Lockdown Ginger

It’s been a while.

So long in fact, that I was locked out of my WordPress account and I had to dig deep to remember my password.

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Eldest? Plus birthdate?

But I’m here now, albeit nervously…

“Why aren’t you blogging?”

“Why haven’t you written anything?”

“How is the writing course coming along?”

All fantastic thanks. (In my head.)

It’s a strange thing, because pre-lockdown I felt I didn’t have enough time to concentrate on my writing. Now, having had the ultimate luxury of time, I’ve done even less writing.

WTAF?

The thing is, I’ve been a little bit busy with other things (possibly also known as ‘avoidance tactics’.)

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At the point of lockdown, I cancelled all pending appointments, loz’d my cleaner and thought, “Sure, I can do this.”

Because, even though I have an avoidance of certain things, in typical Libran balance, I LOVE getting stuff done! I’m a do-er. A ‘fixer’ as my friend calls me.

I can do this!

…I just hadn’t banked on a housefuls of family members doing ‘it‘ with me.

As an introvert,  I love to go out, being social, seeing friends, having fun. But I equally enjoy my time. Me time. Recharge time. Quiet time.

Husband heads off to work. Kids delivered to school. My house becomes ‘my place’. My refuge. My solace.

Gone.

Fucked.

Taken from me.

Kids not at school. Husband working from home.

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They’re always around…

What was this trickery? Would Ant and Dec suddenly pop out from behind my sofa and unveil this huge prank?

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Seemingly not. This was really happening.

“Okay. I can do this.” I told myself. Again.

I set to work with a strong plan in place and by week two, I’d made good progress on avoiding writing and tackling rooms and drawers and cupboards around the house.

Shelves and their items have been cleared and shifted, sometimes the actual shelves themselves, moving rarely-used items up high (like the Slushy ice maker machine thing) and making room for regularly used things to be at a more accessible height, rather than needing a stepladder. (Aka 6’4″ husband. Handy for high stuff, not necessarily DIY stuff. Although during lockdown he has proven himself a worthy apprentice and more than capable. )

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The aforementioned Slushy Maker

Onto the spare wine glasses from our wedding list, taking up valuable space in a kitchen cupboard. They’ve finally been unpacked – it’s only been 15 years. In our defence, we aren’t the biggest boozers. Husband rarely drinks, as it takes a LOT of alcohol to even make a dent in his impairment.

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Strata by Conran. A popular gift lift choice in the early 2000s

And the last time I was drunk was at a friend’s 40th, where wandering bar staff kept topping up drinks and somehow my glass was always in the firing line. I was carried out of there (apparently) and spent the following day in bed whilst husband took kids out for lunch. Mothers Day lunch. Shame.

Back to the lockdown though – the office had a good declutter and the shredder has been working double time. Yet to learn ‘five sheets maximum’ reminder is there for a reason.

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We’re jamming’…

There was a lot of cooking. A lot of cleaning. A lot of teaching. A lot of working. A lot of Zoom calls. A lot of washing.

We all had our jobs to do and set to it with pretty good attitudes. All working around each other, checking in to see how we were doing, going on walks and all sorts. Busy busy busy.

By week four, I was even looking at various designs for workwear coats.

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My Grandma wore one like this. She would definitely have made it onto the Big Breakfast ‘Woman in a Tabard’ segment

But by week six, I had to have a very frank discussion with myself that something had to give.  I was forever cleaning, still wanting to keep the house ‘just so’, forcing all ‘housemates’ to commend me on ‘how nice the bathroom smelled’, ‘how clean the floor was’ and how ‘satiny smooth the ironed bed linen was’. By the way, don’t come at me with your ‘I don’t iron my bedsheets’ – I am willing to give up some things. Not that.

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Not my actual bed. But excellent ironing.

I was done. Finished. Frazzled. Miserable. I had to purge something before I was shipped off in a straight-jacket and thanks to a very good friend, experiencing similar, she encouraged me to draw up a schedule and stick to it. It involved 50% less cleaning. I was over the moon.

[At this point, it’s worth mentioning that there have been some incredibly sad times during lockdown. Please don’t think with this blog I’m making light of a desperately tragic time for so many people. I most definitely am not. But I’ve watched people still share ‘funnies’ and blogs about food and fashion trends and all sorts and for me personally, these are the things that have kept some semblance of normality amongst this mess. So hopefully you will indulge me in my musings too….]

