22 April 2018

48-hours in Amsterdam


Last weekend, I flew out to Amsterdam with my friend Becky for a whirlwind tour of the Netherland's capital. If you're picturing red light districts and 'coffee shops', think again. We are grannies on tour. 

Saturday 14 April

1.15pm 

After a very early morning, an airport croissant and a rather delayed flight, we make it to Amsterdam. Almost every other flight got cancelled, so we've beaten the odds to get here – now we've just got to make the most of it.

Time to brush off the Amsterdam wish list...

1.50pm

I'm going to be honest, the walk down from the station (via an avenue called the Damrak) showcases the worst bits of Amsterdam: crowds, casinos, and hazy green clouds. There is one silver lining, though: eff loads of cheese shops. YAAAAS.

It might be the tackier tourist bit, but some of these buildings are actually really beautiful. There's a green marbled corridor that looks like Oz, and old street reminiscent of Diagon Alley.

ACCIO MY HOTEL.
Am I in Gringotts?

1.55pm

Dam Square is first on the list, just a 10-minute walk from the station.

There's a woman blowing giant bubbles and a breakdancer who didn't get enough attention as a child: 'if I position myself even a little bit wrong, I could break my neck and die!'.

Maybe don't do it then, mate?

I'm looking like a tourist version of ET

In case you're wondering, he was fine.

Dam Square is home to a royal palace, which looks very grand. And a Madame Tussauds, which looks slightly less so.

OK, we're done with the tourist bit, let's go.

I had to crop about 5,000 people out of this shot

Just a short walk from Dam Square lies the Amsterdam you'll know from photographs and film. There are beautiful canals, those classic tall, thin buildings, and far fewer people. (I'm not a huge fan of humans crowds, so this was good news.)

According to Instagram (I half-planned the day by searching #Amsterdam, tbh), I should head to a cafe/boutique called Pluk - it's only a few minutes away and it sells beautiful chocolate bars. I'm sold!

2.25pm

OH MY GOD, PLUK IS THE BEST SHOP I'VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE.

Imagine: hip glassware and ceramics, chocolate bars in photogenic wrapping, adorable notebooks, gold jewellery, and freshly baked cakes.

I could happily spend all my Euros right here.

 This is basically the inside of my mind on a good day

I mean, look at these...

I may or may not have purchased four bars because the packaging was so beautiful

3.50pm

Laden down with paper bags of confectionary, we head to Bloemenmarkt (the flower market). If you ever find yourself feeling bored, Bloemenmarkt is a super fun word to say. Try it.

En-route is Anne Frank's house. It's a little surreal to see tourists smiling and taking selfies with the front door, although I might just be bitter because tickets to the house sold out before we booked our trip.

Round the corner, we see a band of musicians, just starting up. One of them looks remarkably like Daniel Radcliffe.

They're now singing In Spite of All The Danger, a very low-key Beatles song. So low-key it's not even the Beatles, but the Quarrymen (pre-Ringo Beatles). I wish I wasn't singing along, I think it's scaring the musicians.

'THIS IS MY JAM, BECKY'

Becky quickly walks away

Bloemenmarkt has about 15 pretty sizeable flower stalls along the road. The road is lined with cheese shops. The cheese shops have free samples. My middle-aged fantasies came to life.

April is apparently tulip season, so Becky is in heaven and buys a whole load of silky blooms for her flat.

If I'm brutally honest, we get bored a few stalls in.

'Once you've seen three, you've seen them all'.

Pink tulips, orange tulips, red tulips, yellow tulips, lilac tulips... there were even blue tulips! 


Silk tulips, for those of us who can't bring real flowers home

4.15pm

Once we've had our fill of the multi-hued tulips:

'Nikki, do you want to eat?'
'Eat? Why? It's 4pm'
'All you've eaten today is half a croissant'
'Oh yeah!'

Lesson #1: Get yourself a best friend who reminds you to eat when you're too distracted to remember human things like that.

We spot Calf & Bloom across the canal. It's a beautiful brick building with vast windows and a waterfront terrace. Inside, it's an interior designer's dream.

Naturally, the menu looks like a newspaper

Admittedly I'm starving, but I think this toastie is the best toastie I've ever eaten.

Do you think they do overseas toastie deliveries? 

