Category Archives: Regency

A Tale of the Old Balloonists Part 1 – The Astrologers Curse or Mars Descendant

25 May 1824

Miss Sophia Stocks considered that there were some advantages to being an orphan. Of course she would have loved to have had parents, but her father had been killed in the war when she was a baby, and her mother had died shortly afterwards, so she had no memories of them. She had been raised by two kind aunts, and been shuttled between their homes in London and Bath (attending schools in both those cities), so now, at the age of eighteen she was well practiced in all the official ‘female accomplishments’, and was also, according to her uncle in York, who looked after her property, a considerable heiress.

 

It was for this reason that she was now in London, where her aunt was supposed to be ‘introducing her into society’, so that she could make a suitable match. Sophia was finding this incredibly boring, the men she was meeting were either very bored with her, or very interested in, she suspected, her fortune. The only good thing to come out of this latest visit to London was her meeting with Mr and Mrs Harris. Mr Harris had known her father in Spain, and his young wife Mary was very friendly, and it was because of them that Sophia was about to do something that, if she had had parents, she guessed would have forbidden. She had told her aunt that she was going to make a short trip with her friends, and her aunt had said nothing, she had completely forgotten how excited her niece had been when she had learnt that Mr Harris was a balloonist!

 

The carriage swung into Vauxhall Gardens where the green and yellow balloon towered over the trees. As they approached the launching point the gates were opened for them, shutting behind them to keep out the people who hadn’t paid for a close view of the launch.

 

“Are you sure?” Mary asked as they climbed down.

 

“Of course”, replied Sophia, as she walked towards the balloon. Now was not the time to show fear, she had been amazed at her temerity a week earlier when she had heard how Mr Harris’ companion had quarrelled with him and refused to fly. Mary had explained that she had flown in the past, but would not now her baby had been born, Sophia had suddenly said that she would accompany him in the balloon, and almost immediately been accepted.

 

Mary sat to one side as Mr Harris led Sophie round the balloon, pointing out the various features of the craft, in particular he was very proud of a new valve, which she could just see at the top of the balloon, a cord led from it down to the gondola.

 

“It will enable me to release gas from the envelope. A little will make the balloon descend where I want to, then as soon as we have landed I can release a lot, indeed all, of the remaining gas and the envelope will collapse and not drag the gondola across the ground.”

 

After more explanations he climbed into the basket, a box had been placed beside it for her to use like a mounting block, she stepped up and, to cheers from some of the crowd, swung herself into the gondola. The reporters present were impressed by her complete lack of fear.

 

The main weights were released, the balloon rose a few feet, held by six strong men. Then, at Mr Harris’s order the lines where released and they were off. The basket swung from side to side for a moment then settled down, she was aware of the strange sensation of her feet pressing into the basket, then looked around and gasped.

A General View of the City of London, next the River Thames (Colour)

They were already above the rooftops of London, in the distance she could see the dome of St Pauls, they seemed to be higher than that, it was the most wonderful feeling she had ever had. For a while she admired the view, then turned to Mr Harris, he was bent by the barometer. She knelt and helped him take the reading as he explained how the barometer readings would enable them to calculate how high they had flown.

 

For the next hour she learnt how to fly a balloon, how to drop tiny quantities of ballast to rise, ‘a handful of sand it all that is required’, he said, and how to release small amounts of gas from the neck of the balloon to descend.

 

“Why haven’t you used the valve?” she asked.

 

“Because it is still experimental, if I release too much the balloon may have to land, and I want to wait until I know I can land safely.”
Sophia nodded and watched until they had passed over a small town.

 

“Croydon, I think.” He commented, “Now let’s see what the valve will do?”

 

He pulled the cord, there was a click from above then a rushing sound. The balloon lurched, he tugged again and again on the cord.

“No!” he shouted.

 

“What is it?” she shouted back, the wind was rushing by her now, upwards!

 

“The valve is stuck open, all the gas is venting, we are falling too fast.”

 

“Then let’s slow our descent at least.”

 

She unfastened one of the bags of sand and dropped it overboard. As the ballast fell away the balloon slowed its descent slightly, but they were still falling too fast. The instruments followed, then he pulled off his coat and boots, she dropped her pelisse over the side and pulled her dress over her head and that too tumbled to the ground.

 

She touched her chemise, and said with a sad smile.

 

“That could go as well, but I don’t think it would be of any use.”

 

“No,” he shouted, “there is only one thing that might help.”
He climbed onto the side of the basket.

 

“Just before we hit the ground I will try and jump into the trees. The loss of my weight should give the balloon enough lift so you can land safely.”

