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Lindsay Sharman: comedy character and multiple adventure thriller author

Lindsay Sharman, comic and multiple author

Lindsay contemplates doing stand-up

“How well did your first book sell?” I asked character comic Lindsay Sharman.

“I broke even at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” she told me, “so everything since then has been pure profit. Edinburgh is great for offloading actual physical books. People can still go on my website for a hard copy of the first one (now re-titled Magenta is the Warmest Colour), which I will happily smear my musky scent all over, should they want. But I can’t afford to print actual physical books this time, so it’s just on Kindle and people are a bit more reluctant to go onto Kindle. ”

“So why are you doing a second book? It’s all hassle for very little profit.”

“You could say that about performing comedy. Why do we do any of this? We must be mental.”

“Are you hooked on the writing?” I asked.

“Yes, I do I enjoy it,” Lindsay told me. “And I do enjoy long-form rather than writing short sets or articles.”

“What’s this second book called?”

Madame Magenta and the Arcati Killer.”

“And you’ve written it, again, in your persona of Madame Magenta, the psychic?’

“Yes.”

Lindsay Sharman’s second book

Lindsay’s second Madame Magenta

The blurb says: Magenta and the Arcati Killer is a comedy detective novel told from the point of view of its eponymous heroine, a woman of flexible morality, an array of tasteful turbans.

“So this is an adventure thriller?” I asked.

“A murder mystery comedy adventure thriller,” explained Lindsay. “Basically, it crosses as many genres as possible so it’s entirely unmarketable.”

“That,” I suggested, “should surely make it more marketable?”

“You would think so,” said Lindsay, “but apparently sitting on several fences at once is uncomfortable.”

“Your influences?” I asked.

Tom Sharpe and his Wilt adventures and maybe a bit of Tom Holt. Anyone called Tom.”

“And,” I asked, “you are being Madame Magenta at the Edinburgh Fringe in August?’

Lindsay Sharman last night, as Madame Magenta

Lindsay Sharman performs as Madame Magenta

“Yes. It’s a story. It’s a bit risky. I’ve done it like the book. I’ve plotted it as a full narrative arc with Madame Magenta telling the story, taking the audience on a journey. It’s not as joke-heavy as a club set. I have no idea if it’s going to work.”

“What’s it about?”

“The true origins of Christianity and the conflict in the Middle East.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes. And it’s also going to be about gender politics.”

“Mmmm…” I said. “Are you doing previews?’

“One. I decided doing previews doesn’t help me. By the time you have an audience, it should already be in a state that’s alright. None of that writing-it-as-you-go comedian bollocks for me. I think comedians rely a bit too much on audiences telling them where they’re going wrong in the early stages.”

“People,” I suggested, “preview because they’re insecure?”

Lindsay Sharman compered last night

Lindsay does not like holding a piece of paper

“Yes, but there’s this bizarre thing with comedy where you’re supposed to develop quite a lot of your material on the hoof in front of audiences. When I first started, I found that really bizarre because you’re getting away with it on charm a lot of the time and the type of laugh you will get when you are holding a piece of paper and being self-deprecating about the fact it’s not entirely working is a totally different type of laugh to the one you will eventually get when you’ve honed that joke. It doesn’t work for me. What works for me is using my own comedic intuition to get it as good as possible and then presenting it.”

“That’s more of a writer’s approach,” I suggested. “Writers don’t show potential readers their draft versions. Are you becoming a writer more than a performer?”

“I’m not getting the same buzz out of performing,” Lindsay admitted. “It used to be massive highs and massive lows. Now it’s all: Oh, alright. OK… I don’t know what it was I was getting out of it before that I’m not getting out of it now.

“Maybe part of my problem is I don’t necessarily want to appeal to a bunch of people who’ve had a few drinks and who would probably actually prefer to chat to each other because I am just part of their night out. It doesn’t bother me that much if they don’t like me – and that’s not good. I need to care if they like me and I don’t know if I do any more.

Lindsay Sharman

Lindsay decided not to do stand-up

“Actually, about two years into performing comedy, I utterly lost interest in doing stand-up. So then I switched to doing characters, got a new burst of life and then it was almost the same amount of time after I started losing excitement in that too. I’ve had some really boring jobs where, for the first six months, I thought: This is alight. I don’t mind this. and then, one day, I just couldn’t be fucked with it any more.”

