Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Goose That Didn't Stir

It’s a hive of activity in the garden today. All the riparian neighbours who live adjacent to the Mill Stream got together to clear the fallen trees, bushes and other debris that have accumulated there over the past couple of years. I wasn’t able to help as I’m still not allowed to do any lifting or major physical work so could only watch the ’workers’. The Canada goose that decided to build her nest on our garden point totally ignored the sound of three or four chainsaws and everything else that was going on right under her nose. But with a polite request from me she reluctantly lifted herself up to show me her seven eggs.

The Mayor of Henley, Jeni Wood, held her spring charity luncheon at the Bell in Hurley last Wednesday. It proved to be quite a lavish affair. I was invited by Annie Hill who hosted a table as the event coincided with Vince’s birthday. The Bell, an old coaching Inn, boasts a wonderful barn, which is where the lunch was held. Among the guests was Olympic medal winner, Debbie Flood, who gave a really uplifting speech about her career and imparted much sound advice to aspiring young rowing hopefuls.

Each table was given the name of a flower – it being a spring affair. ours was called Snowdrop, but Martin, the cartoonist, changed it to Edelwiess in honour of Vince’s hit recording. Everyone on our table – which included Rolf and Alwen Harris, Ian McCorquodale and Bryony Brind, signed it, and it ended up being the prize for the game ‘Heads and Tails’. This game seems to have become a tradition at almost all of the larger Henley Charitable affairs. Here’s Vince with Jeni and Rolf.

Spring is blossoming all over. On one of my daily walks by the river I noticed this beautiful blossom tree right by the lock.

And in the garden the Magnolia Stellata I planted many years ago to blossom at the same time of the year to commemorate the death of my friend Susie is now in full bloom a brightly shining white in the morning sunshine.

It won’t be long before the boats once more come out on the river. My little clinker built wooden dingy, Marsh Midget, was leaking so much at the end of last season that I decided to have it properly repaired over the winter (at great expense, I might add). Trevor the boatman is working on it and you can see the work that has been done so far on her bottom. To twist the mahogany  boards into the right shape is a real art.

But on the other side of the boat the rotten planks have been cut away in readiness for the new ones. I’ve set a deadline of Easter for the job to be finished but am not holding my breath that this will be achieved. Anyway I’m still not sure whether I’ll be able to row by that time. As I have an appointment with Mr Ladas, the lung surgeon, in London next Wednesday perhaps he will be able to let me know the score then.

Yesterday Val took me to the Henley Bowling Club’s opening evening. I signed up for four of the events, so come May 2nd should be bowling once again. As the coaches told me last year that I tended to do everything too fast maybe the fact that I will, by necessity, have to take it a bit easier, will improve my game.

Tomorrow is the ‘Handing-in Day’ at the Royal Academy in London. I’m entering my ‘Les Tres Heures’ painting and the pencil drawing I’ve entitled ‘Le Derriere de Joceline’.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Golden Days

At last I’m managing to do a full day’s painting without falling asleep over my desk! Although I was only able to paint for a few hours at a time last week - due to the amount and strength of the painkillers I’m on – now that I’ve reduced the dosage I’m back to my usual 8 hours or so. I must say it’s a strange feeling when I’m happily painting away to suddenly find that my brush has stopped moving and I’m jerked awake from a momentary slumber. Luckily most of the little splodges I made were easily washed off. If I were painting a miniature it would be a different story I’m sure. As it is this is the progress to date on the painting commemorating the fire at Windsor Castle.

Still not being allowed to drive I’m indebted to friends who’ve taken me out for lunch or to other functions. Last Tuesday, for example, Gordon and Olive Bond picked me up on a gloriously sunny day for a meal at Luscombes ‘Golden Ball’, where I came across this old clock on the way to our lavish luncheon.

Every route into Henley has its attractions – and all are completely different. The Golden Ball is reached by driving along the Fair Mile. On the wide verges on that day the daffodils, which line the road, were just beginning to come out.

Talking of golden balls, several years ago I was awarded the most prestigious prize in the world for miniature painting - The Gold Bowl. Made of solid 18 carat gold, it is given by the Royal Society of Miniature Painters for the best miniature painting of the year. Recipients are also presented with a very handsome silver gilt replica. Over the years mine had become quite tarnished, and try as I might I couldn’t bring it back to its pristine glory. However having met the English sculptor and goldsmith, Paul Eaton, in Florida earlier this year, he offered to professionally clean it for me. I took it down to him in Cranleigh about a month ago and on Thursday Paul and his wife Jacqui paid us a visit. We had a superb lunch at my favourite restaurant – The Villa Marina – next to the bridge at Henley. And here is the glittering result.

