Monday, 30 September 2013

"The geese that laid the golden eggs...

After World War Two, Winston Churchill described the code breakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire as the geese, and added ... but never cackled."

To this day many of the people who worked at Bletchley Park during the war still keep their secrets. In fact, all the activities that took place there were kept secret for many years after the war - even including the existence of the building itself. So it was sad to hear that The Churchill Rooms at Bletchley Park are due to be closed at the end of the year. The new chief executive has stated that Sir Winston Churchill 'is not synonymous with the code breakers work'.
Last Sunday, together with Jane, Brian and my young friend, I visited this wonderful place. I have a special interest in Bletchey - especially the Churchill Collection - where I donated six miniature portraits of the great man, illustrating his life from a small boy to that of Elder Statesman. My good friend, Jack Darrah, who over the many years since the war has built this vast collection to what it is today, welcomed us.

I understand that the reason for the imminent demise of the Churchill Collection is a condition laid down by the Heritage Fund who are funding the restoration of some of the historical huts on the site. As the government failed to help finance this true beacon of wartime intelligence it is gratifying that funds have now been made available. However Jack informed me that all is not lost as the collection will be housed in its entirety in Missouri. Although in the USA, Missouri's connection with Sir Winston Churchill is well known as it was there, in Fulton, that Churchill made his famous 'Sinews of Peace' speech. Better known as 'The Iron Curtain' speech he made it in front of a crowd of 40,000 people. This extract gives you a flavour of the mood at the time. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent".
So, back to Bletchley Park. The most famous cryptologist working there during the war was undoubtedly Alan Turing, the mathematician and computer scientist. Today there is a beautiful, slate, full size rendering of this man - sometimes referred to as the inventor of the computer.

He developed the 'Bombe' an electromechanical device used by the cryptologists in Bletchley Park to help decipher German Enigma machine encrypted secret messages. Each of the rotating drums in this working rebuilt Bombe simulates the action of an Enigma rotor. Here is a close up photograph of some of the drums.

And here is an original Enigma machine captured during the war.

What an interesting day we all had.

The summer is still lingering on and the river beckons as always, so on Saturday afternoon I felt able to handle my dinghy once more and as my young friend has just about recovered from her fall, we decided to take Marsh Midget out for an hour or so. I must be getting old as having removed the cover I slipped off the seat to land up spread eagled on the bottom of the boat and unable to get up! This little illustration demonstrates my dilemma.

The more I wriggled upright the more the boat slid forward and made me slip down again. This went on for quite a while with my young friend having a good laugh from her vantage point on the landing stage. We discovered the solution eventually which was to tie both ends of the dinghy very tightly to the mooring posts so I could use my arms to heave myself up and back onto the seat! And yesterday we took the big boat out with my young friend at the helm most of the way back from Hambleden lock.

The opening of my exhibition is rapidly approaching and all the elements are slowly being assembled. Last Friday I decided on the printer for the 24 page catalogue. They have offered to create a link to my web page which will enable viewers to turn the pages of the catalogue. I'll have it running by mid November.

On Friday evening my young friend and I went to the annual Hennerton Backwater Bash in the grandstand of Phyllis Court. Just along from where I live is a two mile backwater to the Thames. I've often talked about it on my blog, but this 'bash' is in fact a lovely dinner attended by sixty or seventy riparian dwellers. During the dinner a quiz takes place. Our table didn't win, but we avoided disgracing ourselves. At the end of the evening we held the famous frog racing championship. I hastens to add that no frogs were harmed during the evening. ( Six frog handlers sit about ten yards opposite six others with strings stretching all the way along the floor. A big flat wooden 'frog' is then strung on to the string. Participants have to wiggle the frog with the string until it reaches the other end.) Great fun.

I have been busy painting as usual. Here is my latest watercolour - it's of a white tiger we saw in Singapore and a photograph (taken by my young friend) was used as reference.

Now the Henley Literary Festival has started, and today being the first day, I attended two events - Stella Remington - the first female Director of MI5 gave a riveting talk this morning at the Kenton Theatre, and Barry Norman, the well-known TV film personality spoke movingly about his wife and their respective literary careers in the afternoon.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A cosy corner

Having just spent over two hours writing my blog, as I added one last photograph and touched the screen of my iPad to make a final edit, everything suddenly disappeared!!!! My young friend is always telling me to be careful where I touch the screens on my phone and iPad, but as she's not here to solve my problem I'll now have to write the blog and sort out the photographs all over again! So how did I start? Oh yes it was about this cosy corner in my favourite local restaurant.

