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you can if varNum is defined when you're trying to access it.
a typical issue would be:
1. varNum is defined on frame 1 of mc2
2. mc2 is on frame 1 of mc1
3 mc1 is on frame 1 of the _root timeline
4. you try and access varNum (with the correct path) in frame 1 of the _root timeline and fail because the code in frame 1 of the _root timeline executes before the code in frame 1 of mc2. so, varNum appears to be undefined.
The issue I was having with the example I had created was indeed as you pointed out to do with timing.... however, for my actual problem I was getting the variable value using an onRelease, so wasn't a timing issue, but infact an incorrectly spelt instnace name... school boy error... far too tired. Sorry for wasting your time, and thanks for the response.