Sunday, 29 April 2012

Bluebell Time

Greys Court, near Henley, is ablaze with bluebells right now. And it’s spring – my favourite season. Except when it rains – as it’s been doing for the last few days. We’ve just driven home in the driving rain from a lovely lunch with Joanne who lives in the Cotswolds. Heavy April showers interspersed with flashes of intense acid yellow of the fields of rape patterned our way.
Last Tuesday I went to the opticians for my annual check-up. All was OK. While I was there I asked whether they had a spare pare of old spectacles they didn’t want. Only the day before they’d given a large amount to a charity but they managed to find me a pair. The reason for my request was that I wanted to see what spectacles would look like on the clay sculpture head of Rolf Harris that I’m working on. (I still have a long way to go before the head is finished). Then when it’s complete I’ll convert it into bronze, or bronze-coloured resin and have the spectacles added in the same colour (without the lenses). Here’s the result, so far, after last Friday’s lesson. I’m slowly learning, but am finding it much more difficult than I first imagined.

Yesterday morning I called in to see Rolf and showed him the above picture. He’d like the final result to resemble an impressionistic image I think, but seemed to like the progress to date.

Next month will see the opening of a very big exhibition of his work at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. It will run for three months and will be quite a spectacular event.

I’m very excited about the large painting I’ve started of Kevin Gibbings – The Queen’s chimney sweep - and can’t wait till the morning so I can get back to it. In the meantime I finished the miniature of the little girl I started last week. Here it is.

It’s been a pretty quiet week so there’s not too much to say, but as is becoming more frequent these days, the politically correct commissars have been at work again. Last week, as a young lady joined her parents and boyfriend on the water of a weir on the river Dearne at Harlington in South Yorkshire, a group of thieves snatched her kayak and drove off with it strapped to one of their quad bikes. The young lady called the police and gave chase tracking the gang across fields in the hope that the police would take over once they arrived. Which they did, as soon as they caught up with the gang on the road. But then political correctness reared its ugly head and the police called off the chase on the grounds that they didn’t want to risk causing an accident because the gang were not wearing crash helmets and were driving erratically! It really does make you wonder how many incidents of this type are happening.

Much more seriously, but equally due to Health and Safety regulations, in March last year a 41 year old man drowned in a 3ft-deep lake in Hampshire when a policeman and a paramedic were ordered not to rescue him. From in three feet of water!!!
 And in 2009 another middle-aged man died after firemen refused to rescue him from a frozen lake. He screamed ‘Don’t let me die’ , but the crew – sent to Brightwell Lake in Northamptonshire – did not go in because they were not trained in water rescue!
In another instance Karl Malton drowned in 18 inches of water in Lincolnshire when a senior fire officer stopped his men climbing down a 15ft bank after a ‘risk assessment’  was carried out. His body remained face down in the water for three hours after a decision was made to send for a ‘water rescue team’ based more than 50 miles away!
 I could go on.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Springtime at The Vyne

Yesterday we took a trip to The Vyne in Hampshire. Standing on medieval foundations it’s only a fragment of a much larger Tudor house, which was created in the early 16th century from a number of free-standing medieval buildings by William, 1st Lord Sandys - Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain, who died in 1540. Here’s one of the busts of Henry VIII we saw in the Oak Gallery.

After the Sandys family was finally broken by the Civil War in 1653 the estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, the Speaker of the House of Commons, who, with the help of Inigo Jones modernised the house and added the classical portico – the first of its kind on an English country house. When we entered the Tomb Chamber we came across this monument to the speaker reclining on a woven straw mattress looking serene as the afternoon sunlight filters through the window.

There was a lot to see inside the house. Here is the chapel, a scene in the Saloon, and a marble bust of Mary Queen of Scots.

The whole house is crammed full of beautiful things and each room tells its own story - from the extensive Library to the Tapestry Room, Print Room (decorated from floor to ceiling in scores of fascinating prints), and on to the Drawing Rooms, Dining Parlour and much more.
Later we walked around the grounds. Someone on the estate obviously enjoys making large images out of felled tree trunks. Here are a couple:

...and a reclining swan near to a ‘talking tree’.

This summer–house was built in the mid-seventeenth century.

