I Am The Resurrection to I Found A Way

A FORMER colleague took a risk this week with an article on signs with grammatical errors.

Focusing mainly on missing apostrophes – and ignoring the erroneous A in the name of my home village in a sign opposite the office – it really is poking the bear.

Readers do not need much excuse to point out errors or call an article’s news worthiness into question, so putting your head above your parapet and highlighting any grammatical faux pas is asking for criticism of any mistake, imagined or not.

Once received a letter listing 10 errors in an article (among many others, the writer explained). Had to resist the temptation to write back and explain he was wrong on all but one of them and could easily have made a longer list of errors from his letter.

Was not as slow pointing out errors – grammatical or factual – in my years as a sub, but then that was my job. Until a couple of weeks ago.

That job included stewardship of the office style guide – we did not have a physical one like the ones waved at me by subs as a young reporter, but a series of weekly emails running through common errors (how to refer to a councillor tops the list), spelling issues and settling debates.

Often two options are both right but the house style is to stick to one for the sake of consistency.

It may come as a surprise, but this blog has its own style guide, tucked away in a corner of my mind. Which has the advantage of being endlessly flexible so when the need arrives, the rules can be bent to suit the needs of the blog.

Which it really needs to be for this stretch of the A-Z journey through my iPod.

One of the simple rules is to avoid the first person wherever possible. It will come as a shock to a couple of ex-colleagues whose (lengthy) pieces were littered with I this, I that. Gave up counting in one opening paragraph when it reached double figures, all of which were subbed out.

Have broken that rule a couple of times in posts but they were personal tributes. It would have been odd to write them any other way.

And for the next few paragraphs, will have to break that rule again or this post will become impossible as it takes in the very long run of songs beginning with I (by far the most common opening word of this entire, expanding journey).

This section takes us from a second outing for The Stone Roses’ debut album finale to First Aid Kit.

There has been, seemingly inevitable at the moment, a fair amount of The Beatles with I Am The Walrus (twice) and I Feel Fine (three times) as well as, less inevitably, a blast of The Stones, although this was a rather different version of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – bereft of chorus – by Cat Power.

The Clash popped up once with I Fought The Law, but with two different versions by Joe Strummer, while there were welcome visits from the Arctic Monkeys ( I Bet You… can probably work that one out), Sun Kil Moon (I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love), Idlewild (I Don’t Have The Map), The House of Love (I Don’t Know Why I Love You) and Altered Images (I Could Be Happy).

There was (probably, it was a while ago, been a bit busy) screaming along to I Bleed by Pixies, who provided a very welcome soundtrack in session on the radio while cleaning my flat ahead of moving out. Very jealous of anyone seeing them in-store at Spillers in Cardiff.

As a believer in coyotes and time as an abstract, always great to hear I Believe by REM from Life’s Rich Pageant – probably edging ahead of long-time favourite Reckoning as my favourite REM album.

They have featured quite heavily as my musical intake has embraced the ability to raid the whole of Apple’s library since the decision was finally made about whether to upgrade my iPod for travelling.

The trusted Classic will add overlanding around South America to Africa on its list of places visited but this time merely as a back-up to a new Touch with instant access to a huge selection of music new and old (been adding a load of vintage stuff ahead of departure).

It is not perfect. Much prefer the wheel control than everything having to be touchscreen digital, the battery life seems shorter and it does not give updates on tracks in the collection – or exactly how many hundreds of I songs we have to wade through – but getting used to it.

And have plenty of time to do just that over the next 31 weeks as the A-Z journey goes into hibernation while travelling.

It became clear very quickly in Africa that keeping the A-Z going alongside blogging from on the road was too much to ask – I blog because I am travelling, not the other way round (to break the rules one more time).

The travel pieces (starting tomorrow from Heathrow. Probably) may well take a diversion into what is soundtracking the trip, but the A-Z is taking a few months off.

This time by design, not just because I have put it off. Again.

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How Cruel to Hysterical Strength

Day 21 as the blog post a day in May gets back to plan with a return to its roots and reaching another landmark.

TRACK 5,160 on the journey through my iPod from A-Z is not one that jumps out as significant.