“You just married Laurence Owen last month,” I said. “Bad news for him in 2017.”

“Yesterday’s potatoes,” laughed Lindsay.

“Potatoes?” I asked.

“Isn’t that an expression?”

“I don’t think it is.”

“Oh.”

“You were saying you lost interest in stand-up.”

“I don’t like it to be about me, because I don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. I don’t want to have to explain myself. I prefer stories about made-up stuff – though I don’t like the storytelling show stuff.”

“Why?”

Lindsay performed  in London last night

Lindsay’s glass seen as half fool or half empty?

“Because, again, it’s focussing on ‘real’ stuff and I find reality boring and depressing.”

“Boring and depressing?”

“Yeah. Although some comics manage to make it funny and uplifting. Only a few people can do that well, though. Know your own limitations. It’s not me. I’ve always preferred to live in a realm of fantasy. When I was a kid, I mainly read science fiction and fantasy. For a long time I sat down and tried to write ‘real’ stuff about me. That’s what supposedly works as a stand-up. But it’s not me.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “fantasy stand-up could be the new comedy.”

“I like John Henry Falle,” said Lindsay.

“The Story Beast…” I said.

“That’s sort of fantastical ludicrousness,” said Lindsay. “It’s much better than all that Oh, I’ve really suffered but it’s funny because now I can be self-deprecating but still cool. I think I like escapism.”

(Updated HERE)

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Lindsay Sharman, baptised with a head hunter, is writing a play for Edinburgh

Lindsay Sharman, ex-Christian

Lindsay Sharman, ex-Christian, remembered headhunter this week

“I got religious when I was in Brunei,” comedy performer Lindsay Sharman told me a couple of days ago. “I went to a Chinese Baptist church and they were very nice people.”

“How,” I asked, “do the Chinese Baptists differ from the British Baptists?”

“They speak Chinese,” Lindsay replied. “Though they also spoke English, which helped. I got baptised at the same time as a head-hunter in his nineties. Well, he was an ex-head-hunter. He didn’t hunt heads any more, because he was now a Christian and ancient.”

“What turned you on to Christianity?” I asked.

“Jesus seemed like a nice chap and I thought the world lacked a bit of mystery and magic and I was looking for that.”

“Your father worked for the Shell oil company?” I asked.

“Yes. My parents were agnostic, though my mum suddenly got religious about ten years ago. I stopped believing when I was about 14.”

“Why?”

“I was kind of going off it for a while, In fact, as soon as I got baptised, it was kind of like TICK! Done that! – I think I expected some kind of change and nothing happened and then my father died when I was 14 and I think that tested me a bit more as I was getting no comfort from the idea that he had gone to heaven because I found the whole idea faintly ludicrous.”

“What age did you go to Brunei?”

Lindsay Sharman

Lindsay Sharman was once younger

“We went out when I was 8 and returned to England when I was 14. At that time, it was Moslem in the same way England is supposedly Christian. Although not any more, because the Sultan’s now gotten Islamic. He’s turned super-Moslem. Women are getting stoned for adultery out there now. There was none of that in my time. No-one covered up when I was there: it was all shorts and T-shirts and vests. Although, two years into us being there, the country did go ‘dry’ and they banned karaoke. I was very upset because I had been going to have a karaoke birthday party. I was 9; it was a big thing to me.”

“And now,” I said, “you’re writing a play about religion for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. What’s it called?”

Lindsay Sharman Gives Us The Willies. It’s not really a play. It’s one of those weird Edinburgh things that can only exist in Edinburgh. It’s a play insomuch that it’s not going to be stand-up comedy and it’s going to have a narrative. But don’t ask me details. Everything might change by August.”

“What,” I asked, “was the original, basic idea?”

Mel Brooks once told me to open my mouth when being photographed

Mel Brooks once told me to always open mouth in photos

“The Gospel according to Mary Magdalene, done as a New York Jew: a bit Joan Rivers-esque. I thought I would link the fact they were all Jewish to comedic Jews and the immediate thought for me was Mel Brooks style fast-talking.

