Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Fly who Escaped Electrocution - so far!

It’s been a very busy time lately – now that I’m just about back to full health I’m painting furiously – up to 10 hours a day. I finished ‘The Stationmaster’ a couple of days ago. Now I must get back to painting my Christmas card as soon as Anna, who’s agreed to model the face of ‘The Snow Queen’ can come over to pose.

Watercolour 'The Stationmaster'
What a varied week I’ve had – apart from painting. Last Sunday at midday I joined about 300 other guests at the opening of the Upper Thames Rowing Club’s new boathouse. Sir Steve Redgrave CBE performed the opening ceremony and arrived together with Justin Sutherland sculling a double skiff – an unfamiliar craft for the famous Olympic multiple gold medal winner. I don’t think he liked the skiff that much as, unlike a racing craft, the rowlocks have no lock and the oars consequently slide a bout a bit. It was a lovely afternoon and I met many of my friends amongst the great and the good of Henley. A long queue for the hog-roast – but worth the wait.

The Welcome Arch of Oars

Diane and Peter Sutherland with Sir Steve Redgrave

Steve, Brian and Wendy

Later in the afternoon I made a quick turnaround at home to change out of my blazer, and to write an obituary of Donald Hamilton-Fraser RA for our parish magazine. Then on to Mill Meadows where Val, Louisa, Stew. Tina, Tim and Lynn were sprawled on the grass by the river with an assortment of great nieces and nephews enjoying the sunshine. My new ‘Flip’ video camera was put to good use when I filmed some of the children on the roundabout as they tried to eat ice-creams at the same time.

The children by the River

My great niece Genevieve

After dinner in the early evening at Val’s with Stew and Tina and their children I made a hurried exit at 6.30 to join Liz, the Mayor of Henley, at the Old Fire Station Gallery for the opening and private view of the Lions Club annual exhibition. Four of my paintings were on display. Who knows, I might even make a sale.

Paul Daniels and a film crew descended on me last Friday. They are making a pilot for a proposed TV series of films with Paul and Debbie cruising down the river in their electric canoe, stopping at various locations. After visiting our local theatre, the Kenton – where not surprisingly they didn’t encounter the ghost of Mary Blandy – Paul performed a few magic tricks to an admiring group of students in the market square. They then all came to me by boat where the crew filmed me painting, and talking about painting, for about an hour. Unfortunately the weed in our Mill Pool was hiding just under the surface of the water causing ‘The Lovely Debbie McGee’ to become entangled in its embrace for a while, much to Paul’s frustration.

Stuck in the Weeds

Later in the evening Jilly and I went to the Wycliffe village hall in Wargrave to see Paul’s magic show. Although I’ve seen many of his illusions before I still can’t figure any of them out. At one point in the evening I thought I’d sussed his levitation trick, but was hopelessly wrong. Here’s a photo of Paul and Debbie just before he ‘removed’ the head of his doctor with his guillotine
""Off with his Head!"
Two of my blog followers came together for the first time last Wednesday. (They became cyber buddies during my recent illness.) Bluebells was met by Pootles when she arrived at Twyford station. I took them both out to the Orangery at Phyllis Court before P took B for a drive in the countryside.

Somehow BBC Radio Berkshire have got the idea that I’m good for interviews when the subject of the day is bereavement – especially when young children are left motherless or fatherless at a young age. They called me again the other day to be interviewed by Sarah Walker. This was the third (and I might say, last) interview I’ve given over the past year about my own experiences when a young child. Incidentally I’m known as ‘Bill from Henley’ at the BBC.

I mentioned my old friend Joanna who’s visiting from Vienna on my last blog (when she got lost in Reading). We had a much happier time on Thursday last when she invited Jane, Brian and me for a delightful lunch in a swanky, but picturesque, restaurant in Amersham. I was intrigued when the coffee arrived to see that every sugar knob in the dish was individually wrapped in cellophane. “It’s a new European Health and Safety directive.” they told us. Maybe this is one of the EU’s more sensible regulations as public pots of sugar, peanuts, crisps and the like are so often fingered by all and sundry.