By week eight or nine I started to see the plus side of lockdown… I even made a list of positive things:

  • No chance of the kids catching nits. That would have finished me off.
  • Yes, my hair really is that dark naturally.. but on the plus, I HAVE NO GREY HAIRS!
  • Fortunate enough to wrangle a weekly online slot and many substitutes have now become firm favourites. Received a sub of tennis racquet-shaped pasta and it was a complete winner! It did however descend into a shit show whilst the kids recreated Wimbledon and flicked peas at each other using pasta racquets.
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New balls please

  • We can finally bake our own challah! It had always seemed a daunting bake. Something best left to the pros. But it’s fun and a lovely activity to do with the kids. (And I can do a nifty 4-strand plait thanks to YouTube.)
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‘Challah’ at me for the recipe. It’s not mine. but I would share it.

  • I’ve deep cleansed my address book, email inbox, subscriptions and gone pretty much paperless in my finances. I feel about a stone lighter.
  • Following an extensive spice cupboard audit conducted by my eldest, I have accepted the fact that I have more than enough dried parsley. However, I have just added red pepper flakes to the bursting collection and I can now make the The Good Earth’s Crispy chilli beef. (If you know, you know). All thanks to @food_obsessed_girl.
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Worth every ingredient

  • After initial first-world problem meltdowns that I couldn’t continue go to the gym or Pilates classes, I have rediscovered the delights of instagram lives and zoom classes. Thanks to @ciaralondon I have expanded my music appreciation with soca, whilst holding and pulsing and flexing. And thanks to @pilateswithlouise, I have rediscovered the joys of matwork and look forward to ‘Teaser Tuesdays’.
  • I taught my kids new skills – like what the ‘Rinse Aid’ light meant on the dishwasher. And that ‘adding salt’ didn’t mean using Malden Sea Salt. They were fascinated that there was actual special salt for dishwashers.
  • I’ve read. And read and read. Usually I only get to do a ‘solid read’ on holiday. But lockdown has allowed me that pleasure again and it’s my detox in the evening. I think I’ve actually watched less tv than ever.
  • Re: above, possibly a lie. Youngest and I indulged in some feel-good tv and binged on Friday Night Dinner. ‘Shit on it’ is now a regular turn of phrase in our house. And daughter will often greet me with ‘Hello Jackieeeee’. Fun fact: the house where it’s filmed is round the corner from me. Unknown-1
  • Got the kids on board with sheet change day – Fridays if you must know. They are now fully capable humans as opposed to what my friend’s daughter said following bed stripping instructions. “What does ‘strip’ the bed mean?”
  • My hygienist appointment avoidance was finally on an even keel with everyone else. I went just before lockdown – I truly hate going. But now? I can’t go. You can’t go. No-one can go!!! I am guilt free. Although feeling sad for my daughter who has a brace that is currently missing about five brackets and I had to perform a DIY wire cut using nail clippers. Don’t worry, it was on advice of orthodontist and so far so good.
  • We can now bake our own Millie’s Cookies. We went through various recipes and test batches – oh the gluttony – but have finally reached perfection thanks to Baking Mad. I guess it depends on what your version of perfection is. Plus, we were sick of banana bread.

See? Lots of positives. There are of course so many negatives in this altered normal life we are all living, but I’m trying hard each day to outweigh with the positives that we, as in my family, are all healthy.

I crumbled at week 6 and again, 6 weeks later. This week, week 13-ish, I had the meltdown of meltdowns. I just couldn’t do ‘it’ anymore.

It’s really not easy. And ‘it’ will be different things to different people. But my ‘it’ got too much for me this week. It felt good to have my moment and re-set.

And I feel much better for getting all of this down in a blog. Writing makes me happy. So do cookies.

I hope I won’t leave it so long next time.

Must go – the slushy maker is required from the top shelf with the impending warm weather…

x

 

Hotel, Motel, Whatcha Gonna Do Today?

All of a sudden it’s nearing the close of 2016 and I’m in full-on packing mode, casually ignoring the husband’s jeers of ‘#early panic’ and sticking with ‘#organised’.

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Not my actual case. I would NEVER put it on my bed

In any case, I spy him opening his airline app to see if he can check in online yet.

“Kids! Come here!”

“What is it, Daddy?”

“Look! These are our seats on the plane. It’s called an ‘A380’.”

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Kids just want to know who gets the window seat

This ‘checking’ thing is coupled with regular monitoring of ‘Flight Radar 24‘, a plane tracking app. He and his mate (the only two known subscribers) have spent many an evening verifying a particular plane coming in to land.

