Cruising Down the River

Proud Parents and their Goslings by the Riverbank

Well, hardly cruising. More like languidly rowing. As Sunday was such a beautiful day I decided to row my little boat all the way to Wargrave – and if the river wasn’t too high – to navigate the length of the lovely little Hennerton Backwater. It was a magical afternoon. To enter the backwater from upstream you have to push yourself – and the boat – under a tiny arched brick bridge no more than 3 ft high in the middle. It’s quite a performance but once achieved you enter a tranquil scene of utter peace. This is the time of year to see the young chicks, goslings, grebes and coots. The cygnets have not yet hatched, but it won’t be long before they do.
As, of course, I face backwards to row, and as the backwater is narrow and twisting in parts, branches and overgrown tree-trunks cause a bit of a hazard, but ‘Marsh Midget’ is used to the occasional bump. On the way upstream I stopped briefly at Vince and Annie Hill’s house to drink one of the cans of Pimms I’d brought with me, then on to have another one at the end of Paul and Debbie’s garden across the river. They were not there, but ‘The Lovely Debbie McGee’ was moored by the creek

'The Lovely Debbie McGee'

I deliberately chose to enter the backwater from the Wargrave end so I could drift downstream on the way back. Just to rest the oars and manoeuvre with a small paddle - facing forwards - meant that I could really appreciate the scene before me without hitting the riverbank too often. The solitude of the afternoon was happily broken by the many river sounds all around me. The splashing of Canada geese as they proclaimed their territorial rights, the twitter of all the hedgerow birds, and the rustle in the fields as the rabbits scampered away as I rowed past. (My squeaky rowlocks would have signalled my approach.) Bordering the backwater are many secret gardens – hidden from most people’s view. But I have a favourite – it has a green Japanese –style bridge and Lapis Lazuli coloured large pots dotted everywhere in the garden.

Bridge across the backwater

Finally emerging into the main river I reverted back to a vigorous row over the last mile up to Marsh Lock, where I was greeted by Nigel, the Lock-keeper, and Tracy (who occasionally gives me freshly laid eggs from her chickens). I suppose the whole trip was about 7 miles. It keeps me fit.

On Saturday I popped over to Paul and Debbie’s for a little lunch. It was one of their rare free days at home. Both were hard at work – Debbie spring-cleaning, and Paul wielding a pressure hose to clean the patio stones.
Later in the afternoon I started a new painting of a girl wearing a turquoise-coloured cheongsam. I love painting exotic materials, and as yet haven’t decided on the background. It might be a Chinese brush-painting scene or an intricately carved wooden fan depicting a pair of exotic birds.
In the evening I joined Jane, my second cousin twice removed, and her mother Mollie for dinner at the Orangery at Phyllis Court (Third night in a row at Phyllis Court!). As I’m now a member of the snooker section and as Jane told me how she learned to play snooker at her father’s knee, so to speak, we booked the snooker room at 8.30 and played till 10. Mollie ‘advised’ us on almost every shot, usually with the words “ Too hard” or “Wrong angle”. Great fun. Jane is a good player and beat me. But only just!
Earlier in the week I photographed a decorated and robed member of a London Livery Company. This was to give me reference for a commissioned miniature portrait of the gentleman. I love painting medals, decorations and any sort of insignia or regalia, so will really enjoy painting the portrait – and have already started it.
Talking of miniatures, I finished the eighteenth miniature of my great niece Becky last week. Here she is.

Becky aged eighteen

Mona Diane Conner, an extremely talented American miniature artist, recently gave me her ‘Mini Blog Award’. It’s a real honour – thank you Mona. We don’t seem to have this sort of award here in England, as one of the conditions is not only to nominate two miniature artists to pass the honour on to, but to list my all-time favourite films.
I’m giving my first award to Jill Keppens. She is an exquisite miniature portrait painter, lives in Belgium and in fact was the recipient of The Mundy Sovereign Award last year at the Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition. Jill is also very young. My other award may mean that I’m breaking Mona’s rules, however I’m nominating Sydney Shorthouse. Sydney very sadly died recently – he was a wonderful miniature portrait painter and was a long-standing member of the RMS.
My all-time favourite films are: Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Titanic, Doctor Zhivago. and Atonement.

Finally I’m adding two videos. (It seems I can only add videos at the end of my blog.) One was when I was drifting down Hennerton Backwater last Sunday. The other is of our swan in the garden yesterday as she rearranges her eggs – I think she has nine. Hopefully when the cygnets hatch I’ll be able to make another video .