Doon Hill walk, summer flowers and best bee photo?

September 1, 2015

On Sunday morning we parked the car at Oswald Dean, known locally as Oasie Dean, a valley with Spott Burn (burn in Scots = stream) running through it. We walked up towards Doon Hill past the Doonery, the site of an old threshing mill, now private houses but the former chimney of the mill has been kept. Doon Hill is best known historically as the site of the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, an inglorious day for the Scots, who had the superior position and had Cromwell’s army precariously positioned between them and the sea. One section of the Scottish army incongruously took the decision to attack the English army, thus abandoning their potentially victorious position. Defeat was thus snatched from the jaws of victory and the Scottish football (aka soccer) team has been repeating this on many occasions. The views from the foot of Doon Hill are panoramic, looking over the town of Dunbar and out to sea with the Bass Rock prominent. As ever, click on photos for enlarged views in a new tab.

Dunbar, the Bass Rock and the Fife coast from Doon Hill

Dunbar, the Bass Rock and the Fife coast from Doon Hill

View from Doon Hill

View from Doon Hill

This is the end of August, so the barley fields around Doon Hill are at their most fecund and ready for the harvest. It’s a real pleasure to walk past the barley, on this morning swaying gently in the breeze. The heads of grain are tightly packed individual food parcels and have an anarchic, unregimented view when seen close up.

Barley grains ready to harvest

Barley grains ready to harvest

Taking a wider view, the barley looks more regimented, organised in countless rows of stalks, interrupted only by the tractor tracks used to sow and spray the crops. We saw 2 combine harvesters in the adjacent field from the other side of the hill. The combine was relentlessly cutting the barley and leaving a large dust cloud behind it, while the tractor waited to be loaded with the grain, once it had been cut and processed inside the harvester.

Combine harvester near Doon Hill

Combine harvester near Doon Hill

Not far from the summit of Doon Hill is the remains of a Neolithic settlement (good photos) and there is a very informative board on the site, detailing the history of the various settlements. Reading the board’s information and looking around the large fields of grain and hearing the buzz of the combine harvester in the distance, you can’t help but think that if one of the former settlers arrived back from the dead, s/he would be completely bewildered. While the basic shape of the hill and the countryside remains and the sea can still be seen just over the hill, our long dead visitor would find it hard to understand the vastness of the grain fields or the bizarre machine eating its way through the barley.

Doon Hill settlement notice board

Doon Hill settlement notice board

Like the barley, most of the flowers in my garden are at their peak and at the back of the house, the pots are overflowing with begonias, fuchsias and lobelia, with the gladioli and sword lilies not far behind. On a sunny day, with an incoming tide, it’s a treat to sit outside and appreciate the spread of colour in front of you.

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Summer flowers on the decking

Finally, I’ve been trying to get close-up photos of bees on our lavender and hebe all summer. Most are blurred because of the constant movement of the bees and their incessantly beating wings. This one may be the clearest so far. If you look closely at the bee’s head, you can see its proboscis in the flower head.

Bee feeding on lavender

Bee feeding on lavender

Dunbar harbour (again) and Abbey St Bathans

August 25, 2015

There’s a biblical saying indicating (roughly) that there is no end to the making of books and there is no end to me taking photographs of my local harbour, which has featured a few times on this blog e.g. here and here. One reason for this is that the light is never exactly the same at Dunbar harbour, the tide is never at exactly the same height and the boats and yachts in the harbour are never exactly in the same place. These most recent photos were taken on a cloudy evening although there was enough light from the west to illuminate the water and enable the reflections to appear. The sounds of the harbour are always changing and the most significant recent change has been a dramatic decrease in sound as the calls of the kittiwakes no longer pierce the evening calm. The birds which nested on the castle walls ( see my photos) since April have gone back out to sea until next year.

Dunbar harbour on a cloudy evening

Dunbar harbour on a cloudy evening

Reflections in Dunbar harbour

Reflections in Dunbar harbour

Creels, yachts and castle ruins at Dunbar Harbour

Creels, yachts and castle ruins at Dunbar Harbour

It’s been a good few years since we ventured to Abbey St Bathans. From Dunbar, this is a pleasant drive – and a hard cycle run because of the many hills encountered. There are some nice walks from where you park near the bridge which is part of the route on the Southern Upland Way, a popular walking route.

