Letter to my granddaughter

Hi Immy, Happy 8th Birthday! 7 was a very special age. When I was 7, I started to think my own thoughts and sometimes even disagreed with others. And now you’re 8 and have friends to enjoy your life with and talk about your thoughts and ideas. Now you are old enough to have a ‘discussion’, when you and the other person say what they think or believe, then wait for the other person to take it in and respond if they want. If they agree with you then you are both happy. If they disagree, you listen to them and maybe talk a bit more about why they disagree, but always try to understand why they think what they do. You can maybe change your mind to what they think, or vice versa, they may change their mind to your view. Or you may still disagree and accept that is their view on the subject, and that is OK. You can agree to disagree and still be friends. You will find if you do this your friendship will grow stronger. Nobody knows everything, not even grown ups! Grown ups can sometimes be wrong, or sometimes it just means they see things from a different ‘perspective’ (*big word, use dictionary.com to see what it means!) It can be interesting to listen to them and hear why they think differently to you. I think you have a lovely gentle personality, Immy, and I love you very much. Enjoy growing up, don’t let the world frighten you. I wish we lived nearer and could do things together more. I hope to see you soon after this birthday. I hope you like your diary, and will write in it like I used to do when I was little. I love you very much. Enjoy your life with your family and make nice friends.

Love from Grandma Norah

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Bossy Boots!

This is the story of my experience with Alzheimer’s disease, the people I have known who suffered with it, and especially my darling second husband Paul who has just recently passed away at the age of 81. As a nurse I was aware of the problems elderly people often developed as they got older, and I soon became personally involved with sufferers among people I knew well. The first was my mother-in-law Lilla. A very independent lady since her husband died, she taught in the local primary school and loved helping her grandchildren with their reading. Her driving became erratic and I was often called to help her if she became lost or could not turn her car in a street. Later, she became unable to recognise people she knew like myself, saying ‘my daughter-in-law gave me this!’ Or she would be found crossing a road early morning, saying she had been asked to help with teaching in a school, and was getting the bus there! Eventually she went into care, where she died unable to swallow.

After Paul asked me to marry him, I began to sense that Alzheimers could be a possibility, but I was becoming so fond of him I agreed, feeling that with my training and experience I could cope. He was 10 years older than me, but we shared a lot of interests. The first few years were wonderful, with holidays to Cornwall, Donegal, Paris, Prague, Enniskillen lakes, a cruise to the Canary Islands and one to Norway. Weekends to Londonderry by train, the Giants Causeway and the Bushmills distillery We visited his daughters in USA and Canada, and a friend in Galway. Paul helped redecorate our new bungalow home in Holywood, Co Down, and became involved in the local community: church, coffee shops and Men’s Shed, and local courses in pottery in nearby Newtownards. We loved going for walks by the shore and Scrabo Tower.

The first signs of dementia were noticed in his driving, sometimes getting lost, and on one occasion finding himself miles away in another town, but also mistaking his own ability to do things, and getting into difficult situations when I was not with him. Toiletting also became a problem, and he became more dependent on me thinking ahead regarding his needs. A skilled woodworker, he found it hard to accept his inability to make an Ikea chair, and we almost came to blows as I tried to help. The Alzheimers Society became a great resource for help and advice, teaching me the option to ‘divert, distract and deflect’. He came to accept my advice, saying, ‘Bossy Boots!’ with a twinkle in his eye, when I suggested other options. At one point, at an Alzheimers party, he sought out the staff worker who had helped us from the beginning, and asked her straight out, ‘ What is the future for me, how will Alzheimers affect me?’, to be told honestly, ‘There is no cure’. He accepted this, and my help as his condition deteriorated. Eventually he went willingly into care, in a beautiful place by the sea at Portaferry, a long distance for me to drive, but in a room looking right out at the sea, where he believed his own little boat was moored just out of sight. We had our last night together there when I took him out for dinner and a room at the local hotel. Soon we found a residential place for him in Holywood until it took too long for assistants to shower and dress him, and he was moved to another care home in Bangor, where he received excellent care to the end. Gradually over this time, he became less mobile, speech and swallowing deteriorated, but he still enjoyed magazines with pictures, music, poetry, and Skyping with his family abroad. In the end, he developed pneumonia due to his inability to swallow, with food going to his lungs and causing infection. A week in hospital on antibiotics helped, but doctors advised that another course would only prolong the problem, and with his daughters it was decided to take him back to his room in care and keep him warm and comfortable. After 3 days he passed away peacefully, having lived a long and full life, loved and cared for by good people and knowing he was adored by his family and myself.