Half-timbering in Amersham

Having lived abroad for such a long time I made many friends there, so it’s always a pleasure to meet up again from time to time. Yesterday Jack Bygrave turned up – over an hour late because, like Joanna, he’d got lost in Reading! (Even I get lost in Reading from time to time – ways out are so badly signposted.) After chewing the cud, so to speak, over a sunshine lunch we played a game of snooker at Phyllis Court. He beat me as usual, but not by such a big margin as he did last November in The Tanglin Club in Singapore - where he and Eileen, his wife, live.

I was watching a television programme about volcanoes the other evening with a young 30-year old friend where I found the music sound-track virtually drowned out the commentary most of the time. I’ve noticed this often these days. Yet my friend said she could hear the commentary perfectly, and was hardly aware of the – to my mind - deafening music. Is this an age thing? Are the young so used to loud music that they somehow tune it out when it’s played under soundtracks?

I’ve been plagued by a fly lately, and am convinced that it’s a reincarnation of one of my dear departed friends. It just won’t leave me alone and follows me from the bathroom to the kitchen, and on to the living room and the bedroom. I’ve sprayed it with fly killer (sorry whoever you are) and swatted it with one of my many fly swatters, but it still lives!
However my young friend gave me an electric killing machine yesterday. In the shape of a small tennis racquet, by pressing a couple of buttons together, upon contact with the offending insect it instantly electrocutes them! I tried it on myself last night, fool that I am. It gave me quite a shock. But the fly remains in hiding. I’m convinced he or she is still lurking somewhere waiting for the batteries of my machine to wear out!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Oncologist's Verdict

Yesterday afternoon I was driven to Reading by my lovely friend Felicity to see one of the country’s leading oncologists. Good news. His first words were “I will not be recommending chemotherapy.” As you can imagine that really pleased me. Apparently I’m very fit and mending rapidly. He told me that the surgeon had removed 17 lymph glands when he took out the growth and repaired the colon. “Seventeen!” I riposted. “That sounds an awful lot. Have I got any left?” In fact he told me that I still have another 2000, so that’s a relief. I’ll only need blood tests and scans every 6 months for three years. In the evening we went out to the Curry Leaf restaurant in Wargrave to celebrate. Had I been given chemotherapy the oncologist told me that one of the symptoms of the treatment was a numbness and twitching of the fingers – not a good thing for a miniature painter!
So that’s that - I’ll no longer bore you with medical matters!

Goring and Sreatley Concert Band

It’s been quite a hectic week – last Sunday I went to my favourite little fete at Greys Court. The weather was perfect. Tired as I was I won the golf. Not a real match of course – the object was to putt with 8 balls towards strings stretched across the grass at different widths. The smallest was just the size of a golf ball. I scored 52. The Mayor of Henley was there and asked if I’d help judge the children’s art competition. That was fun. I usually have a go on the rowing machine (veterans class) but was advised by the surgeon not to damage my stomach yet. So I’ll have to wait till next year to get a medal. The Goring and Streatley Concert Band entertained us throughout the afternoon. Whenever I go to Greys Court I make a point of visiting the life-size wooden carving of the old gardener in the fruit garden. If only he could see what a wonderful memorial it is.

The famous artist and my good friend Donald Hamilton Fraser RA died last week and I went to his funeral on Tuesday. Remenham Village Church was packed – he was such a nice man – a true gentleman. I’ve been asked to write a piece about him for our Parish magazine. His use of vibrant colours in all his paintings was distinctive and his knowledge of ballet vast. His book on dance contained the most beautiful free flowing drawings and silk-screen pictures.