Southern Upland Way signpost

Southern Upland Way signpost

The fast flowing Whiteadder (pr Whittader) River flows through this hamlet and there is a swinging bridge upstream which was built by the Gurkas in 1987. The church (good photos) is famous for being built on the site of a 12th century abbey.  Nowadays, there is a trout farm and a restaurant/gallery along the road from the church.  Over the road is an extensive sawmill – an unusual sight in the 21st century – but it gladdens the eye to see the piles of tree trunks sculpturally assembled across the mill yard. There is also always a lovely smell from the drying logs.

Whiteadder River at Abbey St Bathans

Whiteadder River at Abbey St Bathans

Sawmill at Abbey St Bathans

Sawmill at Abbey St Bathans

 

Smoked haddock quiche, Christopher Reid poem and visiting sparrowhawk

August 19, 2015

All summer, I’ve been threatening to make a quiche but somehow never getting round to it. There’s another version of a smoked haddock quiche on this blog – see here.  I wanted something different and found a Nigel Slater recipe online. I adapted his recipe as I wanted to include leeks and not watercress. I bought some ready to use short crust pastry and baked it blind in the quiche tin for 10 minutes and, as per the Slater recipe, I forked the pastry and brushed it with beaten egg and put it in the oven for 5 minutes. For the filling, I sweated the leeks and a shallot for a few minutes until they were soft. I put the haddock into a pan with milk and cooked it for c 5 minutes. The Slater recipe recommends 10 minutes but, in my experience, this is far too long and the fish breaks up and is overcooked. I added cornflour to the leeks and stirred for a minute and then added the milk from the fish to make a sauce. I added the flaked fish to the sauce and then added the beaten eggs, having removed the pan from the heat. The mixture was poured gently into the pastry case and I put on a generous topping of parmesan cheese. The quiche was cooked in a 190 degree oven for 25 minutes. I used 2 pieces of naturally smoked haddock, a good-sized leek, one shallot, 2 eggs beaten, 300ml of semi-skinned milk and a knob of butter. The only seasoning I used was pepper as the fish can be quite salty. Here is the result and (modestly) I have to say that it was delicious. We had it with new potatoes and a mixed salad. It was also very tasty the next day when we had it cold for lunch.

Smoked haddock and leek quiche

Smoked haddock and leek quiche

In the Summer Bulletin of the Poetry Book Society, the Choice is Deep Lane by the American poet Mark Doty. I haven’t ready any of these poems yet but one of the poetry books recommended is Christopher Reid’s The Curiosities  and one of the poems from the book is included in the PBS Bulletin (the magazine you get with your quarterly book if you are a member). The Cafe begins “Newspaper readers/ outside the sunny café:/ a becalmed regatta./ Tall, indolent palm trees/topped with shuttlecock feathers/ Breast pocket balconies up to roof level…”. Reid is associated with the Martian school of poetry and this is demonstrated in “shuttlecock feathers” on the palm trees, and “breast pocket balconies”. Further on in the poem is a further example “I watch you tear/your breakfast croissant,/then dress its fresh wound with butter”. I’m tempted to buy this book.

A couple of days ago, my wife alerted me to a bird of prey on our decking. The bird was trying to jump up and fly over the balustrade but couldn’t make it. I gently eased it along past the gate in the balustrade, opened the gate and gently eased it back to the opening, where it launched itself over the grass and out to the sea. Before moving it, I got my camera and took photos. I’m pretty sure that this is a sparrowhawk. We bought some wooden puffins which hang on a string on our conservatory door. Last week, I heard a thump on the door and a bird flew away. It’s possible that the sparrowhawk may have done the same i.e. mistaken the wooden puffins for real birds. I like the reflection in the glass in the first photo below – enlarge the photo for best effect. This is a powerful bird with a piercing eye and threateningly sharp claws.

