Thursday, 30 October 2008

An Auspicious Day

I had to be up and about by 5.30 am this morning in order to feed nine monks. Not only is it my birthday today, it is the day that I complete my sixth cycle of life – an extremely auspicious date in the Thai calendar, so I’m told. A great variety of food was prepared earlier by Pakdi and Oye
– rice, fruit and curry, together with candles, incense, money, and lotus flowers.
Leaving home at 6 am we parked the car near to the busy Sukhumvit road. Pakdi set out two little teak tables by the side of the road and arranged all the goodies on them while we waited for the saffron-robed monks to come along. After leaving the nearby Wat (temple) they slowly approached us in single file along the pavement. Each time a monk reached us he opened his bowl and I placed one each of the gifts inside, taking care to put the lotus flowers and envelopes of money on top. I then put my hands together and wai’d while they said a short prayer. The traffic roared past a few inches away from us but was of no concern to the monks. Maurice took a few photographs – I’ll add one or two here.

We came home to a hearty breakfast and I opened some of the cards and presents I’d brought with me from England.

Yesterday evening was spent with old friends, Julian and Eileen Deeley. They live in Bangkok – Eileen is an expert on Chinese culture – in fact she is leading an expedition to China this coming Sunday. We had arranged to meet at the Polo Club for dinner, and Robin Dannhorn was to join us too. Luckily I was able to use the driver, as the traffic was particularly horrible yesterday. Robin – an old hand – was there when I arrived, but Julian rang to say that they were stuck in a two hour traffic jam. A couple of brandy and gingers later, the Deeleys finally joined us in the bar.

When you see films where the hero arrives at Bangkok Airport, jumps into a car and drives into and around the city, don’t believe it. There’s no way a visitor could ever negotiate the traffic here - it’s unbelievable, No one ever gives way – it’s every man for himself. I would get completely lost – and I lived here for seven years! Nevertheless we had a really good evening – old friends are good friends. Eileen gave me a book published only yesterday in which she was involved – it’s by HRH Princess Galyani Vadhana, the King’s sister, and is the story of their mother's life. Next week Bangkok will hold an elaborate State Funeral for the Princess who died last year.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Sitting in the Sunshine

The sun is shining – in fact it’s scorching! I managed half-an-hour this morning sitting in the garden, but that was enough. The blue lily in its ornate snake-dragon pot slowly opened its petals as the sun shone down..

Maurice is home from hospital – with a shadow close beside him. Lek, his full-time nurse goes everywhere he goes (yes, even there!)
She’ll be with him for a week, but he’s rapidly getting back to his old self. Today, while Oye and Lek took him for physiotherapy at the hospital, I boarded the Bangkok Sky Train to go into the city. I love the Sky Train – the air-conditioning is icy cold and the trains arrive every 3 minutes. When in Thailand it’s important to adhere to the Thai traditions and customs. For example today I suddenly realised as I sat down on my seat that I’d crossed one leg over the other, and my foot was pointing directly at the person opposite. This is extremely impolite, and I quickly put both feet back on the floor.
I met my old friend Robin Dannhorn in the ‘Food Loft’ on the top floor of the Central Department Store. This up-market food hall serves food from every corner of the world. You wander round the hall and choose what you want from the country of your choice, then five or ten minutes later your meal is brought to the table. Robin and I were colleagues in Bangkok in the sixties when he was our Public Relations Director. Then he was responsible for the PR for Thai Airways International. Robin and his wife Maren now live in France, but they keep a small apartment here, as they visit frequently. Robin still writes travel brochures and other publications for the airline. It’s always good to meet old expatriate friends and reminisce about times long ago – especially someone like Robin, as we’ve shared many adventures and bizarre experiences – both side-splitting and hair-raising - in the past.

We had a look round the store after lunch where I was drawn to the coloured pencil and pens counter. – I just love the colours.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Ancient City

Many years ago a man had a dream. He was very rich. He was a Thai man, and had made many millions. His dream led him to buy a large piece of land in the shape of the contours of Thailand, upon which he decided to promote Thai art, customs and culture by erecting as many Temples and Pavilions, either one third or life-size, on the site. It’s called ‘The Ancient City’ and lies about 30 kilometres east of Bangkok and is devoted to the Thai people, surely earning the benefactor much ‘merit’.
So this afternoon I decided to brave the Sunday traffic and pay it a visit. Siam in all its ancient glory is depicted there. Apart from the temples, large wooden carvings are to be found throughout the landscape, and I watched as a number of young men continued the tradition by fashioning more artefacts out of sweet smelling teakwood. I’ll post a few of my photographs with this blog and when I learn how to add captions I’ll do that too.

