Category Archives: Britain

Another op’nin

The 2001 London revival: It was superb. I had already been treated to the production on Broadway. It was already transferring to London, even before 9/11 had devastated New York theatre-attendances. So I paid real money to revisit it at the Victoria Palace

Few musicals beat that opening. But there are only half-a-dozen musicals worthy to start alongside Kiss Me, Kate —and at least one more has Cole Porter’s name over the title.

I can get something of the same thrill opening a new book for the first time.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend…

… Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. Thank you, Groucho: don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Buying, on spec, a new book by a  previously-untried, even unknown writer is itself a venture.

I pluck the book from the pile or the shelf — perhaps because the cover or the title means something to me. I flick a few pages. I either return the book whence it came, rejected, or reach for the wallet and the plastic.

I did that last Friday.

iuMy two acquisitions were Ian Sansom’s Westmorland Alone and Tom Blass, The Naked Shore.

There is a tangential connection between those two.

The first in Sansom’s series was The Norfolk Mystery. Obviously a Norfolk-born, Norfolk-bred type would be weak in the head not to snap at that. So I did, and found it wholesome — but not really much more — enough to go for the second in the series, Death in Devon.  Which I found harder going: the arch references to Arthur Mee and all those 1930s “cosy” teccies seemed to be wearing, and wearing a bit thin. Still, I went for this third one; and it went down quite nicely. If nothing else, it overcame the imminent reading-block that was sub-symptom of a winter chill.

So that was a re-visit. The “new” one was —

9781408815496Blass

The connexion with the Tom Blass is also Norfolk (which features very slightly) and East Anglia more generally.

Ir reads very well, rather disconnectedly — but this isn’t a straight narrative. Blass shifts, idiosyncratically, from space to place, topic to topic, encounter to encounter. And then will return whence he came, a hundred pages of more later. The book tends, obviously, to the gossipy. I find little wrong or objectionable about that.

Above all, The Naked Shore is delightfully filled with small and informative detail. Here’s a very early one:

In Whitby once, among the stones of the ‘Dracula’ abbey, I was struck by the starkness of the difference between the accents of a visiting family from Newcastle and those of the natives. Geordie’s origins lies with the Teutonic Angles, hence ‘gan’ — as in ‘gan down toon’, from the German gehen for ‘go’, while their Yorkshire hosts’ linguistic ancestry lay further north (arse, bairn, dollop and flit all have Norse heritage). Some fifteen hundred years after their arrival, fifty miles of English coast still reflect ancient ethnic differences, the origins of which lie on the far side of the North Sea.

Blass returns another half-dozen times to Whitby, at one stage as part of the strange  class-divides between seaside resorts, even (as page 108):

Today the middle classes that seek out the evocative beaches of North Norfolk at Holkham and Blakeney studiously avoid not-dissimilar shorelines close by.

I’ll go with that: Wells is neatly sandwiched between those two “evocative beaches” — indeed, I challenge any in-comer to know where Holkham beach ends and Wells begins. I’d put it around where the old Coastguard look-out was. By the time, heading east, one reaches the beach-huts, one definitively is in Wells. And the reason for the “social” difference (consider, too house prices)? Wells had — before blasted Beaching — a train line. And a bit further back, GER/LNER ‘tripper’ specials all the way from London’s Liverpool Street. That, and the whiff of whelks being loaded into the guard’s van lowered the tone.

Note from the above, that although may dot from topic to topic, the book comes with a useful index for playing dot-to-dot.

A comparator

61ieuy24gfl-_uy250_Yes, we’ve been in these parts quite recently.

Only a couple of years ago, Michael Pye did nicely by, and nicely out of The Edge of the World: How the North Sea Made Us Who We AreThat’s an equally subjective account, but organised on more orthodox — even “historical” lines. It’s a “deeper” book, in many respects a “better” book; but one more concerned with — as the title suggests — the anthropology, even sociology, of the North Sea coasts and peoples. So it is more rooted in what we used to be able to term, without apology or explanation, “the Dark Ages”.

