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Pauline Clarke

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pauline Clarke (19 May 1921 – 23 July 2013)[1][2] was an English author who wrote for younger children under the name Helen Clare, for older children as Pauline Clarke, and more recently for adults under her married name Pauline Hunter Blair. Her best-known work is The Twelve and the Genii, a low fantasy children's novel published by Faber in 1962, for which she won the 1962 Carnegie Medal and the 1968 Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis.


Anne Pauline Clarke was born in Kirkby-in-Ashfield in Nottinghamshire in 1921 and later lived in Bottisham, Cambridgeshire.[3] She attended schools in London and Colchester. Until 1943 she studied English at Somerville College, Oxford, then worked as a journalist and wrote for children's magazines.[citation needed] Between 1948 and 1972 she wrote books for children.

She wrote many types of children's book including fantasies, family comedies, historical novels and poetry. Her Five Dolls books (1953–1963) were very popular but she achieved her greatest success with The Twelve and the Genii, published by Faber in 1962. She won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising The Twelve as the year's best children's book by a British subject,[4] and the German Kinderbuchpreis.[5] It was published in the U.S. by Coward-McCann as The Return of the Twelve and so named to the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award list in 1963. These books, like many of her others, were originally illustrated by Cecil Leslie.

The prize-winning novel, The Twelve and the Genii tells what happens in the middle of the Twentieth century when a small boy in an old Yorkshire house discovers the twelve wooden soldiers that had once belonged to Branwell Brontë in the early years of the Nineteenth century. Branwell's playing with the soldiers has brought them to life, and now they want to go home. Can Max, the small boy, and his family help the Twelve?

The Pekinese Princess, Clarke's first book, written so Cecil Leslie (living, then with Clarke) could illustrate her own two Pekinese dogs,[citation needed] is a long-ago fantasy of talking animals (and trees) in a fairy tale Chinese setting, a human-like world without humans, but referring to the Buddha. The fantasy ends with an apotheosis of immortality. The "merciful Jade Emperor ... picked up the kingdom by the four corners of the plain, as in a blanket, and planted it whole upon the mountain in the middle of the world, where the immortals dwell" (p 125). So they (almost) all live happily ever after, free of any further threat from wicked clever monkeys. "But some few Pekinese slipped out from the corners when the Lord of Heaven lifted the kingdom, and landed upon the earth again. These are they you see sometimes looking mournful ... for they are thinking with longing of their happy kingdom" (p 127).

Smith's Hoard (1955), also known as The Golden Collar, appears to be a typical British school-holiday mystery story. Two children, brother and sister, are sent for the school holidays to their great-aunt who lives in the country. During their train trip they coincidentally meet a boastful young man who tells them he is a dealer in second-hand jewellery, and shows them a strange gold item. The older brother immediately recognises the item as half of a Celtic or Iron Age torc, a decorative gold filigree neck-collar. He also realises that such a piece ought to be in a museum. Later, spending time with teenage friends in their aunt's neighbourhood, the brother and sister find evidence of a recently discovered hoard of bronze artefacts, and also discover an ancient Celtic coin. Clearly something very mysterious is going on, possibly including secret and illegal archaeological digging, theft of historical artefacts, and even the haunting by the ghost of the Celtic smith who buried the hoard and died in tribal warfare. The story is narrated by the younger sister (with some help from her brother and his friend), and, by the end, the mystery is solved. There is much in this novel that prefigures further developments in Clarke's fiction.[citation needed]

One of Clarke's historical novels Torolv the Fatherless (1959), Pauline Clarke's own favourite among her books.[citation needed] In her research for the book, amongst many resources, she used Anglo-Saxon historical material of the Cambridge academic Peter Hunter Blair.[citation needed] The story of Torolv works around "The Battle of Maldon", an Anglo-Saxon or Old English poem. This commemorates a bitter defeat at Maldon in Essex by Danish raiders in 991, led by a Viking called Anlaf, who is possibly Olaf Tryggvason, later the king of Norway, and himself a character in the Icelandic Heimskringla Saga. At the end of the book, Clarke includes her own translation of the poem.