Yesterday happened to herald the start of a Medieval Weekend at The Vyne, which delighted the many children we saw dressed up as tiny Princesses, sturdy Knights, and miniature Robin Hoods. Talking of Robin Hood, one of the many activities spread around the lawns was the chance to indulge in a bit of archery. I’m sure it was meant for children, but as I’m a big kid at heart anyway I decided to have a go. Not having pulled a bow since my schooldays very many moons ago my score was quite low, but there was a vicious cross-wind blowing at the time. (Incidentally, soon after I joined our school archery club I invented a machine to ensure that all the arrows I made were of exactly the same weight, and even dressed in Lincoln Green for weekends away with my fellow archers!) So here’s my pathetic score.

Last Tuesday I was asked to give a one-hour talk to the residents of Thamesfield – a local retirement home in Henley. The request was triggered by the recent article in the Henley Standard about my Spitfire painting. It seems there’s a thriving interest in art at Thamesfield. I took along a few miniatures, a large drawing I made of Rolf Harris, and a few portraits of local people that some of the residents would probably know. The talk seemed to go well – only a couple of people fell asleep – but they started off that way I think! Here’s a not very flattering photograph taken during the afternoon.

I hope the photograph taken by the professional photographers in Henley’s Old Fire Station Gallery on Thursday is better as I have been chosen to be one of the ‘100 Faces of Henley’. This charitable project will culminate in an exhibition of the ‘Faces’ in September accompanied by a book, I believe.
I’m currently working on a miniature commission of a little girl and hope to finish it by about Tuesday. After that I intend to indulge myself in a large portrait of the chimney sweep. It’ll probably become my biggest project of the year. Here, however, is a sepia miniature portrait I completed last week of my second cousin Jane. (Last year I made a similar painting of her but at a normal size).

Monday, 16 April 2012

Family Days

Last Sunday the Mundy family congregated at Val’s house for our traditional Easter get together. There were seventeen of us this year – we missed Louisa and her family as they are away sunning themselves in Florida. The Maltsters Arms in Greys, near Henley was our lunchtime venue.
It was Val’s first outing after her knee replacement operation, and she managed well with crutches. Usually we play the ‘money’ game in the garden after a big exchange of Easter eggs and although I’d filled a big bag with coins collected over the year, we somehow forgot to play till Charlotte reminded me we hadn’t played the game. As some of the children had already left by then it was too late so we’ll have a rollover next year.
Tim had pollarded the apple tree earlier in the week but here we all are gathered under the tree

I finished the miniature of Kevin Giddings, the ‘Royal Flueologist’, last week. Here he is complete with soot on his face and a background of some of the chimneys he’s responsible for at Hampton Court Palace.

Next week I plan to start a life size oil painting of Kevin complete with his Victorian flue brushes.

On Saturday my young friend and I paid a visit to West Wycombe and the Hell Fire Caves.

We first attempted to reach them by climbing up this very slippery and steep grass and chalk pathway (it’s very much steeper than this photo shows) but by the time we got to about 20 yards from the top it became much too difficult, and a bit too dangerous, to go any further. And as it was impossible to go back down standing up I lay down and bumped all the way to the bottom on my backside!

Sir Francis Dashwood is the Eleventh Baronet of West Wycombe. The Knights of St Francis of Wycombe or the Hell-Fire Club as it was later called was a natural progression from earlier clubs founded by Sir Francis such as the Dilettanti Society which was started in 1733 to encourage interest in classical art. I won’t go into the notorious history of the Hell-Fire Caves – it would take too long, but suffice it to say they have provided many fascinating tales. The ‘Ghostbusters’ team from a television company spent several nights deep inside the caves and have, on several occasions, reported seeing many ghostly apparitions. The caves extend 300 yards underground and were all excavated by hand and hewn out of the chalk and flint hill. We went all the way through the caves - parts of which were quite scary. Here are a few of the things we saw, starting with this carving of the Roman numerals XX11, which is probably a measurement in poles of the distance from the entrance. (But it is possible that they refer to a secret passage, which is said to run from the caves to the church.)

We walked up to the Mausoleum after our cave visit, and on to the church.

You may have noticed the golden ball on the top of the church. On a previous visit I climbed up to it but on Saturday it was closed. The ball is big enough to house six people and in times gone by card games were held inside the ball. The views from the ball are quite spectacular and extend over many counties.