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A French Illustration of Thomas Harris’s Death

“No!” she screamed, as he jumped. A few moments later the basket hit the ground she tried to hold on but was thrown out, she heard a crashing sound, there was sudden pain, and then nothing.

T2-_d553_-_Fig._310._—_Mort_de_Harris

Another French Illustration

 

“It’s a woman.”

 

She opened her eyes to see a surprised man looking down at her.

 

“Yes, I’m a woman.” She replied and tried to get up, she managed to stand for a second, then dropped to the ground again.

 

“Where is Mr Harris?” she asked looking around. The man looked up then there was a shout from the woods nearby. Then two men stepped out carrying something between them, it was Mr Harris and he was clearly dead. For the first time in her life Miss Sophia Stocks fainted.

To be continued

The Fallen Balloon

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Upcycling A La Ronde

In a previous blog I described the amazing house at A La Ronde, that ‘temple to female ingenuity’, and the wonderful craft work of the Parminter ladies. At the time I wrote that, ‘there is plenty of further inspiration to be found at A La Ronde, perhaps I will try something else in the future.’

Looking through the National Trust catalogue of the objects preserved at A La Ronde I found these two bough pots. A bough pot is a type of flower vase that displays flowers individually, not in a bunch. They were usually made of china, and were very decorative, but these are not china, they are tin!

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Tin (or rather tinned iron) was, and indeed is, a material used for making a range of objects, in this case semi-circular boxes with holes punched in the top to take the stems of the flowers. The tin would protect the iron from rusting so the container could be filled with water to keep the flowers fresh. The bough pots have been decorated with coloured paper, doubtless by one of the Misses Parminter.

These naturally inspired me to try and create something similar. So I found an old biscuit tin and drilled holes in the top.

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This was then painted and decorated with coloured paper. A high quality wrapping paper with a design reminiscent of Georgian wallpaper was used. Then the tin was half filled with water and used to display daffodils for St David’s Day.

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The Parminter ladies would certainly have approved.

 

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Charity begins at Home, Sweet Home or A Regency Music Collection

Readers of my blog will know that I am an enthusiastic explorer of Charity Shops, having made several very interesting discoveries in them. Yesterday was, perhaps, my best days hunting so far. I had stopped in Bridport, after a mornings exploration of several churches, with the intention of buying a pasty for lunch. Walking up the High Street towards the bakers I passed the Sue Ryder shop, glancing in I was delighted to find an original fashion plate of 1828. Very happy with this purchase I debated with myself whether to enter the Oxfam shop or not. Fortunately I did.

Lying on a shelf was a battered volume with a card label ‘Ancient Sheet Music £5”, I idly opened it expecting a collection of, at best, Victorian parlour songs. Immediately I knew it was much more interesting, the paper was soft linen paper, the ink brown with age (and because it was made with oak gall), the title pages printed from copper plates. It was what the label had said, a collection of individual printed pieces of music, songs, dances and instrumental pieces mostly for the piano, though a few were for the harp. None were dated though the dedications gave clues. There were references to the Duke of Clarence (who became William IV in 1830) and the Duchess of Kent, but no Duke he died in 1820. Then I saw one of the most infamous pieces of music of the period, naturally I didn’t hesitate but bought the book straight away. I never got a pasty as I wanted to head home and examine my prize in more detail.

 

The book is a large quarto volume, not in very good condition as the front cover is detached. It contains 54 separate items, each with an elaborate title page. It was an expensive collection as none of the music sheets were cheap, some are priced, and the prices range from 1/6 to 5 shillings (a farm labourers weekly wage was 7 shillings).

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On the front is a label, Susanna Buck, who was the original owner. Miss Buck seems to have begun the collection when she was at school, as several sheets have the faint pencil inscription Mrs Waterhouse’s School – Music Prize – Miss Buck clearly she was a talented girl. Other pieces also bear Miss Buck’s name, I suspect that these may have been lent to her friends to copy, because of the cost it was normal to exchange music in this fashion. The volume was bound in Burnley, according to a paper label stuck in the back, so perhaps Susanna was a Lancastrian, other than that I can find no more about her from the book.

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The collection begins with songs, old and new, older ones by Dr Arne as well as modern examples such as Home! Sweet Home! which was written in 1823.

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Then there are a series of instrumental pieces, works by Mozart and Rossini to versions of songs such as Old Lang Syne.

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These are followed by a series of dances, all described as ‘New’ or ‘The Latest’, which doubtless gave Miss Buck and her friends a great deal of pleasure.

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Then tucked in the back is a piano manual, full of exercises, which this talented young lady may have used when she began to play.

