Book review: What Every Parent needs to Know

Posted September 13, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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How much do you know about what goes on at school? Every little thing? Or not much? This book review of What Every Parent Needs to Know: how to help your child get the most out of primary school might be useful.  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Read all about it?

Read all about it?

My childless friends are ruthlessly rude about school run mums. “They don’t mean to be boring,” they say with a grimace. “But if they start talking about schools, or to another mum about schools you wonder what happened to the woman you used to know.” School chat and humour are a long way apart as is all too obvious when you read one-time enfant terrible Toby Young’s new book about primary school learning. Young’s finest hour was the funny memoir of life at Vanity Fair in New York, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which even became a film. Since then he’s set up the controversial West London Free School, raised four children and most recently written with Miranda Thomas What Every Parent Needs to Know: how to help your child get the most out of primary school (Penguin, £14.99).

What Every Parent Needs to Know by Toby Young & Miranda Thomas (Penguin, £14.99)

What Every Parent Needs to Know by Toby Young & Miranda Thomas (Penguin, £14.99)

What’s the book about?
This is a guide for UK primary school families. It attempts to nail down the new national curriculum – something tinkered about with, and occasionally butchered, while Michael Gove was Minister of Education – broken down into what the child might learn in each year group.

My own children have passed through primary school and the obsession to talk about their lack of homework or spectacular creativity with cardboard loo roll middles in D&T (design and technology) has definitely passed. That said I am certain that those parents going through the primary school years will find this book useful for topping up learning sessions at home– so long as their child is a sweet, clever, biddable beast willing to sit still and focus for 40 minute slots. Although there is a short section on special educational needs, this book is written for the anxious/smug mum and competitive dad who have a child in the top 25 per cent (OK, 7 per cent) and if they get the chance would like to make sure everyone knows it.

Although schools will tell parents what children are to be taught each term, this book makes clear what form teachers are trying to instil in their pupils. And that can be helpful given that kids in Year 2 and Year 6 will be tested to ensure progress is being made. It’s also got great web resources peppered throughout the chapters to help you do school work at home – some llinnks were so good I might even cancel my Netflix account.

But the tone of the book – positive cheerleading with a London focus (I’m not sure how my radar picked that up) and a fear of creativity – grates. I’m not that keen on Toby Young’s politics (seemingly moving from left to right as the years pass) but kept being surprised by the strange inclusion of the canny parents’ rhymes such as, eg, “on your knees to pay the fees”, though I suppose us non Church going readers should be grateful this wasn’t in Latin.

The authors tell us when to hand our darling a mobile, but there is absolutely no help with what every working parent really needs to know which is do I have to get embroiled in the PTA? And how do I get my child registered on the breakfast and after school club?

Kids get lost in a game. Grown ups clock watch because it's nearly time to eat...

Kids get lost in a game. Readers of What Every Parent Needs to Know might be tempted to turn this into a science experiment. It’s not. It’s a game. this is what creativity looks like…

Helping with homework
Besides reading to my children when they were younger (and I have to admit that I’d be happy to keep doing this until they’re, say, 36 when they should switch to Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime) I have never done their homework. If you are the kind of mum who needs, or wants, to do this, What Every Parent Needs to Know is going to be a godsend and may see you your child clock Year 6 SATS with a Level 5 in English and Level 6 in Maths.

What it won’t give you any help on is teaching your child to think, or be kind, or instil in them the emotional resilience needed to cope with the toxic mix of school work, friendship ups and downs, failing exams, families under stress, hideous world disasters broadcast live on TV combined with growing up and hormonal changes.

So the book is great for the pushy mums… and if read carefully you’ll learn the curriculum maps and every educational acronym, not just G&T (gifted and talented). You may also benefit from a top up on old-school memory rhymes (eg, American states, Kings & Queens of England) – the sort of info a pub team quiz member who takes a pride in collecting facts probably already knows. Maybe that could be Young and Thomas’ next enterprise?

