Monday, 27 August 2012

Medal Winners Parade

Henley’s Leander Club Rowers returned from Eton Dorney Lake with 12 medals – gold, silver and bronze. This brings the Club’s total number of Olympic medals to 111. On Saturday Henley welcomed back its Olympic heroes with a civic reception. I was invited to watch the row-past from the riverside garden of my friends Peter and Diane Sutherland. Here’s a view  of one of the crews as they went past us on the way to The River and Rowing Museum.

Accompanied by a phalanx of other craft. we watched as they returned to Leander Club, then walked the short distance to the club to await the start of the parade through the streets of Henley in an open-topped bus. Here they are emerging from the club, and then a close up of five of the medal winners as they passed by.

Together with most of Henley I followed along behind the bus as it made its way to the town hall where it was greeted by Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin who boarded the bus and addressed the crowd. Some of whom you can see were out in their thousands.

The rowers then made their way through an arch of oars carried by young members of the Henley Rowing Clubs. Children from all the Henley Primary Schools were invited to the reception where they were given specially printed postcards to collect their heroes’ autographs while footage of the Olympic Regatta and the Henley part of the torch relay was played on a big screen in the town hall.

I’ll start my next story with this colourful picture of my first course of the best lunch I think I’ve ever had.

Last Monday I was invited to lunch at The Leatherne Bottle – an old but beautiful riverside restaurant near Goring-on-Thames. Graham and Julia Wells were my hosts, and together with Jane and Brian and Anne- Marie - a delightful lady I hadn’t met before – we boarded Graham’s boat ‘Meander II’ at Benson Marina. The weather was perfect as we glided along for about an hour. (The stretch between Benson Lock and Cleeve Lock at Goring is the longest stretch on the river and is where the Oxford crews practice). On arrival at the Leatherne Bottle we met Sir John Madejski (he owns the restaurant) and chatted to him for a while before deciding to relocate to a table at the water’s edge - it being such a beautiful day.

Wonderful service – fantastic food – and really happy and great companions. What more could we ask for? It was so lovely just lazing in the hot sunshine as we enjoyed our meal that it was 5.30 before we left for home. Here are a few photos taken on board the boat.

As we motored along in the sunshine, endeavouring to get back to Benson before the lock-keeper went off duty, we passed under this bridge

 built by the famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel

We reached the lock at ten minutes to seven but the lock keeper had already left, so Graham and Brian manfully operated the lock. And to end the most perfect day here is a photograph of my brandy-snap pudding.

Wednesday was a sad day, it being the funeral of my friend Gordon Greig who died suddenly while on holiday with his wife, Trish, in Spain two weeks ago.

The service was held in the parish church in Easthampstead, and was full to overflowing. Such a good man. He’ll be very much missed by his family and many friends all over the world. After the service we all went on to the Easthampstead Conference Centre where a series of video films of his life were shown. It was then that I realised that I had been to this mansion before, during the War. Canadian soldiers were billeted there prior to the invasion in 1944, and being a young lad then, one day I marched with a squad of soldiers the three miles from my home in Wokingham to Easthampstead. There a soldier took me to an enormous cupboard which he opened to reveal Aladdin’s Cave! It was crammed full of goodies – the like of which I could only dream about. He told me I could choose one item to take home. I chose a large bar of chocolate and ran home with it to my mother. We were four in our household then, - my grandfather, mother, brother Bob and me (my father being away in Gibraltar in the army). The chocolate bar was such a treat that my mother cut each square into four little pieces - one each which we ate after our Sunday tea. So it lasted for many weeks.

I hadn’t realised the dangers of making a sculpture head! On Thursday I carried on with completing my one of Rolf. As the fumes from the catalyst I had to mix with the thixotropic resin were highly toxic I needed to sign a waiver regarding the use of it and to wear a mask at all times. We did all this in Shirley’s shed in the garden so at least I could dash out in the fresh air from time to time. Here’s the shed and me in a mask.

Then we came to the laminating process and had to work very quickly as the fibreglass mixture we added to the head cures very fast – especially in the summer’s heat. Anyway here are two pictures. The first shows the rock-hard covering – resin, silicone rubber, French polish, and finally the fibreglass jacket. The second revealing the original clay image with the silicone rubber mould. The whole bronze head should be finished in two or three weeks. I’ll post the final result then.

Did you read about Eric Carter, the World War two Spitfire pilot, aged 91, who was not allowed by Museum officials at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent to sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire because of – yes you’ve guessed it – ‘Elf an’ Safety’ regulations? It wasn’t as if the aircraft was going anywhere, as it was not leaving the ground. Mr Carter is the last surviving member of a 38-strong task force sent to northern Russia in 1941 to protect supply routes. However a Mr Matt Jones, a fellow flying enthusiast, read about this and felt he deserved better so he organised for him to fly in a dual control Spitfire TR9 over Goodwood Aerodrome in West Sussex the other day. Good for him.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


What with squeezing in a bit of time in the evenings to watch the Olympics on television and spending as much time as possible on my painting of the Queen and all the boats in the Henley Pageant, I’ve hardly had time to put pen to paper. But at last I’ve finished my sculpture of Rolf Harris – at least the first stage. So no more clay for the time being. (However I have started another head – this one of my great nephew, Max. With all the mistakes I made with Rolf, I think I’ve learned a lot and should attain a better likeness).

