Public ritual celebration

Well, dear reader, we are married, my Viking Sousaphonist and I. All requited and ridiculously happy, here we are.


And, oh! what a wonderful wedding day.

Where shall I start? At the beginning, of course. Here is the wooden footbridge over the mill stream from the field where the cars were parked into the meadow where we held the wedding.

Colour 1of7 -00 ©Mark Simmons

And here are our three young bridesmaids, my god-daughter Iona, and my nieces Beatrice and Colette, with their Mum, Tamzin (pregnant then with my newest niece, Aurelie, who was born last month). Colette ate most of her bouquet before walking down the avenue of trees that served as our aisle, but who can blame her, they looked delicious.

Colour 1of7 -35 ©Mark Simmons

My dearest friends Fugitive Pieces and Piereth made all the bouquets. And they were absolutely gorgeous.

Colour 3of7 -01 ©Mark Simmons

We also had Ed’s two lovely nieces, Gwenny and Amber, as Maids of Honour so I was surrounded by beautiful, kind, smart and fun females.

Colour 3of7 -05 ©Mark Simmons

We all walked down through an avenue of trees in Spring bud, strung with colourful bunting, to the willow arch where all our family and friends – and the groom – were waiting.

Colour 3of7 -12 ©Mark Simmons

My sister, Dana, and Ed’s elder brother, Charles, and his uncle, Julian, read poems and stories for us, and we sang “It Had To Be You” and “My Baby Just Cares For Me”. We talked about love and how much we loved all the people there witnessing our love for each other.

Colour 4of7 -12A ©Mark SimmonsColour 4of7 -15A ©Mark Simmons

And then we exchanged the rings we’d made together in Sydney [more on that anon].

Colour 3of7 -20 ©Mark Simmons

And so we were Man and Wife. At last. Cue much cheering and throwing of lavender.

Colour 4of7 -17A ©Mark Simmons

Here we all are, including the 50 children and several of the dogs.

Colour 4of7 -34A ©Mark Simmons

I’ll post the pics of the tug-of-war, treasure hunt, hog roast, petting farm, pony rides, cake, dancing, bonfire, fireworks and chinese lanterns later. But gosh, what a day!

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On Being Requited

Goodness me, where to begin? I haven’t posted since November and so much has happened since then…

1. Way back in November I flew back to the UK and was finally reunited with the man I love. I hope we will never have to spend 100 days apart again.

He picked me up from Heathrow after my 23 hour flight bearing a beautiful bouquet of flowers… and a bucket half full of water. For the flowers. Isn’t that just the most wonderfully practical and romantically thoughtful combination?

2. Once I’d unpacked and rested for a couple of days, we drove in his campervan through the misty English autumnal countryside to Maesyronan in South Wales where we stayed in a lovely cottage beside an old Unitarian Chapel, surrounded by fields, hills, hedgerows and trees.

We went for long walks and read books by the fire. We admired the sunrise and the sunset and each other. We snuggled and ate and talked and played and were treated to a rousing rendition of ‘Rock of Ages’ through the walls on Sunday morning. The choir were so dedicated, in fact, that they had even all gathered in this remote spot to practice in the dark and chill of the winter’s evening two nights before.

We were also able to pop over to Hay-on-Wye for lunch with a very dear friend of mine, as well as stopping off for lunch with Ed’s uncle and his husband – who were once again as welcoming and charming as two people could possibly be – on our way back to Bristol.

3. From Bristol, Ed’s base, we made an excursion to visit the organic apple farm out in the Somerset valleys where we’ll be getting married. Its lovely. Absolutely what we need and want.

The site of an ancient (probably Roman originally, certainly pre-medival) watermill, there are several old stone buildings – some already restored, some still crumbling softly – and a stream running through the land, girded by willows. There’s an apple orchard and a little round flower garden which we’ll use as a focal point for guests to arrive and mingle accompanied by our Gypsy/Folk/Oompah band. There are open meadows for the ceremony, plenty of space for the marquee (which will be bright yellow and gaily patterned) and a field for tents or campervans, as well as an old avenue of trees where we’re planning all sorts of country-fair type games for the children (tug-of-war, treasure-hunt, wang-a-wellie, pony rides etc).

