Category Archives: personal history

Welcome Home Little Bird

5 August 1968  “On Saturday Angela and I were wandering around looking for something to do.  Then Mrs Stetina took us to the Gardens.  We played on the swings a lot and then went to the Observatory and ran.  We then just got to the cable car in time before it left.  We went into town and Mrs Stetina bought Angela a bag of lovely hot chips but I bought some with my own money and then we dawdled through town and came to the lions.  Then we went home on the bus.  On Sunday we took our bird to Porirua to get her a mate.  But the people we went to see did not have very good birds.  When we were coming back it was dark and poor Pookie was tired.  When we got home Mummy shouted Welcome home little bird.” 

A couple of weeks ago my sister, Jeannie, found in her house a kind of diary I had written in 1968.  It was required for school that year when I was in Standard 2 and aged eight/nine years old.  Jeannie still lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where ‘us kids’ grew up.  I’m over here in Western Australia.  Posting the journal to me meant the possibility of it not arriving for weeks (who knows with mail at the moment) so Jeannie photographed and emailed me all the pages.  I decided to take some of the best bits and put them on my blog.

6 March 1968  “This morning when I woke up I opened the window and I found that there would be no sport.  Weeee.  I never did like sport.  Anyway I love the sound of sweet little raindrops pat-pat-patting on the window.  Why do we have sport anyway?  I think it is because they want us to run faster.  But I am not very fast at running.  I would like to be the first one in every race that we do.  It would be fantastic.”

18 March 1968:  “In the weekend Max my brother made a huge cage for the zebra finches.  The zebra finches are little birds.  They are very sweet little birds.  Max made them a nest box.  They have four perches and two doors.  The cage is longer than the table and it is taller than me.  Max would not of done it if John Batt did not help him.  But they made it so that was good fun looking to see what he was doing”.

27 March 1968  “I have got three pets they are all birds.  Two of them are zebra finches.  Zebra finches are little birds with little black lines under their sweet little eyes.  I have also a budgie.  She is very sweet and we let her out of her cage a lot.  We know when she wants to come out because when she wants to come out she says Tata.  It is a sweet little noise but sometimes mum doesn’t like it so she puts Bird in another room.  We all say poor bird.  She is yellow.  She was Miss Wong’s Bird but she has a new cage.  We had a cat but poor pussy died.  I was very sad.  Pussy really did not die but she was put to sleep.  I always think of pussy as I often used to go to bed with her.  She was a tabby cat.  She was the best pet we had.  Bird is also very sweet so are the zebra finches but pussy was much better.”

10 April 1968 [Cyclone Giselle hits New Zealand]  “The storm is vicious.  The storm is strong.  The wind is fast and we hope it will not last.  We wish the day would quickly change to be sunny and warm and not wet and torn.  It’s wrecking the trees.  It’s not just a breeze.  People are being blown on the roads.  Cars are mostly being towed.  Winds swooping in the air.  Wrecking smashing not only bashing.  It howls and roars in the air never giving us things to spare”

11 April 1968 “The Wahine:  The Wahine is being sunk and so far there are 40 people dead.  They say there can be a lot more.  Lots of people have been taken to hospital”.   [The sinking of the Lyttelton-Wellington ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968 was New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster in which 53 people lost their lives.]

20 May 1968 “…the following Friday we went to see Rolf Harris.  When I say we I mean my sister Jeannie and I.  Jeannie could take me with know [sic] trouble because she is 19.  It was at the Town Hall.  We were quite a lot in time so we got a good seat.  We had to change over because where I was sitting it wasn’t very good but then, it was quite all right.  When I came home I said how I liked him to every body and Mummy said he was on T.V.  I thought she meant the whole show.  But then Mummy told me he was only in “Town and Around” [a local magazine-type of current affairs programme].  Then she said I better get off to bed so I did”. 

