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Ejo #95 – ATC 101: Air Shows

Contrary to popular belief, I actually have an extraordinarily dull job. I am 100% governed by rules, regulations, procedures, instructions and agreements which prescribe every little thing air traffic controllers do, every single day. These nuts and bolts are set in stone and we absolutely cannot deviate from them. And that’s cool, coz it keeps the skies safe.

The over-riding big-cheese of all our commandments is the International Civil Aviation Organisation, also known as ICAO (pronounced eye-KAY-oh). Following the airborne mayhem of World War II, a bunch of governments realised they needed to get their shit together and regulate air safety.  ICAO was born in 1947, after 52 countries put aside their differences and signed the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.  I’m pretty sure they cracked a bottle of champagne afterwards.

ICAO regulates the entire global air navigation system, and oversees its massive growth. It’s a big job and they’ve published a veritable encyclopaedia of compliance documents and annexes. For instance, one of their fascinating tomes which dictates how I do my job is ICAO Doc 4444 PANS-ATM (Procedures for Navigation Services – Air Traffic Management). This 466 page beauty talks about all sorts of interesting things pertaining to ATC and, as an ATC Examiner, I refer to this document at least once a week. I look up things like the reporting of operational and meteorological information to pilots, wake turbulence categories, separation standards, runway selection, flight priorities, surveillance system capabilities, flight information and alerting services, coordination between agencies and units, standard phraseologies and how to deal with certain emergency situations. They cover a lot of topics, but ICAO actually paint in very broad brushstrokes. They don’t want to have to deal with the minutiae of every single situation, so they leave more specific instructions up to each state’s regulator.

To that end, in Australia you guys have the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), the USA has the FAA, and in the UAE we have the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). Each of these bodies follows the general rules that ICAO have set up and then, in addition to that, impose their own, more particular, local legislations known as Civil Aviation Regulations (CARs). The GCAA CARs mandate how all the ATC units in the UAE operate, including personnel requirements, training, contingency plans, coordination requirements, accident reporting, incident reporting and occurrence reporting, radio and telephone procedures, Safety Management System (SMS) requirements, management of fatigue related safety risks, licensing and currency requirements, low visibility operations and English language proficiency. It also delves deeper into the nitty gritty of separation standards and emergency handling.

Next, in the hierarchy of documents, we have the Manual of Air Traffic Services (MATS). This is a unit specific document detailing the finer points of how I do my job, day-to-day. My tower’s MATS is 270 pages long and I know it by heart. I kinda have to. That’s my job.

OK, so far I’ve talked a lot about documents and not a lot about air shows. What gives? I will explain, but first have a squiz at these amazing photos taken at recent air shows.

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The F-16 Thunderbirds doing some remarkable shit at Kogalniceanu airport, near Bucharest, Romania in 2011. The Thunderbirds are the air demonstration squadron of the US Air Force.

 

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Not to be outdone, the USA Navy have their own pretty snazzy air demonstration team called the Blue Angels, flying pretty darn impressive F/A-18s in very close proximity.

 

So, way back at the turn of the century I spent twelve months studying how to be an air traffic controller. This was followed by intense on-the-job, local training at each facility I’ve worked at since. The end-goal of all this training? To keep ‘em separated, people!!! The aircraft in the photos above are NOT separated. Not by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly not by any internationally recognised separation standard, of which there are many. They are not longitudinally separated, laterally separated, vertically separated, deemed separated, or geographically separated. At all!!!!! Some people might argue that they are visually separated, but I’d argue back that they are not. And I would win that argument.

What I’m saying is that over the years I’ve honed a very precise set of skills designed to prevent aircraft from doing shit like this, whether it’s deliberate or not. And I simply cannot switch that off.

In reality, the aerobatic portion of air shows is just a small part of why they exist. They’re mostly about displaying cool new aircraft to businesses, airlines, governments and obscenely rich individuals who want to buy them. And I’ve got absolutely nothing against that. The flying display, however, is really just the grandstanding part of that – hey, check out the size of my….. fighter jet. Look how quickly I can make it go up. And yes, even I get sucked into how cool it is when an A350 banks into a split-ass 90º turn straight off the runway.

It’s absolutely impressive. But if an aircraft did that on a normal day at work, I’d be pushing the crash alarm button and getting the airport fire service out there lickety-split. Because that bitch’d be about to crash. Because that’s not what passenger aircraft are designed to do. They are designed to take-off, climb, cruise, turn, descend and land within very tight parameters. And I am designed to keep it that way.

