Posts by Author: 41 posts by josh

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Whether climbing trees or jumping out of planes, tree surgeon Ben Robinson is making the most of his head for heights.

Ben Robinson of north London’s Clear Cut Trees thinks it’s only natural that he ended up becoming a tree surgeon. “Most of my childhood memories are of playing outside,” he tells us when we met him in the midst of a day of quoting. “I grew up in London, in an estate, and we were always out swinging about in the big willow trees that were there.”

Despite his love of the great outdoors, it took a while before Ben realised that was where his real passion lay. “I came out of schools with just some GCSEs, and I actually ended up going into the media. I started out doing graphic design stuff, and then moved to a post production company, but I realised quite quickly that it wasn’t for me – it just didn’t fit my personality. Being indoors, at a desk – when I was growing up, I just wanted to be outdoors, but I was stuck inside.”

It was a random encounter that provided the spark for Ben’s career change. “I fell into it by accident, I guess,” he tells us. “I saw some guys working on a tree on my road, and I liked the look of it. I ended up going through a directory, ringing as many different companies as I could to see if I could get a job. Most weren’t interested in someone with no experience like me, but after a while I found a company that said, okay, let’s have a chat.”

Ben began working for company, staying mostly on the ground while he began to learn some of the skills needed to master the trade. “The firm that took me on did so on the proviso that I did an intensive course to get my knowledge up. I went and did a ten week course that showed me as much as possible – tree names, tree lore, climbing, knot tying, first aid, chainsaw use – all the basics you need on a day to day basis.”

 

Ben Robinson - Tree Surgery

 

But it was working with other, more experienced arborists – known as climbers in the trade – where Ben got his real education. “I was very lucky, in that the company was big enough to have climbers from all over the world working there. Back then, the money here in London was seen as very good, so guys who’d be travelling would stay here for a while to find some work and make some money. I had the luxury of learning from some of best climbers from around the world.” Nowadays, he says, those lessons are just as likely to travel in the opposite direction. “You’ll see people from the UK going over to Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, to do work over there. I think it’s a bit less lucrative here than it once was. There are fewer Aussies coming over now, I think their industry has matured and grown, so they can stay and find good work. But I was there just at the right time where I could learn a lot from them.”

“I didn’t have any plans for the long game,” Ben says, “but I was young enough that I could just try some things out. I got to realise that I really enjoyed it, and still do.”

Despite finding his calling, Ben still had other ambitions he wanted to pursue. “I’ve always been good at the sciences and had an interest in it, especially biology. I guess trees fell into that. So it was something I wanted to explore, and see what direction I might go in, beyond just being a climber.” Ben found an outlet for his ambition in undertaking a part time degree in biological sciences through Birkbeck University, eventually receiving first class honours for his efforts. “My final thesis wasn’t actually about trees, in the end,” he admits. “It was about antibiotic resistance – but that’s another story!”

Managing his coursework alongside his busy career as a tree surgeon spurred Ben to achieve another ambition – starting his own business. “The admin side of things doesn’t come particularly easy to me, but I’m a quick learner. The degree helped to teach me to fairly militant about deadlines and organising my time. I was capable before that, but I don’t think I would have been as much of a success.”

Clear Cut Trees began in 2014 and now has a team of six, working in two crews. “Business has been really good,” Ben says, “it’s been pretty consistent, with natural peaks and troughs. It’s a bit quieter around Christmas and in the summer holidays, but there’s always been enough work. I like to try and get jobs booked up a month or so in advance to stop me panicking, but we do get emergency work coming in too, especially if there’s been a storm.”

 

Ben Robinson - Tree Surgery

 

Tree surgery is a year-round trade, with autumn the best time for most pruning jobs according to Ben, while it should generally be avoided in spring, particularly for trees that bleed, such as birch and mulberry. “Tree removals also happen throughout the year,” Ben explains, “though you might have more issues in summer with subsidence because there’s more going on with the roots.”

He joined MyBuilder in the autumn after he set up the business, and says it was vital in helping to get the company up and running: “It was the first thing I joined and it helped a lot to get me going – it’s such a handy tool for tradesmen, I couldn’t recommend it enough.” Three years on, he still has 100% positive feedback from happy clients.