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Long time bucket list item rose to the top recently, when I noticed that Icelandair were now flying from Belfast, from the little airport 15 minutes from my home. Local travel agent had a package for February, and I was just about to book it when I mentioned it to my daughter in London. “We want to go too!!” meaning daughter and grand-daughter, named appropriately Aurora. But I’m flying from Belfast! Package abandoned, and much scurrying about the internet as we tried to source appropriate flights. A friend says she knows someone who specialises in packages to Iceland. Daughter considers it rather expensive., and persuades me to do separate flights, and she would get a place to sleep using the Internet. Iceland specialist offers to arrange trips while we are there to suit my ageing inability to walk long distances or climb steep steps into coaches, and daughter agrees. I pay for all flights and the Iceland package, leaving food shopping and eating out to daughter, as these happen. As February approaches, husband in care with dementia is admitted to hospital with pneumonia. Cancellation considered, but he conveniently passes away 4-5 weeks before the trip. I’m sad, but relieved his Alzheimers journey is over. All good considering, funeral over, visitors away, legal paperwork begun, packing commenced, and Iceland becomes my post traumatic respite holiday. Paul would have said, ‘ You go!!’ He used to call ME Bossy Boots’! Thank you, Paul!

Our flights would arrive about an hour apart, and our driver Olav would collect us both, and drive to the Blue Lagoon for our first Icelandic experience before dropping us off at the ‘Ice Apartments’. On the morning we leave, daughter texts her flight is cancelled. Frantic attempts to rebook with another airport produce a result. I take a taxi to my local airport, ETD 10am, and as we approach the airport my taxi driver says my plane is delayed. Checking in, it will leave at 18:00, snow is starting to fall as I settle in for the long wait, relax buying duty free wine, cosmetics, and availing of a free facial. By 19:30 I’m in the air, and 3 hours later arrive in a severe blizzard. Blue Lagoon now out of the question, daughter texts to say they can’t even get into the accommodation, so I book a night in another guest house. Driver negotiates expertly through increasing snowfall, we find accommodation 2 and settle for the night. Next day, driver collects us complete with all bags and my walker and we arrive at accommodation 1, negotiating badly parked cars blocking our entrance way. Daughter to discuss previous night’s access problem with owner of apartment next day, and we settle ourselves, exhausted and stressed in the very welcome and cosy beds.

Next morning we head off with driver on the arranged plan to the Golden Circle, on snowy roads, visiting the Thingvellir National Park, and stopping at the Secret Lagoon for a swim in the geothermal heated water. Amazingly we encounter many cars that have accidentally driven off the edge of the road, probably tourists in hire cars, according to Olav. Lunch at the Farmers Cafe overlooking the cows munching at their hay, we enjoy an excellent Icelandic lamb dinner, and head off in the deepening snow for a photo shot at the Gulfoss waterfall and see a geyser erupt at Strokkur.

Plan for next day is to talk to accommodation admin in nearby shop, proving difficult to locate, and we explore the local shops, have coffee, see the tall church and enjoy an Icelandic pancake day treat for lunch. Apartment admin eventually located, and it appears I have not forwarded to daughter an email explaining access to apartment, which arrived day after husband’s death and thus out of my radar. Daughter hurls abuse at my poor email review management as she is embarrassed, but negotiates 50% reduction on first night. This has not appeared in my bank, but I put it down to bereavement expenses.

Our last full day is to drive to the south coast. Olav has brought his 8 year old daughter as company for Aurora. It is snowing hard, and he suggests a city tour seeing interesting sites, walking on the frozen Pond, a visit to the Whale museum, and lunch in the Perlan restaurant overlooking the city. Still snowing hard and roads to the south have been closed. Daughter suggests snowboarding for the kids, and Olav helpfully finds a suitable hill, having thoughtfully packed boards in the boot of his 4-wheel drive. We join the queue of cars waiting to drive south, it’s getting dark, but we eventually make it, driving again through snow clad high mountains, and find a delightful restaurant where we enjoy welcome Icelandic fare. And the day ends on a high note, as we stop at a place Olav knows is good for watching the Northern Lights. We are not disappointed, and Olav parks in a dark spot for us to enjoy the amazing treat we had come to see, the Aurora Borealis.