Clarke's The Boy With the Erpingham Hood (1956), contemporaneous with Cynthia Harnett's historical novels of the same historical era (Plantagenet England in the early Fifteenth century), is the story of Simon Forester, a fictitious boy, involved with real characters and events leading to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Clarke could also write about modern children. Her realistic contemporary novel (once "contemporary", now creeping towards being "historical") Keep the Pot Boiling (1961) is about a vicar's family. Their efforts to amuse themselves constructively resemble the earlier family novels of Edith Nesbit,[citation needed] and the contemporaneous Rumer Godden and Noel Streatfeild. Remarkably, the vicar suffers from what we would now call bipolar disorder, which means his children often have to deal with his black depressive moods. But it is a happy story.

Fantasy, historical, and realist do not exhaust the genres of Clarke's major work. Her last children's novel The Two Faces of Silenus (1972) is that special kind of fantasy made popular by Alan Garner, where mythology from the past irrupts into a modern realistic setting. Visiting Italy with their parents, while their father attends a historians' conference, Rufus and Drusilla set free the ancient god-satyr Silenus, and his enemy Medusa. In Silenus Clarke evokes the feeling of a modern provincial Italian town: exotic, slightly operatic, cobbled and more brightly painted than an English counterpart, with detectable layers of older medieval and Roman ages; all of this set amongst the enduring landscape of fields, groves, and forests of antiquity, bursting with plant and animal life, immediate and fresh, with an almost evanescent sense of being haunted by a darker underlevel of ancient mythology. In fact the story grew from Clarke's visit with her historian husband to Spoleto.[citation needed]

Seven years after writing Torolv the Fatherless, Clarke married the historian Peter Hunter Blair in 1969. She edited his history Anglo-Saxon Northumbria (1984) and later wrote for adults as Pauline Hunter Blair. The first published was The Nelson Boy (1999), a painstakingly-researched historical reconstruction of Horatio Nelson's childhood.[6] She followed with a sequel about his early voyages.

Warscape (Church Farm House Books, Bottisham, 2002), written when Pauline Hunter Blair was in her late 70s, was her first novel for an adult audience. Pauline Hunter Blair, at that time, unmarried Pauline Clarke, was a young woman of 22 in 1943, and it is to this experience of a young woman during the last years of World War II that she returns for a sustained “scape” of the war. It would be interesting to know what Hunter Blair's own wartime experience was. However, based on the details and emotions her writing evokes, we can speculate that aspects of this novel are actually autobiographical. (The Wikipedia article on Pauline Hunter Blair notes that after completing degree-studies in English at Somerville College, Oxford – where he lecturers may have included J.R.R. Tolkien C.S. Lewis – she then worked as a journalist and wrote for children's magazines. But was this her wartime work, or her post-war work before she began her career as children's author in 1948, with the charming Oriental dog-fantasy romp, The Pekinese Princess.

The novel's title, Warscape, suggests a descriptive topographical painting or landscape, of wartime, showing the shape and distant vistas of a widespread territory. Hunter Blair's novel is, indeed, a “scape” of (some years of) the war, largely from the points of view of British civilians in England and other parts of Britain. It is largely concerned with the fighting in Europe, but continually aware of much more. Some of the Renaissance oil paintings of Pieter Breugel (the Elder) provide a similar large-scale view of humanity. A large canvas, with a cohort of main characters seen in close-up at the foreground of the vista, with lesser figures, and different actions glimpsed in the middle-ground, and yet others seen, as if in miniature, but just as significant, in the distance.

Beginning auspiciously on All Saints Day, 1 November 1943, Warscape focuses on the experiences of Laura Cardew, a young woman recently graduated from Oxford University, and now recruited into the secret world of wartime Intelligence – her long-awaited war-work. She soon finds herself as part of the office-based Intelligence team analysing the multitude of reports from secret agents and Resistance workers and spies in Europe, warning of the dangers of the anticipated German revenge weapon, the V1 “buzz bomb” or “doodlebug”. (This was a pilot-less pulse-jet bomb, broadly similar to a modern cruise-missile, but with no computer-navigation or guidance, only a gyroscopic compass and auto-pilot to provide direction and flight-stability. An unguided missile a terror weapon!) But this is NOT a thriller, or an adventure story: it has no moonlight parachute drops into France, no Resistance fighters, Sten guns, or Gestapo, and spies. Nor is the novel a Back-Room Boys exploration of the machinations of wartime Intelligence, and photo reconnaissance – although this is mentioned, as a passing detail (p 14).

