Wednesday, February 4, 2009

England, July 22-August 2, 2008

The following are excerpts from e-mails I wrote--and sent to my wife, Margaret--while in England last summer (for a very brief summary, see


For now, I'm just trying to keep my eyes open. It's not even 6pm, but considering that I only got a couple of hours of sleep and that we arrived in London at about 1:30am our time, I'm struggling a bit.

Everything on the trip went smoothly. Having done it a year ago, I didn't get obsessive about planning out every detail, and I didn't worry when some things didn't work initially, like having the right kind of adapter to plug in my laptop. I ended up going to four or five different stores today until I found the right kind.

On the plane from Salt Lake to Dallas I sat next to Elder Howell. Yes, there were six missionaries headed for Paris on the plane, all from the other French-speaking branch. Elder Howell had been one of the zone leaders. He recognized me from the halls in the classroom building. The missionaries also went to London (on their way to Paris), but not on the same flight I was on, so I didn't seem them again after Dallas.

I saw lots of movies & TV shows on the flight from Dallas to London: the movie "21" (not as good as I hoped it would be--well acted and interesting at points, but a bit fuzzy in its moral orientation, and a bit too dazzled by Las Vegas); most of "Flawless" (pretty good); three episodes of "The Office" (REALLY funny--especially two of them), and episode of "Monk" (which of course I was already familiar with). And I put on another episode of it to help me fall asleep (I guess I'm hooked on that method). They no longer show a single movie during a flight, but have several movies and TV shows available at each person's individual console. It shouldn't be surprising that the TV comedy category was represented by episodes of Monk and The Office (along with another series I'm not familiar with).

I took a coach from the airport to Oxford and then walked (with luggage) 3/4 of a mile from the bus station to the B&B. Kathryn Park is lovely and friendly. I cleaned up a bit and then headed off to do errands, see things, and generally keep myself awake. I visted the Brompton Oratory (associated with John Henry Newman ("Lead Kindly Light") and Gerard Manley Hopkins), went to several stores to find an adapter (as noted above), got some gifts for the Lifferths (including for Oliver), went to Blackwell's (an amazing bookstore--almost like a little city), looked around in St. Mary the Virgin church (where Lewis gave the sermon "The Weight of Glory" that includes the lines "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses . . ."; others who have given sermons there include John Wesley and John Henry Newman, and the church has other famous associations--with the Protestant martyrs burnt under Queen Mary, with Oxfam, and with lots of other things), went up the church tower to take a view of the city, visited "the Painted Room" (where Shakespeare stayed during his trips between London and Stratford), visited a couple of free to the public parts of the Bodleian Library, called you, and got a bite to eat.

Obviously I'm now back in my room, reading and writing e-mails.



I did Shakespeare stuff today, NOT Lewis stuff (or not much). Today has been good but with some frustrations (to be described). Because Hamlet in Stratford is basically sold out, I can't get tickets online; the site says to call. So I called twice today (paying 40 or 50 pence each time); the first time they didn't have a person to talk to me because they were "in training"; the second time it was after 5 (nobody, including the web site or the previous call, had said anything about having to call by 5). So I'll try tomorrow--but by the time they're open for calling, the train I would prefer taking to Stratford will already be gone. Anyway, it will all work out.

I didn't watch the time while at the train station today (I was just getting information and making one of those calls) and was ten minutes late for a walking tour I had wanted to do. So I missed it, and it won't happen again till next week--and with the C. S. Lewis conference, I may or may not be able to do it. It's an INKLINGS tour, meaning Lewis, Tolkien, and friends, and I would LOVE to do it. If I don't manage this trip, there's always next time I'm in Oxford--as long as it's on a Wednesday and I have 90 minutes to spare.

