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We need a Hero

We need a Hero

Captain Tom has captured the hearts of a nation, indeed the world, over recent days. This incredible man has, at time of writing, raised over £22 million for the NHS by walking 100 laps of his garden, before his 100th Birthday on 30th April. 

This determined Yorkshireman (I had to mention it as a Yorkshire lass myself!) has been interviewed on TV and radio stations around the world, has had messages from Prince William, Boris Johnson, countless celebrities and has even released a single with another of my favourite men, Michael Ball.

There is no doubt that what he has achieved is heroic, and I can’t think of a more perfect figure to inspire us at this difficult time. 

Were we looking for a hero though?

In times of crisis we need a beacon of hope. When we feel threatened we shine the Bat light, we pray, we look for someone to rescue us. We search for stories of survivors, of helpers. 

We look for those beacons of hope that we will get through this, that we are being helped.  

Difficult times bring out the best and worst in people. We have seen it throughout the centuries. Communities pull together, support each other and rise up to protect each other against whatever the threat may be.

United against the enemy.

More often than not this has been one tribe, belief system or country uniting against another. 

There are so many similarities between our current situation and the war times of the past; food shortages, lives at risk, essential workers taking priority over entertainment and frivolity, community spirit growing, uncertainty but most of all fear and a palpable grief for a life that we may never fully return to. We may not be living in fear of a bomb dropping on our house, but instead we daren’t visit our parents in case we give them a virus which might kill them. There are shortages of essential equipment for the workers who need it to keep themselves and their families safe. While there may not currently be any real food shortages, but the panic buying, which was caused by fear that there would be shortages, has caused certain products to be impossible to buy.

Many families are facing very challenging times financially. There is fear over families where abuse may be taking place and the world has a very real fear of the actual virus and whether we are strong enough to fight it should we become infected. 

The fear of the world may never be quite as it once was, the threat to our daily routine, the threat to our lives, is all very much like a war. 

Our current crisis is very different. 

 We aren’t fighting other humans, we are fighting an invisible virus. The whole world is united against this threat. The whole world working towards a cure. Trying to figure out the most effective way to triumph. 

Mean while most of us are sitting at home and desperately searching for an escape; mental and physical. There is no wonder then that we discover a man like Captain Tom, a wise, humble man who had the modest ambition of raising £1000 for the NHS, and we follow his story, place all our hope in him and celebrate him. He is indeed our hero of the Corona Crisis.

This fabulous veteran fought in World War II helping to defeat a very different “enemy” and he has now raised a miraculous amount to help protect the UK against this new invisible enemy.  

When we are scared we all need a hero. A child who falls needs their parent. If someone is being attacked the hope that there will be a hero to rescue them. The citizens of Metropolis look out for Superman when someone needs saving and we have all been looking for heroes to rescue us from this uncertainty.

There have of course been thousands, perhaps millions of heroes. The health care providers, the shop workers, lorry drivers, police, teachers, social workers, refuse collectors, warehouse staff, delivery drivers… the list goes on and on. There are countless stories of humanity and kindness but just as Vera Lynn became a beacon of hope during WWII so Captain Tom has become a symbol of hope for the current crisis. 

Thank you Captain Tom

Thank you Captain Tom for showing us all how to live during this time of lockdown. Thank you for your determination and humour in raising such a staggering amount of money.

Thank you for being our hero.

If you would like to Donate to Captain Tom’s appeal you can follow this link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/tomswalkforthenhs

 

 

Mental health and the Corona Virus

Mental health and the Corona Virus

You can’t move at the moment without someone mentioning the corona virus (Covid19). It is all over the news, newspaper and of course, social media. As with any big news story there are some who are being very flippant and making jokes about it and others who are panicking. 

I’m no expert in this virus but what I do know is that there is a lot of fear in the world at the moment. It is particularly affecting those most vulnerable. I have heard children talking to each other, terrified they are going to die, the elderly concerned because they are scared of contracting it but they need to do some shopping. Worst of all, for me are the tales of vital equipment like masks and hand gels being stolen from hospitals. The one place where these items are essential. Unfortunately fear often brings out the worst in people.

