Sunday, 27 October 2013

Lost in Space

My young friend went to Japan last week for a few days to attend a conference where she made a presentation. Don't ask me what it was about as it's way above my comprehension. I have a really interesting app on my iPad called Flightradar24. This enables me to follow, in real time, any of the thousands of aircraft flying around the world. So last Monday I started to follow my young friend's flight as she took off from Heathrow airport. After a couple of hours her little plane disappeared! (I should add that my eyes weren't glued to the screen all the time - I looked at it from time to time as I painted). After several attempts to find her I spent a while checking on the news for plane crashes or hijackings! (I have a very active imagination). Seven or so hours later the little plane reappeared on my screen about a couple of hours on the way down to Tokyo. Breathing a sigh of relief I then deduced that as the route was over the North Pole, Russia and China the GPS signal was somehow blocked. All's well that ended well, so on Friday I picked up her return flight as it flew down from northern Sweden and followed it all the way home. Here's part of the screen.


Her aircraft is the little red one. And here we have the view from the cockpit.


There's a lot of planes around all approaching Heathrow airport.


And then of course came the inevitable stacking, which you can see from the blue route track.


She was about to land and as the plane approached the runway I suddenly saw another plane coming from the opposite direction! Panic stations!


Awaiting the inevitable head on collision both planes evaded each other just in time and my young friend landed safely! I'll have to curb my over-active imagination in the future.
Talking of my young friend I'm finally reaching the end of a bronze sculpture head I'm attempting to make of her. On Friday it was time to cover the clay image with silicone rubber and reinforce with fibreglass. It's a surprisingly tiring process as the silicone has to be vigorously mixed until it reaches the exact consistency. Then on the fourth covering fibreglass sections have to be worked into the pink gooey covering. This shows the result to date.


Bronzing starts next week, and I hope to finish the whole work in time to exhibit it together with the other two heads at my exhibition in November. Incidentally if anyone who lives not far away from Warborough is interested in joining Shirley Collen's sculpture class, let me know.

My sister-in-law,Val, has watched her many hedges grow a bit bushy, so the other day managed to recruit all her sons to come over to Henley and trim them. Their children came too so the day was full of activity with a couple of bonfires lit to burn the debris. Here are some of the family at work.





And at play.





Becca, my oldest great niece, who was also at the big clear up, is now working in London, and has recently been meeting a number of really interesting people for her publisher employers. She recently interviewed the Countess of Carnarvon in Highclere Castle (the setting for Downton Abbey). The Countess also came to Henley to talk at the recent Literary Festival. And here is Becca, on the left, the other day interviewing Mo Farah.


I was thinking the other day of some of the things I don't like. Here's a few. Number one - people who talk loudly in restaurants with utter disregard for other people. This is followed by wire coat hangers. I get really cross when they get entangled with their mates in my wardrobe; As far as food is concerned I hate garlic with a passion, followed - with less passion - cheese, tomatoes and pasta. Then there's people who don't use their indicators when driving; Next comes swearing by young girls in the street; Losing things; Finding them again just after I bought replacements; My iPad losing work after I've spent hours doing it - especially my blog; Screamers and 'whoopers' in the audience of TV shows such as The X Factor (itself not one of my favourites anyway). Unfairness; Bullying; Ed Balls; I could go on about little Hitlers, 'Elf 'n Safety', EU intrusions into our way of life; Not being able to remember things, and oh yes that was it - Politically correctness! I'd better not go on any more or you'll think I'm a grumpy old man! When in fact I'm mellowing with age. Not that my young friend agrees.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Dragon's Breath

On Friday evening my young friend and I drove over to Camberley to see Paul and Debbie in their latest show. You aren't allowed to take photographs there so here's one I took earlier - as they say.


Oops. wrong picture. this is Paul.


Debbie's mum and dad and sister Donna were in the audience too. We all met up after the show in the foyer. Paul and Debbie were signing autographs. All the women were desperately trying to avoid being kissed by Paul. Why? I'll explain. The last act in the show was a new version of the magical disappearing bank note. Paul procured a £20 note from a member of the audience, and after getting him to sign it and remember the number, folded it up, then promptly lost it. Paul then took the guy to a table on the stage upon which were several items, including a union jack box, an onion, a pumpkin, a lemon, a candle and an egg. He was then asked to point to the item he thought might possibly be the clue to the whereabouts of his £20 note. He chose the egg. Paul peeled it, popped it in his mouth and started eating it whole. As the banknote wasn't to be seen he then chose the lemon. which Paul broke in two and sucked the juice into his mouth to add to the egg (the white of which could still be seen). Still no note, so the onion was the next item chosen. It was horrible to see, and we could only imagine what this combination tasted like! He next chose the pumpkin and was given a knife. But instead of cutting a face in it he chopped it around like a madman!  You can understand now why none of the women wanted to be kissed by Paul. Nevertheless he did manage to grab hold of Donna. My young friend escaped the 'dragon's breath' magician!

On Wednesday I took the train to London to attend the opening of The Royal Society of Miniature Painters exhibition. It was pouring with rain as I got out of the tube at Piccadilly Circus for the walk to the RAC Club. There a client from Singapore had left a miniature of his son for me to collect. (He wanted me to add more hair to the painting). By the time I walked the remaining distance to the Mall Galleries I was soaked. And so were my shoes! But I was soon among my many friends from the world of miniature painters. At 3 o'clock The politician Michael Portillo (and star of the current train journeys around Britain TV programme) came to open the exhibition. My prize - The Mundy Sovereign Award for the best portrait - was presented to David Lawson. After the presentations I spoke to Michael Portillo and asked if I could take a couple of photographs as a basis for a possible miniature portrait. Somehow my camera assumed a strange mode I'd not come across before and produced this result.


