Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Very White Christmas

It really has been a white Christmas this year – the first for a long time. The snow covered about six inches around Henley and as few of the roads were salted or gritted, driving became a bit hazardous from time to time. Coming home from Jack and Norma’s party last Sunday afternoon I discovered, when turning out on to the dual carriageway, a number of cars sliding sideways down the hill. I had no alternative but to join them but managed to stay relatively safe by using the lowest gear on the slope. But the landscape was beautiful. This picture is of the road just before you turn into the courtyard of my flat.


On Christmas Eve I tramped through deep snow to visit Nigel and Tracy who live in the lock-keeper’s house at Marsh Lock.

Nigel introduced me to the new assistant lock-keeper. He might feature on their next year’s Christmas card.
And this warmer snow man nestles in the fireplace at Bird Place.
Every Christmas morning I call in to Bird Place, the lovely Queen Anne home of my friends Peter and Diane Sutherland. For the past twenty years, as I arrive, Peter emerges from the front door dressed up in some sort of costume. These have varied from, for example, a cutthroat pirate, A French onion seller, Osama Bin Laden, General Gordon, to this year’s character:


Stewie, one of my nephews and his family were staying with Val for Christmas so I spent it with them. Louisa visited with her family in the morning so we could spend some time unwrapping presents. Here’s her youngest, my great-niece Kate.


We had a lovely day. Stewie and Tina have three lovely children, Annabel. Genevieve and Matty. The giant turkey was fabulous, as was everything else. Val made all the mince pies, Christmas pudding, brandy butter, jellies, etc. etc. and most of the vegetables were from her garden. And Genevieve and Annabel made and decorated the Christmas cake. Yesterday, Boxing Day, we all went for a walk through the snow and extremely slippery ice by the river at Marsh Lock ending up at the River and Rowing Museum for very welcome steaming hot chocolates.

Genevieve, Annabel and Matty

Tina, Matty, Stewie, Genevieve, Val, Annabel.

Here’s the view across the river towards my flat - it’s hidden behind the boathouse but you can just make out my snow-covered boat in the bottom left-hand corner. And the other picture is the view of the Millstream from my back garden



I’m going to end my last blog of the year by relating the latest ridiculous piece of political correctness to emerge this Christmas. British Transport Police very sensibly decidedly to alert the public to the fact that they would be increasing the number of police on duty over the Christmas period. The slogan on the poster was quite clever and was to be ‘Christmas Presence’ a pun on the word ‘presents’. But, can you believe it, the marketing manager – a harridan called Alison Lock – decided that “some people would feel excluded by the use of the word ‘Christmas’, so she ordered it to be changed to ‘Holiday Presence’, which obviously made nonsense of the slogan. How blinkered can one be?. These stupid people who make such ridiculous decisions should get out more and meet the people who they think might be offended. They will soon find out that, not only are they not offended, but in fact are insulted and feel patronised.

So on that note here’s wishing all my followers and readers a Very Happy New Year.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Ho,Ho,Ho


The snow has arrived. I love looking at it but am not so sure about driving around in it. Today, for example not only did I break the key pad on the outside of my garage (because it was frozen) when I did get the car out it slithered around getting up the slope of our forecourt and nearly deposited both me and the car in an icy river. But all was OK eventually. Now all I need repaired is my gas fire which won’t light for some reason, and as British Gas will only answer emergency messages (and I’m too honest to pretend it’s an emergency) I’ll have to wait till Monday before I ring again. Not that they’ll come out before Christmas – that’s too much to ask.

It’s nice when my paintings are used for other reasons than just to look at. Two things in this regard happened this week – Leslie Thomas, the famous author of over thirty books – including ‘The Virgin Soldiers’, rang me on Thursday to ask if he could reproduce the miniature portrait I did of him a couple of years ago, on the back cover of his latest book. I agreed immediately and have been invited to the launch at Salisbury Cathedral in March. Leslie was delighted as it also won first prize for portraiture earlier this year in Florida.


