I have bought a pedometer!!!

The portents were unmistakable. On Tuesday night, a surprise phone call from a long-lost friend, who displayed all the evangelical zeal of the newly converted. On Wednesday morning, the surprise discovery that even Peter had embraced the concept. The planets were in alignment; the hour had come. Thus it was that by Wednesday lunchtime, I too had joined the massed ranks of the pedo-philes. (Note to self: you need to find a better expression that this. Come back to it later.)

In any case, how could I possibly resist a keep-fit regime which principally revolves around counting things (just think of the spreadsheets), and one which rests on such an alluringly simple binary absolute? 10,000 steps a day = a healthy constitution, you say? Arbitrary illusionist nonsense, you say? Oh, quite possibly; but then, like reiki, if you choose to imbue a ritual with meaning, then it takes on that meaning.

Desperate times call for drastic measures. The “incipient” pot belly which has dogged me since the end of the 1990s can no longer be passed off as a temporary swelling, and I can no longer cling to the delusion that I somehow possess a “natural” 32-inch waist. Those smart Hugo Boss “going out in” trousers which I bought in December, with the more “classic” higher waist? I’ve worn them twice. The physical discomfort I could cope with, but as for the Friar Tuck/Figure 3 profile: one can only spend so many hours clenching one’s abdomen without risking a nasty rupture. Sure, the fashionably low-slung bum cleavage look has served me well for the past four years, but I sense a sea change in the air. Adapt and survive, and all that.

Basically, I need to break the linear progression of the last twenty-five years. In 1980, I skipped around in skin-tight 28-inch drainpipes. In 1990, my white jeans measured 30 inches. By 2000, I had progressed to a still reasonable 32 inches. But that’s where the progression stops, do you hear? I refuse to go any further! It shall not happen!

And then there’s the new horror of the “incipient” double chin, which sneaked up on me literally overnight, giving me the most almighty fright when I looked in the mirror the following morning. Again, I deny its existence! I am not going to turn into my father!

(Who went from skinny-as-a-beanpole in his teens, to being nicknamed “Fatman” behind his back in his forties – as I accidentally found out while temping in his office one summer. Things You Don’t Say In Front Of The Boss’s Son, Lesson One. I had never seen a roomful of people look so sheepish.)

But why should any of this matter? Metabolisms change, and it’s not as if I’m particularly bothered about my pulling power these days. Hey, if push came to shove then I could always rock the Daddy Bear look. (OK, the lack of body hair might be an issue, but I dare say some suitable variant could be worked out.)

I’ll tell you why it matters. It’s because of that sylph-like boyfriend of mine, that’s why. Because, no matter what he eats, K never puts on so much as a spare millimetre. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to be known as “the fat one”. Competition, you see.

The secret of K’s dieting success is a simple one: due to a long-undetected lactose intolerance, he has historically enjoyed the benefits of a speedy and efficient digestive system, shall we say. This means that most of his food doesn’t really hang around long enough to be converted into blubber. I know, I know: couldn’t you just spit with jealousy? But then we can’t all be blessed with such good fortune.

However, now that the lactose intolerance has been detected, and all dairy produce abandoned (save a single splash of milk in his morning tea, strictly one cup only or else there’s trouble), I sense a window of competitive opportunity beginning to form. With K now facing the same risks to his waistline as the rest of us, it’s time to seize the initiative.

Sure, there were other slimming options, but I have ruled them all out. Drink less beer? This would have been possible, until the unexpected and joyous return of former guest-blogger Alan to Nottingham about three weeks ago.

One of the great joys of Alan’s return is that once again, I can enjoy the regular company of a reliably available midweek drinking partner. (K doesn’t “do” city pubs, still less gay ones, and most of my other erstwhile midweek drinking partners have long since de-camped to lives of suburban sobriety.) To know and love Alan is to know and love beer, you see. Lots of it. Usually until stupid o’clock chucking-out time in The Central, for Alan has as much of an aversion to “getting an early night” as I have. Yes, I know that other drinks are available: but pub wines are shite, too much gin makes me weepy, and too many Vodka Red Bulls make me hyper. So we have to find new ways of making room for the beer.

