Friday, 30 May 2014

The Hilliard Show

Nicholas Hilliard was an English goldsmith and limner (miniaturist), best known for his portrait miniatures of members of the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and James I of England.  He lived in the West Country so when a society of miniaturists was formed in Wells, Somerset, it was decided to adapt one of his most famous miniature portraits - 'Young Man Among Roses' - as its emblem. 

Last Thursday evening my young friend and I drove down to Wells to attend the opening of the annual Hilliard Show there, on the following day.  We stayed at a very nice hotel called Crossways near Pilton.  I had a slight accident at breakfast.  For some reason the large jugs of juice were kept in a small fridge on the table, and having poured out a glass of orange I obviously didn't put it back properly because suddenly the sound of an almighty crash reverberated around the breakfast room as the jug and contents landed on my big toe!  Yes, it hurt, and my toe went black.  Oh yes, something else - my young friend caused the toasting machine to catch fire!

The exhibition was really good this year and after lunch at the town hall I bought this lacquered Russian box to add to my collection. 

Later in the evening we joined good friends Jacquie and Paul Eaton for dinner at Goodfellas restaurant. (Paul is a goldsmith and makes wonderful miniature sculptures).

The next day we drove on to Devon and visited Brixham...

...and further on to Berry Head - the internationally acclaimed heritage site.

We were due to spend the next couple of nights at a farmhouse in Devon, but having a few hours to spare we decided to look around Paignton Zoo.  Although a lot smaller than the last zoo we visited - Singapore - it was very well laid out.  We both like animals so took quite a lot of photographs.


Nice day.  Then we carried on to find Sampson's Farmhouse where we were due to stay for 2 nights.

I was hoping to do a bit of clay pigeon shooting there - but nobody was available to organise it on the day.  In the garden I noticed one of the geese kept very still - until my young friend pointed out it was a very life-like model goose!  Next day we had arranged to meet an old friend from Singapore days - Ian Stevens - for lunch at 'The Linney Inn' in the charming little village of Coffinswell, resting in a valley a few miles from the sea. 

This is one of the thatched cottages a short walk from the inn. (By the way I could thoroughly recommend the restaurant as the best in the world for Sunday lunch.  Every single table - and there are many - is booked weeks in advance).

On Monday we wended our way home, first stopping at Arlington Court in North Devon.  It has been owned by the Chichester family since the 14th century until 1949 when the last in line, Miss Rosalie Chichester, bequeathed the whole estate to the National Trust. 

Amongst the many treasures displayed around the house were a small collection of excellent miniature portraits, paintings by William Blake, 18th century tapestries, and a collection of 36 model ships.  These were made by French prisoners while they were held in British gaols during the Napoleonic wars.  When you consider the extremely harsh conditions they lived in, and with few tools and materials to hand, some incredible ship models were produced.  Here's one of them.

Outside, across the courtyard, is the National Trust's carriage museum.  Although carriages, as we know them today, were introduced in Elizabethan times, they were only used by Royalty and the wealthiest of the nobility until the 18th century.  Even then they were principally used for occasions of state and seldom used for long distance travel because the condition of the roads made this impractical.  But towards the end of the 18th century, these conditions improved and a large number of different carriage types were developed.  The carriage building trade began to expand and prosper.  Here are three examples out of their large collection.  The first is a travelling coach, the second a double brougham, and the third a 4-wheeled dog cart, with a rear boot for transporting small hunting dogs.


Finally, as we walked around the walled Victorian garden, a friendly peacock circled around us providing a lovely display of turquoise, green and lilac colours, shimmering and sparkling in the morning sunshine.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Getting my Leg Over

We went to The Fawley Hill Steam and Vintage show yesterday, hosted by Sir William and Lady McAlpine. It was held on their estate and was quite spectacular. I've never seen so many steam engines in one place ever before.

There were even TWO carousels, giving rides to anyone daring to climb up on the brightly coloured horses, chickens, dragons and other exotic creatures.

My young friend persuaded me to mount a rather wobbly rocking horse. OK getting on it when it was at its lowest position, but when the carousel eventually stopped I found myself at the highest point. So it was pretty difficult to get my leg back over to reach the ground! Here's the view from my mount.

