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End of the Month: Spooky October

It’s that time again! Yes- really- it is the end of the month again!

So, let’s hand over to Nell Peters to see what she’s uncovered for us this month.

Over to you Nell…

To paraphrase the late David Frost; hello, good morning/afternoon/evening, and welcome y’all. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is the last day of October, aka the day we glance in the mirror and girly-squeal at the scary Halloween mask reflected, only to realise it’s not a mask after all.

There is a film called 31st October – an Indian Hindi historical action drama, written and produced by Harry Sachdeva and directed by Shivaji Lotan Patil.

Based on fact, it focuses on the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination on 31st October 1984 and stars Vir Das, Bollywood actor and comedian (although the funnies might have been in short supply in this script) and Soha Ali Khan, actress. The film had its official screening at the London Indian Film festival 18-20 July 2015, before going on general release fifteen months later.

Reaching the tender age of eighteen today is Willow Camille Reign Smith, who is professionally known as Willow, an American singer, actress and dancer and the daughter of Willard Carroll Smith Jnr and Jada Pinkett Smith. Her dad is of course better known as Will Smith, star of the TV series, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and numerous award-winning films. In my end-of-September blog for Jenny, I mentioned Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy’s 1929 hypothesis that all living things and objects are just six degrees of separation away, so that a ‘friend of a friend’ chain can be made to connect any two in a maximum of six steps. Want to take a wild guess at the title of the film in which Smith played his first major dramatic role? A shiny new goldfish (bring your own bowl) for those who guessed it was Six Degrees of Separation (1993).

Frigyes Karinthy

On the very day that Willow was born, Kazuki Watanabe, Japanese musician, guitarist and lead songwriter of the visual kei rock band, Raphael, died aged just nineteen, from an overdose of sedatives. In case you were wondering (as was I) visual kei is a movement among Japanese musicians, characterised by varying amounts of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, similar to glam rock. The group were popular, with all their releases entering the top 40 of the Oricon (holding company of a corporate group that supplies statistics and information on music and the music industry in Japan) charts, but disbanded after Kazuki died.

Also breathing their last – though aged a slightly more reasonable eighty-five years – on this day in 2000, was American journalist and screenwriter, Ring Lardner Jnr (born Ringgold Wilmer Lardner), who was blacklisted by film studios during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and 1950s. A member of the US communist party since 1937, he moved to Hollywood to be a publicist and script doctor before writing his own material. In 1947 he became one of the highest paid scriptwriters in Hollywood when he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox for $2,000 a week (equivalent to approx $22,000 a week today). A short-lived claim to fame, however, as later that year he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to account for his left-wing views, two days after he was sacked by Fox. Along with nine others, collectively known as the Hollywood Ten, he cited the First Amendment and refused to answer their questions, but the HUAC and appeal court were having none of it; Lardner was sentenced to twelve months in prison and fined $1,000 for contempt.

Nine of the Hollywood Ten

Blacklisted in Hollywood, he moved to England for a time where he wrote under several pseudonyms for TV series, including (and this will interest Jenny, aficionado of all things Lincoln green) The Adventures of Robin Hood. After the blacklist was lifted in 1965, Lardner worked on scripts for some high profile films, including M*A*S*H (1970), which earned him an Academy Award (his second) for Best Adapted Screenplay. Perhaps as some sort of posthumous tribute, an episode of Robin Hood first broadcast by the Beeb in December 2007, was entitled Lardner’s Ring.

Sticking with 31/10/2000; that was the day Soyuz TM-31 became the first Soyuz spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). Launched from Russia, it carried the three members of Expedition 1 – Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, with American William Shepherd – who collectively formed the first long-term ISS crew.

Lowering the tone as usual, I thought you might like to know there are two toilets aboard the ISS, both of Russian design, which have waste and hygiene compartments using fan-driven suction systems. Astronauts first fasten themselves to the toilet seat, which is equipped with spring-loaded restraining bars to ensure a good seal. A lever operates a powerful fan and a suction hole opens to allow the air stream to carry waste away. Solid matter is collected in individual bags, which are deposited in an aluminium container, and stored for disposal when full. Liquid waste is evacuated via a hose connected to the front of the toilet, with anatomically-correct urine funnel adapters attached to the tube, so that men and women can use the same toilet. Urine is collected and channelled to the Water Recovery System, where it is recycled into drinking water. Fancy that. Actually, I’m not sure I do …

On the last day of October 1941, the destroyer USS Reuben James (named after a boatswain’s mate famous for his heroism in the First Barbary War) was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Iceland, killing more than one hundred sailors – the first US Navy vessel sunk by enemy action in WWII. This was on the same day that, after fourteen years of chipping away, Mount Rushmore was completed.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a massive sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. The monument took shape under the direction of Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln, the sculpture’s 60’ high granite faces depicting presidents George Washington (1st), Thomas Jefferson (3rd), Theodore Roosevelt (25th) and Abraham Lincoln (16th). The site also features a museum with interactive exhibits.

It was historian Doane Robinson who came up with the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the hills to promote tourism. His initial plan was to feature American West heroes like Lewis and Clark (led the first expedition across the western terrain of the US), Red Cloud (one of the most important leaders of Oglala Lakota, part of the Great Sioux Nation), and William Frederick – Buffalo Bill – Cody (scout, bison hunter, and showman), but Borglum decided the sculpture should have a broader appeal and chose the four presidents.

Buffalo Bill

Another mount; the Mountjoy Prison helicopter escape happened forty-five years ago today, when three IRA volunteers flew out of the Dublin jail, aboard a hijacked Alouette II helicopter, which landed in the exercise yard. With IRA Chief of Staff, Seamus Twomey doing a five-stretch and senior republicans, J. B. O’Hagan and Kevin Mallon also being incarcerated in Mountjoy, the command structure was seriously depleted. So, a plan involving explosives that had already been smuggled into the prison (how?!) was hatched; a hole would be blown in a door (anyone else’s thoughts drifting to Michael Caine/The Italian Job? Just me, then) which would give the prisoners access to the exercise yard. From there, they would scale a rope ladder thrown over the exterior wall and bundle into a getaway car, driven by members of the IRA’s Dublin Brigade. Alas (or not!), the plan failed when the prisoners couldn’t gain access to the yard and the rope ladder was spotted.

