Last week I posted about the Great War which began one hundred years ago. My novel Chasing the Dragon’s Tail is set in this time frame and will be available in the not too distant future. I’m waiting for some reviews to accompany the manuscript from a pair of accomplished, published authors who have graciously agreed to look at my material. In the meantime I am going to tease my faithful readers with a series of chapters, beginning of course with the first.

If you enjoy the read please tell others.

Chapter 1
The Foreign Quarter, Beijing, China
June 20, 1900

“Bloody eerie isn’t it, Gunny? Right strange, if you ask me. I don’t like it one bit. The Chinamen are up to something and it isn’t good.”
Redvers Duncan, a Gunnery Sergeant in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, said nothing but scanned the ominously empty streets of the Foreign Quarter. He’d been in China almost a year and had seen dissension among the Chinese evolve into the Society of Harmonious Fists, commonly known as the Boxers. These dangerous ultra-nationalists had begun massacring Christian missionaries and their converts.
Redvers finally muttered, “You’re spot on corporal. An emissary from the Forbidden City has warned all foreign nationals to leave. Apparently, the Dowager can no longer guarantee our safety. Bloody useless bunch.”
“Look! Over there!” The corporal pointed to smoke in the north. “I’ll give you a bob that’s from the German Embassy. Those buggers’ll be sorry they aren’t over here with us.”
Redvers snorted, “We’d better report to the old man. Go find the Jimmy and be quick about it!”
Redvers peered at the smoke and thought he heard gunfire. He was in a hastily fortified area with British, United States, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Austrian and French troops.

“Hey, Yank. Hand me those field glasses, if you please?” He gestured to a burly sergeant in the blue and white of the United States Marine Corps.
“Here you are, Limey. What do you make of those yellow bastards with their damned banners and swords?”
Redvers adjusted the glasses and focused on a brightly-festooned mob carrying banners and winding its way from the Forbidden City. Fortunately Redvers saw few firearms but read their large sign proclaiming foreigners were not welcome.
“It doesn’t look good, Yank. That mob is headed our way.”
“That’s Frank to you. Frank Barnsdall, from Seattle, Washington.”
“I’m Redvers Duncan, from the North of England. Apparently we’re in for excitement; the Chinamen aren’t in the mood to chat.” The mob’s chanting became a low rumble. He smelled acid smoke and heard sporadic gunfire, then spotted a horse-drawn carriage escorted by heavily-armed men in khaki. Must be refugees from the German embassy, he thought, as they pushed through a rag tag band of Chinese.
“This isn’t good, Limey,” muttered Barnsdall. “Looks like the Krauts are having a tough go of it!” He lowered his field glasses and turned to a US Corporal,
“Corporal, alert the Major that trouble is brewing. Ask him to join us at the barricades! Hurry, off with you!”

Barnsdall and Duncan watched two Chinese gangs about to converge.
“The Germans will be in major difficulty if those mobs unite.” The city alleyways reverberated with,
“Kha! Kha! Kha!”
“What the hell are those devils shouting?” Barnsdall asked,
“Kill. Kill, if my grasp of their language is correct,” said Redvers. “They sure as hell aren’t friendly.” Suddenly, an officer in the Imperial German Navy, in charge of the beleaguered carriage, rallied his men. They fired their rifles rapidly and desperately stabbed with bayonets as they carved through the Chinese. The mob surrounded the carriage, thrashed at the driver, pulled him from his perch, and tried to board the cabin box.
A female shriek sent goose bumps up Redvers neck and saw the mob tear at the carriage. The horses panicked and trampled the crowd and the carriage rocked back and forth on the verge of rolling over.

He glanced at Barnsdall who nodded agreement. They mustered their marines and then a bellowing Redvers led them over the barricades towards the fight. They set upon the Boxers who fell back in disarray. Redvers leapt onto the carriage, grasped the reigns and spurred the team towards the barricades. The Boxers regrouped and surged forward as the carriage broke clear and headed for safety. Redvers turned to watch the furious fight but failed to see a rock outcrop and drove into it. The front axle shattered and hurled the carriage into market stalls and came to rest under a veranda.

