Sunday, 4 January 2015

A painting for two special friends.

The two life-long friends in question are Gill and Robert. A few weeks ago Robert had a 'big' birthday and Gill (his wife) commissioned me to paint a picture for her to give him. I have to say that although it was a real privilege to be asked to do this, it also felt quite a responsibility.
One of Robert's great passions is the Bluebell Railway - the UK's first preserved standard gauge passenger railway. So I knew I wanted to paint a scene somewhere along this delightful railway-line.
But which bit to paint?? In recent years the railway has managed to achieve the major ambition of linking up with the main-line station at East Grinstead so I wanted to choose a view from this 'new' section.
I finally settled on this view - and as I stood on the bridge taking a few reference photographs I was thrilled to see this train pass below.
The carriages were being pulled along by one of their best known locomotives - 'Bluebell' - perfect!!
With canvasses I like to paint around the edges so they don't need a frame. Finally as a finishing touch, I couldn't resist adding a couple of moths - a Rosy Rustic (right) and a Brick (on a brick) which represent Roberts initials - RB. Here's to very many more years of special friendship Robert and Gill.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Preparing for Christmas... 2015!

Here is just one view down 'our' Loke. A loke is a Norfolk word for a short, narrow lane which becomes a farm track that eventually leads to a dead-end. Ours fits that description with the bonus that it ends up as a fabulous footpath which includes some very fruitful hedgerows - great for foraging!
The colourful ingredients above are all collected from the loke - including Sloes, Rose Hips, Haws and Blackberries. You may notice that the berries are thawing out; this is because I have frozen them which helps to break down their structure and yield maximum juice. The pulp in the middle is my extra-special ingredient - this is what is left-over from Karen's amazing Spiced Blackberry Liqueur Syrup!! When she makes it she just lets it drain in a muslin bag without squeezing which means that the remaining pulp is still full of the yummy intense spicy Blackberry flavour.
My next task was then to pour over some boiling water and leave this to steep overnight. The following day I added sugar and yeast and left this in the brewing bucket for a further 7 or 8 days. I love the way it all takes on such a fantastic colour!
During the initial fermentation, the yeast loves plenty of oxygen, but as fermentation slows the liquid is then strained into a demijohn and air is excluded using an airlock. Above you can see that I have gathered all the remaining pulp and berries into a muslin bag...
... and used our press to extrect every last drop. This is also where the maximum flavour is produced in the creation of (little drum roll) my Spiced 'Loke' Wine :)
So what has this to do with next Christmas? Well using such fabulous ingredients it deserves to be left at least a year to mellow out before relaxing with a glass...
... and thinking of the lovely place where the fruit came from!!
Happy Christmas and I pray that as we celebrate the greatest gift of all, he will fill the lives of all my friends in 'blogland' with many blessings throughout 2015.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Back from a 'Blogging Sabbatical'

Firstly, I'm so sorry I haven't posted anything for most of this year - oops! It wasn't a deliberate thing and my family and I are all fine. I'm tempted to say that life has been too hectic and certainly we've had lots to do in all aspects of our family life but I think that's an easy excuse and also perhaps I just grew out of the habit a little. But I'm feeling re-invigorated now and I thought I might just do a few posts with a little look back over the year starting here with some of the more interesting harpy highlights AND... I couldn't resist putting this picture up first! Yes early this year we were graced by a very special visitor, none other than His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent!!
He seemed to thoroughly enjoy his visit and we loved the fact that he was very relaxed and 'hands-on'.
From left to right John Hoare (fellow harp maker), Dame Sarah Goad (Her Majesty's Lord Lieutenant of Surrey),  HRH the Duke of Kent, Captain James Scott-Barrett (Equerry to HRH The Duke of Kent), Councillor Beverley Connolly (Chairman of Tandridge Council), yours truly (and proud father), and Anna (my daughter playing to HRH - not bad for the CV!) .
If that wasn't enough, few weeks later we then found ourselves playing host to all the mayors of Surrey
and I'm certainly not doing the 'from left to right' thing with this picture!!! In fact it was a delight to have them and we especially liked the way they all wore their chains of office.
Phew, next up, a TV crew visited to film an episode of 'How do they do it' - which I think is due to go out fairly soon on Discovery Channel. I'll try to keep you posted as to when that's going out.

