Sanguimario – here boy!

Tomorrow I head back to the house for the first time in a month. The decorating gods must have known this as yesterday they provided a little companion-animal for the trip in the form of this little oil painting. Until yesterday it had lingered in a local thrift store, a hospice shop, and one that I’ve long given up visiting because it’s overpriced and usually full of floral china and crystal glasses that aren’t as old as me – let alone antique. I might not have seen it, (busy as I was trying on a coat) but Peter thrust it into my vision. It looked competent enough and there was some info on the back suggesting Italian origins but there was, as always the ‘do I need it’ conundrum? In the end, I decided I needed it more than another velvet collared oat.

I love the back of paintings and this one doesn’t disappoint. It came originally from Flor & Findel, picture dealers of Florence whose label promised that ‘All Orders receive immediate attention.’ Flor & Findel were booksellers and stationers in Florence and as was common in the nineteenth century they were also picture dealers. The painting is titled Sanguimario, which translates as ‘Bloodthirsty.’ The name is a bit at odds with the rather noble looking dog which made me wonder if he was a favourite hunter rather than a household pet. A closer examination revealed the signature of Michelangelo Meucci (1840-1890), a Florentine Italian best known for paintings of dead game birds – so Sanguimario as a favourite hunting dog makes sense.

It’s a little treasure for which I’ve not yet found a place but then again I have in my luggage an Old Silver Plate samovar for which I have the same problem and a host of other finds. It’s part of the pleasure of returning to the house – finding places for the new acquisitions – things that you don’t need, and don’t have a place to put yet.


This is a detail of a tapestry depicting the return of Charles II and the restoration of the Stuarts to the English throne in 1660, which has caught Peter’s eye at this week’s auction. At the moment he’s thinking – ‘do I need it – where would it go?’ Watch this space.


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The Tented Room


The guest bedroom, once the front parlour

The guest bedroom here remains little changed. Used for a while as our bedroom and then a study, it is square in plan with two double sash windows and high ceilings. In the original house it was the front parlour and it still retains a stately sense of occasion and proportion. Soon after we took over we painted the ubiquitous Softboard linings a light grey and filled the room with a selection of furniture, most of which had Biedermeier leanings. It is a lovely room and because of this it has always passed muster.

Most guests have been too kind to mention that the curtains were rather inadequate when it came to blocking out the nearby street lights but having experienced the room myself recently, new window treatments have become the first evidence of a plan to tackle this room. That I had a plan for these windows all ready to go, was because I’ve been thinking about it for a while, allowing the design to percolate away in the back of my mind.

The first room that really went through a lengthy design process like this was the little bathroom (see Building the Titanic, June 3 2011) with its panelled walls and ornate ceiling. The second was the library where every space was carefully designed on paper. These are to me the two most successfully ‘decorated’ spaces in the house.

The guest room is the last real décor project in the house. After this there is the rather mundane task of painting the small laundry – really no bigger than a cupboard and perhaps the conversion of the old tool shed into an additional guest space or office – but after that we’re looking at rather boring maintenance. At the same time guest rooms are very easy to ignore and to make dull because you don’t occupy them yourself. However I want the room to be memorable, an experience that a visitor remembers and not one replicated in their own homes or any other guest room they might encounter.

There is also one more thing I want to tick off my decorating bucket list – a tent room.

Parkier & Fontaine, Napoleon’s Bed Chamber Chateau Malmaison (see )

Tent rooms date from Napoleon Bonaparte but like most of his ideas the origins of the form are in Ancient Rome. However as far as the modern world is concerned it all starts when Empress Josephine commissioned architects Charles Perkier and Pierre François Léonard Fontaine to design rooms for  Château Malmaison a house redecorated to celebrate Napoleon’s military victories. The two architects, considered to be among the earliest interior decorators, created “tented rooms for Napoleon’s Council Room, his bedroom, and even for the château’s entrance.” The idea caught on particularly amongst the class of people whose exposure to a military tent in the field came with Empire furniture and rich fabrics.


