Monday, 22 April 2013

My Oldest Friend

Just got back from my oncologist in Reading.  The result of the latest CT scan means that I have to have a PET scan next week in Oxford to check something.  This type of scan means I become pretty radioactive and have to keep away from children and pregnant women for a while.

Today I received some very sad news from Bangkok.  My oldest and best friend, Maurice Bowra, died last night.  He’d been ill for a year with liver cancer.  We go back a long way and first met in Singapore when I did my National Service in 1955.  He, being a corporal, and me, a lowly sapper in the Royal Engineers, I remember paying a weekly visit to his room (I was in the main barracks) where he’d saved all his “dog-ends” from his already smoked cigarettes.  I was an impecunious soldier at the time as well as a smoker so took the tobacco out of the dog-ends and, with my trusty Rizla cigarette machine, would make a few whole cigarettes.  Here’s Maurice on a recent trip I made to Thailand where he has lived ever since coming to work with me at my advertising agency in the mid-60’s. 

Maurice married Oye, my secretary, when we lived in Bangkok.  I’ve stayed with them at their home there many times since.  Maurice was a senior member of the British Genealogical Society and upon my 70th birthday he surprised me with the most wonderful bound book entitled “70 Years of Life: 50 Years of Friendship”.  This book is a fully comprehensive and illustrated history of, initially, our time in the army and subsequently many years working together in the large international advertising agency based in Bangkok.  At least thirty pages of the book gave a very detailed account, which he had researched, of my family history – going right back to 1767.  Maurice leaves his wife Oye and his two daughters Didi and Chada.  I intend to travel to Bangkok in early August to pay my respects at the cremation ceremony.

My young friend returned from South Korea on Sunday evening.  I must admit I was worried about her flying there, particularly because of the recent belligerent outpourings from North Korea.  However, she had a good time from a work point of view and even managed to get in a bit of sight seeing.  Here are four of her photographs, one of little blue men; another of a Buddha figure on Jeju Island; the third is the very nice view from her room; and finally these big “grandfather statues” all made from lava from the volcano.

I’ve finally finished the bronze head of my great nephew Max.  Strange how it looks different in photographs from every angle.  Nevertheless the sculpture itself worked out well, I think.

We went for a short row on Sunday afternoon.  Luckily we didn't go too far downstream, because when we turned round we found the strength of the river quite formidable – it took quite a while to get back home as the slightest relaxation of the oars meant we were forced downstream again.

On Thursday I had a meeting with the curator of the River and Rowing Museum to discuss more details of my exhibition.  There’s so much to do.  To add to it I made this large pencil drawing last week.  It’s of my grandfather’s pub “The Plough” and shows him standing by the door near my uncle and aunt.

Saturday dawned as the first gloriously sunny day of the year.  It also heralded the beginning of the bowling season here in Henley.  This picture shows the immaculate green before any of us had what is called a “roll up”.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Watercress Fields of Ewelme

It’s taking a while, but spring is making a reluctant start at last. My young friend and I took a little trip to West Green House last Saturday afternoon. Known as the Garden for all Seasons we found it a little bare for this season, but lovely all the same. 

There were a few crocuses peeping through the earth however

These gardens are also known as the Opera Gardens and throughout the year musical events are held there. For example next weekend The Guildhall School of Music will be performing Bernstein, Rogers and Gershwin accompanied by an afternoon tea. And hopefully the tulips will bring a bit of Technicolor into the surroundings. I imagine the concerts are held just behind this circular opening into one of the gardens.  

And as you gaze into the sky while savouring the music you may be sitting in a bower as we did and have a view like this.

On the way back to the lovely little rustic shop at West Green House we stopped to look at this stone carving, whom I imagine was a faithful retainer, or more likely, the gardener. 

When we got back to the car my young friend realised she’d lost her black leather gloves somewhere in the gardens. We retraced our steps for a while but couldn’t find them. So we asked the lady at the desk to remember who we were if anyone handed them in. Sure enough a few days later a kind person did just that and they were posted back to us.

Next day we joined a small group of people at Ewelme for a guided walk around the famous watercress beds, which wind their way through this loveliest of Oxfordshire villages. The Watercress Beds Centre is the hub of the Ewelme local Nature Reserve which covers about 6.5 acres, and we were lucky enough to have two of the most knowledgeable Chiltern Society members to take us around. The most important feature of the site is the Ewelme Brook, which flows into the Kings Pool in the centre of the village, where the main springs rise. (We were told the story about the time King Henry VIII threw one of his wives into the brook – but I’m not sureI believed it!)
The Ewelme Brook flows through the Nature Reserve for about half a mile and continues on to the river Thames at Benson. Here are a couple of views of the watercress beds looking in either direction.

