Friday, 28 November 2008

An Evening of Cheese and Wine

I know nothing about wine (apart from enjoying it), am allergic to cheese, and don’t bank with Coutts, but the invitation to the Bank’s cheese and wine evening yesterday to celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of their Reading branch, was very welcome anyway. Especially as it came from Anna, who works at Coutts as a private bankers assistant. Anna also happens to be the person I’ve painted more than anyone else – four miniatures, one pencil drawing, and a large watercolour, (with the words to the song ‘Young and Beautiful’ appearing in the background). Anna also featured on one of my Christmas cards a couple of years ago.

A miniature portrait of Anna
The party was so warm and friendly and to listen to the cheese expert flamboyantly extolling the virtues of the dozens of very interesting looking cheeses on display, was most entertaining. Jilly came with me – and did all the driving - on a very rainy and dark evening in Reading's rush hour. We met a man there who mentioned that he wanted to buy a painting of one of his ancestors he’d discovered in an auction house, but the price - in excess of a million pounds - was a bit too much. His family has lived in the same house for hundreds of years and has a collection of miniature portraits dating right back to Nicholas Hilliard in the late sixteenth century. He’s invited me to see his collection sometime – so I’ll look forward to that.

I had lunch with another of my ‘models’ at the beginning of the week. Jane is the daughter of Mollie – my second cousin once removed. So does that make Jane twice removed? Mollie was going back home to New Zealand on Tuesday evening, so I took them both out to lunch at Phyllis Court to say goodbye. Jane was Miss New Zealand about thirty years ago, and as you can see from the photograph I took at lunch, looks quite ravishing. I’m trying to encourage her to write her autobiography, as she’s had a most amazing life. She features in mine. (Click here.)

And on to dinner with Paul and Debbie on Wednesday. (Yes I’ve painted both of them too!) They’d invited me to join them and Nancy - Paul’s 92-year-old mother - that evening in Denham. Now there’s a lively character! She’s bought and wrapped all her Christmas presents. They were stacked in big coloured sacks ready for Santa’s collection no doubt. We had a wonderful feast at a lovely little restaurant nearby. Paul and Debbie are off to Bridlington soon to star in the pantomime Cinderella. Paul will play Baron Hardup and Debbie the Fairy Godmother. I saw them last Christmas – they really are good and obviously love playing panto. Wish I could go this year but the ten-hour return drive is a little too far. (It opens on 15th December at the Spa Theatre in Bridlington and runs until January 4th.)

What price hurt feelings? I just cannot understand how our industrial tribunal system arrives at the obscene and exorbitant figures given out these days in compensation. Don’t get me wrong – for any serviceman or woman injured in battle, the sky’s the limit, as far as I’m concerned. But when a self-styled lesbian soldier is given the sum of £200,000 for ‘hurt feelings’ because she was ‘pestered for sex’ by her boss, I despair. Compare this amount with the Marine who had both an arm and a leg blown off by a landmine while on active service in Afghanistan. He was awarded £161,000. Or the Corporal who lost both legs and an arm in a mine explosion. He was given £214,000. Just how can his massive injuries, which will seriously blight the rest of his life, compare with ‘hurt feelings’? And how does the brave Captain Kate Philp feel as she lies in her hospital bed after having her left leg amputated below the knee as a result of injuries she received in Afghanistan earlier this month? Who are these people who make these ludicrous decisions with someone else’s money?

I’ve started writing my new book on the subject of the technique of miniature portrait painting. It’s going to take a long time, as I must aim it at both the professional and amateur artist. This will be my last book on the subject of miniatures, and surely the most comprehensive. Apart from detailed illustrated sections on how to go about painting these tiny portraits, I’ll include a double-page spread from the world’s leading painters of silhouettes, oil, and enamel portraits. Now I must have a blitz in my living room to prepare for the arrival of a new big television set.

And if anyone wants to ‘pester me for sex’ I promise I won’t ask for a penny in compensation!