This slightly shambolic rural idyll is presided over by an idiosyncratic chap called Richard who arrived from Los Angeles 30 years ago, bought the land and has slowly but surely transformed it (with an army of young volunteers on working holidays) from a decaying ruin into a working farm producing organic apple juice as well as fresh fruit and veg for the local market, transforming himself into more of a local than many of the locals in the process.

Having said all that, I’m also glad we went to visit it so I could see the inside of the farmhouse. Richard is a bachelor and most of his volunteer helpers seem to be students barely out of their teens: their idea of a decent bathroom and mine do not coincide. So, I’ll be spending the night before the wedding in a nearby holiday cottage with my family. That way, I have somewhere clean and in full working order where I can get dressed and so do the bridesmaids. Ed and I will spend our wedding night in our campervan, at the farm, after the hog-roast, speeches, dancing, bonfire, fireworks and cocoa and cookies that will round off the evening

4. Next stop was a day and night at Ed’s Mum’s house in Salisbury, where we paid flying visits to several friends of hers who very kindly wished to congratulate us on our engagement and hear our story first hand. Champagne was drunk and new friends were made, as old links were strengthened by a shared joy.

5. Thus fortified, we drove what seemed endless miles over to Norfolk on England’s east coast (Bristol is on the west coast) to meet up with my family, gawd help us, who were gathering for my sister’s wedding on the following day.

My parents were predictably detached but well-meaning. A friend of mine had very generously lent her 8 bedroom house to us all so we could stay in one place, at no cost, which was lovely. Ed and I did most of the grocery-shopping, cooking, cleaning, organising of transport and general hosting with help from my youngest sister and her boyfriend. My parents just sat around reading and drinking tea, waiting to be fed and generally wishing to be left in peace.

I’m afraid that my oldest niece is going through one of those trying periods when children become spoilt and precocious little pests, constantly interrupting the grown-ups for attention and manipulating her parents by playing each off against the other to get what she wants. The youngest niece, however, showed excellent taste by falling for Ed 🙂

We enjoyed the wedding – my sister looked so beautiful and so happy – but it reinforced for us that we don’t want such a traditional or formal event for our own marriage celebrations. Which is lucky because its going to be colourful bedlam.

Also, I had picked up a god-awful stomach bug the day before. But we shan’t go into that.

6. After a very hasty lunch with an old pal of mine who took over running the illustration agency in the UK from me when I moved here… we then jumped back in the campervan for another looooooooonnnnnnnngggg drive down to Brighton on the south coast. For why? To have a chat with the old family friend of Ed’s folks who has agreed to officiate at our wedding ceremony. He was at University with Ed’s Dad and married both Ed’s brothers, as well as conducting Ed’s Dad’s funeral service. He’s also a warm, kind, calm and wise gentleman who was a delight to spend an afternoon with and we’re both thrilled that he’ll be guiding us and our guests through the day.

7. Tintern Abbey (or at least, the pub next door) was the venue for our next lunch, this time with one of ‘my’ artists and his wife. Having stuffed ourselves on bangers and mash we trundled off for a jolly nice walk through the winter mud along the river, chatting happily about wildlife, art, marriage, moving to the countryside, chickens (I thought of you, Mr Random) and the Black Death [I can’t help it, medieval settings set me off. Inconceivable that 30-60% of the population of Europe died because of this – then – mysterious pathogen, and yet it happened].

8. My niece’s fourth (yup, count ’em) birthday lunch at a pizza restaurant in Winchester was enlivened by her sugar-fuelled stroppiness so Ed and I made a swift exit and headed for the College grounds where Ed was a schoolboy. He showed me the little river where he and our mutual good friend Olly had rowed together for the school, constantly berated by a coach with a pathological need to prove something to someone it seems. As can be the case with so many of the preceptors of our youth, he comprehensively ruined the activity for them, draining the joy out of it just as if he’d let the plugs out of their boats.

We kissed beside the playing fields where his younger self had forcibly participated in competitive team sports and wondered what that lonely, grieving and unhappy boy would make of his older self, whole and loved and happy. Some ghosts were settled down to rest.

