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Posts Tagged ‘anecdotes’

The last items I unpacked after the move from Byron were the family photos, some of which I knew had broken glass. It was no surprise, I suppose, that I didn’t get around to them until now. The glass in a couple had been broken for years, but I’d lacked the motivation to open the bag, let alone do anything about it.

Having unpacked everything else and feeling particularly strong one day, I tackled the family photos. Only two had glass that needed replacing — the large oval one of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Claire (Donovan) Doyle, and the small A4-sized one of the wedding of Uncle Frank my mother’s younger brother (there were 12 children in that big Irish family) to a lady called Daphne.

Doyle wedding c. 1937
L to R: George Donovan, Mag Doyle, Frank Doyle, Daphne Doyle, Joe Doyle

Looking at the wedding photo of Frank and Daphne Doyle, it suddenly hit me that I had no wedding photo of my parents. There was nothing. Now why was that?

Part of the reason for this was probably because my mother who was, of course, Roman Catholic, was marrying my father, who was not. In 1936, this meant no church wedding. Indeed, it was something of a scandal in which even Archbishop Duhig became involved. Having been heavily involved in the education of Great Uncle Con’s two children after Con dropped dead in the cow yard at the age of 35, Duhig must’ve felt he had the right to a say in my mother’s life as well. And so he sent a special emissary to Toowoomba to state the case against.

Imagine it. My mother had left school at thirteen. She was a young uneducated woman working as a housemaid in a hotel in Toowoomba. But she resisted the pressure.

And so they were married. On Christmas Eve 1936 without a church service, without a proper wedding, just a tiny affair to which my mother, I’m told wore a blue street length dress she could use later. Both were poor and had few if any savings. My father worked on the foundry floor at the Toowoomba Foundry.

In those days, getting your photograph taken was a Big Deal. One booked a session at a photographic studio and that photo would be the only one you had of yourself for that year. When I was a child we knew of rich families (well, we thought they were rich) who could afford to have a family photograph taken every year. Amazing, we thought; we could only manage such a thing for very special occasions. Still, there were street photographers who roamed the city carrying their heavy portable cameras “Take your photo, sir?” and for the poor, these impromptu shots were often the only photographs they possessed.

But my parents were married on Christmas Eve. I imagine there would’ve been plenty of people for the street photographers to capture, and they didn’t hang around the Registry Office as they usually did. And so there are no photos of my parents’ wedding. Nothing. Zilch.

FOOTNOTE: Frank and Daphne lasted only a few years before she took off with someone else. My parents stayed together until my father died in 1972.

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The move from Byron Shire to Brisbane was a horrendous affair.

I had lived in the shire for forty years, twenty years in the same apartment. The only way I could get out of there was to have the movers pack for me. Unfortunately, these local movers did not unpack at the other end, and so I arrived with a two-bedroom house’s worth full of furniture and twenty-three tea chests.

What I did not arrive with was my fifteen-year-old cat Tim.

Tim

I had lost my loyal, doglike companion of fifteen year just six weeks before to chronic kidney disease. He died in my arms. At home, at the hands of a vet he knew and trusted. Although his end was very peaceful, I did not take it well. But reflecting on it later, when I was saner, I realised this was a mercy for him. He would have hated to see his home torn down around him and be transported to a strange place where his comings and goings would be seriously curtailed. Although the apartment I landed in had a courtyard, it was a postage stamp compared to the area in South Golden Beach that he’d had to roam in. Still, his loss hit me hard and, although I went on with plans for the move, I was dispirited.

Prone to anxiety, depression and wild despair,

I took to looking at pictures of Abyssinian cats online. (A number of vets had told me over the years that Tim was part-Abyssinian.) This was the only thing that could bring me to tears, and I feared the bleak, grim, tearless place into which I was sinking.

One day, as I was sniffling my way through the Brisbane Abyssinian breeders, I came across a website with a sign that read:

HELP SAVE KIRSTEN’S CATS!