“I tried that out and it did go quite well, but then I thought it could be a play-within-a-play. What I don’t like about the Edinburgh Fringe – or what I feel I have to be flexible about in Edinburgh – is that the audience comes into a room which is not actually that suited to performance and you don’t necessarily acknowledge it. I don’t like that. I don’t like watching a show where they haven’t acknowledged they’re in a room in Edinburgh at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

“So I wanted to fit it into something which allowed her not to be at The Jerusalem Head tavern in wherever. I wanted to acknowledge the fact it was a show in Edinburgh. So then I had the idea of a play-within-a-play about Mary Magdalene but everyone’s buggered-off because it’s the most offensive play there has ever been. All the actors have fucked-off, so it is an audition for new actors and all the audience are potential actors and I am going to audition them. This is my current idea. But it might change out of all recognition in the next few months.”

“So it has continuity of time and place…” I said.

“Yes,” Lindsay replied. “But, at the same time it will be dipping in-and-out of this ‘most offensive’ play about religion.”

“And it’s called Lindsay Sharman Gives Us The Willies…?”

“Yes. Though it might bear no relation to… Well, it might do… There’s going to be stuff about circumcision in there.”

“Cutting edge…” I said.

A Penitent Mary Magdalene by Nicolas Régnier,

Jewish Mary Magdalene by Nicolas Régnier

“Because it’s a play-within-a-play,” Lindsay continued, “it’s going to look at all the issues in the world at the moment. So, for once, I’m going to do something topical. Usually I don’t do anything topical.”

“Burning Moslems?” I asked.

“I might tip-toe around that a bit.”

“Is there a serious kernel to it?”

“Maybe. Who knows? Don’t ask me details. Maybe. I don’t know if there is a way of avoiding the seriousness of the topic. Though you can take any serious topic and give it a light treatment. It will still be totally absurd. And the play is partly going to be about social control and how religion forms part of that. If one person has a beard, everyone has to have a beard. Except the women, of course.”

“Why of course?” I asked. “Will it have multiple characters?”

“It will have… Maybe. Who knows?… Don’t ask me too many details at this point, because it could all change.  I’ve got other things to think about: I’m trying to write a book at the moment.”

Lindsay Sharman last night, as Madame Magenta

Lindsay Sharman performs as Madame Magenta

“Another one?”

“Yes. I’m almost there. I’ve got about four more chapters and then I’m finished.”

“What’s the pitch?”

“It’s a whodunnit, a murder mystery. It’s really complicated, whereas the first one was just ridiculous, so I could vomit that out in no time. “

“A whodunnit in the traditional drawing room sense?”

“Sort of. Yeah. I guess so.”

“Featuring Madame Magenta?”

“Yes.”

“Written in the first person…”

“No. It’s got different perspectives. It switches perspective every couple of chapters.”

“When is this being unleashed on the nation?”

“In about a week and a half.”

“But you haven’t finished it yet!”

The cover of Lindsay Sharman’s novel

Lindsay Sharman’s first Magenta novel

“I’ve got about 10,000 words to do. I can do that in a week and a half. I did the first book in about three and a half weeks.”

“What’s the new book called?”

Magenta 2: The Reckoning.”

“It’s not, is it?” I asked.

“Why not?” I think titles are over-rated.”

“What about My Night of Sex With Tom Cruise and an Armadillo?”

“That’s probably my third book,” said Lindsay.

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Comedian Lindsay Sharman is a greater writer than William Shakespeare.

Lindsay performed  in London last night

Magenta was performing in London last night

Comedy stage performer Lindsay Sharman is a greater writer than William Shakespeare.

I do not actually think that.

She is good, but she has just this week published a novel Magenta with a quote from me on its back cover and I want to try to be quoted again as a supposedly authoritative source.

Last night I saw Lindsay perform a preview of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Madame Magenta: Libros Mystica.

It was in a double bill with her boyfriend Laurence Owen’s music-based comedy show Laurence Owen: Lullabies of Pervland.

“I know one couple who are both comedians and they never get involved in each other’s work,” I told them after the show. “Do you ever work together at home?”

