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Archive for the ‘French Things’ Category

Mr Piglet and I found THE perfect offices / storefront for Mr Piglet’s estate agency today. I pass frequently in front of the building in question and remarked recently that the florist that used to have the shop was gone and that the shop was now sitting empty.

It is in the local village, on a main road, so has excellent visibility and free parking nearby (yes, free parking still exists in many parts of France).

It was just all too perfect and I was already imagining myself working from there and walking across to the school to pick up my daughter (once she starts!) and then taking her home for lunch. I was already imagining being part of the village centre, the community and which artists paintings we could expose on the walls (aside from properties of course!).

It would have been perfect

It would have been perfect

The plans were drawn up and I had costed the fit and display as well as the construction of my office.

I had already planned the grand opening with the catering and which guests we would invite and had drafted the press release in my mind.

But I was obviously getting far too ahead of myself as when Mr Piglet went back today to measure up and agree a price, he discovered that there was no mobile phone signal! Can you imagine, no mobile phone signal?

Both of our businesses mean that our mobile phones are crucial to our work, we have to be available to customers all the time and can’t afford to not be available because of a lack of network.

What a shame! I feel like crying and feel like dragging all the patrons of the local bar to see what network they have and to see if it works. We only have the choice of two networks as only two get a signal at home. Never would I have imagined when I was a little girl and didn’t even know what mobile phones were, that a mobile phone signal would play so much of an important part in my life…

How about you? Does modern technology ever get in the way of your life and dreams? How do you feel about this?

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Last Saturday we were invited to a neighourbood get together La Fête des Voisins
which literally means neighbourhood party. This is a traditional get together which takes place all across France albeit later in May generally.

When living in Lyon, this was the type of get together that I’d watch on the television but never see or even hear about in real life, so when we got a note through the letter box some weeks ago I was delighted.

Since moving to the French countryside I’ve not really met that many people and have remained in close contact with my Lyon based friends. It can be quite a lonely existence but the friends I have made more than make up for quantity in quality.

It’s said here that people are wary of foreigners and when I say foreigners, I don’t mean people from other countries but people from other parts of France! So I guess I am a super dooper foreigner for people in these parts!

Anyway, back to La Fête des Voisins. We’d been invited to Chez Gael which was one of our neighbours although I didn’t have a clue which one or where they lived. Our neighbourhood is quite extensive and to walk round it takes me 35 minutes and there aren’t that many houses.

I managed to locate the house quite easily last Saturday by walking down the lane whilst pushing Little Piglet (yes, I’ve decided on a name). I couldn’t but notice the huge marquees outside a house at the top of the hill, so I was guessing that either the party was there or I’d be gate crashing someone’s wedding reception… Thankfully upon arrival my destination was confirmed as being the correct place! Ouf!

I’d been told to bring along something for the aperitif or for dessert and in Mr Piglet’s absence (he was working) I took a long a bottle of white and some crisps. Good job I had Little Piglet in her pushchair as I was confronted with lots of home made specialties from the other guests making my offering look very basic. Little Piglet’s presence more than made up my lack of food however as everyone cooed over her, saying how gracious she is.

Eventually Mr Piglet turned up and it was great meeting all the people who live nearby. It was frequently commented how people were glad that the previous owners had gone and how they were very cold and snubbed people. We chatted and met so many people, I can only remember their faces not their names or where they live so it’s going to be fun over the next few months working out where everyone lives and checking out their names on their letter boxes.

I even met a lady who grew up in our house, it belonged to her great grandmother and her bedroom was Little Piglet’s room! She is very fond of the house and hopefully she’ll accept my invitation to drop in for coffee one day and tell me more about the house and how it was before it was renovated.

After a while the heavens opened and as Mr Piglet had returned to work and I hadn’t the foresight to bring an umbrella or rain cover I was kind of stuck, baby in tow and wondering when the rain would stop so I could run home. General debate amongst the neighbours decided that it wasn’t wise for me to run home in the wet so a car was arranged and a kind soul (the retired village Doctor!) drove us home.

We were made to feel truly welcome and it felt great to finally meet up with our neighbours and it feels even better to be able to greet them when I’m out on a stroll or working in the garden.

