Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Tropical Travels

On Thursday my young friend and I set off for a holiday in the Far East. We chose EVA Air - a lovely airline that most of my friends have never heard of.

It's so nice not to be cramped and great to be served meals course by individual course on spotless white table napkins. Apart from being bumpy over Afghanistan and Pakistan we had a very smooth and comfortable flight, and as we left in the evening managed to get a fair amount of sleep that night. Met at Bangkok airport by a smiling Thai driver on Friday afternoon, three hours later we arrived at the Anantara hotel in Hua Hin. This is a view of a wooden figure nestling in the foliage.

And being right next to the sea on the ground floor I took this picture of a pair of little ponies trotting along on the near deserted beach.

That first evening we chose a seafood restaurant right on the beach itself and ate delicious fresh fish to the accompaniment of the gentle sound of the waves rolling in a few yards away.
The next couple of days were spent lazing around. Swimming in the sea and eating satay and pineapple at the poolside restaurant. It was nice and cooling to be sitting on turtle-shaped stools in the water while sipping fresh mango juice with the searing sun blazing away above us. We loved the pool and I especially liked, in one of the alcoves, strong jets of water that massaged my back.

Last night a tropical storm managed to plunge Hua Hin into blackness for an hour, but as the hotel had emergency generators the lights came on again in a couple of minutes.

Today, our last day in Thailand, we decided to visit King Rama IV's Summer Palace and the Big Buddha. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to go in to the upper floors but nevertheless we had a pleasant, though hot, time wandering around. My young friend had to hire a shawl to cover her shoulders, and luckily I wasn't wearing shorts or I would have needed to hire a sarong to cover my unsightly legs! Here are a few photos taken in the grounds of the Palace.

The site of the Big Buddha was much more interesting. About half an hour's journey from the hotel, along a very winding road, we passed this collection of images

And a big carving of an elephant under a shady sala.

Eventually we reached the summit and there was the Big Buddha - a dusky image of a famous Thai monk.

Such a colourful scene. Here are a few of the many photos I took there.

The Thai people buy sheets of gold leaf and attach then to some of the images as part of their way of making merit and paying homage.

It poured with rain today. Luckily the hotel supplied umbrellas because after lunch my cousin David was picking us up to take us to his son Steven's house in Hua Hin. (Steven lives here with his wife Kee and their two children). now we are going to sample the food in the Italian restaurant once more before getting ready for a very early morning ride to the airport.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

A Lost Manuscript

This is the handwriting of Charles Dickens. When I lived in Bangkok I regularly received hard covered Folio publications. One of the most interesting I ever received was Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’. On each left side of the book was the final printed version, whereas on the right side was a facsimile of the author’s original manuscript. It was fascinating to see all the crossings out as Dickens decided on the perfect word or sentence construction. Many times I pored over his handwriting as he decided on the final name of a character.
Every Christmas I used to have a little read of an evening, entranced by his mastery of words, character and plot. But sadly I lent the book to a friend more than a dozen years ago and never got it back. And I can’t remember now which friend I lent it to! So I’m mentioning this in my blog in case any reader knows where I can obtain a copy of this Folio publication. It’s well out of print now, and the Folio Society can only suggest I scour second-hand book shops. But someone somewhere might know where a copy resides.

Last Friday my young friend and I went to the pantomime to see Aladdin. It was presented by the Wargrave Theatre Workshop at the Woodclyffe Hall.

And what a good show it was. The acting was vibrant and the costumes quite dazzling with acres of gold swishing about all over the stage. We even joined in the singing (when we were asked to sing along with Wong and Pong). Abanazar, the evil magician, (played by Michael Simpson) was wonderful with his long golden robes matching his set of incredibly white teeth snarling and hissing at the audience. The talents of Paul Daniels had been used to stage the magic carpet sequence when Aladdin climbs into a brightly coloured carpet, which magically glided backwards and forwards across the stage with no visible means of motion or support. Against a jet-black background, surrounded by hundreds of bright red bulbs and with the occasional camel or pyramid coming into view, it was mightily impressive. 

I also saw two films during the week – and they couldn’t have been more different. War Horse was stupendous. Felicity came with me. The glorious colours of the Devon countryside were full of wonderful characters. I’d been to the stage version in London and marvelled at the sheer master of the puppeteers, but what they couldn’t show on the stage was the real savagery and utter horror of World War One. How Spielberg filmed the sequence where the horse charged over no-mans land gathering barbed wire around his body till he could go no further I have no idea.
The other film was 'The Artist'. I went with Paul and Debbie. It was a bitterly cold evening so we opted for dinner prior to the film at a restaurant adjacent to the cinema, to save making the long walk to the other end of town. I enjoyed the film but Paul found it predictable and boring. It also happened to be Paul’s first night out after his horrific accident the previous Sunday. As we went into the restaurant he spied friends at another table and approached them, with his left hand hidden up his sleeve. Having heard about the accident they were quite shocked with the apparent sight of a missing hand. Ever the joker, Paul made light of the fact that he nearly lost all his fingers when his hand went into his circular saw. Being one of the world’s leading magicians you can imagine how he felt when he saw that he’d sliced off the tops of three of his fingers. His immediate rush to our wonderful Townlands Hospital on that Sunday morning was the start of a rapid ambulance rush to a specialist hand hospital where he was operated on the following morning by the best hand surgeon in the country who’d travelled to Henley from Bristol. Of all things a magician needs to work perfectly are his hands, so we are all crossing ours in the hope the Paul makes a complete recovery. Knowing him he’ll eventually build all of this into his performances, and modify some of his close-up magic to work with less than a full complement of digits.

