Category Archives: Blog Post

My September Song(s)

Ready for some new music? My September Song(s) Playlist features a right mash-up. From K Pop to Motown, RNB to Warren G. 30 songs, 2 hours, 1 playlist. 

After a recent road trip to Scotland this summer, I realised that I’m absolutely rubbish at compiling playlists. Never one to be beaten (why am I so competitive, why?) I’ve started investing in a monthly playlist to share on Itunes/Apple Music.

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I’ve gone with a 30 song format, one track for each day, you know, in case listening to my taste in music is too much to bear. I’ve fallen in love with some new music this summer and mixed it in with K Pop influences (BTS, Dynamite was playing during my MRI last week and I LOVE it).

My love for Motown, RNB, and Hip Hop tunes will never die and so there’s always going to be some Alicia Keys, Marvin Gaye, and or Prince in there somewhere. September has also brought about a new fascination with Taylor Swift (bit random, I know) but Peace is a gorgeous track that caught my attention on shuffle. Give it a go and see what you think.

I’m also revisiting Alicia Keys V John Legend as part of the Apple Music Versus series. I love listening to their commentary as the songs begin.

I love these tracks, all 30 of them. At some point or another, they’ve provided the soundtrack to some random (or not) event in my life, which has made me abundantly happy.

Listen to my September Apple Music playlist, here.

All feedback welcome, including song recommendations!

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Back to School

My kids go back to school tomorrow, and this September, I’ll be right behind them, heading for the classroom. I’ve only gone and bagged my dream job!

When I was at school (hundreds of years ago), I wanted to be a teacher. I did my year 10 work experience at my school – I interned for the PE department because it was my favourite subject. I loved the idea of playing a part in students’ development and watching them learn and master new things with your guidance.

Somewhere around age 17, I lost the thirst to learn. I knew university wasn’t for me. I was partway through my A-Levels (PE, English Lit, English Language, Psychology) when an opportunity to go home (Sydney) and work at the Olympic Games 2000 came up, I grabbed it with both hands. Bags packed, I was out of school and all ideas of education and teaching we’re left on the tarmac.

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20 whole years later, I’ve done it. I’ve finally got myself a teaching job. I’m absolutely delighted to say I’ll be joining the staff at The City of Liverpool College and I will be delivering the NCTJ Journalism Diploma programme. It’s the very course I graduated from back in 2016 and the very course I have championed to anyone interested in a career in journalism.

Since the vacancy came up online, I’ve thought of nothing else than delivering shorthand training and supporting journalism students with opportunities to expand on and polish their portfolio’s, ready for the world of work. I can’t wait to get started.

It’s inevitable that the new job has made me stop and think about my previous career decisions. It’s entirely possible that, had I have knuckled down at 17, gone to uni, got my PGCE, that by now I could be enjoying 15 years worth of educating others. But that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, right?

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So this September, there are four pairs of shiny new shoes (okay, mine are Nike’s) on the stairs, four new water bottles lined up ready for the first school day, and three students rooting for their momma on her first big day.

It’s going to be fairly chaotic for us all going back to an educational setting. Whether it’s the kids, teens, or adults. I hope your youngsters enjoy seeing their friends again, you settle into a routine quickly, and you’re all safe and well.

Happy New School Year!

Miss James

 

 

 

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21 Minutes

“Can you keep a secret?” She looked up from where her head nestled in the crook of his arm, nothing above them but blue sky and fluffy, white clouds. 

“Of course I can” he snorted in reply, “you can tell me anything”. He brushed a stray hair of hers from his stubble and stretched out on the blanket, adjusting his legs, crossed at the ankle.

“I mean, like a proper secret. Not like, oh I’m scared of the dark or I once stole pic n’ mix from the shop as a kid.” She bit her lip but kept her head bowed.

“Alright, I’ll bite. Go on. You have to tell me now.” He sat up, propped up on his elbows with a bemused smile on his face. She sat up to face him, long legs curled to one side, and looped her hair behind her ear. Suddenly looking serious, she fiddled with the hem of her dress.

