Michele A'Court, Author at Michele A'Court
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Author: Michele A'Court

22 May A King’s Honour

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 22 May 2023


On a wet Friday afternoon last October, entirely out of the blue, an email arrived in my inbox from the Honours Unit at Parliament. At least, that’s where it said it was from – my first assumption was that it was a scam, or possibly one of my hilarious friends doing some kind of whacky end-of-week prank.

I tried popping the phone number into Google to see if it had been flagged as a fraud, and checked the email address for oddities until it felt safe to open the attachments. Slowly it dawned on me that some mystery group of people had quietly nominated me for a New Year’s Honour.

This is a delightful thing that any of us can do for anyone in our community or industry – there is a website that explains the whole process and if there is someone you think deserves a medal, you really should get amongst it.

So here was a letter sent on behalf of the Governor General – gasp – asking if I would accept an honour, subject to it being approved by the King. That’s quite a letter to be reading on what had been, up until that point, a very ordinary day. I had a cry, thought about how much this would have meant to my late-parents, and promised myself I wouldn’t tell a soul until (if) the King said yes.

Out for dinner that night with a dear friend, I blurted the news during the second glass of wine. Shameful. But she remained the only person I told for several weeks. It was a delicious secret, like a precious stone you keep in your pocket, touching it now and then with your fingertips to feel the shape of it, feel its weight.

And then you don’t hear anything at all for two months until finally the news comes that the King has said yes. This is a moment I like to think about – that one afternoon King Charles sits down at that desk we’ve all seen on The Crown, and signs his approval, one by one, to the list of Kiwis to be honoured.

I feel sure he would read the short biographical note beside each name to get a sense of who each person is. Dame Farah Palmer and Sir Ashley Bloomfield were on this list – the first batch of this King’s Honours – so he had some pretty terrific people to read about. I wonder what it’s like to see “New Zealand comedian” in one of those bios, and whether that might give you pause as it passes across the royal desk.

I like how our Honours system is widening – even redesigning – who we think of as our “establishment”. When the Topp Twins became Dame Jools and Dame Lynda in 2018, it rewired in the best possible way what I thought of as a “Dame”. As they said at the time, the rebels were getting their medals – for activism as well as entertainment.

I also like the way the process goes along without you, so you don’t know for a long time (and may never know) who made this happen for you. Which oddly means you end up treating everyone you know and work with as though they did this very kind thing.

On the day of the investiture – just seven of us at our ceremony – we talked with each other about the mystery of how this happened, and about self-doubt, and gratitude. And then how we might use this acknowledgement to boost more people in our communities.


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22 May The 7 Signs of Aging

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 15 May 2023


There was a time, I imagine, when no one knew what cellulite was or that it was bad. (We’re talking about that harmless skin condition that gives a dimpled look to your thighs.) Given most women have cellulite, those dimply thighs were probably referred to originally as, well, “thighs”. Because this is what normal legs look like.

Then some clever chap (I bet it was a chap) noticed it arrived at a time in a woman’s life when she might be feeling vulnerable (which is all day) and decided they could be described as “problem thighs” and immediately whipped up a cream that may or may not make them “better”.

My money, by the way, is on the cream not making an iota of difference but don’t let me discourage you from taking some quality me-time to rub pleasant lotions on your good self.

Do not, however, think a tub of anti-cellulite cream is an appropriate gift for another lady. Stick to presents that are less judgmental.

Similarly, no doubt, “the 7 Signs of Aging” were invented (or “identified”) a few decades ago by someone who wanted to shift some pots of goo, and now everyone selling pots of goo is totally on board.

The official list goes: 1. Fine lines and wrinkles. 2. Dullness of skin. 3. Uneven skin tone. 4. Dry skin. 5. Blotchiness and age spots. 6. Rough skin. 7. Visible pores.

Not meaning to be picky but I’m pretty sure 5 is also 3. And 4 is also 6 and 2. I guess 7 is a magic number and we should be grateful they didn’t count “lines” and “wrinkles” as separate horrors.

