Saturday, 28 October 2017

Five Million to One!

Yes, those are the odds for getting a pair of tickets to be in the audience of Strictly Come Dancing when it is broadcast on Saturdays at Elstree Studios. When we applied for tickets a few weeks ago my scientific young friend said the odds are so long I'd never get any. We've been rooting for our good friend Debbie every week (we put bets on her at 25 to 1 at the start of the series), so imagine our delight when I got lucky and won tickets for last Saturday’s performance. ( No, Debbie couldn’t help as she only gets two guest tickets for each performance). Anyway getting up early we arrived at the venue at 8.15 in the morning to be confronted by this queue.

We were numbers 350 and 351 in the queue. It had poured heavily during the night and, as we were informed later, the first person to arrive started queuing at 11 pm the night before! As you can see we were all outside, so they, and scores of others, must have got soaked. After a couple of hours when we finally reached the front of the queue, our tickets were validated and we were free to book into the nearby hotel. Nice to be in the warm and dry. We were due to assemble in a large marquee at 3.45pm when we joined another five hundred or so lucky ticket holders. And as I’m still walking with a stick, we were able to join another dozen or so ‘walking wounded’ in a special seated area right next to the glass doors leading to the ballroom. Another hour waiting to get in but finally we were ushered into our special front row seats up a few steps behind the cameras. Great view - and at last we were there.

The atmosphere was electric and although the stage looked a little smaller than it does on television, the lights, the sets, the glitter - everything was quite magical. Eamon Holmes (who’s wife Ruth was one of the celebrity dancers) came in carrying a large cushion to augment the rather small padded chairs, because of his recent hip operation, I felt quite envious as we were due to sit on our chairs for a full 6 hours! The live show lasted for two hours. It was great to watch Debbie and Giovanni dance the rumba.

Which put them back on top of the leader board again. After the live broadcast was over we saw Debbie looking around the ballroom and when she saw us she came running around and up to have a hug and chat.

Soon the recording of the Sunday results show took place, together with a remarkable performance by the professional dancers called ‘Speed Dating’. Our Strictly day ended at about eleven o’clock when we walked back to the hotel with numb bottoms after our marathon sit-down on fairly small chairs.

Next morning we drove down to Suffolk to spend a nice day with myf’s family.

I’ve been bowling with the Henley Bowling Club for the past couple of years and have finally won my first trophy for winning the Points competition. On Friday we went to the annual dinner and prize-giving ceremony at Henley Golf Club where I was presented with this shield.

Yesterday we had a trip up the river. This will be the last of the year as I go into hospital on Tuesday morning to have a hip replacement operation so will certainly not be able to clamber in and out of boats for a few months. And tomorrow, it being my birthday, we are going to an arboretum in the Cotswolds where I’ve booked a ‘Tramper’ to drive around in style. Then back for a birthday dinner with my young friend at my favourite Henley restaurant.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Episode Three

Still in the Lake District, here is the stunning photograph myf took of that lovely Ashness Bridge.

I'm so pleased that we are both members of the National Trust as there are so many beautiful places to visit in the British Isles. We've been to many of them. (I even have a National Trust passport which I get stamped with a little pictorial image every time we visit one of their properties). So on the way home we broke our journey by calling in to Dunham Massey in Cheshire

The story of Dunham Massey begins in about 1560 with Sir George Booth - a staunch Presbyterian. Unlike all the other NT properties we've visited, this one tells the story of the scandals, finances and colourful history of Dunham Massey with a series of well-designed and beautifully written parchment descriptions of the scandals, at the entrance to every room. For example, the 7th Earl, George Harry Grey (1827-83) was an orphan when he inherited. He loved gambling, racing, shooting and grand building schemes. But his second marriage was to a circus performer and bare back rider called Catherine Cocks. The stalwarts of Cheshire society most certainly did not approve. The newly weds were treated so badly that they decided to leave. They packed up, took all the silver and the best of the pictures and moved to Enville. They never came back. Each room in the mansion gave a great description to the history and some were decorated in a most surprising way.

After a tour of the house we explored the garden. And once again I was given a buggy.