King Freidrich Wilhelm’s spare room in tented form, Charlottenholf Summer Palace, Potsdam (1824-1826)

One of the greatest tent rooms of all time is that created for Crown Prince, later King Freidrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, in 1824 by architect Karl Freidrich Schinkel at the summer palace of Charlottenhof in Potsdam. This was very much in the fashion of rooms that Josephine had established and which had spread through the palaces and aristocratic residences of Europe. The room, still extant, is a lovely room, simple, bright and graphically strong and something we made sure we saw on a visit to the many, many palaces of Potsdam about ten years back – which made me determined to have my own one day.

Two facts about the ‘tented room’ at Charlottenhof resonate with my current project. It too was designed as a guest room, primarily for Alexander von Humbolt a naturalist and friend of the prince (who had the room designed to remind Humbolt of his trips up the Orinoco river) and it was lined in ticking. Readers of this blog will know that ticking is a favourite material here. Not only for its strong graphic characteristics and its natural fibre (cotton) but because, unlike other traditional upholstery fabrics it is little changed, widely available and inexpensive.

So in many ways Freidrich Wilhelm’s occassional guest crash pad, is my model. Part military, part journey up the Orinocco, part guest room in a palace. I say that also because tent rooms made a comeback in the 1980s – in a blousy overblown version which will be avoided. When I approached the maker of my new curtains to ask whether she had ever sewn a tent ceiling – she said ‘yes once for a wedding’ not the look to which I aspire better, I think, to go with Schinkel.

There are a couple of challenges in a room of this sort. I have been asked, perhaps not irrationally, that the ceiling should be designed so that it can be lowered for the occasional clean to remove dust. Then as this is the last room in the house I don’t want to introduce either new elements but to repeat some of the previously used motifs so that this last room acts to bind the house together. This means using a dado rail (which protects the fabric from abrasion, reduces cost and links to the design on the adjacent hall) and the use of black and white ticking seen elsewhere will help.

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Sketches to determine yardage and hanging method

As it stands my concept, still in sketch form, is beginning to look a little like a foldout/flat pack tent. Imagine Napoleon travelling with a sort of flat pack wainscoting that he folded out against the fabric walls of the striped tent to give the lower half stability. This lets me tick another thing off the décor bucket list – boiseries – those simply moldings that provide rectangular frames for wall panelling. This should also moderate the extreme stripes of the ticking with a good base of off-white paint.

For now planning is moving into the technical realm with thinking concentrating on just how one might create a pattern for the ceiling and how it might all go together. I have enlisted the help of a couple of friends with experience of similar projects and the sketches are underway. This one will take a while but really it’s a great thing to have a décor project – all be it a tent – floating around in the back of your mind.


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According to Plan


A Frank Brangwyn watercolour takes centre stage above a bust of Prince Albert. Surrounding it are works by Copley Fielding, Augustus Pugin and New Zealand artist William Rush.

The hang of the completed hallway was scheduled for Queen’s birthday weekend (first weekend in June). We’ve have lived for a while with the hallway looking spare and now time had come to get our heads around the complexities of hanging detail which, despite anxieties, went really rather smoothly.

The hallway essentially completes the building aspect of the house. When we arrived almost 10 years ago the house was in three flats and the division was nowhere more obvious than in the hallway, which had been chopped into parts. Part of it had leaked rather severely due to a rusted internal gutter and because it was a hallway tenants, (and initially we too) simply resorted to buckets in heavy rain. This left horribly stained wall linings and even once they went horribly stained ceilings.

Then for a long while – once the entire house was ours – again we had an immensely long hallway that despite different hangings and arrangements of furniture just looked sad and dingy. You can convince yourself otherwise for a moment or two but nothing compares to a freshly lined and painted hallway.

Then there was the second aspect of life around here – collecting. We’ve long has a rule that we must not buy small paintings as they get lost in the vast spaces of the house but despite this we’ve continued to do exactly that. In part because good large paintings are hard to find and because good small paintings are easily available.


At the end of the Entrance Hall the ‘unidentified colonial gentleman stands guard. To the right are included works by Samuel Prout and John Absolon.

