21 June 2014

So it goes

Much better than last week, though still a long way off my personal best let alone my target. But Abingdon Parkrun is getting bigger (249 people today, which is a lot when there's a substantial section that is single-file, and it comes up only about half a mile into the run) and the participants less familiar running etiquette. Too many earphoneys, for one thing, and although it's a traffic-free course there are other runners you need to hear. Too many running side-by-side, and too many unaccompanied children. But all that only means that I wouldn't be going for a PB even if were a stone lighter, a great deal fitter, and perhaps 20 or 30 years younger. It's still a nice social occasion. When I'm ready to run fast, I'll get to the front at the start.

13 June 2014

Wonderboy

Yesterday afternoon, I found myself providing some innocent entertainment for a small audience - though that had not been the stated purpose of my visit to the hospital. The idea was to supplement the ECG test which had been done on my at my doctor's surgery recently, with a further one, this time on a dreadmill. My doctor is satisfied that there's nothing wrong with me, but as she helpfully observed I am approaching 58 years old and she felt a further test would be prudent: so, after a phone call the previous day to tell me that a last-minute cancellation had opened up a slot, I presented myself at the John Radcliffe Hospital - after a drive which included typical Oxford traffic (one motorist, stuck in the queue on the other side of the road, volunteered the information that he was from Swindon and knew of no worse place than Oxford for traffic) such as to induce an attack of the coolant anxiety which is the lot of every MGF driver, especially as I passed the very spot where the most recent hose had given up. But at least the car got me there and back this time, without the assistance of the RAC.

My name was called right on time by a nurse, who led me to the dreadmill room, a windowless cell as seems to be traditional for such machines but mercifully without a television screen (a documentary about the sinking of the Bismarck, in the Aquamarine Hotel in Moscow, is a memory that will remain with me for the rest of my life), where it transpired she had two female colleagues. The youngest was in charge of technical matters, including creating suitable spaces on my chest for electrodes; the middle one, who had fetched me from reception, took my blood pressure (which at 110/60 met with general approval), and the senior one took it again, explaining that her colleague was learning how to use a stethoscope.I hoped she wasn't also looking for practice for her skills with a hypodermic.

I had to answer a load of questions, beginning, to my delight, with what they should call me. They were friendly, so 'Doctor' didn't seem the appropriate response. Then questions about symptoms, which were slight and now distant in time, so there was little to satisfy them there: but the slight pains I had felt certainly sounded like symptoms of stress rather than anything more sinister. Then, 'how far can you walk comfortably?'. What? In retrospect the correct answer is 'until my feet get sore', or perhaps 'until my shoes wear out', but I chose instead to refer to the fact that I can run 20 miles. I felt a certain amount of licence was permissible, because I could have run the Compton Downland Challenge if I'd set off at a more conservative pace, and it's not so very long since I ran a Marathon. Someone in the room said something like 'I told you so!', and from then on we all seemed to be having fun.

They have a protocol (called Bruce, after its creator not just a pet name) for the dreadmill, increasing speed and incline in five or six increments intended to get the subject up to 90 per cent of maximum heart rate. Some subjects, they told me, get there walking slowly (office-to-Paddington-in-the-evening-with-a-headwind pace) at stage 1. I got there only with the machine going at a comfortable 10K-type pace, but  added to the incline that was enough to get me to 98 per cent, which they said was the hardest they had worked anyone for a long time. It was also the most exercise I'd had for a few days, even if the run only lasted for a minute.

The most important thing, though, is that there was nothing to worry about. But it's nice to have fun learning that information.



08 May 2014

I can't stand up for falling down (Society of Authors management committee election part 2)

My election statement:
I am standing in this election to ensure that members have a choice, as I did last year, when three of us who were members of the constitution task force put our names forward for the Management Committee. We believed that the Society needed change to make it a responsive, democratic organisation in which members were fully involved. It is, after all, a trade union and must be judged against the standards of other unions. Just by standing we ensured that members directly elected four candidates to the Management Committee.

I continue writing and lecturing about, and practising, intellectual property and other types of law, as I have done for 33 years. The Society remains the same, too, for the time being, and elections are being run the same way. In what other organisation is a list of candidates approved by the executive and announced to the electorate, so that independent candidates join in only after the starting gun has been fired? If any other trade union conducted its elections in this manner, there would be widespread outrage.