I decided that this was a topic I should cover last night when I learned that the World Health Organisation had declared Covid19 to be a pandemic (meaning an outbreak of a virus or other illness that is worldwide not just localised to one country or region). This has led to more large events being cancelled and travel plans being changed for many. 

There is a lot of information out there about how to protect yourself from the physical symptoms of the virus, but I wanted to talk about the emotional and wellbeing aspects.

How can our mental wellbeing health be affected by corona virus?

We are being told to self isolate if we suspect we may have the virus. This in itself can cause lots of psychological responses. Many people will feel scared of being alone if they are ill, they will worry how they are going to feed themselves, if they are unable to get to the shops what will they eat (hence the panic buying of dried and canned foods). There are also concerns about money for many people. If you are self employed or on a zero hours contract you won’t get paid if you don’t work. Many people are concerned that if schools start to shut in large numbers they will have to take prolonged periods off work. Of course lots of people rely on grandparents for childcare in these circumstances but we know that they may be in a much higher risk category so that may not be an option.

Of course the people most at risk are those already struggling with anxiety and mental health issues. They live in a permanent state of fear and times of additional stress can be terrifying. But even those with relatively good mental health can be suddenly overcome with anxiety at times like this. Particularly if you have any underlying health issues which might be affected by this virus, or maybe you are self employed and worried about the impact on your business.

The importance of staying calm

What we do know though is that you will fight the corona virus, should you come into contact with it, much more efficiently if you are caring for your mental health. It is know scientifically proven that people who meditate regularly and who keep their stress levels lower have a more robust immune system and that all they are much more resistant to any infections and bugs doing the rounds. 

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel because this video by Joe Dispensa covers all the science. It is only around 3 minutes long but it explains perfectly the physiological impact of meditation and mindfulness on our immune system. Please do take the time to watch it and take in what is being said. This is science.

If we stay calm, we keep healthier.

 

How can you help yourself, or others, who may be struggling at this time? 

Stay connected/Check in on them.

It is so simple, but so important to stay connected to the world. Try to stick to your routine as much as possible. Check that others are ok too. Obviously if they are in quarantine you will want to call or text, but just a 5 minute phone call helps someone feel they aren’t alone. Perhaps they need something from the shops. If you are able to go for them you can always arrange to leave things on the doorstep if you are really worried. Be a good friend. Be a good neighbour. Care for each other.  

Stick to reliable sources of information

I tend to work on a need to know basis with anything negative. Obviously this is now starting to impact our lives around the world, but make sure that you are looking for reliable information and guidelines, not Steve on Facebook who knows everything about it (unless it’s medical doctor Steve!). Limit the amount of information you take in because watching every bit of news unfold can definitely induce panic. I would even go as far as saying, distance yourself from people who are scare mongering too. 

Be prepared 

Make sure you have a few essentials in, just in case you do have to self quarantine but please don’t go mad stockpiling. This only causes more panic and affects those who are already most vulnerable to food poverty. If you are living hand to mouth you can’t stock pile food. Make sure you have a few essentials but please, don’t go mad. 

As well as being prepared for quarantine from a food and provisions point of view, think about what you will do if schools are closed due to the corona virus. Make sure you know how you will cope if your children have to be at home for anything from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. You may still be able to go to work but who will look after them?

Consider whether you are able to keep working but from home should you need to. If you are self employed can you use technology to enable to you keep working almost as normal. I know people who are doing meetings virtually and teaching using online tools. Obviously this isn’t possible for all jobs but consider how you could change your work model to minimise disruption.

Take a deep breath

 I know I talk a lot about the importance of breathing when you are anxious or stressed but it really works. If you can just use a very simple breathing technique like 7/11 breathing or finger breathing to help you calm down you will feel better, think more rationally and strengthen your immune system. If you meditate anyway, make sure you are keeping up that practice, we know from the video how beneficial that can be for strengthening your immune system.

Embrace the opportunity to rest

I know it isn’t ideal being ill, and there may be underlying concerns you have about the situation, but if you do have to self quarantine try to embrace the opportunity to rest. Read that book you haven’t had chance to read. Binge watch the series everyone has been talking about. Catch up on sleep. Listen to music. Give your body time to heal.