Watercolour Painting of Donald

My aged tumble dryer finally gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago. Over he past few years I’d had to coax it into action by giving the drum a series of vigorous pushes every time I used it. But I can’t grumble as its lasted 31 years! Searching the web I finally ordered a new one from Currys. Delivered last Monday, as soon as I switched it on it emitted the most horrible metallic groaning noise. By then, of course, the delivery-men had gone. So I spent the best part of a couple of hours that afternoon on the telephone – and more time the following day – trying to get a replacement sent out. I can’t stand the expensive and time-consuming rigmarole of being given a choice of numbers for various options to then find that none of them are what I want. My neighbour Chris came in as I was waiting on the phone and gave me the best suggestion of the year. “Most Companies or Organisations have free telephone numbers, so don’t waste money hanging on to the phone while they delay answering.” He then gave me the magic code. Just type and then either the company name or the telephone number they gave you. You’ll then find the free number. It worked for me and I got straight through to Currys. The new tumble dryer arrived yesterday morning. And it works well.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny. I picked up Val and we made our way to the annual Henley Show. I’m a member of the Agricultural Association so I’d organised a car parking space by Ring Two. She had made a nice picnic. The sun blazed down all day – we both got suntans.

One of the Alpaca's at the Show

There’s so much to see at the show – from baby Llamas, to a great variety of cattle, horses, tractors, traditional coaches (one being pulled along by six miniature black horses), dog shows, ferret racing, Punch and Judy show, falconry displays, flowers and produce, crafts of every description, etc. And in all four rings there is activity throughout the day. Tim and the children joined us later and I treated Ellie and Charlotte to the 80-foot high bungee-jump and trampoline. They are experts on the trampoline and have one in their garden.

All the Fun of the Fair

In the Produce Tent

Now that I’m back to painting I’m doing about 8 or 9 hours a day and have nearly finished the Station Master picture. It’s taking me a bit longer than it should because I stupidly have realised that I’m painting it on the back of the watercolour board! When I started the paining it was impossible to tell which side was the prepared side and which was the back, and it was only when I got into the very fine detail in the face that I realised the paint was not flowing as it should have done. In the past the back of watercolour board was a definite colour – now it’s as white as the front – and there is no indication as to which is which.

Our local theatre – the Kenton – is 200 years old and is the 4th oldest theatre in England. We all love it and I go there often. But it needs money to keep it going. On Sunday they organised a sumptuous luncheon at the magnificent home of Alan and Carol Pontin just across the river. Expecting about 150 people (it was, after all, £75 a head) they were delighted to finally end up with 280 guests. Members of the Henley Operatic Society dressed up in colourful costumes and wandered around the gardens. A male group of semi-ancient hippies (they won’t like my description!) called the Yukons played on their ukuleles some lively ditties, and another group called ‘Lend me a Tenor’ (now that’s a good name) sang some great original songs. I took little videos on my new Flip video camera but, as yet, don’t know how to transfer them to my blog. About twenty amazing classic cars were parked on a grassy corner (one of the auction prizes was a day a month for one year driving any of the cars - but not the Maserati!) Biggins did the auction and Vince Hill sang a very clever grace at the start of the lunch to the tune of Edelweiss. Paul Daniels wittily hosted the ‘hands on head or hands on bottoms’ game. A lot of money must have been raised that day as some of the auction prizes went for up to £20,000. My two friends picked me up on the way to the lunch and we sat on the same table together with Vince and Annie and a pair of very attractive women who successfully bid for items such as a complete firework display. I gave a framed print of ‘SwanUppers at Marsh Lock’ for the silent auction which went for, I think, £741.

Party Scene

Alan Turing – the famous code-breaker of World War Two - was stationed at Bletchley Park and was responsible for deciphering the German Enigma machine, which shortened the war by, it is estimated, about two years. He also built abstract models of today’s computers and is credited with the invention of the computer. After his prosecution in the fifties he became so depressed that he eventually committed suicide, by taking a bite out of a cyanide-laced apple. The reason I mention this is that I heard just this week that the Apple Mac Computer’s logo (an apple with a bite taken out of it) reflects this event and so honours Alan Turing. I hope it’s true.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Restricted Seating

Last week I casually mentioned in my blog that when I ascend (or descend) into a more ethereal existence I'd like a wooden bench erected along my favourite stretch of the riverbank in Henley. Although this photograph is a bit premature it does show the sort of bench I mean.

