#FungiFriday: online fungi talks this spring

There may not be many mushrooms around at the moment but I do have some good fungi-related news to share. In April and May I’m giving fungi talks on Zoom for two London-based charities!

On Tuesday 6th April at 18:30 I’m giving a talk entitled The Weird and Wonderful World of Fungi for London Wildlife Trust. This is part of the Trust’s Great North Wood festival. The talk is going to be focusing a lot on London’s fungal ecology in terms of woodlands, in keeping with the theme of the festival.

You can see more on the Trust’s website. The event is free but donations are welcome. London Wildlife Trust is a fantastic organisation dependent on the support of people who care about London’s wildlife, so please donate generously!

On Tuesday 18th May at 19:00 I’m giving talk for Bell House, a learning charity based in Dulwich, south-east London. This talk is entitled Fungus amongus: common mushrooms in England and will be about common mushrooms you can find in the UK. This will be more about the basic identification of species rather than the myriad avenues you can disappear off to in the world of fungi.

You can see more on the Bell House website. There is a suggested donation for this event of ยฃ5.

If you can’t make it don’t worry as there will be YouTube recordings to follow.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: scarlet elf cup

On social media in recent weeks one of the dominant fungi photographed has been a bright red cup fungus. This species is one of the most visually stunning, standing out like an elf’s sore thumb in a winter wood. I’m talking about scarlet elf cup.

I visited an area of woodland I have featured many times here, but a place I haven’t been to this year. I don’t know why, it’s close to home but usually requires a car journey because it’s awkwardly difficult to walk to. It’s a mixed ancient woodland with a stream running through it and heathland on its upper slopes.

In the UK heathland is a sandy habitat dominated by heather and pine. In terms, dry lowland heath is rarer than rainforest.

This woodland is managed with the support of volunteers. I don’t know the people who do the good work there but they clearly spend a good amount of time building what I know as dead hedges. These are barriers or piles of cuttings, branches, twigs and sometimes logs. They are there mainly to protect sensitive areas of soil where ancient woodland plants grow. It’s to keep people on the paths, which is best for the health of a woodland overall. These dead hedges also happen to be excellent habitat for wildlife like fungi.

From my experience in the woods and by looking at other people’s photos, I would say scarlet elf cups are happiest in damp, shaded areas. I would even say they are so keen on dampness that alongside streams and rivers is usually a good place to find them. This was a bit of a way from a stream but it ticked all the other boxes. You can see here that it’s growing from a small stick.

This is a nice example of this gorgeous fungus (not something you hear often enough). They grow on something similar to a stem but are a different set of fungi to the usual stipe-based mushrooms. Cup fungi are ‘ascomycetes’ (ask-oh-my-seets) and are spore shooters. ‘Basidiomycetes’ are spore droppers, most of them being the gilled mushroom types.

This area probably had hundreds of scarlet elf cups growing in this long stretch of dead hedge. It will be good habitat for lots of other species as well, including invertebrates and sometimes they’re big enough for small birds like wrens to nest in. The specimen above was snug as a shroom in a trug.

From what I know it’s an edible species, but I wasn’t about to clean out all these fungi from their wild habitat. I had mushrooms in my fridge that were a couple of days close to their best!

Thanks for reading.

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Macro Monday: the mourning bee

In this post: garden bees, extension tubes and woodland lichens The ‘Stay at Home’ message has ended in England but I’ve learned my lessons in this pandemic year. Macro is a time-consuming activity and the less time spent travelling means more time spent honing the skill and having a good time! One person whose photos… Continue reading Macro Monday: the mourning bee

Unlocking Landscapes #4: Living with pelicans and bears in northern Greece with Julian Hoffman

https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/h9428w/UL_Ep3_JH_Part1_137njit.mp3 This is part one of two episodes with author Julian Hoffman. This episode focuses on Julian’s life in northern Greece where he encounters European brown bears in his day to day life. We also discuss the local accents of wrens(!), particularly Liverpudlian wrens. Julian has published two books. In 2012 The Small Heart of… Continue reading Unlocking Landscapes #4: Living with pelicans and bears in northern Greece with Julian Hoffman

