Tag Archives: summer

Waving not drowning

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I’m slowly sinking beneath the tide – not drowning but waving – to bowdlerise Stevie Smith’s poem.
And not a watery tide either. My whole garden seems to be subsiding beneath a sea of flaming leaves. Years ago I planted a row of liquid ambers, and sought out the brightest, most vivid species of autumn leaves, and it has proved true to its promise.

The colours, orange and purple, deep red and gold never fail to thrill me.
But now with the end of the golden weather, and autumn sliding into winter, these trees are revealing the bone structure hidden all summer under their luxuriant foliage.

Today, with pouring rain and cold blasts of wind I look out of the window at these grey skeletons and savour the fag end of autumn and the idea of winter settling in – and I love it… the fire’s lit, a pile of logs sitting smugly on the hearth, soup on the menu for lunch, and the pleasure of wearing a bright red wool jumper.

In my other life, the other side of the world, May and June in the northern hemisphere meant the opposite. I loved them then for may blossom and blackbird song, honey- suckle beginning to bloom in the hedgerows along with pale pink dog roses, and the pale translucent green leaves of beech trees with the sun shining through them… and a full moon shining over a loved wych elm on the sky-line. As the days grew warmer, the cooing of wood pigeons in the woods and the murmuring of innumerable bees in lime trees announced those hazy lazy days of summer.

In this country these months mean returning to those well loved clothes which never wear out, the wools and coats of winter, with the rich colouring and textures that summer clothes rarely possess… the sybaritic pleasure of a piping hot electric blanket on a cold wet night, and the glowing starlit sky of a frosty one.

So now I love these months for different things. I savour the bare hard look of ploughed fields, and stripped trees for silver trunks and shades of bark never noticed when the leaves were green. Mole said it best in ‘The Wind in the Willows’: “It was a cold still afternoon with a hard steely sky overhead…

“The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him and he thought he had never seen so far and intimately into the insides of things …Copses , dells, quarries and all hidden places which had been mysterious mines for exploration in leafy summer, now exposed themselves… He was glad that he liked the country undecorated, hard and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple…”

And in his diary for December 12, 1874, The Rev Frances Kilvert described: “… a beauty in the trees peculiar to winter, when their fair delicate slender tracery unveiled by leaves and showing clearly against the skies rises bending with a lofty arc or weeps gracefully drooping.

“The crossing and interlacing of the limbs, the smaller boughs and tender twigs make an exquisitely fine network which has something of the severe beauty of sculpture while the tree in summer in its full pride and splendour and colour of foliage represents the loveliness of painting.

“The deciduous trees which seem to me most graceful and elegant in winter are the birches, limes, beeches”.

The rhythm of the seasons is felt less in the gentle micro- climate where I live, than in the colder regions of the country, but I still revel in them. When I lived in the tropics for years, I ached for the regular changing of the seasons, for cold and bleak or warm and balmy. The lack of variety of perpetual warmth, perpetual sun, perpetual foliage, flowers and fruit, unchanging as the months went by, were in the end, utterly boring to a westerner born and bred to the rhythm of the seasons.

Subtle Screwtape, the senior Devil, writing to his nephew Wormwood puts it better in CS Lewis’s ‘The Screwtape Letters’: “He (God )has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.

“He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is felt as a novelty yet always as an immemorial theme… men will be transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas…”

Yes. The devil is right, it’s the constantly changing seasons, the beauty we cannot grasp and keep, and at the same time the pleasure of doing what we did last year and the year before which gives life a richness and satisfaction. Children feel it as keenly as adults – who is as insistent as a child that we do the same as we did last year, especially at Christmas?

What the elderly devil Screwtape didn’t mention to his nephew Wormwood, who he was teaching to capture souls, was an even more regular pattern of rhythm – the poetry of the waxing and waning of the moon, and also the moods and feelings which are so often influenced by those rhythms. So often in the swings between euphoria and despair it’s easy to lose the way, and forget that these highs and lows are also part of the rhythm of life and of the human soul.