No disrespect to St Vincent who rounded out the latest section (which started with The Kingsbury Manx – bought, if memory serves, after they appeared on an Uncut magazine CD and failed to live up to the billing) with Hysterical Strength, it would not normally be a track worthy of note.

But as the 679th and final track beginning with H, it represents a notable point in the trip.

Have mentioned before that, like any long journey, the final stretch of each letter can become a bit of a slog. The musical equivalent of ‘are we nearly there yet?’.

Not that there’s necessarily anything more exciting on the horizon, but there is something fresh, a new impetus to the journey lurking just over that horizon.

Having taken a peek, there is a pretty big expanse laid out in front of us as the start of I offers up something to rewrite the records of this journey and will need one of my personal rules to be set aside for a while or it will get very confusing.

Also plan to do something a bit different with one of the upcoming posts which may well be more of a test – for writer and reader – than the blog post a day for a month idea. Which is saying something.

More of that nearer the time – it will be trailed in advance – but before then we need to do a quick catch-up on the songs from A-H which have been added. A while since done that so some of them are a bit of a shock as being supposedly new tracks. Others had forgotten about totally.

But before all that, we’ve got that final stretch of H songs to work our way through.

It might just be the nearing the end of the journey feeling, but the standard final stretch of tracks for each letter tends to throw up little in the way of excitement. A sense of wanting to eat up the miles rather than savouring the scenery.

This has not been the case with the final 80-odd H tracks throwing up enough gems to keep things bouncing along (actually listening to the last dozen or so while writing this to get totally caught up and REM’s Hyena was a welcome distraction – their second in this block after How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us).

Amid all that was a track that just sneaked in rather than being shunted into the catch-up playlist from a young Irish band that has me about as excited as any for a long time.

Knowing it was coming, been trying to come up with an accurate description of Fontaines DC – best advice is click on the video up top there of Hurricane Laughter and crank up the volume. And repeat.

Most common point of reference is Fugazi or Killing Joke, but personally hear a collision between the joint winners of last year’s Travel Marmot Album of the Year, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and Idles. Fronted by a cross between Ian Curtis and Shane Macgowan.

Maybe that’s just me.

Whatever their influences, they are bloody good. Suggest Dogrel may be in the running for album of the year this time round.

Not that everything in this section was so worth a listen, scratching my head as to how any Muse (Hyper Music, which is currently playing) has made it into my collection.

Always totally baffled by their popularity. Akin to fingers on a blackboard and, thankfully, over.

Still fighting with the listening to Ryan Adams issue and he cropped up a few times, most notably (courtesy of some weird downloading issue) four times with a live version of How Much Light.

But there were plenty of great moments to savour, starting in Manchester with How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man’ by The Fall and two outings for How Soon Is Now (one with, one without the question mark) which is from the top echelon of Smiths tracks.

Jason Isbell’s two offerings (How To Forget and Hudson Commodore) were not from his top echelon, but still worth a listen, while there were familiar faces in The Wedding Present (Hude Dnipro Hude, twice) and Mercury Rev (Hudson Lines) while The Be Good Tanyas popped up with the free track which first brought them to my attention, Human Thing.

And from two ends of the the career scale, we had some Johnny Cash (it comes towards the end of H, work it out) and Camp Cope.

Something is happening in Melbourne. After Courtney Barnett and Rolling Blackouts CF, this lot complete a pretty good hat-trick. Album has a way to go, but ones to watch.

And so on to I…

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Honey and Smoke to Hope We Make It

Day nine of the post a day in May and the schedule has gone out of the window. To such an extent this is the topic that was planned for today before being shuffled around and back again. Just not in this format.

IT is the shortest section of the A-Z iPod Challenge to date.

But within the 28 songs it took to travel from Case/Lang/Veirs to Turin Brakes, we hit a major landmark.

It was not marked in any great fashion, merely the fact that it had just stopped raining and was able to take my jacket hood down but the first strains of Hook, Line, Sinker by Stornoway ushered in the 5,000th track on the journey through my iPod.

Only another 8,703 to go. And rising.

And while drying off on the regular weekly walk to check on the latest weight loss progress, the original idea to write about travel was replaced by one to mark the occasion with a blog post.

