Last Saturday I went with about 15 old boys to visit Woodley Hill House – my old grammar school.
My last sight of Woodley Hill was on the day I left for good – in 1953. The building itself is about the same (looks a bit like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts) – with the addition of a few added classrooms. At the back of the school where we once practised archery there is now a whole array of trees and bushes.
Wandering around the courtyard I came across this old tree, and was immediately reminded of the time I was given six strokes of the cane for the crime of ‘kidnapping’
One of our playground activities was to see who could pierce the trunk highest with a commando dagger after a running jump at the tree. It was my last week at school and I held the record for second highest, but was determined to become the undisputed champion before leaving school for good. We were allowed 3 attempts. My turn came. I remember my first two were very close to the record, and I knew I could realise my ambition on the final run. But a little first-former called Lewington tripped me up on my approach. The rules were strict and I wasn’t allowed to repeat the run. Incensed, as my chance to become the school champion were thwarted forever, I grabbed the small boy and carried him under my arm to my desk. It was big enough to hide him in, so in he went, and I closed the lid. Someone must have ratted on me, because about 20 minutes later the headmaster came into the classroom looking for the missing boy. I had no choice but to own up and release him. Later in the afternoon the headmaster administered ‘six of the best’ on my grey trousered rear.
I finally finished my large painting of The Queen’s visit to Henley. It’s taken over 250 hours to complete, and illustrates about half the boats that took part in the pageant. This is the painting.
Now I’ve started a very exciting commission. It’s of one of England’s High Sheriffs – a result of one of my portraits being hung at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition in London earlier this year. The client liked my depiction of detail, so visited last week with his full regalia. This included a black uniform complete with elaborate silver buttons, lace ruffs at the chest and sleeves, together with a beautiful silver sword and silver-edged tricorn hat. Hanging round his neck from a red ribbon is his CBE. What a joy this will be to paint. It’ll be a large work – about 30 by 24 inches.
On Monday it was selection day at the Mall Galleries for the forthcoming exhibition of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters in London. Nearly 700 works were submitted – including small sculptures. There were twelve of us sitting round a table as the miniatures were passed around for acceptance or rejection. The standard seemed especially high this year. I made a short list of about seven portraits for my Sovereign award for the best portrait. Quite a hard choice, as my two finalists were so good – each in their own way – that either could have been the winner.
I noticed on Sunday, as my young friend and I visited Notcutts garden centre, that horrible groaning noises were being made by my car. She, being more mechanically minded than me immediately recognised them as coming from the brakes, so when I got home and checked my service records I also discovered that the car was nearly a month overdue for its MOT. On the way to London the following morning at about 8.30 I called at the garage, who very kindly took the car in straight away. When I collected it the next day they told me that the noise was caused by metal rubbing against metal!
Tomorrow is my sculpture class day. I’m working on a head of Max, one of my great nephews. It should be a bit easier than the one of Rolf Harris – mainly because I’m not showing teeth, and I probably have learned a lot by now. I’m going to the class a couple of hours early as Shirley (my teacher) is planning to instruct me how to make a Plaster of Paris cast of Rolf’s head as I hope to give it to him for Christmas. I already have an old pair of glasses my opticians gave me to use.
Now I’m off to the oncologist to find out the results of the scan I had at the Royal Berks Hospital last week. Cross fingers.