The Bravest Boy I ever knew.

A lesson in faith, fortitude and courage.


The bravest boy I ever knew went to the school whose badge I have depicted here and he was a lesson in faith, fortitude and courage, never to be forgotten.Ad Definitum Finem, To a Definite End.It first began as a railway school, hence the steam locomotive and the nine plums on the tree represent the first nine pupils the school ever had. From these small beginnings, it became one of the most famous schools in our country and is still there today.Situated on the Southern boundary, OK, South, South, Western, only a mile away from Botswana and sixty miles away from Rhodesia’s (now Zimbabwe) second largest city, Bulawayo. Very harsh terrain and very dry suited to not much else than thorn trees and a Senior (secondary) school known as Plumtree. It sure was a tough place when you are twelve years old and bullying, cruelty, were endemic. Into this maelstrom came.The bravest boy I ever knew.

Permission granted from source to tell this story.

Gaul hostel Plumtree school.

One of the boarding houses for the boys.

Gaul House Plumtree school, house of goody, goody, two shoes.

Gaul House Plumtree school, house of goody, goody, two shoes.

This is a piece that I want to make  something worthwhile. You see it wasn’t a school where you needed to be different, in fact the complete opposite.

I’m pulling no punches on this piece. As explained it was a tough and hard place and it would diminish what the bravest boy I ever knew went through. I’m not going to do that. That would be demeaning.

You see, he wasn’t quite like the rest of us, he had an affliction (depending how you think of course) and this was dyspraxia? How his parents, himself and the staff ever allowed this, remains foreign to me,or does it?

Now I am going to tell his story and show that actually, his parents, himself and the staff were quite correct. It is of course in large part, a lesson in faith, fortitude and courage. Namely his.

The bravest boy I ever knew.

The Plumtree School gates.

Your introduction to the School.

Portals to Plumtree school. The school gates.

Portals to Plumtree school. The school gates.

Once passing through those hallowed portals, that was it. You went there for the school term without a break until the term was finished. It was a government school but certain concessions were made along the lines of a private school. This being that in Plumtree’s case you got off school a week earlier than other government schools, seeing as you had been stuck there so long.

Being a ‘new boy’ meant that you were the lowest of the low and each year one stayed there your credit rose. Boys came from all over the country mainly by rail. So let’s just start in Salisbury the capitol city and board there as a new boy. From the moment you step on the train you are hassled constantly. It’s an overnight journey to Bulawayo. In Bulawayo you then board the train for Plumtree along with all the Bulawayo kids and from outlying areas. You then arrive in Plumtree. New boys are the last to be sorted. Carrying your trunk (which is fierce heavy) after all you are just a kid. You head for the gates.

On arriving there, you find the rest of the school (form two up till upper sixth), lined up on both sides of the road. They then begin to pelt you with Marula berries as bewildered you run the gauntlet to who knows where? Welcome to Plumtree School.

I’m thankful this barbaric practice had been banned before my arrival there, but, many other boys before me had to undergo this.

What a gas man?

The Marula tree.

Natural to the Plumtree area.

Now I was a few years older than Charlie and had got past the stage of being constantly hassled. A funny thing happens in that most boys feel, well it happened to me so I’m entitled to do the same thing to any one else? And if I could stand up to it, then so should they? Even those who had a hard time feel like this and if you can’t put up with it then you are just a sissy?  

It’s important to tell a few stories. The school consisted of four main houses or hostels, namely, Milner, Grey, Lloyd and Gaul. Then there was Hammond, for all the other boys who wanted to be a part of this great school but couldn’t get into one of the main houses. So, Hammond affiliated to Grey etc. Milner was the closest house to the school quadrangle, then Grey (where I was domiciled), then Lloyd and Gaul. Directly behind Grey was the ‘prefects common room’. To be avoided at all costs. I once took the short cut behind Grey (as a new boy) and never again. Here’s why.

You there, come here. So you go there and immediately are sent back out for not asking permission to enter. There you stand calling,”can I come in please”, to no avail, so you raise your tremolo voice. You then are allowed in and get beaten two to four strokes for shouting with a rubber hose stolen from a Bunsen burner from the science room and the foreplay is over. Amongst other things I was told to grow through the hole in the carpet like a meallie. Then made to lie on the carpet whilst one of the prefects stood over me and dropped a shot putt catching it before it hit my face. Then told to get lost which I rapidly did. The same type of thing applied to any other new boy who walked past. We all soon learned to walk the long way around to school.

