Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the category “food”

Where has all the jam gone?

Where has all the jam gone?

When we go shopping nowadays there seem to be only four varieties of jam in old-fashioned tins: apricot, melon & ginger (flavoured), strawberry and fig. Oh yes, and mixed fruit, which is presumably “all of the above”.

One of the most recent ones to go missing is Youngberry. One used to be able to pick it up in the local Spar until a year or two ago. But the list has grown steadily shorter over the years.

There seem to be three main brands available now: All Gold, Koo, and Rhodes, but they all seem to be limited to the same few varieties.

So we started making a list of all the kinds of jam we used to like, but which have disappeared from the shops.

  • Cape Gooseberry
  • Satsuma Plum
  • Peach
  • Youngberry
  • Pineapple
  • Tomato
  • Apple Jelly
  • Quince Jelly
  • Grape

Can anyone think of others?

And then there were the bottled jams, usually imported and more expensive, but sometimes nice as a treat. They included lime marmalade (Rose’s), blackberry, blackcurrant and raspberry.

Perhaps the problem is monopoly capital. Koo, if I recall correctly, used to be a farmers’ cooperative, ie a socialist enterprise. But it seems to have been taken over by the Tiger Food Group, which is based in Joburg, a long way from the fruit farmers. But ironically you can’t even get their eponymous product, Tiger Oats, any more.

But it’s jam we’re talking about here, even though I believe some people used to put jam on their oatmeal, back in the days when you could still get them.



Halaal food sparks fury

“Halaal food sparks fury” read the headline in today’s City Press.

I read the first couple of paragraphs, and, bearing in mind today’s date, dismissed it as an April Fool’s joke in rather bad taste. It seemed to diss Christians, trying to make it look as though they were a bunch of idiots.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) Commission has been flooded with letters from Christian consumers complaining that most food and beverages in their supermarkets are certified halaal, with some saying they don’t want to eat or drink anything “sacrificed to idols”.

Complaints received by the CRL against supermarkets and Muslim halaal-certification authorities show some Christians are furious about the prevalence of halaal-certified food in grocery stores and restaurants, claiming it violates their right to freedom of choice.

Is that for real? They’re joking, of course.

You can see an online version of the original article here.

But then it seemed that, if it was an April Fool’s joke, rather a lot of people seemed to have fallen for it and were taking it seriously.

I still haven’t made up my mind whether it is for real or not, but I thought I’d say something about it.

I am a Christian, and for more than 60 years I’ve been eating food that has been marked as OK for the dietary rules of other religions. As a schoolboy I liked Mozmarks Tasty Matzos, which was marked “Kosher for Passover”. I never heard anyone say or imply that it was bad for Christians to eat that.

And I loved Gold Dish Mutton Breyani, which was marked as Halaal.

No one ever said that Christians should not eat that either.

There was also Go0d Dish mutton curry with peas — those soon disappeared from the market, but they were replaced by mutton curry with kidney beans and mutton curry with vegetables. All were marked Halaal and I ate and e4njoyed them all. They are now almost unobtainable, and when you do manage to find them they have a “new and improved” recipe, which, like the WordPress editor, isn’t nearly as good as the old one.

When I lived and worked in the UK 50 years ago I used to eat a lot of breyani (or biriyani), as they spelt it there. It came from Pakistani restaurants and I’m pretty sure Pakistani cuisine is mostly halaal, because most Pakistanis are Muslim. I liked it a lot better than most English cooking, which consisted of things like “rice” (which turned out to be rice pudding, with custard) and macaroni & cheese with chips (British cooking has improved since the 1960s, perhaps as a result of all those TV chefs).

Illustration attached to City Press “Halaal” article.

One clue that suggests that the City Press article is an April Fools joke extracting the Michael is the bit about Halaal food being “sacrificed to idols”. Everybody knows, or ought to, that Muslims don’t do idols. So the City Press article is poking fun at Christians by making them out to be a bunch of ignoramuses. That is why I think that, if it is an April Fool’s joke, it is in pretty poor taste.

I will say, however, that I’m all for food being labelled to show that it meets the dietary requirements of religious and other groups. I’m happy to see food certified as “organic”, recalling that melamine and other inorganic substances were introduced into Chinese pet food a few years ago.

