Category Archives: Inventions

iPad sound boost & Vancouver topiary

The food container, prepared as an audio device

The food container, prepared as an audio enhancement device

Two years ago, my eternally-un-named friend came up with the ultimate mouse-catcher involving a bowl of water and a wooden ruler – the mice, in effect walked the plank.

This morning, she successfully demonstrated to me the ultimate and cheapest sound-booster for iPads and other electronic notepads.

The new speaker enhanced iPad system

The new speaker-enhanced iPad system in situ

She got a small, round, plastic food container – “They’re about 89p for 4 in Tesco,” she told me – cut a wide slit in it and put it over the corner of the iPad where the sound comes from. I can testify that this does work and I recommend the method highly. If you want similar custom-made sound-boosters, they are available from me at a mere £59.99p.

Meanwhile this blog’s occasional correspondent, Anna Smith, sent me an update headed Topiary Tragedy on what is happening in Vancouver. She works in a book shop. She wrote:


Anna Smith & Gordon Breslin (a visitor from South London who is irrelevant to this piece) hold a copy of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography (also irrelevant to this piece) within a hula hoop in Vancouver two weeks ago.

Anna Smith (left) within a hula hoop in Vancouver recently.

It has been a rough week in this paradise for topiary artists. It seems like half the people I know are being evicted, going crazy or in hospital with multiple issues.

When I arrived at the bookshop on Monday there was a note taped to the door – a pleading request for a list of books from one of my friends in hospital. I don’t know how she managed to get the note there.

There then followed a day of despairing people begging to sell dingy, second-hand books that I could not possibly buy. An artist from Kerala wanted endless information and told me I should start an agency called ‘Ask Anna’ and hire five ‘Annas’. A lonely actor, whom I like and who has schizophrenia, sat in a chair near my desk and spent four hours telling me about all the people he has been in the last few hundred years. He said he knows this is true because a very elegant psychic from Norway told him so. Then a guitarist dropped by to tell me he had spotted his teenage daughter a few days ago – she vanished last month. I could do nothing but listen.

Topiary struck back on Sunday.

One of our most beloved community leaders, 65-year-old Jim Deva, co-owner of our gay bookstore Little Sister’s, died after falling off a ladder. At first, I thought it must have been a ladder in the book shop but no, he had been trimming the bamboo outside of his apartment when he fell.

Canada’s CBC News reports the death of Jim Deva

Canada’s CBC News reports the death of Jim

Little Sister’s bookstore, in its early days, had been bombed at least twice and was the subject of years of harassment from the federal government through Border Services, who diligently opened every single shipment of books from The United States. Eventually the government tried to locate a psychiatrist to support their court case and state that Little Sister’s was importing obscene material. They asked around, looking for someone who was an expert on homosexuality. Everyone told them to ask my dad (who had become a psychiatrist and was one of the first signatories of The American Psychiatric Association’s declaration that homosexuality is not an illness).

So, when they did ask him, he said he would read all the material they had seized but would have to charge them his regular psychiatrist rate.

He spent all his spare time for three months reading all manner of gay literature and porn, then sent the government a bill for around $10,000 and a letter stating that none of the material at Little Sister’s was harmful at all.

Oh, yeah, and the European lesbians texted me from the marina last night. There was a storm and they have no fuel. They want to borrow my tiny butane stove.


I have absolutely no idea what any of that has to do with topiary.

It is perhaps best that some things remain unexplained.

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Odd inventions at the Edinburgh Fringe plus gangsters and a bit of name-calling

I got woken by heartburn this morning around 4.00am and started mini-puking around 6.20am. I think it must have been from the chicken curry I had with Janey Godley and her daughter Ashley Storrie last night at a restaurant in Edinburgh.

‘Janey Godley’ might or might not be her real name, depending on your viewpoint, as anyone who has read her autobiography Handstands In the Dark will know.

Perception is everything at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Bob scarred himself by falling down his own trapdoor

Bob scarred himself by falling down his own trapdoor

As I was walking along Chambers Street yesterday, on my way to comedian Bob Slayer’s solo comedy show Bob Slayer: Worldwide Bawbag, a middle-aged couple passed me. The woman asked the man:

“Who are we going to see?”

