When I arrived home, exhausted from Berrow '96, last year, I wrote up a report of all the fun I'd had and submitted it to Kitelines Magazine. I had such a good time that the report ran to an epic 46Kb! They've worked very hard to cut it down to something that will actualy fit in the magazine, and it has been published in the latest issue, (spring/summer 97), together with an article and pictures by Zoe Harris (to say nothing of the other cool articles like the one on single-point bridling). Kitelines kindly have granted me special permission to post the article here in rec.kites (note the legal notice bellow). You can get subscription details for the magazine from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This is a story about 7 blokes who shared a caravan. In some places, it reflects the crudity and offensiveness that you might expect from 7 men living together. Kitelines are cool and published my advice about how to pee in strong wind in my BBT2 report, but this report contains language that would never have made it onto paper... If this is likely to upset you, then I suggest that you stop reading NOW.
Team Lobotomy consisted of 7 people (regardless of the fact that we intended to share the van between 5), but the first mention must go to Tim Benson. Tim's role in the team is not as a member, but rather as the object of our worship. Every evening we would gather together and discuss in awe the wonders of his designs, the unassuming modesty of his attitude and the quirky soft accent with which he answered the phone "'ello Fizz Sport Kites...". Tim was only able to bless the event with two days of his presence, but whenever we saw him we always bowed low, uttering the phrase "We're not worthy, we're not worthy..."
The team squatted in Van 39, the oldest, most run-down caravan on the site. It had a decidedly 70's interior decoration, (inspiring debate as to whether it was built in the 70's, modeled after the 70's or whether 70's interiors were modeled after caravans), but for the week, it was home to "Team Lobotomy", the rabble of buggiers that had entrusted me to provide them with accommodation.
The designer of the van was clearly a particularly small person, because one of the beds was too small to be of any practical use, so towards the end of the week there were more people sleeping on sofas and the floor than were actualy on beds.
Let me introduce the mortal members of Team Lobotomy:
Andy Wardley is one of those disgusting individuals who seems to be able to do any type of trick with his kite without exerting any effort or requiring any concentration. He is sponsored by Tim Benson and gave us many insights into the ways of the Master, often dropping into Tim's accent to get the subtleties of the point across.
Mat, Andy and I were so impressed with his flying that we all grew goatee beards during the week out of respect, admiration and the vain hope that this might be the secret behind his skill. In my case, this proved to be successful, because he spent a few minutes teaching me to do axels "The Eezy Peezy way" (as opposed to following the entire Dodd Gross Flight School method...), and soon I had done three of them. I built on this success to later score FOUR in the axels-per-minute competition, saving myself from the humiliation of last place.
Andy is a newcomer to the buggying scene and was clearly unprepared for the amount of damage that he was likely to inflict upon himself. Aside from the usual scrapes and bruses, including a sharp gouge in his shin, he made the mistake of resting his bare arm on the wheel while trying to buggy backwards. He appeared to have been unaware that his skin was being worn away and left it there for longer than would be reccommended. This error was made early in the week, but he took great pride in his injury and would always ensure that everyone was aware of it at all times. In particular, he would take care to always rest the sore on a surface when he went to sleep, so that when he woke up, the scab that had formed would be wrenched away with his first movement.
People who know Andy well will know that he is in possession of a particularly large winky. Whilst this would normally be an asset of which he would be proud, it caused nothing but trouble during the week. It was only called to perform once, not in the double bed (for that always contained some other exhausted male member of the crew), but rather on the beach, when during the nekkid buggy it was exposed to the stare of the many women and several cameras who seemed to have developed an intense interest. Unfortunately, at the first sign of a removed lens cap and a cold sea breeze, his member shrivelled up and hid inside his scrotum.
This was not enough to make Andy shrink away from his usual duty of boasting of his exploits, and later in the evening, he was telling of a local girl called Sarah that had been a previous conquest. He was then shocked to be introduced to Sarah's parents - the owners of the campsite, who were listening to the conversation. It was amusing to see him squirm and wriggle until later when 8 year old Terri, the owner's "other" daughter complained that she didn't have a sister called Sarah...