An Abyssinian breeder named Kirsten had died just before Christmas 2017 (it’s now April 2018 in my tale of woe), and although the other breeders had swooped in to take her cats temporarily, they needed to rehome them.

Help Save Kirsten’s Cats! I began to look through the photos of the cats still needing rehoming. Most were the usual silver Abyssinians, but two were a strange golden tan, the colour Tim’s belly fur had been. Apparently, these two had been a breeding couple; now they had been desexed. My heart went out to them, stuck in their nine-foot-square breeding cage. People were prepared to take one cat, but no one wanted two. And these two were very devoted. They’d been separated accidentally in the chaos of the move after Kirsten’s death and the male had become frantic with loneliness. They couldn’t be separated.

I agreed to take the cats when I arrived in Brisbane in May, and sent Marie, who was holding them, some money for their keep in the meantime.

I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when I took those cats.

I’d never owned rescue purebreds before. The Siamese cats I’d had in the distant past I’d had since they were twelve weeks old, and they’d run free like ordinary moggies. When I finally arrived in the New Farm apartment and checked out the courtyard, I realised at once that it wasn’t suitable for two cats who’d always been caged, and didn’t know about dogs, cats, cars, etc. The fence would need to be increased by a height of three-quarters of a metre and netting put over the whole lot if these cats were to be kept safe.

By now, it was June, and the nights were reaching two degrees Celsius where the cats were, and the seven-year-old male had a bad cough. So I took the cats before the fence was increased in height and the netting was up — at least, they’d be warm at night, and the male would have a chance to shake off his chest infection.

I brought the cats home on 24th June. Because of various delays, the courtyard wasn’t finished until 11 September. The cats and I spent the winter locked in the apartment, which had three doors and four windows to the outside, any one of which could lead to their doom if they escaped. It was a difficult time. The little four-year-old female cat was like Houdini and seemed determined to see the rest of the world — like that barefoot girl from Arkansas who’s sure she’d be a star if she could just catch that bus to LA.

Slowly I unpacked the twenty-three tea chests and tried to get my health back, which had taken a battering from the move; having moved many times in the first forty years of my life, I’d overestimated my ability to bounce back. I returned to walking, and found a nice over-50s yoga class in town. I was afraid of Brunswick Street, the busiest street in New Farm, an inner city suburb (when the wind blows the right way, you can hear the Brisbane city hall clock strike the hour), so I always walked away from it. The walk I took was uninteresting; there were few trees and the houses lacked charm. Many times, as I slogged doggedly along, I bemoaned the fact that I no longer lived near the water.

One day in November, I felt well enough to brave Brunswick Street (I hadn’t seen a traffic light in forty years), cross over and walk in the opposite direction. This is what I found:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was three hundred metres from the river! Okay, this wasn’t the ocean, (I’d been three hundred metres from that in NSW), but it was water. And a walkway ran along the river from what I later discovered were the Howard Smith Wharves to the centre of the city less than 1.8 kilometres away.

I took stock of the situation. The courtyard was finished.

The netting above isn’t showing up well, but it’s there.

The cats were safe. I had my 98,000 word Brisbane novel to finish.

Well, well. Maybe I’d survive after all.

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When I first came to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, brush turnkeys were not protected. Consequently, a sighting of them was a rare thing. Sometimes as we were driving along we’d see one making its way stealthily through the bush. The kids would be excited. “Look, a brush turkey!” Now, with the advent of their protection, all that has changed. Today they stride confidently around the suburbs, chortling to themselves and ripping up domestic gardens. Nothing is safe. They will even hop up into pot plants and rip them up, too — just for the hell of it.

Brush-Turkey-001

Brush turkey

After losing my little vegie patch twice this year to brush turkeys, I went online to see if there was anything, anything, that might deter them. The web was full of the cries of irate gardeners, and not just from areas close to nature reserves and bush. Apparently the birds are striding around city suburbs as well. Fences don’t work; in spite of their heavy, ungainly appearance, the birds can get over fences ten, eleven feet high — ours like to fly up onto the carport port roof and walk about up there, their claws making nerve wracking sounds on the corrugated iron roofing.

