Home in England

Okay so I actually arrived home rather a long time ago now but wanted to just post a final entry to mark the end of my trip (albeit slightly late).  I wanted to thank everyone (well almost everyone -I’m sure people noted the exceptions) who I met on my travels and who enhanced the whole experience.  Many thanks also to friends, family and other well-wishers along the way.  It really was important to me to feel that England and the people I love still existed when, at times, I felt like I was a million miles away.

Finally, if anyone is thinking about taking a similar, or dissimilar, trip my advice would be do it.  It really was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and one which I will never regret and always remember fondly.

Okay, this is starting to sound a little like an Oscar speech and I, for one, am now feeling slightly nauseous so I think I’ll draw things to a close.  I’m going to make this just slightly more pretentious and finish with one of my favourtie quotations from my travels from the ever amazing source of an Asian guy’s t-shirt:

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”.

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Tuesday 30th December – L.A. to San Francisco to Chicago

The routing may sound slightly odd here but that’s as my initial round the World ticket was from San Francisco to Chicago and, as you may have gathered, I changed my routing to meet up with Chuck.  I had originally planned to spend some time in San Francisco but half decided to see L.A. properly and do this another time.  Anyway, this meant that I had to get to San Francisco from L.A.

When I go to the airport, which I actually did in alright time for me, (well I say that, it was quite good time, the gate hadn’t even opened) I was wondering if the flight had been cancelled as there were so few people waiting.  One man asked what flight I was waiting for and then went and asked at the gate.  It turned out that the flight was going but that very few people were.  When we got on the plane and the flight attendant checked our tickets instead of telling us how to get to our allocated seats she simply asked us to pick a row!  I’ve never been on such an empty flight and was quite surprised given the time of year.  It was nice to have so much space but I was thinking about the veritable forest that someone should be planting to offset all that carbon.  I guess that’s the current economy in action.

I arrived safely in San Francisco after a relatively short flight and found the gate for my follow on flight which wasn’t anywhere near as empty.  After a longer flight I arrived in Chicago.  I was aware that a combination of Alexandra (my cousin), Renato (her husband) and Al (her father in law) could be picking me up and, having collected my luggage, did the whole staring at people thing to try and figure out if they were any of the people milling around.  After a little while I saw someone who fitted Renato’s description (ish) and was about to go and ask him if he was waiting for me.  I was glad I didn’t as, seconds later, I saw Alexandra and Renato approaching.  Apparently he had spotted me first, before my cousin, which was quite amusing.

After a warm welcome at the airport we found the car (eventually, there seem to be a short debate about where it had been left) and headed out to Elgin where they lived.  It was cold but not as horrendously cold as I had expected and I was pleased to see that there were piles of snow around.  The highways were reassuringly American with what felt like hundreds of lanes which people used to over and undertake at will.  There were also loads of massive advertising billboards lining the roads.

When we got to the house it was lovely, warm and welcoming and I met Al and Betty, Alexandra’s inlaws.  I also found out that Alexandra was pregnant which was a shock, albeit a rather nice one.  In the evening I was asked what I wanted to do and joked about country dancing.  So, Renato, Alexandra and I headed out to a bar where there was a line dancing night.  We all wore the obligatory cowboy hats of course!  It was really funny to see, ‘authentic’ line dancing but, after a while, Alexandra and I were a bit miffed to see how few steps there were which were repeated in different orders for different songs.  It was funny though and there was such a mix of people and ages taking part.  There were a couple of young guys who thought they were it adding ad-lib moves from the Michael Jackson thrusts to almost Michael Flatley-esque flairs.  Then there was the old drunk lady who spun round too quickly all the time, showing us what was under her skirt, looking like she was going to fall over and then being quickly caught by her partner who looked more and more concerned.  After an entertaining night we headed back, partly as we had seen enough line dancing for one night and partly as Renato was working early the following day.

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Saturday 27th to Monday 29th December – L.A.