My stomach full of meat, cheese and bread (my preferred state), we head west to our hotel. This means navigating the tram system.

Lesson #2: Just buy a 48-hour tram pass, it's a blessing.

Lesson #3: Google Maps is the best thing to happen to humanity. I love that it can work out all your public transport routes - including listing how many stops you've got and telling you when you need to get off.

Luckily, there's a tram stop right outside the front door of our hotel. 

7.10pm

Whatever Becky tells you, I did not fall asleep at 6pm on a Saturday for a whole hour. 

Help, I am literally 70 years old.

8pm

I think another sign of old age is heading across the road to the nearest restaurant instead of trekking the urban jungle for hours in search of the newest, hippest bar serving avocado quinoa. 

Thank gawd, our local restaurant (La Casa Di Michael) is lovely and serves delectable italian food. According to the reviews, this is the best pasta and pizza you'll sample outside of Italy.

I've never been to Italy, so I'll take their word for it. 

9.20pm

Our bill has arrived with Limoncello shots. As I don't drink, Becky's has to take one for the team and down both.

'Oh god, that is strong. I am a little tipsy.'

Maybe shots make bill-paying easier to stomach? Or is it so people leave bigger tips?

Sunday 15 April

9.30am

We have a lot to do today, so we jump on the tram and head towards our chosen breakfast spot, The Breakfast Club.

The menu draws inspiration from London, NYC, and Mexico City,  so whether you want pancakes, a healthy juice, huevos rancheros. or a full fry up, you're well catered for. 

I'm charmed by the inside of this cafe. It looks like Pinterest come to life: white walls, metro tiles, chalkboards, huge hanging plants, distressed wood, and giant lightbulbs suspended from the ceiling.

My favourite part of the experience was listening to the two American girls on the next table trying to explain what 'eggs over easy' means. 

A misty morning brightened up by tulips

10.30am

This is a big day for both of us.

We'd only booked one activity before heading to Amsterdam: a ride on Europe's highest swing. And by swing, I mean a metal contraption that swings you over the edge of a building, 100m in the air.

It's meant to rain this afternoon, so we have to do it soon. Maybe we'll just let breakfast go down a bit first. It's not that we're nervous or anything...  

The safest thing to do, we decide, is walk there. That'll give us 40 minutes to explore Amsterdam through the cool Jordaan neighbourhood. 

The views of Amsterdam at 11am on a Sunday are mostly the buildings and canals, plus this houseboat museum

12.15pm

We've arrived at the ferry that will take us across the IJ (that's the water - it's not a canal, sea, river or lake - yep, I'm confused too) and to our destination.

You see that tower behind me? Those are the swings, right on the edge!

There's an I AMSTERDAM sign in front of the tower, so we stop for a quick photo first:

 Hanging out, spilling the T


And then it's into the building, through the awkward mandatory green-screen photo session and up the dizzying elevator.

Suddenly, we're at the top of the A'DAM Lookout.

We're feeling confident and brave, not slightly nervous and regretting our life choices.

Enjoying the view with one of favourite human beings

'Do I mind heights or not? I can't remember'

We don't go straight to the swings, we spend a little while wandering around the top deck and enjoying the sweeping views.

'Come on, let's do it.'

After queuing for ten minutes, we're sitting in the red metal chairs and getting strapped in.

Yep, we're about to swing off the edge.

So, that happened

The first few seconds after you're propelled into the air are bizarre. Not entirely stomach churning, but your body definitely has a 'wait, WTF are you doing?' moment. Don't worry though, you quickly relax into the experience and enjoy the view!

Do you want to see a GIF of the event? Of course you do.


Back on earth, we each grab a hot chocolate from the rooftop bar and agree:

'I'm SO glad we did this!' 

Lesson #4: Do something a little bit scary (within reason) on your holiday, it feels amazing once you've done it.

My fringe never really recovered from the swing

It was still a little misty, so I felt like I was in a Scandi crime drama
1.45pm

The next thing on my Amsterdam wish list is to visit a museum. Helpfully, many of the museums are clustered together in the aptly-named Museum Quarter.

We decide the best way to get there is via Amsterdam's famous canals.