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk

Belhaven Bridge and swans on the pond

August 11, 2015

No blog last week as we have our son, daughter in law and twin girl grandchildren here on holiday from Dubai. I’ve featured Belhaven Bridge – also known as the Bridge to Nowhere when the tide comes in – on this blog here and here. One evening last week, we drove down to the bridge – about 2K from our house on the other side of town. There was a louring sky and photographic potential was low but then there was a break in the clouds and strong sunbeams spread over the bridge and the water, so there’s a nice contrast between the dark and the light in the photos below.

Belhaven Bridge

Belhaven Bridge

Belhaven Bridge

Belhaven Bridge

Near the bridge, along the old Dump Road at Belhaven is Seafield Pond which was originally a clay pit for the nearby brickworks. This is a haven for wildlife, including herons , coots and swans, which all nest there. The first photo shows the coot family with the red beaked chick and the next 2 show the family of swans with 4 cygnets. The swan family was swimming elegantly towards me with gently rippling wakes, when they were distracted and turned away. My cycling mate John had to stop on the Dump Road last week as the swan family was crossing from Seafield Pond across the path, as they were going into the Biel Burn. A burn is a Scots word for a stream.

Coots at Seafield Pond

Coots at Seafield Pond

Swans at Seafield Pond

Swans at Seafield Pond

Swans at Seafield Pond

Swans at Seafield Pond

The Beautiful Librarians, Le Tour ends and sweet peas

July 28, 2015

I’ve just finished reading The Poetry Book Society’s Choice –  The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien a professor at Newcastle University and well established British poet. For me, an educator of librarians in universities in Scotland and Australia for 34 years, the title was alluring, of course. As a member of the Poetry Book Society, I get sent 4 books a year – not chosen by me. O’Brien’s book is a mixture of what might be nostalgia and class consciousness “Scattered comrades now remember: someone stole the staffroom tin/ Where we collected for the miners, for the strike they couldn’t win”  and comic interludes such as in Old Lads at the Ramshill Hotel “.. these wobbly suitors with their grease-grey quiffs/ And suits that are older than they are”. The title poem, superbly analysed by Carol Rumens is also a nostalgic look back to when O’Brien was a student. The poem begins “The beautiful librarians are dead,/ The fairly recent graduates who sat/ Like Françoise Hardy’s shampooed sisters/ With cardigans across their shoulders/ On quiet evenings at the issue desk,/Stamping books and never looking up/ At where I stood in adoration”. The reference to Francoise Hardy is very meaningful to me because, as a teenager, I was lovestruck by Ms Hardy’s stunning looks and vertigo inducing French voice, such as in the song All Over the World. Some of the poems in this collection appeared to be very clever but lacked depth, while others were superb – try it for yourself.

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O'Brien

The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien

So, another Tour de France has come to an end. Three weeks of aching ascents and death-defying descents has thrilled millions of people across the globe and not just cycling enthusiasts. My cycling pal John maintains that even watching the cyclists go up some the high climbs such as La Croix de Fer (video) makes his legs feel sore. It was great to have a British winner again in Chris Froome and there were many exciting finishes. I’ve been wearing my Guardian cycling T Shirts recently but I was surprised – and shocked – at so many people not knowing what the third word in the slogan (photo below) originally was. As ever, I’ve promised my self that I’ll do more hills from now on, inspired by the teams on Le Tour. I would advise you to watch this space, but …..

Le Tour de France T shirt

Le Tour de France T shirt

My wife’s running partner brought us a beautiful bunch of sweet peas freshly cut from her garden. These flowers not only have soft but attractive colours but they also have a lovely perfume. These delicate flowers do not last very long but make a lasting impression as in the photos below, and some of the pinks were replicated in a rose I saw in a garden only yesterday.

Jar of sweet peas

Jar of sweet peas

Sweet peas close up

Sweet peas close up

Rose with burgeoning buds

Rose with burgeoning buds

Kittiwakes, wild flowers and salmon en croute

July 21, 2015

I took my camera and zoom lens to Dunbar harbour for my annual attempt to get good shots of the kittiwakes which nest on the walls of the ruins of Dunbar Castle (good photos). Every April, the kittiwakes arrive and the harbour is enlivened with their calls – kitty-wake, kitty wake (click on audio). When the nesting season gets going in full, there can be a cacophony of noise at the harbour as hundreds of birds can be heard yelling out. For visitors to the harbour, there is an opportunity to get close to the birds and the chicks can be clearly seen with the naked eye from the harbourside. From time to time, a group of artists will arrive and sketch the birds. Over the years, I’ve tried to get the best shots I can of adult and chick kittiwakes and last year’s snaps can be seen here. This year’s selection follows. As ever, click to enlarge.

