A Different December

11 December 2020

We are fast approaching the time when I will have been in either hospitals or in Care Homes for nine months. I’m again reminded of the old saying “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana”. It’s an old joke, but… In any event, we may be sure that celebrations for the festive season will be different this year. With Christmas fast approaching, for a number of folk it will perhaps be not quite as joyful a time as in the past. We have memories though, as our thoughts turn to earlier years. For me this time of year brings mixed feelings as I recall it being the custom in our family to put up all the decorations on my dear Dad’s birthday, December 12th.  However, it was also on that date that my paternal grandfather passed away in 1978 at the good age of 82. So it is a time tinged with sadness too.

Tradition has it that gifts are exchanged, families meet, so I feel that it is not only a time for giving but it should also be a forgiving time. I remember reading the story of a tutor turning to their students one day and holding up a glass which was half-filled with water. Naturally the students expected a talk on whether the glass was half full or half empty, but the tutor didn’t. Instead the class was actually asked how heavy they thought the glass was and the answers ranged from eight to sixteen ounces. The tutor then replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. What’s important is how long I hold it. If I hold it for just a minute, it’s not heavy. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will be numb and feel paralysed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change but, the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes. The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralysed and incapable of doing anything”.

I like this. To me it is important for us all to remember to let go of our stresses, to put our burdens down when we can. To not carry them for hours and days and months. To put down that glass. Let go of the bad feeling or it can tire us out. Forgive, even if we cannot and in most cases probably should not forget.

December also reminds me of a story I was told a good few years after it had happened. When I was a child, it was decided one Christmas that I should have an electric train set as a present. Naturally my father and my two elder brothers felt it should be all in working order beforehand, so after I’d gone to bed this one Christmas Eve the set was laid out and tested. Which they happily did. Now, Dad was the deputy organist at the local church and had agreed to play for the Midnight service. We only lived a few minutes walk away from the church, so it was at 11:45pm that Dad walked into the church to start playing quiet music before the service. Except no-one had informed dear Dad that the ‘midnight’ service normally started at 11:45pm! Dad found the church full of people and the vicar waiting for him… I often wondered why it was that Dad made absolutely sure I knew the importance of being in good time for appointments and being sure of when to be there!

It stood me in good stead years later for meetings. I was also taught that it was polite, it showed good manners to be early for an event, meeting or whatever so that the event started on time. It also gave visitors like guest speakers a good impression of who they were dealing with and that we could be trusted to do what we said we would, on time.

I’m also reminded of a task that became assigned to me before Christmas, which was actually fetching all the decorations from our attic, getting out the tree lights and making sure they were still in good working order then draping them onto the tree. But why was it that despite my best efforts, one bulb would always manage to work itself loose just as I was putting the lights on the tree? It was found though! One year I bought a ‘Star-burst’ filter for my camera, which I used when taking a photograph of the now fully decorated Christmas tree. It created a lovely effect and I was really pleased with it.

So, whilst many things are having to be done differently this year, many things do not change. It is still coming up to when we celebrate Christmas, it is one time when we might not be able to be with our loved ones, but they are with us still, in mind even if not in body. It is the same, but different this year.

There is a well-known song, ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, which I am sure everyone reading this knows. But we can imagine, having received these gifts each day, how the recipient might perhaps have replied…

Letters from Agnes

December 14
My dearest darling John,
Who ever in the whole world would dream of getting a real Partridge in a Pear Tree? How can I ever express my pleasure. Thank you a hundred times for thinking of me this way.
My love always, Agnes

December 15
Dearest John,
Today the postman brought your very sweet gift. Just imagine, two turtle doves. I’m just delighted at your very thoughtful gift. They are just adorable.
All my love, Agnes

December 16
Dear John,
Oh! Aren’t you the extravagant one. Now I must protest. I don’t deserve such generosity, three French hens. They are just darling but I must insist, you’ve been too kind.
All my love, Agnes

December 17
Dear John,
Today the postman delivered four calling birds. Now really, they are beautiful, but don’t you think enough is enough. You are being too romantic.
Affectionately, Agnes

December 18
Dearest John,
What a surprise. Today the postman delivered five golden rings, one for every finger. You’re just impossible, but I love it. Frankly, all those birds squawking were beginning to get on my nerves.
All my love, Agnes

December 19
Dear John,
When I opened the door today there were actually six geese laying on my front steps. So you’re back to the birds again huh? These geese are huge. Where will I ever keep them? The neighbours are complaining and I can’t sleep through the racket. Please stop.
Cordially, Agnes

December 20
What’s with you and those freaking birds?? Seven swans a swimming. What kind of damn joke is this? There’s bird poop all over the house and they never stop the racket. I can’t sleep at night and I’m a nervous wreck. It’s not funny. So stop those freaking birds.
Sincerely, Agnes

December 21
O.K. Buster,
I think I prefer the birds. What the hell am I going to do with eight maids a milking? It’s not enough with all those birds and the maids, but they had to bring their damn cows. There is manure all over the lawn and I can’t move in my own house. Just leave me alone, please.

December 22
Hey you,
What are you? Some kind of sadist? Now there are nine ladies dancing. I don’t know why I call those sluts ladies though. Now the cows can’t sleep and they’ve got diarrhoea. My living room is a river of poo. The Council have issued a court order against me to give reasons why the building shouldn’t be condemned.
I’m calling the police on you! Agnes

December 23
You rotten s*d,
What’s with those ten lords a leaping on those maids and ladies? The cows are getting upset and they’re stepping all over those screeching birds. What am I to do? The neighbours have started a petition to evict me.
You’ll get yours! Agnes

December 24
Listen you b**tard,
Now there’s eleven pipers playing, and do they play! They’ve never stopped chasing those maids since they got here yesterday morning either. Oh yes, and all twenty-three of the birds are dead. They’ve been trampled to death in the orgy. I hope you’re satisfied, you rotten vicious swine.
Your sworn enemy, Agnes

December 25
Dear Sir,
This is to acknowledge your latest gift of twelve drummers drumming which you have seen fit to inflict on our client, Miss Agnes McHolstein. The destruction, of course, was total. All future correspondence should come to our attention. If you should attempt to reach Miss McHolstein at the Happivale Mental Home, the attendants have now been instructed to shoot you on sight. Please be advised that a warrant has also been issued for your arrest.

