Another London: A novel and critical commentary investigating representations of the white working class in media, politics and literature in an age of multiculturalism
Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Creative Writing
School of English and Languages
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Dr Paul Vlitos
Professor Bran Nicol
© Jonathon Crewe 2016
This thesis and the work to which it refers are the results of my own efforts. Any ideas, data, images or text resulting from the work of others (whether published or unpublished) are fully identified as such within the work and attributed to their originator in the text, bibliography or in footnotes. This thesis has not been submitted in whole or in part for any other academic degree or professional qualification. I agree that the University has the right to submit my work to the plagiarism detection service TurnitinUK for originality checks. Whether or not drafts have been so-assessed, the University reserves the right to require an electronic version of the final document (as submitted) for assessment as above.
Signature: J.R. Crewe
Date: 5th January 2017
This project consists of a creative component in the form of a novel and a critical commentary that investigates white working-class representation in mainstream media, politics and literature, and its links to socio-economic and political inequality in a purportedly democratic society.
The creative component of this thesis, Another London, is a novel in six parts of approximately 91,000 words. It is set on a council estate in East London between 1991 and 2011 and follows the social and psychological development of a white working-class boy into adulthood as he lives through fictionalised parallels of real-life events, such as the London terrorist attacks in 2005. At the age of eleven he witnesses a racially-motivated murder that affects his relationships with his friends, family and local community. Unable to find a job, he turns to a violent gang for work. Influenced by far-right political party rhetoric, the gang begins to perpetrate hate crimes, which forces the protagonist to confront his own ethnic and class identity.
The critical component uses a series of case studies and close readings of political speeches to analyse how media and political elites use the white working class as scapegoats for socio-economic inequality and systemic racism. Using Fredric Jameson’s theory of the ideologeme it traces representations of working- and white working-class characters from the Victorian era through to contemporary literary texts and shows how they have been influenced by, and fed back into, mainstream representations of the (white) working class. The thesis then examines the use of free indirect discourse in literary texts and how it feeds back into stereotyped representations of the (white) working class.
The creative component, by juxtaposing free-indirect discourse and first person narration, exposes the ideologemes of white working-class literary representation by providing a space in the public arena for white working-class voices to be heard, and therefore challenging the stereotypical representations of the white working class as espoused by media and political elites.
I would like to thank my primary supervisor, Dr Paul Vlitos, for all his help and support in completing this thesis. I would also like to thank Professor Bran Nicol and Dr Churnjeet Mahn for their feedback throughout this project.
Table of Contents
Another London 1 – 262
Part 1 – Spring 1991 1
Part 2 – Summer 1993 34
Part 3 – Autumn 2000 90
Part 4 – Summer 2005 152
Part 5 – Spring 2010 183
Part 6 – Summer 2011 234
Critical Component 264 – 429
Chapter 1 – The construction of (white) working-class identity
in mainstream media and politics 290
Chapter 2 – The construction of (white) working-class identity
in narrative literary texts 352
Chapter 3 – The use of first- and third-person narration
in Another London 396
The Gulf War is over. The Prime Minister reveals his vision of a ‘genuinely classless society’. Downing Street is mortared by the Provisional IRA. The unemployment rate rises to over ten percent. The Government announces the new Council Tax. British Front Party candidate, Len Coombes, gets a three-year prison sentence for assaulting an Indian waiter. ‘The One and Only’ shares radio play with The KLF.
Dean stepped outside onto the walkway, squinting in the warm sunshine. Behind him, the curtains of the living room were drawn, leaving only the faint outlines of cluttered furniture. The flat was silent and still, a static jumble. He dropped his bag and undid his shiny puffa jacket. The zip caught at the bottom where the fabric was torn and the soft innards were continually fighting to escape. He tugged violently at the fastener, ripping another hole. Screwing up his face he wrenched the jacket from his body and threw it back into the flat. He grabbed the knocker angrily ready to slam, but held it still instead. He listened to the electronics’ standby hum from within. He drew the door shut gently. He pulled his bag’s long strap over his head, displacing his crudely brushed hair and dragging his grubby white school shirt all lopsided. As he trudged towards the end of his floor, stepping over a handleless tea-stained mug filled with cigarette butts, he surveyed the estate below. Eldon was a giant triangle hemmed in by the A48, Handonwell Junction and the closed Eldon Brickworks. His eyes followed the tarmac access roads that ran right angles between the rectangular concrete buildings and found the barren grass patch next to the overflowing bins. It was littered in takeaway wrappers, empty cans and bottles, and rolled up cigarette butts. It was a sure sign that the gang of older boys from Addington had been out late last night. He kicked open the wire mesh glass door that led out onto his stairwell and grabbed hold of the banisters. Holding his breath past the damp corners, he raced down through the building three steps at a time. At the midway turn between the third and second floor he caught a glimpse of movement from behind the garages. A dirty tennis ball flew out, followed by a boy of about Dean’s age. He raced across the cracked road to the ball, turned and booted it back towards the garages. Dean stopped and shouted across the courtyard.
