Saturday, 31 December 2011


I just love watching craftsmen working. For example when the TV programme ‘To The Manor Reborn’ where an old mansion was being restored on behalf of the National Trust, it was wonderful seeing all the craftsmen (and women of course) painting, sculpting, carving, and demonstrating real traditional skills. I used to love watching my father working in his shed – he was a carpenter – and to smell the aroma of freshly cut wood. Also the other evening watching Darcy Bussell on TV emulating dances from Hollywood shows, including ‘Singing in the Rain’ and ‘Cheek to Cheek’, it was so good to see her versatility. On Saturday when I visited Rolf, not only does he paint, sing, write and compose music, he’s a wizard with wood. He was carving a beautiful, and very heavy, bowl from a great lump of intricately grained beech, and adding all sorts of artistic touches to it.  And a friend of mine who now lives in Australia – we were advertising executives in Asia for many years – and is now retired, took up woodworking several years ago. His workshop is immaculate and he specialises in creating fantastic marquetry. Here is Roy Howard carving a spiral staircase, and the following picture shows a cutlery cabinet with a design based on another of my favourite artists M.C. Escher.

I could spend hours just watching experts working. This includes painters, gardeners, blacksmiths, farriers, sculptors, cooks, designers, watchmakers – I could go on and on.

Christmas was spent with an assortment of relatives. Here is my five-year-old great niece, Kate, on Christmas day playing with her little monkey (who sways around in time with whatever music she puts on to the little device she’s holding in her hand).

I must show you the letter she sent to Father Christmas. The drawing of Father Christmas shows him with a black beard, but she’s remembered he has a hat with a bobble on the end

And yes, she got everything she asked for – lucky little girl.

Boxing day lunch was spent with Felicity and her family and friends. Then in the evening I drove over to my nephew Tim and his family in Twyford. Tim is a firearms instructor in the Thames Valley Police Force, and just last week he was awarded a medal at the Chief Constables award ceremony. He already has won several commendations but this is his second medal.

Talking of nephews, my eldest, Neil, has just been told he will be a torch bearer for the 2012 Olympics and will be carrying the Olympic torch somewhere between Portsmouth and Southampton in the summer.
Florence Pike, my late friend Susie’s 91-year-old mother, invited me, together with Val, to lunch last Tuesday. Susie died at the age of only 40 almost 20 years ago, and at the time I made two large boxed leather-bound photo albums depicting her life, which I intended to give to Susie’s daughters, Nichola and Katie, when I considered them old enough to take care of them. As they are now 27 and 25 I thought that now would be a good time to hand them over.This is a page from one of the albums – It shows Susie with her two little girls and on the opposite page (obscured in this photograph by the interleaved tissue) I wrote a poem describing their life, friends, pets and nannies etc, at the time.

Both Nichola and Katie were absolutely delighted with the albums as they had no idea that I had made them all those years ago. Here they are last Tuesday with the books on their laps.


On the way back from Florence’s we got completely lost in the dark. Although I was using my sat-nav, at times the oncoming lights of cars were so dazzling I couldn’t turn right when I was told to because the roads were not lit at all and for all I knew I’d end up mounting the kerb! so the journey home took twice as long as it should have done. Home at last I was so whacked out I meant to just flop out and watch TV. But having made a Christmas cake from a special promotional free box of Delia Smith’s ingredients a few days earlier, I decided I'd better cover it with marzipan and icing sugar. I won't tell you how I got on, other than to say I ran out of icing sugar and knocked over a whole box containing hundreds of little silver balls. (I’m still finding them in my kitchen). Anyway here’s the end result – the little fir trees were snitched from the ends of my artificial Christmas tree!

The next day Stewie (another nephew) and his delightful family came over to Val’s where she made a nice lunch for us all. Here they are, minus Annabel who seems to have disappeared somewhere.

Now I’m back to my Spitfire painting – so far I’ve spent just under 200 hours on it and have only painted less than a quarter of the background, so I reckon there will be another 200 hours to go before I complete it.
Having had a really painful back this past two weeks I found a really good chiropractor – Amy – who, after 3 sessions, seems to have worked wonders. Trouble is when I crashed my car some 40 years ago in Singapore it left me with one leg 2 inches shorter than the other, the result of which is now probably coming home to roost. Amy also used acupuncture, which probably helped a lot. So now the back is better and I’ve been given a clean bill of health with regard to the cancers, I look forward to a healthy and happy 2012.
And as the clock reaches midnight here are some of the scenes in London right now.

