Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Sods Law - Twice in one week!

Last Saturday 'Chips Away' gave my car a complete exterior overhaul. I save dents, scratches, and major scrapes till I have about four, before calling in the experts. So I was delighted when my car looked as good as new after the valeting. Then on the way back from my sculpture class on Tuesday afternoon I parked in the Waitrose car park keeping it well away from the four by four in the next bay. So you can imagine how upset I was when I realised my car had been scraped down the rear door and back panel! Sods Law. 
And after weeks of hot sunshine, today it rained all day! To coincide with the annual Henley Agricuktural Show! We knew it was forecast to be a rainy day, so, not to be disappointed my young friend decided to order a small gazebo. Thanks to Amazon Prime it arrived at 5.45pm yesterday - just in time. After a practice erection first thing Saturday morning we were ready for the show. We picked up Debbie and Val on the way. Several envious looks came our way as the two by two metre gazebo formed a perfect shelter in front of the the car parked by the ringside. The first thing we saw was a very articulate bloke sowing the audience how to shear a sheep. You can see by the umbrellas that the rain didn't deter the audience's enjoyment.

At the end of his performance he managed to get all the sheep to dance too. This year, being the 125th anniversary of the show there was a display of 125 tractors, ranging from the modest 'Fergie' to this incredible machine costing several hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

Then there was a parade of steam engines. Here are a few of them.

Debbie and my young friend then decided to have a ride on the carousel. Here's Debbie. 

No agricultural show is complete without a parade of prize animals.

Or Morris Dancers.

Even though it rained all day we were snug in my young friend's gazebo as we enjoyed our picnic. And here she is covered up against st the rain, watching the duck herding event.

We had an interesting time on Friday. An American lady - Bobbie Nash - who had bought one of my miniature portraits at this year's Florida show, was visiting England with her two sisters and a friend. The had hired the luxury barge 'Magna Carta' for six days for a cruise on the Thames. And as they were due to moor overnight in Henley on Friday we were able to meet up. I live in Remenham so it was easy for me to park by Remenham church which is only a short walk from the river. I'd arranged to take the ladies to lunch at Phyllis Court so picked them up at noon at the mooring in Remenham. 

This is the Magna Carta. The owner and Captain, Dominic Read, had originally bought the boat in Holland but when it reached England because of its length it wouldn't be able to fit in many of the locks on the Thames. So what did he do? He arranged for a boat builder to slice a section out of the middle and rejoin the ends to make it shorter. Quite an undertaking. The boat is now 120 feet long. Still a very large boat. After lunch on the verandah at the club the ladies came back to my flat to have a look at my paintings. My young friend and I were invited to dinner at the Captain's table that evening. The interior was pretty lavish - a really comfortable set of leather sofas  and a dining table to seat ten. We also saw one of the four staterooms - each with a double bed and bathroom. Two of the crew members served our meal which was really lovely.

I played my first game for Henley Bowling Club last Thursday. We played Maidenhead Town. Also it was my first away game so was interesting to find out how different greens affect one's play. For example my bowl curved in a completely different way to what does at the Henley Club. It was a really good afternoon - even though our team lost. 

This year I've probably painted more oil portraits than ever before. This is a recent one of Sir John Madjeski. Not a commission, but I was keen to show the wool texture of his Wembley scarf. Sir John built the Madjeski Stadium to house Reading Football Club. He is now the co- chairman. This the life-size portrait.

This week's Henley Standard Newspaper contained an article about my recent painting of the Gloriana and the Dunkirk Little Ship - L'Orage. it was very flattering of Lady McAlpine to say "I am completely in awe of his talent. He must be the greatest miniaturist since Nicholas Hilliard...".

Currently I'm working on another 'boat' painting. This will eventually show nine Dunkirk Little Ships. The work so far.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Rejection, Rejection, and a Near Miss.

A couple of Saturday's ago I was very pleased to hear that my painting "Nine Gondolas" had been shortlisted for exhibition in the forthcoming Royal Society of Marine Artists at the Mall Galleries, so we drove to London with the painting. 

