On… last minute stocking fillers

Feeling bossy? Think your bestfriend/boyfriend/husband/parents/Santa need a little extra last minute shopping help this weekend? Then just forward them this.

Misery Loves Cabernet

I read A Total Waste Of Makeup, by Kim Grunenfelder, earlier this year, and laughed out loud – and I am a brittle ol’bitch, so that’s pretty rare. And now I’m reading the sequel and loving it –and laughing – even more. This book will get you through that interminable stretch between Boxing Day and New Years Eve.

Mousse candle by Diptyque

I am a longterm Baies fan, but in the middle of winter, the rose-blackcurrant sweetness of Baies is too thin and frivolous. When it’s miserable outside, I want something comforting and earthy and foresty. Mousse is meant to smell like the moss that grows on trees in forests. Obviously, I haven’t got a fucking clue what that smells like. But this is lovely. And Diptyque candles are the perfect gift, as they’re the wrong side of extravagant for one to buy for oneself.

Hourglass Lipstick in Icon

The most extraordinarily perfect-for-winter dark red lipstick ever invented. I know, you think you can’t wear red lipstick, but trust me, you can. I won’t bore you with the marketing blurb, but it goes on like a gloss, seals like a lipstick, and lasts through three cocktails, tuna tartare and a steak, medium rare. If you want a lip pencil to go with it, the best I’ve found is MAC Brick. Makes you feel like Veronica Lake or [insert Old Hollywood film noir star of choice].

Smitten Kitchen recipe book

This woman can do no wrong. Her blondie recipe is impossible for even me to fuck up, her banana bread is moist and sweet even if you’re a Nazi mother like me and cut the sugar down to almost nothing, and the gingerbread men – okay, gingerbread penises, it’s a Gemma Burgess tradition – that I made last week are so chewy and spicy and sweet and good that I’m going to make some more for Christmas Day. Plus, she seems funny, kind, cool and normal.

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On… faking photogenia

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article for the utterly divine magazine TATLER about the art of being photogenic, or ‘faking photogenia’ as I called it to myself (nb, ‘photogenia’ is not a word). I found out how non-slebs like you and me can take a great photo, do a great pose, and generally, be the sexiest thing on celluloid. (Is it still celluloid? Probably not. Sexiest thing… on a digital screen. On Facebook. Whatever.)

Perhaps because I’m not a journalist, I just happen to write things now and again for magazines, I take this shit very seriously. I spent hours – days! – researching and testing different products that Tatler sent me from Tom Ford, Smashbox, MAC, Dior, Cover FX, Darphin, Stila, etc, and researching photography make-up secrets, grilling my make-up artist friends, searching for celebrity tips, and even asking the make-up pros that I always make friends with (uh, stalk) at MAC Pro stores and Bobbi Brown counters to give me makeovers that I’d then test under flash and natural lighting. No. I am not kidding.

But, in the end, most of the detailed make-up tips had to be cut from the feature. Tragicallah. So here they are. I figure everyone needs to know how to take a better photo, especially at Christmas when the world is full of parties, hangovers and lurking iPhones just waiting to snap you unawares and tag you in the morning.

Step one: skin.
Firstly, a warning: slapping on a thick mask of (insert name of thick pancake foundation of choice HERE) is the No.1 mistake of cameraphobes. You might think it’s giving you a more even complexion, but actually, it absorbs light, making your face look like a whitewashed bungalow: broad, opaque, uninteresting.

You want your skin to look luminous.

Think organic non-drinking vegan yoga instructor on a juice fast. Think post-coital, you know, when the sex was really seriously good, and afterwards you go to the bathroom and look in the mirror and think, ‘God, I am gorgeous, I’d bang me if I was him, too’. So put the Estee Lauder DoubleWear down, stat.

Not many of us wake up with perfect skin, at least, not if we’re leading interesting and socially-fulfilling (ie, sleepless and booze-filled) lives. But you can give yourself a head start: if you have dry skin, cut down on wine and citrus fruits, and take extra Vitamin E and Flaxseed Oil supplements. Darphin sent me a bunch of lovely stuff, particularly the Camomile Essential Oil Elixir, which leaves your skin smoothe, plump and happy, like a well-fed baby after a bath.

