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Book Launch: Looking for Trouble by Colleen Higgs

NELM and Hands-On Books are delighted to invite you to a Grahamstown launch of Looking for Trouble – a collection of mostly Yeoville stories.

Looking for Trouble is a collection of short stories set in Yeoville from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. The stories capture with a dark humour the lives of young people trying to make a go of things, given the constraints of the country and the volatile period. Most of the stories have been published in literary magazines; one of the stories was published by Femrite (Uganda) in a collection called World of our Own. A slightly earlier version of the title story was published in a collection of stories by South African women edited by Maggie Davey, Dinaane, Telegraph Books, London.

Comments about the collection:
“These wry, subtle stories are deceptively simple, completely compelling. Brave, evocative writing that takes you back to the intense milieu of 80s Yeoville, and to all the bittersweet sexual questing of youth.” Henrietta Rose-Innes (Author of Shark’s Egg, Homing, Nineveh, and Caine Prize Winner)

“Looking for Trouble is a book that will make you late for work. Like an unexpected fist in the stomach. Words that will stay with you long after you turned the last page.” Melinda Ferguson (Author of Smacked and Hooked)

“These stories awakened in me a sense of nostalgia, not only for Yeoville in the early nineties, but for being young, love’s fool and sexually reckless. At some point, experience forces us to lose our illusions and come of age, damaged by love but wiser. This spot-on collection captures that arc of life and, as I turned the last page, I felt we had lived well, if imperfectly.” Rachel Zadok (Author of Gem Squash Tokoloshe)

Event Details

  • Date: Monday, 21 May 2012
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: National English Literary Museum, Eastern Star Education Centre, Anglo African Street, Grahamstown
  • Guest Speaker: Carol Leff
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP: Colleen Higgs, Hands-On Books,

Looking for Trouble
Book Details

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Launch of Looking for Trouble by Colleen Higgs at Love Books

Looking for TroubleLove Books and Hands-On Books are delighted to invite you to the Joburg launch of Looking for Trouble by Colleen Higgs. Melinda Ferguson will introduce Colleen and be in conversation with her. Colleen will read from the collection too. Join us for a glass of wine and a snack.

Looking for Trouble is a collection of short stories set in Yeoville from the mid-1980′s and early 90s. The stories capture with a dark humour the lives of young people trying to make a go of things, given the constraints of the country and the volative period.

Most of the stories have been published in literary magazines or in collections both here, the UK and in Uganda.

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 25 April 2012
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Love Books,
    Bamboo Centre,
    53 Rustenburg Rd,
    Melville | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Melinda Ferguson
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP: Love Books,, 011 7267408

Praise for Looking for Trouble

“These wry, subtle stories are deceptively simple, completely compelling. Brave, evocative writing that takes you back to the intense milieu of 80s Yeoville, and to all the bittersweet sexual questing of youth.” Henrietta Rose-Innes, author of Shark’s Egg, Homing, Nineveh, and 2008 Caine Prize Winner

“These stories awakened in me a sense of nostalgia, not only for Yeoville in the early nineties, but for being young, love’s fool and sexually reckless. At some point, experience forces us to lose our illusions and come of age, damaged by love but wiser. This spot-on collection captures that arc of life and, as I turned the last page, I felt we had lived well, if imperfectly.” Rachel Zadok

Looking for Trouble is a book that will make you late for work. Like an unexpected fist in the stomach. Words that will stay with you long after you turned the last page.” – Melinda Ferguson

About Colleen Higgs

As well as being a writer, Colleen Higgs is also a publisher, she started the ground-breaking independent southern African women’s press, Modjaji Books in 2007. She lives in Cape Town with her daughter and cat. Looking for Trouble is her first collection of short stories. She also has two collections of poetry Lava Lamp Poems (2011) and Halfborn Woman (2004) all published by Hands-On Books.

Book Details

Photo of Colleen Higgs by Liesl Jobson

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Lynette Paterson on Lava Lamp Poems at the Grahamstown launch

As some of you know, Ingrid Andersen and I had a Grahamstown launch of our books, >Piece Work and Lava Lamp Poems during the Festival. NELM kindly hosted the event and I loved the evening. My friend, Lynette Paterson, introduced me and my poems, and Phillippa Yaa de Villiers did the honours for Ingrid.