‘Oy,’ I shout as hard as I can. Madu stops running and turns towards the building, but he’s not looking in my direction.
‘Over here, you knob.’
He spots me and raises his middle finger. I give him a quick Vs and shout back.
‘What are you playing?’
He says it like he’s asking me. I bet he wasn’t even playing it. How can you play one touch on your own? He starts to walk back to the garages. He won’t run if I watch. He wants to be hard. He thinks he’s well cool. He’s alright. I like one touch. I run down the rest of the stairs quickly. There’s no door at the bottom so I call out before I even jump the last ones.
‘Can I play?’
I launch off the last steps like the heroes in one of my cartoons. They’ve got weapons. They jump down from buildings and out of the sky and fight the invaders. There’s a leader, who’s the best, and an old one who has secret powers and tells them legends and how the enemy is evil and wants to take over their planet. There’s a really strong one with huge muscles and a bad attitude and he drives the space ship. There’s a girl and some kids that try to be funny but they’re just silly. When we play, me and Madu take it in turns to be the leader and the strong one. Sometimes we’re the old one too. I run along the curb to the garages. Madu chucks his bag on the floor.
‘If you want, but I go first.’
He kicks the ball at the garages. It makes a massive noise when it hits the metal door. It’s well loud and echoes off all the walls.
‘You only get one kick.’
He explains the rules, but I already know. Everyone knows how to play one touch. It’s obvious, it’s called one touch. Madu’s always like that. He pretends he’s a bad man, but always tells you the rules. But actually it’s good because you need rules for games, otherwise you can’t win. It would be rubbish. Even Nintendo has rules, like you can’t go backwards on Mario. Even if you forget about the secret tunnel. And in Mortal Kombat Two you have to press the right buttons to do the finishing move. My favourite’s the one where Kung Lao stabs his opponent up and then punches their head off. It’s mental. Some rules are stupid though, like homework, or wearing a uniform to school. We all look different anyway. I drop my bag next to Madu’s and boot the ball as hard as I can. It doesn’t go where I want. Instead it flies off to the left and into the dustbins. Madu starts pissing himself.
‘Toe punt. Toe punt.’
He’s really pissing himself. It’s not that funny and it wasn’t a toe punt anyway.
Madu laughs even more.
‘You’re shit at football.’
It’s not even a football. It’s a tennis ball and I haven’t got my proper boots on. Madu struts like he’s so smart. He puts on a voice like a quiz show host.
‘That’s why the England team is all blacks.’
‘Shut up. And anyway if that’s true it means that you’re shit at football ‘cos we never win the World Cup or anything.’
Madu stops laughing, but he’s still got that stupid grin. Like he’s the best at everything and I’m rubbish at everything.
‘It’s your go anyway.’
‘I ain’t getting it. You kicked it.’
‘It’s your fucking go.’
‘You fucking kicked it. It’s my game and it’s the rules. If you don’t hit the garages then you lose a life and you have to get the ball if you spaz up.’
He’s not laughing now. Just pointing at the bins. I know why he doesn’t want to go. The bins fucking stink of shit. People put nappies in there and dead animals. Everybody says so. Once, there was a dead cat on the road. Its eye was hanging out on a string and loads of kids were looking at it and then a man from the Paki block came out with a shovel and threw it in the bins. Madu said that in Africa the Muslims would have eaten it. That’s what his Dad told him anyway. I said they cook cats in the chinky takeaway, and dogs too. We pissed ourselves. People slash in the bins as well. I saw the older kids do it when they were drinking beer and whiskey. They fucking stink. But, it’s no point arguing. It’s Madu’s ball and if I don’t get it he won’t let me play anymore and I want to hear the garage doors banging again. Everyone leaves their boxes and black bags on the floor. They try and put them in the bin, but there isn’t any space so they just put it next to it. I find the ball near a tin foil container. Curry I reckon. The sauce looks like a skid mark. I’m not going to touch it so I have to kick the ball away from the bins first. When it’s back on the tarmac I dribble it over to the garages and line it up in front of the middle one.
