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Holiday on hold

James Landale | 12:51 UK time, Friday, 4 August 2006

They are the words every child hates. "Sorry kids, the holiday's on hold for a bit, Daddy's got to work." We don't know how Tony Blair broke the news to his family but it's a fair bet they weren't too surprised.

It's not the first time - but perhaps may be the last - that the prime minister has delayed his date with a sunlounger. Last year he stayed on a few days to deal with the fallout from the 7/7 bombings. Yesterday Mr Blair had showed every intention of going ahead with his hols. "Whatever I may be doing in the next few days, the most important thing is to realise that, wherever I am, I have got full communications," he said. "I will be on the phone." This indeed is true. The idea that a modern prime minister can do what we all do and switch off the mobile the moment we hit the beach has always been a fallacy.

Long gone are the days when William Gladstone spent months away from Westminster chopping wood on his north Wales estate.

But some modern communications are not as good as others and it is that which has changed Mr Blair's mind. Late last night he had a conversation with the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan which, I am told, convinced him to stay in London. Today, he was told, was going to be a crucial stage in the negotiations to establish a UN resolution that might just establish a ceasefire in Lebanon. And it was today that Mr Blair was expecting to be on an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic.

Yes, as we know, we can all make expensive calls from aircraft today. But the lines aren't that good and if Mr Blair were to take a scheduled flight, they would hardly be secure. Not only might some naughty spooks pick up the unscrambled conversation, but members of the public might be able to listen in too from across the aisle in first class.

So for the next few days at least, Mr Blair will sit by his phone and focus on the diplomacy. He's already spoken to the French President Jacques Chirac, other calls are scheduled for later. Spade work of another kind will have to wait.

Two quick points: if it were Kofi Annan who helped persuade Mr Blair to stay by his phone, what does that say about his deputy secretary general at the UN, Mark Malloch Brown, who two days ago asked the PM to take a backseat in the negotiations? And we should not forget that some newspapers and MPs have been attacking the PM for planning to go on holiday, leaving John Prescott in charge, while the Middle East burns. Mr Blair's decision to stay on in London a few days might ease some of that pressure and silence a few critics.

As ever, the prime minister is covering his bases.


James - We're very glad you're here but why Nick couldn't put his holiday on hold!!!

  • 2.
  • At 01:42 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Alf Jones wrote:


You seem to have lapped up this bizarre notion that world diplomacy can't cope without Blair.

He's a poodle, a nothing, a has-been and he will have no say in what happens withthe current Israeli-Lebanese crisis.

I know it's your job to feign interest; but while you and your colleagues contemplate the wholly irrelevant news as to when Blair will be going on holiday; the rest of us are just waiting for him to go for good.


I'm sure that many of Mr Blair's many detractors will write this off as a gimmick or worse. But to me it looks like dedication partly to getting a meaningful ceasefire but mostly to a cause dear to his heart viz. the almost impossible search for solutions to the Palestinian question and Israel's security...

How do we know Kofi Annan did not ring up just to wish TB a "happy holiday"?
I think it is more the case that the pigeons are coming home to roost and TB has realized he might not have a job to come back to!
That is of course if there is a conscience left in the Labour Party.
GB is conspicuous by his absence - Beware the Ides of August?

  • 5.
  • At 02:05 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Andy wrote:

What a sad and nasty comment about a very serious issue.
It is very easy to criticize from the side lines and still maintain no alternative. What will be said, I feel, about Blair later when he does go will be that he did have more than the slightest clue as to the seriousness of the current situation and more than aware that brief ceasefire option will do.

What ever deals are being done to appease the Israel govn't will need more than a few phone calls. Interesting article ...thanks!

  • 6.
  • At 02:11 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Tim wrote:


In the cosy world of the BBC maybe everyone goes on holiday and doesn't keep in contact with work.

Doesn't work like that in the real world - all leaders and many middle managers in business are in contact with the office. Kinda shows how out of touch journos are from teh life the rest of us lead.

As to Blair? rather fits in with his God complex doesn't it? He has to solve the world's problems. Perhaps a little humility would go a long way here - not his fight, not our issue, not under our control. Pushoff on holiday Tony. You won't be missed.

