Don’t bank on it

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Still no further forward.

Many of you have asked me for updates on the situation with Ravens Court, the decaying, derelict shopping precinct that lies deserted in the centre of Brownhills – you’ll remember that way back in November 2014, Walsall Council issued an ultimatum to the owners that if they didn’t submit a planning application within six months, they’d initiate legal proceedings to force the landlords to tidy it up.

The precinct – which is owned privately by a Mayfair-based company called Lightquote Limited – is in a shocking condition, and has slowly continued to decay since Tesco pulled out of a plan to build a new store here in 2012. Lightquote fully expected to sell Ravens Court to Tesco and make an effort-free killing – but were left with an unfortunate white elephant when the retail behemoth’s economic fortunes went south.

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It was good news week in the Express & Star, Wednesday November 26th 2014.It all seems to have gone a bit Pete Tong.

At the time that Walsall Council issued the ultimatum, officers and other interested parties were at the end of their tethers, as being in private hands, there is very little the authority can do to force the owners to act. Legal action is expensive and lengthy, and there’s no guarantee of winning. Such action can only force a tidy up.

In more jovial humour at the time, Brownhills UKIP Councillor Steve Craddock, naiveté dripping from behind his ears, followed the owners down to the Fearie Glen and swallowed the story that there was some kind of plan, and that all would be revealed if we sat tight and trusted him and his oppo, Tory group regeneration wonk Adrian Andrew.

The hapless kipper went to the press and announced jovially that they’d all been working together and things were being pushed forward. Forward so far, they appear to have fallen off a cliff without trace.

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Last Friday – 24th July 2015 – the rear block toilets had been broken open again, with evidence of drug use and possibly squatting – a regular occurrence.

Since then, nothing has happened in the ground except more ASB, more break ins, and more decay. We had an election, after which the Tories regained control of Walsall Council, winning back control following the loss of outgoing Brownhills Councillor Barbara Cassidy’s seat to a tory, who’d been campaigning on the street by telling everyone the Tories were sorting out Ravens Court.

This must have particularly stung UKIP, who appear to have been nothing more than useful stooges to restore the Mike Bird status quo.

I had periodically reminded readers that the clock was ticking for action on Lightquote by the Council, but the current position seems a little uncertain. Naturally, I think the Authority is still hoping a deal can be sought.

I had been alerted through various contacts that action might be imminent on the part of developers, so I hung on and gave them time. Six months was up in May. I gave it until June. Another whisper. Nothing.

Since then, I’ve had contact from the only politician seemingly happy to speak frankly on the matter, Brownhills Labour Councillor Steve Wade. Steve has issued the following statement, on several issues:

Hello Bob

I have a statement from the council with the very latest update of four major issues that relate our area. As you can see, and contrary to what other ward councillors have recently advised the community, these are still very much active and are ongoing.

Regarding Ravens Court and The Warrener’s Arms, I and ex councillor Cassidy, have battled to keep these issues at the top of the regeneration agenda for a number of years in an effort to get the council, owners/developers to the table to try and thrash out some viable proposals for development. I will continue to do this for as long as I am a councillor, and indeed beyond.

I’m also trying to get the council to obtain the land owned by Tesco for community activities and the possibility of a return of Brownhills market in some guise.

Unfortunately, the wheels of local government run extremely slowly and this is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of trying to get things resolved. I will keep you posted on any developments.

Steve Wade

The statement from Walsall Council Steve cites is as follows:

Cllr Wade

As promised, an update on the matters you requested.

Ravenscourt
No further update has been received since officers from the Planning Department provided comments to the agent on the draft scheme that was submitted earlier in the year. In contacting the agent to seek an update and remind them of the six month date that Cabinet agreed to hold off from serving a S215 Notice, it was confirmed that the agent/contact no longer works on this scheme – an alternative contact is therefore being sought.

