Geoff Sinclair’s Home and Away Games: Round 2


Sunday, April 4th, Etihad Stadium

Essendon versus Fremantle

I roll onto my back, drugged with sleep.  Somewhere away in the distance there is a complaining creak such as a fold-down bed would make.  I extend my arm and let it drop across a hump of sheets and blankets, accumulated during a restless night, and let it rest on Linda.  I wait for her to stir, to moan sleepily, and guide my hand to where she wants it to rest.  I turn and spoon myself into her shape, and feel my arousal grow  . . .

An alarm beeps annoyingly from the front of the house, and I come to.  I lie still, subsiding, as I trace the sounds of my sister-in-law getting ready for netball training – water splashing in her bathroom, a wardrobe door swishing a couple of times, a drawer scraping and thumping closed, runners squelching on the kitchen lino and plates clattering.  I stare at the nicotine-coloured water stain on the ceiling, trying to turn it into Jonesy’s face, until the front door closes with a glassy rattle.

I unkink my neck.  If it’s Saturday morning – and I’m damn sure it is by now – I know I need to get out of Melbourne, to say thank you and farewell to 32 Lilac Street, Bundoora, and escape the clutches of The Mini-Mob.  I feel disappointed in myself, and when this happens my usual approach is to get the hell out of wherever I am.  My impulse to do my civic duty, to come to the aid of a pretty young girl in silk pyjamas and in the process make Huntleigh Mews a safer place for the middle-class wankers who live there, turned sour because of my unnecessarily aggressive incident response – as they say in official circles.  I was in full control until Mr Skin-and-Bones lashed out with his smelly sneaker.

Which reminds me.  I wrinkle my nose, then give the bridge the touch test.  It hurts, but it’s not broken.

The police will probably want me to make a statement.  (Been there, done that on numerous occasions.)  They will type “Schofield, Peter James” and my date of birth into their computer, and scroll down my list of priors.  Eyebrows will rise.  Their new entry will read something like, unnecessary violence in apprehending home invader, causing brain damage.

My reunion mates will be thinking, once a dickbrain with an inclination for violence, always a dickbrain etc etc.

I have already sown the seed of my departure.  Yesterday, I told Kylie and the crew that I was thinking of leaving.  At lunch, before setting off to the reunion – pizza rolls followed by fruit salad and chocolate chip ice cream, provided by my good self – I announced that I felt it was time I headed back to my little house on the prairie and took up farming duties again.  Eight weeks as a guest in anyone’s home was quite long enough.  Everyone accepted the news without actually cheering.  Kylie sighed and put on a good impression of being surprised and disappointed.  Her latest live-in boyfriend, whom I had dubbed Norm the Nazi after being in his company for a full minute, nodded thoughtfully, probably weighing up the consequences.  (On the plus side, he hates my guts, on the debit side he may have to get off his fat freckle and do something around the house.  Like clean the toilet, if he knows how.)  Kylie’s twin teenagers, the Goth Girls, smiled sweetly through their purple lipstick.  They were probably disappointed, in a perverse sort of a way.  They had been having the time of their lives with me.  When they found out my nickname was Rabbit – Kylie’s fault, a slip-up one night after a few wines – a lot of rabbit-mimicking behaviour started happening.  We had several incidents of hopping down the passage with hands resting under the chin, pushing front teeth out from behind gums at meal times, attaching frilly items to backsides to look like fluffy tails, and lots of what’s up doc? mutterings.

They’re fun kids, and I’ll be glad not to see them again for ten years.

The Mob.  Well, what of the Mob?  Why would a bunch of odd-bods like this suddenly start hanging out together?  Bulldog Nankervis came to Beaumont when I was in Year 11 to teach English at the high school.  He was a basketballer, pretty good by all accounts, but because he didn’t fancy the long drive to the nearest decent competition, he took up Aussie Rules instead.  Geoffrey Jones was the licensee of the Commercial Hotel and the most successful full-forward in the football club’s hundred-year history.  (Ask him – he’ll tell you.)  He was tough, slippery, clever and as slow as a wet week, but he kicked goals.  Tommy Hubble spent ten years in the town’s only accountancy business, and coached the footy team for five years.  (He played one game of football for Essendon seniors a very long time ago.)  And me.  What about me?  I was a teenager, helping my big brother and old man work a broad-acre farm, growing grain crops in ever-diminishing quantities.  I was mad about football, and just plain mad the rest of the time.

