Friday, 21 December 2012

A Smile for Christmas

You probably know that the Post Office produce ‘Smilers’. These allow you to incorporate your own photograph or painting with a variety of actual postage stamps. I ordered two designs. Here’s one of them – with my painting ‘Spitfire over Henley’.

I’ve also ordered another set illustrating my latest river painting entitled ‘When the Queen came to Henley’. This time with a union flag stamp motive. They should arrive before Christmas. This set , depicting my ‘Snow in Henley’ painting has just arrived.

Last week heralded the start of party time – at least the end of the week was. My friends Stan and Fee Stride always start Christmas off for me with their Friday evening party at Broadplat House, and I always arrive exactly on time, (it’s a tradition that I’m first there) although I mistimed it by 10 minutes this year so sat in their car park for a while before going in. Such a warm and lovely atmosphere. Then, the following lunchtime (after calling in with my young friend to take a cherry cake to Debbie) I went to Herchel Jordan’s party at Wooburn Common. Great to see so many old friends there – and as always, a sumptuous array of food. Here are a couple of photographs – the first with Herchel, Jimmy Tarbuck and Gerald Ratner. The other with Jimmy and his wife Pauline.

The day didn’t end there as it was my young friend’s office party in the evening in Henley. Very nice evening – even though I was mixing with a large collection of PHD intellectuals. After dinner we had a quiz, and our table, much to our surprise, was the winner. (We shared the bumper box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates with the other tables afterwards).

At the end of the week my client – The High Sheriff of West Midlands - came down, with his wife, to collect his large portrait. It’s always a bit daunting delivering a portrait – especially after spending so many hundred hours on it. However they were delighted, and I breathed a sigh of relief!

Yesterday I went to the picture framer in Reading where I collected my latest portrait. It’s quite a small watercolour (about 10 inches high) but I think I’ve captured Fred’s twinkle in his eyes.  I often put a little secret in the background of my paintings, and this one is no exception as it contains two personal references for him. Here’s the painting. I've just delivered it. Fred is very happy with the picture and was intrigued to see that his eyes follow you  around the room as you walk past it.

On Wednesday I took the Phyllis Court coach to London where I met my old friend Trevor Wayman from our Hong Kong days. We had lunch in Waterstone’s in Piccadilly. Trevor is a fantastic artist and a true romantic. Every year for Valentine’s day he makes a beautiful little present for his wife, Laura. I’ve seen the collection going back over twenty years. His latest is a wooden carved heart resembling an old typeface block.. Somewhere he’s incorporated the words ‘You are my type’. (But I’m sure there are also more terms of endearment hidden somewhere).  After lunch I bought the remaining half-dozen Christmas presents I needed at the Science Museum – always a great place for unusual and classy presents. Next door – outside The Natural History Museum I took a picture of the skaters and a nearby carousel.

Then a quick visit to Harrods. Here’s one of their Christmas window displays, plus one with my reflection showing at the back of this window. 

Glad I went to London by coach as I read in the paper today that the daily 7.44 train from Henley-on-Thames to London was named the most overcrowded train in the entire country. This First Great Western service carries nearly twice its passenger capacity and tops the league table of shame published by the Transport Minister. It has a ‘load factor’ of 180 percent, which means it is at 80 percent over capacity.

Did a bit more Christmas shopping on Sunday morning and bought a new iPad. On this version it has an interesting extra called ‘Siri’. Just press the home button and ask it any question you like. It’s amazing how my voice immediately translates into text on the screen and then the answer appears next to it together with a fairly deep male voice on the speaker. Just for fun I asked it “Do you love me?” And the answer? “Well, you’re definitely starting to grow on me”. I daren’t take our relationship any further!

It just remains to wish everyone a very ....

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christmas Greetings

As it’s getting a bit near Christmas I thought I’d send all of my blog readers - who aren’t on my Christmas card list – this year’s card

I based my painting on a 12th Century illuminated manuscript commissioned by the Duc du Berry, and added the signs of the zodiac around the edge, and downloaded the starry black sky from the internet, then married the two together to form the inside double-fold of the card. Happy Christmas all.