9. Back to the campervan and on to Ed’s middle brother’s home for a warm and mature welcome from his 14 year old nephew and the other kids plus assorted dogs, cats and miniature horses. Their family really is a family. If we’re fortunate enough to be able to have children, we’ll be taking tips by the skipful from this lot.

10. On to London! An early start and a packed car, boys absorbed in ipods and nintendos, arriving at the home of Ed’s eldest brother in Kensington to find he and his wife happily moving furniture out of the ground floor reception rooms to make space for our engagement party which they had very kindly offered to host.

Enough champagne, wine, juice and soft drinks were put on ice to have refloated Titanic, their longstanding family housekeeper and her husband were on duty to pour and top-up, ably abetted by both sets of nephews and nieces circulating very professionally with canapés (at their age my brother and I would have been in a broom cupboard stuffing our faces in an orgy of prawns and filo pastry), and a good time was had by all. Even us. And we hate parties.

Our friends came and were delighted for us. Ed’s eldest brother made a lovely speech. We made sickeningly smooshy eyes at each other. My parents didn’t make it, but I had warned Ed’s side of the family that they wouldn’t, so nobody was terribly surprised. My brother and sister (the one that wasn’t on her honeymoon in Las Vegas) came, both having made fair schlepps from outside London on a week night.

My new red frock – bought specially for the occasion – was a success. It was comfortable and reasonably stylish while at the same time enabling Ed and his Mum to point me out from across the room to their family and friends who hadn’t yet met me “She’s the tall blonde in the red dress, you can’t miss her”.

11. The next morning we were given a lift all the way to the airport by Ed’s eldest brother – who fills the long vacant ‘father’ role in as many practical ways as he can I think – and then we collapsed onto the flight back to Sydney. And I do mean collapsed, having both picked up a dose of flu from the nephews. Mine laid me low for almost the whole first week we were in Sydney – hardly the introduction to our lives together in the Love Nest that I had planned – but Ed was marvellously kind and patient and caring as I lurched around, alternately sweating and shivering, coughing like a coal-miner and blowing my brains out through my nose.

12. And since then? Well, hold on tightly to the edge of your seats, folks, for the next installment of ‘My Life As An Eventually-Requited Unrequited Secret Romantic’.

P.S. I shall add some photos on Friday. Tomorrow is Australia Day and so we’ll be picnicing in our flat with friends and watching the ferry race.

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In an almost unheard of break with our family’s long-standing tradition of avoiding one another, my parents are currently staying with my Aunt Poodle-Perm and her husband Under-The-Thumb.

This, I cannot help but feel, will be a precursor to some pressure to invite them to our wedding. An invitation that will be issued over my stiffening corpse.

Why? Well, put simply because I love pearls and therefore I loathe my aunt. The two are causally connected; bear with me.

I love pearls because they make me marvel. Really, how extraordinary it is that a creature as completely unprepossessing as an oyster can create a thing of such iridescent beauty out of an irritant. To make a pearl from a grain of sand by patiently wrapping it again and again in layers of the best of itself. I love that.

I loathe the aunt in question for both general and specific reasons. Let’s start with the general: she is, to put it in the vernacular, a right cow.

More particularly, she made off with my Grandmother’s pearl necklace out of spite when she died. It was expressly intended to be passed to me, and that is, I suspect, what pissed her off (she could never understand the bond between her mother and her niece) so she just ignored her mother’s wishes and kept the necklace.

The pearls are not intrinsically very valuable but my Grandmother wore them every day, even though she ran a farm. She was like that – she was a strong, pragmatic woman with a real sense of understated style who did not compromise her standards and was always well turned-out and I admired her immensely. The necklace was an engagement present, and she is wearing them in pretty much every photograph I have of her, including the one I keep by my bedside which was taken the day she first met me. I am a tiny baby, no more than a few days old, and she is holding me and looking as tender and delighted as any woman who has just been handed her first grandchild. I should very much like to have worn those pearls myself and, hopefully, passed them to my own grand-daughter one day. The fact that they now presumably adorn the fat neck of Aunt Poodle-Perm does not endear her to me.