So let’s rewind right back to the beginning and explain for any newcomers what this musical odyssey is all about, a few facts and figures and the self-imposed rules which govern it.

Are you sitting comfortably? Well you are one up on me, but let’s start anyway.

What?

Pretty simple, listen to every track on my iPod from A-Z.

Why?

Will ‘it seemed a good idea at the time’ suffice as an answer?

Tried it once before (with a much smaller musical collection) but it sort of ran out of steam having reached midway through C.

Think was struggling to find anything to grab my attention and, having planned several times to dig deep into my collection and listen to some stuff that had passed me by or been forgotten, it seemed a way of doing it.

Raised the idea again around the same time this website was created in March 2014 to house blog posts for past trips and the then looming Trans Africa trip.

Looking for something else to write about, some bright spark suggested combining the two and writing about the iPod. That’s the Cornish for you.

The rules

  • My iPod decides the order – It’s in-built alphabetising system is the one which will determine the running order.
    Somehow it has changed, Vampire Weekend’s A-Punk relegated from the opening track on the initial attempt to somewhere in the pack of A songs, letting The Beatles kick things off with A Day in the Life – although a quick check reveals the first song on the list is now (A Belated) Invite To Eternity by Stornoway which had been listed under B.
    Some of the alphabetising is a bit weird, especially with definite and indefinite articles.
  • No skipping – To count, the song must register as having been played in my iTunes library, which means playing it until the end. Long silences at the end of songs push my patience on this one, especially in the gym.
  • It’s the tracks that count, not songs – Multiple versions of the same song all have to be listened to. The most found so far is five – one cover and four of the original in various different guises. That’s five tracks to be listened to all the way through.
  • No revisionism – There’s some rubbish on there, no hiding away from the fact. But nobody put it on there but me (even if the reason is lost in the mists of time), so there’s nobody to blame. It has to be listened to before moving on.
  • New additions count – This remains an evolving collection, so when something is added and drops into the list before the current point, at some point there will be a catch-up session.
    Do this at the end of each letter via a playlist which any new songs from earlier in the journey get dropped into.
  • Breaks are allowed – Let’s be honest, all this time without any new music or being able to choose exactly what to listen to is not really an option.
    This is a challenge to be paused and picked up again from where it was left off. There have been some very long breaks, getting on for a year in a couple of places.

The landmarks

At the time these were the songs sat in the most notable figures:

And the songs sitting in those positions at the moment:

  • 1,000 Birch Tree – Foals
  • 2,000 Coaxed – Avi Buffalo
  • 3,000 Drinking At The Dam – Smog
  • 4,000 The Gator – Will Oldham

The stats

  • Longest track to date: 27.37 Driftin’ Back – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
  • Shortest track to date: 6 seconds Hive Mind – They Might Be Giants (the shortest track in my collection)
  • Longest section: Songs beginning with All which have held the title since occupying tracks 160-267. About to be totally blown out of the water.

The latest section

Apart from Stornoway grabbing the limelight, inevitably at the moment, we had The Beatles – twice in just 28 songs with Honey Don’t and Honey Pie.

There were also two appearances for Billy Bragg, both solo (Honey, I’m A Big Boy Now) and with Wilco (Hoodoo Voodoo) and two versions, one live, of Hope The High Road from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. Not his best but still good enough to get on here twice.

More old favourites came in the shape of Leonard Cohen-inspired REM (Hope), The Wedding Present (Hopak, one of their Ukrainian tracks) and Sugar with Hoover Dam – one of the unwritten laws which have evolved says it has to be mentioned as it is from Copper Blue. And still brilliant.

For once, Sugar were not the loudest in this chunk. That goes to Deafheaven, all 11-plus minutes of it – an acquired taste which am starting to come round to.

But that was not the longest track of this section, followed immediately by 13 minutes of Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her by Josh T Pearson.

It all added up to something a bit different in the gym with those two back to back. Pretty sure was the only one in there listening to that.

But reckon that’s the case most of the time.

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Ha Ha Ha Ha (Yeah) to Happiness

ANYONE listening carefully during the closing scene of the first episode of the BBC drama Press would have heard anguished screams from newspaper sub editors all over the country.