Some people tried scarecrows, with differing results. The people across the road from me tried teddies.

Yard 15X8.5@72

Mostly, though, the consensus on the web was that nothing could be done. I liked my little herb and vegie patch; it provided a nice change from sweating over the content editing of my Brisbane novel. I liked to go out there when the going got tough and pull a few weeds, or just admire the silverbeet plants. Eventually I hit upon the idea of covering the patch with pieces of old aluminium fencing, which a neighbour kindly gave me. The turkeys still prowl about, but at least the parsley is looking healthy, poking up through the gaps in the fence, but something (not turkeys) is eating the silverbeet. And the marigolds.

Consensus on the web is that the only way of dealing with brush turkeys is the catch-and-remove method. You catch them and take them many miles away to the bush or a nature reserve, whichever comes first. As I don’t drive, this option is not available to me. Natural predators? They don’t seem to have any. The cat is no use; the birds are too big, you’d need a cougar to bring them down. As I watch them pacing around the garden in the late afternoon, my heart is full of trepidation. These birds breed every year. If we think it’s bad now, what’s it going to be like next year? And the year after that.

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Does anyone out there know of a kind person who could give a good home to Jack, a four-year-old, neutered, part-eastern cat who’s currently residing in the Cat Protection Home in Billnudgel.

Jack

(If you think he’s looking a bit wild-eyed in the photo, it’s because he’s never been in a cage before.)

Jack’s tale is a sorry one. He was living a gung ho life quite happily with a girlfriend of mine for about two years. Then, alas, she fell ill and had to move to Woollongong to be closer to her only surviving son. Her son and wife already had two dogs. They were kind enough to take my friend’s dog, whom she’d had for over ten years. But not the cat.

Which is why Jack now resides in the Billinudgel Cat Protection home.

I would love to have taken him myself, but I am the possessor of a feline thug named Tim, who, though fifteen-years-old and neutered, will attack anything that comes inside our fence line — dogs any size, other cats, etc.

A few years back, I tried to give a home to a beautiful blue-eyed cat someone had dumped, but Tim would not accept him.

I really felt for that cat, and kept him going for over three years. By the time he’d found me, he was wild; we could not touch him, let alone take him to a refuge. I fed him outside, and managed to keep the two cats separated – he knew to vacate the yard when the thug was released for the day. Eventually Old Blue Eyes was injured by a car and had to be put down at the vet’s. So I can’t take Jack, much as I’d like to.

I wonder: is there anyone out there who could? He’s been in the home for three weeks now, and my heart really goes out to him. Please ring the big hearted Bailey, who does such good work for these animals, on 0497 442 623 if you think you can.

Here’s hoping.

 

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three-snakes

I had another snake in my little 2-storey apartment the other day. It’s the weirdest thing. For twenty years I’ve lived here and never had a problem with snakes — except for the night the python came looking to make a meal out of my old cat, who was sleeping near the back door. https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/quoth-the-raven-nevermore/

To have two in six weeks is strange. See: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/snake/ This one I found at 4 o’clock in the afternoon at the bottom of the internal staircase. I’d locked the cat in with me from 2 -4 to prevent him hunting and bringing them in while I was having my cuppa-tea-and-a-lie-down. I can only conclude that I must have inadvertently locked the snake in with us when I came back from the beach and shut the doors at two.

A sobering thought.

Whether it was the same snake, come looking for more skinks (they live under my stove), I’m not sure. It certainly looked the same. Same size, six feet, same colour, black. Fortunately, he eventually slid out just the way the other one did, sailing out through the front door, which I’d opened wide for him. But I had a few bad moments before that: I’d lost sight of him when I went to look for a bucket to catch him in. That’s the hard bit. You come back, the snake’s disappeared and you don’t know where it is. All I could do was sit on the sofa in my living room and wait, like the woman in Henry Lawson’s short story, “The Drover’s Wife”.

