Fragrance Exploration: Accessory and Perfume Swap

The second part of our fragrance day, an accessory and perfume swap, was an intriguing glimpse into how perfumistas and the Internet have changed the cultivated edges of a beauty industry. First, let me announce our giveaway winner, chosen at random – Hester! Thank you everyone!

So what is it like to throw a fragrance and accessory swap? The swap came together naturally, with Made Marion Craft hosting us at their store and a local fragrance appreciator sharing her knowledge of how to sample perfumes. On the swap afternoon, we had a table of necklaces, other jewelry, scarves, gloves,and hats; some shoes; a merry widow; four full-to-1/4-full bottles of fragrance; and about 150 perfume and fragrance oil samples.

I'll have this one and this one and this one....

This is what 150 perfume samples looks like.

150 samples? Whaaaat? Allow me to explain.

These sample vials, ranging from 0.5 to 2 ml of fragrance, are what enable today’s online perfume fans. You can acquire samples and “decants” from most online fragrance vendors and there are two or three places that will send you samples from thousands of fragrance lines – all for a price, of course. But that price is modest compared to buying a full bottle of all those scents  ($2 to $6, depending). (Surrender to Chance is the favorite amongst NZ buyers; Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab was one of the originators of this practice.)

These samples are now a kind of currency amongst fragrance fans, and they are swapped or sold on for modest sums. The more rare, artisanal, and complex the sample, the more the perfumistas are intrigued. Once in a while, a sample leads to a full bottle purchase – which is often decanted in part to share with one’s fragrance friends. Fragrance producers large and small, realizing this, have gotten a lot tighter about handing out fragrance samples – I noted this comparing my NYC shopping trips in 2011 and 2013. At the same time this has given a boost to artisanal and unusual fragrance producers – their works are now mailed around the world. Many smaller producers, and I’m using BPAL as an example here again, have bloomed thanks to these samples and related e-commerce.

So we were all rapt for a demonstration of how to decant perfumes into samples ourselves, using a combination of decanting supplies and scientific equipment. Our demonstrator, Alison, took us through three methods: using disposable droppers, using small funnels, and using a scientific pipetting kit. Use recycled styrofoam to hold your sample vials in place, and tinfoil to make an improvised funnel!

The happy miscellaney of sampling fragrances: styrofoam, tinfoil, disposable droppers, travel bottles.

When swap time came, the 150 samples were like a bunch of flowers to some very avid honeybees. The jewelry and even the partial bottles were neglected for the sample box and bowl. During the swap, there wasn’t much perfume in the air – it wasn’t the best time to open the sample vials.

Jewelry started attracting attention again at the end of the swap, and the shy question was: “It’s OK if I take this apart and remake it?” Of course it was! Send it forth to find its destiny! With this answered in the affirmative, the remaining jewelry was swiftly reduced by half.

Was a fragrance swap a good idea? Yes. The biggest challenge in throwing a real-time fragrance swap in a smaller metropolitan area was getting enough perfume aficionados informed, then in the same place, at the same time. A couple of people said they’d be up for an accessory swap but were allergic to fragrances.

What’s up next for fragrance exploration in Wellington? In the springtime, another swap probably, and we are looking at a visit to Fragifert – I look forwards to trying their NZ botanical perfumes.

Wierdly my camera now smells like perfume after this weekend

If you’re sampling lots of fragrances to share, you may want rubber gloves!

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Fragrance Exploration, Wellington: Kirckaldie and Staines + Mecca

This past Sunday, a group of ardent perfume fans descended on Wellington’s most venerable department store, Kirckaldie and Staines. We were there to sniff, share, and experience a range of fragrances while bouncing opinions and experiences off each other. We were very fortunate, because Kirk’s had set up an hour’s perfume encounter for us, and we also experienced fragrances at the Mecca Cosmetica area of Kirk’s cosmetics floor.

Even at 10 AM on the Sunday morning after Daylight Savings, there was still a crowd waiting to get into Kirk’s. Some of us were soignee; I was tired and blinky. We were met by the front door fountain by Mark Conroy, a tall, blue-eyed, career fragrance expert. He greeted us all smoothly, blinky and beautiful alike, and invited us in. We trooped past the space-age lighting of the cosmetic area to Kirk’s fragrance department, and the fun began.