Because I missed that walking tour, I visited the Ashmolean Museum instead--amazing Minoan, Egyptian, Roman, Renaissance, etc., etc., stuff. And I saw TWO Shakespeare plays, both open-air productions here in Oxford: Twelfth Night in the afternoon and As You Like It in the evening. For both performances, especially the afternoon one, I had a major heck of a time keeping my eyes open and my mind focused. Adjusting to the sleeping schedule plus doing lots of walking means that when I sit down my body and mind want to sort of shut down. Nevertheless, even with my lack of focus, I could tell that the Twelfth Night production was sort of dumb. It was OK, but I've seen lots better. As You Like It was much better (and I was actually able to focus most of the time during this one). It was a fun, energetic production which took the play seriously enough I could identify with the characters and what they were going through. It was sort of vaguely set in the 60s, with some miniskirts (and tights), a few hippy outfits, and some fun 60s-ish versions of some of the songs. Also, even though they pushed the Touchstone-Audrey relationship a little further than the text authorizes, there was not the sort of stupid, gratuitous vulgarity that the Twelfth Night production had thrown in at a few points.



My day: I called you from London and mentioned that I saw Chris Clark. [There was a double line at the Globe box office; I was in one of them. I overheard someone in the other line say "Utah Valley" and thought, "Is there a chance there are students from Utah here?" Then someone said, "Bruce Young!" It was Chris Clark, a friend who now teaches at Utah Valley University--formerly UVSC--with a group of UVU students he was leading on a trip to England.] Since the Globe didn't have a matinee and were sold out for tonight, I spent my time in London seeing a few places of interest: I took the Globe exhibition and theatre tour (saw the rehearsal going on for Timon of Athens), dropped in on Choral Evensong at St. Paul's Cathedral (some lovely singing, organ playing, and scripture reading), and dropped by the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and the British Library (but they were all closed by then). Of course, the main thing was just soaking in London a bit--the tube, the Thames, the tourists and townspeople (that's all I can think of starting with "t").

I'm now back in my room in Oxford getting ready to go down for the night--maybe I'll watch some Monk (I brought one of the disks). By the way, the Danish lady who's here saw my disk cover and asked if I like Monk--she's a big fan too. Apparently they have Monk on TV in Denmark.



Saw Patrick Stewart and Paul Scofield but didn't have a chance to talk with them. [Didn't actually see Paul Scofield--but more on that later.] It's late--10 to 1am. I'll tell you more later.



Four things I wanted to reflect about to start with:

1. I'm enjoying my time here and trying to do my usual thing of cramming lots of stuff in. I'm finding, though, that I get tired, and my feet and knees really start hurting from the walking. I'm afraid I may not be quite up to what I used to do, and I'm feeling more empathy with people who have protested against my style of traveling.

2. I'm seeing a fair number of Brits, but there are lots and lots of tourists--it appears mainly Italians, Spaniards, Germans, along with (in London, at least) people from Africa and the Middle East. And Americans, of course. When I say "Brits," you have to remember that the Brits are increasingly multicultural--lots of people from India, Pakistan, etc., etc., some from Africa, too. You remember the elder we had a while back who was part Nigerian/part Irish, but lived in Australia? He seemed very British--very cultured, a nice British accent, etc. That's the sort of thing you'd notice now, as well as people who retain more of their ethnic identity.

3. There's far too much smoking here in England. I know there have been moves to curtail it, and there are places where it's prohibited. But you still see it (and smell it) lots, and unfortunately a lot of the smokers are young. It's hard to tell the tourists from the natives sometimes, but I think a lot of the smoking is by natives. Sad, unpleasant, unhealthy of course. I should say, though, that the bed & breakfast is entirely smoke free, which is nice. As for things it's nice to see: It's nice to see lots of young couples with prams (baby strollers), husband and wife sharing the duties. And I remember seeing a very pregnant woman crossing the street the other day and saying to myself, spontaneously, "Bless you."

4. I have not done lots of thinking about my mom or Lynda. But in high priests today the subject came up of whether it was selfish to grieve and I said, I think it's natural, and though it can conceivably be excessive or too negative, in general the Lord seems to approve. I quoted the Doctrine and Covenants: "Thou shalt live together in love insomuch that thou shalt weep for the loss of those who die"--something like that. Also, I was reading in Dreams from My Father the other day (I brought it with me), and I reread the new preface, where Obama talks about his mother's death, and it hit me MUCH more strongly than it had the first time I read it. And then that night (this was in Stratford), I saw Hamlet, and was again hit in an unusual way by the scene where Ophelia is buried. Laertes's reaction, his jumping into the grave and taking her into his arms, struck a chord. I've had a similar loss.

I guess there's lots to catch up on. This is my attempt at a short version, but I'm afraid it's a bit long.