Buy it? Borrow it? Bin it?
I’m glad I’ve read this book but if I was giving it to a friend I’d suggest they tried to forget the competitive edge it could give their child and instead focus on what each Year teacher is trying to give to a whole class of children. Maybe if you go and look at that Florence Nightingale statue in Waterloo Place, Westminser or the Fire of London Monument (as recommended during Year 2/history) bring along a couple of your child’s friends so more people get the benefit of Young and Thomas’ curriculum research and your out-of-hours dedication.

What Every Parent Needs to Know is by Toby Young and Miranda Thomas (Penguin, £14.99). Nicola Baird is author of Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco friendly ways to raise your children. She is also a secondary school governor.

Over to you?
What do you think? Do you have books about how to help your child at school? Do they help? Do share in the comments. I’m especially interested in feedback from families who opt out of the system and do homeschooling. How do you guys teach collective responsibility, creativity and the importance of an individual decision?

Ideas for back-to-school art and craft

Posted August 29, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , ,

Do you have a box of junk you use for art materials or creative projects? Congratulations if the answer is yes. Here are some thoughts about how to make use of broken china – and end up getting it displayed in the Tate.  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Broken crockery transformed - though not by me. This was an exhibit at the British Folk art exhibition at Tate Britain.

Broken crockery transformed – though not by me. This was an exhibit at the British Folk art exhibition at Tate Britain (summer 2014). The doll in the centre gives it a strange 3D feel. Can you recognise any of the china?

In the 1880s dialect researcher, Oliver Heslop, noted that Durham children had a word for the broken bits of pot and earthenware they used to decorate their play homes and toys – “boudy”. I have a pile of broken china bowls and plates under my hedge, just in case I think of a use for it, ideas include making a mural.

Chaos before the washing up is done sometimes leads to breakages. Sorry I mean, art materials.

Chaos before the washing up is done sometimes leads to breakages. Sorry I mean, art materials.

The growing pile of breakages – blame the fact that we wash up by hand – is so colourful and has so much potential… even if I haven’t got around to using it yet.

Junk art
In the just-about-to close exhibition at Tate Britain of British Folk Art, lots of scraps – material, straw, old bones – are used to create significant objects. Some have practical use, like the quilts, others are just time-killers, such as the cockerel made from bones salvaged from the kitchen by a Napoleonic Prisoner of War. There’s a review of the show, here.

But what I liked best was a 19th century tray covered in bits of broken china with a china doll’s head in the centre. It is completely impractical but such a lovely piece of creativity. Making those bits of china fit must have been taxing. I’m not sure if it was done by a child, but I can imagine it would have been fun to do.

And I name this... trudy.

And I name this… trudy (inspired by an art show).

And for a modern child it’s a fascinating history lesson in slow-changing sideplate fashion. Nell, 13, was able to recognise the black and white Napoleon china she’d last seen in a market in Belgium as well as the ever-popular blue-and-white Willow pattern. Amused by the way broken bits had their own name back in the 1800s, she decided to call our own pile ‘Trudy’.

My husband still calls it rubbish though.

Creativity with items on their way out

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage.

Utter junk becomes an arty dalek cage.

My house is filled with worn out things that I’ve repaired to make them useable again (eg, cushion covers, curtains, rugs and sofa throws). How much more exciting for a child/teen to find broken treasures and use them to make something unique and new. I helped my kids do a lot of junk art when they were very little – it’s fun helping a toddler make a robot using a cereal box and the paper cores from a toilet roll. It’s even more fun making something a bit more edgy.

Assuming you have some bits and bobs around your home maybe you’ll be inspired to do a last bit of art before the schools go back, using items that are either destined for the bin, recycling or the charity shop. You never know what masterpiece you or the kids may create.

Over to you
Do share some ideas or pix of cool things you’ve done with junk items. Thank you.

