Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Nearly Naked

I almost made a total fool of myself on Saturday morning. Together with my young friend we were in Bath. There we had decided to spend the morning in the Thermal bath Spa. After collecting our white robes, towels and white slippers we made our way to the changing rooms and undressed. After putting my clothes in one of the lockers while waiting for my young friend to emerge from her changing room, I noticed a tiny strap protruding from under a passing lady’s robe. Wondering what it was I realised it must be the strap of her bathing costume. At that moment it suddenly dawned on me that I’d completely forgotten to put my own bathing trunks on! So I very quickly retrieved them from the locker. Had I not seen that little strap I would have stepped from the lift, which opened straight out to the open-air rooftop pool.

There I would have blissfully taken off my robe and soon realised that I was standing there stark naked! I guess I’m not used to this sort of thing. It being a cold, yet sunny day, we found it wonderful to lounge around in the hot spa. The temperature is almost constant at around 92˚F and is heated naturally underground. The actual source of the water remains a mystery. These natural thermal springs were first discovered by Prince Bladud around 863BC and contain over 43 different minerals. During our two hours at the spa we enjoyed just wallowing in the pool – especially when the bubbles started – enveloping us with jets of water. Before we left the spa we spent 15 minutes or so in the underground Minerva pool.

Bath is a beautiful city. Neither of us had stayed there before so soon after we arrived we boarded the city tours bus.

One of the best things we did was to visit the Roman Baths. This is the best-preserved ancient baths and temple complex in Northern Europe. We spent a couple of hours looking around. This is the main bath – and a few statistics – The rate of flow is 13 litres per second or about 250,ooo gallons per day. The temperature is 46 degrees C or 115 Fahrenheit and there are 43 minerals in the water. The water is colourless but acquires its distinctive green hue from algae growth caused by its heat and by daylight.

This fragment is from the magnificent Temple of Sulis Minerva, Goddess of the Thermal Spring… the engraving of the tombstone of auxiliary cavalryman L. Vitellius Tancinus from Spain, who was probably buried in a military cemetery outside Bath

Here is an impressive arched overflow, which was part of the Roman engineering arrangements, which still keep the hot water flowing through the complex today.

So much to see – here are one or two more sights which caught my eye.

On Sunday we went to the Chequers restaurant for lunch with friends Jessica and Adam before having another little tour around the city.

On the way to Bath we stopped off at Stourhead in Wiltshire. ‘A Living Work of Art’ is how a magazine described Stourhead when it first opened in the 1740’s. Classical buildings and picturesque hideaways like this one – framed by the colours of autumn, surround this world-famous landscaped garden.

We walked all the way round the lake – a bit of a challenge – but so well worth it with lovely views whichever way you looked.

It was my birthday yesterday. I invited eight friends to dinner at The French Horn. It’s easily my favourite restaurant – but I reserve it for special occasions. (The last time I went there was for my young friend’s birthday in the summer).

And here are a couple of pictures taken during the evening.

This year has been a very good year for art awards, as I heard last night that I’ve won the Judges Second Choice Award at the forthcoming Miniature Art Society of Florida’s Annual Exhibition. Out of nearly 1,000 entries and with over 20 awards, I’m delighted. It was for my miniature of Kevin Giddings – the Royal Flueologist against a background of Hampton Court Palace.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Colours of Autumn

Braving the driving rain, Val, my young friend and I decided to visit Ramster Hall on Saturday. We seemed to have chosen the wrong day to see the autumn tints as the venue we’d chosen was over an hour away and on the way we certainly saw a selection of English weather. Not only rain, but over 15 minutes of very heavy hailstones, then thunder and lightning. But, as if by magic, it cleared a few minutes after we got there so we were able to stroll in the grounds and take pictures of some of the lovely Acer trees. Ramster Hall is only open two weekends at this time of year so luckily our journey wasn’t wasted. here are some of the trees in all their glory.

In a clearing we came across this little collection of bronze statues of children dancing around.

And a little lake complete with herons.

On Wednesday, the Mayor of Henley, Elizabeth Hodgkin, and husband Richard came with me to the opening of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters Annual Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London. It’s always nice to meet up with so many of my friends from the miniature-painting world. Amongst my seven miniatures exhibited I discovered that the sepia painting of ‘Jane in Lace’ had won the Bonhams Portrait Miniature Award.

Jane herself arrived shortly afterwards, as did Paul Ludwig – The Royal Bargemaster and his wife. Here are Jane, Paul and Elizabeth standing in front of their respective miniatures.