An unexpected little package arrived yesterday. It was from Paradisum Records and contained 4 CD’s by John Clegg playing the works of Nicholas Medtner, and features my large watercolour painting of John Clegg on the cover. It’s been reproduced nicely and I’ll enjoy playing the CD over the next few days.


Last night I went to see ‘AVATAR’ - the latest film by James Cameron. Not only is it the most expensive film ever made (it cost £400 million) it’s the first major film to be made in modern 3D. I wondered whether, having only one good eye, whether the 3D effect would work for me. But it did, which will confound Paul Daniels who didn’t think it would. Just the other day I tried to watch The Queen’s Coronation in colour and in 3D on television, but it had no effect. I had to use two-colour glasses for it to work, whereas Avatar needed Polaroid glasses (50 pence a pair, but you could take them home with you). It was a very long film – 3 hours – and although I was wriggling about on my seat for the last hour, the effects were truly spectacular and highly inventive.

On the way back from taking Christmas presents over to Jill, my cousin, the other evening Val and I passed by West Drive in Sonning. There a family spend thousands every Christmas in decorating their house with the most fabulous Christmas lights. Due to the amount of illumination and the disruption it caused to the neighbours the display was banned a couple of years ago, but now it’s back in all its glory.


I see RG9 wrote a bit about my lapses into senility last week. When I met him in Waitrose car-park I also related another 'senior moment' incident that happened not too long ago. I went to London for the day and while travelling on the underground happened to glance down at my feet where I discovered I was wearing odd shoes! It must have been a dark morning when I put them on. My first thought was to find the nearest sock shop and buy two pairs of contrasting socks. I’d then put one of each colour on either foot with the bizarre intention of pretending to make some sort of fashion statement. But I though better of it, as who cares anyway?

Now I’m off to another party. Hope the roads are not too icy as the house is up a very winding and probably snow-bound lane in Wooburn. As I probably wont be writing another blog before Christmas, let me wish all my blog readers a very happy Christmas.






Saturday, 12 December 2009

Working hard

So what have I been up to this week? Last Friday Henley staged a late-night Christmas shopping and fun evening. The centre of Henley was closed at 4.30 and all sorts of stalls and children’s rides were erected in the main roads. Pity it was raining, but that didn’t deter the hundreds of people who flocked into the town. I had a few paintings on display at the Horizon Gallery in Hart Street so spent some time there sipping wine and munching mince pies. Then after a while wandered around ending up in the Lemongrove Gallery. The manager arrived soon afterwards clutching an enormous German sausage with both ends hanging obscenely out of the long bread roll. They looked so good and smelt heavenly so I ambled across the road and bought one for myself – which, with her permission, I ate in the gallery. She added mince pies and wine to the feast.



My goddaughter Emma celebrated her 30th birthday on Tuesday at Danesfield House Hotel near Henley. This magnificent 4 star hotel was originally a Victorian country mansion and is truly elegant. Felicity, Emma’s mother, treated her to a day of pampering – spa, massage, fingernails etc. Together with Martin, her grandfather, I joined them for a cream tea in a sort of baronial hall, complete with a minstrel gallery, in the afternoon. Very nice.

I went to see ‘Calendar Girls’ at the Noel Coward Theatre in London on the 3rd. As the show is all about the women from the Women’s Institute getting naked it was only fitting that I went there with a coach-load of mature W.I. ladies. Luckily they spared me by remaining fully dressed for the entire journey. But I thought the show was a bit amateurish, even though Kelly Brook’s gorgeous figure made the eyes pop a bit (she’s the one in the photograph with the skis), to see her tottering around the stage on high heels didn’t seem too authentic.

The highlight of the week was Vince Hill’s performance at the Kenton Theatre on Wednesday evening. Vince is in his mid seventies, yet he was on stage for a full two hours. How he can remember all the words – especially to that 17-page soliloquy ‘My Boy Bill’ from Carousel - I’ll never know. It was a magnificent evening and the theatre was full. So many of his friends were there (I was in the front row together with his family, Val, Paul and Debbie, etc) that he was a trifle nervous to begin with. He needn’t have been. At the end of the show the whole theatre gave him a standing ovation – so well deserved. Then about 30 of us went to a charming restaurant near Henley called Luscombes for a late dinner. We ate at 11.30 and had a very jolly time while Vince wound down a bit. Incidentally Vince donated his time and talent to the ‘Kenton for Keeps’ initiative, which aims to preserve the theatre for ever.

