Trust me, I’m an expert … mwahahahaahrgh!

As you are all aware, because heaven knows I bang on about it enough, I lead a very busy life and because the tolerances for error are quite small, I sometimes make a comprehensive fuck up of things. Quite a lot of the time, to be honest. One of my specialities on this front is turning up at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s the latest instance of this which I’d like to share with you now. It happened like this …

McMini and I are sitting at home relaxing after he’s come home from school when I open an email from the school. It is a new layout, and it starts like this.

Thursday 8th January,

SATS evening for parents.

Dear Parents/Carers

On Thursday 17th January at 6pm, we will be holding an information event …

PFC – pretty fucking clear – right? Er, no. Not to muggins here. I have seen the date at the top, Thursday which is tonight, and the title, SATS evening for parents, and so I ignore the body of the letter, because I’m far too fucking busy to read that, and merely scan for the start time, ah yes, 6.00pm.

I look at my watch.

‘Shit it’s five o’clock!’

‘What’s up Mum?’ says a cheery voice from the other room.

‘The school is doing a thing about your SATS and it’s tonight, at six pm.’

‘Oh what? Do we have to go?’

‘Afraid so, it’s really important.’

McMini appears in the hall all rolling eyes and sighs, ‘Won’t Dad be back in time for me to stay here?’

‘Not at six, no, sorry.’

‘Oh well, I have some charge on my iPad, can I bring that?’

‘Yes, and your reading homework, you can write your book report while your’re there.’

He’s leaning over my arm, reading the email on my phone.

‘Hang on Mum, it says kids aren’t allowed.’

‘No it says it’s not for you, I can still bring you along if I’ve nowhere else to put you, they just mean that I don’t have to bring you if there’s someone you can stay with at home.’

So we get ready but we take too long so we have to go in the car because there isn’t time to walk. When I get up there, we are, parking, and of course it’s one of those ones where it goes wrong. You know how, when you’re in a hurry, you always get the angle wrong and have to come back out and start again. Off we go, second time, reverse, turn, turn, turn, ‘MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!’

‘Shit.’

The arrow is actually pointing to the place where I’d put the firing button for the machine guns I will be placing behind the lights at some stage. Except now I’m thinking that if I’ll be inadvertently spraying the streets with fire every time I parallel park it might not be such a good idea. You can see the little trumpet where the hooter button is to the right of the arrow. There’s one of those each side so I have double the opportunities to beep in error like a fucktard.

I used to have a car with a hooter in the centre of the steering wheel and I beeped it with my elbow every time I reversed. This car has two hooter switches, one each side. Someone does something stupid on the motorway, nearly killing us all and can I find the hooter? Can I buffalo? But I still manage to beep the fucking thing by mistake every. Sodding. Time. I. Park! Maybe when I’m next in a dangerous situation, I should try not to hoot, then I might chuffing manage it.

McMini puts on an expression of mock shock at me for swearing and in his best Walter from Dennis the Menace voice he says,

‘Mother I’ve told you about swearing in front of me, you’re setting a very bad example.’

‘I know, I’m a terrible mother,’ I reply, giggling because I know he’s only taking the piss.

‘There’s an old man in that house staring out of the window at us, he’s looking very disapproving.’

‘I expect he is. I’m making a right pig’s ear of this parking.’

‘It’s not the parking, I don’t think he liked you hooting.’

‘I don’t blame him. I didn’t either. Right,’ I haul the handbrake on. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

Immediately a stream of cars comes up the street so we have to wait for them to pass before McMini can get out.

‘It’s the Truman Show!’ he says cheerfully. ‘They’ve been waiting ages to drive up here at the moment it would be most annoying for you.’

I heartily agree. My whole life’s the fucking Truman Show in that respect,

We arrive at the school as the clock on the church two streets over strikes six. Woot. Not exactly timely but we won’t have to do the walk of shame to the only seats left (at the front). Well, no, that’s not true. We will have to do the walk of shame but at least we won’t be doing it after the talk has started. I push the button to open the door but there’s no-one to buzz us through the air-lock or whatever they call the next bit.

‘Strange.’

Just then, two teachers appear and they come out and ask us if they can help. We say why we are there and they buzz us in.

‘Are you sure it’s tonight?’ asks one.

I’m not as it happens. I meant to check the email before leaving. ‘I thought it was,’ I say weakly.

‘The light’s aren’t on and there’s no-one else in the hall,’ says the other.

‘Uh … right,’ I say.

‘I’ll go and ask Mr Hammond,’ (the headmaster) ‘he’s still in his office,’ says the first one and she runs off up the stairs.

I have an Ely. That is, according to The Meaning of Liff, the first tiniest inkling that something has gone horribly wrong.

‘Hmm … I’m a bit of a spanner with dates, I may have stuffed up,’ I tell the other teacher as we wait. ‘Hang on, I’ll check the email.’

I get the email open and see that I have, indeed, misread it.

‘Shit,’ I say before I can stop myself. ‘Sorry,’ I start laughing, because cheery apology seems the best way to play it, ‘Will you look at that? I’m such a bell-end, I’ve got the wrong day.’ I remember that the other teacher has gone to get the headmaster. ‘Oh no I’m so sorry, and now I’ve woken the Kraken and everything!’ I say as I turn and realise Mr Hammond and the other teacher have just arrived and heard everything, including the bit where I refer to the act of fetching him from his office as ‘waking the Kraken’.

He looks knackered and I apologise for dragging him away from his work. The three of them are all extremely good natured and up beat about it, I’d have told me to fuck off! and we laugh and apologise cheerily and McMini and I go away marvelling, in a slightly giggly way, at my complete ineptitude. As I get into the car. McMini says,

‘Mother you swore in front of the teachers, you said ‘shit’ and you called yourself a bell-end in front of Mr Hammond.’

‘Oh dear, did I?’

‘Yes you did! You know in early years, when I said bollocks and I got told off and they asked me where I got it from and I said ‘my mum’ and they didn’t’ believe me?’ he says, reminding me of yet another example of exemplary parenting from my past.

‘Yes I do,’ I reply.

‘Well they know I wasn’t lying now! Because they’ve heard you swearing, so they know it was you and they know you’re a foul-mouthed shrek-lady. They’ve got … what is it when you have loads of evidence?’

‘Hard evidence?’