THURSDAY, July 24: I was in London; I think I already told you about that--seeing Chris Clark, touring the Globe, going into St. Paul's, etc.

FRIDAY, July 25:
Stratford: Hamlet is completely sold out, but I got in the returns line (was 3rd out of 3) shortly before noon. Those who had lined up before dawn had already got their tickets. Amazingly some tickets became available shortly after noon, and I got one. There's such an interest because Hamlet is played by David Tennant, the current Dr. Who and very popular in England. But I was even more impressed by Patrick Stewart (Claudius) and the actor who played Polonius (can't remember his name at the moment).

After getting the ticket, I went to Holy Trinity Church (Shakespeare's grave), then later in the afternoon got together with Helen Hargest (the Shakespeare Centre librarian who has worked with me on images I've used, etc.). We had a nice talk.

I really enjoyed Hamlet, partly because I actually remained awake the entire time. (It probably helped that I had dozed off a bit while lying down in a park along the river doing some reading.) I was concerned, though, about making the train back to Oxford (it leaves at 11pm, with the play going to about 10:50). So I arranged to change my seat during the interval, gave mine to the wife of the guy who was sitting next to me (they'd gotten returns and had to sit in separate parts of the theatre). The new seat I was in was very good, though: still a nice view, but more than that, the aisle next to me was used as an entrance/exit. So David Tennant and Patrick Stewart walked past me several times and I could easily have stuck out my arm and hit them.
(I didn't. But I savored the breeze as they walked past.) I could swear also that I saw Paul Scofield sitting in the front row--but when I mentioned that to someone, they said, "He's dead." And indeed he is: died just last March. So maybe it was his brother?

I left the theatre at 10:45 and took a cab to the train station. As it turned out, though, I could have stayed in the theatre another 5 minutes and still made it to the train station 5 minutes before the train left. Anyway, I left just after both Hamlet and Laertes were mortally wounded. Gertrude was dying but Claudius had yet to be stabbed or have the poisoned drink forced down his throat. In other words, I missed the end of the play.

Anyway, I made the train, returned to Oxford, and got back to the B&B about 12:30am.

SATURDAY, July 26:
I went to London (it's a bus called "the Oxford Tube"--takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hrs. each way). I visited Westminster Abbey, which really is a pretty amazing place. They had a refreshment area in the cloisters and I had some "Victorian lemonade." After I'd drunk about half of it, I decided to look more carefully at the ingredients to see why it had a bit of a fizz to it.
It said, in very small print on the label, "No more than 0.5% alcohol." Oh well. I think that's about how some of the orange juice has been that's been left out for a while. Anyway, I'll have to be more careful in the future.

Still with some time on my hands, I went to Leicester Square and got a bit disoriented (very hard to figure out directions there, plus it looked like the place was clogged with maybe thousands of tourists). Anyway, I ended up at the National Portrait Gallery, and just looked at a few rooms with Tudor, Elizabethan, etc., portraits, many of them very famous and very familiar to me--famous ones of Shakespeare, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Queen Elizabeth, Jane Gray, Mary Tudor, Henry VIII, Richard III, Sir Thomas More and family, and lots of others. Also, a nice big portrait of Lady Anne Pope and her children--one of the images I use in my book. It was fun seeing the real thing.

Then I went through the Covent Garden area trying to find an African restaurant that, unfortunately, had moved; then found the Indian restaurant I called you from. It's called Masala Zone ( ) and is really very good. I'm planning to take you there when we're in London.

Unfortunately, I lost track of time. It was 6:55 when I left the restaurant and the play at the Globe started at 7:30. With some running and luck I found the Oxford Circus tube stop, took the tube to St. Paul's, found the Millennium Bridge, crossed the Thames, and made it in the theater about 7:25, very sweaty I'm afraid. I was a genuine groundling. I stood the entire performance, unfortunately in a bit of physical agony. The play was Timon of Athens, a powerful performance but not (I've decided) Shakespeare's best play by a long shot. A lot of it is speeches, intellectually, satirically, and very bitterly analyzing the foibles of mankind. The story itself is powerful, at a fairly simple level, with some affinities with Lear and Coriolanus but without the richness and personal interest. The acting was very good, but some of the directorial choices were disturbingly gross (or grossly disturbing), like have Timon appear to actually unload himself in a hole on stage and then smear the feces on other characters. I'll have to check and see if that's in the text.

