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The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

My first review for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick shortlist, is for The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman.

Laura Freeman is a freelance writer and art critic. Her first book The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite has been shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.

She writes about art, architecture, books and food for the Spectator, Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Apollo, Literary Review,  Standpoint, World of Interiors, Country Life and TLS. She is a former dance critic for the Evening Standard.

Her work has been short-listed for Feature Writer of the Year at the British Press Awards.

She read History of Art at Cambridge, graduating with a double first in 2010.

My review:

At the young age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. Where everyone saw a really thin girl with almost transparent skin, she saw something utterly different in the reflection in the mirror. It was the culmination of months of avoiding certain foods, before almost stopping eating completely until she reached the point where she was starving to death. While she let very little pass her lips in the form of nourishment, she still devoured books, and it was literature that was to hold the key to her recovery.

The road to recovery for an anorexic is long and fraught and it was no different for Laura, but where others just had the mental battle, she had the extra support from the books she was reading. In between the covers of Dickens, Sassoon, Woolf, Lee and Leigh Fermor, she would discover how they were able to consume vast plates full of roast beef, bowls of soup and exotic sounding breads without a care in the world. She reads of soldiers who treasure the moment of a scalding hot cup of tea after an intense battle in World War One. In fact, what she discovered was that these authors loved food; revelled in the taste of what they were eating and sharing the moment with others. These passages in the books slowly gave her the confidence to rediscover food for the pleasure of eating it rather than purely as a fuel.

Even though her mind had driven her to the point of abhorring food, one thing that she never lost was her love of reading. Most people do not realise just how debilitating anorexia is and there is some painful moments in here as she recalls the lowest points of her illness. But there are the moments too, where she is sustained by her mother’s love, an invitation from a friend that arrived at just the right moment. I have read a fair number of the books that Laura talks about in here and whilst the eating and celebration of life between friends and strangers is a key part of them, it is not something that particularly stood out for me, until now. Just reading the descriptions quoted in the book made me very hungry! However, it did for Laura and this list of childhood favourites and other classics has played a crucial role in her accepting that food is not something to avoid and can be enjoyed.

There are lots of things happening online concerning the award if you want to follow it.

The website is here:

The Young Writers Twitter Account is here:

You can find them on Facebook here:

Or follow the hashtag: 

My fellow shadow panel members are also all online:

Amanda Chatterton – Bookish Chat –

Susan Osborne – A Life In Books –

Lucy Pearson – The Lit Edit –

Lizzi Risch – These Little Words

Or follow the hashtag: #youngwriterawardshadow



Bognor and Other Regises by Caroline Taggart

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The current Royal family can trace its lineage back to William the Bastard through the various direct links and, err, shall we say, more tenuous links. This proliferation of royalty through the ages has added a lot of history to our country and culture. Earlier monarchs seemed to spend a lot of time trying to stop themselves being killed whilst simultaneously trying to knock their competitors off. Places are as intertwined with these people as much as the history is, and in this book Caroline Taggart take us to 100 places around the UK that have had some significant events happen in this regal history.

As well as the palaces and castles that Royals are usually found in, Taggart takes us to the homes of the great and the good, seaside resorts, abbeys, riversides,  and even the odd field. In each of the 100 locations scattered across the whole country, there is a little back history of the place and the Royal personage and event associated with it. Each of the 100 locations to visit are grouped under the various Royal Houses, for example, the Tudors, the Plantagenets and the House of Hanover.

We have so much history in this country that a book like this can only skim the surface. What it does well though is provide a list of places that you can get out to and visit as well as telling you a series of anecdotes and entertaining snippets to bring the places and people to life. Would be a great read for someone who unfurls the bunting every time there is an announcement from the Buckingham Palace.

Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey

3.5 out of 5 stars

I have only seen dolphins once briefly in the wild. We were coming back from holiday in Jersey and as the ferry eased its way into the narrow harbour of St Peter Port in Guernsey behind the boat there were some leaping in the wake. It was a magical moment in that brief glimpse. There are often off the coast of Dorset and we have been out to Durlston Head to see if we can see them, but haven’t been fortunate yet.

They are highly intelligent creatures, they can recognise themselves in the mirror, are capable of empathy, grief and teamwork. They are excellent communicators, their clicks and whistles are almost continuous as they zip through the ocean. The more that we discover of their abilities the more amazed we become. They are almost human-like in some ways.