It's so sunny, as you can see from my reflective skin

'No, Nikki, we're not getting the lovers' canal cruise'

If you're sightseeing, I highly recommend a hop-on-hop-off canal ticket. It's a smooth, pleasant way to travel - plus you get lots of interesting bits of info you wouldn't learn anywhere else.

Lesson #5: In Amsterdam, the canal boat is a valid form of transportation. 

You don't get this view from the bus or by walking

2.30pm

We get off the boat near the Rijksmuseum. There's a cool-looking market going on - much better than our standard markets back home (you know the sort - they sell sausages and mysterious wooden 'crafted' objects). There are ice cream vans, pizza trucks, a stall selling sweary cross stitches (I can't believe someone else makes them!) and photo booths.

A beautiful moment

Taking photos of a grand building I didn't even go in: The story of a blogger

Our hearts are set on something other than the Rijksmuseum, as we've spotted adverts for a Banksy exhibition at Moco. Somehow they've gathered over 50 original pieces - you can't miss that!

 Sucks to be Mickey

 Some call it vandalism, some call it art. I'll call it vart. 

This was voted the UK's favourite piece of art. Good choice!

4pm

'Do you want to go back to the hotel and chill for a bit?'
'Oh my God, yes'

Lesson #6: Go on holiday with a fellow Nana

4.05pm

'Hello, could you tell me where the museums are?'
'Just over there!
...
Becky, that lady just asked for directions! Do you think I look Dutch? Like I live here?'
'Um, no... I don't think so.'
'Oh.'

7pm

Rampant with hunger because some silly sausage (me) had only eaten a pastry for breakfast and an ice cream cone for lunch, we head out to our dinner venue.

Only a 20-minute walk away, excellent reviews and -

'Do you want to go leave and go somewhere else?'
'Yes please'

Do you ever walk into a shop and think 'this doesn't seem legit'. That.

7.30pm

FAAM, a small restaurant that specialises in pizza, was only a few minutes away. I am pleased to report it looked very legit and the food was delicious. Plus, I get the feeling the diners are locals rather than tourists - which I like.

Monday 16 April

9am

We're eating breakfast in a library because obviously.

This is Cafe Belcampo, a friendly little reading cafe in the Food Hall. Like most of my favourite eateries here, it's full of Amsterdam regulars rather than tourists.

So wholesome

Time to plot our next move – there are a couple of things left on our to-do list and only a few hours left.

10.30am

We're in Vondelpark. It's warm and sunny - perfect for a couple of hours of strolling.

Can't argue with this view, can you?

There are so many cyclists, joggers and dog walkers here - and people practising yoga or pilates. Amsterdam folk are healthy!

After an action-packed couple of days, it's so nice to walk around, sit on a bench by a picturesque pond, and chat for a while.

I've no idea when I started enjoying parks and flowers and trees, but I have aged. Rapidly. 

#NanaClub


12pm

Have you ever heard of De Poezenboot? It's a floating sanctuary for stray and abandoned felines. 

You can wander in and hang out with the cats (under the careful supervision of the Poezenboot volunteers, of course). It's pretty perfect for whiling away 20 minutes or so.  

Entry to the boat is free but donations are encouraged. 

Living my best life

What a handsome kitty

12.30pm

Feeling incredibly de-stressed from park walking and cat cuddling, we're ready to travel back home. It's time to walk back to the train station and weave through the Damrak area (ugh) again.

'Ladies! Come in here, have a drink, smoke. Weed is good for you!'
'I don't think it is!' 

Do you ever hear a shrill posh old woman reply to things and then you realise that voice belongs to you? No, me neither.

Goodbye, Amsterdam! Thank you for a wonderful 48 hours.

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18 March 2018

Back to basics




Hello lovely people,

I hope you're having a lovely Sunday.

Since my last style post, there's been a slight change to my appearance: I have a fringe again, and much shorter locks! That meant saying goodbye to my blonde hair and welcoming a much darker vibe (which apparently is what I really look like). It's weird that a haircut can make you look like you've dyed your hair, huh? People noticed that before they noticed the fringe.

It felt like going back to my roots (no pun intended), because through my teens/early twenties I nearly always had a 60s/Alexa Chung-inspired fringe and shoulder length hair combo. And now I'm going a bit 'old-school Nikki' with my wardrobe too - living in navy, black, white and burgundy (can't beat a classic and they go best with the whole pale skin, dark hair thing).