So what have I been doing this week, apart from buying, ordering and wrapping Christmas presents? Most of the time – about 8 or 9 hours a day – has been spent painting a small portrait of a lovely man I met at our quarterly game of ‘Colours’ in the snooker room at Phyllis Court Club. Fred has a white beard and eyebrows that almost talk, so it’s going to be an intriguing little portrait. Being the intellectual type he’s asked me to paint a bookcase full of books in the background. I’m really enjoying myself, and with a bit of luck will finish it and have it framed by Christmas.

Here’s my tree, by the way. My young friend and I decorated it yesterday evening.

‘The Hobbit’ movie opens in our local cinema this week, and as I’ve never really understood Tolkien stories (it’s the names I find hard to remember. For example characters called Bilbo Baggins, Smauf, Gollum, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield, Radagast, etc!) I’m having coaching by my young friend as we‘ve been watching DVD’s lately of previous films in the series. She’s an expert on the subject, so hopefully, when we see ‘The Hobbit’ I’ll know something about it.

The temperature this morning was minus 6 degrees. Brrrrr! This was the view from my studio window.

And the spiders have been busy around the railings

My good friend Annie Coury treated me to a lovely lunch the other day. Annie’s daughter, Sarah, makes exquisite jewellery and as I ‘d forgotten to pick up one of the pieces I’d bought the other day, Annie brought it with her. We went to The Villa Marina which I think serves the best food in Henley. And they are the only restaurant in the area that brings round a sweet trolley.

We’ve had a really ‘pongy’ problem this last week or so. Our sewerage plant stopped working about 10 days ago and last week an ominous pool of water crept out from under a paving stone in out courtyard, Soon it became a lake. Eventually Keith came to our rescue on Monday and brought a new timer and a telescopic arrangement of long rods which he managed to free what was a major underground obstruction. Phew! If the water which was immediately outside the front door had still been there this very icy morning it would have frozen solid.

I took Val, my sister-in-law, to visit Katie Boyle in London on Sunday morning. Katie’s sister Margherita and her fiancĂ©e – a charming Italian man called Gianni – were there.

But poor Katie is not in the best of health. Once the face of Camay on television, and for many years, the multi-lingual hostess of the Eurovision Song Contest, I’ve known Katie since she came out to Singapore in the mid-seventies to write her autobiography. A truly lovely lady.This is the cover of her book.

A while ago my most tenacious blog follower – RG9 – wondered if my mantelpiece was filling up with art prizes. Just for him, and as I don’t have a mantelpiece, I photographed most of my awards at the weekend. Here they are, RG9.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Stuntman Santa

The floods are receding now, after a week of rapid rising. This is the view from my balcony, looking towards Mill Meadows. I normally gauge the height of the river by how much the water covers the wooden seats dotted along the towpath.

My boat’s been at its maximum height with the stern rope so taught that even had we been able to reach it (my landing stage is nearly two feet under water) and cut it free, there would have been an almighty surge when it sprang free.

It’s been another sad week. The memorial service for my good friend Peter Sutherland was held at St Mary’s Church in Henley last Wednesday, then afterwards at Leander Club. Peter lived a long life, fought the Japanese Army in Malaya during World War two, was Captain of Leander Rowing Club, and recently awarded the MBE for Services to Rowing. Rowing was Peter’s life and whenever he met someone new, instead of the usual ‘How do you do?’ he would say ‘Do you row? I painted several portraits of him, including a life-size oil painting and two miniatures – one of which I’ll reproduce here.

The other truly sad occasion was the memorial service on Friday for Mary Ostroumoff. Mary was still young and loved by all. At her memorial in St Mary’s church it was so full that extra chairs needed to be brought in. Mary had been on a cultural visit to Italy with a small group of like-minded HEDFAS members. An elderly lady felt that her hotel room was a bit difficult for her because of the steep steps down into the bathroom, so Mary volunteered to swap rooms. A few days later Mary was found at the bottom of the steps where she’d obviously fallen from, fatally injuring herself. How tragic. Everyone in the church was in tears at the end of the service when a soloist sang that beautiful song ‘It’s time to say goodbye’. 