I shall be keeping both on my shelves: not as rivals, but as complements.

 

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Filed under Britain, Detective fiction, East Anglia, fiction, History, Norfolk, reading, Wells-next-the-Sea

The not-so-great and the not-so-good, revisited: an extended intro

A while back I attempted a succession of these: blog-efforts on rediscovered and overlooked characters, mainly from Irish history. Many of them were scions and by-products of the Ascendancy.

But first the prologue (the main event is the next post):

The Tory-people-friendly UK government press offices put out a couple of images of the Chancellor:

cx8rag4weaaauib-jpg-large cx8ze-pxaaa_mfd

Th estimable @JohnRentoul nailed one of the portraits:

William Pitt the Younger on the left, I think. Who’s on the right?

While I was rootling madly through the Government’s Art collection, the answer came from elsewhere:

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the 'Edinburgh Review'; Government Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/sir-george-cornewall-lewis-18061863-2nd-bt-chancellor-of-the-exchequer-editor-of-the-edinburgh-review-28284

Gordon, John Watson; Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806-1863), 2nd Bt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Editor of the ‘Edinburgh Review’.

Not a “well-known” name, but Lewis deserves a bit of a boost — around 1862 — stone-walling the ultras who wanted the UK to go for the Confederates in the American Civil War.

His origins were in the Welsh Marches, but his Irish connection was a worthy one.

As  a young, rising, and talented lawyer, freshly-minted by the Middle Temple, with an interest in the “public service”, in 1833 Lewis  became “an assistant commissioner of the inquiry into the condition of the poorer classes of Ireland”. He spent some time in 1834 researching the problems among the Irish diaspora across the developing industrial towns of England. Then he turned to the state of Irish education, which took him into heavy reading on the land question and on the Irish established church.

Out of that, in 1836, came a substantial document:  On Local Disturbances in Ireland; and on the Irish Church Question:

title-page

Don’t rush past that: note the dedication. Charles Sumner was in England in 1838, as part of a European tour. Sumner would go on to be a potent force in American politics, as an abolitionist, founding member of the Republican Party, and Radical during the Reconstruction.

Lewis’s book was seminal in looking to balance the ecclesiastical situation in Ireland, by ‘concurrent endowment’ (he invented the term), and in advocating ‘a legal provision for the poor’, which amounted to applying to Ireland the principles of the 1834 English poor law. It doesn’t need a genius to spot where that one would go adrift in the Great Famine, particularly as Lewis was also rejecting ‘the principle that it is the duty of the state to find employment for the people’.

Rapid promotion

lewisLewis became Chancellor of the Exchequer in a wholly mid-Victorian manner.

His father died in January 1855, and Lewis inherited the baronetcy and, on 8th February 1855, unopposed, the seat as MP for the Radnorshire boroughs. On 22nd February he became Gladstone’s successor at the Treasury, and on 28th February a Privy Councillor.

We might wonder at Phillip Hammond’s choice of such a figure, to look over his shoulder in the study of Number 11, Downing Street.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

First, am I wholly adrift in seeing some facial similarities between the image on the right, and Hammond, himself?

Second, Lewis came to the Chancellorship in a moment of financial crisis — how to pay for the Crimean War. Hammond has even greater problems, in the aftermath of the #Brexit vote.

Allow me to filch from the Dictionary of National Biography:

Lewis remained chancellor until the government was defeated in February 1858. Gladstone at first was helpfulness incarnate to his successor, but Lewis deviated from Gladstone’s canons of financial rectitude, especially with respect to the question of whether to finance the Crimean War by taxation or by loans. Lewis faced a severe crisis in the nation’s finances, brought on by a war more prolonged and expensive than anyone had expected. His first budget, on 20 April 1855, had to meet a deficit of £23 million. Lewis raised £16 million by a loan, £3 million by exchequer bills (later increased to £7 million), and the remaining £4 million by raising income tax from the already high 14d. to 16d. in the pound and by raising indirect taxes. The £68 million thus raised was easily the largest sum raised up to this time by a British government. Lewis’s budget set aside the Gladstonian view that war abroad should be met by corresponding taxation-pain at home but, in terms of practical politics, financing by loans (to which Lewis resorted again in his second budget of 19 May 1856) was probably unavoidable if Palmerston’s government was to survive. In 1855 Lewis carried through the Commons the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill, an inheritance from Gladstone and an important step in repealing the ‘taxes on knowledge’ (as the duties on newspapers and paper were called). Lewis’s policy of loans meant excellent commissions and profits for the City of London, which greatly preferred him to Gladstone.