Macro Monday: the macro ninja

Last year we installed a pond in our garden. It’s nothing special, just an old washbasin bought from an antique shop sitting on the patio. It has flag iris, some figwort and other aquatic plants bought from the garden centre. I noticed a couple of weeks ago the first resident of the pond, a water… Continue reading Macro Monday: the macro ninja

#FungiFriday: beard lichens

Fungi Friday 26th February 2021

This week’s encounters with the fungal kingdom (that I know about), are piecemeal. I am still sticking close to home, so no woods or wildernesses, if you even believe in the latter. You might think fungi can only be found in specific places, but we’d all be wrong about that. Let me tell you, fungi are everywhere. We’re the ones who are harder to find.

Stick of the week

On a walk at a local estate garden in the Sussex Weald, I found and nominated this lichen-encrusted twig for stick of the week. I’m not sure where the hashtag #StickOfTheWeek started but I think it has something to do with the illustrator @Bernoid.

It’s not common that I personally find any unusual lichens in south-east England. Usually you need to go west to Devon, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland or up north to Scotland. This massive oak tree had a sheath of moss growing on its trunk, which was then home to a colony of beard lichens!

I think these are a species of usnea lichen, species I’m more used to seeing in Ireland and on Dartmoor. I learned from a fellow blogger recently that you are supposed to say ‘on Dartmoor’, because ‘in Dartmoor’ means you’re in the prison. I’ve been to the prison museum and have no intention of being ‘in Dartmoor’ no matter how good to lichens are on its doorstep.

Velvet shank

On a lunchtime march from home I re-stumbled upon a gang of velvet shank (Flammulina). I was actually drawn to the site of the first cherry blossom of spring, when I spotted that this churchyard stump was still sprouting shrooms. This is fungus is hard as nails, in terms, because it has toughed it out through the snow and continued to put out fruit. It’s a prime candidate for snowcapped shrooms.

I have some exciting mushroom-related announcements to make in the next couple of weeks. I’m also about to start Merlin Sheldrake’s much anticipated Entangled Life. Have you read it, is it as good as everyone says? Maybe I’ll share some of it in the weeks ahead.

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

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#FungiFriday: a light in the dark

Fungi Friday 19th February 2021

In Sussex we’ve been treated to snow and ice, followed by a sudden jump in temperatures to something spring-like. For mushrooms, it must be a confusing time. It definitely is for this manshroom.

A frozen pond in the Sussex Weald

Today’s post is brought to you by phone pics. I’ve been a bit confused by messaging around lockdown laws in the UK, where it’s unclear if you can do photography at all. It’s just not that important, though. People are suffering beyond my comprehension and in England our National Health Service is under incredible pressure. I’m lucky and I do not take for granted the privilege I have in being able to access the countryside within a few miles of walking.

Yellow brain fungus

For the benefit of international readers, in England we’re supposed to only do walks from home or those involving a short journey. I’ve not been to my usual local woods in a while, but I can get to the edges of them or at least some mature, tree-lined avenues within a couple of miles whilst keeping away from other people. The standout fungus during walks this winter has been yellow brain, Tremella mesenterica. It is such a beautiful fungus and so unusual to see something so bright in the dark scenes of an English winter.

There’s a reason so few soil-based mushrooms are found in winter – the ground freezes and most fungal hyphae are unable to move through the frozen substrate. Fungi that grow from dead wood or other material can continue to do their thing. This rather pooed-upon bracket fungus is known in the UK as lacquered bracket. On social media you see lots of American accounts raving about reishis. There is even a website dedicated to the species under that name.

I wrote a little bit about turkey tail last week, and this week’s post is late because I entertained the idea of a turkey tail post in itself but eventually didn’t have the time. I think this is turkey tail. It’s quite a variable species so if you don’t know the basic features, can be confused with others. I’m it that camp.

Jelly ear

Jelly ear has to be one of the species people notice first. It was my first ever #FungiFriday post! It looks like a body part, is tactile, non-toxic and grows on a common European tree – elder (Sambucus nigra). It’s also very common in urban woodlands and green spaces, which means it reaches a wider audience.