Great fun, and a perfect way to see the garden while my young friend could walk around at her own pace without me limping along.

I must admit I did have a few minor mishaps. The first was when I approached a second iron gate and bashed into it instead of braking (no damage to either gate or buggy). Next, as I was reversing, myf shouted out "STOP" just before I backed into two unsuspecting ladies. Then I drove the buggy into the restaurant before I was reminded that you can't take buggies into retaurants! We managed the rest of our tour without further mishap. This is the working mill

Back home now and a visit to the Mall Galleries in London for the opening of this year's Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition. Here is Tom Mulliner accepting the prize for the most outstanding portrait miniature in the exhibition which I sponsor (The Mundy Sovereign Award) from Dame Patricia Routledge

This amused me - seen at a traffic light from behind a van specialising in Loo Hire.

Note the numberplate - loo4poo.

And finally, here is my latest oil painting. Thirty-five inches high I call it "Thursday's Child".


Many years ago, while on a leave from Singapore, Bob, Val and the family joined me when we spent a week or so at Watendlath in the Lake District. So last weekend my young friend and I retraced my steps and found our way there along a very narrow and winding road. Some things have changed - mostly me. Here I was in 1975.

And now. Over forty years later.

The farmouse where we stayed is just as I remembered it, but no longer open for guests. However the little bridge is still there, as is the wonderful ambiance by a tranquil tarn.

We stayed for a rustic tea in one of the old buildings there and then wandered around the stream and climbed a bit over the rocks. (Well, I didn't do too much climbing).

We did a lot more climbing all those years ago - before osteo arthritis took over.

On the way back from Watendlath we stopped at Surprise View. Great ice sheets carved out this impressive landscape with its uninterrupted view across Derwent Water.

Brother Bob stood at this very place too when we were all on holiday together.

One of the most photographed sights in the Lake District is Ashness bridge - an old packhorse bridge. I couldn't quite scramble over the rocks to take this picture so myf gets a credit for this stunning photograph. (Which I'm afraid this 'blogo' app won't let me post any more pictures) so, even though myf thought we had the problem sorted, I'll now need to find another way to write my blogs.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

A buggy in the Lake District

Last weekend my young friend and I took a trip to the Lake District. We'd pre-booked an afternoon on the Victorian steam yacht Gondola. Originally launched in 1859 for regular passenger service on Coniston Water it was converted to a houseboat in 1938. Soon afterwards it was wrecked by a storm and became derelict.

But in 1978 The National Trust bought it and commenced renovations. Completed several years later it now offers luxurious cruises on Lake Coniston. Here is our first sight of the Gondola as we reached the lake on Saturday afternoon.

While we waited to board we had lunch in a crowded lakeside cafe. (Where I had the best hot dog I've ever eaten - filled with sweet pulled pork). Assuming most people in the cafe were heading for the Gondola we went to the landing stage to be near the front of the queue. In fact only six people went on board. The interior was quite magnificent. We sat in the forward lounge. As you can see it takes you back to an era of Victorian elegance.

This shows the prow of the boat with its newly restored golden sea serpent.

The engine on the Gondola was so quiet and the voyage so smooth we hardly realised we were moving.
Upon disembarking we drove the short distance to Beatrix Potter's beloved seventeenth century farmhouse near Hawkshead, Ambleside.

The cottage remains almost exactly as Beatrix Potter left it with many of her possessions on display.

And here is an original letter she wrote to a friend in which she includes drawings of her creations - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter.

In this view from the end of the garden you can see her small painting easel.

We booked into our hotel later in the afternoon. Situated just about on the shore of Lake Windermere was recommended by our friends Jackie and Tony Hobbs. Next morning we drove to Tarn Hows near Ambleside for a walk around the lake. With my arthritic hip myf didn't think I could walk all that way but as Tarn Hows is a National Trust property she enquired about a buggy for me. Great idea! So here I am on my speed machine having a great time as we circumnavigated the lake. Myf walking and me driving.

That's the way to travel. And here's a view on the way round.

It appears that I've reached the limit on the number of pictures I can store on this type of blog so I'll treat this as part one of my Lake District blog and look for another version.