So, when I’m asked if we’ll be inviting this aunt, her drippy husband and her daughters, my cousins, to our wedding the answer is no. I have nothing against my cousins – I wouldn’t recognise either of them if they passed me in the street, having not seen them in 20 years, though I’m sure they’re lovely people – but The Cow is not welcome at our wedding. I simply don’t have it in me to dissemble enough to her face to achieve anything like politeness, let alone familial warmth.

I cannot imagine what my parents are doing there. My father cannot stand his sister any better than the rest of us.

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100 Days of Solitude

[with apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez]

When I left Ed at Heathrow in July – and I actually wept, for the first time in years –  100 days stretched ahead of us until we could be together again.

100 days of longing and impatience, 100 days of separation, 100 days of sexual frustration and anticipation, 100 days of emails and texts and skype waves and phone calls and time zone calculations, 100 days of cards and postcards.

100 days of being thousands of miles apart, while organising a house-move, finding tenants/cat-sitters, applying for a visa, renegotiating a job and planning an engagement party, not to mention a wedding. More than enough days for cracks to appear…

Thankfully, there have been no cracks so big that a hug and an honest conversation can’t fix them, and we can do the latter very well even if we can’t do the former for another few weeks.

The 100 days is now down to just 21. Yay!

Patience may be a virtue, and virtue, we’re told, is its own reward but actually I have been VERY patient and now I’d like to be rewarded with my Gorgeous Ed, thanks very much. 😉

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If you’re male, you’re probably not going to want to read this post

Female hormones have a great deal to answer for.

Firstly, I spilled coffee on myself and my chair in the office. Having cleaned up that mess as best I could, I went to make myself another coffee… and promptly threw an entire carton of milk all over the kitchen in what can only be described as a spill of Exxon Valdez proportions.

After mopping it all up and scrubbing the place down (nothing worse than the smell of stale milk in a hot climate), I finally returned to my chair, sat down, and stubbed my toe.

When the howling had subsided it was time for an afternoon of trying to a) keep my eyes open while my body resolutely informed me that I needed to sleeeeeeeeeeeeeep b) trying to sit in such a way that my lower back and abdomen weren’t aching above acceptable levels and c) resisting the urge to growl at anyone who approached me with a perfectly reasonable request, but without a propitiatory gift of dark chocolate.

That was Day 1.

Day 2 dawned bright and early; very early in fact, because I had to be at the gym by 6:30am for run club. I hadn’t run in over a week because I’d hurt my back moving house (don’t ask – this is what comes of being a 5’10” Amazon; occasionally one forgets that one is not, in fact, made of adamantium) so I was looking forward to a bit of a trot with the chaps at run club. Five minutes in and DISASTER STRUCK. Namely, that awful feeling of leakage. Heavier than usual flow has been a hallmark of my last few periods due, I think, to the pill; I’m still adjusting to it and was stupidly ill-prepared. So, I had to make my excuses and bail. God knows what they thought as I walked very slowly back up the hill, thighs pressed together, internal muscles tightly clenched.

I sorted all of that nonsense, inwardly fuming at myself and my body [I know, I know, given that Ed and I want to have a family I should be glad of this evidence of normal service] and decided to stay in my sports gear and run at lunchtime by myself instead. Which I did. Then I returned to the office – puce-faced and dripping with perspiration – and had a shower… at which point I discovered that in my haste to get to run club on time that morning, I had carefully packed jeans, tshirt, belt and shoes but no underwear. Splendid. That is just what the office needs, the Images Manager going commando to the four o’clock editorial meeting.

And, of course, we were all going out to the Night Noodle Markets that evening, straight from work, so I had to put up with feeling slightly uncomfortable in my skinny jeans as well as rather foolish all evening.

A large plate of pancakes with strawberries, whipped cream and chocolate sauce helped take the edge off, though, I have to admit.

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Our Love Nest

My back is aching, I’m exhausted but content. Yesterday I moved into our Love Nest – the most completely fabulous flat on Sydney’s harbour foreshore.

I could list all the things I already love about it, but I’m pretty sure that this one photo taken from my sofa last night will illustrate it better than a hundred words ever could…

Yes, that is Sydney Opera House directly opposite our living room windows. Good lord, quite extraordinary.