Shop the look



My skirt is super old - I even wore it in a Feb 2015 blog post - but this £8 Boohoo number is very similar. If you're on the hunt for black boots that go with everything, I couldn't recommend these ASOS boots (link above) enough - I accidentally walked 7km in them last weekend and my feet remained unblistered!




What's next?

Today was spent recovering from yesterday's massage which has left me super achy (I know, first world problems). But when I wasn't complaining, I was playing in the snow (blog post coming soon) and taking a DNA test (there will be a video with results in roughly 4-6 weeks)! I'm trying to be more committed to my little corner of the internet - thanks for sticking with me!
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4 March 2018

How I became a writer

Hello friends,

Earlier this week, I filmed a YouTube video about becoming a writer. YouTube is still a scary unknown world for me, so, I've reverted to my comfort zone and written a post to go with it. Watch the video, read the post, or if you’re super keen, do both! 



I wasn’t sure about hitting publish on this post.

The story of how I became a writer is one I’ve wanted to share for the longest time, but how do you talk about it without sounding incredibly arrogant?

Let’s clear something up: I’m not saying I have a perfect career. I certainly don’t think I have all the answers. And I don’t even think I made all the right decisions along the way. But what’s the point in making mistakes if you don’t share the lessons you learned?


Lesson 1: Find your passion 

Back in 2012, I was finishing a psychology degree. It was an interesting subject, but I realised I didn’t want to be a psychologist. Terrified by my impending graduation, I found solace in creative things: writing, drawing, painting, photography.

From there, it was just a short jump to starting my own blog.

My first blog wasn't good. At all. But it made me feel excited and happy, which was very welcome in an otherwise dreary, fear-filled year. I'd been imagining a grey future where I worked in a dull office building. And then it occurred to me: colourful, exciting creativity could be part of my everyday life.

After realising how much joy blogging brought me, I firmly decided that writing was my calling.


Lesson 2: Go window shopping 

The possibility of being a writer was unbelievably exciting.

You know when you browse ASOS even though you have no money? Or when you peruse Rightmove for flats even though you don’t have a deposit saved?


You can do the same with jobs – and it’s helpful. It’s a good idea to see what’s out there, find out exactly which skills recruiters are looking for, and work out how much experience you’ll need. So, I started shopping for my dream job.

Turns out, I’d need quite a few years of experience before it was worth applying.

Lesson 3: Seize those opportunities 

It’s a catch-22 situation: to get a job you need experience, but to get experience you need a job. For most of us, that means one thing: unpaid work.

I’m kind of torn on this issue.

After I graduated, I started working for an online fashion marketplace which ran a blog on the side. They published high-end Vogue-style fashion reports and I was recruited as a blogger. I didn’t mind not being paid, as I was a total novice.


But I got very into my ‘blogging job’. I just kept coming back, always eager to be the most published, or to get the best trends or fashion shows to write about (I had a lot of time on my hands). With every post, my writing got better and my determination doubled.

My Hermione Granger attitude paid off. After a few months and a meeting with the owner up in London (how fancy did 21-year-old me feel?), I was ‘promoted’ to blog coordinator. That meant getting to commission pieces, edit people’s work and run the social media. I went to London Fashion Week a couple of times. I interviewed designers.

It was all great experience. But still unpaid.


Lesson 4: Know your value 

I worked there for about a year and a half, which I think you’ll agree is a crazy amount of time to go without earning. (Don't worry, sometimes I had a part-time job on the side - more on this later.)

So, while unpaid work (like internships and volunteering) can be great for experience, know your value. Don’t let anyone take advantage of you.

I think the only reason I stayed with the company was because I kept getting new and potentially useful experience. If you hit a point where you're no longer learning, it's time to ditch it.


Lesson 5: Trust your gut and don’t give up 

Through the post-graduation years, a few friends and family members urged me to get a 'proper job' instead. To them, I was being crazy. I heard an awful lot of: 'Are you getting paid yet?' and 'I think you should just keep writing as a hobby'.

I do see why they said that. But I am SO glad I didn’t listen.