It was wonderful for to hear Lynette speak about my work at NELM. I felt as though I was basking in warmth and light; and that the best of me is truly seen by her. I couldn’t take it all in, so I asked her if she would send me what she said, which she did and she gave me permission to publish her introduction. So here it is.

Launch of Lava Lamp Poems by Colleen Higgs, at NELM, 7 July 2011

Lava Lamp Poems is Colleen Higgs’ second collection of poems, published by Hands-On Books. Halfborn Woman was launched in this same venue in 2004.

First I want to pay tribute to Colleen for her hands-on involvement with writing and books – her own and others’. As a writing teacher in Grahamstown, the manager of community publishing at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town,
and the founding director of Modjaji Books, she has consistently turned her hand to the task of nurturing writers and writing, and latterly, women writers in particular. Modjaji has published 27 titles (and counting) in its first four years, with already several prize nominations and winners among them. Colleen’s vision and enterprising spirit are remarkable and inspirational.

In the midst of this, Colleen pursues her own life and her own art, and now brings us her second collection. Colleen’s personal life is the ground of her art. The chatter of her daughter; the silence of her partner; memories of others she has loved; places that have shaped her – these are the sources of her poems, and progressively they unfold an ever more fully born woman. From a high balcony in Troyeville, the girl with the pert new haircut and the “finely tuned anxiety” (17) sees into the far, firework-illuminated distance, but cannot discern the precipice she is on (20). The mother on the living-room couch with her small daughter watches the lamp in the darkened room, and discerns the meaning of present, past and future with a “slowed down, profound” wisdom that rises and sinks like the warm yellow wax in the lava lamp (47).

Perhaps more than anything, what the writer of this collection discerns is how short is the journey between the long-boned, smooth-skinned child, and the grandmother whose baggy skin is glimpsed as the faded blue nighty rides up her thighs. “You can’t pretend it won’t happen to you.”(12) “The birds have all gone, the river is fuller / the days are shorter, the rain is coming. My life will end. I’ve seen it now.” (39)

From such epiphanies, memories and workaday incidents, the poet examines who she is. The child asleep in bed with her pushes against her with her legs, as if to launch herself: “as if you’re eager to push away. I am your ground.” (40) The poet ‘pushes against’ each memory, each incident, testing, risking, launching. She writes to find her own ground.

And she writes against forgetfulness, towards wholeness. “My mother is slowly forgetting her life, / who she is and what holds her together. … I want to / remember enough to follow the pebbles all the way / back into the dark forest.” (30) (Incidentally, the presence of fairy tales lends both charm and a searing incisiveness to the collection – as is the way with fairy tales.)

While the life-content of her poems is processed in the writing, and the form is carefully crafted, Colleen’s poems tend not to have answers, points of arrival, or definitive conclusions. In form and content, the poems swell, undulate, “bubble and loop” (47). Like the yellow wax in the lamp, they rise and fall as the density of thought and feeling freely changes. On the whole they have the viscous quality of real lava – which may be why the flow of the prose poem is a favoured form. But even when form congeals into a surface crust, the inner fluid is restless, moving, seeking, asking – and sometimes shocking the reader (and probably the writer herself) with a hiss of steam as it encounters something unexpected: “sometimes I feel I could even slap strangers, / for no apparent reason” (9).

I’ve said nothing about the more ‘public’ sequence entitled, Notes from a New Country, in which the writer very tentatively, and humorously, ‘pushes against’ a new order of things, testing, looking to find new ground. Perhaps we can prevail upon her to include an extract in her reading.

It is with pleasure that I present Colleen Higgs and invite her to read from Lava Lamp Poems.

Lynette Paterson

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The fabulous, the dark and the hilarious #flf2011

This is my fourth or fifth time of going to the FLF. I always go with my close friend and it becomes a weekend of relaxing, pleasure and work. Thankfully this year I did not have a launch organised, so was able to be much more chilled.

