Sunday, 8 December 2013

Midwinter Roots in the Gloom

Hey look, an allotment!
With a fair dose of trepidation I shambled, rigger-booted and sporting a moderate second day hangover, down to the plot this morning. There had been grim communications from the committee to the effect that plots had been broken into and some property stolen. Also, I hadn't been down for a couple of weeks and, well, you just never know what might have blown away or gone tits-up, do you? Fortunately we were not among those singled out by whichever crew of barbarians has been nicking and smashing stuff. Perhaps because our plot's unkempt aesthetic does not lead one to (rightly, as it happens) believe that any especially desirable treasures lie within it for the taking.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Restaurant Review: Al Baik, Newcastle upon Tyne

I've held the view for quite some time now that Lebanese is one of the premier pre-piss up cuisines. The conviviality of shared mezze starters, the light and zingy flavours and the wilful contrariness of starting your evening off with a kebab are all very much in its favour in this regard. And anyone who doesn't enjoy scooping up mounds of silky smooth hummus with those airily light breads you get at the start of the meal is sadly defective in a quite significant way. There was no piss-up happening when we visited Al Baik recently to celebrate a family birthday, but I was looking forward to it nonetheless, not least as there had been furtive whisperings that we might take on the "Super Al Baik Special Mixed Grill", of which more later...

Branching Out

A tree, in a car, today. Fancy that!
Just back from the plot, which, if things continue apace, is going to have to be referred to in future as the orchard. You see we've expanded our fruit tree empire by 100%, adding an apple to the plum that we planted a couple of weeks ago. Heady times. In so doing we've also rediscovered (we had been once before, but then sort of forgot where it was) a genuinely excellent garden centre. Cowell's, near Woolsington, had an impressively comprehensive range of all manner of fruit trees and were able to dispense some really useful advice about planting them. Never again, Homebase.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Reaping the Remaining Wintery Roots

As I type these words the rain is teeming down outside against a darkened backdrop of utter gloom. In the "news", that fine upholder of the British tradition of talking complete toss to anyone within earshot that is The Daily Express is predicting apocalyptic scenes of snow-laden Armageddon. That's right people, winter's here.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Late Season Gardening in Slow Motion

A suitably crisp autumnal day off work, and the first visit to the plot in nearly a month. If we were still in the midst of summer, I'd have been full of guilty trepidation at the prospect of the weed-fest our neglect would have dealt us. At this time of year however growth has slowed down to comparative slow motion which, after the frantic dash of the high season, comes as something of a relief and allows you the pleasure of just wandering round a bit and realising that things are much as you had left them. With a couple of notable exceptions.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Restaurant Review: Amma, Newcastle

It's fair to say that when we moved to Benwell earlier this year it wasn't because the area's thriving restaurant scene. While there are a lot of things I like about living round here, nipping down to the local cafe for a latte or bite to eat isn't one of them, as no such place exists. The few Just-Eateries that loiter around do not inspire any kind of enthusiasm, so it was with no little interest a few weeks back that we noted the opening of Amma, just up off Scotswood Road, claiming to specialise in South Indian and Sri Lankan food. There are no shortage of "Indian" restaurants around town, although most, as anywhere in these sceptered isles, serve up the same ghee-heavy selection of standard curry action. The promise of a more regional south Indian cooking within walking distance of our door was tantalising stuff.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Fade To Grey

The Hooded Composter
I couldn't get Visage's 1980 masterpiece out of my head while we were down at the allotment on Saturday, no doubt in sympathy with the conditions which were the very epitome of dreich. Days like this are, I think, the ones which remind us that no matter how much we enjoy this caper, we're never going to be what you might refer to as hardcore. A bit of drizzle and a notable lowering in temperatures were all it took for us to collectively decide to sack it off after just a few essential tasks were hastily completed.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Autumnal harvesting and planting

