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And we’re off! Nelson via the Marlborough Sounds

Summer 12/13 roadie, day 1

After months of willing the year to finish and holiday to start, it was finally d-day. With an early (but not rudely so) ferry time we were up sooner than felt natural after the activities and consumptions of Christmas and Boxing Days. We dropped off Mike’s boys and made a beeline for the ferry terminal.

Interislander

By the time we’d parked and made our way in, it was apparent that a seating frenzy had taken place and we were left to pick over the carcass. I guess the 27th is when every man and his dog not already on holiday makes their move and to add to this, the weather was keeping everyone indoors. My demeanour started to wrinkle but after a couple of circuits we located seats in the cafe and staked out there for the three hour journey.

The grumpy weather made it not the calmest of sailings. I started to regret the mince pie I ate onboard for breakfast* and while I didn’t deteriorate further, Mike had to go up for fresh air to address some growing feelings of dodginess. Luckily that worked. Once out of the Cook Strait though the ride got much smoother.

*trips down south tend to involve a bit of pie eating

Out of the rough stuff and in the  Marlborough Sounds

Out of the rough stuff and in the Marlborough Sounds

The Marlborough Sounds are a collection of drowned river valleys at the northern tip of the South Island. They formed about 10,000 years ago, give or take. Boaties flock there and in fact many places are only accessible by water.

Once off the ferry in Picton we found Queen Charlotte Drive which would take us west to Nelson. Enter the first ‘new territory’ for me on this trip (I’m almost ashamed to say, given the relative proximity to Wellington). The road winds through bush as it follows the Queen Charlotte Sound, providing opportunities now and then to pull off and admire the beautiful views.

Queen Charlotte Sound - kinda makes you want a boat

Queen Charlotte Sound – kinda makes you want a boat

Lunch stop in Ngatuka Bay

Lunch stop in Ngatuka Bay

Mad cyclists (and we'd come across many like them) pausing to enjoy the view

Mad cyclists (and we’d come across many like them) pausing to enjoy the view

However with roads like this there are minimal opportunities for overtaking. Popular tourist route that it is, you should not be surprised to find yourself behind drivers with the warp speed of a snail. Nonetheless, the language in the car did at times get very colourful.

It’s roughly a two hour drive from Picton to Nelson, technically a city and renowned for sunshine and hot temperatures. Or if you don’t want all the faffing in ferries and cars, you can fly there. Resigned to the fact that we would be meeting cloudy and not sunny Nelson, we arrived at our hotel at the base of the Monaco Peninsula at one end of Waimea Inlet. With not much time available, I promptly set out for an explore, finding a walkway beside the estuary.

Waimea Inlet and estuary at low tide

Waimea Inlet and estuary at low tide

Waimea Inlet

Waimea Inlet walkway

Waimea Inlet walkway

Waimea Inlet walkway

I went back to get Mike and car and we headed out without any particular agenda. We drove around Monaco Peninsula, an inspired choice as it happened due to its quietness and quirkiness.

At low tide on this side of the peninsula the road involves a short section of driving over sand

At low tide the road involves a short section of driving over sand

4x4 not required (and if we did have an oops, we had a little bit of time to plead for a rescue before the tide would have caused problems)

4×4 not required (and if we did have an oops, we had a little bit of time to plead for a rescue before the tide would have caused problems)

Very happy to see this place! A welcome coffee stop, looking out over the inlet

Very happy to see this place! A welcome coffee stop, looking out over the inlet

Waimea Inlet

The main reason we stayed where we did was to visit friends. Amanda lives nearby and her sister Tracey was staying. The girls and I went to the same country primary school and many, many, many moons later, it was Amanda who introduced Mike and I. It was great to see them and their families.

Pick the sisters!

Pick the sisters!

And that was it for our stay in Nelson. We must go back as there’s so much more to see. But next up we had a date with the mighty West Coast.

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History in the making in NZ’s far north

Dad was keen to get home when we did so that he could go to a reunion of ex-Vietnam servicemen. These events happen every couple of years or so and are well supported by many veterans who enjoy the opportunity to catch up with men they served alongside more than 40 years ago.