Most importantly though for now, try to stay calm. Follow the guidelines regarding hand washing etc but make sure you are eating healthily, getting enough sleep and giving your body the best chance to fight the corona virus or any other illness you may be exposed to. 

This will pass but we can all make the process easier and safer by taking care of ourselves and those around us. Let’s choose kindness and compassion over selfishness and greed.

 

For more information about Corona Virus please visit the WHO website.

Staying mindful in a crisis

 

Mindful Grief

Mindful Grief

Grief is possibly the most paralysing of all emotions. 

When we experience grief it feels as though the world has stopped and everything is moving too quickly, all at the same time.

Physically it can be crippling. The pain we feel when we lose someone we love is not just emotional and psychological. There is a very real chest pain that accompanies this emotion. We know people do die of a broken heart. 

When we are grieving routine and normal life seems to be put on hold. There are a few simple thing you can do to help you cope and move through the depths of grief.

Often when we lose someone it is those times when we would call them to tell them something, or when we would be spending time together which are the hardest. Writing them a letter to tell them how you are feeling and what is happening, can be very helpful. Perhaps there is something you wish you had said to them but never had chance. Write it down. Some people even start a journal where they write to their loved on whenever they feel the need. The process of writing can be very therapeutic. If you don’t like writing, just talk to them. 

The mistake we often make is to keep busy. There is a lot to do when we first lose a loved one. But, being busy all the time often means that we don’t fully process what has happened.

Taking time to just sit and think about them can be so helpful. Cry, laugh scream, let your emotions out, but take time to acknowledge that your loved one is no longer here and to appreciate the time that you had with them.

This is not an easy thing to do. It hurts, deeply. It feels like you are choosing pain but in the long run it will make the process easier.

Take one day at a time.

It is easy to believe that we should have dealt with this by now. In reality grief never fully leaves us. It is normal to still cry because we miss someone years after their death. 

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same.”

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Psychiatrist

It’s good. It means that they were someone you really loved. Someone who you wish was still here. Who you would love to be able to see everything you have done in the years since they passed. You may not cry every day. You may not even cry every year any more. But it is normal to still miss them and have these feelings.

Talking to people about how you are feeling is important too. If you are feeling this way, then chances are there are lots of other people feeling just the same way. If you shared a friendship group with the person you have lost, or they are a member of your family, or colleague, there will be other people in that group who are feeling just the same way you are. Talk to them about it. Don’t convince yourself that you will just make them feel sad if you bring the subject up. Often people are relieved when you talk about the person who has passed. I remember a friend of mine from school lost his sister and when I asked him how he was and mentioned her he smiled. He was so grateful that someone had been brave enough to mention her. He felt like everyone had forgotten her already because no-one was talking to him about her anymore.  

Obviously if someone clearly doesn’t want to talk then you must respect their feelings, but there will be someone who does so don’t let that stop you from talking if you feel it will help you.  

Find ways to connect to the person you have lost. Perhaps you always used to do a particular activity together, or you always think of them when you watch a particular programme, don’t avoid those memories, savour them. Perhaps you could create traditions around particular events or anniversaries to help you feel connected.  

When we are overcome with grief it is easy to forget to eat, you may not be sleeping and exercise certainly isn’t top of most people’s to do list. But it is so important to remember to care for yourself. To eat well, to try to sleep when you can and get some fresh air. If you get physically run down your emotions will be even more extreme. Anxiety and depression can really take hold if we don’t care for our physical body at times of emotional distress. 

I am reminded of the Ricky Gervais programme “Afterlife”. In which he is almost kept alive by his dog. If he didn’t have to get up to feed and walk his dog he would definitely have been in a darker place and may even have given up altogether. This programme is a moving but humorous look at grief and may be something to consider watching, depending on where you are in your grieving journey.

The important thing to remember is that grief is a very personal emotion. We all grieve in different ways. Different things will upset us. The important thing is to acknowledge the emotions you are feeling and allow yourself to move through them.

 

If you are struggling with grief I cannot recommend “Good Grief” by Dipti Tait enough. I have known Dipti for over 10 years, she is an amazing hypnotherapist who has gone through the loss of both her parents and is a true expert on grief. I know so many people who have found her book to be a real game changer in coping with their own grief.

