The Creak of the Rowlocks

Now that I’ve regained most of my strength the river beckons, so the other evening I took Marsh Midget down to Henley Bridge and back. Having had so little rain lately the river is quite low and on that particular evening the current was tranquil. Hardly anything moved so I just about had the river to myself.

I may look a bit stressed here but could have rowed for hours. Once you get into the rhythm it’s such a relaxing pastime. And being relatively silent (apart from a slight creak of my rowlocks from time to time) none of the coots, grebes, and ducks take much notice as they gaze back at you from their floating homes. The swans (who are convinced they own the river) occasionally swim right in front of the boat as if daring you to change course. But I never do, as I know by experience that they always dodge out of the way at the last minute.

Discarding the oars for the time being, last Saturday I decided to take the dinghy down the Hennerton Backwater, and as I wanted to face forward, rather than continuously look over my shoulder as I negotiated the many twists and turns of this delightful stream, I attached my little electric motor to the stern. After going through Marsh Lock, about three miles further on I threaded my way through a flotilla of moored boats till I reached the entrance to the backwater.

The height of the bridge is about three feet from the water so as you can imagine it takes a bit of manoeuvring to get through to the other side. It means lying almost flat in the boat, but as soon as you are clear and past the gardens of a few houses the peace of the backwater envelopes you. About half a mile downstream another bridge comes into view – higher than the first one.

And still further on, an even higher bridge.

I like bridges – those over rivers I mean. Before arriving at the other end of the backwater there’s just one more bridge to see. This one isn’t across the backwater but is in the garden of friends Tony and Gloria and is one of the features of their magnificent garden.

When I finally arrived back at Marsh Lock at least four 'lock-fulls' of boats of all sizes were queued up there. Because it was 1.45 pm the lock-keeper would still be off duty, and although the lock can now be operated easily by pushing a few buttons, I assumed the leading few boats were a bit lazy and had decided to wait for the lock keeper’s return from lunch. However it did finally open, and as I was in a tiny craft I just edged nearer to the front of the queue (probably to the disgust of some of the larger boats) and sneaked into a small space between a couple of canal barges.

Talking about the backwater, yesterday morning I joined the members of the Hennerton Backwater Association for their annual AGM and breakfast by the river. Simon and Geraldine hosted a sumptuous coffee and bacon, baps and sausage breakfast by the riverside in their garden. This is the 13th AGM – and the weather has been sunny every single time. Many people arrived by boat. Here are some of them.
It’s a really jolly occasion. During the winter an energetic bunch of members get together for  ‘slash and burn’ sessions to keep the backwater clear. (The Environment Agency won’t do it!). An otter has been sighted nearby and one of the members had set up a camera with a time delay in the area that we think the otter frequents. Movement activates the camera, and we were shown some remarkable pictures of a magpie, fox, pheasant and even a young deer. But no otter. Here’s the view looking down towards the garden as the meeting ended.

Later a friend joined me and we drove to Goring where we went asparagus picking in the open fields at Hildred’s farm. The season’s nearly over but we found enough for our dinner and to give a few bunches to Val and the neighbours. On our way home we called in for lunch at The Lamb in Satwell. It was such a lovely day we sat outside in the sunshine to have our fish and chips.

On Wednesday evening Paul and Debbie invited Jilly and me to supper at their home followed by a very special performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Measure for Measure’. My education was sadly lacking and I don’t really appreciate Shakespeare, but I must say it was a glorious evening. Performed by the Wargrave Theatre Workshop in the open air in the grounds of Wargrave church we were lucky the weather stayed dry for the event. ‘Measure for Measure’ is a story of sex, sin and forgiveness and is billed as a template for much of modern society.. I didn’t take my camera, but managed to take this slightly shaky picture with my iPhone, which I think captures a bit of the atmosphere.

The actors were brilliant. As were the costumes. It was the first night and the performance was just about flawless. I certainly came away with a new appreciation of Shakespeare’s genius.

Don’t get the idea I haven’t been working much this week. I’ve made two pencil drawings of children for a client – one more to go – and finally completed a self-portrait. (Something I was coerced into doing I might add, as I’m not a great fan of my face!).
But here it is anyway. It’s not a miniature, and measures about 15 by 12 inches.

I went to see Robin Nagi, my dentist in Oxford, the other day for a regular check-up. Always a pleasure to have a chat (usually at breakneck speed) before he starts on my teeth. All seemed OK – apart from the need for more vigorous and prolonged brushing! However the main question of the day, as he pointed to a print of my Swanuppers painting which adorns the ceiling above the patient's chair, was ‘How many people are portrayed there?’ as another patient was very keen to know the answer. I checked when I got home – it’s 53.

Incidentally my ‘Carousel’ painting has just been made into a very nice wooden jigsaw by the Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company. It comes in three sizes – 250, 500 and 1,000 pieces. I’m halfway through the 500-piece version. These jigsaws feature what they call ‘whimsys’, and in this one you can find all sorts of fairground pieces from horses to balloons, candy floss, mini- carousels etc.

I’ll attach a link to the Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company, just in case anyone wants to order a puzzle. Click here.