Arriving home in the early evening I called in to see Vince and Annie Hill – just in time to be caught in the midst of a violent thunderstorm and torrential rain.
It’s been a good week for painting and I’m really excited with the large commission of the High Sheriff of West Midlands. On Thursday I spent over 10 hours painting his highly decorated silver sword.
Yesterday was my sculpture day and I’m getting on well with the head of my young great nephew, Max. A new student joined the class and surprised me by telling me she was the godmother of my great niece, Kate – the sister of Max. It transpired that she is about to make a bronze head of her son who happens to be Max’s best friend. It will be very interesting to compare the boys’ heads when we finish them.
Shirley and I went to the shed in the garden to check on the progress of a plaster cast I made last week of Rolf Harris’s head. I’m intending it to be a Christmas present for Rolf, and had bought a tin of copper-coloured Hammerite paint to cover it with. It’s drying a bit shiny, so I hope I haven’t made a big mistake!

The other day I read about the death of Sylvia Kristel. If you remember she was the sultry, erotic, star Emmanuelle, the bored young housewife of a diplomat in Thailand. I mention this because it reminded me, as I was living in Bangkok in the ‘60’s when I met Maryat Adrianne. She was married to a young French diplomat and was, at the time, in the midst of writing the book ‘Emmanuelle’. I’m sure she had no idea then what a phenomenon Emmanuelle would become when it became a film. Based on a lot of her own life I went to a couple of their parties, but not the wild ones I subsequently heard about from Keith, our Research Director, who did.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Last Saturday I went with about 15 old boys to visit Woodley Hill House – my old grammar school.

My last sight of Woodley Hill was on the day I left for good – in 1953. The building itself is about the same (looks a bit like Harry Potter’s Hogwarts) – with the addition of a few added classrooms. At the back of the school where we once practised archery there is now a whole array of trees and bushes.

Wandering around the courtyard I came across this old tree, and was immediately reminded of the time I was given six strokes of the cane for the crime of ‘kidnapping’

One of our playground activities was to see who could pierce the trunk highest with a commando dagger after a running jump at the tree. It was my last week at school and I held the record for second highest, but was determined to become the undisputed champion before leaving school for good. We were allowed 3 attempts. My turn came. I remember my first two were very close to the record, and I knew I could realise my ambition on the final run. But a little first-former called Lewington tripped me up on my approach. The rules were strict and I wasn’t allowed to repeat the run. Incensed, as my chance to become the school champion were thwarted forever, I grabbed the small boy and carried him under my arm to my desk. It was big enough to hide him in, so in he went, and I closed the lid. Someone must have ratted on me, because about 20 minutes later the headmaster came into the classroom looking for the missing boy. I had no choice but to own up and release him. Later in the afternoon the headmaster administered ‘six of the best’ on my grey trousered rear.

I finally finished my large painting of The Queen’s visit to Henley. It’s taken over 250 hours to complete, and illustrates about half the boats that took part in the pageant. This is the painting.

Now I’ve started a very exciting commission. It’s of one of England’s High Sheriffs – a result of one of my portraits being hung at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters Exhibition in London earlier this year. The client liked my depiction of detail, so visited last week with his full regalia. This included a black uniform complete with elaborate silver buttons, lace ruffs at the chest and sleeves, together with a beautiful silver sword and silver-edged tricorn hat. Hanging round his neck from a red ribbon is his CBE. What a joy this will be to paint. It’ll be a large work – about 30 by 24 inches.

On Monday it was selection day at the Mall Galleries for the forthcoming exhibition of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters in London. Nearly 700 works were submitted – including small sculptures. There were twelve of us sitting round a table as the miniatures were passed around for acceptance or rejection. The standard seemed especially high this year. I made a short list of about seven portraits for my Sovereign award for the best portrait. Quite a hard choice, as my two finalists were so good – each in their own way – that either could have been the winner.

I noticed on Sunday, as my young friend and I visited Notcutts garden centre, that horrible groaning noises were being made by my car. She, being more mechanically minded than me immediately recognised them as coming from the brakes, so when I got home and checked my service records I also discovered that the car was nearly a month overdue for its MOT. On the way to London the following morning at about 8.30 I called at the garage, who very kindly took the car in straight away. When I collected it the next day they told me that the noise was caused by metal rubbing against metal!

Tomorrow is my sculpture class day. I’m working on a head of Max, one of my great nephews. It should be a bit easier than the one of Rolf Harris – mainly because I’m not showing teeth, and I probably have learned a lot by now. I’m going to the class a couple of hours early as Shirley (my teacher) is planning to instruct me how to make a Plaster of Paris cast of Rolf’s head as I hope to give it to him for Christmas. I already have an old pair of glasses my opticians gave me to use.

Now I’m off to the oncologist to find out the results of the scan I had at the Royal Berks Hospital last week. Cross fingers.