James Jones & Co

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Learning To Cope

04 December 2020

Everything on this Earth, whether they be earth, stone, plant or animal, is part of our existence. I have already said in an earlier post that the one constant in this lovely Universe is things change. Sadly, many species have died out for one reason or another, in some cases because they would not or perhaps could not change or adapt, but all too many have gone as a result of human intervention, like us taking certain forms of life to an area of Earth in which their natural predators were not to be found. So the balance of Nature was disturbed. 

If we care to look back over the years, it is not just the plants and animals which have changed, it is of course us too. We must adapt, if we are to survive. In my own set of circumstances as well as my experiences, I know how difficult it can be. I recall one person who lived with a few difficulties, in particular with really poor eyesight, but they felt that things in and around them ought to change, to be adapted or be altered to suit them. An example was where the print on some information boards in a couple of shopping centres was smaller than they wanted it to be. Seeing this I suggested to that person they might put a small magnifying glass in their coat pocket and use that when needed, or if they didn’t want to draw attention to their difficulty go over to an information desk and ask questions of the staff. That way, all concerned would be satisfied. It would also make sure that information staff were kept in a job! Sadly however this person did not see things the same way as me, in every sense. They are no longer with us and that is a shame, as they might have been able to show others how it is possible to overcome or at least manage difficulties, by keeping a positive outlook on life.

Whilst watching a wildlife film recently, I saw a polar bear go into a village and look for food. This village was within its ‘hunting ground’. Perhaps it couldn’t find fish, so it looked elsewhere. In order to survive, it looked for food. It adapted to what was going on around them. Right now we are also faced with a few difficulties that I hope will not be seen again for many years to come. But we too are having to adjust, to adapt to changing circumstances. I’ll not say too much on the situation, how it occurred or how long it might be with us. I do not know. But whatever the circumstances, we have to find ways to cope. There are many good people out there, helping a lot of others, but sadly there seems to be a number of selfish folk too.

Now, this is pure speculation on my part and I may be utterly mistaken here, but it occurs to me that just maybe we have in fact brought some of this Covid business down on ourselves. When I was a lad, it is true that we were taught to wash our hands before meals, we were always kept clean, we did not eat food that happened to drop onto the floor. But we played outside, we fell over, scraped our knees (mine still bear the scars!) and we messed about in the garden, playing ‘cowboys and indians’ in the dirt. We used ordinary soap, not sanitisers, we had disinfectant but not anything that killed 99% of household germs. So I do wonder if, as a result of modern cleansing, we have reduced the capabilities of our own immune systems. Like I say, I may be wrong but it is a thought, nonetheless.

Of course, a great many changes have been for the good. Years ago some of the tobacco companies managed to successfully influence physicians to not just promote the idea that smoking was healthy, but to recommend it as a treatment for throat irritation! Both my parents smoked, dear Dad especially. I didn’t, but it is possible that me inhaling the smoke from his cigarettes as he drove the car then exacerbated me developing the asthma which I now have. I also remember how asbestos was at first considered to be a really excellent material, I know parts of our garage at home were made of or at least contained it. Then its health risks were identified and things changed.

I have already written about how I’ve had to change, to adapt. Any change is rarely easy, even if it will lead to a much better and fulfilling life in the long run. Some years ago I made a mistake whilst driving and I really made a mess of the car. But I was then able to get a better one. Years later as I was buying a house, I had to sell my car and get a motorbike instead. I adapted my life to riding it, though sometimes I had to ask one of my workmates for help to undo the helmet chinstrap, as my fingers were frozen with the cold… I still shiver at the thought! But I did have good times riding that motorbike. Again, more years passed and I would travel every weekday to and from work by train, two hours each way. But I did it because I had to. It was part of my daily routine, which I had to adapt to. I have said previously about computers and their effect on me, how I had to adapt to using them. Though with me being left-handed, some folk where I was working must surely  have been really pleased, delighted even, to receive any paperwork from me that was now printed rather than hand-written! But it has been said that because the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, only left-handed people are in their right minds!!! Well… 😉

Things have changed over the years, I am not totally convinced they are all for the good, but as I keep saying, they do change. It is up (or is it down?) to us as to how we respond. My ex-wife used to complain that I would not have an argument with her, but as I’ve said in the past I do not see any point or value in them. Discuss, most definitely, listen to another’s point of view and then be prepared to change as appropriate. Or agree to disagree. To me, it is part of learning to cope with the changes and chances which come our way. I have spent quite a few years now sharing knowledge so that others might both learn and then share that same knowledge with others. So, whilst we must be receptive to learn new things, new ways, to accept change is not easy. It is all part of the learning process, learning to cope. But it is very hard to teach somebody if they think they already know it all.

I will stop for now with this.
A good friend of mine told me about someone who was totally useless at a particular job. My friend said “I knew his problem – way too much loft”. I asked him to explain and he simply grinned and said “Lack Of Flamin’ Talent”!

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Ability Or Disability

27 November 2020

What is disability? I don’t regard myself as disabled – I am more of a person with disabilities. I count myself amongst those who have lived with disabilities all their lives. We have either found ways around them or, in later years, made it clear, albeit as politely as possible, that there are some things we cannot do without some assistance. At one time, when I was much younger, my peers would make life difficult for me – I know of some folk who have said school days were the happiest times of their lives, but mine were not. Happily, most of the people I encounter nowadays listen to me and don’t try to make me fit into a category, like being of a certain age, a certain weight and therefore physically capable of doing those things that others of my age can do. It is probably why I have so often wanted to do things on my own, without help from others – but in the last few years I have learned to accept help gracefully.

When someone has a huge plaster cast on their arm, or is in a wheelchair, it is natural for us to relate those things to experiences we may have either had ourselves, or seen with family and friends. The broken arm – a skiing accident perhaps? The wheelchair – a car accident, maybe? In such cases we may be right – but we may also be very wrong! So, what about the people you see walking along, apparently ‘normal’. Beware please, all may not be as it first appears! Allow me to expand a little on this point if I may, through some of my own experiences. It may come as a bit of a surprise to some of my former work colleagues who are reading this, or perhaps not! But here we go.

