CF Review: Quinny Zapp travel buggy

I put a little shout out on Instagram last month for this buggy as my first impressions were pretty good. I picked it up on a pre-loved site because while our day-to-day buggy, the Britax B-Motion 3, is completely brilliant, sturdy and a total workhorse (I honestly can’t recommend this buggy enough) – it is a behemoth, super heavy and not great for travelling.

Quinny Zapp
Quinny Zapp

We nipped over the Naples last weekend (read my guide to ‘Naples with kids’ from last year here) and I knew from taking the Britax last year I wanted something that would cope with the cobbled, uneven city streets, be easy to hop on and off public transport and super lightweight. The Quinny didn’t miss a beat.

Okay, in short:

Pros: It’s a simple 3-step umbrella style closure and it closes up REALLY small (27″ x 10″ x 11″) and weighs a featherweight 7.5kg (the Britax weighs a hefty 11kg). Great for small car boots, overhead lockers – or grandparents who don’t want a massive, whielding bit of kit to hump around.

Although the wheels are solid moulded ones, rather than proper air-filled tyres like the Britax, they took the nightmare Naples streets in their stride.

The 3-wheel formation was a breeze to steer.

Cons: We found it tipped back alarmingly easily. If the 2-year old (who only weighs 11kg) threw himself back hard in a strop it flung the buggy backwards. Not ideal. Obviously if your toddler is better behaved than mine (not hard), you can over-look this first point.

It’s quite short. I’m 5’10 and I found myself hunching a bit. I definitely wouldn’t recommend for over 6fters.

The shopping basket is tiny. And the sun visor too short to offer any real protection.

The back doesn’t have the option to lie-flat. So no chance of a quick nap. That said, in the middle of Naples, naps aren’t really likely, and the nosey 2-year old loved his upright vantage point. EDIT: The new generation Zapp Xtra 2 *does* have lie-back options, and you can switch the seat around from forward to rear facing.

Verdict: It’s not the perfect buggy and if I had to use it everyday it wouldn’t be practical (not sturdy enough, not enough storage, not good off-road), but if you’re looking for a super light-weight holiday/travel buggy, it’s a winner.

Quinny Zapp range from £195

Read my review of ‘Top 5 travel kit for kids’ here

A summer in France… writing, renovation and relaxing

Reliving my childhood summers in France – renovating a manoir, writing and wrangling two under 5s

As a child, the day school broke up we would load up our 80s Volvo and head for the ferry ports. Hopping across ‘La Manche’ and down through France for summer in the Dordogne region – spending two months swimming in rivers, drinking watered down wine, gorging on soft fruits from the street markets and falling asleep to the sound of crickets… We would return on the eve of the autumn term, brown as berries with sun-bleached hair, freckly noses and a serious injection of vitamin D to see us through the winter. All my favourite childhood memories are wrapped up in those hazy, sun-drenched summer days and guess what?

photo 3Fast forward 30 years and yup, I’m in France. For a whole 8 weeks, by myself with the two boys (4 and 10 months). Gulp.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

As a family, we bought this beauty last year as a place for the whole clan to convene for summers, en masse. The OH has had to stay in the UK for work so I am here principly to oversee the builders (as the only French speaker) and to forward plan the next phase of internal major works for winter.

Since buying the house we have been flitting back and forward, frantically slapping paint on the walls and trying to get the main rooms we use most frequently habitable and furnished. The house was far from derelict when we moved in – the double glazing had been done, central heating, wood burners, kitchen, bathroom etc – but there is still a mind-boggling ‘to do list’ to make this 3,000sqm behemoth the dream family home we know it can be.

Pool in progress! - Easter 2016
Pool in progress! – Easter 2016

With two under 5s in tow I’m not denting the ‘to do list’ at the rate I’d like, but as I finish projects I will post some before/afters and do a bit of a house and garden tour – everyone loves a nose round other people’s houses don’t they?!

The boys are astonishingly good at cracking on and entertaining themselves. The 4yo is train mad and has brought his whole set with him, so can be left engrossed for hours in fantasy worlds of landslides, derailments and cargo deliveries. The 10 month old just wants to be near me. Preferably clinging to my leg at all times, which makes painting and decorating a tad tricky, but it’s amazing how distracting a set of Tupperware and a noisy, flashing toy can be.