It's a nice time of year on the allotment right now. The flurry of high summer seems like a while ago; temperatures are well suited to working, there are still things to harvest, but there is that pleasing feeling that when you hoik up a weed, it won't be back with reinforcements anytime soon. There are some lovely colours around as well, not least of which being the Blueberry plants, whose leaves have turned a (un-photoshopped, honestly) vivid shade of pinkish red. We made the most of a nice Saturday afternoon to get a good amount done, although very much at "pottering about" speed.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Restaurant Review: The Ledbury, Notting Hill

Canapes: Gruyere tartlets
With an impending "big" birthday uppermost in our minds, we took the chance while at a lunch with some of the North East's best chefs recently to ask where in London would be a suitable venue for a full throttle celebratory blow-out. A couple of places garnered honourable mentions, including Kitchen Table, but a fair consensus seemed to be that we'd struggle to do any better than The Ledbury. That was my cue to cancel the booking that I'd made elsewhere, and then spend a considerable portion of the next week on TopTable, stalking a box-seat booking. It paid off, as I snared a prime time 7:15 seating. Hurrah.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

A Crazy Spud and Crimes in Cold Blood

The work of some utter shithouse or other
Sunday gone was a day of tidying up, weeding and covering up sections of the plot that shall harbour no more crops until next year. Such activities do not make for great or interesting pics, so apologies for the lack of veg-porn, but the season's abundance is very much drawing to a close.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Restaurant Review: David Kennedy's River Cafe, South Shields

Squid Salad, not from Sambucas
To the Fish Quay at North Shields, on a bank holiday Sunday, a day which - in sympathy with my slightly frazzled state - couldn't make it's mind up how it was going to turn out. Malignant early threats of rain proved ungrounded in fact, and it was just getting out lovely as we sat down to the lunch which I shall here recount. This was a few weeks back, but there are, in the interests of posterity, things worth noting both about the lunch we had as well as the ones we didn't.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Out with the old, in with the new

En route
Monday of this week was a resolutely gorgeous day, with nary a cloud in the ether. We made the most of it by putting in a decent shift on the plot, continuing to harvest the abundant crops still doing their thing while putting out a few plants that will hopefully have time to do theirs. We also saw evidence of a few of our more autumnal characters beginning to take shape.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Beginning of The End...

From the back of our plot today
All things must end, and the first whisperings of the demise of this year's summer abundance could be discerned down at Nunsmoor allotments today. All our beetroot are out, our first planting of peas are long gone - the second is still going - strawberries are finished and, as of today, our broad bean plans were hoiked out and composted. No doubt about it, the season is now hinting at it's own inexorable demise.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Recipe: Rhubarb and Vanilla Cordial

Rhubarb and sweet cicely: BFFs
We're coming to the end of the time when you want to be harvesting any rhubarb; the plants can get exhausted if over-cropped. We took next to no stems from our five or so crowns last (their first) year, but have taken what we assume to be a prudent number this year. We'll be splitting the crowns this autumn and spreading them out a bit too, having fallen into the trap of judging the spacing based on when there was no foliage on the plants, rather than when they are in full flow. If you've still got a few stems going and fancy doing something a bit different, this cordial is a total winner. If you also like gin, then read on indeed, as this makes a sunnily gorgeous mixer for the stuff.

Top of the Crops

A few hours were spent at the plot yesterday, and no doubt about it: the harvest has indeed now swung into "full steam ahead" mode. I reflected on the fact that when you're tending your plants, trying to get them into some sort of productive state, you imagine that the end result will be carefree days spent skipping round the place, plucking abundance from the heaving boughs. Well it's not quite like that; harvesting stuff actually takes time and effort. The fact that I'm stiff as a git today is only partly a function of how out of shape I am and due in at least some part to the simple truth that harvest time is quite hard work, albeit gloriously rewarding work at that.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Awash with Squash

A quick Saturday jaunt down to the plot revealed that everything is continuing to do really well in the sunshine-and-showers we've been having. What with attending various weddings and reunions in far-flung corners of the country we hadn't been to the plot for a few days, so it was grand to see everything trucking on autopilot.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Restaurant Review: David Kennedy @ ChefsPod, Vallum Farm

Alright, so this isn't exactly a restaurant, and therefore it's maybe not entirely accurate to call this a restaurant review, but what else to call it? Hut review? Pod review?! A brief explanation:

Thursday, 18 July 2013

In Praise Of: Water

An action shot of me watering some veg. High drama, I'm sure you'll agree.
Or, rather, in praise of having a decent supply of it. Until last summer, each plot on our allotments at Nunsmoor had it's own water tap. The problem was, they were all in some kind of loop whereby it only needed one or two people in your vicinity to turn theirs on to deprive you of any water at all. In dry periods, this was a serious pain in the arse. Then, after a vote at the AGM, better water pipes were installed, less dependent on others usage, and with much improved pressure. An increase in fees of £10 per year seemed very reasonable for this. Of course, we then had one of the wettest spells on record, rendering the whole thing a bit of a running joke. Until now...

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Factoring in a Fab Weekend

A Police Chopper flies over the plot. Hangover or not, it would've been a crime not to have gotten down there. BOOM!
It has been very much a Factor-50 type of weekend up here in the North East, as it appears to have been pretty much everywhere in these sceptered isles. Sunday in particular was an absolute stonker, with just enough breeze to keep conditions from being unworkably hot. Although at one stage very much regretting the second half of a too-moreish bottle of wine that was imbibed on Saturday eve, I managed to get a fair amount of weeding done this weekend, which was much needed as things were threatening to get pretty untidy. We realised we hadn't any plants to go into the gaps that we're just about to create, so I hastily sowed some lettuces, radishes and kohlrabi in modules and Kasia bought some of the last of the leeks and red cabbages from Wylam Nurseries.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Restaurant Review: Zapatista Burrito Bar, Newcastle

Enough colour for you?!
During the vast majority of the 12 or so years I have lived in Newcastle, it has, where Mexican food is concerned, been a total desert. "When the bloody hell is someone going to open a Mexican place?!", I thought, frequently, shaking a clenched fist skywards to no great effect. There was a place doing "Tex-Mex" near Haymarket that I believe traded in nothing much more interesting than loaded potato skins and the like, so I never went. Latterly, Las Iguanas has brought its brand of vague, South American-filtered-through-chain-restaurant thing to town. So when, quite a while ago now, I learned on Facebook that a Burrito Bar was opening up, an intrigued and hopeful eyebrow was raised in anticipation.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Gardening in fast-forward mode, plus Happy Birthday blog.

Day 1

Some time later...
It seems a tad redundant writing this as the pics here are from almost a week ago, and things are really moving quickly now. Continued decent growing weather has seen things growing noticeably by the day, and has left us struggling manfully to keep up, to the extent that writing about what's happening down at the plot has come second to actually trying to find the time to get down there. Nonetheless, in the interest of posterity, here's what was happening on our allotment last Sunday.

Actually, before I get into that, I noticed that I've been doing this blog thing for just over a year now, so in spite of my reservations about attributing anniversaries to inanimate things like bits of amateurish writing on the internet: Happy Birthday Patchy Growth! To mark this momentous occasion, I thought I'd bung up a pic from our very first day on the plot next to one from Sunday, both taken from the same spot. See if you can tell which is which...

Monday, 1 July 2013

A Bit of The Trip. Restaurant Review: Holbeck Ghyll, Windermere

The name Holbeck Ghyll has been firmly lodged in my memory since it featured in an episode of the brilliant series The Trip featuring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Kasia and I headed over to the Lake District this weekend gone to meet up with my folks and have a look round Beatrix Potter's Hilltop Farm, something Kasia has wanted to do for ages. Ever-eager to crowbar a posh lunch into an afternoon out, and unable to get a booking for the bargainous-sounding set lunch at The Samling, Holbeck Ghyll it was. I'd read some not-so-great reviews elsewhere (for example here and here), some claiming that the Michelin star held here wasn't perhaps justified, but they were all from a while back, so I was more than happy to find out for myself.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Tomato Cliffhanger

Resplendent in late evening sun
Bit ashamed to admit this (I'm among friends here, right?), but I fear we've gotten dangerously close to knackering up our tomato plants. It's ferociously hot in the polytunnel when the sun comes out and having not been down to water them since Saturday, they were seriously parched by the time we got down tonight.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Second Coming of the Polytunnel

