Tag Archives: scope

Bridgwater

Bridgwater 1921, by CarolineLD. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for linl.

Bridgwater 1921, by CarolineLD. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for linl.

I’m a hill-dweller at heart. Although my fell-running days never really materialised, I’m happiest when on higher ground. Around here I’m spoilt for choice: I can venture out to the Shropshire Hills or to the Malverns; or simply walk up the road to the heavily undulating countryside of the South Staffs/Worcestershire border. When down country visiting, it’s the same – we end up spending a lot of time in Cornwall and Devon, and these are heavily-contoured parts of the world. To get there though, it’s almost unavoidable that you’ll be either on the M5 or on the train in Somerset at some point, and you’ll go past Bridgwater. Some way to the west are the Quantock Hills, looming over the Vale of Taunton Deane; some way to the North are the Mendips, with their Holes and Gorges; you actually traverse some fairly spectacular scenery on the motorway itself. But around Bridgwater and the whole of the River Parrett basin, the flat extends for miles, and miles and miles. These are the Somerset levels, where the only things higher than a house are the distinctly odd Glastonbury Tor, and a weird Wicker Man-style running man statue just off the motorway.

Bridgwater is the most sizable town of the region, and its history is defined by the river flowing through the town centre. It’s the first bridging point of the River Parrett and became a shipyard, the terminus of a canal to Taunton, and a port for both inland and overseas vessels. Just outside the town you’ll also find evidence of the vast network of artificial ditches (rhynes, round here) which drain the Levels enabling the local agricultural and peat industries. It’s the birthplace of Robert Blake, and closely linked with everything ocean-related, but was  also apparently a hotbed of radical politics – treason and trade unions, protest MPs and radical non-conformism are found throughout.

Enter the town today of course, and you’re faced with nothing so exciting: a somewhat bewildering ring road-style arrangement seemingly completely surrounded by warehouse-sized retail outlets. So much for the radical local here; so far, so every other small town in the country. However, we drove around for some time and eventually found a car parking space so convenient that we searched up and down the street for a sign telling us we couldn’t be there. We didn’t find it, so parked right by the river on Binford Place. Convenient for the centre of town, even more convenient for the first charity shop, Scope. This is the high street side of the river, and progressing up Fore Street to Cornhill you’ll find the usual fare of this size and age of town: plenty of beautiful buildings occupied by chain stores. The worst offender here is the beautiful, Italianate Corn Exchange with its statue of Admiral Blake out front – now home to the least exciting chain (Prezzo) of the least exciting cuisine, pizza/pasta, our dilute Islington imitation of Italian food. Opposite, also in golden hamstone, you’ll happily find a huge St Margarets Hospice shop, perhaps the pick of the bunch in town, and certainly cause of a retail dilemma for us. We caved and left with a standard lamp, well-suited to our encroaching middle age.

Despite Google suggesting a PDSA shop in the Angel Place centre, these were the only two charity shops on the left bank of the Parrett. The bulk of the old parts of town is here though, and a wander around the back streets and churchyards would be well worth your time. Head back to the river though and cross the Eastover bridge. To your right, the flat ground stretches off to the east. To the left, the quay is still used, as is the large terminal basin of the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal, a short distance downstream; further still and the river widens to become the port at Dunball, then off into the Bristol Channel. Over the river you’ll find the best charity shops: British Heart Foundation, a huge Oxfam, National Missing Persons, RSPCA and CLICSargent are all found here, and every one  proved worth a look. In the BHF I even found jeans in my size, which – as a giant – doesn’t prove easy.

The problem with Bridgwater is the same problem with the large majority of towns that we visit, and it’s probably a wider issue than one blog can cope with. The nice thing about going to these different parts of the country is that we can see the individual towns for what they were. The local stone of Chippenham defines the town as much as that of Kendal; the history of the industrial revolution is as big an influence in Stourport as maritime history is in Falmouth. But almost everywhere, to get to these towns you have to plough through the city walls of mass retail, as though the funnest thing to do in the twenty-first century is go to a giant Matalan and while away a couple of hours. Break through the fortifications and you’ll find that the narrow passages and the grand thoroughfares are swamped with the same shops selling the same things that you’d find in any other town. It’s a cultural condition, I suppose: having had our hand forced into getting rid of our car, we now notice that when we have to rent for a weekend, we revert to the same old pattern: parking in a massive retail park, checking the different Sainsburys in the area, doing no exercise whatsoever. In many ways, the potential restriction of no car is actually a great liberation from the consumerist bind.