[So, there has been a ‘draft scheme’m of some kind submitted by the owners, which hasn’t been made public. I’ve heard it wasn’t very detailed. Planning – as is their job – advised upon it, to no avail. Now the people who were dealing with it for the landlords are no longer concerned with it. Sounds just topper that. – Bob]

Warreners’ Arms
No further progress has been made by the land owner since the sale of the land to the former proposed developer fell through in 2014. As Planning Committee resolved that the planning application – demolition of the former PH and construction of 58 flats – be granted subject to conditions and a S106, officers will need to report back to a future Committee to recommend for refusal as the S106 remains undetermined.

[So, no change at the Warreners then – despite rumours. Thanks for clearing that up – Bob]

Land fronting High Street (Tesco)
This land is owned by Tesco and it is understood that they have identified this parcel of land surplus to their requirements and available for disposal/sale. Officers therefore continue to endeavour to make contact with Tesco to progress the proposition of the Council negotiating acquisition of this land to provide a civic space on the High Street for events and market opportunities. The progress of engaging Tesco has been hampered by continuing changes in personnel, which we understand is the result of recent redundancies within the organisation. A new contact has been provided by the store manager which officers are pursuing, together with other potential avenues of contact that others hold for Tesco.

[This came as a bit of a surprise, and I support this wholly – Bob]

I thank Councillor Wade here and now for his openness and honesty on this matter – it’s nice to see someone trying to push things along. Thanks for keeping us informed, please stay in touch. I like the idea to get that waste ground into some kind of use; it’s long been needed.

Back to the matter in hand, I think it’s quite clear Lightquote are stalling, and the agents who were representing them are no longer doing so. This reeks of commitment, I must say: in my continued research I can find no evidence that Lightquote are anything more than a land banking operation with no obvious evidence of previous development experience.

I have repeatedly requested Lightquote issue a statement. Why on earth would they not do so? They own a large, crumbling edifice in our town (miles from their registered offices) – and even if they bought in good faith, hoping for a quick turnover and commercial gain – they owe it to Brownhills to at least show good intention. That they seem unwilling to do even basic clean-up tasks is quite shocking, really.

So, where does this all go from here? I wish I knew. The Council has not the money to compulsorily purchase Ravens Court; the £3 million this is estimated to cost is just not available in these times, although I’m sure Walsall would facilitate a deal if one was on the table. Purchasing the site speculatively would be hugely costly and not solve the issues.

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Here’s the complexity of the ownership of Ravens Court. Walsall Council have agreed that they’d concede the central area to aid development if necessary.

With the owners seemingly unwilling to develop, I think the only likely outcome right now is demolition – and I’m not sure that would be a bad thing. The site is an unfortunate shape, and marooned by surrounding car parking. It’s long and narrow, and about the only thing I could see it practically hosting would be some kind of drive through – but the cost of the land to do that would seem prohibitively expensive. At least demolishing the place would remove the blot on the landscape, and make the High Street less dismal. But it’s a long shot, and would require action on the part of the owners.

Don’t hold your breath.

Walsall Council can only – and I hope they do – press on with court action to force the precinct to be cleaned up; but even that, if successful could take a year or more, and will to actually solve the problem.

I doubt Brownhills is unique in this position – I think this situation is being repeated up and down the land in unremarkable towns like ours, where property speculation has failed and left communities with vacant, derelict sites money can’t possibly be made back from. All we can hope is that the Walsall Housing Group projects locally generate more trade and drive some degree of investment.

If they don’t, we’re stuffed.

Posted in Brownhills stuff, Environment, Express & Star, Followups, Interesting photos, It makes me mad!, Just plain daft, Local media, Local politics, News, Panoramio photo discussions, planning, Shared media, Spotted whilst browsing the web, Walsall community, Walsall Council | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Catch San Brett live on the radio tonight – live from Brownhills!

Just a quick post to highlight that friend of the blog and queen of the Brownhills Full English San Brett will be live on 2ndcityradio.net tonight (Wednesday 29th July 2015) from 7-9pm – tune in on line at the link below.