When you enter the French Horn in Sonning-on-Thames you are greeted warmly by the owner and shown to this equally warm cosy corner. As the spit slowly revolves, giving out a lovely aroma of roast duck you are served with home made cheese straws and offered a glass of wine and an assortment of olives. Last Sunday I took my young friend and sister-in-law Val there for dinner (to celebrate a modest lottery win the previous evening.)

The grounds of the restaurant that meander down to the river Thames are always immaculately kept. We had a really nice time with great food and very attentive service.

Last Tuesday a connoisseur of portrait miniatures visited me with the intent of purchasing one of my miniatures. (I have a collection of over 60.) Driving from the other side of London, when she arrived within a couple of hundred yards from where I live, due to the (endless) road works along New Street in Henley she was diverted almost 9 miles via Playhatch, Sonning and Wargrave to get here. (I'm sure Oxfordshire District Council are in cahoots with the petrol companies!) Anyway, when she arrived I knew that she was a real expert. Apparently her collection of old master miniaturists includes Cosway, Engleheart, and my favourite - John Smart. She also knows how to buy art, as she bought my two favourite portrait miniatures. (Sad to see them go, but I need to make a living.)
Talking of miniatures I finished this one the other day.

It's of Joceline. I liked her impish smile. Joceline is an International model and has a lovely and lively sense of humour - apart from being a really nice person. I intend to send this portrait off to the USA in a couple of weeks time for exhibition in the Miniature Artists of Florida annual show.

On Saturday morning, after visiting my artist friend in Bray, my young friend and I made our way to the Henley Show at Greenlands Farm in Hambleden. Not such a scorching hot day as last year, and less people there than usual ( maybe partly due to road works in Henley.) I was very impressed with the way the Army managed the parking situation. Met at the entrance by a soldier who used his walkie-talkie to relay the car number to a colleague near ring one, when we arrived there we were personally guided to our allotted position at the ringside by a polite young army cadet. The first task of the day was to photograph Aberdeen Angus cattle for cousin Paul - another connoisseur, but of animals. I took several in their pens but here's one parading with its winning rosette.

I hope that's an Aberdeen Angus as I'm no expert. But it's black anyway.
What I like most at the Henley Show are the display of carriages and steam engines (with the lovely and nostalgic smell of steam.) Here are some of them.

The Helter-Skelter looked inviting but I think we are both a bit too old to have a go on it - even my young friend didn't fancy sliding round on a mat!

In one of the enclaves were a gaggle of ducks. They were being rounded up by a sheepdog (or should I say duckdog) and guided round a variety of obstacles.

On to the birds of prey. We didn't see the demonstrations but I like the arrogance of these birds. Here's a couple of photographs.

Later in the afternoon the huntsmen, together with their pack of hounds, came on to the ring. It's always a good spectacle and once the horses leave the children are encouraged to come on to the field to pet and pamper the hounds.

Later, as the horses came back, the huntsman gathered the hounds and with a toot of his horn led them away home.

So we followed suit and made our way home too.
The rest of the weekend was spent working on my exhibition brochure and cabinet panels. We'd already transported four, 2 metre by 1 metre, MDF boards from my (currently) favourite shop - B&Q - home to begin covering them with paint prior to arranging all the various elements and descriptions of techniques. The brochure will be a pretty lavish affair and will contain over 50 reproductions of my paintings. I worked on the layout and sample prints while my young friend did the difficult part - transposing all 26 pages into 'computer speak'. This will eventually save me hundreds of pounds in printing costs as all they (supposedly) have to do is to select the paper, print straight from a CD, fold and staple the pages together.
Then, to round off a busy weekend, we went to Val's for a lovely dinner

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Glorious boating weather

Can't believe it's been two weeks since I last wrote my blog. But time's gone by so fast what with painting, sculpting, boating and DIY (yes, I'm into assembling flat packs - and enjoying it). However as the weather's been so hot lately the river has beckoned. Brian and Jane invited my young friend and me to lunch at Phyllis Court Club last Tuesday by boat. (Sadly myf has to work so she couldn't join us). It was Brian's birthday. Here we are as we moored outside the club.

