Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Long Weekend in London: Part 1











It's always a pleasure visiting London, but each and every time I do, I have a list of things I'd like to see, do and eat that is as long as my arm - if not longer. It's one of those places that is permanently buzzing with activity and newness, and I suspect that even for those who live there, it's difficult to keep up. There are the pop up shops and the new restaurants, and then there are the up-and-coming areas that two years ago, no one would have set fut in. It's forever changing and evolving, and that's just one of the many reasons I love it.

Last weekend, we headed up for a long weekend, the first night of which was to be spent staying with friends. Upon our arrival into London, we headed straight for their place, and after a good catch up and plenty of tea, we decided to take a trip down to London fields and Broadway market. This was a first for me, and in spite of the biting chill in the air it was a joy to walk the narrow streets, taking in the sights, sounds and smells. There was vintage clothing and home-cooked food, and it was tempting to empty my purse right there and then. After a meander down to the end of the market, stopping to browse the stalls and sample homemade veggie scotch eggs and oysters, we ducked into a nearby pub for a glass of prosecco and the hance to warm ourselves up. There was a one man band putting on a fantastic show on his double bass, and despite the fact that it was still only around 3pm, most people were entirely on board, drinking, dancing and having fun.

After a while, we decided to head back to the flat and prepare ourselves for the night ahead, and it was there that I was met my the best of surprises - another of my friends was visiting from Manchester, and they had all kept it under wraps just to see the look on my face. It's very rare that we all get to see each other, so suffice to say, it must have been a good one.

That evening, we went for tapas in Stoke Newington at a restaurant called ....., washing them down with yet more prosecco, before heading to a nearby pub for more drinks and games. The plan was to end up at a club called Oslo, but our luck was out that night as we arrived to find it wasn't open to the public. The result? Much walking around, looking for somewhere to go. Eventually, we found a jazz bar and popped in for a drink or two, but the cold had been a bit much for us all, so we soon decided to call it a night.

The next day, after an amazing cooked breakfast courtesy of our hosts, we packed up our bags and travelled across London to the London Premier Notting Hill hotel, where we had booked in for two nights to celebrate our anniversary. I've found that although London hotels can be really pricey and a quick search of Booking.com can turn up nothing affordable, it's well worth scouring the site a few times in the lead-up to your planned trip, as they do sometimes drop when you least expect it.
The Premier Notting Hill is a four star, but we got it for a really good price - if you've got a trip on the horizon then keep an eye out, as I'll be reviewing the hotel soon.

After checking in and dropping off our bags, we took a walk down to Portobello Road and perused the market stalls, taking in the beautiful vintage crockery and Banksy artwork and once again trying not to open our wallets. I could spend hours wandering round the London markets, and it's another case of never getting to do them all. There are just so many to choose from, and I love the variety they offer. There's a certain charm about them that is so much more than you could ever get from simply walking down the high street.

We stopped off at a pub and ordered a Bloody Mary for me and a pint of cider for him - we were both in need of a hair of the dog after the night we'd had, and a charcuterie and cheese board was just the job to accompany our drinks.

In the evening, we decided to head for Shoreditch, but unfortunately it was easier said than done due to the fact that it was a Sunday evening and several of the tube lines were being worked on. Eventually, we figured out that we'd have to get to Liverpool Street and walk from there, but we ended up getting completely lost in the freezing cold night. Before long, I began to notice that there were a lot of Indian restaurants around, and suddenly cottoned onto the fact that we were actually on  Brick Lane - I remembered it from last time, but it definitely wasn't where we had been heading for! We actually relied quite heavily on an app called Citymapper while we were away, and for the most part it is excellent - all you have to do is pop in your current location and where you'd like to go, and it'll map out a route for you, telling you how you can get there by bus, tube, car and on foot. It was pretty much our saviour, but there were times when it wasn't quite up to date with the goings on with that day, which did throw a spanner in the works once or twice.

Eventually, we did find Shoreditch, and we decided to walk on to Hoxton and have dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant called Cyclo. We shared sweet potato and prawn fritters to start, both opting for a monkfish dish for mains, and all of it was delicious - not to mention surprisingly affordable.
Once we'd finished, we headed into The Shoreditch to make the most of happy hour (actually, it went on all night), before finally ending up in a little club called Cargo where we danced and laughed until we had no energy left. We managed to get a night bus home, and fell straight asleep when we got in - if there's one thing that's a certainty about London, it is that is has the power to exhaust anyone in a day or so!