But where does this disdain for aging come from? Why is a wrinkle less attractive than the smooth? How come we don’t welcome softening and folding as proof we’ve been blessed with a long life and we know stuff? Why isn’t looking old aspirational?

In caveperson times, of course, we learned to view youth as attractive because our primary focus was to be on the lookout for a mate we could make babies with. Young meant fertile, symmetry meant health. But that was when we lived very short lives, and procreation was both imperative and largely unavoidable. The major point of women was to be fertile and make new humans.

But we sold up and moved out of caves a long time ago. We live longer lives – much longer than required for making and raising babies. I’ve already spent more of my life now not being of childbearing age or ability. We can even choose to not make new humans at all. We have plenty of time to offer the world more than the possibility of children.

And yet we are still encouraged to view youthfulness (aka fertility) as the thing that makes someone attractive. When really, we might want to evolve past seeing women for what they might contribute genetically, and instead what we offer intellectually, creatively and socially.

I have my own version of the 7 Signs of Aging. The first sign, of course, is that you no longer give a fig about what other people think.

You also have more time now the kids are gone, often more money (same reason), plus more wisdom and experience which we’ll count as 4 and 5. Number 6 is “less patience with bozos”. And the 7th sign of aging is that our faces are a bit saggy. And aren’t we blessed to have lived long enough on the planet for gravity to have done that.



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08 May Shopping the Mouse

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 8.5.23


It was my Coco Chanel moment but it involved Minnie Mouse. Of course it did.

Legend has it the French fashion designer advised: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.”  It’s a “less is more” thing rather than an encouragement to be plain. Coco wasn’t ever trying to blend in.

I was heading out the door of my hotel for Day 3 of a five-day Disneyland holiday and about to attach my new Minnie Mouse pin when I thought of Coco and stopped to consider the full effect. Black and white polka dot trousers, red spotty jacket, Minnie Mouse t-shirt and matching mouse ears with bows. No, I decided, the pin was too much. You could feel Coco approve.

My penchant for Disney goes back many years – about a dozen visits since the first one in 1995. It’s about fantasy, nostalgia, simplicity and magic. A safe and happy place, and what a therapist might refer to as “an antidote for trauma”.

I feel at home there, and possibly look like I belong, too. An hour later in the park, Daffy Duck saw my ensemble as she paraded by and did the hand-gesture equivalent of “Oh, my!”

My aesthetic has always leant towards the cartoonish – I adore a polka dot and suit a set of ears. Years ago I was asked in a magazine interview to describe my “style” and I looked to my teenage daughter for help. “Minnie Mouse,” she said, “on acid.” We had both grinned.

It’s a look you can really take for a romp in a theme park. No matter where travellers go, we bring home souvenirs – snow globes if you can get them through customs, teaspoons, the ubiquitous t-shirts. I go for Minnie merchandise, though I’m aware you have to rein it in at some point and ask yourself, “This feels right in the park, but will I wear it in the other world outside these gates?” I have a new red beret with my favourite mouse on it. We’ll find out soon enough.

But also on this last trip I exercised discipline and saved some shopping for elsewhere. If there’s a thing I like almost as much as a theme park it’s bargain hunting. So I signed up for a package designed with Kiwi travellers in mind to cheer up the last day of their California holiday – that limbo day when you checkout out of your hotel with your suitcase at 11am but don’t board a flight home until 10pm.

Karmel Shuttles took me from the Disney Anaheim neighbourhood about half-an-hour north to Citadel Outlets, one of those outdoor malls where you get ridiculous discounts off well-known brands. Popular with locals as well, you might find yourself briefly queueing to get inside stores – a thing which feels alien as a shopping experience but oddly familiar after queueing for theme park rides in the days before.

As part of the package, there’s a lounge to store your luggage and then repack at the end of the experience before the shuttle returns at 6pm to take you the rest of the way to the airport. It feels luxurious and unhurried and looking forward to it helped me stick to budget the whole trip so there’s enough left for something special.

My “something special” was a handbag I’d been wanting for a long time from my favourite store. I bought a very fancy Minnie Mouse tote. But of course I did.