We got up and Brad and Chuck seemed to have slightly different views about the things that needed to be done during the day.  After they had one of their married couple type arguments Chuck, "accidentally" managed to drive to "the Standard", one of his favourite hotels.  We checked in and the place was actually very funky.  After a mojito I got my hair cut and we chilled around the hotel and pool.  I went for a wander around the area looking up at the Hollywood hills.  Shortly after I got back to the hotel a couple of Chuck’s friends arrived who turned out to be more L.A. types with a record producer responsible for Black Sabbath and the like.

Parts of L.A. are very cool and funky and, overall, I like the place a lot.  However, I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere with as many people who know someone famous, have been someone famous and, I guess a group who actually ‘are’ someone.  In a way it really did my head in as things like that mean very little to me, in a way I thought it was kind of cool and in a way it was explainable as it is Hollywood, where people do make themselves or bar tend in places desperately after their one lucky break.  Anyway, so we had a few drinks in the room and then headed to the hotel bar.  Later we met Brad who came and collected us and took us out for awesome pizza at one of the great pizza places in the city.

On Sunday we faffed around L.A.  We decided to head to a cheaper hotel and went to the "Rodeway Inn" which was near Brad’s place.  Chuck described the place as a "Crack hotel" and, having gone to the local garage to buy cigarettes, I met one of the residents who clearly justified his description!  He commented that he liked my boots prior to offering his room number lest I, "get bored later", which was very considerate of him!  Needless to say I didn’t get bored and decided not to take him up on his offer.  The place was actually okay but the room wasn’t big enough to swing a Binky, to the extent that there was only one bedside lamp as, had they tried to put two in the room, the door would have smacked into one of them.  After a relatively chilled day we had an early night.

In the morning we again moved hotels, this time just down the road to a nicer, cheaper place with a pool in the courtyard and much bigger, better rooms.  Chuck showed me some more of the city which was to my liking and later we met up with Brad.  As I had an early flight the following day we had an early night.

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Friday 26th December – Back to L.A.

We said our Goodbyes to Claire, gathered our things and headed back to Los Angeles.  Once back in the city we took the Lexus back to Brad.  Having chilled out with Brad for a while and explored a little more of the city, Brad cooked and I decided to go for a walk.  Brad had suggested that “the Grove”, a shopping area, was a nice place to go so I headed in that direction.  En route a guy in a garage used his intercom to shout out compliments to me which was amusing.  When I asked a couple if I was going the right way they informed me that they were heading to the cinema at The Grove and advised that I walk with them.  As we crossed a road some woman decided to try to run me over and the guy whisked me out of the way before promptly shouting at the woman.  Although roads confuse me at the best of times, particularly as my natural instincts as to which way the traffic should be coming from have gone out of the window as it changes so much when you’re travelling, the man was green and we had right of way.  The guy who saved me (actually the car was going at about 3 miles per hour) said that they were going to see Valkyrie.  I commented that I saw “Four Christmases” and he said that he wouldn’t see the movie out of principle as Vince Vaughn is in it and he’s “rude and arrogant”.  The guy apparently knew this as he was a film director, had worked with him and directed “Wedding Crashers”.  So, having been rescued by a film director I arrived at the Grove.  The place was beautiful with lights everywhere, jumping fountains, Christmas decorations and even fake snow at 7pm.  It really got me in the Christmasy mood which was a bit of a shame as I was a day late. 


On the way back to Brad’s house someone shouted something and threw an object out of their car which missed my face by a matter of millimetres.  Back at Brad’s I told the guys about my entertaining trip and we had an early night at Brad’s house.  It wasn’t the most comfortable night though as for some reason the heating decided that we didn’t actually need to be kept warm!

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Thursday 25th December – Christmas with Chuck and Grandma

Chuck had previously called his grandmother a few days earlier to warn her that he would see her for Christmas but I was still slightly concerned about the prospect of her having a heart attack when he pressed the intercom and informed her that he was outside her property.  Chuck had described his grandmother as a very sweet lady and she was awesome.  He showed me around the area and we decided to get cinema tickets for us and his grandmother (Claire) to see a movie in the afternoon.  Although Claire was meant to be going to the Christmas dinner organised by the residential centre she returned saying that there was some kind of mix up with the seating arrangements.  I still think that she was being polite as she didn’t want us to miss out and be by ourselves.  So, with grandma in her glad rags and lippy we headed out and got takeaway from a burger joint.  Back at the house we ate and Chuck and I chatted whilst Claire had the obligatory apres Christmas dinner nap, albeit a burger consumption and not a turkey dinner with all the trimmings!