However, these magnificent creatures though are under threat. Being an apex predator they accumulate all the toxins and plastics that are contained within their prey. Those that we haven’t killed accidentally are frequently killed in nets and there are communities in the world that see them as a threat to their fishing stocks and kill thousands each year. On top of all that the world’s oceans are now a noisy place with a constant drone from propellers and super loud sonar from military manoeuvres. Dolphin carcases wash up on all the shores around the world, but if that part of the ocean is polluted then the numbers dying grows enormously.

Casey falls in love with these amazing animals and heads to various places around the world to meet those that love dolphins such as Dolphinville on Hawaii’s Big Island where people spend time swimming with the spinner dolphins, as well as taking more harrowing trips to Japan, and seeing where hundreds are slaughtered. On her travels, she discovers more about the trade in live creatures and how a creature that needs the whole of the ocean to live in ends up in marinas and private collections. Her descriptions of her visits to see the animals that are held in captivity are shocking and heart-wrenching. We are rapidly approaching the tipping point where we may not have any dolphins left in the seas. If that ever happens we as a species will be much poorer for it. Not quite as good as her book on waves, but still makes for compelling reading.

The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare

The Blurb

As November stubs out the glow of autumn and the days tighten into shorter hours, winter’s occupation begins. Preparing for winter has its own rhythms, as old as our exchanges with the land. Of all the seasons, it draws us together. But winter can be tough.

It is a time of introspection, of looking inwards. Seasonal sadness; winter blues; depression – such feelings are widespread in the darker months. But by looking outwards, by being in and observing nature, we can appreciate its rhythms. Mountains make sense in any weather. The voices of a wood always speak consolation. A brush of frost; subtle colours; days as bright as a magpie’s cackle. We can learn to see and celebrate winter in all its shadows and lights.

In this moving and lyrical evocation of a British winter and the feelings it inspires, Horatio Clare raises a torch against the darkness, illuminating the blackest corners of the season, and delving into memory and myth to explore the powerful hold that winter has on us. By learning to see, we can find the magic, the light that burns bright at the heart of winter: spring will come again.

About the Author

Horatio Clare was born in London, but grew up on a hill farm in the Black Mountains of South Wales. He went to Malvern College and then read English at the University of York. From there he ended up at the BBC, on Front Row on Radio 4 and then Night Waves and The Verb on Radio 3. He has written numerous books including some for children, two memoirs, three travel books, a couple of natural history and travel combined, edited a book on Sicily and now this very personal book about Winter. His writing has appeared in all of the broadsheets and elsewhere. On top of all that he is Contributing Editor for Conde Nast Traveller and a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University.

My Review

5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

For me, each season has its highlights, the freshness and vitality of spring, the balmy days of summer, the quality of the autumn light and crisp days of winter. However, for others, not every season is loved equally and winter for some is the toughest season. Days are short, often gloomy cold and wet and it becomes a time when people feel at their lowest ebb. These pensive moments can lead to depression and long-term mental health issues.

Horatio Clare is one of those who suffers from this seasonal woe. This diary of his thoughts, feelings and fears written from mid-October, that time of the year as the nights draw into the 20th March, the spring equinox. In this diary, he is open and brutally honest about how the darkest part of the year affects him, how when he is teaching at John Moores University the words that would come naturally to him are scarce. Calder Valley, where he lives has a high suicide rate, attributed to a feeling that there is no way out and his very bleakest moments hurt his relationships with his loved ones.

Thin wisps of bird song come through bare woods and I am aware of gathering every sign of life and nature against a lowering threat.

But in amongst all the gloom of the season, he finds light and beauty around when he ventures outside. The skeletal starkness of trees, jewel-like frost sparkling in the sun, sunsets the colour of fire and that day went he spots the snowdrops have begun to open and realises that winter is actually on the wane. He is open about his anxieties that causes him to worry about so many things; money, the future, Brexit and his ability to teach; it causes him to frequently wake in the middle of the night mindlessly scrolling through a list of worries. Clare’s writing is taut, sparse and charged with emotion as he details the battles against his own personal demons of winter. This moving book should be essential reading for those that are suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and also for those that know someone who is afflicted.

This tour was arranged by Emma Finegan and Anne Cater of #RandomThings. Do go and have a look at all the other blogs on the tour for their take on the book.

The book is published by Elliott and Thompson and is available from your local independent bookshop 

Something of his Art by Horatio Clare

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

In the winter of 1705, a young organist set off to walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck to visit the organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. This 250-mile journey was to become pivotal for this teacher and as yet unknown composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. He had got permission for four weeks leave, but his visit ended up taking more than four months which upset his current employers at New Church, Arnstadt. It wasn’t a pilgrimage in the usual sense, rather he was continuing the long tradition of being a wandering scholar. He would pass through a series of cities, duchies and mini-states, would be a transformative moment in his career.