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08 May The People Who Teach Us

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 1.5.23


My daughter is on her way to becoming a school teacher and, don’t let on for goodness sake, but I could have told her when she was a kid it was what she would do eventually, and I am thrilled.

This is despite knowing that right now teachers all around the motu are exhausted and underpaid. We do what we always do with teachers (see also nurses and mothers) and say we value them but fail to do it in the way we usually value things, which is with money.

I still think about the teachers who made a difference to me. Miss Slater in English, Mr Marsh in Drama, Mr Dreaver in History and Mr Gelston in French. Miss Slater is the reason I never misspell ‘separate’. “It’s ‘a rat’!” she’d bellow, banging a yardstick at the three letters in the middle of the word she’d chalked on the board.

It totally worked. She taught us other stuff, too, but good spelling is invaluable and helps people take you seriously, I feel. Certainly, the opposite is true.

I had a brief flirtation with wanting to be a teacher around age twelve. This is after wanting to be singer, then a hairdresser, and before dreaming of writing and being on the stage.

I pictured myself wearing tweed, sitting in a leather armchair in a book-lined room, doling out the perfect tome from my collection to eager students, like a doctor prescribing appropriate medication.

I don’t know why I thought tweed and leather and a mahogany desk complete with a stand for my cob pipe. Given this was the 1970s and I was growing up in Levin, I should have been picturing brown corduroy and orange floral wallpaper. It must have been something I was reading at the time.

I was a small girl in a small town, a year younger than most of my classmates. Too short for netball, too serious for Bay City Rollers posters, too chatty to be mysterious, and too uncool for Levis and Bata Bullets.

Nerd, then, before nerd was in vogue, and living in a town so tiny it was hard to find enough people to form a tribe. Which made me search books for people I recognise.

Luckily, I had people who encouraged this – my mother, those teachers and also our local librarian, Miss Pickens.

Miss Pickens sounds like I made her up, and I had to check with my mother a few years ago that I didn’t. She looked like a librarian should and led me skilfully, when the time came, from Children’s Fiction to Young Adult Fiction and then to the real grown up stuff.

On Friday nights when the other kids were doing whatever they did (no idea) I’d be at the library to pick up a fresh stack of books that Miss Pickens had recommended.

That library was – and is – a vibrant place, a humming community hub. Most are now, I find – I do this weird thing of visiting public libraries when I’m travelling and can attest they are no longer places where librarians say “shush”.

I strongly suspect my daughter will be her own kind of a Miss Pickens or Miss Slater – one of those people who believe in someone, who makes them think they are smart and can do good things, and so they will. And there is a richness in that. Though imagine if we gave them the kind of riches you could take to the bank.


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30 Apr In Praise of the Handbag

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover date 24.4.23


Yesterday at the supermarket, the checkout operator stopped scanning my zucchinis to admire the bright yellow basket I’d plopped on the counter.

It is probably meant to be a beach accessory but, as I explained to (checks name badge) Monica, I bought it because summer didn’t happen up our end of the country so I had a crack at making summer happen myself with this armful of woven sunny goodness. If you imagine hard enough, a trip to the mall on a grey day feels almost tropical when you’re swinging a yellow basket in your hand.

Admiring our accessories is one of the great things women do for each other. Honestly, if men were really trying to impress us they’d stop shouting things from cars and whistling from building sites, and instead go for, “I am loving the look of your cross body tote!” Swoon.

The right bag performs a multitude of functions. Invented because some tyrant back in the 18th Century decreed women weren’t allowed pockets, the handbag is not only the bag that keeps our necessities at hand (it’s all in the name), it is also a way we express our general style and specific mood via the colour, size and shape of the bag we might choose to “wear” that day.

It’s also – by convention rather than actual design – a safe place. We can admire the exterior of each other’s handbag, but it is universally understood the interior is as private as an actual pocket.

I was memorably growled for rifling through my grandmother’s handbag when I was quite small, which impressed upon me what a personal – almost sacred – space a handbag was. I hadn’t really been going through Grandma’s stuff, except in the sense that I loved the way her fingers danced elegantly through her trove of treasures – powder compact, kid leather coin purse, handwritten letters, lace handkerchief, an inhaler… And I’d wanted to recreate the dance myself.