There are four more stages to go to produce the final bronze head of Rolf – the first of which took all day last Thursday. I naively thought that a few coats of the ‘goo’ to make the mould would do the trick – not appreciating the hard work involved. Just stirring the rubber solution and hardening chemical until the mixture was thick enough to cover the clay head soon made my arm ache. And I needed to do this four times throughout the day. At one stage a sort of netting is put around the head, and this in turn covered with the goo. Here’s the result after about six hours work.

Next Thursday I’ll need to make the ‘jacket’ out of fibre glass and fill it with resin. So hopefully within less than a month I should be able to post a photograph of the final bronze head on this blog.

Last Friday my young friend and I were invited to dinner by Debbie and Paul at their home by the river. Rolf and Alwen were also invited. It was a gloriously warm evening and soon after we arrived we all clambered aboard Paul’s electric boat for a pre-dinner trip down the river.

As their creek is silted quite badly, with all six of us aboard we made a noisy way out to the main river by dragging the hull of the boat into the silt to eventually create a channel deep enough to allow us out. Soon we were out and gliding along sipping our drinks and nibbling on snacks. Rolf was his usual colourful self.

Dinner alfresco on Paul and Debbie’s verandah was delightful – good conversation – good food – and good friends.  Here’s Debbie - looking lovely.

It really is boating weather now and as the river is behaving itself – not too fast and not too high – so the following day my young friend and I decided to have a picnic on one of the little islands past Shiplake lock.  Most of the riverside nooks and crannies were already taken up but we eventually found the ideal spot and tied up beneath a big oak tree.  We had a lovely picnic (and took the opportunity to christen the new wickerwork picnic basket) which we ate while moored here. (no we didn’t eat the hamper!)

Returning home we found a big queue of boats of all sizes waiting to get through Shiplake lock. The large 140 horsepower engine on my boat is not very good at hovering too long but eventually we managed to get through after two or three lockfulls.
Next day, it being Sunday, I meant to just paint for a couple of hours but ended up working on my Jubilee painting for nearly 8 hours before going up to Val’s for dinner. There we watched the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games on TV. I especially liked the disassembling of the big sculpture of John Lennon’s head, the roller skating nuns and the phoenix rising from behind the Olympic cauldron.

I haven’t played ‘Colours’ at the Phyllis Court Snooker Club lately but as there was a match there last Wednesday, decided to take part. I needn’t have bothered as I lost all three games. Never mind, it was a really nice evening.

An interesting commission has just come my way. I have to make exact traditional miniature representations of two large ancestral oil portraits. As soon as the rectangular miniature frames I’ve ordered arrive, I’ll start painting. I know I’ll really enjoy doing them.

Now it’s Sunday again! How time speeds by! As yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures around 30 degrees centigrade, this time we planned to take my dinghy, Marsh Midget, through the length of the lovely Hennerton Backwater. I now have two (very heavy) deep cycle batteries for the new electric motor so was confident we could spend most of the day tootling around on the water. This was the first time we navigated the backwater this year. As the new motor is quite a bit bigger than the old one, it had to be removed and laid flat in the bottom of the dinghy before we, in a similar position, handed our way along the brick ceiling of this, less than 3-feet high, entrance to the backwater.

With a totally silent engine we glided along and around all the bends of Hennerton, past sunlit fields sleepy in the heat of the noonday sun. Finally we tied up next to a leafy hedgerow to eat our lunch. This is view from our picnic spot.
And afterwards as we progressed along the stream a couple more bridges came into view before we eventually merged into the main river.

Again there was a mighty queue at the lock, so we moored up at the floating pontoon next to the lock keeper’s cottage, until Nigel (the lock keeper) could fit us in the lock between a slipper launch and an enormous canal barge.  Our day on the river didn’t end there – after a quick break at home we continued, this time, downstream under Henley bridge past Leander Club with its banner celebrating its 111th Olympic medal win.

And on towards Temple Island whereon the opposite bank is where Henley’s annual Rewind Festival is being held. What marvellous weather they’ve had for their festival this year. Quietly and slowly we drifted along past all the razzmatazz of the festival. Here are a few of the sights (taken from the river).

On our way home we saw a jolly nun who apparently had escaped from the festival, pedalling furiously down the towpath with her piano, singing her (or his) heart out.  We managed to capture this picture of her from our vantage point from the other side of the river as we motored along.

Even amongst the loud noise, music and energy of the festival, if you looked in the other direction there were little quiet tableaux of skiffs and other little boats moored in the shadows.