So hanging the hallway has brought these two aspects of life into sync. Little paintings it turns out are great for confined spaces and work well in groups. There was a bit of a cull but in large part most have gone up with plenty of room for growth – albeit with a little more of an eye to size and space considerations.

That means we now have a display space for the William Gilpin, Joseph Absolon, Richard Parkes Bonington and the Frank Hol all, or most of, which have featured in their own blog posts but have generally lingered at the back of closets for the last couple of years. A key place has gone to the marble bust of the still unidentified colonial gentleman ( who featured in a 2011 post when he first arrived. He now takes up a position at the end of the main entrance hall from where he glances down the next hallway.

The result is even better than we were expecting and makes what was a dreary hall and all together more elegant space in which it is worthwhile lingering.


Peter’s red painted chair, covered with David Hicks, fabric sits below three early Nineteenth century prints. To the left, in the middle, hangs the small Reverend William Gilpin.



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Journey to a Hanging [My Version]


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I have pressed a friend who hangs artworks for a living to assist me in hanging the pictures in the newly painted hall. The date arranged is a month away – the long Queen’s Birthday weekend. The day I arrived down in Napier to do the pre-hang plan is the Queen’s real 90th birthday, so everything seems in alignment.

I have called in a professional because I want the paintings to hang level at exactly the same height above the dado. I want also to achieve a nice sense of space around each one. This means there will be a lot of measuring to be done. I also want to minimise the number of ‘accident’ holes in the new paintwork. What goes where is up to me. Well that’s what I thought.

Now the hallway is painted Peter has decided he likes the bare walls and is resisting hanging anything at all. This is I have decided ‘a phase’ that just needs to be got though. I can see his point. The space is clean and bright for the first time ever and the effect is transformational. The hall was always a rather dingy zone, badly lit and sheathed in a Softboard (a feature of cheap flats where it can take impact) and unfinished tongue and groove boards that gave it a log cabin look. For the first time ever it looks crisp and sharp and bright. At the same time, lying in stacks around the house, are more than fifty artworks that need to be hung somewhere.


The initial concept was for the Entrance Hall (the front section of the hall), to be hung with the bulk of the available works, all works on paper and largely watercolours. This was to be done in strict verticals the placement of which is determined by the architectural form of the space. When the hall takes its right hand turn into the heart of the house, the hang would become sparser and it seems now may even stay blank.

The architectural form of the hall comes down to two main elements, doors and the dado rail. Of these the dado rail determines the lower level of the hang. None of the furniture in the hall protrudes above the rail, so that line is undisturbed visually through the whole expanse. The space above it, now painted grey, is the zone of the hang. One side of the hall wall is pierced with four doors in short succession which makes for a good space for pictures in that the options are limited.



Laying the pictures out of the floor, there seems to be a number of possible groupings whether it is by size, subject matter or artist. There are a couple of round ones and two or three modern works all of which that help out in the variety stakes. There is also an eclectic line up of frame types.

As we always suspected there is a surfeit of small paintings that comes both from our buying habits and the tendency of early Nineteenth century watercolours to be small. Working through the line-up of works on the floor and talking them through with Peter, I realized two things, or I came to the same realization of two different angles.

Not everything can go up!


The cornice to dado hang initially planned is a pointless exercise when so many of the works will simply not be seen due to their small-scale and detail and a close to 4 metre wall height. Anything much above the height of the doors would be on display but hardly readable which doesn’t help the overall design of the room.

The best way to deal with this had been a plan that concentrates on the middle section of the wall leaving the dado as the bottom edge and something near the top of the doors as the upper limit. I’ve sketched this out and I think it will work and accommodate about 21 works on the left hand wall.

The next realization is a little harder to take. Some of the works turn out to be a little more inconsequential than first thought.

Part of the reason that this space is being used for watercolours is that a gentle Southern light filtered by a deep verandah means the colours will be preserved. Real watercolour collectors don’t expose their treasures to a wall but instead keep works in boxes rather than frames. Most of the previous owners on the pieces here haven’t had such kindly treatment. Rather than simply fade away old watercolours tend to turn brown. At best that gives them a sunset glow at worst they look drab. Too much drab is of course the death of any and all décor schemes.