Three centuries later Horatio Clare set off on the same journey, to follow in his footsteps immerse himself in the landscape and perhaps gain some insight and understanding to the great man. Clare was not alone like Bach though, nor was he armed like Bach almost certainly was, instead, he was accompanied by Richard who was recording the journey and Lindsey who was producing it for BBC Radio 3.

It is though a sky cannot be quite large enough to contain the gentle venerations of the cello.

Some of the noises that they encounter would have been the same as Bach encountered on his walk, the burble of the river, bird calls and songs and the wind rustling through the trees, but compared to those days when working on the land was essential to survival, they encounter almost no one on parts of their walk. There would be no drone of traffic, rather Bach would have heard the squeak of cartwheels behind the heavy breathing of horses. As Clare emerges from the paths into the cities, he knows he is treading the same cobbles that Bach will have walked upon too.

The sun goes down leaving a crimson scripts and a huge flourish of flared cloud above pine forestry.

Clare’s describes his walk as being close on the heels of Bach’s ghost, and as they arrive in Lubeck the anticipation is electric. Entering the church send shivers up his spine, It is not the same building, having been rebuilt after World War 2, but Bach’s still presence permeates the space. There is something deeper going on here too, the music that Bach wrote stemmed from what he learnt and mastered here in the freedom that Lübeck allowed. Something of his Art is a well researched and passionate about its subject, however, it is the quality of Clare’s writing and his keen eye describing the places they walk through make this a special book to read.

Monthly Muse: October

I seem to be doing these later and later; the plan for October was to do these as I went along and failed! Never mind. First of all my news if you haven’t already seen it, I was humbled to be asked to participate as a shadow judge on The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick. The shortlist was announced at the weekend and here they are:

Anyway, in lesser news, I managed to read 18 books in October. I am going to do it a little bit differently this month and see how it works. Let me know what you think.

These were the three fiction books that I read:


Melissa Harrison’s was a story about a girl in the Suffolk countryside growing up in between the wars and how the life that she had known was beginning to change. Anna Vaught’s book was a bit of magical realism set on the Pembrokeshire Coast and Tom Cox’s book was a series of ghost and folklore stories. Not sure which was my favourite as they were all good in very different ways.

I read one book on the history of air and space travel called The Earth Gazers by Christopher Potter. It was an interesting read and covered a lot of time and events.

I quite like humorous books, they are a moment of light relief in a mad world at the moment. Dear Mr Pop Star is a series of letters sent by Derek Philpott & Dave Philpott to all sorts of pop stars and responses that they had back from them. Lots of tongue in cheek humour. The Snooty Bookshop is a collection of 50 postcards from the cartoon genius that is Tom Gauld.


I have a thing for books on language. It is a fascinating goldmine of the way our communication evolves as we interact with each other. I went with my eldest to see Susie Dent on her Tour and she was really good and I had had Dent’s Modern Tribes: The Secret Languages Of Britain from the library for ages before finally getting around to reading it. In this, she looks at the way we learn the language of the tribe we belong too, whether you’re a lawyer or baker, mechanic or pilots. Very good it was too. This is the third book that I have read of Claire’s. The previous two were on books, but The Real McCoy and 149 Other Eponyms was on people who have made it into our language. A short and sweet little book full of intersting stories, some of which you may have heard of and others that you wouldn’t.


Not actually sure how to classify No Limits by Nightscape. It is a books of urban exploration, taking us the readers up to the places that you would not normally be allowed to go. Amazing photos pf our cityscapes.


Those of you that read this blog regularly (thank you all), will know that I love reading natural history books. There are some great ones out there and these are three that should be added to the great lists: Landfill by Tim Dee is about those annoying gulls that try and steal your chips on the seafront. In here Tim explores how they have become urbanised and live in parallel with us now. Mary Colwell’s book is not quite a eulogy to the Curlew, but at the rate their numbers are plummeting, it could soon be. Beautifully written account of her walk across Ireland and the UK to still see the few that are left. Haunts Of The Black Masseur I couldn’t really get along with. I have included it in here as there is a loose overlap with wild swimming. it is a literary look at writers who have spent a proportion of their lives swimming. It did give me a few books to explore further, but felt a bit disjointed. Finally is One of Horatio Clare’s two new books, The Light In The Dark. This is his diary of the pain that he goes through every winter and the light fade, the clock goes back and the nights draw in. It is painful for him and he relies on his family and the natural world to help him through.