Over the past few years Jenny Hobbs has asked me to chair a session and I always say yes. Even when I am overwhelmed or know absolutely nothing about the topic, I say yes.

This year I chaired the session entitled Love Stories; panelists were Lindsay van Rensburg, editor from Kwela; Nani Mahlanga – Sapphire romance author and the inimitable Fiona Snyckers, who needs no introduction to BookSA readers. I was bemused to be asked to do this one as I am probably the least romantically inclined, the person least likely to have read a romance that I can imagine. But I stuck to my rule and said yes. I learnt the following: South African romance readers require a little more challenge than the straightforward Mills and Boon formulaic stories, otherwise they get bored. Sapphire promotes responsible sex, there will be a condom in the story at a strategic point. Romance is seen to be a gateway to other kinds of literacy, so could be a way of ‘growing more readers’. I was left with a number of questions, such as; is there a tradition of gay/lesbian romance fiction? I wonder why the ‘rape fantasy’ is becoming more prevalent in international romances? Where will this all lead? I was hugely encouraged by the way our writers and publishers this genre are approaching this opportunity. I look forward to hearing more as they see how sales go and how readers and new writers develop.

The fabulous
Seeing and greeting and chatting with friends and colleagues that one normally only has online contact with, meeting new people, eating divine meals in various Franschoek eateries with fascinating friendly folk, the weather, seeing Modjaji authors looking pleased with their Franschoek experience.

Lauren Beukes‘s sloth draped over her shoulders, she looks like a real celebrity!

Listening to Janice Galloway’s talk; I was fortunate to have read her memoir, This is not about me before the festival. Galloway was brilliant, vivacious, confident and I loved her Scottish accent. Her writing is dark, funny, devastating and brilliantly written.

In the Masculinities session, Melinda Ferguson carried off her “counterpoint” role with enormous charm and aplomb. What was puzzling was that the issue discussed by the panelists was race rather than masculinities. Maybe it was that the panelists were seated on a stage looking over a sea of middle-aged to elderly (mostly) white faces, and race is what came up for them?

the dark
My bag was snatched while I was at the BookSA celebration organised by Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz. During the main course, a waitress noticed a bag lying on the ground just outside of where we were sitting. My wallet was open and all my cash – which wasn’t much was taken. And then I noticed my cellphone was gone. A few minutes later the manager had security and the police on the case and my things were retrieved. I had to go to the police station to identify my belongings. It turned out that a gang of boys, between ten and fifteen years old were the culprits. My friend and I sat at the police station, we had to wait for the detective to arrive. Eventually we asked if we could go back to the restaurant and have our dessert and coffee and pay. This we did and then when we came back to the station the boys were in the front of the charge office sitting in row. They were apparently well known to the police. Feral boys. They had to wait for the parents to fetch them. By the time we left the station at about 12.30 only one mother had arrived. We heard that there were two armed robberies in the squatter settlement. A group of Somalians arrived at the station to lay the charge regarding the first armed robbery.

I decided to lay a charge against the boys, as this would mean that some of them might go before a magistrate and be put into a diversion programme for youth at risk. I will have to go through to Franschoek at some point and spend a day in court waiting for this case to come before the magistrate.

I saw the boys again on the streets on Saturday and Sunday, drifting up and down the main drag.


the hilarious

Justin Cartwright’s anecdote “Iris Murdoch’s method of writing was to lie on her back for three months on the floor and then get up and write the novel in a week.”

Zakes Mda saying something like this:
“I had never read a memoir or autobiography, so I thought I better read one or two. I started with Gunther Grass, after about ten pages or so, I thought nahhh, I am a storyteller, I have written all these novels, I can do this.” He then proceeded to write it in three months and refused editing suggestions, he wanted it to be shaggy (I think that is what he said).

Khaya Dlanga’s wonderful story, that I hope he will write one day, told us with how To Kill a Mockingbird hampered his love life.

Michiel Heyns’s dry humour as he spoke about reviews in that session, see below:

[48]: Critical Factors (Hospice Hall)
Is author hagiography taking the place of informed literary comment? Regular book reviewers Imraan Coovadia, Michiel Heyns and Tymon Smith discuss the rise and rise of the personal versus the critical with Cape TimesBooks Editor Karin Schimke.