When Claire woke up, with the assistance of Chuck of course, we headed to the cinema to see “Four Christmases”.  It was funny and slightly better than I had expected although I wasn’t overly impressed that Chuck thought it was a good idea to take me to a movie which continuously reminded you of the importance of family at Christmas time for my first ever Christmas out of the U.K.! 


Back at Claire’s house she, rather sweetly, gave me a necklace and, after a bit more exploring in the car, we had an early night.

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Wednesday 24th December – Christmas Eve, Chuck and leaving Los Angeles (temporarily).

It got to 11AM which was slightly concerning as Chuck was meant to be collecting me at ten.  I borrowed someone’s mobile and called Brad who expressed concern that Chuck had not arrived having left an hour earlier in his car!  As I was on the phone Chuck walked in and it was cool to see him.  We left the hostel and headed across town to Brad’s house.  Brad is one of Chuck’s oldest friends and a very cool guy.  It soon transpired that Brad and Chuck liked to argue like an old married couple, much to my amusement.  I decided that, as it was Christmas Eve, snowballs were in order and headed out to buy ingredients.  I quite enjoyed the walk and was pleased by the number of Banksy’s in the area.  When I got to the store I waited to ask the guy in the alcohol section a question and realised that, not only was he English, the two people infront of me were also.  I’m not sure who was more bemused, me or him.  As it turned out they didn’t have advocat and I was sent to a store across the road.  When I asked a member of staff where their advocat was they thought I wanted avocados, which was useful.  It turns out that America doesn’t really do Advocat so I had to settle for some vodka and eggnog. 


Back at Brad’s he managed to make rather nice drinks given the slightly random ingredients.  Later on we headed out of town with Brad who was going to his relative’s for Christmas.  Brad was driving and the traffic was awful.  One source of continual amusement was Chuck and Brad’s banter, a large amount of which revolved around Chuck asking Brad if he was sure that he wasn’t allowed to smoke in the car.  Eventually we arrived at the parking lot where Brad’s brother and family were to meet him and Chuck and I left for Sandiego. 


After some time, a slurpee and a hot dog we decided that it was a bit late to continue driving and found a hotel by St. Clements.  The lady on reception told us that there was only one room left and that it smelled of mildew but that she could give it to us for fifty dollars.  Armed with a big tin of “Febreeze” we headed upstairs to check it out.  When we got to the room both Chuck and I were pleasantly surprised.  Although there was a bit of a tang, the room was huge and nice and I thought that the woman really should see some of the places I had stayed in.  We took the room and crashed out for the night on a comfortable bed in a room smelling of air freshener.

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Tuesday 23rd December – Lonesome in L.A.

I woke up after a very cold night’s sleep as the heater didn’t work in my room, and headed out on the shuttle bus towards the airport.  I got a local bus with a surprisingly helpful and friendly driver, which was in stark contrast to those I had met in Miami.  I was enjoying listening to the conversations on the bus until someone asked me a question and then got excited about the whole English accent thing.  This led to the inevitable, “Wow, you’re beautiful and British”, type comments.  Fortunately the conversation allowed me to make inquiries about shopping centres and I was directed where to get off to get another bus.  On the second bus there was an equally friendly woman who I chatted to prior to arriving at the mall.  When I got off the bus a guy asked where I got my Ugg boots from and then seemed slightly disappointed when I told him they were from Australia.


In the mall I managed to get stopped by every stall person with them straightening my hair, polishing my nails and the like.  After a long while I finally managed to find a jacket I liked which was the reason for me being there in the first place.  I decided to head back to the hostel and walked back to the bus stop.  At the bus stop there was a slightly crazy guy standing near me.  He was doing basketball moves and saying things like, “Damn man, you aint gonna get nowhere near that hoop wi’out some kinda mountain”.  After listening to his comedy monologue I realised that I was the only one within about twenty feet of the guy, but then I thought that the other onlookers were missing out on his comedy genius so decided not to move.  The bus arrived and I headed back to the transit centre where I got a free transfer bus to the airport.  When the hostel shuttle arrived the driver seemed slightly amused at the fact that I seemed to be spending the majority of my time in L.A. at the airport.