Find: Bridgwater @ Google Maps
Get there: take your pick: car, rail, canal or sea-going vessel
Consume with: Prezzo?
Visit: there’s a few visitor attractions around – try the Blake Museum, tucked in a little street off the river
Overall rating: four standard lamps

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Filed under 4/5, Somerset

Kidderminster

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Ah, Kiddy. How do I start to describe Kiddy?

Kidderminster is a near neighbour to us now, a 20 minute bus ride from the end of the road. To get there from us one travels through the understated loveliness of the South Staffs/North Worcs borders and into the ‘burbs at Broadwaters. From then on, you have to somehow negotiate a large-scale system of one-ways and ring-roads to get into the town centre, and you’re usually best off just heading into the first car park you see: I’ve been there many, many times now and still struggle to orientate myself from one end to the other. If you’re on the bus, you’ll hop off at the bus station, conveniently situated for the new Weavers Wharf development. This is the best of Kiddy, commercially-speaking. Debenhams, for example, is housed in the former Slingfield Mill, its restored chimney towering over the town centre. Nearby, the college is housed in the sympathetically restored Piano Building. You’ll find all the big name shops you could want between here and the Carpet Trades retail park over the road (Kidderminster’s trade of repute is carpets, to this day).

However, Kidderminster is very much a split-personality kind of town. Cross the bridge over the Stour into the town centre itself, and you’re faced with somewhat crumbling 1960s office edifices, an unkempt wind tunnel of a main street with a dirty market, and several Greggs. That kind of town. For all that, I view it very affectionately: just like Waltham Cross was an ugly but fruitful source of bargain shopping, I can’t help but love Kidderminster. It’s a cheap place to live as well: all the fine Victorian villas around the town are much more fiscally accessible than the same would be in, say, Bromsgrove or Stourbridge nearby. The opening of Weaver’s Wharf in 2004 was no doubt intended to spark some gentrification in the prime territory skirting the town centre; but as yet, one road off the ring road will still find you in a street roughly resembling Hamsterdam.

The pros and cons of Kidderminster as a place to live are up for debate. What’s indisputable is that this is a serious charity shop tourism destination. I’ll explain the latter part first, and this might be just me. I am a fan of canals. I’ve yet to build a model set, but it’s certainly a possibility, and Kiddy is a canal town. The Stour flows through the town to the Severn, and alongside it the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal, offering waterborn transport to Stourport and the big river one way, and Kinver, the Birmingham canal network, Wolverhampton, Stafford and onward the other. It’s also a train town: today the Black Country express through Smethwick and Cradley Heath continues on to Kidderminster, Droitwich and Worcester, but you can also change for the Severn Valley Railway through to Bridgnorth. For those slightly in thrall to industrial architecture as I am, there’s plenty to point at in Kiddy – in fact, it could be a real selling point for the town given its distinctive history. That’s my advice to the Kidderminster tourist board, and you’re welcome.

However, for the purposes of this blog (and our repeat visits): we count sixteen charity shops. Sixteen. If this was the Final Score vide-printer, that would say 16 (sixteen)  for clarification. I think it’s a record. For the sake of completeness, they are: Oxfam; British Heart Foundation (and BHF Furniture & Electricals); British Red Cross; Sense; Forces UK (and Forces Furniture & Electricals); Marie Curie; Salvation Army; Cancer Research; Scope; Mind; Happy Staffie Rescue; Forest Dog Rescue; YMCA; and Kemp Hospice. The highlights include Kemp Hospice, at least so I’m told – we often return with considerably more fabric than when we arrived; the large furniture shops are worth a gander as well – we bought our washing machine from BHF, and have espied a great quantity of furniture that we would have purchased, if only we still had the car. We’ve ended up with bits and bobs from most of these shops though.