Our journey home was thankfully less eventful, and we can look back on a holiday never to be forgotten.

Posted in Travel

Iambic Pentameter

Reading Stephen Fry’s ‘The Ode Less Travelled’ I started writing while sitting in the sun…

The birds are singing sweetly in the trees
I wish my love could be here with me now
and sense the stillness of the cloistered glen

There is a time for sitting in the sun
Until the shadows fall and cool the grass
till distant hum of bees and far off planes
Return us to the place we love to be
The house where once we sat and planned our lives
Now just a memory sweet, yet still is mine.
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Starting my memoir

This is it! Start here!

When I started writing these memoirs, I found myself hesitating, as what I wanted to say might seem to come across as a kind of shock to people who had, throughout my childhood’ tried to influence me spiritually. However, as I contemplated this, it occurred to me that it was I who was subsequently shocked by the attitudes that to them seemed normal and even desirable!

So, I’m up in the sky, looking down at my life here on earth. A female first-born child born to an early 20th century Irish/Ulster-Scots couple whose families had both been immersed in a minority cult called ‘The Brethren’, which impacted greatly on their lives, in some ways positively, though in my opinion also negatively. I was loved, as was my brother, but little did my parents realise, that their views did not automatically trickle down through our genes, that we both considered the status quo, then moved away from it, though each in different ways.

70 years later and looking back, I see wonder, curiosity, disappointment, joy, and yes, worship of our creator God. And yet to my parents I had stepped out of line, not automatically following the path they had absorbed, seemingly without question, from their own parents. I was full of wonder, amazed by nature, ballet, foreign countries, and art. Curiosity gave me the nickname ‘Nosey Norah’ and I became fascinated with people from other lands, the whole sex thing, the human body, philosophy, books, and genealogy. But sometimes there was disappointment –  in my relationships – illness, death, and even in my children. But also joy in love, sex, literature, music, my children, relationships, and of course, grandchildren! And always music and worship: praising God through music, and nature.

My parents seemed to have met as sort of arranged marriage! Here is how it apparently came about: my maternal grandmother Norah (my namesake!) had died from pneumonia when my mother was just 12, penicillin not having been discovered and used until after her death, and her father John Wilson met and remarried a lady called Ethel Catherwood. Ethel took a great interest in her new family, but had no children of her own. Both families had previously been Presbyterian, but had become ‘converted’ and joined the ‘Brethren’, a new non-conformist sect which had begun in Dublin in the late 1820s. This meant that my upbringing was somewhat ‘strict’, as the Brethren believed that it was wrong to sing anything but their own hymns, swear, read novels, go to the cinema or dancing, the girls should wear their hair long, and not wear trousers or short skirts. Other restrictions meant I should not play with Roman Catholics, mix as little as possible with anyone other than other Brethren people, and never go on a date with anyone who was not of the Brethren! Yet from an early age I started to question this upbringing, and have continued to do so every day of my life! And so my parents married and settled in Belfast where my father worked with the Ulster Transport Authority, and Northern Ireland has been the place I have both loved and hated over the course of my life.

Looking back, I sometimes think my life is like a river.  And it occurs to me, when God created rivers, he did not make them go straight from the mountain to the sea, like the canals that man creates.  He created them to meander, and sometimes double back in great horse-shoe curves.  And the small trickle that started in the mountains was fed along the way by the influence of the many people who impacted on my life – my friends, relatives, Sunday School and day school teachers, etc.  And so I began to grow into an adult river, usually flowing stronger as it goes, but sometimes held back by obstacles, or changing to a trickle as events around affected its course.  A big influence was my husband Chris. It was like two streams meeting and becoming one river, strong and peaceful.  He died when my three children were small.  He was the biggest single human influence in my life.  When we met it was like two rivers flowing together in parallel until eventually they joined to become one.  When he died, the river narrowed to a smaller stream, but was soon joined by other stronger streams – friends and family.  I felt then the strength of my relationship with God which is like the river banks, providing strength, security, integrity and meaning to my life especially when the water became turbulent, as it often did!  Rivers and streams can run through marshy places, swamps or mud-fields. These represented to me times of illness or sadness. Their course can be altered by obstacles, or they can become polluted and muddied. When healthy they can support life, both vegetable and animal. My river flowed through all of these.