If you have oily or combination skin, one of my very good friends swears by her Clarisonic and good old Cetaphil. And if you’re really hungover and your face is just eating your makeup so no matter how much you put on, you still look like shit, then try the REN Glycolactic Peel followed by a nice facial massage with Trilogy Rosehip Oil. Then have a little sit-down and a coffee and a nice big wedge of buttery toast because, let’s face it, you’re probably exhausted just having read this far.

DiorHydraSkin Pore Refining Perfecting Moisturiser is AMAZING. I would never have bought it, I’ve never really used Dior skincare products before, but Tatler sent it to me, so I gave it a churlish try and then my make-up went on flawlessly that I almost wept. I also tried about eleventy Smashbox primer products they sent over and couldn’t get anywhere with them, and MAC Prep and Prime just seemed like a very sloppy gel moisturiser. But this HydraSkin stuff is the shit. (I am sure Dior will be just dying to use that line in their next press release. “This HydraSkin stuff is the shit.” Gemma Burgess, not-very-well-known writer who dabbles in beauty just because she can.)

Next, luminiser.

Dab a pea-sized blob of MAC Strobe Cream (best for beginners and the tube never runs out), Make Up For Ever Gel Uplight in 12 (amazing but hard to get in the UK so order it from the wonderful and not-dodgy-though-it-looks-it StrawberryNet), Benefit SunBeam (small bottle, very very annoying design as you have to use a q-tip to get the last third out), or Shu Uemura Stage Performer Instant Glow (divine, thick, long-lasting,) in the middle of your palm. Using your index finger, smear your product of choice on your face from the outside top of your eyebrows, down around your temples, in over the top of your cheekbones towards – but not touching – your nose. Do you taste my flavour? Sort of a ‘?’ shape. (Or reverse ‘?’) Then blend, blend, and blend some more. (When I write this stuff, I can hear my make-up artist friend’s voice in my head, and she’s Scottish. So I am writing with a slight accent. She was visiting NYC last week and we had a discussion about how to say ‘our’, which I say normlly (I think), and she says ‘ooo-wer’ and Fox, being Irish, says ‘ARGH’. Anyway, back to makeup.)

The right luminiser makes you – duh – luminous, not sparkly, sweaty, shiny or sheeny. There are so many new and wonderful luminisers to choose from now, so don’t just slap on that chunky glittery one you bought for a New Years Eve party four years ago because you will come out looking like you work at Cirque de fucking Soleil. Those are my favourites, you may prefer others. Oh, and a heads-up: I was sent Burberry Fresh Glow and RMS Living Luminizer to try, they are both raved about by all these make-up blogs who are probably hoping to get more free stuff, but I found them both crappy: thin and quick to wear off. (I will never lie to you about make-up, kittenpants.)

Next, apply a light coverage foundation like Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation or Giorgio Armani LuminousSilk to your ruddiest areas. For most of us, that’s the chin and around the nose. With a tiny lipbrush, dab RMS “Un” Cover-Up or Laura Mercier Undercover Pot over any pimples, dark spots or tiny broken blood vessels.  By using very little foundation, and targeting everything on a blotch-by-blotch basis, your skin will look flawless, not fake.

Lastly, lightly dust a translucent powder like MAC Blot Powder or MAC Prep and Prime Transparent Finishing Powder on the parts of your face you dont want to be too glowy / shiny – nose, forehead, chin – for a genuinely flawless airbrushed-yet-natural finish. Here, another heads-up: I was sent Smashbox Photoset Finishing Powder, I found it very white and unnatural. There’s also a Make Up Forever HD Finishing Powder that has the result of making you look like this in photos.

Avoid. Who developed that powder? They look like they’ve been troughing cocaine, FFS.

(An aside: if you’re absolutely convinced that you NEED a full face of thick foundation, then nothing I say will stop you, I swear some people are psychologically addicted to the shit, but who am I to talk? I don’t leave the house without eyebrows. So when you’ve finished trowelling it on, please fluff a little compact powder luminizer – like MAC Soft & Gentle, or BECCA Nymph in the aforementioned ‘?’ shape. The result won’t be as gleamingly perfect, but it’s better than no luminiser at all.)

