Sunday, 23 October 2016

Starting again

We updated my iPad the other day and have now discovered that Apple no longer support Google blogs. So I have to use a different way to write blogs now. I'm writing this on a new app called BLOGO, so hope it will be as easy to use as the previous one.
I lived for nearly ten years in Thailand during the sixties and seventies and grew to love the country and its people. This was before the advent of the jumbo jet and mass tourism and I really did think of the country as 'The Land of Smiles'. So it was very sad to hear of the death of King Bhumipol Aduladej the other day.

He was admired by everyone. When I visited Thai friends of mine in their houses a photograph of the King would always be prominently displayed - along with that of his daughter Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. They were much loved. I had the honour to be given three audiences with the Princess at Chitralada Palace where I was commissioned to paint miniatures of both the King and the Princess. On one occasion when I presented my portrait of the King to her we had a long chat. She said how worried she was about her weight and how she'd sneak down to the fridge in the middle of the night to have a snack. I was reminded of this when I finally completed her portrait. She was wearing a bright red uniform and appeared a little chubby. But a week or so before I was due to travel to Bangkok a friend rang me and said Princess Maha Sirindhorn had lost a considerable amount of weight. This put me into a bit of a dilemma. So I rang the King's private secretary to ask if this was true. It was. I asked him if he could quickly find a few photographs of her as she was now (and preferably not wearing a uniform) and send them to me. This he did, so I was able to paint a second portrait. My frame maker rapidly made a beautiful double leather and silk case in which I housed both miniatures.
When I presented them to her at the Palace she laughed and showed them to her ladies-in-waiting and said "Look! Before and after". As there were three or four television news cameras present, her comments, and the miniatures, appeared on the TV news that evening.
Thailand is now in mourning for their much-loved Monarch and everyone will be wearing black or white for the next forty days and officially the country will be in mourning for one year.

A couple of days ago as I was cutting a large piece of watercolour board to prepare for a new river painting, somehow my big knife slipped and sliced into my index finger. How I managed to cut my right finger while holding my knife in my right hand I'll never know. But as it was spurting blood I decided to have it looked at in Henley's new Townlands Hospital. I intended to drive there but my young friend wouldn't hear of it and drove me to the minor injuries department where they bandaged it up very nicely. As I am not allowed to get the finger wet for five days it's been extremely difficult to shave and bath left-handed. Luckily I haven't done more damage - so far. I bought a first aid kit today - this is our home made plaster wrapping.

Today myf will be preparing her banana trees for the winter so these lovely leaves will be cut off this afternoon and the plants wrapped in straw to protect them from the frosts to come.

That's it for now - we are off for a few days so I'll write a more interesting blog at the weekend.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


I've has two injections this week - one for the winter flu, which, apart from being accidentally punched in the arm by my young friend, was no problem. But the other was a cortisone injection into my knee. Now that one really hurt. I've been suffering badly for a long time with osteoarthritis in the knee. (Mainly due to a bad break many years ago when I crashed in the Singapore Grand Prix practice, but also, I expect due to advancing age). I took a long time for the doctor to find a way in to administer the cortisone as the arthritis was solid. But when she did - ow! It's certainly done some good as I discarded the walking stick I've been using lately. 

I finally finished another boat painting the other day. I call it 'Nine Dunkirk Little Boats' which you can see by counting all the masts of those that are not featured. 

Every year a number of the Dunkirk little ships arrive in Henley for the two day Traditional Boat Festival. It's great to see them parading in convoy down the river with their flags a-fluttering as we remember the wonderful contribution they made in bringing back our exhausted soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk. I might make this painting into my Christmas card this year. 

The Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition opened at the Mall Galleries in London on Wednesday. I exhibited 8 paintings this year, plus this one of 'Jade' for a special 'Children through the Ages' miniature portrait exhibition by Arturi Phillips. 

It's always rewarding to see miniature portraits created by the old masters, and I was honoured to have my painting included. My prize - The Mundy Sovereign Award - for the most outstanding portrait in the exhibition - I gave to Michael Coe.

The Arturi Phillips publishers produce the most prestigious books on miniature portrait painting shave recently inaugurated their special prize for the RMS called 'The Connoisseur Award', which I was honoured to win this year. It was for my miniature Sam Wilson.

