Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Queen Came to Henley

Yesterday was a red-letter day for Henley. Four thousand people were invited to a garden party in the grounds of the Henley Management College as part of the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
I was invited by Tony and Jackie Hobbs to be a guest on board their cruise ship ‘The New Orleans’

We all dressed up in our Regatta finery and boarded at 1.15. It was a gloriously sunny day, and as soon as the funnels were lowered we passed under Henley Bridge and went down below for a while. There I joined my cousin Jim and Val, Mollie, and Val, my sister-in-law.

On board we drank Pimms and generally made merry. I knew most of the passengers, and because I wanted to be in a good position to take photographs of some of the boats that had been in the London Jubilee RIver Pageant, I was allowed to stand at the front of the boat.

Because we were to be part of the Henley River Pageant we hovered around Temple Island for an hour or so until all the boats were lined up in the right order. The Queen was due at Hambleden Lock at 2,45 where she was to board the 130 year old ‘Alaska’ which followed ‘Black Watch’ out of the lock.

About 30 boats from Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire were taking part in the pageant, depicting the last 100 years of the river. It was divided into seven eras, with boats ranging from commercial to wooden river boats. Even Ratty and Toad from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ were represented.

I also spied a skiff, which looked as if it was from ‘Three Men in a Boat’ – although the third man must be temporarily taking advantage of a nearby bush.

As we slowly passed by the College I saw Paul Ludwig, The Queen’s Bargemaster, and one of the Watermen in their red uniforms standing by the water’s edge when the Queen alighted. You can see the Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and the Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire sitting under the shade of an elegant tent in the gardens.

There were some really interesting boats taking part in the pageant, including three Dunkirk Little Ships, a couple of Swanuppers skiffs, and a frightening boatload of very loud and frightening Vikings. Here are just a few of the participants glistening in the bright afternoon sunshine.

Apparently the Queen really enjoyed the day. Here she id greeting some of the guests.

On the way back, as we passed the college for the second time I noticed a couple of black-clad figures sporting enormous binoculars and part-hidden on the roof. The one on the right is my armed policeman nephew, Tim, keeping a watchful eye on the proceedings as part of his duty in protecting the Royal family.

What a lovely afternoon we all had.

Soon after arriving back at the moorings I drove to the Henley Bowling Club and played till 8.30 pm – and even managed to win my game for a change (with the help of a knee brace).

On Saturday evening my young friend and I took Val out for dinner to The Swan at Streatley. We couldn’t sit outside because the rain was coming down in bucketfuls!
And talking of water, we took ‘Marsh Mundy ‘ out for its first outing of the year on Friday evening, but weren’t destined to get very far. The engine stalled and sputtered and we ended up clinging to a couple of mooring posts a hundred yards or so down the river! However, in fits and starts we managed to get the boat back to my mooring without crashing into the mill wall, thanks to the adept manipulation of the boat hook by my young friend. A call to Ivan, the boatman, resulted in the boat being towed downstream to his workshop. I feel like I’m pouring money into a bottomless bilge, as he discovered my petrol tank was half full of water and needed to be completely drained. (I put £50 worth of petrol in the boat only the day before)! Hope its repaired before Saturday as I plan to take a few friends out to see the Regatta fireworks in the evening.

Last Sunday we went to the Harpsden Fete. As usual I had a go at most things – especially the bowling – but didn’t win this year. In fact, after a few attempts I gave up as I only managed to knock 9 out of 10 skittles down.

Apart from all this jollity I worked all week on this miniature of the Queen’s Bargemaster. As you can see I’ve set him against the Tower of London and you may just see a part of the Royal Barge ‘Gloriana’ in the foreground.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Windy Weather

Twas a very cold and windy morning yesterday. My young friend and I were hoping to row up to the venue of the Hennerton Backwater AGM, but the river was just too fast and the wind horrendous. (We may have been in danger of being swept over the weir on the way back with the strong current!). Only one couple arrived by boat – and they were swirled around a bit in the current as they tried to moor up. This is the view from the driveway before we walked down to the garden.

And the ‘Riparians’ huddling in the cold as John Halsam talks about the Green Belt.

Later in the day we paid a visit to Nuffield Place in Huntercombe, near Henley.