The Task Force’s recommendations for reform were filtered through the Management Committee before being presented to the membership. Just as it nominates its own candidates, so the Management Committee makes recommendations for reform, patronisingly offering members ‘an alternative solution’. It proposes that its own candidates continue to be given a head start, as the ballot paper will identify those whom it prefers. The level playing field is merely ‘an alternative’. But Management Committee members may nominate whomever they wish, and overt approval from serving members carries considerable weight: why should the committee itself have the privilege of making nominations? To present an open and democratic procedure as ‘an alternative’ to a system that entrenches the nomenklatura is a travesty.

My platform is to do all I can to make the Society responsive to what you want and need. My legal expertise and experience benefitted the task force and is now offered to the MC. I offer no manifesto setting out what I think the Society should do for its highly diverse membership, because different members need different things, and I do not presume to tell you what they are. If elected I will listen to you. Victorian paternalism might have been appropriate for much of the Society’s history, but in the 21st century it needs to be transparent and – yes, that word again – democratic. Only then will we have a Society fit and able to represent the interests of all authors – members and prospective members – in the very challenging environment of the 21st century.

I pledge to work to create a management committee that does what members tell it to do, rather than telling members what they should do. That, to my mind, is democracy. If it accords with your idea of democracy, please support me and the other reformist candidates to bring about the radical change that the Society's establishment will not embrace.
Normally the idea of drafting by committee would be anathema to me. This is not really a committee work, but I received valuable input: what made it interesting, and fun, and unusual, was that the input came from published authors, including a couple of well-known novelists. James Michener reportedly said 'I'm not a very good writer but I'm an excellent rewriter', and the truth of that statement is apparent to me every time I review something I have written - it always benefits from being rewritten, though often it doesn't get the amount of time it needs. And this exercise in writing to a word limit has also shown me the importance of choosing carefully the right words - not only does the writing become more powerful, it becomes more concise too.


Let's work together (Society of Authors management committee elections)

The Society of Authors is a nice organisation of which to be a member. You meet interesting people and make interesting friends. Once I went to a party the Society held for Shakespeare's birthday, where the Poet Laureate read a couple of Sonnets and I talked to Sir Michael Holroyd about his (short) time as an articled clerk. I joined the Society back in about 1987, although I haven't always paid my subscription on time and my membership has had to be revived at least once.

A couple of years ago my old friend, the novelist William Horwood, introduced me to a group of members who were interested in the reform of the Society's constitution. It was not a topic that I had worried about much until then. I was amazed to find that what I had taken to be a pleasant little club for like-minded people with an interest in writing was in fact a trade union, albeit one that features on the 'special register' of unions which don't have as their main function the regulation of relations between employers and employees, and which are permitted to be incorporated under the Companies Acts (or by Royal Charter or Letters Patent). The Society is, it turned out, a private company limited by shares, which must have seemed like a good idea when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and some mates set it up a hundred and odd years ago.

So I found myself a member of a five-person Task Force (and I was, strangely, the only one who found the Thatcherite overtones of that title uncomfortable) to consider and report on the reform of the constitution. Some aspects were fixed: to switch from being a private company limited by shares to the more appropriate structure of a guarantee company (which was, my research told me, an option available to Sir Arthur and friends) would mean chucking out the trade union baby with the limited-by-shares bathwater, and it became clear that trade union status was very important, and likely to become more so.

The Task Force steamed on, and a report issued forth - far less radical than William, Charles Palliser or I (the three non-establishment members of the Task Force, or as I referred to us recently the Bolsheviks, in the literal sense of majority as well as the figurative sense) would have wished, but we made compromises that recognised the need to devise proposals that would be widely acceptable. And having argued at great length for a Management Committee that was clearly democratically elected we took the view, a year ago, that we should ourselves stand for election.