2ndCityRadio.net – listen along live here

San’s show is on tonight and every Wednesday!

San, of course, owns San’s Kitchen in Silver Court, a popular local cafe where she engineers a fine butty, but San is also a great laugh and is sure to be hugely entertaining on air, whilst also playing a whole variety of music.

Tune in if you can, San’s a star!

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Sounds like a great show!

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Lichfield Waterworks Trust – July public meeting this Thursday

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Sandfields Pumping Station – a great historic building with immense history and social significance – not just to Lichfield, but to the Black Country. Lichfield Discovered and local historian Dave Moore are fighting to save this valuable asset for the community.

Sandfields Pumping Station champion and public historian extraordinaire Dave Moore has been in touch to let me know that this Thursday (30th July 2015) there is a public progress meeting for the Lichfield Waterworks Trust charity, formerly the Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station group.

It takes place at the Duke of York pub, Greenhill, Lichfield from 7:30-9pm.

Dave wrote:

Dear Brownhills Bob,

Monthly Progress Meeting of the Lichfield Waterworks Trust, formerly known as the Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station.

Thursday 30 July 2015 at 7:30pm – please note the new venue

The meeting place is;
Duke of York
23/25 Greenhill
Lichfield
Staffordshire
WS13 6DY

T: 01543 300 386

The Lichfield Waterworks Trust is a Community Incorporated Organisation, registered with the charities commission who are fighting to save the Grade II* listed building know as Sandfields Pumping Station for the benefit of the community.

The unique 190 Hp Cornish Beam Engine and building area magnificent monument to the lives of the people who died in the black Country during the mid ninetieth century due to the cholera epidemics. It also celebrates the achievements of the Victorian water engineers who gave clean water to the nation.

English Heritage has designated Sandfields Pumping Station as a building that has ‘more than special interest’, hence the reason it has been listed at Grade II*

Unfortunately, what some see as Lichfield’s most significant pieces of Industrial Heritage, a true hidden gem form the past is now a building at risk.

All are welcome to become involved in this challenging but rewarding project.

Dave Moore

Do pop over to Dave Moore’s blog and check out the history of Sandfields Pumping Station, an almost forgotten gem – the group also has a Facebook page.

Dave is, of course, one of the leading lights of Lichfield Discovered, along with Kate ‘Cardigan’ Gomez from Lichfield Lore.

It’s great to see people like Dave encourage a better attitude to our historic buildings, rather than that which we seem to have here in Walsall, where we regard heritage architecture as merely ‘fuel’.

Please do attend if you’re able, it’s sure to be enlightening and educational.

Posted in Environment, Events, Followups, Fun stuff to see and do, Interesting photos, Just plain daft, Local Blogs, Local History, Local media, News, Reader enquiries, Shared media, Shared memories, Social Media, Spotted whilst browsing the web | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holland Park fun day this Wednesday – get down there with the kids!

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Always a cracking event. Get the kids down there!

Summer holidays, eh? Kids already driving you mad already? This Wednesday 29th July 2015, between 10:30am and 4:00pm there will be an opportunity to get them off that games console and out into the fresh air with the annual summer fun event at the ever popular Holland Park in Brownhills.

The event will be free, but some activities may be chargable. These events are very popular. It looks like being a great day for it this year.

If you can’t make this fun day, there’s loads of others going on at other parks in the borough which you’re welcome to attend.

If you need more details, please call Walsall Council Greenspaces on 01922 654893.

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Where there’s hope

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There’s every chance the young fellow in the cap is still with us. Any ideas? Image from ‘Hope Springs Eternal’ filmed by Edgar Pritchard and shared with the blog by Reg ‘Aer Reg’ Fullelove.

Here’s something I’ve been planning to share with you readers for a very long time, but I had to choose my moment; I needed time to prepare the video for the web and I thought this would fly best on a wet, grey Sunday evening.