Such parallel: almost uncanny.

 

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Traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament

Recognise it? Its the indictment against Charles Stuart, 20th January 1648.

Where else to start? In a roundabout way, Paddy Kavanagh springs to mind:

Forget the worm’s opinion too
Of hooves and pointed harrow-pins,
For you are driving your horses through
The mist where Genesis begins. 

Those #Brexiteers assured us the UK would enjoy some regeneration, a second “genesis”, after 23rd June. They didn’t bother about the painful details. Now, the worm beneath the harrow is beginning to watch for where the tines will drive.

It also started here. Quite why the commenters on politics.ie should divide between ultra-Kippers and staunch defenders of the British Constitution escapes me. But for 1,700 exchanges (and continuing) they did, and do.

4256Personally, I was severely affronted by the vulgarity, the xenophobia, the sexism, the violent populism and anti-elitism fomented by the vulgar, xenophobic, sexist, arrogant,  elitist tabloid press barons in their spittle-speckled assaults on the High Court of Justice.

But back to first principles:

The whole non-event comes down to a binary simplicity:

  • Does the Prime Minister have the right to decide when and what #Brexit means, by exercise of “Royal Prerogative”?

or

  • Is Parliament the essential arbiter? 

Those three High Court judges, in their wisdom, endorsed a thousand years of English history, and declared for Parliament.

I doubt there will ever be plaques, with or without bird-turd, outside the Baby Shard (the London bunker from whence Murdoch’s The Sun rises daily), or Northcliffe House in Kensington (ditto the Daily Mail) as the one outside the Roundhouse pub, on Royal Standard Place, in Nottingham:

king-charles-placque

I laid out my understanding in that previous post.

That left me with the residual issue:

  • When might the “Royal Prerogative” ever be invoked?

As I see it, that Elephantine Object in the Newsroom, the “British Constitution”, constrains both:

  • Courts (who can only interpret the “Constitution” as a corpus of legislation going back to Norman times) and
  • Parliament (which can only act and enact within “constitutional” limits — for example, since the 1911 Parliament Act, the Lords have no powers over money bills, except a one-month delay).

Any amendment to an existing Westminster law would need an amending Act of the Westminster parliament.

We have a balanced — and ever-evolving — settlement between Parliament, devolved Assemblies, and Courts. Still,  I can just about conceive circumstances in which “Royal Prerogative” might need to be invoked — short of a declaration of War. Say the administration of a devolved Assembly became totally unmanageable …

Aha! You’re with me already!

Even then we’d need something like a Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, which imposed Direct Rule from 31st March 1972 to its repeal on 2nd December 1999.

I therefore found myself seeing this as an exercise in speedy parliamentary activity, without use of Royal Prerogative.

A bit of parliamentary history

On 20th March 1972, Harold Wilson, under an emergency notice of 16th March, led an Opposition adjournment motion.

This came after weeks of dithering by the Heath government, and procrastination by the Unionist at Stormont. It was now common ground (except among the extremes of opinion in Northern Ireland, who were up for a local Armageddon). The Dublin government was on the verge of doing something unmentionable.

Wilson, ever the opportunist, would have known that the Heath government was about to act; and wanted to get in on the act. The Opposition had another motive : the need for a distractor. The following week the Chancellor was going to offer a crowd-pleasing budget, as a softener for a General election (which would become the “Barber boom”, and stoke up the inflation that bedevilled British politics for the next decade — but that’s another matter).