Go to the gym? My refusal to countenance this is one of the touchstones of my identity. Along with a liking for rock gigs, an abhorrence of Gaydar, and an enjoyment of the social company of heterosexual men, it is one of the few ways in which I successfully avoid being a total Big Fat Gay Stereotype. Christ knows I’m narcissistic enough already, without paying good money to be even more so. To say nothing of the pain, the humiliation, the lack of intellectual stimulus and the (shriek!) sports wear. (The very thought!)

And don’t even think of suggesting that I abandon my large whole-milk lattes at lunchtime. Because I’d rather be clinically obese than drink another f**king disgusting soy latte ever again in my life.

Which just leaves my last hope, the pedometer. OK: as fashion accessories go, they’re a bit naff (what the hell matches with claret and grey anyway?), but then it’s nicely concealed at the top of my belt by the Friar Tuck overhang, so I’m not too concerned as yet.

It does seem a bit on the generous side with its counting, though. Wiggles, shimmies and pelvic thrusts all tend to bump up the total, so I’m having something of an overhaul in the deportment department. However, I can at least offset these against my morning ablutions, which will remain uncounted until someone develops a waterproof model on a garter, suitable for wearing in the shower. (Little business opportunity for someone there.)

We’ve got a matching his-and-his set, naturally. K was initially a bit concerned about getting them mixed up, until it dawned on us that as they get reset to zero every night, there’s not much point in forming specific attachments. It’s not like toothbrushes. And by the steady stream of texts, e-mails and phone calls I’ve been getting over the last couple of days (“What are you up to? I’m on 3000…“), I think he’s taking it even more seriously than I am. Ah, you can’t beat the competitive spirit.

9370 steps on the first full day, I’ll have you know. Not bad! That belt’s feeling looser already. Excel here we come!

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A Tree Needs A Poem.

From: K
To: Dymbellina
Subject: A Tree Needs A Poem

Please don’t think this presumptious of me, but last night I was shown a tree which is ripe for a poem. If you think this is a stupid idea, the tree is still worth a detour in the evening.

I was having a drink in The Bell (Market Square) with T– H—– who is Chairman of the Nottingham Wildlife Trust. As we left, he pointed out the tree which is directly in front of the pub door. Initially I couldn’t understand why he was bothering, it just looked like a tree that was beginning to come into blossom like so many other trees at this time of year, the blossoms being on the higher branches. T– insisted that I look again. The tree wasn’t in bloom, it was full of hundreds of Gray Wagtails, all sitting perfectly still. When you look around, you realise that this is the only tree in the city centre in which the birds roost. It turns out that they like to be in the city during winter months because that’s where the insects are during the day. The entire population of Nottingham only ever roosts in this one tree because it is higher than all the others, giving the birds a feeling of safety above the marauding hordes!

Do take a look, they are there from dusk till dawn, remaining perfectly silent and still the whole time so very few people notice them.

Enjoy!

K.

Update: Here are the Grey Wagtails, as of Monday March 22. According to the guy from The Bell, they were a bit thin on the ground this evening; maybe this was due to the warmer weather.

wagtails1 wagtails2

The Troubled Diva Parallel Universe Top 40.

I’m going to run this chart every Thursday, until one or more of the following things happen:

a) I stop listening to so many singles. (This is a current by-product of doing the weekly reviews for Stylus.)

b) There is no longer enough interesting stuff to fill a Top 40. (We seem to be going through a bit of an upswing at present; things will no doubt level out again sooner or later.)

c) My ever-growing interest in quote-unquote “world” music takes over entirely, thus extinguishing my interest in pop.

d) I get bored.

e) I grow up.

It’s going to work like a proper chart, with new entries, highest positions, weeks on chart, and most importantly of all, climbers. Remember them?

Chart positions will be based on the fickle ebbings and flowings of my personal taste, combined with numbers of listens and general timeliness.

Most entries will be either current or forthcoming UK singles releases, plus a few “hot” MP3s, and anything else which takes my fancy.

While some of the lower positioned singles might not be five-stars excellent, all of them will at least have some redeeming qualities. Crap singles won’t make the chart at all, no matter how many times I might have to endure them for reviewing purposes. (Goodbye 50 Cent! Goodbye Beck! Goodbye Natalie Imbruglia!)

There will be room for novelty hits (Hello G4!), and songs which I know full well that I won’t be listening to in two months’ time. (Hello Mars Volta!) Such is the ephemeral nature of pop.

