Taxes by Kerri Sackville

If you could just let me know your writing income and any deductions and I can get this finished.

The email from my accountant was very helpful, and couldn’t have made things more straightforward. All I had to do was make a few simple calculations, type them into a document, and press ‘send’. And then, for another year, my tax nightmare would be over.

So I did. On Friday, I sorted through the detritus of my record keeping, plucking out receipts and invoices, punching numbers into my calculator, and collating the lot to send through to said accountant. I felt extremely proud of myself when the whole thing only took two hours.

Well, two hours and six months.

You see, the email from my accountant had arrived last August, along with a very polite request for me to return it ‘by the end of the week if possible’. And yet I just couldn’t do it. I left it and left it, promising myself day after day – and then week after week – that I would get to it ‘as soon as’ I had finished whatever super-important thing it was I was doing at the time.

My shame grew and grew, my inability to complete such a simple task haunting me every time I opened my inbox, until it was so painful to even look at the damn email that I moved it to a special ‘to do’ file on my computer, where I never had to see it again. And it wasn’t until my accountant contacted me again last week, informing me rather sternly that my taxes would need to be paid by March, that I got off my bottom and did them.

I hate doing my taxes. It elicits a physical sensation in me that is so unpleasant I prefer to live with the only-slightly-less unpleasant sensation elicited by putting it off. It is a horrible task, for a number of reasons:

1. Doing my taxes reminds me of how pitifully small my income really is.

2. Doing my taxes reminds me that, despite the pitiful smallness of my income, I still have to give the government lots of it.

3. I do not enjoy rummaging through drawers looking for tiny pieces of paper to provide evidence that I actually earned anything at all.

4. Every calculator I own is grossly inconsistent, giving me a different answer every time I punch in a series of numbers.

5. I end up either embarrassed by how little I gave to charity, or appalled at how much I gave to charity, considering how little I actually earned.

Still, there are some positives aspects to doing my taxes.

1. I don’t end up in jail or fined.

2. No, that’s about it, really.

Of course, I do feel a sense of relief now that my taxes are in. I emailed all the information to my accountant with a cheery

Here it is, and it only took six months! That’s not so bad, is it?

and pressed ‘send’ with a smile.

Strangely, however, my accountant hasn’t responded at all, which gives me another reason for hating doing my taxes.

6. It takes away your sense of humour.

This will be Kerri Sackville’s last weekly blog post for Australian Women Online. Although Kerri will still be contributing the occasional guest post to the website, this very talented writer is leaving us for greener pastures and we wish her well with all her future endeavours.

The Cleaning Lady Did It by Kerri Sackville

About three weeks ago I bought myself some hair conditioner. Not your standard, supermarket shelf hair conditioner; no, this was the real deal. A boutique brand hair ‘masque’ in a tub, bought for a considerable sum of money to repair my dry, damaged and aesthetically-disturbing frizz ball of a coiffure.

I brought the hair conditioner (sorry, masque) home, took it upstairs, and temporarily forgot about it. And then, when I decided to wash my hair a couple of days later, and went looking for the miracle in a tub, it was gone. My hair masque had disappeared.

Now, I was very upset by the loss of my hair masque, because I’d paid a lot of money for it, and my hair was an utter disaster. But the fact that I’d actually lost it wasn’t surprising at all. Things are forever disappearing in my home, never to be seen again. In recent times (and in no particular order) I have lost a set of keys, an earring, a chequebook, an entire bottle of kids’ anti-histamine, a belt, and the recharger cord for my Kindle. And that’s not even counting the twenty billion pairs of socks that go missing every year. It is maddening.

I don’t know where these things go. There is clearly a giant Black Hole in my house that requires feeding on a range of detritus of a variety of value and size. One year it ate a diamond necklace of mine (and when I say ‘a diamond necklace’, I mean ‘the only one I ever owned’). Another year it ate my mouthguard, and why anything – even a mindless black hole – would want something I put in my mouth and grind on I have no idea.

Another year it ate one of my shoes, leaving the other one tauntingly behind. It is nothing if not random, and unpredictable.