“We bounce a lot of stuff off each other,” said Laurence.

“Oh we do all the time,” said Lindsay.

A selfie of Lawrence and Lindsay at home last night

A ‘selfie’ of Laurence and Lindsay’s homelife taken last night

“Quite often,” said Laurence, “we’ve set aside nights where we go to a cafe in Waterloo that stays open late. When we were talking about our Edinburgh shows this year we went there. It’s very useful to have Lindsay talk sense to me.”

“And it helps,” I suggested, “that you’re not really performing the same type of material.”

“I’m not really musical at all,” said Lindsay.

“The music’s covered,” said Laurence. “I can deal with that because my day job is composing bits and bobs for theatre and films.”

“He’s currently,” said Lindsay, “doing something for the theatre group 1927. They’re going into the Young Vic and he’s doing the soundscape.”

Lawrence’s album: Lullabies of Pervland

Another thing to sell after the gigs: Laurence’s musical album

In the preview I had just seen, Laurence had not yet written the music for the final song, though he had written the words, so he read them out.

“I was amazed,” I told him, “that you could write the words first when the rhythm and presumably the melody keeps changing.”

“I have to write the lyrics before I know what the song is all about,” Laurence explained. “The lyrics dictate the music. But I’ve got the melodies in my head for that final song.”

“It’s going to be a little bit Zorba The Greek, isn’t it?” said Lindsay.

“Yes,” agreed Laurence, “a little bit like Zorba and a little bit like Offenbach’s Can-Can. That’s kind of what I’m hearing.

Lawrence Owen (Photograph by Plainview Media)

Laurence Owen prepares for his Fringe show (Photograph by Plainview Media)

“I tend to write the songs as a sort of poem first of all and, while I do that, I’ll probably be hearing a sort of vocal melody in my head which I’ll be using to help shape the lyrics. I might sometimes cheat and base it on another song and change all the music after I’ve finished.”

“This is like people asking Where do you get your ideas from?” said Lindsay.

“And then, when you tell ‘em, they don’t give a shit,” said Laurence.

“But it does interest me,” I pleaded. “What’s your book about, Lindsay?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “Now I feel like I have to be coherent.”

“Why?” I said. “Let’s not spoil things.”

I had driven down to London from Leeds the previous night, went to bed at 5.00am and got up again at 8.30am. I was blabbering from an empty head.

The cover of Lindsay Sharman’s novel

The cover of Madame Magenta’s novel

“It’s a novel,” said Lindsay.

“In character as Madame Magenta,” I said. “Who is a psychic and medium and white witch and who wears a rather fetching red turban.”

“The turban is hot under stage lights,” said Lindsay. “The book is written from the point of view of Magenta. She goes off on an adventure.”

“Why write it?” I asked.

“To sell after gigs,” she replied.

“But it wasn’t totally money-driven…” I said.

“It was a sort of personal challenge,” explained Lindsay. “Everyone thinks they have a book inside of them and I thought: Let’s see if I actually am capable of it. Also I felt that my comedic voice or my ability to communicate with an audience might translate into the written word.”

The blurb on the back says:


Renowned psychic and medium Madame Magenta has two husbands. Fortunately, one of them is dead. Less fortunately, death has turned him into a massive pain in the arse.

Magenta has three days to return husband no.1 to the Other Side, or she’s stuck with him for good. Only dubious doings, dark magic and dealings with the criminal underworld can help her now.

“A Joyce Grenfell for the 21st Century” – John Fleming, founder of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards


Lindsay Sharman last night, as Madame Magenta

Madame Magenta on stage at Pull The Other One

I think that last quote will be the thing that sells the book.

“I’ve read voraciously since I was a kid,” Lindsay told me last night, “and I thought: If I’ve absorbed all these books and I’ve started developing my voice comedically then surely I’m capable of forming some kind of decent novel?

“Why written by Madame Magenta and not Lindsay Sharman?” I asked.

“Because I started writing and didn’t know where I was going to go,” explained Lindsay. “She was an already-formed character, so I knew how she thought and what she’d do and I had a vague idea of her family life and context.”

“Yes,” I said, “I had no idea until he was mentioned in the show tonight that she had a husband.”