‘No.’

‘Cast iron proof?’

‘No.’

‘They’ve got me bang to rights?’

‘That’s the one! They now have you bang to rights because they have concrete evidence that you swear in front of me and not just in front of me but in front of the headmaster! They know you are a very bad mother.’

We start laughing about this but I do manage to leave the parking space without beeping the chuffing hooter again and the Disapproving Man has gone from the window so I thank the lord for small mercies.

‘I am a bad mother, but, at the same time, I must be doing something right if I have such a good, well mannered little boy.’ Obviously, I say this in a really syrupy voice, like the Walter the Softee one he does when he calls me ‘mother’.

‘True mother, despite your somewhat idiosyncratic parenting you really have produced a most charming and well behaved child.’

‘Exactly, you hear and see me behaving extremely badly but you don’t, that has to count for something,’ I say. ‘Although, they’ll be wondering back there, won’t they?’

‘Yes, they’ll be saying to each other, “how could such an evil crone produce such a perfect little boy?”’

‘Indeed. Why is he not affected by that potty-mouthed harridan he calls his mother? Mr Hammond has probably had to go and have a lie down.’

‘I bet he does an assembly about it tomorrow, he’ll say McMini is a lovely charming little boy despite the fact his mother is a horrific, sweary, shrek-like crone!’

‘That’s right, he’ll say I’m dirty! A dirty, filthy, vile, morally-dissolute, harridan!’

‘And a shrek!’

‘And a shrek.’

We spend the journey home coming up with more and more colourful adjectives for fictional Mr Hammond to use in assembly while describing my dreadfulness, and shouting them at a higher and higher volume, as if his fictional disapproval is moving from strongly-voiced, through angry to apoplectic.  The incongruity of this, when placed against the actual, real Mr Hammond, who is is the most calm, measured and even-tempered person you could care to meet, is a source of childish amusement to both of us.

We continue randomly shouting pejorative adjectives at one another for several days.

I really should be setting an example.

Yeh but …

Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

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Feels like Friday!

Shall I let you into a secret? This is my favourite time of the year. Especially Epiphany (next Sunday).

Don’t panic! It’s 2019.

Why? Because I get to look back at what I’ve achieved in a good year, and on to what I might achieve – I might do a bit more looking forward than back if I’ve had a bad year but that’s the loveliness of it. It’s only the beginning of the year so there’s that glorious, clean-page feeling you can only possibly enjoy during the few, early weeks have when you haven’t fucked anything up yet.

Then there’s the fact the days are getting longer, the bulbs are beginning to peep through, the birds are suddenly singing a LOT louder. There is a buzz and energy to everything, as if nature knows that no matter how cold it might yet get and no matter how mid winter it actually still is, we have turned the corner. It’s a kind of school’s out feeling.

The big one, of course, is that Christmas is over, I am no longer writing lists, trying to remember all the things I am supposed to do, or trying to work out if I’ve posted the Christmas cards or remembered to buy more stamps. There’s no travel, no wondering, nervously, if I’ve booked the cat in kennels on the right dates even though I know I’ve checked and re-checked. There’s no packing or making sure that lots of things are clean so I can just put one suitcase down in the hall and pick up the other one as we make a quick 24 hour pit stop at home on the way from Scotland to Sussex, or vice versa.

There’s none of the omnipresent worry, the feeling I’ve forgotten something. Nor, indeed, the very real danger of causing horrific offence though some gifting oversight or greetings-related vaguary. No trying to recall if I’ve sent that calendar to Aunt Ada, and if I have, whether Aunt Doris should have one too, or whether I put a family letter in Cousin Mabel’s card. Or have I sent the right cards to the right halves of the divorcees? I did catch myself in time before I posted a card to the lady half of a divorced couple in the envelope addressed to her ex. That was close.

There’s no fielding all the calls from people who want to know how Mum and Dad are but are too shy to call direct, ‘because we know your father’s ill and we haven’t heard anything’. No more trying to explain to them that they haven’t heard anything because my father is ill, not because my mother doesn’t want to call for another year. No more efforts to try and underline, gently, that Mum would love to hear from them but that she has a dash of dementia too, now, and that they haven’t heard because they need to call her.

Doing Christmas and New Year is like sitting a rather onorous set of exams.  It’s alright if you are prepared but I am not always prepared because … life.

Christmas and New Year require me to be a grown up, be the matriarch and generally do adulting, hard.

Adulting is not something I do well.

Epiphany, on the other hand, is when I come out the other end, exams sat, adulting done, no clue as to the results but nothing more than the thank you letters to worry about, which are usually done by that time because even if they feel like pulling teeth, they’re the last push, the the last bit of grown-up-ness between me and freedom, and it always feels good to get them finished by the first weekend in January so I can relax.

There is the glorious revelling in the knowledge that Next Christmas and New Year are about as far away as it is possible for them to be. That smug feeling you get buying next year’s wrapping paper and Christmas cards for a third of the price in the sales and putting them away. There’s the fabulous relief that all the weird people who love Christmas and bang on about it from about July will actually shut the fuck up about it for a couple of months. No more Christmas jumper pictures on Facebook. Woot. But I suppose, most importantly, after a month or two of frenetic planning and pretending to be a grown up, Epiphany brings a bit of space, some time to reflect on the past year and look at what I have – or haven’t – done. And with that, usually, comes a feeling of great peace.

Next year is going to be tough but we’ll get through somewhow.

This year, I have learned that I need to write to maintain my sanity. More importantly, as well as learning that I needed to do that, I learned how to. I have not been so calm for a long time – don’t get excited it’s all relative, I’m still bouncing about like a kernel in a popcorn maker and I am still exasperated by trivial and mundane things. I still get menopausally, hormonally, mental baggage-ly angry about ridiculously small stuff and end up shouting at strangers but … er hem … in a more relaxed and benign way. Phnark.

So yeh. Very little has changed, except the gargantuan word total, there just seems to have been this weird shift in the way I look at it. It’s not all roses, but it’s not all stingy nettles and jaggy brambles anymore, either!

I am aware that my feeling of peace is probably nothing more than the calm before the storm but I’ll enjoy it while it’s here. As for 2019, I know some things are going to be grim, but I’m still looking forward to it, I’m still hopeful and still intrigued as to what it will bring.

