Stuntman Santa

The floods are receding now, after a week of rapid rising. This is the view from my balcony, looking towards Mill Meadows. I normally gauge the height of the river by how much the water covers the wooden seats dotted along the towpath.

My boat’s been at its maximum height with the stern rope so taught that even had we been able to reach it (my landing stage is nearly two feet under water) and cut it free, there would have been an almighty surge when it sprang free.

It’s been another sad week. The memorial service for my good friend Peter Sutherland was held at St Mary’s Church in Henley last Wednesday, then afterwards at Leander Club. Peter lived a long life, fought the Japanese Army in Malaya during World War two, was Captain of Leander Rowing Club, and recently awarded the MBE for Services to Rowing. Rowing was Peter’s life and whenever he met someone new, instead of the usual ‘How do you do?’ he would say ‘Do you row? I painted several portraits of him, including a life-size oil painting and two miniatures – one of which I’ll reproduce here.

The other truly sad occasion was the memorial service on Friday for Mary Ostroumoff. Mary was still young and loved by all. At her memorial in St Mary’s church it was so full that extra chairs needed to be brought in. Mary had been on a cultural visit to Italy with a small group of like-minded HEDFAS members. An elderly lady felt that her hotel room was a bit difficult for her because of the steep steps down into the bathroom, so Mary volunteered to swap rooms. A few days later Mary was found at the bottom of the steps where she’d obviously fallen from, fatally injuring herself. How tragic. Everyone in the church was in tears at the end of the service when a soloist sang that beautiful song ‘It’s time to say goodbye’. 

For the second year running Henley has staged a ‘Living Advent Calendar’. Each evening at 6.15 a door opens somewhere in the town, and a surprise performance takes place. It can range from dancers, singers, poetry-readers and acrobats, etc. The first event occurred last Saturday. My young friend and I braved the very cold and frosty evening by congregating by the town hall where this large tree dominates the market place.

The organiser, Julie Perigo, gave a short speech, telling the audience how the idea originated in Scandinavia. Then at precisely 6.15 Paul Daniels announced the opening of the door. And from the roof of the town hall Santa appeared. 

(Under his costume was the same stuntman, Gary Connery, who parachuted from a helicopter above the Olympic Stadium in London this year dressed as the Queen.) As we watched he abseiled down the building. Paul made a little video. If you’d like to see it, click on this link:  Soon after Santa landed Henley’s British Legion Band marched out into the square.

I wonder what events will take place now, as there will be a door opening somewhere in Henley every evening at 6.15 until Christmas Eve.

My old friends, Pat and Averil visited on Wednesday and took me out to lunch at the Orangery in Phyllis Court. Pat recently returned from Uganda where she spends time in the villages as a member of the ‘Mityana Charity’. This organisation helps build schools as well as actually sponsoring individual children. Unlike many charities, where corrupt or greedy officials and bureaucrats of some sort siphon off so much of the money or donations, in this case everything is direct and visibly seen to go where it’s meant to. Pat enjoyed meeting old friends and took a lot of gifts, one of which was a box of balloons. The children she gave them to had never seen a balloon before, so you can imagine their delight when they played with them.

I’ve mentioned it before, but for two of my great nieces and one great nephew I aim to paint a miniature of them each year. Last week I finished the twenty-first of Becky, the eldest one. Becky recently graduated from the University of Exeter, so I painted her in her graduation robes.

Yesterday afternoon I went to BBC Radio Berkshire where I’d been asked to give an interview mainly about my adventures in painting and specifically about my recent foray into the art of portrait sculpture. The interview lasted about an hour, and for the first time I didn’t lose my way there.

To end on an amusing note - well I found it amusing, anyway: It seems the singer, Susan Boyle, advertised her new album party with this tag:  susanalbumparty
Not sure I want to go to an anal bum party!