Some less than stellar works can be lifted by the work next to them and too much indifference can pull down a good work. So the best course of action seems to be a cull. That is hard because you buy a work for what you like about it and unless you’re hard-hearted about it you overlook the flaws. Not hanging things I bought after uncovering them in auctions is going to take some adjusting too on my part. However a little hard heartedness now will make a better room.

Facing up to the opposite wall, where there is less architecture to shape things, I am opting for a concentrated arrangement. It will centre on the space between the library door and the front door, opposite a small sideboard that sits in the hall. It will accommodate 11 works.

With this wall sketched out the total hang accommodates 32 works. So around 18 works aren’t going to make the grade. Which of them won’t make it is something that can’t be worked out on paper or even on the floor. That I’m leaving for Queen’s Birthday weekend. In the mean time there are six weeks of elegantly empty walls to be gazed upon.




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Hanging with Andrew McIntosh Patrick


Awaiting the hang. 59 paintings and 4 mirrors

Awaiting the hang. 59 paintings and 4 mirrors

When I come back to the house I usually end up pulling out one of the books or magazines I have on the homes and collections of Andrew McIntosh Patrick.  It is my way of taking stock. It allows me to figure out whether I remain on track when it comes to the decorating project that is this house.

I find myself doing it now to prepare for my next task.

Andrew McIntosh Patrick and I were first introduced in mid 2007 when I opened World of Interiors magazine and saw his London apartment. I have every World of Interiors except the first issue. I now buy the new issues out of habit rather than any great burning desire. Every now and then a room hits the right spot and I remember why I first started buying the magazine.

The initial appeal of Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s apartment was that I was then going through one of my characteristic moments of believing all colour had been drained out of the world. This is not just a response to dull contemporary interior schemes but to the fact that even the deepest darkest colours on the paint chart seem somehow thin – less rich than I’d like them to be.


Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s Living Room 2007 Credit: World of Interiors

Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s Charing Cross living room, Georgian in period, Victorian in style was painted in the most gloriously unexpected yellow-green. It was not only brave and individual but it had the aura of authenticity. I had never seen a modern interpretation of a period room that was so dynamic and exciting. It was at the same time equally tasteful and innovative. The room seemed, then as now, as close to perfect as any I’d ever seen.

World of Interiors builds in references to homes and owners they have featured previously. This leads you back to those articles.  I realized that we had met before. I had reacted strongly to Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s first appearance in October 1998 when the Victorian style was a long way from being a pre-occupation.  Perhaps because of his use of early modernist pieces that could be spotted in the detail in the photographs if you looked closely enough.


I’m guessing there are a few decades between Andrew McIntosh Patrick and myself.  However we are both collector scholars in the fine and decorative arts. His interests peak around the 1930s. For most of my professional life that is where mine have started. I refuse to think that one generation is luckier than another in the world of secondhand and auction finds. However Patrick’s period of activity and scholarly knowledge meant that he assembled the most wonderful (arguably the best) collection of Christopher Dresser, Charles Eastlake, William Morris and Edward Goodwin etc. You name it he appears to have it. He also has a great collection of largely late Nineteenth and early Twentieth century Scottish paintings many with intoxicatingly Japanese overtones.

Andrew McIntosh Patrick was for many years the managing director of the Fine Arts Society, one of London’s oldest and smartest galleries. This was James McNeil Whistler’s gallery and Godwin redesigned the façade in 1881.  So when we say smart we mean smart.

Andrew McIntosh Patrick in his office. Credit: Fine Arts Society

Andrew McIntosh Patrick in his office.
Credit: Fine Arts Society

There are similar items in both of our collections, pieces of Christopher Dresser, items of Dunmore pottery, paintings by Sir Alfred East and Mortimer Menpes. All of mine bought in New Zealand a long way from Bond Street and so let’s just say his examples are rather more splendid than mine will ever be. I was interested when rereading the 1998 article that he said his collecting ‘has gone in waves.’ This I like. In this we are the same.

Although I admire and covet Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s collection, it is not the wave my collecting has ridden (in part because I’m just too late). I have instead largely but not entirely leapfrogged over Patrick’s period and been acquiring items in the early part of the 19th century.


