Saturday, 29 August 2009

Nearly Back to Normal

It’s all coming together at last. One of our lovely district nurses still comes every day to dress my ‘wound’, but the way it’s mending I expect to be whole in a couple of weeks. (The doctor says it will be two months!) Just to be able to fully immerse myself in a hot bath once again will be bliss! Also I’m painting between 7 and 8 hours a day. Today is also the day when I can once more drive my car. Friends have been wonderful in driving me to hospitals, restaurants, shops, etc. but, being the sort of person I am, relying on other people seems such an imposition.

Last Sunday was another gorgeous day so I decided to have a walk along the riverbank. Although I’m told to rest as much as I can, it’s alien to me to lounge around. So I managed an hour's leisurley walk. The river at Henley is a lovely place for visitors. During my walk I passed several fisherman eyes fixed on their bright red floats bobbing around on the water as boats went by, no doubt frightening the fish and annoying the fishermen.

A Peaceful Sunday Afternoon

There were families dotted along the meadows enjoying the afternoon with their picnics and barbecues spread out around them. Courting couples, people in wheelchairs, children with little nets hoping to net a few gudgeon or sticklebacks if their parents let them near enough to the water, cyclists whooshing along the towpath without ringing their bells, and dogs of every description - having a great time making new friends and no doubt increasing the population of hybrid animals - given the slightest chance. Along this stretch of the riverbank are a few dozen wooden benches donated by people who love the river. (I intend to have one made, when -or if - I pass on. It will have an inscription saying something about my love of the river and this particular stretch of the riverbank).
When I returned from my walk I stopped at the lock to have a chat with Nigel the lock keeper, and watched the boats going in and out while Tracey made me a nice cup of tea.

Boats in the Lock

You may have heard of the famous Leander Club in Henley. It’s the home of many of our rowing Olympic medal winners. Last Tuesday Olive and Gordon Bond took me there for a fabulous lunch. Gordon was recovering from his third hip operation. ( No he doesn’t have 3 legs – this operation was to correct a previous one which was giving him a lot of pain) . The view from Leander’s restaurant probably gives the very best view of the regatta course as you can see from this photograph I took from our table.

View from Leander Club

It’s been great to get out more after my enforced incarceration, and especially nice to welcome Heather (Rosa) Catchpole on Monday as I was taking her out to lunch at Phyllis Court. Heather drove up from Somerset and is the Past President of the Hilliard Society of Miniaturists. I’m sure she won’t mind me relating the story of why I call her ‘Rosa’. Many years ago when I first met her I said she reminded me of one of the girls from a James Bond movie. Preening herself coquettishly she ventured to ask which of the Bond girls I meant. When I told her it was Rosa Klebb from the film ‘From Russia With Love’ Heather kicked me on the shins! (Rosa Klebb was the boss of SMERSH and defected to SPECTRE. She also had a spring-loaded blade hidden in the sole of her shoe). Heather and I have been great friends ever since and she very rarely kicks me now.

Jilly and I played in a ‘Colours ‘ match last Thursday eveening at Phyllis Court. It’s a game played on the Snooker table using just the coloured balls. Twelve of us played in two teams of six. The object of the game is to score 9 in eight minutes playing against one opponent at a time. The rules are too complicated to describe here, but suffice it to say we had a very enjoyable evening. Neither of us won the trophy, and as it was my first real outing for a while, I was a bit tired by the time I got home.
Keith and I went to the Bowling Club the other day – first time for a couple of months. I’m not able to lift anything heavy at the moment so could only watch, but nice to be welcomed by so many smiling faces.

My friend Joanna who lives in Vienna is visiting England for a couple of months right now – she’s staying in Datchet - close to Windsor and Heathrow Airport. She finds the noise of the aircraft passing so low overhead every few minutes a bit difficult to get used to. (Reminds me of the American tourist who remarked that he couldn’t understand why the Queen of England had Windsor Castle built so close to the airport!). Joanna came over to Henley the other day for dinner but what with her left-hand drive car, pouring rain, the Windsor Horse Show, and congestion, she got hopelessly lost. It should have been a 25-minute drive, but over 2 hours after she set out I had a frantic call from a very distressed Joanna who had ended up on the far side of Reading. She eventually arrived – it took me about an hour to de-stress her, but the evening ended happily with Brian and Jane at the Orangery in Phyllis Court. I still couldn’t drive so she followed as we drove to the start of the M4 motorway in Maidenhead - to make sure she got home safely.