“It’s just that, I’ve done something, well, something happened. It was an accident and I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, of course I didn’t, you know I’m a massive Jessie and I hate the thought of pain or anyone being upset.” The words tumbled out in a torrent, she looked at him with pleading eyes, knowing she had to go through with it now.

“What do you mean, what happened?” He sat upright, looking puzzled. “You can tell me anything, Nat, tell me what happened. Are you in trouble?” He reached out for her hand, she let his fingers entwine with hers. An act of solidarity, which she was certain would vanish once he knew what she was capable of.

“It happened last night. I was running late and I had to get back for Emma watching the kids. I’d been chatting to Clare after the class and time got away. It was dark but I was still pumped from the class but I knew I could jog back through the park and make up the lost time. It was stupid I know. I know it’s not safe.”

“What the hell happened Nat, are you okay?” He moved closer, holding both her hands now. “Jesus, just tell me.”

Tears came thick and fast now. Rolling down her cheeks as she choked out the details of the attack. “I saw him leaning against a bench by the lake, just up from the play park. I must have been huffing because he saw me jogging right into his path before I was close.

“It was dark but I knew he’d seen me.” She lowered her head again. Not able to look Ben in the eye.

“Oh God Nat, did he touch you? I swear to god if I find out he laid a fucking finger on you again, I’ll kill him. I’ll tear him apart.” Ben, her dependable Ben, was up on his knees, holding her shoulders now. Pulling her into his arms and against his chest.

“He didn’t touch me, Ben. He didn’t get the chance.” She whispered.

“I know you shouldn’t have to avoid certain places Nat, it’s not fair to live your life like that, but avoiding the park in the pitch-black would be a good start. You’re only just building up your confidence again and…” She cut off his exasperated pleas.

“He didn’t get chance to hurt me, Ben, because I got to him first.”

 

 

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Urban Orienteering with The Lantern Company

This summer I worked with award-winning, Liverpool-based creative events company, The Lantern Company. The Street by Street, Creative Revolution has begun, and the DIY Festival project is now live!

Back in July, The Lantern Company put a call out for artists to help create a DIY Festival blueprint for families, community groups and neighbours. The Lantern Company is known for producing memorable, artistic events ( City of Light, The Monster Halloween Ball, Lumiere London, Liverpool Sound City, Hong Kong Parade, etc.) Due to Coronavirus lockdown, The Lantern Company can’t bring people together in its usual, inspiring way and so, it launched a brand new initiative. A DIY Festival Kit.

The Lantern Company

From The Lantern Company website: “The Street by Street Creative activities have been specially designed to kick start the party, from where you live. You can enjoy the activities in any way you want – at home anytime or as a way of connecting with your neighbours.

If you want to inspire families, friends, and neighbours to come together in your block / street / local park in a safe and socially distanced way, these activities are the perfect way to come together, apart, and have a mini celebration.”

I saw the call for commissions and immediately set to work on my proposal. A few weeks earlier I’d taken to the paths of Springfield Park to create some chalk artwork challenges for kids and their families to enjoy. They were well received and so I submitted my ideas to The Lantern Company – and they loved them too!

The Lantern Company

So, it gives me immense pleasure (still can’t believe I get to say this) to present to you – The Lantern Company, Street by Street Creative Revolution, DIY Festival Kit. Included are 6 different activities ranging from dance to music, baking, art, and my very own addition: Urban Orienteering.

Playing out is the new staying in! Inspired by old school pavement games, such as hopscotch, this workshop shows you how to create your own fun trail, using basic art materials and your imagination. Plan your route down the garden path, driveway, street, or community centre, with 2m gaps, add a start and finish line and get ready to race.

Rain or shine, young or old, we’ll have you stomping, roaring, twirling, and reaching for the stars, safely with your friends, families, and neighbours.