OKAY! Your skin is now perfection.

Step two: contouring.

I say ‘contouring’, you say ‘aging third-rate drag queen’. Or ‘Boy George’. But no! We’re not reinventing your face, we’ll simply be accentuating your already divine bone structure in three key areas: cheekbones, forehead, jawline. Hurrah!

Look at yourself straight-on in the mirror, preferably under a horrifyingly strong overhead light, and suck in your cheeks. Take a moment to pretend you are Marlene Dietrich. Take another moment to wonder why you have never actually seen a Marlene Dietrich movie, because you probably should, and while you’re at it, a Greta Garbo movie too, seriously, because that’s like, a grown-up thing to do.

The MAC 138 brush is the absolute best brush for contouring and the ‘official’ contouring brush from MAC does not come close; the shape of the 138 makes it literally impossible to apply too much product and it blends as it applies. Swirl the brush in a soft grey-brown-matte shade (with no orange, red or shimmer) like MAC Harmony or Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder or, if you’re very pale like moi, the Urban Decay single eyeshadow in Naked, and apply in small, light strokes from the sucked-in hollow of your cheeks up towards the middle of your ear. Remember, you’re accentuating a shadow, so it goes under your cheekbones, not on them. Then sweep the brush up the side of your forehead above your temples, then from behind your ear to your chin along the underside of your jawline, blending down into your neck.


Contouring isn’t hard, but it will make you look draggy if you’re not very careful, and it is a skill you need to practice to perfect. Keep checking with multiple mirrors in different lights, and blend with extra translucent powder if you feel you’ve gone too far. Feeling contour-confident? Check out the Tom Ford Shade &Illuminate; palette. It’s a cream, not a powder, and takes a little more skill to apply and blend, but it’s the Dom Perignon of contouring and illuminating products. Once you’ve tried it, everything else is stale cava.

The rest of your make-up should be subtle, not dramatic, so the camera sees you, not your maquillage. A pinkish blush like Bobbi Brown Pale Pink, a neutral lip like Chanel Avant Garde, Shu Uemura eyelash curler, lashings of Dior ShowLash mascara. For bigger, brighter eyes, replace undereyeliner with a smudgy swoosh of taupe eyeshadow, and smudge a baby-fingerprint of thick gleaming cream product like MAC Pearl Cream Base or NARS The Multiple in Copacabana on the inside corner of your eye, just below and above the arch of your eyebrow, and just above your top lip. I don’t know why this makes you look better, it just does.

Warning: watch the too-thin or too-dark or too-arched eyebrow, the too-heavy liquid liner, and most of all, step away from the YSL Touche Eclat. It’s a highly reflective highlighter pen, not an undereye concealer. In photographs it grabs all the light, giving you a weird reverse-panda look, completely with tiny beady panda eyes. Trust me on that.

Voila. Everything I learned about faking photogenia, in one epic post. Now throw on some make-up, get out there and take some fabulous photos, you little scamps. If you want to read more tips about the perfect pose, and the science behind what makes someone photogenic, then (gratuitous plug) pick up Tatler in March.

Oh, and by the way. Google automatically gives me the US links now that I’m living here, but obviously you might live in the UK or Australia or India or Germany or Austria or you know, anywhere. So here are some links to sites that deliver LOTS of makeup brands for free internationally: www.feelunique.com www.strawberrynet.com www.lookfantastic.com Strawberrynet will even wrap the products as gifts, so if you live in one of those annoying countries that taxes you for international deliveries, you can claim it was a gift. Nicely played, Strawberrynet.

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On… Errol at breakfast this morning

We just moved into a new apartment! To celebrate, here’s a picture of Errol, this morning, having breakfast at The Cupping Rooms.

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Kittens, I have an announcement.

The series-previously-known-as-UNION-STREET is now called BROOKLYN GIRLS.

Caveat! This isn’t the real cover. We’re still finalising the image and design, and it will be something very similar to this. But this cover is already on Amazon as a sort of placeholder, so I thought why the fuh not throw it on the ol’ blog, hmm?

BROOKLYN GIRLS. Doesn’t it just reek bestseller?