“We do a mix of all jobs,” he says. “We focus almost entirely on private gardens, because they’re just nicer jobs – people are more appreciative. Local authorities used to keep a lot of their work in house but now they outsource, but it tends to go to big firms who can basically work to cost. I much prefer private gardens. The nice thing now, three years in, is that we’re starting to see repeat work from people we saw back when we started. That’s a really good feeling, that they liked us so much they want to have us back.”

Like in all trades, he occasionally encounters people who’ve tried to have a go themselves. “You do see some scary stuff,” he admits. “YouTube has a wealth of videos of people doing dangerous stuff with ladders and chainsaws. The main issue with doing tree work yourself is that whatever you do, you have to wait a very long time to be able to undo it – until the tree grows back. It’s not like a plumbing job where a professional could come and get it back to normal that afternoon.”

 

Ben Robinson - Tree Surgery

 

Ben makes sure his own crew keeps safety in mind at all times. “We’ve not had any significant accidents, we keep a tight ship, and all our equipment is top of the range and well-maintained. Some issues are unavoidable, but you mitigate against it with good procedures. A lot of the safety stuff becomes second nature, but if you’re going up a 90ft plane tree for example, you make sure you double and triple check everything.”

Heights aren’t an issue for Ben, though. “I lived in a block of flats growing up, so I’m used to being up high. In fact, my hobby is skydiving! I did a tandem course in Spain, jumping with someone else, then a course to learn how to do it solo, so I now have a licence and can jump from any drop zone.”

As well as unusual hobbies, Ben has also encountered the occasional unusual job. “I guess the classic is the cat stuck up the tree. I’ve only done one I think, where the cat was still there when I turned up. I had to scale a roof, then use a ladder to get across to a tree. And when I finally got it, it scratched me to pieces.”

With the business going from strength to strength, trees are still where Ben’s passion lies. “I think my favourite trees are the almost stereotypical ones – oaks and beeches, trees that grow to enormous proportions. It’s still one of my ambitions to go out to California and see the giant redwood forests.”

With plenty of work booked in and only a few days off planned, the big US trip might have to wait for now – but if there’s one person sure to make an ambition a reality, it’s Ben.

 

Advice for tradesmen:

 

  • Spend time getting your online presence right: “Starting out on MyBuilder and making my own website felt like a lot of work, but once you’ve put in the groundwork to get it right, the really see the results down the line.”
  • Be willing to answer questions: “Customers will naturally have a lot of questions when it comes to the job, so you should be willing to be patient and explain as much as possible. The more helpful you are, the more appreciative the customer is.”
  • Don’t delay on quotes: “I think it’s a bad look to let people chase you for a quote. They want to make a decision on a tradesman and get the job done – as a basic courtesy, I try to get any quote turned round in 48 hours.”

Daniel Morgan - Roofer

 

With September drawing near and children getting ready to start the school year, now is the perfect time to embrace change and bring some new features to your home. Before the weather becomes fully autumnal, there are a number of external jobs you can undertake to boost your home’s kerb appeal and make your property look its best.

Add a New Coat of Paint

Painting over brickwork, or refreshing any paintwork that is already in place, is the one of the simplest ways to make a big and effective change to your home. An experienced decorator will be able to talk you through all the options for getting the best finish.
Find a painter

Fix your Fence or Wall

Overgrown plants, poor weather, tree roots and wayward car parking can all take their toll on fences and walls, making your property look messy and uncared for. A professional will be able to repair or replace any damaged parts.
Find a fencer

Deal with your Garden

A messy and unkempt front garden can spoil the whole atmosphere of your property, whether it’s cracked paving or a weed-filled lawn. A landscaper will have lots of ideas for how to improve the space and make it more manageable.
Find a landscape gardener

Build a Porch

Creating a dedicated porch not only keeps you dry when you’re fumbling for your keys, but also changes the look and feel of your property. In the vast majority of cases, they do not require planning permission.
Find a builder

 

James Edney - Driveway Paver, Fencer, Landscape Gardener

 