For the second year running Henley has staged a ‘Living Advent Calendar’. Each evening at 6.15 a door opens somewhere in the town, and a surprise performance takes place. It can range from dancers, singers, poetry-readers and acrobats, etc. The first event occurred last Saturday. My young friend and I braved the very cold and frosty evening by congregating by the town hall where this large tree dominates the market place.

The organiser, Julie Perigo, gave a short speech, telling the audience how the idea originated in Scandinavia. Then at precisely 6.15 Paul Daniels announced the opening of the door. And from the roof of the town hall Santa appeared. 

(Under his costume was the same stuntman, Gary Connery, who parachuted from a helicopter above the Olympic Stadium in London this year dressed as the Queen.) As we watched he abseiled down the building. Paul made a little video. If you’d like to see it, click on this link:  Soon after Santa landed Henley’s British Legion Band marched out into the square.

I wonder what events will take place now, as there will be a door opening somewhere in Henley every evening at 6.15 until Christmas Eve.

My old friends, Pat and Averil visited on Wednesday and took me out to lunch at the Orangery in Phyllis Court. Pat recently returned from Uganda where she spends time in the villages as a member of the ‘Mityana Charity’. This organisation helps build schools as well as actually sponsoring individual children. Unlike many charities, where corrupt or greedy officials and bureaucrats of some sort siphon off so much of the money or donations, in this case everything is direct and visibly seen to go where it’s meant to. Pat enjoyed meeting old friends and took a lot of gifts, one of which was a box of balloons. The children she gave them to had never seen a balloon before, so you can imagine their delight when they played with them.

I’ve mentioned it before, but for two of my great nieces and one great nephew I aim to paint a miniature of them each year. Last week I finished the twenty-first of Becky, the eldest one. Becky recently graduated from the University of Exeter, so I painted her in her graduation robes.

Yesterday afternoon I went to BBC Radio Berkshire where I’d been asked to give an interview mainly about my adventures in painting and specifically about my recent foray into the art of portrait sculpture. The interview lasted about an hour, and for the first time I didn’t lose my way there.

To end on an amusing note - well I found it amusing, anyway: It seems the singer, Susan Boyle, advertised her new album party with this tag:  susanalbumparty
Not sure I want to go to an anal bum party!

Friday, 23 November 2012

A trip Down Memory Lane

It’s a bit of a red-letter day today. First, I won a small Premium Bond prize, then a smaller lottery prize, and with the morning post, and best of all, a nice big repayment from H.M. Inland Revenue. All very welcome just before Christmas.

On Sunday afternoon my young friend and I planned a little trip to Heathpool, on the nine-mile-ride at nearby Finchampstead. Could we find the lake? We were only there in the spring, but it took two or three trips up and down the road, plus a phone-call to Averil – a friend who lives nearby. As we weren’t quite sure where we were on the nine-mile-ride road we went completely in the wrong direction a couple of times. Nevertheless we managed to find the place before it got dark.

On the far side of the lake we came across this little family of swans, still not quite white all over.

As Wokingham, my home town, was on the way home we decided to see what the house I was born and brought up in looked like after all these years. here it is – number eleven Wescott Road.

All the nice wrought iron railings surrounding the front garden were taken down during the war – purportedly to melted down and used to make war weapons. They were never replaced. At the bottom of our garden we had a chicken run and it was there where I climbed the apple tree, crawled across the roof of the bicycle shed and jumped down to the playground of my school – easily the quickest way to get there. And here is Wescott Road Primary School – hardly changed since my days there during the war.

Having finished the bronze sculpture of Rolf Harris’s head I decided to make another cast – this time out of plaster of Paris.

As it looked a bit pale and washed out I bought a can of Hammerite copper textured paint and covered it with that. Still not completely happy with the result, as it looked a bit too shiny, I then made a third plaster cast. (All this happened over a period of three weeks). I left the shiny head with Shirley, my teacher, but was so pleased when I went back the following week she’s rubbed in grating black and boot polish, which vastly improved it. The consequence is I know have three versions of Rolf gazing at me from my dining room table!

