Chuckles Coulter: A Dog’s Life

It is with a great sadness that I announce the death of Chuckles, my much loved dog. She passed away peacefully on 17 November 2015.

Chuckles Coulter

She was probably a Lakeland Terrier (mostly). Not much is known about her early life, she was adopted by my father at about the age of 18 months, towards the end of 2001. She had been found as a stray, very thin and scared, wandering by herself on bonfire night.

Whatever the difficulties of her early years, it did not dampen her enthusiasm for life. As a young dog she had seemingly boundless energy, and was something of a little hooligan. Her best friend was a young Beagle called Millie, whom she adored. They used to chase each other at breakneck speed around the town ramparts of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where my father regularly walked her.

She liked cats, although it has to be admitted that she also enjoyed chasing them. However it did not seem to be motivated by ill-will, but simply because it was fun. She lived for many years quite amicably with my father’s cat Min.

As well as chasing things, Chuckles cultivated an interest in chewing things; squeaky toys (which she enjoyed killing), and sticks. Unfortunately she never got the hang of fetch, taking the view that if you threw a stick away you could hardly expect to get it back again, and it was therefore hers. She was never much interested in balls, unless the ball belonged to another dog, or occasionally a golfer; then she would enjoy grabbing it and running off with it. She always had a keen sense of mischief, which made her a fun, though occasionally embarrassing companion.

She was also an enthusiastic scavenger, and adopted an “eat everything” policy towards anything even remotely edible that she found on her walks, no matter how disgusting it might look and smell. I won’t turn my reader’s stomach by supplying details. She never seemed deterred by the occasional tummy upset this caused her.

In later years, she calmed down a lot (as do we all), and took up sniffing things as her main interest, which she could do happily for hours on end. She still loved walkies, but at a much more sedate pace.

I know that my father loved her dearly, and she was a loyal friend to him in the last years of his life. Sadly my father died in March 2013, and I adopted Chuckles. She was a wonderful companion for me at a very difficult time, particularly when I was undergoing chemotherapy, when she was a great source of support. I had some of my treatment at home, and, in a particularly touching gesture, she would sit and guard me while the nurse administered the medication. It was very healthy for me to have a reason why I had to go out every day for a walk, even when I really did not feel like it at the time. More than anything, her presence did a lot to help me keep my spirits up.

There are some people (nasty, bitter and twisted people: people who don’t like dogs) who imagine that a relationship with a dog is just an inferior substitute for a human relationship: but they are wrong, I think that it is something unique and valuable in its own right, and can be very profound. Dogs have a joyful simplicity and directness in their response to life, they are masters of living in the moment. They give their love without reservation, with a glad heart. They can teach us a lot, particularly people who don’t like dogs.

So when I say that Chuckles was a good dog, I mean it as no small thing. As Dad once said of her, she was everything you could want in a dog, in a conveniently small package. She was a true friend, and I will miss her with all my heart.

New Composition for Flute and Cello: Elements

This is my third composition this year. It is a suite of four duet pieces for the standard “C” concert flute and cello, with optional B footjoint, lasting about 14 minutes in total, so a fairly substantial piece.

All the pieces should be regarded as true duets, rather than a set of flute pieces with cello
accompaniment. The suite borrows quite a lot from the baroque genre of instrumental suites, and should retain that flavour in performance; but with a modern twist, as they use some contemporary special techniques for the flute such as air sounds and tongue pizzicato.
The four movements are named for the mediaeval concept of the four elements of air, earth, water and fire, which fortuitously each capture something of the nature of the movement.

You can find it here, on Sheet Music Plus.

Suite for Flute and Cello

The Jubilant Flute

The Jubilant Flute

I  recently finished a new composition for flute and piano, called the Jubilant Flute.

It is available here on Sheet Music Plus .

The piece is written for the standard “C” concert flute, plus a piano accompaniment, and should be played in a lively and vivacious manner. As the title suggests, it is a happy piece, designed to show off the brilliant and bubbly nature of the flute. (The word “jubilant” comes from the Latin word “jubilare”, which means to shout for joy). The total duration is about 4 minutes. The piece should be playable by a student of good standard.

It is a bit of a surprise to me to have completed several compositions this year, it was not really expected, but all the more welcome for it.

How Are You Today?

question mark

The other day a young woman rang me up “on behalf of Yahoo”. Now Yahoo don’t ring people up (nor do Google for that matter) so I am pretty sure that what that little sleight of hand really meant was that she was from an internet marketing firm who wanted to sell me some advertising on Yahoo, something that I could arrange for myself if I wanted, then charge me a fee for it.

However it wasn’t that little bit of dishonesty that really irritated me, it was the fact that she began our conversation with the question: “how are you today?” I have noticed that this is a bit of a trend, mainly among people who are trying to sell me something. No doubt some “marketing guru” once told them that this is a good way to start a conversation, that it creates a feeling of warmth and trust.

Well, no it doesn’t, in me anyway it creates irritation. I assume that the caller expects that I will answer “great, I’m fine”, and we will settle down to a nice cosy chat. In fact I find it an impossible question to answer, because even if I am feeling fine I don’t feel like sharing it with a complete stranger. And supposing I am not fine, supposing that I have just had my leg amputated, or am mourning the loss of my beloved pet swamp dragon? In that case I would be forced to either lie, and say that I am fine when I am not, I am feeling heartbroken; or I would have to tell the truth and pour out my heart to someone who blatantly does not care; who moreover is sufficiently lacking in personal ethics to pretend to be from Yahoo when they are not. Neither of these would be an attractive choice.

