Thursday, 28 December 2017

Nearly New Year

One of my new year resolutions is to write my blog more frequently in the future. Since I had the operation to replace my hip with a new one I’ve really not done very much. At least I’ve graduated from 2 crutches, through one crutch, and now to one stick. In some respects I’m impatient so was expecting to be walking by now with no support at all but so far the leg is not strong enough and there’s too much pain anyway. I walk on average almost 4,000 steps every day - more if I go for a short walk by the river, measuring the distance covered by aiming for a further rubbish bin each time.
Now I’m in Suffolk staying with myf’s parents. Christmas day was spent with my niece Louisa and her family in Marlow- Here she is with her daughter Kate and mother Val.

We had a really sumptuous meal and played a ‘penguin’ racing game with little mechanical penguins from an RSPB cracker. The heavens opened later in the evening and I drove Val home to Henley through massive floods.
We’ve been avid fans of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing show these past few weeks - especially as Debbie has been dancing so spectacularly well - and reached the final- I had planned to give her this portrait I painted of her if she won.

She and her partner, Giovanni, were amazing with their three dances in the final but sadly didn’t win the glitter ball. But I’ve given her the portrait anyway. She told me the other day that she loves it. Which is nice to hear. She’s been working so very hard. And is now playing in pantomime in York.

Now is the time to enter some of the major UK art competitions to be held early next year. These days you have to submit paintings via the internet in the first instance. This is the large oil painting I’ve submitted to the National Portrait Gallery for the BP Portrait Award. It’s called ‘Thursday’s Child’. (The other day I added a shadow behind the figure).

When I submit paintings to exhibitions I’m always very careful to read the rules thoroughly because they are not the same for each one. Many of them stipulate that the work has to have been done within the past two to three years and not to have been shown elsewhere. Fair enough. But when submitting work - and after reading the rules - you need to send the entrance fee before actually adding your paintings to the exhibitions. So imagine my annoyance when I sent off £45 to the Watercolour Society (which did not stipulate when the work had been painted) to discover that additional rules had been added (after the money had gone) which stated that the work had to have been done within the previous 2 years. And as the three works I intended to submit had all been completed prior to the cut off date they were not eligible. So there will now be a battle to get my money back I expect.
We visited Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire this afternoon. Formerly a priory it is now a country house owned by the National Trust. A very wintry day with quite a bit of ice about. As I’m still struggling with a walking stick I hired a mobility vehicle to get around on. First a visit to the house. It’s always kept in really good condition with a large team of conservarors working throughout the winter. Here are a few views in the rooms.

The last picture - part of a much larger landscape - is made from hundreds of thousands of tiny little mosaic pieces - each one about half the size of a pin head. After a tour of the house we spent about an hour in the winter gardens.

Nearly the end of 2017 so having had a new knee and a new hip this year I intend next year to be full of activity - lots of walking, boating and finally going up in that hot air balloon. (The trip was cancelled twice this year due to bad weather). I’m saving hard for my flight in a Wartime Spitfire so maybe, if I win a few lottery prizes to add to the Spitfire money-box, I’ll be flying over Henley before the end of 2018.

Sunday, 3 December 2017


It’s been nearly five weeks since my hip replacement operation and as nothing of note has happened I haven’t written a blog. Hobbling around on crutches presents all sorts of difficulties but we have managed to accumulate a number of devices to help out. The ‘sock-putter-on’ is really good - except that my socks have stretched a bit as the thing is much too wide for my feet. But the most efficient, and versatile device is the ‘picker-upper- and long-shoe-horn’ implement. It reaches to the ground without me bending too far. Because of a fear of dislocating my new hip I must never bend my leg more than 90 degrees for the next couple of months. The picker-upper is great because it enables me to grab things off the floor I may have dropped and to pull clothes on in the morning when I get dressed. My young friend has been marvellous - I don’t know what I’d do without her. Here I am after a short walk by the river yesterday.

For the past few weeks we’ve been entranced by Strictly Come Dancing on BBC television on Saturday nights. Debbie McGee, being a good friend of ours has performed spectacularly with her partner Giovanni, regularly topping the leader board. Last night, as it was the Musicals night, they danced to the song ‘Memories’ from ‘Cats’. The dance was the American Smooth and they scored 39 points out of 40. Last week they were fantastic dancing the Argentine Tango. To think that Debbie is 59 years old - about 30 years older than each of the remaing celebrities in the competition. She is amazing!

Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to painting next week. It’s been impossible since the operation as to bend over my desk stretches my leg to more than 90 degrees.. But hopefully when we see Victoria, the physio, tomorrow she may offer a solution. For the past couple of weeks I’ve spent quite a bit of time writing an illustrated article on how to paint a miniature portrait for the art magazine ‘Leisure Painter’.

Well, all except four of my Christmas presents are wrapped and ready. And the 80 or so overseas cards have been posted. Every year I say I‘m going to cut down on cards and presents but never seem to. For those who read my blog and don’t get cards from me here’s a view of the inside of this year’s card which comes with my best wishes for Christmas.

My old boyhood friend Peter Challis wrote from Spain where he now lives the other day and said that he really enjoys keeping up with things here in England via my blog, so all the best to you and the family Pete, and thanks for the photos. When I was about 17 I spent over a year making a twin seater kayak and Pete and I acquired some pram wheels and trailed it a few miles to a lake called Queensmere where we launched it. The following year we cycled to Paris with another friend. Quite an unusual thing to do in those days. We cycled to Lydd in Kent to catch a Silver City aeroplane to Le Touqet in France. But as the journey to Lydd was over 100 miles we decided to pitch our modest ex-army tent on an inviting grass verge we noticed just before it got dark. Not knowing exactly where we had slept the night we were surprised in the morning to be woken by a discreet knocking on our tent pole. We bleary-eyed opened the flap to see a black clad and pin-striped trousered man greeting us with ‘good morning boys’. Apparently we had camped on the front lawn of a country house and he was the butler! But he was very kind and let us use the well from the garden to wash in. Our flights cost £5 each return plus half-a-crown for our bikes. (25 pence in today’s money). Our entire two week holiday cost us about twenty pounds each. We camped where we stopped each night and finally reached Paris where a kindly Frenchman directed us to a campsite right next to the Seine.
Happy days.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Five Million to One!

Yes, those are the odds for getting a pair of tickets to be in the audience of Strictly Come Dancing when it is broadcast on Saturdays at Elstree Studios. When we applied for tickets a few weeks ago my scientific young friend said the odds are so long I'd never get any. We've been rooting for our good friend Debbie every week (we put bets on her at 25 to 1 at the start of the series), so imagine our delight when I got lucky and won tickets for last Saturday’s performance. ( No, Debbie couldn’t help as she only gets two guest tickets for each performance). Anyway getting up early we arrived at the venue at 8.15 in the morning to be confronted by this queue.

We were numbers 350 and 351 in the queue. It had poured heavily during the night and, as we were informed later, the first person to arrive started queuing at 11 pm the night before! As you can see we were all outside, so they, and scores of others, must have got soaked. After a couple of hours when we finally reached the front of the queue, our tickets were validated and we were free to book into the nearby hotel. Nice to be in the warm and dry. We were due to assemble in a large marquee at 3.45pm when we joined another five hundred or so lucky ticket holders. And as I’m still walking with a stick, we were able to join another dozen or so ‘walking wounded’ in a special seated area right next to the glass doors leading to the ballroom. Another hour waiting to get in but finally we were ushered into our special front row seats up a few steps behind the cameras. Great view - and at last we were there.

The atmosphere was electric and although the stage looked a little smaller than it does on television, the lights, the sets, the glitter - everything was quite magical. Eamon Holmes (who’s wife Ruth was one of the celebrity dancers) came in carrying a large cushion to augment the rather small padded chairs, because of his recent hip operation, I felt quite envious as we were due to sit on our chairs for a full 6 hours! The live show lasted for two hours. It was great to watch Debbie and Giovanni dance the rumba.

Which put them back on top of the leader board again. After the live broadcast was over we saw Debbie looking around the ballroom and when she saw us she came running around and up to have a hug and chat.

Soon the recording of the Sunday results show took place, together with a remarkable performance by the professional dancers called ‘Speed Dating’. Our Strictly day ended at about eleven o’clock when we walked back to the hotel with numb bottoms after our marathon sit-down on fairly small chairs.

Next morning we drove down to Suffolk to spend a nice day with myf’s family.

I’ve been bowling with the Henley Bowling Club for the past couple of years and have finally won my first trophy for winning the Points competition. On Friday we went to the annual dinner and prize-giving ceremony at Henley Golf Club where I was presented with this shield.