Mum has always gone to these events and in recent years, my brother and I have tagged along for parts as well. Kyle and I have always been interested in this segment of dad’s life, with early memories of looking through the photo albums and slides of his time in South East Asia. I visited Vietnam three years ago and went to the area where the Kiwis had predominantly been based and am part way through recounting that trip in this blog.

Anyhoo… the reunion this time was to be held in the Bay of Islands in Northland. Of particular significance, the memorial parade and service on Sunday would be held on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds; only the second time a unit had been invited to march there.

Waitangi is one of the most significant places in NZ being where the country as it is today was in a sense ‘born’. In 1840, members of the British Crown, together with more than 500 Maori chiefs, signed a treaty which ultimately gave Britain sovereignty over NZ and retained certain rights for Maori. It has been the subject of endless controversy and debate since. Waitangi is where the initial signatures were gathered.

A few months out it was confirmed that dad and Kyle would go to the reunion as mum would still be overseas. I wanted to be there for Sunday morning and so I secretly plotted. It coincided with the time Mike and I would be in Auckland and was a doable deviation to the north. Luckily Mike was keen, so I moved our flights out by half a day and booked a rental car.

Fast forward to Auckland. We hit the road in our small underpowered car late Saturday avo for the 3 hour drive north. My stamina was poor (we’ll blame jetlag and birthday indulgences) and I had to hand the wheel to Mike part way lest I drove us off the road. We arrived in Paihia in darkness. This area is a big holiday destination and it was a shame we wouldn’t be around to enjoy it for long.

In the morning we had to leave quite early. At least it was daylight and the pies we found on the way for breakfast went down a treat.

The fog in the harbour was quite striking on the short drive from Paihia to Waitangi

Once parked, we joined a ragtag procession of others up the road to where the veterans were assembling for the walk onto the Waitangi grounds. It wasn’t long before I saw the large form of my father. He soon looked over and did a bit of a double take when he saw me. Surpriiise! A good surprise – I think.

Mike and I went through to the vast lawn area and soon saw the large form of my brother. After the usual brotherly-sisterly greetings and put-downs we wandered around and waited for proceedings to start.

Half of the memorial crosses on display, one for each of the 37 NZ military personnel who died during the Vietnam War

It was one of those stellar days the far north is renowned for

Memorial Parade underway, dad in the front row

Memorial flag bearers in a semi circle around the Waitangi flagpole

The flags were lowered as the roll of honour was called

I was looking forward to the flypast which turned out to be a solo Iriquois

After formalities concluded they assembled for group photos (eventually; it had the appearance of cats being herded). We caught up with dad though not for long as we had to get going. I exchanged a final insult of endearment with my brother, and we left, walking back across the grounds and down beside the beach. Here we were able to catch up with the Iriquois.

Vets in front of the Meeting House

Dad with offspring

Where the Brits came ashore in 1840 to meet with Maori chiefs and sign the Treaty of Waitangi

The Huey landed on the grounds of the hotel below Waitangi and stayed for a couple of hours. Quite a number of the Vets took the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with the helicopter, swarming inside and around it

Undoubtedly these machines are one of the enduring icons of the Vietnam War and probably quite amazingly they’re still operational in NZ today. They are gradually on the way out though. At an airshow in March we had the opportunity to see the machine that will eventually be replacing them.

The final activity before heading south was a lunch date with my dear friend Janice, who moved to the area with her husband some years ago. By coincidence we had planned to meet at a cafe very nearby.

Janice, me and a smiley statue fella

So it was a very rewarding side trip. And a few hours later, after the drive back to Auckland and the short flight to Wellington, after five weeks of being away, I was home.

Home again and some birthday frivolity

We arrived back in Auckland on a sunny weekday morning, feeling positively unrefreshed. The only person there to meet us was the shuttle driver who was to pick up dad. Instead of connecting through to Wellington straight away, I was remaining in Auckland for a couple of nights where I would be joined by Mike.

It was a day of doing relatively little which was really nice.

The next morning my 30s were officially over and bubbly with room service breakfast seemed the best way to face it. The good weather angel I acquired in the UK had followed me home and we ventured out into the beautiful June day.

We wandered through the Auckland Domain, the sunshine highlighting the residual autumn colours (technically it was the first day of winter)

Auckland’s War Memorial Museum

That night was the Auckland Edition of my 40th celebrations. The trip put paid to any fleeting thoughts of a big party and instead presented a better opportunity: being able to spend my birthday night with my Auckland nearest and dearest.