But enough about the flight, I’m all about the hotel. No cooking, no cleaning, no washing, no bed-making. Did I mention no cooking?

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For me, it’s the hotel smell upon arrival. I love that foyer ‘whiff’ you get – fresh flowers, furniture polish and the aroma of 24-hour efficiency that wafts around the place.

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Reej. Bev. Wilt. It really is. (Never been, but love to)

We choose our accommodation carefully based on the three R’s:

  • RESEARCH
  • RECOMMENDATION
  • REALLY BIG BEDS
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RIP Andrew Sachs

I married a man whose nickname could be Hightower (‘Police Academy’) and whilst he isn’t black (couldn’t be further skin-toned from it), he is very tall. Therefore, at home I sleep in the lap of super-king luxury, so if the hotel hasn’t got super-king or queen or whatever the local equivalent is, I’m not taking this shit lying down.

Call me a snob, but I’m a very light sleeper and I’m hoping for more than forty winks on holiday.

After years of experience, I have learned not to unpack once shown to our room. It’s all very ‘end of the Sound of Music’ where kids and I must remain silent and almost out of sight, leaving husband to shake his head in mock-disappointment at the original room they offer us.

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Stay quiet children…

I used to get embarrassed, but now I let him get on with it if it means a free upgrade from the original room opposite the lift. He blags well:

Disney World – fourth time on The Haunted Mansion:

“Mate, help us out, we came here this morning for our fast-pass slot but the ride was closed for maintenance. We’re flying back this evening and it’s the only ride we’ve not yet done.” (All aboard for the fifth time.)

Driving aimlessly round Manchester Square, London

Very late for dinner with friends and nowhere to park. Drops me off at restaurant. Arrives at restaurant 3 minutes later.

“Where on earth did you manage to park?”

“Don’t worry about it, Doll.”

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There was actually a film crew. He put this on the windscreen

Once finally in the room, I check ‘hanger quality’. I’m not a fan of hole-in-the-rod ones (as if I’d steal them?) or fiddly clamp ones.

I’m almost tempted to try my mother-in-law’s time-saving method of packing everything on a hanger. (I said ‘almost’.)

So, whilst I am doing all the unpacking, husband goes into James Bond mode.

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No. Not that.

I mean the safe.

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Birthday, house alarm or anniversary for the code?

This is his priority and he takes it seriously. I’ve barely walked into the room when I am ordered to shed all valuables and put them in the safe with the passports.

Once I’ve unpacked the clothes it’s onto the bathroom; an almost lengthier unpacking process with my lotion and potion-loving family. After I’ve established that the hair-dryer is a complete waste of time and inspected my face in the giant back-lit magnifying mirror, I stow away the handy sewing kits and shower caps as ‘going home presents’. (No interest in the body lotion – far too allergic.)

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Will just go curly then…

I don’t even need to glance at the bed to know that we will need more pillows. Always more pillows. ‘Hello housekeeping?’

Next, I like to find most useful/accessible plug point and claim it as my own. There’s usually only one unless we unplug the useless lamp in the corner too.

So, what about the rest of the family whilst I’m doing all of this hard work?

Well, the kids are trying on the free slippers and maintenance are on the way up to sort out the tv for my husband. We may make it out of the room by lunchtime…

Happy holidays and thank you for all of your blog support this year. It means loads. x x x


Here’s a fun festive recipe to round things off for the year:

Rice Krispmas Puds

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Noms

Ingredients:

100g Rice Krispies

5 or 6 full-size Mars bars

3oz unsalted butter

Red, green and white ready-to-roll icing

Method:

Chop the Mars bars up and melt with the butter in a microwave for 3-4 mins on medium.

Stir melted Mars into bowl of Rice Krispies and mix.

Roll into golf-sized balls. Add a Malteaser in the middle of a few of them (yassssssss!) – finders wins prizes! (Ensure you actually have prizes.)

Top with a white circle of icing (snow), red balls (berries) and green sprigs (holly).

Smells Like Teen Spirit..

.. and by that I mean snakebite n’ black, pot noodle and mouldy bed linen.

Packed to the roof like they’re up for some serious car boot sale action (old Kodak centre in Harrow anyone..?), I’ve spotted many laden cars heading North with wide-eyed teens in the back, clutching their teddies in excitement as they headed off to University.

