Friday, 21 December 2012

A Smile for Christmas

You probably know that the Post Office produce ‘Smilers’. These allow you to incorporate your own photograph or painting with a variety of actual postage stamps. I ordered two designs. Here’s one of them – with my painting ‘Spitfire over Henley’.

I’ve also ordered another set illustrating my latest river painting entitled ‘When the Queen came to Henley’. This time with a union flag stamp motive. They should arrive before Christmas. This set , depicting my ‘Snow in Henley’ painting has just arrived.

Last week heralded the start of party time – at least the end of the week was. My friends Stan and Fee Stride always start Christmas off for me with their Friday evening party at Broadplat House, and I always arrive exactly on time, (it’s a tradition that I’m first there) although I mistimed it by 10 minutes this year so sat in their car park for a while before going in. Such a warm and lovely atmosphere. Then, the following lunchtime (after calling in with my young friend to take a cherry cake to Debbie) I went to Herchel Jordan’s party at Wooburn Common. Great to see so many old friends there – and as always, a sumptuous array of food. Here are a couple of photographs – the first with Herchel, Jimmy Tarbuck and Gerald Ratner. The other with Jimmy and his wife Pauline.

The day didn’t end there as it was my young friend’s office party in the evening in Henley. Very nice evening – even though I was mixing with a large collection of PHD intellectuals. After dinner we had a quiz, and our table, much to our surprise, was the winner. (We shared the bumper box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates with the other tables afterwards).

At the end of the week my client – The High Sheriff of West Midlands - came down, with his wife, to collect his large portrait. It’s always a bit daunting delivering a portrait – especially after spending so many hundred hours on it. However they were delighted, and I breathed a sigh of relief!

Yesterday I went to the picture framer in Reading where I collected my latest portrait. It’s quite a small watercolour (about 10 inches high) but I think I’ve captured Fred’s twinkle in his eyes.  I often put a little secret in the background of my paintings, and this one is no exception as it contains two personal references for him. Here’s the painting. I've just delivered it. Fred is very happy with the picture and was intrigued to see that his eyes follow you  around the room as you walk past it.

On Wednesday I took the Phyllis Court coach to London where I met my old friend Trevor Wayman from our Hong Kong days. We had lunch in Waterstone’s in Piccadilly. Trevor is a fantastic artist and a true romantic. Every year for Valentine’s day he makes a beautiful little present for his wife, Laura. I’ve seen the collection going back over twenty years. His latest is a wooden carved heart resembling an old typeface block.. Somewhere he’s incorporated the words ‘You are my type’. (But I’m sure there are also more terms of endearment hidden somewhere).  After lunch I bought the remaining half-dozen Christmas presents I needed at the Science Museum – always a great place for unusual and classy presents. Next door – outside The Natural History Museum I took a picture of the skaters and a nearby carousel.

Then a quick visit to Harrods. Here’s one of their Christmas window displays, plus one with my reflection showing at the back of this window. 

Glad I went to London by coach as I read in the paper today that the daily 7.44 train from Henley-on-Thames to London was named the most overcrowded train in the entire country. This First Great Western service carries nearly twice its passenger capacity and tops the league table of shame published by the Transport Minister. It has a ‘load factor’ of 180 percent, which means it is at 80 percent over capacity.

Did a bit more Christmas shopping on Sunday morning and bought a new iPad. On this version it has an interesting extra called ‘Siri’. Just press the home button and ask it any question you like. It’s amazing how my voice immediately translates into text on the screen and then the answer appears next to it together with a fairly deep male voice on the speaker. Just for fun I asked it “Do you love me?” And the answer? “Well, you’re definitely starting to grow on me”. I daren’t take our relationship any further!

It just remains to wish everyone a very ....

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Christmas Greetings

As it’s getting a bit near Christmas I thought I’d send all of my blog readers - who aren’t on my Christmas card list – this year’s card

I based my painting on a 12th Century illuminated manuscript commissioned by the Duc du Berry, and added the signs of the zodiac around the edge, and downloaded the starry black sky from the internet, then married the two together to form the inside double-fold of the card. Happy Christmas all.

So what have I been doing this week, apart from buying, ordering and wrapping Christmas presents? Most of the time – about 8 or 9 hours a day – has been spent painting a small portrait of a lovely man I met at our quarterly game of ‘Colours’ in the snooker room at Phyllis Court Club. Fred has a white beard and eyebrows that almost talk, so it’s going to be an intriguing little portrait. Being the intellectual type he’s asked me to paint a bookcase full of books in the background. I’m really enjoying myself, and with a bit of luck will finish it and have it framed by Christmas.

Here’s my tree, by the way. My young friend and I decorated it yesterday evening.

‘The Hobbit’ movie opens in our local cinema this week, and as I’ve never really understood Tolkien stories (it’s the names I find hard to remember. For example characters called Bilbo Baggins, Smauf, Gollum, Gandalf, Thorin Oakenshield, Radagast, etc!) I’m having coaching by my young friend as we‘ve been watching DVD’s lately of previous films in the series. She’s an expert on the subject, so hopefully, when we see ‘The Hobbit’ I’ll know something about it.

The temperature this morning was minus 6 degrees. Brrrrr! This was the view from my studio window.