I have had, from birth, a muscular weakness all down my right-hand side. As a result, I am left-handed and when singing in the church choir I found it impossible to hold a hymn or prayer book in one hand and turn the page with the other. So I found an alternative method – put the book down and sing largely from memory. I didn’t know it at the time, but this really was invaluable training for me for later! I learned to carry the cross during church services, to assist the priest during communion, but I learned ‘alternative’ ways of completing these tasks.

At school, my love of music continued and I learned to play the cornet and then the trumpet – except I used the fingers of my left hand to work the valves, not my right. It may have looked awkward, even strange, but it worked for me. One year I was given a camera for Christmas – I was around twelve years old. The camera used a drop-in cartridge film, rather than the standard film that had to be threaded into the camera in order to make it work. My parents had recognised that even at that age I was getting rather proud, even stubborn, about not wanting to appear ‘different’ to others at school, so they found ways of managing these difficulties without making it seem too obvious to me! For some years I was doing various therapeutic tasks, like squeezing a rubber ball in my right hand in order to give it some strength and some use. I was given Airfix models to build, the old ships, like HMS Victory, with literally hundreds of very small cannon to fit onto the ship, as well as the gun port covers for each gun. It was good therapy – it also kept me quiet for hours on end!

A few years went by and I started work. It was a big shock to me, learning what work was, but I learned. After a while I was moved into a different department, but the work involved using my right hand and whilst on holiday about three months later, I had an epileptic fit. I was diagnosed with epilepsy and also given tablets to control the condition. On my return to work, I did other work that did not involve me using my right hand as much. I was now earning money and so bought a better camera, finding one that I could manage and where I could operate the shutter button with my right hand. I also started singing in a couple of choirs, as well as continuing to play a trumpet, first in an orchestra, and then in a brass band. With one of the choirs I was asked if I could sing from memory, rather than holding the music, but that was easy for me.

Being left-handed meant that my writing was not the best in the world, under any circumstances. At school we used old-style ‘Quink’ ink, which smudged easily and meant that my written work was covered in blotches. I learned to angle the paper so I was writing across the paper, rather than along it, and that made things easier. Whilst working at BT I found that others had similar difficulties – one chap would even write with his hand facing the opposite way, so it looked like he was writing backwards, but it worked for him. That, along with other things, helped me immensely – I felt I was no longer alone in facing these challenges – others were, too. But bigger, better things were to come!

When I first started at BT, I was just sixteen and my manager was an ex-army major who everyone called ‘sir’ or Mr. No first names were used in those days! Most of the time I didn’t speak unless I was spoken to and I waited for others to finish speaking before I spoke. A few years passed and both my knowledge and personal confidence grew as I was moved around a few more departments in order to increase my knowledge of the business. I gained a promotion, and a while later was moved into the Sales office. A little later we were advised that new technology was soon being introduced – computers! I went home and talked to my dear Dad – it might be difficult for me to learn and use this new technology, as not being able to type might jeopardise my work, even my career! I borrowed my Dad’s typewriter and learned the standard keyboard layout. Typing with one hand was quite easy for me now. Then new technology was introduced and to my delight, I picked it up instantly – even my good keyboard skills were commented upon. Over the next few years I learned more sales skills, joining a team of people staffing various exhibitions before finally gaining further promotion and moving first to Leicester, then I was in Nottingham, Birmingham and Sheffield. These years also saw me married, then divorced, it saw the real birth of home computers, my skills and knowledge of these increased before seeing me in Sheffield as a tutor/trainer on some of BT’s computer systems, as well as doing the odd piece of what could be classed as ‘professional’ photography work. I finally found my way back to Leicester, still as a trainer with BT, before being made redundant in 2007. After a few years looking for other work I found that my age and medical situation, including a heart attack in 2010, meant that I was unlikely to get work easily. So I started up my own photographic and training business, teaching people how to take photos and use social media as well as computer programs to adjust and share their photographs.

But the question still remained – was I disabled? Over the years I acquired the skill of almost ‘hiding’ the limitations of my right hand. It still became apparent at times, especially when I needed to carry multiple items at the same time – when others would use a tray, I did not. In fact, I couldn’t, the weight was far too much for my right hand. Entertainingly, when I visited old friends we would walk to the nearby pub for a few beers. I would get the first round in, as there were usually three or four of us and I couldn’t carry several pints all at once, even on a tray! But this way, my friends were still standing at the bar so I could pass their drinks to them. Once settled in Leicester, a good friend of mine said they were sure I ought to get something from the government for my disability. I enquired about this but was told that I had overcome my disability and so did not need help in any way, and nothing in the way of financial support would be forthcoming. As a child, my dear Mum wanted to always buy me slip-on shoes, as I couldn’t do up shoelaces. My dad, however, knew that was not the best thing for me. I found an alternative way of tying shoelaces, a method which (with minor modifications) I still use today. I therefore had the ability to complete this task. As the years have passed by, new challenges have been put before me and most of the time I have accomplished them – though as I said at the beginning, nowadays I accept that I do have my limitations.

There is a quote from one of the Harry Potter films, spoken by the headmaster of Hogwarts school, Albus Dumbledore, who says “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are – it is our choices”. My right side is physically weaker than my left, so that really is a disability. But I have chosen to live my life, not despite these physical limitations but with them, recognising them for what they are. I have the ability to complete these tasks, whether by my own hands or with the help of others. I firmly believe that not accepting the limitations we might have is the disability – accepting them and not being ashamed or afraid of them gives those of us who others might sometimes consider as ‘disabled’, a greater ability than anything else can do.

This week, I have a quote. I am not sure who first said it, but it is this:
“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you, no matter what.”