I (vaguely) remember being one of those teens and it’s only now in my 40s that I can look back at the experience and truly understand why my friend’s mum hung about for hours at our student house, scrubbing at the bathroom and kitchen until her marigolds wore through and she left the house sobbing.

To me and my Uni girlfriends, it was a palace. To our parents, it was a cesspit that we had foolishly handed over a deposit and a month’s rent to our landlord. Having housed six boys prior to our arrival, it took many weeks to embed it with our ‘girl smell’. The basement however, was another level (if you will pardon the pun.) I can still smell it now…

If I could go back and re-think my career, I wish I had gone into perfumery. I can happily spend hours in the candle and fragrance departments and if you’ve ever wondered why coffee beans often appear alongside candles, it’s to neutralise your sense of smell before the next sniffing. I don’t think the yearly coffee bean crop of Latin America would have helped our basement.

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Milk and two sugars please

Smells are so important to me. They trigger memories – happy, sad, funny. These are a few of my best/worst smells:

GOOD: Lavender – reminds me of my late Grandma who loved the smell of it. I always travel abroad with lavender oil and a couple of drops on a pillow at night definitely helps the kids get to sleep. Also great for a relaxing bath. I had a relaxing bath once in 2005. I have kids now.

 

BAD: Baby poo. I remember the horrific baby poops that seeped up the back of the baby-grow. Usually when you were in the John Lewis toilets, already sweating, lactating and trying to get a feed in.

GOOD: Tarmac. I actively seek out roadworks. I called my Dad recently to ask about some signage on the back of a truck. ‘Paving, rendering, tarmacadam’. After mocking me for  pronouncing it ‘Tarmac Adam’, he informed me that it’s actually the full name for ‘tarmac’.

BAD: Damp clothing – so, you wash your clothes and hang them to dry. You go to wear a top and notice the cuff was stuck inside itself. Oh well, it’s dry now and all is fine.   No. It’s not fine. Stinks all day long. Wash it again.

GOOD: Comfort Sunshiny Days fabric conditioner. Best ever. I like everything to smell clean and fresh. My sister in law has the market cornered on that. Her whole family have animated flowers wafting around them at all times. Even the dog.

BAD: Dog poo. Even the tiniest amount (always stuck in the tread of your trainers) is enough to make me retch.

GOOD: Husband’s after shave. You can keep your Creed Aventus (fyi, now available for women too). Robert Piquet ‘Notes’ is the one I love on him. Unfortunately it’s no cheaper than Creed and is so-called ‘Notes’ because you need bucketloads of banknotes to pay for it

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BAD: Gefilte fish. You can’t roll a shit in glitter. And the same goes for a carrot ‘hat ‘on top of minced fish…

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GOOD: Hotel foyers – I love how the good ones smell amazing when you walk in and almost set your mood. I remember my honeymoon and my obsession with the smell of the place where we stayed – a friend would always bring me back lotions and sprays when she visited South Africa.  Luckily ‘Charlotte Rhys’  is now available to order in UK, but it never smells quite the same at home. Possibly the lack of sea view and room service.

 

BAD: Earring butterflies – I’m as hygienic as they come so don’t pretend and act holier than thou. It’s a real problem for us all.

GOOD in a BAD WAY: Original stonewashed denim. When I was a teen, drooling over the Levis commercials featuring Nick Kamen and Brad Pitt, there was a tiny shop on Golders Green Road called ‘Yankee Doodle’ that catered to the Levi 501 obsession of North West London. (South London crew had ‘Soldier Blue’ on the Kings Road as their mecca.)

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The old site. The entrance was where ‘Gentle Care’ is and about half of ‘Virgin Money’

Small but perfectly-stocked, it was stacked ceiling-high with bandanas and converse and my favourite Levi 501s. The jeans had been through a stone-washing process that an intoxicating bleached smell. Ripped, stained, ink splattered, torn, worn. No wonder there was a sign up stating that you had to have your parents permission to buy from there.

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An original display from Yankee Doodle (thanks to Dani who owned the shop – more stories please!)

 

GOOD: Freshly baked bread, specifically challah, in the boot of your car.

artisan-challah-bread

Better than the artificial smell of the yellow vanilla trees dangling off your rear view mirror.

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Controversially, I have a friend who prefers the black ice scent to vanilla – something about the musky, manly smell. They should actually manufacture challah-scented Little Trees…

LIGHTBULB MOMENT!!!

