The Sinking of Marsh Midget

Trevor, the boat builder, having made a lovely job of repairing ‘Marsh Midget’ over the winter, asked if he could row it back to my landing stage from the boatyard half-a-mile up the river, so I delivered the oars and rowlocks and drove back to wait by my mooring for him to arrive. Not a drop of water in the boat – it was immaculate – as he arrived and I tied up the stern rope. But, as I asked Trevor to hand me an oar so I could pull the boat in, for some reason he moved to the point of the dinghy. Then, as if in slow motion, he rolled over and fell into the river taking the boat with him! It then quickly sank to the bottom! With water up to his chest and his feet stuck in 12 inches of mud Trevor managed to stagger to the point where I could help him clamber on to the landing stage. And as he salvaged his mobile phone, keys, spectacles and cigarettes from his pockets Marsh Mundy reappeared with just an inch showing above the waterline. Although soaking wet and a bit grimy from the debris surrounding the boat, Trevor was determined to save the situation by lying on the landing stage and bailing out the dinghy with a bucket.

Later, I returned from my flat where I’d been to get a dustpan so Trevor could get the last few drops of filthy water out, and found Trevor had disappeared! Then I heard a voice call out from beneath the landing stage. He’d fallen in again! Apparently the handle of the bucket had come apart causing him to overbalance. This time he was in deeper water, but after a Herculean effort he worked his way towards the bathing platform of my big boat where he climbed the ladder and emerged once again covered with river debris and with mud up to his knees.

All the time this was going on a pair of coots, who had decided this year to make their nest under my landing stage – rather than on the bathing platform as they did last year – remained relatively calm under the circumstances, apart from making a few tentative pecks at Trevor’s trousers. The female coot even remained sitting on her eggs the whole time.

On Friday afternoon, after watching the spectacular Royal Wedding for most of the day on television, with the day still bathed in warm sunshine, I decided it would be a good time to visit Greys Court. It was, as most people were probably still engrossed in local wedding celebrations. After a tour around the house I posed beside the oil painting I’d made several years ago of the owners of Greys Court - Sir Felix and Lady Brunner.

When Lady Brunner commissioned me to paint this double portrait, Sir Felix was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Which meant that the only reference I had of him for the painting was a small sepia passport style photograph. He was too ill to even see me, let alone pose for a picture. Together with a friend I posed Lady Brunner and did a rough colour sketch showing the layout I proposed, but realised I couldn’t do the finished painting well enough without a sight of Sir Felix himself. Fortuitously, a few weeks later Lady Brunner phoned to say that Sir Felix was well enough to meet me, but couldn’t be photographed. He was also frightened of strangers, so would I, she asked, pretend to be the gardener, the new butler, or the man from the National Trust! Knowing nothing about butlering, and only a little about gardening I chose the latter profession and was able to spend the fifteen or so minutes studying Sir Felix’s face and hands -enough to be able to eventually complete the final portrait.

The gardens of Greys Court are fabulous at this time of year – especially the wisterias.

Although I’m mainly working on a trio of important miniatures for the New York Historical Society right now, I did manage to finish this miniature the other day. It’s of an old mechanic and I hope to exhibit it at the MASF show in Florida next January.

Having got the last of the water out of  my cruiser - ‘Marsh Mundy’ – apart from a small recurring leak in the storage compartment, my young friend and I took it out for a spin up to Wargrave and Shiplake on Saturday afternoon. The weather was perfect. We stopped for a while at Paul and Debbie’s house where Paul showed us his new white rabbits.

There are two of them, they have lovely blue eyes and will soon be amazing the Edinburgh Festival audience by popping out of – or disappearing from – Paul’s top hat. Currently they are housed in a splendid three-storey rabbit hutch.

Taking advantage of this prolonged spell of glorious weather, on Bank Holiday Monday I decided on a picnic by the creek – just past Temple Island and about a mile above Henley Bridge. But I hadn’t reckoned on the strong wind that day. With white horses rearing up all over the river I found it impossible to moor there as the boat was rapidly blown backwards. Nevertheless I eventually managed to moor on the other side of the river with the help of a kind chap on the towpath.

Maybe I’m destined to perambulate backwards on the river this year. I say this because, after fixing my electric motor to the back of the dinghy I attempted a short trip, but couldn’t manage to get out of the Mill Pool. The boat just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to and only seemed to go backwards!. Finally, exasperated, I tied it up and tried to find out what was wrong. The answer was that the engine had moved around the shaft and was stuck at a 45 degree angle. No wonder it was all over the place.

Talking of feeling foolish, yesterday I went to Toad Hall Garden Centre to buy a few plants and earthenware pots. Spying a really nice stone edifice with little animals carved around the base, I lifted the very heavy top part, which was only about two inches deep, and asked the owner of the garden centre, who just happened to be nearby, what type of plants would grow best in such a shallow pot. “That’s a bird bath, Sir,” he said with a wry smile, probably thinking to himself ‘silly old sod!’