Thursday, 18 June 2015

Sunny days

It's so nice to feel the hot sun again. Here in Pollensa in Majorca my young friend and I have rented a villa for the week. It's a bit rustic but comfortable. The pool is very cold when first ventured into but that's probably because the sun is so hot. We bought a couple of Li-Los at the cheap and cheerful Chinese store nearby which took ages to blow up by mouth ( more MYF's breath than mine) and one of them didn't last more than a day anyway.

So we bought another one today - this time with a foot pump.

Yesterday evening we drove to an amazing edifice a short way from Palma to have dinner while watching a lavish show called Kaleidoscope. The entrance was pretty impressive and as we'd pre-booked 'platinum' seats we were treated like VIP's on the way to the vast auditorium.

The meal was fantastic and our seats near the stage couldn't have been better. There must have been about two hundred diners there. The dinner-theatre is called Son Amar. We arrived about 7.30 for cocktails and left when the show ended just before midnight.

There was a bit of everything - incredible dancers, magic, trapeze artists, a virtuoso violinist, a magnificent dancing horse, plus so much more. The laser effects were quite something as was the contortionist  writhing around in a gigantic bubble just above the stage . What impressed me most was a dancing 'battle' between flamenco dancers and Irish syncronised dancers. Each trying to outdo each other by dancing faster and faster. It reminded me of the fight scene in West Side Story between the Jets and the Sharks.

We had pre-booked a visit to the Caves of Drach on the east coast for Monday afternoon. Also called the Caves of the Dragon. We didn't actually see any dragons but that didn't matter because the vast cavern was absolutely spectacular. They were known in the Middle Ages and explored in 1880. Dramatically lit we were transported to a magical watery underworld. As soon as we entered the caves everywhere we looked there were stalactites and stalagmites of every size and shape - and all dramatically lit. Here are just a few scenes with names such as The Enchanted City and The Fairies Theatre. 

After nearly an hour spent in the caves where we followed a winding path up and down and round and about we arrived at the lake where soon an illuminated rowing boat appeared out of the darkness containing a classical quartet (two violins, a cello and a harmonium) playing a ten minute concert. Quite enchanting. Then after the concert we got into another boat and were rowed a short distance to a point where we began our ascent. (When I last visited the caves 15 or so years ago we ended the tour on a boat which travelled all the way to the exit via an incredible tunnel lit from wall to ceiling by millions of gloworms, but they seem to have abandoned that these days. Probably too many tourists. 

Yesterday morning - up early - we took a trip to S'Albufera de Mallorca Natural Park hoping to see lots of birds in this the largest wetland area in the Balearic Islands. Wandering through the woodland my young friend (who is a keen amateur birdwatcher) was hoping to see one of the bee-eaters but none were around that day. 

This was the view from one of the hides - out towards the wet grassland and marsh.

Our villa is quite near Port de Polllenca where we seem to have spent most of our time having dinner there.

But today is really hot so we are spending most of the day lazing by the pool.

And here is a rare glimpse of my young friend sitting on the edge of the pool and reflected in the water.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Duke of Edinburgh

A number of years ago the president of the Game Conservancy rang me and asked whether I'd be willing to paint a portrait for them to auction at their annual dinner in the Dorchester Hotel in London. I'd already painted an oil portrait of Bill Stremmel - one of their leading members - so asked who I'd be painting. "Probably Charles" he said. Assuming Charles was one of the committee members I was unprepared when I received a phone call from Buckingham Palace the following week informing me that although Prince Charles was unavailable to pose for me, Prince Philip was. "Oh, that Charles" I thought. A date was mutually agreed upon and I duly arrived at Buckingham Palace complete with pencils, sketchbook, camera and tripod. While I waited in an anti room I was able to admire the large oil painting on the wall - 'Ramsgate Sands' by W P Frith - one of my favourite painters. Soon after I was ushered into the room where The Duke of Edingurgh was to pose for me. ( Apparently the Queen and Prince Philip each have their own special rooms when posing for aritists and photographers). When he arrived I was surprised to see he was shorter than me. I suppose I'm used to seeing him standing beside the Queen - who is only 5 ' 4". I was allowed an hour, so I spent half the time sketching  and the other half taking photographs. When he noticed I had a Hassleblad camera he told me that he"d accidentally dropped his Hassleblad into the sea when he was in the Gal├ípagos Islands. Here's the sketch I made at the time.

After the session was over he showed me some of the gifts given to him by visiting dignitaries. I must say that amongst them were many weird and wonderful items. From a combination of the sketch and the twenty or so photographs I took, I eventually painted the final portrait. The Game Conservancy asked me whether Prince Philip would be prepared to sign the finished portrait, but when I asked him he said that they don't normally sign portraits as it might be assumed that they are endorsing them. However when I delivered the painting to Buckingham Palace it was returned to me a week later duly signed. 
Moving on, in 2013, the Trustees of Windsor Castle were looking for a present to give to the Duke of Edinburgh on the occasion of his 90th birthday and had seen this portrait I made that year and decided it would make the ideal present - even though my portrait showed the Prince as a younger man. 

Based on my previous session with Prince Philip I painted this large watercolour portrait against a background of three of the new stained glass windows installed in Windsor Castle after the fire there in 1992. Incidentally the Duke himself was responsible for their design. A lavish dinner was held in Windsor during which I had to present the painting and to make a short speech. 

My young friend came with me to the dinner and after she shook hands with the Duke of Edinburgh remarked that he had beautiful hands. 
Since we came back from Venice I've spent most of my time working on a Venetion painting. It will probably take nearly three months to complete as I plan to include St Marks Basilica with all its murals and statuettes. 
Now spring has arrived and the warm weather with it we should be on the river. But my big boat is still having problems. Dean, the boatman, initially thought the problem was water mixing with the petrol. But it seems now it probably is one of the carburettors. Trouble is, as the Volvo engine is getting old now they don't have the relevant spare parts. We'll go out in the dinghy tomorrow evening if the forecast thunderstorms aren't around then. Today we had a very nice lunch on the verandah at Phyllis Court Club. 
Everything in my young friend's garden is now taking off fast. Her hostas are looking good - no slug damage at all - so far. And I have my own little corner of the garden to do what I like there. So after discarding the primroses I planted marigolds and a choisia there last weekend.

Last week I made a pencil drawing of my sister-in-law Val., and surprised her with it last Sunday. She not sure where to put it as she finds it a bit strange to see herself on view. 

My operation a couple of weeks ago seems to have been successful. Next Tuesday I'm due for a CT scan and blood test.