Perhaps you would like to learn more about how you can be mindful in simple, every day ways? Have a read of my blog, Everyday mindfulness.

 

Body Confidence – We’re all on a journey

Body Confidence – We’re all on a journey

Body Confidence is a huge issue.

We live in a world obsessed with appearance. A world where teenagers believe they need a Snapchat filter to be presentable to the world. We are meant to exude confidence. Yet everywhere we look we are shown images of photoshopped people and told what we need to do to get that perfect beach body.

Striving for artificial beauty. Pressurised to not just look a certain way, but show the world how you look on Instagram or Tiktok.

In reality, of course, beauty isn’t a real thing. 

There are of course many things which the majority of people believe to be beautiful; a perfect rose or a perfectly symmetrical face. But there will always be someone who doesn’t find that beautiful at all. 

I can’t believe I am subjecting you to this photo again but it seemed like an appropriate photo to share given the title photo. This is me in all my bravery in Rome last year. I was on holiday with my husband. I was 42 years old and a size 16.

Do I think I look beautiful?

Honestly no, not beautiful. Does my husband think I look beautiful? Hell yes! He told me so many times how gorgeous I looked that day. It was the first time I had worn a bikini in 12 years because I felt so self conscious not even slightly confident.

My body has undergone a lot of changes. I have acromegaly so where as most people’s stop changing and growing, apart from maybe putting on or losing a few pounds, in their teens, mine changed dramatically in my late twenties and early thirties.

This has taken its toll on my confidence.  

On the one hand I LOVE my body. I am grateful every day that it doesn’t hurt as much as it did before my surgery and that I am able to do all the things I can do. On the other hand I get frustrated that there are other things that I can’t do easily any more, and that I know it doesn’t look the way it would have without this illness. 

There have been other dramatic changes in my adult life which have changed my body though, like two pregnancies. Both resulted in caesarians so I have a lovely “mum tum” and scar on my stomach. Then there are my tiger scars on my stomach (stretch marks to you!). I actually don’t have an issue with any of this at all because they are proof that I grew, carried and cared for my babies and successfully brought them into this world. I am almost proud of them… on the right day.  

On another day though, they are ugly and I hate that my belly wobbles and I totally lack confidence.  I may have believed I had many flaws with my body when I was younger but my stomach was always flat and toned. 

Why am I sharing all this? 

Well, at the moment, I am rehearsing for The Real Full Monty in Stafford. Yes I am stripping off down to my pants in the local theatre in front of over 1500 people. I will be joined on stage by 13 courageous women and 14 brave men. We will all be getting way outside our comfort zones and challenging ourr body confidence issues for some amazing local charities. Over the last 4 weeks I have got to know the other women and we are already an incredibly supportive group of sisters. We have every age, shape, cup size, height and personality represented on that stage. I am so proud to be dancing along side them.  

Are we ever happy with our bodies?

What upsets me a little though, and I am as guilty as anyone, is that every single woman on that stage is lacking body confidence. No-one feels confident about this process. We all feel as though everyone else looks beautiful and we are the ones that the audience will be repulsed by. The women who are a size 8 with an AA cup are worried that they look too thin, that the audience will be disappointed because they haven’t got anything to show. Our plus sized women are worried that they are too wobbly and no-one wants to see their tummies. The tall girls are worried that they stand out too much, and the short girls that they will be mistaken for teenagers.  

I could write a whole blog just with the comments I have heard over the first four rehearsals. We are all feeling self conscious. Some of us deal with it by making jokes and being as brave as we can. Others are hiding in the background and hoping it never happens.

Despite all our fears and beliefs about our bodies though, at only the fourth rehearsal 8 out of the 12 girls who made the rehearsal stripped down to bra and leggings during the rehearsal, even in front of the boys group. 

 

We weren’t even a little bit confident, some of us are still shaking now!

I would love to tell you that I have battled my body confidence demon and am now totally in love with my body 24/7! But in reality I have days when I am so grateful that I am alive and that I have managed to maintain a reasonable body weight despite growth hormone challenges.

“Body Confidence doesn’t come from having the perfect body, it comes from learning to love the one you have”

But I would be lying if I said that there aren’t days when I get out of the bath because I don’t want to look at myself any longer. I’m definitely not finding revealing my body to a room full of people, and eventually a theatre full of people, easy. I’ll do it and I can do it because I have decided I will. I want to raise awareness of my condition. Want to show people that even if you don’t feel confident in your body you are still beautiful and you have a right to be seen. 