‘Oy. It’s my go.’
Madu pushes me away from the ball.
‘I got it.’
‘You can’t start. You just lost a life.’
‘How many lives are we playing?’
Madu thinks for a second.
‘Three. You’ve got two and I’ve got three.’
Usually we play five, but he thinks he’s going to win easier if we play best of three. He always cheats and he doesn’t even need to because he’s better than me.
‘Whatever, I’m going to win anyway.’
I say as he places the ball down on the spot. He takes a few steps back.
‘Shall I boot it really hard?’
He smiles wide with big white teeth. When he does that I always smile, even if I don’t want to, because I know he’s going to do something funny. I nod my head and grin. I really want to hear the garage echo around the estate again. Madu walks backwards until he’s about five metres from the ball.
‘Watch this, motherfucker.’
I grit my teeth as he rushes forward and smacks the ball. He kicks it so hard the ball comes off the ground. You have to hit it really hard for that. It hits the garage right in the middle. The noise is mental and goes round all the buildings. It sounds like war. It’s well cool. We piss ourselves.
The yell comes from behind us, from the building at the edge of the estate where all the Pakis live. It looks like all the other buildings but it smells of curry and has a pile of black bin bags in front of the main stairwell entrance. Everyone says that’s what they do in Pakiland, but I saw a woman from our block put hers there as well. There’s lots of graffiti on the walls of the Paki building too. One bit says Fuck Off in luminous orange and pink. I like that one because it’s on the first floor and you can see it from our kitchen window. It would be cool if it glowed in the dark. One of the Pakis leans over the railing in front of his flat with his head above the ‘fu’ from ‘fuck’. He waves his fist at us.
‘That’s my fucking garage. You little bastards. Fuck off.’
Madu and I look at each other and then give him the up yours sign. He doesn’t know what to do. He screws up his face. He can’t do nothing. Madu picks up his ball and we grab our bags. We walk past the garages and Madu kicks the Paki’s garage. We run off as fast as we can. I don’t know if the Paki is following us. I don’t look around until I get out onto the main road. Madu stops by the post box. He’s knackered. He coughs laughter between breaths. I think he’s going to die. It’s well funny. I piss myself.
The two boys recovered their breath and set off along the pavement, slapping each other and banging shoulders as they recounted the incident over and over again. Their bags swung back and forth as they spat onto the street, rush hour traffic jolting past. The bus stop’s plastic panes were scratched in a jerky scrawled calligraphy. The backlit adverts had been touched up in red and black marker, penises and breasts adorning the cereal boxes and the hair care models. The bus stop stood at the far end of Eldon, shadowed by the nearest block in the morning and then again by the Brickwork’s empty warehouse in the afternoon. Dean kicked the lime green corner post and dropped himself on the buckled plastic bench, mottled and pockmarked from extinguished cigarette ends. Madu went to work straight away. He pulled a pair of compasses from his back pocket and began scratching the outline of the estate buildings behind on the inside of the transparent pane. He drew slowly, tracing the straight lines and harsh angles. The windows, doors and colours repeated themselves in rows and columns, maintaining a homogenous façade. Dean shuffled back and forth along the seat, feeling the rough texture beneath him. He closed his eyes and lost himself to the sensation until his backside went numb and he had to stand to stop pins and needles spreading through his leg. He looked up and down the road, but there was no bus in sight, just lines of fuming cars and trucks. Dean looked over Madu’s shoulders at the shapes taking place. He couldn’t see the whole pattern until he bent down and got the angle just right. The light shone through, catching the depth of the scratches and bringing the picture to life. It looked like the estate. Jagged and dirty. He kicked the bench just as the bus pulled up.