Once back at the hostel I checked my email and was pleased to hear that Chuck had finally arrived in the city.  I called his friend Brad, as directed, and arranged for Chuck to pick me up the following morning from the hostel.  The guy at reception seemed to think that the whole situation was hilarious and made helpful comments about dodgy American men and their many women!  In the evening I got my free “Champagne” that you are given a voucher for when you check in and had a few drinks with a guy who had leant me his laptop to use the free wifi.  Later we played pool and, having been watching us, another guy challenged me to a game.  I won, much to his apparent disgust as he muttered something and stormed off.

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Monday 22nd December – Miami to Los Angeles

The following day was my re-planned flight to Los Angeles. It was an early flight and I wasn’t exactly planned or in good time when I left. As a result I was unsure of the plans for when I arrived in L.A. and also when Chuck would be arriving. I was cutting it very fine so was really unimpressed when it looked like it wasn’t going to be possible to get a taxi from the rank which was full of taxis but no drivers. Fortunately one arrived and I headed to the airport. The check-in was quick and I arrived at the gate whilst boarding was happening. There was still enough time for a quick perusal around the gift shops though. Well technically maybe there wasn’t but there was in my mind. The flight was fine and I sat next to a friendly Dutch woman. I also managed to sleep a bit which was good.


When I arrived in L.A. I couldn’t see anyone who was meant to be collecting me from the airport. I looked for an information desk for American Airlines, as Chuck said that he would leave a message there, but there was none. I asked a staff member who informed me that there was only the main desk for the company so I joined the queue. I queued for two hours only to be told that they didn’t take messages at the desk. I headed to the other terminal where I checked my email and then went to try to call the number for Brad which Chuck had left me. The number didn’t work and the phone ate all my money. So, I headed to McDonalds, faffed around the airport some more and finally decided to head somewhaere.  There was a number for a backpackers’ place on one of the airport phones so I called the “Adventurer All star hotel and suites” and arranged a free airport pick-up.  The free shuttle arrived as it was supposed to and I was taken to a rather pleasant looking place for a backpackers’ with a large heated swimming pool, bar and restaurant.  I checked in, used the internet and chatted to some people at the hostel.  There was a group of blokes there due to work and they offered me disgusting brown straight spirits.  After chatting to them for a while they seemed to find great amusement in my former employment.  Why is it that people seem to think I want to know about all their encounters with the Criminal Justice System?  I think I need to start telling people I’m a hairdresser again!

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Saturday 13th December to Sunday 21st December – South Beach, Miami

On the Saturday I woke up with a rather fuzzy head and packed my things so that I didn’t have to stay at the hotel in the airport area and could move to a different area of town. Having hastily packed my things I dragged myself and my bags to the local shop to get a much needed juice and some cigarettes. When I was paying for my things a guy recognised my accent as English, probably noticed that I looked like death, and asked where I was headed. I told him that I was going to South beach and showed him the address of the hostel. When he offered me a lift I decided he wasn’t too dodgy and accepted. He was actually relatively sweet in a kind of bloke with pictures of his family everywhere way, although I wasn’t quite as impressed when he seemed disappointed I had shoes on and commented that he had a thing about feet! So, having survived the foot fetish guy’s lift, I arrived at Miami Beach International Travellers Hostel which I had Googled the day before. I went in and checked into a dorm. The place seemed cool and, if anyone’s interested it’s on 236 9th Street, South Beach, Floride, 33139, 305 534 0268. I headed out of the hostel and down the main street full of fun shops and way too many tattoo parlours. I say way too many as I spent a lot of time resisting heading into them. After hitting the internet I headed back to the hostel. One of the cool things about the hostel is the patio area out the front which always has people hanging around and, in the evenings, fills with people chatting and drinking. As it was a Saturday the hostel had organised a club night with free entry and discounted drinks. After chatting to a few friendly sorts I decided to head to “5th” for the free guestlist do. I went along with Matt, a fellow Brit, Guido, an awesome guy from Germany and Stuart, the most hilarious English guy. The club itself was trendy without being pretentious and it was a great night with $5 vodka combos, dancing and frolics. When we left, Guido and I decided to go for one last drink before bed time and headed to a place just around the corner from the hostel. At the door a guy told us that there was a cover charge of $80 for blokes and $60 for girls. We told him that we wouldn’t be paying that and eventually he suggested we give him a tip. Somewhat bizarrely from $140 he seemed quite okay to let us in when I gave him a $5 tip. We walked in and my excitement at having got some kind of bargain quickly faded as I saw a stripper and a punter from an angle I’d rather I hadn’t. Having nearly walked straight out again I ordered two gin and tonics which appeared to be made with some kind of toilet cleaner.  We spoke to a few delightful sorts and wondered why the place was suddenly filling up with more larger ladies before realising that they were the next act. At that point we decided it was probably a good plan to call it a night!

