Blackwell Arts & Craft House, Bowness, nice lunch

Blackwell is a large house overlooking Lake Windermere, built as an arts and craft house in 1900 by the Holts brewing family of Manchester.   We visited in December to have a Christmas Lunch, very good it was, booking essential as it’s not very big and they don’t make many lunches.

The house is styled by Baillie Scott a famous arts and craft architect and designer using a theme of natural products and shapes.  After the meal we had a guided tour which is one of the activities on Friday, with different ones each day.   We learnt a lot about the family and how they lost their eldest son in WW1 and the younger son took over making a big success and founding Christie Hospital in Manchester as well.

On a sunny day the views and light are excellent.  The house was built so the main windows look south and over the lake to make the most of the light.  There are other exhibitions in the house, the current one is Women in the Art and Craft Movement.

Blackwell Arts and Craft House, near Bowness

Blackwell Arts and Craft House, near Bowness

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The Fylde Gallery, Lytham, bright display

The Fylde Gallery is an attractive and small place upstairs in Booths store at Lytham.  It has a regular change of exhibition.   In November 2017 a display by Jeffrey Hammond showed us his bright and large acrylic paintwork of local scenes and some further afield.   To add flavour let it be known that Jeffrey played bass in Jethro Tull for a while in their heyday and lives locally.

Blackpool features strongly and these are really in your face when you first go in:

The Fylde Gallery Lytham, Jeffrey Hammon Exhibition,  Nov 2017

The Fylde Gallery, Lytham

The Fylde Gallery, Lytham


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Gresgarth Hall Gardens near Lancaster

Gresgarth Hall, where is that?  That’s what I said.  About 5 miles east of Lancaster on the road to Kirkby Lonsdale, turn right at Caton and there it is.   On a bend the long tree lined drive hides the house.

It’s only open once a month and closed in winter and only the gardens are open.  They’re very nice gardens though.  Designed by Arabella Lennox-Boyd; a valley laced with paths, follies, trees planted to show off their bark, pretty bridges over a stream and sudden views.  12 acres.

Well worth the trip and afterwards we drove to Kirkby Lonsdale and wandered through the churchyard to see Ruskin’s View.  Lovely place Kirkby Lonsdale.   Other options are Devil’s Bridge which is a walk along the river bank or a walk from the market square along a ginnel doing both is a nice circle.Gresgarth Hall Gardens

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Williamson Park, Lancaster

Under a mile from Lancaster city centre up a hill is Williamson Park, a small lake and fountain, a wooded area, the Ashton Memorial, Butterfly House, aviary, mammal house and cafe.  Most of all there is a scenic view of the Lake District and Morecambe Bay across to Barrow, Blackpool Tower is visible.

On an cold November day we were privileged with a clear view.  Climbing up the Ashton Memorial gave an even better view.   The cafe was fairly busy as was the Butterfly House which is worth going to see.

The view from Williamson Park, Lancaster

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East Lancashire Railway and The Whitaker Museum

A visit to the ELR on Saturday 14th October for the Steam Event.  Running were ex Southern 34092 City of Wells and ex-LNER 60009 Union of South Africa plus some local locos.

We drove to Rawtenstall which is the nearest station and taking a wrong turning came upon a shopping area that has a big car park for the M&S Food, Aldi, Costa etc and a convenient path to the station.   Tickets on a steam day are £13.20 each and we boarded the 10.30 hauled by 34092 which was looking very smart in dark green.    Arriving at Ramsbottom it was found the loco had a ‘hot axle’ so after a short wait it was replaced by 52392 which must have been a big disappointment to the dozens of photographers strategically positioned on the hills along the track.  Well I’m thinking that could have been me as I was thinking of getting some trackside shots. I wonder who owns the loco and how much it costs to do a repair like that.

34092 City of Wells at Rawtenstall

Arriving at Bury the train was 25 minutes late so emergency measures were taken for those who wanted to take Union of South Africa back.  They were told to run across the track while stewards made sure they went safely.  The platform was packed with enthusiasts and 60009 was looking magnificent, the shape of the loco, its curves are beautifully designed and metalwork beautifully formed.