After the play, I found a tube stop, made it back to Victoria Station, and caught the Oxford Tube, returning to Oxford about 1am and making it to the B&B by 1:15. (The lady who runs it gives her lodgers keys, so I'm able to come and go whenever I want.)

SUNDAY, July 27:
No trips today! I was able to sleep in until a little after 8am, had breakfast a little after 9, and then headed off to Church. I saw Paul and Sandy Thomas there, as well as some people from Southern Virginia University (Randall Cluff, I think is his name, remembered your visit there; plus a daughter of his took the class I taught with Bob Nelson; Randall said they'd like to maybe have me come out).

Church was good, especially some good talks and testimonies in Sacrament meeting. I did feel the Spirit, felt renewed--and I needed it, not only because of the rigors of travel but because, as I've learned, I tend to have a hard time being IN the world without being OF the world. In other words, I'm a bit passive, a bit of a chameleon, and tend to take on the coloration of my surroundings. I'm afraid I tend to get rather spiritually dull. So it was nice to feel revived. I would really like to become stronger, more truly radiant. I know I get that way in the right settings, but I'd like to be that way more fully, independent of circumstances or surroundings.

The Thomases gave me a ride to the B&B. I was on my own for the rest of the day, though, so I bought some food to get me through the day and spent most of the day in my room, e-mailing, listening to Obama's speech in Berlin and to Al Gore on becoming carbon-free within 10 years. Very persuasive, by the way--though I dozed off part way through his speech and had to go back to hear much of it; but I needed the rest, so that was good, too.

Also, I did more work on my paper for the C. S. Lewis conference.

And when BYU's server stopped working, I took a walk and made some phone calls (you, a 1 minute call to my dad, and leaving a message on Julie's phone--the e-mail address I have for her isn't working, so I want to know what the right one is).



Have you heard that an Orrin Hatch song may get played at the Democratic convention? See this for details:

(It's a tribute to Teddy Kennedy. Some of the words are a bit embarrassing, but the story really is sweet.)

Also, I haven't heard: have you won the $5 prize from yesterday's e-mail? If not, check it again. I should maybe have made it in the form of a quiz:
(a) "I see dead people." Who in particular?
(b) What alcoholic beverage did I drink and where?
(c) What should Timon be sent to time out for doing?

OK, here's today. It's been a good day. There were some disappointments: Merton College (where Tolkien taught and where a beautiful library is located) is closed all summer to visitors. Museums (including the Ashmolean) were closed today because it's Monday. (But not Christ Church picture gallery, which I did visit.) And I didn't get to take a tour of the Bodleian Library because all the tickets had been sold by the time I got there.

On the other hand, I checked in with the C. S. Lewis conference, which begins in earnest tomorrow. I got my paper printed and copied at the local Staples (yes they have a branch here). I did some good reflecting and writing in my journal. And I saw a MARVELOUS performance of Much Ado tonight. It really is a great play, and it was greatly performed, by a theatre group right here in Oxford--outdoors, in the courtyard of the Oxford Castle (which had also served as a prison until 1996 but is now a tourist stop). The play was set in Spain (Sevilla), which worked really well. And it was done with enthusiasm, clarity, and feeling. Shakespeare really was quite good at times. Of the plays I've seen so far in England, this was close to being the best, right up there with Hamlet (which is also a brilliant play and which had a couple of superb actors--so maybe it's number 1 so far this summer).

Anyway, seeing the play helped me feel I'm not wasting my time here, which I occasionally feel since I've pretty much had my fill of seeing the sights. But now the Lewis conference begins, and so I should feel a bit more useful again.



I met Francis Collins today. You're supposed to be impressed. He's the head of the human genome project, and we did his book, The Language of God, in book group. Nice man. I've also had some good chats with several other people, even though I'm kind of shy and EVEN THOUGH I'M A MORMON, which some people have a hard time dealing with. It's like trying to talk to an alien or someone with a gigantic spot on their face or something. Anyway, that's how I feel (others may feel) occasionally, but for the most part, everyone has been lovely. Did I tell you about the French people also here at the bed & breakfast? From Tours, one of the cities I served in in France. We've had some nice conversations in French! I love it.