Ever lost your car keys? I did the other day. It was pouring with rain and I was returning to the Waitrose car park carrying three very large and heavy bags. I was soaking wet, the bags were nearly falling apart when I discovered my pockets were empty – the keys had gone. All I could do was to walk to the covered area by the store and ring Tracey, who happened to be at home cleaning my flat at the time to bring me my spare keys if she could find them.. I couldn’t get through for some reason so went into Waitrose to ask if I could leave the bags there while I retraced my steps right back to the Post Office. “Can you describe the keys?” the girl at the desk asked. When I did, lo and behold she handed me my keys! Someone had found them. Now mightily relieved I returned to my car, still soaking wet (my umbrella was locked in the boot, or trunk for my American readers) to find one of those big yellow warning notices under my windscreen wipers! I was sure I’d bought a parking ticket, and there it was attached to the window. Cursing loudly, and gearing myself up to confront the parking attendant, I removed it to find a little note underneath to say that if I’d lost my car keys they were in Waitrose. How kind, and thank you, whoever you were.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Magic of Camelot

The other day, after a marathon tidy–up of my studio with Tracey, I came across an exercise I did some time ago. It was a small portrait of David Hemmings, and showed him in his role of Mordred from the film Camelot. The three portraits you see below were executed in pencil, watercolour and scraperboard. (You can enlarge them by clicking on the images).


Pencil drawing
Scraperboard drawing
Watercolour painting
I was living in Bangkok with my girlfriend – Jeanne - when the film came out in 1967. We played the record constantly. It contained some wonderful songs – “The lusty month of May”, “Camelot” of course, “The simple joys of maidenhood” and “If ever I would leave you”, to name just a few. In those days life for an expatriate woman in Thailand was very difficult. They couldn’t obtain work and police permits, hardly anyone spoke English, the city was full of beautiful young Thai girls, and we men worked extremely long hours. So sadly, after just six months of living together, Jeanne reluctantly departed Bangkok and moved to Hong Kong. The reason I mention this is that after she left I must have played “If ever I would leave you” every day for months.

This week has been mostly taken up with painting between 8 and 10 hours a day on my large watercolour of my two friends. It will eventually take over 300 hours to complete – so far I’ve done about 70 – but I’m very excited about it, Paul and Debbie came over for a simple supper on Wednesday evening. It wasn’t my best culinat0ry effort – mainly because I forgot to put the onions in the crock-pot! And I added some strange green vegetables, which seemed to dominate the flavour. But the chicken satay first course went down well. Debbie told me of a great shop to buy ‘girlie’ presents in Reading, so as I was having lunch with my watch-maker friend David Card and taking a couple of paintings to be framed in Caversham on Thursday, I called into the shop. It’s in the Oracle and is called ‘Octopus’. As you enter the shop you are confronted with the most spectacular blaze of colour. I bought half a dozen lovely presents there. And now I think I’ll have to go back sometime before Christmas to buy a couple more, having had time to think about it.

It’s good when artists get together and discuss each others work. Yesterday a friend and I took a trip over to Timmy Mallett’s studio in Cookham. Timmy has a great little studio in his garden, and paints in Acrylics. When we got there Timmy was working on a very nice painting of a snowball fight. My friend immediately sat down in front of the easel and added a few touches to the painting (with Timmy’s approval, I might add) then brought out his magic toothbrush and demonstrated by flicking white paint over the painting how to instantly add snowflakes to the scene. Very effective. I remember being taught how to do this when as an apprentice lithographic artist I needed to achieve the effect of a Cotswold stone cottage wall when painting a country scene. My friend paints in oil, Timmy paints in Acrylic, and I paint in watercolour, so we chatted about the merits or otherwise of each technique. While at Timmy’s I gave him a framed copy of the miniature I painted of him last year when he took part in the TV show “I’m a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here!” filmed in the Australian ‘jungle’.

