rufus

When I wrote my last blog 10 days ago, I did it with tears in my eyes and with a dread that my next blog entry would be a sad obituary for Rufus. Without being too dramatic, I was depressed and still awaiting the results from the various tests he’d been subjected to. I couldn’t let myself think there was any hope. They’d had to keep him in under supervision and although he came home later that day, he was back in the next day with further complications. But the last sentence I wrote about the thought of losing him (“I’m not ready for that yet and deep down, despite all that’s wrong with him, I don’t think Rufus is ready either”) proved to be prophetic. Despite all he’s been through, Rufus is snoring happily on the sofa as I write this, having just returned from a nice stroll by the side of the River Tawe near Moel Feity.

It’s still not clear what was wrong and although initial tests have come back negative, there is still a possibility that liver cancer has caused the whole thing. But the vet thinks it more likely that it’s an isolated and unexplained case of Immune-Mediated Thrombocytopenia (IMTP – a condition in which the body attacks its own blood platelets, causing uncontrolled bleeding) which can occur in some breeds, Cocker Spaniel being one. This is what he is being treated for while more tests are done.

Judging by his recovery, the treatment is working. He came home from the vets on Tuesday and since then he has regained his mischievous character, the spark in his eyes and the incessant appetite. I’ve gradually taken him for longer walks, watching him all the time and stopping when he seems to be getting tired. It’s not as straightforward as that as Rufus feigns exhaustion when he realises we’re heading back to the car or to the house. He’s done it for years and the closer we get to ‘home’ the slower he gets. But I can read the signs and I’m happy that he’s regaining his strength.

This morning, I was woken several times by an enquiring nose and at 5.30 I let him out for his usual morning toilet patrol. At 7.30, a wet nose and wagging tail informed me that it was time to get up and go out for a longer walk. So after breakfast, we set off for the river in the Cerrig Duon valley. It’s one of Rufus’ favourite locations, particularly in the summer when he can cool of by paddling and swimming in the sparkling water. I thought it would be a nice treat for him during his recovery and I wasn’t wrong. We were out of the car for more than an hour and at no time did Rufus’ tail stop wagging. I watched him carefully for signs of fatigue and cold and there were none. He took the lead and set the pace. The river walk isn’t the most strenuous we’ve done but there is enough climbing, jumping and balancing on rocks to provide a bit of a work out for him (and me).

I took the opportunity to try and take some photos and here was another sign that Rufus was feeling better. Every time set up a photograph, a black Cocker Spaniel appeared in the viewfinder (see the photos below). It’s his normal way of reminding me of the main reason we are out – to provide exercise for him. Suitably reminded of my role in this morning’s outing, I simply strolled on, enjoying the sun and the companionship of my walking buddy.

We’re not out of the woods yet. The treatment for IMTP will last for around 3 months as the drug doses are gradually reduced. There will be more tests and I will worry while I wait to hear about each one. But for the time being, I have my boy back with me and he’s making good progress.

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Trials of Geek and Rufuscam on Fairwood Common

Trials of Geek

I’ve written before about the loneliness of the single cinema goer. Yesterday, I went to see the New Star Wars film, ‘The Force Awakens’. I heartily recommend it to any fans of the original film. But going to see it on my own involved that dreaded interaction with the person behind the counter. who will inevitably form an opinion about me based on the lack of partner/kids/mates in the party.

Yesterday was worse. I chose to go and see the early showing and when I got to the cinema, it was empty apart from one other man. We waited until someone turned up to serve us. He went first and asked for the same showing of the same film. When I got my ticket, the assistant kindly told me that the screen room would be pitch black until the film started. She didn’t give me a knowing wink or a smile but both were implied. I disappeared off to the shops to wait for the film to start.

When I got to my seat, I found that the assistant had given me the seat right next to the guy who had been in front of me buying his ticket, even though the room was only half full of people. Thank goodness the lights were on.

It was a great film, full of what made the original Star Wars film special.

 

Rufuscam on Fairwood Common

This morning we went out early ahead of the predicted storms and torrential rain (which as I type have yet to materialise). I took the little camera Rufus uses and his harness and unleashed him on the woods on Fairwood Common. I was really surprised to see how well he’d come on with his photography. While I was faffing about with settings and framing and whether to use black and white or colour, he was quietly selecting his viewpoints with little fuss.

I took the camera and harness off so that we could throw and chase sticks. There was lots of barking and running around and it was great to see him unhindered by his weaker right knee. The vet told me I have to be careful not to let him twist it, but in everyday use it should be fine. I’m careful not to let him overdo things, and I think his climbing over rocks and boulder days are behind him, but running on even ground seems to do him no harm. As I type, he is snoring in the hall.

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Work in progress – by Rufus

I told you about my new camera in this post. Since then, Dave (my human) has purchased a new harness just to let me take photos, and I’ve been experimenting with angles, viewpoints and settings.