Bring on the clowns.

  • 7.
  • At 02:18 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • D MOORE wrote:



  • 8.
  • At 02:20 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Julian Hopkins wrote:

I believe the refusal of Bush and Blair to speak out strongly against Israel's war strategy that is killing and injuring thousands of innocent Lebonese indicates a fundamentally corrupt moral philosophy, regardless of the disproportionate and relatively insignificant actions of Hezbollah that apparently sparked this crisis. Bush/Blair's lack of outright condemnation (of the Israelis' indiscriminate violence) is puzzling much of the rest of the world, and is certainly an outrage to the majority of their own ordinary people, who are wondering what on earth has got into their arrogant heads. Blair delaying his holidays is a ridiculous ploy to appease dissidents in his own party and to continue to appear to be controlling events. It's a shameful, shallow sham.

Julian Hopkins

  • 9.
  • At 02:23 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Kevin wrote:

Annual holidays are for many something of a privilege but for the Prime Minister to go on leave now with all that is happening in Israel and Lebanon shows a lack of understanding of their plight and a callous and insensitive leader.
With people dying in Lebanon and Iraq and the situation getting worse as Iraq slips toward civil war, and Israel pushes further into Lebanese territory, how can a world leader take a break? Makes one wonder if war in the Middle East is the real goal of Bush and his minion Tony Blair.
No doubt George Bush will also be taking a vacation soon, rushing off to his ranch in Crawford, Texas or a (well earned?) rest.

  • 10.
  • At 02:37 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Ed Clarke wrote:

I think Blair's self-importance is disgusting. I thought we had dimplomats working for the Foreign Office to do most of the leg work on international efforts. The idea that Blair single-handedly runs the country minute-by-minute is either a false impression or very worrying.

It appears that Mr Blair doesn't know if he is coming or going (in more ways than one) - one minute he wants a holiday and says he can be in contact there, the next he says he has to be here in London. Can he not make up his mind?

A sub-plot here, is that if he had his own dedicated aircraft - like Air Force One - he could travel on to his holiday with all the secure communications he needs. And there is no argument that as the leader of the government, he would have the use of the aircraft for his personal holidays (look at the respective usage of 'official aircraft' by the leaders of countries such as Japan, US, France, for their holidays).

The real issue is that he obviously does not trust Mr Prescott to do any of the leg work whilst he is away, so he has to do it himself.

  • 12.
  • At 02:47 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Gerry Harper wrote:

Nick Robinson is typical of you journalists in the middle of a story and he disappears away on holiday! So much for dedication to his job! He would have been the first to criticize the PM if he had gone on holiday but as usual its one rule for the journalists and one rule for the rest of us!

Bah Humbug!!!

  • 13.
  • At 02:58 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Paul wakeley wrote:

Why must Blair sit by his desk? There are 24 other EU leaders, 192 member states in the UN, 6 billion people in the world. Being British Prime minister doesn't automatically mean you are the world best diplomatic statesmen - bounding from rogue state to rogue state sorting out tyrannical regimes and finding(?) weapons of mass destruction.

Perhaps, after his failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tony is prepared to put his holiday on hold for his much sought after legacy.

Whilst the situation in the Middle East is terrible, if Tony thought a little bit more about the people who elected him to govern this country, perhaps nine years of Labour government might have actually achieved something!

  • 14.
  • At 03:14 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Andy Cohen wrote:

Ahh congratulations Prime Minister! We should all be eternally grateful!

Sheesh... anyone would think he had a job to do!

  • 15.
  • At 03:20 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Matt wrote:

Comment 2 is right on the money. Blair's messianic complex probably held him back from his holiday (although why does he need one after his little jaunt to the states?). He wouldn't be able to sleep, worrying that there might be some kind of resolution in his absence, which would prevent him from somehow claiming it was down to him - safe in his delusion that he is a true "world-statesman". Personally, I don't think leaving the oaf prescott in charge is much worse. Let the poodle go on another freebie. How anyone can be naive enough to think that anything this man does is genuine is beyond me. After all, what are a few innocent lives, when his ego is a stake?