We have problems with Kidderminster. It’s an easy place to get to on the bus, it’s got all the shops we need etc., but we find it hard to miss out charity shops. You know, just in case. So, it’s always a hike around the SIXTEEN charity shops, and you know what – it’s brilliant. It’s a funny old place, and it could be wonderful with a bit of love. But I like it as it is.

Find: Kidderminster Google Maps
Get there: the 125 bus goes to Stourbridge and Bridgnorth, or there’s regular trains from Birmingham and Worcester.
Consume with: there’s the normal array of chain coffee and a pretty rough-looking ‘spoons, but I’m still intending to visit Ye Olde Seven Stars, a CAMRA recommended pub where guests are encouraged to bring their own lunch.
Visit: whilst not neglecting the legendary WM Safari Park, probably the funnest day out is going to be on the steam train.
Overall rating: five fat quarters (1 1/4 wholes?)

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Filed under 5/5, Worcestershire

Petersfield

Sunrise at Petersfield, under creative commons, by Neil Bonnar. Click pic for link.

Sunrise at Petersfield, under creative commons, by Neil Bonnar. Click pic for link.

Some of our charity shop tourism ends up stirring up a whole glut of memories. This time around it meant visiting a South Downs market town where I spent many happy hours as a child – Petersfield was home to my grandparents as long as I could remember. So, we had a quick tour of what little I could remember and the town has barely changed. Approaching from Winchester along the A272 brings you a very scenic route through Britain’s newest National Park, underneath the A3 and into the town. My preferred route is then to turn off onto Frenchman’s Lane then along The Spain to Dragon Street and approach the town that way – you can then turn off down The Avenue to the Heath and its boating lake – get an ice cream, I should.

For a small town, there’s quite a bustling little town centre, with regular markets in the town square overlooked by the big statue of a man on a horse. This is a proper little southern English community, as befits its location history as a chartered market town: plenty of neat gardens, retired ladies from the church volunteer group staffing cake stalls outside Waitrose, and scattered, homey little restaurants. There’s a physic garden, town museum and a gallery devoted to the local artiste (Flora Twort), like an English version of Nick Cave’s archetypal American town. These days there’s also Costa and a touch of the creeping homogeneity that suggests, but mostly this is a charming, quaint, southern English town.

Cheerfully, there’s a selection of neat and quaint charity shops as well. The biggest one is undoubtedly Sue Ryder, on the corner of the neat and quaint Lavant Street, also home to Age UK and several cookshops – it’s that kind of town. This is a huge, double-fronted cornershop – although with no particular bargains on this visit. If you’re coming by train you’ll do so down Lavant Street then turn into Chapel Street, where you’ll find Scope, then onto Swan Street, which is really the main thoroughfare. Here you’ll locate Oxfam Books and Cancer Research clustered around the Square, with it’s man-on-a-horse cobbles. Along the High Street you’ll also find Rowan’s Hospice with various posh frocks and hats. I have a vague recollection of one on the opposite side as well, selling olde cameras – this may have been a more commercial second-hand store.

It was thoroughly lovely coming back to Petersfield, and although there’s little reason for me to visit regularly, it was a cheerful parade of memories, from the boats on the lake to the cobbles on the square. Armed with a good selection of charity shops, I’d happily commend you if you’re on a visit of the South Downs, now it’s gone National. Isn’t it, though, as granny used to say.

Find: Petersfield Google Maps
Get there: Petersfield station is located at the far end of Lavant Street.
Consume with: I don’t know how feasible this is for any other visitors, but we had excellent brownies from the stand outside Waitrose.
Visit: The South Downs National Park is full of delights – nearby are QE Country Park and Butser Hill, scenes of many a school trip or family picnic.
Overall rating: four posh ‘ats.