Something to do with the conference also had an effect on my Book of Mormon reading today: 2 Nephi 31. Amazing! Maybe it was because I'd been talking with a Calvinist (and a very nice man--Tom Havel--actually distantly related to the Pres. of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel). Anyway, I felt the power of the Spirit verse after verse as I read. The doctrine of Christ--that's what the chapter is about.


7/30/08 (#1)

[Margaret's attempt at the quiz:]

(a) "I see dead people." Who in particular?
Paul Schofield. Btw, when you said you had seen Patrick Stewart and Paul Schofield, I thought you had perhaps seen them at a wax museum, because I knew Schofield had died. I remember it vividly. I remember thinking, "Oh dear. Nobody will ever replace him. The bottom eyelids are exclusively his."

(b) What alcoholic beverage did I drink and where?
Victorian Tea--was it at the art gallery?

(c) What should Timon be sent to time out for doing?
Using someone's face for toilet paper.

[My response:]

Excellent on the quiz! Except it was Victorian lemonade, not tea. I've been passing up many opportunities to take tea here in England, though the lady at the B&B has kindly provided me with herbal infusions so I can have something like a pot of tea in the morning.

Patrick Stewart was very much alive, and I could have sworn it was Paul Scofield--though apparently not, since he died in March I think--unless I really do see people no one else does, people maybe with a pass from the spirit world to see a play. I think he might have come if he was allowed.


7/30/08 (#2)

A good day, so far. It's early evening now. I'm the sole lodger here for a day or two. The main difference that makes is at breakfast--whether the conversation is just between Kathryn and me or others are involved.

Very good morning sessions at the C. S. Lewis conference. I actually enjoy singing hymns with the other folks there. If they're hymns I don't know, I pick up pretty fast and even can sing harmony by the second verse. I felt I should change the words a bit on "Holy, Holy, Holy" so I could praise the Trinity in terms I believe (what some people, including Richard Bushman, call "social trinitarianism" as opposed to ontological trinitarianism). There were a couple of really good talks, including one by a woman who talked about Lewis's friendships--and how we should treat each other. ("It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses" and sentences that follow have been quoted more than once at the conference. And the conference chaplain, I think they're calling him--a young, charismatic Baptist--said, this morning I think, "Jesus, you took upon us all that we are that we might become all that you are." I thought of telling him: "Hey, you know when we Mormons talk about becoming gods and goddesses, THAT'S what we mean--we don't aspire to anything other than becoming all that Christ is.")

I had a nice chat with a dentist from Dubuque, Iowa, during the refreshment break--he knows some of the people who developed the toothpaste my dentist is having me use, and he explained to me the science behind it. After the break, I was able to stay as Francis Collins played the guitar and led us in more hymn singing. He's the scientist whose book we read in our book group, the head of the human genome project. But I had to skip his talk that followed (I'll get it on CD) because I had a ticket to go on the Inklings walk, the one I missed last week. I'm glad I went. A lovely older gentleman named Peter took about a dozen people on a pleasant, informative tour, including some spots I already knew but some I didn't (like the registry office where Jack and Joy's civil marriage took place). And I was finally able to go in the Randolph Hotel (where the meeting of Jack and Joy was filmed for Shadowlands, though the actually meeting was in the Eastgate Hotel). We also went in the Bird and the Baby (officially, the Eagle and the Child pub)--which I think I did once upon a time, but I've generally not had the nerve to step in and just ask to look at the place.

After lunch etc. it was back to the conference. I went to a session that was somewhat interesting and followed by more interesting discussion. One of the paper presenters was Christine Chou, the woman from Taiwan I mentioned. I then presented at 4pm--and she was one of the auditors. I'd say my paper was reasonably well received, though the discussion afterward was somewhat halting. I've given copies to some who were not able to come to the session, and they may actually appreciate it more than some who were there. And then the younger guy who was criticizing Lewis did his thing. He raised some really interesting philosophical questions that I won't go into here. Maybe when I'm home.

I met Christine Chou's kids before the paper presentations (they attended but played electronic games or practiced their Chinese characters during the paper reading--they're a bit nervous about returning to Taiwan after having been away for 3 years). As I told you on the phone, I felt I needed to give Christine passalong cards but couldn't find any. So I'll give her some when I see her again, which I hope I will. In any case, we exchanged e-mail addresses. Really a lovely, genuine, good person.