  • 16.
  • At 03:26 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Blair is simply waiting for the phone call from Bush. Bush will relay the words that he wants Blair to say. Like the actor he is Blair will deliver his prepared lines. Unfortunately for Blair he now has no real audience. In the end he is simply wasting sun lounger time.

  • 17.
  • At 03:37 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

This is all very complex isn't it. At the UN we have the French and the US at loggerheads over how the insertion of troops should be done, a rather strange situation when you consider that that the US are dictating terms that will put not one US soldier at risk. Now we are asked to believe that Mr Blair is needed to help in this process, personally if I was Kofi Annan I would encourage Mr Blair to go - one less problem to deal with.

Kofi Annan is the voice of reason in an unreasonable world, but sadly even he may have to accept that the US will block all attempts to resolve the current conflict. Israel will decide the timeframe for a ceasefire and I fear that will not be for some weeks to come.

As for TB, he is little more than a cheerleader for the US administration, albeit the head cheerleader. TB's role in this conflict is to promote the US position with an eloquence that Bush cannot match. Personally I would be in favour of Mr Blair extending his holiday, perhaps he could make it a permant arrangement.

  • 18.
  • At 04:29 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Nick Thornsby wrote:

Hi james
I don't agree with that view from comment 2 that Blair has no importance in world affairs- afterall he is the prime minister of a very powerful country and despite what we think about his relationship with Bush he is still powerful and necessary and all credit to him for staying back for a few days. I don't think a lot of people would have done that as Prime Minister!!

  • 19.
  • At 04:40 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Slighthammer wrote:

If Blair had any influence at all, he would have cancelled his prior engagements in the United States last week. If peace in the Middle East is so important to him and if he is a player in the peace process why didn't he politely cancel the inexplicable meeting with Murdoch and the frivolous photocalls with Schwarzenegger? Instead of dribbling his no-world philosophy all over the dinner table for the World Affairs Council and the cameras, couldn't he have imparted some of his alleged wisdom in private to the warring parties in Lebanon?

The fact that he spent an hour or two at the White House last week, gave a press conference wherein he did nothing but make excuses for America's inaction and Israel's over-reaction, then devoted the rest of the trip to fulfilling personal diary commitments tells you how needed or wanted he is by the international community. Lebanon was being hammered into the dust before he went to North America, while he stayed in America and when he came back yesterday. It hasn't altered his plans before, so what else is this attack of conscientiousness but a cynical response to the harsh criticism his inert behaviour has engendered?

The reports I've read say that France and America are sorting out the UN resolution that is to be tabled, so Blair has no need to stick around here for their sakes or ours. To paraphrase Leo Amery, "In the name of God go on holiday and don't come back, man."

As usual, if there's any credit to be taken Tony wants to claim it. But nobody will credit that his efforts helped broker a ceasefire if he's out of the loop on holiday - so he hangs around.

He may as well go on holiday anyway since the credit will be taken by his old chum Chirac.

If the French are putting their troops in harms way, as widely expected, Chirac will want the kudos for getting a ceasefire and will have a big say in the terms and timing.

Nice try Tony but not many are fooled by your increasingly desperate efforts to make a better mark in history than as the PM who was an object lesson in narcissism.

  • 21.
  • At 05:42 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Frank Heydenreich wrote:

What difference does it make that Tony Blair decided to stay and to delay his holiday? For the rest of the world and especially for Lebanon? None, Nothing, niente, nada, nichts. However he was in Washington meeting with his buddy achieving what? For Lebanon? Nothing, except some telephone conversation with Lebanon's Prime minister. He said that Israel still needs some time to achieve their goals/targets in Lebanon. What is he going to do now in London? In standby for Kofi Annan to support ceasefire? Changing his mind and stop to team up with buddy George W. Bush.? I really don't know. Bush/Blair have a talent to escalate situations but what's wrong with desescalation? Ever heard about this? I forget to mention that Israel's goverment has lost the plot and think that it can afford not to negociate with their adverse party (Hezbollah) putting at risk the entire country. I don't believe either that Israel's population was backing Lebanon's agression at the lavel stated lately in the news. How could they now have a different opinion? We need unconditional ceasefire immediately and than work out a real peaceplan with honest people on both sides? If Bush/Blair are dragging their feet to push to a ceasefire, than I have the most serious doubts about those two world leaders, but certainly not for the first time.
Frank Heydenreich, Paris, France