“I can’t remember his name,” replied the man. “He’s on one of those Never Mind The Buzzcocks type shows.”

“Oh,” the woman said, “so he’s not a proper comedian.”

Whoever they were talking about, I suspect he is a ‘proper’ comedian, but I see their point.

Is Bob Slayer a proper comedian? It depends on your perception. He likes to take risks, which is always a good start. People tend not to twig that ‘Bob Slayer’ is not his real name. It is a sporting pun.

Perception is everything.

When I arrived at the corner of South College Street yesterday afternoon, I perceived Bob Slayer chasing a girl in a red dress down Nicolson Street. She had, perhaps rather foolishly, refused to take one of the flyers for his show.

Bob Slayer failing to attract women in Edinburgh yesterday

Bob Slayer failing to attract women in Edinburgh yesterday

A few minutes later, as I sat in Bob’s Bookshop, waiting for him to come back and start his show, I chatted with one of the other members of the audience.

“Where do you come from?” I asked.

“Edinburgh.” he said in an English accent.

“How long have you lived here?”

“About a year.”

“Why did you move up here?”

“Because my friend got a job as an anaesthetist – teaching anaesthesia at the vet school here.”

“So you moved up here to do what?”

“I’m training as a cyclist,” he told me. “And I’m an inventor.”

“What do you invent?”

Greg Dickens in Bob’s Bookshop yesterday

Extraordinary inventor Greg Dickens in Bob’s Bookshop…

“In the last year,” he told me, “I’ve been working on prosthetic joints, pieces for an engine – hopefully for Jaguar – a driving tool for the AA and make-up and hopefully chocolate for the Third World.”

“What’s your name?”

“Greg Dickens.”

“You have a website?”

“I do. gregdickens.org.uk.”

“Org?” I said, “That implies you don’t make any money.”

“It means I don’t make any money through the website,” laughed Greg.

When Bob Slayer arrived in the room, he had a scar on his arm.

“How did you get that?” I asked.

“I fell down my own trapdoor,” Bob replied.

Bob’s Bookshop has a trapdoor in the floor, as if it were all part of a pantomime.

Bob Slayer yesterday demonstrated how the Bloodhound Gang urinated on each other

Bob Slayer yesterday demonstrated how the Bloodhound Gang urinated on each other

I told Bob: “This man designs chocolate.”

“What sort of chocolate do you design?” Bob asked Greg.

“Chocolate for hot countries, so it doesn’t melt,” Greg told him.

“So,” suggested Bob, “you looked at the Malteser and said They want it to melt in the mouth not in the hand in Africa.”

“Yeah,” said Greg Dickens. “Testing finishes in a few months time.”

Bob (of course) did not have any script for his show, but managed to stumble onto a rounded show starting with how, as a rock music manager, he had turned down the Arctic Monkeys.

This then developed into extensive, increasingly OTT and surreal tales of touring with the Bloodhound Gang, who are currently stranded in a Russian hotel for pissing on a Russian flag in the Ukraine. When they arrived on Russian soil, they were reportedly pelted with eggs at the airport, thrown by Cossacks.

After Bob’s show, I rushed to The Hive venue to see Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia.

Matt Price with his agent, who appears in his show’s story

Matt Price & agent Sarah Higgins, who appears in his story

Matt Price only had ten days to prepare his show – because the performance slot only became available after Chris Dangerfield cancelled his show at the last moment due to alleged threats (see my blog of a week ago).

Matt was worried that he had not had enough time to prepare the show. But, because it is all true – about his encounters with the Turkish Mafia on a very recent, abandoned series of gigs of Turkey – I told him there was no problem forgetting the stories and he did not need a script.

He still had to decide, though, whether to name some of the men in the story on stage. He did. (The main name had already been reported in a Chortle news story on Matt’s problems.)

I thought I already knew what had happened, but he has rounded it into a slick (in the best meaning of the word), entertaining and funny show. He was worried it was too serious a subject for comedy. But he is not telling a funny story; he is telling a story funny.

