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Expats reveal what they miss most about home in Britain amid the pandemic

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The cold weather, log fires and Sunday roasts around the dining table with the family are just some of the things that expats miss most about living away from home.

While many Britons are desperate to get their annual summer holiday overseas this year, the three expats we spoke to reminded us about about the good stuff right here on our doorstep. 

We asked them several questions about what they miss most about the British home that they last lived in and what they love most about typically British interiors.

The expats are based as far as the other side of the world in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City. The other two are closer to home in the Alps and in the Netherlands

Georgian architecture and sash windows were named as some of the things our expats missed most

Georgian architecture and sash windows were named as some of the things our expats missed most

This terrace property in Bath, Somerset, (also pictured above) contrasts modern interiors with original features such as sash windows - and is for sale for £1.4million via agents Carter Jonas

This terrace property in Bath, Somerset, (also pictured above) contrasts modern interiors with original features such as sash windows – and is for sale for £1.4million via agents Carter Jonas

The first expat we spoke to was Holly Seddon, a Briton who lives in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.

What do you miss most about Britain? 

Missing home: Author Holly Seddon, lives in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, but is soon heading back to Britain

Missing home: Author Holly Seddon, lives in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, but is soon heading back to Britain

I really miss the hills, the seaside and the higgledy-piggledy countryside. 

The Netherlands is notoriously flat, and although it’s a small country it can feel quite sparse and empty outside of the cities. 

There are pretty little villages and stunning waterways but there’s nothing that scratches the itch of chocolate box cottages, winding roads and country pubs.

I’m an author and my books are all set in the UK, so I spend a lot of my time wistfully writing about the things I miss and letting my characters go to my favourite places. In my novel The Hit List, a lot of the action takes place in the Surrey countryside for this very reason.

I’m not going to lie though, most of what I miss is food-based and we’ve already got a long list of meals planned for when we first move back, starting with fish, chips and mushy peas.

What do you miss most about the last British property you lived in?

The last British property we lived in had a nice garden with bi-fold doors that were pretty much permanently open during the summer. Our apartment here is lovely and we’re lucky enough to have roof terraces but I do miss having a garden and being able to boot the kids and dogs outside.

It’s also not standard in the Netherlands to have hot water in the WC. We have it in the bathroom, of course, but it’s just cold water in the little toilet and when you come inside from the Dutch winter and want to wash your hands, that can be a bit punishing.

What do you love most about your current home that you’d introduce in a British house? 

We absolutely love the Amsterdam interior style. It’s unique to the city, but I’d say it’s a mix of Scandinavian and Parisian, with floor to ceiling windows, open-plan living and beautiful oak floors. 

Black interior metal and glass doors are really popular here, as are marble features like worktops and mantelpieces. We’re moving back this summer and have bought a new-build that is something of a blank canvas for us to try to recreate our favourite element of the style.

One of the first things we did when we bought our house here was build a huge bookcase – my pride and joy – which we’ll definitely do again. I also have an instant boiling water and filter tap here which I’m obsessed with, so we’ll get another one of those.

How has living abroad made you change where you would like to live once you return to Britain?

Amsterdam offers a safe, ‘village’ version of city life and it’s been a brilliant place to raise our children. My eldest two love it so much that they’ve decided to stay on to university here.

Now we hanker for a pretty town in the countryside but still want to be able to reach London easily. We’ve been spoiled with museums, shops and restaurants so we don’t want to be too out in the sticks. 

We realised that the Kent town we’d lived in before we moved here actually offered everything we wanted. So after years of feeling like newcomers and navigating our way through a different culture, we’re looking forward to going home.

What do you like most about British interiors and is there a typically British feature you miss?  

I do miss the fireplaces and cosy living rooms. But as crazy as it sounds, I am really looking forward to having some gently sloping British stairs. 

The houses and apartment blocks here are very tall and the staircases can be quite hair raising. To get from our front door to our living room you climb a two-storey staircase with no bend, and then we have another two staircases in our apartment. 

It’s great for your legs and the stairs are quite a talking point when we have international guests, but it’ll be nice to take it a bit easier and not worry about tumbling down after a few glasses of wine.