Yet ataraxia, which is an arcane word for: “ a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety “, coming from a Greek word meaning impassive, really sounds rather boring I commented to my dearest friend as we laughed over this definition. Who would want to be in a permanent state of valium-like tranquillity and never experience all the excitement of living, never to enjoy anticipation, exhilaration, or spontaneous joy. Without the rhythm of our emotional ups and downs, the waxing and waning of feelings and fun, life would lose its zest.

That isn’t to say I actually enjoy the downers… and usually I realise I’m using the left side of my brain when I’m depressed so I can do something to rise again. The left brain is the one that presses logical solutions and sensible brakes on hope and enthusiasm and joy. The voice that says you may not be able to do this – it’s too difficult – you’re not up to it…

Maybe that’s where Screwtape and his ilk gain their footholds on the human soul. The antidote to all this is the shift across to the right brain, the seat of intuition and inner knowing and the accepting and optimistic view of oneself and the world. And so back up into the rhythm of light and dark, warmth and cold, summer and winter, and savouring the joy of them all. The sun and the moon, the movement of the stars, the tides and the winds, the leaves budding and opening and falling, all swing us along through the seasons, and somehow, for me, as each season comes round again, it seems as safe an anchorage as home itself.

Food for threadbare gourmets

When I want a quick sustaining lunch, this is one of my favourites. I grate a medium sized potato, mix it with an egg, season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and tip the whole lot into a frying pan with hot olive oil. I turn it like a pancake when the under- side is done. While it’s cooking I grill a couple of rashers of free range bacon, and… quick, tasty and satisfying.

Food for thought

Even as our few remaining wilderness areas are threatened, each day more of us venture into these beautiful landscapes to experience the energy for ourselves. And, immersed in the natural rhythms of the earth and the wind and the sky, our minds relax and we view our lives with quiet perspective. We can see our paths and can recognise the synchronicity that has guided our footsteps.
James Redfield from The Tenth Insight

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Ant or grasshopper?

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The weather forecasters are calling it an Indian summer. This appals me – sitting here looking out of the French windows, watching butterflies flitting over the hydrangeas, I thought we were still gently making our way through an antipodean summer. Has the time flown so fast that we are in that gap between high summer and early autumn? The din of the cicadas should have warned me, as should the scattered pink blossoms on the plum tree. This bewildered specimen flowers every autumn – fruitlessly – before doing its spring burst of glory.

Driving along the roads to town, the verges are blooming with the autumn flowering of scarlet mombretia which have spread through the long golden grass. White oxe-eye daisies grow in clumps among the mombretias, and there are still some red- hot pokers and a few roses flowering as I drive past unkempt hedge-rows bright with a heavy harvest of red hawthorn berries.

 If it was the northern hemisphere I would repeat to myself the old country lore that we must be going to have a hard winter, and nature is providing for the hungry birds. But we never have hard winters where I live, so I just savour the bounty with no fear for the future. Instead we long for rain.

Every year now we have a drought, and it becomes a struggle to keep the garden alive;  I use up our precious water to save the white Japanese anenomes for their burst of autumn flowering, and to stop the roses wilting. The purple salvia looks after itself. Glorious scented Jean Ducher, and bright mutabilis keep the cycle of roses going all the year round. And littered around the garden are the shallow plant holders filled with water for thirsty hedgehogs to drink, and where I also see wasps sipping and even a pair of snails making their way together down to the water in a deep bowl.

When I looked out of the bedroom window this morning at silent dawn, the sea looked like wet aluminium, the curve of bay on the distant horizon was steel grey, and the clouds overhead, silver- grey. But by the time I drove into town for shopping, the sun had come out.  The fields are so dry they are burned to a pale gold, and the pennyroyal is now flowering, making a carpet of purple.

That rich purple carpet always reminds me of when I was in France, staying in an ivy- turreted, moated chateau in deepest Vienne as a twelve year old… my best friend there, Josephine, invited me to go mushrooming with her and her maid, so equipped with baskets we set off to find “champignons”, chattering in fractured French and broken English.