After three hours of debate (with Prime Minister Heath responding) the government defeated the motion to adjourn by 257 to 294.

Had that vote been lost, the sitting would have ended abruptly, and Heath would, by convention (another bit of unwritten “Constitution”) have had to return the following session to propose a vote of confidence in his own adminstration. Had that vote of confidence been lost, it would immediately require Heath to go the Palace (another bit of “Constitutional” flim-flam) and resign.

At that moment the Queen would have two choices: to accept the now ex-Prime Minister’s request for a General Election, or to summon the Leader of the Opposition to form a new government (who would then promptly request a General Election, which would be granted).

There then intervened three days of Budget debate.

Perspective

At this distance in time, we’d need to remind ourselves just how febrile the atmosphere was at that moment. One name in particular should be in the frame: William Craig.

Craig had lost out to the more moderate Brian Faulkner for the leadership of the Unionist Party and the stool-of-office as Northern Irish Prime Minister. He had then built a party-within-the-Unionist-Party, his private Ulster Vanguard movement — which was closely associated with the loyalists and paramilitaries of such as the UDA. Craig held his “monster rallies”, involving motor-cycle outriders, and armed men drawn up in quasi-military ranks. Craig’s speeches at these rallies are quite outrageous:

We must build up dossiers on those men and women in this country who are a menace to this country because one of these days, if and when the politicians fail us, it may be our job to liquidate the enemy.

Note there “this country”: Craig was advocating a Rhodesian-style UDI.

Keeping it parliamentary

On 24th March, Heath was back to the Commons to make a holding statement in advance of the weekend, announcing the bringing back to Westminster of powers over Northern Ireland :

Parliament will, therefore, be invited to pass before Easter a Measure transferring all legislative and executive powers now vested in the Northern Ireland Parliament and Government to the United Kingdom Parliament and a United Kingdom Minister. This provision will expire after one year unless this Parliament resolves otherwise. The Parliament of Northern Ireland would stand prorogued but would not be dissolved.

The weekend out of the way, on  27th March, the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Bill was laid before the House, and given a nominal First Reading.

On 28th March there was a full debate, and division (483-18) on the Second Reading. Willie Whitelaw , as Leader of the Commons and as emollient a creature as the Tories could contain, introduced the Bill with a formula of words worth noting in this context:

I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her interests and prerogative, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Got that? The “Royal Prerogative” there being made — effectively — subject (if only for this purpose) to the will of parliament. Nearly half a century ago, that must strike as a significant statement. And we have since moved much, much further in claiming democratic accountability through parliament against arbitrary, post-feudal authority.

There was a brief debate on amendments on 29th March (in effect, the “Committee Stage”).

On 30th March all the remaining stages, including the Bill passing the House of Lords, were completed, and at 12.26 pm the Lord Chancellor announced the Royal Assent: it was now an Act of Parliament, subject (see above) to annual review.

After that, interpretation would fall to the Courts.

All done and dusted, with the barest of nods at “Royal Prerogative”.

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1014 and All That

Æthelred in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle

Æthelred in an early thirteenth-century copy of the Abingdon Chronicle

We have just had one of those moments when everyone brushes up on the English Constitution.

The High Court has pronounced on #Brexit; and dropped a great dollop of whoops-oh-nasty onto the May Government. The May Government will now try to appeal to the Supreme Court. For in law, as no where else, the Siphonaptera applies:

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on,
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on.

With some small joy, the BBC political editor, Laura Kuenssberg (herself only two generations descent from one of the great Scottish jurists) was relishing that the High Court had cited a precedent from 1610:

27. Sir Edward Coke reports the considered view of himself and the senior judges of the time in The Case of Proclamations (1610) 12 Co. Rep. 74, that

“the King by his proclamation or other ways cannot change any part of the common law, or statute law, or the customs of the realm”

and that :

“the King have no prerogative, but that which the law of the land allows him.”

So, phooey to you, Theresa May and your claims of “prerogative”.