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Living By The Rules

20 November 2020

But not everybody does. We have all seen over the years how many people believe that they are somehow exempt from rules and regulations. I am again reminded of the time whilst watching a particular tv series where a car was on the road with no car tax, no insurance and no MoT. The police stopped the car and asked the driver why he had none of these. Police now have sophisticated equipment in their vehicles which can check the status of a motor vehicle in just seconds. They also have cameras that automatically scan vehicle number plates and give an alert to the police so they can then act on what is found. The driver informed them he had been driving for almost seventy years, he’d never had an accident and anyway “I can’t afford such stupid things now”. He was not allowed to drive any further and I believe he sold the car…

I can appreciate his sentiment, but sadly in this example the man was not giving any thought to other road users, in cars or lorries etc as well as pedestrians. He may have behaved sensibly, but sadly others do not for all sorts of reasons. When I had my heart attack in 2010 and was given extra tablets to take, I rather naively asked how long I’d be taking these. I was told, of course, “always”. So I try to live by the rules and take them regularly, as they’ve been prescribed. I follow the rules. I am at present in a Care Home which has its own set of rules. I’ve had to adapt a bit, but the staff are good too, they know all I can do and what I need help with. The inmates here are, as you might expect, all quite different and some I know are difficult at times. I said when I first got here that if things are good, I say so. In the same way, if they’re not good, I say so. It’s only fair that we be open and be honest. It’s how I was brought up to be. I am also a firm believer that if rules are wrong, they should be challenged and made better. But not in a selfish way.

I’ll not say too much on what’s going on around the world right now, but it does seem some folk will not admit defeat, even when it is clear they have lost a battle. Likewise there are those who do not believe this Covid thing is real. I’ve seen some fantastic theories around, I’ll leave them to it and do my best to stay as healthy as I can by eating, sleeping, exercising (as best I can) and generally working towards getting out and about again when the time is right. The latest one seems to be a conspiracy theory in which a vaccine will put some form of  ‘unique identifier’ in our blood which then effectively gives each of us a ‘bar code’! Except even with my basic grasp of biology, I seem to recall our blood completely replaces itself automatically over a fairly short time, through our kidneys I think, also our bodies are designed to fight and then remove any foreign bodies that it finds. So if  the theory was true, then the ‘bar code’ would need to be replaced every few weeks… It is probably why dogs have a micro-chip inserted, but not everyone would like one of those. What purpose would it serve, anyway, apart from keeping Civil Servants in a job? Sir Humphrey, where are you now!?!?! As for identifiers in our blood, I am no expert, I will let those who are more knowledgeable on such matters have their say.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to change, to adapt to new ways, but that is what happens in this beautiful world of ours. Things change. I’ve said before how I have known those folk who just would not adapt, would not change. Many are no longer with us, I am sad to say. But for me, change is part of living our lives. We adapt as we must. There is always a difference occurring around us and with technology as it is, we get to learn of it so very quickly. The first speeding ticket in the UK was, I believe, issued to a motorist on January 28th, 1896 in Paddock Wood, Kent. A constable spotted a fast driver named Walter Arnold speeding down the street and since the constable didn’t have one of those early motorised vehicles, he had to give chase on his bicycle. I guess Mr Arnold wasn’t doing a tremendous speed then!

Likewise, some people do not seem to believe me when I tell them that my very first computer was a Sinclair ZX 81 with just 1k of RAM memory. Bought in 1981, it used a basic black & white television, tuned to certain channel for a display. Any programs were loaded from and saved to a small tape, using a standard cassette recorder. But it got me started on what home computers were about and I am glad I did. It has helped both my career and later my own business in ways I could never have imagined. Sir Clive Sinclair, I thank and salute you!

But back to my point. Computers use a number of languages all their own. A good friend of mine is now learning a language and they are getting to know the rules of that language in order to be able to read, write and speak it. I used to do a little bit of programming when I was at work, some of what I learned I can and do still use. A very dear friend is learning how to take good photos and they are learning the controls, all the rules to be followed to adjust the camera to get the appropriate effect, in focussing, light, depth of field etc. We do these things as we need to, like to take better photos, but at times also to better ourselves. I am so much better by eating proper, healthier food. Except for me, cooking is still a mystery and always will be! I have been taught a good relaxation therapy and it has helped me a great deal, both in my health and my attitude to life. It has certain actions and exercises which involve my own touch, sound & breath. We learn to live by the rules, although we may not always perceive them as such.

Mentioning computers has reminded me of this:
A number of years ago, some new language translation software was being tested on an early computer, attempting to translate from English to Russian and straight back again. The saying “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” was returned as “The vodka is good but the meat is rotten” and “Out of sight, out of mind” came back as “Invisible maniac”. It was a good try, but clearly more work was needed…

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Looking And Listening

13 November 2020

As a youngster I was reminded that I have two eyes, two ears but one mouth. So I should look and listen twice as hard as I speak. Very young children naturally reach out and touch things as they see them, often wanting to put an item in their mouth. I had a set of small toy bricks which were painted either red, yellow, green or blue. I must have liked one of the blue-coloured ones as I wore much of the paint from it! But I learned that it was not a good idea to always touch things. At school I tried to sit near the front of a class, purely so I could see and hear all that was being taught. I wanted to learn and that has always been my way.

Sadly some things were not always explained to me in the way I would have wished, like I had a history teacher who undoubtedly knew her subject but didn’t teach it in a way that worked for me. When I asked questions I would almost be told to be quiet and learn! Why did we need to know when certain things occurred in the past? To know them and pass exams, so I could then get a better job to earn money to live and perhaps then provide for a wife and family, I learned that later. So as a result, in subjects where I was very well taught I did well at, but where I was not, I saw no point in learning. I was and probably still am too logical in my ways of thinking! Perhaps that is why I can work with computers!

Sadly I did not get on too well with one particular Maths and English teacher. I was away from school for a short while as I needed a hospital operation. When I returned to school this one particular Monday, the maths teacher gave us the homework on what she had taught the class during the previous week. So after class, I spoke to her and explained that I’d been away the previous week and couldn’t do the homework. Her reply was “that’s not my problem!”. So I went home and told my Dad, who himself was a teacher. He taught me all about this aspect of maths, then I did all the homework on my own. Dad did tell me afterwards that I’d got all the correct answers, I showed my working too. But when I handed the homework in, it was given back with the words ‘This is not the way I taught you!’ scrawled in red all over it. Unusually for him, my dear Dad decided to complain and he took this same teacher to task over this. I had not been in class so had missed the lesson through no fault of my own, I had done the homework, getting all the questions right and showing all my working! Then the following year I got a very different Maths & English teacher and my grades improved dramatically!