Read the inscription on the bench

Pootle, my young blogging friend, and I walked along the towpath last Monday and she not only took the picture above, but manipulated the photograph by changing the original wording on the back of the seat. She did it in Photoshop (something I’m incapable of doing!) The new wording was her idea, and although I don’t make a habit of referring to ‘bottoms’ in this way, I will treat you to a pencil drawing of a ‘derriere’ I did a few months ago!

This particular bench on the towpath gives a direct view over the river towards my flat. You can see it in the distance in the photograph below. Our six flats were built on the foundations of the old Marsh Mill. It was a flourmill and only ceased functioning about 50 years ago. I’ll also add a black and white photograph of the mill taken from almost exactly the same spot on the towpath where the bench resides.

Now that I’m able to drive again I’ve been around and about a bit. My first venture out was to Debbie and Paul’s riverside party last Saturday evening. Just the sort of evening I like most. About twenty or so neighbours and friends were there. Some came by boat and all enjoyed the balmy evening as we supped our Pimms and watched the boats go by and the sun go down.
On Monday evening I tried the ‘Curry Leaf’ Indian Restaurant in Wargrave Village. Not only was the food superb (their sizzling King prawns my favourite) the whole place was spotless with gleaming white tablecloths and starched napkins, and – once we made ourselves understood – immaculate service.

On Thursday morning I drove to Twyford Station to pick up an old Far Eastern colleague I hadn’t seen for nearly 30 years. As I had time to spare I had a chat with Norman, the Station Master.

He features in the painting I’m currently working on, and I asked him if he minded me not including the name-plate he normally wears on his tie as my picture depicts a turn-of-the-century railway platform and I didn’t want to mix ‘eras’ too much. He agreed. My colleague, Malcolm Glenn, was now white-haired (as I am) but we had a good old chinwag at Phyllis Court over a nice lunch. As we’d shared many exciting – and sometimes hair-raising – experiences in Bangkok and Hong Kong it was great to reminisce once again. It takes years off you. Malcolm now lives in Santa Fe in the USA, and as his children are scattered all over the world, he was visiting his eldest son in London for a few days.

Last Wednesday Jilly had invited Paul, Debbie and me to dinner. She lives in a really characterful cottage right by the river in the middle of Henley. Called ‘Wattle Cottage’ it’s an absolute delight – full of the most interesting paintings and artefacts. Jilly always remembers my favourite tipple – Brandy and ginger ale- and has perfected the exact relevant proportions. Paul and Debbie have just become members of Phyllis Court, and being a rather elegant club, when I mentioned that I’d been playing snooker with Robert Cramner-Brown, the President of the club’s snooker section, Paul said “Oh my God, have we got to be hyphenated now to be fully accepted?” What about Daniels-McGee?

I’m quite impressed with our National Health Service - having never experienced it first-hand in the past. The Service is often criticised, but I’ve found it very good. The ward in the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading where I spent a week last month, was scrupulously clean, and all the nurses, doctors and ancillary staff were very helpful, kind and hard-working. Today I had my wound dressed in our little Townlands Hospital (long may it function) and yesterday at the surgery. As I am able to drive again the district nurses don’t need to come to me every morning now. I’m also given a twice-daily bottle of ‘Ensure Plus’ – a protein drink – all free of charge on the National Health.

RG9 wrote on my blog last week about Thomas and Humphrey Gainsborough. As Thomas Gainsborough is one of my favourite painters - his expertise in combining landscape with portraits is second to none in my opinion - I knew of the brothers’ connection to Wargrave and Henley, and did you know that Humphrey also invented the drill plough, and designed the lock, weir and footbridge at Marsh Lock? A blue plaque in Gainsborough’s honour can be found on the gates of the Manse next to Christ Church United Reform Church in Henley.