A Vinegar Valentine Present -Have a Taste? Explosive!!

 Stimulated by a post from Nicholas Rossis that disabused me ( I thought this idea had been original) instead I offer a short short story for your delectation! A collection soon due. Free taste.



Hard Cheese

Yesterday was my best Valentine ever; the day when I, nobody from nowhere, knew that God loved me. You can keep your red roses.  Usually on Wednesdays I have two hours to meself, seeing as how Tuesdays is the night Dad spends with his bit-on-the-side and comes in late. After I open up the factory I makes a cafetière of decent coffee and I sets out some fresh scones or rock cakes, and then I open up me magazine and usually have two hours fancying a new hairdo or planning a recipe with duck. I love duck.

Not this one. I didn’t have to wait for Dad to appear and start complaining that I ought to at least look busy.

‘Can’t have my own daughter slacking, sets a bad example’ He always says that and I always takes no notice.

So it was the last thing I expected when, instead of Dad, his Land Rover spat through the gravel and hand-braked like a rally stop in front of the stores. Who do I mean? Well that’s the something! It were Heil Hitler Walthorpe hisself. Not his manager, not his driver, but Lord High-an-Mighty at the wheel with his farm hand in the back holding on for dear life. He got out, slammed the door and stood waiting for service like we was his herd of cows and would come running. He’s a right arrogant git in his combat trousers trying to look like a man of the people, when everybody knows he inherited his millions from Daddy who made it selling hardware from the back of a van in some concrete Midlands jungle…

He seemed in a hurry. Well I wasn’t, so I took me coffee with me and strolled across the yard.

‘Your father, where is he?’ No good morning, how are you, nice day.

‘He could be anywhere’ I says, ‘Maybe up at mother’s, maybe down at Mole Valley…’

‘Well fetch someone, will you.’ I obviously wasn’t a Someone.

‘Righty ho’ I says.

‘And don’t say righty ho, just do it’

That’s the sort he is. If I hadn’t had the coffee I might of given ee the Nazi salute with me finger under me nose and practised me goose-step back across…  He just stood watching me like I was a mangy dog, too old to bark.

I found Marcia doing her cuticles in the cloakroom and told her that Walthorpe wanted something from the stores so she’d better take the keys. She looked right smug to be doing the honours; bustled out with that person-of-importance clip-clop she puts on. Marcia is Dad’s PA, she thinks she’s a cut above and she resents that Ed, me brother, and me will inherit the farm when she is pensioned off. She will have to take her see-through blouses and her shorthand with her.

I watched her open up and then, blow me, Walthorpe and the farm boy start throwing all the metal cheese moulds into the back of the Land Rover like they was due for scrap, sounded like a harrow chewing barbed wire. Anyway they moulds had only been made last month. Just then Dad arrives and I see him trying to talk to Walthorpe who ignores him. Then he points to the stores and Dad nods. Then he drives off with the same mad frenzy. Dad tells Marcia to lock up and he comes in looking real puzzled.

‘What’s going on, what did he say?’

‘Not much. Just that we’re not to make any more of those heart-shaped cheeses’

‘Well you never wanted to make them anyway. You should be pleased’

I had never thought dad should get involved with that rubbish. The formula was crap, the milk organic but only just, and the method? Well let’s just say MacDonalds would not have batted an eye. They could’ve made it in their sleep. I mean who in their right mind would want to give their Valentine a plastic cheese looking like raw liver?

‘Don’t get sarky with me girl. You know why I agreed to it. It was just to keep the work-force on through January instead of laying them off till March. Now I’m going to have to pay compensation for breaking their short contracts…’

‘Didn’t you tell him that?’

‘Some things, girl, you just have to let go. I knew I shouldn’t trust him…I was a fool to ignore it’

‘What’s he planning to do with they moulds?’

‘Scrap, he said’

A week earlier we’d had six hundred of they cheeses stacked like outsize German Lebkuchen waiting for custom. It weren’t no Christmas.  It was horrible seeing those swollen hearts sweating in the dark at the back of the stores, not like Dad at all. We make good Cheddar and we get lots of prizes at agricultural shows. I couldn’t really understand why he’d agreed to put our reputation on the line with a short order for Johnny Walthorpe. The only good thing was that although Dad had agreed to make them, he said no to marketing or distribution; so maybe the damage was done. Nobody would need to know we’d had anything to do with them. All but eight had already gone.

