About fiona

Fiona Coulter is a musician and website developer.

The Elephant in the Room

I have not been updating this blog much over the past couple of years. There has been a reason for this: unfortunately my cancer has returned. It is no longer curable, although, with luck and the right treatment, it may be some time before it proves fatal. For a long time I found it too painful even to announce this publicly, but now I think it is helpful for me to do so. For too long it has been “the elephant in the room”, taking up all the space in my life. The only way to bring it down to the size of perhaps a large dog or a small pony is to say something about it.

I don’t plan on saying much, for me it is too raw, personal and private, but it does impact my life quite severely, so I want to say something. The cancer has damaged my bones, resulting in several fractures, and leaving me disabled. For a while I was unable to leave the house, although now I am able to get out for short walks at least, which has done a lot for my mental health. I am still able to drive, which helps.

I also suffer from fatigue, whole days go by when I am too exhausted to do anything. The main consequence is boredom: while daytime TV has a few gems, they are few and far between. I no longer write or play music, I don’t have the energy or concentration required.

However it is not all gloom; when I am well enough, I paint, and I have completed several new paintings recently. I will be posting some of them here. I find that painting is more suited to the rhythmn of my life, because I can do it when I have the energy, then put it aside when I don’t.

The hardest thing has been reconciling myself to the fact that I probably will not live for much longer. It is not something that I expected. I have had cancer twice in the past, one of the things that got me through was the belief that I would survive it. Now I can no longer believe that. The most that I can hope for is to live a meaningful life during the time that I have left. I am still working out what that means.

Please Don’t Pull Up Ragwort

Ragwort is a very attractive plant. When it is left to grow unmolested it can be quite spectacular, reaching a height of several feet, topped by a dome of yellow flowers. It is a native British wild flower, and is important for a variety of insects, including the beautiful Cinnabar moth. Bees love it.

This is a picture that I took of some ragwort at a local nature reserve, Bannerdown Common near Bath. I am not sure what these creatures are, but they were evidently having a good time among the ragwort, it was the insect version of Love Island.

Ragwort at Bannerdown Common

Unfortunately the plant has developed an unfairly bad reputation, to the extent that some people take it upon themselves to roam about the countryside casually uprooting it. I have seen several examples of this recently. This is in fact illegal behaviour, as well as being pointless, ignorant and wantonly destructive.

Near to where the above picture was taken, I found this:-

uprooted ragwort found at Bannerdown Common nature reserve.

This was only one of several examples.

The excuse given is that ragwort is toxic to horses. I don’t have a horse, but if I did, I would certainly want to protect it from something that might poison it.  That’s perfectly reasonable and what any responsible horse owner would want. The thing is, though, horses don’t like the taste of fresh ragwort so will normally avoid it where it is growing. It is only when ragwort is dried and mixed with other plants in hay that horses will actually eat it. So the answer is to be careful what you feed your horse. The rational way to do this is surely to make sure that any feed that you give your horse comes from a reputable supplier who takes care to exclude ragwort.

What makes absolutely no sense is to wander the countryside pulling up a native wild plant, or encourage others to do so. One of the worst examples that I have seen recently was at East Harptree woods nature reserve, where I took this picture of Cinnabar moth caterpillars feasting on ragwort.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars feasting on ragwort

Sadly nearly all the nearby plants had been uprooted, so there will not be many of them maturing this year. The most ludicrous aspect of this is that no horses graze there, and horse riding is expressly forbidden at East Harptree, so no horse was ever going to go near them. It is just utterly pointless vandalism.

So please don’t pull it up. You are not helping horses, and you are committing criminal damage if you do. Why not do something for nature instead and grow it in your garden? It’s a lovely plant and deserves protection.

 

Countering the Idiocracy

I was struck by this item of news recently, about the fact that Macmillan, the well-known cancer charity, have appointed someone to counter the myths about cancer being promoted online (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-41780776). It is sad that this is necessary, but it surely is. This is a subject that affects me personally, because I have had cancer twice. It was my experience that mentioning this in conversation acts as a kind of beacon for the deluded: like the well-meaning person who insisted on telling me about the woman in Bristol who had “cured herself” of cancer (presumably she also diagnosed herself in the first place); or the person who solemnly assured me that it could be cured with lemon peel.