Now acquired by the National Trust, it used to belong to William Morris, who later became Lord Nuffield. He designed his first car – the Bull Nosed Morris – in 1912. Between the two World Wars Morris, with Austin, Rootes Group and Ford, dominated the market for popular cars and really brought motoring within the reach of the man in the street. However he was equally, if not more famous for giving away much of the money he made – at least £30 million in his lifetime (the equivalent of at least £600 million at today’s values.) We had a good look around the house and garden. I was intrigued by the enormous tool cupboard within his bedroom. (One of the little jars on the shelf in this photograph contains his pickled appendix!)

At the Diamond Jubilee Concert on the Queen Victoria Monument fronting Buckingham Palace last weekend Rolf Harris had just finished the first verse of ‘Two Little Boys’ when Lenny Henry interrupted him to bring on the next act. Apparently not Lenny’s fault. The voice in his earphones gave him instructions.   Rolf carried on later – a real trouper. And a man of infinite parts – songwriter, artist, entertainer, TV star, animal lover, you name it Rolf’s done it – and is universally loved and admired by everyone from the very young to the very oldl. So when I called in to see him last Saturday morning I was eager to see the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award he’d been given the previous week. So well deserved.

It weighs a ton – and is nearly an inch thick. My young friend had bought me a ‘Rolf Harris’ party disguise as a surprise present, so I put it on when I arrived and greeted him with the words “Can you tell who it is yet?”

On Tuesday I drove to Stanfield in Norfolk to my old friend Vic Granger’s funeral. A really sad occasion. Both his children, Sylvia May and Peter Paul, have been a great comfort to Christine since Vic died, and Paul gave an inspiring Eulogy in the crowded old Stanfield church. (On my many visits to Vic and Christine in Norfolk, whenever Vic and I passed by the churchyard he always said ’That’s where I want to be buried – it’s the most peaceful place I know in the world’. And so he was – in a shady spot under a lovely old tree, right outside the main entrance to the church. Here is Vic as I remember him

I mentioned in a previous blog what a wonderful animal painter he was. This is a painting he did in acrylics of his four whippets I bought from him a few years ago.

Well, I finally finished my painting of the Royal Flueologist. Here’s Kevin Giddings with his old Victorian chimney sweep’s brushes over his shoulder.

I’ve just started a miniature of Paul Ludwig – the Royal Bargemaster. I hope to finish it by next week. Then I’ll start working out how to design a large Diamond Jubilee Pageant painting. Roughly based on the idea of Canaletto’s magnificent Lord Mayor’s River Pageant painting done at the end of the 18th Century. I aim to include most of my favourite craft that took part. I’ll be relying on a number of friends who actually took part in the pageant for reference photographs, but I’m sure it will be a monumental task to try and evoke the atmosphere – and I expect the final project will take about 4 to 5 months to complete!

It’s now Sunday, and – hooray – the sun has come out, so I think I’ll go to the Harpsden Fete this afternoon. But to end this blog here’s a photograph my young friend took of a heron in my garden yesterday. I think she’s got her eye on the little fleet of new sygnets swimming around in the Mill Stream. (The heron, that is.)

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

I love boats, so was eagerly anticipating the Jubilee River Pageant last Sunday.

Headed by the beautiful 94 ft Royal Rowbarge Gloriana - the first to be built for more than a century – unique in that among the participating vessels, it’s the only one specially commissioned for the event) the 1000 strong flotilla of small boats made its way from Battersea all the way to Tower Bridge. There were more than 180 unpowered boats from sea-kayaks to longboats, gigs, Chinese dragon boats, 17th Century pleasure barges, shallops and skiffs. (Friends and neighbours Tony and Gloria Mays were rowing their double-skiff – which, incidentally, was built in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee).

The Queen and senior members of the Royal Family were in The Spirit of Chartwell.