There had been obstacles in my early life – my mother’s nervous illness created a marshy area, but later I found direction in my nursing career. And later, the experience of Chris’s illness and death was like a huge boulder being thrown into the middle of the river, causing it to split in two. The part that was Chris trickled away to nothing, as he was absorbed into God. The remaining stream had difficulty finding the river bank, but when it did, it stayed close to it for many years, and because it was a strong bank, the river grew strong again until the children left home. Other relationships somewhat muddied the waters, until I found one that gave support to the frequent trickles that previously had seemed to just turn to mud. And my relationship with God would become again like the river banks, providing strength, security, integrity and meaning, especially when the water was turbulent, as it often was.


My mother’s family were a strong influence in my young life. Doris, Muriel, Myra and Cecil were the children of a loving couple, Jack and Norah Wilson – but sadly, Norah, my maternal grandmother, died of pneumonia when my mother Muriel was just 12, and Muriel’s father John Wilson then married Ethel Catherwood (how did they meet?). Ethel (also known as ‘Molly’) did not have any children of her own, but took a great interest in her new family. The older children had been born in Dublin, and the family had then moved to Ballina, Co Mayo. Jack had a prosperous timber business in Ballina, and the family lived in a large detached house with an extensive garden on the outskirts of the town. The Wilson family consisted of Doris, the oldest sister, who trained as a nurse at Stoke Mandeville in England, Myra, also a nurse and their younger brother Cecil. On moving to Belfast, Doris married Robert White, a decorator and part-time Brethren preacher. They lived on the Cregagh Road in south Belfast, which was close enough for us to visit on foot every Wednesday afternoon. They had no children of their own, but Doris loved children, especially boys, and we were always happy to visit there. Bobbie had a greenhouse where he grew tomatoes, and I still remember the wonderful flavour of those fresh tomatoes! They also lived near to Muriel and Doris’s aunts: Hannah and her husband James Boyd, who were also childless, and Mollie and Jeannie Bollard, who were both single. Jeannie working for the Civil Service and Mollie looked after the home. They shared a large house which was situated beside a small glen, and Arthur and I loved to play there. It was a strange arrangement: Hannah and James occupied one side of the house, and the 2 unmarried sisters, Mollie and Jeannie, lived in the room on the other side of the hall. I remember having to drink the tea made by Aunt Hannah, which was always very strong. Hannah was not as friendly as her two sisters, and we thought she was very stern! We preferred the company of the other aunts who loved small animals, and had decorated their living room with pictures of kittens and puppies. They also had a pedal organ which we sometimes tried to play! Hannah’s husband James had an old car, [insert photo] which lay rusting in the garage. After his death. Hannah refused to sell it, and would often go and sit in it to remember the good times she had had with him. She eventually allowed my father to take it away and fix it up to working order again.

According to my mother, as small children they spent idyllic holidays at a cottage in nearby Enniscrone, noted for its beautiful beach and sand hills, the largest of which was known as ‘The Valley of Diamonds’ because of the number of beautiful pearlised shells found in its hollow. Jack had been born into and brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, but along the way was influenced by ‘the Brethren’, a new Protestant non-conformist sect originating in Dublin, which was less strict than the ‘Plymouth Brethren’ in Devon. This became their religion, and sadly Jack was disinherited by the family because of his new belief. They attended meetings at a local Gospel hall where the Gospel was preached with great urgency and enthusiasm, but without the trappings of prayer books, formal creed or grand buildings. The area of Mayo where they lived was mainly Catholic, Presbyterians were a minority, but the Brethren were even less well known. However they had a freshness and zeal to present the Gospel and were keen to ‘convert’ Catholics to this new approach to Christianity. After their mother’s death, the family had live-in help or ‘maids’ who helped with the housework and looked after the children until Jack remarried. Later, the family moved to Strabane, and Doris went to boarding school in Sligo. But Muriel did not want to go to boarding school, and she was not happy in Strabane, so it was decided she should go to Belfast for secretarial training at Ashleigh House School. She stayed at ‘digs’ as they then called a stay of temporary accommodation, at Queen Mary’s Hostel for girls, on the Lisburn Road, and it was while living there that she was introduced to Catherwood Anderson, my father, who was the niece of her step-mother Ethel..