Kittiwake chick at Dunbar castle

Kittiwake chick at Dunbar castle

Kittiwake adult and chick at Dunbar castle

Kittiwake adult and chick at Dunbar castle

Kittiwake adult and chick at Dunbar castle

Kittiwake adult and chick at Dunbar castle

Kittiwake adults and chicks at Dunbar castle

Kittiwake adults and chicks at Dunbar castle

In Dunbar this summer, there are several areas of wildflowers which have brightened up the town and the following photos were taken at Lauderdale Park. The colours provided by the poppies, cornflower and other flowers are a lively mix and a real pleasure for the viewer.

Wildflowers at Lauderdale Park, Dunbar

Wildflowers at Lauderdale Park, Dunbar

Wildflowers at Lauderdale Park, Dunbar

Wildflowers at Lauderdale Park, Dunbar

This week we have, as the Australians say, visiting rellies – so what to cook for the first evening meal? We went for a Jamie Oliver recipe Salmon en Croute as it is different from the standard salmon inside a pastry envelope. In this recipe, I bought some ready to use puff pastry, pre-rolled for convenience and laid it on a tray dusted with flour. I used 4 salmon fillets instead of one large fillet. The JO recipe uses black olive tapenade but as we’re no olive fans, I used a jar of sun-dried tomato pesto and spread a teaspoonful of pesto over each salmon. You then put 3/4 basil leaves on each fillet, followed by sliced tomato and salt and pepper. The final ingredient is mozzarella and I sliced it thinly and put 3 slices on each fillet. To make a pastry case, you fold up the sides of the pastry and pinch each corner to keep it firm. The pastry is brushed with beaten egg and put in a 200 degree oven for 35 minutes. It is very tasty and also looks attractive in the dish and on the plate. Here is my completed dish. So, easy to prepare and it looks more complicated than it is, so your guests will be impressed.

Salmon en croute

Salmon en croute

Lucy Newton and Aix En Provence

July 14, 2015

A new exhibition at Waterstone House, Aberlady features the artist Lucy Newton and it is a stunning collection of paintings of animals and birds. For me, there were three outstanding features of the work on show. Lucy kindly gave permission for me to include two of her paintings on the blog and they are shown below. Firstly, there was the amazing detail on her animal paintings of a badger and a fox. On both portraits, the animal’s fur is crystal clear and the hairs are delicately drawn and there is a real sense of life in the paintings. (Click on paintings/photos for best effect)

Badger by Lucy Newton

Badger by Lucy Newton

Secondly, in most of the paintings, the artist has included background which is a mixture of the realistic – grass, leaves and a tree – and the abstract, and this gives an intriguing depth to the paintings. Thirdly, in the bird portraits (and I use the word “portraits” deliberately as you get a real sense of these being “real” birds with personalities of their own) Lucy Newton uses splashes of colour which also have a realistic and an abstract quality. This exhibition is another winner for SOC and I would urge you to go and see the exhibition if you are in the area.

Fieldfare Study by Lucy Newton

Fieldfare Study by Lucy Newton

One of the delights of our trip to Marseille was visiting the beautiful town of Aix En Provence – the Aix is pronounced Ex. The town is a world away from the bustling city of Marseille and, although there are many tourists in the town, once you leave the main streets, there are many quieter side streets to wander through. Aix is well known as the home of the painter Cezanne and we went to the Musée Granet which contains a range of paintings by Cezanne but also many other artists. The ticket to the museum also allows you to visit the very impressive Chapelle des Pénitents, an old church which has been refurbished into a stunning, high-ceilinged art gallery, where there is an extensive exhibition of painters such as Cezanne, Picasso and Klee. The gallery (photo below) is on 3 floors and the interior itself is a work of art.

