The Henley Literary Festival

I'm a bit behind in writing my blog - mainly because there's been so much going on. Last week, for example, Henley held it's annual Literary Festival. Scores of famous authors, actors, broadcasters and other luminaries descended on the town to promote their latest books and to take part in the Festival. This year a whole variety of venues were selected, from the River and Rowing Museum and the Kings Arms Barn to the Kenton Theatre and the 'Hibernia' river boat.
I booked to go on the Hibernia on the Friday to listen to Rula Lenska, among others, reading poems under the banner ' Love and War'.

Under a sparkling blue sky sprinkled with a few scudding white clouds we cruised up to Marsh Lock then downstream to Temple Island, while on board as we sipped coffee and munched biscuits as we enjoyed a variety of beautiful poetry spanning a hundred years or so and read by talented professionals.

I'd bought tickets for about twelve events, amongst them the 90 year old Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire ( the last of the legendary Mitford sisters)
talking about her life under the heading of 'Debo's Dynasty' at the Kenton Theatre. Her stories about her family were highly entertaining. And when someone asked her if she'd preferred to have tea with Hitler or Elvis Presley she replied " Well, Elvis, of course! What an extraordinary question!"
Ron Moody spoke about his life, especially, of course, of his role of Fagin in "Oliver". I bought a copy of his book as a present for a friend, and not only did he autograph it, he drew a little portrait of himself in the corner - as Fagin of course.

Over a period of five days I heard, amongst many others, June Spencer talk about my favourite radio programme 'The Archers'. She's another 90 year old and has played Peggy Archer for 60 years and is the only remaining member of the original cast.
Two photographers gave wonderful talks about their work at the old Kings Arms Barn and the Town Hall - Charles Glover has photographed such personalities as Sir Cliff Richard, Bob Geldof, and our local hero, Sir Steve Redgrave. Clive Limpkin talked about India - his visits have resulted in a stunning book of photographs, and I bought a copy for one of my great nieces who has a real ambition to become a travel photographer.
I much admire Somerset Maugham' work so really enjoyed Selina Hasting reading extracts from her new book 'An Englishman Abroad'.
Suffice it to say I had a really interesting few days glistening to so many talented people Alexie Sayle was one and Melvyn Bragg another. Although as his talk was held in St. Mary's church packed with 400 people, I couldn't see anything as he was hidden behind one of the stone pillars.
But, to my mind, the most fascinating speaker of all was Fergal Keane. Not only is he one of the BBC's most distinguished foreign correspondents, he is also an acclaimed writer. His descriptions of excerpts from his book ' Road of Bones, the siege of Kohima 1944' was incredible. He recounted the story of the desperate fight of a garrison of 1,500 men in the Indian village of Kohima near Burma where they were outnumbered ten to one by Japanese soldiers. There were so many losses on both sides as thousands of Japanese starved on the retreat along the 'Road of Bones'.

It wasn't all culture that week as I managed to spend 40 hours painting - mainly to complete this miniature of Sir Stamford Raffles.

Next month the Henley Operatic Society (HAODS) will be presenting the musical ' Raffles of Singapore' at the Kenton and I agreed to donate the miniature as one of the main auction prizes at the Gala Evening. It's in aid of the Alzheimer's Society - a very good cause. A number of my friends, both past and present, suffer from this terrible disease.
I also finished my large watercolour 'The Carousel'. It's taken over 300 hours to paint, and is now at the framers where Ian has the difficult job of attaching a little device which I finally managed to locate. It will play 20 seconds of carousel music when you walk past the painting. (Which will, I'm sure, become very annoying!

We went to a performance of 'Veronica's Room' put on by the Wargrave Theatre Workshop at the Wyclyffe Hall on Friday. then play was written by Ira Levin, who's hailed as the king of the high concept thriller. We sat in the tiny little balcony (where the sporadic clicking noise coming from the workings of an ancient clock right behind us was a real distraction - till someone told us what was making the noise). I always enjoy a good play, but for the life of me, I couldn't understand this one. Each time I thought I knew what was going on it made another twist and turn, and I was lost once again!
Last night - Saturday - 'Strictly Come Dancing' reached the first live performance. Paul Daniels, together with his wonderful partner, Ola, danced the foxtrot. I thought he did really well, and I hope my votes will help keep him in the competition for a few more weeks. We'll know tonight.

Incidentally on Thursday evening I went to the opening of an exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum entitled 'The Art Royal'. It was a collection of original etchings, lithographs, watercolours and photographs by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Prince Charles and Lord Snowdon respectively. I must say I was extremely impressed by both Queen Victoria' and Prince Albert's work. And I was amazed how beautifully drawn were Queen Victoria's lithographs. Having had an apprenticeship in lithography I could really appreciate her skill - especially as lithography had only been invented about ten years prior to her first drawings - when you consider she not only drew these exquisite little figure sketches on lithographic stone, she drew them in reverse.

Stop press: Paul got through Come Dancing tonight so he'll be straining his muscles all this coming week with Ola.