Whilst Andy's winky may have caused jealousy amongst the other members of the crew, they merely expressed irritation at it taking up so much room. What really annoyed them was the way that he would drop details of his computer equipment into the conversation. It seems that Andy has a Silicon Graphics workstation, with more memory and disk than he knows what do do with. He's got a high resolution scanner, an A3 graphics tablet, a digital camera, a multimedia laptop, a DAT machine and a direct line to the net. Drool...
It was my pleasure for part of the week to sleep on the floor with Andy, which revealed some odd attributes. Firstly, he always slept with his socks on. He was later to reveal that these are his "magic trick socks" and a vital ingredient in his abilty to trick kites so easily. Secondly, he had an incredible ability to fall asleep. Without exaggeration, in less than 30 seconds of the lights going out, he'd be snoring, to ensure that everyone else stayed awake.
Andy was responsible for several phrases that became common parlance during the week. T'was him who discovered the concept of "Beach Time" - the beach is 2 hours behind "Van Time", so we can leave the van at 11am and still claim to be on the beach at 9am. Note also that time does not exist before the second cup of coffee. It was Andy who decided the term "The Dogs Bollocks" was an insufficient accolade for the "Box of Tricks", and that the kite is, in fact "The Cat's Clitorus". Later, this was term joined by "The Camel's Cod-piece", "The Babboon's Arse", "The Badger's Bell-end" and "The Aadvark's Anus", amongst others...
It is a mistake to involve Andy in anything involving food. He is aware of this and will freely admit that the only things he can make are Flick-Flack soup and Axel Sauce. We made the mistake of sending him on the first shopping expedition. The plan was to get some food for dinner and some beer. The bill came to over 70 pounds (USD100.00+) and he forgot the chilli beans for the chilli. He also managed to forget to buy washing up liquid and for several days, the van's crockery was washed in "Oceano", a man's shower-gell from Tesco's.
Andy found a new way of making friends at Berrow. He would use his Quadtrack to scoop up seawater in the end cells, then dump the contents over someone's head. Oh! How they would laugh. They were >so< disapointed when he accidentally dumped the kite in the sea. How they laughed even more when he exploded it when another backwards buggying exploit went wrong.
Gavin was introduced to the crew as "The little boy from down the road", because I was the only person who knew him. He lived up to this by being just a little more childish than the others and got the week off to a bad start by farting so often that he nearly spent the rest of his nights outdoors.
Gavin's moment of glory came when Terri, the 8 year-old daughter of the camp collected a bag of conkers and organised a conker championship. Gavin did us proud by demolishing all comers. His prize for this victory was a girl's night-shirt, which he was forced to wear for the rest of the evening.
Gavin arrived with neither a power kite nor a buggy, but had a good time anyway. He had no difficulty in borrowing the equipment and buggying to his heart's content. One of the highlights was when he jumped onto the back of a tandem to fly his Rev. The driver was going forwards and he was flying off the back in the apparent wind - way cool.
Gavin also contributed to the langage of the van. Being a young, trendy type, he would make excessive use of the word "rude", to describe anything that he felt was in any way unsavory or cool.
Since the rest of us old fogeys were confused by this, Andy asked for clarification: "Rude? What, like saying 'cunt' in front of your grandmother?". Thus, the phrase "Grandma, that's rude" entered our volcabulary.
Although it's true to say that Gavin had the worst reputation for farting, Andy's farts were to come later in the week. Whilst Gavin would piss everyone off and generally get abused for his excesses, Andy would silently incapacitate his victims, who would be too concerned with preserving their life from the poisoned attack to bother with any revenge.
When Matthew arrived at Berrow, he did what we all did - he flung his favorite kite in the air (a cross-bridled Icarex Sputnik) and went for a buggy. He had a quick blast then came over and asked if I'd like to try it. This was a mistake. I'd only been flying it for a few minutes when the air was wrenched by an almighty ripping popping sound and he turned round to see his pride and joy flapping down to the ground. In a fit of exuberance, I'd over-strained the bridle and destroyed all but two of the cross-bridle connections. I lifted it out of the wet sand and brought the sorry mess back to him, to complain that err.. he'd under-engineered the lines...
Matthew is a brave lad. He's one of the few people that I've been able to persuade to power themselves up as much as I do. On the day when he was doing speed runs, the wind was up and he, like everyone else was using a 3.5m^2 kite. He felt that he could do better if overpowered, so he sent me back to the marquee to pick up a 5m^2 kite that I had been working on (I was 3/4 of the way through adjusting the bridle, but the speed gate would close soon and there was no time to waste.)