Midsummer reminder: reuse, repair, recycle, refuse

Posted June 20, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , ,

Are you consistent most of the time? So when you buck your home rule book how do you explain it to your children? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

This huge TV was bought by my husband for World Cup 1998. It's not broken - but it doesn't earn the space it takes up, so here it is on it's way to a secondhand shop that takes electrical goods.

Bag lady with warrior trolley: This huge TV was bought by my husband for World Cup 1998. It’s not broken – but it takes up so much space, so here it is on it’s way to a secondhand shop that takes electrical goods.

Last week I realised what a hypocrite I can be. Basically I don’t use supermarkets to shop . The idea is to support local shops and alternative ways of food shopping (eg, buying a regular organic vegetable bag) instead. However on Monday this week I realised I’d been into different branches of Waitrose twice in one day – hunting out their fair trade coffee bargains and some less right-on products…

The previous week I was dragging our perfectly functioning, but way too large, TV down to a charity shop. It would have gone sooner if it had been a bit easier to transport (we don’t have a car, but I managed this journey thanks to the aid of a piano teacher’s vehicle). Clearly I don’t always understand the concept of “perfectly functioning”?

In my defence during the same 7-day period I’ve mended the kitchen curtains, taken some boots to the repair shop and used up most of the food stored at the very back of the cupboard… I’m still reducing, reusing, repairing, recycling, refusing etc, but interspersed with consumerism. Like most busy parents I guess.

Inconsistency is frowned on when you’re trying to bring up children. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told to have firm boundaries. And yet most of us adults are a bag of inconsistency. We tell half truths (no there aren’t any biscuits in the house say, or yes it is time for bed…) – then get upset if we catch our kids lying.

Juggling practical solutions with quick wins on a budget is a good life lesson for kids to watch, even if Pepa Pig or YouTube is rather more fun. Besides if you were perfect what would your child be able to say to their therapist? Now I’m just out to check the discount shelves at the nearest supermarket… anyone want to babysit?

Over to you
Have you ever caught yourself saying one thing and doing another? Do share…

 

What did you do this half term?

Posted June 2, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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Do you dare stay put at half term? Are there things on the doorstep you could enjoy doing more of? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

I love to travel – but half term always seems too short (actually so do the two week holidays of Easter and Christmas) to take enough time to enjoy a place. For me the only holiday which has enough time to travel to a place and properly explore it seems to be the long summer holidays… which is the reason my family hardly ever go away at half term.

Of course I get a frisson of jealously hearing where my neighbours are going – or have been. But that shouldn’t stop the pleasure of doing things on the doorstep. This half term we hardly saw my 15 year old as she was studying for GCSEs, so the trips made with Nell (13) had to also be seemingly low key to ensure revision seemed like a better option.

xx

Larking around despite a day of rain, pavements and then the graveyard on a meet the ancestors tour.

1 Find out more about your relations (a walk)
We spent five hours stomping around East London on an ancestors’ tour. Pete had done all the work and took us from put to workhouse to ironmongery (sites of). If you want to avoid this experience never let your significant other ever join AncestryUK.

Explore a park can turn into a name that fish (or tree or flower) challenge.

Explore a park and find something unexpected (toddler sized fish?).

2 Explore a park you don’t know well (get lost)
London has a huge number of vast parks. Nell and I spent a long afternoon in Holland Park, just off High Street Ken trying to orientate ourselves, or find an ice cream. We failed these tasks but were happily distracted by the massive koi carp at the Kyoto meditation garden. Unfortunately I still can’t tell you how to get there…

xx

The man on the left of the foreground is the Pea Eating champion. The man sitting focusing at the table is trying to eat as many peas as possible using a toothpick. Behind him are the amazing dancers who kept passers-by at the Holloway Festival’s opening event in Hornsey Street happily entertained. Not quite sure who won the competition but it was fun to watch.