Today seems perfect. Ahem. [Tips rainwater out of hat]

I present here, at the foot of this post, ‘Hope Springs Eternal’ a lighthearted 1930s film made by Brownhills chap Edgar Pritchard, brother of Sid (whose diaries, transcribed by Bill Mayo and David Evans are currently selling out their second print run at Brownhills Library – if you haven’t got your copy get in quick). It’s about eight minutes long, and tells the story of a man doing the football pools, a practice that seems to have died out since the advent of the National Lottery.

Edgar also created the 1934 Brownhills Carnival film that has proven so popular. He was clearly some photographer and filmmaker, and obviously a bit of a geek in his own time. We’d all love to know more about him.

The film is part of the wonderful tranche of material Reg ‘Aer Reg’ Fullelove has donated to the blog, and once again I thank him most profusely for his felicity, generosity and wonderful spirit. Reg, you remain an inspiration.

David Evans has spoken to Reg at some length about Hope Springs Eternal, and had this to say:

Hi Bob

This amazing silent black and white film, Hope Springs Eternal, was made by a local Brownhills man and award-winning filmmaker and photographer, Mr Edgar Pritchard, who lived with his brother Sid in their house in Brickiln Street many years ago.

He made the Brownhills Carnival film which has been featured on your blog. This film is quite amazing, and has been offered by our own Mr Reg Fullelove BEM. One of the characters in the film is Edgar’s gardener, Reg’ s father David, and we see Edgar’s own sports car, a BSA Scout. There is a shot of Great Charles Street and Ogley Road.

I am sure that your readers will identify some other shots, and a certain sporting occasion!

This film features some advanced camera techniques for the day… late 1930s, I believe.

Sadly, the vast store of still photos that Edgar Pritchard took during his lifetime seems to have been lost. This is one of three of Edgars films that are known to still be in existence.

I would like to thank our own Reg Fullelove for his part in rescuing this film, and for his kindness in offering it for your many blog readers to enjoy…We may even identify the two mani characters in this film!

Kind regards
David

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Walsall Wood stumble at Pelsall, plus match and fixture updates from Bill Shaw

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Pelsall Villa: Bested the Woodmen to some degree on Tuesday last. Image from the club website on Pitchero.

Well, you can’t keep a good man down, and never was the adage more true than with Walsall Wood FC’s Bill Shaw, who’s been struggling with a bad chest of late and not been able to catch the matches he’d like.

First of all, Bill, get well soon – we’re all rooting for you.

This, coupled with some confusion as to which games are bing played where and when has meant we missed a couple of match reports. I’m keeping it together as best I can while the season gets back into the swing so please bear with me.

Bill sent me the following

Hiya Bob,

Thanks for the message of support, still struggling with the chest problem sadly.

Anyway I’ll try and bring you up to date with action on the field, the Young David Evans sent you a report on the Pelsall Villa loss on Tuesday, I think I said early in July that with us running an under 21 team this season the friendly games would contain a mix of them and senior players, sometimes having a fixture clash.

The team at Pelsall was predominantly youngsters with a sprinkling of senior players and a couple of triallists, taking nothing away from the Villa it would appear that we huffed and puffed but didn’t pull up any trees. Well done Villa anyway, you can only beat what’s put in front of you.

Wednesday night saw us take on Willenhall Town at Bilston, goals from Drew Aiton and Leon Taylor giving us a 2–0 win.

Saturday lunch time at Coventry Copsewood a Daniel Holgate penalty saw us come away with a 1–1 draw. Followed at 3.00pm by a trip to Ashby Ivanhoe, Leon Taylor put us ahead with an opportunistic strike after a defensive mix-up on 30 minutes. The home side deservedly equalised on 64 minutes, Dan Stevenson heading home from a left wing free kick. Both sides had chances with the home side having the better of the play, but Wood stole the win right on time when from a right wing free kick to beyond the far post Anthony Juxon ghosted in to power a header across the keeper and into the far corner of the net.

It’s now Kidderminster Harriers at Oak Park on Tuesday night kickoff 7.45 pm and on Saturday 1st August we go up the A5 to Ellesmere Rangers (the Shropshire one just outside Oswestry).