Finally, to all my friends, wherever in the world you are, may I wish you a very happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

Although I’ve been painting about 8 or 9 hours a day on my big Spitfire and have finished the aircraft itself I hadn’t quite appreciated what a marathon the rest of the painting would be. It’s a large picture – over 28 inches wide – and to paint all of Henley from the air is daunting. To make the Spitfire stand out from the background I think I’ll have to give it a light spray of white and mask the aircraft. That is if I can get my Aerograph working properly. (I tried ringing the people I bought it from but it seems they are no longer in business!).

Felicity and I had a nice meal in the Chef Peking on Wednesday prior to going to see ‘Hugo’ in 3D at our local cinema. We weren’t expecting much but I found the film absolutely fascinating. Although, because of the minimal sight in my left eye, I can’t really appreciate the 3D effect I would thoroughly recommend this film. So inventive and colourful – and if, like me, you appreciate images shown around the birth of the cinema you’ll like it even more.
Then the following evening my young friend and I went to the Regal to see The Sleeping Beauty ballet beamed live from the Royal Opera House in London.

Our cinema shows this sort of event from time to time. One of the advantages of seeing Opera or Ballet in this way is that you get to see the orchestra from behind and close-ups of the dancers and performers. A couple of minutes ago I made a booking for next March to see Romeo and Juliet – it must be popular as I only managed to get the last three seats!

This week has been party week. On Saturday evening I went to one in Henley. We had a professional quiz Mistress (if that’s the right word for a lady Quizmaster) and I learned a lot. For example what is the most populous bird in the world? Answer – no, not sparrows. The answer is chickens.
On Sunday Joan and Hamish Hale invited me to a small riverside drinks do. They live on the other side of the river. Here’s a view from their window

My Christmas tree is now decorated and all my presents are wrapped and ready to be delivered. I’ve just been working out a schedule of all the friends I’ll be seeing tomorrow and Christmas day before I go to Marlow to spend Christmas with my niece Louisa and her family. Kate, her youngest, still believes in Father Christmas so that will be good.
It just remains for me to wish all my ‘readers’ a very Happy Christmas and for those I didn’t send my Christmas card to - here it is.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Lights of London

Upon occasion I’m an honorary and unofficial member of the W.I. This meant that I could go on the coach trip to London last Thursday afternoon. The plan was to see the Christmas lights, the London Eye and the German Christmas market on the South Bank, and finally watch the ice-skating at Somerset House. It was a blustery evening  as we made our way round the city, here are some of the lights in Regent Street, Oxford Street, and others in the West End:

And a window display when we stopped briefly in the traffic.

After quite a comprehensive tour of central London we arrived at the South Bank and the London Eye. There were about 50 of us so we needed two ‘pods’. I’ve always wanted to go on the Eye at night so this was my chance. Spectacular views, and although we could hear the wind raging around us  - especially at the top – we were snug in our pod.

After about 35 minutes we climbed out and visited the Christmas market which stretched a fair way down the Embankment. The stall selling Venetian masks intrigued me

Then we saw the Carousel. And I was persuaded to mount one of the horses for a ride. Gripping the pole tightly I hung on for dear life, and in fact quite enjoyed the experience.

We were hoping to see the ice skaters at Somerset House, but London was jam-packed that evening and the rain absolutely hurtled down, so we had to give it a miss. We couldn’t find a parking space anyway.

The previous evening my young friend and I went to the Mill at Sonning to see ‘Funny Money’ – a farce by Ray Cooney. Dinner is part of the evening at the Mill and being near Christmas one of the choices was Christmas turkey with all the trimmings. Very good. The play was hilarious, and as the seats in the Mill are very steeply raked we had a great view.

It’s party time right now and on Friday evening I went to Broadplat House where Fee and Stan were holding their annual Christmas drinks party. Always one of my favourites as it heralds the beginning of Christmas. Then on Saturday evening my good friend Jules was celebrating her 50th birthday. She’d arrived the evening before direct from Canada (where the winds was so strong that the journey only took five and a half hours, instead of the usual seven). Staying with friend Sue in Henley we had a great time. Here she is blowing out the candles on her cake, and surrounded by the men there.