When I was growing up, I experienced the same problem in my mother’s house. Things would go missing all the time – a cup here, a pair of underpants there, a jar of honey there. But back then, in the Olden Days, we didn’t understand the concept of ‘Black Hole’. Science hadn’t yet progressed to the point that we could accept things we couldn’t see. So we had to find someone to blame. And that person was the Cleaning Lady.

“Oh, the Cleaning Lady must have taken it,” we’d say, when one of our mittens went missing; or “Mum! The Cleaning Lady took my school bag again!”
If we found the goods, the Cleaning Lady had clearly moved them. If we didn’t, she’d clearly taken them for herself.

Now, there were problems with our theory, not least the fact that the Cleaning Lady hadn’t generally even visited on the days that items disappeared. But it was much easier than blaming a mystical black hole, let alone – heaven forbid – blaming oneself.

Which brings me back to my tub of hair masque. After further consideration, I have realised that it was almost certainly stolen by my Cleaning Lady when she visited last week. It is my theory, one handed down from my parents, and I am sticking to it.

And the fact that my Cleaning Lady is a man, and that he has virtually no hair, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Photo credit: © detailblick – Fotolia.com

Day One by Kerri Sackville

My son started high school yesterday. And it was fine. Just fine. Okay, so I sat in the car afterwards and wept, but that’s not a big deal. I weep all the time these days.

Transitions are hard, and this one particularly so. I hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be. And it wasn’t the fact that my son was going to a new campus, with a new uniform, and new rules, and new independence. It wasn’t that he would have to make new friends, meet new teachers, or catch the bus home alone. I wasn’t worried about any of that and neither was he. It was what it all represented.

My son is growing up. When he was in primary school, he was still my little boy. Suddenly, with a new tie and a shiny pair of shoes, he had become a young man. His childhood was over.

Childhood is, truly, a magical time. There are endless possibilities and you don’t know how the story will end. And obviously my son’s story isn’t close to ending, but the first chapter has definitely closed.

Part of me is celebrating that fact. I am so proud of the beautiful person my son has become and how much he has grown over the past few years. But because I am ruminative, and a little very anxious, I can’t help reflecting on his childhood till now and of all the mistakes I’ve made. He was my first child – the ‘experiment’, one might say – and I got it wrong on so many occasions. I must have got it right on occasion too, because he has turned out pretty great, but I keep wishing I could go back to the beginning and start again, just undo all the mistakes and make it perfect.

Of course, I still have my girls – my big girl is in Year 5 and Boo is still in pre-school – but there is something profoundly significant about the milestones of your eldest. When they are born you become a parent for the first time. When they speak their first words you hear yourself called ‘Mama’ for the first time. When they start school you become the parent of a school kid. And when they start high school you are the parent of a high schooler. It’s huge.

Still, it’s not about me. It’s about him. My son. My son the high schooler…. (sorry, just having another little weep for a minute…) And my son the high schooler had a terrific day. He walked confidently into school, waved cheerfully goodbye, and caught the bus all the way home without any problems at all. And when he walked through the door, he said ‘Hi Mum, can I have a snack?’ as if the most momentous change in our lives hadn’t occurred at all.

So I’m okay. Because he’s okay. Still, I can tell you this now. Next year, when Boo starts school, I’m going to be a sobbing mess. Having a young man in the house is a wonderful thing. But having no baby anymore is going to absolutely break my heart.

Photo credit: © michaeljung – Fotolia.com

"Falling In Dior. Okay, Not Dior" by Kerri Sackville

There is a classic scene in the final episode of Sex And The City in which Carrie falls on her face in Dior (the store, not the clothes, though it is possible she is wearing Dior, too). She is in Paris, it is raining, she is wearing very high heels, and she slips on the drops of water that have fallen from her umbrella and slides across the floor. It is very, very dramatic and very, very humiliating.

Well, the exact same thing happened to me on my recent overseas trip. Except that I was in Las Vegas, not Paris, and the store was Forever 21, not Dior. Oh, and I wasn’t wearing high heels and it wasn’t raining.

Apart from that, it was exactly the same.

It was the second last day of our trip and my husband had given me twenty minutes to shop on my own. Having been with three children 24/7 for the past two and a half weeks – children who, inexplicably, don’t regard shopping for clothes for me as a valid recreational activity – this was a precious gift indeed. I had to use the time wisely, and decided to spend it at Forever 21.