Miniature portrait of Timmy Mallett

The other day I arrived home in the late afternoon to find that a squad of workmen were digging a great big hole in our courtyard. It was dark, raining, and there was mess and rubble everywhere. Without even informing anyone here they – subcontracted by Thames Water - assumed there was a leak in our courtyard, and just started digging merrily away. The first my neighbour knew about it was the sound of a drill just outside his bedroom. When I asked them what on earth they were doing they said there must be a leak because they had detected running water under the courtyard. I pointed to the adjacent building and said, “Do you know what that building contains?” They didn’t. “It’s our dedicated sewerage plant" I replied, "and after doing its job, the purified water is released under the courtyard towards the river. So that’s your running water”. “Oh, that’s what it is” the chap in charge said. They left soon afterwards, leaving a terrible mess of mud and concrete for us to clear up. Now we have a horrible nasty scar in the courtyard- and not a word of apology!

It’s now lashing down with rain, so I’m going to work on my PowerPoint presentation for a talk I’m giving to the Women’s Institute next month. It will trace the origins of miniature portrait painting leading up to a visual demonstration of how I go about painting a miniature.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Enigma at Bletchley Park

On Wednesday I, together with a young friend, visited Bletchley Park, also known as Station X, in Buckinghamshire.



During World War Two Bletchley Park was England’s main decryption establishment. Ciphers and codes of the Axis countries were decrypted there – most importantly ciphers generated by the German Enigma machine.
The establishment and its activities were kept a complete secret till many years after the war, leading to Winston Churchill’s famous remark “The geese that laid the golden eggs but never cackled”.

A striking picture of Churchill

My good friend Jack Darrah showed us around the amazing Churchill Rooms in Bletchley Park where many thousands of pieces of Churchill memorabilia are housed. I have always been a Churchill admirer, and a couple of years ago donated six miniature portraits I had painted of the great man to the museum but hadn’t realised that they are now housed in a special cabinet together with a number of my books – very flattering.

Jack Darrah and me in the Churchill Rooms

Bletchley Park was declassified as a wartime code-breaking establishment and its existence revealed to the general public in the mid 1970’s. It was finally decommissioned in 1987 after 50 years association with British Intelligence.
Bletchley Park is rightly described as the birthplace of the modern computer, and in one of the rooms we discovered this wonderful rendition – in slate – of Alan Turing, sculpted by the artist Stephen Kettle.


Alan Turing, together with Gordon Welchman, developed the ‘Bombe’ - a machine used to crack the Enigma codes. Recently a complete replica has been made and when in operation the spindles have drums fitted to them representing the three wheels of the Enigma machine. Colossus machines were electronic computing devices and were the world’s first programmable, digital, electronic computers. The encrypted messages were read at high speed from a paper tape, which goes round at a speed of about 30 mph!

Colossus

Speeding tapes

An Enigma machine

In another building there was a special section devoted to carrier pigeons. They were used extensively during the war to carry messages and were often dropped by parachute. This photo shows the type of parachute used by the pigeons.

Pigeon parachutist

I thoroughly recommend a visit to Bletchley Park – there is so much to see and so much history of the code-breakers to learn.

My working week has almost exclusively been devoted to starting a large and very detailed painting of two friends of mine. Maybe I’ll show the progress at a later date, as the painting is bound to take at least two months to compete. For the past three days I’ve worked on it for 10 hours at a stretch.

Yesterday evening Jilly and I played skittles. The boat section of Phyllis Court had organised a dinner together with a skittles match at the Upper Thames Motor Yacht Club on Mill Island at Sonning. We had a good time there and didn’t disgrace ourselves as we both scored eight out of nine in two of our three games.

I’ve bought and wrapped nearly all of my Christmas presents – only about 12 to go – and all the Christmas cards are ready to post, so I can relax on that score and settle down to paint hard - in fact although I never usually paint on a Sunday I’m so excited about the painting I’m working on I think I’ll put in 4 or 5 hours now before I go to Val’s for dinner.