Yesterday was really hot and the arena swarming with thousands of Fayre-goers. So much to see - even a fairly reckless camel race.

Colourful creatures, aren't they
Less colourful, but possessing better voices was the Wycombe Orpheus Male Voice Choir. One of their number is 92 years old and was singing as lustily as the rest. (He's the chap fourth from the left).

Following the choir was a performance of 'Oh What A Lovely War' by the Henley Operatic Society. (HAODS). Pity the acoustics and competition from other attractions made it difficult to make out some of the words. Nevertheless the train in the background was impressive.

I had a go with the heavy mallet - trying to ring the bell - but was pretty useless and only got halfway. But I suppose that's what having only half a lung left does to one's puff factor.

And then we came across an old 1936 Ford Eight - exactly the same year and make as my very first car - which cost me the princely sum of £30.

The Fayre was also held to celebrate Lady McAlpine's 70th birthday. Happy Birthday Judy x.
So, after eating a delicious hog roast sandwich we left the Fayre for a cooling trip down the river on my boat. And Later, to round off the day, we drove over to the Swan at Streatley where we had a lovely supper outside by the riverbank.

Here's the view from our table.

Last year I was privileged to be commissioned to paint a miniature portrait of the current Past Master of The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London - Nicholas Wood. So it was with great pleasure that I accepted Nicholas's invitation to the Livery Luncheon at Apothecaries Hall on Friday. It was great to be amongst so many eminent personalities.

Here is the Apothecaries crest. You may notice the rhinoceros at the top possesses two horns. This is because when Albrecht Durer was asked to paint an image of a rhinoceros, that animal had never before been seen in Europe at the time. Apparently one had been shipped over from Africa but unfortunately drowned when the ship capsized. So artist Durer painted the animal from a verbal description. His informant suggested that rhinoceroses have two horns but where they were located he wasn't quite sure. Durer then decided to place one on the animal's back.

Amongst my artistic exploits this week were the start of a watercolour of a family of Orangutans - and today's effort - helping my young friend paint her new garden shed.

The garden in the background is at an early stage, but is beginning to take shape. In the blazing hot sunshine today we persevered with the first undercoat to achieve this result.

To end my today's blog I'm pleased to say that after my recent scan we met with the oncologist on Wednesday afternoon. She didn't beat around the bush and immediately informed me that my lung was 'reassuringly boring' and went on to say that all was well. My kidneys are 100%, blood excellent, and no tumours at all anywhere in my body. That news, together with my own doctor's report that my blood pressure had gone down to 135, was a great relief. Happy days.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

My Left Foot

On Friday evening Debbie and Paul invited my young friend and I to The Mill at Sonning to see a wonderful production of 'Enchanted April'. It's about four women who rent a villa in Italy just after World War One to escape humdrum lives and crumbling marriages. I was particularly impressed by the sets and stunning performances by the actors.

However if you are wondering where the title of this blog comes from I'll admit to one of my (as my young friend calls them) 'Silly Billy' moments. When we arrived at the theatre as I was getting out of the car I looked down and noticed that I was wearing a trainer on one foot and a shoe on the other. My young friend just laughed and laughed, but it was too late to go back home so I spent the entire evening pretending that I'd hurt one of my feet so had to hobble around - remembering which foot was the injured one! When we returned home my young friend took this incriminating photograph.

My favourite time of year is springtime. Everything is new and green and bursting into life. The Canada geese have nested right next to my boat and just produced a new family of 6 little goslings.

And this wisteria graces the entrance to the Herb Garden in Sonning Common.

It was such a lovely day on Monday and being Mayday we decided to take a picnic for our first trip on the river this year. We'd cleaned the boat the day before, including scrubbing the tonneau cover ( MYF did more than me as too much scrubbing wore me out). It was a magic day on the river with few boats out, so after a chat with Nigel, the Marsh Lock keeper, we made our way upstream to Shiplake where we moored in the sunshine. Here I am lolling around on the boat after imbibing a few Pimms.

On the way back my young friend took over the helm and drove us downstream and around Temple Island passing the jollities of the Mayfair on Marsh Meadows.