It proved to me then, as it still does now that we should always take the time to listen. I know a famous story which ends with “There are teachers and there are educators”. I like that, it is so very true. A few minutes taken to listen to another person can save a lot of disagreement. I am reminded of a sign I saw which read “This department requires no Physical Fitness programme. Everyone here gets enough exercise always jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, dodging responsibility, pulling the strings, stretching the truth, bending the rules and pushing their luck!” We are all human (I think!) and therefore we make mistakes, we forget things. It is part of who we are. But I know of times when some people have been verbally abused abominably for simply forgetting an item.

Right now I am in a Care Home and I am being very well cared for, but yes, they sometimes do forget that I prefer one sugar in my tea but no milk. If they forget and put milk in though, I politely and calmly ask them for a replacement with no milk. My health has improved since cutting that out. But if they forget to put sugar in, it’s no big deal, I either drink it without or I put a bit of sugar of my own in as I now have a few sachets… But in the past I’ve had to turn my car around, drive home and get an item I needed. So, I’ve learned to reorganise things so that if there’s an item I need to take with me of a morning, I put it in a prominent place by the door the night before! I am very rarely at my best first thing in the morning… Let me have breakfast and a cuppa, then I might just about be able to converse with you!!!

I have mentioned before about my love of music, I am told that my dear mother was singing when she was carrying me inside her, she was so happy. Mind you, I also found out that after having two boys, they had hoped for a girl! Then I turned up… As well as singing in the church choir I was also in one at school. With my weak right hand there were a few musical instruments like the piano or the recorder that I could not manage but a harmonica I could. I tried a cornet and a trumpet, learned to play those as best I could – it looked awkward but the valves I managed to do left-handed. It meant that I joined a youth orchestra, I also joined the Nassington Brass Band for a while, but then they told me I had to give up my singing and concentrate solely on practicing with them, but that I could not do. I continued singing!

Singing in choirs as I did required much looking and listening. I could sight-read music, no problem, but I was invited to join a small choir in Peterborough that went round various cathedrals and sang as the leading choir in their Saturday as well as Sunday services. It has been my privilege to sing such services in several cathedrals in England, but during choir rehearsals if anyone made a mistake they were expected to raise their hand straight away. If necessary the individual then sang the part solo to ensure they had got it right! That was pressure, but for me it meant that I always tried my best to get it right.

As I grew up, I was taught to always tell the truth. So that is what I do. Though I am told the more one lies, apparently the easier it gets. In my case I have had enough trouble remembering even the truth at times! Though interestingly, I have found that with my epilepsy, the move to a different medication a few short years ago has not only controlled my epilepsy better, it has helped me to recall past memories. I even remember peoples names better now! Fascinating. But to know peoples names has meant looking and listening, even having something that links their name to a place or event. For example, I will go outside for a walk in the gardens which, because I use a walking frame at the moment, is an Extra-Vehicular Activity. Once out in the gardens I sometimes see a lady as she sits outside, smoking a cigarette. Her name is Eva. It coincides with my bit of a walk, or EVA. That’s her name easily remembered.

Sadly some people don’t bother to try and listen, I have met a few folk who do not  – all they do is want to have their say. It seems they have no interest in others, just in themselves. I recall having to ask a colleague in a church choir I was in to not talk to me one time when the priest had begun his sermon. I think the chap was a bit put out at this, but I wanted to listen to the priest! In fact many don’t bother to even look or perhaps care how others are. I wish some would take a look at themselves and their own behaviours, change may not always be easy but they would have a far better and happier life if they did. Looking and listening helps.

Last weeks writing was a bit short, this week I have gone on a bit more so I’ll stop at this point with what is an absolute favourite of mine.

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.” ~ Australian Aboriginal Proverb

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Visiting Hours

06 November 2020

A dear friend came to see me earlier this week, as it was a few days prior to ‘lockdown’. But it was just for half an hour. In some ways it was a bit like how I believe life can be in prison and given my general theme for this series of writings, it prompted me to compose the following:

Day 122: Today I was allowed outside into a different area here, they had put up a small structure in the gardens for folks to come and visit us. I thought it might be a chance for me to escape, but two warders (sorry, I mean ‘Carers’!) accompanied me and escorted me into the ‘pod’ as they have called it. A dear friend had come to see me before we all get this total ‘lockdown’! Then I saw that it was all set out like the old visiting rooms as shown in prisons on some tv series! This meant that I was on the ‘inmates’ side and my friend was on the ‘visitors’ side, with a Perspex screen in between. So we were able to see each other and talk using the speakers and microphones built in, but no exchange of goods or anything. I was kept on my side until the ‘Carers’ came to collect me, half an hour later. Still, it was really good to see my friend after so long.  She had brought a few items to me, but the bag was taken away and then left in my room. They probably checked all that was in it, too! I was hoping that I’d get that skeleton key to access the front door, but no such luck! Health & Safety, Security and all that I guess. I returned to my room as it was time for lunch and the smell of all the fresh paint in the nearby Tv room was too much to bear! Well, we are looked after. But it did cross my mind, wondering about what things we had done wrong. I’ve an idea about my life, but what about others – they’re not saying…

In truth though, all the staff at this Care Home are brilliant, they all do a really excellent job and I’m happy to be here for as long as I am meant to be. 

I’ll make no comment on the world outside, there is silliness all over the place as usual, including elections in the U.S.A. Perhaps I am in the best place right now. For some reason I was not at my best earlier this week, but the painters are decorating some of the rooms here and my sinuses have been playing up. I had an awful headache the other day, but that’s all cleared now I am glad to say. So I’ll keep this weeks writing a bit shorter than usual and look for a bit of inspiration for next week!

I finish this time with a quote:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain!” ~ Vivian Greene

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The Long And The Short Of It

30 October 2020

This is a phrase which fascinated me when I was quite young and first heard it. To my logical mind it made no sense. Something was either long, or short. As the years passed, I got to meet a few different people, some of whom were excessive in their verbosity whilst others were just naturally succinct in their responses. In fact I was accused of using long, maybe ‘complicated’ words and phrases! But I found that it really depended very much on who and what was being talked about. I once heard a great story, which is this.