Back to the drawing board, Plan B involved the helicopter, with pilot Captain Thompson Boyes flying under threat of having his head blown off by the firearms trained upon him. In the exercise yard prisoners were watching a football match, when shortly after 3:35 pm the helicopter swung in to land, with Kevin Mallon directing the pilot using semaphore. (Seriously? If I wrote that in a book, my editor would throw it out as way too far-fetched!) Prison officers on duty initially took no action because they believed the helicopter carried the Minister for Defence, Paddy Donegan, who presumably was in the habit of dropping in for tea. It was only when prisoners surrounded the eight guards present and fights broke out, that the officers realised an escape was in progress. Twomey, Mallon and O’Hagan boarded the helicopter and it took off – apparently in the confusion one officer shouted ‘Close the gates, close the f***ing gates!’ Doh! The escapees landed at a disused racecourse in Baldoyle, where they transferred to a hijacked taxi and were whisked away to safe houses.

Mallon enjoyed his freedom for the shortest time, as he was recaptured in December 1973, O’Hagan early in 1975 and Twomey in December 1977. In the aftermath, all IRA prisoners were transferred to maximum security Portlaoise Prison, and to discourage any further getaway attempts the perimeter was guarded by troops from the Irish Army. And shutting the stable door etc, wires were erected over the prison yard to prevent helicopters landing in future – so presumably poor Paddy Donegan had to get the bus with the rest of the hoi polloi.

On the home front, the OH and #3 son returned safe and sound from their jolly in South Africa, vowing to go back next year and take #4 with them. Fine by me, as I really enjoyed the peace! On their penultimate night they’d booked an hotel near Cape Town on line and had a long drive through filthy weather/bad visibility/electric storms to get there, relying heavily on sat nav. Arriving very late, son gave his name – Piers – at reception and was told they were expected. Shown to a sumptuous twin, with patio doors opening onto a veranda and the beach, they were much impressed by the value they were getting for their money – until they went to pay the bill next morning and were charged considerably more than they had been quoted. They were in the wrong place and the booking had in fact been made by someone called Pierre who didn’t turn up, his travels presumably thwarted by the weather conditions. What are the chances? I gather OH and #3 weren’t overly worried, as it was such a great room.

#3 has since done a lot of to-ing and fro-ing UK/India/Thailand and it’s even more difficult than normal to keep up with where he’s currently hanging his hat. He has some more leave due early in November and will hopefully be around for our annual combined Halloween/Bonfire Night party, delayed for his attendance in his guise as everyone’s favourite uncle.

Favourite Uncle!

I have sold the family home in Twickenham to my parents’ neighbour, who offered my dad an obscene amount of money many years ago and when refused, bought the house next door. It’s strange to think that it will no longer be ‘our’ house after so long, but now that my mother is in residential care (she’s not been thrown out yet!), it’s impossible to justify paying those whopper fees, plus meet the expenses entailed in keeping a large, empty house going.

I say empty, but of course the place is filled with possessions accrued during sixty-odd years of marriage – including a zillion dust-collecting figurines of varying value, so beloved by my mother. We have taken a few favourite pieces to decorate her room in the home, along with family photographs etc, but that has hardly made a dent. What does one do with so many complete dinner services, tea sets and ornate crystal glasses for any drink you care to name? Some of the furniture will be sold, some given away – it may take a while to clear the place! Then there’s the garages and outbuildings, the garden …

Yikes! Best make a start!

Thanks, Jen and toodles everyone! NP

***

Good luck with all that sorting and moving hun!

Thanks again for a fabulous blog.

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

 

 


End of the Month: 273 days in

Yes- I know- you don’t want me to mention that another month has gone by…However, it must have because Nell Peters is here with another fabulous end of the month round-up.

Over to you Nell…

Hello, my sweeties – I trust all is well with you on this 273rd day of the year? That means there are just ninety-two to go before we get to sing Robert Burns’ Auld Lang Syne again. Tempus certainly does fugit.

Celebrating her Ruby Wedding anniversary today is Mary Louise (better known as Meryl) Streep, who married sculptor Don Gummer in 1978, having been in a relationship with fellow actor, John Cazale (The Deer Hunter, amongst others) until March of that year, when he died of lung cancer. Mother-of-four Streep’s versatility as an actor apparently knows no bounds, and she has won multiple awards, including eight wins out of a huge thirty-one Golden Globe nominations. She even somehow managed to pull off her British-accented roles as Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2011), Emmeline Pankhurst in Suffragette (2015) and sing a passable Abba in Mamma Mia! (2008) although she apparently only appears in flashback in the current sequel. And now I have the song rattling around my head, making a nuisance of itself.

Emmeline Pankhurst

On the same day that Meryl and Don were cutting cake and dodging confetti, American actor, comedian and ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (originally the Swedish Berrgren, meaning mountain branch) died – sadly, he was three days into his two week Farewell to Show Business retirement tour. While still in high school aged eleven, he studied a booklet called The Wizard’s Manual – nothing to do with Harry Potter, but a basic lesson in ventriloquism, and he then paid a carpenter $35 to carve the head of his first dummy, Charlie McCarthy, in the likeness of a red-headed Irish newspaper boy he knew. Bergen created the body himself, using a nine-inch length of broomstick for the backbone, with rubber bands and cord to control the lower jaw mechanism of the mouth. Gottle o geer, anyone?

Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

Edgar and his wife, fashion model Frances, had two children – Kris, a film and TV editor, and the actress Candice. Her debut role was in the 1966 film The Group and this year she can be seen as Sharon in Book Club – with a whole lot of other TV and film roles in between. At one time, Bergen and her then boyfriend, Terry Melcher, lived at 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, which was later the home of Sharon Tate and her husband, Roman Polanski. This was where Tate and four others were murdered in August 1969, by disciples of Charles Manson. On September 27 1980, Candice married French film director Louis Malle and they had one child, Chloe Françoise, in 1985. Malle died from cancer a decade later and she went on to marry New York real estate magnate and philanthropist, Marshall Rose, in 2000.