60009 Union of South Africa at Bury

We stayed at on the station and had refreshment, there were a lot of stall holders selling railway memorabilia.  Plenty of beer being drunk as well as the tea.   We waited for 13000 to arrive and some exchange was done to haul the train to Heywood.    We had intended to visit the Bury Transport Museum but had got behind schedule so decided to get the train back so we could visit The Whitaker Museum and Art Gallery in Rawtenstall.

Getting back to the car we were able to do some shopping then drive to the Whitaker which is about half a mile from the station.   It’s a smallish building in a park on the side of a hill.  Formerly a mill owners house it contains a cafe, museum and art gallery.  The cafe serves very good food and is quite stylish although service was slow on that day.  It was busy.  The art gallery had a local artist’s open display.  The quality was high and obviously selective with prices also quite high.  The museum is fairly small but interesting with some Horrocks displays similar to what I’ve seen at Queen Street Mill Museum in Burnley.  The museum is good if you’re nearby but not worth a journey.

Overall it was a good day and one that will be repeated although perhaps getting the 9.30 train would give more time as we like to be home by 4.

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Northern Powerhouse v Midlands Engine

Traditionally Birmingham has been known as the ‘second city’ after London.  For the last 20 years Manchester’s star has been rising and it now makes a valid claim to be second city.  The Northern Powerhouse seemed to support this call and the devolved powers given to Manchester both promoted by George Osborne.

Yet behind the scenes the Midland Engine project is getting a lot of infrastructure investment.  This covers Birmingham, Nottingham, Leicester and the area of the Midlands between Shropshire and Lincolnshire.  Birmingham will be the first to get improved High Speed Rail services making it a nod away from London and freeing up other routes, and many banks are re-locating to Birmingham.

Manchester was King Cotton and Birmingham was the workshop to the world. Both are great centres.  Both have lost their original purpose.  Manchester has appeared to be more successful in re-inventing itself sometimes it seems on the back of its soccer teams and the music of the 90s.   The airport is much more successful than any in the Midlands and that is a driver of investment.  The transfer, reluctantly, of the BBC studios to Manchester (Salford actually) also brought some prestige.

Also in the north is Leeds which, with Yorkshire swagger, also makes claims to greatness.  Quite a number of financial companies are in Leeds.  Improving links between Manchester and Leeds is one of the Northern Powerhouse targets.  So called High Speed 3.  Viewed from the north lack of east-west transport investment has long been a difficulty yet it can seem local rivalries almost encourage keeping each other at arms length.

It seems that Birmingham is currently a place to watch although Manchester’s devolved powers might give it another surge and will links to Leeds create emphasis the powerhouse.  Interesting times.

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Announcement of General Election 8th June 2017

A shock announcement on Tuesday 18th April that the government intends to call a General Election for the 8th June.   This needs a 2/3 majority in the House of Commons to over-ride the law that elections will be held every 5 years.

Come April 19th Parliament voted 522-13 in favour of a General Election.

The government claims they need a bigger majority and a mandate from the public to get the best deal out of Brexit.   The majority is small and the Conservatives have some fanatical Brexiters who can make life difficult.  As well as their own fanatics the government accuses all the other parties and the House of Lords of threatening to obstruct the deal when negotiated.

That’s politics, first you agree with the idea.  Then you find a little bit you don’t like and from that object to it all with the intention of gaining advantage over your opposition.  They say they have principles but it’s all about power.

Another reason for the election is said to be that an election is due in 2020 and the government could have its hands tied if there are problems during negotiations in 2019.  Putting a future election back to 2022 will give time for interim agreements or problems to be sorted out.

As a Remain supporter it has to be agreed that with an almost hung Parliament we’re  going to get a lot of brinkmanship and attempted blackmail over the negotiations.  Some people want to leave the EU under any conditions regardless of the damage it will do.