Let me explain how the Management Committee is currently elected. In January, the committee receives a list of names from the staff and chooses enough people from that list to fill the places falling vacant later in the year. These names are announced to the membership, which generally pays very little attention as they are busy writing. Their biographical statements (which are indistinguishable from election addresses) are posted on the website. An election campaign seems to have started, although at this stage it is uncontested. Later, other members may be nominated for election, though of course they do not have the endorsement of the Management Committee. They join the race some weeks after the starting gun has been fired and the electorate informed of the names of the chosen candidates. This is of course a perfectly democratic process, as that word is understood in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

I was not surprised last year that I failed to be elected to the Praesidium. (North Korea does not have a Politburo.) I did not campaign for it: the reason for my candidature was to ensure that there was an election not of the North Korean sort, with more candidates than places to be filled. The electorate did choose Charles, and almost chose William, but three of the nomenklatura were elected. Good: they got the votes. That was what it was all about.

This year I find myself unhappy about what has happened to the Task Force report. After all, the Bolsheviks trimmed so the Task Force could put forward a fairly unanimous set of recommendations. I did not envisage (though in truth I didn't stop to think about it) that the MC would make its own recommendations. For elections to the MC, for example, there is a recommendation that would retain the process of 'preferred' candidates, and an 'alternative suggestion' that dispenses with that (while still, apparently, reserving considerable influence to the MC, to which I am opposed - but perhaps the wording will be polished to remove this). What to do about this? Stand again, of course, but this time campaign!


20 April 2014

May the road rise

The realisation, some 18 months ago, that I could run a Marathon without special preparation (provided I would be satisfied with five hours) was never going to be good for me - and was certain, fairly quickly, to be refuted (in the proper sense of 'proved wrong', not 'denied' as it now seems to be used to mean). Refutation came today, in the Compton Downland Challenge. (I should have re-read this posting, with valuable advice from a Runner's World staff member.)

A cursory reading of this blog will reveal that I haven't done a lot of running since last October's Abingdon Marathon. A few Parkruns, and several runs between Paddington and the office. A week skiing didn't help, as it didn't work the right muscles, and giving both knees a violent twist on the last day certainly didn't help. And my cycling-to-the-station régime has barely got under way this year, at least in part because my route was flooded for so long.

That amount of running's not enough on which to do a 20-miler, clearly, although I thought that if I kept the pace nice and slow - I had in mind 10 minute miles, which I revised to 12 in my own mind (and in practice) as soon as we got going. I also thought that if I stuck with John, who was doing the 'full fat forty' as it was billed at my last attempt at it, in 2006, he'd keep me at an appropriate pace. But I lost him in the melée at the start, and after catching him later I lost him again about mile 10 - he just disappeared into the distance. Well done, John: 8:40 for the full distance is superb.

Shortly after John vanished, this loomed in front of me:

Streatley Hill: spot the runners

It was daunting the first time I ran this race - and if it's daunting at 10.5 miles, what must it be like at 31 miles of the 40-miler? At least this time I was prepared, having done a couple of training sessions up and down this section, and I succeeded in keeping up a run - albeit a very slow one - almost all the way to the top. No-one else I saw tried that: naturally, they were the people who later came running past me as I limped miserably to the finish ...

At the time, though, it wasn't the climb that did me in, it was the descent half-a-mile or so later. My knees, the right one in particular, complained fiercely, and I found it painful even to walk down the hill. The same went for all the descents in the remaining seven or eight miles. As for the ascents, which were equally numerous, perhaps I'd expended all my climbing energy on the big one and if I hadn't run that I'd have coped better later on, but at 10.5 miles I had felt as if things were still going reasonably well.

I think I understand the sentiment of the old Irish saying, but interpreted literally a road that rises up in front of me is the last thing I want when I am running. When the road falling away in front of me is painful, too, as it was in this race, I have the worst of all worlds. I suppose I know what I must do about it: train!


20 March 2014

Prelude for string orchestra (Gerald Finzi)

For several years, it has to be said, Arthur Richard Itter, who died on 1 March, was the bane of my life. He was a charming, friendly and invariably interesting bane, to be sure, but while the adjectives are important qualifications the noun is the only appropriate one I can think of. And it occurs to me that he would have said I was the bane of his, and he would not have qualified the noun.