On the whole I think Dad was relieved, but worried that he couldn’t get a handle on the why’s and wherefore’s. Dad deals with real farmers like hisself, not these tax-loss Johnnies whose farms are left to rot while their Statelys are rebuilt, and their driveways re-surfaced. Walthorpe had set up his so called ‘vintage organic’ cheese five minutes after his farm was registered ‘organic’. How do you get both vintage and organic that way? No wonder he sealed it in plastic after it was punched out with cookie cutters like fat biscuits. A cheese that can’t breathe, can’t age. Dad had to watch Walthorpe’s fleet of trucks bustlin about the country with ‘vintage organic’ written everywhere, when he’s spent his life trying to improve already good real cheese.

Walthorpe wasn’t the sort Dad could talk to. He couldn’t ask the proper questions, like ‘why have you changed your mind’ but had to content hisself with the ‘what’s and when’s’ instead. Dad may be slow but he’s used to being in charge, understanding things. I made him a fresh cafetière and put out a rock cake as well. You know what they say about a man and his stomach.

What I couldn’t understand was why Walthorpe had cancelled the operation just after the whole consignment had been bought. Didn’t make sense. We’d had a sudden phone call from the other side of the County and told they had to be delivered that same day, which was last Friday. Seeing as Valentine’s Day was yesterday that figured and Joel, the driver, had put on a clean shirt and managed to take the whole afternoon off, and stretch the delivery into Saturday when he was due to be off anyway. I had a hunch that the two was connected. So I went to find Joel. He didn’t seem too co-operative but went on cleaning his nails with a screwdriver, not looking up.

‘Joel, where did you take that consignment of hearts?’

‘Bridgewater way, leastwise in that direction…’

‘Look Joel I’m not bothered about the time it took, or what lay-by you parked in to snog Tracey just say where exactly…’

‘Cherington Manor first, then on from there… Cherington unloaded ninety two himself, and then gave me fifty quid to take the rest to Butlin’s Holiday camp. He said I was to say they was a gift for their Valentines Day bash from a nonymous well-wisher…He also told me about a place, St Valentin, where heart cheeses has allays bin…intrestin’ bloke Cherington…’

‘Lord Cherington?’ I could hardly believe it.

‘Yup’ No wonder Joel had kept it dark. Fifty quid bonus on Dad’s time was out-of-order. Still, we could think about that later.

This was big time fishy. You have to realise that Cherington is the cat’s pyjamas when it comes to cheese. He never has to exhibit. His entire output goes to the Palace, or to Fortnum’s. His is the real crème brulée. He even imports the linen from France to wrap the truckles and ages it for five years. What would Cherington want with a load of plastic cheese tasting like soap?

I decided not to tell Dad about Lord Cherington. It was hard enough that his Lordship knew who had made that cheese, let alone that the only time we had any contact with him was through jumped-up Johnny Walthorpe. Cherington is Dad’s God on two counts; first when it comes to cheese, and second on the Countryside Alliance. He reckons Cherington is one of the few gentry who understand country ways.

I need not have bothered keeping stumm.

That evening it was in all the papers; our bleedin’ cheese, worldwide! When we turned on the telly Dad went white. To start with he thought it was a plant to get him banged up for being so mouthy on the Countryside Alliance. It was much worse than that. It was first in the six o’clock headlines.

‘Today, both Houses of Parliament were evacuated due to a bomb scare.’

It turns out that heart-shaped ‘bombs’ had been left first thing outside MP’s offices in the House of Commons. Major panic! No wonder Walthorpe was going to destroy the evidence…There was pictures of all they politicians being shepherded out, and the Lords being escorted like a crocodile of vintage schoolboys across the bridge, with their fur and flaming gowns a’flyin. The Japanese tourists were snappin’ away while the bomb squad was shunting them back. There was serious interviews of MP’s nodding in that know-it-all way, sayin it was clearly an Al Quaeda plot because they timed it for Prime Minister’s Questions, being Wednesday… Bingo to the British Government.

