Monday, 22 September 2014

The Frog Game

On Friday evening we joined about seventy or so members of the Hennerton Backwater Association at the new Pavilion by the river at Phyllis Court for our annual dinner.  After a really nice dinner and a jocular speech by chairman Tom Berman, everybody moved to the end of the room for the frog game. Six people sit in chairs about fifteen feet away from another row of six. Between them each has a string laid on the floor with a twelve inch wide flattened wooden frog strung along it. The aim is, by wiggling your string as fast as you can - with your hand below your knee - to make your frog reach the other end. It sounds easy, but is hilarious to watch as just before you reach your goal the frog, for some reason, behaves in a most peculiar way. Sometimes it turns round and faces the wrong way. It sounds daft, I know, but it's great fun and after everyone has taken part the grand winner is presented with an intricately carved frog trophy. 

B&Q is one of my favourite stores. Or they were till they let my young friend down. She'd bought an expensive, but very nice set of garden furniture there a few weeks ago. This is it.

As you can see the set is comprised of a table, double chair, and two single chairs. To protect the furniture from the rain and cold weather she subsequently ordered a set of covers on line from B&Q. All very well but when they arrived only three covers were in the package. Only one single chair cover was there. After several emails and telephone calls she was informed that one of the covers was meant to cover both chairs when stacked together. It just wouldn't work, and left a twelve inch gap at the bottom. They insisted it would. So she took photographs to show it was impossible. They still insisted, and merely said if she wasn't happy to send the set back for a refund. Grrr! She needed fitted covers. So I went to B&Q in Reading last week in an attempt to sort it out. After an hour with the manager who appreciated our dilemma, and did his best talking to the head office, but eventually gave up, as all they could offer was a refund or for B&Q to send a new set. I suggested that if they did we'd just extract the chair cover and send the rest back. No luck. They just said we'd then be charged for another set. We couldn't win. Pity B&Q in Reading don't sell that particular set of furniture as the manager told me he'd have given me the extra cover straight away. 

I called in to see my niece Louisa and 8 year old great niece Kate the other day. 

Kate was very excited because she told me she was planning to do a presentation about King Henry VIII at her school and wanted to centre it around my experience a few years ago when I appeared on the BBC television live programme from Trafalgar Square. It was called 'The Big Event' and my task was to paint a miniature of King Henry VIII. There were about fifty other artists each painting a 15 inch square of individual sections of an enormous rendering of the King to be fitted into a great big frame which had been erected on one side of the square. 

At the end of the day my miniature was collected by an Olympic champion and taken to the big picture where it was attached to King Henry VIII's ring finger. A collector rang me the following day and bought the miniature but I kept a record of it and gave Kate a copy for her project.

I'm about 300 hours into my large painting of Alan the boatman. As it's all being stippled in watercolour  and I'm at the background stage - dark grey clouds - it'll take at least another week. This is the least exciting part of the picture and I wish I'd left a more interesting part till last instead. 

In the past month I've completed three miniature commissions. My favourite is this one of a delightful six year old little girl. She was magic to paint and posed so beautifully. Here's the end result. 

What else have I been up to over the past ten days? Val came over on Sunday and my young friend cooked a delicious roast beef dinner. My cousins Paul and Jim joined me yesterday evening and we all went out for dinner at The Asiana Spice restaurant. Photographed Paul in readiness for a bronze head I intend to make of him. Did something I'd never done before - visited a prison to see an old friend. And bought a few winter flowers and planted them in my young friend's garden. But mostly I've just been painting about 8 or 9 hours a day.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


I've just been watching the television programme called Hotel India. It's a lovely series about the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai.
When I was in advertising, India was part of my territory and I travelled there often. And always stayed in the Taj when I visited our Bombay office. It reminded me of one of my visits - I'd called in to Rome on the way to  India and while there had bought a beautiful but very expensive dark green Brioni jacket. Wearing it on the plane it had got a bit creased so when I arrived at the Taj I asked them to iron it with care. As I was settling in my room our general manager Tuku Ganguli came in. Soon after the jacket arrived back but had been ironed with a too hot iron as all the seams at the back showed through looking shiny. I exploded with rage (I was a bit more volatile in those days) and went on a bit about how expensive the coat was and now it seemed ruined! Tuku looked at me, and although I was his boss, told me in no uncertain terms that the cost of that jacket would keep twenty Indian families in food for over a year. I must admit I felt very humbled.

My cousin Paul has commissioned me to make a portrait sculpture of him. This will be my first sculpture commission - so I'll have to make doubly sure it's a good likeness. I can't start for about  three weeks as my teacher is going on a cruise. But in the meantime I'm at the 'messy' stage of my sculpture of Brian Hill. Here it is.
He looks a bit like a Mohican, don't you think?

Last Sunday we went to the Greys village fete. Held at Greys Court, the former home of Sir Felix and Lady Brunner it raises quite a lot of money for the village. This year was the best ever. I've never seen so many cars completely filling up all the car parks. It was a lovely day and this was the scene that greeted us. 
I had a go on the rowing machine (veterans class) and didn't do too badly. Mind you I didn't put my maximum effort into it as my young friend was afraid, with only half a lung, I might over exert myself.
The sun shone, and the band played. The wooden carving of the old gardener looked down on us with his enigmatic smile as we walked around the gardens. 

Yesterday afternoon we picked up my cousin Jim and sister-in-law Val and went to the Henley Agricultural Show in Hambleden. Being a member I was able to park the car right next to ring one. Both Val and my young friend made picnics so we had mountains of food and a big variety of drinks. Jim brought a nice bottle of pink champagne to start the day off in style. There's always lots to see and do at the Henley Show. One of the main events this year was a demonstration of wood cutting. About a dozen machines lumbered into the ring - from the humble woodcutter with his axe to great big machines that converted large hunks of trees into logs and clippings. There were a couple of tree surgeons who climbed trees brought in upright on a lorry.
Wandering around the grounds here are some of the sights. The dog you can see with his handler was amazing. It was a pointer and true enough it just pointed its nose to the ground and didn't move a muscle for ages. As if it was a frozen image. Apparently some pointers can stay in the same position for hours without the slightest movement. 
More sights,

And for a topical vehicle this was a First World War truck.

The produce tent contained a vast variety of prize winning fruit, vegetables and flowers. 

My young great niece, Kate, is fast becoming a whiz at 'Words With Friends' - it's a scrabble-type game played on the computer. I play it with a few friends on a regular basis. But Kate - she's eight years old - has a wonderful vocabulary. She's beating me on our current game - another humbling time for me!

This big Virgin hot air balloon sauntered past my window the other day. It came so close I could even wave at the people in the basket. I'd love to go up in one. When my brother Bob and Val went for a trip in a hot air balloon some 20 years ago as they passed over a garden in High Wycombe the whole family below suddenly laid on their lawn and spelt out the word 'HI'. 

Worked hard this week on miniature portraits. I have two to do for a client's 10th wedding anniversary. The little girl is finished and her mother's portrait should be ready by Tuesday morning. Whew! The deadline is Wednesday. 

On Friday Paul and Debbie invited us out for dinner at the Spice Lounge in Wargrave. Such a nice evening - I adore the sizzling prawns they serve there. Debbie's father, Pat, died two weeks ago. Such a lovely man. Kind, witty and funny, he was a superb gardener. I went to his funeral in Chessington on Thursday. He'll be sadly missed. A quiet gentleman. Three of his grandchildren gave beautiful eulogies in the church.