The fragrances of history, waiting for us at Kirkcaldie’s


Mark Conroy prepares a scent strip for our delectation


“No, wait – smell it on my wrist!” Coffee beans to the right, scent strips everywhere.

After listening to our group and getting an idea of who we were, Mark took us through classic French scents from Chanel, YSL, Guerlain, and more. “It’s good to smell some of these as reference notes,” said Mark, handing around slips of paper sprayed with Mitsouko and Chanel No. 19. “The Italians have a very different approach to scent,” he noted, handing around Acqua di Parma, which I fell in love with instantly. Thanks to Mark, by the end of the hour, I’d learned that while I  like the idea of a “green” perfume, I’m more drawn to perfumes with a citrus or amber note and a woody base. In between sniffs, we refreshed our noses by smelling… coffee beans!

The lovely Bridgette

Sampling scent strips – the way to try

Just as marvelous as the perfumes was being able to share them with like-minded people.* Suggestions and ideas and personal perfume histories were shared. “You know what you’d really like? Can we try…?” I gained a sense of how perfumes really do act differently on different skins, and how they express personality and a subtler sense of beauty. And I learned about scrubbers – perfumes you can’t wait to scrub off your skin!

We wrapped up with some more modern fragrances, such as the Elie Saab line – extremely popular right now, but very different from the weighty classic scents. We started asking about prices – and we were agreeably surprised. Kirk’s fragrance range has become more affordable thanks to some international market changes. Some standouts from our hour of exploration:

  • Bvlgari Blue –  One of us said,  “This is what I wear when I need to wake up on a dismal winter’s morning.” It starts out as GINGER and more ginger, and dries down beautifully.
  • 24 Faubourg by Hermes – I was very taken with the cashmere-sweater-nuzzleable quality of this, along with the markedly pretty bottle. As the blogger Perfume Queen says about this fragrance, “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you the smell of money and happiness.”
  • Miss Dior Originale by Dior  – Several of us were smitten with this revived classic. Mark told us the charming story of how the fragrance was created for Dior’s sister.
  • Thierry Mugler Angel – One of several love-or-hate ones, this elicited long stories about when-I-wore-Angel and the comment “This smells like…like the sound of a 90s modem.”
  • French travel perfume bottles – Kirk’s stocks leakproof travel perfume bottles in two shapes. Transfer some of your favorite into these to take it with you securely. High-end yet affordable, most of us picked up one or more of these.


Getting ready to fill a travel perfume spray straight from the fragrance bottle. How cool is that?? The narrow pen-like shape is airport security friendly, too.

After one more hit of coffee beans to clear our sinuses, we went over to Mecca, ten yards away on Kirk’s first floor. The lovely Charlotte gave us a review of their perfume lines. Standouts from our Mecca visit were:

When store lighting and outdoors lighting collide, we all look like lemons

Getting ready to sniff some more at Mecca Cosmetica with Charlotte (left).

At the end of our visit, perfumes and travel perfume bottles were bought, and notes were taken away for future purchases. “I don’t really buy a fragrance the first time I smell it,” one of us declared. That’s why, even in the age of the Internet, the glass-and-light perfume counter is still the place to go, and for those of us introduced to perfumes online, there’s nothing like getting together with like-minded souls.

"Suede and peaches, you say?"

Sniffing thoughtfully with friends: what the morning was about.

For those of you who weren’t able to make it, and who live in New Zealand, I have a little giveaway. Courtesy of Kirk’s and Mecca, comment below, here on the blog, to be in to win:

  • A voucher for a complimentary makeup application at the cosmetic house of your choice at Kirkcaldie and Staines.
  • Nine carded/boxed perfume samples – Si by Giorgio Armani, Miss Dior by Dior, MaDame by Jean Paul Gaultier, Coco by Coco Chanel, Pleats Please by Issey Miyake, Eau de Sisley 1 by Sisley, Calyx by Clinique, and (drumroll please) two Serge Luteyns samples – L’Eau Serge Lutens and Chergui.