As we strolled across the lawns a game of croquet was in progress which we were careful not to intrude upon - as croquet players can be quite vociferous.

Apart from the wasps - which are numerous this year - our lunch on the verandah was delightful. Must have been good as we didn't get back to Jane and Brian's house till nearly six, when my young friend joined us for cocktails on yet another verandah - this one overlooking the swimming pool and old mill house.

Danesfield House, set in 65 acres of parkland at Medmenham overlooking the river Thames, has a very interesting history - especially during World War Two - as it was here that a secret photographic unit, by the use of stereo images, discovered the location of the rockets and doodlebugs used against London towards the end of the war.

We had been given a present of an afternoon cream tea there by Val, so spent a lovely time selecting exotic teas from an extensive menu. (Although as my companion doesn't drink tea she had a gin and tonic). Afterwards we wandered around the gardens in the sunshine. This is the view down towards the river.

I've been busy preparing for my exhibition as well as painting miniatures. This is one of a friend of mine Fred Mardell.

I've always admired artists and designers who create their own playing card designs, so have decided to attempt a pack of my own based on insects and other small creatures. This the first - it's the 5 of spades and you can see the five spades I've included on the beetle's body.

To design all the 52 cards will probably take years, but I hope to do at least ten a year. I'll keep you posted.
Still on the subject of painting, the Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Puzzle Company has just produced this painting of mine - The Illuminated Manuscript - as a shaped wooden puzzle. They very rarely make shaped puzzles so this one is quite a rarity. So if anyone is interested in buying a puzzle they cost £26.95. The code is 641503 and you can find them (and six other paintings of mine, if you are interested) by ringing freephone 08007311662 or (I see you can also ring toll free from the USA at 18668085821).

So let's get back to boating. The day before yesterday Julia and Grahame invited Jane, Brian and myself ( my young friend missed out again as she had to work) for a trip up to the Leatherne Bottle for lunch on their beautiful little boat.

Sadly Grahame was struck down with sunstroke that day so had to miss out. However Brian took over the helm - literally - as we made our way upriver in 30 degree sunshine to the restaurant. It certainly was hot. Here are Julia and Jane sheltering under their sunshades.

The African Queen took up the entire mooring outside the Leatherne Bottle but we managed to squeeze in and tied up next to our table.

After a long, leisurely lunch we wended our way home, passing a little bevy of cows cooling off by the bank at Moulsford.

We reached Benson Lock just after it closed at 6 pm which meant we had to work the lock ourselves. No problem, as these days most of the locks on the Thames have made it easy for the average boater by electrifying the gates and sluices. So while Brian captained the boat

I managed the sluices and gates. What a great day. Thank you Julia.

I'm going to end my blog today by reproducing one of Pam Ayers latest poems which I chanced upon the other day on Facebook. I find her poetry really amusing and have seen her several times in Henley at the Literary Festivals. In fact she'll be appearing at our Kenton Theatre very soon. And so to the poem. It's entitled FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (from the husband's point of view).

The missus bought a Paperback,
down Shepton Mallet way,
I had a look inside her bag;
... T'was "Fifty Shades of Grey".
Well I just left her to it,
And at ten I went to bed.
An hour later she appeared;
The sight filled me with dread...
In her left she held a rope;
And in her right a whip!
She threw them down upon the floor,
And then began to strip.
Well fifty years or so ago;
I might have had a peek;
But Mabel hasn't weathered well;
She's eighty four next week!!
Watching Mabel bump and grind;
Could not have been much grimmer.
And things then went from bad to worse;
She toppled off her Zimmer!
She struggled back upon her feet;
A couple minutes later;
She put her teeth back in and said
I am a dominater !!
Now if you knew our Mabel,
You'd see just why I spluttered,
I'd spent two months in traction
For the last complaint I'd uttered.
She stood there nude and naked
Bent forward just a bit
I went to hold her, sensual like
and stood on her left tit!
Mabel screamed, her teeth shot out;
My god what had I done!?
She moaned and groaned then shouted out:
"Step on the other one"!!
Well readers, I can't tell no more;
About what occurred that day.
Suffice to say my jet black hair,
Turned fifty shades of grey