Two priests are near a church and are standing by the side of the road, holding up a sign which reads: ‘The End is Near! Turn yourself around now, before it’s too late!’ A car speeds by and the driver yells out “Leave me alone, you religious nuts!” Suddenly, from around the next bend they hear screeching tyres and a big splash. “Do you think,” says one priest to the other, “we should just put up a sign that says ‘Bridge Out’ instead?”

But equally, there are times when a full and detailed explanation is not just needed, it is vital. This is why all good training is important. So many times, especially nowadays, I hear of folk who have come from school, college or university into a job and they think they know it all. Sadly that is rarely the case. They do have much to learn and this can only come from experience and really good training. When I passed my driving test (at the second attempt!) I was politely told “you have been taught to pass a driving test – now you must learn to drive”. After that I was then taught by a very skilled driver who had been in the army. He drove cars, buses, lorries, tanks – you name it, he drove it. He rode motor-bikes too. I learned road-craft, to anticipate, to be aware of what was going on around me. That person was my eldest brother. A few years later, circumstances meant I had to use a small motor-bike instead of a car. A good friend, with his huge Kawasaki 650cc bike, then taught me extra skills, like extra awareness of other road users, etc. My dear mother was just horrified at me riding my small 80cc bike, but our local vicar assured her I would be fine. I was, because I had been given proper training.

Where I am now, the Carers are dealing with people, some with conditions that are difficult to manage. These inmates are being cared for very well, but this requires specialist skills along with detailed training. I couldn’t do it, but the folk here do a really excellent job. But each to their own, as the saying goes. For example, I am not skilled with cooking food, but others are. A friend of mine made some lovely dish for a neighbour of theirs and is going to give them a training session on just how to create this particular meal. To do so though will require strict attention to detail regarding all of the ingredients, preparing and cooking etc. Just giving a brief outline on what is required simply will not do. It amazes me how some people can seemingly throw ingredients together and a while later there is this beautiful meal – it is magic!  

I have been told that whilst many can do, not everyone can teach. It requires patience and understanding, also the willingness to learn. That applies both to the learner and the teacher. When I was being taught to teach, I was shown a proper process, which is to firstly deliver the training, secondly sit down and review it by deciding what went well, what could have been done better and what needs changing. Thirdly make the changes. Then return to stage one, continuing to deliver, review and refine. This must be done every single time, over and over again. The worst teachers are the ones with a laminated lesson plan!

I have said quite a few times now about computers and how useful they can be. What helps us use them is basic training like turning them off properly, and most definitely not treating them like a light! I am also a great believer in keyboard short-cuts, they can make a difference in getting work done. Right now I am using a program (or app, if you prefer) to write and store notes. There are some occasions when I want to either make the text larger, make it bold, all of these things. These can be done with the aid of a computer mouse, but there are a range of keyboard shortcuts that can and do enable you to do these things without taking hands away from the keyboard.

But to begin with, I used this app just as it was, without bothering to learn about any keyboard short-cuts. I went the long way round to do what I wanted. So only now am I learning these quicker ways to achieve what I am after. I realise that a few folk can get annoyed, especially if they realise what time they might have saved themselves, but these days I try not to get annoyed when that happens. We all have to learn and often the best way is through making mistakes. They are not mistakes, you see. It does not matter if you get there by going the long way round to begin with and then take the quicker route later. A friend of mine, ex-RAF ground crew, believes the same. We go ‘by the book’ to start with and only when we understand what we are doing and how it can often impact on other things, do we learn and use a short-cut. But only when it is safe to do so. I am reminded that in the Microsoft Windows, deleting a file etc puts it into the Recycle Bin. The MacBook Pro by Apple has the same, but on their system it is called Trash. Without that in place, just deleting the file instantly can lead to a few tears! It’s a safety net, just in case we delete a file by mistake. But with the Recycle Bin or Trash there, a deleted item can be easily restored.

The dictionary definition of ‘the long and the short of it’ is “Used when making a statement that is brief and that tells someone only the most important parts of something.” We see this in action every day, when we read news articles. They will usually have a headline, giving us an idea as to what the article is about. So,I guess I could put down more on this subject, but the long and short of it is that I think I’ve written enough about that phrase!

I have already included a fun item earlier, so I’ll leave you with what I think is a lovely quote: “Make your life journey exciting, educational, entertaining and enlightening.” ~ Srinivas Arka

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Every Trick In The Book

23 October 2020

Following a certain football match, the manager of the losing team later made the comment that the opposing team “used every trick in the book”. He was clearly unhappy at the result of the game and the tactics that were used. In a similar way, in the realm of Formula One motor racing one particular team can sometimes dominate the sport for a while. This can lead some of the other teams to question how one team could be as successful as they have been. Of course it is recognised that some of the drivers are more skilful and perhaps more talented, also being able to drive a good car does help, but a few have at times questioned whether or not teams have been able to exploit aspects of the rules to their advantage.

American Football is a little like our own rugby. But it does differ, as it consists of a series of ‘plays’, where the ‘offence’ players of one team attempt to move the ball a minimum of ten yards down the field in four attempts, or ‘downs’. If they succeed, they retain control of the ball and can attempt to to move the ball at least another ten yards, the ultimate aim being to get the ball over the goal line for a ‘touchdown’. However, the ‘defence’ players of the opposing team try to stop them. If the defence players recognise or ‘read’ the offensive play and can prevent the ball being moved forward ten yards after four downs, then control of the ball switches to the other team. That team’s offence then take over and attempt to do the same. In our soccer, goals are scored by kicking the ball so that it crosses the goal line in between the goalposts of the opposing team. But in American Football the ball can be physically carried over the goal line and into the ‘end zone’, or a player from the offensive team can go into the end zone and another offensive player, who is usually the ‘quarterback’, will throw the ball to them and the ball must then be caught whilst that player is still in the end zone. Either way, it is then regarded as a  ‘touchdown’, scoring six points.