The following day I headed down to the beach with Guido and Stuart. Miami beach is as you would expect, although there was slightly less plastic on show than I had imagined there would be. There was a group of really entertaining guys dancing though and I got a funky photo of them making a human tower with some poor unsuspecting girl on top, so to speak. Guido and I ventured into the sea and then quickly ventured out as we saw some positively huge purple jellyfish. Although I doubt they were dangerous they would no doubt give you a nice sting.

After the beach we went to one of the bars on the strip where they had two for one mojitos on offer. After a while I headed to the toilet and Guido evidently did too and when we arrived back at the table Stuart was giggling to himself. As we had been drinking our first mojitos we had been mocking a rather camp couple who were drinking mammoth drinks out of these kind of bowls and it turned out that Stuart’s laughing was due to him having switched our order for the rather larger kind. The strawberry mojitos were divine but they didn’t seem to go down very quickly, if at all. At one point a guy with an albino python arrived and we took the obligatory, holding a snake type photos. It was all in good taste until the guy came over to Guido and I and put the entire snake’s head in his mouth. I was somewhat shocked by this as a, rather unattractive, photo will evidence. After six hours at the bar, yes I did say six (we managed to get through three waiting staff) we headed back to the hostel. Having chatted to the crew on the patio Guido and I went for a wander and found a funky hotel type bar. We had a drink and Guido asked for water which arrived in what could best be described as a large thimble, half filled with ice. After one alcoholic drink and several thimbles of water, we headed back to the hostel and called it a night.

On Monday we headed to the beach again. It was Stuart’s last day and it was a bit sad to think he was leaving. From the beach we headed back to the hostel where we had a few beers to send Stuart off. In the evening we went back to the two for one mojito bar with a couple of people from the hostel and Matt and Andrew, two Brits from the hostel. Having heard our stories about the monster mojitos Matt and Andrew decided that they could manage two large ones, despite our warnings. They did but then spent a little while looking like they were going to fall asleep at the table! I also had the most amazing chocolate mousse which was seriously divine. I wonder how healthy a diet of strawberry mojitos and chocolate mousse would be….mmmm! After the mojitos we headed down the main strip and found a karaoke bar where everyone seemed to be doing hip hop tunes which was novel and entertaining. Guido and Andrew did a couple of tunes and then we headed back to the hostel. In the morning I had woken up to find a note on my door asking me to report to reception. As I was unsure how long I was going to stay I had been paying by the day and telling them each morning. Unfortunately I slept in and, not knowing if I was staying or not, they had booked my bed out. Fortunately the hostel owners also owned apartments so I was given a room in a shared apartment a few blocks away. There was a Brazilian guy there who didn’t really seem to get my accent, or me for that matter, but he was friendly enough. When I headed back to the apartment we had a bit of a bizarre conversation about Oprah before calling it a night.

The next day was Guido’s last day before heading back to Germany. We went to the beach during the day and then went for the obligatory mojitos. I think it was the switch to a vodka tonic that finished me off as when we got back to the hostel I was slightly worse for wear. This wasn’t helped by people giving me more drinks which resulted in drunken dancing in the reception area prior to a rather wobbly walk back to the apartment.

