Friday, 4 August 2017

Shorter Days

Time is racing away. I've never known it go by so fast - Edwaed de Bono once wrote about why it accelerates as you get older and I tend to agree with him. He said (or in similar words) "Imagine you are a young four year old boy and ask your mother for a toffee. She might say ' you can have one in ten minutes'. Now, as an eighty year old man, you ask for a toffee. But you are now twenty times older than the boy, so you will have to wait three hours and ten minutes for your toffee! In other words your conception of time passing is speeding up every day. Which is why I haven't written a blog for nearly three weeks (when I thought that just over a week had gone by).
We made a five day vist to my young friend's home town to celebrate her birthday in the middle of July. We stayed with her parents who had arranged for a boat trip on the actual day from Ipswitch to Pin Mill on the river Orwell.

And what a nice trip it was. The weather was perfect. Here we have just gone under the Orwell bridge.

At about four o'clock we all went downstairs to a lower cabin where a home made cream tea was served.

(Is it that obvious I have a sweet tooth?)
Myf and her parents really enjoyed the day - as did I.

Back in Henley on Sunday afternoon I managed to spend a couple of hours at the Traditional Boat Festival. It was a swelteringly hot day so I was pleased to be invited by Tony and Jackie Hobbs to take a trip between the locks on Tony's boat 'Enchantress'.

I always enjoy this festival - so many beautiful boats, lovingly kept in immaculate condition by their owners. Here are some of them framing this view of the Queen's Royal Barge 'Gloriana' with oars raised in salute.

A couple of the more interesting characters wandering around the riverbank.

And then on to the Dunkirk Little Ships. All the more interesting after seeing the specracular film 'Dunkirk' the other day. John and Sally Calvert own 'L'Orage' where I spent some time sipping nice refreshing elderflower wine.

Incidentally, The Henley Standard - our local newspaper - wrote a very nice piece about my Dunkirk Little Ships watercolour painting which coincided with the festival.

For the past few months I've been working on a sculpture head of Debbie McGee. She and her sister Donna came to dinner, together with Val, on Sunday where I showed her the finished bronze head. It still needs more polishing to temove more of the blacking I covered it with. The first picture shows me starting to cover the head with grate blacking, and the second with Debbie.
(Incidentally my young friend made the really delicious roast dinner we all enjoyed so much).

On Sunday we visited Stonor Park. Set in rolling hillsides it has been the home of the Stonor family since 1150. Lord and Lady Camoys live there still. We toured the house after lunch in the quaint little teahouse. Pity photography isn't allowed inside the house as it contains many beautiful portraits, apart from well-appointed rooms. We've visited many country houses but those that are still lived in by the owners are always more comfotable looking. Later we strolled around the gardens. So well tended. I loved the topiary.

The other evening, as we were returning to our car from dinner at The Catherine Wheel in Henley, we noticed more than the usual activity in Falaise Square. There we found a gathering of many Morris Dancers. They were holding a festival of some sort and at least six different teams were there together with a number of musicians, singers and fiddle players.

I may paint a miniature of this colouful character.
I bought new varifocal spectacles the other week but can't really get used to them. Having worn varifocals for many years I found this pair gave me ghost images - especially when looking long distances. So after several sessions at my opticians it seems that a cararact That has been safely marooned right at the back of my (good) eye has moved in the last three months. So to correct this problem it was suggested that, in the not too distant future, I should consider an operation on my eye in an attempt to correct my vision. My close-up vision is good with no discernable ghosting, so painting miniatures and other detail work is not affected but I do worry that after the cataract operation my miniature portrait painting days may be numbered.
As it happens, for the past few months all my commissions have either been pencil portraits or large oil portraits. I'm also in the last stages of my Dunster Yarn Market oil painting - wich I'll show you on my next blog.

I have few ambitions left but one of them is to fly in a real World War Two Spitfire. This is possible and I aim to fly from Biggin Hill sometime next year. So I've bought a 'Spitfire money box' and aim to find the money (£2,500) by saving all lottery and premium bond wins. plus 5% of any future commissions to pay for the trip. I mentioned this ambition to my friend Norika the other week and it was she who suggested saving up for the experience and donated the first £5. This is the money box.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Happy Days

We went to my oncology surgeon on Monday afternoon to find out the results of my latest scan. So it was with tremendous relief that with a beaming smile he announced that I was completely clear of cancer. In fact he called me 'a miracle man' because having survived three major operations (one bowel and two lung) all traces of the tumours had disappeared. And I must admit I do feel good. I'm busily painting oil portraits at the moment, the weather has been brilliant over the past couple of weeks, and we've spent many happy hours on the boat. Here it is - ready for Henley Regatta.