When I returned with the kite, we arranged with Hazel (the starting marshal) that we would indicate when we were ready, and she would let us launch and start without having to hang still with 5m^2 in 30mph wind. It was a struggle preparing the kite as the wind built up, but when we got the signal, we launched the kite from the buggy and he was off. He made a gallant effort, but he was massively overpowered and passed the gate sideways. Even with most of his movement being across the gun instead of towards it, he still registered 34mph on the speed trap, before dumping the kite in order to stop before the groyne. It was only when I was sorting out the kites later that I noticed my mistake - rather than give him a 5m^2 kite, I'd sent him off with over 10m^2. Maybe in futre I'll make my kites in different colours at different sizes.
His solo speed trial may have been accidentally over-exciting, but the very next day, he was willing to get in the back of the tandem to try speed-runs 2-up. Where everyone else had small kites again, we attacked the course with a vengeance, powered first by a 7m, then later by over 10m^2 of Chevron. Although we were hitting speeds faster than he'd done before, he was screaming in my ear to give it more welly.
The tandem speed-runs were planned to be suicide runs. To build up as much speed as possible, without considering how to depower the kite before reaching the big wooden stakes across the back of the beach. We simply went through the gate and released the kite. There was someone positioned on the dunes to spot where it drifted to, while pilot and passenger went back to get a fresh kite.
The 7m kite didn't pass up on the opportunity. It drifted over a wide clearing and spotted a huge rose-bush. This bush was big enough that the kite could drape over the top and still be out of reach from all sides. We stared at it for a while. We poked at it. The bush scratched back. We talked about it. We wondered if there was any way to reach it without scaffold. We considered burning the bush in retaliation. Then someone kicked down some of the shrubbery and collected a little corner of the kite into a hand, freeing up some fabric and bridle. Then someone else went round the other side and did the same. Soon, Team Lobotomy were attacking the bush from all angles, Not trying to free up the whole kite, but rather just working on what they could reach, safely bundling it up (or it would catch again...) and moving on to the next bit. In next to no time, the kite was freed from the bush's evil grasp, with no damage inflicted on the kite. Team Lobotomy 1 Evil Rose Bush 0.
When the word came round that Ian wanted a representative from each van, we thought little of it and volinteered Mat. He was blindfolded and treated to a few snacks. Unfortunately, he let us down and managed to eat only the pickled sheep's eyeball and the rabbit food before barfing on a roll-mop herring. He never got the chance to sample the lamb's testicles and the sliced, spiced and dried horse's penis.
Lending an international flavour to Team Lobotomy came Robert Pudlo from Germany. He brought his typically German, over-engineered Windtool's buggy, complete with chunky aluminium frame, hollow seat (to amplify every rumble, so that it sounds fast) and beer-can-holder. He brought typically German, over-engineered alumiuium framed tool box, which contained typically German over-engineered 2m rulers that folded down to fit in your pocket. When the end of the week came and it was time to add up all the expenses, subtract all individual payments, factor in a long list of IOU's and divide by 13, Robert was the only person who was sufficiently together to calculate the totals and have the answers accepted without question.
Paul was the old man of the crew but he soon shed his years and insulted his grandmother along with the best of us. He was unable to join us at the beginning of the week, and failed to supply a crate of beer in atonement, so as punishment we made him share the double bed with Gavin.
I have a difficult time with people's names. I would call Matthew Hurrell "Andy", I would call Andy Hawken "Matt", I would call Robert Pudlo "Bernhard" (due to confusion with Bernhard Malle). Andy would take particular exception to this, since it is compounded by my inclination to add an "s" on the end of Hawken. During a heated exchange about this, I said "To hell with Hawken and Hawkens, let's just call him 'Andy the Bastard'". As I was saying this, Andy was trying to say above me "There's no 'S' in it". Immediately, the idea stuck and he became "Andy the Batard".
One thing that we must thank Andy for is his cooking. It seems that he's the one who cooks at home and he seemed perfectly happy to slot into the same role' in our kitchen (although there is a suspicion that his motive was to avoid having to eat anything prepared by the rest of us...)