Then someone reckoned that Al Quaeda had got together with the Mafia (it being the anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) and there was pictures of the police in Palermo rounding up every Mustapha wid a moustacha…..with helicopters hovering…

Of course I knew it had to be Cherington and I was sure it was supposed to be a joke, a political joke; ninety two cheeses, ninety two hereditary peers. Work it out. Come to that, some of the MP’s seemed miffed they wasn’t important enough to get a personal heart-shaped explosive.

The bomb squad likewise took it po-faced. They marched off all the cheeses and x-rayed and scanned and reckoned by the weight it was semtex; but they couldn’t find no detonators. They did a controlled explosion on one and everyone agreed it tasted like semtex. Anyway one swallow does not make a summer so they took the lot off to a disused quarry and blew them up. At this point I realised Dad was crying… tears of laughter.

‘If they’re so keen on re-cycling why didn’t they use them to demolish the Dome’ he says. I decided not to tell him there were still 500 unaccounted for via the Butlin’s knees-up.

They are still running around trying to decide how the terrorists got into Parliament and why they chose the people they did. After they let them all back in they found three more under the Dispatch box. ‘ Sorry fellas, out again’  Then there’s Blair tryin to find his emergency face and swingin between ‘ Churchill’ and ‘Plum scared,’ and stroking his tie the way he does for the cameras, like it was a ferret. Loved it! Much better than Question Time.

You know the best bit of all, the hug yourself forever bit? I, Emmy Johnson, who yesterday wasn’t even a somebody, is the only person in the Country that knows the recipe. The last cherry on the top was added after.

In today’s local paper there’s a small paragraph which is going to put egg on everyone’s face. It says that Butlin’s have started this new tradition, the anti-Valentine Party…you send a present to the person you hate most in the entire world (hate being more common than love they say). All they cheeses were given out to start the ball rolling. No wonder some got three. Cherington must have got the intelligence early somehow. I can’t decide whether to show it to Dad. Best not probably; less he knows, less he’ll hang hisself. He’d never be able to keep it quiet.

No wonder Lord Cherington is God; wiping the smile off the Prime Minister and doing in the scam of the local Ponce. That’s what dad calls economy of effort, that is.

What I must do is get me brother Ed (he’s the local post-man) to drop they last eight at the Grange. He could drop them in a sack by the kitchen door. Better still, I’ll put a candle in the middle of each and leave a flickering line to Walthorpe’s oak portal after dark. I’ll light up his ‘Fetch someone!’ He’ll never know which local nobody might be a Somebody. It’s put paid to the ‘vintage organic’ that’s for sure.

My sweet secret is like chocolate on me tongue.

IMage By Myrabella – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6814083








Author: philipparees

A writer ( mostly narrative poetry) of fiction and non-fiction. Self publisher of fiction and Involution-An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God (Runner-up Book of the Year (2013), One time builder ( Arts centre) Mother of four daughters: Companion of old man and old dog: One time gardener, lecturer, wannabe cellist, mostly enquirer of 'what's it all about', blogger and things as yet undiscovered.

17 thoughts on “A Vinegar Valentine Present -Have a Taste? Explosive!!”

  1. Well, likewise John. I’m glad you hooked me out to fuller disclosure, and thereby met me there! You have never commented on Checkmate. Never assumed you’d read it. No, it isn’t included because a) I did not think i a short story in the classical sense ( inward arguments don’t count) and b) I have sent it off to some publication in hope and must wait for it to come winging back with a rejection slip in its beak. I rechristened it as a disputatious ‘Essay’. ‘On Not Being Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ ( just to make things easier for the hasty!)

    Yes, you are absolutely right about being born in the wrong age, and having a nostalgia for the Age of the Individual. Actually as a slight follow up to my last exposition there was a very moving interview at that time of flushing out in which a newly appointed young Labour peer dissolved in tears at the destruction of the ancient self disciplined Upper House that saw its role as refining legislation, and not countering the WILL OF THE PEOPLE in the Commons. It was the one British contribution-self imposed restraint. Now the Lords is as much a rabble as the lower house, packed with political placemen like Trump’s administration. Worth weeping about. She admitted that she had never understood its value until she joined it, and could not believe what was happening, and what would be irreversible. Bit like taking a wrecking ball to Westminster Abbey to make way for an egalitarian shopping mall. Given that the WILL OF THE PEOPLE is for vulgarity and Fifty shades… is the maladjusted longing for the Renaissance really ‘maladjusted’?


