Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Garden Glow

Last weekend we visited the RHS Gardens at Wisley where a magical scene came alive at dusk.

Enormous illuminated floral displays were everywhere throughout the gardens. As we wandered around, large groups of gigantic flowers slowly revealed themselves in a variety of colours. 

And in the glasshouse the Christmas scene continued. Here is a 30 ft tree made with poinsettias.

Cactus and Christmas balls.

And back outside we came across a Chinese pagoda twinkling in the fading light.

On Sunday my young friend and I drove to London to see my very old friend Katie. Sadly she's not well these days but is being well looked after by a team of wonderful nurses. Katie's sister, Margherita, had arrived from Geneva with Gianni, so we spent a nice time with them.

Totty, Katie's Italian greyhound, kept Katie company on her bed while Gianni and I chatted.

During the past few weeks I've not been idle and have painted three or four miniatures and various other pictures, but haven't been able to show them because either they were Christmas presents or were not yet delivered to the clients. Here, however, are two miniatures I painted for my cousin Paul Carter of two of his grandchildren, Georgia and Derry.

I spent a lovely Christmas Day with my niece Louisa and her family in Marlow. Picked up Val first and loaded the car with presents, booze, Christmas crackers and all sorts of other goodies. Here are a couple of pictures of my great niece Kate with her new 'Hollywood' style signs for her bedroom. 

I made a painting of Kate for her mother's Christmas present. About 10" by  12". This is it

Finally to end this blog and the year on a happy note - I had a consultation with my oncologist last Monday and he gave me the good news that the cancer has gone away. So here's a happy face in the clouds.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Guest of Honour

I was thinking about my old friend Rose Amelia Fitzhugh the other day. When I say old I mean really getting on a bit. Her hundredth birthday party was one to remember. Held in the garden of one of her daughters she was surrounded by cards, presents and champagne, including a congratulatory card from the Queen. Rose radiated happiness. Especially when a familiar figure walked towards the microphone and spoke. He apologised for the absence of Her Majesty the Queen, who he said was unable to be present on this auspicious occasion, but hoped Rose wouldn't mind if her son spoke on her behalf. Rose, being an ardent Royalist, didn't mind at all. Prince Charles gave a wonderful speech and seemed to know all about Rose's life and achievements. His presence was the highlight of a really wonderful day. No one volunteered to tell Rose that 'Prince Charles' was in fact an amazing double - both in voice and looks. (I was taken in myself for the first few minutes). Rose sadly died later in the year but no one ever told her that her guest of honour was not the real heir to the throne. This is a painting I made of Rose in her ninetieth year. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. 

Talking of nice things, I was intrigued by an interesting little story broadcast on BBC Berkshire yesterday. Builders were renovating an old house and when they came to the chimney, nestling within its depths they found a folded scrap of yellowing paper. Intrigued by their find they opened it and discovered it was a boy's Christmas list he'd obviously posted up the chimney for Father Christmas many years ago. 

His wish list included a Rupert annual, slippers, box of chalks, toy soldiers and Indians, a pencil box, and intriguingly a silk tie. The note was probably written in the early forties, during the war. By tracing the owner of the house at the time the enterprising builders located the boy - now a man of 78. Not only did they return the note to him, but amazingly found and bought all the articles he'd asked for all those years ago, which they then presented to him. 

I don't think many children of today would be so modest with their Christmas list. Anyway I  thought it was a very nice Christmas story in today's materialistic world. 

Had my CT scan and blood test last week but have to wait till Monday week before the oncologist gives me the results. So fingers crossed. Incidentally I finally reached the great age where I became eligible to be given a shingles vaccination. So having had a flu and pneumonia jab I think I've got most things covered by now! 

As a practising artist it's nice to be able to help out from time to time with young aspiring artists. So when a lady rang the other day to ask if I could spend some time with her 13 year old daughter who wanted to study Nicholas Hilliard  - one of England's most famous miniature portrait painters - I was happy to give her any help I could.  Being a miniature portrait painter myself I knew quite a bit about Hilliard. He had written 'A Treatise Concerning the Arte of Limning' (Limning meaning miniature painting), a copy of which I showed her. She came over on Saturday morning and produced a portfolio of her pencil drawings - mostly portraits - which were very good. Nice to be able to help out with a few hints on drawing and to give her one of my own little books.