Forever 21, for those of you who haven’t been to the United States, is very similar to Dior, with just a couple of slight differences. Firstly, everything at Forever 21 is priced below $25, as opposed to above $2,000 at Dior. Secondly, the Forever 21 stores are the size of small cities, instead of the elegant boutiques of Dior.

Forever 21 has a lot of great clothes, hidden between racks and racks of junk. The joy of Forever 21 is that you can browse the shelves for hours, picking out the occasional gems you like, and buy them without so much as a second thought because they’re so ridiculously cheap. I imagine it’s just how Paris Hilton must feel when she’s shopping anywhere. Including Dior.

I wanted to make the most of my twenty minutes leave pass, and so worked as quickly as I could. I rushed from shelf to shelf and rack to rack, searching frantically through the scores of different outfits and grabbing whatever seemed wearable. Eighteen minutes in, and still with two full corners to cover, I noticed a fabulous loose knit top hung high above a display unit.

I couldn’t reach the top, but couldn’t let it go. I’d noticed sales assistants walking around with long, hooked poles with which to remove high garments, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t catch their eye, and I simply didn’t have time to cross the huge store and grab one. So I placed my bag and my armful of clothes on the floor, climbed unsteadily onto the display, and reached for the top.

BAM. Down I fell, smack on my bum, in front of an amused – and slightly appalled – group of customers. And then BAM, down fell half of the display, on top of me and my bag.

It was very, very dramatic and very, very humiliating. Still, like Carrie I managed to reclaim my dignity. I hobbled to the checkout, bought a whole lot of clothes, and limped out to meet my family.

The out-of-reach loose top, though? That stayed in the store. I tried it on and guess what? Turned out it wasn’t so fabulous after all.

(Don’t) Do It Yourself Part 2 by Kerri Sackville

Last week I related an unfortunate episode involving me, a pair of kitchen scissors, a Bad Hair Day, and the mistaken belief that I had hairdressing skills.

Happily, a hairdresser quickly rectified my self-imposed disaster with what is known as a ‘repair cut’. In the end, nothing was lost but several centimetres of hair, a couple of hours, and a considerable amount of self esteem.

Sadly, however, more disaster was to come.

You see, I wasn’t satisfied with the discovery that I couldn’t cut my own hair. I had to take it one step further, and discover that I couldn’t colour my own hair, either.

I have previously put rich brown rinses in my own hair without any great ill effect (except on the towels, my clothes, the bathroom tiles and my skin). Over the years, however, the cumulative effect of all of these rinses was to turn my hair such a ‘rich’ shade of brown that it could accurately be referred to as ‘black’.

I didn’t want to be black anymore. I wanted to be a fetching shade of red. Chestnut, perhaps. Maybe even burgundy. Just not black. So I bought a new rinse, a red rinse, a rinse that promised to lighten my entire hair and give it beautiful, deep cherry highlights.

Well. Promise, promises. After carefully applying the product to my head, rinsing, conditioning, and rinsing again, what I ended up with was an inch of bright red roots, with the rest of my hair even blacker than before.

It was time to admit defeat.

I returned to the hairdresser, tail between my legs (metaphorically speaking. I don’t actually have a tail, though if I did, I would no doubt have trimmed it and dyed it black by now).

“Please fix me!” I cried.

“Again?” the hairdresser responded.

This time Anthony (a self-proclaimed ‘genius with colour’) set to work on my two-toned hair. First he bleached all the colour out, leaving me with bright orange frizzy hair and praying that a fire alarm wouldn’t sound and I’d be forced to evacuate the salon looking like a demented orang-utan.

Then he set to work, toning here, colouring there, until I emerged with red-brown hair, resplendent with hues and highlights. I looked magnificent.

I drove home with head held high (metaphorically speaking. It’s not like it can go anywhere else). Until I walked in the door.

“What the hell have you done?” my husband asked. “I liked you with black hair!”

So it’s back to the supermarket I go.

(And after the supermarket I’m off on holidays, so I’ll see you guys in a couple of weeks!)

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The Games We Play by Kerri Sackville

“Is P-H-I-J-O-R-N a word?” my son asks.