Instead, like the larger everyday figures in a Breugel landscape, the close focus of the story is the lives, loves, confusions, anguishes and sufferings of civilians in Britain – Laura, her family, her work friends, and other contacts. Yet, in several ways, the novel chronicles the major events of the war, from October 1943 through to the first Christmas of the hard-won peace, in December 1945. We hear, successively, of Allied air force attacks on German ball-bearing factories, the revelation of the brutal Russian massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, the stalled Allied offensive in Italy, Anzio and the destruction of the monastery at Monte Cassino, the V1 bombardment of south east England, the Warsaw Uprising, and so on, up to the Battle of the Falaise Pocket, the Battle of the Bulge, the deaths of Mussolini, and then Hitler, Buchenwald and the wider Holocaust of Jews, and the three atom bombs exploded at Alamogordo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The campaigns in the Far East are also referred to: Slim in Burma, Macarthur preparing to invade the Philippines, and then Okinawa. (Readers unfamiliar with World War II would need good footnotes, reference books, or web-searches to explain the significance of these Breugellian background details. Background, maybe, but NOT insignificant!) Hunter Blair even acknowledges that for the Chinese, the fighting with the Japanese began in the summer of 1937 – two years before war broke out in Europe (p 228)!

The foreground narratives of civilians provide sensitive portraits of Laura, her romantically unhappy mother, her religiously bigoted and twisted father, her sister and her sister's fiancé – both serving in the Army. Through the novel, Laura is suffering from a profound undergraduate crush on one of her university teachers – who is married and has a son. He has lightly, unthinkingly, encouraged her feelings, without taking any unfair advantage of her. But she cannot forget him! The eventual resolution of this recurrent, and complex plot element is one of the great rewards of the novel. In the Intelligence office, Laura meets a motley collection of colleagues married woman, single women, intellectual men and engineers (one of them a Communist sympathiser and would-be experimental novelist), European refugees, and others – typical of the ad hoc back-room teams who worked together to contribute, in whatever small ways, to the eventual defeats of Nazi Germany, and then Imperial Japan. One of these colleagues is the similarly recently graduated Prudence Kyle, whose family we also meet. Yet this is no civilian soap opera. These are all real people, vividly and appealingly realised in a succession of vignettes, like a huge album of photographic snapshots, or a collage of images, with idiosyncrasies and beliefs and feelings.

Warscape also contains pervasive themes of religious belief, and disbelief, ranging from the puritan and evangelical (Calvinist, in origin) Wee Free Scottish Church, to the traditional Roman Catholic, and even humanistic atheism, and Marxist materialism. Prudence's father, Edwin, conceals his political cynicism and disbelief within his acerbic diary entries, as he comments on political and military news. He had been intellectually scarred by his childhood within the ultraconservative Wee Free movement. Laura's father has been similarly emotionally crippled by his Calvinist or splinter-sect upbringing, resulting in obsessive guilt-driven extreme sectarian pamphlet writing, and the fundamental ruin of his marriage. Given his twisted puritanism (blighted by doctrines of Original Sin) it is amazing that he actually sired any children at all – or even married! Despite this, he remains an emotionally sensitive figure, loved, and also pitied, by his estranged wife and daughter.

Naturally, tragically, amidst years of war, with family members and friends posted to distant theatres of operation, and almost random air-raid casualties amongst the civilians on the Home Front, the impacts of death, and the seemingly random brutality of warfare, and the Nazi savagery of concentration camps, haunt the minds – and fears of the many characters of the novel. Despite this, mothers, fathers, and sisters, lovers and friends face their waking hours, and sleeping nightmares, with stoic, taciturn courage. (Partly this is classic British stiff upper-lip of that era. It is also the inspirational wartime refusal to indulge in anything that might weaken morale collectively and individually. The sense that “we’re all in this together” is palpable.) Just as naturally, the narratives include sex, or some small-scale mention of physical relations between men and women – as well as open, accepting acknowledgement of homosexuality (at a time when repressive laws put sexually active gay men in prison!).