Quite similar to turkey tail is the Stereum family. This is probably hairy curtain crust (yep) and is very common in these months when rainfall is high and temperatures are hovering between 5-15 degrees Celsius.

On a longer local walk I found this veteran beech tree. It had a massive bracket fungus growing at its waist. This fungus had become very woody in texture, which shows how they can survive cold weather. I’d like to get back to see it when it starts to build up its next layer. You can read more about bracket fungi here.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: when mushrooms grow in your house

Fungi Friday 5th February 2021

Get ready for bad mushroom photography. But first I wanted to link to this interesting Mushroom Hour podcast with Learn Your Land, that I listened to this week. Some very thought-provoking ideas around landscape conservation, belonging in the landscape and our own impact as individuals. Here’s an example of one of the Learn Your Land YouTube videos:

Back to the bad fungi photography.

In December, I was sitting at my desk, working from home, when I turned around and saw a mushroom growing behind me. This was quite unexpected. The mushroom was growing from the soil of a houseplant on a cabinet behind me.

The plant itself had spent the summer outdoors, so I expect the spores of the fungus have landed on the soil while outside. You can see that the stipe (or stem) has split, probably due to rapid growth and the heat coming from the nearby radiator.

Here is that same mushroom possibly a couple of hours earlier. It moved incredibly quickly through its fruiting stages.

That wasn’t to be the end of it. The following day I noticed more shrooms appearing at the edge of the pot.

This shroom family also moved fast. I think they’re a species in the very big brittlestem or Psathyrella family.

Didn’t I promise you the pics would be bad?

It’s probably not great having mushrooms growing in your house, and I fully expect a barrage of comments about how my house is going to fall down now from builders. All in all, however, I was quite pleased with the tropical scene on those dark midwinter nights.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: a light in the dark

Fungi Friday 19th February 2021 In Sussex we’ve been treated to snow and ice, followed by a sudden jump in temperatures to something spring-like. For mushrooms, it must be a confusing time. It definitely is for this manshroom. Today’s post is brought to you by phone pics. I’ve been a bit confused by messaging around… Continue reading #FungiFriday: a light in the dark

#FungiFriday: a winter shroom-boom

Fungi Friday 28th January 2021

This has been a surprisingly good winter for fungi. One thing I have learned about following the stuff all year round is that it is everywhere, all the time. I knew before that fungi ruled the world, now I know it. Look at the blusher mushroom dominating this post and try and tell me it ain’t true.

Frosty the alpaca

December in southern England has been colder than we are used to. In the past decade some Decembers have been, on average, around 10 degrees Celsius (remember him?), with one Christmas Day rocking an incredible 16 degrees. Instead we have had temperatures around zero for longer periods and last weekend there was snow. It lingered in London, Hampshire and other parts of the UK but in Sussex, it didn’t. Oh well.

I should probably move on, I have a lot of photos to catch up on.

I learned a new species in December, thanks to an ID on iNaturalist. I was walking in woodland in the Sussex Weald, in my local area, looking for macro subjects. By chance I saw some small white mushrooms on a piece of oak wood on the ground. I have a new camera which can stack together several photos to make one which has a large range of focus.

I hunkered down with these tiny shroomlets and managed to work the image stacking, as seen above. These tiny white mushrooms are oak pin (Cudoniella acicularis).

On the same day, and on several following, I noticed the prevalence of blewits. The blewit above (probably wood blewit) was growing from some leaf litter on the buttress of an old oak.

Around Christmas I found some other populations in a local cemetery. It obviously was having a little winter fruiting period, or shroom-boom.

This felled fungus offered a good chance to show off the mycelium. The white fibres in the substrate of twigs and leaves, are the hyphae of the fungus. They are what produce the mushroom that we see above ground. These hyphae will be extracting the minerals and nutrients from this detritus and turning it into soil. Fungi rule the world.

In that same cemetery I found an absolute stonker of a twig. This is a species of oysterling (Crepidotus). From above they look like weird little white bits on a damp twig, but when you turn them over, they are beautiful. I always look for them in December when there is generally not as much to see.

