Fans of Norah Lofts discussion

Flowers, Gardens, Trees, Woods, Atmosphere in NL

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message 1: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Every book NL wrote contains beautiful descriptions of all types of flowers and greenery. It is obvious that the lovliness of all growing things was very important in the author's life. She connected many of her plots to plants!

One example is from Knight's Acre, when the planting of a gift of plants to Sybilla led to the physical separation of the Tallboys' sons, Henry and Richard. Richard remained at home, while Henry was shipped off to Beauclaire to begin training for knighthood. The following passage, beginning chapter 8, sets the stage for this change in all their lives:

"One bright October morning a gaily painted cart arrived, bearing the gifts which Sir Simon Randall had promised; six well-grown rose trees, young bushes of lavender, rosemary, and southernwood, many other plants in baskets and bundles, all labeled: HERE BE LILY BULBS...ROOTS OF COLUMBINE."

I remember being struck by the description of roses as "trees". As far as I know, in the USA, they are called "bushes".

Another mention of rose trees is in Charlotte. In the villege of Biddlesford, gypsies sneaked into Dr. Fletcher's garden and cut every one of his prize roses..."the trees were stripped." One of the gypsies was later spotted selling roses in Bereham, but the roses could not be positively identified.

In my imagination, I love to walk the paths of Layer Wood, past the pools and water splashes, and pick the wild strawberries! What are your favorite flowers and fragrances from the lovely mind of NL?

message 2: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggy908) | 893 comments From the short story "All that is necessary" - Near at hand was a bed of pink tulips, raising their heads above a haze of forget-me-nots, behind them was a stretch of smooth lawn, then a laurel hedge, and beyond it the tops of the orchard trees; the pears were in full white shining bloom, the apples in rosy bud. Presently a cuckoo began to call. Lady Blyborough looked at the flowers, listened to the urgent, aching call and began to think of other springs.

message 3: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggy908) | 893 comments I love blue morning glories and plant some every year; here is a bit about Elizabeth's garden from "How Far to Bethlehem" in the chapter Bethpage: 15 furlongs:

"The garden flourished and was beautiful; even the fence that divided it from the road was a thing of beauty, thickly covered with morning glories, so gloriously blue, and thicket roses, coloured like a summer sunset. And all within the fence,the flower beds, the herb patches, the vegetable strips were neat and tended and precise, the living embroidery which she had worked upon the stony hillside."

"Living embroidery" - so beautiful! The chapter includes the insight that the garden took the place of the children that the young Elizabeth didn't have: "In some ways, it was like a child; it needed constant attention; it progressed in little steps; it was something that she had made."

message 4: by Sylvia (last edited Mar 15, 2011 08:37PM) (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Since we're beginning a read/discussion of "I Met a Gypsy", I thought I would contribute the following description of the scene from which a friend of the "Gypsy's" grandson is being exiled (pb, pg. 28 - thoughts by Robert Younge, Esq. of Longmere in Norfolk): "...the time of the singing of birds had come, that lovliest time when under the young leaves, the oxslips were all aflower, and the long grass in our orchard was yellow with daffodils." NL always sets the scene with color and fragrance.

message 5: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments Oh yes indeed. And also, when Beatrice is having her 'dark night of the soul ' , it was
"one night when the moon was in the garden, and the scent of lilacs heavy on the night ....pressing her face into the flowers and weeping without restraint.:" p 10.

message 6: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments "...the scent of lilacs heavy on the night." Ummm. We had some snow this weekend, but I can smell those lilacs!

This is a pretty tree description from "Rupert Hatton's Tale" (also the House Trilogy) when the boys of the school at Old Vine were taken to a performance at Webster's Assembly Rooms: "Trees had been planted in the yard of the inn, and Mr. Webster had lopped their tops but let the side branches grow so that they met, and it looked as though the trees stood arm in arm. ...Outside had been made into an enchantment; little lanterns with colored glass in their sides had been lighted and now hung from the branches of the trees."

message 7: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments And those magical lighted-up trees makes me think of the description, of Lady Rosaleen, ( in Old Priory is it? ) where she is described as being like a hawthorn tree that the narrator had once seen, that was still in full leaf, but completely encased in a fine transparent film of ice.

message 8: by Sylvia (last edited Mar 30, 2011 10:17AM) (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments The Old Priory is one of my favorite NLs, but right now I can't recall the Lady Rosaleen. We need a Character Index! The hawthorn leaves encased in ice remind me of Nashville, where they have ice storms, and their magnolia trees are encased in thick beautiful...but so dangerous.