You will need to have listened carefully – we are an endangered species after all – but the screen shot of an intro written by a deputy news editor had us (and journalists of all types) shouting at the TV.

One glance at Twitter was enough to confirm what we were all thinking after the opening episode of the tale of two competing, contrasting and neighbouring newspapers.

Let’s not go in to too much detail of what is wrong with that (basically, all of it – too long, dull, don’t throw all the facts in the first par, local is on the banned words list on a regional paper let alone a national whose readers could be anywhere in the country, last Friday dates it, start with the news angle…)

It needs a complete rewrite.

On a former paper the production staff had a running joke with one ‘award-winning’ reporter in particular that copy needed so much work their byline should read ‘From an original idea by…’. Or unoriginal if we were feeling less charitable.

And who let a reporter (deputy news editor in this case) write her own headline?

There were other complaints from journalists all over Twitter – absolutely no mention of the internet, the appalling design of The Herald, a reporter carrying out an interview without notes or recording, the lack of empty desks and swearing in the office, no feeding frenzy when free food arrives and unrealistic shortage of tea being made and consumed plus a few more niche complaints.

Smelly food seems to be a widespread complaint – one reporter’s name was mentioned in our office when that tweet was spotted.

In fairness, Press was pretty enjoyable. One review described it as more accurate of a newspaper world from 20 years ago – the lack of internet taking precedence confirms that – and from experience in regional newsrooms, there was certainly enough there that rang true (amid a lot that didn’t).

Certainly not as bad as feared after years of watching reporters and newspapers portrayed inaccurately in dramas which have helped to colour public perceptions of our profession.

It’s not a documentary, we get that. But getting most of the basics right is generally a good place to start and, on the whole, Press got enough right to pass muster – and enough wrong for journalists to do what they love most. Moan.

It’s not always the case. Regardless of what most people think, the press  in this country is governed by laws and every trainee journalist has to learn the basics (yes, there is a well-thumbed – albeit out of date – copy of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists in my desk).

The 10 points of what you can report from the first hearing – as dictated by The Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 – is pretty much the first thing generations of reporters learned. Before knowing where Oxdown is.

A sighting of a newspaper page in any drama normally has me squirming and  watching through my fingers as they blast a headline, designed to explain as simply possible to viewers, which would break any number of legal reporting restrictions. To say nothing of the quite awful design.

Occasionally a film crew will ask the professionals to mock up a page for them – not sure what one production team didn’t like about a design we provided, the look, fact it was not simple enough or that the back page had the two people behind it promoted into the British & Irish Lions squad.

The Lions featured on a genuine back page of mine in a South Wales Echo read by Larry Lamb on the beach at Barry Island during an episode of Gavin & Stacey.

But as much as those of us who nudge pictures around pages and spend ages coming up with headlines (or until a relevant song title or lyric takes to pop into our minds – very proud of last week’s niche top cats provided with dignity effort), it is the stories which really matter.

And words matter.

Each week, send out an email to our reporters and news desk detailing things we have picked up in their copy or have cropped up in the office – be it factual errors, house style or the correct distribution of sauces in a sausage sandwich order (the important stuff).

Some of it may seem trivial, some of it is useful information, some of it drives subs nuts (misspelling the village where one of them grew up is never a good idea). There may be lots of ways to refer to councillors, but only one of them is correct in house style and it looks stupid if it varies from story to story – or paragraph to paragraph in many cases.

Yes, words matter.

One example came to my attention this week and, must admit, had not given it much thought.

Committed suicide is a recognisable phrase, very easy to slip the words together without thinking.

But committed comes from when suicide was a crime so should we really be churning it out without thinking at a time when so much effort is being put in to tackle mental health and its public perception? That’s one for the next style guide email.

And then there’s one which has had a deal of personal resonance over the years, particularly in recent weeks and months – cancer battle.

Remarkably, Rachael Hodges was criticised by a small section of Twitter lowlife for not battling this despicable disease hard enough, regardless of her remarkable work in changing perceptions and putting people with cancer in the spotlight. Not hidden away with people unsure how to deal with them.

Describing it as a battle gives this horrible condition some form of dignity, a foe worthy of meeting on equal terms when all too often the odds have long been stacked far too heavily.