I’m happy to see some food labelled as “Kosher for Passover”, and am only sorry that I cant find food labelled “Nistisimou for Lent”.

I once attended an Aids symposium, where lunch was provided, and as it happened to be a fast day I was picking out tomatoes from the salads and leaving the cheese behind. Some helpful soul pointed out the “Halaal” table, and when I said that wouldn’t make it, they pointed to the kosher table. I said that wouldn’t make it either, but if it had prawns they would do.  They then offered me a cheese sandwich. No. But a nistisimou table would have been nice. The people who organised the symposium thoughtfully made special provision for the dietary needs of Muslims and Jews, but not for Orthodox Christians.






Divisions of England, then and now

In 1966 I went to study in England, and spent two and a half years there. It took me about a year to get over the culture shock, and to appreciate different aspects of English culture — or rather English cultures, for there are several regional cultures.

Forty years later I visited England again, on holiday this time, and revisited some of the places I had known, and explored some new ones. I found that there were many changes, some expected, some unexpected. I’ve described that, and some of the changes I noticed here.

Then someone posted this graphic, which illustrated some of the changes I had noticed, and some that I hadn’t.

The most startling change to me is the one on chips.

Back in 1966 the area marked above as “gravy on chips” was definitely salt and vinegar.  I never, ever saw anyone have gravy on chips.

Whether bought from Sarah’s or Sweaty Betty’s, it was only ever salt and vinegar.

And in the area marked on the map as “salt and vinegar”, chips were unheard of. No matter where I went in London (and I went to most places on my London Transport free pass), there were no chips, only “French Fried Potatoes”. Chips were strictly north of the Trent.

The area marked “curry sauce on chips” was unknown territory for me, so I can’t comment on that.

So what happened? Did “French fried potatoes” go out with the bowler hats?

The bit about Greggs, I don’t understand much, but when we visited Cornwall in 2005, pasties were as scarce as chips in London in 1966. We asked at several places, and they sent us somewhere else, until we eventually foudn them at the 6th place we tried. And everyone in Bodmin spoke with Estuary accents.

The most astounding thing of all, however,  is the beer.

Before starting my studies in Durham I worked as a bus driver in London for 6 months. After a union meeting, which was held in a pub (the Telegraph on Brixton Hill), I was accosted by a conductor, who wanted to know about the big buses in Johannesburg that I had talked of at the meeting. Then I bought him a drink and he told me  he was the king of Streatham, and offered to take me on a tour of London and a trip to Brighton. He had been in many jobs before he became a conductor — street sweeper, rider on the wall of death, barrow boy. He had been in the cooler once for three months for scaling a motorbike. He bought me a drink. Then we went round the corner to another pub, his favourite hang-out, it appeared.

There we pooled our meagre resources and bought another drink. He scorned me for drinking cider, and said I should drink bitter. I said that draft bitter was usually flat. He said that didn’t matter, it was the taste that counts. The English like their beer warm and flat. I can think of nothing more insipid or puke-provoking. Then John starts waving and beckoning to his friend Reg, who is over at the other bar opposite. Reg, he tells me, is a tit-tat man. What the hell is a tit-tat man? Well, he’s the chap at the races who stands at one end and waggles his fingers and the bookies then know what every horse is doing. Reg is one of the best tit-tat men there is. Reg comes round and joins us. I like Reg. John introduces me as Steve, and Reg called me “Stephen”, so I called him “Reginald”, which provoked much giggling. Then he tried to guess my age, and said I was 32. Then changed it to 27 (I was actually 25). He said I’d never guess his age to within five years. So I said he was 57. No, he’s 56. He seemed rather amazed. He talked a little more. Then I said goodbye to John and Reg, and slipped away quietly, leaving them talking in a very lively way to someone else. The closing bell had rung, and I came home.

That was London, the area shown on the map as “craft ale”. Does bitter count as craft ale? There was bottled ale, but that was too fizzy. So English beer was either too flat or too fizzy. Nothing in between. Then I went north to Durham and discovered Newcastle Brown Ale. Now that was beer, the best in the world, I thought. Lion Ale, the beer Natal made famous, came a rather poor second, but still way better than bitter, or lager. And in Durham no one had ever heard of lager, except perhaps a few people who had gone to Germany on holiday.