Throw into the mix a few writing projects I’ve taken on and it all feels a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time!

That said, I am ensuring that it’s not all work, work, work (or is that werk, werk, werk?) and the 4yo and I sneak off to the newly finished pool every lunchtime while the baby sleeps to splosh about for a couple of hours.

2016-07-15 14.50.57-1As all our initial budget has evaporated, with only a quarter of the rooms furnished, I am having to get pretty creative to make any progress with the remaining portion of the house. I’ve been trawling local junk shops, antiques markets and charity shops and found some incredible pieces – again, expect various posts over the summer charting my French interiors finds.

Copyright Countryfille 2016

It’s been 35 degrees and rising this week, which has been amazing – if not a little soporific! Mowing the 2 acres of lawns and orchards was a serious task with my little petrol push along mower!

2016-07-15 14.30.43We are heading to the beach at the weekend (we are approx. 90 mins from the Atlantic coast around Royan/La Rochelle) with friends and our steady stream of visitors (aka free labour) start arriving next week.

photo 1Until then, I hope you’re enjoying your summer! If you want more snaps from our French vacances you can follow me on Twitter for daily updates (@countryfille).

CF x



CF Travels: Top 5 travel essentials for kids

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

After travelling a dozen times to France in the last 18 months, plus last week’s jaunt to Italy and various UK staycations with the 4yo and 10mo in tow, I feel pretty qualified to impart my top bits of kit for travel with under 5s. For what it’s worth. None of these are sponsored and we own and love them all:


Snooze shade £24.99, www.snoozeshade.comSnoozeshadeThe 10mo is a stickler for routine, he likes his daytime naps and on holiday when it’s impractical to keep nipping back to our base so he can nap in his cot, this is a godsend. It keeps him shaded from the sun/wind/rain and gets things nice and dark. It’s universal and pops over pretty much any buggy. Imagine a sheet over a parrot’s cage. It’s a bit like that.

Travel blackout blind, GroAnywhere, £24.99,
gro anywhere travel blackout blindThe only stipulation my two have for a good night’s sleep is a room that’s darker than Lord Voldermort’s soul. It literally has to be ‘can’t see your hand in front of your face’ black. Which is fine at home with their industrial strength black-out blinds, not so easy in European high summer where it doesn’t get dark till 10pm. This travel black-out blind folds down to nothing and converts any window into a blackhole. Literally not a chink of light. Genius.

Travel highchair, £4.99,

gro bag chair harnessThis was a last minute purchase for Italy last week, how did I live without it?! It come in a teeny weeny bag that pops into my handbag or under the buggy and unfurls to reveal a slightly complicated to get your head around, yet non-the-less brilliant chair harness that converts pretty much ANY chair into a safe highchair for babies 6-30months. Just watch the assembly video before you go.

Britax Baby-Safe Sleeper,

baby-safe-sleeper_blackthunder_02_br_2014_rt_72dpi_2000x2000We did the 15-hour journey to France when our youngest was 5-weeks. And have been doing it every 6 weeks since. I know. We must really love our new house. Recommendations are that babies under 6 months don’t sit all hunched up in their car seats for long journeys. Their spine doth protest. This lay-flat car seat from Britax is FAB. I was sceptical as self-titled ‘Captain Safety-Conscious’, but once fitted it is literally super-glued to the back seat and they have a three-point safety harness inside. It’s not compatiable in all cars and takes up pretty much all the back seat, but he was so snug and comfy and it clipped straight onto our Britax B-Agile 3 buggy base too, so we could whip him in and out the car with ease. Best bit of kit we’ve invested in so far. Our offspring are vertically challenged (seriously, on the 2nd percentile), but longer babies might not fit in this for the full 6 months. He was touching the bottom by 4. EDIT: Shit, I’ve just seen this item has been ‘retired’ by Britax. It’s still available from other online retailers, SNAP ONE UP WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

Baby Bjorn travel crib light, £199,

easy-to-store-carry-and-stow-in-any-baggage-space-travel-crib-light-babybjorn-739x1024I won’t have a bad word said against this travel cot. Yes, cheaper travel cots are available, but I defy you to find one with a comfier, thicker mattress, nor one you can set up one-handed while holding a sleeping baby. I rest my case. This still looks like new and our 4yo slept in it almost weekly till he was 2.5yo. It’s roomy, but folds into a neat travel case that wears a mere 6kg. That’s less than my cat. For us it doubles as a playpen during the day on hols and you can unzip it all from the sturdy steel frame when they projectile vomit at 2am. Bonus.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know your tried and tested travel essentials!