Redvers staggered to his feet, lurched to the shattered carriage and directed two dazed men to run for the barricades. He grabbed the bleeding and unconscious woman and carried her over his shoulder towards the barricades. A Boxer advanced with a large pike pole swathed in red silk and he was followed by two more with swords. Redvers fired his revolver three times, and knocked them to the ground. He was breathing heavily but was still ten yards from safety when four more Chinese screaming murderously emerged from an alley. He fired three times but two still came on. He turned and put his body between them and the woman. The closest Boxer swung a club at Redvers, but missed his head. Redvers felled him with a blow from the butt of his empty revolver. The second attacker raised a hatchet; Redvers flinched as the blade hovered but the Boxer, his face a mask of rage and yellow teeth, suddenly staggered backwards from a gunshot. A banshee wail of lead from the barricades drove off the Chinese mob. Redvers, the Marines and the remaining Germans rushed through the Legation barricades.

His Lieutenant clapped an exhausted Redvers across the back. “Bloody good show, Duncan! I’ll write you up favourably for what you just did. Those people, particularly the young woman, owe you their lives.”
Redvers was doubled over panting and quite unable to reply. Medical personnel attended to the young woman. She was a striking beauty with aristocratic Aryan features and ash-blonde hair. The German naval officer who’d led the contingent knelt beside her. He pointed to Redvers and said something to the injured woman and she smiled. He thanked Redvers for saving his wife, then spat towards the Boxers, who had re-grouped at a safe distance from the barricades. Redvers did not see them again, but remembered the small red dragon tattoo on her lower back which was revealed through her torn dress.

As night fell, he went to the American bivouac where Frank Barnsdall sat with other marines around a small campfire, “Hey Limey, how about a cup of coffee?”
“I’ll pass on the coffee, tea is more to my liking but I’ll sit awhile, if you don’t mind?” He sat beside Barnsdall. “That was a close call this afternoon, bloody close. Doubt if we’ve seen the last of them, though. It’s a dammed good thing they don’t have modern weapons. God help us if the Chinese Army gets into it.”
“You’re right about that,” said Barnsdall. “Don’t know how long we can hold out if they get their act together. Surely to God, our governments will send relief forces to save our hides. By the way, that was a smooth piece of driving you done today, ran square into the only bloody rock in sight. Guess you wanted to get your hands on that blonde beauty. Tell me that’s so, isn’t it?”
Redvers blushed as he recalled her warm body on his back.
“Yes… she was lovely, wasn’t she?” He said and grinned.

My Grand father survived the first World War. Swept up in patriotic fever he joined his fellow classmates, first year med school, and marched into the nearest recruiting office. When they arrived in Europe, allegedly as stretcher bearers, wise heads prevailed and the class was returned to complete their studies in time to join the fight as medical doctors. He did his duty and eventually went on to serve once again as a surgeon in the second war. He was deeply affected by the trenches. Apparently he returned home to Vancouver Island with a stutter which eventually disappeared, but he rarely spoke about what he had endured. However, I can remember sitting on his knee on one of those rare occasions as he fixed me with an unflinching stare and said,

“It was never the same, I was never the same.”

I was eight when he died, old enough to know that something significant had transformed his generation and have respectfully participated in Remembrance Day ceremonies for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until I entered University as a history major that I began to pull together threads which enabled me to grasp how significant the guns of August, one hundred years ago, would be. The tottering empires of imperial Europe were swept away and rigid division between social classes blurred, eventually to all but vanish. Women in the Western world made significant gains towards equality with men. Communism took root and fomented a revolution of social economic struggle destined to shake the world for three more generations. Science, ignited by the specter of military slaughter, surged forward at an unprecedented rate in areas both deadly and beneficial to humanity.

Chasing the Dragon’s Tail unwinds during this momentous period and is a fictional story based upon historical facts. Set on the West Coast of North America, it is a yarn of what might have been and what did happen. Next week I will begin posting a series of preview chapters. Sit back and enjoy the ride…

Thank you for reading my blog.


I spent the better part of this weekend helping my neighbor prune grapes. I have a small hobby vineyard, about 90 plants. My friend Jack has a small commercial operation 1100 plants. In comparison my plot is miniscule and yet it takes me a good deal of time to maintain discipline in my vineyard. Being so small I can afford the luxury of slacking off when it comes to allowing vines to spread out and become friendly with their neighbors. Jack does not share this privilege. Eleven hundred plants intertwining and running amok can be disastrous. If allowed to go, grapes will form an impenetrable hedge.