Another one of those perfect allotment days today, where the combination of ideal weather, things growing  nicely and the fact that you get plenty of stuff done just reinforces the joy of this whole gig. We were down there for near enough seven hours, which passed in an absolute flash. My envy of the hordes of currently-retiring baby boomers, decades of this sort of thing ahead of them, paid for by little more than being in the right place during the right property boom, is only salved by the fact that I get to do this at the weekends too.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Restaurant Review: Electric East, Newcastle

That scallop, pork and peanut caramel dish in full
This was a meal that had been a long time coming. I'd meant to get myself to Barn Asia for ages, having heard furtive whisperings of a dish involving scallops, pork and caramel. Then, for whatever reason the place hit the skids and closed down. Happily, it got up and running again in the same venue and largely the same staff, and I resolved to attend. That was ages back though; we just never got round to it, until a couple of weeks ago when, my parents in tow, we finally got to check it out.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Plot takes a back seat...

New gaff!
There hasn't been a great deal going on for us allotment-wise just of late, nor of keeping this blog up to date  (the second rather naturally follows the first), although not entirely without reason; you see, we've been busy with finally moving in to the above abode. This has been on the cards for some time, and thankfully there were no last minute shit-ups, so we now own our first pad! This is a considerable step up from our old flat in terms of quite a few things, not least outside space.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Restaurant Review: Cal's Own, Newcastle

Pizza heaven
Imagine for a minute that you're called Cal, and then further  imagine that you've decided to open a pun-titled business. What are your options? Maybe a Cal-ender shop? Or you could flog Cal-or gas, or perhaps even set up a Cal-centre (sorry, that's truly crap). Thankfully for the good people of Newcastle in general, and Heaton in particular, Cal of Cal's Own went down precisely none of these avenues, instead selling pizza, both in titular folded, and regular format. Thankfully indeed, because on the evidence of our recent visit it's by some distance the best pizza in town and, actually, I'm buggered if I can remember one I ever had, anywhere, that was better. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Wet and then dry as life springs forth

Sunday Glummery
We've had a good couple of days of days activity on the plot, first in the rain on Sunday, followed by a quick  dash down in the evening sun after work yesterday. The amount of green, relative to unplanted brown, is increasing all the time, which is making things start to look a bit more productive and full of life.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Restaurant Review: The Broad Chare, Newcastle

The dining room at The Broad Chare
You know that feeling you get when something you both fully expected, and wanted, to be great turns out to be actually not that special at all? I experienced exactly that sense of anti-climax with the last Radiohead album. Repeated listens revealed nothing new, and I had to give up and accept it was just...pretty average. Radiohead being who they are, this was probably a deliberately contrarian ploy on their part to question the viability of the album as a musical form. I'm going to assume that The Broad Chare weren't similarly trying to problematise the three-course meal as a format of dining during our recent visit, and that the fact we had a fairly mediocre meal was down to error rather than design.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Sun, Songbirds and... decomposing marrows

Gathering Rhubarb in the Sun
Just another absolute stonker of a day in allotment land today. Light cloud with periods of bright (and hot!) sunshine made for basically perfect conditions. I've managed to pick up just a touch of sunburn; you never hear of it!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Magic Times as the Sun Shines

The plot on Saturday
The last couple of days have been the sort that need to be thoroughly enjoyed and then just as thoroughly committed to memory, in order to sustain good humour and perseverance during periods of less favourable climatic patterns. These are the fine and heady times when the sun shines, things grow and the world seems a generous and benevolent host. I've never seen the plots as busy, which is no doubt partly due to the fact that rents were due, but people were definitely making the most of the loveliness.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Restaurant Review: Tenji, Newcastle

The words "sushi" and "all you can eat" are, one imagines, not regularly found together within complimentary sentences. At probably the most famous sushi joint in the world (3 Michelin Stars and a movie have been dedicated to it) a meal lasts about half an hour, and you have no choice. So it's perhaps against the odds that Tenji on Barrack Road, where they're happy for you to linger until you can't face another grain of rice, and you have a really large selection to choose from, is as good as it is.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Recipe for a rubbish Sunday

