Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Sunday, 26 April 2009
The weather’s been great lately – the best spring I can remember. At the beginning of the week I took my little dinghy out for a row down to Wharfe Lane in Henley, only stopping for an ice cream by Mill Meadows. And on Tuesday afternoon Sue and Tom came out for a trip on my big boat - Marsh Mundy - the first of the season. After about ten minutes the petrol fumes from the engine didn’t seem to disappear as expected. As the boat had only just been recommissioned I assumed that maybe the fumes were normal. But just in case I rang Ivan (the boatman) on my mobile phone to check. His reply went something like this “Get to the nearest riverbank as quickly as you can and get off the boat before it explodes!” Slightly chilling, don’t you think? As I’d just gone under Henley Bridge I rapidly steered the boat towards the Phyllis Court moorings. Ivan was with us within about ten minutes and checked the engine compartment thoroughly. All seemed OK and we were mightily relieved. “It must be exhaust fumes,” he said. So we went on our way upstream and moored on the sunny side of the river near Temple Island where Sue and Tom sipped champagne and I had a ginger beer and munched mango-flavoured crisps. Sue reckoned that as I still had old petrol in the boat – left over from last year – it may have been responsible for the excessive fumes. Being a gardener, she knew that old petrol in lawnmowers can cause a smell.
Yesterday I received a letter from the President of the Hilliard Society of Miniaturists informing me that I’d won the prestigious ‘Bell Award’ for the best portrait in their annual exhibition. The subject of my portrait was Leslie Thomas – the author of ‘The Virgin Soldiers’. Leslie has written over 35 books since then, but that novel has a special significance for me because it was set in Singapore and based on his experiences as a National Serviceman there. I was also ‘a virgin soldier’ and spent over a year in Singapore during my National Service days. In the background of my miniature I’ve painted the names of all his books. I’ll be attending the Hilliard Exhibition in Wells next month so will pick up the award then.
In the glorious sunshine of a perfect evening yesterday Jilly drove me the fifty miles or so to Basingstoke where we had booked to see Paul Daniels perform in the Central Studio at St Mary’s College. The venue was quite special – small, smart and intimate – even with extra chairs brought in because the show was a sell-out, the audience totalled only about a hundred and fifty people. Paul loves this sort of venue as he can really connect with his audience. Jilly’s two young grandchildren joined us for the show, as they lived close by. Of course Paul spotted us sitting near the front, so made funny comments about ‘the posh Henley visitors.’ He also gave me a plug and even announced my website address! Never misses s trick, does Paul. I’ve seen many of his magic shows – and watched him perform from as close as a couple of feet away, but still haven’t the faintest idea how he does his magic! Last night Debbie wheeled a large modern guillotine on to the stage and a ‘willing’ young man bravely put his neck on to the transparent Perspex semi-circle. Tightly fixing the other half in place – and inserting three carrots in strategically placed holes in the Perspex, Paul slotted a great big 2-foot hunk of metal into the top of the apparatus. Then whoosh! Down came the big blade slicing in half the three carrots surrounding the hapless young man’s head, but miraculously leaving his head on his shoulders. How was it done? I’ve no idea – it’s magic.
When I was a soldier in Singapore the Ghurkha Regiment was based on the island of Blackangmati (now renamed Sentosa). I visited the island often and met many of these wonderful people. Fearless in battle they have served loyally in the British Army for generations. Since World War I as many as 50,000 Ghurkhas have died fighting for Britain and 150,00 have suffered serious injury. They receive a much smaller pension than their comrades in other regiments and many are now living in poverty in Nepal. Just yesterday our Government announced that unless Ghurkhas who served in the British Army prior to 1997 fulfil certain requirements they will not be allowed to settle in this country. We allow hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, plus countless asylum seekers, many of whom are bogus, to live here. We even admit self-styled enemies of Britain to come here - and give them full benefits. But the Ghurkhas have to fulfil almost impossible criteria, which includes the ruling that they must have served for at least 20 years in the British Army (an impossible attainment as only officers can serve for that length of time – ordinary soldiers are only allowed to serve a for a maximum of 15 years). Another requirement is that they must have won one of the top four medals for gallantry - aand that includes the Victoria Cross. Mentioned in Despatches doesn’t count. How mean is this? Our MP’s are greedily pocketing exorbitant annual expenses on top of their salaries, yet they’d deny these brave and loyal soldiers the right to settle here in Britain. Even though the High Court has ruled that the Government's refusal to give Ghurkhas who retired before 1997 the right to live in Britain was discriminatory and illegal, the Government blatantly ignored the law. What a disgraceful betrayal.
I took this little video the other day from my boat. It shows one of our pair of swans having time off from the nest but I still can’t get either of them to show me the eggs.
Saturday, 18 April 2009
I mentioned to one of my most faithful blog followers recently that I had written a few books on miniature painting and would like to give her a couple of copies. But as I’ve never met her, or heard her voice – we communicate by Skype chat or email – we keep our relationship enigmatic. Getting back to secret agents. I needed a place to ‘drop’ the books and suggested a hollow tree somewhere. As luck would have it I found one last week in the grounds of Greys Court in Henley. (And as it comprises over 200 acres don’t attempt to look). Having located a really magnificent hollow tree, I took my little parcel there on Wednesday carefully wrapped in camouflage plastic. But I had chosen the very day when scores of children were having an Easter Egg hunt! Not only that, the hollow I’d carefully located had been enlarged and would have revealed the parcel. So plan B came into action and luckily a few hundred yards further on I found a fallen tree trunk with just enough room in it to hide the parcel. It needed a few daffodils and other bits of greenery to cover the hollow. Anyway all was well and a few hours later my enigmatic friend retrieved it safely. The picture above was to have been the hiding place.
