Friday, 24 June 2011

The Fifteenth Century Watermill

We visited Mapledurham Watermill last Saturday afternoon. It’s the last working corn and gristmill on the River Thames. Currently an Archimedes Screw is being installed there, and when completed in September will power not only the mill but also several properties in the area – including Mapledurham House. As scaffolding is disfiguring the mill at present, instead of a photograph I’ll include this little scraperboard drawing I made many years ago.

Mapledurham Mill, built around 1440, was originally a two-storey thatched rectangular building with the waterwheel driving two pairs of stones. When the great plague of London in 1677 drove out the wealthy from London and the Royal Court moved to Abingdon, the millers of Mapledurham were ready and eager to profit from these new sources of business and the mill was extended, reroofed with tiles and a second waterwheel added. This is the wheel now in use.

Mostly made of oak, the paddles are made of elm, and apple-wood is the favourite for the teeth or any other cogwheels which are completely out of the reach of water. We were able to look around the inside of the mill and clambered up and down the wooden ladders to see the large stones, cogs, hoists and wheels .

After our tour of the mill we walked round the bend in the river – past this swan preening herself on the riverbank…

…and on to Mapledurham House. This Elizabethan stately home was built at the time of the Spanish Armada, and the picture shows the church in the foreground with the house itself seen through the trees on the right.

When I was a youth, Mapledurham House was derelict and I remember, back in the fifties, together with a friend, opening the creaky main door and spending an hour or so exploring the spooky interior. Now it has been completely restored and we toured around the house looking at some of the beautiful paintings and other artefacts. Incidentally the house and surrounding village were used for the filming of the 1976 film - ‘The Eagle Has Landed’.

Last Friday dawned dull and rainy. Pity because that was the evening that Henley’s Town and Visitors Regatta was holding its cocktail party to welcome the new President, Elizabeth Hodgkin. In the driving rain we boarded The New Orleans for a trip downriver, through Hambleden lock and on to Hurley.

Nearly 100 people were on board – many of them old friends, but apart from a short venture to the open upstairs deck clutching our umbrellas, we stayed in the cabin for most of the time. Still it was a very enjoyable evening – even though I managed to knock a glass full of white wine over my friend and another lady on our table! (I couldn’t really blame the motion of the boat). And to make matters worse, later in the evening I knocked the glass over a second time – and then a third - as I was demonstrating to the man next to me what an accident-prone person I was!

Last Saturday morning I called in to have breakfast with Rolf and Alwen. Their grandson Marlon was there. He’s just developed a real love of table tennis so challenged me to a game in the courtyard. I haven’t played for many years, but the old technique soon came back and at one stage I was leading 17 to 5. However Marlon – the comeback kid - played well, caught up and beat me 21 to 19.

On Sunday, together with Val and a friend, we drove over to Haddenham where we’d been invited to lunch with old friend Suzy and her husband Paul. Haddenham is classed as the best-kept village in Buckinghamshire. In the centre of the village is a large duck pond bordered by the church, several thatched cottages and, of course, lots of ducks.

The miniature portraits I sent to New York last week were very well received, but unfortunately two out of the three were returned for me to slightly darken as the references I was sent over the Internet showed up a little paler than they should have been. Anyway after receiving printed references I duly returned the corrected paintings yesterday and hopefully all will be OK now.

Apart from that I’m in the middle of painting three miniatures for the family. Years ago I decided to paint miniatures of two great nieces and one great nephew every year on their birthdays. Here’s the latest. It’s of Becky. She’s twenty years old.

On my last blog I mentioned Wentworth Wooden Jigsaws and The Carousel puzzle. Yesterday I was told that they are bringing out yet another of my paintings – ‘Raffles Remembered’ – next month. This painting illustrates about fifty items from the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore and is painted as a Trompe L’Oeil in watercolour.
Incidentally, if you want to see larger versions of any of the pictures on my blog, just click on the image.

Monday, 13 June 2011

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.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Hideaway in the Woods

Last Thursday, enroute to the Hilliard Miniature Exhibition in Wells, we made a deviation through ever-smaller roads, then rough lanes, to reach our rendezvous – a gigantic saw-blade propped up against a gnarled and rustic tree,where in a short while we were met by Zelia looking like a true maiden of the forest in her flowing white robes.

After a very bumpy ride in her four by four we arrived at our final destination – a small wooden cabin tucked away at the end of a short and steep winding walk through dense undergrowth. We entered through the front door.

There Fergus, who lives alone in his amazing little house – most of which he has built himself - welcomed us with open arms. Once inside this cosiest of dwellings he explained that the lunch he had planned for us would have to be modified as his gas tank had run out just that morning.

Nevertheless, always the improviser, Fergus had a plan two. He’d cook on his little wood stove.

But what to cook, as the planned meal could not be properly cooked on the stove? However, Zelia had, by pure chance, been walking in the woods that morning and came upon this large (and she assured us) edible fungus.

This unlikely looking lunch is called ‘Chicken of the forest’. Here it is, together with my friend’s cooked portion, which she assured me tasted really nice. (Being a chicken of a different variety myself, I opted for scrambled eggs on toast).

Fergus is a very clever and resourceful man as well as being one of the kindest persons I know. Everywhere you turn in his house you see examples of his expertise with driftwood. Here you can see a fish made of driftwood  - notice the fins are made from the blades of fish knives,

And this fearsome looking creature reminds me of a scene from a Harry Potter film. or maybe a prehistoric monster.

After lunch Fergus entertained us with tunes on his Northen Pipes. An acomplished player of the Scottish Bagpipes, we were pleased to listen to the more soothing sound of the northern version.

We talked about how the weather affected life in such a remote dwelling, whereby Fergus told us about the time he was marooned for a fortnight during the heavy snowfalls earlier this year. Luckily he had stocked up with food the day before the snow started as he became totally isolated. In his garden there sits a large white bath, and on the night of the winter solstice he lit a wood fire under it and kept filling the bath with snow until it melted into a steaming and enticing haven. Then he took off his clothes and lay in it for nearly two hours - just gazing up to the full moon. It must have been quite magical. Here are a couple more views of the inside of Fergus’s house, many of the items I’m sure will soon be fashioned into works of art.

Zelia, although still young, has led an interesting life. At the age of twenty she had a hankering to live in the Himalayas. When she arrived there she set up camp in the foothills of the mountains, but soon found that water wouldn’t reach boiling point above a certain altitude. So she and a companion she met on her travels existed on half cooked food for a long time. That is until she asked the women in a village nearby how they managed it. Easy, they said ‘we use pressure cookers’. That solved Zelia’s problem.

Eventually, after a few hours with this lovely couple, we reluctantly said goodbye to Fergus and Zelia and retraced our steps and continued on our journey to Wells.