Yesterday, on the one-hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I was asked to appear on Debbie McGee’s Sunday morning BBC Radio Berkshire’s show and talk about the time I was commissioned to paint a replica portrait of a miniature owned by Helen Churchill Candee – one of the survivors of the tragedy. When the passengers were told to abandon ship she carried her favourite possession - the miniature - with her, but because she wasn’t allowed to take anything with her on the lifeboat – and as women had no pockets in their dresses – she gave the miniature to a Mr Kent for safe keeping. Sadly Mr Kent drowned, but when his body was recovered from beneath the waves and the miniature found, because of the inscription on the back of the gold case, it was returned to its rightful owner. The grandchildren of Helen Candee intended to sell the miniature at a special Titanic auction hence the desire for a replica. Here  is my painting.

If you want to read about the countryside have a look at my cousin Paul Carter’s blog. He started it last week. Paul is a man of many parts – he and his wife Josephine have created a lovely extended family, breed cattle, and Paul runs a very successful company producing innovative alarm systems. If you are interested in reading about the countryside here is the way in:
 The more I hear about our crazy Health and Safety laws the more I despair. Just the other day a seagull had become tangled up in a plastic bag in a 3-foot deep pond. The fire brigade was called and believe it or not 3 fire stations responded by sending a total of twenty-five firemen to the scene. But apparently an ‘on the spot assessment’ ruled that it was too dangerous! So twenty-five burly firemen stood by the shallow pond stood there doing nothing. (Obviously because of orders from their respective politically correct commanders). Eventually the seagull was rescued – but not by the firemen – a passer-by put on a pair of waders and walked into the pond to retrieve the seagull. The London Fire Brigade were unrepentant about the incident by saying that ‘the health and safety of its staff must take priority’.

In contrast I read the other day about a blind lady called Trish Vickers. She’d lost her sight through diabetes, but had decided to try and write a novel. She was writing it entirely in longhand but was horrified when her son visited her and told her the last 26 pages were left blank as her pen had run out of ink, and there was no way she could decipher what she had written. But sometime later she had a brainwave and wondered whether fingerprint experts could decipher her words from the indents in the paper. The Dorset police heard about her dilemma and forensic experts there sacrificed their lunch hours and used their forensic knowledge to read the very faint impressions left on the pages. Good for them.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Hold the front page

Fame at last! It seems my painting of a Spitfire flying over Henley has proved popular locally. So much so that the Henley Standard decided to feature it on the front page of last week’s issue.

Have you ever tried to import wood into Australia? I once wanted to exhibit miniatures painted on vellum at the World Federation of Miniature Painters exhibition in Tasmania and was told that it would be impossible. Australia has the most restrictive rules on any sort of import that could affect the environment. Quite right too. However as I am due to send a painting I recently sold there in the next couple of weeks I have a bit of a problem. Because the painting is housed in a wooden frame and the box I was intending to have made to protect it is made of wood I’ve had to make alternative arrangements. Hopefully the frame maker I telephoned in Queensland at some unearthly hour in the morning the other day (due to the time difference) will be able to make a similar frame to the one it already has. I’ll need to very carefully encase the picture in two pieces of very thick pieces of plastic to save a big customs problem.

Lately I’ve painted several miniatures and this one of ‘Henry’ was completed the other day. It was commissioned to be given to the little boy’s grandmother who I’m told will keep it by the side of her bed.

My sister-in-law, Val, had a knee replacement last week so I’ve made a few visits to the Dunedin hospital in Reading to see her. She’s now home and doing well after a successful operation. We’ll have a big family party tomorrow lunchtime at the Malsters pub near Henley, but today her granddaughter Becky, and Becky’s mother Stephanie,are staying with her for a few days. I popped up to see them this morning. Here’s Becky and her mother.

Yesterday morning I visited Paul Daniels and Debbie - it being Paul’s birthday. What a glorious morning it was. We sat outside in the garden and when the sun came out it was quite hot. Paul has just bought a new boat and was in the process of stripping when I got there. (No, you won’t be treated to the sight of a naked magician, as he was stripping the teak wood slats from the deck in preparation for varnishing.) Here he is giving his impression of Leonardo DiCaprio standing on the prow of the Titanic.

When Debbie’s parents and her sister Donna came over we all sat out on the verandah.

I’m currently painting a miniature of Kevin Giddings, the Royal ‘Flueologist’. It should be finished by next Tuesday then I plan to start a large oil painting of Kevin, complete with flue brushes and Sooty, his black cat. This morning I called in to See Rolf. He’s a man of many parts – while we had breakfast he got out a tiny diamond-headed drill and worked on a stone to make a pendant and then later, when Timmy Mallett arrived, we all went down to the workshop where Rolf is working on a large nude woodcarving. Here’s Timmy.