Also in the cemetery I found this. What on earth is this? It was growing on the single lobe of an oak leaf, lying on the soil near to the oysterling twig above. This image is also a stack done in the camera. I think it’s probably a slime mould, so not a fungus, but behaving in a way that is similar of course. If you know what this is, please do enlighten us the comments!

While we’re on slime moulds, this is a very happy cluster of something like dog vomit slime mould. You can see its journey across the ivy leaf from the white trails in the background. Let’s leave that one there.

This one kept me guessing over Christmas. I found several of this species growing out of a standing dead pine tree in oak woodland. It smelled really nice, so sweet, just like chantarelles in fact. People on social media were unable to identify it, but the consensus was that it was probably false chantarelle.

You can see why people might confuse it with the real deal. There are several features which will help you not to make that mistake… Maybe another time.

I have been lamenting my lack of luck with the flammulina family, as in the mushroom, not a group of people. That would be a great surname though. My one true encounter with velvet shank, the most common of this family, was at a distance from a boardwalk surrounded by high levels of water.

This illustrates that point rather well. This is funny (only for me) because they are one of the most photogenic species you can find:

Velvet shank in January 2019

One rests one’s case.

While this toffee-like secretion may not be quite so eye-catching, it’s a new species for me. It’s cushion bracket (Phellinus pomaceus) growing on a blackthorn or other cherry family wood.

It’s probably best to end with a more appropriate species for the times. My walks are now close to home, in a town and into the rural edges if there’s time and light. On one lunchtime walk I found this colony of coral fungus from right next to the pavement. I have seen this before in London, at the roadside.

It’s even difficult to get photos of something like this because people are passing by and me lingering too long can literally force someone into the road to avoid me. So the photos aren’t focus stacked and they’re a fast food alternative to the slower pace I usually prefer for taking a mushroom pic.

Thanks for reading. Wishing you well.

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#FungiFriday: the story of Santa’s magic mushroom – part two

A German New Year’s card – with symbols of good luck, including fly agaric

Fungi Friday 25th December 2020

Merry Christmas to you! I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to post a second piece about the Santa Claus and magic mushroom myth. I saw an Instagram post by Gordon Walker which criticised the oft-repeated story (oops) of Santa and fly agaric mushrooms. I asked for more info and he kindly suggested listening to a psychedelic mushroom podcast.

https://www.podbean.com/ew/dir-t3mdd-545caae

Just to warn you, it’s a bit sweary and the author, Tom Hatsis, is pretty angry about the ignorance he suggests maintains the myth of fly agaric and Santa. He describes the proponents of this idea as conspiracy theorists. There is also a lot of talk about psychedelic drug taking which is not quite the content I’m looking for. I think you might have to read the book for him to substantiate his argument against the story.

What I gleaned from this interview:

  • There is no evidence that Santa Claus was a shamanic figure who consumed fly agaric mushrooms or used them to herd reindeer
  • There are no Siberian reindeer-herding shamans
  • Fly agaric does not appear in authentic Germanic Christmas cards, they’re New Years cards which use fly agaric as a good luck symbol, alongside horse shoes and four-leaf clovers
  • Jesus was not a mushroom…
  • Fly agarics would not dry on trees (to release hallucinogenic chemicals) in the very cold temperatures of Siberia or northern Scandinavia

Merry Christmas and thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: moss bells in the wintry Weald

Fungi Friday 18th December 2020

The temperatures have crept up again after a period of freezing cold and foggy mornings. During one of those colder December days I visited a favourite place to find fungi. I was surprised by just how much had managed to fruit, though it was mostly quite small.

My first find was this common puffball mushroom, looking well nibbled and past its pomp. Almost all of the mushrooms I found and spent time trying to photograph were growing in beds of moss. That says to me that the mosses were providing a warmer, wetter platform to fruit from, protecting the mycelium of the fungus from the cold beyond its fronds.

I had a lot of fun photographing galerina mushrooms, otherwise known as moss bells. One of the most famous mushrooms in this family is the funeral bell, for reasons you can probably guess. I am not at a point to identify moss well, but I do know this is common feather moss. And that is an old oak leaf.