And the skirting boards are not ingrained with filth. Such bliss for a clean freak.

The only things missing now are:

1. Ed; and to be with him again I have to possess my soul in patience for another few weeks

2. the midbeam from our new Ikea bed; the one I bought comes in 5 – count ’em – separate packages from 5 separate areas of the store and I, of course, failed to pick up the smallest and least cumbersome of the 5 so that will entail another trip to Ikea this weekend

3. a fridge and washing machine; being delivered this afternoon by the rental people as it turns out to be cheaper to rent for 6 months than to buy second-hand

4. a toaster; preferably one with settings other than ‘dough’ and ‘coal’

So, 6 months of luxury living in our love nest, to be followed by our wedding and then a few months in a campervan travelling round Europe on honeymoon.

During which time, of course, we decide where to settle, how to support ourselves and try to start a family.

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In which I enumerate the things I will not miss about this flat

I have lived in this furnished flat on the northern borders of Kirribilli for 4 years and that is longer than I have ever lived anywhere, including during my childhood. But I am finally moving out on Wednesday and I really cannot wait.

I will not miss the bed that gives me backache because of a mattress which appears to be made of lumpy soup and essence of sag.

I will not miss the tap that drips incessantly in the kitchen sink.

I will not miss the lack of power outlets, nor the damned inconvenient siting of the few there are.

I will not miss the palm tree full of ravening possums and squawking parakeets that grows beside my balcony and which drops heavy, spike-edged branches onto it in every strong wind.

I will not miss the fact that, no matter what I do, the skirting boards never look quite clean because they are old and uneven and ingrained with other people’s dirt.

However, despite all that and more, living here has been good for me both physically and psychologically. This was the base, the home, from which I found the strength and confidence finally to shrug off the shadow of depression. I am in better shape now, again, both physically and psychologically, than at any time since my early twenties and living here – not just in this particular flat but in Sydney in general – aided that process by giving me a safe, quiet, undisturbed space with plenty of light and sunshine in which to regroup, rethink and relearn.

So, on Wednesday I’m moving to a gorgeous and recently refurbished apartment on the other side of Kirribilli – right down on the harbour with views across the water to the Opera House, in fact – which Ed and I are sickeningly referring to as our love nest since it will be our first home together. And it is unfurnished so I’m off to Ikea to buy a nice firm mattress that doesn’t feel as though it was made by stuffing a giant haggis with porridge and old socks.

But first, I have to pack up all my books, clothes and thingummywhatsits this weekend, ready for Wednesday. I may need chocolate to sustain me. Somewhat fortuitously, I have a supply in stock 🙂

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My Neanderthal fascination

I’ve been fascinated by the Neanderthals ever since I read Clan of the Cave Bear as a teenager. Even more so since recent scientific discoveries seem to show that Neanderthals not only co-existed with our direct ancestors but almost certainly interbred with them.

Genetic evidence suggests interbreeding took place with Homo sapiens (anatomically modern humans) between roughly 80,000 and 50,000 years ago in the Middle East, resulting in 1–4% of the genome of people from Eurasia having been contributed by Neanderthals. [Source: Richard E. Green et al (2010) “A Draft Sequence of the Neanderthal Genome”, Science 328 and Rincon, Paul “Neanderthal genes ‘survive in us'”, BBC News via Wikipedia]

Which you have to admit is fascinating, even if also a little unnerving.

I mean, what we were taught about Neanderthals when I was growing up was that they were primitive, hairy, stocky, brutish, unintelligent ‘cave men’ who swiftly died out to make way for their more advanced, tool-using, higher-browed – and better-looking – cousins, us. We can all picture a Neanderthal in our minds, right?

And, wtf? Interbreeding? Eeeew.

But then I saw this:

and this:

and, really, they don’t look very different from us, do they? I mean, the furs, dirt and stone tools tell us they’re a ‘cave’ woman and man, but if you cleaned them up and put them in modern clothes, would you look twice at them on the street?