Now we’re having a reunion.  Where’s the rest of the team?

The phone rings as I dress.  I am grateful for something to do.  I pad my way to the front of the house without rushing, because the Goth Girls won’t appear for hours yet.  It’s Tommy on the blower.  He gives me a post-mortem of last night’s game – he got there just before quarter time – including player profiles, statistics and an analysis of the coach’s performance, while I breathe my dog’s breath towards one of Kylie’s least impressive abstract prints.  I grunt every few sentences to let him know I’m connected.  Eventually he finishes with the football – temporarily –  and thanks me for apprehending the burglar.

“No worries, Tommy.”

Then there is silence.

“You there, Peter?”


“How you feeling?”

“Bugle’s a bit tender, but otherwise I’m okay.”  I don’t bother to mention my depression, acute loneliness and the feeling that life is, basically, a load of crap.

“There are a lot of positives coming out of last night’s game Peter.  A lot of positives.  The boys were really hard at it.  The forward line worries me.  Still . . . ”

“Yes, Tommy.  We might have a good year.”

“Yep, I agree.  Now, look, there’s one other matter I want to discuss with you.  How would you like to come and work at Huntleigh Mews?”

I think if I had a mirror I would see my mouth gaping like a fish, and possibly the eyes bulging, also a fish-like phenomenon.  I am that amazed I am unable to speak, but Tommy keeps on, so it doesn’t matter.

“I thought you might need a bit more time down here, you know, to find your way again.  Be tough going back to your place on your own.  Tootgaroop, or something, isn’t it.”


“Yes.  Right.  Sorry.  But . . . if you’re ready to go back, and only you know that . . . ”

I am trying really hard to process this offer.  It’s always taken me a while to get my head around fresh information, especially if it’s of a life-altering kind.


“Ah, this is all a bit of a shock, Tommy.  I haven’t even thought about staying down here, let alone, like, you know, getting employed.”

“Take your time.  The fact is, I’ve got to get someone.  I can’t handle the outside work because of this damned arthritis, but I want to stay here.  It’s a good place, interesting people, and the work’s . . . interesting.  Never a dull moment, Peter.”

“I’ll think about it .”

“Do that.  There’s a quid in it for you.”

“Doesn’t matter, for a while, anyway.  I’ve sold most of my gear.”  Then I think of something else.  “Where would I live?”

“Here, in my flat.  There’s a spare room.”

“Oh okay.  Give me some time, eh?”

“Sure, Peter.”

“By the way, before you go, what’s the bed like.”

“What bed?”

“The one I’d be on.”

“Dunno.  Never used it.  Looks perfect to me, from the outside.”

. . . / / / . . .

“Oih!  G’day.”  I have to shout over the hissing of the pressure hose.  Tommy squints through the mist and kills the jet of water.  The concrete carpark sinks back into silence.

“Peter.  Good morning.”

It’s Thursday, and my career as assistant manager (outdoor operations) at Huntleigh Mews has begun.  I decided very quickly to accept Tommy’s job offer, although I puddled around for a few days before turning thought into action.  I made a day trip up to Tallerack to check that the Carters, my neighbours, were prepared to keep looking after the place.  They were, of course, and loving it, not only because they were thoroughly decent people, but it also gave them extra feed for their stock.  It’s what I call a fair deal.  Then I chose a night when Nazi Norm was conspicuously absent, and treated Kylie and the twins to the finest Italian cuisine Bundoora had to offer as a way of saying thanks for putting me up for the last couple of months.  (Also conspicuously absent during the evening were rabbit impressions.  I guess it pays to be decent when you’re eating someone else’s food and are given the privilege of a glass of the house red when strictly speaking you’re too young to be drinking it.)  I cleaned both bathrooms for the last time, replaced the padlock on the garage, mowed both the back and front lawns and thought seriously about painting the guest room ceiling, but never quite got round to it.