However on Tuesday I heard that it had not been selected for the exhibition. Never mind - I was quite surprised it had been initially selected as the vast majority of pictures hung in the RSMA exhibitions are seagoing paintings. While in London I called in the The National Portrait Gallery to see the finali 57 portraits that had been selected for hanging in the 'Portrait of the Year' competition. A really interesting variety of styles and subjects. Again my portrait for that exhibition reached the last 150 out of more than 2,000 entries but missed out in the final selection. Still, there's always next year. (A new oil portrait now completed and ready for submission in December). Cross fingers. 

Having reached the semi-finals in the novices competition at the Henley Bowling Club, last Wednesday I played my match.   And what a close fought game it was. The winner is the first to score 21. We each bowl four woods at a time. After about six ends I was leading by about four points and went on to lead at 20 to 17. I only needed one point to win. But Terry, my opponent, scored three on his next bowl. So, after 18 ends we were level - 20/20. Three of my last four bowls came very close to the jack, but my last bowl knocked one of his closer. So he won. I felt like an Olympic athlete who came fourth by a fraction of a second. Another near miss. 

Earlier this year my great niece, Kate, visited New York. The weather was well below zero. I loved the look on her face as she snuggled up in warm clothes against the cold. So I've just painted a miniature of her for exhibition in the forthcoming exhibition of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters.. 

I call the miniature portrait 'Cold Kate'. 

Ten days ago my young friend and I were invited to dinner by Sir John Madjeski at the Directors Lounge at the Madjeski Stadium in Reading to watch the football match that evening. Reading were playing Plymouth. Khunying Sasima Srivikorn, one of the new partners and owners of the Club was there too which was a big surprise for me. When I lived in Bangkok in the 60's Sasima was one of my clients when she owned the President Hotel. We hadn't met since then (although we had exchanged our autobiographies). Sir John sat me next to her in the front row of seats as we watched the match so we could have a good chat about the past. This was the view.

Reading won 2-0 so everyone was happy. Incidentally before we had dinner Sir John had arranged a dedicated car parking space for us as we were to meet him prior to the match in his penthouse next to the stadium. I'd recently painted an oil portrait of him so we took it to show him.

I painted him draped in the Wembley scarf which he worn when the team recently played at the Wembley Stadium in London. Later he took the painting to the Lounge to show the other directors and guests. 

Last Saturday we took the train to London to see The Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre. 

We had marvellous seats, 2 rows from the front in the stalls. Although the show has been running for nearly ten years it was magical. Especially at the beginning of the performance when enormous elephants, giraffes and other animals brushed past us as they made their way to the stage. I loved the way the puppetry almost made me believe they were real animals. 

There are several miniature exhibitions taking place soon. I will be entering those in Washington, Florida and London. All my entries are now ready and will soon be despatched. A total of sixteen miniature portraits will be my total. Most have been painted this year. I'll show here just one for each exhibition -



And this one of Paul Daniels for London

We took the boats out last week but unfortunately a large amount of weed has grown in the millpool so  it took a lot of manoevering to reach the main river. When I put the big boat into reverse the weed took it in the opposite direction. We didn't hit the bank but it was a near miss. We were on our way that evening to have a meal in the Orangery at Phyllis Court Club. It's so nice to be able to drive to dinner by boat. When we got back to my mooring the weeds were a bit of a problem but I managed to moor successfully without banging into the wall! And last Sunday it was easier to use the oars than negotiate through the weeds with the small electric motor. 

Yesterday I had lunch with Mollie and her daughter Sarah at Phyllis Court. Mollie lives in New Zealand and is my second cousin. I was one hour late as I was stuck in an almighty traffic jam on the Wargrave Road due to the Rewind Music Festival being held down river on the Temple Island meadows. I had a text while in the queue from Mollie which said. "Don't worry Bill, I hear the traffic is ghastly so you may find us boozed when you get here". 