I've got lots more photos of the trip, and another couple of days to share, but rather than make this post any lengthier I'll leave the rest for another day this week. There aren't any night time photos in this one, as I didn't fancy carrying my decent camera around that late, but I did take plenty of snaps on my phone, which will come in an Instagram updates blog post at the weekend.

What are your favourite London haunts? I'm always keen to get recommendations, as there are just so many options that it's often difficult to know where to go!

xx


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Olivia Burton Rose Gold Watch

Olivia-Burton-rose-gold-navy-watch

Just a short and sweet one today, I'm afraid, as I'm off to London this morning to spend a few days visiting friends and soaking up the sights and sounds, as you do. Judging by the weather forecast, we would have been hard pushed to choose a worse weekend to go, as there are severe weather warnings all over London for the next few days. But hey - we'll make the best of it. I'm really looking forward to some tapas and drinks with some of my best girls, and a couple of nights in a plush hotel (you really can find some great deals if you don't mind spending hours shopping around!), and it's our anniversary over the weekend too, so we will be celebrating that. I'm taking my new camera with me in the hope that I'll manage to get lots of lovely snaps, but I'm still getting to grips with it - take this image, for example, which is not nearly as in focus as it looked on the screen itself before I uploaded it onto the computer. Sigh.

Anyway, getting to the point of this post, which is to introduce you to my favourite new accessory..

I received this beautiful rose gold Olivia Burton watch for Christmas after having pined after the entire collection for longer than I care to remember. The thing about Olivia Burton watches is that every single design is beautiful, so choosing the right one is no easy task. The one thing I was always sure of,however, is that I definitely wanted a large, rose gold face, and in the end I plumped for this one, which has a navy blue leather strap. My thinking was that this one is perfect for the current season, as I do tend to wear darker hues in the Winter. Come summertime, however, I'll probably want to change things up a bit, so it's the ideal excuse for starting a collection! I have already spotted a mint pastel strap that, when paired with the rose gold face, will pretty much make up my perfect warm weather watch, and after that? Who knows.

If you'd like to have a look at the selection of Olivia Burton watches, then ASOS have some great ones. Most are only £95, which I think is a fantastic price for such a good quality, attractive timepiece.

I'm not sure that I'll have the chance to post again before Tuesday, so until then.

Have a great weekend.

xx

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: Achieving Big Hair with Bumble & Bumble Pret-a-Powder

Bumble-and-Bumble-Pret-a-Powder-hair-volumising

While many of you may brandish the straightening irons on a daily basis, my days of sleek, smooth locks are long gone. I'm not saying that every day is a bad hair day - though I definitely have my fair share of those - but that nowadays, I'd much rather plump for bouncy, voluminous hair with a bit of a wave or a curl.

Achieving lasting volume is no mean feat. Over the years, I've tried root-boosting sprays, mousses and powders alike, but the goal has never quite been in easy reach. Many of them - much like my hair - fell flat, leaving my hair limp and crispy with product. Or worse still, they left me with greasy-looking locks, despite having just stepped out of the shower. The closest I ever came to success was the TreSemme plumping powder, which when sprinkled into the roots and rubbed in, gave me the big hair I'd always dreamed of. It wasn't long, however, until my hair began to feel sticky and greasy, so much so that I'd race straight to the shower each evening after work to wash it out. So, it's fair to say that when the Bumble & Bumble Pret-a-Powder came onto my radar, I wasn't exactly racing to Boots, eager to join the queue.

Months later, things changed, and after hearing a torrent of complimentary conversations about the hair powder, I finally caved and bought it.

Bumble & Bumble Pret-a-Powder claims to be equal parts dry shampoo, style extender and volume, which immediately sets it apart from the other hair powders on the market. Priced at £21.50 for 56g, it's far from cheap, but given that you get the benefits of oil absorbency and volume all in one, it's a product that's worth a few moments of any beauty lover's time. If, like me, you are still putting off learning to blow dry your hair properly, or like most of us, you simply don't have the time, then Pret-a-Powder will be your best friend, adding extra oomph to lacklustre locks, and filling in the gaps between washes. 