So when did ale move south and lager move north? Was that yet another thing wrought by Margaret Thatcher?





Old friends and early spring

This has been a week of re-establishing contact with old friends whom we havent seen for many years.

On Monday we went to Johannesburg to see Pat and Barry Schmidt, whom we knew in Melmoth more than 30 years ago. For the last 21 years they have been living in Queensland, Australia, and we have been in contact with them through Facebook, but they were visiting South Africa, and it was much more satisfactory to chat face-to-face. They were staying with Dareth and Anne Baker, whom we had also met when they visited Melmoth.

Pat & Barry Schmidt, Steve & Val Hayes

Pat & Barry Schmidt, Steve & Val Hayes

On the way home we left the highway at New Road in Midrand to avoid the tolled sections, and went to a relatively new shopping centre, called the Carlsbad Lifestyle Shopping Centre — lifestyles to suit every taste and pocket, presumably. We had lunch at Piatta’s restaurant, where they were offering a special for Mandela Day: 200g rump steak, and one veg, and a glass of wine for R67.00. Not bad for these days, and it was very good. But I looked in my diary and saw that 40 years ago, in July 1976, we had had dinner at the Caister Hotel in Durban with Val’s parents. They had a carvery — three-course meal, soup, main course and pudding. A choice of roast beef, pork and mutton, and a large variety of vegetables, as many or as few, and as much and as little as you choose. The price? R3.40.

Piatto Restaurand at the Carlsbad Lifestyle Shopping Centre in Midrand

Piatto Restaurand at the Carlsbad “Lifestyle Shopping Centre” in Midrand

We resumed our homeward journey, off the tollway, and passed St Sergius Church, whose domes were looking rather nice in the afternoon light.

St Sergius Orthodox Church, Noordwyk, Midrand

St Sergius Orthodox Church, Noordwyk, Midrand

When we got closer to home we saw a strange sight — spring blossoms in Magnolia Dell. This was 18th July, less than a month after the winter solstice, so still really midwinter. Global warming? We have had no frost at all this winter, so it feels that winter hasn’t properly begun yet, and suddenly there are signs of its ending.

Spring blossoms in mid-winter: Magnolia Dell, Pretoria, Tshwane, 18 July 2016

Spring blossoms in mid-winter: Magnolia Dell, Pretoria, Tshwane, 18 July 2016

And then today we had lunch with Allan Anderson, a former colleague in the Missiology Department of the University of South Africa, who has been at a theological research institute at the University of Birmingham in the UK, for research into Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity.

Allan Anderson & Steve Hayes, 21 July 2016

Allan Anderson & Steve Hayes, 21 July 2016

As we are wroking in similar fields, we had a lot of catching up to do.




One of the most confusing things about different cultures is differences in food, especially when the name used for food in one culture is applied to something different in another culture. Among the most confusing items are cumpets, scones, pancakes, muffins and similar items. I have no idea what the difference between an English English muffin and an American English muffin might be.

This morning Val made crumpets for tea, and so I took a photo. You may not be able to taste them, but this is what South African crumpets look like.

Crumpets or pancakes

Crumpets or pancakes

We both grew up in or near Durban in the middle of the 20th century, and this is how our mothers made them. I suspect that they were taught to do that by their mothers — my Scottish granny and Val’s Cumberland granny. So the recipe, and perhaps the name may originally be northern British.

My mother sometimes used to call them pancakes, but whether you call them pancakes or crumpets, the look and taste are identical.

If you are familiar with these things, what do you call them? And if they don’t look like your crumpets or pancakes, what do yours look like? If you comment, please say where you grew up.


UK trip 17 May 2005 London: Newspapers and Books

Continued from UK trip 16 May 2005: Brightlingsea to Twickenham | Notes from underground

We left the cottage at about 8:00, took the bus to Richmond underground station, and then the underground to Colindale, to visit the newspaper library, and spend several hours there looking at newspaper death announcements and obituaries, though the obituaries did not seem to begin in earnest until the early 20th century.

At Colindale Underground station on the Northern Line.

At Colindale Underground station on the Northern Line.