Two little girls dressed in flowery cotton summer dresses made their way through long wet grass and dewy paths lined on either side with blackberry bushes heavy with fat juicy fruit as big as grapes.

 We walked through early morning mist, and it suddenly cleared. There in the bright sun-shine in front of us, stretched a shimmering field of tiny pale purple-blue flowers, with hundreds of miniature, deep blue butterflies hovering and fluttering above them. That world was alive with birds and butterflies.

Farmers here are feeding out to the cows already, and I fear for the thirsty birds and hedgehogs. As I drove past the agistement fields outside the village, I saw all eight mares spread out round the field in a circle, with their heads thrust deep into bright red plastic buckets; and by the side of each one, their long-legged foal stood patiently,  waiting for mother to finish.

At lunch with friends was a person I’d never met, who used to be a dressage and eventing rider. She told a fascinating story of when she was part of the NZ team at the Olympics when Mark Todd won his first gold medal. The New Zealand team were in third place when their last rider came on. This person did the round without a fault, but so slowly that the team lost forty points and slipped right down the order. Mark Todd, beside himself, strode up to the rider, and exploded; “Why did you do it?”

“I was saving the horse,” was the reply, to which Todd cried despairingly: “What for?” I have used this thought constantly since, so every time I go to save something, I ask myself, what for, and mentally come back to the present, and seize the day!

On my own the other day, I decided to lay my lunch on a tray and take it out to the veranda where I look down to the sea through the gnarled branches of spreading pohutakawa trees. It’s shaded from the mid-day sun by dappled light filtered through leaves of the white wisteria. Suddenly I thought – why not use my precious antique green French plates – and green wine glasses – and the best silver – what am I saving them for? This is not seizing the day, I chided myself.

This thought has spread into other parts of my consciousness… I’m raiding my store-cupboard – if not now – when ? Why not eat these goodies now?  Time to start emptying the deep freeze – what am I saving all this food for? Those pretty shoes – why not wear them today, even if I’m not going anywhere?

Maybe I’m becoming a grasshopper – singing the summer through, taking no heed for the morrow – and the prudent ant in me is having a hard job trying to make itself heard. But being a grasshopper seems to mean feeling much satisfaction, joy and being right here in the present. If not now – when? Saving it  – what for?  Two phrases which are life-changing, ring with truth, and which mean that other cliché – seize the day. So I’ve come to terms with the Indian summer, and revel in these days of softer sun and autumn flowers and golden trees.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

It’s the time of year for the apple harvest. One of my favourite ways to use them for pudding when we have friends is to allow one apple per person. Take out the cores, and fill the hollow with brown sugar and sultanas, or as I usually do, with left-over Christmas mincemeat.

Put them either in an enamel dish or other oven-proof dish, but I love the homely look of an old-fashioned enamel dish for this. Pour cream and whisky over them to come up to about half an inch in the dish. Cover and bake until soft. They’re delicious served on their own or with a crisp biscuit, or for something filling, with a creamy rice pudding.

 Food for thought

“If we do not contest the violation of the fundamental right of free people to be left unmolested in their thoughts, associations, and communications–to be free from suspicion without cause–we will have lost the foundation of our thinking society. The defence of this fundamental freedom is the challenge of our generation,”

Edward Snowden NSA whistleblower and hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer song

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Walking around the cemetery on New Year’s Eve the sky was still and clear, no silver, almost transparent moon yet, rising above the sea looking like a silver sliver of dried honesty in the pale night sky. Instead there were gulls circling silently and intently overhead, weaving endlessly in and out, never touching or interrupting the arc of another bird.

After a while I chose one single gull, and watched its movements, following its wide circles and trajectories and swoops until finally it headed out to sea in the direction of Little Barrier Island, which hovers, misty indigo, on the horizon.

It felt like a holy silence, the tracery of the gulls’ flight woven like a network of silver filaments overhead, the cemetery a cathedral, silent, sacred and undisturbed. The Universe may have been un-aware that it was New Year’s Eve around Planet Earth, but surely that thought -form which meant we were all conscious of this moment in time, must have created that charged and sacred energy which I was feeling then.

