Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Frolicking in the Easter Sunshine

Today five little Canada Geese were born in our garden. They’ll be gone by the evening, but I managed to take a few photographs this morning. Gently nurtured by their mother the male goose kept guard – and hissed at anyone who came too near.

Luckily I was photographing two of my great nieces – Genevieve and Annabel – for their miniatures at the time so they had a chance to see the chicks, and as Genevieve’s ambition is to be a professional travel photographer, she took a whole lot of photographs

On Easter Sunday all the Mundy family gathered at Val’s for the day before going for lunch. This year we chose The Maltsters Arms as our venue. It’s an old pub just next to the church in Greys village. As the weather has remained hot and sunny throughout the weekend we could all sit outside at a long table.

And here’s Evie, chatting to her cousin Ellie.

After a really good lunch we drove the couple of miles back to Val’s, where we played ‘the money game’. Throughout the year I save up all my 5 and 1 pence pieces (due to inflation this year I added nine £2 coins and nine £1 coins to make it worth while) and scatter them around the garden (avoiding the flower and vegetable beds) for the children to find on the word ‘go’. It’s a game I started when I used to come home on leave from the Far East. Originally played for my nephews and niece, it has now become a family tradition for their nine children. The youngest, Kate, collected the most. Here she is with a daisy chain she made.

This time of year gives me the opportunity to take a picture of all the family together. I’m normally mot in it, but with the use of the timer on my camera, managed to sneak in this year. Mind you it took 4 attempts to achieve this, as the few seconds the camera gave me wasn’t enough time to race back to the group. But finally, with a superhuman sprint I managed it. So here we all are in dappled light under the apple tree with an array of fallen blossoms on the ground framing the photograph.

Tea in the garden on such a balmy day was a real treat. The boys went up the lane to play football in the field, while the girls stayed in the garden. Here are five of them – Kate, Ellie, Genevieve, Annabel and Charlotte.

Because spring has been so marvellous this year with wall to wall sunshine, all the flowers are blooming early - especially the bluebells. So on Wednesday last I walked through the woods at Greys Court where they were thick on the ground.

Over the years I’ve taken thousands of photographs on digital cameras, and they are all still stored on my computer – well over a quarter of a million! The other day I installed a programme called Picassa. Amongst its many applications it has a facility for face recognition. It somehow  finds all the people I’ve photographed over the years and asks me to name them. Then it automatically plonks each face in its relevant folder – magic! It even recognised my face at 15 years old in black and white and added it to my own folder amongst the more grizzly older ones. It’s not finished scanning the files yet, but so far I see it’s found 186 Rolf Harris faces. Trouble is there are so many people who I recognize instantly but for the life of me can’t remember their names.

Talking of Rolf, I called in to see him and Alwen last Saturday morning. I’ve said it before but he is by far the most prolific artist I know. He’s working on about six paintings currently. Here he is against a fascinating willow tree in the garden.

Just to bore you one more time, this is my renovated dinghy finally ready for launching tomorrow. Cross your fingers it is totally watertight once more.

Yesterday evening Jane, Brian and I went up the river on my boat. Just past Leander Club we saw Jilly and Bob so stopped to pick them up. Tragically as Jilly clambered aboard she dropped her mobile phone into the river! It's now under 12 feet of water, and as the battery will probably last for another few days does anyone know of a diver in the Henley area? If so we know approximately where the phone is and while he's under the water we could ring it as it still works - or did last night.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Water,Water. Everywhere

I haven’t been lucky with boats this year. Last Saturday, it being a lovely day, my young friend and I (she in combat gear) decided to give my big boat it’s first clean of the season. Armed with a variety of brushes, buckets and cleaning materials we undid the tonneau cover. All looked fine. That is until we looked into the engine compartment, where to our horror we found it was immersed in nearly two feet of water. The same, but not quite as deep, in the cabin and storage section. Two hours spent bailing hardly lowered the water, so after a perfunctorily clean I arranged for Ivan, the boatman, to collect ‘Marsh Mundy’ and take it down river to his workshop to pump out the water and see what damage had occurred. (We had already removed 5 large bin bags full of ruined clothing, chairs, barbecue sets, crockery etc and taken it to the tip). The water must have got in after the snow melted in the winter and possibly due to a leaky ‘Houdini Hatch’ directly over the cabin. Anyway the boat’s just been returned and hopefully if I leave the cover off for the next couple of days – and if this glorious weather lasts - it may start to dry, especially in the carpeted cabin. 

Talking of glorious weather, this blossom in the lock-keepers garden echoes the whole countryside at the moment. On Sunday morning I visited friends who live on the Hennerton backwater. Over the years, from a completely bare site, they have made the most beautiful garden. This is a general view looking down towards the backwater.

In days gone by I imagine there must have been lavish riverside parties because this original bathing hut remains at the bottom of the garden and would have been used in the modest Edwardian times.

Just across the stream is an island, and at this time of year the Loddon lilies are at their best. They don’t last long but right now sprinkle the island everywhere.

Back in the garden I spied this gypsy caravan tucked away in a corner. (I must make use of this in a painting sometime).

More views of the garden. Don’t the blue pots contrast beautifully with the spring greenery? No doubt as summer approaches they’ll be filled with flowers.

As its ‘that’ time of year my painting schedule was interrupted last week by the need to spend 3 days compiling my tax affairs. What a bore! But at least it’s done early this year. My cleaning lady left me recently ‘to spend more time with her family’ I think, so I put an ad in our local paper – ‘The Henley Standard’. What a good little newspaper that is, because in response to just one tiny classified I’ve received over 25 replies. Times must be tough.