Another American actress, Angeline (Angie) Dickinson, will need eighty-seven candles for her cake today – that’s going to take an awful lot of puffing and blowing. Born in 1931 to Fredericka (née Hehr) and Leo Henry Brown, she shared her date of birth with Teresa Ellen Gorman (née Moore), British Conservative MP for Billericay 1987 to 2001, who died in 2015. Angie became Dickinson when she married Gene, a former football player in 1952, and kept the name when they divorced eight years later. Although she’d had affairs with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and John F Kennedy (quite a line-up!) she married composer, songwriter, record producer, pianist, and singer, Burt Bacharach in 1965.

Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickinson

An American, Bacharach nonetheless studied partly at McGill University in Montreal – a little (actually, a lot!) before my time. While I was there, I vaguely remember chilling out by watching a so-so US TV series called Police Woman, which ran for ninety-one episodes from 1974 to 1978 and starred … drum roll … Angie Dickinson. Based on an original screenplay by Lincoln C. Hilburn, the police procedural featured Sergeant Pepper Anderson (our Angie), as an undercover police officer working for the Criminal Conspiracy Unit of the LAPD. She would typically masquerade as a prostitute, nurse, teacher, flight attendant, prison inmate, dancer, waitress, or similar, to get close to the suspects and gain incriminating evidence that would lead to their arrest. As I recall, Pepper – like the Canadian Mounties – would always get her man (or indeed woman), but Sherlock it wasn’t.

About thirty-five miles to the east of where we live in Norfolk, is the market town of Holt, its name taken from the Anglo Saxon for woodland. Almost all of the town’s original medieval buildings were destroyed by fire in 1708, which explains the abundance of Georgian buildings that now dominate the small, picturesque town. (I’m reminded here of a chap who worked for my dad years ago, who chronically mispronounced words – for example, picturesque was picture-squeak and chaos, choss.)

Back to the plot: Holt is also home to prestigious public school, Gresham’s, opened in 1555 by Sir John Gresham as a free grammar for forty local boys, following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Augustinian priory at nearby Beeston Regis. Over the years, buildings were added and the footprint expanded, but in the early 1900s there were still less than fifty pupils – until ambitious headmaster, George Howson, arrived on the scene. On this day in 1903, The New School was opened by Field Marshall Sir Evelyn Wood.

Nowadays, Gresham’s is co-ed, having admitted girls from the early 1970s, and is one of the top thirty International Baccalaureate schools in the UK, as you would hope from an institution which charges fees well in excess of £30K a year (what ever happened to free?) for boarders – on a par with Eton. There are approximately eight hundred pupils, but needless to say, we didn’t send the four boys there – my last royalty cheque for 45p wouldn’t make much of a dent in £120K+ … Luckily for Old Greshamians, Sir Nigel Foulkes (Chairman of BAA), Sir Cecil Graves (Director General of the BBC), Lord (Benjamin) Britten of Aldeburgh (Composer), Sir Christopher Cockerell (inventor of the hovercraft),  poets Wystan Hugh (WH) Auden and Sir Stephen Spender, Olivia (first name actually Sarah) Colman (actress), Sir James Dyson (inventor and entrepreneur), and last and possibly least, Jeremy Bamber (convicted murderer) – plus many, many more – their parents weren’t such skinflints.

In 1929, Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy, suggested that all living things and objects are six degrees of separation away from each other, so that a ‘friend of a friend’ chain can be made to connect any two in a maximum of six steps. Putting that theory to the test, I have previously mentioned that when Super Blogger, Anne Williams, went to an all-girls grammar in Bangor, she and her fellow pupils would be invited to school discos at what years later became my two older sons’ alma mater, over the Menai Strait in Llanfair PG. The headmaster in post when our sons were at the small, all-boys boarding school on Anglesey had a brother who was also in teaching – their subjects were mathematics and history respectively – oh, and the brother was a deputy head at Gresham’s.

The OH’s solicitor is an Old Greshamian and in turn sent his own nippers there – he was on the Board of Governors, at one time along with aforesaid deputy head. The solicitor’s practice partner is my solicitor, who recently told me her family had increased by one; take a bow, Roxie, super-cute pedigree cocker spaniel. ‘How strange,’ I remarked, ‘our weekend neighbours have just got two cocker spaniel puppies, Hugo and Leo.’ (I am bitterly disappointed that Leo isn’t called Victor!) It turns out that the three wee dogs are from the same litter, Roxie and Hugo being almost identical.

Historically, On 30 September 1791, the French National Constituent Assembly was dissolved and the people of Paris declared lawyer and politician Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre one of two incorruptible patriots, honouring their purity of principles, modest way of living, and refusal to take bribes – in November, he became the public prosecutor of Paris. He was a big fan of the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, especially The Social Contract, and the ethos of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. (Incidentally, Jacques Necker, French finance minister to Louis XVI, whose fiscal decisions contributed to the outbreak of the French Revolution, was born in Geneva, Switzerland on 30 September 1732.) In June 1792, Robespierre proposed an end to the monarchy, and in September the First Republic (officially The French Republic) was founded – after that, it was always going to end badly for Louis and he lost his head on 21 January 1793. One degree of separation, perhaps? So sorry!

The infamous Reign of Terror ensued, during which at least 300,000 suspects were arrested, 17,000 were officially executed, and as many as 10,000 died in prison with or without trial. Scary stuff. Opposition to Robespierre quickly festered on all sides and his influence was challenged within the Committee of Public Safety, resulting in him being declared an outlaw. He severely wounded himself with a bullet to the jaw at the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), throwing his few remaining supporters a curveball, and was later arrested there, prior to being  guillotined on July 28 1794 – ironically in front of a cheering mob on the Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde).

On a lighter note, the last day of September in 737 saw the Battle of the Baggage. That’s not two good-time gals fighting over cocktails during Happy Hour, but when Turkic Turgesh tribes drove back an Umayyad invasion of Khuttal, followed them south of the Oxus and captured their baggage train. Nowadays, lost luggage is generally down to the shenanigans of airport baggage handlers.