Vive La Fête des voisins !

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One of the most annoying things I find about driving in France is the fact that you don’t actually need to have a driving license to be on the road. “What?!” I hear you say. Well, if you want to drive a normal car and actually get anywhere in a normal time then yes, you need a license, but if somehow you’ve not managed to pass your test or have had your license taken away from you then you can drive one of these:

If you see a car like this be sure to give it a wide berth

Or if that one is a bit to basic how about one of these?

If the first one is too basic how about a nice little convertible?

That’s right, you can still have a car, albeit one that allows you to drive without a license. If you’ve had your license taken away from you say for drink driving, well you can still legally be on the road, drunk and ready to hit a pedestrian, a tree or another car!

This bewilders me. Surely there is a valid reason as to why these people do not have a license?

When I was living in Lyon I had a couple of close calls with these fake cars as I call them. One tried to plough me down on a pedestrian crossing and another carved me up.

Now that I’m living in the countryside it is frequent that I get stuck behind one or have to swerve to miss one. They dawdle at no more than 60 kmh (I think) which is still plenty fast enough to cause damage. Their owners rarely seem to care about other drivers. Indicators? What are they for? Right hand side of the road? No, they can frequently be seen around here wobbling all over the road.

Of course, they are a good method of transport offering independence to those that don’t (or no longer have) a license but to the rest of us they are menace. If they hit a child the consequences could still be fatal.

What to you think? Danger or transport solution?

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Mention France to anyone and more than likely they will think of French cuisine. The French are renowned for their excellent food and for the important role that food and meal times play in their culture and that is something that I have really come to appreciate.

After years of learning and appreciating the importance of meal times in families, I’ve now discovered meal times also important in a busy hospital environment. Twice this year I have been in hospital at lunch time and have been provided with food and watched as nurses, Doctors and technicians stop and have their lunch too.

The first time I was in ER and they were keeping me in to see a specialist. As I was there at lunch time they served me a tray of food. Nothing exciting. Just some mashed potato and something that bore a resemblance to chicken, along with a salad and yoghurt for dessert. But still, I was in an ER department, not exactly where you’d expect to get a free lunch!

The second time was yesterday. I had to spend the day at hospital in Lyon for testing and to see various Doctors. As I had to be nil by mouth upon arrival (and boy did I complain about that!) I was promptly asked what I wanted for breakfast and fed within minutes of my blood exams. How relieved was I? They certainly knew how to get me in a good mood and even when they told me they’d forgotten to book my MRI scan I was not that bothered.

After a morning of hanging around, having x-rays and enough blood taken to feed a vampire I had chosen to sit in the corridor avoiding all the sick people in the waiting room as I didn’t want to deal with any more germs than Baby Piglet brings home.
I was so engrossed in a novel that I didn’t notice it was lunchtime that I was taken my surprise when a nurse came and said that my lunch was being served. She seemed surprised that I wasn’t already in the lunch room with the other patients.

Off I trotted and was greeted by ten or so patients cheerfully tucking into lunch. I was asked to take a seat and then was served up a four course meal: red cabbage salad with a bread roll to start, chicken and almond tagine with vegetables and semoule for my main, chocolate éclair for dessert and yoghurt for my second dessert. Wow! Only thing missing was a bottle of wine!

To be honest the food was quite bland but there was salt and pepper available and it was more than edible. It was much better than a sandwich or McDonalds which I thought that I’d have to go out and get for my lunch (there is a McDonalds opposite the hospital). The chocolate éclair was heavenly and as I was later told by a Doctor to lose weight I am so glad they provided it and I ate it.

You’ve got to hand it to the French though, the food I ate yesterday was far better than some of the meals I paid to have out in the UK!

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In France there is a lovely term for finding temporary measures or for saving money on stuff known as “système débrouille”. I couldn’t find an exact definition of the expression but we recently experienced it in our own unique way.

Our Systeme D

As you know, we have been suffering from heating problems due to the extreme cold weather. Last Saturday our oil boiler decided it was going to work when it wanted to and I blogged about how we were literally freezing. Temperatures were as low as -20 degrees Celsius at night and on Monday our heating system packed up altogether. That meant no heating and no hot water!