Like most of the rest of the crew, Andy builds soft, 2-line kites. His speciality is in bridle design. He uses genetic algorithm programs to evolve optimal bridles to fit his criteria. He has been very successful in developing bridles that turn faster, deliver more of the pull of the kite, and use less line. When giving the program a completely free reign, he found that it wanted to produce a gull-wing canopy, with 2 arches, rather than the usual one. After discussion, we decided that it would be a good idea to apply this bridle to Matt's broken 5m Sputnik. This proved to be an interesting experiment, because it taught us something that we hadn't considered significant as part of the design. As the gull-wing turned, the "V" between the wings got steeper and the kite was unable to cope with the deformation. We studied the kite carefuly, but discarded the bridle after a while, noting that we must change the algorythm to take this problem into account. Next, we replaced the bridle with a particularly flat cross-bridle design from a Chevron and the kite and flier were happy again.
About mid-week, Andy decided that it would be a good idea to go for a night-buggy. He persuaded some of the others to go with him, but I was too tired to cope with it. In retrospect, this was a mistake, because as they were buggying, they were treated to a total eclipse of the moon. Andy Wardley was completely enchanted by it ("It's so cool you could keep beers in it..."), but Andy Hawken simply regarded it as Murphy working overtime. He had been buggying on the softer sand, struggling to make progress upwind, when he snagged a line on one of the signs that delineated the car park. He released the handle and went off to find the kite in the dunes. Unfortunately, when he returned, the lights had gone out! They were completely unable to find his handles. Eventually, they retired, resolving that it would be best to go home and resume the search in daylight. They made a large mark in the sand, so that they would know where to search from in the morning. When they returned, they found that they had nearly tripped over the handles while making the mark.
When it came to time to pack away, at the end of the week, I taught Andy a neat trick. We took each of my kites in turn, laid them out, then folded them, ends to the middle, then again in half and then in half again, so that the kite was folded into a long package, only a couple of cells wide. I then simply laid down with my body across the trailing edge of the bundle and rolled to the leading edges, neatly forcing out all the air.
Next, I started with the 13m^2 kite and folded over about a foot from the trailing edge (note - folding the kite, not rolling it). I then took a flat piece of wood (in fact, a small bench that was handy) and leaned on the folded section to ensure that all the air was extracted. Then we added another fold and foot by foot, we squeezed out all of the air, until huge kite had been reduced to a small, surprisingly thin rectangle. The package dropped easily into my medium-sized stuff-sack, so we followed the procedure with the 10m^2 kite, then the 7 and the 5 and the 4, and they all fitted neatly into the same sack, without any particularly great effort.
Of course, it wasn't just people in our van that were enjoying the lunacy, notable others included:
Ian appointed himself chief entertainment officer, a role to which he is admirbly suited. His idea of entertainment does however seem to be somewhat different to everyone elses. On the first night, for example, he persuaded just about everyone to try wearing a cone on their head, then proceeded to pack "17 people and 2 children" into the marquee's industrial-sized wheelie-bin. (children are people too, Ian...)
Ian does, however have the strength of character to enjoy other people's jokes, such as when Matt found him naked but for a pair of shorts and decided that it would be oh! such fun to wrap his fat, hairy body with brown parcel tape, oh how we laughed and encouraged him till he had used up all the tape on the roll. Oh how Ian enjoyed removing it afterwards...
John took an early night, but was fine the next morning, or so, at first, it appeared. During the following evening, he gave an impromptu solo, singing with his guitar. Whilst this was appreciated, he's only a little lad, with a voice to match, so he decided that for his next song, it would be good to have more impact - so he simply stripped all his clothes off, using only his guitar to hide his shame. This would have been fun enough, but it was only at this point that he realised that his guitar had no strap - he couldn't hold it and play it, and he couldn't get away with resting his knee on a chair as he had done previously...
There was a stong feeling at Berrow that the Skytiger was the kite of the moment - the best performer on the beach. Whilst it is undoubtedly a good performer, I don't think that the impression is necessarily accurate - the Skytiger was what *Jason* was racing with, and *he* made it perform better than the others. When watching the 2-line racing, where most of the fleet were flying equal Peels, Jason was *still* head and shoulders faster than the others.
Not that all Jason did was serious racing. On the way back from the pub, he invented "Hedge diving" - climbing up a telegraph pole, to fling himself off to land in a dense hedge. It takes all sorts...