Upgrade your Windows

Whether you have draughty wooden frames or uPVC double-glazing that hasn’t been touched since the 1980s, changing your windows can have a huge impact on the look of your home, as well as improving your energy efficiency.
Find a window fitter

Gut your Gutters

An easily overlooked, but vital element of your home are any fascias, soffits and guttering you have. If they’ve seen better days, replacing them can smarten up your home – and they’ll also help ward off leaks and damp.
Find a fascias, soffits and guttering specialist

Change your Roof

It’s a big project, but one that has a huge effect on both the look and the structural integrity of your home. A new roof can give you peace of mind for decades to come.
Find a roofer

Replace your Door

Peeling paint, a battered letterbox, old fashioned locks – none of these create a good first impression when people come knocking. Speak to a joiner or carpenter who can give you a front door to be proud of.
Find a carpenter

 

Roof Professionals Direct Roofer, Fascias, Soffits and Guttering Specialist in Northamptonshire

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A lot of tradesmen will tell you that it’s not looks that count – it’s about the things you don’t see, the stuff behind the scenes, all the little details that a homeowner doesn’t think about, but a tradesman needs to get right. But that’s not always the case.

“With a carpet”, Wayne Mockble tells us, “it’s all about how it looks.”

Wayne should know. He’s been fitting carpets around Birmingham for 30 years, taking on jobs big and small. In the three years his business, Fast Fit Flooring, has been on MyBuilder, he’s built up 278 pieces of positive feedback – and no negatives. In short, he’s a man who knows his way around an Axminster. But despite what he says about how much appearance matters, after a morning spent watching him at work, it’s easy to see how much effort goes into getting that perfect finish.

After a short stint in the army as a teenager, Wayne started out as a tradesman when he was only 18 years old.

“I needed to find some work,” Wayne explains. “When I was 18, I already had two kids to feed, so I had to come up with something. By chance I met a carpet fitter who wasn’t able to drive. He said, if I got a car, I could drive him around and learn the trade from him. It really was a matter of watching him do it. He wouldn’t tell you verbally, you just had to pay attention.”

 

Fast Fit Flooring, Wayne Mockble, Carpet Fitter, Flooring Fitter TOTM

 

Slowly, Wayne began to pick up the trade, learning as he went. “You come to realise, it’s a very technical job,” he said. “People might look at a room and think, a carpet for that, oh, it’s only a square, but it rarely is. Your preparation is very important. There’s a saying – measure twice, cut once – but you want to measure more than twice. Measure ten times if you can.”

When we catch up with Wayne, he’s halfway through a job fitting a new carpet and underlay for a staircase and landing. As we watch him work, it’s plain to see the attention to detail that goes into what is a relatively simple job.

“If it’s an old house, the stairs are all going to be a bit out,” he says as he measures up. “These two here are bigger than the one above. Then this one here is bigger again. It’s a nightmare sometimes. But some people without any experience will just measure once at the top of the stairs and just get on with it. You’re making problems for yourself then. You can carpet each stair individually if you have to, because the joints are all hidden, but it’s not ideal.”

Wayne works quickly, with simple tools, cutting with a razor-sharp carpet knife and knocking the edge of the carpet into place with a chisel. “My chisel is 20 years old and it’s still going strong,” Wayne says. “It cost me £5 back in the day. They probably cost a bit more than that now.” He cuts and pushes the carpet into place, casually swapping the tools between hands- as he says, “You have to be ambidextrous in this job, it can’t be done all with one hand. And you need to be accurate and confident. You can’t be cack-handed.”

 

Fast Fit Flooring, Wayne Mockble, Carpet Fitter, Flooring Fitter TOTM

 

The knife gets a new blade for every job – even between doing his cuts, Wayne swaps out the sharp blade before putting it away. “The first thing anyone asks me when they see what I do is ‘Have you ever cut your finger off?’ I haven’t but I’ve come close a few times. Half the time the biggest problem is nals and things sticking out of floorboards.”

When it comes to cutting neat, long lines in the carpet, Wayne doesn’t need any fancy tools: “A door bar is the best thing for getting a straight edge, and you need a straight edge with your carpet.”

