Charlie DIYte

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How to make your own bathroom washstand

The DIY bathroom project has been rumbling on for a while now. We’ve been trying to create a traditional Victorian style bathroom, with a few contemporary twists (ie a walk in shower). We gave quite a bit of thought to the sinks, and decided we wanted a double door washstand preferably with two sinks.

victorian washstand with undermount sinks and granite top

The completed project – a pretty major upcycle of a victorian cupboard we picked up for £45 on Ebay!

But these are pretty expensive to buy new – for example Neptune are charging £1650 for their undermount double door washstand before customisations. So we started trawling the internet for something that we could adapt. We reckoned that if we could get hold of an old victorian washstand for not too much, it couldn’t be that hard to convert it – could it???

And that’s when we chanced upon a suitable cupboard on Ebay.  It was being sold for £45 by a local antique shop that was closing down. The dimensions (55cms wide x 120cms long) were perfect.

victorian cupboard

The old victorian cupboard before being converted into a washstand

sanding a victorian cupboard

The cupboard is sanded to remove the old varnish and provide a key for the paint to adhere to

The first job was to take the worktop off as we would be replacing this with a granite top. Then we (I say we, but in this case I was ably assisted by my better half!) set to work sanding down the cupboard. Why sand it? Well, there are a few paints on the market – such as Annie Sloan – which can be applied to varnish without sanding. However we found the Annie Sloan colours a little limited, and so we set about removing the varnish with an electric sander and some good old fashioned elbow grease!

Sanding a cupboard like this is a lot easier if you can get hold of some sort of sander. For this we used an old Bosch sheet sander I’ve had for a while, but you can pick up sheet sanders in your local DIY store for as little as £30. The best plan is to use a sheet sander for the large flat areas and then sand by hand the trickier, recessed and/or decorative bits.

painting an old victorian cupboard

Primer undercoat applied, we then completed the painting with a layer of eggshell

We primed the cupboard in (my favourite paint supplier) Johnstone’s Joncryl water-based primer undercoat and then applied a top eggshell coat in Farrow & Ball’s Charlestone Grey. I then had to dismantle the front off each drawer with a saw in order to make room for the undermount sinks.

The front of each drawer is carefully sawn through and removed to create room for the sinks

The front of each drawer is carefully sawn through and removed to create room for the sinks

The next step was to mark and drill holes in the base of the unit to allow the pipework (4 hot and cold feeds and a central waste pipe). I did this using one of the cutting circles in a Bosch six-piece hole saw set that I bought from Screwfix earlier in the project. It cost about £45 but has been a great bit of kit that I’ve used for drilling everything from new holes in the attic water tank (to accommodate a new 22mm feed to our power shower pump) to holes through stud work for the new pipework.

washstand plumbing

The inside of the cupboard is modified with the pipework for the new undermount sinks

With the holes drilled and the soon-to-be-washstand in place I could then set about sorting out the pipework. I read a lot on forums about the pros and cons of using flexible hose to connect the supply pipes to the relevant taps, but after much thought I decided on this project to do the job properly. I’ve really got to grips with plumbing over the last few months – armed with my Irwin Hilmor pipe bender and Rothenberger blow torch – I much prefer to solder my pipe joints rather than use push fit pipe, particularly for pipework under the floor as there is much less chance of any of the joints failing in the future.

So I decided to take the 15mm copper pipe right up to the taps using tap connectors, soldered onto the 15mm pipework (see photo above). This dispenses with the need for flexible hoses, but means you have to be a bit more precise with bending and soldering your pipework.

I’ve used 43mm solvent weld pipework for all the new waste pipes that take waste water away from the new shower, bath and sinks. This gave me a bit of a headache because I couldn’t initially find bottle traps for the new sinks that had the right thread for the sink waste on one hand and were able to connect to the 43mm solvent weld waste pipework on the other. The solution in the end was to use a bottle trap with connections that fitted the smaller diameter 36mm solvent weld pipework, which I then connected to the 43mm waste pipe with a reducer (the grey collar in the picture above).

Clearly this would have been obvious to your seasoned plumber, but as I had never done any plumbing before taking on the challenge of our new bathroom everything takes a bit of figuring out!