God alone knows what they made Charlie go through the first time he passed here?

Sports week-end.

The culmination of the first term.

Lively lads,Grey House, Plumtree School 3, where I boarded.

Lively lads,Grey House, Plumtree School 3, where I boarded.

That’s the house where I boarded, Grey. In my time at school most of the competitions hinged between Grey and Gaul. Now Charlie lived in Gaul so we never had much to do with each other. His dyspraxia meant that although he was very bright, his motor co-ordination left a lot to be desired and sometimes his speech was difficult to understand, a bit like someone who is born deaf.

Nevertheless, the school provided many things to do and our plays were famous. Now Charliewas a ‘gung ho’ kid and if he couldn’t make it into the play you could be sure he was somewhere in the background contributing. The same applied to everything he did. The culmination of the first term was when the parents came down for sports week-end (athletics), were housed, fed and entertained within the school, including the play, generally a musical with the younger boys playing the part of women and the older boys men. The same applied to the athletics and whilst he may not of been in any of the events, he was everywhere else, raking the long jump pitch, helping put the pole back up in high jump, just a few examples.

Now there came a time when any schoolboy who was not in any of the events at sports week-end had their part to play. There were two races (so all boys had at least a chance to participate in something at sports week-end), namely 800 metres and 1500 metres. This I believe is when people finally began to see Charlie as he really was? This is what happened.

800 metres.

A gruelling race?

800 metres


On your marks, get set, go and you are off. In Charlie’s case, most of the other boys had finished when he passed the 400 metre mark for the first time. What a great time to go down hey? Ouch, my hamstring, knee, ankle or whatever else. Not so Charlie he kept on going. It’s a long way, another 400 metres when it’s just you? At about this time old Bill Kinleyside (long standing Mayor of Bulawayo) could be seen heading for the track, again. There wasn’t a tannoy system in the world which he would listen too. “Would Mr. Kinleyside please return to the stands and stop encouraging boys at the 200 metre mark”. You may as well stop wasting your breath, he was deaf to all pleas and off he went with his funny, lopsided walk. Except this time he wasn’t going to cheer on his son (a superb athlete), no Sir, this time was because he recognised courage when he saw it.

Somewhere between the 400 and 500 mark, Charlie started flagging. A lone, brave schoolboy voice, could be heard from the crowd. “Come on Charlie”. Now you have to understand the inter-house rivalry was intense, but it was the impetous every one wanted and the school erupted, ‘come on Charlie’. He picked up and began to pace himself for the next 100 metres like he had seen the great athletes doing. Somewhere between the 200 and 100 metre mark, old Bill Kinleyside was waiting and when Charlie hit this, old Bill went wild, flapping his arms and shouting, go Charlie go. Also as he had seen all the great athletes doing and with the added impetous of old Bill, he slipped into overdrive (cheered on by the whole school and now the crowd as well) and sprinted home and crossing the finish line, he went down. It was a lesson in courage which I have never forgotten.

I’m not even going to tell you how far he was behind in the 1500, except to say, he finished that too.

Jesus Christ Superstar.

A revelation.

Plumtree School chapel

The old school chapel whose foundation stone was opened by Royalty no less. Ah, the grand old days of colonialism? But I digress.

When, Jesus Christ Superstar first came out it caused shock waves amongst the religious community and was considered blasphemy of the highest order. But we were kids at school and many of the boys considered religion as a load of junk, that’s just the way times were swinging at that time. So we decided to try it out on our music teacher, a lovely woman. At some stage in her life, one of her children became desperately ill and was on deaths door. Formerly, not so religious, she prayed and what she said was, ‘that if God spared her child, she would follow him ever afterwards’ and God delivered and she kept her pledge. This is what we were up against. The lads wanted to shock her and I was against this saying we had to use a bit of psychology to get her on side. In other words play to her strengths, which were, her love of music, her good taste in this, her religious background and her womanhood. Luckily they listened to me and we chose this song to play for her. “I don’t know how to love him,” sung by Yvonne Elliman. We had her almost immediately.

God in Plumtree.