Blair is flotsam. An irrelevant side-show, perfectly illustrated via the 'YoBlairGate' tapes during the G8 summit. He was like a little lap dog, volunteering to go off to the Middle East on a mission he himself saw as pointless - in order to somehow spike the guns of Middle East hawks for Condii's visit a few days later.

So this is what we've become, a forlorn hope, a patsy - no longer any pretence of an independent foreign policy - or even allying ourselves with the EU position. No longer any pretence of Blair actually representing us for a change. No, Blair is happy to continue with 'Operation Brown Nose' in order to ingratiate himself onto Bush's Christmas card list and become even more of a hero to the American people. Post PM retirement, it will give him somewhere to live and welcome him with open arms giving him access to those big holiday homes at The Hamptons, where he can rub shoulders with even more rap stars, movie idols and plutocrats .

His news conference yesterday was just cringing. He was going on about his ability to effect change, knock heads together, think in new ways to solve problems. It reminded me of the way he solved all the problems of Africa on that rainy afternoon last October - and cured global warming over a pint and the back of a fag packet in the Westminster bar whilst waiting for Cherie to get out of the bath.

The man is a total broad brush fantasist - a sort of 'Mini me' to George Bush. I really do wish he had gone on holiday. After all, if a Tsunami in which over 350,000 people died couldn't get him back from his Christmas hols (when he could have actually done something). Then why should a Middle East war, a war in which his influence to mediate is, to say the least ethereal, stop him from donning the Sun cream and drinking someone else’s Sangria – (in someone else’s beach villa?)

The PM is needed to make sure that France dont go over board, the USA will give France so much glory but in the end there is only one Super Power and her and best friend, USA AND UK.

  • 24.
  • At 08:16 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • Andy wrote:

So the ukelele stays in its case for a bit longer! Mind you if he did have his own dedicated aircraft -Blair Force One - would he have left by now or not?

  • 25.
  • At 08:48 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • kim wrote:

While no fan of TB and the hole he has dug for himself and his Middle Eastern dreams, I can't believe the number of people who believe that he should (i) call for an immediate ceasefire or (ii) condemn Israeli tactics.

The call for a ceasefire would fall on deaf ears. The correct Israeli response would be "That's a nice idea Mr. Blair. Just tell us the bit where you guarantee our borders and remind us of how many thousand troops you are going to deploy".

Ooops, tough one to answer.

Condemning the Israelis similarly achieves no purpose.

Those calling for TB to demand a ceasefire and criticise Israel also say that the only solution to this crisis is political, achieved through diplomacy, not military action. How inconsistent is that ?

Diplomacy is partly the art of not annoying those with whom you later wish to negotiate. And sometimes it can make you look weak and spineless.

With power (or the desire for power)comes responsibility.

Clearly the USA is the sole country struggling to find the right words for a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire. Given the British governments special/lap-dog relationship with Bush, surly British diplomacy has a better chance than others in helping the USA find the right words.

  • 27.
  • At 10:40 PM on 04 Aug 2006,
  • John wrote:

Bush didn't delay his holiday, which is only for a week and a half.

  • 28.
  • At 01:38 AM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Paul Kane wrote:

''Teflon Tony's''days may be numbered, as he has been in power so long he has forgotten that he was put in power to represent the view point of the electorate. Margeret Thatcher made the same mistake.Mis-judging the public mood could result in a post-Lebanon leadership contest. Blairs legacy might be labours defeat in the next general election.

As Tony said ''Nobody can fail to be upset by the civilian casaulties on both sides'', he should try telling that to the Lebanees mothers who's one day old babies were killed by Israels bombs supplied by America on aircraft refueld on UK soil with his permission.