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This collection is typical of those that were made by musical people and families in the early nineteenth century. As musical tastes changed they fell out of use and it is rare for them to survive. I was therefore delighted to add the volume to my collections illustrating Georgian and Regency life.

 

Now at the beginning of the piece I mentioned that one piece was very notorious, this one, The Battle of Prague

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The piece was very popular, it depicts a fictitious battle in which the various armies Prussian, Austrian, English and Turkish are all depicted in different styles which gives a skilled pianist a great opportunity to show their skill. What is unusual at this time is for the name of the composer, Frantisek Kotzwara (František Kocžwara ) to appear on the music. He was a Czech composer, and while his life wasn’t particularly scandalous, his death was.

 

In 1791 he visited a prostitute Susanna Hill, and after a heavy drinking session tied a ligature around his neck to ‘raise his passion’ – afterwards – he was dead! Susanna Hill was tried for his murder, and acquitted, both judge and jury believing her story that his death was accidental. The judge tried to suppress any account of his death as he feared it might encourage copycats, but one was published, and his death is now regarded as the first known case of auto-erotic asphyxiation.

 

And all that from a remarkable find in the Oxfam charity shop in a small Dorset town.

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The Christmas Spinner – A True Tale for Christmas

Christmas 1821

“Where’s my husband?” She asked, “Dinner has been ready for ages.”

“Sorry Mam,” the maid replied, “I think he is in the workshop.”

Sarah shook her head, their first Christmas together and he was working. He had seemed distracted all though the service that morning and had left her as soon as they returned home.

She walked down the narrow stairs to his workshop. He was seated on a tall stool by his workbench, watching something. Curious she approached, there was a strange buzzing, like a trapped fly. Then she saw what he was looking at, in front of him a wire was spinning round rapidly.

“Michael,” he didn’t seem to hear her, “Michael Faraday.” She said much louder and tapped him on his shoulder, he seemed to wake out of a trance.

“Oh, Sarah, I’ve done it.” For a moment he smiled at her, then turned again to the spinning wire.

“What have you done?”

“You see, the current flows through this wire and creates a magnetic field which works against the field in this magnet ….”

“And makes the wire move.” She completed.

“Yes.” He was watching his invention dreamily again.

“Will it keep moving if you leave it for an hour or so?”

“Yes, the motive force will last as long as there is power in the battery.”

“Then come and have dinner, it is Christmas after all.”

She took his hand and led him, reluctantly, from the room, behind them the first electric motor, another Christmas baby with an amazing future, kept on spinning.

Faraday_Cochran_Pickersgill

Michael Faraday, when he invented the motor

And that, more or less, is the tale I was told many years ago.

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The Most Remarkable Georgian Invention

The Georgians were an inventive lot, not as much as the Victorians who invented everything that hadn’t previously been invented, but they didn’t do too badly. I am fascinated by their ingenuity and have already written about their development of steam power, high speed travel, electric light and fair trade products.

 

However I have just come across details of what is, perhaps, their most unusual invention and one which still invites comment when it is used two hundred years later.

 

The London Chronicle, October 21. 1809 reported how contemporary (male) fashion was being influenced by the actions of the Peninsular War.

 

BOND-STREET BEAUS
We were surprised some time since, by observing many young men of ton with the dusky hue of the Spanish Indies on their visages. Many of these Petits Maitres never exposed their faces to the rays of Sol out of the smoke of London; but it seems they wish to be considered heroes of Talavera, Corunna, and Portugal. To support their pretensions, they procure an artificial tinge with ochre

 

So there it is, the Georgians invented the fake tan!  

 

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Shooting at Shipwrecks (Help #flashprompt #hurricanerelief #flash4storms)

Sarah Brentyn has created a super-short flash prompt and asked her fellow bloggers to join in; by so doing she will commit to give money to the hurricane relief funds. 50 words using the prompt ‘Help’. Go on, pop over and have a go. My contribution is (as might be expected) an historical tale.

 

Yarmouth 1808
Captain Manby aimed the cannon at the ship, they desperately needed help and he was going to shoot at them. The cannon fired, the ball hurled high over the shipwreck – taking a line with it.
The crew of the Elizabeth grabbed the line, an hour later they were all safe.

 

In 1808 the Manby mortar was used for the first time to rescue the crew of the Elizabeth, near Great Yarmouth. Captain Manby’s invention involved firing a small cannon ball over a shipwreck carrying a line with it. Before it was superseded by line carrying rockets it had saved over a thousand lives.