Peirs and Mike, we love you, you're our best mates. No, I mean that, man.
Robert Pudlo was not the only international visitor, We also had Peter Vanden Bussche who came over from Belgium. He proved to be a very good sport by sponsoring himself to the tune of over 100 pounds to have his head shaved as bald as a baby, to raise money for next year's event. He also promised to bring back more Belgians to join in the now established tradition of "Belgian Shaving".
We tried a local entertainment park for a couple of nights, but it was equipped with gross plastic orange tables and benches that soaked every last ounce of atmosphere from the building.
Then we hit gold - we tried the "Seagull" bar. This is practically opposite "Pontins" and is a huge pub, with a stage providing live entertainment. On the Friday, they made the mistake of using a couple of Vikings, who's purpose in life was to encourage the audience to be as loud and as rowdy as possible, with free beer for the loudest table and other such prizes. We hardly needed encouraging. We roared and we screamed and we danced and we yelled. I don't think they's had a night like it all summer. Notably, although we were participated wholeheartedly (even to the extent of kidnapping anyone who won tokens that we needed...), the situation was still under control - this was a group of people enjoying themselves, not a bunch of drunken louts - members of the public came up to Ian afterwards to thank us for making it such a fun evening.
A couple of the dancers are worth picking out from the crowd. Both, as usual, from my van... First was Matt, who simply has the most Baroque style of dancing - he just goes off into a world of his own, with hands and legs flying everywhere. Second was Andy Wardley, who let his winky take control again and decided to woo Hazel to the tune of "You're the one that I want". He was outlandish, flamboyant, expressive and a complete failure.
With 67 entrants, the race was more about taking part than winning, and a good time was had by all. Jason had to leave the camp the night before the race, but no doubt he managed to win, anyway...
I suppose I'd better tell of some of the things that I got up to during the week...
I seemed to gain myself a reputation for always working on bridles. I re-bridled my 7m Chevron several times, I completely changed the 5, I completely changed my 4. I put a new cross-bridle on a 10, I re-tuned a different 10, I adjusted the nose across the 13. Since day-time is buggy-time, that left only the evenings for bridling, so I'd pull out a kite and start working on it in the pub, in the marquee, in the caravan, or just when idle on the beach. There was always work to do, and I never missed a chance to get on with it.
Very much on the spur of the moment, I laid on a bridling workshop, teaching how to design new bridles, how to look for and tune out faults, how to repair breakages and lots of other useful tips. It was the first time that I had done anything like this in the kite community, and I'm very pleased with how it went - there was a fair turnout on short notice, the audience were interested and asked intelligent questions, I had enough to talk about and it was well received. I may well look at doing more of this sort of thing in the future.
One kite that gave me particular bridle problems as my 7.7m^2 Chevron. When I built it, I had a problem with the program that I use to help design the bridle - it built a bridle which upon first inspection *looked* correct, but which was, in fact, badly wrong. I sat down with my computer and worked out a correct bride, then calculated the differences between the current bridle and the fix and started making extensions to the bridle lines to correct the fault. I managed to get this wrong too. In despair, I removed the entire rear section of the primary bridles and re-built this portion from scratch. I managed to mess up this as well. By this time, I was beginning to get rather frustraited with the kite, so I gave up on the computer entirely and tried bridling the kite entirely by eye - I had a general idea of how the bridle should look, so I just sat down and adjusted it to make it look sort-of sensible. At last, the kite flew. It didn't fly particlarly well, but I could look at it in the sky and determine which parts flew best, and adjust the others to match. By the time I had finished, it was the best kite I'd bridled ever. Because I was unhindered by pre-set configurations, I had ended up with a bridle setting that I would never have reached normaly, and the kite screamed through the sky.
That night, in the pub, I examined the entire bridle, to find out exactly how I had tuned it. This revealed inconsistencies in the tuning which I was able to correct in the morning, and the kite flew better than ever.
Later in the week, I took the lessons learned on the 7 and transferred the principles to my other kites - everything just by trial and error. With 6 Chevrons in my bag, it's no wonder that some people thought I spent the entire week bridling...