A random selection generator will be used to choose the winner, who will be announced this Friday.

SUPER thanks to Kirk’s – they were absolutely delightful all the way and treated us magnificently. I’ll be back, once my bank account has recovered.

Kirkcaldie and Staines, YOU ROCK.

The fragrance team at Kirkcaldie and Staines – we weren’t posing, this just happened.


*It’s not all women – several men were interested in the event, but couldn’t make it.

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When Your Friend Dies of Cancer

….and she‘s asked everyone to wear colors instead of black to the memorial service, everyone panics in front of their wardrobe and chooses blue. And you are both sad and happy to meet the other friends and family members, who, it turns out, you get along with really well.

…social media just gets weird, for a couple of weeks. Twitter? Cruelly insufficient. Style blogging? Seems wrong, even though your friend was stylish. Facebook? So many potential faux pas.

…you get reminded. By a specific Thai restaurant, a Persian lamb coat, a blue-bound novel, the sun on the sea near Kapiti Island.

…grief takes new forms. Like extreme tiredness, and alternating between forgetting food and eating everything. You avoid your friends who never met her because you don’t know what to say, and then one of them fesses up that she was avoiding you because she didn’t know what to say, and you have a small laugh over it.

….you realize, two weeks too late, that your car registration has lapsed. In fact, when was the last time you put air in the tires? Jesus! When did your tires wear down so much? How could you not notice? Oh. You were…busy.

….a week later, or two, or three, or four, when you are at an event as an ambassador of burlesque cheer and glitter, a live friend introduces a grieving friend of your dead friend. You do your utmost to switch social gears.

…you think about your other friend with cancer. The third friend, too. Your mom.  Your fiance’s mom. And you do the breast check in the shower. Even though none of these people, yourself included, were afflicted with breast cancer.

….when you do have a good and lighthearted day again, you suddenly Remember. Through the guilt,  you take a deep breath, and remind yourself that that’s exactly what your friend wanted for you. And you go on.

Forget-me-nots by William Warby, reused via Crative Commons. Thanks!

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Friday Follies: Can You Handle This Jelly?

JellytCongratulations to our randomly chosen winner of a ticket to the Miss and Mr. Burlesque New Zealand competition – Bailey! She’ll get to see the competitors shimmy and shake on stage on March 22nd – and you can too, but you’ll have to buy your own ticket. For those of you outside of Wellington the feature stars including Sina King will be performing in Auckland, Christchurch, and Palmerston North.

Another burlesque heads up: the New Zealand Burlesque Festival is scheduled this year for early October in budget-friendly Palmerston North.

You can get Ernst Haeckel’s stunning natural history imagery on T-shirts. Jellyfish? Pitcher plants? Horseshoe crabs?? Cannot choose!!! I mean, who doesn’t love horseshoe crabs?

Bompas and Parr: incomparable jellymongers who have turned food into art. Even better, they’re hiring. Check out what they do:

The magnificient jellyworks of Bompas and Parr. I want to give that table a bump. Just a little one.

On a less wiggly note, thrifters and second-hand shoppers, hit the streets. Wellington is full of “school fairs” this weekend and next, and that means jumble. I can’t make it to the Seatoun School Fair next weekend but their clothing section is most excellent. And the region’s thrift stores, from small ones to the Rebound and Save-Mart used clothing barns, are in the middle of seasonal turnover, with jackets and sweaters arriving.

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Miss Burlesque Is Magic

In 2010, I did something that would, all unknowing, change my life – I went to the Miss Burlesque NZ competition. Seeing the fun, creativity, and femininity, the fire of burleque was lit in my bosom – I, too, yearned to be on the spangled stage, Doing That. I was only distracted by a dapper man I saw across the crowded room at the event,  standing with the hepcat swing-dancing contingent. Why aren’t I with him? I thought, with fleeting sorrow.

Five months later I was floundering through burlesque dance classes and realizing that my 90s club-kid experiences might, unbelievably, be useful in a new sphere.  A year later, I had emceed my first burlesque show. And a year and a half later, I reconnected with that man in the audience, and…we had our engagement party last week.