3 Enjoy a local festival or street party (see and be seen)
Even in central London it’s easy to find private gardens open to the public most weekends… Not only do you get the chance to buy locally-raised plants (ie, slug proof) you may also be able to buy cake and a cuppa, and then go on to a street festival. There are so many in London now it’s like being on a European feast day tour. Going might even inspire you to organise your own!

Over to you
What sort of things do you enjoy doing in your neighbourhood?

What do you say about birds and bees?

Posted May 15, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Talking about birds and bees isn’t always a grimace-inducing sex chat is it? When spring and summer visitors return to the UK even city kids can be tricked out of school grumps and into a happier mood. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Flowering jasmine makes the street and house smell sweet.

Flowering jasmine makes the street and house smell sweet.

Oh happy day! The swifts are back – the wonderful free-wheeling screamers that zip above the city streets where I live. The swifts are late this year – I know this because the greater celandine in the bucket by the door has nearly finished flowering. And they’ve flown an amazing distance from Africa probably, over war zones, seas and the guns of European bird hunters. It’s hard for me to stop myself rushing up to passers-by to point out these wonderful birds.

I spotted them after my daughters had headed off to school so you’re the first to hear the news. I’m sure you know that spring or summer is really here when a particular plant blooms or bird or animal is spotted. Earlier this week I had to attend some training on a farm a few miles from Guildford. It’s a commuter dormitory but within a few minutes of the main town the roads are wreathed in cow parsley and everything is the perfect English green. On the farm the first thing I heard was a cuckoo. For a city dweller like me this is a really special sound, some years I don’t get to hear them unless I put on a bird tape. At the farm – a dressage centre rather than the conventional food producer – the receptionist said the cuckoo’s return meant she “knew spring was here at last.”

Nell's friends Lucas and Nat look for newts in our garden pond.

Nell’s friends Lucas and Nat look for newts in our garden pond.

My city-born daughters probably have their own spring-is-here coda when the newts come back to our pond. Mostly they don’t fuss much about wildlife and I don’t think that’s very good for their mental and emotional resilience. So when the 15 year old looked stressed from too much GCSE exam revision yesterday I suggested she picked some chard for dinner. She flounced out of the house to do this, very put out.

Fortunately the magic of the garden quickly changed her mood. Even before she’d come back in happier she’d found an ailing bee which she reckoned she could rescue. Her plan was to flip it right side up – a good one. But I suggested she also gave it some sugar water and an empty loo roll middle to shelter in overnight. Happily she set about saving the bee… and the morning report is good. The bee is bumbling about far more happily ready for a bit more sugar water.

Get your coat
Do you find being outside – doing something with plants, animals or insects – helps your child out of tricky feelings?

image001 (2)A good book to help you and your family explore the outdoors in towns and cities is The Wild City Book by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks. It came out on May day and has loads of things to do to get your kids more comfortable with nature. There are lots of bee tasks – such as making a bee hotel or a nectar café by clever planting. But plenty of ideas could be impromptu such as creating a massive daisy or dandelion chain for a flower necklace or art in the park just using leaves and sticks.  Definitely a book to improve every city dweller’s life whether big, small or six-legged.

The Wild City Book: loads of things to do in towns and cities by Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks (Frances Lincoln, 2014, £9.99). Find it on amazon here. There’s also an opportunity for half term visitors to London’s Natural History Museum to have a go at some of the activities in the book for free and supervised by the authors. Turn up between 12-4 on Thursday 29 June 2014, in the museum’s wildlife garden.

Ideas to help children and teens fundraise

Posted April 8, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

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For anyone lucky enough to be lucky, there’s sure to be a time when they’ll be asked to fundraise for a good cause. Should children be involved? And if that’s a yes, what makes it easier for teens and tots to raise money? For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

Lola is going to run the last 3 miles of London's Marathon for the fourth time.

Lola is going to run the last 3 miles of London’s Marathon for the fourth time. This time she’s using her run as an opportunity to raise funds to help all those affected by the Honiara flash floods which has killed around 20 people and left 1000s homeless in Solomon Islands Please donate here.

