Fraser Jones

LIFE STORY OF FRASER BOYD JONES

Interviewed August 1994

 

Good evening and welcome, this is Fraser Boyd Jones.

My mum is a loving, caring, extremely honest person, and my Dad’s a politician. From my mother I think I inherited most of her very nice traits which are the loving, kind, and caring traits, but from my Dad I inherited the lack of patience and opinionatedness, if that’s the right definition. When I think of my mum, I think of total love, and when I think of my Dad, I think of what a pain in the ass.

My mother’s mother died when I was fairly young, when I was about 5 years old, and we didn’t see a lot of her. My mum’s dad was a complete asshole who sold all of my mum’s mum’s stuff without letting her have any little keepsakes or anything, you know. Her and her mum were really, really close, and she loved her mum like you wouldn’t believe. And all the things she really wanted to inherit, he ended up selling and giving the money to the church to buy a clock, and my mum was sick as a parrot. And so my mum’s dad was ostracized from the family.

My dad’s mum and dad were very much part of our growing up. We always used to go, when we lived in the north of England (we moved to London which is like 200 miles away from my grandparents when I was seven or eight) every Saturday, virtually, we used to go over and see grandma and grandad. My grandad was a lovely, lovely guy. He was a school headmaster. A really kind, caring, gentle guy. Grandma, she was a bit of an old dragon. We didn’t see them hardly as much when we moved to London, but I went to spend a couple of weeks with them on my own. Shortly after my dad moved out, my grandma died, and I was the one from the family that went and represented the rest of the family. My brother and sister didn’t go or my mother. Then we used to see grandad once in a while. He used to have the best toffee.

[What was going on in your family, community, and the world at the time of your birth?] I don’t know. I wasn’t conscious at that time because I was only a little baby, and babies don’t generally know what world politics and things going on! I think nothing that I recall of any great significance.

[Are there any family stories told about you as a baby?] Yes, I split my nose open chasing a pea. A pea, yes. As in the vegetable, yes. Oh yes! I remember ‑‑ there’s also another famous story that was about me as a baby and that my mother went on holiday and left me with an aunt of mine and she fed me twice as much milk as she was meant to, you know the concentrate or whatever they call it, and she came back home a week later and said “That’s not my baby” ‑‑ and ever since I’ve always been a chubby lad. It’s true! My mum says that I was always happy if I was well‑slept and well‑fed and that sort of goes throughout my life actually. A happy, go‑lucky, cheerful chappy.

[Did you get along with your family members?] Extremely well, apart from, I suppose, my early teens, me and my brother fought for a few years, but I suppose all brothers do. I’ve worked with my family for virtually all of my life, so we’re still extremely close.

[Was there a notable cultural “flavor” to the home you grew up in?] Well that’s difficult to say. What is cultural really, you know, it was just a normal English home in the north of England ‑‑ you know, where dad went out to work, mum did the washing and cooked bread and baked pies and cakes and, you know, did the washing in the little‑washing machine with the mangle. The mangle is the thing you put your clothes in, and you turn the handle and it squishes all the water out. Um ‑‑ I think there certainly are differences [growing up in England vs. U.S.], but I think there are a lot of differences in the way kids grow up today in England as well. So, I think in the same way things would have changed in the thirty odds years that I’ve been alive, um, then they’ve obviously changed as well here, so it’s very difficult to say that because there is a lot more modern technology and toys and things like that here. When I grew up, we weren’t a particularly wealthy family and, you know, we had a small amount of toys ‑‑ kids today have millions of toys. I think that certainly you, as Americans, were much more advantaged than we ever were ‑‑ from an economic point of view and availability of things ‑‑ washing machines, tellys, cookers, you name it. We didn’t have a fridge until 1973. Nobody has ice in England. We used to have a pantry, and when it got warm, my mum used to put the milk in a bucket of cold water. I think the thing is that what happened in Britain after the second world war, you know, that rationing was in place until 1953 which is almost seven or eight years after the end of the war. You know, Britain didn’t start becoming a prosperous place until the 60’s when people started getting cars ‑‑ we were fairly advantaged as a family because my father had a car. I would say certainly when I was growing up probably 70% of the families in the row never had a car.