In The Old Priory, Anne Hatton is described as having eyes "exactly like a hawthorn leaf in autumn, green and brown in patterns, like daisies."

message 9: by Barbara (last edited Mar 31, 2011 12:00AM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments Sorry, sorry, not The Old Priory, but Nethergate . Lady Rosaleen is the mother of Alan, with whom Isabella D'Aubigny is in love.Lady R disapproves and has him sent away and witholds his letters from Isabella. Lady R's husband is utterly besotted by her and will never hear a word against her.

PS Nethergate is the book in which Isabella Pratt (nee D'Aubigny) says to Joanna Pratt , "you have been kinder than God to me "

I love the hawthorn eyes. Pure NL.

message 10: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Yes, now I remember Lady Rosaleen! Here is a flower quote from The House at Old Vine, by Josianna Greenwood, who was usually referred to by her grandparents as "YOU!" "I think the earth itself saved me. The young green breaking out like a shout every spring time, the bugloss and poppies, the daisies, and meadow sweet, the wild roses and the honeysuckle trails on the hedgerows. Flowers were my first love, and that was a secret love, for my grandmother held that anyone who had time to gather flowers - except cowslips for cordial - hadn't been rightly busy."

I wonder what "bugloss" look like? A wildflower compendium would be a useful reference to keep handy when reading NL!

message 11: by Barbara (last edited Mar 31, 2011 06:32PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments Here are some nice bugloss pictures

message 12: by MaryC (new)

MaryC Clawsey | 704 comments Re the hawthorn eyes, has anyone seen hawthorn leaves in autumn? I've never, to my knowledge, seen a hawthorn tree--don't even know whether they grow in North America (though I probably will by the time anyone reads this :)). Do the leaves go brown from the edges in or from the center out? I've seen eyes that seem to be green overlaid with brown, so that when the pupils contract, the brown draws in and more of the green is visible. Maybe some are the other way around?

message 13: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Mary, you asked the last question over a year and a half ago, and didn't get an answer, but at this moment, hawthorne trees have come up at the end of our group read for October, 2012, in the reading of Afternoon of an Autocrat. I just read a description of the hawthorne tree, and growth in the USA, at least naturally, was not mentioned.

message 14: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments In Afternoon of an Autocrat, (pb retitled The Devil in Clevely, page 89), Danny and Damask are taking their first walk through Layer Wood together, and they come to the triangle where three paths meet, one to Clevely, one to Muchanger, and one to Strawless.
"...there was a hump, said to be the grave of a boy who had hanged himself because he was suspected of sheep stealing, away back in ancient times. Nobody tended the grave - if grave it was, for nobody was even sure of that - but everybody knew that the little mound always produced the wild flower that was in season - wild violets, primroses, cowslip, marguerite daisies, scabious, knapweed. One story said that there was some connection between this grave and the Witch, Lady Alice of Merravay; it said that she had planted the roots of the flowers."

message 15: by Barbara (last edited Oct 28, 2012 11:34PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments I love that, that the grave of that poor boy produced such beauty.

I've never really quite understood the hawthorn leaf anology, hawthorn leaves are bright green when young and dark rich green when mature, and patchy green and brown in autumn. Must be the patchy green-and-brown do you think?

message 16: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments This is the comment I made on the Devil in Clevely thread:

By the way, has it been commented on here how frequently - if not universally - a mystical experience in NL books is accompanied by a hawthorn in bloom?
It must have meant something special to her, perhaps an experience of her own, and I'd just love to know more.

message 17: by Jenny (last edited Oct 30, 2012 05:44AM) (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments Hawthorn blossom is otherwise known as 'may flower' and there is a lot of folklore attached to it. It's very common here in England and during the month of May (depending on the weather) the hedgerows are frothy white with it. It has a strong scent, but it's considered unlucky to bring it indoors.

The two most striking examples of the hawthorn in bloom accompanying a mystical experience are in The Devil in Clevely (Damask) and How Far to Bethlehem? (Mary) but I know I've thought "There's that hawthorn again" more than once.

message 18: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Re: Barbara's post 15 question, I think NL was just suggesting the colors in her eyes were the same as the hawthorne's autumn colors, and the daisy description was just a poetic way of appreciating the pretty patterns in multi-colored eyes. Maybe the pattern suggested a mystical power in Damask's eyes.

message 19: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments Sylvia wrote: "... I remember being struck by the description of roses as "trees". As far as I know, in the USA, they are called "bushes". "

Roses can be grown as 'standards', or trees and I'm sure I've seen them like this in mediaeval illustration. They go well in a formal garden. There's an example here

message 20: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggy908) | 893 comments I seem to remember something mystical connected to hawthorns in the first part of The Town House. I'll try to look it up.