27 May 1968   [Inangahua earthquake]  “In the weekend in New Zealand there was a huge earthquake.  I felt it in the night on Friday night in bed.  I am very much afraid of them but I do not know how the poor people felt who got the most of it.  Some people had to be taken out of their homes.  A big fire station had a crack in it so the people who worked there had to go to be in a better one.  The earthquake was in Greymouth.  The earthquake company opened on Saturday.  It was a hard job and besides that a woman was killed.  A lot of roofs on houses have been shaken in and so on.  I was very interested to see the news.  There have been great big cracks in the roads.  The waves of the earthquake have come right up to Hawkes Bay”.  [The 7.1 earthquake struck on 24 May 1968.  Damage was extensive along the West Coast of the South Island but Inangahua Junction suffered the most.  70% of the dwellings were rendered uninhabitable and three people died.]

4 June 1968 “In the long weekend I wanted to go to the Freyberg pool but mum was not very well so we could not go.  She said we could go on Sunday but then she was still not very well so I was walking around doing nothing.  But then I had a good idea.  I asked daddy if he would play hangman with me.  He said yes.  We were playing for a long time and then dad said he would have to get up so I said just one more game so he said all right so we had one.  Daddy is all Polish and we were not doing Polish words but then I said I have a good word so he said all right.  Just one more.  So I looked up in the Polish book and did it.  Daddy laughed his head off when he found out that it was Polish.  After that I went out of the room.”

10 June 1968 “On Saturday I wanted to go to the Freyberg pool but mum said she had too much work to do.  So I played with my friends.  Then we went up the hills.  We had a neat fort.  Then I just stepped down to the brook and I screamed.  HELP!!!  There were dog fish at the brook but I thought they were sharks.”

24 June 1968 “On Saturday we had the tape recorder.  I was taping myself a lot.  I was singing and screaming and yelling.  Some times only talking.  Then we heard dad saying get away Julie.  And Mum pretended to be making soup in an advertisement. “

8 July 1968 “On Saturday I went to the park with my little friend Sissy.  We were mostly playing on the swings.  We had a very good time there.  I came home and had lunch and then played with Irene and I came home at half past four.  Then played by myself with my cut-out dolls till dinner.  On Sunday Mummy took Angela and I to the Freyberg pool.  After that we ended up going round the bays.  I sat up excitedly when we saw the Wahine.  Angela said it looked horrible.  But I was glad to see it for the first time.  We went to the Island Bay park then went home.  We got home when it was dark and Angela and I played hiding go seek.”

18 July 1968  “The Monkey Show:  On Wednesday after school Angela, Lency and I went to a Monkey Show.  We had to sit on the floor which was not very nice and I said that we would have to sit together.  We had to wait for half an hour before that silly thing started.  When it did start this man was eating fire.  He had two sticks that had huge flames on them.  Then one of them went out so he put another one in.  Fire was coming out of his mouth so much that it lit the other one.  The monkey was very good too but he came on at the end.  There was a great big dog and the monkey rode on him.  We were not allowed to clap till he had got off or else he would have fallen off.”

22 July 1968 “On Sunday I wanted to go to church instead of Sunday school.  So we rang up Angela and went at half past 9.  Afterwards we found it was pretty boring.  At 2 o’clock we went up to Eastbourne.  We saw the Wahine but not very well.  When we were coming back we stopped and spent five cents.  Then every playground we saw when we were coming back we stopped to play on the swings.  When we were getting closer to home we stopped to play on the [stone] lions.  It was a lot of fun for the lions as well as us.  I rushed over to look inside that building by the lions.  [The Cenotaph]  Angela ran after me and then had the most nasty crash.  I got her back to the car and we went home.”

12 August 1968   “On Saturday Angela and I were at the park growling because I had to go to a party and I did not want to go.  Mummy said it was too late now not to go because we had now brought the present.  So I went and I had a very good time.  When I came home I went to Angela’s and we played the Checkout Game.  On Sunday Angela came up to see a film of Ivanhoe.  Then Mum, Dad and I went visiting to Angela’s place to have afternoon tea!  It ended up that we stayed till 7 o’clock.  Then we came home.  I had a horrible thought that the next day I had to go back to school.”

The Podstolski family in 1968 or thereabouts:

Jeannie and Julie (holding up a bag of plums)

Max and Julie at Lake Ferry (1967?)  Max always carried his telescope for bird watching.

Julie reading to Pookie and her mate (who I think was called Blue Boy)

Afternoon tea on the back lawn with our visitor, Mr Parowski, seated on the left.

Mum, Jeannie and I outside the 1968 Winter Show Buildings, Wellington.