Now, in a glorious full circle, I am one of the emcees of the 2014 Miss and Mr. Burlesque NZ competition! It’s the fifth annivery of the competition this year, and I have a ticket to give away – leave a comment to be randomly selected as the winner! The winner will be announced on Friday. You can also buy more tickets to Miss and Mr. Burlesque NZ 2014.

And if you, too, want to take some first steps onto the stage, there are classes available with burlesque star Sina King over the competition weekend. As my experiences show, you never know what will happen!




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Fragrance Explorer Day – April 6th

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For those of us in Wellington, I have put together a Fragrance Explorer Day, on Sunday, April 6th. I was inspired by seeing how much fun fragrance lovers overseas have at events like Sniffapalooza and perfume master classes.


Discussing the event with several fragrance-loving friends, and with some friendly retailers, I’ve done my best to keep it accessible and interesting. The morning is shopping-oriented, and the afternoon is dedicated to a demonstration and a swap. And there wil be time for people to just talk and get to know each other. Some people are signed up in advance – serious fragrance aficionados. Some of us are into vintage and “rescued” scents. Everybody over 18 of all genders is welcome to attend.

10 AM – 11:30 AM – An in-depth hosted visit to Kirkcaldie and Staines with a fragrance talk, followed by sampling their selection of Guerlain, Chanel, and Estee Lauder scents, and exploring their Mecca Cosmetica fragrance area. This is free! Plus, if you choose to acquire a Kirk’s fragrance on the day you will receive a gift with purchase. Please sign up ASAP for the Kirk’s visit – this is strictly limited to 15 people, and only 10 places are left. Use the form below to sign up!

11:30 to 2:00 PM – Rest your nose, stop by a cafe for lunch with us, and we might sniff in at one or two other places.

2:00 PM – At Made on Marion Craft, there will be a fragrance and accessory swap. The swap starts with a fragrance sampling/pipetting demonstration to help us share our perfumes, and the swap itself begins at 2.30. The swap has a koha (cash donation) entry that will be donated 100% to Women’s Refuge Wellington.

Swap items will be tallied up for swap credit. You are welcome to bring: perfumes, fragrance oils, costume jewelry, bags, scarves, hats, and gloves. Perfume samples and partially used/tried fragrances are welcome. The swap is limited to 30 – 35 people – again, use the form below to sign up.

Note: Your contact information is confidential and I will not distribute Fragrance Explorer information to anyone for commercial purposes.

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Friday Follies: I Hate Polyester

Friday Follies are back! I’ve been a busy Scrumptious while they were on brief hiatus. Are you a perfume lover here in Wellington? Ever So Scrumptious is organizing a day of fragrance exploration here in Wellington on in early April. Details and registration next week!

I’m frustrated at the amount of polyester on the clothing racks lately – I have serious problems wearing polyester, even in blends. Why so much poly? Cotton prices have been high, partly due to China’s stockpiling and partly due to global warming.

Having heart palpitations at the thought of this in My Actual Size and a rare favorite color….

I’ve cast a cold and skeptical eye on the burgeoning world of custom-made online clothing…until now. Custom-made crepe silk shirt in your pick of 400 colors. I’ve seen new silk shirts for that price.

Asos started it, and now other UK online stores are coming to the international party with very reasonable shipping rates to New Zealand. House of Fraser’s £10 shipping to NZ, and Marks & Spencer’s current free shipping to NZ and Australia with a £30 purchase. Rock out in the sale sections. UK clothes pop up frequently in thrift stores here. I’m finding them petite-passable (Per Una, Viyella, East) even when they aren’t actually petite, which means that tall women should check lengths where possible.

Leaping the Hurdles – The Bold Soul, at age 46, moved to France, became an author, fell in love, and successfully established a life in a new country and a new language. Which makes her expatriate worries especially poignant: “Will I ever seem to “fit” in my adopted country? Will I ever really feel French? Will I ever get the inside jokes, feel part of the group at a party or a dinner, and not feel like the odd one out? I truly wonder, and frequently doubt.”