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On… a long overdue update

Kat just sent me this to remind me that I am a shitty blogger. I was like dude I know, I’m sorry, I suck…

I’ve said this before, but whenever I think of something I might blog about, my next thought is ‘why would anyone care what I think about that?’ so I don’t write it. Let’s face it, my opinions are just not that damn interesting. And when I see bloggers who are actually elevating blogging to an art, blogs that bubble and fizz with ideas and new things and old things (even if it’s just about lipstick and how to make the perfect pancake or 1930s advertisements for deodorant), I think, well, they’re doing it the way it should be done, but that takes hours and hours and ultimately it’s not what I do. Like Cup Of Joe, Into The Gloss, AfterDRK, Le Fashion, Refinery29, Retronaut, Sighs And Whispers, Smitten Kitchen and Humans Of New York.  Well written, smart, interesting… These are the crème de la crème of blogs. Mine is not.

So, now that I’ve given this blog post the most exciting intro ever (“my blog sucks, you’ll probably hate it”) what should I tell you about, my loves? I’ve been pretty busy writing. The problem with writing is that it’s totally internal, totally passive. I sit down, and I write. Then I stare into space for a while, and I think. Then I write some more. If I think I’ve written something funny I high five myself. If I can’t get something just how I want it, I get up and go for a walk. Every now and again I have some Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt, or Finns Crisps with Barneys Almond Butter, or blueberries, or this French tea that I love.  Then I sit back down and write some more.

After a while, I have a book, or a screenplay, or a TV show, and then I show it to some people who are much smarter than me, and we talk about it and then I go and think and work on it some more.

I like writing.

We have an amazing sitter called Riikka who makes it possible for me to do all that thinking and writing, and the rest of the time I hang out with Fox and lovely little Errol and our friends.  We go to the playground to practice Errol’s walking (he walks like a small drunk man), and to cafes, where he talks to everyone in gobbledygook and flirts with brunettes (only ever the brunettes). The other day we went to Murrays Cheese, where he had his first gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. It had pumpkin béchamel and sage and sunflower seeds. Insanely good. He has also started dancing whenever he hears music – sort of a bobbing shuffle. It is the most adorable thing I have ever seen.

Inspired by the marvellous Cup Of Joe’s Friday Round-Up Posts, here’s what else I’ve been up to…

Watching this. (Actually, I’ve been watching the All Stars, but if you haven’t seen it before, you need to start with season one.)

Drinking wine here and here.

Going to storytime here.

Eating dinner here and here and brunch here and by the way, just order the French toast when you go to Jane. I running late and just texted my sister what to order for me, I didn’t even need to see a menu, because last time I ordered a salad or something boring like that and saw it going past and thought ‘next time you are MINE, motherfucker’. And it was so.

See? Best French toast ever. Right, back to the list.

Buying these jeans for me and these PJs for Errol. (Little foxes!)

Helping with this. (Spread the word.)

Taking the baby to this. (It’s awesome.)

Reading this. (It’s also awesome.)

And you know, just thinking and writing. Above everything else I am always writing and thinking and writing and thinking and writing. Thinking and writing is boring to talk about, it’s boring to watch, but it’s wonderful to do.

What about you guys?


PS Oh, and I’m preparing some BIG announcements about the upcoming book series launch. But for that, sugarnutses, you’ll have to wait a little teeny weeny bit longer…

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On… Hurricane Sandy

It’s been a hell of a week in Manhattan. Obviously. Fox was away for work, so it was just Errol and I huddling together in the dark while the storm raged… I’d been totally blase about it, too, and hadn’t even bothered to charge my phone. I know. Every time I think about it, I hit myself on the forehead. Thtoopid.

But we were so lucky… We only had one night without power / phone reception / water, we were never in any real danger, and while I write to you now warm and clean in an uptown hotel room, with the baby asleep and Foxy landing at JFK in just a few hours and everything just hunkygoddamndory, thousands and thousands of other people just like you and me are still in their cold dark homes (or temporary shelters as their homes were blown away entirely), with no phones, no power, no showers, nothing… Every time I think about the past week, I feel so lucky. So goddamn lucky.