My other favourite subject to read about is travel and managed to read five books this month, four of which were walking books and one spent on a tiny boat in the worlds fourth largest river. Chris Townsend wanted to walk the longest route through the watershed of Scotland and told his story in Along the Divide: Walking the Wild Spine of Scotland. It is a really good book on what you would think was a well-travelled part of the world. Staying in Scotland, The Hidden Ways: Scotland’s Forgotten Roads is Alistair Moffat’s exploration of the routes that the people used to walk to get acros the parts of the country. As he walks he tells of the history of the paths. More importantly, it is the beginning of a campaign to make these accessible to many more people. In The Crossway, Guy Stagg decides to walk from Canterbury across Europe to Jerusalem (one for my #WorldFromMyArmchair challenge too). He was relying on strangers to shelter him, something necessary as he headed over the Alp over the end of Winter.  Part of the purpose of the walk was to see if he could overcome the depression that haunted him. Staying in Europe, Horatio Clare’s other new book Something of His Art: Walking to Lubeck with JS Bach is the account of his walk following in the footsteps of the great composer. Finally, we head to America and Jonathan Raban’s account, Old Glory. In this, his second book that he wrote, he is heading down the Missippi in a 16-foot aluminium boat. He is a keen observer of people and places and his writing is spectacular, probing and lyrical.


Quite a month really. Any you like the look of? Or have read yourself? let me know below.

Revolution by William Manners

3 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The bicycle today is ubiquitous. You can rent them in London for as little as £2 a day and travel all over the place. People have used them to cycle around the world in record-breaking times to others who are still going on their lifetime adventures. Should you wish to buy one you can spend a couple of hundred quid to way north of £5k, but regardless of how much it cost it can take you places.

Wind the clock back 120 years or so and this new invention was affecting society in many ways. After they discarded the largely pointless hobby horse and developed the safety bicycle, this simple, efficient machine had a significant impact on the society of the day and changed the lives of everyone who swung their leg over the cross bar. When they had enough money to acquire a bike, this was the first time the working class person could travel faster than walking pace and it gave women far more independence than society was really ready for.

Manners has scoured the archives, delving into newspaper report, cycling club journals and reading contemporary accounts from authors such as H.G. Wells for details on the way this machine revolutionised society. He has found loads of amazing photos to show the cyclist of the time and how even then the bike had begun to evolve. There are chapters on how it changed fashion for women, how racing in the UK went in a different direction in the UK compared to the continent. The biologist Steve Jones ranked the bicycle as the most important event in recent human evolution as it meant that people could look farther afield than their village for their lifelong companions and the chapter on the cycling clubs is a bit of a riot. It is an enjoyable read about the revolution that the bicycle caused in the Victorian Age.

Old Glory by Jonathan Raban

5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The Mississippi is the fourth longest river in the world and drains a total of 31 states with a watershed of1,245,000 square miles over its 2300 mile length. In parts, it is up to a mile wide, though the largest lake is 11 miles wide. Raban had first come across this river that cleaves America in two after reading about the Tales of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and wanted to travel along it and absorb the American culture. Starting in Minneapolis which is about 200 miles from the source of the river, he bought a 16-foot Aluminium boat with a 15hp engine, a tiny minnow compared to the vastness of the river. After a crash course in how to handle his new transport and some advice that will prove invaluable later, he is ready to depart, but he just needs to get through the first of the massive locks.

That terrifying experience achieved, the next few days are quite relaxed while cruising downstream. After a days boating, he pulls into the bank to find the nearest hotel or motel and to find some of the locals to talk to. It is a dangerous trip and he has a few near misses. Thankfully he follows the advice that he was given earlier to get off the river when the sky looks strange and just misses a horrendous storm. Apart from these moments, it is a relaxed trip, he enjoys smoking a pipe while watching drifting down the river, only resorting to the whisky when he has been scared witless. One lock keeper advises him to travel at night, but it nearly gets him killed by a barge, so he decides against that.

Where this book comes alive though is his interaction with the people that he meets. He talks to anyone and everyone, from politicians to widows, rednecks and the transient men who work the river. In Memphis, he joins the black reverend judge, Otis Higgs, campaign to overturn the incumbent mayor and sees the endemic racism that was bubbling under the surface of society, something that is worryingly prevalent once again. Every day the river teaches him something new, sometimes it is about the places he passes and other times it is about himself.