CF Travel Guide: Naples with kids

2016-07-04 08.19.09Sometimes the simplest laid plans turn out to be the most stressful don’t they? In the midst of end of term mayhem, organising our 2-month trip to France for the next phase of Chateau renovations and a teething 10 month old, we decided to just nip to Naples for a brief weekend to eat pizza, look at volcanoes and hang out with the OH’s family. No biggie.

Only Easyjet had other plans.

Our first attempt ended in an 8-hour stand-off at Bristol airport, an overtired baby and a gutted 4yo. So back home we came, disappointed but not defeated. Some diary-wrangling and a week later we were soaring through the skies, Napoli bound. This time minus the OH (god love self-employment), but with pizza firmly in our sights…

2016-07-03 15.40.27We were staying with family in a gorgeous converted Palazzo in the centre of Naples and arrived (late again) at the stroke of midnight, to 30 degree heat and a baptism of fire for the 4yo. I forget what a total country bumpkin he is and how mind-blowing a city like Naples is for the uninitiated. It was hot, noisy and beguiling. His little nose was pressed against the taxi window drinking in the cobbled alleys, moped horns and asking in a tiny voice ‘why are all these people not asleep?’

2016-07-04 20.18.49
Copyright Countryfille 2016

We awoke next morning a little travel-weary but determined to explore. With no set plans and the mercury hovering around 32 degrees by mid-morning we aimed low and settled for a day down by the water at the castello, eating fennel sausage pizza, looking for the fabled crocodiles in the moat and taking the train-obsessed 4yo on his first tube ride… to a station named after him. Mind. Blown.

2016-07-03 11.54.09 HDR-1
Copyright Countryfille 2016

2016-07-04 09.16.52Toledo station routinely tops the list of ‘world’s most impressive metro stations’ – it’s like an underwater cave/gallactic mash-up, crammed full of artwork.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

In the decade I’ve been with my Italian OH I’ve been to Naples and the Amalfi Coast countless times (you can read my pre-children full city guide to Naples here), but this was my first with kids and I hadn’t appreciated what a child-friendly city it is. The underground was a breeze with the buggy, clean and with lift access at every station. The 10mo was not such a great fan of the noisy, jolting journeys but we found our fellow commuters more than willing to play, sing and cajol him into a smile. It’s a cliché but Italians really do adore babies. We saw photos of beloved grandchildren proudly whipped out of wallets and a great deal of doe-y eyed smiles and cooing in shops, queues and restaurants – our sons have particularly Neapolitan names, which went down a storm with their new found fans.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

Eating out is a breeze; pizza and pasta are the staple diet of most under 5s (ours more than most) and the waiters entertained our two without the blink of an eye, even medicating the grouchy teething 10mo with some lemon granita for his gums.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

Day 2 was spent shopping on Via Roma for a/ sfogliatelli for moi (my all-time favourite Neapolitan pastry) and b/ the 4yo’s first Swatch watch. Such a Euro kid tradition that the OH and I remember well. We finished the day travelling up to the hills overlooking Naples on the finicular railway to the Vomero. Quieter, wider pavements and cooler. A good shout when Naples reaches boiling point.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

If we’d had longer I’d have loved to take them for a boat ride to Ischia, or perhaps when they’re older out to Pompeii, or for a peer into the crate of Vesuvio… next time, we’ll be back – my love affair with Naples has just begun a new chapter.

Copyright Countryfille 2016
Copyright Countryfille 2016

Tomorrow: My Top 5 bits of travel kit for travelling with under 5s.

A new Countryfille chapter….