Unexpectedly (for me) it all started with him being persuaded to ghost write the autobiography of a well-known London gangster (whom he did not name, though I have been in the chap’s sex dungeon) and it ended with Matt saying he was going to write a book about the psychology of gangsters.

As I left the gig and walked up to the Royal Mile to get a taxi, someone said to his friend as he passed me: “The trouble is there are too many old people alive right now.”

I was not sure if I should take this personally.

I needed the taxi to get to Hearts FC’s Tynecastle Stadium, where their manager Gary Locke was facing a comedy This Is Your Trial show with comedians Norman Lovett as judge, Janey Godley as prosecutor and Bob Slayer as defence. The charge seemed mostly to be about Gary Locke’s hairstyle.

Janey Godley, Norman Lovett & Bob Slayer at Hearts FC yesterday

Janey Godley, Norman Lovett and Bob Slayer at Hearts FC

Despite having Bob Slayer as his defence counsel, Gary was found Not Guilty. Even more bizarre, I thought, was the fact that Janey – a woman not without experience in matters of crime, the court system and let’s not even mention gangsters – was cast as the Prosecution. But I guess she has taken the saying Know Your Enemy to heart. As a prosecutor, she was both aggressive and highly, highly funny (mostly ad-libbed).

Which brings us back to the Indian meal and its after-effects.

When I was up with heartburn and would-be vomiting early this morning, I looked up the website www.gregdickens.org.uk

It does not exist.

Then I remembered that Greg Dickens, the man in Bob Slayer’s show, had said he had just come from an improvisation show.

I should have realised what he meant when he said he was “an inventor”.

You must never believe anything anyone says during the Edinburgh Fringe. It is all smoke and mirrors. It is all perception.

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The line between being world famous and being forgotten is thin and random

Sir Keith Park defended London

I had never heard of Sir Keith Park, who saved London

Like most people, I know a lot about what happened during my parent’s generation’s time.

So I grew up knowing a lot about the Second World War.

But, until I visited the RAF Museum in Hendon yesterday, I had never heard of Sir Keith Park.

A New Zealander, he was in operational command of the defence of London during the Battle of Britain in World War Two and, later in the War, in charge of the defence of Malta.

I had, of course, heard of British national hero ‘Bomber’ Harris, who is now partially discredited because of his bombing of Dresden but I had never heard of Sir Keith Park.

The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history is thin and random.

When I woke up this morning, the Google.com homepage was celebrating the 197th birthday of Augusta Ada King, countess of Lovelace – aka Ada Lovelance.

I had never heard of her but, in 1843, she first published the idea of inputting punch cards to Charles Babbage’s ‘Analytic Machine’.

Charles Babbage, of whom I had heard, designed his Analytic Machine purely as a powerful calculator but is remembered as the father of computing. The less-remembered (and, by me, totally unknown) Ada is, according to Google, considered by some “the world’s first computer programmer, as well as a visionary of the computing age”.

The dividing line between being remembered and being forgotten by history really is random.

John Logie Baird and his 'Televisor' c 1925

John Logie Baird and his misguided ‘Televisor’ in around 1925

Everyone knows John Logie Baird invented television.

Except, of course, he did not. He had the wrong system.

My favourite author, George Eliot, is usually credited with the quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been” and it sounds, indeed, very much like her. But it seems to have actually been an urban myth type variation on a quote from the novel John Halifax, Gentleman by the almost totally forgotten Dinah Mulock Craik.

The original quote is the unmemorable: “You mean, Mr. Halifax, what I might have been. Now it is too late.”

That has pretty much the opposite meaning to the more famous remembered quote “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” which seems to have been conjured out of nowhere by generations of misquotation.

Who is remembered and why and for what is fairly random.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

Sic transit gloria. 

Ars longa vita brevis.

They all seem to cover it.

