Well it did this year!
Each Tuesday afternoon throughout the year I run an art group. There are 12 of us and we have been together for several years sharing our sorrows, joys and picture sales and failures.
We meet in the Community Hall which is part of the complex where George and I live. We have to be very careful as the caretaker (the Paint Police I jokingly call her) finds every tiny spot of paint – and we do try so hard to watch where we put our stuff.
Every Christmas we have a lunch in the hall. Believe me, starving artists we are not! We have some excellent cooks amongst us. Everyone brings a plate and their drink of choice. George usually sets up the tables but this year, as we are housesitting over 80 miles away, I left George in charge of Millie the dog and drove home yesterday. I’d already bought Christmas crackers, chocolate snowmen, Santa and angels for the table. I cooked the ham last night.
This morning I woke up at 7.30. I could go over to the hall at 8am to set the tables up or I could go to the supermarket to get milk, butter and a few other things I would need. I decided to do the shopping first. When I returned home I was concerned to see first one, then two and then three vans arrive at the hall (which I can see from the kitchen window). A fourth van then arrived. Young men everywhere carrying tools. I thought I’d better see what was happening.
The hall was in chaos. Radio blaring, men and tools everywhere. I was told they had come to replace the gas boiler! Not before time as we’ve had no hot water for ages and the heating has been very temperamental. But TODAY! I’d seen our Warden only a few days ago. She knows of the Tuesday Art Group but no one thought to mention the work to me.
What to do? Two alternatives sprang to mind. A stiff gin and tonic or sit down and grizzle. In the event I did neither. I told one of the young men (who seemed to be in charge) that I was expecting ten people at 1 o’clock for a sit down lunch. It was by now 10.30 am. He assured me he wouldn’t be long. At 11.30 I returned to the hall – by now more cluttered than ever – and began moving chairs and pushing the tables together down one end of the hall farthest away from the chaos.
At 12.30 I again returned – not much improvement and large bins were being carted to the kitchen sink where cement was being mixed. I wiped down the tables I had set up and sat down and waited. The first of my friends arrived shortly afterwards and we laughed together. A second one arrived. By now there were signs that the men were clearing up. Miraculously by 1 o’clock they had cleared up and left. Boiler working, central heating on. All friends arrived. We worked together setting everything up. What a team! We had crackers, chocolates, Evil Santa (a fun version of Secret Santa) and a quiz as well as mouthwatering food. A good time was had by all. Everyone pitched in with the washing up and tidying.
Like Rupert Bear I returned home tired but happy.
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I arrived in Oxford in 1973 after the breakdown of my first marriage. My father had found a house for me to rent within walking distance of the city centre. I needed a job quickly. I had not worked for anyone for 17 years and was prepared to do almost anything but what I really wanted to do was to work within the University.
My first interview was with a firm of solicitors who turned me down because they thought I was probably too rusty (although I had been practising my Pitman`s shorthand by taking dictation from the radio). The next interview was with a College – they wanted a Fellows` secretary. My first interview with the Bursar went well – he actually knew my father (which I suppose was a help) but he explained he had others to see. At the second interview he took me into what was to be my office and introduced me to the other secretary who dealt with the Visiting Fellows. It was a Graduate College – no students. He left me with her. She suggested I might like to try out the typewriter. I had spent ages before the interview searching for Tippex and had some in my handbag (just in case). I sat down at the desk and rested my fingers on the `home` keys in the approved fashion. Wow! I hadn`t realised that electric typewriters had such a light touch. My home keys crashed together on the paper jamming beautifully. The girl had given me something to copy – I typed slowly but rubbish came out. I pecked away and declared I had finished. I stuffed the piece of paper in my handbag – it was gobbledegook and no way was it going to be examined by anyone else.
Back to the Bursar`s office who offered me the job (bless him he became my friend and mentor over the years – my Svengali. I learned never to to him with a problem unless I could present him with at least three possible solutions that we would discuss). He wanted me to start right away.
Well there were 70 Fellows in the College and I was their secretary – the only one. Somehow for seven years I managed to keep them all happy and they, in turn, rewarded nearly every piece of work I did for them with flowers, chocolates or gifts from their travels.
My very first piece of work was for an Italian Astrophysicist (was the Bursar trying me out?) – his continental-style handwriting was difficult to read but I quickly became familiar with pulsars, quasars and Black Holes. At that time Stephen Hawkins was just a young up and coming star in Cambridge (`the Other Place`).
I typed their lectures, learned papers and articles, books even – mostly from manuscript but gradually the Dictaphone was being used – I ran courses for interested Fellows called `How to be a Great Dictator`!
Some of the Fellows had their own typewriters. One quite elderly Professor wanted my help to choose an electric typewriter for him to buy. Believe it or not Woolworths sold some in those days and I found one that I thought would be suitable at a reasonable price. I asked him to come with me to see it. We walked down The High into Cornmarket and Woolworths. His eyes widened and he told me he hadn`t been in Woolworths since he was a boy. We went to the counter where they had the typewriters and the assistant put one out for him to try. Fine. He liked it. The assistant said she had to go to the storeroom to get one for him and disappeared. The Professor turned to me, looking a bit pathetic and said he wanted an icecream! I told him to stay where he was, not to touch anything, and darted off to get the ice. He duly paid for the typewriter,, juggling icecream whilst searching for his wallet and we headed back to the College. I went with him to his study to set up the typewriter. The lead wasn`t long enough to reach his desk. It was afternoon and there would be no scouts around to help or bring an extension lead. We ended up both lying on our stomachs on the carpet whilst I gave him a quick demonstration and showed him how the typewriter worked. I also expressed the hope that his wife wouldn`t walk in and find us on the floor or she would wonder what on earth we were up to.