Christmas is a coming

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Lest We Forget


Last Wednesday, at the11th hour of the11th day of the11th month of the year Armistice Day was observed in Westminster Abbey in the presence of the Queen. A truly memorable event, especially as this year marked the sad deaths of the remaining survivors of the First World War – Henry Allingham, Harry Patch and William Stone.



This is the last picture that William sent me – just a week or two before his death earlier this year. (He’s the Jolly Jack Tar in the wheelchair on the right). The service in Westminster Abbey was especially dedicated to these three veterans. Now (apart from a lone British survivor who lives in Australia) there is no one left who fought in that long ago and dreadful war. Anne, William’s daughter, had the great honour of reading the first lesson during the ceremony. She and her husband Michael sat at the front of the Abbey next to Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
The Abbey is where the tomb of the unknown warrior is located. I hadn’t realised until the other day, when a film was shown on TV, that at the end of the war a small group of soldiers went from mass grave to mass grave in the battlefields and returned with a small number of bodies – all unidentified. They were then brought back to England and placed before an Army Major who was blindfolded. He then tapped on the coffin of one of the bodies. This soldier thus became the unknown warrior. I wonder just how many relatives of the war dead have passed by the tomb wondering whether their son, husband or lover is buried beneath the black marble slab.

The colours of autumn were either blown away or washed away in today’s high winds and rain. However they were still there last Sunday when Val and I visited Joanne Dalston in the Cotswold village of Bampton. On the way we passed through the beech woods in Nettlebed where I took these photographs.


Val taking photographs of the woods

The snooker section at Phyllis Court held their ‘Colours’ tournament last Thursday evening. Jilly bravely came also – as the only woman amongst 16 men. She did very well – and won one of her three games with a spectacular pot of the blue ball. (We’d sneakily been practising this opening shot earlier in the week). One of these days I intend to win the trophy, but Thursday was not one of them.

The Snooker Room at Phyllis Court

Just another couple of days to go and I’ll complete my latest painting – an autumn scene by the creek at Bird Place. I’ve left a little space in the middle of the picture where I intend to paint a miniature view of Henley’s church and pub right by the bridge.
Not much has happened this week. I did unearth a big crock-pot that hasn’t been used for over twenty years and, with cubes of Aberdeen Angus and an assortment of fresh vegetables, assembled them all in the morning to cook on a slow setting for about 7 hours. It was delicious by the evening when I subjected my young friend to a tasting.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Lasting Reminder of a Legend




Next week I’ve entered a snooker-style ‘Colours’ tournament at Phyllis Court and as I’m a bit rusty at the moment (when was I not?) Jilly and I had a sneaky practice game yesterday evening. Neither of us will win, mind you, but we both needed the practice.

‘The Henley Standard’ – our local newspaper - did an article about one of my large watercolour paintings this week under the caption “Lasting reminder of a Legend”. It’s called ‘Vince Hill-this is your life’. Incidentally I usually include a little secret in my larger pictures, and if you click on this one you may be able to see the words ‘Vince Hill’ painted on the edge of his collar). Vince will be appearing at the Kenton Theatre in Henley on Wednesday December 9th in aid of the ’Kenton for Keeps’ campaign. It should be a great show. For tickets (£15) call the box office on 01491 575698.

Talking of legends, my grandfather, Arthur Staniforth, was a minor legend in his time. Between the two World Wars, when he was living in Henley, managing the prestigious Royal Hotel, he felt so sorry for the scores of poor barefoot children in the area that he bought new shoes for them all. This was just one of his many philanthropic deeds. He also befriended hundreds of the young women widowed in the First World War and gave most of his money away. I used to visit him often on my leaves from the Far East in the sixties and I always remember one of his pieces of advice – “If you’ve got a three-penny bit, a pen-knife and a piece of string in your pocket you can look anyone in the eye!” Here’s racy picture of him (he’s on the top right) with my grandmother, and their four children – my mother seated on the left).


