Friday, November 24, 2017

Mumbo Jumbo?



Other people’s ill health is of great interest to them, but in offering sympathy one is inwardly only too glad not to be suffering the same ailment. And too much detail proffered can become a bore.
So, I am about to bore you with my own case – but with a very good reason. I will be as brief as possible.
I get bronchitis every winter. In 2017 it came early, in late autumn, and was exceptionally bad, with a lot of coughing accompanied by noisy and involuntary gasps – not to mention a profusion of expectoration – horrible.
I awoke early one morning at about 3.30 o’clock unable to either breathe or speak. Margreet woke to find me unable to communicate and thought I had gone mad. I really thought it was my end. When it cleared, after quite a few seconds that felt like minutes, we rushed to A&E to discover the position and the chance of further blockage re-appearing. I was told to take an anti-biotic and sent home.
The same thing happened three more times over the next few days, the last after I had eaten some halva.
Nights were miserable and sleepless. I walked wrote, read, drew – all to keep as clear as possible from the expectoration that was non-stop when lying down.
Now, Margreet is a qualified reflexologist among other attributes. She had given me this foot massage in the past and afterwards it produced a lovely feeling of floating on air when I walked. She suggested that she give me treatment directed at lungs and throat.
I regret to say that however nice the treatment had been in the past, I had rather thought it to be a bit mumbo jumbo. But I welcomed a try.
After the first evening session I was able to sleep a bit. After the next I could sleep more. After the third I could sleep through the full night. And the expectoration was greatly reduced.
If I was sceptical before about the benefits of reflexology, I am no longer. That’s what I wanted to say. 

As for the related blockages – well, that, as I wrote initially, is someone else’s boring health problem.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Cars



