Saturday, 30 January 2010

It's Snowdrop Time

This morning Pootle picked me up to kindly take me to the Royal Berkshire Hospital for my pelvic scan (I need to have one every six months for three years). After drinking a bucketful of barium liquid and being injected with iodine, I soon was lying under the machine listening to the soulful sound of an out-of-this world voice telling me when to hold my breath and when to breathe normally. Later, as we came out into the frosty sunshine we decided to visit Welford Park, near Newbury, to see the snowdrops – a feature of the place. They are a bit late this year due to the heavy snowfalls but a few were bravely poking through the frosty ground.

My cousin Paul lives close by at Great Shefford so we called in to see him. My nephew Tim and his family had just come in from a shoot in the surrounding fields where they’d joined Paul’s boys. Paul and Jo have a beautiful herd of Hereford cattle and a number of adorable calves at least one of which they intend to show later in the spring.

Last Saturday Jilly picked me up and we drove to Paul and Debbie’s house to join them for dinner at the Bull in Wargrave - It’s recently been taken over by new tenants. A lovely open fire welcomed us and soon the pub was filled with the excited chatter of some of the soon to be audience at the nearby Woodclyffe Hall where a pantomime was to be performed at 8. My traditional dinner of sausage and mash with onion sauce nestling in the biggest Yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen was delicious.
After dinner we walked the few yards to the venue. The hall was packed to the rafters – totally booked out. Great to see so many local people supporting their talented thespians. The pantomime we saw was Pinocchio – and was spectacular. Although everyone was an amateur we could have been watching top professionals in a west end theatre. The colour, brilliant make-up, costumes, and sets were marvellous. One very imaginative set was inside a whale - I can’t quite remember that scene in the original Pinocchio story – but the florescent lighting, together with the ghostly skeleton-boned inhabitants of three sailors swallowed on a previous occasion – made a great spectacle for Pinocchio,Geppetto and Rissotto. Joe Haynes acting as Geppetto’s wife Rissotto, was absolutely hilarious – his makeup and clothes hilarious. Everyone thought it was the very best pantomime the Wargrave Theatre Workshop had ever put on. We came away in high spirits with Paul and Debbie as professionals praising them to the sky.

The previous night I drove to Sue and Tom's on a very rainy evening andon to join the Harpsden Womens Institute party for a visit to the Mill at Sonning, where not only were we to see “It’s Never All Right on the Night” by Simon Williams, but Sally Hughes (the Managing Director) gave us a conducted tour of the building. As the theatre has been constructed within the original 18th Century Flour Mill, to venture into the bowels of the building with all it’s many tiny winding passageways, was very interesting. As for the show itself, performed brilliantly by Simon Williams, Issy Van Randwyck provided the glamour – and most of the songs, The show was based around life in the theatre, the gossip, jokes and scandals were interspersed with lots of spicy anecdotes and musical numbers such as ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage Mrs Worthington’ and ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’. After the show, when we met in the bar, I gave Simon the miniature I painted of him last year.

I managed to complete another miniature this week – this one is of my great niece Becky. She’s nineteen and currently whooping it up at University in Exeter. And as I paint one every year this is not at all surprisingly the nineteenth.

Miniature portrait of Becky

Apart from painting I’ve spent a bit of time figuring out how to use my latest gadget – an iPhone. As it has a touch screen things move so fast that at this stage I’m constantly making errors. For example when I thought I was demonstrating to Paul Daniels a number of my paintings I’d added to the phone it wasn’t too long before I had a text from my friend Pootle telling me that she was inadvertently listening in to our conversation! Hope I master it soon or my phone bills will rocket! Pootle has been very helpful in teaching me how to add things like music, pictures, Apps, Skype, all the other settings I want (I nearly said need). Having only had a phone that’s a phone and nothing else I’m a bit overwhelmed with what this one can do. (Paul doesn’t think much of touch screen gadgets but then he is a very competent touch typist and can type out a message without looking at the screen)

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Getting My Head Down

Because of the snow and difficulty about getting around on the unsalted roads (why is England so far behind the rest of Europe in this respect?) I’ve spent most of my time painting for about 9 hours every day. Quite productive in that I’ve finished the large painting of a couple of friends, made a smallish sepia painting of Paul Daniels and am half-way through my third miniature painted in the last three weeks. It’s been good to gaze out of my window to a snow-clad river and countryside and to feel as snug as a bug in a rug while happily painting away. I’ve not done much else. How boring I hear you say. I did go to Reading yesterday to take a few paintings to be framed.

Here are a few of my latest efforts:

Macho Man Paul - a Sepia Painting

Miniature of Max - my Great Nephew

Still on a snowy note, my niece Louisa sent me this charming picture of Kate, her daughter, my great niece.

Finally, I had to laugh the other day when I read about Simon Williams (he’s the famous actor I painted last year). Simon lives locally - he’s an old Harrovian and is probably best remembered for his part as James Bellamy in the TV series ‘Upstairs, Downstairs.’ He was also starring as the evil murderer who died a horrific death in a gripping TV play last week. Apart from his acting skills, Simon is a talented playwright and novelist. In fact I’m going to his latest musical at the Mill at Sonning next week. Apparently the title (when it was performed in the Jermyn Street Theatre in London three years ago) was considered too risqué for us genteel rural folks here in Oxfordshire. Then it was called ‘Curtains Up! Lights Up! Cock Up!’ Now it has been changed to ‘It’s Never All Right On The Night!’ As his wife Lucy Fleming remarked “It was just thought to be a better name for this location…”

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Snow People of Henley

Yesterday I gingerly navigated through the ice and deep snow and walked the mile or so to Henley along the towpath. It was a gloriously sunny day - minus something or other, but bracing and beautiful. The lock and the snow-clad woods behind make a lovely picture.

And this tree on the other side of the frozen lock looks quite magical

In my walk along the towpath I met a man who was hiking to work in Henley. He’d started out at 9 in the morning from Reading (about 7 miles away) so you have to admire his perseverance. This was the view as I made my way towards the town.

Here’s the first snowman I came across.

And later on I met this very artistic snowgirl.

Once I arrived in Henley confronting me in the middle of Falaise Square was this giant (about 12 feet high I think) snowman. He seems to dwarf the town hall in the background.

Moving on to Hart Street.

I was intrigued to see this lovely little pair of snowgirls nestling together outside the White Garden Flower Shop.

Then on to The Café Rouge for a light lunch and a warming drink of hot chocolate before venturing back home with the newspapers for my neighbours. (Because the ice and snow have meant that no milk or newspapers have been delivered for the past 3 days).
So what else have I been doing lately? Not a lot – apart from painting for about 9 hours a day. It’s been nice and cosy in my warm flat as I look up from time to time to this cold and snowy scene from my studio window.

New year’s evening was spent how I like best – with just a few good friends. Paul and Debbie had invited me to their home for dinner, together with Debbie’s mum and dad and sister Donna with her family. We had a lovely roast dinner, pulled crackers, read jokes, and later on played charades, interspersed by scores of incoming greetings text messages..
At the stroke of midnight Paul signalled the start of 2010 by letting off a rocket in the garden.

The parade of snow people has not quite finished. Here is the snowman that my faithful follower Pootle made yesterday. Note the spectacles – they are the 3D glasses that were issued with the film Avatar.