Chris J. Feather - 
Selected Helpmates 

von Chris J. Feather & IGM Zivko Janevski

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An uninteresting life

 “…badate ben, non io!” (Don Giovanni)

       At Zivko’s request I am reluctantly writing a sort of autobiography, though in my case that must be an ironic term, because luckily my life has (so far) been largely uninteresting. 

       By accident I was born in Chester (on March 24th, 1947) but my father and mother came from Yorkshire and my two elder brothers were both born there. In the old graveyard of Haworth the scores of graves bearing the name of Feather show that my father’s family goes back many generations in that once wild and isolated Pennine community. Many of the family were weavers. In the middle of the 19th century the parsonage, now a museum, was the home of the Bronte family, including Charlotte & Anne, favourite authors of mine; among their father’s parishioners were several of my ancestors. Although I am therefore basically a Yorkshireman, I found Chester an interesting place in which to grow up. It was founded as Devae Castra, a strong defensive site in a curve of the river Dee, and thus a natural choice as the legionary headquarters of the Roman 20th legion Valeria Victrix in the first century CE. For many hundreds of years, until the Dee silted up, it was the most important port giving access to the Irish sea, as readers of the poet Milton will know. It has important Roman remains including an amphitheatre, an almost complete circuit of Roman/mediaeval walls, a cathedral with the finest carved choir stalls in England, and the unique street feature called The Rows, a kind of mediaeval shopping precinct. The trappings of later centuries have not yet quite ruined Chester.

       One of two enormous pieces of luck in my life was that I received an old fashioned English liberal education, at The King’s School Chester and subsequently at the universities of Cambridge (Modern Languages), London (Comparative Literature) and Cymru/Abertawe (Education). The second piece of luck arose from my taking up a post at the university of Nanterre (Paris) not long after the troubles of 1968. The chaos there was acceptable, even comical, but the non-payment of salary was not, so I had to make a hasty return to England and look for a job in a school. One place where I went for an interview was Stamford, where I happened to arrive a little early. The deputy head cast a desperate look around the staffroom for someone who might keep me occupied for a while, and told a young history teacher “Look after Mr Feather, please!”, a request which she must have taken to heart, as she is still doing it nearly 40 years later: my wife Anne. You will have inferred that I got the job; indeed as it turned out I later became deputy head myself. Stamford is a delightful little town of about 20,000 inhabitants; it has many old buildings of honey-coloured stone. The name is Saxon but the settlement itself, an important river crossing, goes back at least to Roman times, two millennia ago, so I seem simply to have moved from one Roman town to another. My country walks start along what was originally a Roman road and then pass close to the site of a Roman villa.

       Anne and I have one son, Harry (another history graduate), who works in local government and does not compose chess problems. He and his wife Ruth have a son, Jacob, who also takes no interest in chess problems, but who may be forgiven as he is not yet three years of age. Why did I take up chess composition? The answer is not entirely clear, but there is no doubt that it was preferable to losing over-the-board games. In the 1970s I edited the problem section of The British Chess Magazine, a time-consuming but enjoyable task. Having taken a break from chess problems in the 1980s, I took them up again at the end of the decade and in 1996 became a full-time chess problemist when because of illness I was obliged to take early retirement from my work as a schoolmaster. One of the things about that profession which I miss is the compiling of the school timetable, a task which I undertook for many years and which is of course quite closely related to chess composition. Another connection between chess problems and my former profession is the usefulness of my knowledge of languages in correspondence with problemists in other countries, and in reading chess problem magazines. 

       Most of my views on chess composition will become apparent from the rest of this book and so do not need to be explained here. The process of composing is always more enjoyable and more interesting than the result. If I ever really had the ambition to compose a perfect problem I think that I have probably now grown out of it. Although I find awards and titles vaguely absurd, I have no difficulty in accepting other people’s passion for them and I am willing to undertake occasional judging tasks, if only because one of the responsibilities of knowledge is not to keep it to oneself. 

       My preferred occupations, like my life, may well be of little interest to others. They say that talking about wine is the next best thing to drinking it, but there is a rather large gap there. Anyway I enjoy a glass of Chambolle, Beaune, Pouilly Fumé or Chablis, and the accompaniment of a little Brie, Fourme d’Ambert or even Époisses is no bad thing. Other occupations include crosswords, walking in the country and trying to learn enough history to keep up with Anne (a vain endeavour). However my main interests are literature and listening to music. Authors who not only have something to say but who express it finely are the ones I prefer, as the following selection among my favourite works may confirm: Goethe’s Iphigenie auf Tauris, Racine’s Bérénice, Calderón’s La Vida es Sueño, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It; the poetry of Catullus, George Herbert, Joachim du Bellay, Leopardi, Heine and Philip Larkin; novels such as Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi, Fromentin’s Dominique, Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley, Galdós’s Doña Perfecta, Turgeniev’s Smoke, Faulkner’s As I lay dying and Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music; the short stories of Maupassant (e.g. La Mère Sauvage – perfection in six pages), the intelligent prose of Rousseau, the wisdom of Montaigne and finally Carlo Levi’s unclassifiable masterpiece Cristo si è fermato a Eboli

       Like my much-missed friend Friedrich Chlubna, I spend a great amount of time listening to music, and it helps me to compose chess problems. No, I cannot explain how. Having already touched on music in my preface I had better keep my list of favourite composers as short as possible (Dufay, Josquin, Couperin, Bach, Mozart & Schumann), but virtually any music pleases me if it shows a sense of restraint. A good example is music for viol consort. I especially like solo music on quiet instruments (lute suites by Weiss, guitar works by Barrios, Spanish vihuela music or virginals pieces by Gibbons). My views on many things may be summed up in my opinion that shouting is not a substitute for thinking.

 May, 2010             Chris J. Feather