This week’s new entries are shown in bold type. None of this “straight in at number one” nonsense, either. On my chart, you’re going to have to work your way up through sheer hard graft.

1. Oh My Gosh – Basement Jaxx
2. Stay With You – Lemon Jelly
3. (Is This The Way To) Amarillo – Tony Christie
4. Random – Lady Sovereign
5. My Heartbeat – Annie
6. Bring ‘Em Out – T.I.
7. Hounds Of Love – The Futureheads
8. They – Jem
9. Krafty – New Order
10. No Sleep Tonight – The Faders
11. Brown Eyes – Kano
12. Too Cold – Roots Manuva
13. 10 Dollar/Pull Up The People – M.I.A.
14. Bring It Back Again – The Earlies
15. Don’t Play Nice – Verbalicious
16. Get Right – Jennifer Lopez (featuring Fabolous)
17. Bohemian Rhapsody – G4
18. The One You Love – Rufus Wainwright
19. Rich Girl – Gwen Stefani (featuring Eve)
20. Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes – Tom Vek
21. Yeti – Caribou
22. Used To Love U – John Legend
23. Goodies (Richard X remix featuring M.I.A.) – Ciara
24. An Honest Mistake – The Bravery
25. Little Sister – Queens Of The Stone Age
26. The World’s Gone Mad – Handsome Boy Modelling School
27. Off 2 Work – Dizzee Rascal
28. Whoopsie Daisy – Terri Walker
29. Wake Me Up – Girls Aloud
30. No One Takes Your Freedom – DJ Earworm
31. The Widow – The Mars Volta
32. Vive La Difference – Portobella
33. Negotiate With Love – Rachel Stevens
34. Let Me Love You – Mario
35. Just Let Go – Fischerspooner
36. Living The Dream – Million Dead
37. Don’t Say You Love Me – Erasure
38. It Ended On An Oily Stage – British Sea Power
39. Oh Yeah – The Subways
40. Daft Punk Is Playing At My House – LCD Soundsystem

Good morning Nottingham! In which Mike milks his moment in the media spotlight for all it’s worth, and then some.

The first unlikely confidence booster came from the local newspaper hack.

Despite the fact that he had originally e-mailed me out of the blue – meaning that he was the one that had wanted to speak to me – and that I was merely returning his call, the hack (after he had worked out who I was, which took a while) seemed fairly bemused that I was even talking to him. Not only bemused, but openly bored and faintly irritated.

As our desultory, lacklustre conversation progressed, it became clear that he was expecting me to “pitch” to him in some way. As I was almost totally indifferent as to whether his paper ran a story on me or not, my “pitch” was not exactly an enthusiastic one. My growing resentment at his arrogantly misplaced assumptions didn’t exactly help matters either.

Terse, grudging questions ensued.

“So what are blogs anyway? I’ve never heard of them.”

You know what? I could quite cheerfully never answer this question again.
(We’ll come back to this again later.)

“And you’ve entered some sort of competition, have you?”

No. I was nominated for an award, by other people. I have already explained this to you at least twice. Please stop calling it a “competition”. It makes me sound desperate.

“What’s the organisation behind the awards?”

It’s just one bloke in the States, actually. There isn’t a big organisation; that’s part of the whole appeal. But now you’ll think it’s just some tinpot sad-sack geekfest, won’t you?

“What do you win?”

If I tell you that the prize is actually a Prisoner Cell Block H DVD, then all of your assumptions will be confirmed. I’m not even going to give you the satisfaction.

“Are you going to win?”

I don’t know. I doubt it. I’ll find out after 19:30 this evening.

That gave him his get-out clause.

“In that case, someone from this paper may contact you after 19:30 this evening. If you win.”

He couldn’t get rid of me fast enough after that.

(Incidentally, I wonder whether he checked the front page of the BBC News site today, and spotted the link to a detailed report on the Bloggies. As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman: BIG mistake!)

Instead of leaving me feeling belittled (as might have been expected), I found that our exchange had an immediate and opposite effect.

Firstly, it freed me from any lingering desire for further coverage in the local press. After all, darlings: when one gets to my level of media visibility, one can afford to pick and choose.

Secondly, it removed any danger of being stitched up, in the manner of last weekend’s extended sneer in the Scottish Sunday Times. Paranoid? You betcha.