And just the whole thought of winners and losers in this situation is ridiculous.

Understand why people use the phrase and have yet to come up with much better, but suggest we try. Words matter.

Which all adds up to make it slightly ironic the last section of the A-Z trip through my iPod – you know, what this whole blog section is supposed to be about – ends with Happiness.

Was not the main feeling over the past month or so, but recent events have had the side effect of a lot of looking back at happier times and so amid the sadness there’s been a lot of smiles. And laughter.

The latest leg of the journey took us from White Denim to Teenage Fanclub and was dominated by Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Prefab Sprout and Juliana Richer Daily all chipping in with originals, covers and altogether different songs.

There was some terrific stuff along the way but rather than another ridiculously long paragraph listing it all, here’s some of it…

  • A big thank you for the reaction and kind words following my last, untitled piece on the loss of the much-missed Nick Machin. It meant a lot. The number of hits that post has received has been ridiculous – something I’m sure says a lot more about Nick than my writing.
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The Great Big No to Gypsy Death & You

THERE is an odd phenomenon which happens some time before the clocks go forward each spring.

Quite when depends on how bleak the previous few months have been but around the point at which it becomes pretty easy to remember the rest of Gloucester’s fixture list, the end of the rugby season cannot come soon enough.

It has not always been like this, but when egg chasing on and off the pitch infiltrated the bulk of my working life, the end of the season increasingly became  a moment to savour.

It did not last long. Within weeks – often within days – we had replaced spending Saturday afternoons covering matches or producing pages based around that coverage with going to the pub to watch the summer Test matches over a few beers.

Home

And before you knew it, that gap on a Saturday afternoon needed filling (to say nothing of the sports page which don’t just vanish all summer) and the countdown was on until the first match.

Rugby – and sport in general – forms only part of the day job now. More of a watching brief than the heart of the role. Writing about it and designing pages about it has been replaced by watching it. As a fan.

The same still applies. By around March, the end of the season cannot come soon enough – not that you would have heard any complaints if Gloucester had managed to extend their season into the play-offs (two heavy defeats to end the league campaign made sure that didn’t happen, but we were seriously in the running until then which made a refreshing change).

It’s not the rugby. You wouldn’t find me anywhere else than in The Shed for any home game or in front of the TV for any televised away match. It’s just that you start to crave a weekend that doesn’t have to be planned around the game (and the getting there early to save a place in The Shed).

Was certainly desperate for the season to end as Gloucester, down to 14 men, were hanging on into the final couple of minutes of the European Challenge Cup final (our third in four years) against a Cardiff Blues team that really should have been buried before the break.

Season’s end came little more than 60 seconds too late, a last-ditch penalty bringing the kind of finale Gloucester fans have seen all too often in recent seasons. It’s got to the point where it is hard to accept we have hung on for the win until you’ve seen it on the TV highlights.

By the end of that night in Bilbao (the venue needs an explanation nearly as long as some of the journeys it took to get there), rugby could just go vanish.

For three days. Right up to the point when Gloucester signed Danny Cipriani.

Unlike the influx of South Africans (more may have arrived by the time you read this*) and Matt Banahan from Bath – akin to Liverpool signing Gary Neville in his playing days – this was not rumoured for weeks, debated and ranted about by the keyboard warriors who would find something to complain about if Gloucester went the whole season undefeated. There had been the odd whisper which over the course of a weekend became a roar.

Popular rantings on forums and social media over the past season included opposition to the renaming of The Shed (it is officially, shock horror, The Greene King Shed although you will not hear anyone call it that), one woman’s crusade against players not spending enough time thanking fans at away games, the selection of beers (much of it supplied by the same sponsors), unsuitable headwear and the club not announcing any new signings.

Whether there was any to announce or not and regardless of whether the player had signed or any agreement between his old and new club over a big reveal. Never mind any of that, somebody had mentioned it on the forum, why had the club not announced it?

Cipriani’s signing – by my reckoning, the biggest name since at least the capture of All Black lock Ian Jones the best part of 20 years ago – was met with almost universal support. Almost.