We lived in a semi‑detached house. A semi‑detached house is what you call a duplex. It was fairly modern, come to think. We were the first to move into this house, so it would have been built in the very early 60’s because we lived in an old house in a place called Blackburn, and then we moved to this new house in Oswaldtwistle. They were still building houses further on down the road and so it was a sort of modern. But like there literally was a huge park across the road, and there were loads of places for us to go out and play as kids. It was a good place for us to grow up. Geographically it’s in northwest England, in the county of Lancashire. Manchester and Liverpool are also in this county.

I think cultural influences is a strange word because, you know, when you’re part of a culture do you necessarily know whether you’re having cultural influences or not? Yeah, my mum sang “My old man’s a dustman, he wears a dustman’s hat, he wears old blimey trousers and he lives in a council flat.” So, you know, that’s sort of a cultural thing, I suppose, because you don’t know what a dustman is do you? [No] A dustman is someone who takes away the trash.

So, you know, obviously I think anyone who lives in any community anywhere in the world is getting cultural influences, I think it’s impossible not to. I’m sure there are cultural influences throughout this country because of the different races and different parts of the country. You know, it’s a bit of a bogus question really.

I come from a family that has virtually no religious background at all, so we didn’t have any religious rituals; birthdays were a bit of a ritual in our family. That was the one thing that we always sort of really celebrated a lot. And, you know, Christmas would be the other one, really, no ritual of such ‑‑ we certainly didn’t light candles and things like that if that’s what a ritual is. You know, I always sort of associate rituals as being part of some religious ceremony, you know, coming from a non‑religious family it’s very difficult to say what everyone else did. [Is religion important to you now?] No! In fact I could talk about that for hours and hours.

Oh, I know, there is one ritual that we did have ‑‑ Bonfire Night. To celebrate when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament. In 1604 I think it was, and he got caught just in time and saved the whole of the Parliament, so on November 5 each year, everyone in England builds a bonfire and has fireworks. We, as kids, used to make a Guy which is, like we used to get old clothes and tie up the arms and legs and stuff them with newspapers and make a face and then we used to sit outside the train station saying “Penny for the Guy” so that we’d get money to go and buy fireworks to blow our hands off! That was a big ritual and tradition where we used to go and then we’d throw the Guy on top of the bonfire and set fire to the bonfire, and all the kids in the neighborhood would come out and the families would come up and we’d have mushy peas and toffee and have a good old time. That’s very much a cultural thing, I’d agree ‑‑ that’s a ritual, I suppose.

[As a child, were you encouraged to try new things?] [I was] constantly encouraged to try new things. We were always involved in a lot of social things ‑ ‑ my father was a politician, so we were always involved in a lot of political things, so, you know, that forced us all to be involved in lots of things. Never held back.

I’ve never been particularly good with words [dyslexia] and that would probably be the biggest struggle in my life.

[What was the most significant event up to the teenage years?]. My father leaving. I was 11. I thought it was the best thing that could have happened in the world ‑‑ oh yeah, he was a complete pain in the ass. I was extremely upset about it when it happened, but when I reflected on it, it made our family so much closer because he always wanted to be right so that no one else would have had any room, unlike my mum who was very open and let people have as much room as they wanted and subsequently we all became much, much closer and more dedicated to her. We would have all wanted to have gotten out of the house as quick as possible to get away from my dad, I think. Me and my sister used to go and see him once every two weeks on Saturday. He used to pick us up, or we’d go on the train somewhere which, in fact, was extremely good because he took us to all the cultural things, you know. We went to all the museums and the stately homes, and all the things like that. We went to all the cultural events which I think has stood me in very good stead, actually. That’s why I can do such a good guided tour of London, as well.

I think the only pressures I had as a teenager were probably the pressure of survival because I always thought I was a reckless person, and that I’d probably end up killing myself somehow by some recklessness–driving motorcycles, you know, just generally being stupid really. [What was the most significant event of your teenage years?] Getting my first motorcycle. And going out to work.

[What was your first experience of leaving home like?] I was 24 or 25, and I bought my own apartment. My mum had gone to Russia on holiday, and I moved out. She knew I was moving out. She figured it was a good time to be “out of Dodge” while one of the siblings was leaving. My older brother had left a couple years earlier. But we all left late in life because we had such a good time with my mum anyway, so there was no reason to get out. And I never felt like, you know, getting out to pay rent to someone, so, you know, I waited until could afford to buy something.