I fitted isolating valves to each hot and cold water feed so that these can be shut off individually should there be any future problems with the taps. The solvent weld pipework is great fun to put together in that you paint the solvent onto the pipe, push both ends together and it welds both pipes together in a matter of seconds. A word of advice though. In my case I constructed the pipework first then dismantled it all to apply the solvent, and despite putting tiny lines across each joint with a marker pen I still managed to glue a couple of joints together incorrectly! Luckily I had some spare.

granite washstand template

A template is prepared for the granite and then the underside of the granite is marked with the position of the sinks

We found a local granite company to make the top, and prepared a template, using the original cupboard top as a base, and cutting into this our desired position for the new sinks and taps. A quote of over £700 came back for our original choice of 30mm granite top which suddenly made all our efforts to achieve a high quality washstand for a reasonable price look a little futile. Luckily though we went back with a lowered spec – 20mm granite, in a different grade of stone with half bull nose edge and managed to get this for roughly half the original price. Lucky also because in hindsight 30mm granite would have been a bit much for a washstand of this size.

NOTE: if you embark on a similar project remember to allow for the width of the edge of the sink when working out where to have the tap holes located, as otherwise the fixing nuts of the taps may get in the way of the sink. You also need to make sure your taps project far enough into the sink.

DIY wooden support for undermount sinks

A piece of wood left over from the new bathroom floor supports each sink

Once the granite arrived, I drew a marker pen line the circumference of each sink around the underside of each sink hole, so that the sinks could be positioned in exactly the right place. I then piped a bead of clear silicone around the top of each sink and carefully pressed each sink into place on the underside of the granite.

When I purchased the undermount sinks I also bought some fixing bolts – which cost the best part of £20 for both sinks, which I thought was quite expensive. As the granite was only 20mm thick, and on advice from the granite company I decided against using these, and instead built two wooden supports for each sink to sit in. The sinks are glued pretty securely to the granite with the silicone but the wooden supports create that extra insurance against them ever coming loose in the future.

granite washstand with two undermount sinks

The taps and click clack (push operated) plugs are fitted to complete the washstand

Once the taps were plumbed in and each sink waste fitted, the final job was to silicone in place the splashback. I applied a bead of silicone to the underside and rear of the splashback, carefully laid it into place, and then completed the task by applying a bead of silicone to the bottom and top edge of the splashback before smoothing it off with a special silicone smooth out tool purchased from my local builders merchant.





How to bleed your radiators

As seems to happen rather too often in my (happily) DIY orientated life, this post has didn’t so much come to me as a flash of inspiration. Rather, my needy, half renovated Victorian cottage kept persistently reminding me about it – by sending gurgling, clanking noises through the radiators – typically rudely early in the morning or in the evening.

Radiators need bleeding because air gets trapped – typically in the highest radiators in the house. Why? well, because air can enter the central heating system – often getting trapped in the coil that runs through the hot water cylinder which is often the highest point in the system. In my case it’s most  likely because over the summer I have been working on my new bathroom, draining down the central heating system in order to re-route some of the radiator pipework. In re-filling the system, inevitably some air is left behind.

We knew our radiators needed bleeding for a couple of reasons. I guess most obviously, the radiators that have air trapped in them don’t heat up where the air pockets are. So typically the radiator will only feel warm towards the bottom, or in the case of our heated towel rail in the bathroom, the top 5 rungs didn’t heat up. Secondly, and almost more obvious in one sense, when the central heating kicks in we’ve experienced a bubbling, gurgling noise in the radiators that air is trapped in.

When we moved into our house, we had a new, pressurised central heating system installed, replacing the open vented system we previously had with a pressurised system. This is relevant to the bleeding issue because when you bleed your radiators in a pressurised system you’re releasing the pressure from the system – which then has to be topped up once you’ve finished bleeding the radiators – or half way through bleeding them if, like me, you had a serious amount of air to remove! Open vented systems – typically found in older central heating systems – have a header tank in the loft which fills the boiler and radiators and keeps them topped up. This sounds like less hassle and you read a few old school plumbers on forums saying they prefer open vented systems, but they cannot get to high pressure, can allow pollutants into the system and aren’t suitable for modern condensing boilders.