This eight-bedroom Georgian country house is in the village of Wall in Staffordshire and is for sale for £4.25million via Aston Knowles estate agents

This eight-bedroom Georgian country house is in the village of Wall in Staffordshire and is for sale for £4.25million via Aston Knowles estate agents

The house in Wall has retains several original features including this open fireplace with a brick hearth and an oak beam

The house in Wall has retains several original features including this open fireplace with a brick hearth and an oak beam

Another expat we spoke to was Jo Sawyer, who lived in London before moving to Vietnam, where she is a primary school teacher at an International School.

Former Londoner Jo Sawyer is a teacher at an International School in Vietnam

Former Londoner Jo Sawyer is a teacher at an International School in Vietnam

What do you miss most about Britain and your last British home?

Apart from family and friends, I miss all the things I took for granted or complained about when I lived in England. 

I haven’t been cold at any point during the four years that I have lived here as it is only hot and dry, or hot and wet in Vietnam. 

I miss wrapping up against the chilly weather on a country walk, experiencing different seasons, quaint English villages and reading the Sunday newspapers. 

Thank goodness for MailOnline, as I can read it over here and it keeps me in touch with what is going on back home and around the world. 

There is only one thing I miss about my old property in East Dulwich and that is a bath. It is rare to have property with a bath here in Vietnam and I think longingly about my hours spent relaxing in one after a hard day at work.

What do you love most about your current home that you would like to  introduce back here?

Having a huge balcony filled with tropical plants is a joy to look at daily and I still get excited by seeing palm trees when I open my curtains every morning. I will miss living in an open-plan property, it’s very different to the small Victorian flat I lived in before and has a lot more natural light and wonderful views of daily life in Ho Chi Minh City. Having a pool is also a big plus of living in the tropics and I can’t imagine being so enthusiastic about outdoor swimming in Britain.

How has living abroad made you change where you would like to live once you return to Britain?

Living in a vibrant and busy city is wonderful, but I will definitely be looking to move to the countryside when my son and I return to the UK. Being in lockdown last year made me realise the benefits of access to open countryside or a coastline. Being able to walk to a beach is top on my list of priorities when we go home.

What do you like most about British interiors?

I do miss anything linked to being cold over here. Log fires are a distant dream and I am looking forward to eating a Sunday roast at home with my family, with a cosy log fire in the background.

The final expat we spoke to is Helen Watts, of the Alpine French School, which welcomes international students to the Alps to learn French in the villages of Morzine and Les Gets. 

Helen Watts, of the Alpine French School, lives in the French Alps

Helen Watts, of the Alpine French School, lives in the French Alps 

What do you miss most about Britain and the last house you lived in here? 

I miss take-away food. And the variety of food in general but also international cuisine like Indian, Thai and Chinese, but then I do live in the French Alps where food choices are quite traditional and aren’t that varied. 

I miss the cosiness of curtains and carpets in bedrooms and living areas, especially during the winter months. In France, houses typically have tiled or wooden floors and although the house is warm, it doesn’t feel the same. In fact we’re building a new house at the moment and have decided to add carpets in the bedrooms as we miss them.

What do you love most about your current home that you would like to introduce in a house back in Britain?

I live in a beautiful wooden chalet with a lot of large windows and this is something I would replicate in a future house to ensure it was really light and bright. But in Britain, finding or building a house like that would be quite a challenge.

How has living abroad made you change your mind about where to live in Britain?

I grew up in Sutton Coldfield on the outskirts of Birmingham so I grew up as a city girl. If I moved back to Britain, I would definitely live in the countryside or by the coast and not in a city. The UK doesn’t have mountains like The Alps, but there are some really beautiful places all the same.

What do you like most about British interiors?

I love traditional Georgian houses and sash windows and you just don’t see the same style in France. There isn’t really anything that I miss in terms of household items as we actually imported a few bits and pieces from the UK that aren’t so commonplace in France like a boiling water tap and a slow cooker.  

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Who do I need to notify if I move home?

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Moving house is frequently said to be one of the most stressful things anyone can do.

The massive investment both financially and emotionally can take its toll, especially if the process takes months to complete.