But I, perhaps not surprisingly, prefer to remember a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a novel set partly in the post-War US, partly during the bombing of Dresden by Bomber Harris’ planes and partly on the fictional planet of Tralfamadore:

“Now when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”

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How not to become a millionaire by creating an original new product

John Ward told me he had had another crap idea

So near and yet so far from becoming a millionaire…

I got an e-mail this morning from mad inventor John Ward.

He has come up with a new idea – the James Bond personalised bog roll holder with incorporated gun rack. He has created it in a hand-carved cherry wood finish with gilt inlay numerals.

Like many of his ideas, there is the twinkle of a marketable commodity here.

I fondly remember his bicycle for window cleaners – the frame of the bike itself became a ladder.

As TV presenter Chris Tarrant once said: “Brilliant, but not quite all there.”

It was not clear if he meant John’s idea or John himself.

Much like writing a daily blog, John Ward has carved out a niche in an area where it is difficult to, in our American cousins’ phrase, ‘monetise the product’.

I am sure there is a market for personalised, hand-carved toilet roll holders, but where you would start to exploit it is another matter. Certainly, with gun included, there must be a market in certain parts of South East London.

As Chris Tarrant implied, John Ward’s ideas are usually brilliant but not yet quite in the Dyson millionaire-making class.

His mobile church font drew some interest from his local vicar… His musical frying pan (hum along while you fry) got some interest… And his bra-warmer received a lot of press attention.

John Ward with the main Malcolm Hardee Award

Marking time until the millions flow in, he designed and built the three annual and increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards… and he once designed a bullshit-detecting machine for me.

Unfortunately, there was so much of it in the air, the machine could not detect a single specific source.

John Ward still needs that one big breakthrough product or an offer to become prop maker to the stars.

All suggestions gratefully received.

Here is an Australian TV report:

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Mad inventor John Ward approached by African charity with a claw hammer

In yesterday’s blog, comedy critic Kate Copstick touched on corruption in Africa when she talked about potential problems her Mama Biashara charity faced in Kenya.

John Ward’s snow machine

Mad inventor John Ward tells me he had a strange meeting several years ago in Northamptonshire. He is, perhaps more accurately described as an eccentric creator of bizarre contraptions. The strange things he can do with his hands do not bear too much thinking about.

Because he occasionally appears in newspaper articles and TV items, he sometimes gets cold calls from people who have tracked him down.

“I had a phone call a while ago from a bod from some wonderful sounding mob,” he told me yesterday. “The bod said they did fund raising for Africa. After a  long phone call, I arranged to meet him for lunch in Northampton.

“I was curious, so I dialled 1471 to check his telephone number. But it was a ‘number withheld’ jobby… This could be a wind-up, I thought, but I needed to go shopping in Northampton anyway.

“So I met him as arranged outside the main shopping centre in town, close to the market, and we wandered off to a nearby eaterie. He was the usual charity-type bod wearing the standard issue slack, ill-fitting – or somebody else’s – suit with a shirt collar size about eight times what he really took and he had a very ‘wet fish’ handshake that reminded me how strong our pet rabbit was.

“The idea, it turned out, was to get me to go to a part of Africa where the locals were building things like sheds and wells… but they lacked the skills to build them in such a way that they would be still standing/workable weeks or hopefully, years on.

Why me? I enquired.

John Ward drives home in his self-constructed Wardmobile

“He then produced from his briefcase a claw hammer and put it on the table, much to the surprise of some punters sitting at other tables near us.

“I made a mental note not to order bread rolls in this eaterie if this was what you needed to cope with them.

“I told him I had got a similar one and I was in no hurry to buy another just yet, thank you very much.

“He said: You are looking at a £1,275 hammer.

Is it made of solid gold? I asked.

No, he said, It is just a normal standard Stanley hammer.

“He told me that money was raised by his group in the UK and was sent out to the Colonies and assorted equipment was bought with the money. But, on close inspection of the paperwork, it had turned out the cost of buying one hammer had been £1,275.

“Corrupt elements were syphoning off the loot and BMW and Mercedes were maybe on overtime to meet the demand from officials for their products over there.

“He told me the British fund raisers did not want to ‘make a fuss’ about it.

So why do you want to talk to me? I asked.