..and as this post seems to be largely an exercise in name-dropping - we've had some interesting harpists playing for us including the very talented Tom Monger who is harpist with 'Florence and the Machine'...

... and Scottish harpist Katie Targett-Adams who lives in Hong Kong and is extremely popular in China...
... and Welsh harpist Iona Thomas who is Harpist with charts star Laura Mvula.
Iona and Tom also were amongst the performers at our late Summer Workshop Open Day...
... as was the International Youth Harp Orchestra. The Open Day was so much fun; we hired this lovely marquee and opened up the workshops for tours and demonstrations and ever popular was our tasty barbeque.
But it's been nice too when we have just had the place to ourselves to get on and make a few harps.
Compare the above to this picture which was taken in the early 1980's - we've hardly changed, hmm!!
But that's not quite it for this post, we have just recently been filmed for Living Surrey TV and here is a link to the programme which went out last Friday on Sky Channel 192. The bit which features us runs from 17:02 - enjoy!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Christmas Remembered

No apologies for a little look back to Christmas -
it was so very enjoyable for us and I am feeling rather reluctant to forget it all!
Much of the fun was in the preparations - including making up our own hampers for presents from
some of the preserves and brews we had been compiling. 

Karen made several Christmas Cakes (including one for us of course!).

I filtered off my Sloe Gin infusion...

Sloe Gin gets even better with keeping so some of these have been stashed away for future years!

Homemade fudge - yummy!!

Karen found that these mixing bowls made great containers for all the goodies
and of course can be kept and used afterwards!

But the main reason why it was a little different for us this time
was that it was the first spent at our Norfolk retreat!

I was great fun decorating the place - my favourite was Anna's crocheted snowflake bunting.

Soon after we bought it we discovered that the bungalow was called Meadow View
and we enjoyed our Christmas lunch looking at the wonderful view.

Christmas lunch would not be complete without Christmas pudding...

... then letting it go down in front of the fire...

...or walking it off down the Loke.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Dragon Harp

Firstly here 's the design traced on
Right, deep breath, and initial colours blocked in.

The finished painting...

detail of the head...

and as you can see, the dragon's tail and wings wrap around the whole soundbox - great fun!

Finally, the name of the harps' eventual recipient is incorporated in the tail.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Harvest Home!


This time of year we are usually very busy making the most of the produce
that the garden and countryside has to offer - and this year is certainly no exception.
Karen kicked off by making this amazing Spiced Blackberry and Brandy Liqueur.
The finished bottles of delicious liqueur.

I pinched the left-over pulp from Karen's liqueur and added it to my Blackberry and Elderberry wine.
It filled two demijohns (9 litres or 16 pints).

This is also the time of year when Karen passes the bowl of Christmas Pudding mix around
for everyone to give a stir. As you can see, Anna enjoyed it and I loved being a good stirrer too!
The aromatic smell from the bowl was fantastic!!
Finishing touches...
One Christmas Pudding for this year and one for next year.
Not wishing to be outdone by Karen I set too with this Sloe Gin. The recipe is simple:
1kg Sloes - or in this case I used the very similar Bullaces picked from 'our' loke in Norfolk.

200kg sugar (it may need a little more at a later date but I don't want to add too much). 

Then I filled this 3 litre Kilner jar with 2 litres Gin - you can see it instantly
starting to take on some of the wonderful colour of the Bullaces. This is now
shaken once a day for two weeks then once a week for a couple of months.
Later I may add some almond essence, a stick of cinnamon and one tsp. cloves.

We then turned our attention to making Cider -
first we cleaned and sterilised all the equipment...

then cleaned and chopped up the apples ...

crushed them to a pulp...

and pressed out the juice. With the addition of cider yeast, we now have
four gallons (18 litres or 32 pints) of Cider bubbling away in the fermenting bin.
It should just about be ready for Christmas.

Karen finished off by making some bottles of chilli oil and tarragon oil.
Here is a hint to our next project, plus of course the Pickled Onions, Christmas Cake etc...!!