“It’s the only thing I can do to help” – Lola, 15, says ready to run and fundraise for people made homeless in Solomon Islands – a place she loves – after flash floods in the capital Honiara. See the link to the fundraising page here.

There’s no point raising money for a good cause unless like Lola you believe in that cause, or have some reason to support the person asking. That’s why school fundraising can be so successful – all those winter fairs, summer fetes, international days, fun runs and litter picks are shared by a large group of like-minded people.

Holiday fundraising ideas: selling bulbs and small plants.

Holiday fundraising ideas: selling bulbs and small plants.

And don’t forget the cake sales – which teaches cooking, budgeting and business basics.

It’s more challenging to fundraise for a friend in specific need – perhaps someone with a long-term illness or a particular project – because you have more to explain. Sometimes you have to explain what the charity does, and what you are organising (eg, a ceilidih for a gap year). Lots of young fundraisers find this selling element very hard. The trick is to work out what you want to raise, how you’d enjoy doing it and what time you’ve got.

Lola has been to Honiara, and watched in horror as Australian TV images showed us the wrecked bridges and houses floating into the sea.

Teens like Lola can work out their own fundraising challenges, but small children will need grown up help. There’s a plus – adults have to be hard-hearted to resist a primary school aged child saying they have given all their birthday money to helping a Thai baby elephant orphanage or to get a ping pong table and skateboard ramp added to their local park…

5 ideas to make fundraising fun and effective

Add a key so your lucky recipient knows which egg is chocolate. We had to use a few shop-bought chocolates intended for the easter egg hunt to make our gift look a bit more generous.

Fundraising ideas for Easter. Make your own easter eggs – or just pour melted chocolate into a blown hen’s egg. Possibly cup cakes sell better… Also try stalls selling homemade lemonade, big slices of cake or bagels stuffed with cream cheese (and maybe salmon).

  1. Do fundraising with a friend (or better still friends).
  2. See if you can think of an organisation or person who will match fund any donation you make. So if you want to raise money towards a wig of trendy hair for a teen with cancer, see if you can find someone to double whatever you raise at your Thursday cake sales. This might be a generous family member… it’s always worth asking.
  3. Make a sign to support your fundraiser! We love the Run Lola Run joke (it's a film...)

    Make a sign to support your fundraiser! We love the Run Lola Run joke opportunity (it’s a film…)

    Try and collect money by using justgiving or everyclick so you don’t actually have to deal with banking and accounting for the money as well. Plus anyone who is a tax payer can click the gift aid box which gives even more to charity (25p extra on every £1).

  4. Memorise a short sentence that explains what you are fundraising for. “We’re raising money to build a new art block, what can you give us?.”” I’m collecting pennies to give to XX Animal Shelter, what will you give?”. “I’m litter picking the beach/local park on Saturday – will you give  Surfers Against Sewage/your local park friends group a donation?
  5. Don’t worry if someone says no, that’s fine. But if they do offer cash or support in other ways, be sure to thank them.

A bit more about Solomon Islands
Back in the 1990s I lived in Honiara – a wonderful Pacific Islands city – for two years. Honiara is the capital of Solomon Islands. Myjob was to train journalists at Solomon Island Development Trust: every day I walked to and from work over the Matanikao Bridge, which was suddenly swept away by flash floods a few days ago.

The floods killed around 20 people and made 1,000s homeless. Their homes literally floated down the river and out to sea. It’s like the River Thames going crazy.

Living in Honiara changed me (as working overseas should). Most of all it showed me how to live life surrounded by children – not something that happens in the UK unless you are working in a nursery or school. Of course I talked about the place incessantly when I went home, and later on to my own children. After years of uming and ahing about when to re-visit my family spent two months in Honiara in 2011. Before that visit Lola, then 12, raised a little cash for equipment for students at the school she joined for a short time.

This time Lola’s running to help people in Solomon Islands who lost everything after freak flash floods.