Jenny, that was quite an interesting link, thank you for sharing it.

message 21: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments Ah - now you've narrowed it down, Peggy, I've found it! It was Martin in the Abbey dungeon:
He's just come to the conclusion that he has no soul and is resigned to dying and extinction and then
Everything rocked a little, the darkness lifted, the walls melted away and I was lying on the grass under the little crooked hawthorn tree, freshly green and white, just breaking into blossom. I could smell it, cool and full of summer promise.
'You,' I cried. And all at once I understood everything. Nothing to do with priests or sins or being forgiven, nothing to do with anything there are any words for. Just the beauty of the tree and my acceptance of it, promise and fulfilment all in one. And what there are no words for.

message 22: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggy908) | 893 comments Yay, Jenny, good work! Such a hauntingly beautiful passage too!

"And all at once I understood everything." I love it!

message 23: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments Sylvia wrote: "
In The Old Priory, Anne Hatton is described as having eyes "exactly like a hawthorn leaf in autumn, green and brown in patterns, like daisies." "

I'm just reading Blossom Like the Rose and was interested to notice that Linda Seabrook's eyes are described in exactly the same way!

message 24: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments Just browsing through some of the other threads, I've come across another hawthorn tree reference: Magda mentions seeing one as she describes her near death from drowning, and that's what suddenly attracts Martin to her.

message 25: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments In Book Three of :"Jassy", as Dilys and Jassy set out from Mortiboys, riding horses through Layer Wood intending to visit Barney Hatton at Green Farm, they take the Lower Road.

"The Lower Road, impassible in wet weather, was indescribably lovely that morning. It was sunk between hedges that glowed with the fruit of hawthorn and the wild rose, and frothed with the feathery tangle of wild clematis. Great beeches, turning amber, stood at intervals in the hedges, and the leaves that had already fallen carpeted the ground. Now and then, through a gap in the hedge or a space between the trees, one could see the marshes, very green and flat, patterned by the silver of the creeks that wound through them."

I've never ridden on a horse, but I feel like I also took that ride in October on the Lower Road. Here again a favorite is mentioned - the hawthorn.

message 26: by Robert (new)

Robert | 96 comments I love the pictures she paints with words.

message 27: by Tanya (new)

Tanya Mendonsa | 441 comments I mentioned somewhere else, in another thread, that NL often quotes John Drinkwater's poems. One of the lines she quoted ( I forget in which book, but it led me to JD's work ) was :
" Theirs was the biterness we know
because the clouds of hawthorn keep
so short a state and kisses go
to wells immeasurably deep

message 28: by Sylvia (last edited Jun 27, 2013 02:46PM) (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments A few more lovely descriptions from "Jassy" - "The weather that year was kind to lovers. January was so mild that when, towards the end, there was a second brief fall of snow, the white patches, as they melted in the shrubberies, merely gave way to other whiteness, stretches of snowdrops, frail and secret under the glossy leaves of the evergreens. The evening skies had those colours of apple green and daffodil which hold, as no words can do, the whole essence of the spring."

I believe NL has used the description of "apple green skies" several times. I have never seen a green sky. We do have yellow skies (NL's daffodil sky?) preceding severe storms and tornado warnings, and they are scary but glowing and beautiful in the mid-west of the USA. I researched the possibility of a green sky, and found that it is not a top priority topic. Scientific American Magazine says that the only green skies seen by scientists have preceded severe weather, usually in the evenings. NL did mention the "evening skies" of apple green.

message 29: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Now reading a large print "Nethergate", in the narrative by Dr. Joanna Drury, I ran across another description of the same sky: "The days lengthened almost imperceptibly and even when the snow lay and the northeast wind blew, just occasionally in the west the sky would lighten towards evening, with a streak of daffodil yellow, or apple green."

message 30: by Peggy (last edited Nov 16, 2014 06:17PM) (new)

Peggy (peggy908) | 893 comments Sylvia, I was reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath this weekend and a reference was made to the winter sky having a green tint. This was during the time that Plath was in England going to Cambridge. I've seen strong yellow tints and pink tints here in Kentucky but can't remember if I've seen any green tints.

message 31: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Like you, Peggy, I've seen the bright yellow, actually more than just the sky, but a yellow glow on everything, and I've seen pink and even purple skies, but never the green. Maybe it is a special effect of English weather.

