Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Snow in Summer?

It probably seems a bit premature, but I aim to have my Christmas card ready sometime before the autumn so it gives me a chance to spread out the cost of printing and postage. Here is my card for this year. I finished painting it this morning - it shows The New Orleans riverboat slowly gliding along the Thames in the snow by Marsh Meadows here in Henley.

So what else has been happening? It's been a pretty hectic time lately. Last wednesday David Barber and the Swan Uppers made their annual 3 day trip up the Thames to mark the new sygnets born this year. I joined a little party at Marsh Lock with Nigel, the lock-keeper. Apart from Nigel, who was on duty, we quaffed a couple of glasses of Pimms. Here are a couple of the skiffs headed for the lock. One is representing the Dyers, and the other, the Vintners.

They are followed by two skiffs representing the Queen.

All the swan uppers are now in the lock.

Round the back of the lock near Nigel's garden they marked a number of young swans who'd been born on my neighbour's lawn. Here is David Barber - Her Majesty's Swan Marker.

On Thursday my young friend and I took the train to London where I had an appointment with a new client, where we were shown round the workshop of this amazing jeweller. Incredible to see the intricacy and brilliance of the craftsmen all working in gold, platinum and precious stones. Hopefully, in the future, I will be painting very tiny portraits for this client. Afterwards we called in to the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square where we first looked at the display of finalists in the BP Portrait Award. Brilliant portraits there - some very large - which fired me up to paint more portraits in oil. We then went upstairs to see the new Tudor Gallery - especially the Holbein special display. Also good to see so many of the miniature collection dotted around the galleries and protected under leather covers. Next stop was dinner at Sarastro's - one of my favourite restaurants in London.
The decoration is to be seen to be believed. Totally over the top, it resembles an opera lover's fantasy world. Everywhere you look are gold drapes and tassels, semi-erotic paintings (especially in the loos). Named after a character in Mozart's Magic Flute you eat in ten individually styled opera boxes which all echo the flamboyant opera theme.

After a nice meal we walked along Drury Lane to the Shaftesbury Theatre to see The Pajama Game.

It was a bit of a nostalgic journey for me as I first saw the show in 1955 when it arrived in London from it's run on Broadway. I remember the date clearly as it was just one week before I went in the army to do my National Service. And it was also the show put on at my young friend's school. (She wasn't singing, but operated the sound effects). On the way home our train was delayed, so we boarded another one, scheduled for a while later. that was a mistake as it remained at Paddington for over half an hour while the original one - unbeknown to us - departed. Eventually arriving at Twyford at midnight we found we'd missed the last train home to Henley!

The tropical weather has been lingering for a while now, so on Friday afternoon we picked up Jane and Brian at Marsh lock and took the boat upriver, past Shiplake, where we found a quiet mooring under a tree on a little island. It was so peaceful as we lounged there for our picnic, that I remarked how nice it was to hear the sound of birds singing merrily away. As no one else seemed to hear them it was only then that I realised the birdsong was, in fact, the sound of my tinnitus!

Later that day we all drove over to Streatley to have dinner at The Swan. The menu has been vastly improved, thanks to the new owners, and we had a really lovely meal whilst sitting at out table on the broadwalk. Brian especially drooled over his brill while I savoured a very tasty meal of liver and bacon. This was our view from the table.

Yesterday morning Henley Bowling Club staged its annual 'Yardstick' competition. I was scheduled to play my first match at 10 am, and drew Arthur as my opponent. To explain the game - the marker is equipped with a triangular wooden stick which at the base measures exactly one yard. Each player plays with four bowls for a duration of twelve ends. Any bowl that lands more than one yard from the 'jack' is discarded. Only those within three feet from the jack score. You may, however, be unlucky if you or your opponent's bowl knocks your scoring bowl or bowls away past the yard length. Then your score is not counted for that end. Lovely to be playing on such a glorious morning with all the sounds of the river taking place just over the hedge surrounding the green. I lost my game, by the way.

In the evening my young friend and I picked up Val - recovering well from her recent hip replacement operation - after giving the many baskets and tubs in a her garden a good water - and drove over to Marlow where we had been invited to a barbecue with Louisa and her family. Such a good evening in perfect weather, with an abundance of delicious food. And very encouraging to read young Kate's glowing school report.