To use, I sprinkle liberally through my roots and massage in with my fingertips, and hey presto, big hair is mine. You can use a fair amount of product before you start to look as though you've been antiqued, which means that you can go a little bit crazy in your bid for extra oomph, should your style require it.

While I don't find the volume this provides to last all day per-se, all it takes is a quick scrunch of the roots to get things looking as they should again. I tend to do this several times throughout the day, and never find it necessary to apply any more product once my hair is styled. Pret-a-Powder does an excellent job of freshening up day-old hair, and I keep a bottle in my handbag for those moments when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror and have a sudden urge to run home and start again.

In spite of the price, this has become a hair-styling staple for me, and although the bottle is a little bit on the small side, it seems to last a remarkably long time. It's ideal for anyone with oily, fine or lacklustre hair, and it definitely gets the seal of approval from me.

What are your favourite volumising products? Are there any other Bumble & Bumble products you can't live without?

xx

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Winter Fragrance Line-Up: Jo Malone and YSL

Winter-fragrance-Jo Malone-Pomegranate Noir-Blackberry and Bay-YSL-Black Opium

I'm the sort of person who will find a fragrance I like, and hold onto it with both hands. In the past, I've had certain perfumes that I would spritz on month in, month out, without giving the season a second thought. There was a time when Ana Sui's Dolly Girl would see me through the entire calendar, no questions asked, before eventually being replaced with the likes of Escada's Rockin' Rio, and DKNY Be Delicious after that. Of course, I have moved onto some more sophisticated fragrances since the early days, but the basics of what I like in a scent have remained the same. I've always been one for a fruity fragrance - juicy, and just sweet enough, but never sickly or overpowering.

Last winter, I finally treated myself to a perfume I had had my eye on for an age: Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir. I had fallen into the habit of awaiting birthdays or Christmas in order to replenish my fragrance collection, so much so that buying one for myself was almost out of the question. With the exception of duty free shopping, that is but I have never yet stumbled across some of the brands I now tend to gravitate towards when browsing pre-holiday.

Pomegranate Noir was one of those perfumes I just knew I would love, to the point that I was happy to order it online and face the consequences. Thankfully, my judgement had been spot on, and it continues to be my all-time favourite winter scent. The fragrance professes to combine the 'ruby rich juices of pomegranate, raspberry and plum' with pink pepper, Casablanca lily and spicy woods. Now, putting scents and aromas into words has never been my strong point, but Pomegranate Noir certainly does scream rich, juicy winter fruits. In fact, the best way I can describe it is to say that it smells just like mulled wine. You've got the hint of cloves and cinnamon in there, and a subtle woodiness that is reminiscent of November bonfires.  A sophisticated fragrance for all occasions, for me it is simply perfection in a bottle.

More recently, I added another Jo Malone offering to my repertoire of fragrances, and this time, it was Blackberry and Bay that made the cut. Once again, I was confident enough to order online, and once again, my selection didn't disappoint. A 'vibrant and verdant' scent that conjures up images of blackberry picking in the forest, this is tart and juicy, yet simultaneously woody and green. It's a lovely alternative to your typical winter perfumes, but it does have a surprising sweetness about it. Not in the sugary sense, but it is perhaps slightly more floral than I would have expected.

The most recent addition to my shelf, however,  has been the lovely Yves Saint Laurent Black Opium. I must admit, this was not a perfume that had yet appeared on my radar, so it was a complete surprise when I unwrapped it at Christmas after receiving it as a little extra from my husband. Thankfully, though, surprises often lead to the best discoveries, and this was definitely one.
Black Opium is a sweet and spicy vanilla-based fragrance, which is also said to contain hints of black coffee and white florals. Personally, I can't detect the coffee, which is probably a bit of a relief, but there is a certain but very subtle bitterness in there somewhere, concealing itself beneath the ever-so-sweet top notes. This is quite a sugary scent compared to the others, but again, it isn't overpowering and the longevity once applied is excellent. Add to that the beautifully sparkly bottle it comes presented in, and it has to be a winter winner for me.

So there you have it, my winter fragrance line-up in all its glory.  Do you have any favourite perfumes for the colder months?

