Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Bishops Swans

They look like ordinary swans - but they aren't. These swans live in the moat that flows around The Bishops Palace at Wells in Somerset. In around 1870 Bishop Lord Arthur Hervey's daughters taught the ancestors of this brood to ring the bell at the Gatehouse in return for food. Today the Palace Wardens who live at the Gatehouse continue this tradition.
My young friend and I were in Wells to attend the opening of the annual exhibition of the Hilliard Society of Miniature Artists held in the town hall. After a very nice lunch attended by about 50 or 60 people I was presented with this lovely little replica of the Bell Award for the best portrait which I won last year. (It is a tradition that the previous year's winner presents the silver cup to the current year's winner).

Later in the afternoon seven of us gave short presentations on our specialist subject. For example Paul Eaton talked about and demonstrated his sculpture. Ros Pierson showed us some of her exquisite landscape miniatures. And Heather Catchpole gave a slide show briefly outlining the history of miniature painting. I put on a digital show where I talked about some of the incidents that occurred when I painted famous people - from the Sultan of Johore, through the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to Spike Milligan. Six of us had a great dinner later in the evening, then we returned to Coxley Vineyard where we spent the night.

(I managed to break the chaise longue in my room- It slowly collapsed when I sat on it and splinters went everywhere.)
Next morning the sun shone warmly and the bitterly cold wind of Friday became a distant memory. We decided to visit Stembridge Tower Mill in Somerset.

This is really something special as it is the only remaining thatched windmill left in Britain. This is a typical stone and timber Somerset windmill dating from the 1820's. These mills ground only small amounts of grain for the local community. To grind corn from the nearby fields two pairs of millstones were driven by timber machinery turned by canvas-covered sails. The thatched cap (roof) could be rotated to ensure that the sails always faced the wind.
Later we drove down to Sidmouth where we sat in the sunshine on the front and looking out to sea whilst eating ice creams and chips. At the end of the esplanade we saw these boats getting ready to put to sea for a race.

Then it was on through Dartmoor...

.. to finally arrive at our destination for the night.

This is Edgemoor Hotel near Bovey Tracey. After a long winding walk upstairs and downstairs (and through my lady's chamber) I arrived at a room leading out to a beautiful little garden. I wondered what the little containers with plastic liners were for, and when I heard a dog bark realised I had been allocated one of the 'dog' rooms - where people with dogs could stay the night with their pets! In fact it was a very nice room - with no trace of a previous canine occupant ever being there.
Today, Sunday, the sky was blue, the sun beat down so we sat in the pooch garden soaking up the heat. Then drove to an incredibly picturesque village called Coffinswell. It's wisteria time so the many thatched cottages were at their best. Here's one of them

Here we were to meet Ian Stevens, a very old friend from my Singapore days. The restaurant was called The Linny. Two other friends, Jill and Alan were there too.

I must say it was the best Sunday roast I'd had for years ( not counting those that Val makes). The turkey was fantastic. Later my young friend and I drove to Dartington Hall. The site on which the Hall and gardens stands has been occupied for well over a thousand years. The Hall was granted to John Holand by his half brother Richard II in 1388 when building began. However the poor chap was beheaded in 1400 and the estate passed to successive members of the Holand family. Many of the great trees planted then remain in the gardens today - including the 500 year old Spanish Chestnuts. This is a view of the 'Tiltyard'.

It was named in this way because of John Holand's reputation for jousting. There are tiered grassy viewing steps on the right of this photograph. However as it offers limited space for jousting maybe it was originally used for a different purpose. We spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering around the lavish gardens admiring the acers and azaleas.

Now I'm preparing for tomorrow. We'll leave Devon in the morning and drive back to Henley before going to London and the Royal Brompton hospital in the evening. I can't say I'm really looking forward to the operation scheduled for first thing on Tuesday morning. Thank you everyone who sent me messages on Facebook or my last blog. We'll catch up next week.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The ups and downs of life!

Saturday was an ‘up’. My young friend and I took a stroll around Greys Court, near  Henley. Nestled in a tranquil valley this picture-perfect place is full of delightful surprises. Some days the smell of home baking in fills the air in Lady Brunner’s kitchen

As it was a lovely day, we wandered around the gardens, bursting with the delicate blooms of springtime.

And, to one of my favourite places in  the garden – the site of this full-size wooden carving of a faithful retainer.