Fortunately for us, a good friend had managed to get their neighbour to sell us some wood so we weren’t completely cold. Mr Piglet and I moved into the living room and the three of us huddled together in front of the fire.

Thankfully Baby Piglet goes to the Nannies during the day so I was comfortable that she was keeping warm. When at home she has an electric radiator in her room to keep her nice and warm.

On Tuesday disaster struck, Baby Piglet caught the dreaded gastro (tummy bug) and began projectile vomiting everywhere. At only 9 months old my poor, poor baby was very sick and I had no way of getting rid of the terrible odour that had invaded the house. I bathed her as best as I could using a flannel and a bowl of cooled down boiled water but by Wednesday afternoon desperation had sunk in.

I called my Mother in Law hoping that we could escape down to her house for a few days, as she answered the phone my hopes plummeted, she was sick with laryngitis! Not something I wanted her to give to Baby Piglet.
So I started calling on local plumbers and heating specialists.

Deep down I hoped that there was another issue with the boiler and that we would be able to get some heat. After numerous calls and being told that nothing was possible for days, I finally found a firm that prioritised families with young children. We were in luck!

The guy came out and spent a few hours looking at our boiler and concluded that it was definitely down to the frozen oil. I sighed, oh well, at least I had tried.

Later that evening after Baby Piglet had gone to bed and I was drinking wine in a bid to keep warm, my phone started ringing. It was the owner of the plumbing firm – he had a temporary solution to offer us! Systeme D!

At 9pm he rolled up and came in carrying two jerry cans full of car diesel. We watched, intrigued as he dismantled part of the boiler and sunk two tubes into the jerry can. He explained that this would keep us warm and allow us to have hot water and when we ran out, we’d just need to pop down to the petrol station. Even I could mannage that!

I’d heard of local farmer folk using red diesel to run their cars but not of anyone using car diesel to run their boiler! This was upside down, topsy turvy living. Systeme Debrouille in all it’s glory.

So the innovative plumber had found a temporary (if not expensive) solution to our coldness and I felt much better knowing that my darling daughter would be nice and warm.

Each jerry can costs 30 Euros to refill and the first one run out this morning but I think that was more to do with the fact that it had to re-heat everything back up.

Jerry Can!

I am so grateful to the plumber for not giving up on us and am so relieved that he found a solution for his, his innovation has made us warm and also proved that solidarity and good service from companies does exist.

I did have a chuckle as well as Mr Piglet was getting on well with him and they were chatting just like old friends and the apero (at 11pm mind you!) was being served. Mr Piglet asked what the Plumbers wife was doing and I just loved the Plumbers response: “she’s probably in bed” he sighed! Mr Piglet was asking in fact what she was doing in her life which is the literal translation from French, the information he was seeking is what profession she had!

Do you have any Systeme D experiences?

ps. I’m pleased to report that as of todat Baby Piglet seems to have recovered although she will only eat Strawberry yoghurts right now!

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I’ve had many frustrating run-ins with the La Poste (post office) as I am sure most people living in France and many other countries have experienced also, but the lack of consistency in service and unhelpfulness in France is second to none.

Until yesterday.

I had ordered some items online from Amazon and like a fool, I had forgotten to switch my address details in Amazon to my new address so they were sent out to my old address.

The new owner averted us that the postman had left a calling card and that the local post office (remember the incident I had here when I was pregnant?) was holding the items. We were in Lyon yesterday and as we had arrived a bit early for my appointment, Mr Piglet suggested I try and negotiate with La Poste and see if I can get them to give me my parcel.

We had a bit of a domestic in the car as I was absolutely convinced that I was wasting my time but I set off sulkily to the La Poste whilst he waited in the car. I took my ticket and waited my turn, all whilst tutting to myself about what a big fat waste of time this was.

Well, I wouldn’t be writing this post if it turned out to be a waste of time, so I may as well get to the point: THEY GAVE ME THE PARCEL! Yes, I had no calling card, no proof of address – just my passport and the parcel number which Amazon had sent me by email.