The season starts with a home game against Leicestershire newcomers Bardon Hill Sports on Saturday 8th August kickoff 3.00pm followed on Tuesday 11th with a visit to Highgate United one of the fancied teams, who of course last year won Midland league division 1.

I now have the revised fixture list for the season (for what it’s worth) it’s already been changed twice so don’t hold me to it ,I have attached last season’s results for anyone who is interested and will send you the season’s fixture list soon.

Regards
Bill Shaw

Thanks, Bill – Here’s the fixture list embedded from Google Drive (apologies for any corruption):

Bill, I thank you wholeheartedly for your thorough, entertaining and popular match reports – I’ll always have a soapbox waiting for you here!

The young David Evans also sent some pictures and a brief review of the Pelsall Villa match as Bill noted above… All pictures and captions are David’s own work.

Hi Bob

Bill Shaw was not able to be at this match this evening.

Pelsall Villa 1 v 0 Walsall Wood

A friendly match of football where Pelsall showed greater appetite to win than Walsall Wood, who had the advantage of the considerable slope on the pitch in the first half. However, it was Pelsall who parried numerous attacks by the Woodmen,  eventually breaking through a momentarily slightly un-coordinated defence to score the only goal of the match.

It was goals that were lacking, and causing some frustration as Pelsall showed some fine incisive moves and passes; more so than the visitors.

Both sides brought on a few substitutes throughout the match and this new composition for both sides, seemed to affect the fluidity of play.

There were frequent off-side moves, by both sides.

Pelsall Villa will be pleased with their well-deserved win. Walsall Wood will have some head-scratching and post-match de-briefing to do behind closed doors, I expect.

David

Cheers to David and Bill for the help – after all, it’s all For The Good Of The Wood!

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Avoiding the Red Caps with the permission of Captain Palmer

It’s always a joy to feature articles here by the wonderful Anslow brothers; over the years John and Paul have contributed so much to our local history knowledge, from everyday but special weddings, to sneaking into fetes and even recalling lost Pelsallian ice ream vendors.

Well, the lads have been busy again, and I have this article and a followup to share with you in the coming days. When I asked for memories of air raids and  the like (I’m still interested in anything you have, by the way) I never expected something like this; this is a wonderful, beautifully written, all-encompassing ramble through wartime Pelsall and Brownhills, and I think it’s rather brilliant.

Thanks to John and Paul, and if you have anything to add, please do comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

John Onslow wrote:

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Norton Junction, the sidings just off the Pelsall Road at Highbridges, was busy during the war. Image from the South Staffordshire Rail Group.

Hello again Bob.

You recently asked for wartime memories of the local area. Paul and I were born after the war but used to play in and around the air-raid shelters and the like; we also heard stories from parents and grandparents.

What follows is something of a ramble, but I hope there will be bits that are of use.

At the outbreak of the War, Dad was living with his widowed mother and brother at 122 Walsall Road, Walsall Wood, more or less where Select Windows and Doors stands today. His brother, who had served pre-war in what he called ‘The Militia’, was posted abroad, while Dad was conscripted into the REME.

Dad took every opportunity to get back to look after his mother, who did not enjoy the best of health. When stationed at Whittington, near Lichfield, troops were forbidden to travel beyond Muckley Corner, where Red Caps were positioned as sentries; Dad used to avoid them by walking along the canal towpath and across fields. When he was posted further afield, he used passes from a book he had somehow obtained, signing them himself as ‘Captain Palmer’.

At home one night, he heard a stick of five German bombs fall without exploding. Paul remembers one of these being discovered in the working marl hole behind what is now Baron’s Court in 1968. The book ‘Memories of Old Walsall Wood’ by Bill Mayo and John Sale records that the unexploded bomb caused the closure of the road on 9th April 1968, also noting that one other bomb had been found previously. If Dad was right, and no others have been found since 1968, there are still three awaiting discovery!