Handbags are my go-to travel memento (souvenirs makes them sound more affordable than they often are) to remind me of an exceptional time and place. At home, I sling them on a hat stand so they function as decorations, like a year round Christmas tree festooned with leather and fabric treasures.

It has taken me years to realise that, while I like the look of the soft floppy sack, I prefer the structure of basket-style. You can toss things into it as you run around getting ready, and I respect a bag that stays upright when you plonk it on the floor.

There are brands I like – some of which I can afford, some I can’t. I once promised myself I’d one day I’d own a Chanel bag but, realising they cost the equivalent of a good used car, I’ve decided they’re maybe not my thing.

I get the most joy out of bags that make me gasp or smile. Fun ones, like locally made replicas of the old primary school bags we grew up with. Or the evening clutch made of impossibly soft pale brown leather that looks exactly like a paper bag you’d carry your lunch in. I found it in an art gallery in San Francisco’s Mill Valley and it looks so authentic it has been disapproved of at formal dinners.

And there’s a floral velvet bag I bought months ago for a very special event this month, still waiting in its dustcover for the big day. Might swing by the supermarket on the way home, see if Monica likes it.


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18 Apr Endolphins. Not A Typo.

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 17.4.23


“Endolphins”. That’s not a typo, it’s a new word I believe I just invented.

It describes that exhilarating sensation you get in your body when you feel a rush of joy, which I encourage you to picture henceforth as a pod of tiny dolphins swimming and leaping merrily through your veins.

So endorphins (the happy hormone that deals with pain and stress) but shaped like everyone’s favourite aquatic mammal.

Weird? Oh, for sure. But that image, and the word, came to me in a blissful dream the other night, and I feel like we know each other well enough for me to risk sounding a bit mad. And honestly, it’s not a million miles from describing nervousness as a tummy full of butterflies? And, I feel, way nicer.

What inspired the “endolphin” dream? This sudden clarity of porpoise? (Sorry, not sorry.) It happened after a day of driving and – this is the important bit – singing in the car.

I had forgotten how much I love singing. I’m not a great singer – not terrible, it’s not caterwauling. People don’t grimace when I join in on “Happy Birthday”. But no one is going to ask me to find the first note either.

This has been a disappointment – singing is the talent I’d have asked for if I’d been allowed to choose. When people asked eight-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said cheerfully, “A singer”. People had looked askance. Not, as I say, because I was terrible but my enthusiasm, their faces said, surpassed my ability. It could be a hobby, not a job.

Here’s a general observation – at some point, as an adult, you stop doing the things you are not outstanding at. We focus on our strengths, nurturing skills that enhance our career or show us at our best. In the busyness of life the other things fall by the wayside.

So – unless it is our particular thing – we stop drawing pictures, playing games, dancing, dressing up. We can no longer tell you what our favourite colour is. We don’t daydream about who we want to be. We stop doing things we are “ordinary” at, even the ones that bring us joy.

And so I had forgotten how much I love singing, and hadn’t really done it for ages. But I’ve started again – kind of on doctor’s orders. I use inhalers now that make my voice croaky so a serious vocal warm up before I get on stage to talk is now an essential part of the process.

And I’ve learned the best vocal warm up for me is to make a playlist of favourite songs and sing them in the car on the way to the gig.

Usually, that’s a short drive but an event in Taupō gave me four hours of belting out hits, and I couldn’t help but notice how gosh darn happy, uplifted and positive I felt by the time I arrived.

Turns out, this is science. Singing releases all the happy chemicals – serotonin and dopamine as well as my personal endolphins. Plus it oxygenates your blood and improves lung capacity, and totally amuses anyone who catches you pulled up at the traffic lights where you’ve grabbed the opportunity to throw in some full body emoting. Honestly, you’ve made both people’s days.

Not everything you do has to be brilliant – ordinary is also a thing we are allowed to be. Especially if it brings the kind of joy that has us swimming with endolphins.