    1. Longing for the Renaissance again and its values and ideals does have its consequences, a main one always feeling like an escapee and on the run, in exile or in hiding, from the sort of world circus penal colony which is growing and spreading like a disease over the whole world. If it’s any consolation, Philippa, despite appearances, despite my occasional involvement with things of dubious value or subversive intent, I have at core the same longing. I really do! I think how much more my visual art talent might have developed and flourished if I was part of a guild of some kind, not left so much to flounder on my own. When I look back over my past I feel I have wasted a lot of energy, not used it with discipline to create something durable and lasting.

      I have read Check Mate before, back around when I first made your acquaintance, though, honestly, I don’t exactly remember particulars about it. I combed old emails and found this comment I made about it that I sent as a “P.S.” in an email I wrote and sent to both you and Brian George on March 23, 2015:

      “P.S. Dear Philippa: I read Check Mate. Interesting experiment. Bottling oneself in with certain spirits and having it out with them. Check Mate is a stirring, textured work with lines which stick in the craw. In it is the voice behind the “Voice of Deity”, the back-talking voice which whispers in our ear what we don’t want to hear because deep down we know it’s the truth. I have a tremendous amount of disgust, contempt, hatred even, a vehemence in me too, and I’m trying to find my own way of doing something with it, creatively, so that I stop hurting myself and by extension don’t hurt others. It’s really difficult to be on the creative side of things. Through your study and understanding of science you’ve gained this vantage-point outside of art and literature which allows you to see clearly its pretenses and snobbery. Reading certain lines in Check Mate, I wonder what your more hidden thoughts are of Brian George, and of myself, the ones you keep to yourself so as not to hurt feelings or get involved in something which would drain your energy. I know already at 45 years old: As one grows older one puts a premium on conserving one’s energy! One must pick one’s battles. It’s so difficult to tell the truth in a way that it’s not hurtful and alienating, but encouraging and helpful.”

      “All this talk of mind and consciousness, each thought growing loftier, more refined and rarefied in expression, till the heart cries out: “Goddamnit! What about me!” – I like the energy of Check Mate, that vehemence. In Check Mate you unmask the famous literary characters involved in the art world theater, popping the bubble of heroine worship. I think you actually do Woolf – she herself – her creative spirit – good service by attacking the idolized image of her now worshipped uncritically by those who dwell in Orthodoxy. I think any discriminating reader would understand you’re not attacking her, the creative spirit which was in her, but the canonization of her, the making of her into a Sacred Cow. We can’t really appreciate another’s humanity unless we know something of their weaknesses and flaws too. It’s like you wrote in a recent comment on your blog regarding Koestler: ‘That’s what happens when a man gets institutionalized. The pedestal gets higher and higher the longer they are dead!'”


      1. Sorry John- for forgetfulness about past opinion on Checkmate. Now perhaps you might conceded the ‘old woman’ is not mere excuse but dementia at the full canter. I hardly remember what I did yesterday, and it IS becoming quite worrying! I told Brian so in a recent letter.

        Much to answer in this comment. The ‘Renaissance’ world with its Guilds and structure and finding liberty within rather than without is the essence of what Marco is trying to restructure. I spent an afternoon recently listening to Ruth Finnegan’s two in depth interviews on Youtube, and found myself envying her life of Oxford rigour, classical foundations and a life of independent but supported original work. You can see every element of her past life finding its place in her recent fiction. I would have ( and tried to) give everything to have had the privilege of her formal education from which later to take strong wings of flight. By the time I was interviewed for a post graduate course at Oxford ( in social science) it was too late. I was interviewed for a whole day, asked about what motivated me, unwisely talked about Involution ( since at the time it was all there was of dominant interest) and politely shown to the door with the words ‘It’s been very interesting, but you realise social science leads to work in which all you have to think about is whether your client can afford a pair of shoes. Go and do that for a year and if you still want to study come back and we’ll have you.’ I left with a huge sigh of relief!

