Sunday, 27 November 2011

Wildlife in the Cotswolds

This is the sight that greeted me when I visited the Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford yesterday. The wind blew hard and I wished I’d brought a coat with me. They have a large walled garden there, which houses a great variety of animals and birds. I especially liked this amorous couple (or maybe more than two) who seem to be having a group cuddle.

In the same part of the garden I came across a little collection of lemurs, also cuddling together against the cold wind.

Well worth a visit – here are a few more pics of some of the wildlife

After a look around the biggest Garden Centre I’ve ever seen, in Burford – I called in to see my old friend Joanne Dalston in Bampton. She had a surprise for me. A couple of weeks ago while rummaging through an antique shop (I think that was where it was) she came across an old Huntley and Palmers Christmas biscuit tin, and somehow thought it might be one of mine. She was right – I’d designed this tin way back in my apprentice days and remember it well. I painted it in 1955 just before I did my National Service. Here it is

What else has been happening? Friday was the day of my Colonoscopy at the Berkshire Independent Hospital in Reading. I must admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the procedure - or the preparation leading up to it, but in fact needn’t have worried at all because all I remember is chatting to Mr Farouk, the surgeon, about Spitfires, and nothing else until the nurse helped me off the bed. “When is it going to be done?” I asked. “It already has.” she replied. So that half-an-hour has completely disappeared from my life, as I have no recollection at all of what happened. Mr Farouk told me afterwards that he’d removed a small piece for analysis but nothing to be worried about.

Talking of Spitfires, I’m getting on well with my big painting and now look forward to receiving a picture of an aerial view of Henley, which will form the background, and if I can fit it in, the winding river Thames as it passes under Henley Bridge. My original idea of painting a naked lady on the fuselage similar to the one on the American Boeing Flying Fortress, Sally B, after a visit to Duxford, has elicited a few comments – mainly whether wartime Spitfire pilots would find it objectionable. Any comments anyone? (Although I have seen a photograph of a wartime Spitfire with what looks like Donald Duck on the fuselage). Anyway I’ll be leaving a space in that area for the time being. Joceline, however, is excitingly planning on 1940’s makeup.(Not that it will be that apparent on a face less than half an inch in height). And thank you RG9 for your helpful comments . Still on Spitfires, my balsawood model is coming on well, although it’s pretty tricky in parts.

One of my clients came over the other morning to see the miniature I painted of her first child. She’s pleased with it and brought the other boy to be photographed in readiness for his miniature, which must be finished before Christmas. I’ll start that next week.

Now it’s back to packing and parcelling up Christmas presents – 45 so far! I have too many nephews and nieces - and great nephews and great nieces.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Brush with Royalty

My young friend and I took a comfortable ride to Windsor by taxi yesterday evening rather than battle our way from the car park with a big easel. It was the evening of the big dinner where the Duke of Edinburgh was retiring from his position as Chairman of the Prince Philip Trust. The initial reception was held in several rooms – Ours seemed to be populated by a galaxy of Mayors. (What is the collective noun for mayors and ex-Mayors – surely not a ‘Stable’ as one of them suggested). At least ten Mayors of Windsor were there. Soon Prince Philip arrived and chatted to several of us for a while before we proceeded to the magnificent dining room where over 200 of us were due to have dinner. And what a spectacular feast it was. Six courses served so efficiently and speedily. We were on the nearest table to the top table – right next to where my painting was displayed (covered by it’s blue and gold cover). Here it is -  partly obscured by the cover before it left my home.

The guests on our table included Lady Joanna Palmer  - my friend from many years ago when her husband was the Constable Governor of Windsor Castle, one of the Windsor Mayors and the Headmaster of Eton College.  When it became time for my speech, after a very flattering introduction by Trustee Kevin McGarry  MVO, I must admit a little frog had decided to lodge itself in my throat, but I’m told all went well. Here are a couple of pictures taken at the time – a bit blurry I’m afraid

I did a silly thing the other day. When I arrived home with the Duke’s painting, after having the cover made, I took it upstairs to my flat, leaving the rear door of my car open. When I came down I got into the car closed the door and panicked because the steering wheel had disappeared! Yes, I w,as sitting on the back seat.