Monday, 24 November 2008

Snow and Sunshine

On Tuesday evening I was invited to a reception at Henley’s River and Rowing Museum to celebrate its tenth anniversary. Everybody who was anybody was there, and I had a really nice time talking to people I hadn’t seen for a long time. The inspiration for the museum in the first place was the discovery of a flint artefact by Sally Arbib. To house this little piece of history, Sir Martyn Arbib, Sally’s husband, decided to build a museum, and became the chief benefactor of the splendid building that borders the river today.

The frosty view from my studio window

Yesterday dawned cold and snowy prior to a trip to the Cotswolds with my sister-in-law, Val. Yet during the hour it took to drive there the snow turned to rain, and finally to a beautiful sunny day. What a contrast to the scorching hot weather I was basking in a couple of weeks ago. Joanne, a friend from my Singapore days in the 70’s had invited us to lunch - scrumptious as always. Joanne has only recently entered the world of computers, so I spent part of the afternoon joining her to Skype. Borrowing Paul’s idea, we registered her name as thejoannedalston, and after giving her daughter Nicola a call in Washington, joined her as well with the same prefix. So much to their delight we chatted for nearly half an hour totally free of charge.

On the painting front I’ve had quite a productive week. Last Wednesday I finished a portrait in a circular format. The client wanted a similar style, colour and shape to the portraits of the 16th century artist Hans Holbein. Now I await a leather and silk case to arrive from my frame-maker to encase it in.
On Friday a very nice man arrived with his daughter for a commission. She posed beautifully, and having taken a dozen or so photographs I’ve now started her portrait. People don’t realise that the surface of the vellum I use to paint miniatures on varies considerably. But luckily I’ve found a really good piece of vellum for this particular portrait.

Each year I make six calendars for the family – usually based on photographs of my great nieces and nephews I’ve taken over the preceding twelve months. However this time I decided to use 12 of the portraits I’ve painted of them since I embarked on my project of painting miniatures of each first born on their birthday every year. The calendar was Saturday’s task, so now I’m getting nicely ahead of myself in readiness for Christmas.

Have you been watching “I’m a Celebrity – Get me out of Here!” which started on ITV last week? I happened to tune in the other day, just in time to see Timmy Mallet, a friend of mine, being caught up in a net in the middle of a forest, and ending up dangling upside down. I know it’s a bit sad, but I find the programme compelling viewing, but Timmy’s personality seems to have taken a peculiar turn. As he watched Kilroy Silk enduring the most unspeakable tribulations, he was convulsed in laughter. Maybe Timmy was nervous, but if I’d been Kilroy I’d have whacked him one

I like the Christmas stamps this year. It’s a pantomime theme, and although they are small, the designs are really good.

If Pootle (one of my ‘followers’) is reading this blog, please tell me how I can leave a comment? It takes ages as I keep getting rejected with words such as ‘You have made an illegal entry!’ What do they mean?
Sometimes the comments get through, but there must be a key word I can use. Having tried my gmail address and my blog name, nothing seems to work now.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Titanic - The Musical

On Monday evening Jilly and I went to our local theatre – The Kenton – to see Titanic -The Musical. Was it a joke? Apparently not. The show won five Toni awards in the USA. We were interested to see how they would stage the show, and of course both knew how it would end! I must say I was very impressed with the sets (over fifteen of them) - more than I was with the music. The sinking of the Titanic has always interested me. I have many books on the subject, watch all the films that regularly appear on Sky, and even painted an exact replica last year of a miniature portrait that survived a day or so underwater before it was finally retrieved from the pocket of one of the unfortunate victims. Until I read the Kenton programme, however, I hadn’t realised that the order given by the helmsman to turn the ship’s rudder to port would be “Starboard Helm” Knowing that the Titanic actually turned to its left (port) in an attempt to avoid the iceberg, I thought that the director of the musical had got her facts wrong. But now I know better. (It wasn’t until the 1930’s that the current international standards were applied, and now, as the helmsman no longer directly controls the tiller, if he turns the wheel to port the ship will go to port.) We had a fish supper at the Rose and Crown – opposite the theatre – just before the show, to echo the nautical occasion.