Ethel’s sister, Edith, my paternal grandmother, had a family of 5. Their father William had suffered a severe stroke, was incapacitated for many years and died in 1934. The family moved to Belfast so that their children, now teenagers, could attend Methodist College, but Edith their mother was not happy there, and after his death the family moved to a farm in the Aghalee area of Co Armagh. His sons Joseph and Catherwood later worked for the Ulster Transport Authority which had begun through the Catherwood family, Stewart Catherwood, my great uncle having set up the Catherwood buses business, Joseph as company secretary, while Catherwood, my father, studied at Belfast Technical College and became a Chartered Mechanical Engineer with the company. Their daughters Hilda and Doreen were nurses, and the youngest, Arthur, worked on the farm. Ethel introduced her pretty step-daughter Muriel to the handsome Catherwood, and the relationship soon developed. So in a sense, my parents, Muriel and Catherwood, met as a kind of arranged marriage. In September 1943 they were married in the Victoria Memorial Hall, a Brethren assembly in May Street, Belfast, and lived in rented accommodation for a time in the posh Cranmore Park in south Belfast. It was while they lived there that I was born, on 17th March (St Patrick’s Day) 1946, and named Norah Patricia (after my maternal grandmother, and the saint on whose day I was born), at the Massereene Hospital, Antrim, where Cather’s sister, Hilda was Matron. Soon after, they moved to Rosetta Parade also in south Belfast, and three years later, my brother, William Arthur Bell Anderson was born. But my mother Muriel unfortunately suffered from post-natal depression with both children, and remained for a time in the Massereene Hospital under her sister-in-law Hilda’s care. After Arthur’s birth, I went to stay on the farm with our Aunt Doreen for a time, which I enjoyed, as Doreen was a great cook and made delicious cakes! The farm was a joy to be in, and I have memories of collecting Beauty of Bath apples in the orchard, filling pails of amazing fresh well water at the nearby pump, and peeping into Uncle Joe’s library, filled with Just William, Billy Bunter and the St Trinian’s stories ,among the heavier theological tomes which I might later have taken more interest in!

Doris, Muriel, Myra and Cecil, were the children of a loving couple, Jack and Norah. The older children were born in Dublin, and the family then moved to Ballina, Co Mayo. Jack had a prosperous timber business in Ballina, and the family lived in a large detached house with an extensive garden in the environs of the town. They spent idyllic holidays at a cottage in nearby Enniscrone, noted for its beautiful beach and sand hills, the largest of which was known as ‘The Valley of Diamonds’ because of the number of beautiful pearlised shells found in its hollow. Jack had been born into and brought up in the Presbyterian tradition, but along the way was influenced by ‘the brethren’, a new Protestant non-conformist sect originating in Dublin. This became their religion, and they attended meetings at a local Gospel hall where the Gospel was preached with great urgency and enthusiasm, but without the trappings of prayer books or formal creed or grand buildings. The area of Mayo where they lived was mainly Catholic, Presbyterians were a minority, but the Brethren were even less well known.. However they had a freshness and zeal to present the Gospel and to ‘convert’ Catholics to this new approach to Christianity. The family had live-in help or ‘maids’ who helped with the housework and looked after the children. These would most likely have been Catholic.

Doris was a boarder at Sligo High School, then went into nursing in England, before marrying her husband Bobby Whyte, a Brethren preacher, artist and decorator. They were a kind couple, and lived on Cregagh Road, about a mile or so from our home in Belfast, and we visited there every Wednesday on foot. Doris had no children of her own, and as she specially lovd little boys, she cared for Arthur any time my mother was in hospital, which she often was due to her depression. I still remember the smell of the fresh tomatoes from their greenhouse! Myra was the posh younger sister, who was manageress at the Rosapenna Hotel in Donegal, owned then by my great-uncle Stewart

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The Ikea Chair, a short story

At first, she didn’t mention the possibility of a care home, and when it quietly slipped into conversation one day, he was negative. It was only when the social worker brought it up, that it was discussed again in his presence. And at that stage he seemed to accept it as something in the future.