Watch this space for a new miniature - hopefully in full colour. While on the subject of miniatures I was told a couple of days ago that I'd been awarded second prize in the portrait category at the current miniature exhibition in Washington USA. Having never submitted to this annual exhibition before I was pleased to have been honoured in this way (and as a good friend and excellent portrait painter Michael Coe won the first prize in the category I didn't mind coming second). it was also very pleasing that my miniature of Vic Granger - one of my oldest friends and fellow artist who sadly died last year - was the prizewinner.


Now I'm getting my paintings ready for the exhibition. All of the large pictures - 70 - need to have 'mirror' fixings attached to them. This is to enable the gallery to screw them securely to the walls. But as it takes nearly twenty minutes to assemble each painting I've been staggering this job over a number of evenings. Nearly all done now.


The catalogue for the exhibition has just arrived and I'm very pleased with it. here are a couple of pages.






My young friend flies off to Japan today to present at a two day conference. it just seems amazing that she'll be back home on Friday. Christopher Columbus couldn't have contemplated how small the earth has become today.

My nephew Neil is a really dedicated fisherman and yesterday he won first prize for landing the largest fish. It was a fifteen and a half pound blue trout and he put his back out in the process of landing it having to enter the lake up to his waist to net the fish under a tree.


Finally this is the start of a watercolour painting of a rose I aim to finish next week.



Thursday, 10 October 2013

The real Downton Abbey

I just can't believe it. Having spent the past two hours writing my blog -and uploading a number of photographs - when it was finished and I clicked 'Publish now' everything just disappeared!!! Where on earth did it go to? As I compiled it on my iPad it must be somewhere but I can't find any way to retrieve it. So if anyone knows the answer I'd really like to know. Yes, my young friend, I saved it every so often as I wrote it. So I'll just have to start all over again.

Last week Henley held its annual Literary Festival. More really top class authors were giving talks, and the venues were excellent. From beautiful Bix Manor to the iconic Kenton Theatre the Festival seemed to be everywhere. On Wednesday morning I went to hear the current Countess of Carnarvon talk about her book at Bix Manor.


Lady Catherine was a beautiful American heiress who married the Earl of Porchester in 1920 and came to live in Highclere Castle. Which of course is where Downton Abbey is filmed. When Downton Abbey was first filmed the current Countess remarked that at a dinner scene the cutlery had been laid out incorrectly. So at the end of her, very interesting, talk she was surprised to see the owner of Bix Manor, dressed as a butler, approach her carrying a tray. Upon it was a selection of cutlery which he proceeded to lay out on a small table. The Countess then instructed him - in a jovial way - how to position the cutlery. This little charade ended with him offering the Countess a glass of champagne. Which she graciously accepted.
I mentioned in my last blog that I'd been to talks earlier in the week by Barry Norman and Stella Rimington. Both were so good. Barry Norman, being Britain's most prominent film critic, claimed that today "too many films are made for a generation with the attention span of fruit flies'! 'You can't make a film on an idea, you need a great story. But sadly a lot of films today are made on special effects and the crash, bang, wallop effect'
Dame Stella Rimington spoke of the struggles she went through juggling her career and bringing up a family. As Director General of MI5 between 1992 and 1996 I'm sure in her new career as a thriller writer she can call on much of her knowledge to furnish exciting plots for her stories.
On Saturday morning my young friend and I went to Christchurch in Henley to hear my favourite TV presenter talk about her latest book 'A Very British Murder' Lucy Worsley it is. She has a new hairstyle and with her elfin-like face and wicked smile gave a fascinating talk. She also happens to be the chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces. The TV series about our fascination with murder is currently being broadcast at the moment.
Later in the afternoon Val joined us on the Waterman - one of Hobbs river cruisers - for poetry readings while we cruised up and down the river for an hour. Here are some of the readers.


One of them was the former BBC newscaster Michael Buerk.


And here is the view of some of the audience enjoying the readings from the comfort of the boat's cabin.


And this was the scene by the moorings as we left the Waterman.


As we walked back to our car this floral tribute to our local train station was pointed out to me. Can't believe I've never noticed it before.


On Monday I caught the early train to London where I was to help select the entries to the Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries. Also I chose the winner of my prize for the best portrait. The standard was very high this year, and it was gratifying to see how many really accomplished works were submitted by non-members. In fact I have awarded the 'Mundy Sovereign' to a non-member rather than one of the Members or Associate Members. As I'd parked my car near Shiplake station I called in to see friends Vince and Annie Hill for a drink when I got home in the evening.

Most of this week has been spent drawing two pencil portraits. As they will be Christmas presents I'd better not show them on my blog yet. So much of my time lately has been preparing all the many elements for my upcoming retrospective exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum. Having spent many hundreds of hours and several thousand pounds so far I hope it will all be worth it. My young friend has used her superior computer knowledge in preparing my catalogue for the printers and for other items at the venue. I'm very pleased with the first proofs I saw when I visited the printers in Kidlington on Friday morning.
Also on Friday I continued with my latest bronze portrait head. The clay part is almost finished but I'm having so many problems with the teeth. Hopefully I can solve this tomorrow so I can get on with the casting and bronzing stage.

To end this week's blog I have an apology to make. In a recent blog - 'Glorious Boating Weather' - I attributed a poem about a husband's take on 'Fifty Shades of Grey' to Pam Ayers. I'd been told it was by her but in fact it was written by John Summers who very politely pointed my error. Sorry John. It was a really good poem - I laughed out loud.