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Filed under 4/5, Hampshire

Kendal

Branthwaite Brow, Kendal, England by pixelsandpaper, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Branthwaite Brow, Kendal, England by pixelsandpaper, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Despite being the biggest town for some distance, Kendal has never been a county town, or the capital of the Lake District or anything. Rather, it was the centre of one of two baronies which made up the historic county of Westmorland, later subsumed into Cumbria, and today is a minor administrative HQ for the South Lakeland district council. However, it’s always been a hub, a market town drawing trade from across the most dramatic scenery of England, and remains so today – bigger than the nestled quaintness of Keswick, or the tourist-heavy Windermere or Ambleside, Kendal’s become a properly lovely little town, more than just mint cake.

You descend into Kendal via ranks of grey limestone cottages, flanked on every side by, if not formally the Lake District national park, then certainly the foothills of the Cumbrian mountains, the Shap fells, even looking towards Sedbergh and the Yorkshire Dales. It’s easily found from the M6, with snow-capped peaks in the background winking at you. There’s a fairly completed, if scenic, one-way system which (if you’re not careful) will whizz you over the River Kent and out again. We’ve parked in the shopping centre the couple of times we’ve visited. Sometimes it’s best just to find the first big blue P and go there.

Kendal town centre is based around Highgate and the excellently-named Stricklandgate, a hilly, semi-pedestrianised main drag which is complemented by several quaint side streets and a market square (as well as the Westmorland shopping centre). The charity shops cluster around the junction between the two ‘gates: at this point there’s a twin Oxfam (similarly to Glossop) with a good range particularly in the bookshop. This one’s definitely worth a stop for the Lakes guidebook/map hunter, although be warned – Oxfam always knows the value of a book, so don’t be expecting to pick up bargain Wainwright guides.

Almost next door you’ll find Scope, then over the road a Salvation Army and St John Hospice. These latter two are large shops filled with a veritable plethora of stuff; the British Heart Foundation slightly up the hill is less good, and is annoyingly laid-out, as per usual. Off the marketplace there’s a pretty good Barnado’s shop – this one had a pile of vintage fabrics when we were there as well as a fez. It goes without saying that the latter proved more tempting…

Finally, AgeUK is on Finkle Street, a tiddly little lane just off the main shopping route, but which makes a nice loop around – it’s accessible from both ends round the back of the marketplace. This is just an ordinary little shop, but did throw up a pretty decent record player for just £6.50, which is cheerful. We’ve been listening to Peter Gabriel and Dire Straits ever since.

I feel like I should be able to wax more lyrical about Kendal – perhaps Monday morning isn’t the best time of week for composing prose. Don’t let me put you off by the matter-of-fact post – Kendal’s a really lovely little town, definitely worth a visit.

Find: Kendal Google Maps
Get there: Kendal’s on the very scenic rail branch line from Lancaster to Windermere, which looks worth a go.
Consume with: Costa is a safe bet as normal.
Visit: as with so many of our visits recently, get walking. While Kendal itself lies in the Kent valley, you’re not far from anay of the Lake District here – Windermere is 8 miles on, Longsleddale (inspiration for Greendale) is the nearest hillage, and you’re not far from the Howgill Fells either.
Overall rating: four Dire Straits albums

   

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Filed under 4/5, Cumbria

Stourbridge

Arches by Nickster 2000, used under a Creative Commons license. Click pic for link.

Arches by Nickster 2000, used under a Creative Commons license. Click pic for link.

Today, you’ll find Stourbridge as the westernmost compass point of a sprawling West Midlands conurbation, butting right up against some glorious Staffordshire/Worcestershire/Shropshire countryside. But it wasn’t always so: the Black Country isn’t like London with its endless 1930’s ribbon developments radiating out from the centre; rather, each town is a definable centre, each with a purpose (at least, orginally). Cradley is called the home of chain-making, Walsall’s famous for its leather trade, Wolverhampton for its steel. Stourbridge is no different and became, particularly during the nineteenth century, a world centre for the glass industry after significant Huguenot in-migration. The twenty-first century is a very different era and the Black Country is becoming a post-industrial society – though certainly not out of choice. Stourbridge retains an artisan-led glass quarter (around Kingswinford and Amblecote), but today finds itself as much a dormitory town for Birmingham, just the other side of the M5.