The Easter service.

Hands out to God


The long and short of all this is, so well had we manipulated our music teacher and how much she loved the Jesus Christ Superstar album, that she decided to do something about it. She got hold of reverend Chandler, the school chaplain (protestant) and a former Oxford blue cricket and hockey player and he loved it too.

Now I’m a Catholic and we were not allowed in the school chapel. That’s just the way it was then. Once a month a service for us was held in the school library by the Catholic priest working at the Tegwani missionary school (black) just outside Plumtree.

Anyway between the music teacher and the reverend they decided to open the school chapel to all denominations for the Easter service, where they would play Jesus Christ superstar. This was ground breaking stuff and a testament to good people. The great day arrived, an evening ceremony.

The event unfolded, stirring stuff indeed and at the end when Jesus is being crucified and utters the words,”Lord unto thyself I commend my spirit”, the lights dimmed (for effect) and focused on the statue above the altar of the crucifixion.

Spread eagled in the aisle between the rows of seats was Charlie on his knees and more or less in the pose depicted in the above photo. What a gas man?

I was one of the few boys who never found this funny. Here was someone who hadn’t been dealt the best hand in life overcome by a spiritual revelation in a very moving setting. More importantly, he had more courage in his little finger than the rest of the school put together.

Bulawayo Central Hospital.

Charlie visits me in hospital.

Well anyway I left Plumtree school and then went to do National Service and very soon afterwards was left deathly ill in Bulawayo Central Hospital. A trying time it was too and I was sustained by loving people and a great hospital. Old Bill Kinleyside’s wife Una, once she found out came to visit me every day that I was in hospital, which was a long time. Such splendid people. One afternoon I looked up and there was my next door neighbours youngest son, of Afrikaans extraction and blow me down with a feather, but, who was there with him? Why, it was none other than his good friend Charlie,both immaculate in their school uniforms. I was delighted. Furthermore, being an old boy, I knew that these two lads must have made a special effort to be allowed to visit me. Either they had come up with some ‘far fetched’ story or whatever, but, the only way they could have made it was by getting some teacher to give them a lift in. Thanks lads.
Charlie appeared a bit furtive and the reason was revealed when it was time for them to go. Out of his school jacket which had remained firmly closed he brought something out. “I have a present for you”, and he presented me with a playboy magazine and they both left laughing. How on earth he ever got it remains a mystery to me as he must have been only about 15 years old at the time and censorship was very strict in our country at the time. Once again a special effort had been made by him. These days of course you see more on a normal beach than you saw in the magazine then. Still.It had a strange ending. I woke up one night to find a whole bunch of nurses glancing through it amidst much giggling and ooooooooh and aaaaaaaahing. Very shortly afterwards it vanished, the holy rollers were obviously intent on protecting Spook’s poor, lost soul?

Saint Giles rehabilitation centre.

Learning to lip read.


Somewhere off a beautiful lined street of Jacaranda’s like this in Salisbury, Rhodesia was Saint Giles rehabilitation centre.

Essentially it was for people who had some disability, whether born this way or because of some accident (car crash), where professional people could re-mould people’s shattered lives. A fantastic place it was too in amongst a beautiful setting. However, gradually as the war in Rhodesia increased, more and more people injured in this war found themselves here. Which is where I come in.

Left profoundly deafened (which simply means you have no hearing at all), by my illness. I now found myself learning to lip-read here. I came in twice a week from the farm approximately 60 miles away from Salisbury on the main Salisbury, Bulawayo road. On this particular day my lip reading teacher was busy with another patient and asked if I could wait awhile. Ever willing to please and enjoy a fag break I was quite happy to do this. At that moment the kids there came out for their break. Right in front of my eyes were some thalidomide children. Can any one remember those terrible times? Anyhow there were a couple of toy cars, tractors etc, for them to play with. Those with withered arms were helping those with withered legs and vice-versa and they were so happy, laughing and shouting together I was humbled.

Now I distinctly remember never having the attitude of why me? However, in all honesty, I was feeling distinctly sorry for myself. It was at that precise moment in time I had so clear a vision of Charlie running the 800 metres and all his other accomplishments. I made up my mind then, that I didn’t want to be like the great sportsmen, I wanted to be like Charlie, someone who finished, no matter how long it took? So between him and the kids I said to myself, ‘wake up boy’.