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I bet that made the driver’s eyes bulge a bit. And in the world of local journalism, all bombs tick, obviously. Brilliant stuff from Memories of Old Brownhills by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Once when Dad was home without permission he was told by a neighbour that the Red Caps had been out looking for a deserter; mistakenly thinking they were after Dad, the neighbour had sent them on a wild-goose chase over the Jockey Fields away from Dad’s house.

Bombs fell around High Bridge in Pelsall: whether the enemy was aiming for the shunting yards or just getting rid of bombs following a raid on Birmingham I don’t know, but a house was destroyed and my mother, then a teenager, recalled walking from Brownhills with other people to have a nosey at the damage the following morning. The house was never rebuilt, and High Bridge Row had a gap in the terrace until it was finally demolished.

I recall that as children we used to play in the tunnel-like air-raid shelters that were dug at the southern end of the shunting yards. They wound into the bank and back out, presumably to enable railwaymen to run in during a raid but to deflect the shock waves from the blast. It was always a dare to navigate through these tunnels without a torch.

In the fields between York’s Foundry Bridge and the railway line was a huge crater that was not the result of enemy action, though I recall that some children called it ‘the bomb hole’. It was, in fact, the result of a mining collapse in the 1870s or thereabouts. A few yards from that hole there was what appeared to be a genuine bomb crater: circular, about 12 feet across and 3 feet deep.

Paul was talking recently to a gentleman who had been at school in Pelsall during the War. He described air–raid drills in which all the children with their gas masks were marched to the shelters that had been dug between Church Road and Slate Row, north of the Labour Club. These had been bricked up by the time Paul and I were old enough to play out, but they remained as hillocks until they were finally cleared for a public garden in the 1970s.

I remember two other air-raid shelters, one in the back garden of the Stokes’s house on Hall Lane opposite the church, and the other that must have been somewhere between what is now Braeside Way and Hall Lane, dug into a steep bank. (Hence Braeside?)

Paul recalls public shelters in Shelfield, possibly on that triangle of land between Four Crosses Road and Lichfield Road, and another set in Pelsall between the “Senior School” (now Pelsall Village School) playing fields and Wolverhampton Road.

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High bridge Row, as remembered by John and Paul Onslow. Image from ‘A Picture Tour of Pelsall, Russell and Shelfield’ by John Sale and Bill Mayo.

Now for a final couple of oddments.

First, I once heard a tale of a Pelsall man who at the time of conscription had recently bought himself a top-of-the-range motorcycle, something like an Ariel Square Four. When he received his call up papers, he did not want the machine to be used by irresponsible relatives so he dismantled it, packed it with grease, wrapped it in tarred paper and buried it in the garden of a house in Mount Road, or thereabouts. Whether he ever returned to dig up his treasure I do not know, though the storyteller seemed to imply that he did not.

Secondly, Paul recalls that a Mr Archer, who worked for Aldridge Brick and Tile, had received special training in 1935 or 36 for the new process of manufacturing Utopia bricks. This process was German, and so technicians came to Walsall Wood from Germany to train the workforce. Paul speculates that these technicians might at that time have been gathering information on the location of possible targets.

My father and his brother survived the war, but my mother lost a brother. I think I have mentioned him to you before, Bob: he was Sidney Walter Newbould, a professional soldier in the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards. Born at Dairy Farm, Walsall Wood in 1918, he served in Palestine during the Arab Revolt, escaped capture at Tobruk, returned to play his part in the defeat of the enemy in Tunisia and Italy but was killed in London on Sunday 18th June 1944 when a V1 flying bomb destroyed the Guards Chapel at Wellington Barracks. He is buried in Aldridge Cemetery and his name appears on the war memorials in Aldridge and Walsall Town Hall.

Well, Bob; it’s been a bit of a car-boot-sale of a piece, but I hope some of the junk might be usable. Thank you for organizing what, if I may say so, is the very valuable exercise of collecting these memories together before they disappears forever.

All the very best,

John Anslow

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