Apart from domestic things – like having a new tap installed in the kitchen (which overnight caused a dangerous amount of water to cascade down into the control cupboard in the hallway below!) – my week has consisted of 8 to 9 hour painting days. There were two highlights however. One, I was treated to a birthday dinner at my favourite Italian Restaurant on Tuesday evening by my young friend, and on Thursday went to an art exhibition and wine tasting at Fawley Hall – the magnificent home of Sir William McAlpine. Lady McAlpine’s daughter, Vicky, is a really good artist and her versatility shone out in her large oil portraits of cattle, incredible still-life paintings of apples, nectarines and other fruit. She also showed a number of delicate drawings on toned pastel paper of babies. For a part of the evening Vicky was carrying her five week-old baby in her arms. And what a little charmer she was! Passed around from person the person little Polly seemed to gurgle with delight. The other guests were interesting too – Alan’s bronze and resin full size sculpture of a stag welcomed us to the event at the main front door and I met Gray Jolliffe, the cartoonist who introduced ‘Wicked Willie’ to the world in a series of hilarious books published in the eighties. (I’d better not put an example of the cartoons on my blog or it might get censored!) The main room where the exhibition was held had an intriguing floor design – a very large and intricate map of the Oxfordshire area. Apparently it rolls up to reveal the indoor swimming-pool. One of my favourite artists is David Shepherd and I was delighted to see an original elephant painting of his hanging above the fireplace.

A couple of days a go I took this photograph from our back garden of a solitary swan glistening in a shimmering sunlit scene.


I totally agree with RG9‘s comment on my last blog. Yes Sir. Roll on the day when a Minister for Common Sense is appointed here in England.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Red, Yellow and Gold

I love warm colours and as this autumn has been especially kind - almost tropical - the myriad of red, yellow, orange and golden tints in the countryside is wonderful to behold. I popped in to see my friends Peter and Diane on Saturday afternoon. Their house is right next to the river by Henley Bridge so I wandered down to the creek at the bottom of the garden and took a few photographs. Here’s a couple:



I haven’t done much this week, but Thursday was my birthday, so in total contrast to last year (when I ‘made merit’ at the start of the day by rising at 5am to feed nine saffron-robed monks as they sauntered down Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok) Dee and Bill had organised a lovely birthday dinner party for me at their home in Henley. And what a nice evening it was. Just twelve of us enjoyed pink champagne and a gorgeous Indian meal. Chris Hollis was there - he’s currently appearing on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ on BBC TV and partners the professional dancer Ola (she who wears the skimpiest and sexiest of costumes). Chris is the sports presenter on Sky in the mornings and has to get up at 4am, so to follow this at 10am with about 9 hours rehearsal at the dance studio must be particularly tiring. But he survived last night and didn’t have to face the dance-off.

Party friends
After nearly sixty years of shaving the old-fashioned way with lathered fingers I have now entered the elite group of men who lather their faces with a brush before shaving. So I was delighted when Brian and Jane presented me with a very smart badger shaving brush for my birthday present – I’m treating it as a life-changing event!


It’s been a pretty crap day today. Woke up to incessant rain - then at about 8 this morning the power went off. It came on about an hour later so I reset all the clocks, microwave, cooker, answer phone etc. Of course the power failed again ten minutes later. I think I’ll wait till later before doing the rounds again. Somehow the power cut lost my setting for Radio Berkshire just as I was listening to Debbie’s programme and when it returned I was subjected to a full half-an-hour of rubbish music (thinking Radio Berkshire had lost power too) before Paul phoned to put me right, and I retuned the station!
But the good news is that about ten minutes ago I received a nice email from America. It seems I’ve won the award for ‘Best Traditional Portrait’ in the upcoming Miniature Art Society of Florida show. It’s of Jane.


Felicity and Fenwick invited me to dinner last night. They‘ve just had a new - and expensive - new Sky HD system installed, but couldn’t make it record, or play high definition. Could I help? It was pretty obvious why the HD wouldn’t work, as their television set is over ten years old and in no way HD ready. Because of this it wouldn’t record either. What makes me cross is that the Sky installer assured them it would all work perfectly, when he knew full well it was impossible.