  • 29.
  • At 04:57 AM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • garypowell wrote:

Sorry, James .Nick obviously does not have the same problem as Tony Blair.

  • 30.
  • At 09:39 AM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Keith Donaldson wrote:

Of course, the thing is, its not so much the holidays that have been delayed, its any ceasefire in Lebanon. France and the US are working away at the draft UN resolution and agreement may be imminent, possibly as soon as early next week! Sounds good, except that it will be almost 4 WHOLE WEEKS since the start of this particular conflict. Strangely enough probably just the sort of timescale that Israel and the US were looking for in the first place. And its funny how the final days are being drawn out by the US haggling over the words ‘suspension’ or ‘cessation’ of hostilities.

4 weeks on and Hezbollah is still firing rockets. Quite understandably more and more Lebanese, including those of Christian faith are rallying behind its banner as the unofficial Lebanese defence force. Britain and the US have received worldwide condemnation, hundreds of innocent Lebanese and dozens of Israeli civilians have died. Iran has received an ultimatum to stop its nuclear enrichment programme and is it any more likely to comply than before? The UN has been made to appear weak and feeble.

All that would be a heavy price to pay for a ceasefire, even if we knew it would be meaningful and long-lasting. How likely is it that it will be achieved and that we get the first major step towards a genuine settlement between Israel and its neighbours? And if TB is locked in telephone discussions but that final wording remains ’suspension’ we will finally know the measure of his influence with the US.

  • 31.
  • At 09:44 AM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Colin wrote:

I think that Blair ought to push off on permanent unpaid leave as soon as possible and I am sure that UK Plc could find a suitable Temp that could do the job better. Blair's only hanging on for his own purposes

  • 32.
  • At 10:34 AM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Edmund Burke wrote:

Tony Blair should take a break, and take an example from Nick Robinson on how to handle the public relations bit. How about:

"Tony Blair's PM blog, with guest blogger Gordon Brown."

  • 33.
  • At 11:44 AM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Charles E. Hardwidge wrote:

Prime Minister Blair’s position on the crisis has been well organised and balanced from the beginning, and his handling of the affair continues to press all the right buttons. Without doubt, the Prime Minister is displaying very impressive leadership under difficult conditions.

I’m not persuaded the negative comments from Parliamentarians, the media, or the public are in tune with reality. This shows more about those making the comments than the Prime Minister. If the fashionably hysterical comments aren’t trimmed the Prime Minister is correct to ignore them.

Freedom comes with responsibility, and as the Middle-East abuses its freedom, so do many in Parliament, the media, and the public. Misbehaviour and poor attitudes are contagious, but so is good behaviour and attitude. I encourage the Prime Minister to maintain his better lead.

  • 34.
  • At 12:28 PM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Andy W wrote:

Phone call from Kofi Annan - "Have a good holiday, what's Prescott's phone number?"

" Err thinking about it not going for a while "

The only problem with Bliar going on holiday is that he is coming back.

  • 35.
  • At 12:34 PM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Doug B wrote:

If it's the long haul flight that Tony is worrying will make him incommunicado at a crucial juncture,why not holiday in Brighton?I know it's irritating to alter ones holiday plans but not as irritating as being a child living in fear of burning to death.

  • 36.
  • At 01:02 PM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • John wrote:

Thank god Tony is staying put for a bit. When I heard the announcement I thought there would still be some idiots blasting him - he can't win!

However, he is crucial to peace in the middle east as the international master of diplomacy he has proved himself to be on countless occassions. Well done Tony.

  • 37.
  • At 04:40 PM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

A lot of nonsense here about 'middle managers' who have to be in touch on their holidays. This is the 'English disease' we seem to have caught from the workaholic yanks. Why can't we be more like the French ? They value time off for rest, relaxation and recuperation. Those idiots who think they have to be in touch continually should visit a graveyard- it is full of 'indispensable' people, and they will be joining them ahead of time.

  • 38.
  • At 06:39 PM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • iain stevenson wrote:

Hi James welcome to Nicks blog.Hopefully unlike Nick you might bother to reply to some of the entries on her enow and again!