What have I been doing the rest of the week? Mainly drawing a pencil portrait of my second cousin, Derek, as a surprise present for his widow, Joyce. I took it to the frame maker in Reading this morning, together with the painting of Shirley, the saxophone player, which I also am having framed

About this time every year, Sarah Booth puts on a big display of her beautiful hand-made jewellery. This year she booked the Thames Room at Phyllis Court, so I popped in there in on Wednesday morning. It seemed I was the ‘token male’, but I bought seven or eight great Christmas presents while there.
My friends Joanna Dalston and her daughter Nicola – visiting from the USA – came over for lunch at Val’s on Thursday, and On Friday, Mollie, Jackie and Tony Hobbs invited us to dinner in the Orangery at Phyllis Court.
Sunday was another brilliant and sunny day so I helped my young friend clear all the leaves from her lawns and became the anchorman at the bottom of her ladder while she cut away all the stray fronds from the Virginia creeper that had entwined itself around her house.
The autumn leaves are really hanging on this year in the mild weather. Here are a couple of scenes in the woods at Nettlebed on the outskirts of Henley.

Now I’m going to get back to the big painting I’ve just started of a Spitfire flying over Henley, and this evening, after a game of ‘Colours’ at the snooker club, I might put in an hour or so doing a bit more to my model Spitfire.

Thursday, 10 November 2011


Normally I’m quite happy giving a presentation, or making a short speech, but trying to prepare for one I have to make next week will not be so easy. In front of 200 guests I have, on behalf of The Prince Philip Trust Fund for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, to give a speech to His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh at a dinner, prior to presenting him with my painting. The painting will be covered with a blue drape and edged with gold braid and mounted on an easel near to the Duke of Edinburgh at the top table. I was originally going to have a pair of curtains made with a draw-string for the reveal, but as I’m a bit clumsy I daren’t risk bringing the whole thing down on the Royal Head! (My friend Felicity is making the cover right now). It’s bound to be a very special evening, as it will mark the retirement of The Duke of Edinburgh from the chairmanship of the Trust, and the painting will be a gift from the Trustees and former Trustees. I’ve even bought a new dinner jacket - and my young friend is practising how to curtsy!

Today I should be going to the hospital for my Colonoscopy, but unfortunately the surgeon has had to postpone the procedure for a fortnight. Grrr!

The Miniature Society of Florida has just informed me that my painting of Jade has won First Prize for Portraits at their forthcoming annual exhibition. As the MASF exhibition is the largest in the world for miniatures, and usually attracts well over 1,000 entries, I’m very pleased to have won this award.

On a very grey day last Sunday we took a look around Cliveden. Now in the care of the National Trust, Cliveden was the scene of the Profumo Scandal in 1963. The swimming pool where Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies frolicked with Eugene Ivanov, Stephen Ward, and the others, is not open to visitors, but we had a nice walk around the extensive gardens. This is the famous photograph of Christine Keeler that titillated the country at the time.

And more currently, here’s a couple of photographs I took in the gardens.

As the clocks have gone back and the evenings are getting darker I’ve started to make my model Spitfire. Apart from stabbing my thumb and dropping blood over the balsa wood, I’m beginning to get the hang of it now. It’s a delicate operation and I just know that sooner or later I’ll mess it up, but so far so good.

I’m not very good when it comes to domestic matters, so apart from the kitchen sink problem on the day of my birthday party, my spare bathroom hasn’t been working for some weeks. It’s been so difficult to find a plumber – they are like gold dust! But finally, when I was in despair of ever getting it fixed, Felicity came to the rescue by recommending the man she uses. Hooray! Paul, together with a mate came over on Monday and spent all day putting a new cistern in (very tricky considering the tiny little space they had to work in) and a new shower unit. So I’m happy again.

