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.

Friday, 6 November 2015

A Silly Billy

I had one of those senior moments on Friday last week. We'd booked tickets to see the film Spectre at our local cinema.

It was a dark and rainy evening as I joined the queue of cars into Henley, giving myself plenty of time to get to the 5.40 performance. Arriving five minutes before the start time I found the last remaining parking spot at the cinema and awaited my young friend's arrival. The time went by. I checked our seat numbers and just before six o'clock decided that she'd be arriving momentarily - probably was looking for a parking place. To save time I bought a couple of ice creams so we didn't have to queue when she appeared. The minutes went by. Still no sign of her. The ice creams were melting. No one seemed to be going into the screen 1 door, so I thought I'd check the tickets to make sure we had booked for screen 1. We had - but for the following Tuesday! I was there on the wrong day! When I finally arrived at at MYF's house, carrying two completely melted ice creams, she laughed uproariously. 

Last weekend I was treated to a lovely birthday treat by MYF - a weekend in Devon. After an overnight stay in Yeovil we paid a visit to the National Trust 'A La Ronde' near Exmouth. 

It's a fascinating building with diamond shaped windows and was built by two spinster cousins, Jane and Mary Parmenter, after their return from a grand tour of Europe in the late eighteenth century. It contains many quirky objects and mementos including an incredible shell collection and several monkey puzzle trees.

Then on to our destination - The Quayside Hotel in Brixham - with this glorious view over the harbour. 

And at night

The 'Golden Hind' is moored there too. 

That evening, it being my actual birthday, we met old Singapore friend Ian Stevens and Amanda for dinner at a swanky French restaurant called Chez Pierre on the seafront in Torquay. 
Being a Scorpio I'm very attracted to water, and love rivers, boats and the sea. So on Saturday, a sunny and warm day, we boarded this riverboat at Dartmouth for a cruise up the river Dart. 

After about an hour we turned round at Greenway - Agatha Christie's country home.

On the way back we passed this lovely old paddle steamer.

And for a complete contrast 

We are both members of the National Trust and frequently visit their properties. So, later on in the afternoon we made our way to Coleton Fishacre. 

Certainly one of my favourite places. This Art Deco country house was owned by the D'Oyly Carte family famous for staging the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in Victorian times. My favourite room was the library - I would spend most of my time there if I owned this lovely house.

The gardens are undulating and extensive. About 24 acres I think. We only walked around a small part as my legs are not what they used to be, but we saw several of the little ponds, most surrounded by a surprising amount of tropical foliage. 

And a little robin looking forward to Christmas

Do you remember seeing the television series called Wolf Hall? It's an historical drama written by Hilary Mantel which chronicals the rise of Thomas Comwell. Well, Barrington Court, a Tudor Manor House built in the 1550's in Somerset, and another National Trust property, was the venue for the TV drama. It is unusual in that it contains no furniture at all - ideal to stage the filming I imagine. We visited it last Sunday and were lucky enough to see many of the original costumes made for the actors, as it was the last day they were to be on display.  Here are some of them.

The owner of Barrington Court loved wooden panelling. Here's a couple of nice carvings.

And one of the rooms - devoid of furniture. 

A polite warning to visitors asking them not to use this fairly ancient 'thunder box' 

It was a really lovely weekend. Thank you, my young friend. One of the best ever. On our drive back to Oxfordshire we stopped at Lytes Cary Manor. How's this for carefully cut topiary?

And a lovely rustic corner in the autumn.

Then The rain came. It rained and rained. Yesterday we had planned to drive over to my cousin Paul's house in Great Shefford where I was to photograph two of his grandchildren, Georgia and Derry in preparation for miniature paintings. It absolutely poured for almost the whole hour of the journey but the sun came out just as we arrived. Great little children - I look forward very much to starting the portraits next week. 
Luckily the evening dried out as we had booked for the Guy Fawkes dinner and firework display at Phyllis  Court. The bonfire lasted for hours and the fireworks were magnificent. 

One last thing. I nearly fell for a very clever scam last week. Quite often we artists are approached via the Internet by possible new clients or others wishing to purchase paintings they may have seen on our websites. A man called Brian Burke sent an email saying he wished to enquire about buying a painting, and was I able to ship overseas. I replied that I was, and asked where he had seen my work and which particular work was he interested in. He promptly replied, thanking me for my swift response. All vey polite and friendly, but he didn't answer my questions. This time he said he could only give me his credit card number and asked me to click on a certain PayPal code. I became slightly suspicious and as a ploy suggested that I had many friends in America who could deliver the painting he chose personally in return for giving over his cheque. But when I spoke to my young friend about it that evening she probed the man's name on line and discovered he was a scammer. What might have happened would have been the receipt of money via Pay pal followed by another message saying he'd overpaid and would I send him the difference. Then as soon as I'd done that his payment would have been cancelled. I mentioned this on Facebook and another two artists had replied but luckily not compromised.