Sunday, 21 February 2010

How Old?

I had a call from BBC Radio Berkshire earlier this week. Anne Diamond was doing a History of the World programme direct from Reading Museum and was asking for people to talk about their oldest possession or any object that might relate to Berkshire. We learned that Reading Museum’s oldest item was 3,000 year’s old, however I happen to own a 6,000 year-old piece of pottery!

When I lived in Thailand one of our clients, who happened to be a leading expert on Asian antiquity, commissioned me to make a drawing of a very valuable Khymer figure he owned. It was missing both arms and my task was to draw it complete with arms. This I did after much research on the type and shape of limbs this particular figure would have had. Instead of paying me in cash I was given this 12 inch high Ban Chien earthenware pot. Ban Chien is a small village located somewhere in central Thailand and in the ‘60’s hit the headlines when a number of pieces of earthenware were unearthed there. Subsequently they were carbon 14 tested and were found to be around 6,000 years old, which resulted in alterations to the history of Asia . This caused much excitement in the country, leading to King Bhumipol Aduladej banning the export of all items found in Ban Chien. (Don’t ask how I managed to bring my piece home.) By the way, this is part of the drawing I made for the collector.

Anne Diamond became very excited about my little piece of history, speculating about the age of the last person to handle the pot before it was lost underground all those years ago. We also talked about my time as a biscuit tin designer in Reading as the Reading Museum have a number of my designs on display there. She found it hard to believe that my starting salary in the 1950’s was less than £1 per week. It wasn’t much even then – but I was an apprentice after all.

I popped in to see Paul and Debbie on Tuesday to return Paul’s sound system I’d borrowed - good timing as the family were there, and being Shrove Tuesday, Debbie and her father Pat served us all with delicious pancakes.

Tom Campbell, the champion of the ‘colours’ evening last week challenged me to a few games of snooker on Thursday. He beat me of course, but the practice was useful.

Last night together with Val and the lucky folks of Henley who were able to get tickets I went to the best show I’d seen for years. Pam Ayres was performing at the Kenton Theatre. It was absolutely fabulous!

Pam Ayers

For those of you that may not have heard of, or seen, Pam Ayres, she writes and recites poetry. Not just poetry but the funniest. The whole evening was hilarious. She had us in stitches as she told us tales of her break into the limelight when she won Opportunity Knocks’ – a TV talent show in the fifties, and how she came to write a poem about her young son’s thirteen-nil defeat at his first football match. Her description of how her mother extracted fat from within a carcass of meat had Val almost wetting herself with laughter next to me as it reminded her of her own childhood when her mother did exactly the same thing. What a great talentPam Ayers is. She also donated a large part of her fee to boost the Kenton Theatre’s coffers.

I was so inspired and uplifted by such a happy evening that when I got home I penned a few verses till I fell asleep around midnight. They’re not very good but are dedicated to a few of my faithful followers.


As a blogger I write every week
Being shy and so terribly meek
I’m sometimes quite boring
So stop that rude snoring
And wake up and have a quick peek.

With comments from friend RG9
Without them I’d probably pine
And Bluebells who’s clever
Whatever the weather
In Stateside or tropical clime.

And artists like Wes and Rachelle
Friend Mona with talent as well
And dear little Pootle so quiet and discreet
She ponders, you know, with never a tweet
Must go now my friends, there’s the bell

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A Red Letter Day

I can’t say it’s been a very exciting week. No highlights at all. However yesterday was a bit of a red-letter day in that my visit to the oncologist confirmed that my cancer has been successfully contained. This was revealed by the recent full body scan I had a couple of weeks ago. So the little cloud of apprehension that’s been lingering over me lately has gone away.

Last Monday afternoon I ventured into the world of the WI by giving an hour long illustrated talk to the Remenham branch. (I had to laugh when I was first approached by the President Sheila Constantinidi some time ago and enquired what facilities they could offer. “Screen, microphone, projector, lectern, etc?” I asked. “No, none of those” she said, “but we do have electricity!”) The first half hour of the talk traced the history and techniques of the old master limners ranging from the earliest (Lucas Horenbout in the mid 16th Century)…

... and carried on through to the beginning of the nineteenth century when the invention of photography in 1830 forced many of the portrait limners (or miniaturists) of the time to either take up other professions or in some cases to use a faint blue or grey photographic image as a base to paint on. In this way they could compete with the burgeoning number photographers who of course were charging much less than the artists. Some even augmented their living by becoming ‘profilists’.

The second half was mainly showing my own methods and included a couple of step-by-step demonstrations from start to finish.

Miniature of Gilbert Adams

The village hall was a bit cold – maybe a good idea, as nobody fell asleep.

It was ‘Colours evening with the snooker section at Phyllis Court on Thursday. What a good game that is – there were about twenty of us playing and we each get to play three games as the red balls aren’t used. Tom Campbell won the trophy. One day I’ll do it!