I have a new ‘follower’. But strangely the accompanying wording is all in Japanese, for some reason. However I do know who she is, as I remember the bluebell woods very well.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Hello from Bangkok

I arrived in Thailand yesterday afternoon and was driven straight to the Bangkok Hospital. Nothing wrong with me, but Maurice Bowra, my oldest friend, was languishing there after a 7-hour spinal operation. Poor chap, he’s been in agony for nearly a year, and tried to put it off until after my visit, but the pain became just too much, so he had the operation last week. Thankfully he’s now on the road to recovery and hopes to be home tomorrow.
The approach to the hospital resembles that of a very large, and very luxurious hotel. As you drive up to the entrance, a smartly uniformed man opens the car door for you and directs you to the King-size revolving doors, tidily banked on either side by about 30 or 40 leather wheelchairs. Three beautifully dressed pretty Thai girls wai (the Thai form of welcome) you on the way to the lift. There’s certainly no danger of catching any of the superbugs here - everywhere is sparkling, immaculate and dazzlingly white. Maurice’s large and wonderfully equipped room is on the top floor, where he and his wife Duangkamol (Oye) introduced me to his ever-smiling nurse. More wai’s. She’s permanently with him throughout the day. Another nurse takes over for the night. (When he goes back home the nurses will go with him and stay there for at least a week.) I had dinner with Maurice in his room – brought in and cooked by Pakdi, the housekeeper – before going home for a good night’s sleep. Even though it was a twelve-hour flight I rarely suffer jet lag. This photo is of Maurice and his nurse in the room. (I haven’t yet learned how to put captions under photos in this new blog! Can anyone help?)

Oye had arranged a car and driver for me; so today I visited Maurice for lunch, where I met his friend,Derek, who apparently is an avid follower of my blog! Then off for a bit of shopping. The traffic in Bangkok is absolutely horrendous, what with six and seven lane roads teeming with every kind of vehicle, all trying to overtake everything else at breakneck speed, and helmetless motorcyclists zooming past you on both sides, it really is a wonder there aren’t more serious accidents here. When I lived in Thailand I used to drive myself – I couldn’t contemplate it now.
I’ve forgotten most of my Thai, (after all it was 40 years ago when I last lived here) but it surprised me just how much came back today when I needed to use it. Pom u tinee chua mong, chua mong krung, Tawin. Ma tinee murai pom taurasap. (I’ll be about an hour or so, Tawin. Come here when I telephone you). Thank goodness for mobile phones. Everyone has one here, so I could call the driver, Tawin, to pick me up. Dropping me outside the Emporium – one of Bangkok’s largest department stores, I browsed around for about an hour, and then couldn’t find my way out again! The Emporium has many entrances, and as every single sign is in Thai, I was totally lost. I soon discovered my Thai wasn’t good enough to ask directions, but eventually, after nearly half-an-hour of fruitless searching, I found a man in a suit who, after taking me to five of the exits, located the correct one – just in time to get back to have dinner with Maurice at the hospital.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

A Wedding in a Gallery

The President of the Royal Miniature Society - Elizabeth Meek - held her wedding reception yesterday evening at an unusual venue - The Mall Galleries in London. Currently the RMS is holding its 2008 Exhibition there. Jilly Adams volunteered to do the driving. It was almost tropical on the M4 motorway as the heavy rain sleeted down. Arriving at Waterloo Place (with pockets full of coins) where we had planned to park on a meter, we were confronted with London’s new system – pay by phone. Both being first time virgins in this respect, it took a while to scroll through the system but eventually we were successful. If we hadn’t had our credit cards with us we would not have been able to park at all. Once inside the Mall Galleries all was happiness and light - Champagne of every colour and description, wonderful food carefully dotted around the main gallery, and a strolling jazz band. Jilly was intrigued with the big brass sousaphone wrapped around one of the jazz-players neck. He must have seemed enormous as Elizabeth’s 3-year-old grandchild gazed up in awe to this giant.