I couldn’t imagine being happy in any other career. And when I’ve set my mind to something, I’m painfully stubborn. You often hear: 'you regret the things you don't do', and I imagine spending 40 hours a week wishing you were in a different job is a pretty unpleasant experience.

If there's something you really want, keep trying. Don't give up.

Lesson 6: You don’t know what experience will come in handy 

After a few months of unpaid blogging work, I hit the end of my overdraft and realised I had food to buy and a phone bill to pay.


So, ugh, I had to get a job. After 5 months of half-heartedly applying for retail and admin positions at the behest of the Jobcentre (they didn’t take my writing ambitions at all seriously - ‘Oh? Well, here’s a costume shop looking for a cashier’), I got offered a position in a marketing department as an assistant to a couple of creative teams.

‘You were the office-bitch,’ my friend Jen helpfully reminds me about once a month. And not in a Miranda Priestly way. She means in a ‘girl who does the stuff no-one wants to do’ way. I think that's fairly standard for a 22-year-old entering the workplace, though.


I won’t lie, I was a bit resentful about the job. I really appreciated the money, but I was doubtful that it would help my career – plus it tore me away from my writing.

Guess what? I was wrong, it was pretty handy after all. And as Jen reminds me (after humbling me with my office-bitch origin story): 'We've all done shit jobs'.

Lesson 7: Be honest about what you want 

A couple of months in, I mentioned my blog and my writing ambitions. Before long, they offered a bit of copywriting work.

I didn’t see that coming at all. But it turns out, if you’re honest with people about what you want, they’ll probably try to help you.

It started with editing and uploading the odd research piece but by the end of the year, I was rewriting a microsite. This wasn’t part of my job description, but I was thrilled to be doing it.


My contract was coming to an end, so it was time to start job hunting. I wasn’t sure I’d have enough experience to get a proper writing job, but it was worth a shot, right?

Actually, I only applied for one job. It was for a charity. They wanted someone to help with their content. That meant writing. Actual paid writing.

Lesson 8: Surround yourself with good people 

After a nerve-wracking bus ride spent thumbing through the five pages of handwritten notes I’d all but memorised, I was there at the HQ for my interview. It went by in a blur. And the next morning, I was offered the job.



For several months, I walked home grinning to myself. I was incandescent with joy that I could officially call myself a writer.

That was three and a half years ago – and I’m still there!

It's super rewarding to feel like your 9–5 makes a difference and helps save lives. And I love the fantastically talented, hilarious, lovely human beings I'm surrounded by. I've learned so much from them.



My tip? If you’re not in the industry you want to be, try to make friends with people who are where you want to be (or share the interest with you). That’s where social networks (especially IG and Twitter) are really helpful. You can give each other ideas, do courses, go to events together, etc. It makes the whole business much more fun and motivating.

Lesson 9: Keep learning 

Nowadays, I’m an editor at the lovely charity. I’ve learned so much in the past few years, and I’m fully aware that the learning process will never stop. There will always be skills to boost and new things to learn. Plus, the way people communicate is constantly changing, so we have to adapt and change with them.


So, take a look at that eLearning course you’ve had your eye on. Sign up for those classes you’ve been meaning to take. Ask to shadow someone at work. Do some volunteering. Because you never know when it will come in handy! Remember when I sulked about working in the marketing role? I’m fairly sure that gave me an edge at my interview. And all that blogging I was told not to waste my time on? Incredibly useful. Without it, I absolutely wouldn’t have got the job. My life would be completely different.


Kind of scary, huh?

I hope this was interesting. It’s a bit strange to see the last 5 years of my life laid out like that. But it’s made me realise I’ve achieved an awful lot in a relatively short amount of time. I feel quite proud!

 

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24 February 2018

Let's dress like we're in The Parent Trap


If you were a child of the 90s, you probably loved the movie The Parent Trap. I absolutely did. And I still do! 

In fact, while I was trying to fall asleep the other night, I started thinking about the film and realised just how great the costumes were. Some people count sheep, I count sartorial successes. 

Seriously though, the film is 20 years old and a lot of the outfits are 2018 appropriate. That’s pretty impressive for a 90s movie – as much as I love Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You, I wouldn’t fancy rocking Cher’s pink fluff or Kat’s cargo pants. 