Why then am I back staring reverently at Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s living room?

We are getting near to completing the hallway. The painters come next week. New light fittings have been sourced from deepest Fielding. A new carpet runner has been found. We’ve settled on the colours. Everything should proceed without a hitch. This means my next task will be to hang paintings.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are a lot of them (58 of varying size and shape and 4 mirrors). As readers of this blog will know I have been buying early nineteenth century watercolours mostly of the small variety. This is not the most obvious way to decorate a large and grandly scaled hallway. Except that the hallway, south-facing, the darkest part of the house, is ideal for watercolours.

View Andrew McIntosh Patrick's Charring Cross apartment 2007. Credit: world of Interiors

View Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s Charring Cross apartment 2007.
Credit: World of Interiors

There are many books about picture framing and hanging. I’ve not looked at most of them for years. I recall one that said you had to have an extremely good reason to use anything other than a white or cream matt which is something I’ve come to believe. Ancient rules of taste state that oils and watercolours should not hang together in the same room. I tend to agree (as do conservators) but don’t always comply. Where I come unstuck is in creating groupings in a large expanse of wall. So I’ve turned yet again to Andrew McIntosh Patrick.

Andrew McIntosh Patrick hangs a marvelous group. This ability comes both from having a great eye and from having worked in a gallery all his life. It also comes from the nature of his collection.  He likes minor works.  There are a lot of small preliminary sketches and etchings. He doesn’t seem to concern himself overly with condition. He mixes styles, periods and scale and does colour splendidly.

Sadly Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s apartment has no hallway for me to crib.

So I need to determine the underlying principles of his hang. I am looking for a structural model. What is his approach?

Somewhat notoriously in his earlier flat in Bond Street Andrew McIntosh Patrick had hung pictures on the ceiling. Every journalist since seems to have found the reference and they mention it in interviews. In a 2005 interview with The Scotsman Andrew McIntosh Patrick admitted ‘Actually, I rather went off the idea,’ … ‘I don’t think it’s very respectful of the artist.’

The earlier incarnation. Andrew McIntosh Patrick's 1998 flat. Credit: World of Interior

The earlier incarnation. Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s 1998 flat.
Credit: World of Interiors

The ceiling is not an option, even in my more overcrowded moments, but the article went on to provide a few other clues to Andrew McIntosh Patrick’s approach.  In the same article he said of his own method of hanging ‘Of course, I’ve had lots of practice at hanging pictures over the last half century, but there are no rules. It’s a matter of visual balance. Symmetry matters.’ ( )

So I’ve settled on a strong and non-wavering vertical arrangement. Every work will be hung on a strict centre line. Placement will be determined by the architecture of the space and works fitted around door architraves. Each picture will be chosen for its ability to react to or complement those around it. This might not appear a particularly major breakthrough but to me it is a reassuring to now have this as a starting point.

I realize too why it is that the October 1998 and June 2007 issues of World of Interiors are never far from hand. Andrew McIntosh Patrick provides an ideal long distant mentorship. He is a reference point that usually allows me to find the way forward if I look long enough. Andrew McIntosh Patrick, whom I’ve never met, (and whose name I just can’t bring myself to shorten), is a collector and decorator of consummately infallible taste, whom I admire immensely and one who provides me welcome silent instruction.








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Dinner Dogma & Dino – A Midwinter table setting

A short video – depicting the table setting for our midwinter Christmas – seating for 10 our largest yet – requiring two tables.

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Out dammed spot

BADA stamp

An almost perfect example of the BADA transfer on the bottom of an 18th century tea bowl – clearly marked for customs purposes only.

Can you imagine living in a world where certain decorative items purchased for the home – came with a large sticker announcing – this person has TASTE and MONEY? From the 1950s until some time in the 1970s New Zealand operated just such a system. The New Zealand Customs department required antiques imported from Britain to be marked with a symbol to certify that said objects were over 100 years old. This indicated that no duty need be paid on the item but inferred so much more.