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

In that story, which appears in his collection, While the Billy Boils https://www.amazon.com/While-Billy-Boils-Henry-Lawson/dp/141919383X the woman, seeing a large snake go into the slab hut she and the four children live in (her husband is away six to eighteen months at a time, droving), sets down a saucer of milk and waits through the night for the snake to appear so she can kill it.

Compared to the drover’s wife, I had it easy. But I’m faced with a quandary now. I’ll have to start keeping the front door closed when I’m out and keeping the cat flap closed, even when I’m home. The old cat has been coming and going through the front door for fourteen years. It worries me that he might be chased by one of the many loose dogs in South Golden Beach, run for the safety of his door and find it shut. But I don’t like the idea of six-foot black snakes sailing around the place whenever they feel like it, and I hate the idea of encountering one at night. I seem to have no option. The snake repellers on the internet have opponents and proponents. I’ll probably try one. In the meantime, I hope to retrain the cat to use the back door only, but I don’t like my chances.

(For reasons I can’t explain, this post is showing up strangely, even though it’s written as usual in 12 pt TNR in the original document and nothing untoward is showing in the WordPress menu. Another internet mystery. These little things are sent to try us.)

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droppingout_e-cover

Sitting here waiting for my son and his wife and kids to wake up. They leave to return to the UK today. I hadn’t seen my son for ten years, and I’d never seen my grandchildren, who are nine and five. They’ve been here for three weeks, on and off when they weren’t exploring the countryside in their rented campervan, and it’s going to be a wrench, I know.

I sit here sipping coffee, trying to fortify myself for the ordeal to come. Fortunately, my daughter, who’s up from Melbourne, will be here until Monday, so I won’t have to lose them all at once.

Attachment. The Buddhist masters have always talked of the evils of attachment. Not that it’s evil in itself, but that it causes us humans so much pain from loss, or even the fear of it. But then, I wonder, how would we care properly for our young if we weren’t attached to them? Attachment seems to be hardwired into us, with all that it entails.

There’s one being in my household who won’t be sad to see the whole caravan go. That’s my cat Tim, who’s spent the past 14 years in the peace and quiet of my solitary existence, and who’s never had to deal up close with little people.

timmy-p-72

He had to be taken to the vet yesterday afternoon with nervous exhaustion. The vet gave him a B shot. I could’ve done with a B shot myself.

I’m still recovering from the book launch last night, which turned out to be a comedy of errors. The first night I chose at the hotel for drinks turned out to be too close to my daughter’s arrival from Melbourne. So I moved the night from Wednesday to Thursday — usually a quiet night for pubs. To my horror, after I’d notified all the people concerned, I discovered that the pub was holding a huge band night with a $30.00 cover charge that Thursday. So I moved the night to Friday.

I had envisaged a nice quiet book launch on a quiet night in a peaceful garden setting. Some food, some drinks, nice conversation; a good way to put a full stop to the book I’d just completed.

loud-singer

We could hear the music blocks away as we parked the car. After that, it was all shouting, as we tried to make ourselves heard over the din. More than half of us were well over sixty, and we had a particularly hard time. “What was that?” we kept saying to one another. “Say that again.” I envied the cat, at home watching TV and enjoying his newfound B status, nerves all nicely taken care of.

Anyone reading this who was invited but couldn’t come, you didn’t miss anything. But as they say, it’s all part of growing up and being human. And these things have a habit of being funny later on.

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Frightened woman

I’m afraid to open the parcel containing the Amazon proof copy of my short story collection. I’ve had it since Tuesday, it’s now Saturday. When I got the proof of the 1st novel I put up on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY, I fell on it like a famished wolf. Why this sudden turnaround? Perhaps it’s got something to do with the cover, which was unfinished when I sent off for this particular proof, and feels to me as if it will ever remain so.

Let me explain. You see, when I wrote my weird cat fantasy novel, which caused people to think I had finally lost the plot (though they were all too nice to say so), I had the image for the cover before I even wrote the book—a marvellous black & white drawing by US artist Marty Norman.