In a magazine section of a current newspaper there is a piece about people and the cars they have owned. And although I have taken a rough interest in the mechanics of the cars that I have owned, it is the happenings connected with those cars that are of more interest.
After the war, in the late 1940s, my brother, an engineer, was working in a town where a mechanic was assembling cars from more or less whatever automotive parts that came to hand. I asked if he could make a sort of sports car for me. Which he did, and I bought it.
This car was constructed mainly from Austin 7 parts – triangular chassis, engine, steering and brakes. It could seat two, had a rudimentary canvas roof, and an outside exhaust that ducted the gasses close to the ear of my passenger. Girls would climb in at the peril of being burnt. The car represented freedom, fun, sometimes envy, and often incredulity. I added a sign on the radiator “Austin of England” and replaced the radiator-filling cap with an antique temperature gauge, visible from the driver’s seat. It went like a bomb (or rather felt like it) but was the very devil to stop – so a bit dangerous. Brakes were not too good in those days, and in an Austin 7 particularly so.
I had been invited to stay in Norfolk, and was passing an open truck where cows had been packed athwartships, when one of them decided to relieve herself. I was soaked in herbivore urine. It was not an ideal way for a guest to arrive for the weekend.
Still owning the same car, I had entertained fellow ushers at a London wedding, and was leading them on the road to the evening’s festivities, when a lamp post jumped out in front of me. I left the car where it stood and now cannot remember how it was returned to me. The car was never the same again, becoming unstable at speed.
I then belonged to the 750 Formula Motor Club and, at a meeting of enthusiasts, asked Colin Chapman, of Lotus, if he could diagnose the trouble. But he was unable to do so.
I sold the car to someone in the City, being rather fearful that there would be recriminations. The buyer contacted me on a small matter, so I asked him how he was getting along with the car and how fast he had taken it. “I don’t go over 30 miles an hour”, he replied.  
My next car was a very early MG, given to me by a cousin. It was a real sports car, but unreliable. I was rather proud of myself in substituting a tin disk instead of an open universal joint, to stop oil from leaking from an overhead camshaft into its magneto. This was an effective cure, but made rather an oily mess inside the bonnet. I got tired of having to stop and tinker with it with girls aboard, and gave it away in the spirit with which I had received it. The car went to a Norfolk family and disappeared.
I was working on painting scenery for theatrical touring shows, The Royal Opera House, television (in black and white then), children’s theatre and repertory, which gave me a chance in between jobs to create an all-purpose vehicle to take on a grand tour of Europe.
The basis for this rather unique vehicle was a well-used Ford 8, builder’s flat-back van. On it I attached a moulded covering of ply and, on the roof above the most comfortably designed of two seats, I attached ships’ ventilation air scoops made of copper. They faced forward to duct in air (if uncorked) and backward when it rained.
The car, unused to the post-war rough roads of Europe, needed fairly regular mechanical help from local peasantry – countrymen who exhibited a wonderful range of basic skills. Which was a fine way of meeting people.
After France and Spain, I was driving across northern Italy on a hot day, when a bee was scooped up by an overhead air duct and ended up in my shorts. A quick look in the rear-view mirror revealed several distressed cyclists.
The car was fitted out with sleeping and cooking facilities, food, wine and all the rest. But, after a while, starting the engine was a problem. This meant that nights had to be endured at an angle on steep slopes – to get the car moving in order to start the engine in the morning.
An emergency pot of money, left with a friend in Paris, went with her on holiday. So I had to sell things to be able to re-cross the Channel on my way home.
I had been painting scenery for a pantomime in York and was in a rush to get back to London. Now it so happened that I painted in an all-covering garment that I had cut from theatre canvas and stuck together with rubber adhesive. It was my paint-spattered, scenery-painting costume, and had the air of religion about it. Also, when painting scenery I used colour from old china chamber pots, as they were designed not to spill. Dressed in this painting kit and with pots of liquid paint aboard, I set off for home directly after work on a cold and snowy day. A moronic lorry driver decided to turn his truck around on a main road and right in front of me. Jamming on the brakes on an icy surface hardly slowed me down. So there was a bang, and paint shot everywhere from those pots, including over me. I imagine that the sight surprised the helpful witnesses.
The car took the fancy of a Scottish laird, who bought it for his estate.
A Citroën 2CV came next as it coped beautifully with the rough and overgrown lane leading to my studio house in the Berkshire Downs (and it whistled to the south of France and back, loving its own native country).
Then later, as I was working toward an exhibition of large sculptures in elm wood, a Citroën Ami 8 was able to do the same as the 2CV but with much more room for works of art. So I swapped it for its sister car, a station wagon type that had all the imaginative, idiosyncratic and innovative ideas of its predecessor, but without the centrifugal clutch. This did me well until a lorry driver, entering my main road from a side road, failed to see me behind his rear-view mirror. He was most apologetic and took full responsibility for the accident. But it left me with a broken wrist, which was the jumping-off point for a change of career. I then wrote articles and books for the next 25 years.
My last car was a splendid VW cabriolet that somehow retained the pleasant scent of its previous owner. The car’s only fault was its dislike of dealing with deep puddles – when the engine became flooded and cut out. It impressed a Russian eye specialist with its speed on our smooth roads. And when viewing the thatched houses of the rich from its open top, thought that the owners of these abodes must be peasants who could only afford to cover their houses with straw.
In London, some 30 years ago, in a street of perhaps a battered Ford or two, the VW’s soft-top was susceptible to vandalism. So, with excellent public transport nearby, and with Margreet’s Embassy number-plates on her own car, I gave the VW to my elder son. Of its demise I heard nothing.
Since Margreet’s retirement we also did away with the RAV4 after many years of smooth driving. 

Cars have their stories. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Residual sugar in wine