It is why anything that helps to elevate some of the stress along the way can be hugely beneficial. This includes addressing some of the practicalities in advance, and having a list of who to notify when you move can help. 

We look at some of the organisations and companies who you may need to contact when you move home

We look at some of the organisations and companies who you may need to contact when you move home

Dozens of companies will need to know your new address, whether this is an insurer who may use them to help calculate your insurance premiums or a retailer who need to know where to send the clothing you ordered online.

Without updating them, you may endure a bigger headache from moving home than you had anticipated.

North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf, said: ‘When moving home, it is vital to plan ahead. Moving day can come upon you very quickly, particularly if there is a short time between exchange and completion.

‘Buildings insurance is the most important thing that needs arranging on your new property as soon as you have exchanged contracts.

‘Confirm your moving date with your removals firm and make a list of who needs notifying about your impending change of address – the electoral roll, the DVLA, Amazon and other delivery firms, particularly supermarket deliveries. The last thing you want is for your orders to turn up at your ‘old’ address once you have moved.

‘Don’t forget to change your council tax, while utility providers will also need informing, and given final meter readings. The more you plan ahead, the smoother the process will be.’ 

A checklist for who to notify when you change address can help to elevate some of the stress of moving home

A checklist for who to notify when you change address can help to elevate some of the stress of moving home

Tom Parker, of property website Zoopla, agreed: ‘Moving home can be overwhelming with so much to do. When it comes to notifying organisations, it’s best to divide it into digestible categories like work, household and vehicle.

‘Notifying your employer is a top priority, especially if your payslips are sent to your home. If you own a vehicle, ensure you update your driving licence, insurance providers and vehicle logbook.  

‘Make sure you also notify organisations like your broadband, utilities, insurance providers and council tax. Finally, don’t forget the small things like magazine subscriptions and store cards.’

Here we look at some of the organisations and companies who you may need to contact when you move home.

Employment 

Perhaps one of the most important and probably most overlooked places that need to be notified of your change of address is HMRC, which needs to know for tax purposes.  

Similarly, your employer needs to know when you change address for your payroll, so that it can update your contact details.

In addition, your National Insurance number helps the Government to identify you and is used by the organisations such as the DVLA and HMRC, so this will need your new address attached. 

Household

There are various companies providing services to your household that will need to know about your move so that they can update your contact information.

In some cases, you may end up continuing to pay for a service in your former home that you are no longer using if you fail to update these companies.

They include your cable or satellite provider, your phone and broadband company. It is also important to update your TV licence contact details, which can be done up to three months before a move.

Vehicles

You can update DVLA via its website and within two to four weeks, you should receive an updated licence and V5C log book documents for your car. Failing to update the log book could lead to a fine of up to £1,000.

You will also need to notify the supplier of your vehicle breakdown cover and your car insurer.

Insurance

Most insurers take postcodes into account when calculating premiums and the cost of insurance cover, so they will need to be notified of your change of address. 

You may need to contact those insurers who provide cover for household contents, health, life, travel and your pets.

Healthcare

As well as your health insurer, you will also need to provide your address to other healthcare organisations.

For example, if you change doctors when you move home, you will need to let your old doctor know so that your medical information can be forwarded to your new doctor. This may similarly apply to your dentists and opticians.

Utilities

Your gas, electricity and water suppliers will need your updated contact information, even if you are leaving them behind at the old property and taking on new suppliers.

It can take a couple of days for energy providers to update your information, so it is worth contacting your suppliers ahead of your move. However, you may be able to move your deal to your new property.

Make sure you take readings of your utilities on the day of your move so you can update your suppliers with these and only pay for the amounts you have used. 

Royal Mail’s redirection service may be worth considering as it forwards any post sent to your former address to your new address. You can apply for the redirection up to three months before your moving date.

Money

There are several companies and organisations that fall into this category and will need to know your new contact address.

They include bank and building societies, your pension providers, loan companies, credit card providers and store cards. If you are on a state pension, the Government will need to know your new details.

Similarly, you will need to update your address for council tax purposes.