“He explained that one way around the local mafia getting their hands on the folding stuff was to send people out with an eye for building and with money that they had themselves.

“He said he had seen some of my ‘stuff’ and felt that, even though I was not a trades person as such – as in bricklayer, carpenter etc – he realised I could think on my feet and felt that was what was really wanted… I would get results.

“I had a reasonable meal with him which did not involve bread rolls and use of the claw hammer but I pointed out I was not all that interested as they wanted me to be away for about six months. The financial side was not that bad, I have to say, but six months of my life? – As I was not that passionate about the ’cause’, it was a No-No in my book.

“After about an hour or so, we shook hands and parted.

“On the way home, I realised that the business card he was going to give me had not materialised, so I did not know exactly who or what he represented other than the stuff he told me vaguely about the ‘fund raisers’ in general.

“I suspect that it was somehow connected with HMG.

“It is all,” said John Ward, “part of life’s rich pastry.”

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Filed under Africa, Charity, Eccentrics, Inventions

The dangers when a TV programme researcher approaches a mad inventor

John Ward – a man out standing in his field

I first met mad inventor John Ward when I was a television researcher on Chris Tarrant’s sadly forgotten series Prove It!

Time-Life called him “possibly the best English eccentric inventor living today.” He designed and makes the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award trophies and is currently creating a trebuchet – a giant catapult based on medieval siege engines – for next year’s World Egg Throwing Championships

John Ward thinks the standard of TV researcher may have fallen over the years. Yesterday he told me this story…

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The trebuchet – John Ward is building one for egg throwing

It was a nice day to start off with, being Tuesday, and so I loaded up and headed down the road to see Roger in Cleethorpes to try out the Egg Throwing Trebuchet Mark II as Roger’s field is quite large and should anything get out of hand, it won’t effect anybody (hopefully..)

So there I was setting it up and loading said device… and the mobile throbs away… and the day takes on a new meaning…

“Are you John Ward? – the John Ward?”

“Yes,” I said, “or, at least, one of them.”

“I am Tamara Hyphen Whatever and I am a television researcher…”

And then a deathly hush was heard and, not knowing if I should bow and kiss the earth beneath me, I replied: “Oh yes…?”

Miss Hyphen continued: “Yes, I am working on a new television programme and came across your web site and I have to say its very impressive. I could not believe the sheer amount of things on there that you have done. What a trove of fun it is!”

“Thank you for that,” I said, “and…?”

Then Miss Hyphen explained the format and I replied that it sounded – once again – like Scrapheap Challenge with the contrived supposed items made in a scrap yard but all the ‘bits’ are spread over a yard area in order for them to be picked up and slung together at the end of the show and it’s not the people on camera that are the builders but the list of Production Assistants at the end of the show credits that give the game away although I had sussed it about twenty minutes in when I saw the first ever episode because can you think of where you would find a scrap yard that has a turn the key and its works Land Rover on hand…

To which Miss Hyphen replied: “Yeessss, I see…”

She then wondered if it would be worth her while to come down to see me at some stage and I pointed out that the local cinema still – I believe – had a stage but any cafe would perhaps be better, moreso if they were showing a film projected onto the said portion of the stage quoted..

By now, I was thinking there was an intellectual barrier between us but I could be wrong of course – Time will tell, I thought..

After various useless questions and answers that I got the impression she at the other end was scribbling notes down to, the Gifted One then asked the usual clunker thus:

“By any chance, have you appeared on television at all?…” and I parried this by asking:

“You’ve not been working at the BBC for long?”

She then asked how I could possibly know? and I said I was shit hot at reading tea leaves as well.

I then put it to her, as best I could, having brought up children of my own you understand, that if she had indeed ‘seen’ my web site, she would know the answer to that question without being so brain dead as to enquire.

After all this and going to Roger’s field and getting back home, another bit arrived via e-mail.

“I have just seen you online with a bird table. Could we come and see you and film you for an interview?”

…to which I replied I was not that bothered but whom shall I say is coming along? And the nice man said he was a ‘field researcher’ for CBS Factual in the US of A.