On the advice of a merchant I bought (for me) a fairly expensive red wine, made in Australia’s Barossa Valley.
Looking at the back label, with its customary descriptive blurb of “berry fruits”, “plum”, “blackberries”, “chocolate”, “vanilla” and all the rest that someone thought up, I saw that the alcohol content was a stonking 14.5%.
In my view that is too high, with the alcohol overpowering those “berry fruits”. It was dry on the palate.
I took its residual sugar content. This was 8%, which should have made it a normally balanced wine. It was the tannin content that made it taste like a dry red wine.
Unaware of the tannin content, I had bought a wine that was happier to be more of a laying-down wine than one for present-day drinking. They might have mentioned this with the “berry” fruits business. Its tannins would have softened in time and brought the wine into balance, making it a fine wine.
It must have been very hot in the Barossa Valley that vintage year, with the grapes producing a lot of sugar. Even if the winemakers had stopped the fermentation earlier to reduce alcohol content, the resultant wine would have been too sweet on the palate. So 14.5% it was.
In Europe, we seldom get the very hot weather that produces too much sugar in the grapes. Here it is often the opposite, demanding added sugar to produce enough alcohol for pleasurable drinking and preservation.
I usually add sugar to my own vintages in London, aiming for around 22% before vinification (Port is about 20%), and fermenting the wine out to contain about 6% residual sugar.
I could stop fermentation of the sweetened must for the wine to contain more sweetness and less alcohol by adding sulphur, or even fine filtering (to get rid of the yeast) if I had the equipment. But I rather like to leave the whole process to nature.
As for the adding of sugar at fermentation time, French authorities, when I wrote professionally on wine anyway, designated that those winemakers below a certain latitude, were not allowed to add it. At that time, a pied noir, kicked out of Algeria, bought a vineyard in Bas Médoc, well south of the designated latitude, and  wondered why his wines were not as good as those made by his neighbours. That was, until he was woken at night by sugar tankers passing by to help improve those neighbour’s wines. He then started to make good wine.
Wine is often blended at source. I do as well, as my own red gets down to around 6% sugar. That is a bit too dry for it, so I have no compunction about mixing it in a decanter with a sweeter red – to the benefit of both.
Commercial winemaking is just another business where the weather is a major element and fortunes can be made or lost. So a certain amount of manipulation by the professional and the amateur when making wine is commonplace.
Dry whites and rosé wines usually have around 7% residual sugar content, reds anything between 6% to 9% - the successful results depending on body, tannin, sweetness and acidity. As for the wine’s acidity, this can also be added to wine, especially in hot climates, in order to produce a successful product.

Out of all this, it seems extraordinary to me that, combined with other factors, the differences between dryness and sweetness in table wines should depend upon such small differences (about 6%) in the wines’ residual sugar content.V

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fear in War


It was when applying for another war medal (one that was never sent to me, and not one for gallantry) that I was asked if I had ever been frightened during my wartime service in the RAF.
My first encounter with the enemy was when, after joining up and waiting for flying training, I took a job as a farm labourer. Food was in short supply. I was helping the war effort and experiencing farm life.
When hoeing weeds in the middle of a field, a German JU88 bomber flew over me at just above treetop level and banked on its way to bomb Reading railway station (it actually missed the station and destroyed a school and killed many children). I could see the pilot and rear cockpit gunner quite clearly. The gunner must equally have seen me. But they were trying to navigate in foreign territory at low level so had little time to waste by shooting up a simple farm labourer. It all happened so quickly. Was I frightened? It was far too sudden and unexpected an incident to generate fear.
Then, going on leave to London, and near to the capital, the train I was in came to a halt in an air raid. Searchlights scanned the night sky to look for the enemy  bombers. Anti-aircraft guns were in action. But no bombs fell nearby. Was I frightened? I wrote about it to a friend in America saying that I would not have missed it for anything. So I certainly could not have been frightened then.
Waiting at RAF Hornchurch, on the fringes of London in Essex, while waiting for a posting to Flying Training School in America, I volunteered to mend roofs in the much-bombed East End, London district of Plumstead. I was on a slate roof mending it when one of the first German rockets landed in the vicinity. It was just a loud bang. The rocket, being supersonic, the swooshing noise of its arrival came after the rocket’s ground explosion. Was I frightened? I didn’t even know then that the explosion was caused by a rocket.
On leave in London, buzzbombs detonated around with some regularity.
These flying bombs were powered by a pulse jet engine and made a loud, pulsating, growling sound.
If one was still making its noise when overhead, all was well. It would land elsewhere. But if the engine cut out just before arriving, you took shelter – in our case, when living in a flat in Victoria, under a strong table. In a bath one just hoped to hear the bomb fly over. Was I afraid? Sometimes apprehensive for sure.
Crashing a PT19 training aircraft in Oklahoma, USA, was a time when I could have expected to be frightened. But I imagine that trying to work out how to get down in one piece gave me little time for fear. I landed in one piece, the aeroplane in several.
Flying in Coastal Command from RAF Davidstow Moor, Cornwall, in twin-engined Vickers Warwick aircraft, and blessed with wonderful eyesight, I spotted a German Fokke-Wulf aeroplane as a dot in the far distance. Alerting those on board through the intercom, we dived to just above sea level and headed for home. They can’t have seen us. With our 303 machineguns we were virtually defenceless and no match whatsoever for such a fast and powerful enemy aircraft bristling with substantial cannons. Was I afraid? It was simply part of a job that I loved doing, and it did break up the monotony of long operational flights in a very noisy and cumbersome machine. I don’t think that any of us on board experienced fear. And after each sortie we were guaranteed a fried egg in the mess on our return.
On RAF airfields, latrines were in huts dotted around the place (some for men, some for women). One day, at Davidstow Moor, I was going about my business and had need of a lavatory. There was one nearby, which turned out to be the cleanest that I had so far encountered on the station. After sitting down I heard a woman cough in a nearby cubicle. Now, being caught in a women’s lavatory was a court martial offence. It could have been the end of my RAF career if I was discovered. I dressed, crept to the door, exited, and walked away as nonchalantly as possible. No one saw me.