This is the second of his books that I have read. The intention is to read them in the order that he published them. Really enjoyed Arabia, but this is another level up again. He is a keen observer of people and places and his writing is spectacular, probing and lyrical. He can sketch a place or a person in a scant number of words, making you feel that you are bobbing along in the boat or sitting alongside him at a bar. Fantastic book. Looking forward to the next, Coasting.

The Peters Fraser And Dunlop/Sunday Times Young Writer Of The Year Award – Shortlist Reveal

And here are the four shortlisted titles for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer Of The Year Award, in association with The University of Warwick:

The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman

At the age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. She had seized the one aspect of her life that she seemed able to control, and struck different foods from her diet one by one until she was starving. But even at her lowest point, the one appetite she never lost was her love of reading.

As Laura battled her anorexia, she gradually re-discovered how to enjoy food – and life more broadly – through literature. Plum puddings and pottles of fruit in Dickens gave her courage to try new dishes; the wounded Robert Graves’ appreciation of a pair of greengages changed the way she thought about plenty and choice; Virginia Woolf’s painterly descriptions of bread, blackberries and biscuits were infinitely tempting. Book by book, meal by meal, Laura developed an appetite and discovered an entire library of reasons to live.

The Reading Cure is a beautiful, inspiring account of hunger and happiness, about addiction, obsession and recovery, and about the way literature and food can restore appetite and renew hope.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gower

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.
As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.
Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?
In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned menacing and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them in the woods with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted.

Cathy was more like their father: fierce and full of simmering anger. Daniel was more like their mother: gentle and kind. Sometimes, their father disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home, he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, Elmet is a compelling portrayal of a family living on the fringes of contemporary society, as well as a gripping exploration of the disturbing actions people are capable of when pushed to their limits.

Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth

A captivating, lyrical account of an epic voyage by canoe down the Yukon River.

The Yukon River is almost 2,000 miles long, flowing through Canada and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Setting out to explore one of the most ruggedly beautiful and remote regions of North America, Adam Weymouth journeyed by canoe on a four-month odyssey through this untrammelled wilderness, encountering the people who have lived there for generations. The Yukon’s inhabitants have long depended on the king salmon who each year migrate the entire river to reach their spawning grounds. Now the salmon numbers have dwindled, and the encroachment of the modern world has changed the way of life on the Yukon, perhaps for ever.

Weymouth’s searing portraits of these people and landscapes offer an elegiac glimpse of a disappearing world. Kings of the Yukon is an extraordinary adventure, told by a powerful new voice.

It is good to see two non-fiction on the list. I have already read the Reading Cure earlier in the year. I had won a signed copy of Elmet but not got around to reading it. Really looking forward to the others too.

What do you think of the shortlist? Have you read any?


Review: Curlew Moon by Mary Colwell

4.5 out of 5 stars

One of our largest wading birds is the Curlew. To give you some idea of its size, the body is about the same size as a herring gull, but with much longer legs and rather than a bright yellow beak it has a gently curving bill, perfect for finding its food in the mud flats. They have a distinctive call that evokes so much for many people and that along with their looks has inspired poems and paintings.

About a month ago we headed out to Arne on the other side of Poole Harbour and there were four curlews in the River as it flowed into the harbour. Sadly though, all of these things that make this bird so special for so many people are almost lost to us. Most people will have never heard the cry or seen this species of bird, and it seems that most people never will. Across Europe, numbers have dropped around 20% and in Ireland, over the past three decades, next pairs have fallen from 5,000 pairs to just 130. Rightly so it has gone on the red list.

To see for herself, Mary Colwell decided to walk from their breeding grounds in the West Coast of Ireland to the east coast of the UK. Before this 500 mile journey begun though, she heads to Snettisham in East Anglia to see a flock of the birds. A few weeks later she arrived in Ireland to see a project in Country Antrim and begin her walk. The plan was to arrive in Wales as they were incubating their eggs,  find them with the chicks in the western part of England and arrive back on the East Coast six weeks later to see the fledgelings making their first attempt to fly.  It is this part of the country that the curlews would begin their preparations for the winter

Colwell’s journey is almost a pilgrimage in respect of these birds. She is supported by those who are also horrified by the catastrophic collapse in numbers. The writing is really special too, she is passionate about these birds in particular and her love of the natural world is clear as day in her prose. There is something else in this book too, not anger, more absolute fury, so much so that Colwell used the walk to raise money to heighten awareness of their predicament. Given that it is thought that we have lost around 60% of animals this should be essential reading for anyone interested in the subject. As a small aside, it does have a stunning ‘naked’ hardback cover with lovely gold blocking and has lovely illustrations by Jessica Holm scattered throughout.

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