One of the players (not me)
Thursday was quite a busy day. Friends were arriving for the day, and their visit coincided with the funeral of Ermgard – an old friend from my early days in the Far East. (We met when Ian, her husband, was a warrant officer in the British army in Singapore). I arranged to take my friends for lunch at the Travellers Rest – a restaurant only a short distance from the crematorium. I had a bit of an embarrassing experience there. Because I only had 20 minutes before leaving for the funeral, my friends were to stay in the restaurant to have a leisurely lunch and a game of pool, while I ate a hurried meal. In fact the restaurant was very accommodating and produced ham egg and chips in about 5 minutes. But when I paid the bill I gave the girl at the till a £20 note. Back at the table I realised that she’d given me change for a £10 note. When I returned to let her know about her mistake she maintained that I had given her a £10 note. As I knew I had just two £20 notes in my pocket (being given them earlier that morning) I could only assume she had cleverly pocketed the £10. Even when the manager showed me the till with no £20 notes in it all I could do was to bite the bullet and admire her sleight of hand. It wasn’t till I got home later in the afternoon that I discovered the two £20 notes were in my other pocket! Oh dear - I’ll either have to go back to the restaurant and apologise, or never go there again!

My sister-in law, Val, was born on Valentine’s Day – hence the name – so together with a friend I took her out for a very nice Valentine’s lunch at Phyllis Court Club. And yesterday evening Mollie - who‘d just arrived from her home in New Zealand - and her daughter Jane joined me for a happy meal at the CafĂ© Rouge.

But a lot of my spare time this week has been spent mastering the iPhone and adding a few ‘apps’ such as a TomTom satnav and numerous CD’s and talking books. (If I’m not careful I’ll become a techno nerd!)

However in case you think I’ve been skiving, I managed about 40 hours painting miniatures this week for a client in the USA.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Tea, Anyone?

As a biscuit tin and tea caddy designer in my youth I was delighted to be given this lovely example of the art yesterday by my friend Joanne Dalston - it also contained fragrant Earl Grey tea. Val and I had driven over to Bampton in the Cotswolds to have lunch with Joanne. She’d spent six hours cooking a Jamie Oliver recipe for pork – and it was delicious. When I say Joanne lives in a cowshed, although true, once inside you’d never realise its origins as the whole ambiance is utterly charming. It’s so comfortable to spend the day with old friends.

And talking of old friends, Keith Lorenz – a colleague from those long gone days when I lived in Bangkok – emailed to say he was travelling in the north of Thailand and did I have Maurice Bowra’s email address, and as they hadn’t seen each other for nearly 30 years, if he managed to get down to Bangkok, he’d like to meet up with him. Maurice, my oldest friend, lives in Bangkok and we all worked together at Grant Advertising. We are so lucky to be living in the age of instant communication, as they did meet, and had a jolly evening together. Wish I’d been there. That same day Maurice emailed me a photo of the two of them at dinner. Here it is:

In the sixties I was the MD of a small American advertising agency in Bangkok – we were part of a worldwide International major company. Maurice dug out an old photograph of the agency as it was and this was also instantly relayed to both Keith (by now back in Hawaii) and me in England. Here’s the photo. Maurice is 4th from the left in the back row, I come next, then Keith. We’ve matured a bit since then, but like fine wines – as they say – improved with age!

This afternoon I gave an hour-long illustrated presentation to the local Remenham Women’s Institute. In two halves, the first part traced the origins of miniature portrait painting from the late 16th Century, with descriptions of the techniques of the major artists, culminating in the 19th Century when photography was invented. The second half demonstrated my own techniques and included a few anecdotes surrounding some of the more prominent or eccentric characters I’ve painted over the years. I think it went well, and as the only facility the WI was able to offer was ‘electricity’. I supplied the digital projector, mike, sound-system, screen, laptop, etc. etc. and a few assorted miniatures. One of the ladies brought a couple of her family miniatures, and very nice they were too – possibly Englehearts.

I’m sure we in England are going quite potty when it comes to political correctness! Maybe there are other counties as loopy, but I could hardly believe it when I read the other day about a Jobcentre somewhere in the country which had banned an advert seeking “reliable and hardworking” staff. Can you believe it? They said it would discriminate against unreliable and lazy applicants! I should hope so too. Just imagine if this rule was applied to athletes aiming to take part in the Olympic Games. I can see the objections now - “You can’t say ‘fastest, fittest, strongest, dedicated, etc” as this will discriminate against the ‘unfit, slowest, weakest and lazy’.
Another little item caught my eye as well – a motorist was caught by the police blowing his nose whilst stuck in traffic. He was fined £60! For blowing his nose! And the car wasn’t moving. The mind boggles!

Now I’m getting geared up to start painting a trio of miniatures for a New York client. Can’t wait for the morning to come so I can get underway.