Henry IV, also known as Henry Bolingbroke, was proclaimed King of England and Lord of Ireland from this day in 1399 and held onto the throne until 1413, asserting the claim of his grandfather, Edward III, to the Kingdom of France along the way.

More recently, this was a day of hope in 1938, when The League of Nations (founded on 10 January 1920, as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended WWI – the first international organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace) unanimously outlawed ‘intentional bombing of civilian populations’. That’s on the same day that Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement, allowing Germany to occupy the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. With the benefit of hindsight, neither of those undertakings really went to plan, did they?

Before you read this, I will have spent a long weekend in London with some of the family. #3 son is flying in from Thailand so that he and #4 can go to the Anthony Joshua v Alexander Povetkin boxing match at Wembley on Saturday 22nd. I’ve no idea what the pugilistic appeal is – I personally think it’s a wholly uncivilised ‘sport’ – but they went to watch Joshua fight last year and so obviously weren’t put off. Next day, the OH and #3 are flying to Johannesburg for a few days and then on to Cape Town as their base for two weeks. The OH spent his formative years in SA and that’s where #3 spent his gap year, so they both have an attachment to the country – plus the ma-in-law will be in J’burg for those first few days and the OH’s youngest sister is working on a film in Cape Town. Don’t feel too sorry for me – I turned down the chance to go. Of course, all this is assuming #3 manages to fly out of Hong Kong, where – as I type – he is stranded because of the typhoon. It’s OK though – he’s found the bar in his hotel …

Someone who also isn’t going anywhere is my mother, who now has a permanent room in the care home where she spent a respite period. Yay! I say permanent, but she can still be thrown out (according to the twenty-one page contract I signed) for conduct unbecoming. Not sure what you’d have to do for that action to be taken – certainly the lady who steals serviettes from the restaurant and hoards them, the one who removes greeting cards and trinkets from residents’ rooms and redistributes them à la ageing Robin Hood, nor the one who periodically rushes up and down the corridors like an octogenarian Jenson Button (Zimmer frame substituted for racing car), squawking for everyone to get out of her way because her taxi has been ordered and she doesn’t want to miss it, have been expelled. Neither has the lady who caused the whole place to go into lock-down one time when I was visiting, because she was trying to escape. She thought she’d spotted a relative in the car park and wanted to go out and see them, but because of the necessary security she couldn’t get through the main doors, so proceeded to try and kick her way out, setting off all sorts of alarms – she was certainly giving it some welly! Once they managed to calm her down, a carer took her outside to show her there was nobody there that she knew, and peace once more prevailed.

Now I need to escape – and I know the security codes!

Thanks, Jenny.

Toodles.

NP

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Thanks Nell – another corking blog.

See you next month, when we’ll all probably have the heating on and scarves and gloves at the ready!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx


End of the month: A glimpse of autumn

OK, so who said it could be almost September already? No one asked me! I have far too much to get done this year for it to be time to knock on September’s door.

However! As it is the end of the month, I’m flinging the door open wide to the wonderful Nell Peters.

Over to you Nell…

Guten Morgen meine Freunde, and anyone else who just happens to be passing. Here we are at the end of August – how on earth did that happen? The school summer holidays are all but over and we are standing at the edge of the slippery slope that descends into cold weather, short daylight hours, Halloween, Bonfire Night and *whispers* Christmas. Yikes!

There is already Christmas stuff in our local Tesco …But before we start hanging up our stockings and buying earplugs as protection against Slade, there’s the OH’s birthday to celebrate. On the day he was born (1961), the Dutch National Ballet was formed through a merger of Netherlands Ballet (Dance Director, Sonia Gaskell) and Amsterdam Ballet (Dance Director, Mascha ter Weeme). This put an end to the rivalry or ‘ballet war’ between the two companies – loaded tutus at dawn? OK, anyone else harbouring a stereotypical mental image of prima ballerinas noisily pirouetting their stuff across the stage in wooden clogs, with a tulip clenched firmly between their teeth? That’ll just be me, then …My paternal grandfather, Wilfred, was also born on this day way back in 1897 – he was the one who lied about his age to become a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps in 1914. Wilfred shared his date of birth with American actor, Frederic March, born in Racine, Wisconsin, who appeared in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Best Years of Our Lives, as well as German writer and poet, Marianne Bruns, born in Leipzig. They died in 1966, 1975 and 1994 respectively, so Marianne walks away a clear winner of the longevity prize. Also on this day in 1897, British General Horatio Kitchener’s army occupied Berber, North of Khartoum, and Thomas Edison patented the Kinetoscope (kinetographic camera), the first movie projector. Say cheese!

by Bassano, proof print, 29 July 1910

August 31st 1976 wasn’t a good day for either Mexico (their currency, the peso, was devalued) or George Harrison, when Judge Richard Owen of the United States District Court found him guilty of ‘subconsciously’ copying the 1963 Chiffons’ tune, He’s So Fine  and releasing it as My Sweet Lord in November 1970. The record reached #1, making George the first Beatle to have a solo chart-topper, but with nasty terms like ‘copyright infringement’ and ‘plagiarism’ thrown into the legal mix, the shine may have faded somewhat from that achievement.

Perhaps musical composition (and this is pure hypothesis on my part, since I am tone deaf!) bears similarity to writing a novel, in that everything is to a certain extent a re-mix? The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations (1895) is a list compiled by Georges Polti, to categorise every dramatic situation that might occur in a story or performance. He analysed Greek classical texts, plus classical and contemporary French works, along with a few non-French authors. In the book’s introduction, Polti claims to be continuing the work of Carlo Gozzi, who also suggested thirty-six basic plots.

However, in 1965, Kurt Vonnegut submitted a thesis to Chicago University, arguing that there are in fact only six scenarios that form the foundation of literary ‘shapes’. Much to his great annoyance (fair enough – anyone who has ever laboured over a thesis knows how much blood, sweat and hair-tearing goes into it) his work was rejected. But years later the dust was blown from the manuscript and the premise used as a springboard for researchers at the University of Vermont, who fed 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg – all English-language fiction texts – through a programme that analysed the language for emotional content. They concluded there are ‘six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives’. Way da go, Kurt!