To end an energetic, but great day on the river, as soon as we got home again we drove over to Streatley to have dinner on the waterside boardwalk of the Swan Hotel. (They do a great sausage and mash with onions, as well as fish and chips with unique hand-cut big chips). This was the view from our table.

And here I am sipping my ginger ale.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Down to the Titanic

I’m so wrapped up with my painting of the Queen’s visit to Henley – spending up to nine hours a day on it – that I’d better write my blog today or I’ll be back in my studio any minute.

On Tuesday I joined the Probus Section at Phyllis Court Club and went along in the morning to hear Philip Littlejohn give a fascinating lecture about the Titanic disaster. This man was the grandson of Alexander James Littlejohn – one of the First Class stewards on the Titanic. When the tragedy struck the 31 year-old Alexander was ordered to row lifeboat number 13 to safety and therefore survived. To get an idea of the effects of the incident have a look at these two photographs – taken just a few weeks apart. Here he is before he boarded the Liner
And here he is a week or so after the disaster.

(This phenomenon is not that unusual - I remember one of my friends, Jimmy James, when he returned from the Far East after the Second World War. He was only in his twenties but had white hair - a result of being lost in the Burmese jungle for an hour or so after falling behind his comrades when on patrol. As the Japanese soldiers were everywhere he was extremely frightened so his black hair turned white overnight).

Apart from being the grandson, Philip Littlejohn is one of the very few people who has actually been to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean and seen the wreck of the Titanic. he was encased in a 3-man Russian submersible during the 11 hour voyage. I’m very interested in all things Titanic so was fascinated by the lecture. Now that the site of the wreck has been declared a World Heritage Site it means that no one will be allowed to descend there in the future.

My new electric engine arrived last Friday – just in time to try it out at the weekend. My young friend and I took it down to Henley bridge, then back through Marsh Lock and up towards Shiplake. It’s great to be in control of the dinghy once more (after turning circles – backwards in the old one). Except, I must admit, for one little incident when returning through the lock. Nigel, the lockkeeper saw us coming and kept the gates open, but as I endeavoured to transfer the bow rope to the starboard side of the dinghy I forgot to slow the engine. It was only when my companion shouted that I was heading, fast, towards a neighbour’s brick wall did I look up to just avert disaster. By the time I’d sorted myself out and turned back towards the lock the gates were closing as Nigel had assumed I was going up the millstream. But he soon reopened them to let us in – me with a very red face!
I’m starting a new sculpture tomorrow. It will be of my great nephew, Max. Yesterday I took about 20 photographs of him from all angles – and measured all the relevant distances. Here’s Max – I’ll show you the final result of the head in a few months time.

Next week I’ll be starting on the next stage of my sculpture portrait of Rolf Harris. The clay modelling is done. (I started it in February1). I now need to learn the other processes to arrive at the final bronze.

We went to the Regal Cinema in Henley the other day to see the new Batman film. I needed to be told what the story was about after we came out as everything went too fast! The seats in the Regal are so uncomfortable – at least those in the aisle are – where I tens to sit in. But good news. Next week all the seats in all three screens are to be replaced by new ones. No good asking for the rake to be slightly improved I suppose at the same time.
Just before I started on my painting of the Queen’s visit to Henley I finished the miniature of Elizabeth Hodgkin – The Mayor of Henley. Here she is.

On Sunday afternoon we drove to Cookham to attend the 50th Anniversary Exhibition at the Stanley Spencer Gallery. Housed in the former Wesleyan chapel there it was where Spencer worshipped with his mother when a child.. Built in 1846 the chapel has been described as a ‘simple Gothic structure for sheep gone astray’. I really like his work – my favourite being the very large – unfinished – painting entitled ‘Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta’. He sadly died before it was finished. Here is a detail from the painting.

Upstairs in the gallery is the artist’s pushchair, which he took around with him when he painted outdoors. I was allowed to take this photograph of it. Note the sign, which he propped up by it to discourage sightseers pressing too close to him when he was at work. It reads ‘As he is anxious to complete his painting of the churchyard, Mr Stanley Spencer would be grateful if visitors would kindly avoid distracting his attention from the work.’

On the way back from Cookham we walked all along the towpath from Remenham (where I took these photos surrounding the lych-gate – which I’d never noticed before)

We headed up to the Henley College where I needed to observe the scene there, as it will form the background to the painting I’m working on. This photograph is just what I needed– especially for the foliage in the foreground and some of the trees in the background

P.S. This is for RG9 – my most faithful follower. Yes I’m very fond of photography and take my camera with me most of the time. In fact there are over a quarter of a million images stored on my computer since I bought my first digital camera, Not to mention the remaining hundreds of thousands of negatives stored in files and dating back to about 1950. Oh – one more thing - I’m up to my 48th photo album as I print out my best ones as well. And the albums are very large!