So here I am, slightly late in reporting to the boss because I am now sleeping on a Cleopatra-comfortable bed in Tommy’s spare room.  But I’m here, that’s the thing, and I’m on a crash course, because Tommy wants me to have learned the ropes before Easter.  (I’m not sure why – some things are best left alone.)  Thus far, the highlights have been sweeping up several trillion autumn leaves, cleaning the barbecue that a group of loud young blokes left with globs of fat spread from arsehole to breakfast-time, checking the chemical balance of the indoor swimming pool and mopping up a splatter of vomit adjacent to the letterboxes.   As washing the wheelie bins is also going to be an important part of my portfolio – Tommy’s  wicked joke – I am about to be shown the proper technique.

The old bloke is corralled in the car wash bay surrounded by dripping bins with their wheels in the air.  His face is as pink as, and speckled with ricocheted water, his khaki overalls saturated from his broad midriff to his boots.  He has left two bins for me, for training purposes.

“Here you go,” he says, handing me the wand.

“Are we allowed to use this device under Stage 3 water restrictions, boss?”

“Down here we are.”

I give the two bins the once over, blasting them clean without once spreading the garbage remnants – vegetable peel, tissues, cigarette butts and over-ripe stone fruit mostly – beyond the confines of the bay.  It’s a first-rate performance and not entirely unexpected because I have had plenty of experience over the years, washing farm equipment with these devices.

Tommy is impressed.  “Good.”

“I think I’m ready to go solo, boss,” I say.

After we’ve replaced the bins in a dead-straight line roughly 1.5 metres from the wall, we haul the pressure hose up several flights of stairs and dump it in the storeroom.  On the way up to Tommy’s apartment, I suddenly remember something that’s been nagging away in the back of my mind – the person who asked me how many times I was going to bounce the orange-shirted burglar off the gate.  “Someone, let’s think, youngish face I reckon, not much colour in it, maybe early twenties.  Long, brown hair, a bit untidy.  Do you know who it was?”

“I didn’t see anyone like that, Peter.  Remember there’s a hundred apartments here, and on top of that there’s no law against people having visitors.”

“I’m not sure that there wasn’t a stud in the nose.  You know, in the crevice bit in the side.”

“No idea.  Why?”

“No particular reason.  Just interested.  Intrigued, you might say.”

I had also been wondering about whether Tommy was still into religion, because he was the regular pillar of the Anglican church in his Beaumont days.  Quite pious, as I recall, on the vestry and telling blokes to watch their language in the footy change rooms.  But after only a few hours with him I reckon I had my answer: football had taken over his soul.  The man lives and breathes the game.  He reads every word in every newspaper, checks the Essendon website every day, sends emails to the coach offering advice, studies the injury lists of the other clubs like other people study the stock market.  He’s into a tipping competition run by one of the newspapers, and his ambition is to beat the panel of experts and have his dial published in the paper.  He’s even warned me that he watches The Footy Show on television, which puts him very firmly in the desperado category, to my way of thinking.

So a couple of days disappear like dust up my vacuum cleaner’s nozzle.  It’s Thursday, and Tommy has planned a big night in for him and me to watch the Brisbane Lions play Carlton on the television, the first in a four-day Easter extravaganza of AFL footy.  Actually, I was thinking of cruising some of the night spots in the area – there are about million of them at a rough guess – but I mind my manners, and me and the coach work our way through a couple of pizzas and a few beers.  We’re waiting for controversial Brendan Fevola to do something controversial, but nothing happens except he kicks three goals for Brisbane.

The phone rings just before half-time, with the Brisbane Lions in control, courtesy of Carlton’s over-use of the football and abysmal finishing – three goals and eleven behinds to the Blue Baggers.  I take the call, because Tommy’s ducked out to change a light globe somewhere, making clucking noises on the way out the door like he’s totally annoyed.  The call is from the lady tenant in Unit 77.  She is seriously stressed.  Her voice is like high-tensile fencing wire, and all because her toilet won’t flush.

It’s my first emergency call-out.  I’m excited – I’m breaking new ground here.  I grab my own personal set of keys which in only two days has grown to an important-looking bundle, and set out for Unit 77.

I find it after only two wrong turns.  The woman who responds to my knock on her door is about my age, although I am a notoriously poor judge of women’s ages.  She has lots of mostly jet-black hair, quite a head of it, except at the front where there’s a slash of brilliant white.  You’d almost think she’d got her head in the way of a squirt of some toxic substance (weed killer?), or a massive bird, like an albatross, has dropped a bomb on her.  It’s distinctive, I’ll say that much, even to the point where I hardly notice the rest of her – black tank top and tights, and around her middle a tiny little bit of a skirt with purple swirls.