My young friend and I spent the Friday of the Regatta at Phyllis Court together with Brian, Jane, Em, and cousins Paul and Jill. Before lunch we found a nice table on the lawn, where we sipped Pimms and from time to time were entertained by the jazz band.

Lunch was great in the dining room and afterwards we strolled down to the waters edge where I'd booked directors chairs right at the front.

Some of the sights as we relaxed there.

It's the turn of the Henley Music Festival to take advantage of the tents, booms and facilities of the regatta the following week. So last Friday evening we picked Jane and Brian up from their riverside house to cruise downstream past that evening's musical event. There were hundreds of boats of every description on the water and it took a lot of manoevering to get through. But eventually, and after going round twice, we found an empty boom where myf gallantly leant right over the boat to attach the ropes. Later in the evening and after a lovely picnic prepared by myf we started on the way back. Being dark by then I hadn't realised how bad my eyes were in the dark, which made it difficult for me to properly see the various hazards such as small boats, bridges etc. So myf took over the helm and successfully moored back at Brian and Jane's and finally at my own mooring. As I hadn't driven a boat in the dark for a number of years it was quite a sobering situation to find out how difficult it had become to navigate the river in the dark.

We are so enjoying the boat now and went on the river three days running over the weekend during the Festival. The Royal Barge 'Gloriana' is currently moored by Leander Club so it was nice to see that lovely boat as we passed by.

And these pith helmeted gentlemen were earnestly paddling their way upstream.

My young friend's garden is thriving and her jungle area looking good with its waving banana leaves, cannas and dahlias.

To end this blog today here I am on my garden balcony all togged up and ready for the day out.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Sun Sea and Sand

It's the hottest day of the year here, but was even hotter in Majorca where we've just returned from. This is the view from our hotel. Right next to the sea - only a minute's walk across the road to the beach.

We only saw one wispy little cloud in the entire week we were in Porto Pollenca. Thre sun blazed down on the day we decided to drive to Cape Formentor at the extreme north of the island. I'd been expecting a dirt track to get there but although the road was very narrow with many hairpin bends my young friend handled the drive really well.

At the top is a lighthouse

And the view

We were lucky to find a parking spot because we were told there normally is a 40 minute queue on the approach to the summit.

We were planning to visit Soller in the north of Majorca and catch a train then a tram to the port, but like so much of Majorca these days it's very hard to find a place to park. Out of luck we gave up and visited the small Botanic Gardens nearby. With a wide walk through the middle most of the smallish gardens were laid out either side.

The following evening we had booked for a dinner show in the palatial surroundngs of Son Amar.

We arrived early in scorching heat - in fact the gate had not quite opened but when it did we walked along this nice pathway to tne entrance

Before going to the cocktail bar for a cooling drink we wandered around the courtyard to the accompaniment of a musician playing a guitar.

No photography is allowed during the show but we both really enjoyed our succulent steaks. The show was similar to one we had seen last time we were visiting Majorca. Dancers, singers, acrobats, trapeze artists and a so- called magician who doubled as the funnyman. After the show - about eleven-thirty - most of the vast audience moved to a sort of large stage for a Majorcan 'knees up' but we didn't fancy that - especially as half the audience seemed to be comprised of noisy young revellers.

Next afternoon we spent at sea. We'd hired a small 16ft boat for a few hours intending to motor around a prometory with a small lighthouse. All was well to start with, even though the sea had become a bit choppy. Throwing the anchor over the side in a nice cove we settled down for a drink.

After a while when we left myf tugged and tugged but she coudn't dislodge the anchor from the sea bottom. Almost resigned to cutting the rope (but neither of us had a knife) suddenly it came free as she shortened the rope and the boat swung round. So we rounded the headland to be confronted by big waves (for our size of boat), especially when large vessels came past. Luckily we knew how to face the boat into their wash. We both were worried that had the waves hit us sideways we could have rolled over. In fact our craft was particularly unstable (compared to my own boat) so we donned our lifebelts then and turned round to go back the way we had come.

At least we thought it was the way we had come. But after half-an-hour or so we weren't quite sure where we were as we manoevered between scores of anchored sailing boats and hundreds of buoys of all colours. Never actually 'lost at sea' I coudn't make out any familiar landmarks. But my young friend knew what to do. She used the GPS setting on her phone and saw on the map that we had wandered into the wrong harbour! So all was well and we motored out of the congested area and soon reached our destination where Geronimo was waiting to help us moor.

Now back home with just about the same temperatures as we had in Majorca we took my own boat out on Sunday afternoon for a picnic dinner. Myf made the dinner and we picked up Val to join us. What a lovely evening it was. All the tents, booms and buoys were up ready for Henley Regatta next week. This year the buoys stretch almost as far as Hambleden lock. We finally moored by the river near Temple Island.