        But like you ( and Marco, and Brian) it is very lonely. You have as much time ahead as behind, and if Ruth can start on a whole new field of writing, ( at 83) so too can you. I think I have decided simply to write ( right) and follow Brian’s example of self belief. Re Checkmate and the Voice of Deity it was the first realisation that there are always two contradictory voices and both equally valid. That led to writing Involution suspended between Reason and Soul, and the Court case between Defense and Prosecution. I cannot take myself too seriously and starting out with admiration for Virginia Woolf inevitably led to re-examination of the possible deficiencies of becoming her. What you identify as being ‘rough around the edges’ is the consequence of being unable to polish either side! The moment I try laughter breaks out. But perhaps you attribute greater profundity than I merit. My puncturing lance is mere impulse rather than considered targeting.


      2. Well, Philippa, I have my forgetfulness too. My mind works in a curious way. I retain all these vivid general essences of works I’ve read or experienced in the past, these auras with different scents and fragrances, even stinks and stenches, but lose grasp of details. I’m awful with names and dates. I think something in this actual deficiency has lent itself to my free-play in exploring associations. If you were to mention this or that work, I sense something strongly there, and not having it in front of me, I dive in and feel around for the contour. I end up inventing something in place of what I can’t exactly remember in detail, but still resonant with the tone of what I do vaguely remember. I’ve been able in this way to come up with some rather surprising and startling observations, even fresh and new to myself! I think this figures as a secret in the development of my own particular naivete.

        Any know-it-all who grows a fat head only stands at the top of a hill and pelts us with stones.

        But I, always teetering on the edge of ignorance, sometimes fall in and quite forget where I am or what I ever knew, and climbing out despite my nicks and bruises give “knowledge” a go again. This is probably what keeps me humanly approachable, and not entirely unlikable, no? I can say the same of you. Your honesty and openness is as refreshing as a flower just blossomed, showing its beautiful face, its leafs turning into little hands and offering the thirsty wayfarer a glass of dew.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d argue that the stories I’ve read which you’ve written are not frivolous at all, Philippa, or are only apparently so. Immensely entertaining, with command of language as usual, rough around the edges, which breathes life into the characters, and poetically evocative, opening layers of meaning. I’m a big fan of your stories.

    Am I a meanie for finding the following pie-ing of French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy so funny? Same prankster Noel Godin arranged it as pied Bill Gates. (I agree Gates looks defenseless, but I say again, he gets a little credit for dropping charges), but this one really tickles me with delight. When Levy says, “Oh no!” and tries to escape, being faked out, and then getting it from behind, I feel what Godin was trying to do was a success, because the spirit of kids playing tag enters the stuffy room for a moment, like a ray of light breaking through the clouds, turning everything topsy-turvy. You see all these people thrown temporarily into disarray, who normally, dressed up in suits and ties, are so composed and humorless, droning on, and crushing every last bit of joy and spontaneity out of the human spirit. The self-importance, pomposity and pretense of authority worn by the individuals who get pied is the real target. The intention isn’t physically to hurt anyone. Of course it doesn’t change anything, but it’s a delight to see that stuffy air cleared by a gleefully gratuitous act.

    Your story ends somewhat in the same spirit, doesn’t it? … “The bomb squad likewise took it po-faced. They marched off all the cheeses and x-rayed and scanned and reckoned by the weight it was semtex; but they couldn’t find no detonators. They did a controlled explosion on one and everyone agreed it tasted like semtex. Anyway one swallow does not make a summer so they took the lot off to a disused quarry and blew them up. At this point I realised Dad was crying… tears of laughter.”

    I do feel a little bad for Levy, but I also think he did over-react, and then some, and it appears in hindsight he scrambled to intellectualize the occurrence – to “save face” – to leverage power and respectability back to himself, inflating him with self-importance again, which was why Godin chose him as a target in the first place. Read the link to a short article following the video of the episode.



    1. It won’t surprise you John that for me the music hall custard pie (or cream) seems okay once (in a well chosen moment) but does get less and less meaningful, especially when it evokes predictable reactions. Henri-Levy, like most French philosophers is elevated to the status of intellectual icon ( unlike English ones who go about incognito because philosophy enjoys little esteem here unless it gets militant like Bertrand Russell on the ban-the-bomb barricades) He is a product of what is expected and obliges by windswept hair and immaculate suit. So invites the debagging. Not sure answering an open invitation holds much of originality!

