Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Walk by the River

My car was snowed in last Sunday – the ice slope from the garage was too dicey to risk. So my young friend and I took a walk by the river the mile or so into Henley.

That’s the view from my garden towards the millstream. At the bottom of the garden is a gate with a combination lock. As I know the code we were able to walk through my neighbour’s garden towards the lock.

This is Marsh Lock, ably looked after by Nigel, the affable lock-keeper who, I’m told, will soon be celebrating a birthday with a nought on the end of it. Gingerly walking across the frozen end gate this scene of the hill beyond was entrancing.

(During the Second World War under this hill a vast underground series of caves housed all sorts of secrets. I ventured in there once and with the aid of an infra red camera photographed a gigantic map of southern England on one 12 foot high wall.

With my jaunty German hat keeping my ears warm, I tarried a while on the horse bridge which spans the river here.

 On the other side of the river is the house belonging to Jane and Brian – friends I’ve often mentioned in my blog. It once belonged to the famous Danny La Rue, and with its lovely swimming pool in the garden and extensive grounds, a verandah reminiscent of the twenties, and a well-appointed small ballroom, Brian and Jane have hosted many a party there (including my 70th).

Passing by Mill Lane, and over the little wooden bridge, we looked back through the foliage towards my flat – which you may be able to glimpse in the background.

One of my favourite glimpses of river life is to see a kingfisher. It may be sitting perfectly still and almost invisible on a branch looking down to the river, but suddenly with a flash of incandescent turquoise and lilac, and a tremendous burst of speed it will dive along the surface of the water to emerge with a tiny fish struggling in its bill. I saw one on this walk but it was too fast for me to capture with my camera.
 We aren’t on the Mississippi, but here comes the New Orleans riverboat. Operated by the Hobbs family I’ve been on it many times – usually in the summer and once in the autumn where I hosted my best party ever – 60 guests on my 60th birthday.

Nice reflections as the New Orleans slowly glides past us and up towards the lock.
For many years an Australian man called Alastair lived on his boat moored by this towpath. I used to regularly have a chat with him in the evenings as I rowed past in my little dinghy. His boat was called ‘Australian’s Possum’. Sadly Alastair died 3 years ago, and a wooden seat was erected here in his honour together with a photograph. Someone is looking after him, as recently a new photograph has replaced the faded old one.

If you happen to slip in the snow and land up in the river, hopefully someone will throw you a lifebelt.

We’ve arrived in Henley. This little corner on the riverside leads into Friday Street. A number of years ago I very nearly bought ‘The Old Granary' – the second house along Friday Street. Although it had a beautiful garden, at the end of which was a big artist’s studio perched over a three-car garage, I found the house itself too dark. It hardly got any sun at all. (Anyway I couldn’t afford it, but it would have been interesting – a Mundy living on Friday Street).

Finally we reached Falaise Square, right in the middle of Henley. All we have to do now is to shop at Waitrose and lug the heavy bags back home.

Yesterday my day started with breakfast with Paul Daniels and Debbie at their riverside home by the river where we exchanged Christmas presents. They are currently starring in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Harlequin Theatre in Redhill (till January 3rd), but manage to get home most nights – snow, ice and the M25 motorway permitting).

Then on to Marlow for a big family lunch hosted by my niece Louisa. Here’s a picture of her children – Max and Kate - next to the snowman they made earlier. We also watched a video of the school’s nativity play where Kate acted the coveted part of Mary.

It’s now gone midnight on Christmas Eve. Most of my day has been spent travelling around delivering Christmas presents. (I even woke up this morning to find that Father Christmas had left a big stocking full of goodies draped over a chair during the night!)

Happy Christmas to all my friends, wherever you are.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


It’s very cold outside today - the snow has just started – look at the view from my studio

The snow has been falling thick and fast, and the road outside my flat resembles an ice rink. So I think I’ll stay inside today. This is what it’s like in my back garden – and that covering only took about an hour or so.

One of my first tasks this morning was to solve a knotty problem. My young friend - having bought a new hairbrush – had somehow got it caught up really tight in her hair. Apart from cutting off great big chunks, the only solution was to untangle it, hair by hair. The whole exercise took over 45 minutes. We now have one full head of hair between us!

On Monday afternoon I had an appointment with the oncologist in Reading following the CT scan last week. Having wondered lately why my stomach had increased somewhat in girth (no, not jam doughnuts or crunchy bars) he informed me that I had developed a hernia. Apart from that it seems the scan result necessitates a further scan – this time a CT - PET scan, whatever that means. So I have to go to the Churchill Hospital in Oxford next Tuesday to have it – I’m told it will take about 3 hours. Fingers crossed!