 

My hero is Isimbard Kingdom Brunel who was the famous British engineer who built the Great Western Railway and the first steel-hulled steamship, the S.S. Great Britain, along with many numerous civil engineering feats. Heroines–I never thought of it really. I always had my hero as Isimbard Kingdom Brunel probably since I was 11 when I started train spotting. Train spotting is going out and taking the numbers of the trains and writing them down in a book. It’s a particularly English sort of thing, you know. We used to go down to the station. When the trains came through, you used to get the numbers off of them and underline them –you had them in a book. You just wanted to see every train there was. There were thousands of trains–if you were a mad, mad, mad, train spotter, you might do it in a lifetime.

I think I’ve always had a current understanding of myself. I think I’ve always been very happy about the way I feel about things. I think that my political and social influences have always left me to have a very healthy psyche. Education Elementary school would be Infant School to us. Infant School was like 5 ‑ 8, the junior School was 8 ‑ 11. Then you went to Secondary Modern Schools which is like high school, I suppose ‑‑ everyone goes to Secondary Modern School. There are sort of several levels of that ‑‑ what it used to be was sort of grammar schools and then just ordinary schools. Grammar schools were like where the more advantaged kids went. But just about the time I was going to school, the Socialists in power felt that was very unfair to give certain people advantage and others not, so they turned them all into Secondary Modern Schools. So that, you know, even the bright people were sent around into the other schools to sort of, you know, give you a much more balanced education system. I don’t know if it’s worked actually. I think they’re pulling it all apart at the moment now, but it’s because the Tories are in power, which are like Republicans [said with disdain!]. And we hate them [said jokingly]!

Best memories of school ‑‑ I really, really enjoyed school anyway, you know, all around. It was like; it was just fun. I used to love geography, and I liked history, and I liked biology and science and metalwork and woodwork, and all those sort of things. So, you know, I don’t know if there was a best memory actually. I suppose my best memory was being on the team that was beaten 70 to nil at rugby.

[What were your best accomplishments at school?] Starting the first student union in my school in Secondary Modern School. I was a radical leader against the oppressors ‑‑ the teachers and the establishment.

I went into what they called the Sixth Form which was like further education. What happens in Britain, you have to go to school until you are 16. At 16, you then can leave and go out to work or do an apprenticeship or you can stay on at school for a further two years which is called the Sixth Form ‑‑ the lower sixth and the upper sixth. And then at the end of that time, in that two years, you’re preparing yourself to go to college of some description. So you take you’re a Levels.

You know the thing, as far as I understand it, it’s the same as SAT’S. You know, like in our high school, after a couple of years you made a choice of what subjects you wanted to study in and then you went for your exams ‑‑ they were GCSE then; you’d start at 14 and you’d then spend two years working on your qualifications. So like I did math, English, geography, computer studies, in fact I was in the first ever computer studies in my school ‑‑ that was back in ’73 when we used to go to a local university and do punch cards and things like that which was quite unusual. Then the teacher that was doing it was ill for a long time, so we never got any qualifications, ’cause there was no one to teach it. I would have done 7 GCSE’s ‑‑ English, math, geography, computer studies, chemistry, physics, and I can’t remember. Before you could leave school you had to take your exams; so in June you took all your exams and then, you know, you got the results back like in August and in the meantime you could decide to go on and stay at school and take you’re a Levels which were like the higher qualifications which you take three of those.

Generally you take three A Levels to get into a university. You could get into a college for about two A Levels, and then you could go to something that they called polytechnic which is like a sort of local college. Yeah, SMVTI would be a good example of that. So I stayed on in the Sixth Form for a year and a bit until they threw me out. Yes. [Were you a troublemaker?] No. I just never went. I’d got into sex, drugs, and rock’n roll at that point. [What was the most important course you took?]   Geography, actually, because it was the only one I was really good at. Metalwork was the other one, actually, and technical drawing. [What has been your most important lesson in life outside of the classroom?] That you never stop learning.

Love and Work

I never really had a steady girlfriend until I was about 18. And I was well out of school by then. But you know there was a girl that used to haunt me all of the time, yes, so I suppose you might say she was a steady. She was a complete pain in the ass; broke my heart many times.