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Scrumptious Fitness

January is when many people renew their interest in fitness. February is, uh, when I’m writing this post. And August of last year is when I started up a good and proper exercise routine again.

One of my dark secrets is: I like working out. Weight lifting and core exercises, the rowing machine, lots of walking, an interesting fitness class twice a week. The problem is, it’s 2014, and this fitness approach was all that in 1984. I’m supposed to be crossfitting six times a week in my Vibram shoes. Gnawing on sugar-free beef jerky dipped in coconut oil, washed down with a dairy-free kale-and-chia smoothie. Maximizing my calorie burn with high-intensity workout blasts!

As happens, I fell off the fitness trail in 2012. The new cafe lady at work turned out to be too good at cooking. I fell in love and started spending a lot of time across town – which meant less packed lunches from home. In March 2013, when some of my workmates wanted to do the Jillian Michaels “Shred” series of workshops, we did them religiously for two months. Then I went to the USA and, on my return, I found the workouts dull, and my workmates were either flu-stricken or suddenly too busy. It was time to take my fitness back into my own hands.

So, since last August, I have been spending my fitness money on training. Ten years of working out have shown me that’s how I get results. I’m paying for this, per month…about what the Crossfit people pay per month. My gym clothes come from the thrift store and my workout shoes are always on sale. There’s a gym where I work, which is great, and free, and fits in 1.5 hours of my weekly workouts over lunch breaks.

If I was actually exercising during this shot, my face would be clenched in a pink grimace. Also: note the gorgeous gym fluorescent light!

If I was actually exercising during this shot, my face would be clenched in a pink grimace. Also: note the gorgeous gym fluorescent light!

I recognize that I am incredibly privileged to be able to do this. What I do, when I’m in the fit living zone, takes between six and ten hours a week. Yes. The equivalent of a part time job. That time is spent exercising, preparing healthy food, and washing the portable containers for the healthy food. It’s enough of a time and money commitment that I said to my partner, “Hey, this is a thing that is changing my activities and budget – let’s talk about this.”  That has led to a lot more kale on my plate, evening walks, and dance class attendance.


Scrunching myself on the floor: a privilege.

In the fitness narrative beloved by mainstream media, this is the point where I should share with you my Magnificent Transformation Tale. But that’s somebody else’s story, I think. I’m holding up on all-day travel walks, my features and waistline are cleaner-cut, and…I’m still doing the stuff. Most importantly, it’s working with the rest of my life, even when work is giving me a hammering and someone dear is in the hospice.

I’ve been passing some of these fitness-related books and links around my friends in real life, so I should share them with you, too.

  • Stumptuous - Former women’s studies professor turned personal trainer and food activist. This site is a blog that’s calmed down into a resource site with occasional updates.
  • Cranky Fitness - What could be better than the title of this fitness blog? Only the blogger’s name, Cranky McSlacker. “One of the founding principles of Cranky Fitness is: Healthy Living is a Pain in the Ass.
  • Greta Christina – One of the few bloggers discussing fitness/weight loss who asks “How, exactly, do you lose weight while maintaining progressive ideals about body image?”
  • Train Like A Man, Eat Like A Woman – Two big fitness-diet trends right now are paleo and intermittent fasting – trends that, for women, don’t always lead to desired results.  “In the end, you have to find the nutriton style that works for you.”
  • Two good books to read when you’re thinking about food and health: Laura Fraser’s Losing It: America’s Obsession with Weight and the Industry that Feeds On It and M.F.K. Fisher’s An Alphabet for Gourmets. She talks about food in the context of the hungers of the heart – food and sorrow, solitary eating, social eating.
  • In Defense of Disgusting Gym Clothes – Looking cute while you schvitz has only just arrived in Wellington. There is a Lululemon “pop-up” outlet here, where the staff seem rather more interested in yoga and gossip with each other than in selling garments. I’ll stick with the thrift store, thanks.
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How’d That Work Out For Me? 2013 In Review

Burlesque – There isn’t much dialogue about people doing less burlesque. Rising stars scream as they enter the atmosphere, then they fall away into ashes with a whisper. I’ve seen burlesque starlets change tack because of children, careers, shifting into modeling, and simply the sense of having achieved their burlesque goals. I did less than last year and that’s OK, what with a major project at work, travel, and other things. Speaking of which…

Engaged – Starry-eyed canoodling and going around saying “It does feel different and it’s really nice”- most excellent. People’s hunger for wedding planning – when the wedding isn’t for at least 2.5 years, maybe 3 – somewhat baffling? But it seems necessary for the psychological satisfaction of others? I’ll just handle this carefully, shall I?