Sarah Booth is the glamorous and talented daughter of Annie Coury, and on Monday she presented her collection of semi-precious stones, crystal and pearl jewellery, designer bags and gifts, at her mother’s house in Willow Lane. It was a great chance to buy a number of Christmas and Birthday presents. I’ve been to Sarah’s collections before and, as usual, was the ‘token’ man amongst a great many females. With my great niece Becky coming up to her 18th birthday next week and a god-daughter’s birthday approaching rapidly, I elicited the help of a couple of the young glams there, and was given what I’m sure was good advice on styles of jewellery worn by the young today. Seven or eight other purchases added nicely to my Christmas presents now piling up on the dining room table.
Yesterday afternoon Val and I popped over to Wokingham to see my cousin Jill, who’s just come out of hospital after a serious operation. She’s staying with her daughter, Samantha. Jill was full of praise for the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and especially for the Italian surgeon.

You may wonder why I’m showing a picture of an elephant carving here. Well, I was speaking to my lovely friend, Barbie, in Germany the other day and she commented on how much she liked the Thai carving I’d posted on my blog recently. So this one is a teak carving of ‘cavorting’ elephants adorning the library at the Ancient City in Bangkok. Hope you like it Barbie.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Ancient Mariner

Luckily I don’t suffer from jet-lag - mainly because whichever country I happen to land in I keep to that country’s time, and don’t try to make up on sleep. My flight from Bangkok took 13 hours, so I read a book and watched the little aircraft on the screen in front of me creep very slowly across the world. (The bloke in the seat next to me, however, watched 6 full-length films one after another during the journey.)

Got back just in time on Tuesday evening to see Rolf Harris on BBC Television trace his father’s footsteps across the battlefields of World War One. And very emotional it was too. As it was the 90th anniversary of the end of the war, being the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the late news was showing the scene from the Cenotaph in London that day. To think there are only three survivors of the Great War still alive today. And the amazing thing is that all three services were represented. Henry Allingham, 112, served as an air force mechanic, Harry Patch, 110, was a ‘Tommy’ in the army, and William Stone, the youngest at 108, was a stoker in the navy.
I’ve known William for many years. His mind is as alert as ever, and even his handwriting is still good. He always ends his letters with the words ‘The Ancient Mariner’ as you can see from the card (above) he sent to me a couple of weeks ago. What a privilege to know such a man. William went to Dunkirk five times to rescue our troops from the beaches and ferry them back to Dover, and then went on to join the Russian convoys – a highly dangerous occupation.

William Stone - The Ancient Mariner
Now it’s back to reality – I have a portrait commission to complete by next Monday, but at least I’ve finished all my Christmas cards. Bought 300 stamps yesterday and wrote them all today, having printed and addressed the cards before I went away.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Betwixt and Between

The new Bangkok Airport is huge, and as the Singapore Airlines counter is at the exact opposite end of the airport to the Eva Air counter, I’ve had the most exhilarating twenty-five minute walk - having just arrived here in Thailand in transit to London. How I hate getting up at sparrows fart in the morning! But now I’m sitting comfortably in the Evergreen Lounge.
My last day in Singapore was nice and peaceful. I popped down to Bras Basar Road to pick up the Chinese chop for my friend. (Hope he appreciates it.) When I asked why it was so much more expensive than those in Chinatown - especially as they had carved animal figures mounted on the top, she merely said “better stone.” As if it matters!

View from ny balcony in the rain
I’ve talked earlier about the brand spanking new sports centre at the Tanglin Club. So as a farewell treat I booked a couple of hours in the spa in the afternoon. (On the way I popped into the Billiards Room to say farewell to the pro.) Starting off with a defoliating scrub – I chose an Indonesian coffee flavour - it was followed by a very soothing massage. The soft tinkling music added to the fabulous ambiance and I relaxed almost to the point of falling asleep.