There’s a nice extra bit in quoting Coke on the customs of the realm, because that takes us so far back behind the veil of history.

The Lady in My Life’s tattered paperback copy of G M Trevelyan’s Shortened History of England seems to have gone AWOL, so I’m having to pull this bit from Wikipedia:

The Scandinavians, when not on the Viking warpath, were a litigious people and loved to get together in the ‘thing’ to hear legal argument. They had no professional lawyers, but many of their farmer-warriors, like Njal, the truth-teller, were learned in folk custom and in its intricate judicial procedure. A Danish town in England often had, as its main officers, twelve hereditary ‘law men.’ The Danes introduced the habit of making committees among the free men in court, which perhaps made England favorable ground for the future growth of the jury system out of a Frankish custom later introduced by the Normans.

Trevelyan then moves on to remark on Æthelred (the Redeless/ the Unready — yes, him).

51njn6gh8nl-_sx331_bo1204203200_That sent me to Maddicott: The Origins of the English Parliament of which a clean, crisp copy I do have here. Because I knew there (on page 37) I would find this:

The turning point came in 1014: a year of disasters in which the victories of the Danish king Swein, culminating in his capture of London, had forced Æthelred to take refuge overseas. What followed set a precedent for future bargaining between kings and councils. Æthelred was recalled from a brief exile in Normandy by ‘all the councillors (þa witan ealle) who were in England’. In advance of his return he promised to be a gracious lord to his people and to reform what they all hated, on condition that they gave him their unqualified allegiance. John of Worcester adds that he also undertook to fall ion with their advice. These terms were clearly imposed by the councillors as the price of Æthelred’s restoration. As Sir Frank Stenton long ago pointed out, they are ‘of great constitutional interest as the first recorded pact between an English king and his subjects’.

If anyone is still in doubt: the whole government case for being able to invoke Article 50, without prior parliamentary approval, lies in a claim that the Prime Minister has the residual Crown prerogative.

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How to molest children, 1955 style

One way to spend a pointless morning is to scan and send to Scribd this:

Untitled

Just a sample:

Simplex (dragged) 1

More to the point, just when you might begin to believe we are now more child-friendly, more enlightened, the Department for Education re-invent grammar. It’s the SPaG test, folks.

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Two truths are still to be told

I attended closely to the YouTube feed of the “debate” between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith over the leadership of the Labour Party.

It seemed to me that two strong issues went AWOL, by both parties (and — let’s be honest here — there really are two tribes inhabiting the Labour reservation).

So these two essential questions:

What should the Party be doing to improve the lot of left-behind workers?

That is essentially the same question as “What went wrong in the #Brexit campaign?”, or “How to counteract the attraction of UKIP?”, and many others which go back to alienation of the working-class vote.

The answer is quite simple, and comes in different forms of essentially the same thing:

  • Re-activate the employees’ working rights.
  • Do what Citrine and Feather did for the German employees under deNazification.
  • Strengthen the power of trades unions in the work places.

It isn’t enough (though both Corbyn and Smith seem to argue so) to rely on central government racking up “minimum wage” levels.

What that achieves, instantly, is to erode differentials. Indeed it often means that the next wage-tier above minimum is absorbed into a lumpen-proletarian base. It also negates any pressure on the employer to innovate to improve productivity: after all, the combine has a quiescent work-force, which can be refreshed by adding under-25s or “adult apprentices”, who come cheaper than minimum. Or, of course, by using zero-hours contracts. Cue Dilbert from 1993:

dilbert6:9:93

There are “costs” to beefing up the unions.

Labour becomes more expensive.

Which means, in the short term, unemployment may rise.

It also means there is more cash floating round the system. That may be “inflationary”, but it also means there is an increase in demand — and both services and manufacturing should benefit. Meanwhile, in the present context, #Brexit has ensured that imports are more expensive, and domestic production should be more competitive. Which should create a demand for skilled employment.

Why did Labour lose the 2015 General Election?

Because of the Big Lie and the Big Bribe.