But hey, you might ask, what about the F/A-18s and F-16s? These planes are kinda designed to fly upside down. And sideways. And in crazy vertical spirals. Shut up, I don’t care. Yes, it’s extremely fucking cool, I cannot deny that. But I still don’t like it. My brain has been conditioned to freak out at these antics and I kinda feel like everyone in aviation should feel the same way. But as it turns out, I’m actually an anomaly in my industry. Most ATCs love this stuff. Go figure. Look, I honestly do admire the hell out of the rockstar pilots that do these crazy manoeuvres, and I’m not ashamed to admit to fawning over the Australian Air Force Roulettes team when they landed at Albury airport while I was training there, back in the day. And OK, I do get a thrill when Al Fursan, the UAE’s air demonstration team, buzz the tower when I clear them to transit my control zone. But air show displays? I don’t like the risk involved. And it is risky.

My first exposure to an air show was in 1988 when Air France Flight 296 crashed at the Habsheim air show in France. I was 17 and it would be another nine years before I even got the twitch to be an air traffic controller. But I will never forget watching this A320, full of passengers, fly what seemed like a totally controlled trajectory right into a forest, before crashing into flames. It shocked me, and it actually still traumatises me to watch that video.

There was a whole debate afterwards about what caused the crash but what struck me most was how unnecessary it was. Miraculously just three of the 136 people on board died, but sadly two of them were children who had won their tickets in a raffle. Jackpot??  I don’t think so.

Since becoming an air traffic controller I’ve learned that the A320 air show accident was not an isolated incident. Even though air shows are touted as “mostly” safe, accidents and crashes do happen. Ever since the Wright brothers’ revolutionary first flight in 1903, there have been 684 aircraft accidents at air shows, sometimes involving multiple aircraft and sometimes actually killing spectators. And the statistics are not going down. There have been 79 accidents in the last ten years alone. So why are we still having aerobatic displays at air shows? Why do we pressure our very best pilots to push the limits of aircraft? For a quick sale? I’m sorry, but that’s simply not good enough for me.

Clearance denied.

 

Ejo #94 – Drunk In….. Lisbon

Sometimes the inspiration to write a “Drunk In…..” post hits me long after the fact, when it dawns on me that I’ve got heaps of photos of us being drunken fools in some foreign city.  Other times I just know that a city is going to be excellent “Drunk In…..” material before we even set foot in it.  Lisboans are renowned for their love of eating, drinking and staying up way past their bedtimes.  As you know kids, that’s my kinda town.

 

TIME OUT MARKET (a.k.a. MERCADO DA RIBEIRA) 

So, we got to town, dropped off our bags and hit the street.  No point dilly dallying.  We were staying right around the corner from the Mercado da Ribeira (officially known as the Time Out Market…. blech!).  The market is known as a world-class food hall but we had a fancy dinner booked that night and didn’t want to ruin our appetites.  We were, however, looking for a drink (natch!) and we also just wanted to scope the place.  It was buzzing on a Monday afternoon which is always a good sign.  We grabbed a couple of large glasses of white sangria to ease into the spirit of things and figure out our next move.

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A food hall is a great way to eat a quick bite of really good food.  Time Out Market only includes vendors that rate four or five in their reviews, ensuring the quality stays high.

 

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White sangria is the shizzle!!  Delicious and refreshing and alcoholic.

INFO:
481 Av. 24 de Julho
Sun-Wed: 1000-0000
Thurs-Sat: 1000-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

MANTEIGARIA

Unsurprisingly, our next move was a quick recon to find the best pastéis de nata in our ‘hood, Cais do Sodré.  You might recognise these little delights as Portuguese tarts, but don’t you dare call them that in Portugal.  You call them pastéis de nata or you just go home right now.  I have a feeling that some of you might think you know what these things taste like.  I’mma stop you right there.  You don’t know, you just think you know.  Don’t worry about it, we thought we knew, and we didn’t know.  That first bite totally blew our minds.  How on earth could something taste so good?  I’m talking next level.  I won’t tell you how many of these we had during our four days in Lisbon.  Not because I’m embarrassed.  I just lost count.  Let’s say a ludicrously large number.

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Look for this sign to enter pastry heaven.