The following morning I struggled back to the hostel with my bags which felt rather heavy, and a head which felt even heavier. I was given a bed in room one which was right next to the reception area. I spent the day around town and on the beach. In the evening I played poker with a few of the girls from the hostel. I actually did surprisingly well and, in the end, it was down to one hand between me and Paulina. I won, of course, well technically, although the game didn’t run its full course. During the poker game Chuck arrived. Chuck had introduced himself whilst Stuart was still at the hostel, although we had both thought that he had introduced himself as Sean. We had also thought he was rather rude as he was slightly terse and then left shortly after. He was actually really sweet though and observed my poker prowess. After the poker I played pool with Chuck and got slightly freaked out that he had almost identical interests, likes and dislikes to me.

Friday was meant to be my last day in Miami before my flight. I spent the day wandering around the town with Chuck and said goodbye to all the guys at the hostel. Having packed my stuff I stayed up really late trying to change my flight.

In the morning, early, we went to the airport and spoke to a guy at the desk who kept us for around twenty minutes prior to telling us that the “computer says no”. Actually that’s not quite what he said but it may as well have been. Basically we had to go and queue at a different desk which was not yet open. With Chuck asleep on the floor I managed to change my flight to a later date and re-route it to Los Angeles so that I could meet him there and then travel down to my onward flight from San Fransisco. After the airport ordeal we headed back to Chuck’s house and crashed out. We got a gorgeous cream cheese and smoked salmon bagel for lunch and then, in the evening, headed out with a couple of Chuck’s friends who had been doing a club night. It finished early so we headed to “Dreams” club. Unfortunately they weren’t impressed with Chuck’s dress, attire I mean, he wasn’t actually wearing a dress, although I’m guessing that wouldn’t have gone down too well either! From Dreams we went to another club. En route, the girls who were walking with me were most entertaining with one of them catching her shoe in a drain prior to losing it and doing comedy stumbling. The club itself was cool and we had a few drinks prior to getting a cab back to Chuck’s house.

The following day Chuck brought me breakfast and we went over to the other side of Miami with Chuck’s friend Chris (from the night before) and his girlfriend Sarah. We decided we weren’t really into the Chinese buffet, or rather Chuck did, and we headed back to his house and had an early night.

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Friday 12th December – Miami

In the morning I got the bus to downtown Miami.  Well, when I say I got the bus I did so despite some particularly grumpy bus drivers one of whom screamed at me when I didn’t give my transfer ticket to him.  Mid-journey, not really knowing where I was going, I got off and decided to get a Burger King.  This was a wise move in one way as the guy serving me did the whole, “Ewww I just Looove the English accent”, thing and told me which bus to get, but it was a poor move when I asked for a large meal.  The actual food part wasn’t too bad but the drink was served in what would best be described as a bucket!  I could only just hold it in one hand.


After the food trauma, and another bus journey, I arrived in downtown Miami and was impressed by how funky the place was.  There was a great shopping area around a quayside and I got a C.D. burnt with my photos on.  I pottered around some shops and, having bought the coolest zebra print fur bag, wandered around the shopping area.  Having been around a few more shops, a flustered guy burst in with my credit card which I had evidently left on his counter having paid for my zebra.  I was really impressed that he had taken the time to go round looking for me and slightly less impressed at my general incompetence!  After exploring I sat at one of the quayside bars and had a rather lovely mojito looking out over the water and the boats on display.


Back at the hotel I headed to Subway for dinner and then decided to check out the Spanish bar opposite the hotel.  My one drink turned into a few more courtesy of a guy called Edwin and his friend who was particularly adept at karaoke.  I also met a very keen, short, fat guy called Danny de Paz.  That was a lovely description, but I doubt he’ll be checking my blog out any time soon so I hope I’m safe on that one.  Edwin noticed my tattoo so I did one on his arm and one on his friend’s with a ballpoint pen.  See I’m a classy chick.  I received one on my leg in return which read, “Happy Hannukah” with a menorah, which I must say I’m not dying to rush to get done properly at a tattoo joint!  After Edwin and friend left I headed out to a Spanish dancing bar with a couple of other people and danced away for several hours.

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