Wayne is insistent on using good quality materials. “If your grippers are no good, it will make things very difficult. I also try and use glue where I can to make sure it all holds well – it costs a bit more money, bit it gets it done properly. Underlay is another thing, some old types had a black rubber back that will just perish into dust over time and leave flat patches under the carpet, you need to use a good one. It’s like any trade, there are plenty of cowboys in this game, I know which shops to avoid. There are also fitters out there who’ll tell you that underlay costs £150 a roll, when actually it was only £20. People don’t know.”

Wayne always encourages people to buy their own carpets, while he deals with the fitting. “I can give them advice, but it’s up to them to buy it. Supplying it can be a minefield – I could buy it all, bring it along, and then they change their mind; what do I do then? If I get my fitting fee, I’m happy. I’ve worked with carpet that was £85 a metre – you can’t go making mistakes with a £3,000 carpet.”

 

Fast Fit Flooring, Wayne Mockble, Carpet Fitter, Flooring Fitter TOTM

 

One thing he insists is on getting accurate measurements before starting any job. “If people give me measurements they’ve taken, that’s fine, but I want to go and measure up myself. They’ll have measured wall-to-wall but not take into account the leeway you need. If I fit it as they’ve told me, and there’s a gap or a join somewhere, they won’t thank you. I have to go and visualise the whole job first.”

After his initial run learning the ropes, Wayne has always worked by himself. “I like having the freedom, I pick and choose the jobs I want. Like any self-employed person, you have moments where it goes quiet. You’ve got to have some heart to soldier on when it gets like that. I’m not one of those people who has another job – this is my livelihood”. Thankfully, Wayne has been able to keep on going, even through the rough times, and his reviews on MyBuilder help him to keep winning work for some time yet. “I always ask people to leave feedback. I just ask, if they’re happy with the work that I’ve done, leave a bit of feedback, because it really helps me out.”

After finishing off the last stair, carefully following the curved line of the final riser, this looks like another job that will see positive feedback. We know how much work went into it, but the finished result if effortless. After all, as Wayne says, “it’s all about how it looks”.

 

Advice for Tradesmen:

 

  • Don’t cut corners: As Wayne showed us when he worked on the individual stairs, taking one quick measurement and assuming that’s good enough might leave you with a poor quality result. “At the end of the day, if there’s something wrong, you can’t go and blame your materials or the fact that the house is a bit wonky – it’s just poor workmanship.”
  • Explain everything up front: “People want to know what the finished job will end up like,” Wayne said. “Everything has to be explained, how it will work, what you’re going to do. You need to be open about what you’ll be doing and the materials you’ll use.”
  • Be careful when supplying materials: As Wayne says, supplying materials can be a minefield if you’re not careful – while it can be a profitable part of your business, it pays to be sensible about how you approach it. “You don’t want to be stuck with a piece of carpet you can’t use. You can’t drag money out of people.”

 

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The people of Britain have opened the door on the disgusting state of their bathrooms, revealing their biggest pet hates, embarrassing confessions – and even admitting to dumping their partners over their grimy en suites.

According to a new survey of British homeowners, the vast majority of people dislike their own bathrooms, with more than two thirds of people (67%) saying they were unhappy with it. Nearly half of all people surveyed (45%) said it was the room in their home they most wanted to renovate, while 41% admitted to being embarrassed by their bathroom when friends came to visit.

The dire state of our bathrooms is also dividing friendships and ending relationships. More than a third of people (38%) admitted to holding it in while visiting a friend’s house because their bathroom was too disgusting to use. A quarter of people (25%) said they had fallen out with housemates or partners over the state of their bathroom, while shockingly, 24 people (6%) confessed they had actually dumped their partner over the issue.

The biggest turnoffs people had about bathrooms was low water pressure in the shower and wonky toilet seats, with 56% of people listing them as major gripes. Toilets that don’t flush properly (48%), carpet in the bathroom (44%), and no lock on the bathroom door (35%) were also listed as big pet hates.

However, many people confessed that their own bathrooms are guilty of the same bugbears. Nearly a third of people (32%) admitted to having a wonky toilet seat, while no lock on the door (23%), separate hot and cold taps (21%), a badly placed or missing loo roll holder (20%) and low water pressure (18%) also featured heavily.

