Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Sunday with Elfie

Watching Watership Down in the afternoon.

"Look, I've been a dog with a job, now I'm sitting watching cartoon rabbits..." 

This was after we had retrieved a drowned cat from out of our garden pond (the lairy neighbourhood tom, pushing his luck once too often in pursuit of our goldfish, I think/hope, rather than someone's beloved minou, it was hard to tell), and before we had retrieved a dead greenfinch out of Elfie's mouth (it was dead when she found it under the Mexican orange bush, I think/hope). We are now working on the command 'drop'.

Then I found that the burly free-range chicken I was looking forward to roasting for our Easter Sunday dinner was not in fact prêt à cuire, as they usually are but merely effilé. I have come across them with the giblets in a bag inside, and I have learned to cook a poule, rather than a poulet, which could give Paula Radcliffe a run for her money in the stringiness department, slowly so it turns into delectable shreds in a tasty broth, but effilé I have never had to deal with before. It means it has been drawn, so the intestines have been removed, but the remaining organs are all in place and attached. There is a depiction here. At least it didn't still have its head on.

Even so, I announced that after everything else that day there was no way I could cope with this, and I was going to go and face ridicule and give it to Victor. However, Tom said don't do that, he would deal with it and turn it into curry, but not now. I was surprised at this, but then remembered this is a man who owns a pair of poultry shears and isn't afraid to use them, so I put it in the freezer and we ate the potatoes roasted with the garlic cloves I was planning to stuff inside the chickens nicely empty cavity, with some hastily defrosted chipolatas.

The last episode brought back two memories. The first was of my mum buying a couple of chickens when I was a kid from an Asian stall on High Wycombe market, probably suspiciously cheap. They were completely undrawn, so still contained their intestines. I sat in the kitchen and read the instructions to her from the Readers' Digest Cookery Year, a book I still own. She bodged the first one and burst its gall bladder, the smell of which pervaded the house. The second was OK. I guess we must have eaten them, though I'm not sure either of us fancied them much by then.

The second was of lunch at a day out in the eighties of the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign in Islington. There was chicken stew as well as a vegetarian option, and the chicken tasted distinctly as if it had been badly drawn. Jeremy Corbyn was speaking (I imagine he got lucky and had the vegetarian option). He warned against the dangers of dilettantism, I recall. I probably should have listened to him.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Our new arrival, an épagneul breton, usually known in English as a Brittany spaniel, or simply a Brittany, which sounds nicer than Breton spaniel, we thought.

We weren't going to do this yet; we'd told ourselves we'd get a couple more trips out of the way then commit to another dog perhaps in the autumn. But we got back from a short trip to Mont St Michel where Tom had said he really didn't want to wait to get another dog but didn't want to impose this on me and deprive me of travelling etc, and I'd said I felt much the same, and then I saw Elfie on the website and the next day we drove out to the other side of Rennes to find her.

She was living in an SPA refuge, for about five or six weeks. Before that she had been in the pound (rather sinisterly called in French la fourrière). She's probably about six years old.

We took her on a 'test-drive', chatted a bit about her, then went to sign the papers for her. She went back in her pen, which she shared with another dog. When we went to get her again, she flew out and into my arms, then went looking for Tom. She spent the first quarter of an hour or so of the drive back rather anxiously watching the traffic going by on the N road, then withdrew to the back of the car (we had one back seat down as we used to with Mol) and hid under Tom's jacket.

We have the impression she has lived indoors before, she's clean and well behaved and very happy to be a house dog.  Clearly though, she is a strayed and unclaimed hunting dog. She has a number tattooed in her ear, which presumably was useless in tracing her owner, but no chip or other ID. She was sterilised from the refuge, you can see where the hair's growing back.