Anyway. Enough about me. Here’s some stuff about Sandy you might like.

I just read Lightening Rods by Helen DeWitt and loved it.

And lastly, Martin Short as Jiminy Glick interviewing Alec Baldwin is the funniest thing I have seen in ages. I can’t stop watching it. Enjoy. xx

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On… extreme nail art

For the first year of Errol’s life, I ignored my nails. I kept them very very short, bare and buffed to a lovely shininess. Something was too fake and chemically about nail polish to be around my tiny perfect baby. Ditto perfume. Ditto lipstick.

But he’s one now. He’s a toddler. So bring on the fakey chemicals / scent / slap, my friends.

I wrote a piece about nails for Tatler just before Errol was born. (You can read ithere.) In it, I came down with all the righteous fury I could muster on the Marie Antoinette-ship-in-the-hair-like trend towards ricockulous nail art. Think about it: how idle must we be if we can spend six hours a week getting tiny 3-D Hello Kitty dolls mounted onto our nails?

You thought I was kidding about the Hello Kitty thing, didn’t you? Ha.

I believe this is inspired by Japan’s natural beauty. That’s a heron. And that’s a lady in a kimono taking a walk with a parasol.

Fuck’s sake.

In case you haven’t seen the ship-in-the-hair thing, this was Marie Antoinette’s favourite coif. Shortly before the rest of France decided to kill her. And some day soon, some chick is going to wake up thinking ‘screw it, I’m gonna glue a fucking cruise ship to my pinky’.

Even at the less extreme end of things, nail art is bizarre. Tiny charms, mirrors, bells, flowers… you name it, some one out there right now is sitting down with some superglue and way too much time on their hands. Literally.

So I stand firm on my stance on extreme nail art. It’s fucking stupid.

But then last week I was getting my nails done – fifteen minutes, a quick file and two coats of pale-pink-nude Sugar Daddy, the most boring-sorry-I-mean-chic-yeah-chic shade you can possibly get – and I saw this.

ESSIE Luxeffects in Set In Stones. Great gallumphing chunks of shiny silver sparkles. And I asked the nice nail lady to paint it on the lower third of my nails over the Sugar Daddy.


Every time I looked at my nails I thought OH MY GOD MY HANDS ARE SO PRETTY. There’s nothing subtle or understated about this glitter: it’s chunky and fat and gorgeous and very-nearly-3D. Like Cinderella fairy godmother wish sparkles had drifted down and collected at the bottom of my digits. Like Tinkerbell kisses. Like disco snowflakes. Like Disney had taken a big poo on my hands, basically.

I didn’t take a decent photo, but here’s one I found online of someone else doing the same thing over a grey base shade.

This week I got my little mani with OPI Black Onyx. (I pretty much only wear nude or black these days.) They didn’t have the Luxeffects in this particular nail salon, so I went to the nearest big Duane Reade and bought it myself, and when I get time today, I’m going to paint Essie Luxeffects Set In Stones over the top. Yeah, it’s immature, and yeah, it’s probably one step down the short road towards full ship-in-the-hair pointless vanity. I don’t care. I am PSYCHED.

PS You can buy Essie Luxeffects online here with international free delivery.

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On… naming

I HATE naming. Those of you who have known me a while already know this.

I’m not very good at it, and I tend to change my characters’ names constantly throughout the writing process till I land on one that works.

Recently I realised that I’d called a dude in one of my manuscripts Ali, without even thinking for a second about the fact that one of my best friends from college, a girl, is called Ali, and I had to go back and change it.

So I thought perhaps we could go through the process of who I named and how I named them, if you’re interested in this sort of thing.
Let’s start with The Dating Detox.

SASS. This is another of my college friends. I only gave the character in The Dating Detox a name at the eleventh hour and it’s just a fucking cool name, non? I asked permission, and she didn’t mind, lucky for me.

JAKE. After Jake Ryan. In Sixteen Candles. Obviouslah.

RICK. Originally he was called JJ, a similar name to a particular idiot I dated in my mid-twenties. Then Leo, for a while (though thank God I didn’t stick with that as my friend Sarah’s baby boy is called Leo and it’s a gorgeous name). Then Rick, as that was the bastard ex of a friend.