The old ‘group in an elevator’ self shot

Most of the next day was spent wandering locally and enjoying the inner city. I don’t miss living in Auckland (apart from not being able to see friends and family very often) but I quite like visiting now and then

Yummy lazy brunch in Ponsonby

We stayed in the Sky City Hotel and had been gifted passes to the Sky Tower. This here is no mean feat for me! (And those feet are not mean, just a bit on the large side)

People far braver than I pay good money to jump off the Sky Tower. To draw out the experience (weird people might say enhance), jumpers get halted in front of the observation deck where they dangle for a few seconds before plummeting to earth

Bent my neck at unnatural angles to watch another crazy person jump off the tower

On a random walk around the Viaduct Basin, one of the areas that got tarted up ahead of the Rugby World Cup last year

Later in the afternoon we collected a rental car as instead of flying south to Wellington, we would first be driving further north. And unbeknownst to dad, I’d be seeing him a whole lot sooner than he bargained for.

But to conclude this post, and the topic of birthday festivities, my 40th Wellington Edition was held the following weekend.

Everyone met for a drink first in the lounge bar at our fantastic local cinema, The Roxy

Family and friends at Miramar’s La Boca Loca restaurant. The Mexican fare is by all accounts excellent, though I concluded that I don’t much care for the flavours or the beans. However I am very partial to their margaritas

Still relatively perky at the end of the night

Given I had begun things with the London Edition, I reckon I did a reasonable job of marking this particular milestone.

Hah… guess we’ll see

A girly afternoon in London

After playing ladies and gents at The Ritz I decided to spend the afternoon with Danielle. It would be good to see the neighbourhood she had settled into and, no doubt, find a cold wine (or two) somewhere.

It was a stinking hot day. I’d already had to scramble an outfit to wear to the high tea, as what I brought over from NZ was going to be ridiculously hot. Our hotel was half an hour’s walk from Long Tall Sally, a shop I occasionally mail order from, so it had been a novelty to visit in person the day before.

So while I solved the first problem, now that I’d be spending the afternoon mostly outside, I was overdressed. Melting. Sticky. Ugh.

We bussed over to the Sloane Square area and popped into Dan’s apartment. A quick tour and wardrobe change later we left and she introduced me to one of her neighbours, Peter Jones, whom I took a real shine to. PJ is of course a honking great department store and our mission was to find something a bit cooler for me to change into. There were so many gorgeous clothes I could only wander round in a random, slightly dazed manner, but with Dan’s gleeful encouragement a couple of purchases were made.

As I wistfully walked out (enjoying the slight breeze that was now able to blow around my legs), I secretly hoped that this wouldn’t be a one-off fling. Perhaps I’d be able to visit PJ again one day.

Meanwhile, Dan had a plan for where we could find a wine (or two). Now clearly there aren’t a shortage of licensed establishments in London but she had been somewhere before which had a garden bar, and that sounded just the thing for a hot, sunny day.

Not really knowing how far up such-and-such road it was, we walked… and walked. Feet gradually acquired blisters but being the big girl I am, I sucked it up and besides there were so many distractions around. This was about a week or so out from the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Bunting was up in many places we visited on the trip – it created not just a nice aesthetic but a festive atmosphere

Many shops had window displays themed for the Diamond Jubilee

Have I become little or is that corgi especially large?

And finally with the words “ahh there it is” Dan found our watering hole. We procured a shaded table in a little corner of the garden, the perfect place to while away a couple of hours with a wine (or four).

What better way to round out the afternoon?

All too soon it was time to find a cab. We could easily have carried on but I needed to get back to the hotel to meet mum and dad, for there was still the Thames dinner cruise left on the day’s agenda.

A brilliant afternoon.

Birthday High Tea @ The Ritz

We left our cottage in Durley, said goodbye to the Merc in Reading*, and caught the train to London. A budget hotel near Paddington would be our home for three nights, then dad and I would fly home.

* where I managed to leave the mount for our satnav still attached to the windscreen, not discovered until I got home. Dummy.