Only the Lib Dems are guaranteeing a 2nd referendum.  This may sound attractive, but is likely to result strengthening the EU’s hand if they think the UK could change its mind.  Whether that’s a good thing is worth pondering.

It isn’t guaranteed that the government will get a bigger majority, but you have to hope it doesn’t end up messy with several parties that don’t really agree trying to form a government through a loose alliance.

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Railway Electrification in the North West

Work is underway at a fairly slow pace on electrifying more track in the North West of England.

Currently the Manchester to Blackpool line is forecast for completion for the summer timetable of 2018.  Work on re-aligning the track is underway.  A big task will close Blackpool station from November 2017 for several weeks into 2018.

Trans-Pennine routes from Manchester to York and Selby are underway.  This is a large project involving 76 miles of track and many tunnels and bridges.  2022 is a date mentioned for completion.

A 300metre stretch in the middle of Manchester, called the Ordsall Chord, is underway which will allow trains to go between Victoria and Piccadilly.  Unfortunately it cuts off the track at the Manchester Science Museum that is the original stretch from the earliest Stephenson days.  Forecast for completion in late 2017.

There is talk of a High Speed 3 (HS3) link between Manchester and Leeds.  As well as the HS2 link to Manchester and Leeds from Birmingham, creating a neat triangle.  Although it isn’t certain what standard of high speed HS3 will be.   Quite likely to be slower than HS2.  Give that 20 years.

In addition there is work scoping big changes to rail signalling.  This will remove all trackside signals and put them in the drivers cab along with data exchanges that will enable trains to have moving clear stretches between them rather than them being fixed by stationary signals.  Give that 30 years.

There is a lot happening on rail.

Hard Working on Preston to Blackpool electrification March 2017

Hard Working on Preston to Blackpool electrification March 2017

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Donald Trump President of the USA and Brexit storm

On the 20th January Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the USA.   Coupled with Brexit it’s a perfect storm for those of a liberal bent.  Although there are those who say the liberal thinkers brought it on by ignoring a large and growing segment of the population.  During his campaign President Trump didn’t mix any words or take any hostages.  He knew who he was appealing to.   His selected team also seems hard line.

Some elements of his platform sound interesting.  For example the large scale transfer of work overseas.  For many years we’ve congratulated ourselves on reducing our carbon footprint but there has been quite a piece of illusion about it.  Our heavy industry has been moved to Asia and they’re pumping out the carbon instead.  We haven’t stopped buying steel products and expensively processed aluminium.   We changed where it’s coming from.  President Trump is claiming that he’ll bring jobs back so that the decimated cities can fire up their mills.  Maybe the mills won’t be just as they were, but that can’t be too bad an aspiration.

The Brexit voters are of a similar ilk.  They largely came from washed up areas like Burnley and South Yorkshire where large areas are still living in the shadow of the 1980’s industrial cut backs.   You may wonder why no government since then did anything about it.  Partly it was because those people were too quiet often not voting at all until the EU referendum came along and gave them something that actually spoke for them.

So here we are President Trump and Brexit moving not the goalposts but the whole playing field.  Will it change the post war tide or are they figments of a changing world. Is the tide going out in the west and rising in the east.  Every now and then there is a correction to the flow and we think things will change but normally things settle back, will it this time?


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Pension Deficits Permanent or Temporary

There was a time when big companies had Final Salary schemes that were overflowing with money and the companies took what were known as Pension Holidays when they stopped paying in.   From time to time with some prodding by unions they’d increase benefits.  Perhaps improving the lot of some group of employees who’d not been entitled to full benefits or perhaps improving the inflation proofing.

During the 1990’s everyone was talking about living longer.  People were also retiring early.  This didn’t seem to worry anyone.  It took a lot of time to realise that pension funds needed more money to pay these extended pensions.

On top of that interest rates and bond rates were hit during the financial crisis so that long term calculations of returns showed that pension funds were underfunded by Billions of pounds.   One by one companies reduced the pensions they were offering or closed them down.   Some being handed to the Pensions Lifeboat.