More than 400 homeowners responded to the survey, carried out by MyBuilder, the online marketplace for finding quality tradesmen.

As a result of these dismal revelations of the survey, MyBuilder has teamed up with VictoriaPlum.com and embarked on a mission to find, and fix, the grimmest bathroom in Britain. Homeowners simply need to tell MyBuilder why their bathroom is such a nightmare, and submit pictures, to be in with a chance of winning a full bathroom makeover.

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tiling

Our bathrooms go through a lot. Water and steam both take their toll over time, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the rooms people are most keen to renovate. If you’re thinking of sprucing up your bathroom, here are a few things you could consider.

Upgrade your shower

Many of us dream about having a luxurious rain shower worthy of a five star hotel, so why not speak to a plumber about getting one installed? Modern showers can be decadent while still being eco-friendly and conserving water.

Hire a plumber

Sort your ventilation

Sometimes it can seem impossible to avoid damp and condensation in the bathroom, but a capable fan or ventilation system is designed to handle all the moisture you can throw at it, as long as it’s well maintained. If you need to repair or replace your extractor fan, talk to a competent electrician.

Hire an electrician

Update your tiling

Moldy grouting or sealant is one of the banes of bathrooms, while cracked tiles can lead to greater damage of the wall behind. Even if they’re all intact, replacing your tiling can be a relatively quick and inexpensive way to refresh your bathroom.

Hire a tiler

Add some new hardware

Even small details can give a big impact, so don’t neglect the minor aspects of your bathroom, like cabinet handles, door hooks and the toilet-roll holder. If you want an even bigger impact, you can go all out and update the toilet, basin, and bath itself.

Hire a bathroom fitter

Expand your storage

If you’re constantly running out of space for your toiletries, towels, and all the other things that build up in a bathroom, why not add some in-built storage? A talented carpenter can help build bespoke shelves or cupboards to fit the most awkward spaces

Hire a carpenter

 

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When you meet Rob Joy today, you’ll find a confident, outgoing family man, leading a team of 15 painters and decorators as the head of his company, Finishing Touch Services. But this wasn’t always the case, 10 years ago you would have met a very different person indeed.

We met Rob not on a building site, but in a charity shop and community centre in the heart of Luton. SOAR is the base of Rob’s church and charity, Kingdom Cause Community, and the ambitious project has all been made possible through the achievements of Finishing Touch Services. Like many successful tradesmen, Rob started out on the tools as a youngster, but his career didn’t always go smoothly.

“My dad had a roofing company which was quite successful, so weekends and school holidays I’d go along and help out labouring for him,” Rob told us. “ I’d be on building sites and scaffolding when I was so young that my dad would have to tell me to duck if the police came past! But I’d get my five pounds for the day sweeping up broken tiles and what not, so I was happy.”

Sadly for Rob, the happiness didn’t last. Rob’s world was shattered when his beloved dad died, and the teenager soon found himself headed off the rails. “I hit rock bottom,” he admits. It went from flirting with drugs at the weekend to going in at the deep end. My dad left me a lot of money and I threw it all away on drugs, down the pub, at the football. From the age of 16 to 26 I was in it. The drugs destroyed me – I was 8 stone, my mental health had gone, I’d been in and out of prison. I literally lost everything.”

Rob’s journey back to sobriety was fueled by faith. “My mum had always prayed for me and I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t deny the change I’d seen in her – whether it was real or not, it had an impact for her. I remember, one night, I just said, ‘God, is there any way you can change a man like me,’ and for the first time in years I went to bed with no fear, no paranoia. I woke up the next day completely and utterly transformed. No one could tell me it was just willpower – my mind had changed, my heart had changed.”

 

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The pleasure of painting

 

Despite this transformation, it took time for Rob to build himself back up, reconnecting with his family, and getting back into work. “I knew that roofing might not be for me – all the angles and the maths were too much to get my head round! But I’d done other jobs with my dad, painting here and there, and thought I could make a go of that. One of the first jobs I did when I got straight was painting those temporary buildings that go on building sites, just one after the other, and I enjoyed it. Painting is therapeutic.”