 

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LOOK AT THEM!!!  THEY’RE STILL WARM!!!!!

 

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O.  M.  F.  G.

INFO:
Rua do Loreto 2,
0800-0000
+351 21 347 1492
CLICK FOR MAP

 

PENSÃO AMOR

Pensão Amor was one of those perfectly serendipitous discoveries that totally begets a “Drunk In…..” post.  We’d been walking around for hours and were in need of a refreshing libation (and also a toilet), when lo and behold there it was, in all its quirky glory.  A lot of cocktail bars don’t open until evening, but the great thing about Pensão Amor is that they appreciate the merits of daytime drinking and, thoughtfully, fling open their doors at 2pm. David ordered cocktails while I went in search of the loo, which ended up being a very small, candle-lit, graffiti-splattered cubicle with a very curious, but delightful, display of Barbie dolls doing unspeakable things to each other to entertain you while you do your business (I did say quirky, right?).

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David’s Pisco Punch (kinda like a Hawaiian Pisco sour – which actually really works) and my Hemingway (yeah, sometimes I can be a classy bitch).

 

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The bar has several rooms – this one is the Wild West saloon style room with a projector showing silent black and white movies of circus freak shows from the 1920s.   Quirky. 

INFO:
Rua Alecrim 19
Sun-Wed: 1400-0300
Thur-Sat: 1400-0400
+351 21 314 3399
CLICK FOR MAP

 

A CEVICHERIA

A Cevicheria is a very fashionable, very well-reviewed ceviche restaurant that doesn’t take reservations (booooo!).  What makes this place so great is that, since they’re making people wait on the street, they’ve opened up a little window on the side from which they serve delicious Pisco sours.  Yay, Pisco sours!!  And you don’t even need to be waiting for a table to get them.  You just roll on up and drink them in the street before carrying on with your business.  Have you ever heard of anything so civilised????

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The shop front, with the Pisco Bar on the right hand side. 

 

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Gotta have limes if you’re making Pisco Sours. 

 

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We’re drinking Piscos, and you’re not. 

INFO:
R. Dom Pedro V 129
1200-0000
+351 21 803 8815
CLICK FOR MAP

 

FADO

Fado is a style of Portuguese music expressive of all the melancholy and malaise the Portuguese have experienced since… well, forever.  The country may now be enjoying an upswing in fortunes and, paradoxically, so is the popularity of this mournful music.  It’s definitely a must-do if you visit Lisbon, and the best place to see it is Alfama.  This neighbourhood is all small, narrow streets and cobblestoned, winding alleys.  Ramshackle houses, cracked and peeling, tumbling onto each other, but somehow still standing.  It’s historic, it’s sorrowful and it’s beautiful.  Just like fado itself.

We’d been told by a local that we “had to go” to Clube de Fado but sadly we arrived too late on a Saturday night (and without a reservation – rookie mistake).  We walked around looking for another reputable fado joint, but they were all full.  Determined, we followed the strains of soulful crooning emanating from an outdoor tasca and made a beeline for it, scoring a table for dinner.  Unlike Clube de Fado, where only professional singers perform, tascas are more an open-mic affair, and during the course of dinner we heard two great performances and one average one.  Next time we’re in Lisbon we’ll make a point of booking a table at Clube de Fado.

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Despite missing out on a professional fado performance, we were all smiles.  Lisbon can do that to you.  Also… wine. 

 

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Even average seafood in Lisbon is good seafood.  But it wasn’t good enough to rave about.  This “Drunk In…..” gig isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, friends.  Sometimes it’s a little hit and miss, but we put in the hard yards – just for you.  You’re welcome.

INFO:
CLICK FOR MAP

 

FABRICA COFFEE ROASTERS

Good coffee is an absolute necessity for “Drunk In…..” shenanigans.  It’s always such a pleasure when we find the perfect coffee place on our travels.  And in Lisbon, that place was Fabrica.  Consistently great coffee with always friendly, smiling service.  Exactly what you need when you’re recovering from a night of revelry.

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Absolutely perfect flat whites – every time. 

INFO:
Rua das Flores 63
0900-1800
+351 21 139 29 48
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TILES BAR

There was one reservation that we’d made in Lisbon that I absolutely didn’t want to miss, and being such eager beavers we turned up half an hour before they even opened.  What to do???  Tsk tsk, if you don’t know by now, you’ll never know.  Obviously we went in search of refreshments, and found them across the street at Tiles Bar in the form of our favourite Portuguese drink, white sangria.  Unfortunately it took them 25 minutes to serve, but they did make it from scratch, and it was yummy, so we couldn’t get too mad.