BLOOMIE. I wanted a name that was an abbreviation of a surname, as my girlfriends and I call each other by our surnames a lot. I think it makes us feel like marines or something, I don’t know.

KATE. This is my middle name. I really love the names Kate and Katie. I have three girlfriends called Kate too, and I just think it’s one of the prettiest names in the history of names. It’s kind of my go-to name whenever I’m writing about a girl I like, and I have to go back afterwards and think about it properly and change it.

MITCH. Actually, he was called John for a long long time. Then someone said it was too similar to Jake and I realised, ah yes, a variety of names – the sound of them, the length of them, the number of syllables, the hardness of the consonants and the softness of the vowels – makes them easy to remember when you have a lot of characters. Boom.

Some names just plain work with whatever character you’re creating. Harriet is a good name for a really sporty, competitive girl. I watched a bit of the London Marathon once and they all have little labels on their vests, and I swear to God, all the girls were called Harriet and Rachel and all the guys were called Tim and Richard. I don’t understand the draw of doing shit like marathons at ALL by the way. They should time people to read War And Peace instead, it’d be far better for their brains and lives then running stupidly till their nipples bleed and they spontaneously poo and they nearly die. But I digress.

And now, A Girl Like You.

ABIGAIL. Again, just one of my favourite girls names. No particular reason.

PLUM. This was a name suggested by the gorgeous @larawilliamson when I was asking Twitter for help one night. Plum had previously been two characters that I’d decided to amalgamate into one, and when you do something like that I find it helps to get an entirely new name so you can give them a new personality in your head. This also helps when you’re bored with where you’re taking a character, or not sure what you’re doing with them. New name = new lease on life.

ROBERT. I don’t know where this came from. It was just always his name. When I first met Fox I thought his name was Bob, maybe it’s that. His name is actually Paul, but it was a very loud bar, and when he said ‘Paul’ in an Irish accent I thought he said Bob. I called him that for a quite a long time, and he’s still in my phone as Bob. (Gosh! I am interesting, aren’t I?)

SOPHIE Another ridiculously pretty name that I basically chose because started with a letter at the other end of the alphabet to Abigail and had a nice softness that the name ‘Plum’ doesn’t. I’ve worked with some lovely girls called Sophie. My cousin is called Sophie. It’s just sort of a win name for me.

LUKE. A nice solid name, with a sort of spikiness to the consonants.

DAVE. This was the winner of the ‘name that bastard’ online campaign thingy I did. You wouldn’t think it, but there are a LOT of bastards called Dave out there. Before this, his name was Felix, which I was aware was kind of a cheat as it’s just the sort of name that bastards in chicklit are always called. I quite like the innocuous innocence of Dave. (By the way I have several friends called Dave, I don’t think they read this blog anyway but just in case: dudes, you are not bastards.) (Or ARE you?)

VIX. I have two friends called Victoria, and they are both very cool and funny. Neither of them abbreviate their names to Vix, but I needed a really short spiky name.

And for the other characters… I just really like the names Charlotte, Bella and Henry, I don’t think there was any reason why. Particularly Henry, actually. I was gunning to call my baby Henry for a long time – Hank for short – but Fox refused. And so we chose Errol. Every now and again I think to myself ‘Fuck me, I called my kid Errol.’

My current characters in BEGINNER’S LUCK and the subsequent novels in the UNION STREET series are called:

PIA. I went to school with a girl called Pia in Hong Kong, though she spelled it Piya, and it’s just a lovely name. Nice and short, too. I think it means ‘darling’.

MADELEINE. I needed a really long name that wasn’t flowery the way so many long names are.

JULIA. A sort of bossy, solid name. Another marathon runner’s name.

ANGIE. Whenever I hear the name Angie I think of angels.

COCO. I love this name, so cute and eclectic. It’s not after Coco Chanel, who everyone should just stop fucking obsessing about, because she was a horrible old Nazi peasant with an eating disorder.

But for more on those characters, you’ll have to wait just a leeeeetle while longer…

PS Love love loved this from Rinniez – and hell to the yes, I’m going to put her in a book. Sounds like just my kind of girl. x

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