I am battling my inner demons and even finding new ones.

It’s hard to believe that you are sexy and confident as a woman, when you have to buy shoes made for transvestites to do it.  

When you spent years looking in the mirror and seeing someone else looking back it’s hard to even look in the mirror again, let alone without clothes on.  

Importantly though, I am finding the strength to overcome those inner voices and learning to love my physical form  and feeling truly confident for the first time in my life.  

It isn’t an overnight process. 

I had a major wibble yesterday, it felt like a big step. It took all my courage to wear that bikini in Rome and no-one knew me there, these were friends and some people I have known for years, others I had only met yesterday, but I have to see them again. It was very emotional. Realising that I wanted to take this next step. That I needed to. It was even more emotional when we got through it and we were all hugging and congratulating each other. Compliments are something I have always struggled with, I have taught myself to be gracious and accept them in most scenarios but accepting complements about my physical appearance graciously is going to take some more working on! 

 

The whole process is emotional and a little overwhelming. I am crying a lot and very, very grateful for:

  • the opportunity to go on this journey
  • the amazingly supportive people I am sharing it with
  • my strength of character to even consider stepping onto a stage and making myself this vulnerable

Most of all I am grateful for my body. Scars, wobbles, creaky joints and all.

It is coping with rehearsals, it is coping with wearing heels. It may not be a magazine’s version of beautiful. But I only need to look at the pride in my husband’s face, when he watches us rehearse, to know that he thinks I’m beautiful and that’s good enough for me. 

Beautiful Amazonian 

My friend and fellow dancer, Jacqui, keeps telling me I am “a beautiful Amazonian”. I honestly think that in a few weeks time, I may begin to believe it.  

Whatever we have been through in our lives; illness, mental illness, abuse, eating disorders, neglect, bullying… Experiences we have and things others have said can make us hide away and not want to be seen. Make us believe we don’t deserve to be seen even. Feed us lies that others are judging us. In reality, most people are too busy worrying about their own issues to notice other people. Those that do see you are more than likely marvelling at your strength, your beauty (inside and out) and even wondering how they can be more like you.  

If you don’t have a group of friends who build you up and make you feel beautiful and capable of anything, get in touch with me and I will be your cheerleader. We all need one sometimes. Better still, confront all your deepest fears and learn to be your own cheerleader. You don’t have to take your clothes off but find a way to fall deeply in love with your own body again. You owe it to yourself to love yourself. Not just some bits, all of you.  

 

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

Louise Hay

Author , Hayhouse

Introducing my hero… my Gran

Introducing my hero… my Gran

Why am I talking about my Gran?  Well, I believe it helps you to be your own hero, if we highlight the amazing every day heroes in the world. I will be writing about some of my heroes over the coming months, and also inviting guest authors to share their stories. These will either be their own story, which I believe to be truly heroic, or stories of their own heroes.

Choosing one person to write about is very difficult because I have many many heroes in my life, but perhaps the most constant was my Gran. 

My Gran was my best friend, my confidante, an amazing role model and my soul sister. We enjoyed doing the same things, we both had a silly sense of humour and loved to laugh and we both loved clothes shopping.

As a child she was always there with a treat or a cuddle to cheer me up. When I was a teenager she shared stories from her own youth to help me see that everything would be ok and what I was experiencing was normal. She was my number one fan whether I was singing, acting, speaking or just taking on a new role. When I became a wife and mother she shared her wisdom and whatever crazy decision I made she was always in my corner.

I’m sure many of you are thinking, “yes, my Grandma was the same”. That’s the magic. Many of us are blessed to have such incredible grandparents, I know my children are. 

Gran was a magical lady

Gran, as she liked to be called, had a real name. It was Betty. Which she hated because she felt it wasn’t a real name. She spent her whole life wondering why her parents hadn’t called her Elizabeth so she could choose to shorten it or not. it was also an issue that  both her siblings had middle names and she didn’t. She was genuinely put out by it (but in a good natured way!). The only other thing that annoyed her (apart from someone upsetting her family!) was Margaret Thatcher. She would practically throw her slippers at the tele whenever she came on!