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18 Apr That Time I Lost My Mind, And A Year

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – Cover Date 10.4.23


It is a marvellous trick of nature that, even as the years pass, you still feel like the same person inside your head.

That’s why it can be a shock to pass a shop window and see someone you only vaguely recognise – your mother? – reflected back at you. Ah, I see, so I am not actually the 32 year old I think I am? Cool, cool, cool. Must get around to updating that internal image, then.

It is the same phenomenon that means when I am hanging out with a bunch of new mothers I still feel like one of them, and that it was only yesterday that I was living the life they are living now. But then I check the date and realise it was – can this be true? – 30 years ago.

And so it was that I spent a delightful day recently in Taupō, MCing an event to raise money for a local charity, Village Aunties, which supports new mothers. Naturally, this took me back to my own experience of being a new mother and had me digging around in my memories for what that looked like.

What it looked like was possibly a bit mad. I describe 1993 as the time I lost my mind and lost a year – a melodramatic way of saying parenting was so all-consuming I became unrecognisable to myself while the world and its issues went by mostly unnoticed.

I have since googled 1993 and caught up on some of its goings-on – the Waco tragedy, World Trade Centre bombing, a genocide in Rwanda. Years later, I rented the movie “Hotel Rwanda” thinking it was possibly some Merchant Ivory production along the lines of “Howard’s End” (I don’t know why) and was entirely traumatised by it. How could I have missed this horrific event? Mind you, it seems like the United Nations missed it, too. Perhaps they were also breastfeeding.

Like so many, my baby was born prematurely – six weeks early, so not so far off ready, but still in intensive care and fed for the first week through a tube down her nose. I needed to wake her to feed – an odd arrangement, like demand feeding in reverse with the mother doing the demanding – and it took a long time till I believed in my bones she was going to survive.

It was my fabulous Plunket nurse, Marcia, who finally got that message through to me on one of her home visits. “You know she’s going to live?” she said, and I hadn’t known that until the moment she said it.

Marcia was one of the few responsible adults in my world back then. I’d moved to Auckland while pregnant and was without close family or even a social circle for that first intense year.

When my baby was bigger, I’d take her to Plunket for her health checks. It was winter, and I recall our debut expedition, dressing her in many layers till she looked like a Michelin Man, carefully tying on the woollen hat my mother had knitted using a small orange as an estimation of size, though even then it was loose.

Thank goodness she was rugged up, I thought, as I opened the front door and the wind whipped fiercely around me, even colder than I’d expected. At which point I looked down and realised that, though the baby was properly dressed, I was wearing nothing but a nightie and socks.

We were late for our appointment. Marcia was very understanding.



















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18 Apr On Time as a Metaphorical Construct

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 3.4.23


It’s funny what pops into your head while you’re doing the housework. This is one of those times when your body is busy but your mind is not fully engaged, so it can land on any thought it fancies.

What my mind fancied to land on was a movie I watched as a kid on our black & white TV about a family with twelve kids. “Cheaper by the Dozen” was made in 1950. (I was watching Sunday afternoon re-runs decades later, don’t be rude.) In it, the mother is a psychologist and the father is a time-and-motion-study efficiency expert.

There’s a definite feminist lilt to it (she’s no shrinking violet) and I enjoyed the comedy of watching a grown man use a stopwatch to work out if it was more efficient to start buttoning your cardigan from the top or the bottom. (From the top, I seem to recall – certainly that’s the approach I have since adopted.)

I thought about daft old Clifton Webb and his stopwatch while I was wrestling with my duvet, pulling off the old cover and stuffing it into the fresh one. I hate this job. I will happily change the sheets every five minutes, but woman-handling the super king duvet into a fresh casing is a monster chore, I don’t care how many YouTube hacks you watch, and I will put it off for as long as possible.

Anyway, I did it and, though it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had in the bedroom, I suddenly realised This Did Not Take Very Long At All. Certainly not the marathon effort I had envisaged. Hence thinking of Clifton and wishing I’d used his stopwatch so I could report specifically how much actual time it had taken. Next duvet change, I promise.