As a general rule in life I think that you should only ask how someone is if you actually know them, and you actually care enough to hear an honest answer. To do anything else is presumptuous. All of which I tried to explain to the caller, but she hung up on me.

Two New Paintings: Tulips and Lamplight

I have completed two new paintings recently, of rather different subjects. The first one is called “Tulips”:

TulipsIt is painted in oils, and is based on some tulips I saw growing at the Courts Garden, which is a National Trust property in Holt in Wiltshire. I think that it is not entirely satisfactory as a composition, however I am please that I did manage to make the tulips stand out quite well, which was the main point of the painting.

The second painting is called “Lamplight”:-

LamplightIt is painted in acrylics. I tried out the effect of painting the canvas background black beforehand – I think it worked quite well for the subject matter.

I spent some time thinking about whether the human figure should be walking into the light, or away from it, eventually I decided that I wanted his face to be in shadow, so painted him walking away, into the darkness.

Camping

trees

I had a sudden urge to go camping recently, which I did, in the Forest of Dean. It has been a few years since I slept in a tent, I had forgotten how uncomfortable it is sleeping on the ground. Also it was a very cold night, I was not imagining it, when I got up in the morning there was actually a slight frost on the ground – this is July!

The result was that I got very little sleep, by the next morning I was so exhausted that I felt quite ill, and decided to go back home. I think that you can gather that I am not a natural outdoors-woman, I am not a female Ray Mears. So it was a short trip. It was a pity, apart from the terrible lack of sleep I did actually enjoy the camping. I do like the simplicity of it, the way it brings life back to basics. The Forest of Dean is magnificent – even though some bits are quite touristy, the forest is so big that it is easy to just walk away from them.

I was hoping to see some wild boar. I didn’t – but I definitely heard them during my long sleepless night. At first I had no idea what it was, I heard some weird snuffling sounds, then scampering, and what was unmistakably the grunt of a pig. They must have been only a couple of metres away from my tent.

I will go camping again some day, but not before I have got myself an air bed.

Soundcloud

I have been uploading some of my old recordings to Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/fiona-coulter

They are mostly of me improvising on the flute.

Generally they sound better than I remember. It is almost impossible to be objective about one’s own creative endeavors – I find that I tend to hear and focus on every little mistake, without hearing what is good about it. The passage of time makes it a little easier, because my imperfect memory makes it possible to be surprised.

Jetty

First Exhibition

Lake Windermere

I am having an exhibition of my paintings starting next week – my first. It has been a fair amount of work to get ready – until now I had no idea how complicated framing a painting could be. Believe me, it is complicated.

The exhibition will be at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, as part of their ‘Art at the RUH’ programme, which is fitting. I took up painting for the first time since I was a teenager, as a way to help me get through chemotherapy – I wanted to do something positive, that I could also do sitting down.

Actually I had no idea that I could paint. I used to draw a lot when I was in my teens, I taught myself to draw fairly accurately mostly by looking at things. Once you teach your brain to see things as a series of shapes, lines and shadows, it is not that hard. However my knowledge of oil painting techniques was pretty non-existent: the few times that I had tried to paint something in the past, the results were terrible. Most of the colours ended up looking like brown sludge. That was because I had no idea what I was doing.

Then I found a really useful book on Amazon, The Oil Painting Course You’ve Always Wanted: Guided Lessons for Beginners and Experienced Artists by Kathleen Lochen Staiger

This one:-

I would recommend this to any aspiring painter. Reading it gave me a really thorough and logical grounding in the basics of painting in oils, like how to mix colours to get exactly the colour you want; how to make shadows and highlights; brush techniques; glazing; perspective. To be fair, some of this I knew already, but it helped to put it all together in a logical way. One of the most useful aspects was the explanation of how to make blacks and greys by mixing other colours, rather than getting them out of a tube. It produces much more satisfactory results, because few things in nature are either true black or grey, but blue-black, or green grey, or dark brown, and so on.

This is particularly important for getting natural looking results. Colours in nature are very rarely as intense as those that come in oil paint tubes – they tend to be more muted, which is another way of saying a bit greyer. The way to mute a colour is to add a bit of its complementary colour, for example a bit of green to an intense red such as cadmium red. What you get is a slightly more muted red, that looks more natural.

Perhaps some of this should be obvious, but it isn’t if no-one ever tells you. I cannot remember having any of this explained in art lessons at school. That was in the 1970s of course, so we were just encouraged to express ourselves in art classes. Which was fine, but actually I would have liked to be taught a few basic skills too.

Once I had read the book, it gave me the confidence that I could just go ahead and paint things, with a reasonable expectation of producing something that looks good. It allowed me to go ahead and experiment, and to express myself, which was exactly what I wanted. I still refer to it now and then, there is so much useful stuff in it. I don’t always follow the advice, but it is useful to know what it is at least.

Painting: Lansdown Crescent Bath

Lansdown Crescent, Bath

This is my most recent painting, in acrylics on canvas. It is Lansdown Crescent in Bath, at dusk, based on a photo I took about five years ago. The streets were still wet with rain and reflected of the orange glow of the street lamps. I tried to capture this effect – I liked the contrast of the cool colours of the sky and pavement with the warmth of the lights.

I think you can tell that I drew in all the walls, doors and windows in free-hand, no rulers at all anywhere. It does make the row of housing look uneven, but actually I quite like the effect, somehow it gives it more life than I think it would have had otherwise.