Today we went off to Mynydd Carn Llechart for some more physio for my leg, and I took the harness and camera along. It was a beautiful morning, clear and cloudless, crisp and cold. Ideal for some landscape work. I’ve been concentrating on candid photography recently so this chance to take more considered images was most welcome. There was a cold wind on the hill, and more than a trace of snow which had fallen overnight. Under paw it was soggy and wet but it wasn’t too bad and I soon got the measure of it.

The sun was quite low as it was still quite early and we were walking directly towards it. This made some of the shots I tried quite difficult to take without under exposing the foreground or getting too much flare in the final image. I noticed that Dave was taking quite a few photos so I decided to take some of him taking pictures. I checked out what he was snapping and it was his usual and predictable snow covered mountain shots so I wasn’t missing anything significant.

We got to the cairn that gives the mountain its name after about half an hour of splashing and squelching across the moor. I went for some close up images of the stones while Dave was distracted by a pair of Red Kites wheeling about over head. When he’s not distracted like that he tends to get in the way of my photos, usually to steal my view point. I welcomed the chance to work unhindered.

We didn’t hang around long as the wind was still quite chilly. Heading back, the sun was behind us and the quality of light was lovely and warm. It cast long shadows which we were constantly walking over.

I’m quite pleased with my day’s work although I am still learning how to make the most of the low viewpoint I am usually faced with. So please view this gallery as a work in progress.

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Rufuscam – by Rufus

So,

I am finally able to unleash my creative talents and challenge Dave for the title ‘Best Photographer in the House’. How is this possible, you ask? Well, he who styles himself the second coming of Ansel Adams has bought me a camera. He didn’t actually realise this when he did it. He thought he was buying it for himself. But it’s small and light and with one of the many plastic things he got with it, he can attach it to my harness.

Me and the harness have a love hate relationship. It’s okay, but I prefer the collar. I have dominated the harness by biting through part of it, so it now understands who is the boss. Dave witters on about how he can attach me to a seatbelt when we’re in the car and I can see the benefit of that, but it used to dig into my armpits a bit. Not any more! A side effect of my recent injury is that I’ve lost weight and as a result, the harness is more comfy now.

This morning, Dave attached ‘his’ camera to the harness and unleashed me on the garden. It took a bit of getting used to; I banged it against the door as I was going out and the look on Dave’s face was a picture. My harness was loose due to my new slim look, you see, and the camera slipped sideways. But I managed to get some nice images and for once, I was able to get photos of Dave just like he always gets photos of me. So now we are equals.

After a swift check up at the vet, (apparently I am looking fantastic and the healing process on my knee is going really well), we went off to Tor Clawdd this morning, where I fully expected to be able to take more photos but for some reason, Dave didn’t bring my harness. I was disappointed but tried not to let it show.

Dave has said something about a more comfy harness arriving in the post soon. Watch out for more of my works of art when that arrives.

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Pride and Prejudice – by Rufus

Just over a week ago, I scratched an itch. Just the once. Well, maybe twice, possibly a little more. Who’s counting? Little did I know what it would lead to.

Dave spotted it and for some reason, decided I needed to go to the doctor. So with little warning (and certainly no chance to get myself looking my best) I was in the car and in the waiting room. There were lots of other dogs there, all shouting and making a fuss. I like to keep quiet and listen when I’m there. After a bit of a wait (what is the world coming to?) I was taken in to a small room with a high table. I’ve been here before and I find the best thing to do is wag my tail and look happy. Sure enough, I was plonked on the table. At least Dave couldn’t complain because when I’d weighed just before going to the room, I’d lost over a pound!

Next thing I know the vet is prodding me and poking me and squeezing me. He stared into my eyes (I stared back into his), he stuck a cold metal thing into my ears and hummed and aahhed. Then he… well, I won’t say where his finger went but I’m afraid I considered it most unnecessary – I have my pride you know! The upshot was that he found that I have environmental allergies! I have long suspected that I am allergic to Dave in the same way that he is allergic to me. Clearly this was the proof I needed.

The vet gave Dave some medicines to give to me – Dave tried to keep them hidden but I saw the tablets. Tablets mean only one thing – chicken. He thinks I won’t notice if he wraps them in chicken. I play along because… well… it’s chicken. He also had some stuff for me ears and for my eye. I’ve found that with the ear and eye drops, if I make a deal out of it then Dave will make a fuss and give me a treat once he has succeeded in administering them. You may begin to understand why I like going to the vet, despite his errant fingers.

I made sure I didn’t scratch much when Dave was looking and to be honest, I did feel better. But out of the blue, today, he took me to the vet again! This time, it was a nice lady that looked at me and she was much kinder, keeping her fingers to herself. I may have behaved myself more because she was nice but I’ll never admit that to Dave. She gave me a steroid injection to help with my skin, which she said was looking good. Maybe I did stand a little straighter when she said it. So what?