Luckily for me, someone else wondered the same thing and so they used computer graphics to create these two images of anatomically accurate Neanderthals in more familiar dress:

Hell, I’m pretty sure I’ve actually dated the guy in the white shirt…

Anyway, now I want to write a novel set in the not-too-distant future based on the premise that Neanderthals did not die out 30,000 years ago, but survived in isolated pockets and are part of modern society, an ethnic minority proud of being the original Aboriginal culture of Europe and finding their more robust musculature and larger brains giving them a Darwinian edge as we face the crises of climate change and the end of fossil fuels.

I rather like the thought that up to 4% of my genetic material links me with the Neanderthal people who hunted mammoths, cave bears, rhinoceros and aurochs in Europe and Asia’s distant past.


Image copyright: Tom McHugh/Photolibrary (Neanderthal male reconstruction); National Geographic Magazine (female Neanderthal with red hair and fair skin); Neandertal Museum, Mettman, Germany (Reconstruction of male Neanderthal with skins); Neandertal Museum, Mettman, Germany (Older Neanderthal male smiling); Volker Steger/Science Photo Library (Neanderthal in check shirt); Smetek/Science Photo Library (Neanderthal in white business shirt).

More info on Neanderthals from – who else – National Geographic

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I inadvertently seem to have taken a break from blogging…

.. the reasons for which are many, varied and not limited to:

a) our new office is open plan so everyone can see everyone else’s computer screen, which makes using teh intertubes that much more tricky during office hours and I don’t have a computer at home (to avoid the temptation to work when I’m supposed to be playing)

b) having recently got engaged and then having to fly back here to the other side of the planet, leaving my love in Blighty, almost every spare minute has been spent emailing, texting and skyping each other like a pair of demented 16 year olds

c) the reasons I began blogging originally were, at least partly, to help me articulate, examine and resolve personal issues that were holding me back and dragging me down. I feel as though that work – while never finished – is certainly at a point where I’m more self aware and better able to live in a healthy way, both physically and emotionally

d) I’m now using facebook much more and finding that, because it is instant and since it does not limit me to 140 characters (unlike twitter, which I have now abandoned), much of the twaddle I would have blogged about here instead goes there

I have also not been keeping up with reading the blogs I had been following, because a change of computer meant I lost all my RSS feed thingys.

HOWEVER… I am now off to try and catch up with everyone, and will be back here to regale (no one but) myself with more nonsense soon.


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This time last year

I’ve just found a small piece of paper in a pile of other papers on top of my fridge. This particular piece of paper, however, made a big difference in my life.

This time last year I had a conversation with a friend about the concept of a daily affirmation, the slightly Californian-tasting and dipped in NLP* idea that you what you tell yourself becomes your reality.

I was skeptical… because I am always skeptical… but it made logical sense so I decided to try it. I wrote down the following:

“I will get fit, be more positive and have more energy. I will lose 10kg and fit into size 10 jeans. I will attract the kind of man I want.”

I stuck that piece of paper to my fridge and I said my affirmation outloud to myself every morning and every evening.

Then I signed up with a personal trainer because this time I meant business. As a result, I lost 13kg (28 pounds or 2 stone) and now wear a size 8 jeans (a 4 in US sizes). I am fitter than I’ve been since I quit fencing in my mid twenties and I sleep better and find it easier to wake up and get going in the mornings. Things that used to enrage and frustrate me no longer bother me nearly as much; the bright side is much more readily visible to me now.

Also, and most importantly of all, I’m engaged to be married to the man I love which would not have been possible this time last year – not because he didn’t find me attractive, but because I didn’t find myself attractive.

Anyway, I’m noting this here now partly to assert the truth of the old adage that a lot can change in a year, as well as to illustrate the effectiveness of seemingly simple techniques in overcoming years of bad thinking and their associated habits of behaviour, which can be a viciously self-reinforcing and miserably destructive cycle.

And now if you’ll forgive me I’m off to write another affirmation, for this next year…

*NLP Neuro Linguistic Programming, also sometimes termed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, whose basic premise is that if you tell yourself something often enough, you’ll believe it and make it true… So stop saying and thinking “I can’t do that” and “I’m unattractive” etc etc and instead tell yourself “I can do that” and “I am attractive”… It’s more complex than that, obviously, but you get the general idea.

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