Every year I give a sovereign attached to a beautifully calligraphed certificate as the prize for the best portrait at the RMS miniature show in London in October. This is an example

 Sadly, Judy Fraser, who has done the calligraphy for many years, had a stroke last year, and although she can still write beautifully she's not able to compose the certificate properly. So I will have to do them myself in the future. Although my young friend bought me a beautifully boxed calligraphy set last birthday I'd asked for the dipping pens and ink bottles. I tried but couldn't manage to keep the ink from drying out of becoming inconsistent. Last week Judy advised me to buy nibs with a cartridge feed. Late on Thursday evening MYF used her Amazon Prime account to order me a new set. It arrived the following morning at 11am. I was very impressed. So, in about five minutes, when I've posted this blog, I'll spend a few hours practising calligraphy. 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Traditional Boat Festival

Last weekend dawned gloriously sunny again so we made our way to one of my favourite events of the year - The Traditional Boat Festival. Lady McAlpine has organised it for the past two years and she has done wonders. My young friend and I strolled down by the river bank till we came upon my friends Jackie and Tony Hobbs. Tony's family have been in the boat business for generations. They invited us on board their umpire launch Enchantress for an hour long trip between Marsh and Hambleden locks. Enchantress is now 103 years old. 

We passed by a small flotilla of Dunkirk Little Ships, These were the original boats that travelled across the channel to save the troops stranded on the beaches at the beginning of the Second World War. About sixteen came to the Festival this year. 

Here are a few photographs of some of the scenes. Here a Dunkirk boat passes by three small craft nestled by the riverbank.

There was a fly past into the afternoon with a Spitfire and a Hurricane

And the wonderful Royal Barge - the Gloriana. 

I wonder how many of you have heard of the Piddingtons. It was in 1949 when this Australian couple - Sydney and Lesley - arrived in England. They were magicians and specialsed in mind reading. For example, on one occasion Lesley was in an aeroplane flying at over 20,000 feet having been thoroughly  searched by an independent witness and being interviewed by Gilbert Harding - one of the most famous broadcasters at the time. Sydney, meanwhile, was in a studio in England where someone in the audience drew a picture or gave him a name. Then, by thought transference, Sydney sent the picture to Lesley who correctly relayed it to the people on the aircraft. This was just one of many examples of thought transference the Piddingtons entranced their audiences with. I mention this because last Tuesday Debbie invited me, a neighbour and her family to a performance by the Deans, a young American couple who emulated the magic, or thought transference, of the Piddingtons. After a lovely tea on Debbie's verandah we were whisked off to Barnet in north London by a stretched limousine. 

I said 'whisked' off to London but as soon as we hit the M25 we were in a two hour traffic hold-up. Luckily the driver had allowed a lot of extra time for the journey. Even though it was the hottest day of the year, with the airconditioning and bottles of champagne in the limo, we all had a fun time.

The actual show was held in a small theatre called the Bull which had once been a pub. Our seats were right in the middle on the second row, immediately behind the Mayor and Mayoress of Barnet and two professors (to authenticate the Dean's performance). An interesting evening was had by all. The man who introduced the act and showed film clips of the Piddingtons was the famous magician and mentalist, David Berglas. We joined him after the show. I was interested to learn that he was approaching his ninetieth year. (Debbie went to his 90th birthday party yesterday). 

We fixed the mirror up in my young friend's garden over the weekend.

 It's surprising how much it adds to the ambience of the scene. She also planted more canna lilies in the jungle area.

Last year we only had three apples on the espalieated tree but this year I've counted thirteen so far. Hope they all last the distance. 

And the grape vine is racing along the top of the pergola and shows about eleven bunches of grapes forming. (That's eleven more than last year). 

Finally I've started my big painting of the traditional boat festival, after two abortive beginnings. I tried it on a 'not' surface watercolour board but couldn't achieve the detail I wanted. The next effort was on an ultra smooth German watercolour board, but this time the paint blobbed too much and too quickly. So now I'm using a 'hot pressed' surface so hopefully all should be well. 