For a tropical paradise Solomon Islands has had some bad luck. It was a British colony (OK that’s debatably good or bad); in the 19th century blackbirding was rife – meaning many men were forced to work as slave labour in the Queensland sugar cane fields. It became a missionary hot spot which led to the suppression of ancient animist cultures. And then it was used as the battlefield for the Japanese and Americans during World War Two. I don’t want to even think about the troubles which brought Guadalcanal to a near civil war only a few years back. But things have been improving for a while.

Lola and Nell with custom dancers from Lau, Malaita - they'll be dancing at the Pacific Arts Festival in July 2012, which will be held for the first time ever in Honiara.

Uk visitors Lola and Nell in Honiara 2011 at the sports ground with talented custom dancers from Lau, Malaita.

Famous Solomon Islands moments

  • For the Americans: during World War 2, JFK was famously rescued by Solomon Islanders after his boat was sunk by the Japanese. He scratched “help” on to a coconut which was then taken by an islander to the American base. This saved his life, and he went on to become President of the USA.
  • For book lovers: who love those amazing Pacific books -Solomon Time, The Bird Skinner, Pattern of Islands (not too far away geographically). Ditto Mr Pip.
  • For Royalists: Gary Barlow (Take That) went there in 2012 to make a very colourful video shown during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Not long after Prince William and Kate made a visit.
  • For film buffs: Thin Red Line – grim, gripping and set on Guadalcanal.

Over to you
I look forward to hearing what sort of ambitious fundraising you’ve done with your children. Do share.

 

 

In praise of newborns & all mums

Posted March 31, 2014 by nicola baird blogs
Categories: parenting

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Mothers’ Day 2014 (30 March) may have passed (in the UK anyway, Oz and the southern hemisphere is on Sunday 11 May 2014) – along with the chocolates my lovely kids gave me and the flowers I gave my mum. But you could use all that mumsy good will as a reminder to give any help you can to those who have just given birth (or are just about to do so)…  For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see www.nicolabaird.com

xx

Adorable spring, wonderful new borns. Us humans often need a bit of extra help though.

Did you know that there are laughter experts? Yes, people who can teach you to laugh more – some of them as a result of attending a laughter therapy course, see here. Well new mum Kate is one of those people. Not so long ago she was even invited into TV’s Big Brother house to wake the contestants up with some laughing exercises – imagine how hard that would be. You can find out more about Kate’s work at her very cheerful website, http://www.vibrantkate.com/

Just recently Kate’s given birth to her first child, a cute boy, who looks very fine in his just born photo wearing a rainbow cardigan. Instead of relaxing on her babymoon (the time when mum and baby get to know each other) one of the first things Kate did was to send an email thanking people for their help on her birth journey. She found that

  • Natal hynotherapy workshops helped her give birth with no pain relief
  • Turtle Tums classes (aquanatal swimming) kept her strong and flexible, and encouraged her to have her baby in a pool birth
  • Knowing the Golden Thread Breath helped her get through all the contractions.
  • One of her friends painted a rainbow over the words “Baby X” on her bump. It makes a beautiful birth announcement photo to share but also Kate liked it for “allowing me to honour my body’s achievements”.
  • Yoga helped her conceive, as did conception-enhancing reflexology, which she liked because it was “relaxing, and non-invasive”
This book was fun to write, and I still make use of it (not just for weighing down shopping wish lists)......Kate liked my book too. Here’s what she said:
“Homemade Kids has pointed me towards so many brilliant ideas and philosophies with wit and warmth that have informed my pregnancy and will continue to influence my parenting style! I especially liked your attitude that whatever choices parents make, they are all doing their best and that compassion and tolerance are the best we can teach our children, rather than being preachy.”
Good luck to any of you with babies… As for the rest of us, maybe seek out people with newborns and offer to mind their bigger kids, do a washing up session or pop round with some nourishing food for the freezer.
Over to you
What ideas do you have for helping new mums? Do share.

 


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