There’s something about women’s hair when it comes to portraits. I’ve occasionally been asked to change the hairstyle of a portrait, sometimes years later, when styles change. If the portrait is in oil it’s possible, but not in the stipple watercolour style I adopt. Luckily the client who came over last Wednesday soon realised, after I took a number of photographs, that her hair needed an MOT. So telephoning her hairdresser in London, she arranged an appointment for the following morning, and duly arrived back in Henley later that day. So now I’m set to paint her miniature as soon as I get back from my holiday.

Yes I’m off to Asia in a couple of days – first to Bangkok for a week, then on to Singapore where I’ll be launching my book ‘A Brush with Life’ at the Raffles Hotel (see this link). The tropics beckon me – I love the heat and even the humidity – and can’t wait to be lounging in the garden of my old friends Maurice and Oye Bowra in Bangkok. As I’m taking my laptop with me I should be able to post a few diary entries on this blog.

Such sad news. My lovely friend, Winkie, died yesterday. She suffered a massive stroke last weekend, and never recovered consciousness. Winkie was one of the most colourful, interesting and intelligent people I’ve ever known. Nearly always dressed in pink, this is a photo I took of her at Henley Regatta in the summer. Martin, her husband, Felicity, her daughter, Marcus, her son, Emma, her granddaughter, and all her many friends, will miss her dreadfully.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Silver and Gold

Yesterday Jane and I caught the train to London to go to the Private View of the Royal Miniature Society. As I was carrying a heavy case-full of books - my autobiography and the new Portrait Miniatures Oriental – we took a taxi to Rules – one of my favourite restaurants in London. I just love the place. There’s always so much to look at as every wall and every crevice is crammed with paintings, antlers, mirrors, old theatre posters etc. I had fish and chips – it came on a plate but wrapped in a page from the Times newspaper. Very smart.
And on to the Mall Galleries. We walked along the Strand to the Mall with me trundling the case behind (thank you the person who invented wheels for cases). The Exhibition was crowded and was held in four rooms of the North Gallery. Sales were fantastic. (The Miniature Society is at the forefront in saving the British economy.)
I even sold a number of my books in the first few minutes (see this link)
For the past twenty-five years I’ve given ‘The Mundy Portrait Sovereign Award’ for the miniature portrait I consider to be the best in the exhibition. Embedded in the award is a gold sovereign). This year I took great delight in awarding it to Jill Keppens for a most wonderful portrait. Jill is only twenty- five years old and is one of a pair of twin artists.
I also won an award – ‘The Peter Charles Booth Memorial Award’ – it’s a lovely silver plate. It was for a miniature entitled ‘Lisa Leaf’

Jane and I caught the bus to Paddington station, wending our way through the heavy London traffic, to get to the station just in time to catch the through train. I needed to be back in Henley before six-thirty as I had been asked to be Guest of Honour (how posh that sounds) at the private view in a Henley Gallery given by students from the Slade School of Art in London. After quite a tiring day I managed to get home just in time to watch ‘Eastenders’. How sad is that I hear you say!

On Sunday I went up to London to see Katie Boyle. She was looking radiant in pink. Margherita, her sister, was over from Geneva, so the three of us tucked into a delicious smoked salmon lunch and talked about old times in Singapore. After getting back home I wandered over to the lock to have a chat with the lock keeper. So relaxing, just watching the boats going in and out of the lock in such glorious sunshine

Saturday, 11 October 2008

A Golden Day

Henley was decked out in all its finery today. Why? Because the Olympian medal winners were here. The day started for me with an early morning invitation to the River and Rowing Museum for breakfast. It was a misty morning, but with a promise of sunshine. Then the Olympians arrived, headed by Sir Matthew Pinsent.

After a short reception we all repaired to the water’s edge where the oarsmen and women launched their boats for a row-past and on up to Leander Club.

The mist cleared at that exact moment to reveal bright sunshine.
I had to dash off then to get a ‘flu jab. This didn’t take long, so I was able to get back to the Market Place in Henley to await the drive-past in an open-decked bus.