My sculpture classes have begun. I’ve now been to a couple of three hour sessions. Here are the results to date.

I have a long, long way to go, but am beginning to get the feel of the clay. Hopefully over the next few weeks I’ll gradually form a likeness. When I look at the portrait sculptures that the others in the class are making I’m truly impressed. One girl has almost finished a beautiful head of her youngest daughter – it’s absolutely charming – and to think she only started learning how to sculpt just over a year ago. Another lady was working on a head of her husband, and as she was sitting opposite me I kept glancing at the sculptured face, which was apparently talking to me, till I realised the voice was coming from his wife hidden behind the head! Eventually – in a few months time - I hope I will have modelled a life-size head of Rolf Harris.

He and Alwen, together with three other friends came to dinner last Saturday where I was attempting to make an Indonesian curry meal complete with a large variety of ‘sambals’. (I’d sampled many of these dishes at the Cockpit Hotel in Singapore). I think they liked it. For dessert I made the only dish my amah in Singapore had taught me – pears peeled and stuffed with raisins, soaked in lemon juice and sherry and sprinkled with sugar, and finally cooked in the oven covered with meringue and heated till it formed a light brown crust of meringue. Here’s a picture of Rolf saying goodnight to Jane.

What else have I been doing? Spending between 8 to 10 hours a day painting more of Henley appearing beneath a Spitfire. Maybe about a hundred or so hours till it’s completed. Talking of Spitfires I was spitting venom the other day when I read about one of our World War Two veteran Spitfire pilots who fell foul of the antics of a little Hitler spouting ‘Health and Safety’ regulations. A full size replica of a Spitfire was the centrepiece of an air show, but they wouldn’t allow this man to climb into the cockpit! What sort of little minds do these people possess? And the plane wasn’t even leaving the ground!

I have a jolly good dentist. Robin Nagi is his name. About 9.30 the other evening I was watching TV and reached out for a couple of Smarties from the dish on the coffee table. Wondering why one of them was peculiarly hard I discovered the reason. An entire tooth filling had fallen out. Luckily I didn’t swallow it, so putting it in a plastic bag and taking a chance, I rang Robin at his home where he very kindly said he’d see me the following morning at his practice in Oxford. Which he did. And the tooth is now back in my mouth.

Finally I’ve just added a new page to my website. It will show the latest news regarding commissions, awards or other special artistic events, by clicking the word ‘Latest’ on the home page.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Safe Delivery

My postman deserves a medal. This letter was delivered yesterday.

It was a thank you letter from my 5-year-old great niece Kate. She’s such a lovely little girl and here’s what she wrote inside. It’s all her own writing and composition. I like the bit about ‘bringing the “crakurs” (crackers) and spending time with us’.

On New year’s Day my young friend and I took a trip to Kew Gardens. We were surprised how few people were there – I expect the New Year’s Eve celebrations were taking their toll. As we entered the gate the sound of a carousel greeted us.

I seem to come across carousels wherever I go. Being a pretty cold day it was nice to walk into the several glasshouses – especially the tropical one. This young fella doesn’t feel the cold. (I thought it was a girl till I walked round to the front of the figure!)

We came across these beautiful Balinese style carvings near the restaurant. Although not actually carved by a Balinese, the woodcarver has used different types of wood for all the changes of subject – look at the hair on the man.

Before the rain poured down outside I photographed these images in the Temperate Glasshouse.

Although photography is not allowed in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art our visit there was really worthwhile. It’s the first gallery in the world solely devoted to botanical art, and some of the larger life-size examples are stupendous. As there seemed to be no sign of the rain stopping, and as we had about half a mile to walk to the gate, we were pretty well drenched by the time we reached the car.

Painting-wise I’m now in the middle of my 'Spitfire over Henley' painting. Here it is so far - it measures over 28 inches wide. When it’s finished – in a couple of months I expect, as the aerial view of Henley is taking a lot of time. I’ll wait till its complete before deciding whether to lighten the background a little to bring out the aircraft somewhat.

On Saturday afternoon the sun shone brightly so we had a little walk along the river towards Hambleden lock. As the sun went down I took a couple of pictures of Temple Island and a crew of late afternoon oarsmen.

I have to end this blog on a sad note. Yet another of my very good friends died on Friday. I’ve known Terry Jordan and his wife, Herchel, for over 30 years, and have had many happy times with them when staying at their lakeside villa in the Algarve. We spent many years together at Henley Regatta and the Music Festival, and I painted several pictures of the entire family. Recently they bought a house in Cape Town, and it was there that Terry died. I made this large life-size painting of him a few years ago. Sleep peacefully Terry, you’ll be very much missed.