“Yes,” I tell him. “P-H-I-J-O-R-N is definitely a word. It means ‘to attempt to cheat at Scrabble'”.

It is the Christmas holidays and there is a faint hint of desperation in the air. How to fill the long, empty days in the holiday house with my parents, particularly when most of the days have been raining, and the house – gasp – has no cable TV. We have resorted to the most basic of activities: Scrabble, cards, arts and crafts, and the most recent addition – the progressive story.

“I’ll begin,” says my daughter. “Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in a cottage far, far away….”

“Your turn,” I say to my son.

“One day in her cottage she found a big, purple acorn…”

“The acorn swallowed her up,” says my husband, “as he was a violent, treacherous acorn.”

I roll my eyes and shoot him a warning look. There is a four year old in the room!

My turn. “But then he burped her up again!” I say brightly. “And she was completely unharmed!” We turn to look at little Boo.

“And she gets ice cream!” Boo says gleefully. “Because I love ice cream!”

“Of course she does, darling,” I tell her. “Papa?”

My father clears his throat. “But inside the ice cream she sees a sight too horrible to articulate…..”

What is it with the men in this family?

And so it goes on.

Still, our progressive stories are not nearly as dramatic as the family games of Scrabble.

Generally the games are played between my mother, my twelve year old son, and me, with occasional appearances by my ten year old daughter. My son, despite his cheeky attempts to create words where there are none, is actually fiendishly good at Scrabble. My mother, who is a lifelong player of word games, is even better. However, it is I, the writer of the family, who is the true expert. Except that I’m not, at all. For some utterly unfathomable reason, I am absolutely useless at Scrabble, and have never won a game in my life. Not even at Junior Scrabble, where all you have to do is place tiles on the words already formed on the board. It’s very humiliating.

I look in despair at my letters.

M-O-R-O-N-C-I

Hopeless. What the hell can I do with them????

Meanwhile, my son is thrashing me, and my mother is not far behind.

“So is R-E-W-N-N-I a word?” my son asks.

“Yes,” I tell him. “It means ‘desperately trying to create words out of nothing.'”

“No!” he says triumphantly. “It means W-I-N-N-E-R.”

“I like ice cream!” shouts Boo.

And another day goes by.

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(Don’t) Do It Yourself by Kerri Sackville

Here’s some advice for you: Do not attempt to cut your own hair. Unless you are an ambidextrous hairdresser with eyes in the back of your head, do not do it. Nothing good will ever come from it.

Of course, I am asking you to do as I say, not to do as I do. I have been cutting my own fringe for years. This is despite being entreated by hairdressers not to do it, despite being promised by said hairdressers that they will trim my fringe for free, if only I would pop in and ask them. And, of course, I inevitably do a crappy job. However, a fringe is a small area, and small area, small problem. I just push my uneven fringe to the side, or pin it up, or blow it back, and within a couple of weeks it has grown again.

Small area, small problem. But big area? Big problem. And that’s just what I found myself with last week.

I woke up in the morning and decided I needed a haircut. Desperately. I was having the ultimate Bad Hair Day, except I’d been having it for a month. My hair was horrible – too frizzy, too limp, too long, too shapeless, too wrong in every single way. I needed it fixed. Immediately. Problem was, I didn’t have time to get it fixed immediately. I had three kids at home with me on school holidays. I wouldn’t have a single hour to myself until late the following week.

But I needed a haircut. Immediately.

Now, a sensible person would have booked a haircut for the following week, and simply worn her hair in a pony tail until the magical day arrived. Sadly, I was not sensible. I was exhausted. I was overwrought. I was grumpy. I was having a Bad Hair Day. And I couldn’t wait a single second longer.

I grabbed my pair of professional hairdressing scissors and stood in front of the bathroom mirror. Except that I didn’t have professional hairdressing scissors because I’m not a hairdresser. I grabbed a pair of plain kitchen scissors, stood in front of the bathroom mirror, and began chopping away at my hair.

Yes, yes, I really did.

Amazingly, I did an incredible job. My hair came out perfectly even and beautifully stylish, framing my face in extremely flattering waves.
Except of course it didn’t. It looked absolutely terrible and left me shaking with remorse, and tempted to forget Bad Hair Day altogether and move straight to Bald Head Day with one of my husband’s razors.