Others include your accountant as you don’t want important tax documents going to your old address (if you are not using the a postal redirection service). And don’t forget updating NS&I with your new address if you put money into premium bonds.

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Ireland ‘one of world’s best five places’ to survive global societal collapse

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Ireland is one of the world’s five places best suited to survive a global collapse of society, according to a new study. The others are Iceland, Tasmania, the UK and, topping the list, New Zealand.

The researchers say human civilisation is “in a perilous state” because of the highly interconnected and energy-intensive society that has developed and the environmental damage this has caused.

A collapse could arise from shocks such as a severe financial crisis, the effects of the climate crisis, destruction of nature, an even worse pandemic than Covid-19 or a combination of these, the scientists says.

To assess which nations would be most resilient to such a collapse, countries were ranked according to their ability to grow food for their population, protect their borders from unwanted mass migration, and maintain an electrical grid and some manufacturing ability. Islands in temperate regions and mostly with low population densities have come out on top.

The researchers say their study highlights the factors that nations must improve to increase resilience. They say that a globalised society that prizes economic efficiency has damaged resilience, and that spare capacity needs to exist in food and other vital sectors.

Billionaires have been reported to be buying land for bunkers in New Zealand in preparation for an apocalypse. “We weren’t surprised New Zealand was on our list,” says Prof Aled Jones, at the Global Sustainability Institute, at Anglia Ruskin University, in the UK.

“We chose that you had to be able to protect borders and places had to be temperate. So with hindsight it’s quite obvious that large islands with complex societies on them already” make up the list.

The study, published in the journal Sustainability, says: “The globe-spanning, energy-intensive industrial civilisation that characterises the modern era represents an anomalous situation when it is considered against the majority of human history.”

The study also says that environmental destruction, limited resources and population growth mean civilisation “is in a perilous state, with large and growing risks developing in multiple spheres of the human endeavour”.

New Zealand was found to have the greatest potential to survive relatively unscathed due to its geothermal and hydroelectric energy, abundant agricultural land and low human population density.

Jones says major global food losses, a financial crisis and a pandemic have all happened in recent years, and “we’ve been lucky that things haven’t all happened at the same time – there’s no real reason why they can’t all happen in the same year”.

He adds: “As you start to see these events happening I get more worried, but I also hope we can learn more quickly than we have in the past that resilience is important. With everyone talking about ‘building back better’ from the pandemic, if we don’t lose that momentum I might be more optimistic than I have been in the past.”

He says the coronavirus pandemic has shown that governments can act quickly when needed. “It’s interesting how quickly we can close borders, and how quickly governments can make decisions to change things.”

But, he adds, “This drive for just-in-time, ever-more-efficient economies isn’t the thing you want to do for resilience. We need to build in some slack in the system, so that if there is a shock then you have the ability to respond because you’ve got spare capacity. We need to start thinking about resilience much more in global planning. But, obviously, the ideal thing is that a quick collapse doesn’t happen.” – Guardian

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Couple who bought coach house reveal transformation on George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations 

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A couple who bought a 19th-century coach house for £284,000 reveal their transformation of the property into a stunning family home on tonight’s episode of George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations. 

Childhood sweethearts Laura and Adrian, from Staffordshire, sold their own home, moved into a caravan and began renovating the derelict building into an Insta-worthy three bedroom house, with an added granny annex for Adrian’s parents Andrew and Elinor.

The couple, who appear on the Channel 4 programme tonight, initially wanted to renovate the 900 sq ft property within a £350,000 budget. 

But the build was hampered by difficulties from the outset, including delays with planning permission and the Covid-19 crisis, pushing their bill up to £450,000.   