I live at Marsh Mills. Originally a pair of flour mills, about 40 years ago they were torn down and six flats built on the foundations. A friend sent me a couple of photographs of the mill the other day. The first one shows the setting near Marsh Lock, the other a closer view.

I'm very privileged as I look out to a constantly moving view of the river scene as I paint. Very calming.
Yesterday we drove to Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, to deliver the large oil painting of the headmaster which I recently completed. The assistant head was delighted with it and couldn't stop walking backwards and forwards in front of it. This was because his eyes follow you from whichever direction you view it. (My young friend is delighted it's finally left my home because every time she walked past it she felt his eyes boring into her!) Chris Edwards, the headmaster, will first set eyes on it at the end of June when he leaves the school for an appointment in Singapore. It will be revealed on the school's Commemoration Day and will eventually hang in the hall together with all the other portraits dating back some hundreds of years. I can't show the painting yet but here is a miniature I finished yesterday.

Now it's back to gardening - via B&Q - to buy bits and pieces, including a few cans of paint in preparation to tackling the garden shed.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Good Gardener

Casting a professional and caring eye over the garden of Greys Court in Henley is this charming carving in ash of Charles Taylor, who was the gardener there from 1937 to 1955. It's always such a pleasure to walk around these gardens and as Greys Court is now open all the year round the visitor can enjoy it in all the seasons. Adjacent to the 12th century tower are these arched ruins.

My young friend and I visited Greys Court last Sunday and as we wandered around we came across this rare Tudor Donkey wheel which was in use right up until the early 20th Century.

Being early spring right now, blossoms of every descriptions adorn the extensive gardens.

But we wanted to stroll through the beautiful bluebell woods a short walk away. Because of the recent very heavy rainfall the paths through the woods were a trifle muddy but well worth the visit.

Finally we had a look round the new shop where I noticed they were selling postcards of my oil painting of Sir Felix and Lady Brunner which was commissioned some years ago.

I don't remember whether I mentioned the story behind this painting, but when Lady Brunner asked me to do it Sir Felix was very ill and suffering from Parkinson's disease. I could paint her from life but as Sir Felix was frightened of strangers and was bedridden the only pictures she had of him were small passport photographs. So it was virtually impossible to make the painting without at least seeing him. However one day Lady Brunner telephoned me to say Sir Felix was having a good day and could see me if I pretended to be someone else! The three options I was given were - the new butler, the gardener, or the man from the National Trust. I opted for the third choice knowing nothing about butlering, and precious little about gardening. Although at our brief meeting he couldn't talk to me I could study his face enough to undertake the portrait. While I was working on it I needed to borrow his walking stick and pullover so I had to borrow both items for short enough times so he didn't miss them.
Artists don't often hear comments about their work so as a PS I was told some years later by Hugo Brunner - their son - that the vicar of Turville ( a nearby church) told him that whenever he married a young couple, during the service, he would advise them to appreciate what love is in old age by visiting Greys Court and looking at my painting. That compliment was nice to hear.

My young friend is having a makeover in her garden. She bought her first new house last year and while the inside is just about finished, as the garden slopes fairly steeply, it seemed like a good idea to take some drastic action and cut the lawn to a level surface and build raised beds, make a brick path, and lay the foundations for a decking area at the bottom of the garden to eventually house a pergola and seats. So we found a young strong French gardener to do the work. I made a scale model of the garden to show him how we hoped the design would eventually turn out. He started last week. When all is finished I'll post on my blog a picture of the model, the garden as it started out, and the final result. That should be in about 2 months we reckon. In the meantime here's a photograph in a corner of the patio showing the wisteria amongst one or two other plants that will soon be planted out.

As usual my week's been very busy with miniature painting. I went for a blood test and CT scan at Dunedin Hospital during the week so hope all is well when I see the oncologist next Monday. A client came over yesterday to pick up the pencil drawings I'd made of three more of his grandchildren. I'd framed them all within ovals - one was a baby - but here are the other two -

Now it's back to the drawing board - or possibly the boat today, as we spent yesterday afternoon cleaning it.