I will continue this Blog in the next session.
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I slept well last night. This morning I was woken by a tongue licking my left hand which was on the edge of the bed. Millie had come into the bedroom to wake me up. George was still sleeping peacefully. I checked the time … 7am. Fine. I groped my way to the wardrobe to get my dressing gown, feeling tentatively with my feet for a small, white furry body on the carpet.Not so.
An impatient bark from downstairs. I went downstairs and opened the back door. Millie hovered on the threshold sniffing the air. It was raining! Obviously Millie doesn’t do rain.
She said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and went back to her basket.
I knew better than to give her her breakfast right away or this could lead to a 6am wake up call tomorrow.
It’s now just gone 8am. She’s had her breakfast but still has not been out for a wee. Ha madam. I now know your bladder capacity!
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Not a very seasonal photo I know but memories of a lovely summer’s day in the garden of our favourite housesit. I still haven’t painted this picture but it is in my files for future reference.
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No, not me but my Greatgrandson enjoying a painting session! Perhaps he will take after me? Who knows!
I’ve had a very productive art-filled year which, combined with our housesitting, has kept me busy. These days I’ve been taking on a lot of commissions, mainly for pet portraits, which I must admit I do enjoy. In addition to this I have given quite a few demonstrations to art groups and held the occasional workshop. All very nice but it has meant that I’ve had little time to paint for ‘me’! For example, I have some exciting sprinkle paints that I bought back in the summer and still have not found the time to have a ‘play’. They are definitely not the sort of thing I would take to use whilst housesitting either as one accidental splash on carpets or upholstery would be permanent.
I enjoy giving demonstrations and sharing my love of art. I usually travel within a 50 mile radius of my home but back in the summer I was due to give an evening demonstration and then we accepted a housesit in Hampstead. I booked bed and breakfast accommodation near the art club premises as I didn’t fancy driving back to London late at night after a two hour demo. The b&b was lovely. I went there first, unpacked my night gear and put my feet up before driving a couple of miles to the venue. I was greeted warmly – it was warm in the hall too. About 50 people (mainly women) chattering away as I set up my gear. Easel on table at the right height (I’ve given up using a free standing easel as it is too easy to trip over the legs whilst moving around). Two pots filled with water, brushes laid out. Paints at the ready. Then HORROR! I had not got my board with the sketched subject taped on or my reference photo. Various ideas flashed through my mind. Do I quietly pack up my stuff and sneak out? No-one was taking much notice of me. Do I ‘fess up and pay up? Do I give a two hour lecture on art? Deep breath … Common sense kicked in and I went out to my car. There, in the black lined boot was my black case containing the missing board etc. Whew! I sauntered back into the hall, finished my preparation and was ready to begin my demonstration on time.
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Goosey has interrupted me noisily here and pointed out that he is a bird. I`ve calmed him down with a Lemon Sherbert (his favourite treat) and at least it stops him chipping in for a bit.
Where was I? Yes animals … they have always played an important place in my life. As a small child I can remember walking along the street with my mother and stopping to pet every dog that we saw. Mother trying to drag me away in case it carried rabies. We had our own dogs – Rex the spaniel I can just remember. Dan the Irish Wolfhound who scared the living daylights out of most boyfriends I brought home. He used to travel with me on the bus when I was a girl, but refused to go upstairs so the conductor would let him ride in the luggage compartment under the stairs and let me stand on the platform beside him. My own dog Bruce – a black and white collie. He was always waiting for me at the bus stop when I came home from school and would walk me back home.
My father was working away from home and came back one weekend with a brown cardboard box – a present. My brother and I opened it eagerly and out ran a bantam hen! The hen, glad to be free, ran down the middle of the main road, dodging traffic with the family in hot pursuit. We caught her. I`ve no idea what happened to her but, knowing my mother, I suspect she ended up in the pot!
The same fate befell our pet rabbit. I went down the garden one day (I was a teenager by then) and saw the hutch empty. I ran back to mother and asked what had happened to him. `You ate him a while ago` mother replied. `What? Ate our pet rabbit?` Shock! Horror! Mother replied that my brother and I hadn`t bothered to look at him for ages and she got fed up with caring for him. She then added tartly that she told us he was chicken and we had asked for second helpings!
We had a tortoise who committed suicide … yes I mean it. He was put in the greenhouse in a box to hibernate. I went in the greenhouse in the early spring to find poor tortoise hanging from his scrawny neck entangled in some bean netting that had been put on the top of his box. A warm day must hae woken him early and he`d tried to get out of his box.
Ah – and my goldfish. He lived in a bowl on the sideboard in the dining room (we didn`t know in those days that bowls were not the ideal environment for goldfish). I came in there one morning to find him floating in the bowl of stewed prunes that mother had served for dinner the night before and left on the sideboard. Not a pretty sight and I`ve not touched stewed prunes since!
When I was first married my husband disturbed a hedgehog nest in the garden. Mother didn`t return to them so I ended up taking them in a basket on the bus to work with me so I could feed them. One by one they died but I did my best …
I had a cat called Benito who wouujld retrieve small fircones. He came as one of a pair of kittens but, sadly his sister (called somewhat unfortunately Jabberwok) was run over. I`ve never had two kittens together before – they are four times as much fun as one kitten. What good games we played. Ben would come in the bathroom in the morning and jump on the edge of the bath (he never fell in). He also used to enjoy chasing bubbles down the bath panel and was so surprised when they burst.
I`ve already written about my wonderful Jamie dog whose picture is always beside my bed. He`s been dead for many years now but his memory is always with me.
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