There were those fretting about his wages and those about what was going to happen to our existing outside-halves. Because clearly we are going to play the same 15 players in every game next season. And one of our No 10s didn’t really play inside centre for Wales in the autumn.

But the keyboard complainers did not have too long to wait. Little more than 24 hours later and they hit the mother load.

Word got out of an announcement – people were invited, people talk, however much the club try to keep it quiet – and the amount of times two plus two came to totals other than four was astonishing.

More signings (complete with mixed reviews, despite not knowing who they were) and a rebranding as Gloucester Lions were presented pretty much as fact. Opinion on Twitter, after all, is confirmation of the truth these days.

And that opinion, particularly about the rebrand, was not a welcoming one – no matter how many times the club denied it. Even after the event. You fear for the king of the jungle around these parts if we ever have a referendum to take back control from cats.

The truth barely caused the complainers to draw breath.

Yes there was a lion. In a new badge. On a new shirt. But no, we remain Gloucester Rugby. We Are Gloucester Rugby as the branding repeats.

Personally, like the shirt (first current one bought since about the time Ian Jones was playing for us) while really cannot get excited one way or another about the badge. Far more concerned about things that actually matter, like what’s happening on the pitch.

And the number of bobble hats in The Shed (probably the favourite issue all season which has become something of a running joke).

But the complaints rolled in. They hated the shirt, declaring it was destined to sit unloved in the club shop (early evidence suggests otherwise) if it was even in the shop before the season started (it was later that day), the lion on the logo had no connection with the club (bar the lions on the old crest and that of the city) and it looked just like Leicester Tigers.

Which, as more than one wag pointed out, suggests they would be easily confused at West Midlands Safari Park.

The shirt’s fine. Some are better than others, if you don’t like it wear an old one and we’ll have a new one soon enough. At least it’s not dayglo, highlighter pen yellow. Or blue, black and white.

The logo is OK, if you really care, and with my page designer head on is certainly more user-friendly than the old one. And no, however many forum gurus claim otherwise, we are not changing the name to Gloucester Lions. They are not going to spend all this money on a rebrand and then change the name.

All this means the need for a summer break is desperately needed. Not from the rugby (already looking forward to next season with more than the usual optimism), but from the serial complainers.

My favourite was the unknown guy who, walking home after a draw with Wasps, blamed the defeat on Ben Morgan – partly for missing tackle for one of their tries. After he had gone off.

He then criticised Ruan Ackermann for being granted a short mid-season rest.

How could a pro sportsman earning decent wages need a rest, he argued? Akin to the utterly ridiculous argument – seen countless times in the last few days – that Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius can take the mental anguish and quite shocking online abuse following his errors in the Champions League final, just because he earns a lot of money.

Having opted not to run into him repeatedly (there is, even mid weight loss, quite a lot of me) and arrange to do the same on a weekly basis to see at what point he needed a rest, pointed out the still young back-row forward had not missed a game up to that point and had not had a break after reaching the Super 14 final with the Lions in South Africa, my unhappy companion thought for a second and dismissed my observation.

“He didn’t play for the Lions,” he argued. “He couldn’t, he’s South African.”

As he stormed off ahead before my explanation there was more than one Lions, the woman with him turned to me, shrugged, considered an explanation but simply shrugged again, smiled and sloped off in his wake, resigned to a long night.

Gloucester’s season was not the only thing coming to an end. The G section of the A-Z of the iPod reached its conclusion, all 498 tracks from The Lemonheads to The Kills.

It was a relatively short sprint with some old favourites in The Lemonheads, The Clash (Guns of Brixton – twice – and Groovy Times),  REM (Green Grow The Rushes) and Half Man Half Biscuit (Gubba-Look-A-Likes) plus less frequent, but very welcome, visitors in I Am Kloot (Great Escape), Stornoway (The Great Procrastinator), Charlotte Hatherley (Grey Will Fade) and Drive-By Truckers (Guns of Umpqua).

And there was some classic country, two versions of Dwight Yoakam’s Guitars, Cadillacs… which always takes me back to a US road trip and a cover version in a bar during a memorable night in Austin, Texas.

You’ve got to do something when there’s no rugby.

* Two more have been announced between writing this and posting it.

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