One of the girls (not at the party) contributed some incredible cup cakes. Here’s one of them – all made of dual-coloured icing sugar. Even the butterfly is made of icing sugar.

Now I’m very busy painting my big Spitfire – another 4 or 5 days to finish the plane, then weeks of work to paint the background – which hopefully will show all of Henley from the air.

I managed to complete the miniature of the young lad during the week, so his mother can have both miniatures in time for Christmas as I think she intends them to be her husband’s Christmas present.

Today was a good day as I’ve just come back home from the oncologist who has given me a clean bill of health. The blood test was excellent and the report on the colonoscopy was positive too. I remarked that I wish I’d been able to see the camera travelling around my body on the screen, but was completely out of it at the time, and didn’t see a thing. To which he replied that the injection I’d been given into my vein was the same as is used in so called ‘date-rape’ cases, so I may have been conscious but just can’t remember what happened.

One last thing, my friend Jane (a fellow garlic hater) gave me this card the other day. What a hoot!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

The Sculpture Lesson

You’d think these three heads were made by a very experienced sculptor, wouldn’t you? In fact they were all made in just 10 lessons by people who had never sculpted a head before. The teacher is Shirley Collen and I have already signed up for her class commencing early in January. Shirley is the lady I painted playing her saxophone recently. Here we are together when I delivered the completed and framed painting last Thursday afternoon.

She certainly is a multi-talented woman. I saw her portfolio of both portraits and landscapes – in oils. They are amazing. I know that she’ll be a very good teacher, and intend to use Rolf Harris as my first model. When I called in to see him and Alwen on Saturday morning he agreed to pose for a sculpture, so when I’ve worked out exactly what I need to do I’ll get ready for my first lesson with real anticipation. How exciting. It’s always good to see Rolf – he never stops. For example yesterday morning he was painting symbols, animals and birds on to a large cardboard tube. Apparently he’d accidentally dropped the tube that morning and so liked the resonance that he decided to make it into a drum. I watched him as he added swirls of colour – orange, yellow, brown, black and ochre – to the tube. By the time I left it was just about complete – he intended to play it at a gig he was appearing in that very evening!

Eileen brought Jack’s ashes back from Singapore over the weekend as she planned to hold a memorial service in Lymington in Hampshire on Wednesday afternoon. Arriving there, after a brief stop for lunch at the Rose and Crown in Brockenhust, the first person I saw on the high street was Brian Hoyle and his wife Pam. (Brian, John Hagley and I had, in the 60’s, formed the Creative Circle in Singapore – its awards ceremony now the biggest annual event for advertisers in Singapore). Eileen had organised the service for Jack at St, Thomas’s Church. So many old friends from Asia were there. Even though it was a very sad occasion - Jack’s spirit was everywhere – it was so nice to meet up again. Later in the evening Eileen organised a small dinner for the family to which I was invited. Here we are waiting for our table to be ready.

The past few days have been spent working on a miniature commission and getting ready for Christmas. Every year my neighbour, Guy Hart, paints a charming watercolour of a German snow scene and asks me to print off 50 or so copies for him. So I did that yesterday – and made a number of copies of my 2012 calendar. I make one every year and give copies to the family and a couple of friends. I used photographs I’d taken of places I visited during the year, putting them in order of seasons. If you’d like to see them here they are.

I mentioned the other week that I made a drawing of my second cousin, Derek, for the family to give to Joyce, his wife, for Christmas. (Derek died recently). They picked it up the other day. I’d had it framed with a nice oval double mount and a small gold frame, andhis son, Clive, said it would be OK to show it on my blog.

My sister-in-law, Val, had a bit of a problem on Friday night. When she arrived home she couldn’t open any of the doors to her house as all the keys were still in the locks on the inside. It was about 11 pm and none of the three ’24 hour’ locksmiths answered their phones. Wish she’d thought of ringing me or one of her children. But luckily her sun-lounge door was open so she could at least sleep there for the night (but said it was very cold). In the morning a locksmith came to let her in (I’m in the wrong business as it cost her £90 for one minute’s work!)

Now it’s back to wrapping more presents, modelling and painting Spitfires and generally being busy.