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The sangria you have when you’re thirty minutes early for your lunch reservation.

INFO:
R. Palma 312
Mon-Thur: 0900-0000
Fri: 0900-0200
Sat: 1100-0200
Sun: 1100-0000
+351 21 138 4724
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CERVEJARIA RAMIRO

After knocking back our sangria, we walked across the road to Cervejaria Ramiro, which by now had a throng of people waiting outside.  We were unsure if we should wait in line or push our way to the front, so we pushed our way to the front and hailed down a waiter to tell him we had a reservation.  Thanks to google we already knew which dishes we just had to have.  Clams Bulhão Pato, tiger prawns, lobster and red river shrimp.  We also knew to leave room for their specialty dessert of prego, otherwise known as a steak sandwich.  Yup, I said steak sandwich for dessert.  Do you see now, why we had to eat here.

During the course of the meal, we became progressively drunker and fell progressively more in love with our wonderful waiter who was everything a waiter should be.  Should I ever find myself in the predicament of having to order a “final meal”, I’d ask for a long, boozy lunch at Cervejaria Ramiro with João serving me seafood until it runs out.

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This is what they bring to the table right after you sit down.  DO NOT EAT THE BREAD!!!  It’s a trap!!!!  Save it for soaking up all the crustacean juices later on.  Trust me. 

 

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Why not beer AND wine?

 

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Clams, glorious clams.  This particular style is called Bulhão Pato, after the 19th century Portuguese poet António de Bulhão Pato who was particularly fond of his shellfish cooked in garlic, white wine and coriander.  I also, am particularly fond of my shellfish cooked that way.  These are exceptionally tasty and my mouth is watering just thinking about them!!!!

 

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Drooooooooool. 

 

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We asked for more lemon.  We got a large, hot serving dish of magnificent bubbling oil, chilli, lemon and garlic.  HOW DID THEY KNOW?????!!!!

 

 

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A steak sandwich?  For dessert??  Oh hell, yes!!!!

 

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When you both fall in love with your waiter, it’s only polite to ask what his name is.  His name was João.

 

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Marry us João!!  

INFO:
Av. Almirante Reis nº1 – H
1200-0030 (Closed on Mondays)
+351 21 885 1024
CLICK FOR MAP

 

A GINJINHA

After such a phenomenal meal, it only makes sense to wrap things up with a wee digestif.  And what better digestif than local delicacy ginjinha, a very tasty liqueur made from Morello cherries, brandy, sugar and cinnamon.  And what better place to get it than the iconic A Ginjinha, which has been serving this liquid deliciousness from a hole in the wall since 1840.  I am in no way ashamed to say we came here for some fortifying ginja several times a day during our visit.  Let me tell you, there’s nothing like joining all the old dudes in flat caps supping cherry liqueur in the middle of the street at 9 o’clock in the morning to make you feel like a local.  There’s usually a bit of a line but they serve very quickly and the only thing you need to tell them is whether you want it with or without the soused cherries.  Hint: get the cherries.

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Look for this sign.  Also, be prepared to wait as there is usually a line.  Luckily for you they pour pretty, pretty, pretty damn quickly – as you can see from the video below.  

 

 

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Cheers!  Oh, and you MUST get it with the cherries.  They pack an extra little punch, if you know what I mean.  

 

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We walked 1km carrying two little cups of ginjinha to the pastry shop just so we could see how good they tasted together.  Surprise, surprise!  If ever there was a more perfect combination than Pastéis de Nata and Ginjinha, I am yet to discover it.  

INFO:
Largo São Domingos 8
0900-2200
+351 21 814 5374
CLICK FOR MAP

 

SOL E PESCA

Did you know that food in a tin is a thing now?  I’m talking about tinned seafood in particular.  Oh, it’s a thing.  Look it up.  No longer the domain of camping cuisine, seafood in a can has been elevated to gourmet status.  Naturally, the hipster restaurants followed.  And so we went to the nautically themed Sol e Pesca to check out for ourselves exactly how this new wave of preserved seafood might differ from what John West has been offering for years.  The answer is: completely different league.  The menu is brought to you attached to a fishing rod (I mentioned the hipsters, right?) and is broken up into different sections: octopus, sardines, tuna, cavala (mackerel – yum!!!), herring etc.  And then within those sections you have all the different available flavours.  Pick the ones you want (with a bit of help from the gorgeous staff, as there is no English menu) and order a jug of white sangria to pass the time while the waiter opens up your cans and presents everything nicely on a plate.  Salut!