Who knew back in 2011 when I launched Countryfille that the name would become so apt? I originally launched the website to chart our move from hardened city dwellers (I was a magazine editor in London, whilst my husband was the fourth generation to run his family’s ice cream empire in Chalk Farm), to country bumpkins. As my nesting instinct kicked in, 7 months pregnant with Countrybebe, I yearned to revert to type and escape to my family home town by the sea in Devon. Whilst I want the rosy-cheeked, muddy, feral childhood I had enjoyed for my own offspring, I wasn’t quite prepared to shake off my love of the city lifestyle and go full-on ‘welly brigade’. So I spent the next few years recreating all my favourite city pastimes in my new, rural surroundings, proving you can have the best of both worlds.

Fast forward 5 years and my French moniker is finally coming into its own, as we embark on our next chapter…. THIS

2015-05-28 11.16.44-1

Yup. When life gives you lemons, buy an 11-bedroom French manoir… isn’t that how the saying goes?

I completely believe that some of life’s biggest decisions are the easiest – and deciding to take on this most handsome of houses in the rural Charente region was one of them. It is a collaborative effort with my husband’s parents and we are still in the early stages of ‘what the hell are we doing?’, but as I begin to blog again expect plenty of posts from across the channel. Not only will I be charting the renovations and my new found love of brocantes (think posh car boot sales), but my French pharmacy beauty hauls (once a beauty editor and all that….) plus a fair amount of food. Is there anything better than a French supermarche? Non.

On that note, I’ve been struggling with how to move forward with the blog – how do I go back to banging on about lippies and home decor when my life is so intrinsically changed with the loss of my parents. Whilst I don’t want this blog to become a ‘grief 101’ manual, I’ve figured I’m just going to keep it honest and open, yes there will be all the fluffy bits, but I guess like real-life, there will be some harder bits too.

Now I’m back in the swing of things I’d love to hear from you in comments, or emails to

CF x

P.s I’ve also decided to keep all my old posts live too, for new readers I guess it’s a bit of a back story into ‘me’ and the story thus far…


CF Travels: Vale House Kitchen in Somerset, Foraging course

After the first part of my ‘Solo Mummy Adventure’, cossetted in the luxury of the Bristol Hotel, came rather a rude awakening the following morning, as I dashed off in the pelting rain and fog to the depths of the Somerset countryside:

Nonetheless, neither the early start, nor the inclement weather, could dent this level of excitement for the day ahead:

As I was booked in on a full day foraging course at Vale House Kitchen.

My first port of call was the Carpenters Arms pub car park, where I was instructed to rendez vous with Vale House Kitchen owner, Bod Griffiths. Part of the deal that allowed them to convert part of their gorgeous listed home into the school was that they had a ‘travel plan’ in place to ensure no increase in vehicular traffic to and from the property. Rather than being irksome, it’s a win-win. The pub offers accommodation for those booked onto 2-day courses, while those on a one-day course can always pop in for a drink with fellow attendees before heading their separate ways. They’ll also rustle you up a coffee if you arrive early, too.

No need to linger however as right on cue however, Bod skidded into the car park in a very smart emblazoned Landie, bounding out to greet me like a large, enthusiastic Labrador. Charming, warm and infectiously in love with his new career as chief chauffeur, host and general ‘man Friday’ for the school (Bod and his wife Annie moved to Vale House in 2011 after 20 years in London). Bod and I nattered away for the short transfer, about making the London-Country leap, his first week in business (the school only opened in September) and the plans for our day ahead…

Dashing in out of the persistent drizzle, we snuck round the back of the ‘big house’ to the converted workmans’ cottages at the rear and into the school:

Pretty as a picture isn’t it? Bod and Annie have LAVISHED attention on this conversion that they’ve captured brilliantly in this video.

Ready and waiting for us was course tutor Chris Westgate of Heavenly Hedgrows. A connoisseur in the edible wild plants and berries of the UK, plus award-winning producer of jams, jellies and liqueurs, she had a three-hour stomp through the Somerset hills planned to gather and forage our ingredients. Then an afternoon cooking up our spoils.

After a fortifying cafetiere of coffee, a coo over Bod and Annie’s 4-month old son Michael and a natter with the other course attendees (including the lovely Bristol Blogger Kathie Auton) – wellies were donned, baskets distributed and off we toddled.