Currently I’m working on a head of my great nephew, Max, I was hoping to have it finished by Christmas , but somehow don’t think it will be. Here he is, partly covered by plastic as I wrapped him up to keep the clay moist.

Last Saturday we were invited to a lovely dinner party at Shirley and Mike’s house in Warborough. Three of us sculpture students were there, and a whole array of heads were lined up on a low shelf. It seemed a shame to take Rolf away from the collection. That evening the Traditional Boat Owners Association (I think that’s the name) were holding their annual dinner at the Leander Club in Henley. My painting ‘When the Queen came to Henley’ was on display there, and it seems quite a few of the members (some of whom I’d depicted in the painting) are interested in buying Limited Editions when I get them printed later in the year. This is a section of the painting, and among the15 or so boats depicted, Alan and Carol Pontin can be seen lounging in their very comfortable looking punt.

I’ve finally finished the large portrait of the High Sheriff and took it to be framed this morning. Now it’s back to miniature painting. First of all I’ll paint the twenty-first – and final - annual miniature of my eldest great niece, Becky – in all the splendour of her graduation robes.

One thing that really makes me angry is the current burgeoning culture of compensation for the most trivial accidents, I’m not talking about our servicemen and women who thoroughly deserve all and much more of their monetary awards they receive after they’ve been injured in combat. For example I read today that a teaching assistant has been handed a staggering £800,000 in compensation after she tripped and dislocated a finger at work. A finger! Apparently she tripped over the waist strap of an empty wheelchair. Lancashire County Council agreed to this sum rather than go to court. What a sad reflection on society, and especially the current trend for teachers to claim these vast amounts of money (egged on by their trade unions, no doubt). Did you know that last year teachers claimed a record £25million? Including payouts of £200,000 for slipping on a grape, and £173,595 for dislocating an ankle during playground duty. Contrast these amounts to the comparatively small sums awarded to soldiers who’ve lost legs, arms and sight while doing their duty in war zones. It makes me weep.

I’m finding lately that it takes a lot of time to get my blog page working, For some reason it keeps telling me that there is an error and it can’t save or preview. Consequently my blog finally gets published many days later than I plan it to.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Ho Hum

When I get involved in a really interesting painting I tend to spend so many hours on it each day that I become oblivious to most of what’s going on around me. Take the current painting I’m working on. It’s as large as I can make it and is only restricted by the size of the watercolour board available. It’s a joy to make the details as realistic as I can make them. For example here’s a small section of ‘work in progress’ showing one of the hands and especially the lace cuffs, silver buttons and part of the silk hat which the sitter is holding in his hands.

But Christmas is rapidly approaching. I like to be well prepared so I’m not rushing around the crowded shops of Reading on Christmas Eve. So yesterday I wrapped up over 40 presents! That’s made a nice dent in my list. Also tags. I usually print off multiple images of one of my Christmas cards and use those. Another job done. All the Christmas cards are ready to be sent out – just waiting for the stamps for overseas to be issued. Sarah, a talented friend of mine, makes jewellery and each year, around this time, she holds a lovely sale of her work at Phyllis Court. So I popped along last Tuesday morning and bought a number of beautiful pieces – mostly bracelets. I stay away from earrings, as I never can remember which of my friends has pierced ears.
As I’m typing this I’m watching the Remembrance Day Parade on television. Such a marvellous sight. As they now allow ex-National Servicemen to march I intend to apply next year. Last night, from the comfort of my armchair, I watched the fantastic television broadcast of the Remembrance Service from the Albert Hall. To see whole swathes of colour as the various sections of our armed services marched, played their musical instruments and formed patterns in the arena, was truly memorable. The climax, to me, was at the very end of the evening when thousands of poppy petals floated down from high above in complete silence. Marvellous. Foe several minutes everyone stood stock still, most, I’m sure with their own thoughts about lost comrades, relatives, or other memories of conflict. As the poppies landed slowly and silently on the flat hats of the sailors covering them with red petals I just revelled in the occasion.

