Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Traditional Boat Festival

Last weekend dawned gloriously sunny again so we made our way to one of my favourite events of the year - The Traditional Boat Festival. Lady McAlpine has organised it for the past two years and she has done wonders. My young friend and I strolled down by the river bank till we came upon my friends Jackie and Tony Hobbs. Tony's family have been in the boat business for generations. They invited us on board their umpire launch Enchantress for an hour long trip between Marsh and Hambleden locks. Enchantress is now 103 years old. 

We passed by a small flotilla of Dunkirk Little Ships, These were the original boats that travelled across the channel to save the troops stranded on the beaches at the beginning of the Second World War. About sixteen came to the Festival this year. 

Here are a few photographs of some of the scenes. Here a Dunkirk boat passes by three small craft nestled by the riverbank.

There was a fly past into the afternoon with a Spitfire and a Hurricane

And the wonderful Royal Barge - the Gloriana. 

I wonder how many of you have heard of the Piddingtons. It was in 1949 when this Australian couple - Sydney and Lesley - arrived in England. They were magicians and specialsed in mind reading. For example, on one occasion Lesley was in an aeroplane flying at over 20,000 feet having been thoroughly  searched by an independent witness and being interviewed by Gilbert Harding - one of the most famous broadcasters at the time. Sydney, meanwhile, was in a studio in England where someone in the audience drew a picture or gave him a name. Then, by thought transference, Sydney sent the picture to Lesley who correctly relayed it to the people on the aircraft. This was just one of many examples of thought transference the Piddingtons entranced their audiences with. I mention this because last Tuesday Debbie invited me, a neighbour and her family to a performance by the Deans, a young American couple who emulated the magic, or thought transference, of the Piddingtons. After a lovely tea on Debbie's verandah we were whisked off to Barnet in north London by a stretched limousine. 

I said 'whisked' off to London but as soon as we hit the M25 we were in a two hour traffic hold-up. Luckily the driver had allowed a lot of extra time for the journey. Even though it was the hottest day of the year, with the airconditioning and bottles of champagne in the limo, we all had a fun time.

The actual show was held in a small theatre called the Bull which had once been a pub. Our seats were right in the middle on the second row, immediately behind the Mayor and Mayoress of Barnet and two professors (to authenticate the Dean's performance). An interesting evening was had by all. The man who introduced the act and showed film clips of the Piddingtons was the famous magician and mentalist, David Berglas. We joined him after the show. I was interested to learn that he was approaching his ninetieth year. (Debbie went to his 90th birthday party yesterday). 

We fixed the mirror up in my young friend's garden over the weekend.

 It's surprising how much it adds to the ambience of the scene. She also planted more canna lilies in the jungle area.

Last year we only had three apples on the espalieated tree but this year I've counted thirteen so far. Hope they all last the distance. 

And the grape vine is racing along the top of the pergola and shows about eleven bunches of grapes forming. (That's eleven more than last year). 

Finally I've started my big painting of the traditional boat festival, after two abortive beginnings. I tried it on a 'not' surface watercolour board but couldn't achieve the detail I wanted. The next effort was on an ultra smooth German watercolour board, but this time the paint blobbed too much and too quickly. So now I'm using a 'hot pressed' surface so hopefully all should be well. 

Lots of activity on the river right now. On Saturday afternoon we called in to the annual Town and Visitors Regatta. This is a local regatta for the local people. Of course crews come from all over England to compete. But as I am a member we scoffed a Pimms or two in the members enclosure. Later we boarded an umpire's launch to follow a race.

As we approached the start line I noticed the big hotel boat 'The Magna Carta' was moored near Remenham church. 

I mention this because next month an American friend of mine, together with four friends have hired it for a week. And we have been invited for dinner at the Captain's table. Should be interesting. We were following two quad crews - Oxford and Eton. Here's the view from our launch. 