Stourbridge holds a particularly happy place in this blogger’s heart, however: it’s where he and his Charity Shop Partner (slash wife) have just moved, so chances are you’ll be hearing plenty more from the West Midlands and its environs over the next few months. Its location right on the edge of the countryside makes it a very appealing place to live – as accessible for the urban delights of Birmingham as for the craggy heights of Shropshire or the Malverns. If we fancy a breath of fresh air these days, we don’t have to drive to a gloomy Essex coast or wander through a crowded Epping Forest: we can ascend the overlooking Clent Hills and have our breath removed by a view spanning to Wales or the Cotswolds.

But that’s enough about me – more importantly, this is a charity shop shopping blog and has its priorities. Happily, Stourbridge punches pretty well. In a less touchy-feely era of civic government than our own, a Nascar styled ring road (see below) was built around the town centre and it’s within the ring road that you’ll find the bulk of the town’s shops. Note though – there are other charity shops scattered around, notably a couple in Wollaston that I may or may not touch on another time. Within the pretty attractive town centre I count a good nine charity shops as well as various other amenities and local shops. You wouldn’t come to Stourbridge for a day’s shopping experience any more, as you wouldn’t go to Dudley, Brierley Hill, Halesowen, or any other community within the catchment area of the monolithic Merry Hill centre, so be warned of that.

There’s a stretch of charity shops on the High Street including a pretty sweet and not-too-expensive Oxfam: we located a pile of cheap Jo Nesbo books and, happily, three Granta magazines for £1.50, which are now populating the landing bookcase. Having brokenheartedly sold several hundred books in the move, we now appear to be doing our best to counteract that. There’s also Barnardos, Marie Curie, Acorn’s Hospice and British Heart Foundation, and best of all the huge Mary Stevens Hospice Shop, fundraising for the hospice which is located in Stourbridge itself. There’s a second huge Mary Stevens shops in Victoria Passage, a sneaky cut also containing cafs, restaurants and little boutiquey shops. This Mary Stevens, as with the main one, sells plenty of furniture as well as clothes and books – the one on the high street has an entire upstairs bookshop. Look out for cast iron fireplaces and patio sets. On Lower High Street you’ll find Cats Protection League, just up from King Edward VI college – educators of Robert Plant and Samuel Johnson, no less. Then back up Market Street to find Happy Staffie Rescue and Scope. That just leaves the very mid-century Ryemarket Centre where you’ll find Waitrose and Smiths and the like, as well as PDSA and Salvation Army.

While Stourbridge is hardly remarkably beautiful or noteworthy, it turns out that it’s a very pleasant place to wile away some time. It’s a bustling little town centre with some gorgeous buildings – King Eds, the Town Hall and St Thomas’ church are all very attractive. It makes a great stop on a day out to the country as well – it’s only a short hop from here to Bridgnorth or the Wyre Forest. Best of all, a whole heap of charity shops – if this was the Grandstand vidiprinter, that would be 11 (eleven).

Find: Stourbridge Google Maps
Get there: Plenty of buses end at the bus station, and you also have the shortest branch line in Europe terminating at Stourbridge Town with its funny little trains.
Consume with: There are plenty of coffee and food places around – there’s a Caffe Nero, and The Well looks quite nice. If you’re willing to expand your horizons, there’s many pubs doing a wallet-friendly £3.69 carvery (The Old White Horse), some doing some lovely food in a lovely location (The Vine, Kinver) and of course, plenty of curry (I recommend Balti Bazaar in Lye).
Visit: The Glass Quarter is full of museums and things to do – the Red House Cone is basically a big red cone for making glass, and if glass is your thang, you’ll find plenty of interest at Broadfield House or the Ruskin Glass Centre. If not, take a wander along the canal or to the lovely Mary Stevens Park.
Overall rating: five antique fireplaces

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Filed under 5/5, West Midlands

Halesowen

Just like a concrete spider by abrinksky, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Just like a concrete spider by abrinksky, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

My visit to Halesowen was somewhat unusual for me: an edgy, nervous visit, which was nothing to do with the town itself; and stranger still, a solitary excursion. My loyal wedded wife would normally accompany me everywhere and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the reason we were anywhere near Halesowen at all (hardly a glamorous destination itself) was for an interview for her and that involved me exploring the area and doing plenty of pacing around.