My young friend and I decorated my Christmas tree on Saturday. Every year I buy a few additional baubles. And a faithful friend in the USA always sends me specially made, and rather special limited edition Christmas trinkets, to add to my collection. This is a little section of the tree. 

All my Christmas cards have been sent, but to any of my followers who have not received a card I'd like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas with this one nestling amongst some of the presents. 

Just finished this pencil drawing of Kevin Giddings - 'The Royal Flueologist'. Being a chimney sweep, when he's asked to be a guest at weddings he arrives complete with top hat and his black cat on his shoulder. A chimney sweep at a wedding is supposed to bring good luck - especially if he has a black cat with him. The speciall hard 'Hammer' paper I normally work on is now no longer available. Apparently they've stopped making it. A great shame because it's the only surface I find I can get a jet black to be smooth. So I'm still searching for a good substitute. This drawing was made on a much softer paper and so can't give me the finish I strive for, although I've darkened it quite a bit for this blog. 

mentioned in my last blog that I'd taken my painting of the SwanUppers to The Vintners Hall in London. They've just informed me that they have decided to purchase it and have it on permanent exhibition on the walls of the Swan Room. I am delighted because it will now hang there for ever. 

THis is their crest

I'll end this blog on a sad note. My very good friend Bryony Brind died last week at the young age of 55. Bryony became the principal dancer at the Royal Ballet at the early age of 21 when she took the leading role in Swan Lake. The following year when world famous dancer Rudolf Nureyev was invited by the Royal Ballet to stage the classical 'La Bayadere: Kingdom of the Shades' he chose Bruony to be his ballerina. Here is a miniature I made of her in that role.

And this miniature portrait of Bryony was her favourite of the several I painted of her. 

Spirited, lively, warm-hearted and talented, she'll be missed by her many friends. RIP Bryony. 

Monday, 23 November 2015

Thank you Boris

Next January we'll be visiting The USA to attend the Miniature Art Society of Florida's annual exhibition at the Dunedin Fine Art Center. We also plan to spend a couple of days in the Everglades (where we may hire a couple of kayaks for a short while - very short if we encounter any alligators!) And after a day at the Kennedy Space Center (where I might become reacquainted wth this astronaut)....

 ....we'll spend an evening with old American friends of mine. Michael is a great admirer of Sir Winston Churchill. To the extent that many years ago when I painted an oil portrait of him he asked me to include a portrait of Churchill in the background. Having recently read the excellent book 'The Churchill Factor' by Boris Johnson I bought a copy for Michael and sent it off to Boris with the request that he sign it and include a special dedication to my friend. Which he did, so unless Michael reads this blog, it should be a nice surprise for him. 

Last Wednesday I visited The Vintners Hall in London.

The reason was to take my painting 'SwanUppers at Marsh Lock' there with the possibility that it will become a permanent feature in this most beautiful of Livery Companies. The Worshipful Company of Vintners was granted the Royal Charter in 1364, and is acknowledged to be 'one of the great twelve Livery Companies'. I had a short tour during my visit and was immensely impressed, particularly with the paintings. There was one of King Charles 1st by Sir Peter Lely which I particularly liked and many many more. Here are a few views of some of the rooms. 


However one of the more peculiar rights of the company is the ceremony of SwanUpping

Each year during the third week of July the SwanUppers, headed by The Queen's Swanmarker, row along the Thames as far as Abingdon marking all the new cygnets born that year. 

So it would be so pleasing for my painting to be hanging in such prestigious surroundings and to know that it would be there forever. 

I've been so busy painting these last few months. Managed to finish three miniatures, a couple of pencil portraits, and a watercolour portrait. But as the clients haven't seen the miniatures yet, and as the others are Christmas presents I won't be able to show them yet. 

Phyllis Court held two very good Christmas Fayres over the past couple of weeks, so I went along to both and bought quite a lot of presents. Still got a way to go, but here's a selection wrapped and ready to deliver. 

My cousin, Jill Lawrence, graced the airways of BBC Berkshire on Thursday. She was being interviewed about the heavy snows in 1963 and how she was taken to hospital to give birth to her eldest daughter. Because her husband, Trevor, was working that day and because the snow prevented  him from using his Lambretta, he made the journey by bus. 