Then we went down to Tottenham Court Road, and walked down Charing Cross Road, where we looked at Foyle’s bookshop, but bought nothing, partly because of the overwhelming choice available, and partly because Val was worried about the extra weight if we tried to carry too much back on the plane.

No South African account ofn being a tourist in the UK would be complete without a picture of Travalgar Square, with South Africa House in the background, so here's the obligatory shot.

No South African account of being a tourist in the UK would be complete without a picture of Trafalgar Square, with South Africa House in the background, so here’s the obligatory shot.

We wandered down to Trafalgar Square, and then got a bus to Aldwych, and another to Waterloo, where we discovered that our visitors travel passes were also valid on Southwest Trains, part of the old southern region of British Rail, now privatised. The trains were modern, and came in a variety of bright livery, in contrast to the dull green of the Southern Region of British Rail in the 1960s, though the one we rode on to Strawberry Hill had graffiti scratched on the windows. We picked up several abandoned newspapers on the train, so we didn’t have to buy one.

On a London bus.

On a London bus.

We got off at Strawberry Hill station and were back at the cottage about 8:00 pm, and walked up to a neighbourhood pub, the Prince Blucher. On the way we passed the green, where a neighbourhood cricket game was in progress. Such scenes always call to mind the song by The Who:

I want to play cricket on the green
Ride my bike across the stream
Cut myself and see my blood
I want to come home all covered in mud
I’m a boy, I’m a boy
But my Ma won’t admit it.

We had bangers and mash for supper at the pub, which was very good, though it cost twice what a similar meal would have cost in South Africa — about 6 pounds, equivalent to about R70.00. I had a pint of bitter and Val had a lager shandy, which she has been drinking ever since the day we arrived, when Richard Wood had one.

Cricket on the green at Twickenham. 17 May 2005

Cricket on the green at Twickenham. 17 May 2005

We walked round the block, down Second Cross Road, and there were three pubs in that block alone. It makes a difference in the way one lives, that one can go walking to a local pub in an evening. In South Africa there is no real equivalent, though possibly the Dros chain of restaurants perform the same function, but one cannot afford them for family meals, and would only go for special occasions, and not just for a drink. But one cannot just walk down the road to them, it means getting in the car and making a special outing. In the townships there are shebeens within walking distance for many, but they are for serious drinkers, and don’t usually serve food.

Continued at UK trip 18 May 2005: a day in Oxford | Notes from underground.

Index to all posts on our UK trip here UK Holiday May 2005



One thing that everyone in our family likes to eat is pizza, and sometimes, if there isn’t time to cook anything, we’ll buy takeaway pizza from one of the places that sells it.

The trouble is that none of the takeaway places makes pizza that tastes as good as home-made pizza. So when our son Simon isn’t working, he makes pizza, and he made some for supper last night.

Our homemade pizza

Our homemade pizza

Most bought pizza is baked in circular pans, but we don’t have any of those. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to the taste.

Another advantage is that if you keep shop-bought pizza more than about half an hour, it doesn’t taste so good.  The homemade variety tastes just as good the next morning, cold or warmed up.

Blueberries or Gunk?

I too would like to know the answer to this — for example, are the “blueberry muffins” sold at Mugg & Bean made with real blueberries? Do blueberries even grow in South Africa?

Blueberry muffin from Cappuchino's at The Grove.

Blueberry muffin from Cappuchino’s at The Grove.


But right after posting this we went out shopping, and had breakfast at Cappuchino’s in The Grove Mall, and what did I have for breakfast but a blueberry muffin. I poked it and prodded it and disected the blueberries, and concluded that they were the real thing and not gunk.

But then I got home to read this: Big food companies want to call GMO foods “natural” | Grist. You win some, you lose some.

Clarissa's Blog

So I just saw this documentary at the gym where somebody said that the blueberries in blueberry muffins are not really blueberries bur, rather, some chemical gunk.

Is that true? Because that’s kind of icky.

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What is a muffin?

In an online discussion of English usage recently the question of muffins came up. These kinds of discussions seem to recur every couple of years. Last time round it was on scones and biscuits and cookies. Each English-speaking country seems to have its own terminology for such things.