Travel – Both my partner and I spent significant amounts of the year in transit – he had an academic fellowship 3 hours away until July, and I was in the US for May in its near entirety. He had a great experience and has co-authored a paper, but dealing with the work and change took lots of energy from both of us. My trip was fabulous, but it also tore my heart up, in several different ways. Mom…Philly…the friends I have had for the longest time…it all came together when, after visiting the Big Blue Marble bookstore, I sat at a train station in the rain and read Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother, shedding tears until my SEPTA ride appeared. And then there was BMC reunion, and visiting an old friend in LA. Visiting Oamaru in November was an unadulterated series of gentle pleasures, in contrast.

With 2013′s experiences laying a foundation, and sniffing the wind for overall trends in society – I feel that we are finally emerging from the shock of 9/11 to start the future – next year is going to have a lot more changes. I’m not sure exactly what. Which is exciting and frightening.

Best non-fashion $100 I spent: Joining Intervac, an international home swap site. I was offered swaps outside Edinburgh, Scotland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Bristol in the UK, and I received hospitality in Philadelphia and gave more hospitality to some visiting Scots. I joined them because they had a good NZ and US presence – there are other sites that focus more on Europe or Australia.

To amuse you, here are the top five best fashion items I spent money on this past year:

And here are my top five fashion fails:

  • Chartreuse pencil skirt. It’s marvelous. Such a wonderful pear-green color and a luscious ponte fabric. It just doesn’t work on me, no matter what I do.
  • I keep meaning to buy fresh tights and some knee-highs, and not doing it.
  • There was a sizing issue with a Trashy Diva dress. Grumble. Kudos to Trashy Diva for including the exchanged item shipping with Round II of the dress.
  • My attempts to be one of those people who switch handbags are awkward at best and I should stick with Handbag Prime.
  • I had an award to present at a ceremony in front of all of my professional colleagues. The afternoon of the ceremony, one professional hairdresser (not my usual one) made such a hash of trying to give me retro curls that I had to go to another professional hairdresser for an updo as a fix. The updo was OK, but the photos from the event -which will live forever online – show that it’s not my best look.

 What’s happening next year?

  • More Burlesque – The Rainbow Troupe will be back at Out in the Square on January 18th, and I am emceeing a very special Kiwiana Caburlesque show at The Fringe Bar in early February. It’s going to be sweet as!
  • Fragrance Event! – For Wellington perfumistas, Ever So Scrumptious is going to arrange a shopping morning and a perfume-and-accessories swap afternoon. Stay tuned for more details and please get in touch if you are interested.
  • Aussie Aussie Aussie – Looks like I’ll be in Australia twice next year.
  • More Blogging – Is blogging dead? That’s not what my site analytics say! So more burblings here, and I will happily and patiently keep answering vintage fur questions, which keep coming in. Now that people are sorting out what Pinterest and Instagram and Tumblr are finally for, I will re-examine them, too.

Kia kaha and have a beautiful new year everyone! I’m going to go paint my toenails gold in the sun.

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Friday Follies: Get Smart for the New Year

Coral researcher Erica Woolsey stays stylish on a Great Barrier Reef dive. Image from The Luxuriant Hair Club for Scientists.

An anthropologist friend of mine needs some distraction right now! So, dedicated to her and all my other brilliant friends, here’s some style reading about intellectual engagement with personal style.

Intellectual style sources in Wellington: MP, Zambezi, Soup Fashion Rescue, Icebreaker merino garments, cleverly curated vintage accessories from Cuba Street’s shops, jewelry from Quoil and Things Unseen, and hair by Love Hairdressing and Jam.

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