On this day in 1730, amusingly-named Gottfried Finger (sounds painful) died. You will all know he was a Moravian Baroque composer and virtuoso musician, the viol (of the viola/violin family) being his weapon of choice – many of his compositions were written for the instrument. Finger was born in Olomouc, the modern-day Czech Republic, and worked for the court of James II of England before becoming a freelance composer. Sometimes known as Godfrey, he also wrote operas and entered a contest in London to adapt William Congreve’s The Judgement of Paris as such, but after managing only fourth place he grabbed his bow and resin in a huff and moved to Germany, where he died in Mannheim.

Gottfried was preceded in death by one Ole Worm (snigger), Danish physician and historian, who breathed his last on this day in 1654, aged sixty-six. Ole was the son of Willum Worm (it just gets better!) a wealthy man and mayor of Aarhus, and Dorothea Fincke, the daughter of friend and colleague, Thomas Fincke. Thomas was a mathematician and physicist who invented the terms ‘tangent’ and ‘secant’, while teaching at the University of Copenhagen for more than sixty years. I really hope he was given a gold watch for long service. To give Ole his due, while he was personal physician to King Christian IV of Denmark, he courageously remained in Copenhagen to care for the sick, during an epidemic of the Black Death. Olé, Ole! So sorry …

More recently, Walter William Bygraves – better known as Max – died in Australia on this day in 2012. Born into poverty in Rotherhithe, London in 1922, he worked his way up to become a comedian, singer, actor and variety performer who had his own TV show. He appeared in the Royal Variety Show twenty times, as well as hosting Family Fortunes. Bit of a lad, was our Max – not only did he have three children with his wife, Blossom (real name Gladys), he added another three, born as the result of extra-marital affairs.

Exactly a year after Max, David Paradine Frost died of a heart attack while enjoying a life on the ocean wave, aboard the MV Queen Elizabeth – he’d been booked as a guest speaker. Born the third child and only son of a Methodist minister, Frost took the well-trodden Cambridge/Footlights route and, after graduating with a Third in English, went on to develop a hugely varied career in the media. He first came to the viewing public’s notice in the UK when chosen to host the satirical programme That Was The Week That Was in 1962, and his popularity led to work in US TV, plus a series of high-profile interviews, including Richard Nixon. A post mortem revealed that Frost suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary heart disease which affects roughly one in five hundred people – sadly, it also killed his oldest son, Miles, in 2015, when he was just thirty-one.

On the domestic front, August has been a time of upheaval and life-changing decisions. I can see a chink of light at the end of an eight year long tunnel, which began when my dad had a minor stroke. At that time, both my parents had already started to show obvious signs of dementia but weren’t diagnosed with the vascular variety until four years later. It was all downhill after that; even with some family members helping out and five visits a day from private care providers, we staggered from one crisis to the next.

After my dad died last year, my mother inevitably spent some time on her own and to counteract this as much as possible, #2 son – bless him – stayed at the house Mon-Fri, supplementing the care visits. This still left weekends and that’s when I would spend hours on end gawping at images from the CCTV system we had installed for my mother’s safety. Things came to a head during the recent hot weather, when she started to refuse both liquids and food – she quickly became so weak that she ended up doing an overnighter in hospital on a saline drip. We’d bent over backwards to adhere to both parents’ wish to stay in their own home, but after giving it our very best shot, #2 and I simultaneously decided that we’d come to the end of the road – hard decisions had to be made, and quickly.

Over four days we planned a military operation to get my mother out of the house she hasn’t voluntarily left for a very long time, to begin the four weeks of respite care I’d arranged in a rather swish care home – previously checked out for just such an eventuality. By stealth – the theme tune to Mission Impossible playing on a loop in my head – we got clothes, toiletries and a few personal items together and stashed them out of sight, arranged for one of the visiting carers who has a good rapport with my mother to stay on for extra time to act as escort, along with another carer borrowed from the home, we also borrowed a wheelchair from the home, booked a disabled taxi, managed to grapple through an assessment of needs with one of the care home staff, and crawled to the pub exhausted the evening before Evacuation Day.

Everything went like clockwork on the morning. My mother was sitting in the hallway, all dressed and fed and in the wheelchair – we’d told her she had an appointment and though protesting loud and long that she didn’t want to go, we steadfastly ignored her. It was a case of now or never – and never wasn’t an option. Then just as the taxi was due, there was a car accident at the end of the drive – no one hurt, but damaged vehicles blocking the road caused a huge tailback. When the taxi eventually arrived, the two carers swooped into action and had my mother out of the door and into the back in seconds – amid wails of outrage – and rode shotgun during the short drive to the care home. #2 and I followed at a safe distance, the burden of guilt weighing heavily on our shoulders.

As always, I’m writing this blog in advance so that Jenny has time to do the magic thing with it. There are six days to go until the respite period ends and we will know then if a permanent place can be offered – stressful, nail-biting times. So far, things have gone well. My mother is eating and drinking almost normally and interacting with others and staff and has had quite a few visitors. It’s a well-run, friendly home with a good atmosphere – her room has a lovely view of the gardens and one day she may even venture out there. The fees are eye-watering, but she has round-the-clock care from brilliant staff, in a safe and secure setting – you can’t put a price on that.

Wish me luck!

Thanks for having me, Jenny. Toodles.

NP

***

GOOD LUCK!!

Guilt is always such a nightmare- especially when you’ve done the right thing.

Thanks again for such a fab blog,

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

 


End of the Month: July in a Nutshell

Another month has zipped by, and so Nell Peters is here with her popular roundup of events. A belated happy birthday to Nell (who shares the same birthday as me), and thanks, as ever, for another fab post.

