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


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.