We were removing secondary shoots. Each vine initially produces a set of leaves every four inches or so. Once established, the plant seeks to extend its domain by producing an additional shoot at the vortex of where the first twin leaves sprout. Given the opportunity, this shoot will result in a new vine with its own set of leaves and sprouting secondaries, until the plant becomes jungle like, covering the ground in all directions. Secondary pruning is critical in a large vineyard. Jack’s grapes stand at rigid attention in neat rows. Mine slouch about in a more or less organized cluster daring me to do something about it.

So there crouched I, picking meticulously at tiny shoots, alternatively getting baked by the sun or soaked in rain. Each plant takes from two to four minutes to properly remove secondaries. Eleven hundred plants…you do the math. Believe me there is little romance in taking care of vineyards. Forget the image of bronzed Anthony Quinn shading his brow against the sun with muscular forearm  while a mariachi band tinkles in the background and Sophia Loren swoons on the medieval balcony of a Tuscan villa. Romance comes after the grapes have been fermented and consumed.

While thus enslaved engaged I began to muse about writing and how we as authors prune our manuscripts before secondary story line creates literary jungle out of our work. My editor must have labored in a vineyard because he was ruthless very effective in getting me to prune and cut in a way I could never have imagined. My next book CHASING THE DRAGON’S TAIL lost twelve thousand words before he considered it manageable. He was of course correct, and I now view all my material with the sharp eye of a pruner.

Faithful readers,

I have been very negligent in keeping up with a timely correspondence. There are numerous excuses I might offer, but I won’t bore you patient readers, other than to say I’m sorry. Very soon I will begin posting the first few chapters of my up and coming book. Of course this is a bait and hook exercise and only a teasing amount will arrive prior to publication. But then you rarely get something for nothing. 

As always thanks for reading.

The loss of an Icon

On January 16 Russell Johnson died. Many of you will remember him as the professor on Gilligan’s Island. This was the guy who could whip up just about anything from a few bits of flotsam and jetsam, the original McGuiver. Yet, for all his genius he couldn’t seem to find a way to rescue the castaways from their tropical desert Isle. Gilligan’s Island, a classic from the sixties, is still available on syndication for anyone who spends a little effort to look for it. There is something about that thirty minute program that grabs the attention of multiple generations. Grandpas and grandsons can sit enthralled by the castaways antics  as they make the most of their fate.

Perhaps we root for the perennial underdog Gilligan, as he bumbles from one misadventure to another because each of us has been there at one time or another. Is there not something inspirational in how, over the hill, skipper manages to rally the troops each time they fall just short? The millionaire and his wife may have endless amounts of wealth and social prestige, but on this island everyone is equal.  Isolation and interdependence are great equalizers, perhaps we find comfort in how the mighty have fallen. Then of course amongst guys… is it Ginger or Mary Ann?

Gilligan’s Island is successful because people can relate to the castaways. Even though each character is a study in cliche, they are appealing. In a way, the island is a microcosm of North American society. We laugh at them,and with them, riding their weekly roller coaster. Can the things that make this sitcom work also explain why certain stories are better reads than others? If you analyze the most endearing relics from TV seasons gone by, l believe you’ll find they have  common threads. Disadvantage struggles against a common threat to get resolution, or at least uniting bonds, in shared adversity. Toss in human frailties, and a bit of sex, and there you have it… an interesting tale.

Russell Johnson was one of the last members of the cast still alive. Only Mary Ann and Ginger are left, and they are 75 and 79 respectively. Now, anyone who remembers them is thinking, boy does that ever date me.

R.I.P Russell …you made us laugh and escape, if for just a little while.

2013 in review

Faithful followers, Below is a summary of my Blog stats for the year.