My wife Val putting muffin mixture into muffin pans, ready for baking

My wife Val putting muffin mixture into muffin pans, ready for baking

It just so happened that my wife was making muffins for breakfast today. which made it easy to take photos to illustrate the process. She happened to be making cheese muffins,  which are “savoury” rather than sweet. Americans seem to find it difficult to understand what “savoury” means, so I hope it will help to think of, say, blueberry muffins as “sweet” and cheese muffins as “savoury” (or savory, if you prefer).

These are South African muffins.

They may therefore differ from American muffins, American “English” muffins, and British English muffins, and possibly Australian muffins, New Zealand muffins, Canadian muffins, Indian muffins and muffins of any other English-speaking countries.

They are made in muffin pans, which are sold in shops as muffin pans. That seems to imply that calling them muffins is not un ique to our family, but quite widespread in South Africa.

In many tea or coffee shops you can order muffins, which are sometimes bigger than these homemade ones, but are basically the same shape. They come in various flavours — blueberry, bran, lemon & poppyseed, chocolate chip, carrot, and a number of others.

The homemade cheese ones can be eaten on their own, or you can cut them in half and butter them. Plain ones without cheese can also be buttered and have jam on them.

Val got the recipe from her mother, who wrote down all her children’s favourite recipes in notebooks which she gave to her daughters and a niece. Most of them, including this one, probably came from her own mother, Martha Ellwood, who was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, England.

Muffins in a muffin pan ready for baking.

Muffins in a muffin pan ready for baking.

Cumberland is in the north-west of England, and so their muffins may be different from those in other parts of England. Cumberland cumpets are certainly different from crumpets elsewhere in England, and resemble Scottish pancakes, so perhaps the muffins are different too.

Cheese muffins, baked and ready for eating, either cut in half and buttered, or plain

Cheese muffins, baked and ready for eating, either cut in half and buttered, or plain

And here, for anyone who wants to try it, is the recipe for Dorothy Greene’s Cheese Muffins:

Dorothy Greene's Cheese Muffin Recipe

Dorothy Greene’s Cheese Muffin Recipe


A day in Maun and another boat ride

Continued from From Shakawe to Maun via Lake Ngami | Hayes & Greene family history.

After breakfast at the Island Safari Lodge at Maun, Botswana, where we were staying, we hung around for a while reading and relaxing, then later we went into town to try to get some cash money and some lunch. It seemed that none of the credit card machines at garages or other places were working. Nor was the facility to buy air time for cell phones (any offers for two P10.00 air time vouchers for Mascom in Botswana, which we are no longer able to use?). Fortunately we found a couple of working ATMs.

Maun, Botswana

Maun, Botswana

We saw a Bimbos restaurant, which we had not seen for ages, and had a look at it. It was in one of them that I had first had a shwarma, with Tony Irish, in Hillbrow, 30 years ago. But though the name remained, the franchise had gone,and there were no shwarmas, only local food like goat stew, though they did have chicken breyani on the menu as well. If they had had goat breyani I might have been tempted, but chicken breyani tends to have too many bones for the unwary.

Maun, Botswana

Maun, Botswana

We drove around the town, in a kind of figure 8, going west along the road we had come in, turning south, then north, following well-made tarred roads with streetlights, , though the roads between the houses were sandy tracks, and some houses were traditional mud and thatch, some were plastered brick, but often rondavels rather than square houses, and many, both square and rondavel, had traditional lapas outside. It seemed a quite a bit bigger than Rundu, but a much more pleasant place.

The main streets of Maun are fairly busy ...

The main streets of Maun are fairly busy …

Eventually we had lunch at Wimpys, and I had one of their standard hamburgers, which was as tough an leathery and tasteless as they had been for 50 years. “Flanagan’s Ears” as Val used to call them. Flanagan was a dog they used to have in Escombe, a sort of mongrel spaniel. We went to a Shoprite supermarket, and bought some bottled water and biscuits for our journey to Serowe tomorrow, as we don’t know what we will find along the way.