Thirdly, and most importantly, it made me realise that everybody I had talked to at the BBC had been uniformly interested in the subject, positive about covering it and making something good out of it, and generally on my side. This last realisation reassured me greatly.

(Although I still hadn’t forgotten K’s humiliating experience on the Radio Nottingham breakfast show from seven or eight years ago, when the presenter departed from the agreed brief and tried to do a John Humphries hatchet job on him and his business. If they were going to ambush me with snarkiness, then I would be ready for them.)


The second unlikely confidence booster came yesterday evening, with the announcement of the results.

“Live at #BlogIRC on irc.turlyming.com”, they said.

Sorry, did you say IRC? Wow, talk about Old School. I had last encountered IRC (Internet Relay Chat) in 1996-97, when I briefly installed it, summarily decided it was a knocking shop for sociopaths, and quickly uninstalled it.

Quick history lesson. Before the all-conquering Gaydar came along, IRC had been the hot place for gay men to chat, cruise, make dates, and indulge in frenzied one-handed typing in multiple windows. For some people I knew, this was pretty much all they required from the shiny new Internet.

“If this is the Information Superhighway”, I warned one newly obsessed neophyte, “then you’re stuck giving blow-jobs in the trailer park”.

Even now, K and I refer to Gaydar as the Trailer Park. Hey, who needs the gay scene any more, when you can be ignored, rejected, strung along and generally treated like shit by superficial w*nkers in the privacy of your own home? Such progress!

So yeah, IRC. Once I had finished installing it, and going round and round in circles trying to work out how the hell to access the #BlogIRC channel, a good half an hour had passed. On eventually joining the channel, I swiftly realised that I had crossed the line between “fashionably” and “hopelessly” late. With all the blog-celebs having already departed in their virtual limos for their virtual after-parties (I hear that Defamer‘s was quite the hot ticket this year), I was left stumbling over virtual streamers, virtual empty champagne bottles and virtual drunks slumped in virtual corners, trying to find out just what had happened (and running into a similarly bewildered Diamond Geezer along the way).

Eventually, news filtered through. Fourth out of five by the looks of things, although it wasn’t entirely clear whether the runners-up were displayed in order of votes cast, or merely in random order. In which case, maybe I could claim to be second equal. No, I wasn’t fooling myself nor anyone else. Fourth it almost certainly was.

So why was this a confidence booster?, I hear you cry.

(Well, actually I’m hearing you cry: For God’s sake, get on with the bloody story, do you think we haven’t got other blogs to read, what is this, bloody Proust, I’ll give you bloody recherche du bloody temps perdu, any more of this and I’m bloody billing you, mate.)

OK, I’ll tell you why. Because limping home in fourth position meant that for the radio interview, I could settle back into the familiar role of Humourously Self-Deprecating Under-Achiever. Thus, instead of trying to put myself forward as some sort of poster boy for British blogging, I could instead slip into line with all the other Plucky Runners-up for which our country has become so famous. (One word: Eurovision.)


Upon arriving at the Radio Nottingham studios this morning, I was escorted upstairs to a small waiting area just outside the studio. And standing in the middle of the waiting area, who else should I see but…. Robin Hood, in full gear, with tunic, boots, sword and hunting horn, looking as if this was the most natural thing in the world. Only in Nottingham!

(Actually, working only a few doors down from the Tales Of Robin Hood heritage centre, and therefore regularly bumping into Robin Hood, Maid Marian or Friar Tuck nipping out to Saint James’s Street for their lunchtime cobs, this was the most natural thing in the world. I scarcely batted an eyelid.)

Yes, I was being “bumped” again – although only for ten minutes or so this time round – in order to make way for a “surprise” entrance for Mr. Hood, who “stormed” the studio unannounced in order to…

…well, in order to advertise for his replacement, actually. With the current Mr. Hood swanning off to Hollywood in order to work as a fight choreographer for the likes of Angelina Jolie, a vacancy has arisen down at t’heritage centre. Applicants should submit their CVs to Tales Of Robin Hood, 30-38 Maid Marian Way, Nottingham, NG1 6GF. Not a bad career path, is it?