I found some lovely moss bells as I worked my way further into the beech, oak, hazel and holly woodland. In England we don’t have much in the way of wooded ‘wilderness’ that North America or Russia is famed for. But in the south-east of England, the Sussex Weald is perhaps the closest thing we have to a vast woodland area. Woods in England are split up by private ownership and mixed land use, with many small woods cleared for agriculture or building. If you want to see what a fence looks like, come on over. However, the Weald to the east of Sussex is the most wooded area in England, and much of it is ancient, broad-leaved and ‘natural’ woodland.

Moss bells are actually parasitic on mosses, though they evidently do not cause it the kind of bother the word ‘parasite’ brings to mind. The submarine telescopes surrounding the shroom here are moss sporophytes, which release the spores to allow the mosses to reproduce elsewhere. Much like mushrooms!

Have a look on moss growing on fallen trees or on the trunks of trees. You might get lucky and find yourself a moss bell.

I’m annoyed with myself because I’ve seen this tiny mushroom with its Hellraiser-esque, spiny cap, but I didn’t take the chance to note it and now I’ve forgotten. It was growing in a crevice in a fallen tree. The veins in the decaying oak leaf show just how small it was. That’s the second time it’s made its way onto this blog without a name. Sorry no refunds.

Another fallen tree was covered in mosses, ferns, lichens and, of course, a community of mushrooms. Sulphur tuft is a winter stalwart. So if you’re reading this, sulphur tuft, thank you. There are some other interesting things going on here, with the decaying wood already beginning to turn into something like soil, and the roots of something trailing across and feeding on the substrate. That’s life.

The final species group I found on mossy logs was the bonnets. They also seem able to handle the cold weather in the way that ground-based shrooms can’t.

I always forget that September can be a good month to find fungi, if it’s not too cold. Hopefully this blog, which has now been running for a year, does go to show how many things you can find throughout the year. Autumn is not the only time to find fungi. It’s everywhere, all of the time.

This woodland is quite heavily dominated by holly. For many people in the UK, that’s seen as a bad thing, with the idea that woods should be nothing but light. In the Sussex Weald, holly indicates ancient woodland and holly is a key species. At least one woodland was protected because of its populations of wild holly. I absolutely love it, having worked with it for several years. It coppices very well and the timber is great for small-scale green woodworking like fencing and posts. Of course at Christmas it makes lovely wreaths.

The holly was providing protection for areas of the woodland floor that seemed to be very rich in smaller fungi. This bizarre thing is a yellow club fungus. It was part of a community of many more.

Though I’m not quite sure what this species is, probably a parasol relative of some kind, it was a surprise to see it. I wonder if the newly fallen beech leaves were providing a layer of warmth which protected the fungal mycelia in the soil from frost, allowing them to produce mushroom fruiting bodies?

I’ll end this week’s post with perhaps the most strange thing I found, down in the leaf litter again (but not without moss). Having looked at my massive fungus tome, I think this is a species of clavulina, which is not far away from a coral fungus. These fungi are ectomycohrizzal which means they have a symbiotic relationship with a plant. That means they have been able to agree a trade deal of things that they could not otherwise gain as standalone species. I hope the British and European toadstools in Brussels can take some inspiration. Though the trade between plant and fungus might have taken several million years to agree. Uh oh.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: streams and shrooms in Sussex

Fungi Friday 11th December 2020

There is something special about woodlands in December. For wildlife, they can be a forbidding and barren place, which is why so many birds now move to warmer urban areas for food and shelter at this time of year. I’ve spent a good amount of time in woodland recently and the amount of fungi was a pleasant surprise. The gills in the Sussex Weald (a local name for a stream, plural) were gushing after lots of rain. They kept good company on their edges – mushrooms.

I spent a couple of hours following the edge of a network of Wealden gills. I found a number of smaller mushrooms along the edges of the gushing gills, like this very dapper looking mushroom with a wood sorrel bowtie. You may also notice a tiny springtail on the plant! The word gill is also used in Scotland and northern England, where it’s often spelled ‘ghyll’.