So yes. I really did experience fear in wartime – in a ladies lavatory.

Mistletoe update



You might recall my blog on mistletoe. It told how, without success, I tried over the years to “plant” the soft berries of this parasite into junctures of spurs growing from our small apple tree in a pot.
I then, two months after Christmas, found some dried berries clinging to mistletoe twigs in a builder’s skip, and planted them – again without success. So I reluctantly gave up the struggle.
Then, two years later, a small mistletoe shoot sprang out through the tree’s bark an inch or two below where I had planted seed toward the top of the tree.
It was a great day – a celebration day. I had succeeded after many years of failure. But there were no berries attached to the branch.
Twelve months later another bunch of mistletoe appeared below the first one. And after yet another year a third lot appeared low down near to the earth in the pot. But there were still no berries.
Fast-forward another three years – until this 2017 spring. And there, at last, on the lowest and most recent branch, lovely little flowers were opening where new growth usually takes place.
Mistletoe clearly has a mind of its own, and likes to surprise – even hiding its sex for a while.
Anyhow, it looks as if one of those dried berries was a female one. Roll on 
Christmas.






Saturday, September 16, 2017

Art, to Birds, to Moths, to Soup



My art goes in tangents. A theme comes to me and I create pictures on the subject until I have squeezed out all the imaginative and often rather abstract ideas that I have about it. Immediately I begin to tire of the theme I stop. Then I wait until another theme presents itself.
The last series was tremendous fun – enjoyment being essential. It was called “Events”.
It started when Margreet and I witnessed a fight on the street between a carrion crow and a wood pigeon. It was an extraordinary event, with the pigeon giving as good as it got. We think that the crow was trying to rob the pigeon’s nest of eggs or young. We were unable to stay for the result.
Then I made a mobile of brightly delineated fish for Margreet’s niece’s baby. The variously-designed, almost pantomime fish, were suspended on strings from a corrugated cardboard rectangle. They dived and climbed as the cardboard was twisted. On top were painted clouds and an aeroplane with its wings being formed from an old stuck-on address label. To distract the baby with swimming fish at changing time represented an event. 
Then I made another of flying birds for another baby.
With these two mobiles being the core of the series. I added silhouettes of both of us, and of a television friend and myself playing with a Stirling engine. Interesting compositions of multiple events were beginning to appear.
A series of glasses were broken at home. A chessboard was knocked over with the pieces all over the place. So on it went with combined events, starting from that pigeon fight and ending with a remembrance of a friend and neighbour who loved catching salmon in her lifetime. This last work has a “real” salmon, as opposed to my stylised fish, much in evidence. Being of greater importance than the “mobile” fish, it crashes into the picture dispersing fish and birds, chessboard and pieces.
Good art should involve the imagination of the artist and that of the viewer. Now I have just given away rather too many of my thoughts on this particular tangent.
So here I am, with a theme ended, and putting pen to paper before another tangential theme comes to mind to be interpreted in I hope an imaginative way, bright in colour, and pleasing in design.