... but in between the busy streets are quiet lanes leading to houses like these

… but in between the busy streets are quiet lanes leading to houses like these

I don’t normally buy bottled water, as I regard it as a bit of a scam, and ridiculously overpriced. Well, I do buy bottled water, actually, because drinks like CocaCola and Sprite are basically bottled water with a bit of flavouring and sweetening added. I justify buying those to myself because the flavouring and sweetening does add some “value” to the product. But a litre of Coke costs about the same as a litre of petrol. The petrol had to pumped out of the ground, brought halfway round the world in a tanker, and refined in a fairly complicated process, which might justify the price. But adding flavouring and sweetening, and even a bit of fizz to water is relatively simple, and does nothing to justify the price.

tap2Some bottled water is advertised as “spring water”, and so is supposed to be more “pure” and “natural” than tap water, though I suspect that it absorbs quite a lot of impurities from the plastic bottles that it is stored and transported in. But really, how would you know? Most of it just tastes like water. And some of the bigger food firms, like Nestlé, have jumped on the bottled water bandwagon advertising a lot of bogus benefits, most of which are also available from tap water. They claim that “is filtered through the earth and stored in deep Dolomite lakes” (read “boreholes”), but Bonaqua, the CocaCola brand, is basically bottled tap water.

But when travelling in strange places, tap water is not always potable. I remember that in Moscow it wasn’t, and that’s a big city. At the Island Safari Lodge they put out a carafe of drinking water in the rooms, perhaps for such a reason, so we bought bottled water rather than taking their tap water, which could, for all we knew, have been pumped straight from the river outside. So we bought bottled water.

In the Okavango Delta a boat  is a good way to move your stuff

In the Okavango Delta a boat is a good way to move your stuff

Back at the Island Safari Lodge they advertised a sunset boat trip, and since we enjoyed the one at Shakawe so much, we booked for it. At Shakawe our main interest was that Val’s great-great-grandfather had gone up the river there in his boat, and as far as we knew he had not done such a thing at Maun, but picturing oneself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies seemed quite attractive. So we went at about 5 pm.

Washing clothes at the riverside

Washing clothes at the riverside

The boatman, whose name was Cobra, was not expecting us, and thought that no one had booked for the sunset ride, but soon sorted that out, and we went up the river, much narrower and shallower here than 300 km upstream at Shakawe. We looked at jacana birds, Cobra called them “Jesus birds” because they walk across the lily pads, and look as though they are walking on water. We also saw some bee eaters perched on a tree, but not at their nests.

African Jacana -- sometimes called "Jesus birds" because they appear to be walking on water

African Jacana — sometimes called “Jesus birds” because they appear to be walking on water

Cobra said that the flat island on our right, with its grazing cows, was covered with water when the rain in Angola brought the river down in June or July. On the left bank were a lot of dead thorn trees, some with grass in upper branches, showing where the floodwaters reached, up to ten feet from the ground. There was a shed there, and I asked if that too was covered with water, and he said it housed a borehole which people had put down in a dry period, and the trees had also grown here in a dry period, and when the water covered the banks they had died, because Kalahari thorn trees can’t survive in an environment that is too wet, which would also explain the dead trees that we had seen at Lake Ngami — the water level must be rising again, and must be a lot higher than it was 10-20 years ago, though still nothing like as high as it must have been in Fred Green’s time, for him to be able to sail a boat up the Taokhe River.

Dead trees along the river banks; they grew when the water level was lower

Dead trees along the river banks; they grew when the water level was lower

We turned up the left branch of the river, which was flowing more visibly, but at less than half the apparent speed at Rundu or Shakawe. Occasionally we slowed down when passing canoes with local people, to avoid upsetting them with the wash, and went quite a long way up the river.  There were several fish eagles along the banks, and pied kingfishers.

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies: sunset over the Okavango Delta

Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies: sunset over the Okavango Delta

The sunset was beautiful, and we took several photos, but even better was the rising moon on the way back. We passed some schoolkids playing around in an old boat, though not controlling it very well, but it struck me as a nice after-school pastime.

Moonrise over the Okavango Delta

Moonrise over the Okavango Delta

How can there be so much beauty in the world?

Moonrise in the Okavango Delta

Moonrise in the Okavango Delta

And so to supper, and bed.

The next day we followed the course of the Boteti or Botletle River, where Fred and Charles Green often hunted in the 1850s, to see what its attraction was.


You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

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