The following is a photograph of 8 days work on my latest painting. The background is of an old-fashioned railway station owned by Sir Robert McAlpine (I went there for breakfast last New Year’s Day) and the foreground will show a portrait of a local moustachioed Station Master I know. Probably it will take me another 3 or 4 weeks to complete it. But it’s wonderful to be back painting again.

First stage of 'The Station Master'

Monday, 17 August 2009

Nude Travel?

Well I’ve finally started painting again – it’s a bit difficult to work for 8 or 9 hours a day as normal but I’ll get there soon I’m sure. Six miniatures are now packed and ready for submission to the RMS next Sunday. Averil and Pat have kindly offered to take them up to London for me as I’m not able to drive for another two or three weeks.
People are so kind. Yesterday Diane and Peter Sutherland invited me to lunch in their summerhouse by the river at Henley. We are in the middle of a heat wave right now so it was very pleasant to watch all the river craft gracefully gliding by. I also picked up the miniature I’d painted of Diane recently as I want to include it in the London exhibition.

Henley Bridge from the Garden

Diane's Miniature

I’m spoiled for friends - Jilly came at 4 and drove me to Phyllis Court for tea. We didn’t stop long as, apart from too many wasps hovering around, I wanted to have a walk to the lock. Nigel was on duty so for about half an hour I paced up and down with him as he operated the lock to let the boats in and out. He and Tracey keep chickens, and I enjoyed some of their freshly laid eggs last night after a marathon time watching the 3-hour King Kong epic on TV. I spent today writing an article for a new book on miniature painters that Wes Siegrist is compiling for publication in the USA. Apart from a couple of photographs of my miniatures he wants a photograph of me in my studio. (That’ll have to wait a while until I look a bit less haggard!)

It’s a very sunny Sunday afternoon right now and I’m gazing out of my studio towards the river. A large crested heron is perched on the wooden bridge, occasionally flapping down to the water to retrieve its dinner. It must have incredible eyesight to be able to locate fish under the water – maybe Heron's eyes are fitted with Polaroid lenses. Possibly you can just make out the heron in this photo.

Wish I was able to take my rowing boat out as the weather is perfect and the river looks mighty inviting, but having asked the surgeon what I can and cannot do at this stage of my recovery, I’m not allowed to row, drive or bowl - dammit! At least I can go to the bowling club tomorrow evening and watch. But I will be allowed to play in a snooker match next Thursday at Phyllis Court- as long as I don’t lean across the table and damage my stomach ‘wound’. (Can’t have the stitches coming adrift). I’ve been given 6 months to get back to normal – I’m aiming for 6 weeks instead.

Here in England we are becoming a real ‘nanny ‘ state. I could hardly believe my eyes the other day when I read about a Government sponsored certificate issued by the AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance). This is entitled ‘USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT’ and states that to qualify for the certificate the student has demonstrated his ability to:

● Walk to the local bus stop
● Stand or sit at the bus stop and wait for the arrival of a public bus.
● Enter the bus in a calm and safe manner.
● Be directed to a downstairs seat by a member of staff.
● Sit on the bus and observe through the windows.
● Wait until the bus has stopped, stand on request and exit the bus.

The mind boggles, doesn’t it? What are we coming to? Another thing – I’m sure we are all fed up to the back teeth with the complexity of airport security and rules. Here are a couple of the latest examples: Fisherman Mick Bell was stopped at Heathrow for carrying a lifejacket, which he wears when fishing in deep waters. The security official said the small CO2 canister used to inflate it could be used to fire a weapon on board the aircraft. “No problem,” said Mick, “There are spare canisters in the lifejackets under every seat on every plane. I can borrow one of those!”
68 year-old Fred Osborn’s hand luggage contained a roll of double-sided tape. It was immediately confiscated as he was told it could be used to tie someone up and hijack the plane! Even if he could get through the plastic packaging everything seems to be wrapped so tightly in these days, can you imagine a 68 year old man overpowering a stewardess and wrapping her up with double-sided tape without someone stopping him? We’ll all be forced to travel nude soon – and that’s a sight I’m sure we can all do without!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Home Again

I’m back to blogging – with assumedly no more interruptions for operations, CT scans, ultrasound tests, hospitals and other intrusions into my life!
Finally I’m back home – thank goodness - about 20 pounds lighter (welcome, but not the best way I’d recommend anyone lose weight!)