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New stuff, has landed! Woot!

So, I have a new release.

Yep. That caught you by surprise didn’t it? It’s a 10k short and it’s in an anthology of other excellent stories for yes, now, once again, ’tis the time of year for Christmas Lites. In this case, Christmas Lites VIII.

You may or may not remember the story behind this because I shared it last year. Splitter, an author friend from way back, found himself in a women’s refuge, dressed as Father Christmas with a bunch of candy canes in a sack. He was supposed to be arriving at the office party but instead, ended up doing the whole Santa malarky where he was and giving the candy canes to the people staying there.

You may also remember how his boss asked him where he’d been and how she then called him into work the next day where he found she had loaded her car with presents and how the two of them went back to the refuge with them the next day.

It’s a brilliant story, it’s human nature at its absolute best, and now every year, a group of authors join together and release a new Christmas Lites anthology to raise money for a charity which helps domestic violence victims, and which, I believe, was the the charity behind that shelter, the NCADV. It’s all the more poignant to the authors involved, now, since Splitter died of cancer a few years back so as well as the charity element there’s a dimension of doing a kindness in memory of a lovely guy. I am incredibly proud to be involved.

I’ve made a page of links to places where you can buy it. Unfortunately, because of the logistics of getting the money made to the charity, the book is only available on Amazon at the moment.  Hopefully that won’t be too much of a pain in the arse for users of other platforms – I can recommend the Kindle app if you have an Amazon account.

Grab your copy of Christmas Lites VIII here.

On other news, I also have stumbled upon a rather excellent give away.

It’s a Strange World Science Fiction

This giveaway is running from 22nd December through to 22nd January. These are authors who’ve written sci-fi books that are planet-based, you know, either future Earth, parallel Earth or different planets in other universes. If you enjoyed my stuff about K’Barth I think you may find some things you like among these too. At the least it has to be a release from Christmas telly and turkey farts!

You can find the books and have a look at what’s on offer by clicking on the picture or clicking on this lovely link here.

That’s about it from me, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas or, if you don’t do Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful whatever it is you do. Incidentally, did you know that the whole thing in America where they can’t say ‘Christmas’ is actually just something that occurred because Happy Holidays catches it all and shops didn’t have to have loads of labels, cards etc printed to mention all the other celebrations around at the same time. Then, in order to disguise their laziness, they pretended it was altruism and said they were doing it not to offend anyone. So now everyone’s up in arms at the liberals when the origin may well be down to Hallmark trying to save printing costs! Mwahahahrgh a little Christmas-tastic trivia for you. Sadly, I have not been able to fact check it, but I am very much enjoying the idea.

Anyway, happy it, whatever it is you do and all the best for a fabulous 2019. Whatever the New Year brings, here’s hoping it’s good.

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Filed under About My Writing, Author Updates, Blimey!, General Wittering

New Stuff? Yeh, excerpt, new release and old stuff for 40% off!

As you know, I’ve been writing new stuff this year and because of the state of my brain/demands on my time and general, inconvenient insistence of Real Life to get in my way, this new stuff is mostly novellas/short stories. I am now close to finishing my fifth short this year! Woot. Desparately trying to get it sort of done by the end of the year but it probably won’t quite happen now, although I will be, literally, about 1000 words short! Grrr!

Apologies that I don’t have a cover to show you. I did hope I would have by this time but, unfortunately, my car appears to be determined to bankrupt me, so I didn’t have any cash left over to stump up for a cover after new tyres, a new radiator and other extensive repairs. But I digress … After banging on about them so long, I thought you might like to read an excerpt anyway, even without the cover to look at. Barring one, the short stories start pretty much were Unlucky Dip leaves off. The one exception … remember that scene in The Wrong Stuff when The Pan of Hamgee, hero of the K’Barthan Series, tells Ruth he tried to kill himself? This story tells you how and why he failed.

If you’ve read Unlucky Dip, you’ll know that The Pan, gets employed as a go-fer by Big Merv, the local gang lord after making and ill-judged and pathetically cack-handed effort to steal his wallet.

Between that point and the start of the actual series there’s about a year when The Pan runs errands for his scary orange boss. A couple of people asked me what happened during that time so I wrote it down. It being The Pan, most of the errands he runs go wrong somehow and he has to put things right to avoid being incorporated into a motorway stanchion or sent to swim with the fishes in concrete overshoes.

When I’m writing, I tend to end up writing way more stuff than I use so this may not all make it into the final edit, but I thought you might like it anyway. It describes The Pan of Hamgee’s first visit to The Parrot and Screwdriver, shortly after he is ’employed’ not that he has much choice in the matter, by Big Merv. It also describes his first encounter with Humbert, the foul-mouthed parrot. I am hoping that my cat fans, in particular, will appreciate this one.

Enjoy.

K’Barthan Short Preview

Sort of on the same subject …

Christmas Lites VIII

You may remember me talking about Christmas Lites last year. It’s an annual anthology published in aid of victims of domestic abuse. This year I successfully got my shit together and actually wrote a 10k story for Christmas Lights Eight. Woot! If you’re interested in finding out how The Pan of Hamgee got the pink plastic ring which features in Looking For Trouble, the answer is in the story, Secret Festive Celebration – yes, naming my work is not my strong point but it’s probably better than ‘the pink spangly ring one’*. Marginally.

* the genuine working title.

As I write, I lack a cover photo for this one too – doing well aren’t I? I also lack any meaningful details of a release date but I have made the bold assumption that it will go live soon because I know that’s the intention, and the lady who runs it has just had a baby, which means it’s not going to happen in a standard manner. She has a small person in her life now and all planning disappears when that happens. However, I wanted to alert you all anyway, because I know it’ll be coming soon. I’ll do a post specially when it does.

K’Barthan Box Set on sale now! Woot!

If Kobo is your thing, or you buy your ebooks from pretty much any store and read them with the respective app, Kobo is having a box set sale until 17th December. The discount won’t show at first but if you click to purchase and then enter the coupon code DECSALE at check out it will knock 40% off the price for you. You can use this code again and again, so basically, if you like Kobo, this is a good time to mop up as many reduced books as you can!