How to re-pressurise

central heating system pressure guage

The pressure guage on my system – showing a working pressure of 1 bar, and also, far right, the valve that you turn with a screw driver to top up the pressure

Step 1: So before you bleed your radiators it’s a good idea to find out where your pressure guage is – typically on the boiler itself and/or (as is the case in our house) attached to the pipework near the hot water cylinder.

Step 2: You then need to find the tap or screw that adds additional pressure into the system. When I lived in London I had a Vaillant combi boiler that had a top up valve located on the underside of the boiler.On my existing system the pressure valve is rather less conveniently located in the airing cupboard that houses the hot water cylinder – next to which is one of the two valves (see photo left) that I have to open with a flat head screwdriver to introduce more water into the system.

Have a look at what the pressure is when your system is cold. That way, when you bleed your radiators you then know what you need to top the pressure back up to.

Step 3: When the central heating has been on for a while, feel each radiator, and the chances are that the radiators that fail to heat up all the way to the top need bleeding.

Step 4: There’s lots of chat on the forums about whether you should bleed your system when it’s cold or hot. To me, this is a bit of a no-brainer. If you bleed it when it’s cold, you don’t get scolded by hot water, and more importantly you know exactly what the pressure was before you started, and what you need to top it up to. When the system is hot, the pressure obviously rises, which gives you an inaccurate, or moving pressure reading.

So when the system has cooled down, bleed each radiator in turn, holding a towel just below the bleed valve to catch any escaping water when the air has all been released.

What sort of bleed key should I use? Traditional radiators require a bleed key that fits the square bleed screw in the end of the radiator. More modern eg convector radiators have the same square screw, but conveniently they are also cut down the middle to accommodate a small, flat headed screwdriver.

Step 5: When you’ve bled all the radiators, top up the water into the system to the same pressure it was at before you started. If before you started the pressure seemed a bit low, check your boiler documentation or phone the supplier to find out what the working pressure should be.

Once you’ve topped up the pressure, it should pretty much remain the same. If it gradually drops, the chances are you’ve got a leak somewhere on your system, and you should get this checked over by a qualified plumber a) because it’s not great to have water escaping somewhere under your floor and b) because if the system is running at an unduly low pressure this might put your boilder under strain and damage it.



What makes the perfect Smart Phone?

This isn’t exactly DIY related, but I love technology and this blog has been on my mind for some time now. Why? because I think the smart phone race has run out of steam a bit recently, and my most recent phone has left me feeling a little bit disappointed. I’ll explain why.

If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of cash to splash around on the latest gadget, so upgrading your phone every couple of years is a rare chance to get your hands on a shiny new state of the art bit of kit – albeit for about £30-£40 per month if you’re on a pay monthly tariff.

I’m afraid I’m an Android man. Please don’t click away all you Apple-ites. It’s just that we’ve got Google Apps in the office so it made sense to go Android, when I made my original leap from Nokia into smart phones, via a Blackberry. A few other things endeared me to Android – like being able to put a button anywhere you wanted to switch Wifi and Bluetooth on and off, and the obvious one – Swipetext, the App which in one foul swoop rendered Blackberry’s querty keypad completely unnecessary, and which Apple finally, grudgingly brought into iOS, about 3 years after it came out.

A year or so ago I was soldiering on with an HTC One X. A year and a half into the contract, with a broken screen that I had already repaired once, smashed a week later and thought, sod it, I’m not shelling out another £150 for a new screen.

Holidaying in Spain my phone disappeared. I don’t have replacement insurance so I started Googling cheap Sim-free phones, and quickly came upon Motorola’s Moto G. The reviews were excellent, it was about £150 (the price of the aforementioned cracked screen), and smashed every other budget phone out of the park, so I bought one on Amazon (Moto G, 4G, 1st Generation) for when I got back, and in the meantime ordered a replacement Sim.


The old and the new: my first generation Motorola Moto G 4G and my new HTC One M9

And my first impressions when I got home and fired it up? Love at first sight. I loved the size – it was a bit smaller than my One X (great for us guys who like to put our phones in our pockets). I loved the soft touch interchangeable back cover, and above all else, the stock Android operating system was just so simple and uncluttered, when compared to the bloat-ware that most manufacturers insist on installing to differentiate their phones from the competition.  And other little things really endeared me to the phone – like Motorola Assist, which can be adjusted not to disturb you when it knows you’re at home, same with the lock screen which switches off when you’re in a safe location (eg your home). Assist also kindly reads out text messages when you’re in the car, and will even allow you to dictate a reply (though my Vito Van is sadly too noisy for this to work except when stationary).