My friends think I’m daft because I’ve already printed nearly three hundred Christmas cards and have addressed all the envelopes. Same thing with presents – half are wrapped already. I wanted to get all this done early this year so I can fully absorb myself in painting over the next few months. I’m just about to start on an autumn scene as soon as I can figure out how to show a little view of St. Mary’s Church peeping out in the distance between the trees. I’ve just realised Radio Four is on in this room, Radio Two in the bedroom, and Radio Berkshire on in the living room. – all at the same time.

Last week I wrote about a supermarket querying the age of a shopper when she attempted to buy a greetings card with a picture of a wine glass on it. Well, they are still at it. This time it’s Asda’s branch in Aberdeen. They refused to sell a customer two individual lemons. Why? It seems it’s Asda’s policy to 'protect the public' by not selling individual lemons because local yobs have been known to throw lemons at people. Lemons in packs of ten can still be bought because to quote the store ‘They are smaller and less dangerous’. Incidentally the customer is seventy years old!
By the way, if you don't already know, you can enlarge any of the photographs above by merely clicking on the image.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Snow Scene

I went to Reading this morning for a final visit to the surgeon who did my operation. All seems fine, and he was very pleased with my progress. He did, however, insert a camera ‘where the sun don’t shine’ for an internal examination. Not something I’d recommend to friends!

I’ve just completed the snow scene for my 2009 Christmas card. The printed card is vignetted in a rounded rectangle shape. For anyone interested this is a watercolour, and to retain the sparkle I haven’t used white paint at all. The white you see on the painting is the paper itself. I find the use of gouache, or body colour white, tends to dull a watercolour painting too much.

Watercolour painting "Snow and Sunshine"

In my advertising days I designed many airline and hotel logos, and produced hundreds of graphic design elements for our clients. So when Louisa, my niece, decided recently to start her own advertising and marketing company, I asked whether I could be of any use on the design front. Apparently unless I understand Quark, and other advanced computer programmes I’d in no way be able to produce designs for this modern age!

I had a silly thought the other day when I was reading an article about the lack of space in graveyards. Why not be buried vertically! I realise the words ‘laid to rest’ are supposed to mean laying down horizontally, but when we are in our coffins we are probably not too worried about which way up we are. These silly thoughts flit through my butterfly mind from time to time!

Had a quick trip around the River and Rowing Museum again this week. Apart from it being the best museum devoted to rowing and the river in England, it also has a very well-stocked shop where they sell a great variety of high quality river-related items. The Henley Section – entered by passing by a full-size replica carving of the face of Thamesis – is easily my favourite part of the museum.


One of the most interesting features is an animated sound and visual large map of Henley though the ages. From the 14th Century to the present day the highly informative display graphically shows how Henley has progressed.

I fail to understand the stupidity of some of our courts. Listen to this – it happened last week. An illegal immigrant was due to be deported to his own country – Bolivia. However when he and his girlfriend pleaded that they would miss their cat too much, the judge – unbelievably – said that to send him back home would - wait for it – “breach his right to a private and family life”. So here he stays – living on benefits, no doubt. Where will all this human rights nonsense end? This same court refused to deport fifty foreign criminals, which included sex offenders and killers. Why? Because it might “infringe their human rights!”
Another minor, but ludicrously stupid, offence was reported the other day. A woman bought a greeting card in a supermarket. When she reached the till the card made a ‘bleep’. “It’s OK you are allowed to buy the card as you are obviously over 25” said the assistant. What was the reason for the bleep? The card had a picture of a wine glass, corkscrew and bottles of wine on the front. ‘Health ‘n Safety’ rules, it seems, prohibit cards of this description to be sold to under 25’s. I despair!

Here I am on my little boat – Marsh Midget – having a last little tootle around on the river the other day – where sanity reigns supreme.

Musn’t forget to put the clocks back tonight. Or is it forward?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Decisions, Decisions.