To find out more, click on the picture or follow this lovely link here which should take you to your local Kobo … er hem, famous last words:

https://www.kobo.com/ebook/k-barthan-box-set

While I’m writing about that, I know it’s a little bit cheeky but if you’ve read the series and enjoyed it already, could you do me a huge favour? If you have time, would you be able to help new people find it by spreading the word about this promo, or sharing my Facebook post about it with your friends? I know dead cheeky, right? But if you think you can help, you will surely gain your right to fully-certified Christmas Awesomeness! You can find the Facebook post to share here.

That’s it from me for this week … next week I may tell you about my adventures when out metal detecting and I discovered the battery in my car key had gone, rendering the car impregnable. Perhaps I’ll describe how I fell to my knees in the mud and cried, ‘why me?’ as I realised my lunch was locked inside. Tune in next week and if I’ve got round to typing it up, you’ll find out what happens next and also the answer to the question, when you put a Lotus on a ramp, can you open the door and get in?

These and more adventures next week!

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Filed under About My Writing, Humorous Fantasy Author

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, the topic NO-ONE wants to talk about.

You know how it is, pretending to be normal, day after day, is exhausting and after three or four weeks where I was feeling surprisingly mentally switched on, the fog descended again this week. I had McMini off school on Monday which meant that, on some subliminal level, I managed to think it was Sunday and therefore spent Tuesday firmly convinced that it was now Monday, with interesting results. This brain fog is an entirely normal part of my monthly cycle but I’ve reached a point in life where my hormones are exacerbating it.

You may not know this, although you could well have guessed from all the effing and blinding and impotent anger on here – impotent but funny, I hope – but I am at that age when my periods are stopping, or preparing to stop or possibly finished already, I don’t know.

Amazingly, it’s not something people talk about that much. Well … I do, but I realise I’ve never really posted about it on here. I think I ought to. The bit where your periods stop is a part of your life that is probably different for every single woman but maybe if I share my own experience it’ll help someone, somewhere to know that they’re not a freak, and certainly not alone. If you, or any of your friends have reached that stage, hopefully sharing my thoughts will be of practical use. So here is your guide.

What is it, this menopause thing?

Well, what most women refer to as ‘the menopause’ actually happens in two parts. There’s the menopause, which is the actual moment your periods stop. A few years after you will still be enjoying – although that isn’t really the right word – the hormonal aftershocks. I’m not sure what they call this bit. Post menopause I suppose. Then there is the perimenopause which is the time leading up to the point when your periods stop when your body has clocked that the eggs are running out and is quietly, or not so quietly, shutting up the fertility shop.

OK so if it’s not the menopause, what do I call it?

The change.

Fine, so I know, in your Mum’s day, everyone called it the menopause but these days you’re not allowed to do that. When I say ‘the change’ I feel a bit giggly and old fashioned. I want to mouth it soundlessly, yet theatrically, possibly with a knowing expression and one finger pointing downwards, the way Les Dawson might in a Sissy and Ada sketch when they’re talking about ‘downstairs’ problems (snortle).

Seriously, though, avoid calling this time in your life ‘the menopause’ at all costs unless you’re absolutely sure your periods have stopped. Many people I’ve met use the word ‘menopause’ as a blanket term to describe the phase where they are experiencing symptoms, which are uniformly vile both before and after your periods finish. Don’t do this. For every person who knows exactly what you mean, there is another who also knows exactly what you mean but will still feel it their duty to explain to you that you are incorrect in your use of terminology. You will have to pretend this is news to you, or risk flaunting your sloppy and inaccurate use of language and eliciting another ear bashing for your shoddy lazy thinking and general wrongness as a human being.

Naturally, perimenopausal/menopausal as your anger levels are, this will annoy you extensively. Indeed, there is a real danger you might actually lamp one of these well meaning pedants if you let this scenario happen too often. So don’t. Call it the change.

Moving on.

What are the symptoms?

Try as I might I haven’t been able to verify this but as I’m sure I read somewhere that there are something like 98 different symptoms that can present themselves. Common ones, or at least, the ones the NHS list, are – and I quote:

  • hot flushes – short, sudden feelings of heat, usually in the face, neck and chest, which can make your skin red and sweaty
  • night sweats – hot flushes that occur at night
  • difficulty sleeping – this may make you feel tired and irritable during the day – especially if you have the problems with memory and concentration listed, below, because it’s frustrating as hell. Try remembering to make school packed lunches, to pack the swimming things in the school bag on the right day or turn up to a dental appointment when you are supposed to, when you can’t find your arse in the dark with both hands and need cue cards to remember your own fucking name!
  • a reduced sex drive (libido)
  • problems with memory and concentration
  • vaginal dryness and pain, during sex or, generally, itching and discomfort
  • headaches
  • mood changes, such as low mood or anxiety
  • palpitations – heartbeats that suddenly become more noticeable
  • joint stiffness, aches and pains
  • reduced muscle mass
  • recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • in some instances, it can cause a recurrence of post/anti natal depression

How long is it going to last, Doctor?

Hmm, well the symptoms can start up to ten years before your periods actually stop and they usually go on for about four years afterwards, but one in ten women is lucky enough to have them go on for twelve years. Oh joy. I can attest to this, one of the ladies at my gym is in her 70s and still gets hot flushes. Sometimes, hot flushes are called hot flashes but we still call it looking flushed when we go red so unless you’re a bit Victorian about using the word flush because you think it’s something not quite nice a lavatory does (mwahahahargh!) or American – because they probably do talk about looking flashed rather than looking flushed let me know my lovely US readers – I can’t really see the point.

Yeh but how long is it going to take for me? How many years?

Ah yes, well, you see, there’s the thing, this is hormones. No-one has a fucking clue because the driving factor is your hormones and only they know and they’re cagey little bastards. Each woman’s body has its own, unique and joyous interpretation of how the business of ceasing to ovulate is achieved. For the record, the health professionals treating me reckon I went into an early one after having McMini aged 40. I’m now 50 and neither my periods, such as they are, nor the symptoms show any signs of stopping.

How do I know when it’s starting, then?

Some women start getting hot flushes, which is a big indicator. I haven’t really. However, I was first officially diagnosed as perimenopausal at the age of 45 when they thought I had been for five years, already. Nothing seemed to have settled down after McMini. My cycle was weird and I was getting constant headaches, the kind of nutbar hormonal activity that was giving me the spins, period pains that made the bout of appendicitis I had once look like a walk in the park and a temper that was … short. They reckoned I’d gone into it early  having waited until I was 40 to have McMini. I had a marina coil put in – this has nothing to do with Morris cars and does not mean I go faster but it did put paid to the headaches and stomach cramps every time I had what Viz magazine euphemistically calls, ‘the painters in’.