I'm not very good at buying clothes for myself. For example I went to Marks and Spencer in Reading last week to buy a few shirts, a couple of summer light sweaters, some socks and a tie. The socks and tie fitted (how could they not) but the shirts were all too small and the sweaters much too big. So yesterday evening my young friend came to the rescue and took me back to M&S where we successfully exchanged them for the right sizes. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

All dressed up and somewhere to go.

Phew! When I got back into my car this morning after bowling the outside temperature was 36 degrees!. Like getting in to an oven. But I won my game - that's a first. I'm up against a top-class bowler in the next round so may be knocked out of the tournament then. But who knows - my luck might be in. 
Friday before last my young friend, Debbie and I were invited to the Henley Music Festival by Felicity Wills. And what a lovely evening it was. Here I am standing outside my flat ready to go. 

A nice warm evening so the girls didn't need scarves or pashminas later in the evening. Felicity's daughter (and my god daughter) Emma came too. Here she is with Debbie. 

And here's how I feel after an hour or so helping out in MYF's garden. 

There were other wandering creatures including this small-headed man.

Normally on these occasions a plethora of small boats can be seen clustering around the river within sight of the grandstand where the main event takes place, but this year due to, you've guessed it, 'Elf 'n Safety' regulations, it wasn't allowed. A happy part of the wonderful atmosphere has been taken away by some dreary faceless jobsworth for no reason at all. Why do these people keep on inventing new 'rules' - just to hold on to their jobs I expect. There were still plenty of bigger boats moored on the booms within earshot of the performances.


We were there for the bass-baritone Bryn Terfel concert. (On Wednesday Elton John headed the show and on Saturday it was Dame Shirley Bassey.) Although we hadn't bought grandstand tickets we found an incredibly comfortable sofa just outside the Bedouin Tent where we could hear every note. 

(I hate photographs of me). But Debbie and Felicity photograph well. After the concert we were treated to a short, but lively, firework display. But I was too comfortable to take any photographs this time. 

It was My Young Friend's birthday last week so we spent a few days in Suffolk with her parents to celebrate it. On one of the days we went to Shotley Peninsula where w,e had a birthday lunch at the Marina in a restaurant called The Shipwreck. 

The Royal Navy's HMS Ganges trained young recruits to be disciplined sailors from the age of 15. With the band of the Royal Marines playing, young boys climbed the mast in time to the beat of the music until one of them - called the 'Button Boy' reached the very top where he stood, or sat, on the button. They have the actual button at the HMS Ganges Museum there, which I stood on. It is less than twelve inches wide! Rather them tham me. Here is a picture of the mast. You can see how many boys can stand on its rigging. 

Sadly the mast has deteriorated somewhat and is waiting for resources to restore it for posterity. 

While in Suffolk we paid another fist to the Urban Jungle  where MYF and her mother bough a few more nice cannas and dahlias. I really enjoy the place. We had lunch there amid the foliage.

Last Saturday five of my great nieces - Becky, Charlotte, Annabel, Evie and Ellie took part in a 'Race for Life' event at Prospect Park in Reading.

It was in aid of Cancer and although they all got nicely muddy on the obstacle course they raised £745 for the charity. Well done the Mundy girls.

I've finally completed my large oil triptych of autumn leaves. So on Sunday we put it up above my young friend's bed. To position all three paintings in exactly the right positions - one to another - took a bit of manoevering but we managed it in the end. The whole piece measures about six feet end to end. 

Now I"m back painting miniature portraits. Quite a contrast. By the way if anyone out there would like me to paint them a triptych of (almost) any subject I'd be happy to give a quote. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Somerset Weekend

So many things are happening that I'm getting a it behind in writing my blog. Anyway ten days or so ago my young friend and I drove down to Somerset to attend the Hilliard Miniature Show in Wells. As the date clashed with the Glastonbury Festival ( held just a few miles away from Wells) all he hotels and B&B's had been booked months ago with BBC comandeering just about every hotel room within twenty miles of the Festival site. We therefore booked a B&B in a very picturesque village called Nunney. It turned out to be just about the best B&B we've ever stayed in. 