I then called you, bought another phone card, called you again, and came here to the B&B.

By the way, I'll want to make a dermatologist appointment when I get back. A couple of days after I got here, I got little red spots at a few points on my arms--just rash-like and the sort of thing I've gotten before. But I also got some bumps on my head. I don't know exactly how to describe them except to say that there were maybe six or so of them, each about a quarter of an inch in diameter, most of them forming kind of a circle right on top of my head, the bald area. They were quite itchy for several days, and then became sort of hard, raised bumps, almost like the stumps of horns (weird); the last day or so they've gone down and may disappear soon. I don't know whether they are reactions to drinking a lot of juice (I drank a quart of orange juice within about a day of their appearance), or to sun or heat or stress, or whether they might be bug bites (the window of my room is partly open to keep things cool, but some bugs have flown in). Anyway, I may as well get everything checked . . .


7/30/08 (#3)

I'm sending this to you and myself partly so I'll have a record of it. It's a hymn that Francis Collins led us in this morning in preparation for his talk on religion and science (that I didn't go to). The hymn is very thought provoking, and the last verse especially I think is profound--with the metaphor of contending currents that form one river.

Praise the Source of Faith and Learning
Sung to the tune “Hyfrydol” [We know it as "In Humility, Our Savior"]

Praise the source of faith and learning
that has sparked and stoked the mind
with a passion for discerning
how the world has been designed.
Let the sense of wonder flowing
from the wonders we survey
keep our faith forever growing
and renew our need to pray.

God of wisdom, we acknowledge
that our science and our art
and the breadth of human knowledge
only partial truth impart.
Far beyond our calculation
lies a depth we cannot sound
where your purpose for creation
and the pulse of life are found.

As two currents in a river
fight each other’s undertow
till converging they deliver
one coherent steady flow,
blend, O God, our faith and learning
till they carve a single course,
till they join as one, returning
praise and thanks to you,
their Source.

Words by Thomas Troeger
From Borrowed Light
© 1994 Oxford University Press, Inc



That just reminded me of something I saw on the back of a bus YESTERDAY: "This bus is red," but "red" was crossed out and "green" was substituted. Then it said: "This bus has a sexy little thing called a particulate matter trap that makes the exhaust cleaner than a vicar's sermon." Something like that.



I don't remember if I told you anything about yesterday: mainly just good (or at least decent) presentations at the Lewis conference, some rather philosophical sessions in the afternoon, and a concert/poetry reading in the evening. Midday I saw some more in the Ashmolean museum including some very nice pre-Raphaelite paintings (do you know the pre-Raphaelite movement? it includes Waterhouse, though I don't think he has any here at the Ashmolean; it also includes Holman Hunt, who has paintings in the Ashmolean and a very famous one, "The Light of the World," aka Christ knocking at the door, at Keble College). And I ran into Randall Cluff again (also his wife and a student), and he told me that King Lear at the Globe in London is probably the BEST Shakespeare he's ever seen. I'm envious, of course, since I won't be able to see it. But I have seen lots of other good things.

I attended the first part of the Lewis meetings today (included an Eastern Orthodox bishop--Kallistos Ware--saying some good things; he then had to run off to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury--really). I had to leave about 10:30 to catch a coach to London, where I saw The Merry Wives of Windsor. As I told you over the phone, it was wonderful--or as they put it here, BRILLIANT! It was entertaining throughout and had me feeling absolutely exhilarated and moved at the end. Shakespeare really has a way--and the company/director/etc. did a great job--combining joy, fun, triumph, love, good will, epiphany. I really can't think of anybody who does quite what Shakespeare does quite as well.

I've also been reading Richard Bushman's Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction. It's part of a series published by Oxford University Press, and I got copies for about 2/3 price using some certificates I got, etc. A fine little book. It's not actually something I'd give most people as a beginning intro, but for the right people it might work. It's certainly informative and thought provoking for a long-time member like me. I think maybe Rob might like to read it.

And now I'm at the B&B starting to mourn the end of my time in England and getting ready for a joyous return to all of you.


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