In the house she is the most polite, attentive, sweetest, kindest creature imaginable. She has winning ways galore, and does that listening-with-her-head-on-one-side thing to perfection. Furthermore, she is remarkably, weirdly voiceless, her lack of a bark was noted in the refuge's notes, and we haven't heard her bark, whine or much less growl there or since she arrived here. She seems completely without aggression, though we were warned she was a cat chaser, isn't destructive and picks things up quickly, especially since she's now learning a second language! Her 'sit', 'stay' and 'come' are already quite established, and 'leave', 'wait' and 'down' seem to be generally understood, as does 'up-up', but then again she doesn't need much encouragement with that.

She has the rescue dog's preoccupation with food, but isn't obsessed or too much of a thief so far, if she smells food on the counter she will investigate, but a firm 'no' is enough to make her desist, and the rubbish bin so far is unmolested, she takes food from our hands and eats quite delicately. I can't move towards the kitchen without having her on my heels, and she has certainly attached herself very firmly to me, but she likes and is friendly to Tom, and he's started giving her her dinner to strengthen the bond.

She likes sofas, and has slept, just two nights so far, which we have to keep reminding ourselves, in our bedroom but in her own bed. I hesitated about this, but Tom was decisive. It would help her to see us as pack, and also save us having to render everything in the kitchen and downstairs secure. The first night she jumped onto our bed three or four times, perhaps, and I lifted her down firmly and put her back onto her own, the final time I put the t-shirt I'd been wearing all day down for her to sleep with, and it seemed to work. Last night she played at jumping up but then settled without protest. Once in the small hours I felt a wet nose and a lick on my foot that was sticking out, but I led her back and she went back to sleep. Yet the moment we spoke to each other about getting up she was suddenly in between us and greeting us affectionately. 'How did she get here?' Tom asked 'I didn't feel her jumping up'.

For indeed, this is the sole real problem with her: she is Elfie the Flying Dog, or in another sense, Elfie la Fugueuse. The first morning, at about 7 am, after having pottered round the garden together the afternoon before, watching her closely but without a lead on, and assuming it was safe, I let her out the back door. I followed but wasn't quick enough to stop her suddenly flying effortlessly over the picket fence at the side and haring off down the road. In pyjamas, dressing gown and wellingtons I pursued her through every corner of the village, finally catching her up in one of the scuzzier backyards. Having been totally deaf to my calls she looked at me without a trace of sheepishness or contrition, as if to say, 'Oh, are you here?' I lifted her up (she had no collar or lead on at the time) to which indignity she submitted equably, and carried her home, gasping with my heart thumping. I certainly need to get fitter.

This is a worry. I've been reading up about the breed, which resemble small setters as much as spaniels, and it seems it's rather the nature of the beast to take off like this when something catches their nose, it's called 'throwing a deafy', apparently, or simply 'buggering off'. However fit I am I'll never catch her, and the chances of her making her own way back safely are not good. Presumably this is how she ended up in the fourrière. At six years old, however sweet and trainable she is in other ways, I rather doubt she can be cured of the behaviour. It may well be that she will never really be able to be off the lead outside of the house. This isn't so terrible, though. She is lovely to walk on the extending lead, sensitive and responsive and not just a tedious puller, rather like having a butterfly on a string. But her mind is elsewhere, she isn't interested in treats and food and fuss while there are the smells and sounds of nature around her.

I feel at times overwhelmed, worried, oppressed by sudden new responsibility, and fearful of regret. Suddenly our planned freedoms have been curtailed, our life is going another way, and there is another creature's life to be taken into account and worked round. I feel she is forcing me to come back to life in certain ways and part of me is reluctant to do that.  Since Elfie arrived, I've cried more about Molly than any time since we lost her I think. It's not only comparing them, or that I'm going to places and doing things I've not done since Mol was with us, in her younger and fitter days, it's because I find I'm feeling and facing things I thought I'd let go of and give up on. But she's also forcing me to wrap up and get outside, to walk hard and not to fear the weather, to come back cheerful and with a good appetite, to carry a plastic tub of dog treats in my pocket and think about how best to train her and build her confidence and our relationship. I think she may be what I need.