Lindsay Sharman as herself in a selfie

Lindsay Sharman being herself in a recent selfie

“Oh,” said Laurence, “he’s very well explored in the book.”

“The book is a bit of a different animal to the stage show,” said Lindsay, “but it’s still recognisably her.”

“And it’s a comic novel,” I checked, “not a deep exploration of the human psyche?”

“I don’t think I’m capable of writing that kind of thing,” said Lindsay.

“I suspect you are,” I said.

“I think,” said Lindsay, “I’d have to take everything a bit more seriously than I probably do. I think I deal with everything through humour and that’s why I became a comedian.”

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Comedian Lindsay Sharman is NOT posh nor a bargain bucket Miranda Hart

Lindsay Sharman as herself in a selfie

The real Lindsay Sharman captured in a selfie

“I keep getting compared to Miranda Hart,” comedian Lindsay Sharman told me when I met her in Soho yesterday.

“Tall, posh voice, y’know,” she said. “The other week, Time Out called me the bargain bucket Miranda Hart. I thought Well, at least I’ve been noticed; at least I’m not speaking into the void completely. On the other hand, there’s Is this what people are actually going to start thinking? I do get hit with the ‘posh’ stick quite a lot and I don’t know whether to live up to that or to drastically change my act.”

The first time I saw Lindsay was at the always extraordinary monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in South East London (where she is now their regular compere). She was performing as a very angry poetess with a strong Scottish accent. Is she really Scottish? I thought and, by the end of her act, I had decided she either definitely was or, if not, she certainly had Scottish blood relations.

She is not and has not.

There is a clip of her on YouTube.

“I did a gig recently,” she told me, “and there were a couple of Scottish people in the front row, rough as anything, and they were loving it until about two minutes before the end when one of ‘em said to the other: I don’t think she’s fuckin’ Scoootish! and they looked like they were about to beat me up, so I ended with Thankyou very much, goodnight! and got the hell out of it as quickly as possible.”

“Why is the poetess character Scottish?” I asked.

“Because I knew I couldn’t do a really aggressive character in my own posh English voice,” said Lindsay. “It would just sound like I was terribly angry about the lack of Waitrose shops in the area. So I went for an accent I was comfortable with – and the Scottish accent is more characterful. There is an element of aggression it… It allows you to have a bit more bite and…” Then she started to laugh and corrected herself… “But it’s still friendly at the same time!…” she added. She leant towards the microphone on my iPhone and said clearly: “I like the Scottish people very much

“You see, I’m doing my first hour-long Edinburgh Fringe solo show in August,” she explained. “Madame Magenta: Libris Mystica.”

(There is a video of her as Madame Magenta on YouTube)

“That’s your other character,” I said.

“I think it’s just me in about 20 years,” she laughed. “It’s me but not giving a shit about what people think – and in a turban. She’s a fortune-teller, a psychic, a medium and just a shyster, really. She’s doing it for the money. In a way, it’s exploring those folk who exploit the vulnerable.”

“Comedians?” I asked.

“No, they exploit themselves,” said Lindsay.

“Would you go back to being an actress?” I asked.

“I hated being horrendously unsuccessful,” Lindsay laughed. “I’d like to be able to balance doing acting and comedy. But I do like generating my own material and I like the camaraderie on the comedy circuit

“I was an actress years ago, when I was aged about 18-23, but very unsuccessful, so I gave it up. Height was a problem too. Most actors are absolute midgets (Lindsay is 5’10”) and they’re not just short, they’re perfectly scaled-down. They’re these weenie little people. I think I could probably beat Tom Cruise in a fair fight.

Lindsay Sharman

“Actors have got a hard, shiny exterior”

“As an actress, I always got cast in comedy parts – if I was ever cast – and I always felt ridiculous if I was ever cast in anything that wasn’t funny. I did an acting course in Reading for a year. We did a play every two weeks so, inevitably, I was going to have to play a serious role. I remember having to deliver this godawful rape speech, feeling ludicrous and wanting to stick in some inappropriate jokes. I managed to stop myself although, on the second night, they decided they wanted some atmospheric music and one of the other actors started humming Babooshka behind me.”