I don’t know if it is because it is holiday time and the staff were stand-ins, but the lady on the desk immediately understood my problem as soon as I started explaining and offered a solution stating that she just needed the parcel number.

If only more of my experiences could be like that but it’s great to have something positive to say about them for once even if I did have to listen to Mr Piglet say “I Told You So” when I returned to the car with the parcel!

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So this is a rant. It’s been a while and I’ve been keeping my rantiness to myself, but my patience has come to the end of it’s tether with some French internet companies.

As a new Mum, buying online should be an easy way of getting the things I need, delivered to my new rural address quickly and easily and without needing to trek to nearby large cities like Lyon or Grenoble with Baby Piglet.

Or so I thought.

Since Baby Piglet has arrived I have had no end of bad experiences with various companies and my patience is really wearing thin.

My biggest complaint is with companies such as Oclio and Kiria saying they have items in stock, accepting my money and then once I’ve ordered sending me emails saying that the item won’t be delivered for a few weeks because out of stock. Fast forward a few weeks and still no news.

In fairness, Oclio did eventually deliver albeit 4 weeks after the original advertised delivery date, but as for Kiria they have neither delivered nor refunded me my money (which they told me at the beginning of July they would do within 7 days).

I’m becoming increasingly irate with Kiria as their customer service department is hell to reach (they have several numbers) and emails remain unanswered. Currently they owe me 113 Euros and I’m really beginning to wonder whether I will get to see them again sometime soon. Am I funding a flailing internet business which fails to understand why customer service is important in the online world?

It is apparent to me that they have blatantly failed to understand their target market – new Mum’s wanting to order items hassle free, quickly, online! Babies grow quickly so are likely to soon out grow any item we get for them if we have to wait months on end for it to arrive!

Vertbaudet is another French internet company I have ordered from and I have to say their level of service has been exemplary thus far. Kiria and Oclio should take note. Whilst some items have been out of stock, I have been kept up to date every step of the order and the out of stock items were delivered on the date they told me that they would be. Perfect, what more could I ask for (aside from their online stock being up to date which it seems in France is never the case)?

What got me ranting this morning was waking up to remember that I still need to chase Kiria for my money back and also remembering that I still hadn’t taken delivery of the two bean bags I had ordered from Usineadesign.com at the end of June. Delivery was promised within 15 days and I’ve not had any news yet. Yet another company to chase!

With new Mummy brain, keeping track of these companies incompetence is rattling my cage and annoying me. Making me waste time and seriously getting up my nose.

What good or bad internet shopping experiences have you had lately? Any good website recommendations in France are welcomed :)

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The great thing about where we live now is the easy accessibility to many places of interest including Annecy.

I had never been to Annecy before and had heard great things. I know there is quite an expat community there and normally expats are drawn to touristy type places. Even my Mum (Grandma Piglet) knew about Annecy and had been hankering to visit it for the last couple of years, but when we were living in Lyon the long drive and battle with traffic to leave the city was off-putting for everyone.

My image of Annecy was mainly of the lake. I am drawn to lakes (water in general) so this had been my focus point, my reason to want to visit. The lake (Lac d’Annecy) is nearly 15 km’s long and 3.5 km’s wide. It is surrounded by mountains and is the second largest glacier lake in France, after nearby Lac de Bourget (near Aix les Bains).

The decision to go to Annecy was last minute. BabyPiglet had slept pretty much through the night and I had awoken that morning with plenty of energy, a rare occurrence. So I suggested to my parents and Mr Piglet that we make hay whilst the sun shines (this expression has a lot of truth in the countryside I have discovered) and head to Annecy.

Because of the last minute decision we didn’t get chance to research and we all piled into our little C4, BabyPiglet included. Thankfully we were only in the car for 45 mins before we arrived as we were squashed in like sardines!

Upon arrival in Annecy, our first thoughts were deception. Grandma Piglet began to wonder if she had imagined all the nice things she had read. The buildings were new, the architecture mediocre. As we sat in a traffic jam waiting to enter a car park we were all quite glum, no-one fancied walking around a commercial centre.