Grab a cuppa and a biscuit. Get comfy. We're about to take a trip to 1998: 

Californian and cool vs London and ladylike

The genius costuming begins (props to the wonderful Penny Rose) when we first meet Hallie and Annie at summer camp. Their outfits introduce them perfectly.  

Hallie is all about that laid-back Californian cool in shorts, a denim jacket and sneakers. Side note: I really want those sunglasses and that golden retriever.



Annie, on the other hand, is serving prim-and-proper Englishness in a checkered two-piece and Chanel-esque capped-toed pumps. Note the matching hairband. And the hip-bumping butler. If you don't have a choreographed handshake in your life, now's the time to develop one.



While a two-piece skirt suit isn't the most 2018-friendly, I spotted a checked trouser suit on the lovely Liv Purvis the other week. It's the latest thing on my 'but I need it' list. 

When I first watched The Parent Trap, I wished I could dress as cool as Hallie and, to be honest, I'd still wear her outfit. Can you go wrong with checked shorts, oversized denim and a T-shirt? No, it's a classic.

Are you Team Hallie or Team Annie? Shop below:



Camp style

Even though they're wearing camp uniforms, Annie still looks prim and old-fashioned and Hallie looks modern and cool. Two very different vibes, just by contrasting a polo shirt with crew neck T-shirt, and tucking something in rather than leaving it out. 


How many times have you seen that knotted-bandana-as-a-hair-accessory look on Pinterest? I would absolutely do that if I could just work out how to tie it. 


And my favourite look from the movie? Or any movie ever?

Forget Belle's golden gown or Holly Golightly's little black dress, I'm all about Hallie's bottle-green varsity jacket.


You know when they're all playing poker and you hear: 'I'll take a whack at it'?

Enter Hallie Parker, with Bad To The Bone as her soundtrack and a sock (?) full of loose change swinging in her hand. The jacket, the sunglasses, the bad ass attitude: Lindsay Lohan has never looked cooler.

The Hallie Parker starter kit:



Villains are always stylish

Ah, Meredith. She's beautiful, she's stylish, and she's basically a garbage human being. Or maybe she's just a misunderstood PR exec with a penchant for red lipstick?

Nah. 



As kids, we hated Meredith on sight. But let's be honest, as adults, wouldn't we all like to look and dress like her? 

Poolside villain aesthetic:

Elizabeth James is a queen

The wonderful Natasha Richardson, who plays Hallie and Annie's mum, is a stark contrast. She's also beautiful and blonde, but she has a much softer look than Marilyn, I mean, Meredith. She's all about the neutral, natural shades. This white'n'beige outfit she wears to wander around London is a prime example:


Props for the busting out the pastel blue suit, Hallie-pretending-to-be-Annie. It's a bold look, but I can almost guarantee you will see similar on the High Street this year (there's definitely an eggshell blue suit in Zara right now). Ditto Elizabeth's off-white overcoat.

Potential mother-daughter bonding outfits below:


Matching, sort of

I'm not going to lie, after watching The Parent Trap, I really wanted a sister to match with. Two years later, I got one - but to be honest, it was hard to coordinate outfits with a baby-gro.

The yellow ensembles are my favourite of the coordinated outfits. Hallie-pretending-to-be-Annie looks all preppy in her headband, Peter Pan collar and cardigan. Annie-pretending-to-be-Hallie is a bit cooler with her patterned sleeveless top. And glasses on a chain? Will that be a thing again?


Being twins, Hallie and Annie also wear the exact same thing but in different colours:


Outfits for your twin/sister/best friend:



Into the woods

The last collection of outfits is from the famous camping trip. I'm only going to make a few points, because I'm getting bored of writing:

1. I love that Meredith turns up in a pastel blue suit (see, it's a thing) and just so happens to have skin-tight gym gear with her. Which is totally what you'd wear to camp in the woods. 
2. I'm fairly confident I own Elizabeth's blue chambray shirt and jeans combo. 
3. I'm vaguely obsessed with Hallie and Annie's outfits. Again. 




What to wear for a camping trip, as told by The Parent Trap:


So, if you're stuck for outfit inspiration this spring, you know where to find inspiration. And to quote Hallie quoting Elvis: 'Thank you, thank you very much'. 

Images: The Walt Disney Company
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