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The menu.  

 

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The white sangria. 

 

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The tins. 

 

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The octopus (with lemon and parsley). 

 

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The sardines (with garlic and oregano).

 

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The mackerel (with chilli and thyme). 

INFO:
R. Nova do Carvalho 44
Mon-Wed: 1200-0200
Thur-Sat: 1200-0400
(Closed on Sundays)
+351 21 346 7203
CLICK FOR MAP

 

RESTAURANTE PONTO FINAL

Across the Tagus River in Cacilhas, a little known area of Lisbon, lie a number of abandoned buildings, home to numerous cats and probably a fair share of squatters.  Also in Cacilhas is the wonderfully simple, but excellent restaurant Ponto Final.  This place serves good, honest, home-style cooking.  The menu consists of mostly seafood, as you’d expect, and that’s what we came for.  We were not disappointed.  Make a reservation, or come early like we did and grab a table with a view of the water and of the city of Lisbon shimmering on the other side.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny afternoon.

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The view of Lisbon from Cacilhas.

 

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When you’re offered an aperitif in Portugal, you’d better get Madeira.

 

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A feast for the eyes, the stomach and the soul.  For real.   The simplicity of this food is actually nurturing, comforting.  The wine is pretty nurturing too.

INFO:
R. do Ginjal 72, Almada
1200-2300 (Closed on Tuesdays)
+351 21 276 0743
CLICK FOR MAP

 

Ejo #93 – My Wallet

In 1995, my boyfriend gave me a beautiful men’s wallet for my 24th birthday. I fucking loved it. It was unique, functional, I’m pretty sure it was expensive, and it was a giant middle finger to the kind of birthday present girls were “supposed” to like. I still love that wallet, and now, because I’ve had it for over 22 years, I am also sentimentally attached to it. I love it because after all these years together we’ve become so close we finish each other’s sentences.  I love it because it’s always been there. It’s travelled with me to dozens of countries and endured four crappy jobs before finally settling in to the right one. It’s witnessed four other boyfriends come and go, and one amazing husband stick around. I love it because it’s seen me broke and it’s seen me flush. It’s held deposit cheques for my first car and my first house. Money that my Dad left me when he died. Money to buy food for handouts here in Dubai. Maxed out credit cards that have kept me awake at night and banknotes in eleven different currencies. You know, as mementos

Someone recently asked me what all the crap in my wallet was, referring to my large collection of car wash vouchers. Eight vouchers used to score you a free car wash – in 2001 – but I never actually got around to using them and over the years my poor wallet has stretched out to accommodate their bulk. When I finally decided to get rid of them, about ten years ago, I realised that my wallet had ballooned so much that my cash had no chance of staying put and just kept slipping out. So the vouchers resumed their position, filling the cavernous space they had created. We’ve all accepted that this will be their final resting place.  My wallet can no longer function without them, and thus neither can I.

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Need somewhere to write a list?

My wallet has contained love notes and phone numbers from fascinating strangers. It’s held receipts, IOUs, shopping lists and lists of things to do. It safeguards passport photos and photos of dead people, photos of people I love. It keeps my Australian sim securely hidden away when I’m in Dubai, and my UAE sim safe when I’m travelling. And, because I’m a hoarder, it still hangs onto every single driver’s license I’ve ever had. It holds my organ donor card, my Blood Bank donor card, and my most recent acquisition, my first aid license. My life is essentially contained within the smooth, dark brown, leather pockets of this wallet.

 

But let’s be real. The thing is over 22 years old. I don’t know how old that is in wallet years. Ancient. The stitches are falling apart at the seams and the Oroton label has all but completely worn away. The zipper on the coin pocket broke about fifteen years ago, and the whole goddamn thing is so distended by filler crap that I can’t even actually button it closed anymore. Let’s face it, this wallet is an old, ugly, worthless piece of shit. And I really, really should just throw it away and get a new one.

But I think we all know, I never will.

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‘Til death do us part.