It’s essentially an arty obstacle course. It can be as easy or difficult as you want to make it. My favourite steps have been ‘Stomp and Roar like a Dinosaur’, ‘Emoji Stepping Stones’, and ‘Walk The Plank’.

For all the info about the DIY Festival from The Lantern Company, including video workshops and downloadable PDF’s, click here.

We’d love to see your own DIY Festival pics and receive your feedback. Share your pics with the hashtag #LanternDIYfestival and have LOADS of fun! 

 

 

 

 

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The Community Power Coat

During COVID lockdown, I was commissioned by Collective Encounters to create a piece of art that reflected the thoughts and feelings of my local community.

Do you remember how great it felt when your school mates (and one of two of the more sound teachers) signed your leavers shirt? Do you remember finding it hanging in the back of your wardrobe or rolled up in a memory box in the loft years later? How wonderful does it feel to remember those life events?

I took my cue from this feeling. I remember leaving primary school with the positive weight of good and hopeful wishes, literally on my shoulders. Fast forward five years and there I was again, leaving senior school with messages from all my friends scribbled and drawn all over my sleeves and chest.

Physically wearing thoughts and feelings is a truly transformative experience and one the majority of us remember fondly. Sadly it only seems to happen in childhood.

When I first moved to Liverpool age 8, I remember hearing my mum say ‘Oh, she’d give you the shirt off her back. referring to a friend who would help anyone and everyone, whenever she could. The saying stuck with me.

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As my teen years wore on in L13, I became increasingly aware of labels. I wore Bon Bleu, Sweater Shop, Fila and Nike Air Max 95’s. Our school coats were Helly Hansen and Sprayways. The lads all wore Rockport (in tan, obvs). Labels enabled us to fit in where it mattered. If you didn’t wear those labels, you weren’t cool, or in with the popular kids. It’s an age-old cycle on which we’ve all been on one side or another.

I looked more closely at how labels and their meanings change to us as we grow older. During the pandemic, labels such as Key Worker, NHS, Furloughed, and asymptomatic became more prevalent as we learned new ways of social acceptance.

Back in May 2020, Collective Encounters commissioned 10 new works by emerging artists. The commissions form part of its Above & Beyond project, and respond to themes of “community power” and “community action”. To fulfill my artistic brief, I combined the ideas of wearing feelings, labels to fit in, and labels to stand out and engaging with a community with human kindness at its heart.

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I created a coat. It’s a run of the mill, beige trench coat that you’ll see on any street in any town or city, around the world. Men and women wear this style and its colour is universal.

I began collating input from friends and family, then on social media and then with my neighbours, local food bank, and volunteers involved with food hampers and medicine deliveries.

I asked the questions: “What does community power look like, to you?” and “What does community power mean?”. The answers to these questions, coupled with the labels, words, sayings, and phrases that have become the ‘norm’ during the COVID pandemic, then formed the pattern for The Community Coat.

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The more I explained to people what I was working on, the more giving they were with their own experiences and feelings. Grief was an overriding theme as elderly loved-ones in care homes passed away without family members present. This gave way to rising anger as political figures were seen to be flouting the rules while funerals were watched through Zoom.

New behaviours and hobbies came to the fore. Family bike rides, street bingo, and making masks all got a mention. While riding the highs and lows of mental health on the Corona Coaster also featured heavily.

I used mixed textiles to recreate symbols old and new during this time. Black Lives Matter protests and moving tributes to the late George Floyd are there alongside nods to the International Space Station, our incredible NHS, and our city’s iconic architecture – surrounded by wildflowers, reminding us that the world revolved, without us.

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From crayons and sharpies to embroidery, temporary tattooing, stitching, gluing, painting, stenciling, feathering, and caligraphy – The Community Coat pays homage to a city filled with passion, dealing with grief, injustice, and new normals, all while having each other’s backs.

My profound thanks to Collective Encounters for allowing me to do something different with a creative brief, and for helping me to bring people from my community together, during unprecedented times.

Thank you so very much to each and every person who generously donated their words to The Community Coat. I hope it speaks volumes about our lives during the lockdown.