And here I am receiving it from Lenox Cato (from the Antiques Road Show TV programme) who opened the exhibition this year. 

As Wednesday was the day before my cortisone injection I was still making use of my (collapsible) walking stick, which I must say came in useful on the underground when people offered me their seat. Not that I took up their offer every time. 

It's been a sad couple of weeks. My friend Jack Darrah who ran the Churchill Collection at Bletchley Park died. When the lottery funding organisation contributed money to Bletchley Park they stipulated that The Pegasus Bridge exhibition and The Churchill Collection be removed from Bletchley. Jack was distraught as it was a magnificent display of Winston Churchill memorabilia which he'd built up over very many years. 
And then Annie Hill died. She and Vince, her husband, had been married for nearly 60 years. So sad. One of Annie's wishes was for Vince to play the song which he had recorded - "I'll be seeing you " at her funeral. After a private service at Reading Crematorium for family and close friends we all went to Henley Town Hall and then on to The Baskerville Arms.

My eldest nephew Neil landed this 15lb 12oz rainbow trout from Spring Lake at the John Lewis Fly Fishing Club competition.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Meet my new secretary


We came across this wonderful secretary bird at the Hawk Conservancy Trust last weekend during a short break in Dorset. I learnt a lot about birds of prey on that day, including the fact that the peregrine falcon can fly at over 200 miles an hour.

In fact the world record is 240 mph. Incredible. During our stay we watched amazing displays of owls, vultures, hawks, and many more birds of prey. This is one of the very talented keepers who put on the displays.

And here are a few of the photographs I took of the birds - including the glorious secretary bird again.

After a really lovely day at the Hawk Centre we took a river trip from Poole to Wareham. Wending our way past Poole harbour we passed several large ocean going ships. 

And here we are docked in Wareham where we had a quick lunch and a short walk around the town.

Then on to the country house and estate of Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne in Dorset. It has been owned by the Bankes family since 1632 and was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1982 by Ralph Bankes. 

In the Loggia ithere's a shrine to his ancestors is this splendid full length bronze figure of King Charles First. 

Walking round the house we came across many lavish decorations. 

Including examples of some of William Banks Egyptian collection.

Suffering lately from very painful arthritis in my knee, my young friend  took a walk around the gardens leaving me sitting on a bench by the side of the house. As I phoned the owner of the B&B we were due to spend the next couple of days in, while taking down his satnav address on the map of his village, a sudden gust of wind blew the map, telephone number and satnav details out of my hand and over my shoulder. Not being quick enough I watched it waft over a fence and down to the very private garden where it settled. When MYF returned I showed her the map's resting place - at the bottom of the steps you can see on the right of this photograph. 

As she never trespasses anywhere, not even stepping on grass when there's a path close by, I assumed she wouldn't venture into the private garden. But she did and retrieved the map, on her reasoning that they would rather not see litter in the garden. 

Not far from Kingston Lacy, and in total contrast is Clouds Hill - the home of T.E. Lawrence known to most of us as 'Lawrence of Arabia'.

We visited T.E.lawrence's house. Which was an interesting experience, as we were issued with small torches as we went in. The reason being that the cottage has no electricity. 

This is the book room

And this is the music room

The cottage had been built in 1808 as a simple labourer's dwelling and was probably once the home of a forester on the Moreton Estate. When Lawrence bought it was dilapidated as it had been unoccupied for years. To pay for repairs he sold the gold dagger made for him in Mecca during the war. In a small outbuilding a short film of Lawrence's life was playing and showed a photograph of the motorcycle upon which he tragically died. 

Finally arriving at the B&B we were welcomed by a very interesting man. And on Saturday evening my old friends John and Jo Nagle gave us dinner at their home in the same village. They used to manage Videophonics in Henley - and are sadly missed. We popped in to John's workshop where he showed us his beautifully restored Austin 7. It was the first car he ever owned. He sold it over 30 years ago but after extensive research found the current owners and bought it back from them. Currently he's fitting a satnav in the car keeping the housing to reflect the age and style of the motor. 

Tuesday was the last day of bowling at the club for the season. Have to wait till next April to start again.
So now back to my second boat painting of the month - I'm calling it "Nine Dunkirk Little Ships".  

Just come back from London after helping to select the final exhibits for next week's Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition. And I also chose the winner of the Mundy Sovereign Award for the best portrait. 

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.