Fortunately, I know how to entertain myself around charity shops, and Halesowen has a whole slew of ’em. These are focused on the (very) 1960s pedestrianised shopping precinct which hardly does justice to Halesowen’s history: at the time of its mention in the Domesday Book Halesowen was larger than Birmingham and was known as Hala until it was gifted to David Owen (not the SDP one) in the twelfth century – hence Halesowen. It grew from a market town to a thriving industrial centre on the outskirts of the Black Country coalfield, being particularly noted as a centre of nail manufacture (not quite as thrilling as Cradley, home of chain-making, just up the road, but still good). It remains very much in post-industrial no-mans-land:  a new bus station development and Asda hardly make up the ground in this bleak, concrete outpost of the West Midlands.

The conglomeration of charity shops makes sense then. First to be noted are Age UK and Beacon Centre for the Blind, opposite the churchyard. Fairly standard in appeal, the shops set the tone for the town: the produce is reasonably priced, the shops are reasonably busy and the staff are reasonably friendly. Very reasonable. I parked above Asda and found these two first because I didn’t really know where I was going, but it’s a fair way to enter the town: turn right down the slope into the precinct for the full slew. On your right will be Cancer Research (closed on the Thursday morning of my visit) and to the left Acorns Hospice and British Heart Foundation. Further along the street you’ll find a large and well-stocked British Red Cross shop, near the entrance to the ugly Cornbow Centre which dominates the town centre. The remaining trio of charity shops are on Peckingham Street, all in a row: Scope and Mary Stevens Hospice bookend a large Save the Children, the best of the bunch in Halesowen (and I’m not just saying that because the aforementioned wife used to work there).

It’s a pretty bleak outpost, as I say: Halesowen reminded me of, say, Basildon or Waltham Cross, with the epic range of charity shopping and painfully dated architecture of the latter, in particular. If you have an hour to spend it’s probably a profitable place to sniff out a bargain, as long as you’re not in it for quaintness…

Find: Halesowen @ Google Maps
Get there:
Old Hill station or many buses
Consume with: various shoddy delights – my cappucino in Coffee2 was OK, or thereabouts
Visit: nothing much in Halesowen, but make a break for the Clent Hills, just down the road.
Overall rating: three Stephen Kings

  

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Filed under 3/5, West Midlands

Battersea

AH Dunn, under Creative Commons by Ewan-M. Click pic for link.

AH Dunn, under Creative Commons by Ewan-M. Click pic for link.

Battersea, home of the power station, the dog home, the flower market… These places aren’t really the Battersea I visited – they’re Nine Elms, so full disclosure, I’ve been to the power station but won’t write about it today. I did have a bit of a look at Battersea fairly recently though – it’s a classic case of gentrification (I cite Tim Butler) and is home to a charming housing estate, built for the working classes by well-meaning Victorians, both subjects I have pored over at length. It’s a textbook gentrified inner suburb, for sure, and vies with Crouch End to be the definition of yummy mummy territory – all artisan bakers, Starbucks and pushchairs – christened Nappy Valley by Will Self. And cheese shops; I’m pretty jealous of the cheese shops actually.

As you’d imagine, this is home to a certain type of charity shop. Northcote Road, the centre of Nappy Valley, is the hub of the inner-suburban leisure mum, and here are the more expensive charity shops: Trinity Hospice and a Fara kids’ shop (of course). There’s not a great deal to them though: some expensive tat, a selection of slightly intellectual books, the odd over-priced secondhand pushchair.

For a wider selection, cross the sweeping bar and cafe route of Battersea Rise to the semi-pedestrianised St John’s Road. Here you’ll find British Heart Foundation, Scope, Cancer Research, Traid and the frankly slightly odd Ace of Clubs, which I’ve never come across before. While none yielded any magnificent bounty, a smattering of objets made it a worthwhile diversion, and with that sort of population, you just never know.

Find: Battersea @ Google Maps
Consume with: plenty of options for frothy coffee or artisan fish.
Visit: if you can sneak into the power station somehow, absolutely do.
Overall rating: three coasters

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Filed under 3/5, London South