No-one seems to ask how long the Pensions Lifeboat will last.  At some point only a few companies will be supporting it and perhaps millions of pensions will be inside the lifeboat.

A change in bond yields could change all this very quickly but what will bring about the change in yields.  If the economy goes bust and interest rates need to increase along with bonds it will hardly be the time to talk about increasing pension benefits.

Last year, 2016, it is said pension deficits trebled overall.  It seems many pensions are skating on very thin ice.

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Offshore Windfarms near Lancashire

If you visit the north Lancashire coast you can see rows of windmills near the horizon.   The closest is Barrow, 90MW.  Nearby are 3 others:  West of Duddon Sands 389MW,  Ormonde 150MW, Walney 9MW.   Just off the Mersey is Burbo Bank Extension under construction 256MW.   Further out is Gwynt y Mor 576MW.

1.5GW of wind power in a small section of the Irish Sea.

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Brexit Secret Strategy

David Davis the minister for Brexit says to keep quiet about the Brexit strategy.  Cards close to chest etc.   How do you keep it a secret?  As soon as talks begin it will become apparent unless it’s fiendishly clever, which seems unlikely.  Although it could be that the secret plan masks that there is no plan and we’re flying by the seat of our pants.

The UK red line is that immigration will be restricted to skilled people who have got a job in the UK.   Although fruit pickers and students will surely be allowed.

The EU red line is it’s an open market with 4 freedoms or nothing.  Although there are things the EU will want to sell to us such as German cars and French wine.

It seems almost certain to become a fragmented discussion swapping cars for agriculture, fishing for wine.   Each of these needing agreement of the people of Wallonia and the other sub-regions of Belgium.  The UK has Ireland and Malta on its side though so the world is our oyster.

As the pound is now almost equal to a Euro imports of German cars are likely to decrease as price increases kick in.   Perhaps the Germans will worry about that although to them the EU is a principle above trade, we’re told.

It sounds easier to just leave immediately and fall back on World Trade Agreements.  Although such a move will need emergency action by governments all over Europe to prevent goods and food piling up at docks and the freezing of money flows.   It would be branded totally irresponsible.

So there we have it, a secret plan, an entrenched position and the crazy gang.  Nothing can go wrong.

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Brexit progress September 2016

Nearly 3 months after the EU referendum the UK position is still largely a blank page with the heading Brexit:

Some Knowns

We have a new PM and with that we got a cabinet with 3 pro-Brexit members in charge of arranging Brexit.   We know the PM says Brexit means Brexit and it will be 2017 before Article 50 declaring intent to leave is issued by the UK.

The EU says there will be no negotiations by them or member states until Article 50 is issued.  The 4 freedoms are key principles and cannot be cherry picked.

Some recent announcements are a bit of a step back. There will be no Australian Points System as it is said to be too complex and generally used to increase rather than control immigration.   This week David Davis said our negotiating position will be reported after the event to guard our position. Watch out for leaks. Also the £355m a week to the NHS is being dropped.

In reality nothing is carved in stone but beyond the above the rest is more speculative with different opinions being expressed on what Brexit means, not least differences between the 3 Brexiteers in the cabinet.


Some Unknowns

What exactly is Brexit? Is it hard or is it soft.  David Davis is saying these will be the most complex negotiations ever undertaken.  Some such as Ian Duncan Smith would likely take a simpler route with less agreement and a harder exit.

Who will get the £355m a week windfall?  The NHS funding statement is said to be dropped and farmers will be looking for their share as will countless others.

In the EU we’ll get different priorities from different countries.  Outside the EU we’ll get those who want a strong Europe with the UK inside and some who want a weak Europe. Some who are just keen on Europe being one group to deal with.  Trade deals, inward investment will be influenced by these positions.  There will be attempts to gain  special terms for parts of the Union.  The government hasn’t got a big majority can it carry the day.