Today it has rained. Things can start growing again, and I can stop watering – for a few days anyway. The countryside has the richness of high summer. The trees are billowing with green foliage, the fields have been cut for hay, and the grass in the meadows is so high that when the calves lie down, their heads just peep out of the tops of grass heads, plantains, buttercups and clover. I thought I saw a flight of big brown butterflies the other day, and it was the tips of their velvet ears reaching out of the pasture. The thrush in the garden sings continuously between pecking at the apple nailed to the top of the fence.

Tonight I was strolling round the cemetery, and the harbour below was the deep dark green of an Arthurian mere. It was as still as a mere too, and the boats at anchor were reflected with perfect clarity. Turning to face out to sea, the ocean was quite colourless with a deep band of blue on the horizon.

I’m constantly re-filling the dogs’ water bowl by the pavement. I hear them slurping away, as people walk past to the beach, thirsty Labradors and dobermans, bitzers and bichon frises, poodles and pointers… even a bulldog.

Earlier today, reading James Lees-Milne’s diaries, listening to the summer rain, I discovered his description of an English summer night in 1946: “the smell of new-mown hay and hedgerows, of eglantine and elder… how I love these long gentle Shakespearean summer evenings…”  Me too. The scent of the queen of the night comes drifting in from the open window at night here. It’s sweet and lovely… but I miss that indefineable atmosphere of those English summer nights.

Those nights throb with nostalgia and a richness. Somehow, it’s as though the layers and layers of lives lived in those parts, the echoes of history stretching back beyond memory and beyond record, the people in the millenniums before Christ, who trod out the ancient paths that still thread across hills and ridges and valleys and fords, can all still be sensed. The voices are silent, but their presence still lingers, as one century after another passes across the meadows and the woods.

The oak and the ash, the hazel and the hawthorn, the holly and the honeysuckle have been growing there since the last ice-age twelve thousand years ago. The smells, the sweet blossom, the new mown hay, the whiff of manure, the fresh rain, the damp leaves, have smelt the same in every age and every summer since. Standing in a quiet English lane on a soft summer night, you can feel those long centuries, and it is very touching.  I haven’t experienced a summer evening for a long time. I’ve always been back in autumn or in winter. But I must savour a June night once more!

Feeling homesick for the English country-side, I got “Far from the Madding Crowd” and “Tess of the D’Urbervilles off the top shelf of the book-case, and had an orgy of Hardy. Tess first, and the sweetness of Talbothays farm, then Bathsheba and her story… I read it differently this time, not so much for the drama of the story, but for the feeling of the country.

So I really took in for the first time, the delicious characters of the farm-folk, and the details of farming life, from the signs of an approaching storm, to the rituals processing through the year of lambing and dipping, and fattening and shearing, to the yearly sheep fair, the shearing supper and the harvest supper.

It was a way of life which had existed for over a thousand years when Laurie Lee in the enchanting ‘Cider with Rosie’, told the story of his childhood, and an archaic way of life  which then vanished forever, with the combine harvester, chemical farming, agri-business and of course the destruction of communities  by the carnage of the First World War.

I’m always struck in Hardy’s books, and in Jane Austen’s letters, by the isolation and “localness” of country life back then. So many people hardly ever left their village, unless they were gentry, and the next village was a foreign country. So when people fell in love in these tiny societies, and lost the object of their affections, through death, departure or rejection, there was often no-one else to love. People literally did grieve and die in different ways, from broken hearts.

Hardy’s description of the hopeless love by the dairy-maids at Talbothays farm for the un-attainable gentleman, Angel Clare, had the unmistakeable ring of truth.  I remembered from closed societies I lived in when I was young, whether in an English village, or a tiny colonial community far away from any other European habitation, how intense relationships were when there were no others. No-one could console themselves before the population explosion, and peripatetic habits of the twentieth century, that there were plenty of other pebbles on the beach. There weren’t.

Yet now, though I live in a tiny village with only four hundred souls, we are no longer prisoners of geography. Not only do people take off to holiday in Alaska and Italy, and their families return from Vancouver and Hanoi, but we all have the world of the internet at our fingertips, to use that well-worn, but accurate cliché in this instance.