What made me fall in love [with his wife] … It was her energy and personality. Intimacy means loving and caring. The best parts about marriage are being content, and the worst parts are having to deal with your wife! Actually, in a lot of ways, the fact that my mom and dad split up, in fact, gave me a lot more sensibility about relationships being important. That when you get married you should be making a commitment for life, and that’s important. And I was never, ever going to get married, like 15 or 16, as a youngster, you know. In fact I always said I’d never get married before I was 25. 1 also said I’d never marry anyone I hadn’t lived with.

My life would have been much different [if I hadn’t moved to London]. The part of Northern England that we lived in the 70’s became an industrial wasteland. It was the area that was one of the most populated places in the world at one time in the 18th century. It was a center for cotton and wool production for the whole of the world. And in the 70’s was when all the Far East, cheaper competition came in and all the factories were closing down, and it had become a very depressed place. In fact, I traveled back to Oswaldtwistle ten years ago and 99% of the shops were boarded up and it was a very depressed place. So moving to London (London and its, sort of what they call, home is counties which are all the areas around London) contains about a third of the population of Britain in a very small space. And that has become the place where all the industry and commerce is and all that, you know.

Up in the north of England where the coal mining was and the steel industry and the shipbuilding and cotton and woolen mills which were all industries that died out in the 70’s because of competition from the Far East and all around the world. Britain back 100 years ago was the industrial heart of the world and that changed. Subsequently moving to London became a very, very significant part of my life. Because I would have been probably, you know, married with four kids on the dole right now. Instead, I’m a wealthy, affluent, pseudo‑Yank! If we’d stayed in the north of England, I would probably not be sitting here today. Because it had become a very significant thing in my life just having the opportunity to be somewhere that was affluent and productive.

I wanted to be a farmer, and I wanted to be a fireman, and I was neither. As an adolescent, I wanted to go on the road ‑‑ like with a rock ‘n roll band. I worked with a lot of rock’n roll bands, and the one thing I really wanted to do was go and do a big long tour around the world or something like that. Never did that ‑‑ that should make me feel really sad; I went to see Phil Collins the other day and met all my mates who’ve been doing it for 20 years, and I thought, shit, I never got to do it, but there you go. They never got to do a lot of the shit I did. I don’t know if I’ve been particularly ambitious in any way really, you know. I’ve always believed shit was going to happen, and it happened, you know. I don’t think I ever had any plan ‑‑ I think if I’d had any plan I certainly wouldn’t be here, you know. It was, like, I met this woman, fell in love and moved 3,300 miles, you know. It’s not exactly part of the plan! I don’t think I’ve ever set any goal in my life.

 

Throughout my career, work has been extremely satisfying. When I was thrown out of school I was a plumber for about two years doing an apprenticeship. The thing is when you do anything you’re learning and, you know, learning is the most important thing in life, so, you know, what can be wrong with it? And then I worked with my family in the family business that my brother set up for the last ten years, and then I moved here and spent five years developing my own businesses and got into another business that’s still, you know, connected with my brother and the rest of the family that work in the business ‑‑ you know, worked in the rock’n roll industry for a long time, and it’s a very satisfying thing to do. [What is important to you in work?] Fun.

[What is the most important thing given to you by your family?] Love. [What is the most important thing you have given your family?] Love. [To your community?] I’ve always been involved in politics to a certain extent ‑‑ always being prepared to help out and sort of do my bits and pieces. For the last three years I’ve been coaching soccer teams for the PAYSA under 12 year olds. I play soccer, and no one does in this country ‑‑ that’s not quite true, and it’s changing. I’ve done a number of other sort of lecturing things and teaching, educating people. Teaching would have to be the most significant thing.

Spiritual

I do consider myself spiritual. I think that most organized religions try to take the spirit out of people and put that spirit into some other being. I believe that I am God, and that you are God, and that everyone else is God. What organized religion tries to do is to take away people’s self‑esteem and make them believe there’s something better than them, and there’s nothing better than them, and there’s nothing better than you. You know, how can you think that some gray‑haired guy with a beard is better than you? You’ve got to be the most fortunate being to be able to be alive and look out the window and see the sun shine every day, see the flowers and the seasons change; we are incredibly lucky beings. To be thinking there’s something better from here is, like, get a grip. My spiritual values are that I believe in myself, and the fact that I believe in myself and that I believe in the other people around me and that I try to encourage the people around me to believe in themselves so that they can feel better about themselves.