BEFORE: Laura and Adrian, from Staffordshire, reveal their unrecognisable transformation of a 19th-century coach house into a stunning family home on George Clarke's Remarkable Renovations tonight. Pictured, the home property before the build

BEFORE: Laura and Adrian, from Staffordshire, reveal their unrecognisable transformation of a 19th-century coach house into a stunning family home on George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations tonight. Pictured, the home property before the build

AFTER: At the end of the build the couple unveil their stunning contemporary home which oozes charm and character. The living space blends modern style with traditional features, keeping the building's style alive

AFTER: At the end of the build the couple unveil their stunning contemporary home which oozes charm and character. The living space blends modern style with traditional features, keeping the building’s style alive

BEFORE: Having been used as a coach-house for other people's caravans for the past decade, the building is in poor condition with rotten timbers and mismatched brickwork at the start of the project. Above, a room that becomes the living room

BEFORE: Having been used as a coach-house for other people’s caravans for the past decade, the building is in poor condition with rotten timbers and mismatched brickwork at the start of the project. Above, a room that becomes the living room 

AFTER: The couple went £100,000 over budget on the build after unexpected costs sprung up but were delighted with the final result, including this stylish living room complete with pops of colour and plush furniture

AFTER: The couple went £100,000 over budget on the build after unexpected costs sprung up but were delighted with the final result, including this stylish living room complete with pops of colour and plush furniture 

The property is situated in the grounds of what was the Cliff Hall estate in the village of Kingsbury, near Birmingham.  

When George first met the couple in June 2019, they had already been living in a caravan on the site for 18 months in order to save money.   

Laura, a project manager in forensics, revealed the family have already ‘put a lot of effort’ into the building given it was originally intended to store horses and has been completely empty for 10 years.

Having been used as a coach-house for other people’s caravans for the past decade, the building was in poor condition at the start of the project, with rotten timbers and mismatched brickwork. 

But it was ripe for renovation, with Adrian and Laura seeing it’s potential and pipping a developer to the post to buy it for £284,000. 

KITCHEN BEOFRE: The couple appear on the Channel 4 programme tonight as they reveal their hopes to transform the 900 sq ft property with a budget of just £350,000. Above, one of the derelict rooms with crumbling and uneven floors before

KITCHEN BEOFRE: The couple appear on the Channel 4 programme tonight as they reveal their hopes to transform the 900 sq ft property with a budget of just £350,000. Above, one of the derelict rooms with crumbling and uneven floors before

KITCHEN AFTER: Features including the exposed brick walls and wooden beams add a touch of character to the space, which is otherwise kitted out as a modern home perfect for family living

KITCHEN AFTER: Features including the exposed brick walls and wooden beams add a touch of character to the space, which is otherwise kitted out as a modern home perfect for family living

Laura and Adrian end up living in a caravan on the building site for three years in order to get the project finished - but they insist it has all been worth it

Laura and Adrian end up living in a caravan on the building site for three years in order to get the project finished – but they insist it has all been worth it 

The ground floor had two large spaces, with two small rooms squashed into the middle. Meanwhile upstairs is a wide open space.

Laura and Adrian planned to build a modern timber frame inside the old brick shell, allowing them to configure the space exactly to their needs. They also wanted to build a self-contained two bed annex connected to the main house, where Adrian’s parents Andrew and Elinor will live.

Andrew says: ‘It was one Saturday morning they came up and they bought pictures of this place they’d looked at. 

‘In the past, we considered a wild pipe dream of building  something as a family. They said, “If you sold your house and we sold ours and we steal your pension, we could do this”.’

Meanwhile Elinor jokes: ‘They said can we have your money basically.’

Understandably, the couple have high expectations, Elinor tells George: ‘I’m not compromising on kitchens and bathrooms.’

Meanwhile Andrew, who uses a mobility scooter, says the property will need to be on one level. 

The family carefully stockpiled everything from the demolition of the barn, including over 70,000 bricks, to save money.   

With planning permission finally granted, and the family aimed to get everyone in in 10 months, enlisting local contractors to help. 

They quickly spent £15,000 reinforcing the current foundations and pouring concrete into the building’s floor.    

HALLWAY AFTERWARDS: The stunning space is flooded with light, while Adrian's clever design and craftsmanship brings together contemporary elements with the traditional features of the barn (pictured, the hallway)

HALLWAY AFTERWARDS: The stunning space is flooded with light, while Adrian’s clever design and craftsmanship brings together contemporary elements with the traditional features of the barn (pictured, the hallway) 

However it was not long before they feel their budget dwindling, with Adrian confessing he had to let go of his local builders.