Writing as a septuagenarian, remembering young wartime women (and, surely, herself) in their twenties, Hunter Blair is surprisingly open. But she always writes (discreetly – this is not Lady Chatterly's Lover or 50 Shades of Gray) about sex from the perspective of young, university-trained women, and their similarly raised young men, of that era. Naïve, idealistic, romantic, but not cloistered.

Laura has encounters with other would-be boyfriends, including her level-headed Canadian friend, Tom, cousin of one of Laura's undergraduate female friends. Tom would pursue Laura far more seriously, romantically, if she were not fixated on the married academic. Instead he remains objective, philosophical, protective, caring, and respectful – he is a good friend! (He works as an industrial chemist, but hopes to become an experimental dramatist after the war.) Interestingly, Tom frankly declares “I’d hate to marry a virgin” (p 142), contrary to the traditional double-standard that allows unmarried men to sow their wild oats but to insist on marrying a virgin, while regarding the unmarried women they sow their wild oats with, or other women who are also sexually active, as sluts or worse.

Another would-be boyfriend is Hubert Cox (Chapter 13, pp 130–136). He is known to Laura from childhood when they were passengers on the same school bus, and later as teenagers, through mutual family acquaintances. Now, clever, musical, literary, and scientifically trained, he is working on radar (although at that time the British referred to it as “radio location”, rather than using the American term that had not yet become the standard word). Laura encounters him again, unexpectedly, while using some of her recreation leave – use it or lose it. They see Ralph Richardson performing on stage in Ibsen's poetic play Peer Gynt. They discuss the love of Solveig, the girl Peer Gynt leaves behind when he explores the world. Hubert confesses his love for Laura. He also confesses his physical longing for her, and almost begs her to have sex with him, trying to convince her my saying that “everybody needs sex … young adult males need a full orgasm several times a week at least, …” (his emphasis). Laura replies that he sounds like a sex manual. (Indeed!)

Yet another sort-of boyfriend is Rees, a tough Welsh soldier, waiting for his unit to be part of the D-Day Normandy invasion (pp 103–105). Laura meets him at her older sister's wedding. Rees is the best-man, and supposed to be engaged to another woman. But he pursues Laura, kissing her passionately, fumbling inside her clothes, and on one unconsummated occasion, stripping off her rain-soaked clothes and kissing her cold breasts while pressing his naked body against her. “This was her first uninhibited encounter with what [Laura’s] cousin Sylvia would call with exaggerated laughter the male organ”. Frank, physical, but ultimately, inexperienced, incomplete, and chaste. Later, when Rees's engagement to another woman is confirmed, Laura is retrospectively upset by her experiences with him. She gloomily explains some of this to Tom: “Well, he [Rees] was simply having a bit of fun, and I … let him”. Tom replies, smiling, “Come on, Laura, it is fun, it’s meant to be fun, not frightening” (p 112).

By contrast, Laura's friend Prudence, after a squashed but jolly train trip with a group of soldiers (an example of the typical camaraderie of young people thrown together during war-time, overcoming the usual polite silence of strangers thrust together on public transport), is pursued too eagerly by a sex-starved soldier waving a handful of ready condoms at her – Laura sees them as “small white balloons – supposedly to reassure her. She runs, then suddenly turns, and hits him with her small suitcase (referred to, using a now obsolete term, as a “grip”), knocking him down, and then fleeing. She knows she is in danger, and thinks it may be sexual, but does not fully understand (pp 73–77). Perhaps surprisingly, Laura immediately understands and explains the “small white balloons”.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany, as the war grinds on in the East, Daisy, a minor character (typist and inept tea-maker in the Intelligence office), is informed that her husband has died of his wounds in Burma. We are told, “Daisy had married hurriedly, innocently, before her boyfriend left, a young prudish girl. They had only two nights to consummate it. They had not got very far. Daisy remembered pain, discomfort and shyness” (pp 210–211). She feels that she is “not really Mrs Anything”, and has experienced a “ghost marriage”.