I painted a picture once of this kindly old man and entitled it ‘The Good Gardener of Greys Court’. Eventually, after walking round the grounds, past the Chinese bridge …

… we entered the wide wood. Just like a scene from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ except that it wasn’t wild on Saturday. It was covered in bluebells.

So that was our Saturday ‘up’.
Currently I’m working flat out on my 24-page catalogue and brochure for my exhibition. I’ve finished the design. It includes over 50 pictures, and nearly all the text has been written. 

Luckily I’m ahead of myself because now I have to talk about a ‘down’. Last week I saw Mr Ladas, the surgeon, in London. (He’s the man who performed my lung cancer operation two years ago.) Unfortunately the Pet-scan showed that the cancer has returned to my lung. It hasn’t spread – which is a good sign, and all other organs are in good nick. But this time the tumour is in a difficult place as it has attached itself right on the main blood vessel to the lung. Half-an-hour ago I was told that I have to go to the Royal Brompton Hospital in London next Monday evening for a major operation early the following morning.
So keep your fingers crossed tightly. I’ll probably be in hospital for a week or so. and I know my young friend will be there for me. 
We have planned to spend the weekend in the West Country, where on Friday I’m giving a short talk in the evening, after the opening of the Hilliard Miniature Show.
Next day, on to Devon for two days. It’ll be nice to relax then and hopefully put the imminent operation out of my mind temporarily.
I probably won’t write a blog for a couple of weeks, unless I dictate a few words to my young friend.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Apothecaries Hall

This is the coat of arms of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. It shows Apollo, the God of Healing, overpowering the dragon of disease, represented by the wyvern. The unicorn supporters were King James’s special beasts and show his personal interest in the Society’s incorporation. The crest is a rhinoceros, whose powdered horn was alleged to have numerous medical properties. The motto translates as Throughout the world they speak of me as a bringer of help.’ I’ve included this coat of arms in my blog as I can now show my latest miniature portrait.

It’s of the Past Master of the Society, and will soon be on permanent display in the Apothecaries Hall in London. Following the dissolution of the Dominican Priory in 1538 the Society acquired the building and created a hall, courtroom and gallery. Unfortunately most of the old building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, but part of the walls survived. This picture shows the entrance to to Apothecaries hall from Blackfriars Lane, as it is today, with the Society’s Arms above the lintel. 

 It has long been a tradition for a Past Master to commission a miniature portrait of himself to donate to the Society. This portrait is the second of mine to be honoured in this way. Additionally the Past Master arranges for his Armorial bearings to be represented as a stained glass window to be added to others in the Great Hall. Here are some of the existing Armorial bearings of Honorary Freemen and Past Masters in one of the windows

I’m still awaiting the results of my Pet scan, but should know what they are on Monday afternoon when I see the oncologist. Keep your fingers tightly crossed as it’s been preying on my mind for a while now.

Last weekend I spent many hours working on a scale model of the venue for my forthcoming exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum. These pictures don’t show it very well.

The other day the pair of Canada geese, which had nested on the point of our garden by the river, finally hatched and we had seven little goslings. Aren’t they great – that is before they grow up and mess all over our boats and gardens?

And the following day the proud parents took them out of out Mill stream into the main river where, no doubt, some will not survive, if the pike have anything to do with it.

Last Monday, it being the hottest day of the year, and revelling in wall to wall sunshine. Val and I drove down to Denmead, where we’d been invited to lunch with Neil (Val’s eldest son) and his family. I’ve lost my satnav so we chose a route that avoided motorways and main roads of any sort. I became a magical journey with the pink and white blossoms sparkling in the sunshine and the spring colours of the leaves forming a picturesque background all the way there. Becky was there too. (She starts her new job in London next week in publishing, which is very exciting, as she’ll be meeting many famous authors.) Here’s Val enjoying the sunshine.

The journey home was equally nice. Hope I remember the route next time.

Last Sunday, on the way back from Reading, as I neared the motorway turnoff, coming towards me was the most colourful group of people I’d seen in a long time. Preceeded by a score of hi-viz yellow-jacketed policemen were hundreds of Sikhs. With turbans of yellow and orange and brightly coloured saris, the procession was headed by a highly decorated lorry. It reminded me so much of my many visits to India. And to cap it all, as I passed the parade, my car radio burst out with one of those frenetic and energetic songs from a Bollywood movie. A total coincidence.