They sat on the top near the back and picked at the fabric around a penknife cut. The back of the seat swore at them in permanent black marker and the smell of detergent wafted up from the stain on the floor. The boys bounced up and down as the bus lurched forward. They spoke loudly, ignoring the irate looks of other passengers trying to read their morning papers and bookclub paperbacks. Madu began gesticulating wildly.
‘I’m telling you it was so cool. That film was wicked.’
Madu saw Indiana Jones last night. We’ve been talking about watching it all week. I make up that I watched it, but just say about the bits I saw on the adverts. He’ll think I’m a gaylord if I tell him that Mum was asleep and I didn’t want to wake her up. Madu goes on a lot. He’s a real telly nut. He watches everything. He says he’s got his own telly in his room, but I bet he ain’t. They can’t even afford one. His Dad don’t do nothing. I bet they’ve got a black and white set and you can’t even see which team to support on Match of the Day. He’s still talking about that stupid fucking film. I wish I’d seen it.
‘And then there was that bit when Indie’s in a market and this Muslim guy in a dress starts waving a sword all threatening like and Indie just doesn’t even bother fighting ‘cos he ain’t even worth it so he just pulls out his gun and shoots him.’
Madu pulls his trigger finger and then twists his head like he’s doing sums.
‘And then he pulls a face just like this to show that he’s well better than the Muslim, you know. Like who the fuck does he think he is trying to stab up Indiana Jones. It was well funny that bit, init?’
I nod, pretending I know what he’s talking about. It doesn’t sound great to me. A proper sword fight would be better like kung fu films. Do they even get Muslims in America anyway? Or maybe it wasn’t in America? Madu is still laughing and then pulls the same face again. I laugh at him because he looks like a wheelchair kid when he does it, but he thinks I’m laughing at his jokes, but I’m not. I don’t know what he’s even talking about. I hate Indiana Jones. Madu laughs more when I laugh. I know he’s going to ask me about the film and then he’ll know I didn’t see it and he’ll take the piss out of me all day and go on about how great it was. I ask him first.
‘Where did Indiana Jones shoot him?’
‘That bit where he shot the Muslim?’
‘The heart. He died like right away. Sick, man.’
‘No which country?’
Madu stops laughing and thinks for a moment. He doesn’t have a clue. I’m smarter than he is. We’ve only got two more stops. We’re already late for registration, but what’s Mrs Tosser going to do? She can’t do nothing. Nobody can’t do nothing.
‘I dunno. Egypt or Pakiland.’
He shrugs his shoulders.
‘Somewhere in India.’
‘Egypt’s in Africa.’
I’m good at geography. I know all the capital cities and rivers. We’re going to do mountains next, but I already know the Alps and Ben Nevis. Madu’s such an idiot.
‘No it ain’t.’
‘It is. I know. I got an A 1 in our last test. We had to say where countries were.’
‘But they ain’t proper Africans. They ain’t even black.’
Madu’s not laughing now. He stares at me like he’s trying not to blink. Good. He won’t talk about that stupid film anymore. It’s nearly our stop. It’s the one after the paper shop that we nick sweets from.
‘It ain’t in Africa.’
‘Wanna bet? I’ll prove it on the geography room map. It’s miles away from India.’
Madu won’t listen. He never listens to anyone. Even if I show him he won’t believe me. Even if Mrs Tosser says so. He thinks Africa’s only where his Dad is from. But it ain’t. Nigeria is just one country and they’re all different. We learnt about it in Black History Month last year when we were in Mr Osborne’s class. We learnt about people from all over the world and Mr Osborne showed us videos and pictures and we even made our own costumes. He’s not in our school anymore because he got a better job somewhere. Madu’s fucking stupid sometimes. He’s getting angry about it.
‘Are you saying I’m a fucking Muslim?’
Madu squares up to me.
‘Are you saying I’m a Paki?’
I don’t say anything. We’re almost there. I press the stop button, but the light doesn’t come on. I hope Madu doesn’t deck me. He’s the hardest kid in our year. He even decked a big white boy from the year above once for calling him a nigger. I don’t say anything. I just pick up my bag and walk down the aisle towards the steps. Madu grabs me from behind.
‘Say I’m a Paki Muslim again and I’ll fucking have you.’