We parked easily and left the car park the opposite way to which we entered it and we were greated with Annecy’s fabulousness. It was like how I imagine Venice!

Arrival in Annecy - one of the first views we had

Medieval buildings rising out of the water, a canal like passage running through the street. All that were missing were the gondolas. The streets were buzzing with tourists and brocanteurs – an antiques fair was in full swing with ice cream eating tourists swarming around the stalls like bees around the honey pot.

Annecy - view from the lake edge

Annecy - walking along the water's edge

The outing was our first trip out with BabyPiglet so we were anxious to be comfortable and ensure she didn’t get hot, tired or hungry. Not easy for new parents with a small baby! Pretty much as soon as we arrived we stopped off at a small restaurant adjacent to the water and overlooking some really picturesque buildings. On the other side of the water canal was a hairdressers shop – we wondered how anyone could access it to have their cut.

After lunch we carried on walking around for a while, but I soon became achey and wanted to rest again. By this point we had arrived at the Lake and had spotted THE tourist trap – tour boats! Mr Piglet had passed his river and coastal boat license last year so that we never had to go on these boats again, but seeing the water, the boats and knowing that we could go on one there and then I was like a kid. A few quick checks with the company re-assured me that there was a shaded area and that we could get the pram onboard so off we set! Baby Piglet’s first boat trip!

The Tour Boat

The trip itself was a bit of a downer, the boat was packed and Baby Piglet became a tourist attraction herself. If I’d asked for a Euro for every time someone peeked over at her I would have probably have had enough to rent a private boat for a few hours. I was delighted though as she was totally unfazed about being on water as opposed to dry land and was quiet and relaxed throughout the tour.

Baby Piglet on the boat

Next time we'll rent one of these

If I win the Euromillions you may find me living around here

Afterwards, we decided it was time to head back to the car before she got tired and grumpy – the dreaded feeding marathon was approaching. Every evening from about 6pm she feeds non-stop stocking up for the night. It’s hard work but the reward is well worth it – uninterrupted night sleep for her and me!

On the walk back we couldn’t resist stopping off at one of the hundreds of ice cream parlors and each having an ice cream. There are ice cream parlors everywhere in Annecy, it was amazing. I had never seen anywhere in France with so many ice creams! Definitely not a place to go when you’re on a diet!

Once back at the car we were all tired and pleased to be on the road back to the house. Mr Piglet informed us that we’d only visited part of Annecy and that we still had the shopping area left to visit. It wasn’t possible to visit that area on the same day as we’d run out of time so we will have to plan another trip back next time my parents are over.

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Little Miss Piglet

The clock is ticking and Little Miss Piglet could be here any day soon! I’m in full blown nesting mode which is really hard when you’re not in your own home. I have re-arranged parts of the in-laws house, scrubbed the floors and the bathrooms, dragged Mr Piglet to IKEA at 8am on Saturday morning to buy furniture and ironed countless baby clothes, burp clothes and bits and pieces without setting fire to anything.

There’s no way now that we have any chance in being our own home (even if rented) by the time Little Miss Piglet arrives, so we have resolved ourselves to making the best of a bad situation. I’ve also had to wave goodbye to giving birth in the birthing centre I had chosen in Lyon and on Sunday we went to check out the hospital in Valence. Thank goodness we did as I wouldn’t have fancied trying to find the birthing suites when in active labour, especially as it is 45 minutes drive from where we’re staying in rural Provence!

I’ve taken great pleasure today in arranging all Little Miss Piglet’s 0-3 month clothes in her new wardrobe which we bought from IKEA on Saturday. I just hope she loves clothes as much as her Mummy!

Contractions have been coming regularly now and are getting more and more painful. A crazy midwife whom I visited last week for a check up called me an adventurer (if only she knew the half of it!) and said that it could be any time now, everything is ready. She also said that Little Miss Piglet is BIG – boy, I’m worried now…

Last night was a full moon and they’re supposed to cause an increased possibility of labour in the following days and according to my biorhythm chart I should give birth on Wednesday or Thursday this week:

Biorhythm on my ownBiorhythm with Mr Piglet

I doubt I’ll be able to blog when it happens as internet access from my phone is not great, but if you’re on Twitter and want to follow progress I’ve created a hashtag #babypiglet which you can follow for updates. Simply search #babypiglet on the Twitter search and you’ll get my latest tweets! Maybe it’ll be a live labour, who knows!