[What value(s) would you not want compromised?] My love being compromised would probably be the most important thing to me.

Transitions

[What events and experiences helped you understand and accept your adult responsibilities?] My significant other relationship was with a woman called Kay, who I had a relationship with for nine years. And when she up and went off with a school boy of 18, that was the most significant change in my life, and I felt that I needed to be more responsible, certainly in relationships, and in all forms of life really. You got to keep an eye on detail, really.

My father leaving, and my significant other dumping me; they seemed to be the sort of pinnacle points that changed a lot of things for me and gave me a lot more realization about myself and what I needed to do to have a better life.

Truly, I’ve probably only had three turning points in my life. One when I was first out of school at my first job, when I was doing my plumber’s apprenticeship, and I spent three months being a reckless maniac and then got a job working with my brother in the rock’n roll industry, and that was a major turning point in my life. And the second major turning point in my life was

when my significant other, Kay, dumped me, and everything else around me turned to complete shit. You know, it was like everything went wrong for me for about 18 months. An then the next turning point was falling in love with my now wife, and moving to the United States.

 

I do see myself as significantly different now. In the last five years, I think I’ve developed intellectually in a way that I could never have had the time to do that. I’m very grateful to have had a lot of time in my life in the last five years to be able to develop a lot of things and a lot of skills ‑‑ I’ve developed loads. In the previous decade of my life, I was extremely busy working in the business and that was my whole focus of my life. The last five years the whole focus in my life has been me and my wife, of course. It’s a bit of time to grow. It’s been because I’ve been unemployed really. Not that I think I spent any time doing nothing, because I’m an extremely busy person. I think I always will be. It was at the time that I didn’t have any pressures to have to be out earning money and out sort of trying to survive because, you know, I was being provided for; I was very fortunate.

General Musings

I love traveling. I want to go everywhere in the world. There isn’t one place I don’t want to go in the world; maybe yes ‑‑ Israel. That’s probably the only place, politically, I don’t believe what’s happening to the Palestinians … and I suppose that’s changing now, so that doesn’t really matter. And it’s a pretty dangerous place to be, the Middle East!

The most historical event I participated in was providing sound for the fireworks display for Charles and Diana’s wedding. Not that it means anything these days! The fireworks went off and accompanied music like Handel’s Firework Music and all sorts of stuff. It was choreographed. We did that which was pretty cool.

My sight [is the most important gift to me]. I had a corneal transplant four years ago, and I now see better than I have done all of my life really. That’s been probably the most significant thing ever given to me.

[Did you ever picture yourself leaving England?] Never. Never. Absolutely never. I would’ve traveled everywhere, but I always felt that in some ways, I still have a feeling, that you always will be home, as well, you know. And yeah, I think of this as home, but, you know, like, in two day’s time I am going home ‑‑ I’m going to England, you know, and I think of that as home. But the reverse of that is that when I’m in England and I’m coming here, I’m going home as well. So I have two homes. But, you know, there’s something about England that is natural that I don’t have when I’m here. There’s a certain, I suppose it’s being in your habitat, you know ‑‑ the right habitat, everyone feel comfortable and, you know, that’s my habitat, so that’s where I should feel comfortable, I suppose.

Disappointment is something that’s inevitably going to happen and should happen; I think disappointment’s good for you. How do I handle it? Well, just like I do everything else, get on with it and go with it. I will be upset about it for a short period of time, you know, two or three minutes; but generally rather than looking at disappointment as a negative thing I see it as everything you do in life as a lesson. By being disappointed, you needed to be disappointed to learn the lesson. You know from that, hopefully, you’re going to be that much better to deal with it the next time.

The happiest time of my life ‑‑ I suppose the last five years. [I probably don’t need to ask if there’s been a special person in your life … ] Yes. Isimbard Kingdom Brunel. No I lied about that ‑‑ it’s actually Jean K. Todd.

Some things I never forget … never ever want to forget my friends all over the world; I never want to forget my feeling of social injustice, and I never want to forget the ones I love.

What makes me feel uneasy? [about the future) The political instability in Eastern Europe. [What gives me the most hope?] Peace. The Palestinian peace, and the peace in South Africa, you know, changes that have gone on in the last decade, you know. The Philippines ‑‑ there’s been a lot of peace movements going on.