Over to you…

Good day! Both Jenny and I are a year older since we last met, and while the Football World Cup didn’t actually come home, sales of waistcoats rocketed. That’s July in a nutshell and I’m not even going to mention tennis or Donald Trump …

Someone celebrating their birthday this fine day is JK (Joanne Kathleen, as I’m sure you all know) Rowling, who clocks up fifty-three years. The Harry Potter series of books hit the shelves in June 1997, with publication of HP and the Philosopher’s Stone, and the last (seventh), HP and the Deathly Hallows was released in July 2007. Rowling’s imagined biography for her main character saw him born on 31st July 1980 in Godric’s Hollow, whereas the actor Daniel Radcliffe, who played Harry P (again, as you all know – I have a talent for stating the obvious), was born in Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, London – where sons #2, 3 and 4 were born – on 23rd July 1989, about nine weeks after #3. I’m sure if Daniel’s mother had known then the significance of the last day of the month, she’d have held on. In keeping with the 31/7 theme, the play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne, with contributions by JKR, was published worldwide at midnight on this day two years ago. And what do you give the woman who can have anything she wants for her birthday? I like to think at least one of her friends will give her some tasteful Harry Pottery. I’m so sorry …

A name caught my eye as I was researching people born on 31st July and immediately appealed to my pathetic sense of humour – take a posthumous bow Arthur (John) Daley; not the ducker and diver, but an American sports writer and journalist born in New York City in 1904. He wrote for The New York Times (his only employer) for almost fifty years, producing over 10,000 columns with an estimated twenty million words – and in 1956 was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his troubles. He reported on the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and when he was chosen to repeat that role in Berlin in 1936, he became the first Times correspondent to be sent overseas for a sports assignment. In later years, he covered the Olympics in Rome, Tokyo, Mexico City and Munich. Daley lived in Old Greenwich, Connecticut with his wife, Betty and their four children, two of whom followed in his footsteps to become journalists on the Times. He died of a heart attack on January 3rd 1974, as he was walking to work, and is buried in the ambitiously-named Gate of Heaven Cemetery, New York.

Poor old Arthur didn’t make the Montreal Olympics in 1976, but I did. I managed to miss all of the long, hot summer that cooked the UK that year, but Montreal summers are always hot, with crippling degrees of humidity because the city is a series of islands. Being around three months pregnant and very sickly, I quite regretted shelling out for a ticket for the opening ceremony, as I sat through the rather lacklustre proceedings, feeling like death.

Montreal had experienced the coldest winter on record during 1970/71 (152 inches of snow, yikes!), followed by a period of violent political unrest. The terrorist Front du Libération du Quebec (FLQ) exploded ninety-five bombs in the city – the largest of which blew up the Stock Exchange – and kidnapped the British Consul, James Cross, along with the Minister of Labour, Pierre Laporte. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau responded by imposing martial law, and armoured personnel carriers patrolled the streets, with troops detaining hundreds of people without charge. The FLQ released Cross but murdered Laporte, and the city was a pretty scary place to be for a very long time – even when I arrived in ’74 – particularly if you spoke with a British accent.

You might think, then, that the Games of the XXI Olympiad – to give them their official title – would be embraced as an opportunity to turn a corner, to go some way to ease the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics, and demonstrate that sport could transcend all. After all, the Games were the first to be hosted by Canada and, to date, the only summer Olympics held there. But no; multiple strikes, organised corruption, theft and sabotage, along with rocketing costs, left the city with a debt of (Canadian) $1.6bn which would take decades to clear, not to mention an unfinished stadium. And to add to the fiasco, as the Games were about to open, twenty-two African nations withdrew, because the International Olympic Committee refused to ban New Zealand for sending the All Blacks rugby team to tour in apartheid South Africa.

But the British did turn up, and one of the women toddling around the stadium, dodging cement mixers and wearing the rather hideous uniform – red skirt suit, white shoes, bag, scarf that looked like a hangman’s noose, topped off with what one of my grandmothers would have described as a muck-spreading hat – was Princess Anne (without her horse, in case you were wondering?)

My only claim to fame is that I’ve watched the Olympic Torch procession up close and personal twice – first in Montreal in torrential rain and then in sunny Norfolk in 2012, prior to the London Olympics. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Zara Phillips won a silver medal on her horse, High Kingdom in the Equestrian Eventing final on 31/7/12. This was on the same day that two car bombs killed twenty-one people in Baghdad and a second power grid failure in India in two days left 670 million people without power. That’s an awful lot of redundant toasters.

I doubt Zara ever met our niece, who was a volunteer chauffeur during the London Games – as a teacher she was on summer hols and didn’t have to take leave. Not speaking a word of Russian, she was the perfect choice to ferry around a Russian ambassador, who didn’t speak a word of English. What a jovial pairing that must have been (he did, however, manage to invite her to some lavish official function – an offer she tactfully and wisely refused.) Worst of all, she had to wear the awful pink and purple clobber assigned to all staff and volunteers. Who ‘designs’ these outfits, I wonder – colour blind orang-utans with no dress sense?

As I write this in advance, I hope I’m not tempting fate by mentioning that this July has brought hot temperatures and little rain to the UK. And some record heat levels were recorded elsewhere in 1994. It was 39.3°C in Pleschen, East-Germany on this day; Arcen Limburg, Holland recorded an average over the month of 22.0°C – the warmest July since 1783; and Stockholm averaged 21.5°C, their hottest July since 1855. Phew!

Loretta Young

Lots of weddings have taken place on 31st July over the years; American actress Loretta Young married advertising executive Tom Lewis (1940); singer-songwriter and musician Ray Charles married Eileen Williams (1951); singer Natalie Cole married songwriter Marvin Yancy (1976); Bee Gee Robin Gibb married author and artist Dwina Murphy (1986); actor Patrick Dempsey married make-up artist Jillian Fink (1999); Lady Davina Windsor married surfer and the first Maori to marry into the Royal Family, Gary Lewis at the chapel in Kensington Palace in London (2004); and then a double whammy in 2010 when singer-songwriter Alicia Keys married award-winning rapper Swizz Beatz in Corsica, and Chelsea Clinton, daughter of former US President Bill and wife Hillary, married investment banker Marc Mezvinsky in New York.