It’s eighty- six years since Thomas Hardy died, and in those years our worlds and our lives and maybe our minds have expanded beyond imagining. The world is our village, and the internet is our community. There are pebbles past counting and wherever we direct our vision, we can find the glory of summer somewhere around the globe at the push of our buttons.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Apart from being full of healthy fats, potassium and Vitamin E, avocados are delicious.  I sometimes use them as a dressing over a salad. To one avocado you need  ground coriander – I use a quarter of a teasp, but less is more… the juice of a lime or a lemon, quarter of a teasp of ground cumin, a tblsp of apple cider vinegar, salt, and about half a cup of water. Whizz these ingredients until smooth and creamy, and use straight away.

 

Food for thought

To write or even speak English is not a science but an art. Whoever writes English is involved in a struggle that never lets up even for a sentence. He is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective, against the encroachment of Latin and Greek, and, above all, against the worn-out phrases and dead metaphors with which the language is cluttered up.

George Orwell, English writer 1903 -1950.  Wikipedia records that : ‘His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism.’ Animal Farm and 1984 have continuing relevance.

 

 

 

 

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Summer Days and Thirsty Hedgehogs

It’s high summer in our village, the sea is postcard turquoise blue, and scored with white wakes from little fizz boats having fun. I watch the big game fishing boats with tourists going out with tall fishing rods at the ready, poised to hunt giant marlin and other innocent creatures of the deep – and disapprove. All around me holiday houses are filled, and laughter and calls of children punctuate the buzz of lawnmowers.

Yesterday a homemade cricket match with children and adults on the grass across from our oak tree, filled the afternoon with joyful noise. The click of ball on bat, the shouts, the laughter, the groans, the cheers, the guffaws sounded like the archetypical holiday games of childhood that fertilise the memory, so that looking back in later years, all summers seemed sunny and filled with laughter.

This morning I sat outside in the sun having my breakfast, and watched monarch butterflies flirting, fluttering and feeding among the pink flowers of the mutabilis rose and lavatera, and rose-red cannas. Reading Anne Dillard I learn that monarch butterflies smell of honeysuckle… do they really, or was honeysuckle the last flower they’d been sampling when the researcher sniffed their beauty? The other side of the garden where it’s shady, blue hydrangeas are blooming amidst the foliage of acanthus and queen of the night, the blue African primrose is flowering profusely on the edge of the ivy, while blue agapanthus spring out of the greenery further away.

Pale blue petunias echo the colour of the faded painted wrought iron chair on which their pots rest. A tiny green silver eye dived determinedly past me and into the trellis where wisteria, honeysuckle and red and purple fuchsia tangle with each other. He rustled noisily and industriously among the leaves, eating aphids or grubs, and then flew into the plum tree and wiped his beak on a branch… didn’t realise that eating aphids was a messy business for birds!

And now, as I write this, a speckled cream-breasted thrush has just quietly hopped past the open French door, followed closely by a bumble- bee, buzzing and bouncing along the ground in an irritated sort of way. Ever since I got home from Tai Chi the neighbour’s black cat has been purring, first at my feet, then on my lap, and now on the chair beside my chair. What with the gentle susurrations of the wind in the flax bushes and the pururi leaves, the whirring and clicking of cicadas in the trees outside the window, and the receding low-tide sighing softly across the exposed sea-weed – though there is no sound of spoken word – it is not a silent world this afternoon. And since every sound is the sound of the earth getting on with the business of being, it is sweet and satisfying.

The wind which has blown across the Tasman from the terrible forest fires in Australia, has been unceasing, and the ground is dry and hard. Ponds are drying up, and birds are spending much time not just at the bird bath, but also at the dog’s drinking bowl outside on the road. Thirsty birds as well as dogs keep me busy re-filling it.  Yesterday when I went up the path with a jug to top it up, someone had dropped three one dollar coins in the bowl. I love it  – a random act of fun – and yet obviously my bowl is very tempting because it’s the fourth time in the last few years that I’ve found coins in the water!