The Big Lie was that the previous Labour Government’s investment in public services broke the economy and caused the 2007 Crash.

Pause for breath on that one. It wasn’t the collapse of one US over-levered operation after another, until Lehman Brothers were made to walk the plank. It wasn’t the reckless lending of uncontrolled fringe bankers. It wasn’t the Stock Markets taking flight. No: it was because Labour had civilised public education and public health care. No more outdoor school toilets. No lying on hospital trolleys for hours. So: the Tory remedy was to bring back public squalor (Psst: try private health care and schooling!)

The Big Bribe was to pay off those who vote at the expense of those who don’t.

So the seniors get their “triple lock” of guaranteed public pension pay-offs, to be paid for by austerity pay-freezes for those at the bottom of the heap. Oh, and if you’re got money in pension-funds, rush off and invest in a Ferrari or a Spanish time-share. You know you really, really need to. If you’re paying cooperation tax, here’s a let-off.

But to pursue either of those, would involve a real “debate”.

 

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Filed under Britain, British Left, broken society, Labour Party, politics, Trade unions

Cato-tonic economic sabotage

There are different ways to lose one’s head.

Shortly after 9/11 the Washington Post published a piece by Richard W. Rahn of the Cato Institute.

Sorry: did that sets off every fruitcake-warning klaxon? Cato describes itself as:

dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace. 

One of its main thrusts is to brief the Supreme Court on its view of what the Founding Fathers would have made of any modern dilemma. The Cato Institute doesn’t blush too deeply when identified as “libertarian” (which worries me none too much), but is a renaming of the erstwhile Charles Koch Foundation, which ought to re-charge and re-energise all those klaxons.

Joseph_Addison_by_Sir_Godfrey_Kneller,_Bt_cleanedMore positively, by the name-change the Foundation/Institute was wrapping itself in the toga of Joseph Addison, the supreme Whig essayist of the early eighteenth century.

When I was a student, working towards the Irish Department of Education Leaving Certificate, the essays of Addison, and his mate Richard Steele, were prescribed to us as models for comment, criticism and imitation. That was doubtless derived from the opinion of Doctor Samuel Johnson:

Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison.

There’s the “Kit-Kat” portrait of the man himself, by Godfrey Kneller, to the right here.

Addison’s five-act drama, eponymously on Cato the Younger, was the West End hit of 1713 — and went on to even greater success and longer-lasting fame in the American Colonies. So much so, it became a fave of George Washington, who had it performed for the delectation of his troops at Valley Forge, and serially cited it in his orations.

To the main point, Redfellow!

Much of Kahn’s argument could flow as easily from the Taxpayers’ Alliance (which are a styrofoam assemblage, merely right-wing fellow-travellers, without the intellect or clout of the Cato Institute). Let me focus, though, on Kahn’s punchline for that 2011 essay. It was:

Economic saboteurs can only succeed when the public is kept ignorant of their actions by a compliant press and timid foes. It is important that good people be as steadfast in defeating the economic saboteurs as they are with the terrorists.

The economic saboteurs of #Brexit were (and are) the ignoramuses of the Out! campaign who propagated arrant nonsense and deliberate untruths — none more grotesque than the “£50 million a week for the NHS”. That was so blatantly a lie its sponsors were denying it even as the votes were being counted. Beyond the BoJos, the Goves, the Farridges (English: rectè), it took the self-interests of the press lords and lords-in-waiting to perpetrate a stupendous, xenophobic fraud on the general populace. And they all got away with it.

By the way — no: I’m not suggesting the other side were without sin. However, the Remainers were singularly “timid” (Kahn’s word) in answering the excesses lobbed across by the Outers. Even the BBC, in the misguided pursuit of “balance” were reticent in calling the lies for what they objectively were — and are. To describe the Leader of the Opposition as “supine” is a slur on any horizontal human.

In the 1950s, East Germany (then under the jackboot of another ideological cadre) introduced the crime of “economic sabotage”, with the ultimate capital punishment of beheading. Just saying.

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