Yesterday we had a trip up the river. This will be the last of the year as I go into hospital on Tuesday morning to have a hip replacement operation so will certainly not be able to clamber in and out of boats for a few months. And tomorrow, it being my birthday, we are going to an arboretum in the Cotswolds where I’ve booked a ‘Tramper’ to drive around in style. Then back for a birthday dinner with my young friend at my favourite Henley restaurant.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Episode Three

Still in the Lake District, here is the stunning photograph myf took of that lovely Ashness Bridge.

I'm so pleased that we are both members of the National Trust as there are so many beautiful places to visit in the British Isles. We've been to many of them. (I even have a National Trust passport which I get stamped with a little pictorial image every time we visit one of their properties). So on the way home we broke our journey by calling in to Dunham Massey in Cheshire

The story of Dunham Massey begins in about 1560 with Sir George Booth - a staunch Presbyterian. Unlike all the other NT properties we've visited, this one tells the story of the scandals, finances and colourful history of Dunham Massey with a series of well-designed and beautifully written parchment descriptions of the scandals, at the entrance to every room. For example, the 7th Earl, George Harry Grey (1827-83) was an orphan when he inherited. He loved gambling, racing, shooting and grand building schemes. But his second marriage was to a circus performer and bare back rider called Catherine Cocks. The stalwarts of Cheshire society most certainly did not approve. The newly weds were treated so badly that they decided to leave. They packed up, took all the silver and the best of the pictures and moved to Enville. They never came back. Each room in the mansion gave a great description to the history and some were decorated in a most surprising way.

After a tour of the house we explored the garden. And once again I was given a buggy.

Great fun, and a perfect way to see the garden while my young friend could walk around at her own pace without me limping along.

I must admit I did have a few minor mishaps. The first was when I approached a second iron gate and bashed into it instead of braking (no damage to either gate or buggy). Next, as I was reversing, myf shouted out "STOP" just before I backed into two unsuspecting ladies. Then I drove the buggy into the restaurant before I was reminded that you can't take buggies into retaurants! We managed the rest of our tour without further mishap. This is the working mill

Back home now and a visit to the Mall Galleries in London for the opening of this year's Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition. Here is Tom Mulliner accepting the prize for the most outstanding portrait miniature in the exhibition which I sponsor (The Mundy Sovereign Award) from Dame Patricia Routledge

This amused me - seen at a traffic light from behind a van specialising in Loo Hire.

Note the numberplate - loo4poo.

And finally, here is my latest oil painting. Thirty-five inches high I call it "Thursday's Child".


Many years ago, while on a leave from Singapore, Bob, Val and the family joined me when we spent a week or so at Watendlath in the Lake District. So last weekend my young friend and I retraced my steps and found our way there along a very narrow and winding road. Some things have changed - mostly me. Here I was in 1975.

And now. Over forty years later.

The farmouse where we stayed is just as I remembered it, but no longer open for guests. However the little bridge is still there, as is the wonderful ambiance by a tranquil tarn.

We stayed for a rustic tea in one of the old buildings there and then wandered around the stream and climbed a bit over the rocks. (Well, I didn't do too much climbing).

We did a lot more climbing all those years ago - before osteo arthritis took over.

On the way back from Watendlath we stopped at Surprise View. Great ice sheets carved out this impressive landscape with its uninterrupted view across Derwent Water.

Brother Bob stood at this very place too when we were all on holiday together.

One of the most photographed sights in the Lake District is Ashness bridge - an old packhorse bridge. I couldn't quite scramble over the rocks to take this picture so myf gets a credit for this stunning photograph. (Which I'm afraid this 'blogo' app won't let me post any more pictures) so, even though myf thought we had the problem sorted, I'll now need to find another way to write my blogs.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

A buggy in the Lake District

Last weekend my young friend and I took a trip to the Lake District. We'd pre-booked an afternoon on the Victorian steam yacht Gondola. Originally launched in 1859 for regular passenger service on Coniston Water it was converted to a houseboat in 1938. Soon afterwards it was wrecked by a storm and became derelict.

But in 1978 The National Trust bought it and commenced renovations. Completed several years later it now offers luxurious cruises on Lake Coniston. Here is our first sight of the Gondola as we reached the lake on Saturday afternoon.

While we waited to board we had lunch in a crowded lakeside cafe. (Where I had the best hot dog I've ever eaten - filled with sweet pulled pork). Assuming most people in the cafe were heading for the Gondola we went to the landing stage to be near the front of the queue. In fact only six people went on board. The interior was quite magnificent. We sat in the forward lounge. As you can see it takes you back to an era of Victorian elegance.