The folks who inserted my first coil reckoned I’d have finished my periods by the time the hormones wore out, when I was aged 50.

They were wrong.

Aged about 49 I went to the doctor because I’d had sore boobs – yes that’s another lovely symptom – for three months and thought I ought to get that checked. I also wanted to discuss what appeared to be early onset dementia. We did the boobs first and she asked a whole raft of questions finishing up with,

’I’m pretty sure I know what’s wrong but I just have one more question, are you having problems with your short term memory?’

I said that was the other thing I was there to see her about and she said that it was entirely hormonally induced which was kind of good and kind of not as in, I’m not going mad but I’m not going to get any better.

Am I peri or post menopausal? Well, ladies, the point of a coil is to limit or stop your periods, so unfortunately, I haven’t a blind clue. I have had one hot flush but that’s all. Contrary to popular opinion, not everyone does get hot flushes, one lady at the gym I spoke to never had any at all. If you don’t have them, try to ignore the people who say you can’t possibly be having the change if you haven’t had a hot flush. They’re talking through their arses.

Is there a cure?

Most judgements about, treatments of and general related aspects to the change are based on scientific fact but their application definitely appears to be more of an art than a science. Also, clearly, the symptoms you are experiencing make a difference to the treatments you can have and they are different from woman to woman. Here are few options, anyway.

HRT

You can have hormone replacement theory, usually, but not always, involving a pill with a tiny dose of progesterone and an eostragen gel which you rub on.

Originally, HRT merely put off the inevitable, hence my choice of a coil over HRT, so the eggs go on disappearing. The last thing I wanted was to come off HRT after five years only to have the whole bloody hormone circus back in town. HRT these days is getting to smaller doses at less risk so it’s not beyond the realms that you can just take it forever. My beef with that would be periods. NO WAY am I voluntarily going back to having periods in any way shape or form. On the up side, you’re not going to end up with brittle bones which can happen over the course of the change.

Some think that the risks of HRT are too great, there is a small risk of increasing your chances of getting breast cancer but it’s much smaller than the increased risk of getting breast cancer you’ll have if you drink too much or get fat.  It also means your cardio vascular system will remain in much better shape and you won’t have to worry about the brittle bone thing.

CBT

Yep you read that correctly, cognitive behavioural therapy. Addressing the anxiety about whether or not an embarrassingly hot flush will appear at a bad time has a sizeable impact on the number of hot flushes a woman has, linking them to stress. Obviously, this also works well for women who are suffering from totally irrational anxiety – another jolly symptom of the change. A friend told me, recently, that her first inkling that she was having the change was when she sought treatment for what she thought was a nervous breakdown. Yes hormones can really mess with your head.

On the hot flush front, the chemical that causes them has also been identified and a drug tested that blocks the effects of this chemical. It has worked extremely well in trials and is now creeping through the safety checks and validation process – it should be available in a few years.

Diet and gut health

What you eat can help a bit. There are various foods that can help balance hormone deficit, mainly things like oily fish, nuts and seeds, the omega things basically. I also take vitamin B12 and have for years, along with evening primrose oil which seem to take the edge off my PMT (or PMS if you’re in the US) and cranberry capsules which keep the cystitis down to a minimum. Much of this, in my case, is about feeling that I’m doing something to try and control my symptoms. It makes me fee less like a piece of driftwood tossed on a stormy sea and more like … well, if not a boat then at least, a life raft with some rudimentary form of steering and a vague notion where land is. Although, that said, whether or not it’s a victory of belief over science, it’s amazing what a can of sardines can do to get rid of the headaches I get at certain times of the month.

Yeast …

If you are suffering from the brain fog side of things, then, bizarrely, the balance of your gut flora and fauna can make a difference. Apparently 70% of your serotonin is produced in the gut. I am a great believer in trying anything once so when a friend said she had some Kefir grains going for a good home I went and collected some. Kefir can be grown in water or whole milk. It is a yeast which feeds on the water/milk and ferments it – the water has to have sugar and stuff in. Essentially, what this means is that you are drinking yeast shit. Try not to think about that. Like spreading manure on the fields, yeast shit in the guts does wonders and-

I should stop this here really shouldn’t I?

Anyway …

Bob the Blob

He looks like adenoidsMy personal stash of Kefir grains are collectively called Bob the Blob and they are the whole milk kind. Bob in his naked state looks like adenoids, under the milk he looks like something out of Dr Who – the Brain of Morbious springs to mind. He lives in a jar in a dark cuboard in our kitchen. Bob is like that thing out of one fish two fish red fish blue fish, he will grow and grow so you can give bits of Bob to your similarly post/perimenopausally challenged friends. I wouldn’t sell his … producings …  as yeast shit though or they might not want it.

Bob’s home made stuff is an acquired taste, it’s a bit like drinking feta cheese. To be honest – the water kefir is made with lemon and sugar and is much tastier – but Bob definitely cuts down on the brain fog and certainly on the length of time each monthly fog bout lasts.

Cutting down stress

Yes, I realise you can’t do this, but what I mean is, it’s worth taking an open minded approach and trying everything. Take Bob the Blob for example. If drinking yeast shit reduces my brain fog, it reduces my stress. It also reduces my total and utter frustration with the day to day business of dwelling among the normals – never my strong point even without brain fog. As a result, I am a lot less stressed and that makes the headaches easier to manage. And talking to people and making jokes about it certainly helped me cope.

Magnets and cucuramins

If you get joint pain, magnets and curcuramins may help. On the curcuramins front, not the turmeric pills I mean the real heavy duty ones where the curcuramins are extracted and concentrated way more. The bonus of curcuramins is that there is some actual proper scientific evidence that they do help, and they also help fight/prevent cancer. My joint pain was identified as not being down to my arthritic knees during a prolonged bout of physio therapy in the summer. Having tried turmeric pills and discovered a definite drop in the pain levels, I decided I’d give the curcuramins with extra grunt a go and they have helped. Like Bob, they haven’t eradicated the symptoms but they have drastically reduced them and I do now have days where it’s only my arthritic knees that hurts.