We introduce ourselves – her name’s Cabrini I think – but she’s not really interested in me, I can tell.  Her mind is on her toilet.  I could be her dead grandmother returned from the grave, and she wouldn’t have cared, so long as I can fix her dunny.  Before I go in to her apartment, I offer to take off my shoes – part of Tommy’s protocol advice – but she brushes that idea away with a wave of her hand.

Now, at this point, I remind myself of other aspects of Tommy’s orientation programme.  He told me that what goes on inside the one hundred odd flats at Huntleigh Mews is, strictly speaking, none of our concern, provided it is between consenting adults.  (I’ve discovered already that Tommy’s jokes are pretty predicable.)  There are exceptional circumstances, however, such as fires, floods or – nodding knowingly at me – burglaries.  Or if you think someone is seriously ill, or indeed may have passed away.  Or is engaging in domestic violence.  Or violence of a non-domestic nature.  So, while I am following the lady up her narrow stairs, which is not an unpleasant experience in itself, I decide that a faulty toilet is an emergency.  (I have also been told to use my initiative.)  A person has a right to a functioning toilet; indeed, there’s a half-remembered fact from school floating around in my head, something about Manilow’s hierarchy of needs.  I reckon there were about five of them, and I’m pretty sure a dunny that worked was one of them.

She is talking non-stop is Cabrini, giving me a daily account of the behaviour of her toilet.  On Tuesday it worked in the morning but not in the evening; the next day it was okay, but refused to flush in the middle of the night; yesterday it was perfect, now it simply won’t work at all.  All the time I’ve been going “Hmm” and “Okay” as though I’m familiar with toilets that behave this way.  Regular bastards.

We arrive at the bathroom, and she points an accusing finger at the villain.

Now, I know the basic operation of a cistern – who doesn’t? – but in this case I don’t even have to call on first principles, because all I do is take the top off, push and pull the slimy mechanism a few times, and look out! there’s a hiss of incoming water.

“There you go,” I say casually.  I mutter something about this particular model being prone to jamming, and the floatation device looking like it was restricted, in fact it’s a floatation valve strictly speaking, but in the later models, this has been rectified.  Hmm.  The configuration of the newer ones is, er, different.  Altogether.

We both stare at the cistern until the hissing stops.  I check the water level, replace the lid, and press the button.  To my amazement, it flushes, refills, and stops.  Flush, refill, stop.

Magic.  Peter the Plumber.

The lady in black is much happier now.  She lets out a hearty sigh and squeezes my arm in gratitude.  You’d think I’d rescued her from a burning building, but I’m not complaining.  She insists I stay for a drink, so downstairs I sit in a plush armchair fronting a glass-top coffee table shaped like a kidney while she pours me a wine.  She places my glass on a coaster that has a photograph of the head of a Collingwood footballer.  I lift my glass, and there’s Dale Thomas, who’s obviously has had something serious done to his hair just prior to the photo – it couldn’t be that untidy on its own.

We touch glasses, and I say, “Here’s to trouble-free toilets.”

She smiles, and offers the same toast.

“You probably should ring your agent next time.  They’ll get a plumber.”

“Yes, I should.”  We look at each other.  She’s totally relaxed now the cistern is behaving itself.  “But it’s nice to meet the manager.  I thought the older chap, shortish . . . ”

“That’s Tommy, he’s still the boss.  I’ve been installed as his assistant.”

“Installed eh.”  She smiles.  She has a fine set of pearly whites and full lips.  “That sounds permanent.”

“Who knows.”

I pick up my damp coaster.  “You’re a Magpie supporter?”

She nods, really intensely, as if I’d asked whether Jesus Christ or Buddha was her saviour.  She has worked up a terribly serious look on her face.  “Yes, I’ve been a Magpie since before I was born.”  There you go – she’s outed herself.

“Really.  I barrack for Essendon.”

We sip in a momentary silence.  I think Essendon might have been a dirty word.

“I love footy.  But I should tell you, I hate Essendon. They’re my number one team to hate.”

“Really.  Why?”

“Probably because where I work they’re all Essendon, and they’re . . . you know . . . in your face about it all the time.  And the place before was really bad, too.”

