Furry Friends

When I lived in Singapore in the 1960's I became a member of the Orang Utan Preservation Society. Together with a friend, Charles Shuttleworth, we would visit some of the private zoos, prevalent at the time. Charles, who had joined the Malayan Police Jungle Force at the beginning of the Malayan Emergency, was writing a book entitled "Malayan Safari". Often we would adopt clandestine personalities - I would take photographs which we would use as evidence to trap illegally kept animals in some of theses zoos. Quite dangerous at times because some of the animal traders were really nasty pieces of work. I won't relate some of escapades here, bur suffice to say we survived without injuries. Easily my favourite animals at that time were the many orang utans we came across. When visiting Singapore in January my young friend and I really enjoyed meeting a family of these colourful and delightful creatures at the well-appointed zoo there. And this is a watercolour painting I finished last week.

Don't you just love the little baby and his little tuft of red hair?

We seem to have spent quite a social time this last week. On Saturday, Gaby, a fellow aspiring sculptor, held her 71st birthdate party in Warborough. Not 70, because she's been suffering from a variety of serious illnesses most of the year and the actual date had to be postponed. Quite a glittering affair - literally - because her husband, Piers, had erected a firework display in the garden as soon as dusk fell.

Piers had been keeping a track of the wind strength and direction over the previous couple of days, but on the evening in question it changed direction so one or two people had spent rocket cases landing on them - including my young friend! But no damage or injury. We just moved further back.

The following afternoon my cousin, Paul, had organised a lavish family tea party at his home, Allendale Farm at Great Shefford. It was a beautiful day, and we picked up Val in the early afternoon to drive over there. Paul has a lovely, and very extensive number of gardens. Here's a few views.

One of the reasons for the party - and the date was carefully timed to coincide with the blooming of Paul's wife Josephine's wisterias. Very sadly, Jo died earlier this year and Paul had commissioned me to paint a large watercolour of her surrounded by her wisteria. She always wore sunglasses when outdoors so this was the way Paul wanted the painting to portray her.

At the party Paul gave a very moving speech as he welcomed everyone there.

He'd also provided a variety of outdoor games from Croquet to Ten-pin Bowling.

My cousin Jill's lovely daughters Samantha and Michele added glamour to the occasion.

I was very sorry to hear from my old friend Jack Darrah that Bletchley Park, home of his magnificent collection of Winston Churchill memorabilia for the past may years, had decided to restrict this iconic and historic building to mainly the code breaking activities of Alan Turing and his colleagues during the war. Wonderful as this is it meant that many of the exhibits, including the Pegasus Bridge episode and others, including the Churchill collection had to find a new home. I have a particular interest in this as the series of six Churchill miniature portraits I donated to Bletchley Park were among the thousands of exhibits that were looking for new homes. Anyway I heard from Jack today that the Churchill collection will, from September this year, be housed in a large dedicated room at the Stratford Armouries Museum in Stratford on Avon in Warwickshire.

Early this morning, in glorious summer sunshine, I went to the annual breakfast of the Hennerton Backwater Association. The Hennerton Backwater is a marvellous little river leading off the Thames for about three miles and wending its way from Wargrave to Henley. At least once a year I take my dinghy there to savour the peace and tranquility of this tiny treasure. About 50 or so members gathered there this morning. It was at a new venue this year but was easy to find as soon as I entered Willow Lane - I just followed the aroma of barbecued sausages, bacon and coffee. Some arrived by boat.

And here are some of the audience listening to a fascinating talk about the history of the backwater. We heard stories about the professional work of the Thames Conservancy (real river professionals compared to the lamentable activities today of the Environment Agency), historical insights into some of the colourful characters who lived beside the backwater, tales of the wildlife here - and even stories of buried Roman Treasure.

Now to meet my young friend to visit Hermitage to say farewell to The Royal Engineers Military Survey's farewell to the town.