Preceded by a marching band and several smartly uniformed types, with the roads closed, the bus slowly meandered around the town.

It looked to me as if the entire population of Henley was there to cheer them on. The sun shone warm and bright. One hundred school children from the seven schools in the Henley area were invited to the Town Hall (which by this time was surrounded by scores of rowers with their blades held aloft), not only to meet the Olympians, but to each be given a miniature medal to hang around their necks. They also were able to collect as many autographs as they liked. High above in the perfect blue skies a small aircraft flew over the town dragging a banner behind it with the words ‘Henley Salutes the Olympians’ emblazoned upon it.
A truly lovely day.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A New Beginning

As this is my new blog, I thought I’d start somewhere near the beginning. Here I am as ‘Specky Four Eyes’ – just one of the names I was called at school. I’d already been painting and drawing for a number of years when this photograph was taken. Art had been my passion from the age of five when I drew my first portrait.

In the fifties I became a biscuit tin designer for Huntley and Palmers in Reading. This plate of biscuits was one of my early paintings. Difficult to do because each time I finished painting a biscuit, one of the other artists would steal it, till the plate ended up with just one biscuit remaining in it.National Service days were spent in England and in Singapore, where I became a cartographer, and drew maps during the Malayan Emergency. My love for the Far East started there and then.

After demob, and a couple more years designing biscuit tins, I answered an ad entitled ‘Go East Adman!’ and returned to Singapore as the Creative Director for an advertising agency called Papineau. I bought a yellow bug-eyed Sprite, courted Miss Singapore, and joined the Singapore Motor Club.

Then I bought the fastest Sprite in Asia – and promptly crashed it during the practice run of the Singapore Grand Prix.

A few years later I went to Hong Kong and opened a package design division for my new company – Grant Advertising International, and months later was asked to ‘Pep up the art department’ in Bangkok. This I did, expecting to stay there for only a week or two. But fate decreed otherwise and I stayed on in Thailand for 7 years, initially as Creative Director, then a year later as Managing Director. Thailand in the 60’s was not the tourist Mecca it is today. Hardly any tourists. No jumbo jets, and no traffic jams. I loved it - especially the Thai people.

Then I was promoted to become the Area Director and relocated back to Singapore where I took over responsibility for all nine Grant offices within Asia. This caricature was drawn by one of our Chinese artists in Hong Kong.

Eight more years were spent in Singapore with constant travel around the region and throughout the world. It was at this time I took up miniature portrait painting (I could carry all my materials with me in a corner of my briefcase) Many Royal Palaces have collections of miniature portraits and it wasn’t long before I was summoned to meet the Sultan of Johor in Malaysia. There I was commissioned to paint a miniature of him as a young man. The Sultan was 80 when I first met him and I was soon dubbed ‘Court Painter to the Sultan’.

This was followed by many Royal commissions, and by the end of the 70’s, having had a miniature of the Sultan accepted for the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, I felt the time had come to leave Asia and become a full-time artist in England.

This I did, and although it was tough going at first to get established as an artist, my first lucky break was to win ‘The Exhibit of the Year’ award at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition for this large still life painting entitled ‘Early Apples’. Subsequently I won the award again in 1982 for a portrait of my frame-maker in his workshop. Soon I was accepted a s a member of The Royal Society of Miniature Painters, The Miniature Artists of America, The Hilliard Society, The Miniature Art Society of Florida and the Society of Limners. (A Limner is the original name for a miniature portrait painter).

Since then, over the years, having won all the major awards for miniature painting, I also have painted full-size portraits – mainly in watercolour using a pointillist technique. Among the more interesting of my sitters have been Spike Milligan, The Duke of Edinburgh, King Bhumipol Aduladej of Thailand. Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee, Rolf Harris, Boris Johnson, Sir David-Money Coutts, and hundreds more.

Recently I’ve published three books on miniature portrait painting, and just last month launched my autobiography ‘A BRUSH WITH LIFE’ at the Henley Literary Festival. Next month I will be launching it in Asia at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. If you want to have a look at the book, follow this link, or to see a collection of my work, click on to my web-site

From now onwards, my blog will be a diary of my week. Hope you find it interesting. I’ll end this one by showing you the view from my studio window.