The Billiards Room at The Tanglin Club
I’d packed in the morning and written a few thank you letters, so when I came back from the spa (still in a state of Nirvana), did a quick change, and met Jack and Eileen Bygrave, who had invited me for an early dinner at the Mezzanine Lounge in the Hyatt – just a short walk away. It’s so nice to chatter away to friends you’ve known for so many years. I’ve known Jack and Eileen for more than 40 years – in fact we’ve lived in Singapore, Hong Kong, England and Bangkok just about at the same times.
Getting up at 5.30 this morning to catch the early flight is not my idea of fun, but now it’s time to say goodbye for a while to the heat and humidity (which I love) of Asia and back to dear old blighty. My Eva Air flight awaits me, but I think there’s just enough time to listen to The Archers on my laptop (I’d better turn the volume down low as I don’t expect everyone in this lounge are Archers fans!)

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

I’d forgotten just how hot it can be in the tropics! Yesterday, after a ‘fish moulie’ lunch at the Singapore Cricket Club with Gill and Jeff Alan, I decided to have a walk around the Botanic Gardens. Originally planted and designed by the great Victorian Botanists, it’s a wonderful place to visit – but not at 2.30 in the afternoon, when the sun is at its fiercest! (Noel Coward was right!) In the Orchid Gardens I found temporary relief by going into what they call a ‘cold area’. Still humid with little waterfalls, at least the temperature is a few degrees cooler

Orchids in the Botanic Gardens

When I lived in Singapore I became the ‘Court Painter’ to the Sultan of Johor, so when his young widow Sultana Nora heard I was in Singapore, she rang today to invite me to lunch at the Istana (Royal Palace) on Sunday. Although we had a nice long chat, I decided not to go. The reason being that taxis are not allowed to go all the way across the causeway to Malaysia. Consequently you have to get to Woodlands in Singapore, then go through Singapore customs, followed by a long (and very hot) walk across to the Malaysian side, go through more customs, then finally find another taxi to take you to the Palace. Sunday also happens to be the busiest day of the week, and the journey would take many hours. She quite understood.

Today has been a very varied day. After breakfast by the pool (rapidly becoming inhabited by little children, it being a Saturday) with Siok Sun, Suzanna collected me and we wandered off to the Lido to see the latest James Bond film ‘Quantum of Solace’. I’ve never been to the cinema in the morning before – It felt quite decadent.
A couple of hours later we ventured down to Bras Basha Road, as I wanted to have a Chinese ‘Chop’ made for my friend. (Eileen had already had his name in Chinese characters designed by her sister.) I needed a big chop with big carving, as my friend is a ‘big’ painter. He’ll use it if he ever paints anything Oriental, I imagine. I should have waited before ordering it because, after a quick lunch, we went to Chinatown where we saw hundreds of chops – all more decorated, and all a lot less expensive than the one I'd ordered! Oh well, I should have listened to Suzanne in the first place.

Inside the Sri Mariamman Temple

I love Chinatown – always brimming with bustle, life and colour. Already people are stocking up on items in readiness for the Chinese New Year in February. The ornate Indian temple in Pagoda Street was our first stop, then we just wandered through a maze of little alleys and shops for an hour or so till it became too humid.

Fans on display in Chinatown
Getting ready for the New Year
More fans in Chinatown

Where’s the coolest place in Singapore? The National Museum seemed to be the answer this afternoon. It’s recently been completely re-vamped. Housed in a beautiful white colonial building, the history of Singapore is depicted in every conceivable way there. My favourite gallery gives a 180 degree filmshow which graphically brings to life the early Temasek settlers in the 15th century, through the time when lions were thought to inhabit the island (hence the name ‘Singapura’ or Lion City), and right up to the Portuguese, and latterly British colonists, ending with a very complete collection of galleries depicting the last 50 years of fantastic progress.
So, after all that activity we had a quiet cup of tea in the Tanglin Club. After Suzanna left, I walked down to the Far East Plaza, as my tailor’s daughter wanted to buy a couple of my books. In an hour or so I’ll have a quiet dinner on my own downstairs in the Tavern, then post this blog.