Thankfully, I resisted. I made an appointment with my hairdresser, organised the babysitter, and went for a haircut the following day.

“I’ve fixed it up,” said my hairdresser, “but please don’t do it again, okay?”

“I won’t,” I said, and I absolutely meant it.

“And pop by when you next need your fringe cut, okay?”

“I will,” I said, and rolled my eyes internally.

Yup. Like that’s ever going to happen.

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Can't live with 'em, can't hurl 'em out the window by Kerri Sackville

My feelings for my laptop are much like my feelings for my husband. Sometimes I love it madly and want to shower it with affection. And sometimes I hate it with a passion, and want to hurl it against the wall in disgust.

Over this past week, my feelings have fallen firmly into the latter category. Initially my laptop began behaving erratically and causing me considerable inconvenience. It became inexplicably slow, taking minutes to find a website, and occasionally grinding to a halt in the middle of an application. But still, I was understanding. I know that laptops are moody, and can fall into depressions. They simply need a nice new software update, or a refreshing defragmentation, and they’ll be right as rain again.

So I was gentle. I didn’t yell, or hit the keyboard. I simply updated and defragged and scanned, and waited for the fog to pass.

But the fog didn’t pass. It got worse.

My laptop began freezing and closing at the most inopportune moments. Links stopped working. Videos stopped playing. And, in the cruelest twist of all, my daughter’s Club Penguin account refused to load. Now, I can cope if something is hurting me, but if it starts hurting my child, I do not like that at all.

It was time for serious action. I did frantic internet searches on how to fix the problem, which was challenging, as my computer kept crashing in the middle of the exercise. Still, I resolutely persisted, and eventually found the answer. I had to uninstall software A and then install software B and then reinstall software A again, and it would all be resolved. Simple.

I felt proactive and proud. I was a woman of the web. I was independent and free. I didn’t need an IT person to make me happy!

I uninstalled, installed, and reinstalled, rebooted the computer, then announced to my daughter that she could come and play her game.

There was just one small problem. The computer wasn’t fixed.

I was stunned. I’d been so sure! I’d been so confident! I’d promised my daughter I could do it! I had to fix it. I had to make things right!!!

I began obsessively trawling through the internet, trying dozens of different ways to get my computer working again. I asked Twitter’s advice. I phoned a friend. I stayed up till the wee small hours of the night loading and re-loading. I stayed up until I was sobbing with frustration, ready to give up my online career forevever, and retreat to my office with a pen and some paper. Nothing helped. I had to admit defeat.

This morning I took my laptop to a nice shop down the road, where they promised to fix it for a small fee. The man was very kind and didn’t even yell at me for installing all those weird programs over the past 24 hours. And my daughter has been very understanding about not being able to play her games.

As for me, well, the ink made my hands all messy, and I couldn’t read my own writing anyhow. Turns out my computer is even more like my husband than I thought. It makes me crazy, it makes me cry, but I just can’t live without it.

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The Sleeping Mother Fails Again by Kerri Sackville

I like sleeping, and I do not much like waking up. At least, I do not much like waking up after anything less than a full eight* hours sleep. This would not be a problem, except that I have a four year old daughter, who does not much like sleeping in.

Boo is an ‘early riser’ every day of the week, except, inexplicably, when she sleeps at my mother’s house, as my mum tells me proudly, and often. Obviously I don’t begrudge my mother a restful morning, but I do wish she’d stop bragging about it already.

Every morning I am woken in the same unforgiving way. “Milky and Spongebob!” my little girl shouts, whilst prodding me firmly in the face. (For those who can’t speak Boo, this means ‘Mum, please could you fetch me some warmed milk in my sippy cup and then turn on the television so that I can watch Spongebob Squarepants, which, as you know, is my favourite show.”)

Now, it’s not easy being woken from a very deep sleep with a prod in the cheek and a Spongebob in your ear. And it takes me a while to swim up painfully from unconsciousness to the harsh brightness of the day. I will do anything to buy more time, promise anything for another few precious minutes of rest.