Magnets, similar. Putting magnets on joints that hurt works for me. I have no idea why but it does. I use big fuck off magnets, naturally. A lot of the ones you buy are too small to make a difference. You need maximum Gauss to get any benefits. I also find a magnet on the affected area works better than one on a wrist band.

Any other advice?

The best for me, was to talk about it with other people. I’m lucky enough to go to a ladies only gym where most of the ladies are going through the change now or retired. Iti

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Accepting the way dementia transforms someone you love.

It’s been a rough two weeks on the old dears front and now things have settled again, I feel I can talk about it. There is a maze of guilt and awfulness to experience when someone you love gets dementia. It is really hard to watch the pieces of their personality gradually disappearing. I know that Sir Terry saw it as little pieces of himself disappearing forever every day. The trouble is, if you are close to a dementia sufferer then for the sake of the sanity of both of you, you cannot allow yourself to see it like that.

Mum and Dad’s wedding photo. Check out the hands. Hanging onto one another like they never want to let go.

There was a time when I felt that Dad was dead to me. That the person I knew had gone. That made me feel like shit on oh so many levels. Actually, it isn’t true. The person I knew is still there, but parts of his brain have gone. I reasoned it out like this:

If he’d had an accident and become paralysed from the waist down, I wouldn’t write him off because his legs didn’t work. So his brain is stuffed, it’s just a different part of the body, so what was the problem?

Even so, there was a period when I felt that I could never learn to cope with this new stranger in a familiar guise. My dad who wasn’t my dad. There were times when I almost wished he would die, not because I wanted him to but to end his suffering, and ours. I still envy people whose parents die suddenly or after a short illness, but that’s because treating Dad with the dignity and humanity I should takes an exhausting amount of moral fibre, mental stamina and strength of character not to mention time, a commodity of which I have absolutely fuck all! And emotional energy, another commodity of which I have jack shit. I guess there is always going to be the odd day when I wonder what it would be like if I could stop being quite so badly needed and get my life back.

Then I remember what my Dad’s friend Ken said. Ken looked after his wife, Biddie, when she had dementia. He was just lovely with her and she’d wander off, get confused, be unable to work out where she was. Ask where the children were and he’d say, ‘They’re at home, now come along Biddie, it’s quite alright.’ I once told him I thought he was doing a wonderful job and that I thought he was amazing, the way he looked after her, the way he coped with it and that I was in awe of how he did it because I didn’t think I could.

‘It’s an honour. An honour and a privilege,’ he said.

He got emphysema and his son and daughter came to live in, turn and turn about. At one point, before his wife died, he was very sick and was given the last rites. The next morning he felt better and rang the priest to say thank you! Like Mum is doing for Dad, he held on. He survived Biddie, but not for long.

So that’s my motto for when things get difficult. Be like Ken. And it was Ken’s attitude to Biddie that I aim for, that ability to see her as she had always been when, to the rest of us, she seemed have become someone else.

Mental disabilities are hard. People who have cognitive problems, or who say and do inappropriate things can be hard to love. The parameters in which they operate are not the same as ours, so it’s awkward. Connecting is hard. Sometimes, it’s even dangerous. I confess, it’s not great when you consider it a success if you get away with hugging your father without him groping your arse. But the important thing with dementia is not to give up on the person. They’re still in there, they’ve just lost their ability to process the world through memory and all that is left is emotion, so the trick is to keep them feeling emotionally comfortable – yeh, I know, easier said than done.

Dad is not always very nice to people anymore (understatement of the century) when he panics he gets defensive and sweary. He’s particularly bad in the mornings. He’s never been a morning person and actually, I thoroughly sympathise there, because neither have I. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is get up, wash my face and clean my teeth because, even with an electric toothbrush, cleaning my teeth is one of the most boring things in the world and I like to get it over and done with. And this is the thing with Dad. To look after him, we all have to make the links between the extremes in his behaviour to the norms in our own; to understand, to give it a lot of thought.

Despite being a very social animal, Dad also struggles with a busy house first thing, so he’s not great at having visitors to stay. Indeed, the vilest and most horrible I’ve ever seen him was last Chirstmas, when McOther, McMini and I went to stay with Mum and Dad. There’s a hotel just up the road and I think staying in that might be worth a try in future. But at Christmas most hotels have been booked years in advance, or are closed. At Christmas, it will always have to be round theirs.

Some days, Dad is completely switched on. He knows who I am, he remembers how to have a conversation, more to the point, he can follow one. He pauses and listens when others are speaking and chips in with his own comments. Other days, he shouts that no-one’s paying him any attention. That just means that, today, he can’t follow the thread and is feeling a bit frightened and disorientated, or just a bit left out. His reactions are more childlike as new parts of his brain succumb. It can be hard to find Dad in there, beyond all that effing and blinding, throwing things around. Strangely, while in some respects, there is an element of a two year old throwing a tantrum, with much of it, the main gist is seeking reassurance or trying to hurry things up. So he empties out his cup or clears his plate, but he doesn’t realise that scraping the leavings off it onto the drawing room floor is the wrong way to do that. It gets a reaction and gets everyone’s plates cleared so that’s fine by him, he fails to grasp the gap in his logic.

When Dad is like this, it’s really hard to engage. You don’t want to. You withdraw. You cut off contact. You don’t talk to him because it hurts you. Except that makes it worse. I guess the biggest trick is to remember that while he’s behaving badly to get attention, the reason he is vying for that attention is because he needs reassurance. You have to constantly remind yourself of the dementia sufferer’s humanity, even when they seem to be inhuman. If I chat to Dad and give him lots of attention when I arrive, he is happier and I also end up having far more time to talk to Mum.

A couple of years ago, Mum finally got too exhausted to look after Dad and her health broke down. Waking up and talking him to the loo whenever he needed a wee in the night, every night, for fifteen years had finally taken it’s toll. Lack of sleep and the rigours of living with someone who, essentially, needed the kind of vigilance required to look after a two year old is hard enough when you’re young. When you’re 82 it’s a pretty tall order. I remember talking to my brother, and we felt that Dad was dead and all that was left was this weird shouty stranger who was dragging Mum down, sucking out her life, her energy, the joy in her life. My brother wanted to put Dad in a home but Mum said she’d promised she’d never do that and refused. I stood by her because I wanted her to be OK with herself.