I called to see Paul and Debbie yesterday. Paul is recovering from the hernia operation he underwent a couple of days ago but is looking fit and well. It was lovely sitting on their verandah and watching the occasional boat glide by in the glistening sunshine. The pair of swans that annually build in their creek have almost completed their nest this year. Here’s the pen putting the finishing touches to it. Unfortunately one of the swans that regularly nest in our garden was found dead last week. The Swanline people who came to collect it said that it had been killed by a fox.

Hooray… my dinghy will be in the water next Wednesday – a bit late for Easter, but it has to be varnished a number of times before launching. This is how it was the other day with Trevor Green, who did all the work on it,

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Spring Has Sprung

What a beautiful spring we are having this year. As I write this I’m sitting on my balcony with the scent of roses wafting up from the garden, accompanied by the rushing sound of the sluices from the mill races in the middle of our lawn. From my vantage point I can see one of the two Canada geese that have nested here. Soon the chicks will be hatched and no doubt will litter the river banks much to the annoyance of the riparian occupants.

On Sunday, Val, my young friend and I drove over to visit Joanne and her daughter Nicola in Bampton. Nicola, who loves boats and rivers, will inherit my little wooden dinghy someday, but it will depend which of us decays more rapidly - me or Marsh Midget! It’s almost repaired, and hopefully will be ready to launch next week.

The weather was not only balmy on Sunday - it was the hottest day of the year to date. Not a cloud in the sky so we dined alfresco in Joanne’s garden.

Later, Nicola took us for a drive in deepest Cotswold country – Lechlade, the source of the Thames; Kelmscott, home of the designer and artist William Morris, and to Eastleach, scene of a murder earlier this month. Some of the hamlets we visited appeared not to have changed one iota over the centuries.

Saturday was a lovely day too. My young friend and I visited Beale Park near Pangbourne. A little train took us around the park and gardens. One of the aims of Beale Park is to care and conserve rare and endangered species, and to play an active role in many national and international programmes through breeding initiatives in the wild and in captivity. Here are a few of the animals and birds we saw.

And with hair windswept I'm having a go at 'pig-riding'

On the way home we stopped at Streatley. This lovely little town in Berkshire features The Swan, a very upmarket hotel and eatery.

This barge, moored nearby, caters for special parties. In days gone by I occasionally moored my boat next to the hotel overnight, and as long as we dined in the restaurant. had free use of their showers (nescessary with a boat with no shower facility).

Workwise this week I’ve started work on a variety of paintings and drawings. Here’s a small painting I’m planning to include in a book on Trompe L’Oeil painting I hope to complete in a year or two.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Good News

I went to London last Wednesday to see the surgeon that performed my lung operation and to have a CT scan and an X-ray. Apparently all three tumours were successfully removed and the affected lung has now inflated to 97% capacity. He was delighted. And so am I. So although pain remains – and will so for several months, I’ve taken myself off the pain killers as I don’t want to fall asleep again over my painting – and I need to drive again. That concludes all talk about medical matters.

Yesterday we spent an interesting afternoon visiting Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire.

Formerly the home of Benjamin Disraeli, (Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Minister), during the Second World War Hughenden housed a vital and top secret mapping unit, codenamed ‘Hillside’. Its purpose was to create accurate target maps for RAF bombing missions over Germany and occupied Europe. By 1941 it had become clear that with the rough maps then available, only a small proportion of bombs were falling within even five miles of their target,. Thousands of bomber crews’ lives were being lost to no purpose. More accurate maps were needed. Being a mapmaker myself during my Royal Engineers National Service days in the fifties (when we drew maps for the military forces during the Malayan Emergency), I was particularly intrigued with this aspect of the Manor. Situated near Bomber Command headquarters it was requisitioned by the Air Ministry, and a team of Royal Engineers were called in, using old German road maps as a starting point. From these they drew and painted new maps, adding up-to-date landmarks found from aerial reconnaissance photos and viewed in 3D through a stereoscope. (Having only one good eye I annoyingly never could see the stereoscopic effect). This old photo shows some of the artists at work.

Woods were coloured a dark green, fields were grey, and rivers a silvery colour- as they would appear in moonlight on a night bombing raid. Roads were coloured red using ox blood as paint. This was found to show up best when the maps were photographed for printing the bomber crews’ copies, but the paint pots had to be kept covered to prevent the flies eating the paint!

We spent a leisurely time not only looking over the house, but about an hour or so wandering through the garden, which was beginning to burst into springtime life.

This is one of several statues dotted around the garden…

… and a sculpture of the great man by Charles Bell Birch.

On Friday I finally finished my painting of the Duke of Edinburgh against a background of the three stained glass windows he commissioned after the Windsor Castle fire a number of years ago.

And The Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle Company have just informed me that they will be producing a wooden jigsaw depicting my painting ‘The Carousel’ next month. This company always includes pieces that they call ‘whimsies’ so I look forward to little horses and other fairground items featuring in the puzzles.

We spent many hours last week completely cataloguing all the paintings and drawings I’ve ever exhibited in the various Societies and Galleries over the past thirty odd years. A really big job, but now it’s finished I’ll be able to see at a glance where and when I exhibited, what awards were won, and most usefully of all, to make sure I don’t exhibit miniatures for a second time in a specific gallery or Society exhibition.