“Ask your sister for milk,” I’ll whisper, and hide back under the covers, or

“Go get a juice box and play,” or

“I’ll give you a treat if you let me sleep some more!”

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The other day, it didn’t.

Boo woke me as usual at 6.10am. The other kids were asleep, so they were no help. And Boo didn’t accept my offer of ‘sleeping with Mummy for a while’, insisting – most unfairly – on actually starting her day. I tried to ignore her, but it was very hard to sleep with her repeatedly pulling me on the ear.

“FINE,” I said, resentfully, and stumbled out of bed. I took her by the hand, practically fell into the lounge room, turned on the TV and poured the milk, all without fully opening my eyes.

“I going backta sleep,” I slurred, and turned back towards my bedroom. The bed was calling. Sleep time again.

“But Mummy I’m hungry!” Boo called plaintively. “Can I have a toastan cheese?”

Toasted cheese? No! It was too much! I could do milk and TV in my sleep, but not even I could stay unconscious whilst making a toasted cheese sandwich.

“Have this,” I mumbled, reaching blindly into the pantry. I pulled out some organic corn snacks and tossed them at my daughter. “I going bed.”
“Oh! Yes! Mummy! THANK YOU!”

I stopped. Boo liked corn snacks, but not that much. I forced myself to open my eyes. And there was my child, happily ensconced on the couch, munching a packet of very unorganic…. salt and vinegar potato chips. For breakfast. At 6.15am.

I could have taken the away from her but I didn’t. For one thing, it was my mistake, not hers. For another thing, chips could keep her busy for half an hour.

And I really wanted to spend that time sleeping.

*okay nine**

**okay ten.

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How to Throw a Party by Kerri Sackville

It is never easy being a mother. It is even less easy being a mother when you’re unwell and it’s your daughter’s fourth birthday party and you’ve had to invite the entire class of 20 kids because your daughter was invited to all of their parties and she really really really wants to have all her friends there.

And although you limited your older kids’ parties to ten guests, she is your youngest child and you spoil her rotten and all limits have been thrown out the window.

I woke up on Thursday morning with a pounding head, aching, blocked ears and a worrying degree of vertigo. The nice doctor helpfully reassured me that I didn’t have a brain tumour, but said that I did have post-viral fluid behind my ears which would take up to a week to dissipate. What I needed, she told me, was bed rest.

“But I have my daughter’s birthday party on Sunday,” I said.

“Can someone help you?” she asked. “What about your husband?”

“He’ll help, but he works about seventy five hours a week, and he isn’t that great at organising parties,” I said. Admittedly, he had offered to buy some bread and a ‘cheese wheel’, but I wasn’t quite sure what a ‘cheese wheel’ was.

“What about your mum?” the doctor asked.

“She’d help, but she’s having an operation on her knee tomorrow and will be on crutches for about a fortnight,” I said.

“I’d recommend drugs,” the doctor said. Or at least, that’s what I think I heard.

I spent Thursday and Friday in bed, but the party loomed, and no amount of sleep would get that fairy bread to make itself. Happily my mother had baded the cake before her surgery. Unhappily, I hadn’t made anything else.

“I need you to help get the party ready for tomorrow,” I told my husband on Saturday. “I’m sick.”

“I have to work,” he said.

“But that won’t help get the party ready!”

“No, but it also won’t help if we go broke because I don’t finish this job.”

Hmmmm.

I dropped the kids at my parents’ house, where my father could look after them and my mother could wheel herself around on an office chair. I dragged myself to the supermarket, and bought pre-made cupcakes, pre-made biscuits, pre-made banana bread, pre-made dips and pre-made lollies (as opposed to ‘handmade lollies’, which admittedly very few people make these days). I then picked up the kids, returned home, and lay on the couch feeling tragic until my husband came home with pizza.

Thankfully, on Sunday, I woke up feeling much better. The kids helped me set up the party, the mermaid entertainer showed up, and no-one seemed to care that my perfectly uniform biscuits and cupcakes were quite clearly from the shops, and not from my oven.

As for my husband, he was tremendously helpful. He spent an entire hour cleaning the pool, and though it wasn’t a pool party, and no-one looked at the pool anyway, I really did appreciate it.

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