Luckily, I don’t feel that way about Dad anymore, but I’d lay bets that feeling is a natural stage in coming to terms with any brain-damaged loved one. So to anyone reading this who feels that way, chill. It’s normal. Likewise, feeling shit about yourself for feeling that way is, undoubtedly, normal as well. And if you work at the way you are thinking about this, analyse why you feel that way and do your best to work out ways to engage with dementia sufferer on their own terms, it will pass.

Dad can’t understand why Mum no longer looks like this.

While putting Dad in a home would, undeniably, be better for Mum’s physical health, it would be disastrous for her mental health and, at the moment, it would be terrible for Dad, too. Maybe further on, when he doesn’t really realise it’s a home he’s in but not now when he is very aware and wants to stay where he is, with Mum. For all that he is ‘engaged’ to one of the carers and two of the young women who work in the pub, there is still a weird habit of love for Mum. He doesn’t realise he’s old, so he can’t quite understand how they are married, but he does understand that he loves her, even if he has difficulty placing how or why. My brother is probably right. Looking after Dad may well be killing Mum, but it’s what she wants to do and it’s her choice. If she stops living life on her terms, or doing whatever she needs to do to be able to look herself in eye in front of the mirror in the morning, that really will kill her.

However, recently, Dad has been doing some very silly things, like throwing himself on the floor and refusing to get up. I worry that he may hurt himself and then Mum’s whole argument – My friend X put her husband in a home and he didn’t last three weeks – goes by the board. Because if he ends up in hospital and then has to just go somewhere where they have a bed, it would be disastrous. So we need to establish a relationship with a home. One where I think he would be happy if he lobbed himself onto the floor and broke his hip, or if something happened to one of the live in carers and he had to go there for respite. So this last couple of weeks, I picked out a home, a really, really lovely place nearby, took Mum and Dad to visit it and put his name down. It will be a while before his name comes up but at least he’s been there now. I was hoping to look at social days there but he realised it was a rest home, so I think we will have to wait and try that again in a month or two. The idea is, that he gets to know a home then, should he need to go into one, it will be a place with which he is familiar.

Going to see Dad and Mum every week does help me to see the dappled light and shade of Dad’s moods. Sometimes he is on amazingly good form and is unmistakeably my father as I knew him, others, not so much. The thing is, as the disease takes more and more of his brain, you have to work harder to engage. I guess I have come to see him as some kind of Dad-shaped enigma, a puzzle that has to be solved. Sometimes he says,

‘I don’t like you Mary.’

When he does this, I rush over to him, fling my arms round him and say,

‘Nooo! You can’t say that Dad! Because I love you!’

He will then hug me back with all his might, laughing with relief, well, we both laugh with relief at that point. It used to hurt me a lot when he did this to start with, until I learned the hug trick. But now I understand that when he says he doesn’t like me, what he’s really saying is that he’s worried that I don’t like him. He has enough emotional intelligence left to know that while bad behaviour gets him the attention, and therefore the reassurance, he craves, it also upsets people. He’s asking for a different kind of reassurance, but in a defensive, spiky way, and when I give it to him, he relaxes and his bad temper fades. But it’s hard and it takes mental energy. And I watch the carers, because they learn these techniques more quickly than I do, so I can see what they’re going that works best and copy. That side of it must be much harder for my brother because all the carers are women, so he has to work out his own path. I don’t envy him.

Sometimes, when you’re caught up in the admin, the things you need to get and do, it’s easy to forget that Mum and Dad are people; to forget the human element of the logistical problem. It’s not always easy to give them the freedom to make decisions for themselves and I often feel caught in the middle, because I think, being further away, my brother takes it harder than me and is more keen to just sort it out, by putting Dad, or both of them, in a home. The gaps between his visits are longer, therefore, the deterioration in Dad is more obvious, Dad’s behaviour is always at its worst, and techniques that my brother has learned, which are successful one visit, may no longer work on the next. Because I’m lucky enough to live nearer, and visit every week, most of the coping strategies will last longer before new ones need to be found.

Despite spitting on the floor, throwing stuff about, making inappropriate comments and loving the F word above all else, there are times when we do get Dad back, even on the bad days. Just pop on a dvd of Dad’s Army and suddenly we are all laughing together, on the same level. Or sometimes, listening to music, looking at something outside, taking him for a walk, talking about my grandparents, he will suddenly light up and tell a funny story and we will all be laughing as if he was fine.

But that’s the thing I need to get my head round, of course. He is fine. I’m the one with the problem. He’s just disabled.

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The sky is falling apparently … again.

Today, let’s talk about publishing! Yes, I’m going to talk author shop. That said, I’m supposed to talk author shop really, aren’t I? That’s why I mark all the McMini and dementia posts ‘off topic’ although to be honest I go off topic so often that the book-related stuff is the off topic theme here nowadays. But hey ho, onwards and upwards.

 

So this week I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast, at least, I think it was this week’s, it might have been last week [MT disappears to check]. Ah, yes. Last week, number 402. The point is, she was talking at one point about the apparent disappearance of the also-boughts on Amazon. Now, I’ve never actually got much out of the also-boughts, myself, because the folks who read my books seem to have very enquiring minds and read all kinds of weird shizz so they were always stuffed to perdition from the start. People who bought my books have also bought thrillers, horror books, text books and mostly, my other books leaving the Amazon recommendation engine going, ‘Uh?’

However, if your readers are a bit more genre-centric, I’m reliably informed that you can glean readers from the fans of authors similar to your via the also-boughts, readers who are likely to enjoy your stuff. Amazon notices their buying habits so if readers of Terry Pratchett books start buying mine, for example, the recommendation engine goes, ‘Oy-oy!’* and starts automatically recommending my books to people who have bought Sir Terry’s books (oh how I wish). If that happens Bob’s your uncle, your work is introduced to a new and interested audience.

* you didn’t know it was Jewish, did you?

Word is that for some time, Amazon has been trialing the removal of these also-boughts from its current, prime position, or removing them altogether, and introducing more strips of paid advertising instead. They’ve been doing this mostly on their US site so I haven’t seen it but obviously, if they make the switch permanent, it has some serious ramifications.