There is a great deal more to that game than described above, but certainly so much of the game is being able to first recognise the plays and if possible gain control of the ball and attempt to score a touchdown. Which means that any allowable trick or diversion to confuse the other team can & will be exploited, wherever possible! In all of these and in many other games too, anyone who does break the rules will be given some form of penalty and in many cases it is not just the player but the team as well that suffers by paying a fine or losing points. However, so long as the move, manoeuvre or tactic is allowable within the rules, there is no problem.

Computers have become a great deal more interactive and easier to use by people of all ages. They are designed to provide entertainment, to make our lives easier as well as providing the capability to share information between other people around the world.  

Sadly, some people do not feel that they have either the time, inclination or perhaps the capability to learn what to them seems a complicated process in using a computer, yet many of these same people have learned to drive a car and obey the rules of the road. Yes, unlike many other items, computers have a variety of uses. A kettle just boils water and enables you to make tea, coffee and other drinks. A washing machine cleans a variety of clothes, likewise a digital camera enables you to take pictures of different subjects and, with the aid of a simple connecting lead allows you to transfer those very same photographs from the camera directly to a computer. These photographs may then be sorted and if necessary edited before using the Internet to share with family and friends around the world, or stored safely on backup drives.

But a computer can do so much more, like storing information, researching family history, playing games, writing letters, keeping a diary, creating and listening to music & video and talking directly to family and friends around the world.

To achieve these skills does require a little training, but they are easy to learn. These include useful tips and tricks, referred to by some as short-cuts, but they do speed up the time involved when using a computer. The more of these tricks you learn, the more adept you become and the more you find you can do. The old saying that “the more we learn, the more we find there is to learn” is one I have found to be so very true!

There are many publications nowadays to help us, as well as people who offer training, for example on getting the best from computers as well as taking photographs. It is what I used to do before I retired. At one time I would take photographs and then I’d send the film away to be developed. A week later the pictures would be returned to me, so I never knew if they were any good until they came back. But now, a digital camera shows instantly what picture has been taken by showing it via a display screen on the rear of the camera!

There is no doubt that using a modern computer is a great deal easier than it used to be, whether you are using a Windows-based one or an Apple computer, but learning even just the basics makes good sense. You may not learn every trick in the book, but the more you learn then the more skilled you will become!!! That applies to any job, hobby, skill or pastime you enjoy.

For now, I leave you with this.
During an inspection of a soldier’s locker, a dead fly was found inside. The soldier was given two punishments; one for keeping a pet, and the other for not feeding it…

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16 October 2020

In an earlier post here I referred to time as passing and things changing. But what is time? We use it as a measurement to help us control our lives, but it is something we have created. Plants & animals don’t use clocks or watches. Nature has its own time for things to occur, like in our own bodies a series of events occur, usually at the right and proper time as we grow up. Certain things occur as and when they must, like if a fire occurs in a forest, only then do some of the seed pods break open in the heat of the fire and these seeds grow, so creating new trees. It is very clever, but it will only happen at the right time. 

We generally measure time throughout our daily lives in terms of hours, minutes and seconds, then days, weeks and years. But at one time (that word again!) in the UK, clocks were set to various different times around the country and it was not until the mid-1850s that almost all public clocks in Britain were set to Greenwich Mean Time. It finally became Britain’s legal standard time in 1880, which made train travel very much easier, with proper time tables! I am saying nothing about the trains keeping to such schedules though…

For us, time passes at the same speed but so often it can seem that time either goes slowly or quickly. It seems to depend what we are doing. How often have we felt that time was dragging! When I was quite a bit younger, I made the mistake of saying to my parents that I was bored. They soon found me a job to do, cleaning the outside down-pipe to our house. I learned to keep myself busy, either making stick-together models or by reading. I found that my time passed more quickly that way and it made a big difference improving my hand & eye coordination as well as my vocabulary.

We are introduced to the concept of time at a very early age, with stories beginning ‘once upon a time’. I also really like the way the late Dave Allen, an observational comedian, did a sketch in which he introduces ‘time’ to a child. This is the sketch, on YouTube:

Back in March, when I was rushed into the hospital, after a day or so I woke up with no idea as to where I was or what had happened to me. With no windows in the room I was in, I had no concept of time. I could not tell when it was night or day, I thought some meals were breakfast when they were dinner, it was so very confusing. But gradually things began to make sense again. Right now I am in an excellent Care Home, recuperating, but I still keep myself busy. One way is by writing a daily diary, which is useful, as is writing this weekly blog – it certainly helps pass the time!

I have mentioned the Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, in which the Earth is apparently blown up to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Mention is made of Alpha Centauri, our nearest star, being a mere five light-years away. But given that light travels at about 186,281 miles per second, that there are around 31,536,000 seconds in a year, also that a light year is a unit of astronomical distance equivalent to the distance which light travels in one year, that star is a very long way away! So at the best speeds that we can muster, it would take a very long time to get there. Will we ever achieve anything close to the speed of light? Or even manage to ‘warp’ ourselves across distances at fantastically fast speeds, as in Star Trek? Perhaps.

As the Earth spins around, throughout our year there are the seasons. It still makes me smile thinking of folks over in Australia and New Zealand who will be celebrating Christmas in the hot weather, whilst over in the UK we might have snow! Then it all changes again as time passes and Nature works its wonders. The regular cycle of life continues around the world, all at about the same speed. It does vary a little, but not by much. I am led to believe that in reality, time is not the same for everyone but I won’t go into such things as space-time and all that sort of thing here, like how the passage of time is different for those out in space to those on Earth. That I will leave to the scientists.

I have previously mentioned my love of music and that too is governed by time, as the speed at which music is played is its tempo, the Italian word for time. We also use the word in our daily lives, like ‘this needs to be done in good time’, also when interacting with people, as in ‘I have no time for you’ or ‘can’t you make the time?’. In truth, we cannot make time. If we sit and listen to music, it can be said by some that we are sitting back and relaxing, but by others as simply wasting time. But that time still carries on, ticking away. Some feel that they must fill their waking hours with activity, but I have found it vital just to calm the mind, body and spirit, allowing a portion of our waking hours spent letting ourselves be at peace. I can assure you, it is not wasting time in doing this, it really is something I recommend, especially at the moment.