He says: ‘It’s a shame I haven’t got another £50,000 to let the guys crack on. Not at the rate they’re on. The problem was never going to be getting someone to build it, it was going to be me doing as much as I can to get my hands on.’

Meanwhile Laura confesses: ‘We’ve been here so long, it’s like what’s another few months to get it right.’

Two months later, winter arrives in Tamworth and living in a caravan begins to take it’s toll on the family.

Elinor says: ‘Caravan is getting a bit tired now, it’s looking a bit worn. It’d be nice to have space.’

Meanwhile Andrew adds: ‘Things  are going reasonably well, but things are looking a little bit tight. Adrian has been busy – it’s a compromise between how much time he’s at work and being justified to get others in on the budget.’

MASTER BEDROOM AFTERWARDS: The couple build timber beams into the property, creating a stunning barn style master bedroom. The luxurious space is a welcome change after months living in a caravan

MASTER BEDROOM AFTERWARDS: The couple build timber beams into the property, creating a stunning barn style master bedroom. The luxurious space is a welcome change after months living in a caravan

With the budget and schedule slipping, Adrian is doing more and more of the work himself.  

Andrew jokes: ‘Time is a big problem,  we said it would be finished by Christmas…but we didn’t specify which Christmas that would be.’

By February 2020, Laura is also feeling the strain of caravan life – having lived in one for over two years.

She says: ‘It is hard work. these past few months, we’ve really struggled with the weather. It’s the mud more than anything.’

Meanwhile the mother-of-two admits she feels the burden of building a home for her in-laws as well as her own dream property, saying: ‘I’m really lucky, we got on really well anyway but we’re feeling a huge sense of responsibility towards them. Basically they’ve invested everything they’ve got in us and the vision we had.’

She continues: ‘I’ve known Adrian since I was about eight and we’ve been together for 17 years. We lost Adrian’s brother a few years ago and it makes you re-evaluate things and you realise how important it is to have family around you. It puts a different perspective on life. This has bought us closer together for sure.’

One month later, the family were knocked sideways as the pandemic shut the site down. 

The couple ended up spending £100,000 over their initial budget in order to complete the stunning family home for their children and in-laws. Pictured, the dining space leads on from the kitchen and has an industrial-style picnic table

The couple ended up spending £100,000 over their initial budget in order to complete the stunning family home for their children and in-laws. Pictured, the dining space leads on from the kitchen and has an industrial-style picnic table 

Elinor tells the camera: ‘We’re doing okay, it’d be nice to move in. We haven’t all fallen out completely but there’s  been some arguments.’  

Laura and Adrian struggled to get building supplies amid the pandemic, with Laura saying: ‘It’s reordered the schedule of things. Some of the busy jobs we’d been hoping would happen, just haven’t’ been able to.’

By July 2020, the building was finally watertight. But the budget was gone. ‘A family member has managed to lend us £50,000…but there’s only £4,000 of that left,’ Adrian says on the programme.

‘But there is another £10,000 that will get the build done…It’s my mother’s own secret stash that was going to pay for her kitchen just to get the house finished.’

George says there was a ‘massive challenge’ to get the family into the building within two months and admits he is concerned about how much work there is still to be done. 

Meanwhile Laura and Adrian also create cosy single bedrooms for their two sons, which are joined together with a mezzanine for the children to play on (pictured)

Meanwhile Laura and Adrian also create cosy single bedrooms for their two sons, which are joined together with a mezzanine for the children to play on (pictured) 

However two months later, the couple unveiled their stunning contemporary home which oozes charm and character. 

The living space blends modern style with traditional features, keeping the building’s style alive.

Upstairs, the space is divided to give the children their own mirror image bedrooms with a mezzanine between the two.

Meanwhile the gorgeous master bedroom acts as the perfect upgrade from caravan living.

And downstairs, the adjourning annex for Adrian’s parents is an elegant new-build structure connected to the main house with a glazed walkway.

The couple confess the three year long build has been ‘more than worth it’, with Adrian saying: ‘I think we’re going to be around £450,000 build cost. I’ve done it for a reason, I’ve done it for the family. That’s what it’s about.’ 

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