Something that really caught my eye was the work of this wrinkled crust fungus, which is its actual name.

Fungi’s main function (fungtion?) in a woodland is to break down organic matter into soil and other minerals and nutrients which can support other species. It was fascinating to see this fungus ingesting (perhaps) organic waste material in its path. In this case it was consuming a sycamore seed.

Nearby, another specimen of the fungus was getting to work on a sycamore leaf.

On a tree growing over the gill, this purply jellydisc looked like something out of a 1950s b-movie horror film. I think it’s the moss’s sporophytes that make it look so low-budget sci-fi.

I think you probably get what I mean.

I had my binoculars with me for this walk and they were very useful in, unsurprisingly, spotting things from a distance. Without them I would have missed a fallen birch tree that was covered in many species of fungi, as well as slime moulds and mosses. Above is a species of either trametes or stereum, two kinds of smaller polypore.

There was a helpful illustration of blushing bracket’s lifecycle, moving from a pale coloured fruiting body, to red and then something much darker. That’s a long blush.

Sulphur tuft is a very common species which seems able to tough it out through the colder months. I have seen so much of it recently.

Though it may look nice, it’s a toxic fungus, so don’t get any ideas.

Take nothing but photographs, in this instance. Give nothing but likes and nice comments.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: plenty of mush but not much shroom

Fungi Friday 27th November 2020

It’s nearly over. Mushroom season 2020 has been a short, sharp shock of fungi in southern England. I spent some time this week scouring local woodlands and walking on the rural edges. I found little in the way of soil-based mushrooms. To me this is a sign that autumn is over and winter has made its claim. We’re entering into the Tier 3 of seasons.

A good sign that mushroom season is over is when you are only able to spot very small species on moss or in tree bark. There are micro-climates in trees and mosses that allow for humidity and the fruiting of some species. This is a moss bell in the family Galerina.

I did find some mushrooms on the woodland floor but they were mostly mush, collapsed in on themselves after heavy rain. I found one emerging blusher (Amanita rubescens) in an area of heathy pine woodland.

As you can see, most of the trees had shed their leaves but for younger silver birches which still held some colour.

I found most of my fungi on a massive fallen beech tree. Beech jellydisc was just fruiting.

It’s easily confused with jelly ear, which is usually found on elder rather than beech and grows much more floppy. Perhaps beech jellydisc is also more pale in colour.

I was pretty intrigued by this weird crust fungus, wrinkled crust. It was lovely and vibrant, with an interesting orange fruiting body appearing from its base.

December is a month when I really begin to notice slime moulds, maybe because the woods are growing bare.

Though not a fungus, this very small slime mould is a Lycogala, with the common name of wolf’s milk. You can pop it with your finger and liquid gushes out. It’s harmless and quite fun. That may also help the organism to reproduce.

The following day I went for a walk from my house and found these shaggy inkcaps trespassing on a deserted golf course. Golf, like other outdoor sports, has not been allowed during the UK’s recent lockdown. It was eerily quiet and I was the only person there.

I thought these mushrooms were charming, like a parent protecting its offspring all at sea in the grasslands.

Grasslands seem able to hold fungi later into the year than woodlands. I think that’s down to the leaf-fall in woodland, which may repress some species from being able to push through. Just an untested theory.

I’m confident this is a species of waxcap, perhaps snowy waxcap. Waxcaps are indicators of ancient grasslands and have suffered in Britain due to agricultural intensification. The chalk grassland of the South Downs is a great place for them, but churchyards and even some moorlands can be good, too.

One lunchtime I made a break for the woods, with much lower expectations than previously. I spotted this blusher pushing through in the cradle of a tree root. Only later did I notice that an ichneumon wasp had landed, in focus, on the cap of the mushroom. It was a complete accident. You can read more about ichneumon wasps in my Macro Monday blog.

A new find for me (and once again not a fungus) was this coral slime mould. It was spreading across a small piece of wood at the side of the path. Slime moulds are fascinating because they are something of a mystery to science. They are believed to show early evolutionary forms of memory and are not closely related to fungi. I still need to buy the ID book.

Thanks for reading.

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