Have you tried anything from Jo Malone? Let me know which scents are your favourites, as I am forever browsing the website looking for my next 'must have'.

xx

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Health Files: Tips and tricks for eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle


      Making new year's resolutions is a great way to wipe the slate clean and begin to introduce some positive new habits into your life, but traditionally, come February 1st, the resolve you strode into January so full of has dwindled to almost nothing.

Often, our resolutions can prove harder to maintain than we might have imagined, and it only takes one bad day to have you taking a detour to the nearest shop as you head home from work,  in search of that emergency bar of chocolate. A huge part of the problem, in my eyes, is the approach that many of us take to achieving our goals - leaping in head-first with a complete lack of forethought. It might be tempting to think that you can change your entire life overnight, but realistically, it's unsustainable.

One thing I have learned the hard way is that you need to create your own support network if you really want to succeed. I'm not talking friends, but rather, looking at what needs to be done in order to give yourself the best possible chance of success, and putting measures in place before you begin to provide support as you go.

It's never an easy feat, but there's no such thing as can't. I've fallen off the wagon all too many time myself in the past, but I have slowly learned that the best way to achieve your goals is to be your own biggest cheerleader, and let go of the self-sabotage. We are all guilty of it, and it does us no favours at all.

Today, I wanted to share with you some of the handy tip and tricks I have picked up along the way - tips that I have found work for me, and ones that I hope will have us all waving out 2015 with a smile of satisfaction on our faces.

Here goes.

1. Plan and prep your meals for the week


Knowing what you're going to be eating for the days ahead helps you to stay focussed and prevents situations where you might find yourself reaching for a less than healthy option simiply because nothing else is available. Ensure that your fridge is always stocked with a selection of fresh fruit and vegetables, and fill your cupboards with staple foods such as quinoa and brown rice. Spend a couple of hours cooking up some one-pot meals on a Sunday, these can be stored in the fridge and dipped into as needed throughout the week. I tend to do this for lunches, so that all I have to do each evening is pop a portion into a plastic container along with some fresh salad, and grab it on my way out the next morning.



2. Be prepared


To give yourself the best possible chance of maintaining your healthy lifestyle, ensure that you are prepared for every eventuality. Pop your gym gear in the washing machine after each session, and make sure that it is dried and packed into your gym bag before you go to sleep. If you exercise after a day at work, then make sure you keep the necessaries in the car so that you can head straight to the gym, as often, coming home and sitting down will mean that you are far less likely to get back up again!

In term of eating, number 1 will have already tarted you off on the right foot, but it's a good idea to make sure that you always have some healthy snacks close at hand so that you're never tempted to reach for that chocolate bar. Empty your desk drawer of anything that might pose a risk to your eating plan, and instead, fill it with nutritious and low sugar alternatives. I keep bags of mixed nuts, sachets of miso oup, gluten-free oatcakes and Nak'd bars in mine.

3. Include complex carbs in your lunch


A sure-fire way to fall off the wagon is to deprive yourself completely of energy-providing carbohydrates. Cut out the white, refined baddies such as white bread, rice and pasta, as these are of little nutritional value and will cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar. All very well if you're after a quick energy hit, but it is soon followed by a crash and will leave you feeling lethargic and sleepy for the afternoon. Instead, replace them with high-protein grains which provide complex carbs and a slower stream of energy. Quinoa and bulgar wheat are both good options, as well as daily staple of mine. Alternatively, try sweet potato - I roast a few in tin foil in the oven each Sunday, and keep them in the fridge until needed.

4. Have a green smoothie every morning


The majority of us lead busy lives, and it can be difficult to find the time to ensure that you're getting your five a day. One of the best solutions, I have found, is to drink a green smoothie for breakfast each day. Every evening, I throw a handful of kale or spinach in the blender, along with a selection of berries, a spoonful of wheatgrass powder, some ginger, and some flaxseed or chia, and whizz them up, ready for the following day. The Blend Active has to be one of my best purchases, as you simply attach the blade to the flask provided, replacing it with a lid once done. It's a quick and easy way to make and store a smoothie until you need it, and saves on the washing up, too.
If I fancy something a bit more filling, I'll add some avocado to my smoothie, or sometimes I'll pop in some banana and a spoonful of almond butter.