I was gobsmacked to learn that readers in twenty eight countries have viewed my posts. One of the largest sources of hits came from India. Given the mass of population I suppose this is understandable, but just how  I managed to reach into the subcontinent is a mystery. It certainly seems strange that a small blog, originating of the West Coast of Canada, would find such a large and diverse audience.  I see that I had two visitors from Iraq. Could these be former intelligence types from my days of monitoring Saddam Hussein and his Baathist intelligence arm thirty seven years ago? I somehow doubt I held that significant a profile to warrant such attention after all these years. Perhaps they stumbled upon my E Book, Chasing the Dragon’s Tail  available through Amazon or Smashwords.com, and decided to peek into my blog.

Around the peninsula things are quiet. We had our ‘week’ of winter with freezing temperatures and a skiff of snow. It was nice to watch shinny hockey on the frozen fields, as geese surrendered the slough for a while. It reminded me of our time in Ottawa when the winter terrain offered crisp, clean scenes. My wife and I would bundle up our toddler and head out onto the Rideau canal for skating or the Gatineau hills and local golf courses for cross country ski expeditions. I’m not a real fan of cold and ice, but these were pleasant memories.

I took down the fence around my lower orchard. It was originally set up to protect  fledgling cider apple trees from marauding deer. I have decided to re-establish it across the bottom of our property just on the high side of a ditch which hosts a seasonal stream. My four legged nuisances can stand in icy cold water, on their side of the barrier, and stare wistfully at my blueberry bushes and apple trees. Speaking of apple trees, I have four more trees awaiting ‘hair cuts’. When I first took pruning sheers to hand, it was a tenuous procedure, with a snip snip here and there, deathly afraid I would kill the trees. Experience and my neighbor have taught me to have a good go at it now. The trees look bare, but they thrive and roar back to full regalia in the spring.

Enough of my chatter for now. All the best of the Season, with grand wishes for the New Year to my readers…and to those people in the middle east… Salim alikoom.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 650 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 11 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Today I am going to introduce you to a new friend I recently met in the Blogosphere. Mike is a Canadian writer, originally from the far East Coast, now located in Ottawa. He is the author of a series of mystery novels I have enjoyed reading, and well worth your time to peek at his material. We have exchanged guest spots this week.

Take it away Mike…

About Me

I am from St. John’s, Nfld but moved to Ottawa for work in the mid-1980’s and stayed ever since. I still go back to visit but Ottawa is my home now. I have been everything from a bonded messenger to a postal worker to a clerk to a life insurance salesman. I have visited every province and territory in Canada more than twice and I have traveledto Africa, Europe and Australia.

I have been a freelance writer for what seems like forever. My articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand. I am the author of a self-help book: “Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People” and I have written a number of short stories that have published in various publications including Canadian Stories and Downhome magazine.

Now I write fiction, the Windflower Mystery Series. It is a traditional mystery series, close to but not really a cozy mystery, and almost a police procedural, except that I do not know enough about policing to write that way. So I write about Windflower’s adventures in discovering and enjoying the food and culture of small town Newfoundland.

The Walker on the Cape was the premiere of the series. It was published by Baico Publishing of Ottawa in 2012. The second book in the series, The Body on the T was released on May 1, 2013. Both are available from Chapters/Indigo and e-books are available on Chapters.ca and Amazon.com And a new book in the series will be coming out next spring.

Why and How I write

I grew up with three older sisters, two of whom were teachers, so I learned to read, a lot, early on. I always had an active imagination. That didn’t help me a lot in the structured family and school days. In fact it regularly contributed to my being in trouble. Nothing too serious. That would come later. I wasn’t encouraged to write. I wasn’t really encouraged to do much of anything, except to stay out of the way and to stay out of trouble. Reading was my kind of refuge from what I saw as the storm around me. I liked it and stayed with it all of my life. Writing didn’t come easy or naturally to me. I had it inside of me. I just couldn’t get it out. In high school I was a bit of a loner and felt really out of place. Drugs and alcohol changed that in university but then I was just a drunk and stoned loner. It wasn’t until the drugs faded in my late 20’s that my creativity started to pop out and I began writing a few little ditties and stories for parties. Somehow I found myself in a series of jobs where people actually thought I could write. I kept hoping that they wouldn’t find out the truth and fire me. I liked writing, a lot and soon it became my new refuge from the world.