The biggest unknown is whether it’s all a mistake.  Will it happen, could it just fade away?


It is likely that things will begin to fall into place in 2017 and for most people it will not have a big effect on their lives.  Although there are always some who will be effected a lot, some positively it must be said.  Whether the 3 Brexiteers in the Cabinet are up to the job of ‘taking back control’ will start to become clear.  There will be errors and there will be noise but it is likely we’ll leave the EU in 2019.  Just in time for the next General Election.

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Parliamentary Boundary Review 2018

The Electoral Commission is to publish initial findings on the 13th September for its review of boundaries.  There will then be a 12 week public consultation period and two other public reviews before the September 2018 presentation to Parliament.  

The Commission has an objective to maintain equality in the numbers of registered voters in each constituency while respecting local affinities.

For the 2018 review Parliament has directed that the number of constituencies is reduced to 600 from 650.   This is objected to by the opposition, Labour, as their seats tend to be in smaller constituencies although they maintain that there is a higher number of unregistered people in those areas.  While the Conservatives claim that Labour has a built in majority by having too many seats.

The North West has an electorate of 5,074,302 and 75 seats.  It is expected this will be reduced to 68 seats.  The North West will have the biggest reduction in seats of any area.

Scotland and Wales have the smallest electoral numbers in constituencies, with one in Scotland being only 21,000.   The Isle of Wight is the largest being 108,000 and several in the South East are very big.  Preston is in the smaller ones with 59,000.  The average needs to be around 75,000 and all the others, except 4, are to be within plus or minus 5% or between about 71,000 to 79,000.

The proposal is to be made to the Secretary of State by September 2018 and to be used in the General Election of 2020.

It seems reasonable to have seats with similar numbers of voters.  It isn’t fair to voters if a few people can vote in an MP in one place and it takes thousands more in another.  We don’t allow for registered voters who don’t vote in elections and similarly we shouldn’t allow for unregistered voters.  It also seems sensible to reduce the number of MPs. It isn’t obvious that an extra few thousand voters will add an intolerable burdon to an MPs workload if some already cover nearly 100,000.

Another difficulty with the change is that a number of MPs are going to lose their seat altogether and that can make things harder for party leaders.

Overall this seems a good thing and look to a similar exercise in the House of Lords.

Keep up to date on the Electoral Commission website:


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Northern Powerhouse for the chop?

The previous Chancellor, George Osborne, put forward a number of plans for more devolution and had a vision of creating a northern hub mainly based on Manchester and Leeds.  Since the referendum the new administration seems to be backtracking from the focus on the north and easing on the stick being used to get Mayors elected in exchange for more devolution and control over local budgets.

Whether it was that George Osborne is MP for Tatton near Manchester but that city seemed to be getting the lion’s share of attention,    Theresa May is saying we want a powerhouse in every region, the Midlands, South West being two.  It is probably true that the South East and Scotland already get a bigger share of investment.

HS2 and HS3 rail upgrades are still on the table.  Manchester will have control over a bigger budget including health and a mayoral election is going ahead with Andy Burnham looking for the role.  Other centres are struggling to get agreement with Lancashire having one borough council not wanting to be run by a combined authority and Yorkshire having similar problems.

The term ‘Northern  Powerhouse’ is quite snappy but, like most things, sceptics liked to mock.  It seems that it will continue in some form but the name and some of the features such as the mayors will probably slip away.

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Lake District and Yorkshire Dales Extended

On the 1st August it was announced that the Lake District will be extended eastwards to the M6 and the Yorkshire Dales will be extended westwards to the M6.

From the west coast to the east coast there is now only a gap of about 20 miles that is not in National Park land.  That is the gap between the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors National Parks.

Although the M6 itself appears to be in a corridor of unprotected land.  That stretch around Tebay is probably the most scenic stretch of motorway in Britain.

Sizergh Castle which is a pleasing National Trust property in south Lakeland is now in the Lake District National Park.