I’d been to London briefly twice before (including at the start of this trip) and had expected to not like it. The opposite happened. So I was glad to have another couple of days there – even if it was only a couple of days. And even if this time would force me to start crossing the threshold into another decade….

Ten years ago for my 30th I had a joint party with my father who turned 60 around the same time (it was billed as our ‘90th’). As it transpired, within a few months I began my 30s by leaving a city and a marriage and starting what has become a great new life in Wellington.

I wasn’t as inclined to be quite so dramatic this time round. But what to do for the 40th? Another party? Travel? Both? 🙂

The trip concept with mum and dad started to take form, which was partially built around being able to celebrate dad’s 70th in St Andrews. Between that, the family history stuff, and proximity to my birthday, the trip went from concept to certainty. I would meet mum and dad in Scotland at the beginning of May, take dad on a side trip to Turkey, meet back up with mum in England, and finish up in London where we’d have an early celebration for my birthday.

The dilemma then became what to do in London that was a bit special, a place in which you’d never be stuck for choice? As well as my parents, I have a couple of friends there who I was keen to include. It was pretty easily decided in the end: high tea with everyone, and a dinner cruise on the Thames with mum and dad.

So where for high tea? You could lose yourself in the research as it seems there are so many excellent places these days. But I wanted more than just great food, service and reputation, I also wanted the ambience and decor – and in looking at websites it wasn’t always obvious what the dining rooms looked like.

I chose The Ritz. It seemed to tick all the boxes.

At the beginning of this year, four months out, I decided I better make the booking. There was only one viable day and I’m lucky I didn’t muck around any longer as I only had the choice of an 11.30am sitting or 7pm! ‘High lunch’ it was.

The day arrived, a really hot day. This was London’s heat-wave-before-the-many-weeks-of-dismal-weather-before-the-Olympics. We caught a cab and loitered outside the prestigious address until my friends arrived. It was lovely to see them.

Inside we transited through the amazing hotel entrance and lobby were shown to our table in a very proper, naturally, but friendly manner. I was so pleased with the choice: the Palm Court was stunning. Golden tones, elaborate furnishings. It was buzzing with other high tea goers in this two-hour sitting.

Louise has been a friend since babyhood and has lived in London for several years. Danielle I met soon after moving to Wellington. She moved to London at the beginning of the year and it was great to share my 40th with her, as I travelled to Vietnam to help celebrate hers a couple of years ago.

We all enjoyed the tea offerings. To be honest though, I went to a high tea at one of the nice Wellington hotels last year and while The Ritz tea may have been more traditional (?) I didn’t feel it was any better in either quality or taste than my enjoyable local experience. We happily nibbled from the tiered plates of food, alternately sipping between chosen teas and glasses of bubbles.

But there was also cake! There was a minute of happy embarrassment as the cake was brought out and the staff sang happy birthday. Everyone at our table had to have a compulsory slice though I don’t think anyone had room.

Dad and Louise. Until recently, when dad retired, he worked for Lou’s father in rural West Auckland.

The time flew. It was sort of like a wedding day – a bit surreal; lots going on and not enough time to do proper justice to the company, the food, the surroundings. All too soon it was time for us to vacate our seats as groups for the next sitting were already hovering in the lobby. It’s a shame you can’t linger for longer, but it is a hugely popular activity and their several sittings per day are usually booked solid for at least three months.

(The balloon was part of the gift from Louise!)

Not sure what I’m looking at!, but around that time an odd man watching our proceedings shouted a few offensive things at us. That didn’t mar what had had been a fantastic occasion, especially the brief catch-up it enabled with the girls.

And after dipping my toes in the waters of 40, I wasn’t feeling too bad. Just very full.

To Bath via Worcestershire and Wales

After departing Manchester, much of the day was on England’s motorway system. Have to say they do it very well; excellent roads and signage. While the motorway speed limit is 70mph (which was a novelty as in NZ it is the equivalent of 60mph) many cars skipped past much faster. I was a touch more sedate, not knowing the general approach to tolerances and how the speed traps work. And also I didn’t want to activate mum’s backseat driver mode.

Dad rides shotgun which means he’s thrust a camera from mum every once in a while

Early afternoon we reached Worcestershire. We were making a rural stop here to visit Mike’s brother’s wife Fi on her parents’ farm. They had been able to come out to NZ earlier in the year and it would be great to see at least Fi again so soon.