“Okay.  Well, I hate Collingwood because it was the way I was brought up.”

“Oh god, was it part of your education?”

“Sort of.  Not in school, but the family situation.  My informal education, so to speak.”

I feel a little of the pre-buggered-cistern tension has returned, so I do the only decent thing and ask how she feels about her team’s unexpected win over the Western Bulldogs last weekend.  Well, the lady needs no second asking.  First I get an earful about their imports, Darren Jolly and Luke Ball, then she moves on to the “revitalised” Paul Medhurst, a “reformed” Alan Didak, the “remarkable” Leon Davis and the gorgeous Leigh Brown.  The floodgates are open now: Cabrini thinks the Magpies are a real chance to steal the premiership this year, and there’s a drawn-out speech as to how she’s arrived at this conclusion.  She goes on and on.  She could easily be on Collingwood’s match committee she knows so much.  The team’s pre-season had been “awesome” and they have gone under the radar – no-one noticed them, because the spotlight was on the Bulldogs.

“And we beat them,” she says, flicking her fingers through the white slash.  “God we were good.  But I feel sorry for them.  I like the Bulldogs.  They’re my second side.”

How delightfully condescending.  But I say nothing – I’m much less abrasive these days.

The whole Magpie expose takes two-and-a-half glasses of wine.  We’re well into the second bottle already, which is good because the first bottle had been opened yesterday I reckon, and was stale.

We do get onto topics other than football.  In fact, by the time I feel it is time to go, I’ve given her a fair whack of my life story, including Linda’s passing last year.  It doesn’t worry me though, that I might have spilt my guts to a virtual stranger.  Some people are like that, and you don’t realise it at the time, but they just get you talking.  Plus I do find out a bit about her:  her parents are Greek, she was born in Flemington 39 years ago and she teaches at a dance studio in Richmond.  Greek dancing?  No, ballroom.

I check the toilet before I leave, and it’s operating as smooth as a baby’s bottom.  I do have a tiny peek into the bedroom while I’m in the vicinity, and I’m not surprised to see the bed is covered in a black-and-white-striped doona, and there are magpie emblems on the pillows.  This lady is a Collingwood tragic.  Really nice, though.

In the stairwell, we peck each others’ cheeks, and she says we must do coffee together.  I tell her I’d love to, and she takes my arm and says, with a huge smile on her dial, “Peter, my name’s Labrini, with an “L”.  Cabrini is the hospital.”  We laugh, I apologise and I skip down the stairs like a kid.

In the manager’s apartment, there’s no sign of Tommy, and it’s only ten-thirty.  He must have got talking to someone.  I flick the television on to find out that Carlton got ahead by 11 points in the third quarter – they had  a seven-goal quarter – but Brisbane’s miracle man, Jonathan Brown dragged the home team to victory.

All this footy excitement took place while I was drinking wine with a woman named Labrini.

. . . / / / . . .

Easter Sunday.  It takes forever to arrive.

As Tommy and me exit the Huntleigh Mews gate to walk to the football, we step straight into a procession.  It’s the folk from the church just up the road – their name is on their banner – and they’re dressed in religious gear, robes, with dressing-gown cords around their middles.  Most are either bare-footed or wear sandals and one or two have crowns of thorns on their heads.  (I hope they’re plastic.)  We stand back against the fence respectfully, and most of the believers give us a shy little smile or nod as they walk by, chanting something which sounds like Latin.  The procession thins out pretty quickly, and Tommy and I tag along in the slipstram, walking a few streets with two women using walking sticks.  We part company at the first big intersection, Victoria Street.

“They go around the block a few times,” says Tommy, as we quicken our pace.  “I clean forgot about them.”

“It was a good omen, d’you reckon?” I suggest.

On the way to the ground, Tommy paints a grim picture of our chances of beating Fremantle.  They beat Adelaide in the first round when they weren’t supposed to, and Adelaide are expected to be in the top four.  They’ve got a rookie called Michael Barlow who took last week’s game by storm: he had 33 possessions.  He was number five in the rookie draft and he’s a champion.  Anthony Morabito, an early draft pick for Freo, also played a super game.  They’ve got a huge ruckman in Aaron Sandilands and there’s . . . ”

“Harry, we had heaps of good players last week.  Leave it will you.”