And the spiders have been busy around the railings

My good friend Annie Coury treated me to a lovely lunch the other day. Annie’s daughter, Sarah, makes exquisite jewellery and as I ‘d forgotten to pick up one of the pieces I’d bought the other day, Annie brought it with her. We went to The Villa Marina which I think serves the best food in Henley. And they are the only restaurant in the area that brings round a sweet trolley.

We’ve had a really ‘pongy’ problem this last week or so. Our sewerage plant stopped working about 10 days ago and last week an ominous pool of water crept out from under a paving stone in out courtyard, Soon it became a lake. Eventually Keith came to our rescue on Monday and brought a new timer and a telescopic arrangement of long rods which he managed to free what was a major underground obstruction. Phew! If the water which was immediately outside the front door had still been there this very icy morning it would have frozen solid.

I took Val, my sister-in-law, to visit Katie Boyle in London on Sunday morning. Katie’s sister Margherita and her fiancĂ©e – a charming Italian man called Gianni – were there.

But poor Katie is not in the best of health. Once the face of Camay on television, and for many years, the multi-lingual hostess of the Eurovision Song Contest, I’ve known Katie since she came out to Singapore in the mid-seventies to write her autobiography. A truly lovely lady.This is the cover of her book.

A while ago my most tenacious blog follower – RG9 – wondered if my mantelpiece was filling up with art prizes. Just for him, and as I don’t have a mantelpiece, I photographed most of my awards at the weekend. Here they are, RG9.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Stuntman Santa

The floods are receding now, after a week of rapid rising. This is the view from my balcony, looking towards Mill Meadows. I normally gauge the height of the river by how much the water covers the wooden seats dotted along the towpath.

My boat’s been at its maximum height with the stern rope so taught that even had we been able to reach it (my landing stage is nearly two feet under water) and cut it free, there would have been an almighty surge when it sprang free.

It’s been another sad week. The memorial service for my good friend Peter Sutherland was held at St Mary’s Church in Henley last Wednesday, then afterwards at Leander Club. Peter lived a long life, fought the Japanese Army in Malaya during World War two, was Captain of Leander Rowing Club, and recently awarded the MBE for Services to Rowing. Rowing was Peter’s life and whenever he met someone new, instead of the usual ‘How do you do?’ he would say ‘Do you row? I painted several portraits of him, including a life-size oil painting and two miniatures – one of which I’ll reproduce here.

The other truly sad occasion was the memorial service on Friday for Mary Ostroumoff. Mary was still young and loved by all. At her memorial in St Mary’s church it was so full that extra chairs needed to be brought in. Mary had been on a cultural visit to Italy with a small group of like-minded HEDFAS members. An elderly lady felt that her hotel room was a bit difficult for her because of the steep steps down into the bathroom, so Mary volunteered to swap rooms. A few days later Mary was found at the bottom of the steps where she’d obviously fallen from, fatally injuring herself. How tragic. Everyone in the church was in tears at the end of the service when a soloist sang that beautiful song ‘It’s time to say goodbye’. 

For the second year running Henley has staged a ‘Living Advent Calendar’. Each evening at 6.15 a door opens somewhere in the town, and a surprise performance takes place. It can range from dancers, singers, poetry-readers and acrobats, etc. The first event occurred last Saturday. My young friend and I braved the very cold and frosty evening by congregating by the town hall where this large tree dominates the market place.

The organiser, Julie Perigo, gave a short speech, telling the audience how the idea originated in Scandinavia. Then at precisely 6.15 Paul Daniels announced the opening of the door. And from the roof of the town hall Santa appeared. 

(Under his costume was the same stuntman, Gary Connery, who parachuted from a helicopter above the Olympic Stadium in London this year dressed as the Queen.) As we watched he abseiled down the building. Paul made a little video. If you’d like to see it, click on this link:  Soon after Santa landed Henley’s British Legion Band marched out into the square.

I wonder what events will take place now, as there will be a door opening somewhere in Henley every evening at 6.15 until Christmas Eve.

My old friends, Pat and Averil visited on Wednesday and took me out to lunch at the Orangery in Phyllis Court. Pat recently returned from Uganda where she spends time in the villages as a member of the ‘Mityana Charity’. This organisation helps build schools as well as actually sponsoring individual children. Unlike many charities, where corrupt or greedy officials and bureaucrats of some sort siphon off so much of the money or donations, in this case everything is direct and visibly seen to go where it’s meant to. Pat enjoyed meeting old friends and took a lot of gifts, one of which was a box of balloons. The children she gave them to had never seen a balloon before, so you can imagine their delight when they played with them.

I’ve mentioned it before, but for two of my great nieces and one great nephew I aim to paint a miniature of them each year. Last week I finished the twenty-first of Becky, the eldest one. Becky recently graduated from the University of Exeter, so I painted her in her graduation robes.

Yesterday afternoon I went to BBC Radio Berkshire where I’d been asked to give an interview mainly about my adventures in painting and specifically about my recent foray into the art of portrait sculpture. The interview lasted about an hour, and for the first time I didn’t lose my way there.

To end on an amusing note - well I found it amusing, anyway: It seems the singer, Susan Boyle, advertised her new album party with this tag:  susanalbumparty
Not sure I want to go to an anal bum party!