      On the story perhaps it has lost relevance. When it was written it was in answer to the furious debate ranging over the hereditary peers in the House of Lords- reduced by negotiation to 92. Even they remained under threat at that Blairite populist time. Characters like Lord Cherington ( invented) hold both wide ranging experience (in his case farming and cheese making) and seldom the need for self interest to sway their political allegiance- unlike the created peers appointed by rewarding toady EU Commissioners and oiling future support! For me the hereditary peers, (some but not all monied), mostly older and wiser than their political masters are the closest democracy gets to the Platonic ideas. If they sleep through debates it makes those who remain awake more likely to feel passionate enough to do so! I would rather see an entirely appointed Upper House- not necessarily only aristocrats-who see the re-investment of their experience as the reward and obligations of an experienced life. So yes the story was an attack on the values of the nouveau riche ( exemplified by Blair) carried to a creative raspberry! I enjoyed looking through the lens of a working farm girl who happened to hold the strands circumstantially.


      1. No one spoke of originality here, Philippa. I think that Levy got pied many times has generated a curious narrative of action and reaction. It’s not boring to me. There are many I’d rather sit waiting to get pied than listen to without land in sight, especially establishment intellectuals who become celebrities. Levy got pied and his reaction is as if an entire country got bombed. Then, of course, there’s always the race card. Those who always play that, using it as a weapon, deserve the pie, again and again.

        It’s interesting hearing more backround to this story you wrote. If anything, I’m glad I helped create a little space so that you could share more about it. I know that what you create, even if it appears at first frivolous or more lighthearted, actually is drawn from a deep well of personal experience, with a whole lifetime of thought behind it. I know you don’t show all your cards. You play a good game. Will Checkmate be in your collected stories?

        I think what you hope for politically will not come to pass. We live in a dark age of masses and mobs, not individuals. Man no longer is the measure of all things. It seems to me that you genuinely hold dear and alive in you the values and ideals of the Renaissance and the enlightenment. You’re a woman who was born in the wrong age, and that being so, you live by necessity in exile. Most that is worldly is dross, is corrupt and infectiously corrupting, reprehensible and disgusting from a high and crystal clear point view. I know this even though I partake, and am disappointed again and again. I’m more frivolous than you are. In the end, sick of it all, I myself might be happiest in a monastery.


  3. Utterly hilarious, Philippa. Rich symbolism too methinks, which reaches more than one level.

    Here’s a blast from the past, really innocuous in itself, though messy, a slapstick prank from the old silents, but due to the stage and high level of publicity, taking on terrorist overtones. Dan Rather calls it a cowardly attack, for god-sakes. The self-importance of those people. I think part of the point was revealing that. It’s like popping a balloon, which startles and reveals for a moment, but of course the next moment another balloon is grabbed, and pumped up and filled with hot air, crowding everyone back into corners, and everything then goes back to (ahem) “normal.” This seemed still wanting in ingredients when I first heard of it, being too pasty, fluffy white, needing I think a dash of color to punctuate, but somehow, now sometime down the line, you have provided the cherry:

    To Bill Gates’s credit he didn’t press charges.

    (Originally published by the Daily News on Feb. 5, 1998. This story was written by George Mannes.)

    “Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, who was hit with 11 state subpoenas earlier this week, got whacked by something else yesterday on a trip to Brussels — a pie in the face.

    Gates, the world’s wealthiest man, got his unexpected taste of Belgium as he entered an afternoon meeting with 400 Belgian educators, business leaders and government officials.

    On his way in, a group of pranksters ambushed him with a cream pie, messing his glasses and dark suit.

    The pie toss was thought to be the mastermind of Noel Godin, a Belgian personality who stages the attacks and then tries to sell footage of the incidents.

    Police arrested two suspects in the attack yesterday, and were looking for a third.

    Gates, who usually worries about software piracy more than soft pies, will not be pressing charges, Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said.

    Murray said that Gates, a fearsome competitor who’s not usually known for his sense of humor, was later joking about the incident.

    “The pie wasn’t even that good,” Murray reported Gates as saying.”


    1. It’s called creative politics! Never published it earlier because just after writing it there was a scare in Parliament when someone threw blue dye over Blair! I almost thought I’d already written the script!

      Liked by 1 person

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