Thank you Charlie.

Social networking and Facebook.

I find Charlie again on Facebook.



Well I finally found Facebook and decided to sign up. I loved it there and finding so many of my long, lost, friends there again. Because of the chequered history of our sad country we are all over the world now. Then one day I found Charlie again here and friended him. He’s now living in New Zealand and sadly we (wife and I) had just returned from a holiday there. If I had known I would have definitively tried to see him there, but, I only found Facebook after returning from there.

Being me of course the first thing I checked was, ‘relationship status’ and what I found was, ‘it’s complicated’. It sure is. Anyway our friendship continued. Amongst many things I learnt that he had a University degree and spoke many languages (self taught) just like him. He had been working for Rural Councils in Zimbabwe and when Mugabe sent his ludicrous but very dangerous war vets onto commercial farms, Charlie was amongst all this trying his best to settle things in a place called Chipinge. Make no mistake about this but it was life threatening stuff.

Anyway we interplayed. I loved the story he told me about when he was in school his English teacher (music teachers husband), used to get the lad sitting in the next desk to punch him on the arm to wake him up when he was dozing off. With the comment, “because some boys are worth teaching”. They sure are.

Charlie as he is today.

In his new home New Zealand.

Charkie in Auckland

Over the course of our exchanges on Facebook I tried to tell Charlie about how much he inspired me and still does. For some reason he found this very hard to accept. However I kept pestering and I think he became quite annoyed with me so I backed off.

Eventually I got hold of him again and he was now prepared to accept that my feelings were genuine and well meant. I asked him if I could tell his story of Plumtree here on Moving Pieces. That it was worth telling and that I could always use a pseudonym to protect his identity. However I added that if any Plumtree boy ever read the piece, then they would know exactly who I was talking about. Therefore could I just call him Charlie? I then added that I would have to publish the piece  first,but, would send it to him first and if he didn’t like it, then I would just delete it. He told me not to bother sending it to him, just that he was glad he had been of help to me. He sure had.

Perhaps you finally really believe me now? And if you don’t like it let us know and I’ll delete it.

Finally, I’m punching you on the arm to wake you up in case you are dozing. Because some people are worth telling stories about.


About spookmoor

I'm a 61 year old happily married man with three grown up children. I lost all my hearing as an eighteen year old whilst doing National Service and then had a Cochlear Ear Implant twenty years later. I love trying to explain these things to people and bits about my life. I never thought so at the time, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Thus one gets Random ramblings from a man who has seen a lot with a touch of humour underlying all.
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105 Responses to The Bravest Boy I ever knew.

  1. Andrew says:

    Great story Spook, tough schools made Rhodesia but there was generally fair play and empathy. keep writing, always enjoyable 3 years later

  2. Mike Mead says:

    Thank You so much for sharing this story. Very inpiring and humbling. Mike Mead

  3. Jake Bremner says:

    Very inspirational. Just goes to show, that no disability should hold anyone back.

  4. Robyn Sumpter says:

    Another great tale, Spook. I believe Plumtree wasn’t alone in its ‘character building’ treatment of junior boy’s – it was pretty much the norm back then. I am sure Charlie must have been thrilled and touched to read this story!

    • spookmoor says:

      I actually got hold of him in New Zealand and he told me to go ahead and he wouldn’t check it for facts as is true to his character and thank you for your visit.

  5. Dennis Riley says:

    So good Spook , shades of REPS came to me me , thanks for sharing boet, I must now wind forward to today and finish this day at work, bugger!

  6. Tim Donkin says:

    I never taught you but knew of you. I taught Chemistry from 1965-68. Attached to Grey House. Lived in “New Cowshed View”. Those were wonderful, formative years for me as a young school master. Revisited Plumtree for the centenary in 2002. I still keep contact with Harold & Felix Westwood.

  7. Geoff Sutherns says:

    Hey there Spook,

    So enjoy your “ramblings” as I was at Plumtree and at Norton,(1978 and 1979 and some years after while on vac from varsity, so much of your writing resonates.

    Your gift in storytelling is amazing.