I’ve heard several people talking about finding hedgehogs in their swimming pools, unable to get out… they don’t seem to realise that they’re looking for water. As I drove back down our road after shopping the other day, I saw a hedgehog weaving an unsteady path across the road. I stopped the car, jumped out, and picked up the little ball of prickles, and carried it home. As I delicately carried her, so as not to be impaled on the prickles, she uncurled, and I felt her warm leathery legs hang down. I stood her in the flat water bowl in the garden, so she knew in her confused state that water was right there. I left her there drinking, while I walked back to retrieve the car.

She’d shuffled off (into the piles of dead leaves, I trust) when I got back, but I’m putting out cat-food, in the hope the hedgehog gets to it before any other wild-life – like rats. I’ve also now got shallow plant pot holders all over the garden filled with water for little creatures. I hope the little thing sticks around…I like the thought of a hedgehog in the garden.

They are amongst the oldest mammals, fifteen million years old. They have between five and six and a half thousand prickles, and beautiful quizzical little faces framed by their prickles. Anyone who grew up on Beatrix Potter is unable to resist them – shades of Mrs Tiggywinkle and Fuzzypeg –  there are hedgehog hospitals in the UK, and patrols to rescue hedgehogs trapped at the bottom of cattle grids. Conservationists in this country don’t like them as they eat native birds eggs as well as all the garden pests. I am a one- woman Society for the Protection of Hedgehogs.

I found a pair of snails crawling up a big deep bowl of water I always have in the courtyard, and to my amazement, found them at the water’s edge some time later. Wasps also drink from the dog’s water bowl. With streams and ponds covered over in towns and cities, there’s little water for thirsty creatures. A hundred and fifty years ago, an English millionairesse and philanthropist, Angela Burdett-Coutts donated horse troughs and  fountains for animals in English towns … but if anyone tried to do the same now, I could imagine the red tape and town planning regulations and resource management restrictions preventing anyone from re-instating drinking places for thirsty animals.

When I lived in town I always had a drinking bowl on the pavement outside my gate. It was a big deep blue and white china bowl I’d brought from Hong Kong, and everyone told me I was mad, it would get stolen as all the students on their way to lectures, and cleaners on their way to hospital trailed past our house. But it never was, and even late at night I’d see cats drinking from my bowl, the only water around.

When we moved I asked the doctor who bought the house if he’d keep it filled if I left it there. He promised, but when I met him six months later and checked that he was still filling it, he told me it had been stolen two days after we left!

Here in my village, everyone respects my drinking bowl, except the birds who bath in it, so I’m always changing the water because it gets so dirty. Who knew that birds were so dusty! I see dogs straining at the lead to get to it – they know it’s waiting for them. And being a village, people stop to talk to me sitting in my garden, and thank me for the water. And then there are the ones who drop coins in it – I hope they make a wish as they do!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is a lovely summer starter, and cheap withal! I’ve used it since I was a very new wife fifty years ago, so you could say it’s stood the test of time! You need one orange per person and some black olives. Peel it so that all the pith has been removed, cut it in half, and then slice thinly across, keeping the juice, and taking out the centre line of pith.

Arrange the slices in individual dishes, dot with olives and then pour this vinaigrette over. For the vinaigrette peel and finely chop an onion, chop two to three tablesps of mint, and one of parsley, and make up the vinaigrette – one third wine vinegar, two thirds olive oil. Mix all the ingredients together, and add salt and black pepper to taste. I add any orange juice that has run out, and only pour the vinaigrette over the oranges just before serving.

It’s summery and refreshing, and the mint and onion with the orange is tangy and different.The oranges and black olives and green mint look beautiful too.

Food for Thought

Education is identical with helping the child realise his potentialities. The opposite of education is manipulation, which is based on the absence of faith in the growth of potentialities, and on the conviction that a child will be right only if the adults put into him what is desirable and suppress what seems to be undesirable.

From The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm  1900 – 1980 social psychologist, philosopher and writer.

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