Right now we are all coping with a range of restrictions and changes, for quite how long I have no idea. So let us try and make the best of how things are, I have no doubt that there will be a few ups and as well as a few downs to deal with – all in the time to come!

This week:
There are 10 types of people – those who understand binary and those who don’t.

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Language And Communication

09 October 2020

If you have seen the film “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, you will know that at the start of the film, apes communicate with each other by making noises, along with body movements. Now we use more defined spoken languages, but whenever we can see the person in direct communication with us, we still rely on body language to fully understand what message they are sending us. There are folks I have known who wave their hands around whilst they talk, in fact it has been said that the only way to shut them up is by tying both their hands behind their backs! 

That is why some people don’t like using a telephone, as they cannot see the person they are communicating with. So it means they must rely on the tone of voice and perhaps such things as hesitation, maybe stuttering, all of which could be natural to the person talking but only realised by the listener if the person was in fact visible. It may also help to recognise an untruth if the person can actually be seen! But now we have video calls, which makes it easier to get a message across and with modern technology we can have a large number of people from all around the world seeing and listening to us, all at the same time. 

When I was a fair bit younger than I am now, there was a children’s tv series called The Clangers, which featured a family of mouse-like creatures who lived on, and inside, a small moon-like planet. They spoke only in a whistled language and only ate green soup (supplied by the Soup Dragon) and blue string pudding. It used a narrator to ‘fill in the gaps’, but all of the sounds these creatures made did make a lot of sense! If you have no idea what I’m on about, then might I suggest that you do have a look on YouTube or Wikipedia…

I believe there are around 195 countries in this world, but within those countries there are over 7,000 different languages. Except the vast majority of the world’s population use just 23 languages between them. It is fascinating that so many of them have a very similar structure or base and many words are quite similar. For example, in the French language ‘window’ is fenêtre, and in Welsh it is ffenestr. In Italian it is finestra whilst in German it is fenster. All are similar words. But equally, some languages are so very different. When I was young and learning English, “The cat sat on the mat” was taught as it rhymes and is easy to learn. But Spanish is very different, as that same phrase is “El gato se sentó en la alfombra” and just does not rhyme in the least!

When learning a new language, at first it can be difficult but then, once the basic structure becomes clearer and also more words are learned, generally things do get a bit easier. Though a friend is learning Hebrew and says it is unlike any other language in terms of structure. I shudder to think what Russian or perhaps Chinese is like, though the latter seems to be very much a ‘pictorial’ language. I’ll not try my hand at that, as my artwork in school was atrocious! Being left-handed also meant I ended up with blue ink along the side of my hand – so I turned the piece of paper I was writing on to an angle and wrote that way! It meant I wasn’t smudging the paper and I could see what I was writing. Result!

But an essential reason for language is of course communication. However, that can on odd occasions cause unfortunate events, like when an elder brother of mine was, with his wife, trying to teach their young twin daughters a few new words. Having bought them a light, folding chair to carry them around in, they taught them to say “buggy” – except the children didn’t quite get the pronunciation right, putting an ‘a’ at the end of the word instead of the ‘y’. It was an error that was quickly corrected!

I have concentrated mainly on the spoken language here, only mentioning the written part in passing. But there is also another form of beautiful communication that is known throughout the world and which does not necessarily need to be taught or learned for it to be at least appreciated. That language is music. As with any form of language there are many differences, with Western styles being very different to Eastern ones. But whatever our musical tastes are, whether they be classical, jazz, pop or whatever, music can quickly alter our mood. When I was driving my car, I’d a few different CD’s I could listen to but only certain ones were conducive to good and steady driving. Some music could make for aggressive driving! The same is for the spoken word, in that a tone of voice can convey how we feel. I remember going on holiday to Portugal and being pestered by street urchins who were begging for a bit of money. At first they didn’t know what language I spoke, so they tried greeting me in different languages. So, knowing a very few words of Welsh, I spoke to them (but in an extremely aggressive tone) in that language. The tone I used was as we would say “Go away, don’t bother me!”, but what I’d actually said was “Excuse me, may I sit down here please?”. The words meant nothing to them, but my aggressive tone conveyed a message and they went away.

I mentioned about me singing in different choirs and for a while I was a member of Leicester Bach Choir. It was fun, but hard work and sight-reading music was a must. But staying as I am in this Care Home at the moment reminds me of an event many years ago, it was at or around Christmas time and we sang at a place near Leicester. Before the concert started we were told about a man from a nearby Care Home who would be there and most likely sit at the front, near the stage. He would quietly listen, but if he didn’t like the music, he would politely get up and walk out. Then, when a different piece was sung, if he liked it he’d come back in and sit down to listen. It wasn’t considered the ‘right thing to do’, but I’ve often wondered – was he wrong in what he did? He didn’t like the music, so he left! He definitely communicated his feelings with his body language then, of that we can be sure. 

The art of good communication though is, in my view, remembering that we have two ears and two eyes, but only one mouth. It seems to me therefore that we should use them appropriately, looking and listening twice as hard as we talk. Sadly there are some who never seem to look or listen. They are also often quite selfish, always wanting things done their way and never considering others but sadly ‘using’ folk for their own ends. Interestingly, it seems that such people try to blame others when they don’t get their own way. It takes all sorts to make a world, but sometimes (as I have mentioned in a previous blog) they do not see any need to change their ways. 

All one can do is try and guide them, but if they will not see sense then one can either accept them for who and what they are, or walk away. I have known folk who seem to think everything said to them must have a deeper meaning. It may be that’s how their minds work, but often the question being put to them is simply that – just a simple question, requiring a just simple answer. 

Language and communication is a very complicated business. Will we ever get to the point of ‘instant’ translation, as found in the Star Trek series, or find something like the Babel fish, a fictional species of fish invented by Douglas Adams in his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, where putting this fish in your ear means that you can instantly understand whatever is said to you in any language…

It might happen, one day – and if my dear old grandfather were still alive, he would not believe the capability we now have of instant communication around the world compared to a hundred years ago! I guess he might also question how good this now is for us…

I shall finish with a thought:

If someone could have foreseen what was going to happen around the world this year, could it be said that they’d had a 2020 vision?

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