Sex is acknowledged, as a natural part of wartime human experience, but it is not prominent or explicit, and does not actually occur (except off-stage). Interestingly, the narrative acknowledges that later, after the war, and after the events of the novel, the prevailing wartime social ideas of personal privacy, sexual morals, and decency, will be swept away by sexual liberty and public frankness, “as permissiveness broke the last dams of puritanism” (pp 68–69). Tom suggests to Laura that she “pursue one of [her] friendships to its natural conclusion and have an affair. It might turn into a meaningful relationship”. The narrator notes that this is the first time Laura has heard the expression, but “it was to become a cliché as society proceeded towards permissiveness” (pp 141–142).

Through most of the novel there is no clear sense of a “narrator”. But occasionally the here-and-now description of people and events lurches into the future, observing aspects of the way society, morals and politics will change after the war, and in our own modern times. I am reminded of the “Time Machine” device used by Norman Mailer in his sprawling World War II novel The Naked and the Dead, about the capture of a Japanese-held Pacific island, and America during the Great Depression that led up to the war. Mailer's narrative gimmick is itself borrowed from John Dos Passos's use of “Newsreels” structural sections of his vast novel, containing newspaper headlines and newspaper articles and other non-fiction details in his sprawling 1930s novel U.S.A. But Hunter Blair uses her implicit time-machine to look forward beyond the war years’ chronology of her novel – evoking, in snippets, contrasts between Britain's, and the Western world's values of wartime, and our own later, more relaxed and less puritan era. Touchingly, this speaking-of-now-and-observing-the future includes an encounter between civilian Prudence and an RAF fighter pilot. They happen to meet on the upper-deck of a London bus, when she sits beside him on the last empty seat. He opens the conversation, apologising for his bulky RAF overcoat taking up too much room. “And what do you [Prudence] do, in this battle to the death? Forgive me, I always talk to people, do you mind? It feels a waste not to.” They chat. Quickly the talking becomes profound as, amongst other things, he declares that he knows his “Redeemer liveth”, but he is not proselytising, only speaking from the heart. They chat further, mentioning the latest West End theatre hit Arsenic and Old Lace (later, a 1944 Hollywood screwball comedy film starring Cary Grant). The pilot asks Prudence about her plans for after the war – continuing her research work in Twelfth century history. The popular RAF pilot and war poet, John Pudney, is quoted. As she gets off at her bus-stop, he thanks her for the talk and thinks, “When I die … as I assuredly must soon, this luck can’t go on, I shall remember you, golden girl, you and your companions for whom I fight. (But when it came to it, there was not time, he remembered only his parents and his God)”. (pp 26–29). The vignette, and its parenthetical observation, is typical of so much in this fine novel.

One further feature of Warscape deserves attention. Frequently, and diversely, the characters – almost all of them reasonably well educated middle-class people – quote, mention, or allude to a wide range of authors, literature, music, history, and culture. Dickens, Tolstoy, Mozart, Bach, Ibsen, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Freud, Plato, Jung, Locke, Bunyan, Lewis Carroll, Dylan Thomas, Sassoon, Coleridge, ... Similarly, many famous and popular people of that era are mentioned, including John Pudney, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, Myra Hess (pianist), C.E.M. Joad (famous on the radio show Brains Trust), C.S. Lewis (when his wartime writing and radio talks on Christianity were popular, but before he became a best-seller children's fantasy author), Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, the “Punch” cartoonist and patriotic war-poster artist Fougasse, ... A large shared cultivated culture informs the ideas and lives of Hunter Blair's characters.

The overall effect is of a tapestry, full of detail, a panorama or landscape – indeed, a “warscape”, as the title make clear. Several characters are prominent, especially Laura, Prudence, Tom, and Laura's university academic heart-throb. This is not a book that tells us new things about the lived experience of World War II. But it is a rich, vivid picture of what civilian life was like – its dangers, privations, fears and heartaches – seen within the much larger, distant context of the war. (But not always distant: Laura and her mother, in their house are hit by, but survive a nearby V1 explosion. One of Laura's work-colleagues is also trapped in a bomber cellar after a V1 hits! Relatives and friends die!)