He was cremated today (I am actually writing this later but it is backdated to the appropriate date), and as we took our seats in Slough crematorium the Finzi prelude for string orchestra was playing. The Lyrita recording, of course. Afterwards we left to the strains of the Tallis Fantasia - naturally, the Lyrita recording, conducted by Boult (as was the Finzi)

Richard's influence on British classical music is impossible to understate. He recorded pieces that would have struggled to get an airing otherwise - at least in the vinyl era. He gave young performers breaks, including Yo Yo Ma's recording of the Finzi cello concerto, although I met a well-known pianist once at a Jaques Samuel Christmas party (and that is a story in itself) who complained bitterly that he had recorded a concerto for Richard many years earlier which had never seen the light of day - he'd been paid, of course, but it had done nothing for his reputation. It is available on CD now.

I first encountered Richard as a client of the firm for which I was then working, and in those days (the mid-nineties) he was always called Dick. Over the telephone I formed a picture of a tall, bald, rather gaunt and ascetic figure. I offered once, in the days before e-mail (which Richard never embraced anyway) to drop a document off at his house, as I was at the time accomplishing my commute to work by driving along the M4 to the outskirts of London before taking the Tube, but he was clearly not happy about my visiting him.

A few years later he approached me out of the blue to become a trustee of the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust. I was at one of the several crossroads with which my life seems to be littered: so was he. His sister Margaret had died, as had his accountant, and they, in addition to him, were the other two trustees. He said he'd felt that I had a deeper interest in the music than most, and I thought it sounded like an interesting and indeed exciting opportunity. No money, of course, but I thought being involved in a classical record business would be enormous fun, and fun would be a nice thing to have.

It was at this moment, as I recall, that he told me he was no longer Dick: the way he put it to me, again according to my recollection of 16 years ago, was that it was not an appropriate form of address for the proprietor of a classical record label. Richard it would be from now on - until the eulogy at his cremation, given by a friend from his childhood.

I met him, finally, at his house in Burnham. He was not tall and far from gaunt, though he was bald. His disposition was by default happy and smiling, but when he became impatient about something a different side to his character emerged - as I suppose it does with all of us. Unfortunately the history of the Trust, which seemed at that first meeting to promise so much, involved a great deal of impatience. The trust existed principally to preserve and promote British music dating from the century ending in 1960, with a direction that this should be accomplished by financing Lyrita recordings: but Lyrita was no more than a trading name of Arthur Richard Itter, and the trust therefore - unintentionally - a device for putting money, free of tax, into one of his pockets prior to being transferred to the other. It was predicated on the ownership of the label passing to the Trustees, and that in turn was predicated on the proprietor's early demise: I knew that his father had died young, but I had not realised he had done so in his early thirties, as had Richard's grandfather, and he was convinced that the same heart ailment would get him. Indeed, in his plans he predeceased his sister, and her death had thrown everything up in the air. The Trust had been designed to work in quite different circumstances, and the efforts we all made to find a way to apply the Trust's funds, now swollen by Margaret's bequest, made relations fraught. One new trustee, Richard's accountant, gave up and resigned. Richard was persuaded that the main stumbling block was that the beneficiary of the Trust was a trustee and therefore money could never be applied to the Trust's main purpose, so he too resigned (leaving me and Colin Matthews as the last trustees standing) but used his privileged position under the trust deed as Founder to thwart whatever we tried to do. Eventually, and sadly, and unnecessarily, relations were broken off and the Trust justified its existence by making a few grants to worthwhile projects - the Stanford Society, a recording by the Barbirolli Quartet, and a concert at the Cheltenham Festival. In the end, Richard struck a deal with the Wyastone Trust, licensing the Lyrita business to them which led to a flood of new Lyrita releases, including the above-mentioned piano concerto, and with great relief Colin and I passed over the trust to them lock, stock and barrel. At last it could spend money on Lyrita recordings without benefiting the founder.

I could not imagine what life must have been like for Richard, in that large house with its magnificent music room. It had been built after his father's death, when his mother and sister and he moved from Peterborough where Itters Brick Company was a major local business, his father had been mayor, and a park still bears the family name: what memories it must have had for him. He never to my knowledge left it: I don't know that he owned a car, but as the garage was full of CDs I suspect not. I offered to drive him into London once, to take him the London premier of Colin's Pluto (preceded, of course, by Holst's suite) at the Proms, but he demurred. Perhaps he didn't want to promenade (but I would have splashed out on seats had he accepted!).