Oh yes, I’ve just had an email from the USA – It seems I’ve won first prize for the Best Watercolour Painting in the forthcoming Miniature Art Society of Florida’s annual exhibition. It’s for a miniature I recently did of Peter Sutherland in his Upper Thames Rowing Club blazer, so he’ll be pleased.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Raffles Hotel Book Launch

Tan Siok Sun and I collected the large oil portrait of Tan Sri Dr Tan Chin Tuan from his house yesterday afternoon on our way to the Bar and Billiards Room in the Raffles Hotel – venue of the launch of my autobiography later that evening. We arranged about twenty-five of my paintings around the room, the four biggest on easels in the corners. The Raffles Hotel had arranged for a technician to install a large screen and all the other equipment needed for me to give my PowerPoint presentation. (I’d entitled it ‘My Life in Painting.’ Click here for details)
Over 50 people arrived for the launch and cocktail party around 6 o’clock. Jennie Chua, the former Chief Executive of the Raffles Hotel, performed the opening ceremony as guest of honour, with Siok Sun giving a very witty speech - even managing to couple Barack Obama’s “Yes you can” famous slogan with my future ‘How to Paint Miniatures’ publication.
Pictures of me as a young boy on the screen drew hoots of laughter – I’ve no idea why - although I did look a bit of a geek, or young fop as Paul Daniels would say. But the short film sequence I played from ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ (The reason I came to Singapore in the first place) caused large sighs of appreciation from the audience. The cream of Singapore mingled with several of my old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for 30 years. (Shamsuddin for example, in the photograph above, was a brilliant artist who worked with me in the early sixties - he's now 75 - doesn't time fly?)
Suzanna, me, Jayanti and Allen Pathmarajah

Overview of the Bar and Billiards Room

Changing mikes with Siok Sun at the book launch
Yesterday I had lunch at the Tavern with Bob Seymour. Bob now lives in Kuala Lumpur and Perth with his wife Hanim. Bob used to be the MD of our office in KL when I was Regional Director for Grant Advertising in the seventies. He told me an interesting story. When the office was having a bit of a downturn a few years ago, his Malaysian colleagues called in the Feng Shui man to sort it out. He advised that a tiger facing the building needed to be shot, so a small bow and arrow was erected in the office with the aim of neutralising the problem. (Don’t ask.) The weirdest thing of all, however, was that Bob, being the Chief Executive, was required to fully immerse himself in a bath of coconut milk! Apparently that did the trick. (But I wonder whether his staff gleefully got together next day and said, “Guess what we made our MD do yesterday? Gullible idiot actually had a bath in coconut milk!”)
It reminded me of the time when I lived in Thailand and two of our top young executives were killed in a bus crash. Because I was their boss I took precedence, even over their parents, at the cremation. I was the first person (heading a hundred-strong procession of mourners) to set fire to their bodies with long tapers and lotus stalks. At the very end of the ceremony I was made to hold my thumbs together while lustral (holy) water was poured over them. This signified the exact moment when Tachapong and Amnat ascended to heaven.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Singapore, my Singapore

It’s nine o’clock on Tuesday morning. I’ve just had breakfast by the pool at The Tanglin Club in Singapore. The scorching tropical sun is beating down from a clear blue sky, so I think I’ll have a swim to cool off.
I really love this country – it’s my second home. I’ve lived here on three separate occasions, and it’s always great to come back and meet up with my many friends.
Since I was last in Singapore the Tanglin Club has built a brand new five-storey sports centre. It’s joined to the club by the walkway you can see on the right of the photograph above. When I went over there on Sunday afternoon I was amazed to see a full-sized bowling green on the 4th floor. I popped in to the billiards room and had a one-hour’s snooker lesson as no one was there except for the coach