It is annoying to be at a big event and find that you can't play because something is broken and needs repaired. I tried to be prepared for any eventuality. I brought:
Most of these were kept in the white bag that I had made from woven polypropylene, which became known as my "Bag of tricks" (a reference to Tim Benson's "Box of Tricks"). Just about everyone who had seen me write "Real men use straight stitch - only!" on the internet seemed to notice that I had used zig-zag on the bag.
The one thing that I didn't bring that I hoped someone else would, was equipment for welding stainless steel. Predictably, I broke the threaded insert free from my axel on the first day and had to go and find a friendly stainless welding shop in Weston Super Mare.
I went to Berrow without my wife, Joanne. This meant that the most important thing that I had to do every day was to phone her up to remind her that I love her. I never seemed to get to do this in private - every night, she would get a call either from a payphone or from a mobile borrowed from some kind soul, and to hear the crew calling out in unison "Joanne, we love you...". The girl who called out "Come back to bed, darling" on the last night caused me considerable grief.
Mike and Piers asked me to help out by giving an enthusiastic bunch of kids some tandem rides. At the time, I had lost the bolt that joins the tandem together, so I used a piece of 4mm rope, wound through the hole 3 times to be extra secure. Tandem is my favorite form of buggying. I use buggy hooks through dead-man handles, so that I can safely transfer the power of the kite to the buggy without the danger of being pulled out. This means that I can happily belt along at say 25mph, then turn by dumping the kite down, and through the power. The kite fires up, says "you're going >>>this-a-way" and before you know it, the tandem has changed direction. This is fun for the pilot, but even more fun for the passenger, who ends up whipping out round the corner, as if they were on a fairground ride. I took it a little easy for the kiddies, but found something to make up for it. They seemed to be good sports, because I asked each one if they wanted to go fast, and then asked if they wanted to get wet - invariably they would enthusiastically answer 'yes' to each question. I would take them on a tack which would build speed gradually, while heading out towards the sea. They would get a small amount of spray as we powered out over the damp sand, but they would be completely unprepared for when I came across a series of holes dug earlier by people looking for worm-bait. The deep puddles were all in a row, by the end of which, the passenger (and for that matter also the pilot) would be completely drenched. The rides eventually came to an end, when the tandem managed to cut through all three ropes, to dump my passenger, still in the seat, squarely in the middle of a puddle.
Shortly before Berrow, we got the news that Fritz Gramowski got "Fritzed". He had been struggling in light wind to persuade a 10m Peel to fly well enough to be able to buggy, when he was unexpectedly hit by a gust. Before he knew what was going on, he was looking down at the ground from a height. Then the kite collapsed and he fell with a bang, breaking his pelvis. Upon hearning the news, everyone agreed that it would be cool to send him get-well wishes, which were collected on sheets for faxing. Unfortunately, the fax number that I had turned out to be a phone number, and while it is ok to fax during the night, I ended up waking them in the small hours of the morning. *sigh*
Rather than beat back up wind past the town and the donkeys on soft, narrow stretches of sand, I walked back to the north of the town. I spent some time with some members of the public who were struggling with a small delta which seemed to be designed to fly only in hurricanes. I tried to buggy back from there, but in the failing wind and the soft sand, I ended up walking back to the lighthouse. Now that the sand was a little harder and some of the heavier mud had fallen off the kite, I was able to make respectable progress. This was satisfactory, but I was now suffering from a new problem - I had been out on the beach for hours without a drink and my mouth and throat was feeling disgusting.
The camp was still well out of site, but in the distance I could see a buggy flying a Modulus. This gave me something to aim for, so I strived to catch him. The buggier parked the kite, so I kept going. Upon reaching the buggy, it turned out that it was Chris Lamb, who had seen the distance I had covered, correctly assumed that I would be desperate for water and had come down to bring me some - what a hero. I drank it gratefully, and we both headed back up to the camp to arrive at dusk.
The bad news came in the evening, when I was told about the southerly limit to our area. Reportedly, I had been careering through crowded areas at speed, without a care for the safety of anyone else, scaring the donkeys, and involved in a horrendous crash. *sigh*
As I finish off this report, it is now a week since I was at Berrow. The scars are healing, (although the Land Lizard injury is still annoying) and I am just about caught up on the lost sleep. I did so much flying, buggying and bridling at Berrow, that I still haven't *looked* at a kite since I returned.
I wonder if we can make the event next year for just a weekend. I don't know whether my body is capable of taking this much fun again without expiring.
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