This shows the prow of the boat with its newly restored golden sea serpent.

The engine on the Gondola was so quiet and the voyage so smooth we hardly realised we were moving.
Upon disembarking we drove the short distance to Beatrix Potter's beloved seventeenth century farmhouse near Hawkshead, Ambleside.

The cottage remains almost exactly as Beatrix Potter left it with many of her possessions on display.

And here is an original letter she wrote to a friend in which she includes drawings of her creations - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.

In this view from the end of the garden you can see her small painting easel.

We booked into our hotel later in the afternoon. Situated just about on the shore of Lake Windermere was recommended by our friends Jackie and Tony Hobbs. Next morning we drove to Tarn Hows near Ambleside for a walk around the lake. With my arthritic hip myf didn't think I could walk all that way but as Tarn Hows is a National Trust property she enquired about a buggy for me. Great idea! So here I am on my speed machine having a great time as we circumnavigated the lake. Myf walking and me driving.

That's the way to travel. And here's a view on the way round.

It appears that I've reached the limit on the number of pictures I can store on this type of blog so I'll treat this as part one of my Lake District blog and look for another version.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Torn Jeans

My cousin Paul and Em joined us the other evening for dinner at The Highwayman in Exlade Street - a tiny village not far away. Here's the view as we left.

For the past few weeks I've been spending many hours every day painting an oil for submission to next year's BP Portrait of the Year competition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It's of my nephew Daren (as he was nearly 40 years ago). But as torn jeans seem to be the fashion right now maybe I'm right up-to-date. The painting is quite large - 35 inches high - and here is the progress so far.

I'll be starting on his hands tomorrow, and will get to the face the following week with maybe a few strands of green in his hair. (I remember he went through a few phases of colour in those days).

Now that my knee is on the mend I'm more active on the bowling green these days (until the end of October when I'm scheduled for an operation to have a hip replacement!) so it was great to play against a number of teams from London recently. The Henley Bowling Club is right next to the river so visiting teams always look forward to coming here.

While waiting for part of my punk rocker painting to dry before I could continue I managed to paint this minature of the Morris Dancer I mentioned we saw one evening in Henley recently.

As I will be sending off my five entries to Florida next week for their annual miniature show I think I'll include this one to show our cousins across the water what some of us get up to when we go dancing.

I mentioned on a previous blog that many years ago when I was an apprentice lithographic artist I painted a picture of Dunster Yarn Market in Somerset for the lid of a Huntley and Palmers biscuit tin. So when my young friend and I were in Dunster earlier this year I took a few photographs as reference for ne to paint an up to date oil painting of the scene. Just the other day myf bought me this actual tin, on Ebay.

And here is my new painting. I left out the cars and just showed a single person in the scene.

Last friday we took a trip down the river through Hambleden and Hurley locks to Temple. It was a lovely day and we took a picnic to have on the way back. The new boat has proved to be a great success. We've been out on it this summer twenty times so far. This is a view from the helm as we passed by the Rewind Festival held opposite Temple Island.

My lovely great niece Kate was eleven the other day and I popped over to Marlow to give her her birthday present - a large framed drawing I made of her and Louisa, her mother.

For the past couple of months I've been persevering with my new varifocal glasses but increasingly finding them difficult to use. The optician told me that a cataract that has been stationary in my good eye for many years has now moved and is probably causing the ghost image I'm experiencing. So I had to return them. (They very kindly gave me a refund). I just hope that when, or if, I have the cataracts removed it doesn't affect my sight to the degree that I won't be able to paint miniature portraits any more.

My young friend's garden is looking quite lush at the moment with her banana trees growing beautifully. (Her smaller. striped-leaf banana produced an offspring which I'm trying to rear - without much success so far - on one of my balconies). This was the view of her garden the other day.

A fellow artist friend, Jim Kelso, invited me over to his house the other day to see an exhibition of his latest paintings. He's a really good artist - mainly paints unusual landscapes, still life and portraits in exquisite detail. We went outside, past a wishing well, to his well appointed studio at the bottom of the garden. How lovely to be able to have a couple or more easels spread around with lots of space to lay out all your paints, canvases, brushes, and other art equipment.
When I win the lottery I'll buy a big house with a studio.

The other day, as we were driving through Greys village, we saw a cricket match in progress. The scene was so perfect, so English, that we parked the car nearby and sat on a rustic bench in the corner of the field to watch for a while.