Recent history shows that Wyastone - Nimbus, to use the trading name under which they are better-known - did him proud, though history has not yet recorded, as I believe to be the case, that they organised the funeral. His legacy is extraordinary, and there is more to come. In June there will be a new Lyrita release, a completely new recording, a piece from which was played by Andrew McGregor on Radio 3 in his tribute to Richard (though he seemed merely to read the statement issued by Wyastone). And I still look forward to hearing the Chinese Symphony, by Bernard van Dieren, even though I am assured by people who know that as a piece of music it is not worth it.

After the cremation we repaired to the house of an old friend of Richard's sister. The eulogist offered to lead the convoy, which was long as most people had driven themselves. The journey took us through the centre of Slough, and it was only a few minutes before a bus had infiltrated the convoy, a few cars back from the head, and then stopped (as buses do). When it moved on again our leader was out of sight. I continued to follow the car in front as it made a left turn then doubled back round a mini-roundabout, suggesting that the driver was lost. At a set of traffic lights I took the opportunity to ask the driver, who turned out to be Lewis Foreman whom I knew through the Trust, if he knew where he was going, and he confirmed that he didn't. Behind us was Siva Oke (proprietor of SOMM, another classical label, whom I also met through the Trust and have encountered a few times since, including entertaining her to lunch a year or two ago). Via the Wyastone switchboard I made contact with Antony Smith, who did know where he was going, and I arranged to meet him in the car park of a pub where we had once had lunch after a meeting at Richard's house. Eventually we reached the wake. The moral of that tale is that one should never rely on an octogenarian baron of the Holy Roman Empire to get you to where you want to be, even if his name is Taxis.

The Wyastone guys had even thought up the perfect finishing touch: a Lyrita CD featuring a documentary which Lewis Foreman had made a few years ago, Andrew McGregor's tribute, and the music from the cremation. How much, I wondered, would a Lyrita collector pay for that? It's an academic question: it is not for sale. It is a memento of a very significant part of my life, and a reminder of a man whom, although he richly deserves the description I applied to him in the opening words of this posting, I liked a lot.


18 February 2014

Sonatine

To what has become one of my favourite haunts, the BBC Maida Vale studios, for a recital by Pascal and Ami Rogé of piano music by one of my favourite composers, Maurice Ravel. One piano duet (Ma Mère l'Oye), one solo piece played by Pascal alone (Sonatine), then two pieces for two pianos - and I was surprised that they should be orchestral blockbusters La Valse and Boléro (the latter with Paul Clarvis on side-drum, a gig that demands infinite patience as well as faultless rhythm). Under an hour of music, but what music, and what playing. The applause as Boléro crashed to an end was tremendous, the performers grinning from ear to ear as if delighted at what they had just pulled off (and so they should have been).

The BBC will broadcast it on Radio 3 on Ravel Day, the composer's birthday (139, which seems like a strange anniversary to commemorate), 7 March. I recommend being near a radio at the right moment.


11 February 2014

Contact in Red Square

 No running to report on, unless you count a kilometre on the dreadmill on the minus-first floor of the Aquamrine Hotel. I arrived before dawn on Saturday morning, rather pleased with myself having spotted when the driver took a wrong turning - can I possibly know the place better than him? - and refreshed myself as best I could with a few minutes' running, a sauna, a shower, and a substantial breakfast, before repairing to the Academy for a full day of teaching. I don't know what the students made of it, but I found a red-eye flight across four time zones, even if the time difference made it slightly easier, poor preparation for work. Someone at Transparent Language, provides by e-mail of my Russian word of the day, was watching:  выдохнуться, it said, to my students' amusement (or was that the way I read it?):  to be exhausted. As in  Я весь день работала. Я выдохлась, I've worked all day long; I'm exhausted.

The teaching is almost now just and excuse for getting to Moscow: the purpose of the visit is to meet old friends and make new ones - with the current crop of students falling into the second category, moving in due course into the first, I hope. Dinners on Saturday and Sunday evenings were with former students, and Monday was devoted to visiting new friends. I'm getting to know all Moscow's vegetarian restaurants, and very nice they are too - although the bills have come out a bit higher than I expected, largely because of the very high price of alcohol.