Football on the radio and a bag full of Pentland Javelins
First, take the general malaise and existential vertigo that comes with the fag-end of a second day hangover. Allow to fester for a while. Next, fold in some seriously windy gusts of the polytunnel-wrecking variety. Finally, sprinkle liberally with an abject display from Newcastle United, listened to while down at the plot, against an apparently rejuvenated mackem side led by he of the dubious political leanings. If that's not enough to seriously piss on your chips then you're a stronger soul than me.

Monday, 8 April 2013

A fine day to throw up a polytunnel

A barrow full of tunnel
Saturday was an absolutely magic day down on the plot with almost wall to wall blue skies, barely a whisper of breeze and a mild suggestion of heat in the air. Not quite T-shirt time, but getting there. We took the chance to mosey on down and finally get to grips with the polytunnel we bought back in July last year. I pessimistically assumed that either some of the vital bits of it would have since disappeared or that we would be thwarted by an instruction sheet from hell.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

A Review of sorts: Grainger Market in general, Lindsey's To Go and mmm... in particular

Today's Menu
Easily one of my favourite bits of Newcastle is the Grainger Market. As a student I used to come here with my housemates and carry away as many cheapo frozen pizzas as our under-nourished hands could grasp. I think they were only about 50p each, and yes, they were as grim as hell. But: 50p! The nasty-ass freezer shop that flogged these is now gone, and among the traditional butchers and grocers are these days a liberal sprinkling of more worthy residents. There is a great mix of places to get some excellent supplies; top notch cheese at Matthews (they have our favourite ever blue; Cashel), to Pumphreys' great range of coffees; The French Oven do a fine range of breads and baked goods (including very decent macarons), and there are relative newcomers like Pet Lamb Patisserie. In amongst all this lot are hardware stores, a stall that sells collectible gaming cards, another hawking Mills and Boon, and of course the fine institution that is the fabulously and glamorously named "Cheap Tab Shop". Come ye, for herewith the stuff of life, in all its wondrous forms.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Lift Off!

Full of chit
The snow stopped, the gales abated, heck- even our old pal the sun even made a prolonged appearance. I'm not calling the arrival of Spring yet, but it was lovely to spend the day down on the plot and we even got our (possibly over-chitted) "Rocket" first earlies into the ground. It felt good, and now you get to read about some actual gardening for once. Treats all round!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

If you can't grow, borrow from nature, or; A Recipe for Wild Garlic Pesto

View down the Tyne
So the weather's still crap, have you noticed? I imagine you did, unless you're really good at ignoring these kind of things, or live in an underground compound in which case it seems odd to me that you should be looking at a blog that is nominally about gardening. Going to be growing many leeks in that subterranean bunker of yours? You want to check out one of those survivalist blogs, that'd be far more up your street. Anyway, enough rambling; despite having taken last week off work with the vague hope of finally digging over enough of the plot to plant some seed spuds out, it was too cold and wet. I'm not planting potatoes in snow. The wednesday's forecast was for flurries of white stuff, so I headed out for a cycle before it hit, with the intention of grabbing some wild garlic from the banks of the Tyne. If you can't grow, borrow.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Recipe: Mussels with N'duja and Fennel

allotment blog
It would be great to be writing about how I'd just planted out our seed potatoes or having just put up our polytunnel but the weather continues to be irredeemably gash, so that's not happening. Winter seems either unwilling or unable to leave the stage, despite the booing and jeers from all sides. It really is the tenacious, thick-skinned git of the seasonal family. I stopped being hacked off for just long enough to nip to the shops today, picking up en route one of the foods that is meant to be best at this time of year (Winter, that is); mussels.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Chewing our way round London

For those with an at least passing interest in food, London can, viewed from afar, almost seem a bit... daunting. There's just too bloody much stuff to eat. With only a few days excursion in our nation's capital the temptation is to draw up some sort of "must do" list, cramming in as much as one's available time and gastric capacity will allow.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Feeling a bit seedy...