“Well, it’s going to be tough for the Bombers . . . ”

“Don’t talk.  Just walk.”

We meet the others in the bar at Docklands.  Twenty years hasn’t changed the way we dress or, probably, the way we think.  Jonesy is as snappily dressed as you’d expect a millionaire to be, his eyes darting this way and that, as though he’s looking for an opportunity to unload a few cases of premium wine before the game starts.  Bulldog Nankervis is in earthy op-shop brown shirt and trousers and makes do with a Bomber cap for identification.  (It’s brand new and the peak hides lot of his face, but his nephew gave it to him.)  Tommy’s wearing an Outwear Bomber jacket and a scarf, despite the fact that it’s a mild day, he’s downed several beers in quick time and he’s that nervous you’d think he was the coach.  (He probably thinks he should be.  I wonder if Matthew Knights has read his emails.)  His face is as pink as, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he spontaneously combusted.  I’m in stylishly faded jeans and a new Bomber shirt, and I’m that excited I’ve been to the toilet twice already.

“Glad you could make it today, Rabbit,” Jonesy says, as we take our seats.

It’s my first game for at least five years, and Jonesy – the prick – has got superb seats for us.  The only problem is an Essendon supporter sitting behind me who has not stopped criticising the team since I sat down.  He’s slagging off the coach, telling his mate he’s too young for the job.

I try to ignore him.  I’m just about jumping out of my skin with excitement.  I barrack football like I dance: on the inside.  I don’t yell out, abuse the umpire, get involved in chants, get into arguments with opposition supporters, none of that exhibitionist stuff.  I’m a seething, writhing bundle of nerves.  I must be taking years off my life, or at the very least setting myself up for cancer or a brain tumor.

It turns out to be a messy first quarter.  The Bombers look to me to be having most of the play, but we can’t kick goals.  Our defence fumbles; the Freo champion Pavlich takes three marks inside fifty, but doesn’t shoot for goal, thank goodness; my boy Howlett had heaps of the ball; Gumbleton, our forward who’s been out injured for five years, takes a huge mark and goals; Aaron Sandilands, Freo’s ruckman, is a man mountain.  We finish the quarter up two points up.

Now the bloke behind me is slagging off Matthew Lloyd, our former champion forward, because he retired too early.  The guy thinks he’s weak, because he should still be playing.  I turn around and glare at him.  We make serious eye contact.

“I’ll say something to him,” I say to Tommy.

“Just watch the football, Peter.”

The second quarter is more of the same.  It stays a messy game.  We dominate, but still goals are scarce.  Adam McPhee, who crossed to Freo from us, is not popular and when he misses a set shot for goal dead in front the crowd goes berserk with boos.  It goes goal for goal, and we end up four points up at half-time.

I look for the bloke behind me as everyone stretches and starts eating and drinking, but he’s gone.  Thank goodness.  Tommy has been writing in the goal scorers in his Footy Record like we did when we were kids.  He shows me.  I’m not interested.

Bulldog and Jonesy have gone to the bar.

The third quarter is a disaster.  Fremantle flog us all over the ground.  They kick three goals to one in the first fifteen minutes and quite frankly, the writing is on the wall.  We don’t have a forward line.  There’s no-one up there to kick us a goal.  They are 16-8 inside fifty which is disaster in anyone’s language.  We finish the quarter 9 points down, but I don’t know why it’s not 9 goals.

Tommy and I haven’t got much to say to each other.  He is hissing his deep sighs and scribbling stuff into his Football Record.  Probably preparing an email to the coach – whoever that might be.

The last quarter starts, and Freo kick a couple straight away.  I decide to get drunk tonight.

Grundy kicks the goal of the century for Freo and we’re 21 points down 10 minutes into the last quarter and Tommy and I exchange meaningful glances.  Another Freo goal and I exchange a forlorn glance with Bulldog and Jonesy.  I give the bloke behind me the stare, but he’s not even prepared to make eye contact.  Another goal, making it 33 points down, and I don’t bother to glance at anyone.

Another goal, Pavlich this time.  39 points down.

Another goal, Sandilands this time.  45 points down.

We have been flogged, and Tommy and the Mob just stand there, annihilated, while the P.A. belts out the Fremantle song.

Freo, heave ho!

Freo, heave ho!

Give ’em all the old

Freo heave ho!

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