The British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) took up the task with gusto and antique shop juniors back in England were given the job of sticking little adhesive gold medallions onto endless pieces of Georgian and Early Victorian furniture, silver and china destined for New Zealand.

I’ve often been fascinated that BADA, who were supposed to know all about the preciousness and delicacy of the items they were selling, were often utterly insensitive in the placement of this mark. I realise now that a more careful placement would have risked missing the gaze of Custom’s officials who would then have been pounced on the item as contraband.

In their defence the gentlemen of BADA couldn’t have imagined that New Zealanders would adopt this little circular mark and leave the stickers on permanently.

Retaining the BADA sticker signalled to your visitors that you shopped in the best shops, bought the right things and that you had the money (overseas funds) required to buy British. While discussing this with a friend she told me that as a young girl visiting a smart Hawke’s Bay home for the first time, while waiting for the door to be answered, her older companion had whispered– ‘BADA stickers everywhere, you know.’

This of course reflected two very New Zealand characteristics – insecurity and snobbishness.

Very much still there 50 years later. A BADA Sticker on an Old Sheffield Plate salver.

When I recently acquired a pair of Old Sheffield Plate salvers by Matthew Boulton (see ‘Old friends and rivals reunited,’ June 30 2015), I was amused to see a BADA sticker, well-worn, but still in place on the face of one. What to do? Do I preserve this increasingly distant moment of New Zealand social history or return the two salvers to their real status as an identical pair?


Slowly disappearing, embalmed in polish

There is a BADA sticker on a sideboard here, which seems to go further, embalmed with every new coat of wax. Between polishes I tend to forget about it and I smile every time it is rediscovered.

So I’ve decided to let that guide my approach. The label on the salver will be removed allowing the pair of salvers to be identical. On the sideboard where the rich gold of the label slowly is slowly melting into the dark mahogany of the sideboard it can stay.


I like to think that those New Zealand collectors who had real knowledge and confidence in their purchases removed their BADA labels pronto but how does one now remove an adhesive label? Especially one intended to be temporary but stuck to an item for close to fifty years.

Silver or more correctly Old Sheffield Plate is a delicate surface – an abrasive cleaner is going to take off more than the label. I had no desire to wear a large circle of copper in the otherwise intact silver surface around the sticker.


A vintage bicycle transfer

I tried a couple of basic household cleaners, designed for glass and other light cleaning duties but the sticker remained stuck. Before turning to more heavy-duty substances I decided to step back and think for a moment about the sticker itself.

First came the realisation that this wasn’t in the contemporary sense a sticker at all. When I was a child – about the same period BADA were sticking these labels on – we referred to them as transfers. I knew them best from bicycles and tin bodied train sets.

This was confirmed by a quick investigation of techniques for the removals of decals from vintage bicycle frames. Technically they were called water transfers, a form of documentation that was soaked in water and then slid off a paper-backing onto the intended surface – in their case a bicycle frame, in my case an Old Sheffield Plate salver.

The best bicycle world advice for removal was to use of a hair dryer to heat the transfer and then a finger nail to scrape it off. I have a hair dryer but a finger nail was an altogether different issue – my nails are currently cut too short to peel much at all. Heating the label I could achieve a degree of scraping that was only partially effective.

I could of course just wait a week or two to grown a decent thumbnail but I’m not that patient. Next in the bicycle guide’s line up was nail polish remover, not something that a male with no nails to speak of has at hand.

Then it occurred to me that I have an army of cleaners used for the ‘delicate’ surface of my ancient car. How different could the two surfaces be?


Still there –  BADA as a symbol of British resilience.

A compound designed for removing grime from old and delicate painted surfaces had an interesting effect – it polished the BADA transfer returning it to its original glowing gold – but did little in the way of removing it. A cleaning polish did no better. Even a little petrol had no effect (nor did methylated spirits or turpentine). Ever mindful of the silver itself, I could see that each application was removing something of the sticker but just not  enough for my liking.

In the end I decided to think of that transfer not in terms of the snobbishness of New Zealanders but as a symbol of the famed notion of British resilience and their determination to soldier on. My salver is BADA certified and BADA certified it seems to want to stay.













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