My face goes red, I can feel it burning, but I don’t turn around. I just stay cool and walk down the steps. Madu can’t deck me ‘cos I didn’t say anything. I never called him a Paki, I just said where Nigeria is. I don’t know what’s his problem, there’s Muslims in Nigeria anyway, we learnt about it and saw pictures. They’re always scrapping with the Christians and just ‘cos his Dad slags off Muslims, Madu hates them too, but he hasn’t even been to Nigeria. He’s going to fail our test next week. I bet he doesn’t even know where Mount Everest is. That’s the tallest mountain in the whole world and if he doesn’t know where that is he’s a fucking idiot. I hate Madu sometimes. He runs past me as we get off the bus.
‘Come on. We’re well late.’
He waves at me to follow. He’s forgotten already. Madu always gets angry and then friendly again quickly. He stops at the school gate and turns back to me.
‘Mrs Tosser’s gonna go mental.’
He beams a huge smile. His teeth are really white and it makes his face look even more black. He’s my best friend. I forgive him, even if he is a dick.
The bell had already stopped ringing as Madu and Dean ran across the concrete playground, hemmed in on three sides by main roads. Its only barrier was the rusted fence that ran jaggedly around the tiny play area. The boys skipped over the faded and peeled paint of games outlines and dashed towards the main entrance. The two storey redbrick façade intended to be read as a grand statement of the function of education now stood helpless, cast out between the twin estates of Eldon and Addington, dwarfed by their scalar dominance. Behind the entrance lay the tattered extensions of the classrooms. Built as a temporary solution to the influx of pupils when the estates first went up, they were never replaced and the quick fixes left their sides scarred. It was cold and damp, underfunded and under resourced.
The boys tried to sneak in past the front reception desk but were caught by the Deputy Headmaster, who made them wait until assembly was over. He wore an ill-fitting suit that hung on him like it had been bought for a more ambitious version of himself. His glasses failed to stay on his nose and he had long since stopped trying to make them. He looked as tired as the shabby décor and fading posters of the entrance hall. The grand archway above the Deputy Headmaster had been built to inspire knowledge and hope, but now it seemed redundant, sheltering only production line curriculums. They were all stuck there. The room was cold, even at the height of summer. Dean shivered and regretted leaving his jacket at home. Madu resorted to putting on his baseball cap to stay warm. The Deputy Headmaster brought them over a biscuit each. They were only Rich Tea, but neither Dean nor Madu complained. The three waited for the assembly to finish, winking at each other to silently acknowledge the secret snack they had shared. When assembly was over, the Deputy Headmaster gestured for the boys to join in the scramble of pupils rushing back to their classrooms. They skipped along the corridor, conspicuous with their bags still over their shoulders, and reached their room before anyone else. They had to be quick before Mrs Prosser came back, so they ran to put their bags on the hooks and sat down at their desks. They weren’t on the same table, but were close enough to whisper if they wanted. They laughed again about the garage door and promised to keep the biscuit a secret. The rest of the pupils started to stream in. The uniforms were drab, a light grey and blue affair. They were supposed to wear ties, but most just didn’t bother and the teachers had realised this was the least of their problems. The room was almost full and Dean turned away from Madu to stare at the door, waiting for the person who would fill the empty seat at his table. Mrs Prosser entered the room but had no effect on the noise level. She ignored the children and plunged herself down behind the teacher’s desk, losing her attention amongst the drawers. Then Ghalia walked in and changed everything for Dean.
I don’t like her, even though everyone says I do, but it ain’t true. She’s just funny. She makes me laugh. Actually, I hate her, ‘cos she’s a girl and boys hate girls ‘cos it’s always boys against girls in our class and you have to hate your competition. Like in football when you call the other side names and deck their fans. She’s not my enemy though, but she is a girl, so I don’t like her. But when she makes me laugh then she’s not really like a girl, more like a boy. But I like it when she comes to class and I try and watch when she comes through the door because it’s like in movies in slow-mo. Mrs Tosser just came in so Ghalia should come in soon. She always walks behind Mrs Tosser. Mrs Tosser thinks she’s a good girl but it’s really so Ghalia can pull faces behind her back. It’s well funny and makes me piss myself, but I have to hold it because if Mrs Tosser sees me she’ll know that Ghalia is doing faces. Sometimes I pretend I’m remembering a joke from the telly. That always fools Mrs Tosser. She’s well stupid. All teachers are apart from the Deputy Headmaster. He gave me and Madu a biscuit and we were late and everything. He teaches us sometimes and he’s funny. He does impressions of all the kids in class. He doesn’t sound anything like us, but we always know who he’s pretending to be. I don’t piss myself, but I giggle like my Mum does when she watches her programmes. It’s a different funny, but I like it. Madu hates him. And I bet even though he gave him a biscuit Madu will slag him off to everyone. I don’t care, I just say nothing. Mrs Tosser doesn’t even care. She hasn’t even said hello yet. Something hits me on the back of the head. I turn around and Madu is pretending to whistle. Does he really think I’ll believe he didn’t throw it?