Our Regal cinema in Henley is so comfortable. Soft seats, lots of legroom, and usually a nice appreciative audience. We've seen two films in the last fortnight. 'Spectre', the latest James Bond spectacular, was, in fact, spectacular. And last week to see Maggie Smith starring in 'The Lady in the Van'. What an incredible actress. You could almost smell her portrayal of the old lady. And what a contrast to her role as The Countess of Grantham in The TV series 'Downton Abbey'.

A couple of weeks ago a very lovely man, Norman Topson MBE,  retired after 43 years working for the railway - the last 14 of them as Stationmaster at Twyford station. 

A father figure to the many children who travel by train, and a caring, professional, and always helpful railwayman, he was admired and loved by so many. His retirement was marked at the station by a whole series of presentations. Among them was my miniature  portrait given to him as a result of a very generous collection by his many friends.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Diamond Light Source

This torus-shaped building is the size of Wembley Stadium and is the home of the Diamond Light Source.

My young friend had booked us on a specialised tour of this incredible building last Sunday. It's the home of the UK's national synchotron facility, and is located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. I had no idea what to expect, but assumed It would be way above my head. Which in fact it mostly was. Nevertheless it was a fascinating two hour tour. The Diamond is a particle accelerator that creates X-rays for scientists to use to study the sub-atomic structure of material.
However, before going on the tour, we spoke to some of the scientists at the entrance who were talking about their speciality. 

This was a full size model of a 72 million-year old gorgosaurus's skeleton. And then the scientist unwrapped from a special case this real skeleton of the head of the actual creature. 

So now for the tour. This is a view from the floor above the actual particle accelerator.

Here you can see, on the floor below, part of the particle accelerator. This is a series of massive magnets that contain the beam of electrons and speed them up so they are travelling at almost the speed of light. As light and other electromagnetic waves cannot travel round corners the route of the electrons proceed in a series of small straight sections. 

We were taken through a myriad of bright alleyways, sporadically interspersed with cordoned off sections containing X-ray radiation elements. ( A bit like hospital X-rays or scans, but a hundred billion times stronger). 
Although most of what we saw remains a mystery to me, the beauty of the myriad of tubes, wires, machines and cables was very attractive. Here are a few of them.

That's enough machinery. This is a portion of the building as we we drove past on our way home.

The other evening as I was backing out of the copse I brushed by a black car more or less invisibly parked nearby. It left a small scratch on his bumper and a larger scratch on mine. I told the owner I'd pay to have the scratch repaired. So imagine my surprise when he gave me a bill for £600 yesterday! He'd got a quote from a very expensive company (who seem to specialise on repairs claimed on insurance). I compared the estimate with my local company (who've repaired my car beautifully in the past). They reckoned, based on my description of the slight damage, that their price would be no more than one third of the quoted price). In the end I decided to make my first claim from my own insurance. Which resulted in no charge at all. (I hope).

Reluctantly my young friend decided the time has come to prepare her banana tree for the winter. In it's second year it's already grown to over seven feet tall. 

So she's cut all the leaves off and packed the stump with straw, erected bamboo stalks around it and covered the top with bubble wrap. That should keep it warm and dry over the coming months. As the leaves came down we discovered about five new little shoots of bananas around the edge. Maybe there'll be more trees next spring. Here she is holding up one of the leaves she slaughtered. 

I bought a new iPhone this week. It's a beautiful golden colour Apple 6S. Just the right size for my shirt pocket with 64 gigabytes of space. I love new toys. 

Sadly Warren Mitchell died yesterday. You'll probably remember him as Alf Garnet in the TV sitcom 'Till Death Us Do Part' but Warren was a fine character actor and worked well into his eighties. Not too many years ago I was invited to his birthday party at his house in Hampstead. As I'd met him on previous occasions I was able to present him with this scraper board drawing. Which he really liked, he said. 

Many condolences to Connie, his wife.

We are having a short weekend in Suffolk staying with MYF's parents. On the way here I noticed this tattered old circus poster attached to a big post and thought it might make an interesting subject for a painting - maybe the background of a picture of a clown. 

And in complete contrast a peaceful rural scene at Wyken Hall to complete my blog.