Finally, for an update on my young friend's garden progress. Apart from the sun deck and pergola planned to be erected at the top right end of the garden, the rest of the garden will be finished this week. That is apart from MYF selecting plants and flowers for the two borders. Here's the original sloped garden,

And this is the garden to date - complete with Joss, the gardener.

Monday, 7 July 2014

The Golden Gloriana

Yesterday saw the conclusion of Henley Regatta for yet another year. Established in 1839 this year celebrates its 175th anniversary. So it was fitting that the beautiful Royal Barge 'Gloriana' came here to grace the Thames at Henley this year.

I took this picture from our vantage point next to the booms in the middle of the river. Wonderful to see the Gloriana in action with all eighteen oarsmen rowing in perfect unison as they glided past us. My young friend, at the helm of my little wooden dinghy, had steered us towards the middle of the river where we, with difficulty (at least at my end of the boat) managed to throw the ropes over and then back under the floating wooden booms to secure our mooring. The Gloriana was built as a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II for her Diamond Jubilee and was the lead vessel in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

There she goes - back up the river to moor at Leander Club.

We've had fantastic weather this year for the Regatta. My little party got together on Friday morning at Phyllis Court to enjoy the day in the elegant ambiance of the club. (I'm not so keen on the frenetic and crowded Stewards Enclosure on the opposite side of the river). Paul, my cousin, ordered a large jug of Pimms and we settled down around a table on the lawn under a nice shady umbrella. Soon, however, the peace was shattered by several huge gusts of wind, one of which lifted the umbrella out of its socket and into the air. This resulted in the whole table upending, scattering the Pimms, our smashed glasses, and everything else over the grass. My young friend's handbag and dress, Jilly's dress and my hat were all victims of the carnage. Jilly's white dress collected most of the Pimms (but she tells me that it has cleaned successfully). Being the rather excitable type, I was a bit annoyed about my brand new straw hat being stained orange, but unknown to me at the time the President of the Club was standing right by our table. Very kindly, and with smooth efficiency he just escorted me to the hat stall by the river and treated me to another new Panama hat. We also were treated to a couple more jugs of Pimms, courtesy of Phyllis Court Club - even though the wind wasn't actually their fault! The only person that was missing when we went to lunch was Jane Simmonds. As we went to the dining room there she was in the lounge. Poor girl had been sitting there for two hours as she couldn't find us. We'd both been texting each other during the morning but no messages went through because it appeared Vodafone couldn't cope with the number of calls being attempted by the thousands attending the regatta. Anyway it ended well because the leisurely lunch was delicious. Later we made our way to the deck chairs to watch the rowing.

Here's Brian, Jane and Graham. And here am I with Jane (2) and Paul.

This is a scene by some of the flower beds and sculptures dotted around the grounds.

We were entertained by a quartet of travelling jazz musicians.

I can't leave the regatta without showing at least one picture of what it's all about.

And while we were tied to the booms on Sunday right next to us was Rodney Bewes - looking down towards the finishing post from his little wooden boat.

So much goes on during the regatta that everywhere you look you can find something interesting. Here, for example is The New Orleans riverboat in all its glory.

What with all this river activity going on its so frustrating that I can't use my big boat at the moment. Unfortunately, during the floods at the beginning of the year, apart from the engine and interior being damaged the starter motor doesn't work. I ordered a new one but the attachment has changed and it can't be fitted properly. So I'm hoping that the old one can be repaired successfully.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog that I was interviewed by Sir John Madjeski recently for his Reading radio station - Jack FM 107. The broadcast went on air last Sunday at midday for just over half an hour. (If anyone is interested it will be repeated this Wednesday at 9 pm, or you can listen online here.)

My sister-in-law Val, went to hospital in Oxford last week to have a hip replacement. She's fine - all went well. My young friend and I called in to see her on Tuesday and again on Sunday afternoon. Louisa and her family were all there too. (Louisa has been marvellous in arranging Val's operation and keeping all the family informed of everything daily). Today she has moved her mother to St Luke's nursing home close by the hospital where Val will stay for probably a week before she goes home.

I painted my tiniest miniature portrait ever last week. It's less than half an inch high and is painted in sepia on an oval shape. I think it will be mounted under crystal in a gold frame and probably be made into a small pendant. Now it's on to paint a snow scene for my next Christmas card. (I always seem to be painting snow scenes in mid summer!)