Elfie isn't Molly, of course, we never expected her to be. But though she is wilder and stranger and in some ways more problematical, she also has her strengths. She seems to be a sturdier, more robust, healthier, less needy and more adaptable little person, rather more of a doggy dog. Her beautiful strawberry blond coat is feathery and soft to the touch but only needs a basic brush now and then, won't need cutting and dries quickly; her paws are neat little tools, and she has a canny way of getting right in between the closely set pads with her teeth and tongue to get out any prickles or other foreign bodies, her ears are perky little clean pink shells which I can touch and look at without objection. She is herself, and we will grow to know and love each other accordingly. And I think she'd probably cope much better with going to stay in good kennels with other dogs now and then, as long as there are plenty of walks, good grub and high fences.

And we've already had some very good moments I really wouldn't have expected so soon. She's not completely relaxed in the car, though she gets in happily, we may try her with a travelling crate. But yesterday morning we made a trip to the arboretum, stopped at the supermarket where she stayed in the car, a bit hot and bothered and fed up but without any real problem, then we went visiting.

Our friend J was very pleased to welcome her, despite it being evident there was a cat somewhere, she lay down like a lamb while we drank coffee and chatted,  Knowing she'll settle down quietly at other people's houses, and maybe restaurants or cafés too, is really a plus, and when she met J again today Elfie greeted her familiarly.  J took this picture of us with her i-pad.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

BIS records, and the importance of copyright

You may remember that at New Year I posted a video slide show I’d made and posted on Youtube, from snapshots and short video clips of Iceland, accompanied by the music of Jón Leifs’ Requiem which I’d lately heard for the first time on the radio.

Then a few weeks ago I revisited the video, and found the music had been withdrawn from it for copyright reasons, though the visuals were still there. I was disgruntled; what killjoy had been so mean as to spoil my pretty little artistic and sensitive creation? For the first time I looked up the details from my purchase of the music, and with possibly even less thought than when I used and published it, I wrote to protest, and ask to be made an exception of, to the recording company, BIS records in Sweden.



I will gloss over the rather painful details of the e-earbashing I received, in person, from their CEO, Robert von Bahr, or indeed of my rather puny and petulant initial reaction to it. However the gist of his response and what I learned from it is important.

It turns out the withdrawal of the music is an automatic procedure based on ‘fingerprints’ on the recordings, and it’s done for a good reason. With all the free stuff that’s available on the internet on tap, and with recorded music everywhere, it’s too easy to take it for granted and even assume an entitlement to it, and to do what we want with it, without giving a thought to how it gets there and how much it costs to produce it. The recording companies, especially of classical and other rarer and more specialist kinds of music, pay a lot for the privilege of recording, it’s a labour of love and patience. They make little enough from legal downloads, nothing from illegal ones of course and unauthorised distribution is a huge problem for them, and people taking the line that they are doing them a favour by doing so must be exasperating to say the least.

Not always but sometimes, however, one’s more bruising experiences can end up being the more rewarding ones. Mr von Bahr, like many other stratospheric, passionate, fierce and direct people who don’t suffer fools gladly, turned out finally, and indeed quite quickly, to be quite as good, nay better, at being generous, warm, helpful, charming and funny as he was at being cross. The exchange of emails continued, since, happily in this instance, both he and I are the kind of people who cannot bear not to have the last word, and gradually they became more friendly. He went on to extend a gracious and unlooked-for apology for his gruffness, while still explaining, with patience, eloquence and integrity, how very important copyright matters are and how unacceptable it is to go around thinking you can ignore and abuse them.

If copyright holders themselves choose to release material freely, for advertising or simply out of generosity, that’s their prerogative, it’s not mine just to take it. The fact that I’ve paid for a recording doesn’t give me the right to distribute it; MP3s can be stripped from videos on Youtube, (something I wasn’t aware of) and anyway, taking something for your own uses without consent, just because you can and lots of people do it, is simply wrong, and ignorance is no defence. There is plenty of legitimate free stuff on-line, and there is music which it’s permitted to use as long as you don’t monetise what you make with it, but it’s the copyright holder’s right to decide whether and how they make their property available.