The TomTom could manage finding the local village but full credit must go to the iPhone map function for locating and directing us to the farm. We got out of the car… breathed in… looked down… yep, definitely a farm with cows.

We interrupted Fi making ice cream, which has been a side business on the farm for the last few years. She would not consent to a photo in her white coat, blue hair net with chocolate splatter on her face. But you get the idea 🙂

Fi and sister Gillian with part of the ice cream van fleet

It was a hectic day there but the sisters and their father gave us a cup of tea and showed us around. They live in a beautiful part of the country with probably the greenest grass you could find anywhere.

Coming from youthful New Zealand, you just don’t get OLD stuff, like houses built several hundred years ago that are still very much being lived in. They are so interesting with their character and quirks. Though interesting may not be the word when cold weather arrives.

There would be one or two challenges with living somewhere like this!

Old barn and water pump

I’ve always thought black cows look mean

A visit to ice cream facility would not be complete without sampling some Churchfields Farmhouse product so before we left Fi to dive back into the batch she was making, we chose a wee pot each to take away. Mum and dad cleaned up their ice creams pretty quickly though in the driver’s seat I made a right hash of my sorbet. Delicious anyway – thanks Fi!

More ice cream than you can shake a spoon at

Me ‘n’ Fi

On we drove.

Rather than go straight to Bath I wanted to detour into Wales. Just because. And not too far in, just enough to have been across the border. For this reason I chose Chepstow and this proved to be a good little stop on account of the castle and cutesy old streets. And a pretty good pub dinner. The drive there also gave us our first dose of narrow country lanes. There’d be plenty more of those soon enough!

Chepstow Castle, apparently the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain

A street in Chepstow. I like the way they break up the sameness with a touch of colour

Cobblestone street (apparently a fairly famous one) in Chepstow

They had these poppy tiles fixed onto the concrete steps around their war memorial

All location signs were in the two main languages

We arrived in Bath while it was still light and checked into our hotel, very basic rooms but off street parking, wifi and an excellent location. Mum and I went on a recce and on account of the historic look and feel to the place I could tell that I was going to enjoy this city. We were spending two nights and one full day here.

Vietnam: 18~A birthday party and some local night life

After the visit to the markets and the cooking school, the evening was reserved for the birthday party.

Danielle and Mark, the tour organisers and friends from way back, both had 40th birthdays on the horizon and this night was the official party. The last few days had been building up to it and with the birthday boy and girl both having extensive hospitality backgrounds, this was always going to be an impressive occasion. Read more

Vietnam: 15~Exploring old Hoi An

The banner said “Welcome to Hoi An Ancient Town”. We had been dropped off in the old town, a few minutes drive from the beach area where we were staying. Read more

The girls turn 120

It was Saturday with another busy day ahead. The birthday activities would kick off later, but first priority after getting myself organised was food. Decided to shop local with a hot breakfast and coffee from the Art Stop Cafe in Helensville. Really good. First time there and will definitely return.

With tummy happy it was back to Auckland. A trip to the Big Smoke isn’t complete until I’ve caught up with Hannah so I popped in. A glass of wine and girly chit chat easily took care of a couple of hours. (Matching denim jackets were not organised in advance.)

It was time to think about birthday festivities. I was staying with Kirsten & Mike in West Auckland and there I went. Wee Mitch was at his grandparents giving his mum and dad the night off. I brought some celebration bubbles with me which seemed a shame to let linger in the bottle any longer than necessary.

Kirsten and I have been friends since we were babies

Mmmmmmmmmmmm

The main birthdays in question were the imminent 40ths of Kirsten and a friend from high school, Debbie. However, as mine is also on the horizon the evening was billed as a small triple celebration, or as one of the girls alarmingly put it, our 120th.

We met Deb and her partner Barclay at a bar in downtown Auckland.

At Soul Bar in the Viaduct Harbour

The birthday girlies

The actual Viaduct Harbour

Dinner was at a restaurant within walking distance, though uphill, and there was discussion at length as to whether this was achievable given the ladies’ footwear. We decided to give it a go.

The skyline was filled with the Sky Tower, churches and various high rises.