BUT, and there’s always a but – the love affair ended for innocuous and completely avoidable reasons.  MEMORY! The phone comes with 8GB of memory, which sounds like a lot, but Android takes up about 3 or 4 of that, which leaves precious little space for Apps or photos. This shouldn’t be a problem, as the phone comes with a micro SD slot which allows you to expand the memory considerably. And this is where I got really annoyed. I bought a micro SD card, installed it. Initially it was recognised, and then I got continuous messages saying the SD card had been ejected. I tried everything including buying a micro SD card adapter so that I could format it on my PC. None of my efforts worked and from trawling the forums I realised I wasn’t alone. This was a pretty inherent problem with this otherwise lovely little device.

It’s crazy isn’t it. You can have a seemingly flawless device for the price – then totally ruined by a basic but fundamental hardware error.

So I struggled on with my Moto G for another few months, and started researching what phone to buy next. The SD card problems on my Moto G were enough to put me off buying another Moto G for the time being at least. And this is really where I get back to my disappointment at today’s smart phone market. I’ve loved the HTC phones I’ve had, but have always felt that there was something slightly better I could upgrade to. The trouble is, my choice is actually pretty limited. I’m not prepared to defect to iPhone for the reasons given above, and because I don’t want to have to do all my syncing through iTunes. I’m a Spotify user these days.

Ideally for stock Android purity I’d have a Nexus 6 or Moto X but they’re both too big. Yes, they really are, and for someone who mostly keeps their phone in their pocket, this is a pretty major issue. The LG G4 is undoubtedly going to be a contender for phone of the year with its phenomenal camera, and removable battery but again it’s too big, and my carrier EE doesn’t sell it. Neither does it sell the Moto X. Shame on you EE!! What about the Samsung Galaxy S6? D’you know – after the previous plasticy handsets I just can’t bring myself to look at it even with it’s new more premium feel. I don’t like the bloat ware that Samsung fills its devices with, and rumours are the battery life is going to be pretty poor with that screen and processor.

So what have I ended up with? You’ve guessed it. HTC’s new flagship phone the One M9. I promise you, I’m not such a die hard HTC fan that I will stick with them in the face of all competition. I’m actually pretty gutted I had to stay with the brand. I don’t think the new phone has made any quantum leaps from the excellent M8. It has lost some of those slim beautiful lines of the M8 (it’s narrower and noticeably thicker) and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor on my phone is heating up just as much as the doom mongerers in the reviews have predicted.

But at least this phone  is just small enough to fit in my pocket. It happily accepted the micro SD card that my Moto G had refused to get on with, and it does have some nice features – the camera’s pretty good, the auto selfie function works well and I like the way you simply pan across to take a panoramic photo. The two front facing stereo speakers are amazing when you’re listening to music with the phone in landscape, and the processor is quick enough to handle day to day applications without any delays. But I’ve never cared much for their signature app Blinkfeed – which I never bother to scroll across to. As for HTC’s Sense interface, I just don’t want my phone changing what’s on my screen depending on where I am. My life isn’t eclectic enough from one location to the next for me to want completely different apps showing on the home screen as I move around.

So what makes the perfect smart phone? Well, I suppose I’m posing the question as to what we all really WANT OR NEED from our smartphones. Each year we’re dazzled with an every more baffling array of specifications – from snapdragon quadcore this to megapixel that. But I think the following basic shopping list would tick most people’s boxes:

Keep the size down: a smart phone that isn’t too large –  no larger than the HTC One M9 – at just under 15cms long by 7.5cms wide. If you need something larger, get a tablet.

Speed: it just needs to be quick enough to handle internet browsing, emails, sat nav when you’re in the car and perhaps the odd game.

Camera: a decent camera is a given these days, but mega pixels are a quite simply a marketing gimmick – the phone manufacturers just don’t need to keep raising the number of mega pixels, because put simply, unless you intend to blow up your photos to poster size 5 mega pixels are more than enough.