The toilet saga and looming elections as a backdrop to the FLF. The toilet humour in the Sunday papers, particularly Ben Trovato’s Whipping Boy.

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Book Launch: Lava Lamp Poems by Colleen Higgs

Lava Lamp Poems: Colleen Higgs: Colleen HiggsYou are invited to come along to the launch of Lava Lamp Poems by Colleen Higgs. Finuala Dowling will introduce the poet and her work. There will be a short reading from the collection.

Finuala Dowling says this about Lava Lamp Poems:

The poems in Lava Lamp are compelling: at once conversational and uncanny. Colleen Higgs tells the truth but tells it slant, insisting on the singularity of everything that is familiar — domesticity, marriage, motherhood, family. The sequence of poems set in Johannesburg is captivating.”

(Finuala Dowling is the author of What Poets Need, I Flying, Notes from the Dementia Ward and Flyleaf. Dowling has also recently won the Olive Schreiner prize for ‘Notes’ and she received the Ingrid Jonker prize for I Flying.)

And Fiona Snyckers says this

Alternating between the most economical of free verse and the most elastic of prose-poetry, Higgs shows a dazzling facility with both mediums. Her poems reach into the past, isolating long-gone moments and imbue them with talismanic significance. Personal history is rendered as a series of cultural artefacts, as distinct and recognisable as the eponymous lava lamp. But even as the past is forced to stand still and submit to scrutiny, it’s meaning remains fluid and elusive.

Humour runs through the collection like a glowing thread – from the gentle and affectionate ‘an ode to Perry’ to the utterly female satire of ‘on wanting a washing machine’ and ‘where these things lead’, to the dark undertow of ‘blaming Lulu’ and the bitter pill of ‘excuses’. Humour is used to evoke a wry smile, or in the case of ‘excuses’ a grimace of recognition.”

(Fiona Snyckers is author of Trinity Rising and Trinity on Air.)

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 20 January 2011
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge, Corner of Roeland and Buitenkant Streets, Cape Town
  • Guest Speaker: Finuala Dowling
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of Leopard’s Leap wine and a snack
  • RSVP: The Book Lounge,, 021 462 2425

Book Details

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Are you warm enough?

Just for fun and to cheer myself up from an acute case of ‘Not the London Book Fair Blues’, I thought I would post this story that was accepted for Urban 04 (Dave Chislett’s publication, which had to get shelved, due to lack of funding) and then was published in New Contrast. I can’t find my printed copy of NC, so can’t accurately give the volume and date, but it was either late in 2009 or early 2010.

Are you warm enough?

Do you remember that weird time in about ’92? Before the elections. There was a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. Anyway you must remember my friend, Ruth – I bet you never heard that she had an affair with my brother, Grant? Ja, it wasn’t for that long, a couple of months at most. Anyway it was when he was a clown in a play at the Market Theatre, did you ever see it? So he got really trashed on something, white pipes, I don’t even know, I was never that au fait with all the options. Ja, apparently he couldn’t sleep for two weeks and he disappeared with the clown suit. No one knew where he was. Later we heard he’d been painting garden furniture at a friend’s parents’ place somewhere out at Fourways or Lanseria, and talking about becoming a tennis coach. He even spoke of getting an Arthur Ashe tennis racquet. Ruth was the only one who spoke to him while he was lost. And she believed him, she believed all the tennis coach stuff and she encouraged him. He sounded so convincing. Passionate, knowledgeable – you remember what he was like? I would have laughed at him if he’d told me that tennis coach shit. Except I would probably have cried instead.

So they had to cancel the play because there was no understudy and no extra costumes. It was some kind of improv play that had been his idea in the first place. Ag shame man, Grant’s name was mud with those okes, as you can imagine, for years, not just months. Some of the other actors in that play went on to star in big shot TV series like the one about Barney Barnato and Isidingo even. Grant was a brilliant actor when he wasn’t drugging, I always felt sad for him, he could have also been famous and that.