Youtube are going some way to addressing this problem, there is a page of FAQs on the subject of copyright, an audio library of freely available music and a music policy directory to find out the status of a piece of music, but the last is by no means exhaustive and it’s not the simplest matter to get information from them on the subject, as I’ve subsequently found out when I tried to contact them to find out how to go about doing things properly, it wasn’t easy to get an informed and satisfactory answer; they don’t really seem all that interested in creating a better, clearer relationship between their users and copyright holders. Essentially, if you wish to use music and are unsure about its copyright status, it’s better to try to obtain the right permissions than just use it anyway. Recording companies or other copyright holders are usually not difficult to find and contact if the recording’s in your possession, if you ask politely and are honest, as Mr von Bahr said, it’s quite likely you’ll be allowed. A copyright holder can release the music when the video is uploaded and they have the URL, even though it has been automatically blocked.

And you never know, you might make some interesting connections. The experience and the path it led me down was enriching, not only in raising my consciousness in a salutary way. As I said, I’d not paid much attention to who had recorded the music, but BIS and their catalogue are a wonderland. Though they began in a very small and personal way in 1973, they have become one of the most important names in classical recording recording, while maintaining a very individual touch; they are the oldest recording company still run but its original founder and unusual in keeping all their previous recordings available.

Their digital arm, eClassical has an even larger on-line catalogue, since they now distribute material from other labels as well as BIS, and they are nice and easy to browse since you can do so by many criteria: period, genre, orchestra etc as well as artist or composer.

And BIS are certainly not mean with their musical property. Their own catalogue contains an abundance of free listening if you take the time to browse, not the parsimonious 30 second snippets to be found elsewhere, but whole, quality tracks, not downloadable but listenable on-line unlimited. EClassical’s downloads, not only MP3s but also 16 and 24-bit FLAC flies, lossless (love that word!) and very high quality, are probably the best value you’ll find anywhere; they also do a very good ‘daily deal’ - an album download, often something rather unusual, at half price; their latest release e-mail newsletters are a delight, with interesting, personal and informative blurbs, and maybe even a free video about one of the albums or musicians featured.

In fact they have their own channel of professionally made videos on Youtube. Amongst these is a one not to be missed of Carolina Eyck talking about and playing the theremine, the strange ‘invisible’ instrument invented a surprisingly long time ago, once used for spooky effects on old sci-fi movies but now with its own, growing repertoire. From their channel I was also led to an interview with RvB himself.  The man is frankly something of a star, and moreover (as he slipped in with a touch of very understandable uxorious pride) he is Mr Sharon Bezaly. She is the best flautist in the world and, with her shock of hair and smouldering eyes and her gold flute made by an anonymous Japanese master, looks and sounds like something out of a fairy tale. And that’s before you’ve even heard her play...

Another video released under their auspices is this beauty, food for any lover of Tallis: New York Polyphony in a little church in Sweden, performing ‘If ye love me’, with a sound of incomparable depth and richness,
If ye love me,
keep my commandments,
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may 'bide with you forever,
e'en the spirit of truth.

Play by the rules and truthfully to keep what you love, perhaps?

And in a short time, Mr von Bahr stretched out his hand at a word when I had reposted the Jon Leifs/Iceland video, properly amended with credits and acknowledgements, to lift the block so it is now visible again with the music, in all its ethereal wonder, and I have embedded it once again in the New Year post. For which much thanks.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ken Hyam

A couple of days ago, on the second anniversary of Joe's death, a card came in the post. The sender's name on the back was J.Hyam, which gave me a start, but when I looked again it was a London address. It was in fact from Joyce, the wife of Joe's brother Ken, with the very sad news that Ken had died, suddenly, of a heart attack, almost two weeks previously. She had written almost straight away, though the card had taken a time to get here, which was strikingly thoughtful of her, since she and I didn't know each other personally.

