Friday, 21 February 2014

In the nick of time

I mentioned in my last blog that my boat was listing at its moorings and looked as if It had let water in. Too right it had.

I didn't think anyone was venturing out on the river, it being so high and dangerous with the extremely fast flow and dangerous currents. But much to my surprise the other day a life jacketed crew from Hobbs in their rescue boat suddenly appeared. Apparently they were on their way to pump out the water from Nigel's (the lock-keeper) flooded cottage, and had seen my boat in trouble. It was full of water. Peter told me he and his crew would come back the next day and pump it out. Which they did. It was half filled with water. Here they are.

Thank you so much Peter and crew. When we can get to the boat - not for a while, as the landing stage is still under about 2 feet of water - We'll be able to see the damage on the inside. It'll be horrible I'm sure.

Lately I've been very busy painting - sometimes putting in a ten hour day. This is a miniature of a pretty young doctor I completed last week. It was for her parents to give to her for her birthday on Tuesday.

Talking of birthdays, it was my sister-in-law Val's birthday on Valentine's day ( hence her name). I made this pencil drawing of her lovely little granddaughter Kate as a present.

Now I'm working very long hours on a large painting for my cousin Paul. It needs to be finished by May - which it will be - even though I have quite a few commissions to do in the meantime. One of which is an exciting official portrait of the headmaster of a lovely old school which was established in 1553. My young friend and I visited it last Saturday to have a preparatory meeting with the head. We nearly didn't make it as there had been a mighty storm the previous night resulting in a lot of damage on the roads. The school was about two hours drive away but each time we got near to the M40 the approach roads were closed. We tried three different routes till we heard on the car radio that fallen trees had blocked the motorway. Eventually after negotiating the Oxford ring road we arrived only about twenty five minutes late. It was half term, the school was empty, a bitter wind was blowing our umbrellas around, it was raining and I was cursing! Then this figure came round the corner. It was the headmaster. Once in the warm we discussed the portrait and he showed me a room containing a dozen or so portraits of previous headmasters. They were all in oils. So I'm very excited about this commission as I haven't painted in oils for quite a time. It'll be great to work in all the colours in his black gown. (It would be too boring to paint all the lights in just shades of white). As we left I took a picture of this old church in the school grounds.

BBC Berkshire rang me last week to ask if I be willing to be interviewed by Anne Diamond on her show. They wanted to hear all about our frightening experience on the aircraft over Afganistan and our ordeal in Azerbaijan. Anne's s very good broadcaster and I was intrigued that she introduced my interview with the title - Bill's brush with death!' (She'd seen a copy of my autobiography ' A Brush With Life')

Last Thursday was the day of Athol Hill's funeral. Vince and Annie had arranged a humanist funeral in line with Athol's beliefs. Held in Henley's Town Hall I've never seen it so full - every seat taken and over 30 or 40 standing at the sides. Athol was an accomplished musician - especially on the drums - so it was fitting that his coffin in the hearse was completely covered with an illustration of a drum kit. Athol was only forty two. Much too young. A really nice young man. Anne and Vince are devastated.

At last the water seems to be going down a bit - not very fast, but as the whole land is saturated I suppose we can't expect river levels to be back to normal for a few weeks more. The road next to Sonning bridge has deteriorated to such an extent that it has now been blocked off while major repairs are undertaken. I wish the Environment Agency had not abandoned dredging when they did. We riparians had been pressing them for years but it seems that de-silting work would be environmentally unacceptable due to 'the high impact on aquatic species'. Dredging in the Thames Valley was abandoned because of the presence of an endangered species of mollusc! And in Somerset because the rivers had been allowed to build up 40% of silt it seems pretty obvious to me that with that much less space in the rivers, with the very heavy rain we've been experiencing, they would overflow.

As I was driving along near the Herb Farm in Sonning Common the other day I saw an old lady (who I imagine was a visitor to these parts) attempting to post a letter in this box.

Luckily she walked round to the other side of the box - where she discovered it wasn't meant for letters! I couldn't help laughing.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Water, water, everywhere

We are surrounded by muddy water. My boat is listing towards the stern - which means it's full of water - at least in the engine compartment and the storage area midships. Trouble is, we can't get to it to sort the problem out as the landing stage is nearly two feet under water now. Sonning Bridge closed again today - which means enormous traffic queues outside my flat in the mornings. I have to get up early tomorrow to allow for the queue as I have to be at my dentist in Oxford by 9am. Last night a big filling fell out of my mouth - big surprise - lucky I didn't swallow it!
The River and Rowing Museum was also surrounded by water today with the car park under water. Bad timing, as today was the day I had to collect all my paintings after the exhibition. We managed it however with the help of my neighbours Guy and Brian plus Robin - the 'man with the van.'
After all the sunshine in Singapore and Bangkok it's such a contrast to wake up to grey skies every day. This is my boat looking a bit sorry for itself at its mooring.

But I do like lots of work - I finished a portrait drawing last week and a miniature of a very pretty young doctor at the weekend. Now I've started a rough sketch for my cousin Paul in readiness for a full size portrait in the near future.

While on holiday last month, one of the books I read was 'The Railwayman' by Eric Lomax.

It's about the author's own experiences during World War Two in Singapore and Thailand. He was imprisoned in Changi gaol by the Japanese after they overran Singapore and Malaya. Then was sent to work on the construction of the proposed Siam/Burma railway. It's a harrowing tale. My young friend and I went to see the film last Friday. Although very different to the book it's well worth seeing. It also prompted me to search for a cassette tape I'd made a number of years ago. My neighbour at the time was a lovely old man - Douglas Clarke. Douglas was living in Kuala Lumpur in Malaya in 1942. He was 34 years old. I asked him if he would allow me to make a tape recording of his experiences during the war as he was one of the unfortunate ones captured by the Japanese and sent to work on the death railway - as it was called. I found the tape - it's about an hour long and tells his story. He describes how on the long journey through Malaya and on up to Thailand (Siam, as it was called then) many of the young men died. They were dressed in desert uniforms as they were on their way to the Middle East, but after the fall of Singapore were hastily re-routed to the Far East. Douglas spent over 3 years on the railway and as I fed him with whiskey - his favourite tipple - he became ever more expansive with his memories. Next morning his wife, Nan, knocked on my door saying she was very upset about not being asked to join in the recording session. "But I wanted Douglas to open up and be free to tell me what happened during his incarceration." I relied. Her response amused me. "I know a lot more about what happened to Douglas than he does!" It's a fascinating tape.
Two pieces of sad news last week - My friend Paul Daniels's mother, Nancy, died last week at the age of 97. And Vince and Annie Hill's son, Athol, died a few days ago. He was only 42 - much too young. Oh dear.
Well, that's a sad way to end this blog. Next time I should be more cheerful.