When I got home, the injection had taken effect and I felt the need to bark at everything for a while. I also eyed up Dave’s weights and thought it might be a good idea to work out for a while. After all, I may go back to the vets again and I may see the nice lady vet. I want to look my best for her. I have been told a steroid injection will have this effect. But not long after, we went for a long walk on Cefn Bryn and I walked, ran and sniffed the need to visit a gym out of my system. After all, there were sheep and horses around and Dave needed me on top form to protect him from them.

I always know when Dave has a new lens for his camera, because he invariably points it at me. Today was no exception and for most of the walk I was staring into the front of a fisheye lens. Surprised I know this? Living with Dave, I know just about everything there is to know about photography. If nothing else, listening to him go on about this bit of kit or that bit of kit helps me get to sleep. When we’re preparing to go out I know I have at least 10 minutes to get ready as this is the length of time it takes him to decide which camera and lenses to take with him. I indulge him his little eccentricities as it usually means a longer walk.

Once again, I am grateful to Dave for the use of his photos. You can tell the ones taken with his new lens because they look all bendy (I believe the correct term is ‘distorted’ but bendy is a better word and it makes him scowl).

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Fun Wednesday

I knew it was going to be an eventful day when I woke at 4am with cramp in my left leg. Proper, painful, grunt-out-loud cramp. Although the pain subsided after a few minutes, the dull ache in my calf muscle stayed there are threatened to become pain again with every movement. By the time Rufus popped his head around the door to remind me it was time to get up, it felt better but once I put my weight on it the cramp started again.

Accepting no excuses, Rufus insisted I let him out in the garden. I hopped downstairs and hopped to the back door. Rufus charged out into the white garden, undaunted by the snow that had fallen during the night. I paced up and down the hall, as the movement was easing the ache.

Minutes later we were both back in bed for a lie-in. Today, Rufus was having his hair cut and I’d taken the day off, as the timing meant I’d either have to leave him at the stylists for too long or spend a couple of hours travelling back and forth.

By the time I’d had breakfast, my leg was better and we set off for a walk on Cefn Bryn. The sun was still shining but a cold wind made it a little uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I hobbled and Rufus ran and we did a circuit of the top of the moorland.

The it was off to the hairdressers. I dropped the hippy off and set off for the Neath canal. I’d wanted to take a stroll down there before the weather closed in but I wasn’t sure how far I’d get with my still dodgy leg. I ended up doing about 2 miles and every step eased the aching muscle. I was disappointed at the amount of rubbish in the water; the canal runs right by an industrial estate and a lot of it must come from there. The built up land on which the estate sits seems to have been created from landfill, as where it has eroded, old tyres and other crap are poking through. But typically, on the return I managed to slip on a bit of loose gravel and twist my ankle. On the opposite leg. At least I was now hobbling evenly.

Next, it was shopping and lunch and I decided (just to be awkward) to tackle them in reverse order. But while I was enjoying a chicken salad sandwich (I weighed this week and it wasn’t pleasant reading), the phone went and it was the groomer to tell me Rufus had been styled and was ready to be picked up. I raced through the shopping and sped up to get him. With rough weather forecast for the afternoon, I wanted to let Rufus have another little walk before it got too stormy so we drove down the road to the old engine house of Scott’s Pit. It’s all that remains on the surface of one of the many little collieries that were scattered throughout the Swansea valleys.

Rufus wasn’t keen to stay out long and he turned around to head back to the car when the rain started. He was feeling the cold. Back in the house, he flopped out on the sofa and was soon snoring away. It’s a hard life being a hound, and more so when you have to keep your appearances up!

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It’s all relative, really.

In between the showers today, we managed to get out to Broadpool for an hour’s walk but the whole time we were there, I was watching the dark clouds massing over Cefn Bryn, waiting to drench us. No sooner had we got back to the car than the heavens opened again; we were fortunate to miss getting soaked.

The rain continued steadily for the next few hours but a few minutes ago, I noticed the sun shining through the curtains and sure enough, there was blue sky above and the sun was quite warm. So out into the garden we went, eager to take advantage of any break in the rain. Rufus explored the garden, checking for intruders, and I grabbed my camera and went in search of things in the tiny world.

Bored with photography, Rufus left me to it and headed back to the sofa. I found two spiders remaking their webs, and started snapping away. It got me thinking though. My thoughts when I saw the rain this morning were around avoiding the inconvenience and discomfort of getting wet. The big garden spider I watched remaking it’s web was more concerned about getting it’s source of food set up again after it had been destroyed by the wind and rain.

The last photo I took was just after the spider got fed up of me snapping away and retreated under a leaf. I decided to leave it alone after that, to give it a chance to complete it’s housework before the next shower.

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