I feel tempted now to knuckle down and do one of those proper ‘on-your-hands-and-knees’ washes of my wooden floors, which in my anticipatory head takes all freaking day, but could probably be done properly in half an hour? Again, I should time it for perspective.

There is, perhaps, an effort-to-satisfaction ratio at play here. A tidy drawer or an organised pantry offers more long term visual joy than a – snore – different duvet cover or briefly shiny floor.

More things seem to take longer than they actually do. In my head, doing my accounts takes forever so I don’t even start till I have a clear day in front of me. But then I shocked myself when I started casually pulling things together for a tax return late one afternoon and accidentally finished it by dinner time.

Balancing out these chores that take less time than you think are things you imagine will happen lickety-split but take for-jolly-ever. Losing weight after menopause. Monday morning admin. Defrosting anything, especially when hungry. Waiting for a parcel to arrive and – but of course – waiting to get paid.

But I have a pretty good handle on how long other things take. Ironing? Three sitcoms or two episodes of a British drama. Trimming the hedge along the driveway is one full sized podcast. Scrubbing the shower tends to take one Kim Hill interview.

These are measures of time adopted in some part because we barely wear watches now. But really, none of this is new. Back in the 1980s, after my Great-Aunt Ruth died, Great-Uncle Frank taught himself to cook and cheerfully informed the family that the perfectly boiled potato took two gins.

I could try that with the duvet cover. And then take a nap.



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27 Mar Shiny Things On A Dull Day

First published inthe NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 27.3.23


When my brother and I were sorting through our late-mother’s things a few years ago, we found boxes of written treasures – letters and cards she’d kept over the years because they meant something to her, and showed how much she was loved.

Sometimes – oh my heart – she’d left little notes on the back of things for us to find that explained their importance. Like the birthday card my brother had sent, not to her, but to our grandmother nearly 30 years before. Our mother’s post-it on the back said Grandma had kept this card on her bedside table all through the last weeks of her life. It was one of the last things she’d looked at.

We treasured these, but so had our mother – the letters and cards hadn’t just arrived in the post and been tossed in a box till we found them. They’d been taken out now and then, re-read, pages smoothed then refolded and tucked lovingly back into envelopes like children into bed.

It occurred to me then that I’d have fewer letters to hold onto, and my daughter and grandchildren would have even less. We email now, send texts and photos, and these are things you can’t tie with a ribbon and squirrel away.

But for years I’ve been keeping a file of emails on my laptop labelled “Nice Letters” which I dip into now and again on a dull day in the same way my mother might have sifted through hers. Some are from friends and family, others are from strangers who have read or seen a thing I’ve done and liked it. Many come with their own stories that echo mine. Some are just a simple bit of kindness.

It always surprises me that, when I read them, it feels like the first time. It seems it is harder to remember the lovely words people say, absorb them and hold them in your mind than, you know, the other kind.

We all do this – remember the hurts and criticisms easily, the praise less so. It’s called “negativity bias”, this bigger impact unpleasant experiences have on our psyche as opposed to positive things.

Studies show that insults, for example, fire up our brain much more than compliments do. Likely it’s because we are busy assessing how much of a threat this is, and whether we should be ready for flight or fight.

Like all mouthy, lippy women I get my fair (is it fair?) share of insults. Enough for me to have created an Insult Bingo Card for social media interactions, quietly (just using my inside voice) awarding points to detractors depending on how many squares they can cover.

You get points for: Never heard of you. Heard of you but never liked you. No longer funny. Never been funny ever. Old and/or ugly and/or fat. Smarty-pants and/or dummy. Raving communist and/or government shill.

It is worth noting that I can be accused of pairs of mutually exclusive things by just one person. There are several blokes and one or two sheilas who have never heard of me but also have disliked me for years.

If it all gets a bit much, I might have a fossick through the Nice Letters. Though the very best thing – the real antidote – is not to read a Nice Letter, but to write one to someone else. And you hope they are – we are all – keeping a file of shiny things to read on a dull day.



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