Musee Granet Chapelle, Aix En Provence

Musee Granet Chapelle,
Aix En Provence

Aix is an historic town and as you walk through the streets, there are many impressive squares with numerous cafes in which you can sit with a nice glass of Provence Rosé and watch the world go by – or study the concentration of chess players.

Chess players in Aix En Provence

Chess players in Aix En Provence

On our second visit to Aix, we went to the equally impressive Caumont Centre D’Art which is housed in a grand 18th century mansion. We were there  to see an excellent exhibition  of the artist Canaletto and the paintings came from galleries all over the world. At the back of the mansion, there are beautiful gardens, part of which includes an outdoor restaurant, set in a corner with a number of attractively planted jardinières, as in the photos below. We did not know about the gardens when we went to see the paintings and lunch at the Centre D’Art was a treat. If you are in Provence, Aix is a must-see.

The formal garden at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

The formal garden at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

Jardinière at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

Jardinière at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

The rose on our lunch table at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

The rose on our lunch table at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

I’ve put a slide show of photos from part of our trip on my Photopeach page (click on full screen for best effect) and it includes a delightful song by Francoise Hardy, whom I absolutely adored in my youth.

Marseille – Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde and MUCEM

July 7, 2015

We spent a week on holiday based in Marseille – the French spelling has no “s” at the end. We’ve had a few trips to the south of France but mainly to Nice and its surrounding towns, such as Beaulieu Sur Mer. The city of Marseille is much bigger and more varied than Nice. It’s a city of contrasts with the conspicuous wealth of the Vieux Port marina not far from poor immigrant areas. For the tourist, there are plenty of options. The centre of the city is around the Vieux Port where a the old fishing harbour has been transformed into a forest of yachts, large and small and there is a constant flow of boats taking visitors out along the coast.

Vieux Port Marseilles

Vieux Port Marseilles

Looking back across the Vieux Port from the harbour entrance

Looking back across the Vieux Port from the harbour entrance

Overlooking Marseille is the Basilica  Notre Dame de La Garde, a high ceilinged church built in the 19th century on the top of a hill which was formerly used as a fort and an observation post. We took the long route through the city walked for about an hour, finishing with a steep walk up to the basilica. The views from the top are stunning as you can see across the city and out to the islands.

 Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Islands near Marseille from  Notre Dame de la Garde

Islands near Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Whether you are of a religious persuasion or not, this is an impressive building and you wonder how 19th century workmen coped, firstly getting the building materials up to the summit and then building the huge church. The inside of the church is very ornate and in some respects reminded me of Greek and Russian Orthodox churches I’ve seen.

Inside Notre Dame de la Garde

Inside Notre Dame de la Garde

When you strain your neck and take a close look at the high ceiling, you can see the different influences at work, for example the Greek and Roman lettering around the cupola.

Ornate ceiling in Notre Dame de la Garde

Ornate ceiling in Notre Dame de la Garde

At the entrance to the harbour in Marseille, there are 2 forts. On the right hand side going out to sea is Fort Saint-Jean which was originally built in the 12th century. This area has been transformed into a walking route around the ramparts of the old fort but mainly as the location of MUCEM (good photos) which was built as part of Marseille’s year as the European Capital of Culture in 2013. So there is a contrast between the ultra modern buildings of the MUCEM, with their vibrant art exhibitions, and the mediaeval structure of the ramparts. The entrance is a stunning walkway of interlinked wooden branches.

Entrance to MUCEM in Marseille

Entrance to MUCEM in Marseille

As you walk around the ramparts, through the lavender filled gardens, you come across some very modern sculptures such as the 4 large faces and then, further on the very impressive Villa Méditerranée .

Sculpture at MUCEM

Sculpture at MUCEM

Villa Mediterranee at MUCEM

Villa Mediterranee at MUCEM

So Marseille has much to offer the tourist willing to walk around the city and discover the stunning views and a wide variety of cultural activities. Being on the Mediterranean, of course, it has wall to wall sunshine and the temperatures in late June were 25-28 degrees Monday to Friday and 32-34 degrees on Saturday and Sunday. It is a big city and we were told by locals to keep camera and handbags strapped across our chests, and not to keep them hanging on our shoulders.