On Friday evening my young friend and I were invited to dinner with Paul and Debbie. Debbie’s parents, Babs and Pat were there too. Later we drove to Wargrave to see some of the exhibits in the ‘Henley Arts Trail’. Just before we left Paul corralled his two white rabbits to take them indoors for the night. Here he and Pat are having successfully recaptured the one who escaped. 

Yesterday I was asked to meet the Mayor of Henley in the Mayor’s Parlour in Henley Town Hall where a framed limited edition of my painting ‘When the Queen Came to Henley’ was erected there. The Mayor, Elizabeth Hodgkin, had donated the picture to the town.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Nuclear Alert!

Last Thursday I went to the Churchill Hospital in Oxford for a pet scan. After spending 90 minutes in a cupboard while two nurses injected me with radioactive material from a gun-metal canister (it set off a loud alert on one of them!) I was placed in the centre of a large room with all sorts of nuclear notices plastered around it. There I had to lie in a big metal tunnel with my arms above my head for 35 minutes with the noise of the machine as it whirred around my body as my only companion. When I finally escaped I was too radioactive to be near children or pregnant women for 6 to 10 hours! As my young friend was neither, she drove me home.

We’ve just returned from a weekend in Norfolk. I like steam trains so we took a trip on the North Norfolk Railway between Holt and Sheringham.

We were staying with Christine at her cottage in the hamlet of Stanfield, and she came with us. Sitting in a very luxurious first-class compartment at the front of the train it took me back to my younger days (not that I ever travelled first-class then) when I always went around by train in corridor coaches. Here comes the ticket collector. Nice to have an old-fashioned cardboard ticket to be clipped,

When we got back to Holt I clambered up to the driver’s cabin. It was very hot in there.

Down the lane from Christine’s house lives an old farmer called Joe. Here he is with a couple of his dogs.

He owns 8 dogs, chickens, lots of noisy geese, and eight or so shire horses. One of them tried to eat my young friend’s jacket.

Joe ploughs his fields with a team of shire horses, and I gave him a DVD I’d made of him with his horses on an earlier visit.

We went to nearby Castle Acre Priory the following morning.

This must have been a very impressive collection of buildings during the Norman conquest. The castle and priory were built in the early 1070’s by the family of William de Warenne, a Norman knight and was a combination of fortress and aristocratic residence. Although Castle Acre priory closed in 1537 it is remarkably preserved, and although abandoned in the middle ages, remains one of the most comprehensive Norman earthworks in the country. As we wandered around we took a whole series of photographs.

On the way back home we had to make way for a whole caravan of tractors on their way to some sort of rustic rally. (Wonder what a collection of tractors is called?)

Every time I go to Norfolk there’s a cold wind blowing, and this time was no exception. These two seagulls didn’t seem bothered as they perched high above the harbour in Wells-next-the-sea.

On Monday we decided to drive the 150 miles home by avoiding motorways. (The M25 is always congested and very boring.) Our first destination was Oxburgh Hall in southwest Norfolk. This stately home was built in about 1482 at the height of the War of the Roses,

Beautifully preserved, it’s surrounded by a wide moat. We entered the house via the gatehouse. Inside I came across this gold relief carving.

We climbed up to the roof via a very precarious spiral staircase as you can see, and the other photo shows the view from the top.

Right next to the Hall is a small chapel and here is one of the stained glass windows inside

To break our journey we called in to Woburn Abbey – the home of the Duke of Bedford. I remember the last time I came to Woburn was in 1963 while on leave from Singapore. Then I photographed my friend’s little blonde, blue-eyed daughter sitting down and dwarfed amid hundreds of daffodils. Subsequently the picture won a gold medal in a pan-Asian photographic competition. I called it ‘Barbie in Wonderland’.
At Woburn in its vast 3,000 acres of parkland they look after about 8 species of deer. As we drove around in the bright sunshine we took a few pictures. Here’s a couple.

This morning I finished my miniature of the Past Master of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. I won’t be showing it on my blog until he’s received the painting, but he’s already given permission for it to be shown there, so probably next week I’ll include it.

Now I’m spending a lot of time on preparations for my exhibition. My friend, David, has made me a scale model of the exhibition venue, and today I’ve started working out exactly where the hundred or so paintings will hang. Should be fun.