  8. Vicki Walker( nee Beverton) says:

    Wonderful to read your story about Charlie and life at Plumtree School. Inspiring and with a happy ending with you finding Charlie living in New Zealand. We are scattered all over the world but share a common link in growing up in such a very special place. Must share your link with friends who will remember Plumtree

  9. Art Gavazzi says:

    I went to Plumtree for 6 years. I was not a pupil but a parent and had two boys there.Great story and I have to say that most of the boys at Plumtree school had the spirit of ‘charlie’.

  10. Sean Kennedy says:

    Spook Moor, perhaps not the thing to say but had the tears running down my face, so many awesome memories of Plumtree. I was Blessed to be in Gaul with Charlie albeit two or so years younger. Many great times and even greater memories, so often when together with Plumtree boys we tell stories that have my boys now at a University in stiches.( I was present the day a school United to cheer a brave lad on, all knowing how fortuitous we all were to be able bodied sportsman.
    Charlie had a wicked sense of humour and was positioned at the bottom of the Gaul house stairs in his fourth year with a knack of eliciting a cup of cuffed out of any unsuspecting junior.
    And a tale or two of his own that had us as young guns rolling in the passages. Thank you most sincerely for this stroll down memory lane, Sean Kennedy 74 to 80 Gaul ( note the house that won all, sport and academics!!)

  11. Biselele (Bie) Tshamala Milner Hse (2004-09) says:

    A great read Spook, Plumtree School our Alma Mater

  12. Chris Ferguson says:

    I really enjoyed your story, Spook. I was at Milton – Plumtree’s deadly rival – but as a boarder we went through the same torture as juniors. Good and bad memories, but all part of the tapestry of life, I guess. Keep writing, young man, you have a gift.

  13. Mary-Ann Tunmer Williams says:

    What an inspiring story ! My dad went to Plumtree & was also in St Giles Rehibilitation Centre for a long time after being left paralyzed after being wounded. They did amazing work. It was great to read your story about both places. Thank you Mary-Ann Tunmer Williams

  14. “to a definite end ” he took it deadly serious like we all do

  15. Loved this story. And may I add, Plumtree School brought out the very best in the boys fortunate enough to attend that wonderful school. I know this because 6 of the best years of my life were spent being associated with the school through my own son. I cried bitterly the day I drove down from Bulawayo to fetch Rowan for the last time. Many many happy memories of those wonderful years. Thank you for sharing this heartwarming story.

  16. Pat Quill says:

    Loved the story, Spook. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  17. Paul says:

    I watched that run that day and remember it well Charles Innes was about two years senior to me.

  18. Dave Farrell says:

    Great to see the positive responses to this story Spook. Today they reckon Autism affects 1 – 64
    not because its on the increase but because of improved diagnosis etc. Emphasising Neil’s point that would mean there would have been at least 69 boys on the spectrum at any time.
    The goal is not cure but inclusiveness and hope you don’t mind me taking the opportunity



    With hindsight I’m humbled with what Charlie endured, inspired by how he did so and somewhat disconcerted that we still have some way to go 40 years later.

    • spookmoor says:

      Not at all and trust you get some responses.In reality Dave, most people couldn’t be bothered, unless of course it pertains to one. Charlie’s story just goes to prove that there are still a lot of good people out there.

  19. Pete Winhall says:

    Hi Spook. They were tough days for a youngster, making Tom Brown’s Schooldays look like a Sunday picnic. But perhaps they really were character building. My vintage produced great leaders in the form of fine soldiers. Relative to the School’s size (365 in my final year) more top officers in the bush war were schooled here than in any other school. They were achievers. From a Sandhurst Sword of Honour, and Commanding Officers, to the most decorated Rhodesian soldier, with so many others in between. That must say something?

  20. David Beevers says:

    What a story. Charlie is indeed a hero. Having been to a boarding school in UK, the are probably much of a muchness with initiation etc. Hats off to both you and Charlie.

  21. Patsy says:

    We knew Charlie, ‘back in the day’, so this comes as a great, heart warming revelation! What a fantastic tribute. Best wishes Peter and Patsy

  22. msasa13 says:

    Thanks for pointing out the update, Spook. I read your original, so much more detail here, even more to admire in Charlie. Plaudits to his parents, who helped a ‘challenged’ child to cope so well with absolutely everything. They must have been remarkable people too. Loved the Playboy bit!