 

Yeah, I think my life’s fulfilled ‑‑ shit, if I had any more to do ‑‑ goddamn!! I could never say that my life has never been fulfilled. Never not been fulfilled. I’ve always done as much as I possibly can, and been extremely involved as I possibly can and fulfilled, yeah.

I never look into the future. Never, ever. I dream a wee bit, yeah, but I never, no I don’t. I think it’s counterproductive.

What do I want to most experience? [before you die] There’s a million things I want to experience. I want to see a herd of elephants on the African plains, I want to see the Aurora Borealis, and God, there are a million things I want to experience. As I said before, you know, there’s a million places I want to go to, and there isn’t anywhere I don’t want to go and experience. I want to experience everything.

[How long do you believe you will live?] As long as I do. I never thought I was going to live longer than 21. Even on my 21st birthday, I felt I was going to get knocked over by a car or something like that. I really did. I’d a very reckless time in my life from about when I was 17 until I was about 21 where I probably didn’t deserve to end up living, you know. I’m going to die when I do.

[What things would you like said about your life when you die?] That I had fun, and I loved, and I liked trains.

 

[What do you think about American culture?] I think that the American culture is in some ways very confused because as far as I can see most Americans feel as though they’re from another part of the world anyway. Even though many generations may have been passed, they still don’t feel as though they’re truly Americans which I find in some ways disturbing because there is very much in American culture as I see it; particularly with the, you know, the way that economically … certainly economically there’s American culture. And yet, here I’m living in Portland and, you know, everyone says, “Oh I’m Italian, I’m Irish, I’m French,” I’m whatever, you know, and they’re all Americans, you know ‑‑ three or four generations shouldn’t mean that … You know, if I really looked up my lineage, my father’s family is Welsh and that’s where the Jones come from, yet he was born in England, and my mother’s family is Scots, yet she was born in England, and, you know, at the end of the day, I’m an Englishman, but, you know, do I then call myself a Celt?

There are a number of things you can go through, you know, if someone said where do you come from? I’d say I come from England ‑‑ I come from Britain actually would probably be the most accurate description, you know. You know, there are about a million names in the country that I come from ‑‑ the United Kingdom, England, you know, Britain, you can go on. And, you know, now that the whole sort of integration of Europe is going on, you know. I’ve got a passport now that’s called a European community passport, so how the hell do I know where I come from? I think the thing is that what happens with American culture is that everyone sort of tries to hold onto their cultural background which is not really, doesn’t really, have any real relevance anymore.

I think that one of the problems I personally see in America is that it doesn’t have its own culture; I can say‑that with one breath, but in another breath I can say that it does have its own culture, it just doesn’t realize it. But there is definitely an American culture, and yet, you know, everyone’s still hanging onto their heritage which is ridiculous in a lot of ways because there is no way their culture has any real bearing on the way you are today. You’re an Irish Catholic, and you feel that you’re an Irish Catholic, but if you went to Ireland, you’re not one of them, you don’t feel like one of them. And the thing is that, you know, a lot of people said “Oh, are you going to become an American citizen?” No, I’m not going to become an American citizen. It’s not because I have any, you know, disdain for this country or anything like that, it’s because I’m quite happy where my heritage is, and that’s still home to me and always will be, and I don’t want that to ever change, really because that’s important to me. And even though people say when I get back to England, “Oh you emigrated?” I don’t think I’ve emigrated, I’m just sort of a general part of the world. If things were perfect, what I’d like people to say is we’re human beings here. And it shouldn’t really matter where you come from, it’s what you feel and what you do, and that’s talking about human beings, and there aren’t enough people who feel like that.

Final Notes

[Is there anything that we’ve left out of your life story?] Millions! You’ll have to come once every Monday for the next three weeks to get the true life story.

[Do you feel you have given a fair picture of yourself?] I’ve given a picture of myself as I remember it right now, and, you know, there are a million things I probably wanted to tell you, and there’s a million things I’d remember to tell you, but you’re not going to be there. Yeah, I’ve given an accurate picture of myself. I certainly haven’t lied about the way I feel about anything, so yes.

[What are your feelings about this interview?] Fun, interesting; nice to look back and reflect on things in life; probably, you know, would enjoy doing it more and more detailed if that was ever needed to be done.

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