Battery life: I can guarantee that we ALL WANT BETTER BATTERY LIFE! I’m convinced that if the manufacturers didn’t keep upping the specs of the phone screen, camera and processor power our batteries would stand a fighting chance of getting through a busy day without having to recharge.

But the sad reality is that Apple, Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC, Motorola etc etc have to keep raising the bar by packing in more and more specs, because otherwise they fall behind their competitors in what is becoming an ever more aggressively competitive market. And that’s the sad thing for us consumers. Our two year contracts get ever more expensive as our specification packed phones become more and more high tech, and arguably these phones are promising a lot more than we actually need or want.

And back to my question – what makes the perfect smart phone? Maybe the answer lies with phones at the budget end of the market, with their one-off cost and cheap Sim free tariffs! So bring on the next Moto G. As if to prove the point, I’ve just fired up my Moto G to take the above picture after a few months switched off, and it’s just updated itself to Android Lollipop – an update many more premium handsets are still waiting for.

Charlie DIYite’s tools are all stolen!

Well, it’s been a mad couple of days.  A week ago, I was blogging about how to put together the perfect Household DIY tool set – something that my wife had requested for those odd jobs that she wanted to do when I wasn’t around. The funny thing is that I have been using her new tool set quite a lot since I posted the video – it was just so convenient for little jobs around the house when my own tool kit wasn’t accessible (tape measure for checking dimensions of things we were going to buy, spanner and multi-tool to change my son’s bike tyre.. I could go on).

And then disaster struck. On Thursday night I put my own tools – most of which I keep in a wheelie bag for ease of transportation – in the garage for the night. This isn’t something I ever do, mindful of the fact that our garage is a little vulnerable to break-ins, being at the top of the garden.

charlie diyite tools

Just some of the tools that were stolen from my garage on Friday night!

And then I woke up in the morning to find the garage padlock had been wrenched off the door, and my wheelie case along with its entire contents had gone, along with a Youngman ladder I bought from Wickes and, annoyingly, the green Makita accessory case (screwdriver and drill bits – top right in the photo above). I stood aghast looking at the space that my tool case had occupied.

Funnily enough it wasn’t the power tools that I had lost that got to me, as these can so easily be replaced. It was the silly little tools that I have owned for years which have become an extension of my arm – such as my trowel and square small tool, the military Leatherman penknife that a supplier had once given me by way of apology for letting me down on a job, and a whole raft of other little bits and bobs that occupied the bottom of my tool case, half of which I couldn’t name right now, but which I have been slowly compiling over the years, and each of which form an integral part of my tool collection.

So Friday morning saw the painful task of preparing a spreadsheet of everything I could think of that I had lost, for the insurers and police. My old faithful Ryobi electric screwdriver doesn’t exist now – I was given it about 6 years ago by my father-in-law. I liked its control, and the way the clutch could be set to gently send screws home without the destructive effect that you get with so many impact drivers today. So I’ll have to replace that with one of the aforementioned impact drivers. I’m going to stick with Ryobi, because I love these reasonably priced, no-nonsense tools, and also because I still have a few batteries – I took these out of my suitcase to charge them the night of the theft. It gave me a small shred of satisfaction to think that the thieves would have made off slightly frustrated that each of the power tools they took was missing its battery HA! there’s a bit of karma for you!!

Friday afternoon saw a hasty trip to B&Q to buy a new high security door hasp and security camera for the garage, which I managed to fit by borrowing off my son my old electric drill driver I had given him recently. And here’s an interesting (well, to me anyway) point. Until my mid 20s I had managed in all my DIY projects without an electric screwdriver. It was at the insistence of my old builder friend Roger that I bought a (Bosch) drill driver, and I have never looked back since. I would have seriously struggled to install the new hasp for the garage door padlock without it – because you just cannot get the power and momentum out of a conventional hand operated screwdriver (even a ratchet screwdriver) that you get from an electric screwdriver.

So today I pressed on with putting the skirting boards into our new bathroom, armed with my son’s drill driver, and a random selection of drill bits and countersink bits that I found in an old tool box. I can’t finish off the skirting boards though because the decorators caulk was just one of the things that was half inched by the burglars.

So what about the insurance claim? I submitted it this morning and to my surprise our insurers (Sainsburys) paid up this afternoon. But my elation and the aforementioned karma that I had cheated the burglars out of a few drill batteries quickly evaporated this evening when I went to mow the lawn only to find that they’d taken the lawn mower as well!!!!!