As we walked round the reserve the guides pointed out various features, including this little hedgehog hut they made. (Which we were told attracted over 15 hedgehogs during the season.)

After a short break where we munched biscuits and drank coffee at the Centre, we walked further downstream towards Benson and joined up with the stream once again

Two important industries used to be based on the Ewelme Brook – milling corn, then later commercial scale watercress growing. It was also famous for trout fishing. Such an interesting afternoon. I recommend it to anyone. There are guided walks there every first Sunday of the month. 
On Tuesday we drove to London to enter two pictures in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. (As my young friend waited outside the Academy while I took the pictures down into the bowels of the building, ex Prime Minister Sir John Major nearly bumped into her car as he dashed across to Saville Row - no doubt to pick up his morning suit for Lady Thatcher's funeral.) I don’t expect the pictures to be accepted, but you never know. However if they are rejected, they will go on to the ‘Not the Royal Academy’ exhibition at the Llewellyn Gallery at Westminster. One is a large life-size pencil drawing of Rolf Harris, the other is a miniature of the Royal Flueologist.

My working week has been extremely busy, and I’ve been putting in about 9 hours a day on another river scene with the red-coated Royal Swanmarker featured prominentally. But here is the drawing I finished the other week.

The other day I came across this Huntley and Palmers biscuit tin. It was one I designed as an apprentice lithographic artist way back in the fifties. I remember as I painted each biscuit, which were carefully arranged on the plate on my desk in front of me, Vic Granger, one of the artists, would eat the biscuit I’d just painted. By the time I got to paint the last one, it was the only one left on the plate!

I’ve just seen my young friend off to Korea. She ‘s attending a weeklong Conference there and will be chairing one of the sessions. In view of the current political situation I’m just glad it’s not being held in North Korea. Bon Voyage  myf and have a good flight.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Every Easter Sunday we hold a family party for all the Mundy’s. Only one was missing this year – young Max – who was off skiing in France with his schoolmates. But his bronze head remains here. It’ll be completely finished next week. At the moment the cast has just been removed from its fibreglass jacket - still very dull. This Friday I’ll spend hours polishing and grate-blacking it.

We all had lunch at the Maltsters in Greys – a mile or so on the outskirts of Henley. Twenty of us were there and enjoyed a great lunch. Here’s Louisa, my niece, me and sister-in-law, Val.

Afterwards we congregated at Val’s house. She’d spent the previous day making an enormous amount of delicious puddings.

One of the favourites with the children was a hot chocolate fondue, with dips of banana, pineapple, strawberries, and marshmallows.

Here's my nephew, Stew, with his glamorous daughters, Annabel and Genevieve.

Later in the afternoon we played ‘The Money Game’. For over forty years I’ve been doing this. It all started when I lived abroad and came home on leave. All the coins I collected over the weeks were saved up until I went back to Asia.  Usually on my last day I’d line the 4 children up in Bob and Val’s garden the throw all the coins into the back garden. On the word ‘go’ they’d scramble for the money. Now it’s their children who play the game. This year I had nearly two years bags of coins – probably about £100 worth. As the back garden was a little contaminated with pheasant droppings we went to the front lawns. Great fun. Little 6 year-old Kate collected the most. (She has her eye on a penguin thingamabob and has been saving up. Now she has enough.). Here’s Kate posing behind a daffodil and another picture  - very ladylike.

I spent a lot of the holiday weekend preparing more items for my autumn exhibition. I know it’s a long while off, but time races on and there’s such a lot to do. One of the four large lectern cases will show the progressive stages of 3 miniature portraits, so I printed out enlarged ovals and wrote descriptive, and I hope, informative, cards.

 My young friend took a number of passport photographs of me on Monday afternoon as I suddenly realised my passport only has 3 months to go before it expires. I might have to dash off to Bangkok for a few days very soon, and as Thailand will only permit passengers to land in their country with passports having at least 6 months to go before expiry.  It took ages to get photographs without reflection on my glasses.

But when I took the application form, photographs and cheque to the post office I was immediately told that the PO doesn’t take cheques, and as I’d made it out to the Passport Office, it was no good. And even the tiny dot of reflection on my glasses would result in a rejection. But I could have a photo taken at the Post Office photo booth without glasses, which she assured me would be acceptable – even though I wear spectacles permanently. (This reminded me of the time I applied for a Thai driving licence when I lived in that country. There, no licenses can be issued with the driver’s photograph showing them wearing glasses. This, I was told, because the issuing authority assumed that anyone wearing glasses had defective vision. I even pointed out that I’d be a very dangerous driver if I tried to drive without glasses! It made no difference).
I now have to wait for three weeks before I get a new passport.

Well, Easter Day was the coldest Easter day – ever! This time last year I was on the river in my little dinghy. The clocks have gone forward, so come on Spring – we need some warm sunshine.