Written in her early 80s, and self-published, with minor typos and editorial slips, Jacob’s Ladder (Church Farmhouse Books, Bottisham, 2003) is a novel of village life, with a cast of mainly middle-aged people experiencing their approach to old-age, final illnesses, the death of partners, and the struggle to make sense of life and rebuild human contact and love. The story includes one murder, one suicide, two deaths, two remarriages and one marriage, and continual reflections on being human, while also being aware of DNA, black holes, mental illness (depression and paranoid schizophrenia), sexuality and sexual expression and love, and creativity.

One of the characters is a poet and university academic, another is a playwright preparing to begin a novel which, in some ways, is Jacob’s Ladder itself, although the would-be novelist does not get beyond a visual sketch of the story. The novel is threaded through with quotations and references to Egyptian mythology, notably Thoth, the ibis-headed god of knowledge, truth and justice, as well as the Metaphysical poet Thomas Traherne, and the Renaissance renegade monk Giordano Bruno, and the Hermetic writings, along with many other literary, musical, and artistic motifs. Religious belief and mysticism, agnosticism, and atheism are important issues.

The final sentences of the would-be novelist's sketch conclude this philosophical novel: "After the ravages of death, life flowed in. … As the sea flows in at high tide, and absconds again, screeching down the shingle, stealing away with generations of sins" (p344).

She died on 23 July 2013 at the age of 92.[2]


As Helen Clare

  • Dolls series, illustrated by Cecil Leslie
    • Five Dolls in a House (1953)
    • Five Dolls and the Monkey (1956)
    • Five Dolls in the Snow (1957)
    • Five Dolls and Their Friends (1959)
    • Five Dolls and the Duke (1963)
  • Merlin's Magic (1953)
  • Bel the Giant and Other Stories (1956), illus. Peggy Fortnum; reissued as The Cat and the Fiddle and Other Stories (1968), illus. Ida Pellei
  • Seven White Pebbles (1960), illus. Cynthia Abbott

As Pauline Clarke

  • The Pekinese Princess (1948)
  • The Great Can (1952)
  • The White Elephant (1952)
  • Smith's Hoard (1955) also published as Hidden Gold (1957) and as The Golden Collar (1967)
  • Sandy the Sailor (1956)
  • The Boy with the Erpingham Hood (1956)
  • James the Policeman (1957)
  • James and the Robbers (1959)
  • Torolv the Fatherless (1959)
  • The Lord of the Castle (1960)
  • The Robin Hooders (1960)
  • Keep the Pot Boiling (1961)
  • James and the Smugglers (1961)
  • Silver Bells and Cockle Shells (1962)
  • The Twelve and the Genii (1962), illus. Cecil Leslie; U.S. title, The Return of the Twelves
  • James and the Black Van (1963)
  • Crowds of Creatures (1964)
  • The Bonfire Party (1966)
  • The Two Faces of Silenus (1972)

As Pauline Hunter Blair

  • Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, Variorum by Peter Hunter Blair (editor, with Michael Lapidge) (1984)
  • The Nelson Boy: An Imaginative Reconstruction of a Great Man's Childhood (1999)
  • A Thorough Seaman: The Ships' Logs of Horatio Nelson's Early Voyages Imaginatively Explored (2000)
  • Warscape (2002)
  • Jacob's Ladder (2003)


  1. ^ "Pauline Clarke". Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 31 July 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Pauline HUNTER BLAIR Obituary". The Times. 29 July 2013. Retrieved 16 August 2013. (subscription required)
  3. ^ Happy 85th, Pauline Clarke! .[dead link]
  4. ^ (Carnegie Winner 1962) Archived 29 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 16 August 2012.
  5. ^ Article "Pauline Clarke: Über die Autorin von Band 15 der ZEIT-Kinder-Edition" (German language). Zeit Online: Literature. Die Zeit. 2006.
  6. ^ "The Nelson Boy – An Imaginative Reconstruction of A Great Man's Childhood". Archived from the original on 21 July 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link). Naval History (reviews by title, Man to Pol). Gazelle Book Services. Archived 21 July 2007. Retrieved 6 October 2013.

External links

This page was last edited on 28 September 2020, at 22:10
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