So anyway after the whole clown fiasco, Grant spent a couple of years on the streets, in Yeoville and then in Cape Town. I even heard from someone that he tried to score free Kentucky from one of his army mates who worked at KFC head office. He phoned the oke from a tickey box. Remember how there used to be tickey boxes hey? The oke pretended he didn’t know Grant, how blind is that? Even my Mom didn’t hear from him for at least a year.

Poor Ruth was a bit in love with him for a while; he was so sweet and fucked up, and he played the guitar and sang to her and made romantic gestures with flowers. He rode a motorbike, nothing fancy, just a Honda 250 or something like that, and he had this amazing World War 2 jacket he’d got from my grandpa. My grandpa was in Monty’s army in North Africa. Grant wore it all the time, it was the Real McCoy, he always had a soft spot for family memorabilia. And old Grant, he knew how to spin a line hey. The gift of the gab, my Gran used to say. When he was a kid all his teachers loved him, even though he was a cheeky little bugger.

Ruth had just broken up with Nathan when she got involved with Grant. Nathan was one of those single-minded okes, funny and bright, quick witted. Sports-mad. Ag in the end it had all got too intense for her with him. She began to wonder if the main reason he was with her was because her father was a famous political lawyer and he was hoping it would rub off on him. Ja, anyway, the next thing was, Nathan and I started sleeping together. I can’t even remember how it happened. It was like comfort eating. Suddenly you wake up and you smell the roses, or should I say doughnuts. One day it seemed like – there he was, I woke up and there he was, Nathan was in my bed. I remember some uptight friend of mine saying at the time that my bed was like a railway station. She really cheesed me off. Why is it better to only ever have slept with one or two men? Can you tell me? Look, I was being kind to Nathan. He was very cut up about Ruth. When we were alone he was sweet like some dogs are, you know golden retrievers, sort of soppy and well meaning. I couldn’t bear to see how sad he was, and I wasn’t involved with anyone else. And he and Ruth had broken up. So it wasn’t completely wrong?

Anyhow when Nathan heard about Grant and Ruth, he was over to Ruth’s like a shot. I was the kiepie who told him. Fuck, I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. So Grant and Ruth and Nathan had one of those B-movie scenes, only it happened in Muller Street. Grant climbed out of Ruth’s bedroom window onto the balcony, he was in his underpants and he sat there while Ruth and Nathan argued with each other in the lounge. Ruth didn’t really want Nathan to know that she and Grant were kafoofling in the middle of the day. I suppose she didn’t really want Nathan to know about Grant at all. That is the thing I feel the most shit about, even now, when I think back. I mean Ruth was my friend. Ja, so Nathan didn’t know Grant was right there. Luckily Grant was stoned enough to be fairly cool about sitting outside on the balcony half naked. They fought for so long he even fell asleep out there, or so he told me.

Grant lived in a flat at the bottom end of Dunbar Street. You didn’t ever see his flat did you? I only went there a couple of times. And the one time I visited him there he’d filled his whole flat with branches he’d brought in from when the Council pruned the plane trees in his road. He was so mal, hey. Bos bevok. He didn’t want to leave them there to die in the street like rubbish, he said. His place spaced me out, completely. Apart from the branches, which was enough to push me over the edge, his flat was dirty and I mean vuil, hey. Dishes and pizza boxes and crusty pots rotting all over the place and I’m not exaggerating. Stompies and bottlenecks – not even in ashtrays. The oke was living like an animal. I was glad my old lady couldn’t see how he was living, she would have turned in her grave. Well she isn’t dead yet, but you know what I mean. No furniture apart from the mattress and sheets and blankets so filthy you couldn’t tell what colour they were originally. It was worse than bergies, and that’s saying something. I couldn’t stop myself from tuning him, “Sies man Grant, how can you live like this? Are you a dog?” But you know what? Not even dogs, not even pigs live like that.