How odd.

On the one hand, somebody was ‘wondering’ about coming to see me from about a hundred miles away and, on the other hand, a crew of four were going to get onto a plane and come from the Colonies to film an interview some three thousand miles away.

Thus we are to arrange a date in the next week or so.

So today – so far – I have found out our Trebuchet can hurl half a house brick a distance of 230 yards and I have found out people with strange three barreled names seem to be lacking in the thinking department.

Ah! The simple joys of the (allegedly) eccentric inventor.

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Here is John Ward demonstrating a new type of television to presenter Chris Tarrant on the sadly forgotten ITV series Prove It!

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Inventions, Television

Mad inventor John Ward, creator of comedy awards + friend of hungry birds

John Ward’s sonic attack bottle

On my way back down from Scotland to London, I stopped off in Lincolnshire to see mad inventor John Ward, who designed and made the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards for me. We went into his back garden and there were two long bamboo canes sticking out of the grass, with large, upside-down plastic bottles on them.

“What on earth are the bottles for?” I asked.

“Moles,” he said starkly. “We had three moles digging up our lawn earlier this week. If you put a stick or a cane with an empty plastic pop bottle in the grass where the mole’s dug, then the wind rattles the bottle. Moles are blind, but their hearing is phenomenally sensitive, so it buggers up their ears. We had three moles earlier this week. I put those two bottles up the other night and we haven’t seen them again.

“You can buy expensive, sophisticated sonic devices to deter moles, but an empty plastic Coca Cola bottle stuck upside down on a garden cane is cheaper and just the same.”

We were really in John’s back garden, though, to see his new bird table, a large metal structure with holes in it.

“What’s it made from?” I asked.

John Ward’s bird table has radar and a Dalek sink plunger

“It’s the interior of a central heating oil tank,” John told me. “We couldn’t put oil in it any more because it had cracks and splits. It was going to be dumped, but I was in my re-cycling mode, so I looked at it and thought it would make a bird table.

“We’ve had schoolkids come along and sketch it for their art class because – well – it’s something different, I suppose. Drawing farmhouses, rivers and trees must pale after a while. And we had a couple come through on a tandem: I say, the man said, do you mind if we come through and take a photograph of your bird table? Then the Daily Mail came along to take a picture of it and then there was Rory, the man from the Discovery Channel.

“The first version I built was smaller scale and when the wind hit it, over it went. So this one has large holes in and instead of acting as a wind break it becomes, in effect, a sieve. The wind zaps through the holes and stabilises it.”

John used to call himself a “junkist” – because he makes things from junk.

“When people talk about re-cycling,” he explains, “they usually think of something ornamental – something you re-paint and stick in an art exhibition. I like to think of more practical things.”

Bird table with cat-scaring holes and interior restaurant area

“Do the birds like your bird table?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied, “we’ve had 18 birds in it pecking away at same time and, when that happened, there were about 7 or 8 others on top waiting to get inside.”

“And your cat?” I asked. “What does your cat think of the bird table?”

“Can’t get up to it,” he said. “It has smooth legs.”

“The cat?”

“The bird table. Nothing to grip on to. Our cat leaps up in the air but can’t get in. And, normally, in a rural area like this, rats would go up and in and help themselves to the food too. But, with this thing, underneath, it’s perfectly smooth and flat, so they have nothing to grip on to.”

“Why doesn’t the cat just leap in the air and jump onto the platform?” I asked.

“The holes put it off,” John told me. “The cat jumps up, its paw stretches out, but the birds fly off or just sit and look, laughing at the cat. It’s like Sylvester and Tweety. And the cat’s getting a bit old plus it’s heavier than what it was. It jumps up and plops down with a frustrated, slightly angry look on its face. You’ve not seen my World War Two landing strip, have you?”

John Ward’s World War Two bird landing strip (with bath)

“Not that I remember,” I said, “and I would probably have remembered if I had.”

“I’ll get the key and show you,” he said. “It’s in the shed.”

“I like cats,” I said.

“The cat’s not in the shed,” John said.

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