Eventually, I was ushered into the studio alongside mid-morning presenter Jeff Owen, who was due to take over from breakfast presenter Karl Cooper at the top of the hour. (You see how easily I slip into the vernacular?) Before my interview began, Karl and Jeff spent a couple of minutes indulging in the sort of cheerful banter which is traditional in the run-up to changeover time.

The conversation soon settled upon my earworm of the week: Tony Christie’s newly re-released (Is This The Way To) Amarillo. According to Karl (who should know about these things), this is currently outselling every other record in the Top 20 put together, and is thus a dead cert for Number One on Sunday. Talk about conversational home territory! By this time, I was smiling and nodding and making “oh really, how interesting” faces all over the place, and really getting quite impatient to join in.

Jeff went on to reminisce about how Amarillo had been used to advertise a certain brand of sherry in the 1970s, except that he couldn’t quite remember the brand of sherry. There was a fractional pause while he ransacked his brain… and while I resisted the almost overpowering urge to butt in with a quip of my own.

“Maybe it was Is This The Way To Amontillado, Jeff?”

Oh, how Nottingham’s ribs would have been tickled! All the way from Beeston to Bestwood! From Clifton to Chilwell! From Holme Pierrepont to Hucknall! From…

…but it wouldn’t have been right. After all, I hadn’t even been introduced yet. Best leave the joshing to the pros. Mentally gagging myself, I awaited my turn.


“So, Mike… what is blogging?”

The dreaded question. The question which I had fluffed so badly during Saturday’s phone interview. The question which I had been sweating about ever since. The question to which I had constructed a hundred and one elegantly informative answers in my mind.

All of which had one thing in common. The expression “reverse chronological”.

Because how else could you explain the one thing – the only thing – which unites all weblogs, regardless of content?

Except that I had just realised that “reverse chronological” was quite the wrong expression for the Radio Nottingham audience. Too dry, too academic, too wordy.

Which meant that I needed to come up with another answer. Like, NOW.

As all of the above thoughts, and many more besides, passed through my mind (like: Wow, do you think they’ll notice the POOLS of sweat which my palms have ALREADY left on the table after just three or four MINUTES, I mean how EMBARRASSING is THAT?), time slowed down to an infintessimal crawl.

“Errr.”

“Blogging…”

“…IS…”

Dead air, folks. As tumbleweed rolled over the studio floor, so K – listening to the live stream in his office, not much more than two minutes’ walk from the studio – felt a sharp surge of terror.

But somehow – and this is where my memory of the interview almost completely packs up on me – I stumbled to the end of the answer. God knows what I said, but at least I said something.

And from then on, it was plain sailing. Having crossed the biggest hurdle of them all – the “what is blogging” question – I wasn’t stuck for another single word. As Karl and I bantered about the Bloggies, and the virtual awards ceremony, and whether I had come fourth or “second equal”, and about how pleased he was that I’d linked to the show (“I know you need the traffic”, I quipped), and about the exhibitionist tendencies of bloggers in general, so I found myself – quelle surprise! – actually enjoying myself.

Darlings, I could have danced all night. They practically had to drag me out of that studio. But I was just getting into my stride! Sod the news! I’m on a roll here!

As I wandered through the city centre to the office, the strains of (Is This Way To) Amarillo blasting through my iPod, it was all I could do not to start swinging my arms, Peter Kay style, and greeting the early morning shoppers with a smile and a wave.

Good morning Bulwell! How’s it hanging, Arnold? Coming atcha, Top Valley!

Eamon? Natasha? Get those sofas plumped up! Michael is ready for you now.

“It was an honour simply to be nominated. It was an honour simply to be nominated. It was an honour simply to be nominated.”

<tight brave smile>

Warmest congratulations to the ever-wonderful Francis Strand of How To Learn Swedish In 1000 Difficult Lessons, winner of this year’s Best Gay Bacon Lettuce & Tomato category at the Bloggies. (It rather looks as if Troubled Diva hobbled home in fourth place.)

Wildest, most frenzied congratulations to the newly cerised Zoe, for winning in the Best European category for My Boyfriend Is A Twat.

Big respect to Tom Coates, not only for his traditional win in the Best British category, but also for picking up the Lifetime Achievement award.

My commiseration curry awaits downstairs. Thanks to everyone who voted for TD. It’s been Real, people!

</tight brave smile>

A wholly unrepresentative and unrepentantly biased mini-guide to some selected Nottingham blogs of note.