She was calm, patient, loving and endlessly positive, on the outside. Internally she struggling with depression and anxiety most of her life, as her mother had before her. Very few people would have known that though. 

Small gestures, big impact

 I don’t think I realised the full impact she had had on the world until her funeral. She was 95 when she died and often when people reach such a good age their funeral can be quite an intimate occasion. Not Gran’s. The crematorium was packed and everyone went back to the Baptist church she attended afterwards for a celebration of her life. We had tea and cake (her favourite thing) and all talked about her and the impact she had had on our lives. Hearing people from the chapel community talking about how she always said something lovely and it would made their day. One lady said to me, “No-one every comments on my appearance, I’m not a very fashionable or glamorous person, but your Gran always commented on something I was wearing or if I had had my hair cut, it made my day”. 

Such a simple thing, but that lady will remember that forever I feel sure.

Gran always made everyone feel special. It was a real gift. 

I feel the need to qualify her attendance of the Baptist church. She wasn’t a religious person. When she started going to the chapel it was to help out with social events and while she could, she did attend the services, but it was for the community not for the religious content. We had many very long conversations about religion and the jury was definitely out. She believed, as I do, that if you are a good person and you are kind and thoughtful that whatever there is when we leave this world won’t judge you harshly for not making a decision about which building to pray in. 

 Gran was ahead of her time in many ways. I remember talking to her about marriage vows before I married Ian and she was very clear that I must not say “love, honour and obey”. Love and honour yes, but obey? Absolutely not! She married my Grandad (also a special person but that’s for another day!) in 1948 and refused to “obey” him in their vows. She thought it was awful! After my Grandad died in 1994 she struggled. He was her whole world. They rarely went anything alone after he retired. They were soul mates and she missed him terribly. But we kept giving her little reasons to keep going; weddings, great grandchildren, events… 

She had an inner strength and determination I have rarely seen.

She could be really tired and fed up in her later years but if she saw one of us struggling she would rally round and support us. It really was incredible to see, especially towards the end. She looked so frail and tired, but the minute she saw that one of us was feeling sorry for ourselves she would dig deep and perk up. 

 

When my parents went to America in 2014 I stayed with Gran for two weeks and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. We talked, I hired a wheelchair and we managed some days out, including a trip to Leeds. We covered all the places she had worked and went to see all the sights she hadn’t seen for years. New shopping centres, statues and of course we drank tea and ate cake!  I missed my little family like mad but it was worth it. So many amazing memories. 

I was blessed to have Gran in my life until I was 40. I’m lucky to have so many memories of her, it is impossible to even recall them all. I miss her every day and wear the ring she left me so that she is always with me. I have lots of silly momentos too but it is my memories that are truly precious. Thinking of her sliding up the supermarket aisles on the back of the trolley with her legs swinging. Her cheeky face when she told us we could have another cake, or to get the chocolate biscuit barrel down. 

The look of glee in her face when she would come shopping with me to Top Shop and Miss Selfridges when I was a teenager (she didn’t think she could go in and look by herself cause she was “too old”!). Trying on glasses and pulling silly faces together in The White Rose when I took her for her eye test. 

Lasting impact

More than anything else though, I get a feeling when I think about her. I know she is always with me. I have a notebook where I write to her when there are things I really need to tell her. If you had asked her she would have said that she wasn’t anything remarkable.

Just a girl from Leeds who did what everyone else did of her generation; went to school, cared for her siblings, went to work at 14 in the laundry, joined the WAF, got married, had a child, kept a home, went to work and retired at 60 and spent the rest of her life doting on her grandchildren and helping others in the local community. But the impact she had on so many lives was immense.

Although she may have had a tendency to wear too much grey later in life, she certainly was not in any way grey. She was vibrant. Full of so much love it practically burst out. She always had time for everyone and never moaned about helping anyone. 

I like to think I inherited more than just her nice nails and thick calves and that we are quite alike, but only time will tell I suppose. One things for certain, I couldn’t have had a better role model. Love you Gran x

I wrote a blog about role models a few years ago that ties nicely with this post so if you would like to have a read you can find it here.

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