Ken was the youngest, and last surviving, of the three Hyam brothers by some way, not yet seventy, I think. I met him just the once at Joe's funeral, and instantly felt I was with a trusted friend, not only because of our blogging contact and connection through Joe, but because he was clearly a gentle, kind and listening soul, a quiet man. He was a teacher, specifically of youngsters with learning difficulties, and he must have been a lovely one; the comments he often left here were always positive but also thoughtful and showing a very careful and attentive reading, and at times of loss and sadness most sensitive and comforting. We corresponded from time to time in the last couple of years, and a little while after his brother died he sent me Joe's copy of Eliot's Four Quartets, which had come into his possession, well-preserved with an inscription from when he left school in the fifties, a preternaturally perceptive choice which meant more to me than I can say.

He blogged as Lucas, mostly poems, sometime photos, less so of recent times, but he also ran a collaborative magazine blog with some excellent content called Small Party, for the last couple of years.* He was a fine and original poet, his work an intriguing mixture of naivety, subtlety and surprise which seemed to bespeak his character. He posted last in January of this year, about an old vinyl copy of Brahms Lieder he had found in a charity shop, copied onto CD, then spent some time researching the lyrics of and rendering into his own translations, the kind of pleasure in finding treasure and unexpected beauty in the detail which was typical of the man. I'm taking the liberty of reposting the translation he made of one of these, a poem by Dieter Rihm. It seems to me to take one to a place of clear, bright, joyful serenity, a good note to leave on, even if you are leaving too soon.

There was a town of noble heritage,
A church, shops, thatched roofs with spiral chimneys,
A hill that sloped down to a landing stage.
I see white blossoms drifting on the breeze,
The pleasant boredom of the boats in Summer,
How Autumn’s setting sun and fiery leaves
Influence the lake with bronze, how it grows calmer.
I see the stillness deep Winter conceives

When in the lake an image of the town
Appears: sloping roofs, smoke in blue air,
The shops closed-up, the church’s gentle spire,
This holiday, pointing both up and down
Into the water, which holds as in a mirror
Good will for everyone, both here and there.

Dieter Rihm, translated by Ken Hyam.


*Both these are now left as they were; I imagine he must have been the comment moderator on Small Party, so even a comment about his passing can't be made to appear. This brings it home again that, morbid as it may seem, we should think about what might happen to our blogs if the worst happens to us, and if possible sort out someone to be able to access and post on them, or at least do a bit of housekeeping. Ghost blogs of the departed, left hanging in the ether, getting cluttered with spam comments, are a very melancholy thing, I think, whereas on Ellena's and Paula's, for example, their dear ones have access and have posted since their deaths, which seems better, and even a potential comfort to all concerned. For many of us, our on-line lives are an important and very solid dimension of our whole lives, and need to be tended to and marked when these end, I think.

Thursday, March 03, 2016


Needing something to get me back into blogging mode again, I thought I'd try doing a throwback Thursday, one of those alliterative tags people sometimes use as prompts, based on some article from bygone times. So I rummaged in the box of old photos and other sentimentalia and came up with this one, which I've always found quite interesting, and I'll set myself an hour after dinner to write something about it.

These are my maternal grandparents, Ellen and David Cutmore, with Dorren the dog. Unusually the photo has a date on it, 1950, perhaps in my mother's hand. Granny was the only grandparent I knew and can remember. Granddad died when I was a baby, I think, but we never met because my mother and her mother were in a period of estrangement at the time, sometimes known in the family as the Nine Years War. I've a vague idea what it was about, but it's not important. My father and my eldest brother, who were among the Blessed Peacemakers but not pushy about it, kept lines of communication open, so my birth and Granddad's death did not go unreported. Mostly the place of this episode in my awareness is as part of a body of evidence of the Cutmores' aptitude to fall out and have long feuds, silences and estrangements. This fact is a sad one of course, but it also reassures me somewhat, in a carrion comfort sort of way, that my own shortcomings as a daughter were perhaps neither peculiar to me nor entirely one-sided.