Lots of activity on the river right now. On Saturday afternoon we called in to the annual Town and Visitors Regatta. This is a local regatta for the local people. Of course crews come from all over England to compete. But as I am a member we scoffed a Pimms or two in the members enclosure. Later we boarded an umpire's launch to follow a race.

As we approached the start line I noticed the big hotel boat 'The Magna Carta' was moored near Remenham church. 

I mention this because next month an American friend of mine, together with four friends have hired it for a week. And we have been invited for dinner at the Captain's table. Should be interesting. We were following two quad crews - Oxford and Eton. Here's the view from our launch. 

I'm not very good at buying clothes for myself. For example I went to Marks and Spencer in Reading last week to buy a few shirts, a couple of summer light sweaters, some socks and a tie. The socks and tie fitted (how could they not) but the shirts were all too small and the sweaters much too big. So yesterday evening my young friend came to the rescue and took me back to M&S where we successfully exchanged them for the right sizes. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

All dressed up and somewhere to go.

Phew! When I got back into my car this morning after bowling the outside temperature was 36 degrees!. Like getting in to an oven. But I won my game - that's a first. I'm up against a top-class bowler in the next round so may be knocked out of the tournament then. But who knows - my luck might be in. 
Friday before last my young friend, Debbie and I were invited to the Henley Music Festival by Felicity Wills. And what a lovely evening it was. Here I am standing outside my flat ready to go. 

A nice warm evening so the girls didn't need scarves or pashminas later in the evening. Felicity's daughter (and my god daughter) Emma came too. Here she is with Debbie. 

And here's how I feel after an hour or so helping out in MYF's garden. 

There were other wandering creatures including this small-headed man.

Normally on these occasions a plethora of small boats can be seen clustering around the river within sight of the grandstand where the main event takes place, but this year due to, you've guessed it, 'Elf 'n Safety' regulations, it wasn't allowed. A happy part of the wonderful atmosphere has been taken away by some dreary faceless jobsworth for no reason at all. Why do these people keep on inventing new 'rules' - just to hold on to their jobs I expect. There were still plenty of bigger boats moored on the booms within earshot of the performances.


We were there for the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel concert. (On Wednesday Elton John headed the show and on Saturday it was Dame Shirley Bassey.) Although we hadn't bought grandstand tickets we found an incredibly comfortable sofa just outside the Bedouin Tent where we could hear every note. 

(I hate photographs of me). But Debbie and Felicity photograph well. After the concert we were treated to a short, but lively, firework display. But I was too comfortable to take any photographs this time. 

It was My Young Friend's birthday last week so we spent a few days in Suffolk with her parents to celebrate it. On one of the days we went to Shotley Peninsula where w,e had a birthday lunch at the Marina in a restaurant called The Shipwreck. 

The Royal Navy's HMS Ganges trained young recruits to be disciplined sailors from the age of 15. With the band of the Royal Marines playing, young boys climbed the mast in time to the beat of the music until one of them - called the 'Button Boy' reached the very top where he stood, or sat, on the button. They have the actual button at the HMS Ganges Museum there, which I stood on. It is less than twelve inches wide! Rather them tham me. Here is a picture of the mast. You can see how many boys can stand on its rigging. 

Sadly the mast has deteriorated somewhat and is waiting for resources to restore it for posterity. 

While in Suffolk we paid another fist to the Urban Jungle  where MYF and her mother bough a few more nice cannas and dahlias. I really enjoy the place. We had lunch there amid the foliage.

Last Saturday five of my great nieces - Becky, Charlotte, Annabel, Evie and Ellie took part in a 'Race for Life' event at Prospect Park in Reading.

It was in aid of Cancer and although they all got nicely muddy on the obstacle course they raised £745 for the charity. Well done the Mundy girls.

I've finally completed my large oil triptych of autumn leaves. So on Sunday we put it up above my young friend's bed. To position all three paintings in exactly the right positions - one to another - took a bit of manoevering but we managed it in the end. The whole piece measures about six feet end to end. 

Now I"m back painting miniature portraits. Quite a contrast. By the way if anyone out there would like me to paint them a triptych of (almost) any subject I'd be happy to give a quote.