I will be 61 years old in a few days.  Mum, Dad and Max have departed to the “Better World” (as Dad used to refer to wherever-it-is after this physical life).  I am indebted to Jeannie for finding the journal enabling me to reconnect with a long-forgotten time.  Welcome home little memories!


Space Oddity

“Big Sky” oil painting, 1990  (Paraparaumu)

It occurs to me that each one of us has a universe inside.  There are light and energy sources – suns and stars.  Also plenty of space.  And black holes – awful negative nothingness which is another name for the bottomless-pit-of-need where you can never get enough validation or self-esteem.  Inner planets too?  Why not.

Positive energy (the sun) shines forth as one loves, receives inspiration, gives back, and puts ideas into action.

But it is hard not to be afraid of the black hole and of being drawn into it.  It is such a hopeless void.

Sometimes I blaze through my universe with rocket-fired determination – gladly constructing and carrying out ideas, projects and schemes.  At other times I languish, lost in space.

These are elements within my inner universe, and perhaps they are elements inside yours.   The universe isn’t only out there, but also in here.

I lay in bed early this morning thinking these thoughts before turning over and going back to sleep.

“Check ignition and may God’s love be with you.”  David Bowie

Life Back Then

When I was 11 years old my Form 1 class was set an assignment.  We had to interview one or other of our parents about their childhoods and write in some form what life was like back then.  I came across my composition last night as I perused the pages of  “FABRIC OF A FAMILY – The family history and background of Mary and Jerzy Podstolski” by my sister, Jeannie Beauchamp.   (If Jeannie hadn’t added my words to the family history they’d be totally lost.)

I interviewed Mum for the project at home in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1971.  Mum was born in 1920 in Hucknall, England.  If she was alive today she’d be turning 99 on 25 October 2019 while I will be turning 60 in a few days.   And so, to celebrate two young lives, and history in general, here is my piece.

Mary Spray in 1929

Mum’s Generation

Family Life

Before I start I’ll let you know that Mum was born in a small town that was part of Nottingham, England.

Mum would have to get up at 8 a.m because she lived very close to school.  Her dinner was at 12 p.m and tea was at 4 p.m.  She had to go to bed at 9 p.m.

In the evenings Mum would read a great deal.  She would sometimes play outside with a ball and often she would play cricket in the back yard.  She would go for walks, write letters to her friend (who lived next door), knit and listen to the radio.

Mum was expected to do no work as her grandma did it all.

Mum was disciplined a great deal by her grandmother and she was never allowed to go for walks by herself.

Mum used to go to the sea a lot on holidays.  She went to Skegness, Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes.  They would only stay for about four days.

My grandfather, Edwin Spray, tests the water.

Bournemouth holiday snap. Mum is the little girl 4th from the left in front.  1924.

In the weekends Mum’s parents would be busy in the shop so Mum could never go out.  Sometimes they would go for long walks in the country.  On Sunday Mum would go to Sunday School, and in the afternoon they would have visitors or visit someone else.

Mum got sixpence a week pocket money, and in the summer on Saturdays she would be allowed an ice cream which one of our relations made.  She wasn’t allowed to get ice cream from anywhere else other than her relation because in those days people made their own ice cream and sold it and you never knew what they put in it.  People only made ice cream on Saturdays and on Sundays none of the shops were open.


In Mum’s area they usually travelled by taxi, car or bus.  If they were going for a long holiday they would go by train.  To go to a beach they would go by train because the nearest beach was about 200 miles away as they lived in the Midlands.  Mum’s parents did not have a car but they lived with Mum’s grandmother who owned half a car.  Mum’s aunt (Grandmother’s daughter) owned the ofther half.  Often Mum would go out in Grandmother’s car with the family, but since no-one could drive, they hired a man to drive for them.

Left to right: My great grandmother (Lizzy), Aunty Mary, my grandmother (Ada), Mum (Mary), and the hired driver.

Mum needed no transport to get to school as her school was almost across the road from where she lived, but if she had needed transport, she would have been lucky, because there was a bus stop right by her front door step.

The mail would be delivered twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  It’s much better in England because the letterbox is in the door so no-one can steal your mail.

Mum lived right near an aerodrome and she heard planes fly over a lot but in those days there were no passenger services.

