My dog Sonny broke my finger earlier this year. He’s a Chart Polski, which translates as ‘Polish sighthound’, and he’s one of about 700 in the world. I was trying to stop him from going after a deer. Even with a muzzle, he could’ve felled it. Chart Polskis hurl themselves in front of the deer’s legs to trip it with their impossibly strong necks. On this occasion, Sonny, who I named after the boxer Sonny Liston, pulled me down a mountain. Because of my broken finger, I came up with a new temporary playing technique. I figured that if the jazz great Django Reinhardt could play guitar with two fingers, then I could have a go on the violin with three. I played a couple of gigs in Germany and no one noticed the difference. Either that’s an indictment of my playing or their knowledge as an audience. A lot of musicians have their fingers insured, but I’ve never bothered. Why pay some monkey behind a desk to do nothing?
I live in a little village in the Pieniny mountains, in the south-east of Poland. Christmas celebrations here begin on 24 December with Wigilia, a meat-free, booze-free supper served when the first star appears in the sky, followed by Shepherd’s Mass in the village church at the end of the evening. Most years I play with a local highlander band at the mass. These guys have all got so-called real jobs, but in their spare time they play the most glorious traditional music. Sometimes kids of 12 or 13 come up to play with them, so the music is handed on to the next generation. I’m not Catholic, but I like being part of the community here because it’s so small. My Polish isn’t great, so during the sermons, when I don’t have a clue what’s being said, I look around, admiring the beauty of the church, while other band members break their abstinence by sneaking out the back for homemade vodka between songs.
There are only about 80 households in our village and now there are also 40 or so Ukrainian refugees, mostly women and children who don’t know if they are going to see their husbands or fathers again.