message 32: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments Well I lived half my life in the UK ( the first, un-noticing half I fear) and I can't remember an actual apple green sky but yes, green streaks and tints blending with the pink of evening
I'm reading The Lost Queen again at the moment, and poor brave, tragic Caroline is recalling Spring at Kew , while she endures her first Danish winter.
She, like Beatrice in I Met A Gypsy buries her face passionately in lilac. In fact she bites it, and is mortified the next day to see the bitten part hanging and dying .
Nice bit of symbolism there.

message 33: by Sylvia (last edited Feb 02, 2014 09:36PM) (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments During the group read of Knight's Acre, I got interested in the still-rooms of the great houses where herbs, wild flowers, fruits, and all things edible were prepared for use in the home. The lady of the house was responsible for maintaining supplies such as medicines, spices and flavorings, soaps, cosmetics, salves, and brews. One preparation that should have been pleasant was the making of candied flower petals, which were used to decorate desserts. Most of these preparations were stored in the still-room.

Some of the many flower petals that are edible include: Rose, Violet, Daylily, Marigold, Pansy, and English Daisy.

We have noticed the importance of a home's garden, from cottage to castle, and usually only the upper classes planted flower gardens, but almost every NL dwelling, whether a hut, a farm cottage, or a manor house, was within walking distance of Layer Wood, and every NL book describes its beautiful flowers, free for the picking. Granted, they were usually picked for bouquets, not for candied petals!

message 34: by Sylvia (last edited Feb 20, 2014 09:56PM) (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Sybilla's thoughts from Knight's Acre, chapter 11: "She had never been one for musk or attar of roses - both extortionately expensive and both used artfully to attract men - but now the lilies smelt of lovemaking. A fierce longing gripped her."

message 35: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments aaaahhhhh....

message 36: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments In Knight's Acre, chapter 14, a little flower was encouraged to grow over the makeshift grave of six intruders, who had burned down Walter's cottage around themselves. Two had escaped the fire but froze to death in the snow. "There was a little plant called Periwinkle which, given half a chance would climb and hold its bluish-mauvish open-eyed flowers to the sun; by mid-summer what had been Walter's house was pretty. And time moved on."

(view spoiler)

message 37: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments This could just as easily go in the Love's Expressions thread really....

"Around them the pale oxlips and later, the wild hyacinths spread wide pools of loveliness. Above them, the hawthorns, the crabapples and the wild roses hung their garlands. And (the lovers), hardly aware of the beauty around them, beneath flowering skies and starry trees walked as though this were Eden, and they indeed the first to discover the pleasures of love"

Those of us doing the July group read will recognise the Eden references' prescience ... sigh......

message 38: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments I echo your sigh, Barbara. A nearby passage tells us that all Hester's life, "a hawthorn hedge, bright green with young leaves, a cherry tree dazzling white, the call of the cuckoo across the cowslip pastures, was to recall the very scent and sinew of her first love." ("Hester Roon", Part II, chapter 3)

NL's lush descriptions of lovers' bowers seem to bloom the brightest in Suffolk. In Part III of "Hester Roon", on the island of Bartuma, the best description of a secretive spot is not in a tropical setting, but in the cliff rocks of Watershead. Crossing a stream, a barren hill is first strewn with stones, then "boulders, streaked with strange colours, ochre, green and mouldy blue," and at the top of the hill, two monoliths, each as tall as two men, lean together, where an almost hidden entrance opens into a room with a small rocky basin bubbling with water and spilling underground to reappear at the foot of the rocky hill. It was in this cave-like bower that Hester very nearly betrayed Philippa by kissing Ambrose, where Ambrose considered a flirtation with Hester, though his heart longed for his college friends in New England. Hester also meets the untidy, uncouth love in her future at this hilltop hideaway, and saves here the lives of her employers during a slave revolt. The plantation's secret retreat was a monument, not to passion, but to Hester's destiny.

message 39: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments And there's the hawthorn with a special significance again, though in with other things this time

message 40: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments In the last chapter of A Wayside Tavern, the concluding lineage of Gilda and Paulus of Mallow, begun in the 4th century, ends with Jill and Steve sitting on a wall among the ruins of St. Cerdic's chapel and graveyard. NL describes the "jungle" effect among the ruins, not with her usual flowers, blooming trees, and fragrant shrubs, but with weeds. "Everything that flourished in neglected places flourished here: nettles and dandelions; docks and herb robert; self-sown saplings of oak, horse-chestnut, blackberry brambles, mountain ash, acacia and laburnum, wild rose and honeysuckle."

If NL considered these to be types of weeds, she still conveyed the sweet smells surrounding the present lovers.