Lunch next day in Wells Town Hall where the Miniature Show opened in the afternoon. I had entered 5 portrait miniatures and had also given a pencil drawing I made of Michael Eavis CBE, the organiser of the Glastonbury Festival, to be a major raffle prize. 

While in Wells we had a look around the Bishops Palace. Here's the entrance.

I didn't go inside as I had to be at the Hilliard Council meeting but MYF took a complete tour of the Palace. 
Next morning we drove down to Sandbanks to have lunch with Pauline Gyles - a fellow miniaturist painter. She lives adjacent to the Royal Yacht Club there - which is where we had lunch overlooking the marina.

Pauline's front garden is so beautifully cared for.

After lunch we visited Swanage where we strolled along the pier looking for the brass plate embedded in the walkway that the family had made about fifteen years ago commemorating brother Bob. Swanage was one of his favourite holiday trips he took with his family. At the entrance to the pier I borrowed a tin of Brasso and a cloth to spruce it up a bit. We finally found the plate amongst hundreds of others, and gave it a good clean. (Well, my young friend knelt down to do the cleaning while I watched!)

That evening we arrived at our next destination - Marine House at Milford-on-sea - which has a view out towards the Needles. 

Very Art Deco, but the restaurant, although serving nice food, was the noisiest one we'd ever been in. We had to move our chairs right close to each just for me to be able to hear anything at all. 
On our way home next morning we paid a visit to Beaulieu, home of the National Motor Museum. Here's a couple of the hundreds of beautiful cars on display. The first is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

I hadn't realised that the Beaulieu Estate had a dedicated display of the many (crashed and otherwise wrecked) cars which featured in the original series of the TV programme Top Gear.

Beaulieu means 'beautiful place' and it certainly lives up to its name. This is the Palace House

And here is the dining hall with its massive Victorian fireplace (which is kept alight throughout the winter ensuring that the scent of woodsmoke permeates the entire house.)

There's even a monorail which takes you all round the garden, although I must admit that climbing out of the carriage was a bit of a problem as the leg I can't bend properly got stuck - until I manoevered myself out backwards! The gardens are delightful, especially the Victorian Garden complete with a topiary scene from The Mad Hatters Tea Party. 

Back in Henley it was Royal Regatta time. So on Saturday six of us congregated in the grounds of Phyllis Court. Just a couple of light showers but we still enjoyed our Pimms on the lawn before going into the dining room for lunch. My cousin Paul and Em, his girlfriend, Jane and Brian and MYF made up our little party - all dolled up in our Regatta finery. Later in the day we watched some of the rowing from our vantage point in directors chairs on the floral bank of the river. 

Just out of the picture, on the left, is my young friend looking really good in her new dress and a 'Hatinator'. For the gents who may be reading this blog a Hatinator is a cross between a Fascinator and a hat. (And don't ask what a fascinator is - I only found out myself a couple of years ago.) 

Some of the sights - including Elvis Presley. So that's where he got to. 

Talking of Elvis we went to the Regal last week to see the film 'Elvis and Nixon'

And here I am in the 60's wearing my favourite shirt at the time (I'm a little more sober now  -'thank goodness' says my young friend) and sporting Elvis style sideboards. 

Apart from the 'Social Whirl' I've been spending 8 or 9 hours a day finishing the third oil painting in the large trio of autum leaves. They will measure about six feet long when assembled. I'll post a photograph of them when they dry. The only other painting I've done this week is covering the plain wood blue on a garden mirror - part of MYF's birthday present. 

The Regatta finished on Sunday so we decided to take 'Marsh Mundy' out for a trip down the course  in the late afternoon - when most of the big boats had vacated the river.  Except for several 'Gin Palaces' which had attached themselves to the booms nearest the stage in readiness for the Henley Music Festival which started yesterday with an appearance of Elton John. But for now you'll have to put up with a picture of me taking the boat down to Hambleden with Val. My young first mate took the photo.