Marty Norman's cat illus'n 75 dpi copy No cats on pedestals

This time, I had chosen another of his works, a wonderful, hard-edged painting of a businessman on a tightrope, see below. (Sorry I’m too much of a luddite to know how to make the image bigger.)

man on wire

But beta readers from here to Timbuktu all agreed that to use an image like that on the cover of my collection was to mislead people into expecting a book about the problems of Wall Street suits. And that, my little short story collection set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales definitely was not.

What to do? I had no idea. In the end, I settled for a very ancient image (no, I’m not going to show it to you at this point), and hoped like hell it would work. To open the package from Amazon, even though I know the cover is unfinished and will make the necessary allowances, is to expose myself to immense disappointment if this cover idea hasn’t worked.

Now it’s all very well to say I’ve got time to think of another and still get the book out in October-November of this year, but you see, I can’t. Having been dragged from one fixation (which in my heart I still prefer) to another, something in me has said, This is it. Further than this, I’m not prepared to go. In other words, I’m stuck with this cover, no matter what. So the parcel feels very threatening to me and just sits there on the sofa, accusing me every time I walk past. Thank heavens I’m going out today. I’ll be out all day – so there, parcel!

This state of affairs could go on indefinitely if I don’t so something, so I’ve set myself a deadline of Monday morning. On Monday I must take a deep breath, rip open the parcel and take it on the chin, come what may.

Am I scared? You bet. But will I keep the deadline? Oh yeah; I’m a creature of deadlines. I’m not really happy unless I can see one looming somewhere on the horizon. So Monday it is. Meanwhile, I give the sofa a wide berth.

 

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A few days ago I paid one of my biannual visits to friends at Dyraaba in northern New South Wales, about half an hour’s drive out of Casino. They have a 240 acre property there, where they run 30-40 head of cattle and half a dozen horses.

IMG_7623

It looks idyllic, but the beauty of this photo belies the amount of work it takes to keep a property like this running smoothly. To add to the workload, when the couple moved here four years ago, the paddocks were overgrazed; fireweed, blady grass and lantana were rampant.

Lantana 2Lantana – hell to eradicate

Four years of hard yakka has pulled the property back into shape, with improved pastures on the flatland, hardly a fireweed in sight, and very little blady grass. One more year should see the last of the lantana.

That’s the extra work, of course. Just everyday running of a place like this involves so many things that owners have to keep on top of. There’s worming, earmarking, drenching, dipping and hand feeding of stock during drought, the keeping up of miles of fences, sitting up nights with calving cows, saving stock from wild dogs, etc. etc. Some winter nights when the dogs are bad, you can hear them howling in the distant paddocks like something out of Dr Zhivago.

Some people on a neighbouring property have filled in the wetland where black swans used to come every year. Now my friends have swans gracing their biggest creek.

DSCF4402

It all looks very idyllic, as I said, but the work required would stimey most people. In summer you need to be in the paddocks by 4.30 a.m. at the latest, so you can get in a good six hours toil before the heat hits. From noon to four, the fields are impossible. However, work can recommence at 4.30 and go onto until night falls. Winter is different, of course, but those early mornings are mighty chilly; it was 6 degrees C when I was there.

All in all, it’s a beautiful place to visit, but not a place to live if you shy away from hard work. Fortunately, both my friends are tigers for punishment and thrive on the lifestyle.

_MG_7403

Having worked with animals all their lives, they understood when they bought how it would be, and so didn’t suffer the fate of many tree changers who move from the city to the bush, chasing the dream.

 

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God chasing cat, b&wWatching my cat Tim this morning leaping from the washing machine to the linen cupboard and from there to the ledge of the little window from where he likes to survey the kingdom, I was reminded of another cat I used to have and his adventures with a rescue dog my then partner brought home, wanting to take in. Just why we didn’t realise from the start just what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days, what with the two children and my elderly mother.

The cat’s name was Mao; he was a bluepoint Siamese, and he knew it.

Bluepoint siamese

The rescue dog’s name was Harry.

Harry was a German Shepherd that nobody seemed to want. That should’ve given us pause right there, but as I said, we had a lot on our minds, particularly in the mornings. Harry was obviously well bred, the sort of dog that would’ve had “papers”, yet nobody wanted him.