Jayanti and me

Later that evening my old friends Jayanti and Nira had asked me over for dinner at their penthouse apartment in Sunrise Gardens - about 15 miles from the Club. In total contrast to the traffic in Bangkok last week, my taxi speeded along wide boulevards, and I was there in ten minutes
Bowls of Chinese money on Mei's sideboard
Mei Lin Chan invited me to lunch yesterday – I was the only man amongst nine ladies - the youngest of whom had an intriguing name – Nic-Nac! (She could have been in a James Bond film.) Hope I don’t go on too much about food, but there we had Pohpiah – a Singapore delicacy. All sorts of little bowls containing things like bean sprouts, crabmeat, vegetables, shallots, shrimps, etc. are arranged around the table. You then choose what you want, and wrap a large thin pastry around it to make your own individual sort of outsize spring roll. Earlier Tan Siok Sun had joined me for breakfast in the Wheelhouse at the Club where we discussed the arrangements for my book launch on Thursday, and had a brief run-through the presentation – I don‘t want to make any cultural errors.
I paid a quick visit to my tailors to be fitted for a few pairs of trousers, and back in time for Siok Sun to drive me to Mei’s apartment in the city. After lunch she dropped me off at The Raffles Hotel as I had arranged a couple of meetings – one with Liana Wee to discuss my contract and Royalty payments for the painting ‘Raffles Remembered’, and the other with the F&B Manager, Jean-Philippe Joye. We walked along the wide corridors of this historic, and most beautiful, hotel, to the Bar and Billiards Room – the venue for my launch - where we worked out the logistics for Thursday evening.
Another bit of snooker practice and I was ready to take Suzanna Looh to dinner at the Tavern here at the Club. I first met Suzanna in the late 60’s when she was a model in Bangkok. A very clever girl – she’s just written a comprehensive book on the I Ching (the ancient Chinese classic system of cosmology and philosophy.) My leg was playing me up a bit, so I had an early night.

Allan and Jayanti Pathmarajah are both exhibiting the paintings I did of them some 20 years ago at Thursday’s book launch, and as Jayanti was concerned about a strange white mark which had mysteriously appeared on the shoulder of her blue sari, this afternoon we went to a frame maker to rectify the problem and to remount both paintings. The extremely high humidity in Singapore can cause all sorts of damage to both watercolours and oils – and they have one of each. On the way back I called in to the Peranakan Museum – it only opened a couple of months ago. Very interesting. The Peranakans were traders brought to Singapore by the prevailing winds. Some married local women and put down roots here. The lives of their descendants are depicted in ten galleries in the museum and are packed with fascinating collections of every kind – I even spotted the famous golf club belonging to Siok Sun’s father-in-law, Goh Keng Swee. Not only was he Singapore’s Minister of Finance for many years, he also had a habit of scoring numerous ‘holes in one’ in golf.

I’ve mentioned before about my fear of wasps. They are my sworn enemy! I hate them - they were one of the reasons I left England to work abroad all those years ago. Well, when I arrived at Changi airport on Sunday afternoon (what a spectacular, fully carpeted, ultra-efficient airport that is – the best in the world, in my opinion) I popped into the gent’s loo. Painted on each urinal – at no doubt the most strategic position – was a life-size picture of a wasp! Taking careful aim I sort of got my own back – in a virtual way!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Mighty Chao Phraya River

It’s my last day in Bangkok, and I’m sitting under the shade of a large green umbrella on the verandah at the Oriental Hotel, looking out to the fast flowing Chao Phraya River. Fluffy white clouds break the skyline as I watch the boats pass by. There’s the many long-tailed boats racing along, brightly-coloured flowers dangling from their prows arching up into the air and spraying ten-foot high waterspouts from the whirring propellers far behind them; plucky little tugs pulling enormous piles of sand, cement and bricks with strong cables, measuring some 50 yards or so; courtesy hotel boats plying backwards and forwards across the wide river; Chinese junks; and even a plethora of jet-skis which has just roared past. All this frantic movement in the open river is in direct contrast to the dozens of water-hyacinth fronds leisurely floating past on their way to the sea.
Earlier this morning I took the Skytrain to the pier, hired a long-tailed boat, enroute to see the Royal Barges in their sheds. As I expected the river was too high for me to get very close to them, but the exhilaration of zooming up the river at breakneck speed was a thrill in itself.
The Royal Barge Anantanagaraj