Much of the past fortnight has been spent painting a miniature portrait of my New York friend’s five-year –old daughter. This is the third miniature I’ve painted of this little girl – the previous two were as a baby and at the age of two. As always a computer image never truly shows what the actual painting is like. You need to see all the colours and the fine brush-strokes to really appreciate the work. I never like giving my overseas clients a preview if at all possible.

And I’m intending to finish my ‘Les Tres Heures’ painting before Christmas. However I wish I’d checked the paper before I’d got too far in the painting as it’s virtually impossible to paint a wash or to get a smooth finish as the watercolour is absorbed instantly into this strange surface. I’ll never use this ‘line and wash’ board again, that’s for sure. Just a bit more work on the left and in the shadows, then I’ll attempt to stipple the dark brown background. Here it is to date.

I’ve been to a few Christmas parties this week – one at friend Stan and Fee’s at Broadplat House on Friday, and another put on by The Henley Standard newspaper in the King’s Barn – a lovely old building right in the middle of town – I even spied some wattle and daub around the half-timbering there. On Saturday evening Paul, my cousin took Jo, Val and me out to celebrate his 65th birthday at Phyllis Court. (I missed the actual date and party as I was still in Singapore) And at the beginning of the week another ‘Colours’ evening at Phyllis Court where I won the first match but lost in the final. One day I’ll come away with the trophy. This is the winner.

Now with the heavy fall of snow today I don’t think we will venture out this evening – maybe we’ll toast crumpets by the fire.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Les Très Riches Heures

I can’t believe how quickly the time is rushing by. Can it really be two weeks since I wrote my last blog? (Yes I’m still here, RG9, and by the way if you want to give me your address I’ll send you a ‘snowy’ Christmas card). But now we are in the run up to Christmas a lot of my time has been spent writing and addressing all my cards, and scanning and printing out Christmas cards for my talented neighbour, who, like me, paints his own cards. But my main activity has been total absorption in my latest painting. Here it is halfway completed.

Quite a big painting it depicts an open book and hopefully, if I can work out the shadows successfully, it will become an interesting Trompe L’Oeil painting. The book will illustrate pages from “Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry” These illuminated manuscripts were painted by the Limbourg brothers (Herman, Paul and John) between 1409 and 1412 when they became Jean de Berry’s miniaturists. A lovely example of the art of miniature painting before such people as Holbein and Hilliard took up painting portrait miniatures. I’ve introduced gold elements into the calligraphed lettering and some of the costumes of the figures (although you won’t be able to see it properly in the above). With a bit of luck I may finish it before the New Year. But right now I have to put it down for a while and concentrate on a miniature portrait for an American client.

I’m convinced the Post Office is taking some of us for a ride. I say this because the day after I arrived back home after my short holiday of the numerous bills awaiting me was one from my frame-maker. I duly sent him a cheque – in an ordinary envelope affixed with a second-class stamp. Not only did the letter take 2 weeks to arrive, (his shop is in Reading – just eight miles away from me) but the Post Office had the cheek to demand £1.32 compensation, with the excuse of ‘Insufficient Postage’. Now I know there is a size and weight regulation but the weight of the small letter together with the cheque were obviously way below both limits, so no way should an excess charge have been made. I was relating this story to a friend at lunch yesterday and she told me that she had to pay for so–called ‘Insufficient Postage’ for FIVE of her birthday cards last month. And then another guest told me that he also had to pay recently. Both of them said that none of the letters or cards were overweight or oversized. I just wonder how much the Post Office is making from what, to me, is a big scam.

This country has not been very good at handling the weather recently, what with airports closing and motorways becoming blocked for hours on end, not to mention the lack of gritting in many parts of the Kingdom. After all we could have learned a bit from last year’s snowfall. It’s still bitterly cold. On Thursday I braved the snow to visit my friend Felicity in the Berkshire Independent Hospital in Reading where she was recovering from an operation. Glad to say she looked the picture of health. Saturday morning I had breakfast with Rolf and Alwen. He showed me his latest paintings. My word, that man is prolific. Having spent the last few weeks completing a number of enormous paintings for the upcoming BBC Arena programme (to be shown on BBC2 on December 29th by the way) I was amazed how many more paintings are under way in his studio. One full-length painting of two small girls is enchanting, and I’m sure they and their parents will be absolutely delighted when they see the final work.

My young friend came with me to the Royal Berks Hospital on Saturday where I had my latest pelvic and chest scan. I won’t know the result till next Monday when I see the oncologist, but as I feel fine I’m crossing my fingers that all is OK. Lately as a small gesture to fitness I’ve spent a little time on my Wi-Fit. Although I haven’t noticed any weight reduction yet, I live in hope. And now with the approach to Christmas accelerating, my diary is getting filled with party dates, so no chance of losing weight in the near future I expect.