I went through various phases as a part-time writer, policy writer, speech writer into finally taking the leap in my forties to primarily a freelance social policy writer. That didn’t pay a lot so I ended up selling my creative soul to a series of marketers, search engine optimizers and keyword racketeers. Fortunately my soul stayed intact long enough for me to finally get to fiction writing. Thank God!!

Fiction writing is where I wanted to be all along. I just never had the guts to get here. I am and have always been a story teller. The stuff that I got beaten for and beaten up more for as a kid has now become my passion and driver for living. The big difference is that today people tell me that they like my stories. Back then, not so much. Do I wish I had gotten into this fiction racket earlier? You bet! But mostly I am just grateful to be here now.

You know the best thing about being a writer. It’s better than having someone tell you that they like your story. It’s even better than someone paying money out of their pocket to buy your book, although that’s pretty freakin’ good too. It’s when someone comes up to you at a book signing with their kid and says I want my kid to meet a real writer. I look around to see where the writer is. And the kid is just looking at me. I try and get a few minutes alone with the kid to talk to them about writing and to encourage them to keep writing if they’ve already started, which most of them have. Just keep writing and good things will happen.

Thanks to Brock for the opportunity to meet all of you here in cyberspace and if you want to chat, drop me an e-line at mike54martin@sympatico.ca

Mike Martin is the author of the Windflower Mystery Series, set in small communities in Newfoundland, on the east coast of Canada. His latest book, The Body on the T, is now available in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com



The past few weeks we have been undergoing renovations at my house. The building , constructed in 1966 is solid. I helped build some of it myself, the unskilled labor parts. I knew everything was sound and therefore a good risk for spending money that will be recouped when I sell. The project is to complete a totally unfinished basement and then put in a set of stairs from the upstairs so that we no longer have to go outside to enter the nether regions of the house.

Permit acquisition was the first hurdle. I discovered that I am currently living in an illegal dwelling, well at least as far as the health authorities are concerned. Being a rural property we do not have municipal water or sewer.  Our septic facilities consist of a tank and field buried out back. I know they are there because I dug the hole and laid the tiles by hand. At 15, I had a strong back and a weak mind… Dad took advantage of this to save a few dollars. Unfortunately, the health people had no record of my achievements, so as far as they were concerned for the last 47 years the crap has been flowing unrestricted around here. So, what’s another few thousand dollars between me and the government? A new system will be installed in the spring and I won’t be digging it this time.

Otherwise things have been going smoothly, if you don’t count the minor mishap on the back step leading into the basement. This step is a two stair affair which leads into a patio area surrounding the rear entrance. I constructed it to ease the approach rather than shuffling down a steep incline as we had before. I put in a concrete retaining wall and fastened metal risers to the wall with five-eights inch stainless steel lag bolts. My contractor is a very robust young fellow, six foot nine with a physique like Thor. One or two of his trips down this stair and one of the bolts sheered off! Can you imagine how much torque is involved to accomplish that? He fixed it up by doubling the amount and strength of steel; now I can drive a backhoe onto that step.

The noise around here has been astounding to say the least. The other day a jack hammer was digging a trench for new drains to the bathroom. My old dog joined me at the bottom of the property about a hundred yards away. The pained look on his face was priceless as we hunkered down, while Thor wielded the eighty pound machine like an electric weed eater.

Dust dust everywhere, I went out and bought a gross of cheap furnace filters to weather the storm before reinstalling my ‘approved’ imported model which would have gone under in the first day. The upstairs looks like Mount St. Helens erupted in the basement. Even the old dog, a black lab, turned a couple of shades of grey.

Needless to say, my writing has suffered during the onslaught. It wasn’t just the no heat except for a couple of space heaters during the coldest week of the year, or the no water because electricity was cut off for an afternoon while circuits were restrung. My creative muse fled with the chaos emanating below my writing chair. Thankfully I have the weekends without construction and nothing overly pressing on the agenda at the moment.

Memo to self… thank God I didn’t commit to the novel in a month competition.

Thanks for reading my blog.


PRIORITIES …That is a big word and one worthy of capitol lettering. We all have to face them, and those who do so appropriately, excel.