 

 

 

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Summer Tunes

My August 2020 mixtape is bursting with classic summer tunes and new music for your ear lobes.

I was late updating the Mixtape section of the website this month as I had a total crisis of confidence. I spent the first few days of August on a 600 mile round trip to Scotland and had tried in vain to curate a playlist for the journey.

Didn’t want to come home

I threw together a whole load of hip hop, RnB, classic soul and Motown – my go-to mash up of easy listening. And it kinda worked, although it felt old and over played.

To make matters worse, my boyfriend put together a kick-ass playlist which charted his musical tastes through the decades – including influences from his parents, school mates, college, jobs and pre, during and post uni.

I’m not going to lie. I learned so much about him from that playlist. Stuff I definitely never knew before and while busting some serious car seat moves up the M6, I also felt massively inadequate.

What even is that picture?

So, dear readers. I want you to know I’ve put more effort into the August playlist. While you don’t know the story behind each and every track – just know that they’ve all made me abundantly happy at one point or another. I hope one or two tracks make you smile too. Happy listening.

You can check out the August 2020 mixtape, here.

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Saturday Catch Up

Feeling a bit paranoid this morning. I woke up with a smidge of a sore throat and it’s making me anxious. Can’t help but think it’s due to the tonne of alcohol I necked last night though.

Before anyone worries, I’ve no temperature or cough so I’ve come to work, where I toil on my own for a few hours so I’m also staying safe and not endangering others.

Waiting to get in at work

Tell you what though, four months on, it’s still really scary all this COVID shiz, isn’t it? I try to limit my COVID media consumption otherwise I end up feeling panicky and like I don’t want to let my kids breathe fresh air or see daylight again.

I’m slightly more concerned at present as I’m due to have surgery in a few weeks and the thought of going into hospital, plus the self-isolating period beforehand is making me a little nervous. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I have to take a COVID test four days before the procedure to make sure I’m in tip-top condition, so that’s a weight off.

It’s disappointing to see so many people STILL not wearing masks in my local area. Both Tesco and Aldi seemed to have relaxed their measures. There’s no longer staff on the door encouraging people to mask up and sanitise their hands. People are back to moving your trolley or leaning over you for produce. Again, maybe I’m a bit paranoid but surely it’s better to be safe than sorry?

Just wear a mask, will yer!

I also understand that not everyone can wear a mask, but I doubt very much that accounts for the many I’ve witnessed.

So back to Saturday morning. I’m currently sat outside work waiting for someone to let me in as I’m not a key holder. It’s BOILING out. 19 degrees and cloudy at 7am can take a running joke. Speaking of which, I text my boyfriend last night (after a few glasses of wine) and said: “ isn’t it brilliant sleeping alone when it’s hot”. I’m not sure what he made of that but I think it made some sense.

I woke up this morning with the youngest night ninja sprawled out across my side of my bed!! I don’t know how he does it! My subconscious picks up every moment they turn over on the night so I’ve no idea how he sneaks in. Little beggar.

He read me the ‘Mummy and Me’ forever friends book this morning then proceeded to make me a slice of wholemeal bread, slathered with Philadelphia, for breakfast. He’s gonna make a smashing husband one day, that kid.

Full up with love, I cycled the 2 miles into work and have been sat, sweating on the steps outside waiting to get in ever since. Happy Saturday peeps!

Thunder & Lightning Ice Cream is the one

Prepare for a barrage of blog posts in the next week as a number of art commissions I’ve been working on, officially go public. Plus I’m yet to bore you all with my Scotland trip photos and anecdotes. Nice one Julia!

 

 

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Love Not Fear – Visions of the Future

Looking back through a huge catalogue of 17,000 images, I rediscovered a photo I took of my daughter, three days before lockdown. 

One good thing to come out of lockdown (aside from the incredible rosemary fries at Honest Burger, Bold St) is time to reflect. I don’t mean philosophically, although I’ve done a bit of that too. But through the massive haul of images I’ve taken over the last year, and one really stood out.