Old Grant was always such a joker, so full of life and laughs, I felt like a dried up old prune around him, even when we were kids. He could always make you hose yourself. But I’m sorry that flat was the end for me. Something inside me tightened. It scared me. I don’t think Ruth ever went there, she would have run a mile. Grant used to visit her in his leather jacket, somehow emerging from that bloody pig stye cleaned up enough for a person like Ruth to be cool with. No you’ve got to hand it to the oke, he’s pulled off some tricks in his day and getting involved with Ruth was one of those occasions – big time.

In any case, Ruth and I were never close again. I suppose she didn’t trust me after all of that shit went down. I still think about her sometimes, miss her even, but in the end there was too much water under the bridge. Nathan, the dweezil, told Ruth about his ‘fling’ with me as a way of tuning her for Grant. Yessis we were all so dof. Look it didn’t help him, Ruth never forgave him for that, nor me. Things between Grant and Ruth also cooled off, she lost interest, she was too cut up about everything. Grant was pretty freaked too; he really dug Ruth. She was older than him, and she was very mooi and soft and they’d had this lekker playful thing going between them. She was probably the classiest chick he’d ever got near.


I remember this one night, we were all at Dawson’s. It was before Ruth and Nathan split up, she and I were still friends and somehow Grant came along for the ride that night. He used to pitch up at my place when he wanted something to eat and he couldn’t come up with a better plan. One time when he couldn’t find me he ate loquats from one of those big gardens in Jan Smuts near the Zoo, where the trees hang over onto the pavement. Anyway I think that was when they met, Grant and Ruth. The Radio Rats were making a comeback and Dawson’s was cooking. People like James Phillips and Johannes Kerkorrel showed up. Definitely the best jorl in Joburg that night. We all danced like mal, even Nathan, who wasn’t really a dancer. His heart wasn’t in it, but that night he was jiving with the best of us. That journalist who got shot a few months later in Katlehong was there too. Everybody was at Dawsons, even the short drug dealer who always wore that mustard-yellow felt homburg. When I think about it now, it was like we were celebrating the end of something terrible that we’d lived through our whole lives. It was like the war was over and who the fuck knew what would happen next?


After everything cooled down between the four of us, Nathan and I still slept together sometimes. He would drive past my flat, down Kenmere Road on his way home. He lived up in those larney flats behind the water tower. If my lights were on he’d phone from his place. It was before cell phones.

The conversation would go something like this,

“Howzit. Are you there?”


“What’re you doing?”


“Are you warm enough?”


A few minutes later he’d be there, smiling and as pleased as all hell with himself, at my door. We would usually fuck and then curl up and sleep tightly wrapped together. Those nights with Nathan were quite lekker, a bit less lonely, you know. The mornings were sometimes a bit awkward. Deep down I knew I wanted more than a bit on the side here and there. One night I said “Ja, I am,” when he asked, “Are you warm enough?” and then he didn’t call again. Just like that. Can you believe it?

The next time I bumped into him he was dropping a video into the slot at that shop in Parktown North with his four-year-old daughter. I was living down the road in Blairgowrie. Married and everything. But that’s another story. She was only cute hey, his daughter, big blue eyes and wild, curly blonde hair. I couldn’t believe it, almost. If I hadn’t seen her with my own eyes. Somehow I’d never pictured any of us jollers with kids and all of that. He was a hotshot corporate lawyer about to emigrate to Canada.

I haven’t seen Ruth for years. Sometimes I hear about her, what she’s doing from mutual friends. The weird thing is that she also lives in Canada. She makes really short documentary films. I don’t know if she ever got married or anything.

Grant opened up a video shop in Mossel Bay with his wife, Jeannie. I don’t know where he met her, I’m too scared to ask. How she tamed him, your guess is as good as mine. But the life down there suits him (rather him than me – hey?) He fishes and surfs quite a bit. Drinks every night. But not too much. They take it in turns at the shop. He fetches and carries the kids, they’ve got two beautiful little girls and can you believe it – he designs websites in his spare time as a sort of a cross between a hobby and a job. He was always someone who was going to be able to reinvent himself. It’s not a bad life. Oh and he also has a fucking conspiracy theory blog, most of which he makes up himself.

Anyway I better dash. You look great, next time you must tell me all about where you’ve been.

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