Sizergh Castle National Trust

Sizergh Castle National Trust

The only hiccup in the latest change is that the Yorkshire Dales National Park now extends into Lancashire so we think the name should be changed to the Lancashire & Yorkshire Dales.

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Attractive Lancashire hill country

Route from Slaidburn to Clitheroe

Route from Slaidburn to Clitheroe

Lancashire has some interesting places.   We visited Slaidburn in the Forest of Bowland with the Friends of the Lancashire Archives.  That area has large parts of the Duke of Westminster’s Estate.   From the west you can access it from Clitheroe, Longridge or from the A6 near Galgate.  You soon enter hilly and isolated areas with very narrow lanes that go on and on, making for slow travel especially the route from the A6 or to Longridge.

Slaidburn features several interesting houses in the surrounding area as well as quaint pub with B&B.  The war memorial is also very poignant.

There are more photos on the website:



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EU Referendum – the North West votes

June 23rd was the day the UK voted to leave the EU by 52%/48%.   In England the country and towns voted to leave while the big cities voted to remain.  Wales voted out.  Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar voted to remain.

The north west followed English trends with only Manchester, Liverpool and LibDem South Lakeland voting to remain.  What is it about the towns and countryside that made them vote out?

Boris Johnson who was probably the main cheer leader for Leave says it was sovereignty, the right to vote for their representatives.   Although most commentators say immigration was the biggest factor and if the EU had been more flexible in allowing the UK to restrict immigration it would have made a difference.

Both sides accuse the other of lying.  Although Boris Johnson being photographed next to a poster saying the £355million a day will be given to the NHS seems the most memorable example.  A second example could be the emergency budget threats George Osborne made.

The Labour Party MPs landed themselves in a civil war by accusing their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, of being ineffectual.  It did seem that his heart wasn’t in the Remain case.

Basically 72% turned out and of that 52% voted to Leave so just over a third of the population voted out.  Of those a good majority where in the older category.  From anecdotal experience immigration, in so far as it clogs up schools, housing, hospitals and jobs plus sovereignty are the big issues in that group regardless of them being Labour or Conservative voters.  It is a  feature of a referendum that extremists of the left and right are likely to vote for the same side.  So it begins to make the outcome less certain in an election on this kind of subject.

That young people tend not to turn out is also a factor, although who is to say that the non-voters would vote to plan.

Overall the people have spoken.  As a very strong Remain voter it is still our expectation that the so called Project Fear is more like a 10-15 year project. The worsening of the economy will happen slowly after a bumpy year or two.

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EU referendum impressions at the end of May

Seems like everyone I speak to or read on Facebook wants out of the EU.  On this basis the result will be 90/10 for leaving.

Yet the pundits say it’s a very close thing and Remain is likely to win.  There is up to 40 years of pain for some people and they’re letting us know, that’s the only explanation I can find.

There are a lot of bogus numbers about. Like the £355m a week we are said to pay the EU, in reality it’s nearer £130m as we don’t pay or get most of it back.  Still a lot.  There’s the claim each family will be £4,300 worse off if we leave, I’ve no idea where that comes from, probably possible loss of business.

The Leaving case revolves around: The right to self govern, controls over immigration, reduction in red tape, making our own trade deals, keeping the payments to the EU to spend on what we want.

The Remain case revolves around: we’re already doing relatively well, being a full member of the big EU market and having a say in what it does, the benefits of inward investment by being part of the market.  Having our voice made louder by being part of the biggest trading area in the world.  Not leaping into the unknown.

There is a lot more depth to those points and there is a counter to every one.

In conclusion I’ve heard nothing that makes me believe we will be better outside or that we won’t have to do deals that negate the reasons for leaving.  At the moment voting Remain seems logical.  The EU has a lot of problems but so does everyone.

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North West Plastic Bag Factory Closure

A packaging company in Nelson, East Lancashire, has closed due to cheap imports of plastic packaging and the 5p charge on plastic bags.  Some 50 manufacturing jobs lost in an area that needs jobs.  Bad news.

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