“Actors are of a type,” I said, “and comedians are of a type. Comedians are all barking mad.”

“I think we’re just more honest with our neuroses,” said Lindsay. “Actors have got this hard, shiny exterior when they’re moving through life.”

“There’s the cliché,” I said, “that actors have to always be someone else.”

“When they’re not acting,” suggested Lindsay, “they’re playing the part of being actors. I used to be a member of The Actors’ Centre in Charing Cross Road and I always felt deeply uncomfortable there, because someone would ask how I was doing and I would say Oh awful! Can’t get arrested for work. Just being honest. Then I would ask How’s it for you? and they’d go Last week I had a meeting with blah blah and I’ve got a really exciting project I can’t tell you about and they’d give you their potted CV and tell you all the exciting things that were going to happen. And I’d believe them. I’d think Wow! You’re doing really well! Actors just have a different basket of neuroses from comedians.”

“And you stopped acting because?” I asked.

“Because I got to such a level of poverty and disillusionment,” Lindsay explained. “I had a job touring musicals round old people’s homes which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Then I decided I was going to become a lawyer.”

“Eh?” I said.

“I signed up for a law course then, about a week later, thought What the fuck am I doing? I’m not interested in the law and changed it to an English course at Greenwich University. Later, I worked in the Business School where no-one spoke English. Greenwich has an office in China that just takes on anyone and promises they’ll teach them English when they get to Greenwich. But the English Department was very good; I had some great tutors there.

“After that, I got on the BT graduate management scheme where they train you to be a leader. It lasted about 18 months, then they paid me to go away. Then I became a stand-up.”

“You tend to hide behind characters,” I said. “The angry Scottish poet and Madame Magenta the psychic.”

“Everybody seemed to think I was being a character..."

“Everybody seemed to think I was being a character…”

“Well,” said Lindsay, “I didn’t for the first three years, but then I realised everybody seemed to think I was being a character when I was being myself anyway.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because when I go on stage as me,” explained Lindsay, “I get even posher-sounding. I used to start with a couple of posh jokes which didn’t relate to my real life at all – Yes. I know what I sound like. Let’s get that out of the way and move on – I’m not posh but, when I say I’m not, no-one ever believes me.

“I was born in Great Yarmouth and my entire family are from Great Yarmouth. My surname goes back to the Domesday Book in Norfolk. Sharman means ‘shearer of sheep’.”

“How did your posh accent come out of your Great Yarmouth background?” I asked. “Did you have speech therapy?”

“No,” replied Lindsay. “We moved around a lot and I lived abroad for seven years. I went to Brunei when I was 8. And then I went to boarding school in Singapore for a couple of years. Brunei didn’t have any schools for foreigners beyond the age of 11, though it did for the locals. When we got there, my sister was 11 and tried the local school, but it was educationally all over the place; she had a range of ages in her class. A lot of people in Brunei send their kids to boarding school in England but that’s a 14-hour flight away, so we were sent to boarding school in Singapore instead. I suppose I’m the product of social mobility.”

“Like a gypsy,” I said.

“Actually,” said Lindsay, “I do have gypsy blood in me from way back – my great-great grandmother got together with someone from the travelling fair that used to come to Great Yarmouth every year and had a baby in great shame.

“My dad worked for the Shell oil company. Well, he did loads of different things. He was manager of a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop at one point. And he was a damp proofer. They had a terrible damp chicken problem.

“I’m in a bit of a weird transition period at the moment.”

“I’m in a bit of a weird transition…”

“I’m in a bit of a weird transition period at the moment. I’m trying to cut out a lot of the really depressingly shit gigs because they’re not even helping me develop new material… but I’m not a club comic, really. They don’t entirely embrace character acts at the moment.

“The clubs where you can earn a living are the slightly tougher hen and stag night ones and you’ve got to go in there quite aggressively with gags, which isn’t really my style. I’m more of a chaotic meanderer. I have sort-of Get Out of Jail Free card with my act by being deliberately chaotic.”

“Your act isn’t chaotic,” I said.

“There is an element of Oh! What am I doing? Bwahh!! Bwaah!!” said Lindsay.

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