Thorntonloch beach and stones

July 1, 2015

No blog last week as we were en vacances to the south of France, staying the city of Marseilles and this will be the topic of a 2nd blog this week. Before I went on holiday, I went out to Thorntonloch Beach to take a couple of photographs to go with my research on the whales beached there in 1950. I was particularly interested to see if the view had changed much since 1950. When you are looking south along the beach, the view is unchanged.

Thorntonloch Beach looking south

Thorntonloch Beach looking south

When you turn around and look north, however, the view has changed dramatically. Instead of a number of old stone buildings along the coast, Torness Nuclear Power Station now dominates the skyline.

Thorntonloch Beach looking north

Thorntonloch Beach looking north

As ever, you go with your camera for particular shots and then find others. Rocks feature on this blog at regular intervals and the ones at Thorntonloch Beach, with their intriguing abstract qualities, were no exception. The first photo could be done by an abstract artist or it might be the view of a planet, with its fault lines and craters, viewed from earth. The second photo looks like the rock has been riddled with bullet holes and the third photo could be a collection of sweets. What do you see in the photos?

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stone on Thorntonloch Beach

Stones on Thorntonloch Beach

Stones on Thorntonloch Beach

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Galore paddocks and gum trees

June 17, 2015

There’s a distinctly Australian theme to this week’s post. I’ve just finished reading Richard Flanagan’s superb, Booker Prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The novel’s protagonist is Dorrigo Evans, a boy from rural Tasmania who becomes a doctor and later a surgeon in the army. The book is both a love story featuring Evan’s prolonged affair with his uncle’s wife and a harrowing tale of Australian POWs who are captured by the Japanese and forced to work on the building of a railway, in horrendous conditions. Flanagan tells his stories in an undramatic fashion. A lesser writer would fill this book with sentimentality and melodrama but Flanagan expertly avoids this. The sections on the POW camp focus not only on the terrible treatment of the prisoners – one scene of the beating of Darky Gardiner, which all the soldiers are forced to watch, will remain with the reader for a long time – but also on the Japanese commander Nakamura, who is forced to speed up the building of the railway by his superiors. We meet Nakamura after the war also. Flanagan takes us very cleverly into the mind of his hero, who sees himself as a weak man, despite his leadership abilities and his fame after the war. This is one of the best book I’ve read in a long time – don’t miss it.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

My very good friend Paul whom I first met when I lived in Wagga Wagga 10 years ago, emailed me this week with a vivid description of helping his brother with marking lambs. Paul wrote “They were monstrous, and there were 310 of them. We laboured in the winter sunshine for almost 3 hours” and he followed this by felling, cutting, splitting and loading a ton of wood from the gum trees on his brother’s farm. Paul’s photo below shows the split red gum logs in the late sunshine. The setting is Old Man Creek.

Red gum logs near Old Man Creek, NSW

Red gum logs near Old Man Creek, NSW

The farm is in the Galore district of New South Wales and there are stunning views – of seemingly endless landscape – from Galore Hill, where my wife and I were once accosted by a sudden swarm of large flies, and had to take cover. The Australian term for fields is paddocks and Paul told me that the paddocks on his brother’s farm had been given names by his father and grandfather and included “the triangle, the pump paddock, middle creek, Big L and Little L” as well as The Piper’s Paddock, named after an ancient settler, presumably from Scotland. There’s a PhD waiting to be done on the naming of paddocks. One of my former colleagues at Charles Sturt University referred to paddocks in discussions and would say that the thought that a particular idea “should be taken out into the paddock and shot”.

One of my best memories of living in Australia is of the gum trees at the Murrumbidgee River in Wagga Wagga. Gum trees or eucalypts are impressive trees but can also be dangerous as they can discard large branches. One of the surprises you get when first going to Australia is that gum trees do not shed leaves but bark. There are many types of gum trees and the silvery bark is a most attractive feature. The photos below were taken at the Murrumbidgee in Wagga Wagga.

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

Gum trees at the Murrumbidgee

 


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