I have been busy the last few weeks, so much so that my writing, never mind blogging, has suffered. The quince had to be picked then the crab apples and the pears. These were sold to a jam producer and have been converted into product for fall fairs and Christmas sales. Check out Rozy’s Jams if you are at any of the Victoria area craft fairs this season. Then of course came the grapes. Picking is just the beginning. For sometime the vineyard will be active as I wait for the leaves to fall before I take cuttings for new vines.

That pall of smoke over the Peninsula came from me. I had a massive bonfire cleanup yesterday… took me from ten till almost four to dispose of diseased cane, leaves, and the clean up of a couple of trees I fell in the lower field. I shed my clothing in the laundry room rather than come into the main house smelling like a smoked ham.

I, tired of dodging apples on the driveway, decided it was again time to harvest the crop. Fortunately the guy who planted my orchard had the foresight to select varieties which ripen at different times, thanks Dad…

Turkey soup in the pot. How many people can relate to that? Well my Canadian audience will recognize this is a function of Thanksgiving which has just passed for us. I managed two turkey dinners this year. One was cooked by my daughter and the following day it was our turn to celebrate with the son. The creative side is challenged to come up with imaginative ways to serve turkey left overs. This time of abundance makes it easy to forget those who have so little… may I never fall into the trap. And this is where PRIORITIES comes in. How often do we pause to think of how we have been blessed. Business and leisure  aside, what other things should concern us?  If you can’t think of others, then you are much the poorer than they who have little. I have the acquaintance of a family, with numerous children and very little income, who always managed a thanksgiving feast for the ‘poor’ people of the community.

On the radio recently I heard reference to a study. It indicated that the more people accumulate, the less likely they are to share with those who have not.

Isn’t this a dreadful indictment of our consumer driven society?


The next King

I have just finished a remarkable debut novel by a young man, well in relation to me he ‘s young, named Tyner Gillies. His book The Watch Is one of the few that I have had great difficulty in putting down once begun. Gillies,an active member of the RCMP, has written an extra ordinary tale of supernatural malfeasance, set in a small  town  on the coast of British Columbia.  I was hooked from  beginning to last page. The characters came alive. There were no dead spots, only a gradual ratcheting of tension and suspense. Anyone who has policed a small town might just reach  the uncomfortable conclusion that perhaps the story holds more than a few grains of fact.

Check out tynergillies.com, follow the links, buy the book and hold on for the ride.


                As I sit working on today’s article, my neighbor across the way is cutting hay. The rhythmic thump of his bailer fills the valley, as does the scent of fresh cut hay. It is quite the pastoral scene and some would consider it romantic. Those plagued by hay fever, might think this a curse from darkest hell, but for others it is a mental stimulation from a simpler agricultural past. A flash back in time to when a good portion of the population was intimately linked with the land, close to nature, drawing life from the soil, feeding the hungry of the nation. He waxes on into a semi catatonic state prompted by heat and fatigue…

Actually, haying is darn hard work. I speak from personal experience. Towards the end of the day those sixty odd pound bales feel like lead and straw dust itches in places I hesitate to write about. The romance of hard work, sweat, and a sense of accomplishment dims somewhat when put into practice.

Writing can be much like farming. Coaxing a story from the recesses of one’s imagination, culling an overgrowth of adverbs and placing metaphoric genius to produce a fetching tale can be both frustrating and rewarding. Riveting plot and characterization takes time and effort. Just as farmers are at the mercy of the weather so writers dodge the ravages of dreaded writers block and cliché. There are days during which I can barely write my wife a legible note reminding her to pick up something from the store. Patience, discipline, and persistence, are the watch words of both farmers and wordsmiths.

For those of you who are new to this blog, my writing experience is quite limited. My first published work, Pacific Flyways, is an e book available from Amazon or Smashwords. It is a thriller set on northern Vancouver Island and draws upon my background as a counterterrorist investigator for the RCMP. This initial foray into publishing will soon be followed by a historical thriller set in Victoria B.C. at the outbreak of the Great War. I’ve always been fascinated with the history of the First World War and I draw from some of the obscure facts of this eventful period to weave a tale of suspense, romance, and action. This book will be available in both E format and traditional paperback. The editor for my publisher is dissecting it as I wait with anticipation. I hope he doesn’t find too many weeds. In the meantime the thump of my neighbor’s bailer is calling …

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Kristen Lamb

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