Housing etc

All houses were made of brick but mostly red brick.  Most young people lived in rented houses.  The suburbs which were being developed were mainly Linby, Papplewick, and Bestwood estate.

Mum had electricity.  She had never heard of vacuum cleaners.  Instead she had an ewbank sweeper which she pushed up and down the floor.  She didn’t have a washing machine but a tub.  Mum had two irons which were called sad irons.  While one was being used, the other sat on the gas element, and when the one which was being used got cool, they would be changed around.  They had a heater and Mum’s old-fashioned grandfather used to think it was the same as a fire so he would throw rubbish into it hoping it would burn.

Cake mixers had not been heard of, neither had electric blankets or fridges.  Instead they put their food in the cellar or meat safe.  Hot water bottles had been invented and so had treadle sewing machines.  Mum’s mother had one because she was a dressmaker.  Mum did not have a toaster but she toasted bread on a toasting fork by the fire.  Later on they had a radio.

In Mum’s day there was a lot of difference between the rich and the poor.


Mum’s school was as big as ours if not bigger.  There was not a shortage of teachers, in fact lots were out of work.  The play area of the school was only a concrete playground.

The programme included maths, country dancing, physical education, composition, sewing and cookery, and housewifery.  The system was much better than now because in housewifery they taught you to keep your house tidy, wash windows, iron etc.

The holidays were four weeks at August, one week at Easter, one week at Christmas, and one week at Whitsuntide.

The schools were mainly public like today.  Anyway Mum never went to college.  She left school at 14 years old.  Lastly the schools were very strict.


Work was very difficult to find and jobs were easily lost.

The pay was all right but not very good to miners.  Some miners who had big families to look after got a pay of 16 shillings a week.  Transport was reliable to and from work.  The main public job which was available was mining as Hucknall is a mining town.  The hours of work were 8 hours a day, 9 o’clock to 5 o’clock.

Working conditions were not as comfortable as now.

There was no rationing during the Depression in England.

Work was always hard to get in England because of the population, and it still is.  Lots of people beg on London’s streets.  Something you won’t see in Wellington.


Everyday clothing was just the same as now except the dresses were longer and for women no trousers were allowed.  Mum wore just ordinary clothes to school.  She didn’t have a uniform.  It was easy for Mum to get clothes because her mother was a dressmaker.

Mum with her mother, Ada, directly behind her.

For a lot of poor people clothes would have to last a long time because people could not afford new clothes very often.

At balls and special functions women would wear long gowns and men would wear tails.

Wet weather wear did differ from today.  Coats were not waterproof, and there was no such thing as plastic.

Shoes mostly had buckles for women, and for men there were lace-ups.  I don’t think buckles were on men’s shoes like today.  Wellington boots were worn in wet weather.


Well – it ends rather abruptly doesn’t it.  Either I hadn’t learn to finish off essays yet or the last page went missing.  In any case, I think the teacher liked it.

The author at the approximate time of writing this – aged 11.

Mum and I at a wedding reception in New Plymouth, 1973.









Post-exhibition post

  • Here I am
  • I exist.  For now
  • What am I going to do with the rest of my existence?
  • What is my relationship with the world?
  • How can I be relevant?
  • How can I fit?
  • How do I fill in time?
  • Void

At the end of every art exhibition I walk off the edge into nothingness…

“Once Upon a Wall” (detail) coloured pencils/oil pastels 2017

Disintegration, then reformation (hopefully) – maybe.  Exposure equals vulnerability.  This always happens.

And I’m floating in a most peculiar way/ And the stars look very different today/….Planet Earth is blue/ And there’s nothing I can do…    (David Bowie)

A normal part of the artistic process.  Nothing special.

“Café des Arts” (detail) coloured pencils 2018.

PS I recovered from my post-exhibition blues.  It took exactly two weeks for me to return to my normal self.


Walking with Claude

“Walking with Claude”
a drawing in oil pastels and coloured pencils of Monet’s house and garden in autumn.
320 x 400 mm. February 2018.

Does the spirit of Claude Monet walk in his garden?  He said his garden was his greatest masterpiece – so perhaps he lingers within its borders.  But all the tourists might drive him mad!  He (like many artists) used to be infuriated by the interruptions of curious people.