 

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Making an Acorn Snake – A Vanishing Toy

When did you last see an Acorn Snake? Do you even know what one is or how to make it? I recently realised that very few people seemed to know about this ancient toy, so here it is.

 

First take a good handful or two of acorn cups, one or two large acorns, and some string.

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Drill a small hole in the base of each acorn cup.

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Sort them by size from the smallest to largest.

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Thread the cups on a length of length of string, stick a tiny cup over the knot at the small end, stick a large acorn into the biggest cup. Add a face and there you have it.

Pseudophidius quercii The Acorn Snake

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Captain Bennett – The Hero of Lyme

This year seems to be producing terrible storms, so it seems the right time to tell this tale, of the brave Captain Bennett – The Hero of Lyme.

 

November 23rd 1824
Captain Charles Bennett stood on top of Church Cliff and watched the destruction of Lyme Regis. Around him stood a crowd of men, women and children, some still dressed in nightgowns, having just managed to escape from their houses before they collapsed. Every so often there was a cry as another house fell before the pounding waves.

Suddenly there was a scream, worse than the others, Captain Bennett raised his telescope and gasped, the Fox cutter had broken from its moorings, there was a man still clinging to the mast, for a moment it seemed to run before the wind, then the waves covered it.

“Poor Fellows!” He shook his head, he had seen men die in battle but this was somehow much worse.

“Was it the Fox?” He turned to see William Porter, the Lyme Pilot and an old friend.

He nodded, Porter tried to look straight into the wind and failed.

“How does Pierce ride?”

Captain Bennett raised his telescope and focussed it on the Unity, he knew the ship well, every six weeks it sailed for London and was the best way of bringing heavy goods to Lyme Regis, Captain Pierce was popular in Lyme and all his crew were local men. She had been due to sail the next day and there were a number of men on board. Now she was straining on her moorings, tied to the Cobb, the ancient harbour of Lyme Regis, invisible under the pounding waves.

Unity 2

The Destruction of Lyme Regis

“She rides well.” He replied, “And will hold I think – as long as the Cobb stands.”

The sun rose, the sky cleared with fast scudding clouds, but the storm didn’t abate. Then, Captain Bennett estimated about seven o’clock, the worst happened. The Cobb collapsed!

There was a terrible scream from the crowd as the Unity seemed to shoot across the bay, for a moment it seemed that she was going to be wrecked under their feet, at the bottom of Church Cliff, but she was swept past and along the shore.

“She’ll strike at Charmouth no doubt.” Said Porter, “And no hope for them.” Added John Freeman, a local fisherman.

“No, I’ll be damned it I watch more men die.” Shouted Captain Bennett. “I think there is hope for them, if you are with me.” He held out his hand, first Porter then Freeman grabbed it.

“Ay Ay Captain – we’re with you.”

Captain Bennett turned and ran down the slope, “I always thought it was nuisance that I had to keep my gear well away from the shore, now I am glad, very glad indeed.”

He pushed open the door to his store, the gear for his boat, now smashed by the storm, filled the shed. He loaded a small cart with ropes, hooks and grapnels, then they dragged it up, onto the rutted coast road, chasing the Unity.

They passed several groups of weeping women struggling against the weather, he recognised the wives of two of the men on board the Unity, then there were two women who were screaming at each other.

“Jim’s mine!” screamed one, “No you whore, he’s mine!” screamed the other.

“I think Jim’s in trouble.” Laughed John Freeman.

“Only if we get him to shore.” Replied William Porter.

Onward they struggled, helped by other men they met, until they dropped down towards Charmouth where the masts of the Unity were visible over the cliff top. Here William Freeman tied hooks to the ends of light ropes and, again and again, the men tried to throw them to the ship. Every time they fell short, it was impossible to throw into the gale. Captain Bennett held onto the cart and shut his eyes, he couldn’t look at the men on the Unity, he had failed.

Unity 1

The Wreck of the Unity – showing what the rescuers had to face

The crowd watched in horror, waiting for the end, then the miracle happened, the Unity was swept off the sand, it was moving again! A few moments later it grounded on another sandbank, it hadn’t moved far, but far enough.

Now there was a way down to the beach where there was just enough room to stand. The three men scrambled down, tied ropes round their waists and handed the ends to other men who had followed them. Captain Bennett had just finished tying his rope when there was a cry from above, one of the men of the Unity had tried to climb down off the ship and had fallen. Captain Bennett ran, straight into the surf. As the water swirled round the stern he glimpsed the fallen man, diving forward he grabbed him then shouted for the men to pull him back. To his horror he saw that no one had held the end of the rope as he ran into the water, he struggled up the beach, but knew it wouldn’t make it, then to his relief a man ran forward, grabbed the rope and pulled him back.