The award winning Grove Restaurant was our venue as we figured the occasion suited somewhere a bit fancy. Predictably the girls went for bubbly.

Kirsten, Mike, me, Barclay and Deb

We were in raptures over the food, even the bread roll appetiser was divine.

My fish main, absolutely yum. Could've eaten two.

Kirsten and I are dessert eaters from way back and both chose petit fours

Over the course of the evening it’s probably fair to say that we forgot why we were there. Until this came out, which Mike had organised on the sly.

A nice touch

I suppose one benefit of celebrating my birthday early is that I get used to the idea of entering my 40s. (Even writing it there freaks me out a bit.)

All yummy things must come to an end and we had another couple of stops to make. We tottered off, enjoying some city illumination.

Mo’s, a tiny corner bar and evidently one of the city’s best kept secrets, wasn’t far away. Mike had joked earlier that the five of us would fill it, and that was only a slight exaggeration. A couple dozen people would be quite cosy. I was a bit shocked at how expensive cocktails are now. Maybe they were Auckland prices.

Inside Mo's

A final wander around the Viaduct with a stop at one of its bars and we were ready to call it a night. We were 120 after all.

Happy birthday Deb and Kirsten!

New Year Trip: 6~Happy new year!

(Alternative heading: Will we make it to midnight?)

The last day of the year began very lazily. Eventually we kicked into gear and decided we better get a wriggle on ahead of more friends coming around later on. Mike 2 took Mike 1 (hereafter known as M2 and M1) and I on a bit of a tour. First, some unfinished business from a couple of years ago.

A very well known TV series called Outrageous Fortune was based nearby and some time back we had tried to find the iconic ‘westie’ house but couldn’t. Our hosts had since become better informed and turns out the house is ridiculously easy to find when you know how.

World famous in New Zealand, this house

M2 then took us for a tiki tour around the neighbourhood, mainly for the benefit of M1 who hadn’t seen much of it. The swanky waterside mansions are offset to some extent by pockets of low incoming housing and there are plenty of recreational reserve areas so that the waterfront can be enjoyed by all. This perhaps wasn’t such a priority today off the back of some dreary weather. How it would stack up for the rest of the day was anyone’s guess.

The weather was hardly stellar but at least the rain had stopped. View from the end of the peninsula over to Auckland city and the harbour bridge

Before we could go back to the house we had to find coffee. Had to. It took about five attempts but we eventually found somewhere that was open. The caffeine addicts among us breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Early afternoon we were joined by Debbie, Barclay and Deb’s children Yasmin and Vincent. Mitch was pretty happy about this.

Mitch loved having the big kids around

Debbie is a friend from high school days. This meant that over the years, a few of us had our milestone birthdays in close proximity to each other. This year it means that the three of us are now approaching our scariest milestone yet. (OK, 40, there I said it.) We talked about our plans, which for Kirsten and I are a bit sketchy. But Deb is doing it in style: a holiday in New York. Jealous!

Me, Kirsten, Debbie... soon to be Over The Hill (sigh)

Soon enough it was time to balance the New Years Eve beverages with some food.

Sitting down for some afternoon munchies

Mitchell

The weather had settled and cleared up a bit so we moved outside – while sparing a fleeting thought for those getting drenched at music festivals elsewhere in the North Island.

Well she might kill me for this but I think it's a nice photo

All of us

Meanwhile, Twitchy the Hunter rests

A couple of other visitors dropped by, including this prickly fella who didn’t seem too bothered by the multitude of people and cats.

With children to get to bed, Debbie took her family home leaving me, Kirsten and the Mikes with a couple of hours to kill before midnight. Yawns had started to creep in and our staying power was in doubt! But between conversation, drinks, music, and a bag of Natural Confectionary Company snakes that I remembered was in the car (god I love those), we got there!

M1 and I walked with M2 down the road a bit to get views across the harbour. There was to be a fireworks display from the Sky Tower at midnight which we thought we’d watch. But it was a fizzer – the low cloud had hung around and we couldn’t see a thing. We did see an array of fireworks across the water set off by residents in Waterview and Point Chev which was pretty cool.

But anyway – 2012 had arrived!

A ukulele duel rounded out the night.

Rock on, Mikes... in their defence, it was very late...

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