I like to think he may come and go – leaving when it is busy and returning when all is quiet.  The garden was nearly empty of people in late autumn of 2012 when I was there.

Who knows?  Perhaps we walked side by side sharing in silence our solitude.


On a former occasion, in 2005, I visited Giverny with my family.  Here I hand the page over to Matthew to introduce his song “Walking with Claude“…

Matthew, Emily, Lucy and Alicia on the Japanese bridge in Monet’s garden. August 2005. Photo by Julie

Walking with Claude  by Matthew Clements

“In the summer of 2005 we spent time in Monet’s garden.  It was during one of our last family holidays before Emily, Alicia and Lucy sprouted their own wings.

I wanted to write a song which somehow captured the artist in his idyll.  My mother, Barbara, was a gifted gardener.  I thought how she would have loved Monet’s garden but her advancing age made it unlikely she could ever make the journey.  In fact, she never visited Europe during her life.  So the song became my description to her of his wonderful garden.

By the time I wrote the song a year later, my own impending kidney failure somehow impacted the spirit of the song as I compared my mother’s mortality with my own.

The brilliant Perth guitarist and singer-songwriter Simon Nield, already with well advanced cancer that would soon take his life, found his own meaning in the lyric and recorded me singing it in his studio in 2007.  He then overlaid some of his own gorgeous guitar.  Thank you Simon!”


“Day Trip to Giverny”
Drawn in January 2018


Happy Paris Anniversary

A celebration of what was, is, and what will be…

This weekend one year ago Alicia (middle daughter) and I arrived in Paris.  I am celebrating the anniversary with a slice of “Opera” cake from Wild Bakery (to be eaten later) and a look at the drawings I have done so far from that inspirational trip.

Here is – basically – half an exhibition.  The other half is still to come.

November 2016

“Guiding Lights”
November 2016

“Show Time”
December 2016

“Alone in the Upper Marais”
December 2016

“Nearly Dusk”
December 2016

“Good Morning Paris”
January 2017

“On the Road”
January 2017

“Just a Moment”
January 2017

“The Elegance of the 4th”
April 2017

In Town Tonight
April 2017

“Sideshow Alley”
May 2107

“Once Upon a Wall”
June 2017

“Rhapsody in Gold”
August 2017

September 2017

“Irresistible Blanche”
October 2017

I mentally immerse myself in Paris long after physically returning to Fremantle.  I don’t wish I was still in Paris now.  I am there during the creation of each drawing.  Can one be in two places at once?  Without a doubt.

A photo of Alicia during one of our unforgettable walks together.


Fascination Finale


Today, members of Perth Kimono Club visited our art exhibition “Fascination: Maiko, Geiko, Kyoto”.



Outside it was an incredibly stormy day.  Only the bravest of the brave actually wore kimono as a strong bitterly cold wind blew non-stop while horizontal rain teemed.   Inside the gallery we sat and discussed maiko, geiko and Kyoto – interrupted at regular intervals by the front door blowing open.



President of Perth Kimono Club, Izumi Woods, was given the task of randomly selecting the winner of 40 Caran d’Ache Luminance 6901 coloured pencils (held by Robyn Varpins) donated by Kadmium Art + Design Supplies in Sydney.  220 names were in the bag.  Congratulations Di Swain!!!


After a group photo, people chatted and looked at the art.  It was a lovely way to finish off the exhibition.







Matthew (my Better Half) was given the task of photographer.

Tomorrow people will come to take away the sculptures and drawings they bought.  And I will go back to being a person who works quietly at home…at least for another two years.

Thank you to EVERYBODY who took the time to visit our art exhibition over two and a half weeks.  Your interest, encouragement and support are hugely appreciated.

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Hurry Up!

"Hurry Up!" is drawn with coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth. 250 x 305 mm. June 2016

“Hurry Up!” is drawn with coloured pencils on Arches Aquarelle smooth.
250 x 305 mm.
June 2016

I may be nearly 57 but my eternal inner child is alive, well and as insistent as she was when I was actually her age.  A fortnight ago we travelled to Kyoto together.

“Hurry up!” she implored on each of the three nights we stayed out to photograph maiko and geiko.  “I’m bored already.  We’ve been out all day.  I’m tired.  I want to go back to my room.  I want to eat.”  And – “Buy me a macha ice cream”.  [I did.  It was delicious.]  “My feet hurt.  My knees, back and shoulders ache.  I need a bathroom.  I need a bed.”