Something that strikes me is how old Granny looks here; she would have been only just over sixty, less than ten years older than I am now, much younger than many of my friends and family with whom I feel no difference of style or outlook. She died twenty years later at just over eighty, but here she looks exactly as I remember her at the end of her life.  Her look was always archetypal Old Lady, as you see her here - Lyle stockings, little hard shoes with buttons on, high-neck blouses, felted wool coats and jackets, hats of the kind I used to love to try on in British Home Stores. But I suppose it was a kind of echo of the style of her youth, before and around the First World War. I wonder if, in the eyes of children and young people, I am heading towards, or even trapped in, some similar atrophied recreation of how I dressed and styled myself when I was young? Probably. Yet one still occasionally sees old ladies who dress like Granny did, so they must adopt it as their age advances. 

 Yet Grandad is in a timeless, casual open-neck shirt; it looks quite a warm day, a picnic perhaps. 

They both came originally from East Anglia, from Norwich. Granddad's parents were bakers, they were well regarded small business folk, fair haired, solid. He was a racing cyclist, a very popular figure. Granny said, with a mixture of pride and jealousy, I think, that there were times when the whole stand of spectators around the race track resounded with the chant of 'Davey, Davey, Davey!'; there were cabinets full of silverware and other treasures he had won, some of which we still have. He earned the local fame of being the first cyclist to cycle up Gasworks Hill in Norwich without stopping, still no mean feat. Later he sold bicycles. He was a gregarious man, a man's man, clubbable: cycling clubs, angling clubs, the Freemasons, often a source of worry, bitterness, jealousy for Gran. My mum was, frankly, quite hard in her judgements, yet she rarely spoke harshly about her father, though she didn't idolise him either, and had her reasons to feel bitter and short changed too. On rare occasions when, as an adult, she was able to spend relaxed time alone with him, he was, she said, good company. For a man of his time and class, there was much of the bon vivant about him; outgoing, fond of company, enjoying the finding, catching, preparing and eating of fish and seafood: salmon fishing in Scotland, deep sea fishing off Brighton, prospecting for cockles in bare feet, my eldest sister a toddler on his shoulders, on some sandy stretch off the east coast. In a compliment to my fondness for unusual food and foraging, my mum once said he and I would have got on well. Though when I rather sentimentally expressed a wish to have known him, my sister looked a bit doubtful; he was, she said, rather grumpy and not very friendly towards his grandchildren, accusing them of peeing in inappropriate places when it was really the dog. In the photo he does look somewhat dour, with a set of the mouth that bespeaks perennial impatience, disappointment even, but then you can't always tell from photos.

Granny's background was perhaps rather less happy. She was born out of wedlock, though her parents married shortly after. Mum said she remembered her weeping when the law was changed, some time in the 1920s, to legitimise children whose parents married after their birth. Her father often resented her as being responsible for trapping him into a marriage he didn't wish for. Cruel, that. At these times her called her Rachel as an insult, because she looked quite Jewish. But when he lied about his age and enlisted to fight - and die - in the War, he visited her before he left. My mum was a baby, and he emptied his pocket of change and put it in her hand, which with a baby's reflex, curled round it. 'She'll be all right,' he said.

Ellen was quite a beautiful woman in her youth and liked to dress up; she looked not unlike my sister Alison. Somewhere I may have a photo of her in her heyday, if so I'll post it another time. 

The Jewish strain came from Dutch immigrants to East Anglia some time in the 19th century, no one was quite sure when. It was clear to see in my uncle Jack, the youngest of my mother's generation, who was presumably the one taking the photo.  He was able to procure good meals from Kosher eateries in times of rationing with no questions asked. I was watching Danny Finkelstein on telly today and thinking how much like Jack he is. The Viking traders and Saxon yeomen of my father's and grandfather's genes had altogether subsumed it, however, by the time of my generation. 

Dorren (I assume it was spelled that way, it rhymed with sporren) was a cairn terrier of lively temper but quite good repute. He starred in a photograph taken by uncle Jack which won a prize, called 'A Game of Patience', in which Granddad was playing the card game (solitaire, I think in American English) and Dorren is waiting at the end of the table with his lead in his mouth.

These stories are as I remember hearing them. They may not be the true ones.