Another week to go and I’ll have finished my painting of the lady playing her saxophone, but in the meantime did I ever show you the pencil drawing I made of my youngest great-niece, Kate? It’s about 15 inches high – I gave it to Val, her grandmother, as a present.

To end today’s blog - here I am on a garden ‘Titanic’ as ‘King of the World!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011


I’d spent most of Friday preparing a big dinner for my birthday celebrations the following evening. Nine very good friends were coming over. But I made a big mistake in the afternoon, by trying to put parsnip peelings down the waste disposal unit in my kitchen. It blocked the sink completely! (I know nothing about plumbing so rang the Oracle – Paul Daniels - who was one of my dinner guests). When he and Debbie arrived they were armed with a suction pump sort of thing. However, despite many attempts at unblocking the water-filled sink, we were unsuccessful. No matter - although the kitchen became a bit of a mess, the party went really well. Rolf sang a song or two. (That man can remember all the words of hundreds and hundreds of songs, limericks and music hall ditties – and all the verses), and Paul and Debbie gave a hilarious duet.

Amongst the other guests were Val, Jane and Brian, Rolf and Alwen, and my young friend – who gave me the birthday present I’ve been hankering after for quite a while – a balsa-wood scale model of a Spitfire aircraft.

The wingspan is about 2 feet wide and I expect it will take me a few months to make, I’m sure. (My YF doesn’t think I’ll get as far as the final painting and camouflage stage so I now have to prove her wrong!).

The following morning I was faced with a mountain of washing up and clearing up to do. Luckily I didn’t turn the dishwasher on overnight as when I did so in the morning all the water bubbled up back into the sink, which took nearly a dozen trips to the bathroom with a bucket to empty the water away. Later in the morning my neighbour, Guy Hart, came to the rescue with a great big suction pump, which, after an hour or so, finally did the trick. Hooray!

My young friend came over later in the morning and as Sunday was my actual birthday, took me out for the day. We went to the Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park for lunch and a wander round the lovely gardens.

As we strolled around in a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours the interconnecting gardens blended seamlessly with one another, especially as we approached the maple wood, dazzling us with the many shades of red, orange, and yellow. Here are some of them.

In the temperate house we came across this magnificent mountain of pumpkins – what a great display.

On Monday it was Debbie’s birthday so I popped along for a morning coffee. Her mum and dad - Babs and Pat - were there too. Not all Magicians make rabbits appear from a top hat, but Paul does. His white rabbits are beautiful. Here they are playing about on the couch in the lounge. The colourful cylinder may not look big enough for both of them, but they easily move over each other when burrowing in from either side.

I read a story in the newspaper this morning, which amused me. A convicted killer, serving a life sentence in Wakefield jail has been granted the right to have a sex-changer operation on the NHS. Robert Page, now known as ‘Emma’ is at the pre-op stage of becoming a woman. He has grown breasts, as a result of £200 a month hormone treatment at taxpayers’ expense, and is allowed to wear skirts and blouses and shower alone to protect his/her modesty. But the bit that amused me was this sentence: ‘When he is subjected to a full body search, two female officers search the top half and two male officers search down below’.

To end this blog on a sad note – one of my best and oldest friends, Jack Bygrave, died of cancer on Friday in Singapore. We’ve known each other for over 50 years. I first met Jack when we both worked in Hong Kong in the sixties, and then later when he married his wife Eileen and moved to Bangkok where I was living. We seemed to follow each other around, because when I moved to Singapore in the seventies, they arrived there too. Jack was a wonderful man – full of humour and so alive. He’ll be sorely missed by Eileen, his children, and his many friends around the world. This is a picture of Jack and Eileen I took last year at the Kranji War Memorial in Singapore.