“Hello, Little Trees? I’ve got a new scent idea for you…”

That’s Chrismukkah presents sorted then…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fully Loaded…

Everyone’s heard of Desert Island Discs  – the Radio 4 show that quizzed a celebrity guest on a luxury piece of music they’d choose if stranded on a desert island. (Bill Gates’ was Jimi Hendrix ‘Are You Experienced?’. Freddie Flintoff’s was Elvis.). The interview format grew to encompass other luxury items and I know there have been haters, arguing how could you listen to music on an island without a power source? It’s fantasy! And here’s mine:

Music: Justin. Not Bieber. Am talking the original Justin, aka Timberlake (including his *NSYNC back catalogue.)

Chocolate: red Lindor. (Swapped in for Creme Eggs at Easter.)

Food: thai green curry, with pea aubergines

Beauty: self tan. Forgive me but I don’t tan well, sun-drenched desert island or otherwise.

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My legs on holiday. Crab stick anyone…?

Electrical essential: MY DISHWASHER!!!

You can keep your washing machines, coffee machines and vacuum cleaners. There is always a friendly neighbour, a Starbucks or a Dyson handheld. Nothing beats the decadent feeling of throwing a sink-full of dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher and pressing ‘start’.

I look after all of my household appliances as if they were extra children. I know how each one ticks, hums and whirs. I respond when my dishwasher communicates to me that it needs salt or rinse aid. It gets a regular cleanse cycle and I often undo the filter to check for things like sweetcorn (sometimes), spiralised courgette (often) and sticky labels from tupperware (always).

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And yes, I use the salt funnel.

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My kids use it as a Shopkins chute

I love to cook and on the days that I am entertaining, I can often go through a complete cycle just of the prep-paraphernalia alone. It’s usually at this point, even with the blue light on the floor, the swishy-swirly noise and the fact he’s seen me load the machine and say, “Just putting a load on before friends get here, doll”, that husband will finish a yoghurt and open the dishwasher mid-cycle to put his spoon in. Apparently he ‘didn’t realise it was on’. Most days he will leave cutlery in the sink, or within 5cm of the dishwasher door and yet these are the times the machine isn’t on yet, the door is ajar and the spoon could go in. (I use my Pilates breathing technique here.)

I had friends over for tea recently and as I was stacking, my friend pulled me up on my cutlery-loading technique. She’s a good friend so I allowed her this critique and I listened intently as she talked me through it.

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Here she is, all ready to go. With the blue light that has no function but is sooooo pretty

I think my handicap had been the fact that I had come from the ‘caddy school’ of loading with my previous model:

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Fork up? Fork Down?

(Always fork up. If you can’t avoid stabbing yourself, then you shouldn’t be operating a dishwasher.)

When I moved house, I couldn’t give two hoots about planning permission, RSJs and where the main Sky box was going to be. My kitchen was my main concern and most notably, whether to opt for another caddy-style model or a new fangled cutlery tray.

Caddy.

Tray.

Caddy.

(My kitchen designer truly loved me…)

The cutlery tray model won but only on the condition that I could add some anal retentiveness to the design. So upon opening the dishwasher, the cutlery tray now serendipitously meets my cutlery drawer for ease of transferring.

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See? They’re almost kissing…

It gets me every time – which is in fact every morning, when I unload. Every night, I set the machine to delay start at 4:30am for 2 reasons:

  1. By the time I come down in the morning, the cycle will have finished and had enough time to cool down. (Just-dishwashered spoons are very, VERY hot and no-one likes a warm glass of apple juice.)
  2. Husband leaves for work at 5ish and finds the ‘hum and slosh’ of the dishwasher comforting when he comes downstairs (it’s the little things…)

My unload method is always the same  – new capsule in (yes. I do that) everything out and piled into groups on the worktop ready to put away. Unless you are my husband, in which case there are always anomalies that he has no idea exist in our house, nor where they live (nor what their purpose is), so they get left on the worktop for me.

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A selection of leftovers from husband’s unloading. (Yes. I own a blackbird pie funnel.)

Whilst most men don’t seem interested in anything remotely domesticated except perhaps the barbecue in the Summer, lots of them are actually quite ‘into’ the dishwasher thing. I have a friend whose husband is so load-specific that she’s relinquished all dishwashing duties to him. He says, ‘load from the back first and work your way forward’.

Great idea! I tried to instil this in the family home but there was mutiny in the ranks. I think the cutlery-loading induction day had pushed them to their limits and I was duly told to ‘fork off’ or words to that effect.