From those small beginnings, Rob began to build his experience. “I had this philosophy, short term loss for long term gain,” he explained. “For example, I did a job repainting a door, and I thought it would be simple, half a day’s work. But it wasn’t at all, it was falling apart, I had to take it back to bare wood, do loads to it, it took me much longer. I lost out on that job. But a few months later, I took on another door job, and I realised it was exactly the same situation, but now I knew exactly what to do.”

Rob joined MyBuilder two years ago, and soon realised that the feedback system would force him to up his game. “When you’re working for family, friends, friends of friends, they can say nice things but it’s not always the most honest. When you’re winning work on MyBuilder, that feedback is real. I realised maybe I wasn’t as good as I thought I was – you have to improve.” The feedback for the business still has a negative review from his early efforts, but with more than 100 pieces of positive feedback, he hasn’t let it stand in his way.

Like many setting up their own business, it was a case of long hours and low pay. “I’d do 17 hour days, out on site until it was dark, back to kiss my kids before bed, then out to quote, writing it up before bed, then waking up realising I’d missed something.”

Rob began to build the company, eventually bringing in other people to help. “The best thing I did was take on a guy called Alan, who’s now my business manager. He’d been in the trade for 35 years, and his skills, his ability, they’re brilliant. I used to be annoyed that he was slower than other guys I worked with, but I realised, his jobs never had any snags. It might be a day slower, but it was perfect – never any stress. So I went to him and said, look, I might be the one paying you, but I want you to teach me how to be a good painter and decorator. I was humble. And so for six months, he showed me what he knew. It helped me get better, helped me understand the materials and the techniques, helped me quote on jobs.”

As he says: “You can’t be a great decorator in a few years – you have to do it for years and years, always learning. You end up breathing it.”

 

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A matter of standards

 

The business is now up to 15 men, and Rob hopes to add more in the coming year. “I wouldn’t want it to get too big, because what I’m concerned about is quality,” he said. “I tell the boys, I don’t expect them to have the same faith as me, but I expect them to work to the standards I do.”

Profits from the business go into supporting the charity, helping both in the local community, and in Malawi. “I’m all about going out into the streets,” Rob said, “I never wanted to be preached at and I still don’t. It’s about helping someone who’s starving with some food, or giving a coat to someone freezing.” In Malawi, the charity is looking to buy land in order to start work on an orphanage, with some of Rob’s team ready to go out and work on the project themselves.

“We went there in April, took some guys from work and it’s changed their life. We took loads of toys and clothes, it was incredible. It broke my heart. I came back and said to my wife, the business isn’t for wealth, for big houses and fast cars, it’s for this.”

The lads will be hands on when it comes to the orphanage: “The standards of construction over there aren’t always great,” Rob laughed. “But we’ll be able to to really do some good there. We do as much as we can. We send out money for the women in the community to buy materials and make bags, which we sell here in the shop, with the profits going back to them. And we sell second-hand clothes in here, with those that don’t sell going directly to the kids there.”

Rob doesn’t make a point of telling homeowners where the money from their jobs will be going, but when it comes up, he says they’re always happy to hear more. “The customers are amazing, so many of them are now friend, they donate, they come and help out.” He always tries to lend a hand where he can where customers are in need – through a contact at Dulux, he has access to discount paints that can be used for worthy causes or sold on to raise money. He’s also happy to hear from any other tradesmen who are keen to help out on charitable projects for worthy causes.

Through Rob’s efforts, both the business and the charity have continued to grow, but he insists it’s still the quality, not the quantity, that matters most. “One thing I always say to my guys is that it’s not the past hundred jobs that matter – it’s the one we’re working on right now.”

 

Advice for tradesmen:

  • Always be willing to learn: “I still meet young guys who come from doing professional qualifications who think they know everything, but they don’t”, Rob said. “When you’re working with people with lots of experience, there’s always something you can take from them.”
  • Prepare accurate quotes: “The biggest source of issues on any job is if there was something in the quote that wasn’t clear,” Rob told us. “A tradesman should lay out everything, materials, hours, who pays for what, so that there can’t be any quibbles.”
  • Think long term: “No one can be great at something overnight,” Rob said. “You have to think about the long term, building your skills and growing the business. It can’t be rushed.”

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