5. Swap coffee for green tea


There's no excuse not to like green tea these days, as with the multitude of flavours now available on the market, there is something to suit even the fussiest of tastes. Personally, I gave up coffee some while ago after realising it exacerbated the anxiety I was suffering from at the time, and it continues to serve as a trigger. I don't miss it at all, and I enjoy the gentle uplift I get from a nice, hot cup of green tea. I do love my English breakfast tea though, and I will always have a cup or two to get me going each morning. After that, it's green tea all the way, and with the added benefit of health-boosting antioxidants and - so they say - a slightly accelerated metabolism, there's very little not to like about it. I often go for Matcha green tea, but if that' not to your taste then try my favourite flavoured versions - I like Twinings orange and Lotus flower or mango and lychee.

6. Bake some healthy treats to have on hand for weak moments


Like it or not, there are going to be time when you feel your willpower beginning to falter, and the best way to deal with it is to have something on hand that will satisfy a sweet craving without the high sugar content. Recently, I have started making brownies with sweet potato and avocado, which might sound odd but taste delicious. You wouldn't have a clue there were veggies in them, and the best bit is that they tate wonderfully chocolatey without the calories or sugar. I use raw cacao for the flavour, and add fat free natural yoghurt and honey, swapping plain flour for spelt flour or almond meal. There are lots of recipes out there for sugar free, clean-eating desserts, and the recipe I use i very much an improvisation based on several. If you'd like the recipe, then let me know in the comments.

7. Plan your exercise schedule ahead of time


I wish I could be one of those people who bound out of bed every day for a pre-work gym session, but alas, cold, dark, winter mornings are not for me. To ensure that I still get my exercise in following a tiring day at work, I take steps to plan exactly what I'm going to be doing, so I carry a screenshot of my gym's class timetable on my phone for reference. It's all too easy to arrive without a plan and to end up wasting valuable time as you um and ahh about which machine you want to go on or which body part you are going to target. I tend to choose which classes I'm going to be doing the weekend before, and choose suitable workouts for the days in between - so, for example, if the classes I'm doing don't involve much work on my legs, then I'll do some squats and lunges and try to focus on that area on a day where I'm doing my own thing.


If you don't have a gym membership, then hop onto Youtube via your TV - there are some brilliant channel which offer a range of fitne videos and programmes that you can do in your living room. A personal favourite of mine is Fitness Blender, but Blogilates and Tone It Up are also popular.


8. If you do slip up, then get straight back on the wagon.


So you caved in and ate that bar of chocolate. One little mistake doesn't have to mean throwing in the towel completely, and if you're serious about your goals then you shouldn't let it deter you. That said, nor should you simply use it as an excuse to continue the run of bad eating for a few more days. Tomorrow is another day, so get straight back into your healthy routine in order to minimise the impact. Having a cheat meal once a week is fine, a long a it doesn't signal the beginning of the end -  and a wave goodbye to your resolve.

What are you doing differently this year to help you to keep your resolutions?

xx

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Making a House a Home



Living in a two-bedroom flat where one of the rooms is full to bursting with miscellania, I try not to acquire too much in the way of non-essential homeware. We haven't got a lot of space for ornamental or decorative bits and pieces, and when we moved in here, I had a bit of a struggle with trying to find homes for the pieces I do have. I'm quite selective with the items I want to have on display in my home, as I like things that add a bit of character and identity without creating too much clutter. This Christmas, I ventured into the Debenhams home section in search of a present for my mum, and ended up making a few finds of my own. Despite my better judgement, they eventually found their way into my Christmas stocking, and I can't deny than I'm thrilled to bits with them all.

I tend to gravitate towards anything mint, and there's a distinctively mint and cream colour scheme going on in my home. When renting, there isn't a lot you can do to the property itself in order to whip it into shape and display a bit of personality, so I tend to add what I can to it in other ways, with things like mirrors, photo frames, candles and prints. Some of my favourite pieces are a beautiful cream bird cage which currently sits on my mantlepiece, and an ornate mint photo frame, but at the moment neither of them are displayed to their best advantage. In our old place, there was a deep shelf that was perfect, but currently I have little more than a mantlepiece in my living room on which to arrange things. The frame is still empty, too, so a minor new year's resolution of mine is to find the right photo - having pictures of family and friends around the place always makes things feel that little bit more like home.