 

The House

The house, the house… where to start? Yesterday we were supposed to complete on the purchase and today we were supposed to move in, obviously we haven’t otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this!

We’ve not had any official news from our notary since the devastating call we received and we can only deem him as being absolutely useless! I am at despair as to what to do about him but we’ve decided for our own sanity to seek information directly from concerned parties in the meantime.

I was so fed up of not having any news last week that I rung the estate agent and vendors notary directly, seeking clarification on what was going on as I was in despair at the thought of not knowing anything until May 15th. It transpires that our notary had grossly exaggerated the gravity of the situation and that whilst the SAFER had used their right of pre-emption it was on behalf of a local farmer who claimed to exploit the land. We were told that this isn’t true and that the farmer boy has to prove that he exploits it or has reason to want to exploit it and that he’s not after the house anyway. So it may be that we can find a compromise!

As we’re beginning to understand what the countryfolk are like, I can bet that he is someone the present owners annoyed and he is now seeking vengeance by trying to mess up their sale! It all sounds so very like a story you’d see on a farmer boy TV show that it has to be that – especially when you take into consideration how awful the current owners are and how they have treated us. If I wasn’t so desperate to buy I’d say it serves them right and is the bad karma they deserve!

I’m keeping my swollen toes and fingers crossed that we’ll have some news after the Easter bank holiday, one way or the other, I’m past the point of caring just as long as we can move on with our lives.

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Mr Piglet and I wish to thank you all for your kind words and support following my post yesterday. We are overwhelmed by the number of messages of support and advice that we have received here, on twitter and via email. Really, it is wonderful to know that you are all there and that good people exist in this world. Thank you so much everyone, you’ve helped us get through the weekend and find some positive energy.

This morning we started off with much higher spirits, determined to find a rental property quickly so that as soon as we got confirmation from the SAFER later this week that the sale is blocked, we could move in and get on with our lives hopefully before Little Miss Piglet makes her grand appearance.

Alas, as I’m beginning to expect now, things are not so simple.

I wish I could just go back here for the next few weeks whilst everything sorts itself out.

First of all, we still can’t find out when the meeting with the SAFER people is. Our notary does not know and the vendor’s notary is closed today. We tried to call the SAFER directly but no luck either. So no further advanced there.

We then started calling the rental properties I’d found on the internet. There are only a handful available so it didn’t take long. Because the size of house we are looking to rent is large and the area rural, they are few and far between so we only had five on the list. The first two places we called were no longer available and then the third place was still available but the guy was totally booked up for visits today and tomorrow and was expecting it to be let within the next few days. He proposed a slot this pm at 4 and Mr Piglet and I were all set to jump in the car and go up and visit but then we spoke to the notary again.

I wanted to check the financial and legal aspect as to where to stood with regards to the sale now that the SAFER are involved and the notary was calling us back to explain. In our panic on Friday we had overlooked this and didn’t really know exactly what our position was but before committing to a rental property I wanted to be sure as we can ill afford to lose our deposit money or pay for two removals right now.

I should have guessed that it was time for another BOMBSHELL! The SAFER have until May 15th to decide what to do reference the sale, so whatever the outcome of the meeting this week, it could be a month before they make a final decision and we get official confirmation whether or not we can still buy. Until we know that, we’re not really at liberty to commit to a rental place so we’re stuck in limbo.

We have loosely considered getting a gite with internet access this morning which we could move into immediately, but right now I don’t think I could stomach a move to another “temporary” place with furniture that isn’t mine. What’s more, with the Easter school holidays, a two bedroom gite is well over 1500 Euros per month sometimes far more, if we can find something available…

So, for the time being, at least for the next two weeks we’ve decided to stay put, I’m going to concentrate on keeping calm and we’re going to go to a nearby spa for a few days to relax.

Hopefully things will become clearer in before Little Miss Piglet is born, but right now, we’re stuck “living in limbo”.

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