15 mins from the Bath-stone pillared drive and we were straight in – nettles (for soup), elderberries (for a perfect Vitamin C packed winter cordial), hawthorns (for steeping in brandy) and lots and lots of sloes (my love of sloe gin is well documented). Chatting away, picking our chosen edibles together, we were surprisingly productive. Filling our baskets, tubs and rucksacks in no time.

We gathered Chamomile for tea, crab apples and the plentiful blackberries laden heavy on nearly every hedgerow – interspersed with some much more unknown herbs and ‘greens’ – like the gorgeous citrusy wild sorrel. Chris also squealed with delight after spotting this ‘chicken of the wood’ fungi – while mushrooms are not part of the foraging course, she took a little piece back to HQ for further identification.

Chris was a non-stop walking resource of not only practical advice for when foraging (don’t pick nettles in flower as they will be very bitter – pick new growth that is 40% protein and packed with iron), but full of amazing folklores that added colour to our trek – such as the timely advice to pick blackberries before the 10th October else the devil will spit on them. Or the fact Yarrow is also known as Soldiers Wound Wort as it was used by Achilles to soothe his injured army, due to its astringent properties. One of my favourite finds was the pineapple weed – so named as when squeezed between your fingertips, it gives forth a gloriously tropical aroma.

There were also cautionary tales of what NOT to eat, or even touch – namely the giant hogsweed that is phototoxic and causes blister-like burns that last for SIX YEARS. It threw into stark relief how important courses like this are if you are interested in foraging for yourself. A little knowledge goes a long way to keep you safe and unblistered.

Chris had seriously done her homework. Walking the route every week since February – every field, hedge, riverside and wood bore fruits that we sensitively harvested, sampled and learnt to identify.

Before we knew it, Bod was waving cheerfully over the 5-bar gate and our carriage awaited to whisk us back to the school to dry out and fill up on Annie’s homemade chilli around their Homes & Garden-worthy kitchen table, complete with Aga and the gorgeous Lab pup, Bonnie.

Refuelled we settled in at our individual workstations (seriously high-tech kit mixed with gloriously homely, no-pretense approach).

First up, using the ingenious stacking bottles (below, top left) – we made a trio of sloe gin, blackberry and apple gin and hawthorn brandy. Whilst we got steeping, Chris whipped up a batch of Nettle Soup and the ‘foraged greens’ quiche (below, bottom right).

Nettle soup had always conjured up a vision of some prickly, watery broth that tasted like grass cuttings – HOW WRONG I WAS. Imagine a MUCH tastier spinach, with plenty of good stock, garlic and a swirl of cream… HEAVEN. I have since made half a dozen batches and it never fails to stun me that such a garden pest of a weed can be converted into this.

Before the course I had done my fair share of amateur foraging – elderflowers for cordial, sloes for gin and blackberries for crumbles – but since the course I am seeing the hedgerow anew. Not only am I inspired to make the most of the Devon countryside and its spoils, but I feel confident in my newly gained knowledge that I can forage safely and broaden my ‘wild eating’ horizons – I’m hooked!

Thank you for having me Bod and Annie – it really was the most brilliant, fun, informative and inspiring day – Chris, thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously!

Course dates run continually through the year from £135, from Christmas cake cooking to seasonal cookery, bread making, fly fishing and butchery.

CF Review: The Bristol Hotel, Bristol, UK

The week before last, I lay my head at The Bristol Hotel for the night. It came about as a means to an end, to tide me over between work (I starting a consulting job with a new digital brand in the spring, so spend 1-2 days a week in Bristol) and a day foraging in Somerset, the following day. It made no sense to drive the 1.5 hours home, only to drive back again the next morning, so I found myself foot-loose and toddler free, with a reservation at The Bristol Hotel.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a Clifton/Whiteladies Road girl when it comes to Bristol postcodes. Having lived briefly with the OH in the former, 8 years ago. In my working day I never quite make it down to the riverside either, so The Bristol Hotel was a bit of an unknown to me.

It has, rather handily, a multi-storey car park attached to the side of it, that residents get free parking at. In central Bristol you have no idea what a plus this is. I zipped straight in, grabbed my bags and trusty laptop and checked in mid-afternoon. While the hotel will win no beauty prizes from the outside, inside is a different matter… I decided to post a pic heavy review to show you around.