The new additions to my collection are a pretty, patterned bird ornament which doubles as a moneybox, a carved wooden jewellery box - in a shade of mint, of course - and this beautiful cream and mint ceramic jar, which has a rabbit sitting atop it. Currently, the bird is sitting on the mantlepiece along with my other pieces, while the jewellery box and jar have made it into the bedroom, as I could do with a little more storage in there.

I also picked up a gorgeous cream and mint print with the words 'All you need is love' written on it, and I'm really annoyed that I didn't take a photo as it ties in with all the other items beautifully. It's bound to be popping up on the blog at some point, so I'll be sure to point it out to you when it does. Sadly, it's no longer available on the Debenhams site - a huge shame, as I know that some of you would have loved it.

Currently, I can't get enough of the interiors posts on Gh0stparties. Kate's blog has long been a favourite of mine, initially winning me over with skincare, but since moving into her new flat she has given me a huge amount of inspiration when it comes to decorating my own place. With a palette of cream, mint, light pink and gold, her living room has gone from a blank canvas to a thing of absolute beauty, and I adore her minimalist walls and wooden floors, hanging plants, spray-painted DIY pieces and ashi-tape wall collages. If you need some inspiration of your own, then I'd definitely recommend following her on Facebook and Instagram, as she is always rearranging things and posts regular updates on what she's changed.

What are your favourite pieces from around your home? Do you have any favourite places to collect new and unique pieces which will add a bit of character to your nest?

xx







Monday, January 5, 2015

Origins 'Calm to Your Senses' stress-relieving mask



When I get wind of a new Origins product launch, I certainly don't need telling twice, the arrival of their Calm to Your Senses stress-relieving face mask had me racing straight for my nearest counter in a desperate bid to get my hands on a tube. I feel like I've referred to this a lot lately, but I'm a worrier by nature, and I often get myself far too worked up over things that I probably won't even remember a month down the line. I also have trouble with sleeping - I usually drop off all too easily, but I regularly wake up in the night and am unable to drift off again for a good couple of hours, which leaves me feeling tired and drained the following day in spite of having gone to bed nice and early. As a result, I'm forever on the lookout for products which serve to aid relaxation, and there is nothing I love more than a good pamper session and a long wind-down before I climb under the bed covers. Of course, it's rarely possible to go the whole hog during the week, as the evenings pass quickly and most of us will go to bed earlier, so the ideal is to have something on hand that will do the work for you.

Enter, Origins Calm to Your Senses.

A rich, creamy face mask containing buckbean and St. Paul's Wort extract to target tense, stressed-looking skin, it is not dissimilar to the Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Mask, in that you massage in a generous amount prior to bedtime and leave it to do its work overnight. Barrier-building plant butters help to replenish the skin's moisture reserves while you sleep, leaving it plump, soft and hydrated upon awakening, while a relaxing blend of lavender and chamomile soothe and calm the senses helping you to drift off more easily.

I'm not the biggest fan of lavender, but I do find it very calming when I'm ready to go to bed. I often reach for the This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray, which is very helpful, and definitely speeds up the time it takes me to get to sleep when I get into bed with my mind still racing. That said, the Calm to Your Senses mask doesn't have a strong lavender scent at all, and in fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it smelled like oranges (much like the brand's High Potency Night-A-Mins). It's a pleasure to apply, and sinks easily into the skin - I find that while it is rich, it is lighter than the Drink Up Intensive mask, so if that one was too heavy for you then don't be put off.

In the morning, there is no residue left on my skin, but thanks to its plumping, hydrating effects, I often find myself reaching for it regardless of whether I'm worried about sleeping or not. As to whether or not it helps me to drift off, the jury is still out - as I mentioned, it's rare that I have trouble in that department anyway, but it definitely does make me feel relaxed when I get into bed with it on. I love that it takes just a few short seconds to apply and doesn't have to be washed off, as this makes it a real time-saver that be can used anytime, anywhere.

I'll be doing a round-up of some of my favourite products for relaxation soon, as I seem to have built up quite the collection. Do you have any favourites?

xx
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