Catherine, a friend from California, came over to Henley yesterday. She always brings such interesting goodies. Last time she came to England I was given a full size chocolate shoe! The white chocolate button had the most interesting taste. This time she brought a very smart box of colourful Ladurée biscuits. We went for lunch at La Bodegas in a very crowded Henley. The weather was perfect so later we walked up to the River and Rowing Museum. On the way we spied this black swan. It must be the only one of its kind on this stretch of the river.

I like this museum – apart from housing some of the most comprehensive rowing memorabilia and racing boats in the country – it has a wonderful section on Henley and its history, centred on the Royal Regatta. Here are a few examples.

On the way back to town I photographed this view upstream where you can just see my flat in the distance – it’s the brick building framed by the willow tree on the towpath. As part of my recuperation I have to walk a mile or two every day so can be found somewhere along this towpath most days.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Cruise Control

It’s great to be back home once again. After 8 days in hospital with the constant barrage of nurses, technicians, doctors (much as I appreciate what they are doing for me), to be relieved of all the tubes protruding from almost all of my body’s orifices- including a few new ones, and to wave goodbye to hospital food, to be able to sleep in my own bed and to eat nicely cooked meals, is marvellous. I was let out on Monday evening – my young friend drove me home – trying to avoid the many potholes as we neared Henley so as not to aggravate the pain too much.

In normal times I am a very fast walker, so on my first outing two days ago, when I had to have the sutures removed from my chest, I was constantly kept in check by what can only be described as a ‘human cruise control’ as each time I tried to walk faster I was firmly held back.
Although the operation was a success and the two tumours removed, the pain, swelling and general tightness of my chest, will remain for several weeks. Luckily I’m fit (or so I’m told) and have good stamina, so will soon be able to walk the two miles my surgeon recommends every day. Only managed one mile today – along by the river.

Nigel, the lockkeeper, saw me on the bridge and came out for a chat, and later, Tracy - his partner – deposited six freshly laid eggs outside my front door. There’s nothing I like better than eggs from chickens I’m personally acquainted with, so later this afternoon a couple of them are earmarked for my tea when Val calls in. (The eggs, not the chickens!)

On Thursday evening we were invited to dinner by Guy and Marjorie Hart - (they live in the flat below me). Guy subscribes to an Austrian TV satellite system, which, that evening, was transmitting the Vienna Opera Ball live from Vienna. This prestigious affair – famed across Europe – is a marvellous finale to the Austrian Ball season and takes place in that city’s wonderful State Opera House. The whole ambience of the evening with its ravishing music and elegant dancing couples formed the perfect background to the delicious Bavarian meal, which Guy had prepared for us.

I had tried getting back to painting on Thursday, but could only manage an hour or so, but yesterday painted for just about 8 hours. I’m told I mustn’t tire myself after such a major operation but, quite frankly, painting is my form of relaxation.

I wish Halcyon Days had pursued their request for me to paint profile silhouettes of Prince William and Kate Middleton for one of their limited edition enamel boxes, but the timing coincided with my time in hospital. So far the portrait profiles I’ve seen on coins and other proposed wedding memorabilia don’t seem to have caught good likenesses in my opinion.

Good to see Colin Firth getting the Oscar for his portrayal of King George V1 in the film ‘The King’s Speech’. Since the publicity surrounding the release of the film I’ve heard a number of programmes on the radio about stammering – the affliction the King suffered from. I could really empathise with him as from the age of 13, till I joined the army at 19, I stammered quite badly. Certain letters at the beginning of words were more difficult than others to get out and I know we all tried to quickly think up alternatives to the s’s,d’s, r’s, and especially m’s. At my school, each time we had to call out our names in the mornings and afternoons, I actually paid one of my school-mates threepence a week to call my name out at these times. (As an alternative I’d sing my name!)

So many kind friends have called in to see me since I got home – my flat is heaving with flowers, fruit, chocolate, biscuits and all sorts of goodies – I’ll be a real Billy Bunter if I eat it all.

Louisa, my niece came over with her children, Max and Kate an hour ago. Here’s little Kate – she’s just turned four.

And here’s the little card she made for me