Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sir Blogalot

If you remember, the other week I wrote about the little girl of three or four (now aged forty-seven and living in Australia) who remembered me drawing her mother Caroline all those years ago. Well since then we have been in email correspondence, and she’s invested me with a new title ‘Sir Blogalot’! And she sent me a copy of the actual drawing I made at the time. I’m amazed she still had it – but here it is:

We’ve certainly been blessed with wonderful weather over the last week – and the glorious sunshine exactly coincided with Henley's  Fifth Literary Festival. The organisers pulled out all the stops this year to make the festival easily the best ever. And the various venues scattered around Henley were enhanced by the addition of Bix Manor

I went there last Wednesday morning to hear Colin Thubron  - the famous travel writer - talk about his latest book ‘Mountain Pilgrimage’. The mountain in the title of the book is the solitary peak Kailas in Tibet. To both Buddhists and Hindus it is the most mystic heart of the world and an ancient site of pilgrimage. I sat outside in the courtyard before the talk started where tea, coffee and delicious homemade cakes were served. There are so many really good authors to choose from during the festival that it’s only possible to see just a few of them.
The following day I was scheduled to introduce Vince Hill at Le Parisien – a very smart French Restaurant here in Henley. Vince was talking about his book - ‘Another Hill to Climb’.


As my painting of Vince adorned the cover of the book I needed to lug a big easel, and the painting itself to the venue, and must admit that when I struggled to pack both the easel and painting back into my car after the talk in the searing sunshine I felt quite whacked out, so had a nice cooling glass of Chablis in the restaurant and decided to give Shelia Steafel’s talk I’d booked to attend in the afternoon, a miss. Instead I spent a few more hours painting my current picture of a saxophonist. Here’s the progress of part of it so far:


In the evening the Festival put on a special reception at the Hotel Du Vin. There I met numerous friends, including my great niece, Becky. Becky had been selected for a three-week internship by the Festival organisers, and I was constantly told what a great job she was doing.

Having a real interest in the Titanic story I was really looking forward to Frances Wilson’s talk on Friday morning about her book ‘How to Survive the Titanic'
It was certainly a thrilling talk, as Ismay, the owner of the Titanic, had been vilified by almost everyone for leaving the sinking ship when hundreds of others drowned. But Frances Wilson had so thoroughly researched the events at the time, that the reader (and I’m well into it now) can appreciate the many sides to this particular story. I’d booked to go straight from this talk to board ‘The Hibernia’  for a one hour cruise down the river, while listening to four professional actors reading poetry with the theme ‘Laughter and a few Tears’. As I boarded the ship I was assured by the captain that there were no icebergs looming in the distance!

It was another scorching day as we approached Henley Bridge and passed the Grandstand Pavilion (another of the Festival venues) at Phyllis Court.


Saturday dawned brightly and this time my young friend joined me to see Arlene Phillips give her talk about dance at the Kenton Theatre in the morning. Three dance groups gave performances on the stage. I remember Arlene Phillips when she was the director and choreographer of Hot Gossip in the sixties , and more recently as one of the four judges on the TV programme ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ (until the BBC exercised their stupid ageism policy).
After the show we walked up the Market Square in the middle of the town to enjoy a refreshing drink in the brilliant sunshine before going back to the Kenton for (to me) the highlight of the week – Pam Ayres. Pam Ayres makes me laugh as soon as she opens her mouth. Whether she’s reciting one of her poems or just talking about her life I find her whole demeanour incredibly funny. A signed copy of her book ‘The Necessary Aptitude’ may possibly become a much looked forward to birthday present later this month, if I’m lucky.

With weather like this we decided to take my dinghy ‘Marsh Midget’ out for a trip later in the afternoon, but instead of rowing we attached the electric motor to the stern. Quietly ambling upstream for a few miles we had the best time on the river this year. A boat full of yobs drunkenly weaving along in their little metal boat very nearly crashed into us at one stage, but after I’d let loose a torrent of swear words, they managed to veer away in the nick of time. The whole afternoon was idyllic, but I wish I could work out how to steer the boat without sitting half turned round clutching the extension pole. (I’m sure RG9 could come up with the answer). We’d never been so far in the dinghy and I was wondering whether the battery charge would last the trip. (It cut out about 20 feet from my landing stage as we returned home, so my young friend could practise her paddling skills – we’d taken a paddle and two oars with us – just in case).

Here’s a couple of the pictures she took that afternoon.


To round the week off, my cousin Paul and his wife Jo came over to Henley on Sunday morning and together with Val we went to Phyllis Court to see Lucy Worsley give a talk in the ballroom about her book 'If Walls Could Talk'. Lucy Worsley is the chief Curator of several historical Royal Palaces, including The Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, and is currently presenting a series of programmes on TV. She gave a great talk – so knowledgeable and funny. At one stage she showed a picture of herself at the Tower of London dressed in Royal robes – and with the Queen’s crown on her head! We all had lunch in the dining room before Paul and Jo set off for a holiday in Suffolk. My young friend then joined Val and me to see the last event of the Festival – Robert Hardman – at the Kenton theatre. Whew! That’s enough Literary Festival for another year.

We ended the day by sitting by the river at Phyllis Court sipping ginger beers and watching the green, gold, red and yellow trees in the distance slowly change colour as the sun made its way down to the horizon.

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