The perfect Household DIY Tool Set

DIWife (or Serena as she is more affectionately known!) is often asking me for a tool set of her own so that she can get on with DIY jobs around the house when I’m away (reluctantly on one of my many work trips down to London). So I thought this would be an ideal vlog to kick off my You Tube channel with.

To prepare for this video I decided to first trawl through all my existing tools to work out which tools would form the backbone for a basic/ starter household tool set. This in itself was a pretty easy task, as certain tools are obvious contenders for any basic household tool set – such as a hammer, tape measure, pair of pliers, stanley knife or similar, saw, screwdriver, spirit level, spanner – those sort of things – and of course something to put them in!

charlie diyite tools

The DIYite household lose their kitchen as some of my tools are assembled for the video

So I set off down to my local DIY store to buy a small set of tools. I wanted to actually buy a new set a) because Serena genuinely wanted her own kit, and b) because this would put me very much in the mind set of someone setting off to buy their first tool set.

Where did I go? I decided upon B&Q. Not because they were paying me any money to endorse their products (I wish!) but really because it’s the obvious sort of store that someone putting together their first tool set would think of going to, and their range of tools is pretty hard to beat. Also, I’d seen on previous visits that they had a pretty extensive range of combination tool kits, and I was keen to compare these against my own, hand picked collection.

So I was pretty pleased with some of the bargains I picked up for Serena’s tool kit. Price wasn’t the absolute driver. As you’ll see in the above video, I allowed myself a couple of luxuries – such as the Stanley ratchet screwdriver. My own ratchet screwdriver is never far away as ratchet screwdrivers make driving in and extracting screws by hand SO much easier. I also added a Stanley multi tool kit – a sort of cheap Leatherman – as I have mine with me all the time and it has a pretty decent collection of tools on it.

household DIY tool set

The hand picked household tool set I put together from B&Q

Although there were some really cheap items in my hand picked household tool kit – tool box for £5, hammer for £3, tape measure, sprit level and angle square all for £5 – the combined total was a not inconsiderable £50. So this reminded me why I was doing the blog – to give advice to anyone setting out on their DIY journey, moving into their first flat or house, or for whatever other reason. Someone in the market for their first tool set may not have the knowledge or experience to hand pick their tools, so their attention is going to be drawn to the combination sets.

So what of these combination sets? B&Q had quite a large selection – from at least 4 of their own brand sets ranging from 24 to 78 pieces. JCB had a couple of sets 27 and 50 pieces and a company that was new to me – Magnusson also had a couple of sets with 45 and 83 pieces.

b&q household tool sets

And this is where things would get truly confusing for the uninitiated first time DIY’er. The first thing to say is that these sets are heavily discounted so it’s almost impossible to put together your own set of comparable tools for at a cheaper price. A good thing I hear you say? Yes to an extent, but when you see the Magnusson 83 piece set retailing at £23.50 you wonder just how durable/ well made some of the tools are going to be.

The other slightly perplexing thing is whilst there was a common theme to each tool set (hammers, tape measures, screw drivers spanners and the like) each set inevitably has something different to offer. And crucially, in some cases the retailers have bumped up the number of items in each set to make them sound more impressive – by including loads of screwdriver bits, most of which the budding DIY’er will never actually end up using. So for example, of the 83 pieces making up the Magnusson tool set, 40  of these are screw driver bits, 15 allen keys (kex sets) and 5 spanners.

So this got me thinking…. If I picked what was in my opinion a pretty decent, good quality combination set I could add a couple of extras of my own that were missing, leaving you with a comprehensive starter DIY tool set. And this is exactly what I’ve done – pictured below. B&Q had a pretty decent household tool set including its own box – retailing at £24 when I was there, and to this I’ve added my old faithful ratchet screwdriver, and a wood saw.

The total price of this (now 60 piece tool set) is a very reasonable £40.98. I think the combination of B&Q’s set and my own additions produces a pretty decent starter household tool set that will have most of the tools that a new home owner or otherwise budding DIY’er is likely to encounter – before that is, they decide to expand their collection into power tools. And that will be the subject of another blog….

household combination diy tool set

I took the B&Q 50 piece set and added a couple of my own tools



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