Now, I don’t profess to be anything other than a hobby photographer. Three years on I’m still only just getting to grips with my Canon 1300D (see, total amateur), but I’ve honed a skill for capturing absolutely ANYTHING that catches my eye. This has become a way of life now and just walking around the estate to the shop, throws up endless snap opportunities (it also adds an additional 10 mins on to what should be ‘nipping’ to the shop).

My daughter, Cleo is my willing subject. When she’s not throwing the peace sign at me and touching her nose with her tongue (eww) she genuinely loves setting up shots, looking at the light and how it affects the picture, and she’s nailed the ‘vacant eyes’ look which encourages the viewer to take in the entire scene, rather than just her little frame.

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I took this picture in Stockbridge Village, Liverpool. We’d been to a friend’s birthday party at the swimming pool. It was bedlam, full of fun and laughter and friends and good times. On the way home, we took a shortcut behind the housing estate and along the side of the primary school. Through a gate designed to stop people on quad or motorbikes avoiding police detection and along a path of broken paving stones.

The route was like a post-apocalyptic Total Wipeout course. Littered with broken glass, mattresses, small fire debris, kid’s plastic toys, laughing gas canisters, and household waste. There’s always dirty nappies, isn’t there?

On approaching the gate, we’d been full of chat, laughing about the kids having fun in the pool and playing party games. Walking along the path, each step felt like the party colours faded away. A modern-day Wizard of Oz scene.

I took the picture and we quickly moved along through the end gate. Far from an out of body or time travelling experience, the two minute stretch of wasteland was just plain eerie.

Love Not Fear (www.lovenotfear.co.uk) is a citywide collaboration uniting our communities through a digital vision board with people’s hopes and visions of the new world. It’s a place to plant the seeds and spread the message of the positive changes we want to see in our future through all creative mediums.

I have added my photo to the Love Not Fear vision board as a reminder that if we don’t take action to look after our community land and spaces now, the dirty nappies, mattresses and broken glass will be all that’s left for our kids. I’ve named the photo ‘Economy Class’. Investing love in our communities will help us to not fear the future for the generations to come.

You can add your Love Not Fear artwork here.

 

 

 

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HHT Kids

This is not just another blog post about HHT. This is the M&S blog post of HHT because things are about to change. Here come the kids! 

July 2020 has been transformative. For 2 years we, as a family have come to terms with a staggering diagnosis. HHT is an incurable, hereditary disease, which can be fatal. Having a personal diagnosis can be very frightening. Having two of your three children, your dad and your brother also diagnosed, all in one go, is off the scale.

You can read our full HHT story here.

It’s time to make a change. HHT is not widely recognised nor represented in the UK. There are no specialist treatment centres and trying to get your hands on up to date advice, let alone treatment, can take months and months.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

What

I’m going to launch HHT Kids. Primarily a website, HHT Kids will become the go-to platform for children, young people, and their families looking to access quality, medical-backed information, support, and a sense of belonging.

How

Having already established connections with HHT Italy, HHT Ireland, Cure HHT, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Boston Children’s Hospital VAC Centre, I will curate factual, medical-approved information and guidance for free digital access.

The website will offer information about the diagnosis and treatment of the condition in multiple formats. I would like to see walk and talk videos from clinicians to show children and their families what happens when they go to an HHT appointment/Genomics/MRI Imaging/ Phlebotomy etc.

The website will also feature case studies. Kids, writing, or creating unique art to illustrate their HHT symptoms, in their own way.

The website will feature important information packs for parents, caregivers, schools, nurseries, and community groups. This information will help those outside the family bubble to understand the HHT diagnosis and coping mechanisms.

The website will feature additional information which HHT sufferers can personalise to help others understand how they cope with their symptoms. ‘My Friend Has HHT’ and easy to complete, downloadable school packs, which families can pass on to school, will prove to be invaluable.

The website will offer practical advice from people with HHT. Tips on how to pack for travelling, competing in sports, what happens if your nose bleeds in the middle of an exam/at the cinema/while swimming, etc.