I decided that, with a couple of hours before my first meeting, a walking tour of central Moscow was a good idea. It was cold but not typically cold: about freezing, I guess. The pavements and roads are remarkably ice-free, partly because they are treated with chemicals that friends warned me would quickly rot my shoes. Unfortunately it was cloudy and dull, and my only camera was the one in my BlackBerry, so the tour is not well-recorded.

I left the hotel and strolled along the embankment, crossed the canal and then the Moscow river, taking in the fantastic view to the west as I went: the Kremlin, and the myriad onion-shaped domes of the many churches and cathedrals, is always a fantastic sight. Reaching the Kremlin wall, I turned off towards Red Square. A couple of policemen manning a row of crowd-control barriers across the entrance to the square shouted at me, making clear that I was not to proceed along the path close to the Kremlin wall: but they were happy to let me through their barrier, while one of them went to place a barrier across the path that I had been on. My anxiety about dealing with Russian policemen was unnecessary - I think it was just that the path was closed, perhaps because it was icy.

I walked on past St Basil's outside which stood a number of ice sculptures, which seemed worth a photo even on inadequate equipment. Ice is, however, hard to see - but it gives you some idea.
 Ice sculptures outside St Basil's
 I checked the opening times at Lenin's mausoleum, but it never opens on Mondays, apparently (the notice gave me a chance to revise my knowledge of the days of the week in Russian). Fridays are also non-opening days. Even on the days it is open, it's only between 10 and 1. Indeed, 10 seems to be the standard opening time, as the former state department store GYM (as it would be in Cyrillic - which we should not transliterate as 'GUM' because that doesn't do the vowel justice: 'GOOM' would be better) also opens at 10. I popped in to see the building, which is as spectacular in its own way as the redbrick opposite, and the churches, cathedral and museums that also surround Red Square. The shops I could do without: it reminded me a little of Bicester Village in scope, though the prices were probably inflated, not cut. Interesting to see cars on display in the aisles (big Audis in the part I passed through) and that Levis should be one of the brands represented in this cathedral of luxury-brand consumerism. On reflection, though, jeans were highly-prized in eastern Europe in my youth: it's merely that they are highly-prized in the west too now. Not suitable attire for mucking out a stable or changing the oil in the car.

I made my way up Tverskaya, conscious that time was passing and I had a meeting at 11, and wanting to take a circuitous route round the Bul'varnoye kol'tso so I would finally, after failing to notice him when I ran the route on my first visit in 2011, see this:


The Vysotskiy memorial

Then it was a short distance to the appropriate radial road that would get me to the next ring road, the Garden Ring, and the start of Prospekt Mira which was the address I was looking for. I didn't imagine it could be difficult to find and enter a law firm's office even in Russia, but it turned out to be in a business centre and nothing was (to my eyes) very clearly signposted. Add to this the fact that in Moscow all you get is a building number, so 'Prospekt Mira, dom 6' is a rather imprecise address, covering a large number of premises. I guessed that what looked like a business centre was a good place to start, and I had a brief and highly unsatisfactory conversation with the guy on the front desk, but at least he worked out where I wanted to go (here's a tip: take the business card of the person you're visiting, if possible, or at least a written note of their name and firm - why on earth did that not occur to me before this experience?) and I worked out that his instructions, after he'd spoken to the firm's reception by phone, were that I should go through the doors to which he pointed, turn right and take the lift to the third floor. It helps that 'lift' is one of those words that Russian has borrowed from English, and similarly it has taken étage from French. Numbers below a hundred I can cope with slowly, numbers under ten fairly quickly. Nalevo, priyamo and napravo just happen to be among the words that have stuck in my mind.

Then I met another friend for lunch, and we had a delicious and not extremely expensive (so, expensive enough!) meal at Café Avokado - the Chistye Prudni branch. A hearty soup (though I am not sure it was the one I ordered), chickpea rissoles, and blackberry tiramisu. Highly recommended if you are looking for a vegetarian restaurant in Moscow - I am getting to know them all. the previous evening it was Fresh which was also excellent, inventive and surprisingly expensive (especially if you drink the beer, but after a day lecturing I find it very refreshing).

And so back to the airport, using the airport express from Paveletskaya Voksal (500 roubles, or about £20, so on a par with the Heathrow Express) and home.