I whisper it so Mrs Tosser can’t hear, but she’s got ears like a hawk. She can hear everything. But she must have wax today ‘cos she doesn’t tell me off. Madu laughs and then shows me his empty biro. He sucks bits of paper and then blows them at people through it. I do that too. Madu’s a really good shot. If they were real bullets he could kill a bird if it was close enough. I wish they were real bullets. Then I could shoot the clock and we could go home early even though I like school because I get to see Ghalia. She lives on Eldon too, but in the Paki building next to my block. But she’s not allowed to play with the other kids on the estate. I don’t know what they do in there. I reckon she lives with like all her cousins and uncles and brothers and sisters and grandparents and Mum and Dad, because there’s always more of them every day. I haven’t counted them but you can tell and anyway everyone says so. Madu makes a face at me so I give him the Vs. He does the face again.
‘It’s your girlfriend.’
He says it loud enough for other people to hear and I go bright red.
I tell him and then turn around and see Ghalia. But she’s different. She’s got a scarf on her head and I can’t see her long curly hair. She walks over and sits down opposite me. I can’t see her hair. It‘s long and curly and black. I always wanted to touch it ‘cos it was the opposite of my Mum’s hair and Mrs Tosser’s hair. They’re boring, just straight and yellow. Ghalia smiles at me, but her face is different. It’s like a circle now. It doesn’t look part of her body. Like it’s floating around on its own. Like a moon face, but a brown moon. Like a moon made of chocolate. I think it’s like chocolate because her smile is white chocolate and her eyes are like buttons. She’s still smiling at me. She always smiles at me. We sit opposite each other and sometimes we kick each other under the table. Not hard, because I’m a boy and I might hurt her, but just for playing. Like foot war. She’s got smart shoes. They’re shiny blue and she says they’re real leather from her Uncle’s shop. I wear trainers. They’re black Nike Air. They’re well cool. Mum got them down the market and Madu says they’re fakes but everyone else says they’re nicked. That’s okay ‘cos if they’re nicked then they’re real ones and that’s well better than real leather. My trainers have a real leather upper anyway so they’re better than Ghalia’s stupid shoes. They’re for girls anyway. She pushes my pencil case.
‘Hi Dean. Cat got your tongue?’
She always says things like that. I wish I could think of cool things to say. She sounds like the clever one in my cartoons. They always know a cool thing to say too. I really hate Ghalia because she’s so clever. Her voice is lovely. She doesn’t talk like me or Madu. We recorded ourselves on a tape and we sounded really funny. Madu tried to speak really hard, like a tough guy, but he sounded stupid like a kid. My voice was flat and wasn’t exciting. I thought it sounded like the noise on the telephone before you dial. Then we played with the switch that makes it go high or low. That was so funny. We sounded like chipmunks and then like ghosts. We pissed ourselves. Then we swore a lot too. That was well sick. We can be bad man sometimes, even though swearing ain’t that bad ‘cos they do it on the telly and Mum does it on the phone. Ghalia doesn’t swear. It wouldn’t sound right. Her voice is like singing. When I hear her speak I imagine I’m on the swing in the play park and I close my eyes and I swing harder and then the creaky chains stops creaking and the whoosh of the ground stops going past me when I’m at the bottom and I go higher and higher until the whole of the swings start floating into the air above the estate and I can see the top of the buildings and they sparkle blue and then everything goes away and I’m just swinging in space, but I feel still, like when I wake up from sleep and then I’m back in the classroom again when she stops talking. She’s got a lovely voice, but I don’t like her and I really hate that stupid fucking headscarf. She pushes my pencil case harder and I look at her shit moon face.
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