On the subject of intrigue, my very old friend Sandy who lives in Texas found me on Facebook the other day and asked why she hadn’t received a copy of my autobiography - especially as we were engaged at one time and she knows she features quite heavily in the book. So I sent her a copy yesterday, but as I imagine she has a jealous boyfriend I was asked to send it to one of her friend’s address with a fictitious name. My choice. So I addressed the parcel to Cecila McPhirtlesquirt. That should keep the postman guessing!
Monday, 13 April 2009
She was intrigued with the 16th Century Donkey Wheel there. In days gone by (and right up to1914) a fully grown donkey walked on a giant 19ft diameter wooden wheel (similar, but much larger of course, to those you sometimes see in hamster cages) which brought up water in a bucket on a rope from the 200ft well below. We wandered around the maze in the gardens, had tea outside, as the weather was perfect once again, and stopped to admire the wonderful full-size carving of the old gardener at the end of the fruit and vegetable garden.
The Good Gardener
Health and Safety regulations seemed to have reached the RA this year, as I had to join a long queue of disgruntled artists in a scruffy alleyway off the Burlington Gardens leading down to the bowels of the Academy. The young stewards seemed to have no idea of what to do as we were called forward one by one to progress a few yards to the next stage. After over half an hour of this, a few of us decided to buck the system and find our own way to the place where we knew the bar codes were being swiped and where we could unwrap our paintings. Emerging once more into the daylight and offering sympathetic glances to the long line of artists which by now had reached way back into Saville Row, I turned into Burlington Arcade stopping for a very efficient shoe shine there. A nice coffee and a read in Waterstones in Piccadilly and I was ready to look for a bus to take me to Paddington Station and home.
A comment on my blog recently suggested (with tongue firmly in cheek I suspect) that all the lunches and dinners I may mention are always in wonderful surroundings, and are all marvellous and delicious. Perhaps it’s because I only talk about the nice times. There are many exceptions. On Saturday, for example, a couple of friends were visiting and I had booked lunch at the Bull in Wargrave – a neighbouring village. When we arrived imagine our surprise to see a notice outside the pub reading “Kitchen Closed”. It seemed the chef had been mugged the night before in Reading and was in hospital! So we walked across the road to another pub – The Greyhound where I had just about the worst meal I can remember. We were the only people there and our lunch took nearly an hour and a half to arrive. Burnt up scampi, tasteless peas and soggy chips. What a treat! Not!
Contrast that with Good Friday. Annie and John Coury had invited about twelve friends to a very lavish affair at their house by the river in Wargrave. Annie’s table decorations at Easter are amazing – little chicks and coloured eggs pop up everywhere, and silver trees dangled with tiny mirrors and a myriad of Easter goodies. She’s a great cook and her fish pie was heavenly. A very happy occasion – I knew everyone there. Sitting next to me was Pip Williamson. He has been a vet all his life, and for the past couple of years since his retirement has been commissioned to be present in a professional capacity on TV programmes when animals and birds are being used. All to do with ensuring no cruelty takes place, or that the creatures are not subjected to stress. But I was amused when he told me that recently he was on set for nearly 6 hours while they filmed a commercial using three butterflies!
My big boat is nicely cleaned now. Or at least the outside is. I spent about 5 hours scrubbing it last Sunday, so apart from sprucing up the cabin, it’s ready to take out. My licence certificate arrived the other day so I’ll be able to go through locks as soon as the weather warms up.
Yesterday was a family day. At about eleven in the morning Neil and his family arrived from Waterlooville. As Becky is now eighteen it’s time to paint her eighteenth miniature – I paint one every year – so I had my big camera set up to take a few dozen photographs. We’ll then choose the best one for me to work from.
All four sets of nephews and nieces came to Henley yesterday and at about 12.30 we tootled off to The White Hart at Binfield Heath. We go there every Easter Sunday. This year it had changed hands and is now run by a Dutch couple. As there were 19 of us we had booked the conservatory at the pub where we all managed to just fit in. Somehow we seemed to be bigger this year, but I suppose all the children had grown somewhat. Interesting menu. I had smoked duck with whole cooked pear and fresh vegetables. We only had a main course as we all went back to Val’s house for pudding. She had made over a dozen different ones. Then came the Easter egg hunt and ‘the money game’ in the garden. When I lived abroad and came home on leave each year I collected all my coins and lined my nephews and niece up then threw the money all over the garden so they could run and find the coins. Now they are all grown up and have children of their own I do the same thing each Easter Sunday. This year I’d saved a couple of hundred 2, 5, 10 and 20 pence coins. I have nine great nieces and nephews ranging from two to eighteen.. I took a little video of it yesterday. Hope it comes out.
Sunday, 5 April 2009
The following morning Joanna and I spent a few magical hours wandering around the magnificent gardens of Dartington Hall. Not a cloud in the sky, no breeze, just a perfect spring day. Built in 1368 this Baronial Hall was built for the Earl of Huntingdon – half brother to Richard II. In 1925 it was bought by Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst who spent a decade of reconstruction in making it the glorious place it is today. The blossoms on the magnolia trees were at their very best, and the enormous grassy steps some twenty feet wide and kept in perfect condition, surrounds the arena that would once have been the site of jousting.
Yesterday morning Gill Dodds, the Mayor of Henley, was in the main square of Henley where she’d inaugurated a fund raising event in the shape of ‘A Mile of Pennies’. People came from all over and soon Falaise Square was a hive of activity. I took a bag full and saw Paul and Debbie there. Paul was doing his usual great job of enticing the crowd. We trotted along to the Cafe Rouge and had a late breakfast then headed back to the money mountain. Vince and Annie Hill were there by then.
I’ve just planted about thirty double begonias on my back balcony, and as the day is still glorious I think I’ll spend the next few hours cleaning my big boat.