In between, there were times when battle lines were sometimes drawn. They had only been married about 3 years, and she had gone into it suspecting Alzheimers Disease was in the offing. He was ten years older than her, but they were in love, and she felt she could cope, with her nursing experience. For the new house they bought some Ikea furniture, a sofa delivered ready-made, and a recliner chair which had to be assembled. He was keen to do this husbandly job, so she left him to it, though keeping a quiet eye on progress. She noticed that there were parts on the rug, and a million screws, washers and nuts. She could see they were not being counted and checked against the instruction leaflet, so she intervened, offering to perhaps help or take over. He bristled and pushed her away. She offered instead to count the small screws to make sure they were all there, but he was annoyed, as he had always worked with his hands, making bespoke furniture as part of his business.

Now she was beginning to panic, and tried to gently put the screws, washers and nuts into small piles. “No!” he shouted, “I’ll do it!” and physically pushed her away. “But that’s the way you have to do Ikea furniture, it’s not like the things you used to make from scratch”, she argued, and before she realised, she had taken his arm to pull him away. “No!”, he shouted, this time loudly, and pushed her away. “But I’m trying to help you!” she argued. “I don’t need your help! Give me that piece!”. His eyes flashed, but she felt she knew what she was doing, and she had to take over.

The gentle push became a shove, returned by him with more energy, and even anger. Before they knew what was happening, they had physically clashed. She could see how angry he was, and the push had hurt her arm as well as her feelings. She struck back. And then she remembered what they had been talking about at the Alzheimers Café: “Divert, Distract, Deflect.” And, stepping back, she made a quick decision that this was not the way to go!



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Non-subscription and why I settled for that

Having been brought up in a Brethren assembly, I was well familiar with not subscribing to written creeds, yet from a young age I was fascinated by the life of Jesus, and made a real commitment at the age of 7 to follow him. However, as I grew into my teens, I began to question things that I could not hold true: not being allowed to form friendships with children from other denominations, especially Catholics, and even Presbyterians! I didn’t like being one of a minority group, and soon realised that other denominations were using the same Bible, and indeed many hymns that I was familiar with. I knew then that I could never marry someone from the Brethren, and I started to mix with university friends I met, and fell in love with a Presbyterian! Yes, the other sort, but his parents were OMF missionaries, and had friends who knew my parents, so to my mind, he seemed to meet some of the requirements set by them! Sadly it was too much for my mother, who was of a delicate temperament, and broke down over my wedding. We had 3 children, and moved to Holywood where Chris’s family had lived, and Chris became accepted into my family. But sadly, leukaemia raised its ugly head, and Chris died at the age of 36. We were still Presbyterian, and the Presbyterian church we then attended was very good to us as a family. However, my interests there were: good music, Christian Aid, and a desire to help cross the Catholic/ Protestant divide. But when the excellent choir master left after a rock group took over Sunday worship; Christan Aid seemed to have become less of a priority and I was refused the post of Peace Agent, I moved to another local Presbyterian church with a great choir and organ, and an existing link with a Roman Catholic church in Andersonstown . I was made Peace Agent until the existing group became too elderly to take the trips across town, and the youth leader and session refused my request to be involved with the initiative ‘Preparing Youth for Peace’! About this time I met my second husband Paul, and together we decided to look at other churches. I had by then discovered the details of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and realised that even though a committed Christian, I would never have been able to sign it! Along the way, I had been a Mystery Worshipper, giving online reports of churches I visited, and had been impressed with Holywood Non Subscribing Presbyterian. On making another visit, and investigating its beliefs, we decided it was the place for us! And yes, it was a good move. And soon after joining, I was approached by an American regarding our family tree, and together we discovered family graves at Clough NSP Church. I had returned to my roots! We love Holywood, and having been made an elder there, I knew it was the place for me.

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