We had a family wedding on 31st July 2015, when our oldest niece (aforementioned Olympic chauffeur) tied the knot in Stratford-upon-Avon, from whence her OH hailed. It was a lovely old country house-type venue and no expense was spared, as the sun shone down on the bridal party and their many guests. Our immediate family had a couple of wardrobe malfunctions in the footwear department – #2 son forgot to pack his smart shoes and so had to wear trainers with his formal suit, but that paled into insignificance compared with #1’s experience. Can you imagine why anyone would order a pair of very expensive shoes off the internet and not try them on to make sure they were a good fit? The first time those shoes met his larger feet was in the hotel room as he and his wife were getting ready for the ceremony – he was giving the bride (his cousin) away because her dad had died four years previously, so no trainer substitutes for him.

The wedding was in two parts – the first conducted by a celebrant in the ruins of an old chapel in the grounds. Son managed to escort the bride from house to chapel wearing the crippling shoes, but they were removed at the first opportunity, and when he walked the bride into the official proceedings within the house, he did so in his brightly-coloured socks. That was also the case for the photographs – at least there were no visible holes. Nor did anyone seem to notice that #2 and 3 were wearing almost-identical blue suits – #2’s newly-purchased and #3’s hired. Despite an enviable honeymoon in the Maldives, the ‘happy couple’ had separated before Christmas. Slightly bizarre that the outfit I purchased far outlasted the marriage …

#2 son’s wedding was booked for 30th July 2011, but, alas, was called off a few months beforehand – there seems to be some sort of wedding curse going on here! That year for us was four funerals and no weddings … Looking on the bright side, cancellation meant the dreaded stag do would not go ahead – they’d planned a long weekend on a canal barge. The very thought of several inebriated young men, staggering around on deck in close proximity to murky waters, turned my blood cold – not helped by my friend Allison insisting on referring to it as The Boat of Death. The wedding may not have happened, but the couple are still together, as are another couple who actually did get married on that day.

Step forward once again Zara Phillips, who wed rugby player, Mike Tindall. Without any nuptials to attend, the OH and I nipped up to Edinburgh for a few days, not realising the wedding would be taking place down the road in Canongate Kirk – in fact, several people staying at our hotel were going to the bunfight. As I hadn’t packed my embarrassing hat, we decided not to gatecrash.

Speaking of which, hat’s me lot – sorry again! Thanks, Jenny!

Toodles!

NP

***

Thanks again Nell!

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx

 

 


End of the Month: Cheerio June with Nell Peters

June seems to be all but over? Anyone notice that happen? Nope? Nor me..I was probably in a dark corner somewhere writing a book…

Everyone ready? Got coffee, tea and cake? Great, let’s hand over to Nell. 

Morning all – I trust this finds you in fine fettle?

If it’s OK with Jenny, we’ll dive straight in shall we?

Two American professional wrestlers were born on this day in 1891. Frank Simmons Leavitt was born in New York City to parents, John McKenney and Henrietta (née Decker) Leavitt. He tried out various wrestling names for size: Soldier Leavitt (when he was on active duty both at the Mexican border and in France), Hell’s Kitchen Bill-Bill and Stone Mountain, before adopting Man Mountain Dean after meeting his wife, Doris Dean. I don’t know about mountainous, but at 5’11” and 310lbs, he wasn’t a small guy… As well as his wrestling career, he worked as a stunt double, appeared as himself in five films and studied journalism at the University of Georgia. He died of a heart attack, aged sixty-one.

Sharing his date of birth was Robert Herman Julius Friedrich, born in Wisconsin. Friedrich began wrestling at the age of fourteen using the ring name Ed Lewis but was subsequently known as the rather more sinister Ed Strangler Lewis after a match in France where he applied a sleeper hold, and the French, who were unfamiliar with the manoeuvre, thought he was strangling his opponent. Call me picky, but that doesn’t sound very sporting. A four-time World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, he semi-retired in 1935 but returned to the ring seven years later, despite being legally blind from trachoma. It was another five years before he fully retired from the professional circuit aged fifty-seven, and he died destitute in New York in 1966. Ah bless.

Two more American wrestlers were born on June 30th – in 1985 Cody Garrett Runnels (now known as Cody Rhodes, or The American Nightmare) checked into Marietta, Georgia. He followed in his father – Virgil Riley Runnels Junior, better known as The American Dream (I see what they did there!) or Dusty Rhodes – and his older half-brother Goldust’s footsteps, into the professional ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE). Cody’s godfather, Terry Wayne Allan is a retired pro wrestler who fought under the name of Magnum TA – so, it seems an aptitude for the sport and coming up with creative ring names are family traits.

Incidentally, Cody is also an ‘occasional’ actor (whatever that means – maybe he appears annually as the Easter Bunny, the Grim Reaper on Halloween, or even Poldark’s shirt?) and this wrestling/acting combination, with a bit of modelling thrown in, has also been embraced by one Victoria Elizabeth Crawford (ring name Alicia Fox), born on this day in 1986 in Florida. She is the longest tenured WWE female performer, having been with the company since 2006.

Step into the ring – the boxing type this time – heavyweight fighter, ‘The Greatest’ Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior, which he denounced as his slave name) who defeated Joe Bugner in Malaysia on 30th June 1975. Presumably he floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee?

Clay’s name change came about when he converted to Islam, as did Michael Gerard Tyson, who will need fifty-two candles for his cake today. He’s of course better known as Mike Tyson, alias ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’. (By coincidence, I am known en famille as ‘The Baddest Cook on the Planet.’) One of his several dubious claims to fame was when he was disqualified during a World Boxing Association championship rematch in 1997, for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear – now that’s definitely not sporting! He has a bit of a dodgy history in his personal life too, but we won’t go into that here, as it’s a family show. It was during one of his banged-up spells that he converted to Islam – that’s OK then.