A few pages later, laburnum is mentioned again. During the burning of St. Cerdic's church, the heat was so intense that some of the paving stones cracked, and into a crack above the saint's burial site, now unmarked and forgotten, a laburnum seed had rooted and proliferated. NL informs us that the seeds are poisonous and were therefore connected with witches and superstitions. An offshoot from the seed rooted over St. Cerdic's bones "grew over the bit of ruined wall on which Jill and Steve were sitting." This couple had grown up together like brother and sister, never married, and until they sat on this wall, had never realized how much they loved each other. I think we may assume that St. Cerdic still had the power to change lives.

message 41: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments In the November 2014 discussion of "The Brittle Glass", in Part 2 there are several love interests. The location of the seaport Bywater, we are told, is in the county of Essex, so I was surprised to read that it, too, is in walking distance of Layer Wood. As the young clerk, Jamie Brooke, walks along the wooded path, watching for Sorrel but hoping for Marian, he describes the sights and smells. "It was a year of blossom. All about Bywater the lilacs and laburnums massed their purple and dripped their gold; every little garden brimmed over with wallflowers, lilies, roses. And out beyond Layer Wood, before we turned along the lane, we could look out over the valley, where the Lower Road ran, and there were little snug farmhouses, set amongst hayfields white with ox-eye daisies, and young corn, green, with blue paths where the wind brushed it, and every ditch creaming with meadowsweet."

Thank you, Norah Lofts, for another brilliant word painting!

message 42: by Barbara (last edited Nov 07, 2014 10:45PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 2132 comments I know , of course , that these descriptions are idyllic beyond belief and that rural UK can be quite unwelcoming ( especially in late winter for eg when you can't believe how long it's been since summer)
But oh how nostalgic it makes me - 'every ditch creaming with meadowsweet'. That is just how it was in my long ago rural UK childhood....
Thank you NL and Sylvia .

message 43: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments So welcome, Barbara. Following this passage there was mention of the cuckoo calls, which NL often mentions, and I looked up a recording of the common cuckoo from a British collection. It sounded just like I expected, a very sweet sound.

I also looked up the sound of the nightingale. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says it has a sharp, discordant sound (if I'm remembering correctly, but I thought it sounded very sweet as well.

In the above passage, NL also mentions "the blue paths" made by the brushing wind, a beautiful contrast.

message 44: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments Sylvia wrote: "...I also looked up the sound of the nightingale. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says it has a sharp, discordant sound (if I'm remembering correctly, but I thought it sounded very sweet as well.

Yes, the nightingale is a byword for beautiful singing - it was the lark that Juliet was complaining about.

It was their wedding night and she had been talking about nightingales, trying to persuade Romeo that the lark he could hear singing was actually a nightingale, ie it was still dark and he needn't go yet. However she's eventually persuaded that it is indeed a lark and she says what a horrible noise it is (even though a lark's song is also pretty) because it means that Romeo really has got to go.

message 45: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments Thanks, Jenny. I remember her lines now. So touching. Now I'll go look for the song of the lark.

message 46: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments Do you know Ralph Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending?
You Tube video here

message 47: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (sylviab) | 1361 comments I was not familiar with it, Jenny. Thanks for the link. It is a lovely piece. Some of the postings said that it is very evocative of the English countryside.

message 48: by Katharine (last edited Nov 13, 2014 11:32AM) (new)

Katharine Edgar | 21 comments I grew up in rural Essex in the 1970s and 80s and there was nothing like the wealth of wild flowers that Norah Lofts describes. Now, in Yorkshire, they are everywhere. I only realised a few years ago that it's because I grew up at a time when hedgerows and verges were being sprayed indiscriminately with weedkillers and pesticides, and now this has ended, the flowers have come back.
I think the detailed awareness of flowers is yet another way that Norah Lofts' upbringing on a farm feeds into her writing.
Sylvia, I LOVE that detail about the paving stones cracking during the church burning and the laburnum rooting itself. It's characteristic of the effortless way she blends historical events into her portrayal of the world around you.
By the way, I blogged a very easy recipe for candied rose petals last summer. It's probably bad form to link my own blog in a post about Norah Lofts but there's a link in my profile if anyone's interested.

message 49: by Jenny (new)

Jenny H (jenny_norwich) | 398 comments I believe it's the fertilisers as much as anything - I heard that most wild flowers flourish in poor soil and that it tends to be only cow parsley, nettles, ragwort and so on that can make good use of fertilisers, or at least better use than many others, that then get crowded out.

message 50: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (peggy908) | 893 comments Katharine, thanks for sharing the info about the candied rose petals on your blog. Sounds like a fun project for next summer.

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