He recognised the man, Joshua Knight another fisherman. Joshua grabbed the sailor and handed him to one of the other men, then he pointed at the ship. Captain Bennett saw that John Porter was standing by the side of the vessel with a grapnel in his hand, he threw it up and it caught on the railing, then he was hit by the next wave and pushed back. As the water receded Captain Bennet ran forward, reaching the rope just at the same time as John Porter, who smiled and allowed him to go first up the thin rope. On the deck he saw that William Freeman was already there, he had grabbed a man, then they held on as another wave broke over them. As the water flowed out though the scuppers they all grabbed a man, tied him to their rope, cut them free from the ropes they had used to stop them falling overboard, and ran for the side.

The next wave hit them as they were dropping onto the sand, they ran with it towards the shore, helped by the men pulling on the ropes, Joshua Knight had organised them now and it didn’t take long before the three men, and their precious cargo, were safe.

They rested for a few seconds, then Captain Bennett pointed to the Unity’s rigging, there were three men hanging from the ropes, they had climbed into the rigging out of the waves and tied themselves there, they weren’t moving, they were either dead or unconscious. They all knew that if they were unconscious then they would be dead soon, if they got no help.

“One more time lads!” Shouted the captain, they didn’t reply but both turned back to the ship, as the next wave pulled back they ran. Holding on tight as the water broke over them, then up the side of the ship and into the rigging. They were all experienced sailors, used to climbing rigging in all weathers, but none had climbed in such conditions. They reached their men, in Captain Bennett’s case it was a boy, then came the problem of first tying the unconscious man to their waist then cutting them free.

John Porter reached the deck just before Captain Bennett, as he was about to try and climb down a wave hit him and pulled him overboard. The Captain ran forward and without thinking jumped, with the boy in his arms, into the surf. It cushioned his fall and he was able to grab his friend. Together they dragged the last of the crew back to safety, finally, above the surf he dropped to his knees and collapsed. He had done it, the crew were safe.

 

This story is completely true, the storm, the rescue, the named characters, the squabbling women and even some of the dialogue.

In 1824 the National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck had been formed, it is now the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The first gold medal it presented was to Captain Bennett, the first silver medals to John Porter and William Freeman.

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Inspired by the Google doodle – Jane’s other language.

Today’s ‘Google Doodle’ celebrates British Sign Language and its development. This gives me the opportunity to re-blog something I wrote a little while ago in the series, Five things you might not know about Jane Austen.

 

Like most educated women of her time Jane Austen knew some French and Italian. But she knew another language, a far more unusual one. What was it?

She tells us in her own words, in 1808 she was living in Southampton and on December 27 she wrote to her sister, who was staying with their brother in Kent. In her long letter she mentions a visit they had made.

‘We spent Friday evening with our friends at the boarding-house, and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs. Drew and Miss Hook, Mr. Wynne and Mr. Fitzhugh; the latter is brother to Mrs. Lance, and very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, and, poor man! is so totally deaf that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read “Corinna”.’

So there it is, Jane Austen could sign, she knew what was probably an early version of British Sign Language which had been developed in the late eighteenth century, and was already being taught to deaf people of all classes through several schools. The question then arises, how did she come to know sign language?

V0016541 The Dumb Alphabet. Coloured aquatint, W.T. Annis 1819.

One possibility is that she learnt, as do many hearing people do today, to communicate with a relative. In her case her brother George, little is known about him. He was born in 1766, ten years before Jane, and like her and her other siblings, was placed with a wet-nurse in the village of Steventon immediately after birth. However he never returned to live with his family and the majority of references to him are concerned with his care. He was clearly mentally or physically disabled and the fact that Jane Austen could sign suggests that he was either deaf or couldn’t speak.

What is perhaps less surprising than Jane Austen holding a conversation in sign language, is that she takes the opportunity to suggest something to read!

 

Finally, if anyone doubts that sign language is a real language, British Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in 2003.

 

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Monday’s child

Another poem illustrated by Regency pictures (and later genre pictures). A classic nursery rhyme.

 

Charles Amable Lenoir - The Pink Rose

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Eugene von Blaas — Feeding the Pigeons

Tuesday’s child is full of grace;

Frédéric Soulacroix Dissapointment

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Emil Brack - Planning the Grand Tour Emil Brack

Thursday’s child has far to go;

Leslie, George Dunlop, 1835-1921; The Gardener's Daughter
Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Marie-Denise Villers Self-portrait Young Woman Drawing
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;

Charles Haigh Wood - The Time of Roses

But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

 

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