Checked in, I headed straight up to the sixth floor and my spacious river-view room. I quickly holed myself here in my makeshift office (there is free wifi throughout the hotel, as a nod towards the predominantly business crowd during the week) and watched the sunset over the city.

Skipping lunch, I was fuelled solely on the in-room Nespresso machine and the welcome gift from the hotel: buttery shortbread and strawberries with chocolate sauce. Much appreciated.

Work done, and high on caffeine and sugar, I took a wander downstairs to the cosy lounge and read the papers for a while, enjoying the phenomenal people watching potential that only a hotel lobby can bring.

Then took a look at the River Grille restaurant – a beautiful double-height space overlooking the river. I bowed out of dinner a seul, but on the Bristol foodie grapevine I have heard GREAT things about this place…

Back in my room, I thought a bath by myself might only exacerbate my Country Bebe pangs (CB and I still share the tub every night), but it was HEAVENLY. Mainly due to the generous sized Temple Spa products in the bathroom.

Luxuriating in the bubbles, and the silence of not having to sing every maritime related nursery rhyme ever written, I wallowed for a good hour applying every hair and face lotion and potion I could lay my hands on. Bliss.

Squeaky clean, I slipped into the obligatory fluffy robe, padded around in my slippers and worked my way through a list of very overdue phone calls to my best friends. Not the quick mid-week ‘check-in’ when you’re both knackered, but proper hour-long talks.

Suitably brought up to speed on new babies, engagements and work moves I ordered dinner to my room. Namely the ‘naked’ burger with fries and a bucket of Malbec. After a false start (a chicken burger and cold chips) a great sweet and juicy patty arrived, smothered in Monterey Jack cheese and piping hot, crispy matchstick fries. I nursed my Malbec alongside a couple of episodes of Breaking Bad and fell into a deep, restful slumber (note: there is secondary glazing in the hotel and I didn’t hear a PEEP, despite it being a central city-based hotel – impressive).

Up with the lark I opted again for breakfast in-room (I’m not a hermit, honest) and this time I went LARGE:

Not purely out of gluttony I might add, but I was fuelling up for my day’s adventure – foraging in Somerset…


CF Travels: Bristol and Bath – the mummy minibreak

Eeeekk! I’m off on my tod for a full 48-hour solo minibreak.

This summer we have covered all bases – baby-friendly Cornwall, romantic bolthole in Dorset, sociable city jaunts to London with friends… now it’s ME TIME.

I work in Bristol, so it’s a little bit of a busman’s holiday. That said, I am usually dashing up the M5 at 6.30am, working all day, then straight back home to catch bathtime. I never get to linger in the cafes in Clifton, or exercise my credit card at Cabot Circus (the South West outpost of Harvey Nics! Salvation!). I will be staying at, and reviewing, the Bristol Hotel down on the Harbourside.

Although it will be a work-night, I intend to hole-up at the bar and catch up with friends. Then retire to my room and lounge in the fluffiest of robes with room service, free wifi and a particularly weepy rom-com from Netflix. I CANNOT WAIT.

It’ll be an early night because bright and early the next day I’m off for a full-day foraging course at the recently unveiling Vale House Kitchen cookery school just outside Bath.

Pretty idyllic, huh?

I cannot tell you how much this place excites me. The list of tutors is a ‘who’s who’ of foodies – including their head tutor – chef, food writer and cookery teacher Tim Maddams (locally he was head chef at the River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, often popping up alongside Hugh in the TV series, too).

I love that it is not just about the cooking though, but the art of country pursuits too. I was sorely tempted by the list of field courses available, including fly fishing and shooting; as well as the butchery course with Robin Rea (I wrote about his AMAZING butchers-cum-delicatessen-cum-restaurant, The Rusty Pig in the spring) but in the end plumped for the full-day foraging course with Chris Westgate.

We’ll be off for a 3-hour jaunt through the fields and woodland of the Chew  Valley – learning to identify edible (and in-edible!) plants, ideas for cooking our foraging finds as well as countryside etiquette when it comes to gathering from the hedgerow.

I’ll report back at the end of the month with a full review – in the meantime here is a list of courses this autumn.


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