Unrepentantly biased, in that I have restricted my list to a) blogs which I already know, b) blogs which have linked to this site, or c) bloggers who have left comments on this site. As the artist Jenny Holzer once said: abuse of power comes as no surprise. But since there’s a certain amount of local interest in Troubled Diva right now, it seemed like a particularly good time to big up my homies and spread the love.

  • 1000 Shades Of Grey
    “Whilst temping a few years ago, it occurred to me that going to the loo at my employers expense was a cunning plan, and my body has now broadly conditioned itself to summon me to the throne between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.”
  • Browniehut
    “Have you ever actually tried to remove the flesh from inside a warm aubergine? Sheesh!”
  • Bytheseashore
    “You will actually come far closer to God in Rome by attempting to cross the road than you will by entering a basillica. And significantly closer to a bus.”
  • Danger! High Postage
    “They laboriously plod their way through their set to supreme indifference from the crowd apart from one overly-enthusiastic middle aged man. He’s probably one of their dads.”
  • David Belbin
    “If the music’s good enough, and some of the right people are involved, should we care if the band playing aren’t quite the real thing? Well, yes. […] Some things are of the moment. You attempt to repeat them at your peril. Go to some of these gigs and, between numbers, you can hear money, talking loudly. It makes me want to heckle.”
  • Drama Queen, Fag-Hag, JAP
    Stolen goods! I await the knock upon the door and a brace of burly policemen with handcuffs. Now, what does one wear for a night in the cells?”
  • Exultations And Difficulties
    “I have a fondness for landscapes, particularly if within the landscape one can see sheep. I like sheep and their wool, perhaps because my mum is a very keen knitter, and I grew up in a post-war British working class family where if it couldn’t be knitted you couldn’t have it.”
  • Here’s what’s wrong with you
    “But it would also be nice if occasionally Nottingham would make national news for something other than guns and binge drinking.”
  • MovieBuff
    “Although I feel honour-bound to treat every film I review on these pages objectively, there’s not much that can be said for ‘Hide and Seek’. The script was probably produced by a computer into whose CPU the phrases ‘creepy kid’, ‘old dark house’, ‘secret from the past’, ‘strange guy next door’ and ‘obligatory twist ending had been programmed. The fact that de Niro’s performance is one of his best for some while just adds to the sense of frustration. And even then, he’s out-acted by a 10-year old girl.”
  • Silent Words Speak Loudest (*)
    “A thought pops into my head: the thought of a piece of metal, implanted without my knowledge, bursting ‘Alien’-style out of my torso during the experiment, and me suffering a horrible death surrounded by my own now-external internal organs. This is not a comforting thought.”
  • Swiss Toni’s Place
    “Ah, the mullet. The haircut that dared not speak its name for most of the last 20 years, and suddenly they are EVERYWHERE. What happened? When did it become acceptable? Why are men suddenly going into a hairdresser and asking for the haircut that time forgot?”
  • Your Mind And We
    “Arthur whips up the crowd brilliantly – at one stage in “You set the scene” I pan the camera onto the audience, as it looks like every single person has their hands in the air and is singing along “I wanna love you but oh wo wo wo wo wo wo” (it sounds better than it comes out in print, believe me). Mind you, we North Easterners always were a fairly emotional bunch.”

(*) No longer resident in Nottingham, but there’s plenty of “local” stuff in the archives, and besides, I couldn’t possibly leave Ben out…

Stylus UK Singles Jukebox: Have We Learnt Nothing From Rednex?

My first stab at doing proper singles reviews for somewhere outside of this blog can now be viewed at Stylus, as part of its new UK Singles Jukebox feature. It’s a collective effort, whereby a whole bunch of us each score this week’s new releases out of 10, offering up pithy capsule reviewlets in the process. Think of it as a Juke Box Jury for the 21st century, or something. Anyway, at least it gives me the chance to witter on about the minutiae of pop to a less, shall we say, captive audience (he says, tossing his head insolently, flouncing out of the door, and eagerly skipping towards the sunlit uplands of Proper Grown Up Serious Music Journalism).

(If you want to read the reviews of mine which didn’t make the final cut, then I’ve stuck them in the comments, for the sake of completeness. Think of them as the DVD extras.)