This Royal Barge was lavishly decorated with 17th Century furniture. Standing proudly at the helm is Paul Ludvig - the Royal Bargemaster - who I intend to paint next week, as soon as I can compose a background comprising an appropriate view of part of the pageant.
One of the sailing boats 127 year-old Amazon was also present at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Royal Fleet Review. Forty-five of the Dunkirk Little Ships took part. I just wish Raymond Baxter, friend and previous Commodore of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships was still alive – he would have been so proud to have headed these vessels in his boat L’Orage.
I only wish the BBC’s television coverage of this magnificent event had not been so inane with unprepared, ill-informed and frankly patronising presenters. Had any of the Dimbleby brothers been there they would have made sure to research the boats, the history, and the London landmarks as the flotilla passed by. Instead we had low-grade celebrity-driven drivel. Peter Sissons, one of the BBC’s most distinguished figures called the coverage ‘a disaster’. Words like ‘There’s a big boat coming past now, followed by four small ones!’ Sissons noted ‘What should have been historic coverage was just dominated by silly stunts, It was incredibly self-indulgent, The presenters were awful. None of them seemed to have done any research at all about what was going on. All of these vessels, all this history – yet nothing was explained. I was crying out for more information, but it was just gushing inanities.’ By contrast Richard Dimbleby spent 6 months researching for his coverage of the Queen’s wedding in 1953. I doubt whether any of this crop of BBC presenters spent much more than 6 minutes on research.
Nevertheless the occasion was spectacular, although I couldn’t be present in London that day as I was in Hampshire to attend my nephew’s Silver Wedding celebrations.

On Monday morning I was invited by my neighbours Ed and Annie T Simons to a Jubille party. And splendid it was. We were all treated to a magnificent brunch. Here’s the table – very loyally decorated.

About 30 guests were there, including my friends Jane and Brian Hill, together with
Mike Reed and Vanessa.

While we partied the television showed the film of the Coronation in 1953. ( I remember it well, as still a young lad I watched it all from a vantage point in Trafalgar Square. My memories include the various sounds of the marching bands as they came by, and especially the large and imposing presence of Queen Salote from Tonga sitting proudly in her carriage ignoring the rain. I could hardly see the tiny little figure sitting next to her. He apparently was her physician. When Noel Coward was asked who her small companion was, he replied “Her Lunch!”)

Later in the afternoon I drove Diane Sutherland to our Jubilee Street Party in Remenham (my village). All the trestle tables were lined up outside the church, and we were soon served tea, sandwiches and cakes by a bevy of willing helpers.

One welcome visitor was this American guy sporting the colours of the US flag. But he has put a union jack in his hat-band I see.
One of the features of the day was to ask the youngest Remenham villager together with the youngest to cut the Jubilee cake.

My nephew Neil and his wife Stephanie were celebrating their Silver Wedding Anniversary on Sunday, so I drove Val down to Denmead for the occasion. Pity my sat-nav took us on the boring motorway route. For our present, Val. Louisa and I clubbed together to order this very tasteful picture printed on a silvery-grey canvas,

And here are Neil, Stephanie and their children Becky and Christopher followed by a family group on the day

At last both my boats are back in the water and raring to go. Here’s Marsh Mundy after a comprehensive makeover and repair. The only problem is we found a fair amount of water on the cushions in the cabin the other day and still haven’t located the leak.

Nevertheless we made the cruiser ready on Friday evening and were all ready to go for our first spin of the year when Brian and Jane turned up in their boat and invited us to join them instead for a trip down river to Hambleden. It was a calm and tranquil evening. Her they are leaving our landing stages.

On Saturday morning Lady Joanna Palmer had invited my young friend and I to Windsor Castle. (She is the widow of Sir Patrick Palmer who was the Constable-Governor of the Castle.)Having lived in the Norman Tower for seven years as Joanna escorted us round the castle she could tell us all sorts of interesting stories about the events there. These little tit-bits made all the difference to our visit. This door wsas the entrance to their tower.

And a few other views

When we got home it still being a tranquil afternoon we jumped into Marsh Midget, my dinghy, and I rowed to the bridge and back. Now that I have a spanking new mahogany rudder it’d so much easier to row without constantly looking over my shoulder. My young friend soon got the hang of the steering and we had a lovely time.. Lately, as the residents at Marsh Mills have been inundated by Canada geese, squawking at night and most of the day, but most annoying of all, making a terrible mess on our boats. So we’ve invested in a couple of these bird scarers.

Don’t know whether they’ll do any good – we’ll see.

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee

When we got home it still being a tranquil afternoon we jumped into Marsh Midget, my dinghy, and I rowed to the bridge and back. Now that I have a spanking new mahogany rudder it’d so much easier to row without constantly looking over my shoulder. My young friend soon got the hang of the steering and we had a lovely time.. Lately, as the residents at Marsh Mills have been inundated by Canada geese, squawking at night and most of the day, but most annoying of all, making a terrible mess on our boats. So we’ve invested in a couple of these bird scarers.

Don’t know whether they’ll do any good – we’ll see.