I had to be firm.  “Just another half hour”, I replied.  “Wait until I get a couple more photos.  I tell you what, after the next maiko or geiko shows up, then we’ll go.  Just until 9, 9.30, just until 10.”

So the internal dialogue continued.  Adult Julie simply HAD to hold out; resist the whine from within.  This was a small window of opportunity (three days and nights) to acquire new source photos to draw from.  I couldn’t waste precious time by giving in and going back to the hotel.  I MUST HAVE PHOTOS!  (Or to quote a famous lady, “I must have my share…”)

We agreed on one thing; when maiko and geiko appeared, enabling us to get photos, both adult and inner child were exultant.  “YES!”

Maiko and geiko finally came out of various ozashiki and dashed in the rain to their next appointments.  The drawing’s title refers to their speed as they hurtled (with grace) past one another beneath red umbrellas.

Hurry Up!” is a drawing about movement; an impression of speed.  Plus the title acknowledges Inner Child.  It reminds me of our nightly reckoning as we endured mind-numbing boredom and fatigue on the dark wet streets of Gion – waiting interminably for a few quick bursts of elegant action.

Thinking About Paris

Marais Impression 2011

Marais Impression

Tonight I felt moved to re-watch Woody Allen’s film “Midnight in Paris”.  I was reminded (as if I needed reminding) what a sensationally beautiful city Paris is.  Clearly Allen was as seduced by the city as I (and so many of us) have been – and will continue to be.

Moulin Rouge 2011

Moulin Rouge

After watching the film, I decided to post a few Paris drawings which were made before I had a blog.  I had spent December of 2010 in that city with my family.  What a joy to explore Paris over a whole month and to capture images which I would spend the next three to four years drawing.

Luminous Morning 2011

Luminous Morning

It had been a particularly cold December.  I encountered fog, rain, snow, sleet, hail and just the smallest bit of sunshine.  Most of my drawings contain wet streets.

Place Blanche 2011

Place Blanche

Café on the Left Bank 2011

Café on the Left Bank

The best place I found for getting views above Paris was The Pompidou Centre – at the top of the escalators.  Focussing first on the view and then on the glass pane itself, I got very different effects – all of which I made extremely detailed drawings of.

Snow on Les Halles 2012

Snow on Les Halles

Diffusion 2012


Snow Showers 2012

Snow Showers

Back at street level, I LOVED the novelty of slushy snow – until it soaked through my inadequate footwear.

Tempête de neige 2012

Tempête de neige

Paris en hiver 2011

Paris en hiver

I returned in 2012 and 2013 and made enough drawings for two solo exhibitions.  Those familiar streets became my friends, and remain my friends.

Conversations at Dusk 2012

Conversations at Dusk

Have you visited Paris?  I wonder what your thoughts are?

Le Georges Rose 2012

Le Georges Rose

November 2016:  I never thought, when I wrote this post last November, that I would return to Paris within twelve months.  I was there last month and am now starting a whole new body of work from this mesmerizing city.

"Somewhere" November 2016

November 2016

So much more to follow…

Kraków to Kyoto: a costume drama


When I visited my niece, Marie, in New Zealand a couple of months ago, I noticed that she had an old drawing of mine.  In fact it must be my oldest coloured pencil drawing in existence.  My mother had bought me a set of 72 Derwent pencils in 1979.  I sketched my Polish dolls and gave her the drawing as a thank you present.  When I saw the framed drawing this year I was heartened to see that the colours still looked pretty good after 36 years even though the student-grade cartridge paper itself showed signs of its age.

I was given my first Kraków costume when I was four years old.  Didn’t I love it!  I wore it until it was worn out.  Then in 1970 when Mum, Dad and I visited Poland, I was given a second Kraków costume.  I still have it – though the shiny bits don’t shine the way they used to and bits of it are missing (but could easily be replaced) such as ribbon to tie the bodice.


My Kraków costume was surely a blessing from a benevolent fairy godmother.   It has been instrumental in developing my appreciation of the drama of costume.  Its invisible presence is behind every kimono, obi and kanzashi that I draw.


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