For the past 35 years I’ve made my own Christmas card out of one of my paintings. Too many people collect them, it seems, so it would be discourteous to stop now. This year I decided to paint a ‘Snow Queen’ picture based on one of the window displays I saw in Fortnum and Mason’s last Christmas, but after a week’s work abandoned it – for the time being anyway. I trawled through my old files, pulled out half a dozen possibilities, then discarded that idea. I tried to make a card out of ‘The Stationmaster’ but that didn’t work either. So now I’m a couple of days into a new snow scene depicting a view from the towpath looking towards the river. I’ll vignette the edges when I finish it. Here’s the progress so far:


An artist friend of mine, Denise, came to stay for a few days this week. She has just been elected to become a full member of The Royal Society of Miniaturists and wanted to go to the private view of the RMS on Monday. I quickly popped into the surgery to have my wound dressed before we caught the train from Shiplake to London. Trains are mobile phone territory these days. Why do people think they have to shout when talking on them? On the tube from Ealing Broadway to South Kensington a guy was talking very loudly in some sort of curly language – I think it was Tamil – all the way. He talked non-stop. If anyone was on the other end they didn’t seem to have much to say, as he seemed not to even pause for breath. The only relief – after the 7th stop – was when a young woman got on with a wailing baby. It ‘out-noised’ the garrulous gent. We got off just as the competition was hotting up!

One of the cabinets at the RMS Exhibition

The miniature show this year was excellent – very high quality. It was good to meet so many friends there. The exhibition is held in about 5 rooms in the Mall Galleries. Perfect for miniatures, but because of the crowds, a bit hot on that day.

I shouldn’t talk about food, I’m told, but this week I certainly sampled a variety of cuisines. On Sunday evening Val cooked a wonderful English meal with a honey-based chicken, vegetables from her garden, and five different puddings. Monday, after getting back to Henley we had a Chinese meal at the Chef Peking. Tuesday we went to the Curry Leaf in Wargrave with some friends, and on Wednesday had a lovely time with Paul and Debbie at the Villa Marina. It’s Italian of course, and when they have halibut, give it a try – Its marvellous. Also it’s one of the few to escape from ‘Elf ‘n Safety’ as it serves dessert on a sweet trolley.
I had an interesting package from Charles Fleischmann in Cincinnati this morning. Charles is the most important collector of miniatures in the USA (and has a marvellous collection of portrait miniatures dating right back to the 17th Century, I believe). He’d sent me a 30-page copy of a booklet by an American artist called Ethel Frances Mundy. Born in 1876, her biography records details of her ancestral home in England - Markeaton Hall in Derbyshire. “ This seat of Francis Mundy Esq, has been in the possession of the family of Mundy from the early period of Henry VIII and records a long list of distinguished Mundys, beginning with Sir John Mundy, Knight, the Lord Mayor of London in the year 1522”. Although I can’t claim kinship ( I come from a long line of publicans, carpenters, farm labourers and blacksmiths) we do have something in common. Ethel was a miniaturist – and a very good one. Her speciality was wax portraits, having studied sculpture at the School of Fine Arts at Fontainebleau. She became very famous and her sitters included J.P.Morgan and the Rockerfeller family. Ethel also made a beautiful wax portrait of our Queen when she was Princess Elizabeth. I wish I could show you examples of her work but the black and white illustrations I have will in no way reproduce successfully here. Nice to have a famous namesake – even if she is no relation.

You might be interested in a miniature portrait I was commissioned to paint a couple of months ago. As it’s now been presented to the sitter – Group Captain Gerry Bunn CBE, I’m able to show it on my blog. I must admit I really like painting medals, uniforms and all sorts of paraphernalia.
It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve just got back from a visit to Katie Boyle in Hampstead. She’s looking good - although still a bit slow on her feet. Margherita, her glamorous sister, had just arrived from Geneva for the weekend, nursing a bruised eye and chin - she’d tripped over yesterday and fallen flat on her face. The last part of the drive home was enlivened by autumn tints in the woods bordering the roads near Henley