I decided early on in my treatment that I would ignore the idiots, and accept that the doctors treating me were exactly what they seemed to be: humane and intelligent people, who would not recommend a treatment unless it was actually likely to of real benefit. So I had surgery, and chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and yes, it is quite brutal, it is not an experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for a laugh. But the thing is that it actually works, and I am still here several years later.

Of course it is not a new thing that some believe that their ill-considered opinions are as valid as those of people who have spent years of their lives studying and researching a subject. But it is only recently that the internet has given them such a powerful platform, so at least the harm that they could do was more limited in the past. There is something particularly pernicious about promoting myths about cancer, it can quite literally kill people who are gullible enough to believe them. I have noticed that those who do so, while being all too quick to condemn “Big Pharma”, usually gloss over their own interests in promoting dubious “cures”.

There is no conspiracy among doctors and drug companies to suppress some safe and “natural” cure for cancer, whether it be vitamin C, or green tea, or magic beans for whatever. Why? Conspiracies just do not work because most people are absolutely terrible at keeping secrets. And the biggest reason is because doctors are human beings too, they get cancer too, and so do their husbands, wives, lovers, parents, children, brothers, sisters and friends. If such a cure existed they would want it to be developed, and would want to use it.

I called this post “Countering the Idiocracy”, but in truth I don’t know what the solution is. I still think that the internet is (on the whole) a force for good, and that there is no morally acceptable way of preventing idiots from having access to it. I think that the best thing that we can do, at least on an individual level, is to try not to be one.

And don’t be these people: http://www.thebeatlesneverexisted.com/

Painting: Broadmoor Lane, Bath

This is a painting of Broadmoor Lane near where I live in Bath, where I often walk the dog.

One of the good things about Bath is that it is very compact, it only takes a few minutes walk from the city and you are in open countryside and farmland. This is working farmland, there are often cows in the lane.

Painting – Kennet and Avon Canal

I’ve finally got around to doing some more painting recently.

This is the Kennet and Avon canal near Limpley Stoke. I was trying to capture the patterns of intense light and shade caused by the sunlight falling through the trees.

Kennet and Avon Canal near Limpley Stoke

Canal near Limpley Stoke

 

It’s not 100% successful but I think I did manage to get the feeling of walking down a tunnel of trees that you get along the canal. It’s a lovely place to walk and was particularly magical on the day last autumn on which this picture is based.

I am also pleased with the colours. I did try and paint the canal once before, it ended up looking very brown, which I avoided this time.

 

New Painting: The Hills Near Bath

This is a new painting of the hills near Bath.

The hills near Bath at eveningThe thing about Bath is that it is surrounded by hills, so nothing necessarily extraordinary there. What I particularly liked about this view was the colours of the early evening in winter. The leafless trees have a rather ghostly, ethereal shape, which made it an interesting scene to paint.

The picture above is in oils. Before I began it, I tried a sketch in oil pastels:-

Bath hills, in oil pastelsThe sketch concentrates on the broad shapes of colour, and light and shade, and was quite successful I felt. I don’t always make a sketch before beginning a painting, but I do find it helpful sometimes. In this case it encouraged me to paint the scene.

Some recent paintings

Some new pictures that I have completed in the last few months.

View of Weston

View of Weston

This painting (in oils) is a view of Weston (where I live), from the nearby hillside. It has some good points, although I don’t feel that the colours all work. They individually make sense, but somehow don’t quite come together.

Lake view

Lake view

I actually prefer the background in this picture, I kind of wish that I had left the foreground out, and kept it as an atmostpheric view across a misty lake.

Roses

Roses

Well, it is a picture of some roses. I actually like it more than I expected to. I like flowers, but it is difficult to paint them in a way that does not look a bit twee.

Moonlight

Moonlight

This is another of my brooding, Bath at night pictures, and is my favourite of my recent pictures. I was trying to get the effect of moonlight and also illumination by streetlight on a row of houses, I think it works very well, there is a nice contrast between the warmth of reflected streetlight on the houses, and the much colder light of the moon.

 

 

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.