How peaceful it was with no rocking and rolling we'd experienced on the boat in Porto Pollenca.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Bishop's Palace

Last weekend we took a trip to Somerset where the Hilliard Society of Miniaturists was staging its annual exhibition.

Held in Wells Town Hall it was good to meet old friends and fellow miniaturists for lunch there. While my young friend was parking the car (my hip was giving me a bit of trouble so I couldn't walk too far) I walked round the market square. An old friend of mine - Mary Rand - who won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic games in 1964, being a native of Wells, has been honoured with this brass plaque measuring the length of her acievement (Just over 22 feet) erected on one side of the square.

The Bishop's Palace Garden is a haven of tranquility set right in the middle of the bustling market town of Wells. This is the entrance to the Palace.

And here are some of the views inside the garden.

And inside we came across this large angel floating by a window.

After touring the miniature exhibition and taking part in a council meeting in late afternoon we drove north to Dunster where we'd planned to stay at the Dunster Castle Hotel. Perhaps you can see the entrance to the car park - it's between a narrow archway, but myf is a very good driver and manoevered our way through it with just inches to spare on either side.

A few weeks ago when we were planning on where to spend a couple of days after the exhibition and decided on Dunster, I remembered that when I was a young apprentice artist in the late fifties I had designed a biscuit tin showing the Dunster yarn market building in the centre of the town. So after consulting Google we came across the actual tin (I'm afraid it's a bad reproduction) on ebay.

I decided that when we arrived in Dunster I'd see what the view looked like today and probably make a new painting of the scene. Surprisingly it had hardly changed at all as this photograph taken on Saturday shows.

Watch this space! I intend to start the painting soon.
On Saturday we called in to Arlington Court - a National Trust country house which also houses the Carriage Museum. Home of the Chichester family for over 500 years, it's been 50 years since Sir Francis Chichester completed his famous round the world voyage.

The Speaker's exquisite golden State coach is on loan to the museum but photography not allowed.

However the rest of the carriages were well worth seeing

We travelled on through Exmoor - a really nice drive through a wide, undulating landscape.

And arrived in Ilfracombe to be confronted by this enormous 25 tonne statue by Damien Hirst.

It's called Verity and is 66 feet tall and is an allegory for Truth and Justice. Her stance is taken from Edgar Degas's "Little Dancer of Fourteen Years". Fabricated in bronze, a 250 tonne crane was used to hoist the sculpture into its final position.
Back in the evening to a very nice dinner at the Castle Hotel, and next morning we visited the castle itself

Dunster Castle has commanded its outstanding location atop the tor since the Middle Ages. Originally built and fortified with defence in mind, it has changed greatly over the years and leaves a story of the people who have lived there. Although it looks impregnable, Oliver Cromwell ordered its destruction during the Civil War in 1650, but finally allowed the Luttrall family who lived there to retain their castle home. Sir Walter Luttrall gave it to the National Trust in 1976. This is the entrance to the castle.

Luckily there was a very nice man operating a buggy up to the castle as there was no way I could have made it with my atrhritic hip. My young friend took the energetic way up. I took the opportunity before going into the castle to practise a little archery on the lawn outside, being a lapsed toxopholite. (In my younger days I became a member of an archery club and even constructed a machine to make arrows of exactly the same weight).
My favourite room in the castle was undoubtedly the Leather Gallery. The large painted leather hangings are the only collection of this type in the country.

They tell the love story of a Roman General, Antony, and an Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, a tale made famous by Shakespeare. Made of calfskin, the hangings are embossed and painted to give a three-dimensional appearance. The hangings were probably made in the Netherlands in the late 1600s and first hung in Dunster Castle between 1701 and 1741.

Leather hangings were often chosen for dining rooms as, unlike fabric, leather does not retain food smells.
In the garden we came across this wall of banana trees and a stone swan spurting water.

Driving home through leafy tunnels it had been a very nice weekend.

On Tuesday we went to the Circle hospital in Reading for me to have a Cortisone injection in my hip. Hopefully this will relieve the pain for a few weeks until I have a hip replacement in the autumn. I really want to enjoy the summer what with the new boat, sunshine holiday, Henley Regatta, the Music and Literary Festivals, and all the other outdoor activities that would be really dificult without the relief that Cortisone is purpoted to achieve. It's been three days now and I must say the pain has subsided a lot. (Not that it helped me last night when I played 'Colours' at the Phyllis Court snooker club and won the 'wooden spoon' for the worst player!)
Just ordered a couple of stretched canvases for an oil portrait and the Dunster painting. I'm trying an extremely fine Polyester primed canvas as I want to achieve extra detail.