Only 8 of the 52 barges are on display because of limited space. During Royal Barge processions the King rides in the Royal Barge Suphannahong with its bow shaped like a Royal Swan. Nearly 50 feet long, the crew totals 64, of which 50 are oarsmen and 7 are Royal Regalia bearers. The Royal Barge procession only takes place on very special occasions, and I’ve been lucky enough to witness three of them, the first of which was in 1964 - from the vantage point of the Thai Royal Naval Pavilion. (I was courting the Admiral’s daughter at the time!) To hear the chanting echoing along the river is awe-inspiring. These days all the chanters on the barges are connected to satellites so all the barges can chant in unison.

Some of the Royal Barges

As I gaze at the ever-changing river scene before me I’m a little bit wary of an enormous hornet, which keeps buzzing around my table – it’s the size of a golf ball! I think I’ll have lunch now – maybe a nice Thai lobster, or possibly a plate of assorted satay, followed by water chestnut ‘jewels’ in coconut milk - or perhaps a lovely ripe mango.

My succulent satay and mango juice

I settled on the satay. Hey, it’s nice to be here at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok - my favourite hotel in the entire world.

The Authors Lounge at the Oriental Hotel

The Ride of the Valkyries

Last night an old friend, Barry Cable – the Director of Communications at the United Nations here – invited me to dinner at The Ship – an English Pub, situated next to the colourful Soi Cowboy in downtown Bangkok, and owned by his wife, Dtoy. (They serve the best sausage and mash in Bangkok.) The Ship is a haven of peace surrounded by girlie bars, and last night, being Halloween, an assortment of highly coloured and costumed revellers running all over the place.
Looking down Soi Cowboy

When I left, at about 10.30, the heavens had literally opened. The thunder and lightning was deafening, and the monsoon rain bucketed down as only tropical rain can. Be outside for one second and you are literally drenched! After a while a taxi pulled towards the pavement, leaving a three-foot stretch of water in the road for me to negotiate. As it was obviously well over 8 inches deep I didn’t really want to ruin my shoes, so with a mighty leap I dived headlong into the taxi – throwing my camera in first. Having survived that feat of daring, I settled back and discovered I’d luckily chosen a jolly taxi-driver – I think his day-job was that of a crazy long-tailed boat driver - and we roared off around the sois (lanes) in the unbelievable storm. In places the water covered the road to a depth of about 2 feet. How we didn’t stall, heaven only knows. But with the thunderstorm crashing all around us, and cars and trucks slithering about all over the place, about an hour or so later we finally reached home. Pakdi was waiting with a welcome umbrella as I did a hop, skip and jump over the floods at the entrance to the house. (Too late to worry about the shoes.) My kamikaze driver really deserved the big tip I gave him. When you are driving through floods it’s impossible to see the potholes, so my ride was more like being in an aeroplane during violent bouts of turbulence.

The large garden here in Bangkok where I’m sitting right now has about six houses dotted around it - all owned by various family members. Next door to Oye and Maurice lives Khunying Nit - she is Oye’s sister-in-law. Sadly, Chaiwat, her husband, passed away in June. However, being a close confidant and advisor to Queen Sirikit, upon his death, intricate, large and beautiful floral tributes were sent to the house by many members of the Royal family – from King Bhumipol Adulaej downwards. They remain in the house, as does his white and gold coffin. (It is not uncommon for the deceased to be kept for more than 100 days before cremation.) I’ll post a photograph of the tribute sent by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn – the King’s daughter. (She’s the same Princess I presented two miniatures I’d painted of her at the Chitralada Palace not too long ago.) The flowers are made of pure silk, and Nit showed us around the room yesterday where every fortnight a number of monks arrive and perform funeral rites leading up to the actual cremation - which will take place in December.