And towards the close of the service when the words from the Kohima Epitaph “When you go home tell them of us and say ‘For your tomorrow we gave our today’” two small six-year old children came to the centre of the arena to present their poppies. I was very impressed with the little girl’s faultlessly given words.
Not much has happened this week – I went to friend James Porter’ funeral on Wednesday – another sad occasion. Too many of these lately. ‘Marsh Mundy’ has been laid up for the winter – just in time before the river rises above the landing stages, and my young friend and I had a very nice time watching the fireworks and bonfire at Phyllis Court on Saturday evening. Better than Henley Regatta fireworks we thought.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Nearly Naked

I almost made a total fool of myself on Saturday morning. Together with my young friend we were in Bath. There we had decided to spend the morning in the Thermal bath Spa. After collecting our white robes, towels and white slippers we made our way to the changing rooms and undressed. After putting my clothes in one of the lockers while waiting for my young friend to emerge from her changing room, I noticed a tiny strap protruding from under a passing lady’s robe. Wondering what it was I realised it must be the strap of her bathing costume. At that moment it suddenly dawned on me that I’d completely forgotten to put my own bathing trunks on! So I very quickly retrieved them from the locker. Had I not seen that little strap I would have stepped from the lift, which opened straight out to the open-air rooftop pool.

There I would have blissfully taken off my robe and soon realised that I was standing there stark naked! I guess I’m not used to this sort of thing. It being a cold, yet sunny day, we found it wonderful to lounge around in the hot spa. The temperature is almost constant at around 92˚F and is heated naturally underground. The actual source of the water remains a mystery. These natural thermal springs were first discovered by Prince Bladud around 863BC and contain over 43 different minerals. During our two hours at the spa we enjoyed just wallowing in the pool – especially when the bubbles started – enveloping us with jets of water. Before we left the spa we spent 15 minutes or so in the underground Minerva pool.

Bath is a beautiful city. Neither of us had stayed there before so soon after we arrived we boarded the city tours bus.

One of the best things we did was to visit the Roman Baths. This is the best-preserved ancient baths and temple complex in Northern Europe. We spent a couple of hours looking around. This is the main bath – and a few statistics – The rate of flow is 13 litres per second or about 250,ooo gallons per day. The temperature is 46 degrees C or 115 Fahrenheit and there are 43 minerals in the water. The water is colourless but acquires its distinctive green hue from algae growth caused by its heat and by daylight.

This fragment is from the magnificent Temple of Sulis Minerva, Goddess of the Thermal Spring… the engraving of the tombstone of auxiliary cavalryman L. Vitellius Tancinus from Spain, who was probably buried in a military cemetery outside Bath

Here is an impressive arched overflow, which was part of the Roman engineering arrangements, which still keep the hot water flowing through the complex today.

So much to see – here are one or two more sights which caught my eye.

On Sunday we went to the Chequers restaurant for lunch with friends Jessica and Adam before having another little tour around the city.

On the way to Bath we stopped off at Stourhead in Wiltshire. ‘A Living Work of Art’ is how a magazine described Stourhead when it first opened in the 1740’s. Classical buildings and picturesque hideaways like this one – framed by the colours of autumn, surround this world-famous landscaped garden.

We walked all the way round the lake – a bit of a challenge – but so well worth it with lovely views whichever way you looked.

It was my birthday yesterday. I invited eight friends to dinner at The French Horn. It’s easily my favourite restaurant – but I reserve it for special occasions. (The last time I went there was for my young friend’s birthday in the summer).

And here are a couple of pictures taken during the evening.

This year has been a very good year for art awards, as I heard last night that I’ve won the Judges Second Choice Award at the forthcoming Miniature Art Society of Florida’s Annual Exhibition. Out of nearly 1,000 entries and with over 20 awards, I’m delighted. It was for my miniature of Kevin Giddings – the Royal Flueologist against a background of Hampton Court Palace.