As minds turn to what can be sown when, I've just done a full stock-take of our seed stash and, well, we've got loads. It's amazing how many packets you can rack up without even really paying attention. As well as the few orders we've put in to various companies and the leftovers from last year, they tend to accumulate via being stuck to the front of gardening magazines, not to mention the odd donation.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

All fired up

The sun comes out; is spring about to be sprung?
An absolutely gorgeous day today, so with just a faint whisper of a hangover I headed down to the plot for the first decent stint in a long time. There was some actual heat in the sun and it was beautifully bright. I did briefly stick a fork in the soil, but it's still treacherously damp and cloddy, so no real digging action today, that'll have to wait. There was plenty enough tidying-up to keep me occupied for a good few hours.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Let there be white

The track to the plot today
As it hadn't rained for a good few days, we were all geared up to do a bit of digging on the plot this weekend, hoping that the soil might have become just a bit less waterlogged. However that plan was scuppered as we woke up on Saturday to find a good few inches of snow had fallen during the night; I don't remember hearing that being advertised. We took a walk down today to have a look and take waste food to add to the compost.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Restaurant Review: Alyn Williams at The Westbury, Mayfair

Trips down to London have been sadly infrequent recently. One of the good bits about a visit southward is the chance to seek out a relatively bargainous lunch at one of the zillion or so top-flight restaurants that litter the place. Newcastle is not bad for eating out, with a few genuinely excellent restaurants and eateries, but with food as most other things, Londoners are farcically spoiled. Not for us are the multi-course extravaganzas of matched-wine tasting menus (we need the train fare home...), but, especially at lunchtime, it's very possible to eat some amazing stuff without incurring a bill that runs into hundreds of pounds. On previous sorties south we've been to Texture, Pied a Terre and Arbutus, all of which were great in different ways. This time out, I had seen some good reviews of Alyn Williams' newish restaurant in the Mayfair-situated Westbury Hotel, so off we schlepped to check it out.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Getting back into it...

It has been almost a month since we've done anything even vaguely allotment-related, which, clearly, simply won't do. In fairness, the weather during that period has pretty much all been on a scale from mildly repellent to cataclysmically shit, so there hasn't really been much to do. Better to neglect now than in the middle of summer when things are really happening. Yes, that's it; we've been getting our neglecting in at the most appropriate time.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Bit of a sausage-fest in here...

On the way to sausage heaven, pretending to drive the train and loving it
One doesn't, as a rule, get invited to an afternoon of sausage making very often, so it'd be churlish to turn it down when it does happen, and so I didn't. A bit of background: a friend, Mark, who does a lot of shooting of game, had started making sausages from the resultant carcasses. Having recently upgraded from a manual sausage maker to an electric version, he invited me and another friend, Neil, round to have a bash at putting some flavourings and seasonings together. I might have known it was going to be a good day when, despite getting on at Monument, I managed to snare the only really good seat on the Metro. That never happens.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A meagre but mealworthy midwinter harvest


A couple of years ago, before we got ourselves the allotment, the idea that it would be possible to be feeding ourselves from veg harvested at this time of year would've seemed pretty daft. I have vague memories of eating autumn-harvested kale from the garden when I was a kid, but that would be about it; Dad was, for the most part, a summer gardener only and as far as I knew, winter was for staying inside, and not for pulling up leeks

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Happy New Year!

Impressive church. Drunken loutishness not pictured.
Belated good tidings; hope you had a great festive period and that the near year has kicked off in a style not too dissimilar to that which you would have chosen for it. We had excellent Christmasses. Plural? Why yes; you see Kasia's folks are Polish, and so for the them Christmas Eve is the big thing, and so she was at home celebrating that while I headed off home to Scotland to imbibe outlandish quantities of various comestibles and accompanying libations with my clan. Just when I had started to feel healthy-ish again, it was down to Lincoln for a stag do. Lincoln is a lovely city and it was good to have a chance to wander round and see the Cathedral and old town before the staggish unpleasantness kicked off, booze and matching shirts to the fore...
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