If the also-boughts disappear, then, in theory, the ads should provide a similar premise, since most authors who advertise chose similar authors’ names as advertising keywords, so that when readers look at books by them, they see adverts for your similar book. However, as usual, there are some unscrupulous spammers advertising everywhere, without a nod to relevance at all like those people who keep offering me products to enlarge my penis … when I’m a WOMAN (money down the drain boys). Or thinking about it, maybe they just have the SEO equivalent of also-boughts like mine.

Anyway, a lot of authors head the advert something like, ‘If you like Douglas Adams you’ll love M T McGuire’ except I don’t because it’s like telling everyone you’re actually God, down to visit the planet incognito, and will unleash a string of one star reviews from Douglas Adams fans who are incensed at your presumption. Indeed, advertising anything funny that’s not Douglas Adams to Adams’ fans is a bona fide recipe to send them into conniptions about your sheer brass neck and bring down a tidal wave of snark upon yourself – believe me, I’ve tried it. Luckily Terry Pratchett fans are more benign so I say things like, ‘The K’Barthan Series. A bit like the discworld series but not as funny.’ But I digress.

So will also-bot-ageddon make any difference if it sticks? Yes, in that it will mean authors and publishers will have to pay for their place on the also-boughts. For readers, there will be no also-boughts to trawl for similar authors to the ones you like. For authors, there’ll be no easy way of finding alternative yet similar authors to yourself to use as advertising keywords. But as David Gaughran, points out, the infrastructure will still be there and Amazon will still use the also boughts algorithm to make recommendations to customers by email. Also, since what an author thinks her audience is may not be correct, Amazon will always go on the buying habits of target readers rather than an author’s guestimate, because that will make them more cash, so presumably they are unlikely to bin the also bots long term.

As a reader, I only use the also boughts or buy on personal recommendation, I never use search because it never returns interesting books, only commercial ones and I’m British so I’m far too cynical to click many ads. That, alone, is enough to suggest Amazon probably won’t bin the also-boughts entirely. I can’t be their only customer who works like that. Maybe it will appear in some other form or maybe they will fix the shambolic awfulness that is AMS ads so they present a more accurate alternative. We can but hope.

What this whole panic does flag up to me, though, is that now, even more than ever, it’s important to avoid being beholden to one big business for anything, be it a retailer for all your income, a particular form of social media for all your communication, or even one product. We have to get our books out to as many retailers as possible, in as many formats as possible and while social media is best done in earnest on one site alone, there’s no harm in having your blog posts go to all the others if the software you use allows.  And yes, that means I really should make some audio books. I’m not sure it has to involve remortgaging the house or tying myself in an exclusive deal to one retailer for however million years* for a crappy 40% royalties, anymore.

* actually, I think it’s seven, or maybe fourteen years, but that’s a sod of a long time. I may be dead by the end of that.

For a number of reasons, mostly Real Life’s continual and annoying interference with my plans for literary world domination, I write slowly. That means that, ideally, I need to engage the kinds of readers who are prepared to pay for my books because there’s a longer gap between each one. But, as digital content becomes further and further devalued we probably will reach a point where it’s all free on subscription and we authors get paid for page reads of our electronic content, if at all. If the review site I used to write on was anything to go on, payment starts at a good rate, the site in question paid 50p a read at the start. By the end, it paid a fraction of a penny for each read and you needed to get hundreds of reads on any piece you submitted to net 10p. I see the subscription model going the same way; 1p per read of each of my 100k+ books. Ouch.

Yet, one of the things Joanna Penn raised this week, was that while recent trends point to electronic content decreasing in value to nothing, there is an increase in people buying other things, instead; their favourite albums on vinyl, hard backs of their favourite books or box sets and other deluxe or collector’s versions. There’s also the idea of the author as a brand, the value of a personal appearance, visiting conventions, schools etc. Not something Real Life gives me room for at the moment but there’s no harm building the MTM brand.

As for product diversity, as well as forms of output for my books, there is merchandise. Many readers do and will buy merchandise, possibly more for comedy books, but, for my own part, the stuff I made on Zazzle with the art work from my books netted me rather more than the books, themselves the first year they were out. Again, I stick that stuff everywhere; redbubble, zazzle, cafepress, and any I go on to find. More importantly, I should to put them on my own site – don’t forget to do that, kids, I’m working on mine. It’s an easier decision for me, since my books aren’t mainstream and committing to one retailer makes little business sense if you write the kinds of books I do. My fans are eclectic and far flung and I usually only sell a couple of copies of each book a month on each site (it’s particularly low at the moment because I’ve run out of cash for ads). The way I see it, on pretty much every site where my book is on sale, I’m likely to sell a handful. The more sites my book is on, the more people will be buying those couple of copies and suddenly, £5 a piece from twenty or thirty obscure book retail sites adds up fast.

Finally, it’s all about control. I think, possibly, the smartest thing you can do is retain control of as much of your work, rights and reader contact as you can. I’ve spent enough time in marketing to be wary of relying on any one big business. Remember when Facebook showed your posts to, like, everyone? Remember when they stopped and authors with followings of thousands found they were only reaching a handful of their fans? Yeh. That. So to me the most important thing, above everything else, is to get a mailing list going, achieve a rapport with the readers there, sell your stuff on your own site and keep all those small sites going. Because that way if one of the big boys does something funny and stuffs up your earnings, it won’t be the end of the world.

To sum it up then, nothing is constant, the only thing we can guarantee about the ebook business is that it will keep changing. And people who are reliant on Amazon will run round complaining that the sky is falling on their heads. So you have to keep as much of the process where you can control it as possible while, at the same time, giving yourself as many options as possible. That’s why, if you write slowly, the way I do, there are probably only three golden rules:

  1. Have as many sources of income as possible, by having your products available in as many different places as you can.
  2. Aim to generate as many different income streams as possible around your books.
  3. Aim to get a good rapport with your readers and sort out as much of that as is humanely possible, through channels where you have control, on your own cyber turf.

______________________________

Happy news. If anyone wants to try reading the weird shit I produce without having to join my mailing list to get some free, and then be subjected to even more weird shit in the form of newsletters, you can buy Book 1 in the K’Barthan Series at a reduced price on Kobo from today until 27th November. There are a lot of other books reduced like this on Kobo, too, not just mine!

Few Are Chosen

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