Developing relationships with amazing artists has enabled me to begin planning different ways of reaching young people with HHT. Thanks to Andy Reilly, Brian Denham, and Wedge Collective, together I am positive we can actively engage HHT patients with art therapy, creative challenges, and printed deliverables.

This will be the first initiative to acknowledge how important positive mental health can aid HHT daily life.

The HHT Kids website will feature a blog where users will be encouraged to contribute, along with updates from our amazing partners in medicine and genomics and our European partners.

There are no specialist centres in the UK. This isn’t a national charity nor is there any real understanding among health care professionals outside ENT or vascular departments.

There is currently no cure for HHT. I firmly believe it is vital the voices of HHT children and young people are heard and they are actively engaged with education and research which could ultimately save lives.

The wheels are in motion. Follow @hht_kids on Instagram to find out more. If you’d like to be involved with the project, please email: katereillyjames@gmail.com 

 

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Holding Back The Years

I recently rediscovered a video-camera tape from 20 years ago. It’s a 7 minute long, shaky as hell, candid effort of 17-year-old me and a friend driving around Sydney in a Porsche, behaving like extras off Neighbours. It’s bloody brilliant. 

Now when I say brilliant, I mean in the most non-brilliant, sarcastic of ways. It’s actually horrendous. The camera work is filmed as though we’re on a fairground ride, it’s windy as hell or pitch black most of the time, and the shots of us getting in and out of the car resemble something from either an 80’s porno or a cop film. Then there’s my hair.

I’ve had to borrow an old school Sony video camera to be able to watch this epic back. It’s such an old model. There’s no viewing screen, just plug-in aux cables and a battery pack which no longer works without a mains cable. Somehow, the tape we recorded on is as good as new, almost 20 years later.

Not particularly loving sixth form or my job at Merseyside Police, I grabbed my Aussie passport in 2000 and went back home to work in Sydney while the Olympics was on.

I made some amazing friends and memories and carried out my share of irresponsible behaviour. Well, that’s what your teens are all about, right? But that hair! Where the hell were my friends when I asked for an official KAREN cut? Sheesh.

Last night I sat on the floor and stared up at the big screen as my teenage self came into shot. The instantly recognisable frown, the wiggle in my walk (those heels were immense, I bought them in Dune on Bold Street in Liverpool before I left), and my hysterical imposter Aussie accent.

Having been back in Sydney just three months, and having left the UK as a fully paid-up, card-carrying Scouser, I was definitely putting that on!

I look back at my tall, athletic frame and wonder why I ever beat myself up so much about my body. Three kids and 20 years later, I’ve fallen heavily into the trap of wishing I had loved myself and valued my self-esteem at that young age. Instead, I just wanted to feel like I belonged, somewhere.

Singing along to Christina Aguilera on the car radio, we drove around Double Bay and over into the city without a care in the world. We were pretending we had it all and could rule the world. When in actual fact, we were broke and wondering how much longer we could last out before calling home for a bailout.

If I had any advice for my 17-year-old self, it would be to value and understand the importance of living an authentic life.  Put honesty, with yourself and others, integrity and loyalty at the very top of your list and never lose sight of them.

Twenty years later, having, at times been ruled by my ego and selfishness, I realise there is no opportunity to wipe the slate clean. You learn, (eventually) and you move on. On reflection, in all its technicolor, straya-accented glory, I was already on a bumpy path at just 17.

The video is entitled ‘Pie’s Adventure’. Someone, I think it was my dad, once said: “Kate’s in Sydney” which apparently sounded a bit like Steak and Kidney, so naturally I was nicknamed Pie, from there on out.

Let me tell you, Pie has had many an adventure since Sydney 2000, some good, some not so good, but this is the only videotape I have to document who I was and how I’ve changed. It’s wonderful and mortifying in equal measure.

Here’s to holding back the years. Stopping to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and being grateful for another blessed day.

 

 

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