  • 39.
  • At 08:36 PM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Helen wrote:

James-really like the articles that you write. Keep it up!

  • 40.
  • At 02:55 PM on 06 Aug 2006,
  • Kate wrote:

"The PM is needed to make sure that France dont go over board, the USA will give France so much glory but in the end there is only one Super Power and her and best friend, USA AND UK".

First the UK hate the US now the French.
Where will the jealousy end. Scared of France becoming the poodles - how patheic!

  • 41.
  • At 11:47 PM on 06 Aug 2006,
  • kim wrote:

Keith Donaldson wrote:-

"The UN has been made to appear weak and feeble".

By that reference, it always has been weak and feeble. It is a (valuable) talking shop - no more - in which countries may debate issues, may occasionally agree and, with the will of its members, seek to impose solutions. It lives on donations and goodwill.

What significantly is weak and feeble is the Security Council.

First, they are divided. Nothing new there.

Then, they have in the case of the US ("you are either for us or against us"), the most important member, cut diplomatic and economic ties with key players and lost influence accordingly. And, belatedly, they have discovered that, absent the ability to exert political, diplomatic and economic pressure they have no traction. In troubles such as these the last remaining power - military - simply won't work.

It's a failure of diplomacy and politics of the major players, not a failure of the UN. The UN is doing its job. Albeit the President is being a little emotional !


  • 42.
  • At 11:48 AM on 07 Aug 2006,
  • Pamela wrote:

Is it just me, or is anyone else also tickled by the hilarious fact that Blair tries to up all official statements by a fraction of a second (whether they be from the UN or the US or Europe), on national tv?
Pompous, self elected King of the World.

  • 43.
  • At 11:56 AM on 07 Aug 2006,
  • john danvers wrote:

So my comment was censored and not added to the Blair bashing comments that you do decide to show. What a shame that the BBC has sunk to these depths. Even Nick had the good grace to allow my comments.

  • 44.
  • At 01:49 PM on 07 Aug 2006,
  • Jon wrote:

I think it is a very grand gesture to put off his holiday, but really we can't seriously begrudge politicians a break. The rest of us demand our statutory annual leave, and would be up in arms if it were denied us. Let's face it, there will always be something going on for critics to latch onto and say parliament should be recalled and that it is "callous" to go away on holiday. In this case though, the crisis is a long way away and, ultimately, not really our problem anyway.

  • 45.
  • At 12:00 AM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Richard O'shea wrote:

Well if you think I'm going to feel either sorry or gratefull for the fact that our prime minister had to delay his holiday you have another thing coming. Firstly there are plenty of people on the dirty end of his policies who have no choice and may well never have another holiday, ever! Secondly, a small point I know but it is his job. Lastly the profession of politics was his choice, where he is today is where he wants to be, so tough.

The only thing I'm interested in is how he intends to sell his grand war of light and darkness to the labour party and if it will make an appearence in the manifesto, surely such a grand scheme would need the mandate of both party and people?

Wriggle out that quandary Tony.

  • 46.
  • At 02:30 AM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Mohammed Azeem wrote:

Your opening James Landale: They are the words every child hates. "Sorry kids, the holiday's on hold for a bit, Daddy's got to work."

Sorry? I don't think so. As a teacher, I think children generally find holidaying with their parents an ordeal (and possibly vice versa).

Dear James are you on holiday too? Or just traumatised like the rest of us by the news at the moment?

  • 48.
  • At 11:02 AM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • david wrote:

I`m afraid I have nothing but a mental picture of tony sitting by his phone longingly waiting for a call from george,condy,kofi, or even god forbid jaques
dressed in his hawaiian shirt,shorts,ticket in pocket,bags packed,ready for the off.

the other grotesque vision I have is prezza sitting impatiently at his phone,dressed to the nines waiting for tony to call to say he is away on his hols

  • 49.
  • At 06:57 PM on 14 Aug 2006,
  • Matt wrote:

Couldn't agree more with comments 33 and 36 - well said!

.....meanwhile, back on planet Earth.....

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