    • spookmoor says:

      Couldn’t agree with you more Msasa and I often wonder whatever happened to it after the holy rollers kifed it. Which reminds me, one of my nurses was a Catholic nun.

  23. Peter Pullen says:

    My father in law was Head Boy at Plumtree in the mid thirties and would regail in the fun times there. Many boarding schools – I went to Sinoia High in the mid 60’s had there initiations and yes there were the odd bullies, but all in all I loved my school and was proud of having been a pupil there. Your story nonetheless is very inspiring, Charlie and others like him leave indelible memories. Thanks for sharing it

  24. Bheki Nkomo (Gaul 1985-90) says:

    Very inspiring and so typical of THE Plumtree spirit.I hope you dont mind me sharing on the UK OPs page.

  25. Hendrik van der Merwe says:

    heartwarming, thanks Spook

  26. Neil Lindsay says:

    How many other “Charlies” were at Plumtree that went un-noticed, accepting of their bullying, their harassment, their pain and their flaws? There were many. Such was the nature of a boys boarding school as ours. You either fitted in or packed out.

    Let me say this, we all endured our fair share of this treatment, not only from the senior boys but those of our own age group too. Suffice to say that as harsh as it was and as barbaric as non-prunitians perceive it to have been, we endured, we survived and we thrived.

    I have made many friends in life after Plumtree, but my truest and closest friends remain Prunitians.

    There was no finer institution.

    Thanks for “Charlie’s story”…………..I believe I knew him.

  27. Jenny Mitchell says:

    This is a beautiful story about our friend Charlie. Thank you so much for sharing.

  28. Annemarie van Helfteren says:

    I am so glad you told Charlie how much he had inspired you- that must mean a lot to him now. Your story shows us to keep aiming for our goals no matter how long it takes. We need to read these stories now and then to give us courage and make us feel better. Thanks for that. Plumtree school sounded awful- How dreadful to have to spend a couple of years there. But then you wouldn’t have met such interesting people to tell us about. Keep on writing Spook 🙂

    • spookmoor says:

      That is quite the most delightful comment Annemarie and thank you so much. We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun, but, the rhythm and the rhyme, were but seasons out of time.(Rod McKuen) Having said that it was terrible and all and the food had to be the worst in the country.

  29. frankiekay says:

    As a woman, I struggle with the whole “boys boarding school” thing. I don’t believe that all that nonsense and bullying help build any character other than allow the bullies to be bullies and the bullied to be bullied! I guess Charlie would have become a great guy no matter he went to Plumtree! But then, I’m a Montessori teacher and a female!

  30. Spook, I just want to say that I am both humbled and honored to be mentioned in the same breath so this brave young lad. I would never presume to be any different, as I am sure Charlie would profess too, but no matter how hare we try we will always been seen as “different”. Hats off to you Charlie and thank you and Spook for such an inspiring story of fortitude and courage. You are both great examples of the human spirit and fortitude in the face of life’s challenges. All the best to you both.

    • spookmoor says:

      That’s a lovely thing to say Simon and I can promise you those children at St. Giles rehabilitation centre left an everlasting impression on me. Bravo to you all.

  31. Maggi says:

    Just read this again. Very personal without a doubt, yet at the same time a story which must be told.

  32. Derek Botton says:

    Pleased to meet you Spookmoor. Enjoyed your story about Charlie and the peculiarities of Plumtree School. I was a pupil there from 1942 to 1946. I am led to believe that the School is being supported and maintained by private funds. Are you aware of this and know from whence the funds are emanating. If true, this makes an interesting story. Regards, Derek.

  33. Fiona says:

    This is especially moving, very inspiring as so few people really try their best in life. As you said, it’s very easy to ‘pull a hamstring’!

  34. Maggi says:

    Thank you so much. What an inspiring story.

  35. Spook Moor says:

    Well here is hoping people get to read this and comment.

    • Gary Watson (Grey Hse) says:

      Lovely inspirational life memories, made and captured by two very special Plumtree boys.
      It was a privilige to share my precious school days with two great men. 1970-75
      God bless you both Spook and Charlie.
      ‘AD DEFINITUM FINEM’ To a definite end !

      • spookmoor says:

        Lovely to see you here at long long last. You sure were a great sportsman there albeit younger than me, now go and clean my shoes before you get big’headed.

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