The invalid in hospital
It’ll be about 6 months before I’m back to normal, as right now I’m pretty weak. Hopefully I’ll be able to start painting again in the next few days, although even a couple of hours at my desk yesterday proved to be very tiring!.
Friends have been wonderful – I must have received over 70 get well cards – as well as lovely gifts of flowers and numerous phone calls, several from overseas.

A plethora of 'get well' cards

The week I spent with Val was great. She looked after me so well and fed me with such nice food – most of the vegetables from her garden. I’m not allowed to lift anything and must take great care of my ‘wound’. The District Nurse comes every day to dress it. Sharran and Mike North drove up for the day from Somerset for lunch on Thursday. Mike is probably the world’s expert on Olive Oil and Olive leaf extract. (He appeared on BBC’s Dragons Den last year and knows so much about healthy living that his advice will almost certainly change my entire diet in the future.) Sharran is quite a character – and such a kind soul. Here’s a photo I took of her standing next to her (much to Mike’s embarrassment) highly colourful car.

Wasps are my sworn enemy and as quite a few came in to Val’s sun-lounge (where I spent most of my days) she became the executioner! At the weekend she took me to the Herb Garden nearby but after about half-an-hour I became quite exhausted! As I’m usually so full of energy and stamina, this is an alien slow-motion world I’m living in at present. They keep telling me what do I expect? It was a major operation! But when I look at my flabby arms and thighs I realise how much I’ve lost.
Unfortunately I started having violent pains in my chest at night, which worried Val to such a degree that we finally got the doctor over. Fearful that I might have developed a pulmonary embolism because of the forced inactivity in hospital I was whisked off to the Royal Berkshire NHS Hospital in Reading.
Straight to the CDU Ward (Clinical Decision Unit) where I was subjected to every sort of test available. I thought I'd be there just for the day, but it developed into four. This time in a six-man ward. All were older than me. Two of them talked loudly to each other from across the room from early in the morning till about 10.30 at night! I won’t bore you any more about life in that room except to mention the unearthly and piercing screams that periodically (from about 5 in the morning) came from the women’s ward next to ours. It was a bit like Bedlam.
Anyway I finally was allowed home last Thursday evening. Pat and Averil were visiting when the doctor gave me the good news so Pat kindly drove me home to Henley. I’d been started on Walferin for a couple of days but the results showed a shadow and ‘crackling’ on the lung so it was stopped and now I’m only on antibiotics.

Although I’m not supposed to tire myself how could I possibly not go to Annie Coury’s ‘firework’ party last Saturday evening? Each year at this time Wargrave and Shiplake hold the most delightful 2-day Regatta. Great fun on the water with punt races, ‘dongling’ and all sorts of other river sports. The weekend became an oasis of the most wonderful weather. I wasn’t able to see the actual regatta, but Annie’s party heralded the culmination of the event. Felicity picked me up and about thirty of us stood (I sat) around on the lawns on that balmy evening sipping champagne, or in my case Brandy Ginger Ale (first drink for a month). We watched a great variety of boats glide past on their way to the Regatta site just round the bend in the river. As we ate a delicious dinner upstairs we had a grandstand view of the lavish firework display which started about 10 pm. It was the best ever. I took a few photos but they weren’t that good.

Sunday was another lovely day. Debbie and Paul so very kindly asked me to join them for lunch and a trip on the river. There was nothing I’d have rather done that day. Donna (Debbie’s sister) and her family were there too, so at about 2pm I gingerly slithered into ‘The Lovely Debbie McGee’ - taking care not to pull the stitches out of my stomach. We then silently and gracefully glided upstream towards Shiplake. As Donna is hosting a small boating party tomorrow at Windsor and will be expected to handle the bow rope at locks, it was a good opportunity for her to learn how to do it. We successfully passed through Shiplake Lock and ventured a few miles upriver passing several little islands bathed in the afternoon sunshine, before returning home at about 5. Just to laze back on the cushions was so utterly relaxing.

Debbie and Paul on the sunny Sunday afternoon

Gliding along on the Thames
Thank you again everyone who has sent me messages either via my blog or with cards, letters and phone calls. It means a lot.