Another sportsman who has spent time on the Very Naughty Step is former National Football League running back, OJ (Orenthal James) Simpson, whose pre-trial hearing for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman began this day in 1994. Unless you’ve been living on Mars for the last twenty-odd years, you will know that Simpson was found Not Guilty by a criminal trial jury, but was subsequently deemed responsible for both deaths by a unanimous jury deliberating a civil lawsuit, filed by the Brown and Goldman families in 1997. They were awarded compensatory and punitive damages totalling $33.5 million (not far short of $52 million now), but have received only a tiny percentage of that.

OJ did go to jail, however; in 2007, he was convicted of multiple felonies, including use of a deadly weapon to commit kidnapping, burglary and armed robbery. Yikes! He was sentenced to a minimum nine, maximum thirty-three years (how does that work?) in Lovelock Correctional Centre, Nevada and was released on parole on 1st October 2017.

Who keeps up with the Kardashians? The late patriarch Robert K was part of his friend OJ’s defence team during the 90s murder trial. Although he had let his licence to practice law lapse before the case came to court to concentrate on business interests, he reactivated it to sit in as a volunteer assistant on the legal ‘dream team’. I’ve never seen the reality programme (I’m more of a Come Dine with Me fan tbh – love the voiceover) so had to research it (though I drew the line at actually watching!) – there’s a cast of thousands!

There appear to be six offspring – some are Ks and some are Jenners, on account of mum Kris’s two marriages, the first to Robert and the second to Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner. All five daughters have names beginning with K like their mum (or mom) and the only son, Rob was obviously named after his dad – lucky escape, as he could have ended up as a Kayne … oh wait, they have one of those by marriage. The show apparently focuses on the personal and professional lives of the Kardashian–Jenner ‘blended’ family, though what any of them actually do I’ve no idea and frankly don’t care. For me, the most surprising thing is that the programme has run for nearly eleven years. Seriously?

Enough of tinsel town. In 1971 Ohio became the 38th US state to approve the lowering of the voting age to eighteen (1970 in the UK), thus ratifying the 26th amendment. (I will refrain from mentioning here that the prefrontal cortex, which amongst other things assesses and judges consequences of decisions made, is nowhere near mature at eighteen, being the last area of the brain to fully develop.)

This was on the same day that the crew of Russian space mission Soyuz 11 were found dead upon their return to Earth – the only people to die in space.  In the early hours, the Soviet Union prepared to welcome its three latest cosmonaut heroes after a record-breaking mission; Georgi Dobrovolski, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev had spent more than twenty-three days in orbit, and also occupied the world’s first space station.

The parachute of Soyuz 11’s descent module was spotted and helicopters touched down for would-be rescuers to make their way to the spacecraft, still superheated and charred from re-entry. Nikolai Kamanin, commander of the cosmonaut team, and veteran cosmonaut Alexei Yeliseyev, waited more than an hour for news of a successful recovery, only to hear three numbers: 1-1-1, which translated as the entire crew being dead. The subsequent investigation determined that an air vent had been jerked open during the separation of the orbital and descent modules and that all three men had been dead for some time from suffocation. How dreadfully sad.

Happily, safety in space travel has much improved and UK astronaut, Tim Peake became the first Briton to join a European Space Agency mission in December 2015, when he blasted into orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. He spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS) and during that time the 44-year-old former helicopter test pilot took part in more than two hundred and fifty experiments. He also ran the London Marathon on a treadmill and engaged more than a million schoolchildren with educational activities – I thought he was brilliant. One of the highlights of Peake’s time in space was a space walk with Nasa astronaut Tim Kopra. While their repair work on the outside of the station was a success, mission controllers cut the walk short after Kopra noticed water leaking into his helmet. Peake will return for another stint on the space station, probably in 2019.

At the beginning of this month, the latest successful ISS mission was completed when a Soyuz capsule carrying Russian Anton Shkaplerov, American Scott Tingle and Japanese Norishige Kanai floated down to Earth after more than five months, landing in Kazakhstan. Footage from within the ISS had shown Shkaplerov practicing with a football, which he was reportedly going to take back to Moscow for the opening game of the World Cup.

Back on terra firma, on the last day of June 1984, Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott (known as Pierre) Trudeau officially stepped down as Liberal (15th) Prime Minister of Canada after serving two separate terms for a total of fifteen years. He was a charismatic personality described as a ‘swinging young bachelor’ when first elected in 1968 – even though he was almost forty-nine – and dated Barbra Streisand. However, he married much younger TV presenter Margaret Sinclair in March 1971 and they had three sons, the oldest being Justin, current PM. He and middle son, Alexandre (aka Sacha) were both born on Christmas Day, in 1971 and 1973 respectively, poor things – as #4 son (born on Christmas Eve) says, you have to wait all year and everything comes at once. The third Trudeau son, Michel was born in October 1975, but was tragically killed aged only twenty-three in a skiing accident. His body was never found.

Nothing to do with June 30th, but Michel Trudeau’s lost-forever body reminded me of Harold Edward Holt, ditto. I came across him a few years ago when I was researching for a book, never having heard of him beforehand. Harold was Liberal (17th) Prime Minister of Australia from January 1966 until his disappearance in December 1967 when he got caught in a rip current, swimming at Cheviot Beach, Victoria.

Although he was a strong swimmer, he had injured his shoulder at the time, but that didn’t stop the conspiracy theorists coming up with such gems as he was abducted by aliens, faked his own death to run off with his mistress, was assassinated by the CIA or (my favourite!) had been whisked away by a Chinese submarine so that he could defect. Holt was big pals with the US President at the time, Democrat Lyndon B Johnson (in contrast to his frosty relationship with UK Labour PM Harold Wilson, whose widow, Mary died earlier this month aged 102!) and supported the American presence in Vietnam, pledging ‘All the way with LBJ’. It wasn’t until 2005 that an inquest ruled Holt’s death as accidental drowning.

Staying Down Under, I’ll just mention here that Olivia Newton John married  businessman, John Easterling on this day in 2008 in Florida – that’s exactly thirty-three years after Cher married singer-songwriter Gregg Allman, having divorced Sonny Bono four days earlier. And the beat goes on…

Toodles!

NP

***

Another epic end of the month blog! Thanks so much Nell.

See you next time for our mutual birthday month!!

Happy reading,

Jenny xx


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