We tried him out with the children; he was fine, so we let him stay.

Night fell. We fed Harry and bedded him down and locked him into the shed at the side of the house. Next morning, unbeknown to me, as I was working in the kitchen, making breakfasts, ironing uniforms, getting the children off to school, my partner let Harry out.

Mao, the Siamese cat, having finished his breakfast, strolled out to inspect the dawn from the doorstep of the back porch. As he sat there checking out the day, Harry came around the side of the house.

 

Shepherd looking tough

The cat, accustomed all his life to being superior, waved a paw at Harry to tell him his presence there on the step was not required, that he was persona non grata, in fact.

But Harry came on. The cat found himself being pursued by this slavering beast. He raced into the nearby bathroom and leapt up onto the hand basin. Harry’s first leap landed him in the hand basin, too. Just in the nick of time, the cat leapt up onto the edge of the shower stall, a precarious position.

Harry was leaping and snarling at him, but he couldn’t quite reach the cat, when I came out, atracted by the commotion. I grabbed a straw broom and began to beat Harry with it, to no avail. Then the cat teetering on the edge of the shower stall lost his balance and leapt onto the head of the straw broom when it was at the height of one of its upswings. Anyone could’ve told him this was not a good idea, but it seemed it was the only one he had. He then fell off the broom head, and saved himself from landing in Harry’s waiting maw by latching onto my thumb.

I screamed, turning this way and that to save the cat. The dog leaped and snarled, the cat clung. I don’t know what would’ve happened next if my partner hadn’t arrived just then and whipped Harry off with one of the studded leather belts he liked to affect.

After that, we locked Harry back in the shed and drove to the hospital so that I could get a tetanus injection and, of course, I needed stitches. As I said, just why we hadn’t realised from the start what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days.

Harry stayed, by the way. He and the cat arrived at an uneasy truce, with the cat dominant. The tucker was good, and there were lots of cattle to harrass in the nearby paddocks; Harry knew he was on a good thing.

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Worried womanI’ve spent the first three months of this year finishing off the 1st draft of the sequel to the cat book. (See right.) I’m now at around 80,000 words, and I’m embroiled — no other word for it — in arranging the scenes in chronological order. You see, I write novels out of order, just picking one scene from the story line as the mood takes me. I don’t do this with short stories, which I plan out in advance, but I do it with novels, god help me. Now I’m the proud possessor of around 80,000+ words, roughly 85 scenes — all out of order.

To get a book out of this is no mean feat. When I saw the extent of the problem, plus the fact that I still had three critical scenes to write, I thought of lying down on the railway tracks.

Railway tracks

But the train doesn’t run in these parts anymore.

How to proceed from here? My method was to buy a packet of catalogue cards, write the name of each scene plus a brief description on a catalogue card, and then sort the cards into piles representing the main characters. I then sort each character pile into their journey arcs. After that, I shuffle the cards until they’re in what I hope is the right order for the novel, interpolating the main character cards as I go. This takes time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. When that’s done, I take the printout of the novel and put the printed out scenes into the order I obtained via the catalogue cards. Then I read the printout to see if it flows, where bridges need to be added, etc.

It’s madly time consuming, and I’m only at the catalogue card stage at present; I have a fair way to go yet. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that can’t be hurried. Glitches in the plot will always appear at this point, and it takes time to work through them, for something to occur to me that will solve the problem.

Writing a novel out of order is a mug’s game; I don’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s my way with novels; I just take them on, one bite at a time, until eventually they’re done.

So here I am with my catalogue cards wrapped around with a rubber band. I get up in the morning, put on my dressing gown, feed the cat, make a cup of tea, and shuffle the catalogue cards.

Worried woman in dressing gown

I predict it will be a while yet before I have a properly organised printout that I can use to arrange the scenes in the right order in the computer version.

As the late Bob Ellis used to say, “So it goes.”

PS If you’re wanting to catch up on any of my short stories, the easiest way to do it is to go to http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI  There’s a list there of all of them.

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