*****

Each year a pair of great tits nest in a box that I made, painted as brickwork, and attached to the wall on the Eastern side of our London house. So it was most upsetting this year when our regular pair started their nesting rituals and then deserted. Perhaps one, or both, were killed by cats.
With the box unused, I cleared out what little grassy stuff had been used, on the assumption that if another pair would fancy using the box in late spring, the female partner might not want to share the same bedding as the previous incumbent. And lo and behold, when almost summer, and with other nestlings beginning to take wing, a new pair of great tits took over the abode. Perhaps their earlier nest of eggs or young had been robbed by bird or beast. Anyhow, once more we had a couple to share our home with us. And we are very pleased about it.

*****  

Followers of these blogs will recall my contest with clothes moths.
Early last year, having seen only one or two moths flying around, I distributed pheromone-impregnated sticky pad traps around the house, and caught 158 moths all together from March to March. But the count from only March to May this year has already totalled 131. This would imply that springtime is the most active time (mating presumably) for clothes moths to be on the wing, and that by catching so many this year already, they are still in control. And I thought that by catching a good quantity of males, females or both last year I was getting near to solving the problem. Yet despite there being so many moths around the place, only a very few holes, eaten by their maggots, have been found among our clothes. What’s happening?
The success of the pads would seem to depend upon where they are positioned in a room, with one being more successful than the others.

*****

Our soups are much enjoyed by all who partake of them.
They are made and eaten throughout the winter and much of the rest of the year. So they are generally on the hob.
These delicious brews almost always start with chopped onion or leek, braised in plenty of butter. This is done in a large pressure cooker. The leek, or onion, or both, is followed by finely cubed potatoes, stock or crumbled stock cubes, pepper and salt and water. I give it 20 minutes under pressure. That's it. A friend of years ago (Bernard Venables, the fisherman) ate this soup every day of his life, but with mace added.
That is the basic soup, and excellent it is. But it is the additions that make it exceptional. These consist of about every dish that has not been finished – like the remains of sauces, gravy, water used for boiling other things, the washing out of Marmite and Bovril pots, vegetables, leftovers from stews and casseroles, pan juices, mayonnaise, pasta, rice, peanut butter, and all possible remainders that might add flavour or consistency.
When meat or roughage food is to be added, I put it through the soup Mouli first. This allows juices to be squeezed out of fibrous matter (it might need chopping up first with kitchen scissors). The fibre, being almost flavourless, is discarded – or composted if not derivative of meat (which could attract vermin).
To thicken soup I sometimes use a Mouli or liquidiser on some or all of its volume. Or, if it is a white soup, I make and add some white sauce.
If you are making a mushroom soup, and cooking chopped onion and chopped mushrooms with some chopped potato with stock before boiling it, make a white sauce and whisk this in when the initial soup has been cooked.
And should you have tomato soup in mind, use chopped tomatoes from a can and tomato purée with stock cubes or stock, possibly adding white sauce to make it a creamy one. But remember to add a little sugar when using tomato purée.
Should flour or cereal (like pearl barley) be part of your soup, stir it regularly when heating it up to stop it from catching. And the soup must be brought to the boil each day to prevent fermentation. Should you forget to do this daily chore, and wild yeasts have started their work, bring the soup to the rolling boil, and, as Mrs.Beeton wrote: ”Scum it clear as anything rises”.
Many of our soups end as a sort of Mulligatawny by adding curry powder to it.

Stock is important. I might add several cubes, both beef and chicken. But my favourite stock and start to a soup is to buy pigs’ trotters and pressure cook them in water with flavourings for about an hour and a half. In this case, when the liquid is cool, strain off the solids from the liquid stock and separate the gelatinous flesh from bones. Put this meat into a bread tin with chopped onion, capers, sliced cornichons, and pepper and salt. Reduce some soup liquid by adding a little vinegar, boiling and evaporating it, and pouring the result over the trotter meat. Eat this cold and solid with a little olive oil and chopped fresh coriander. Or put it into sandwiches. This rustic dish is not to everyone’s taste. Margreet dares hardly to even look at it. But she agrees that the stock made in this way is wonderful. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Daymaking



It is extraordinary how the little and often unusual things of life define a day.
I go to Lord’s Cricket Ground each summer for three days of watching Test cricket.
I talk to my neighbour spectators who want to talk (and they are sometimes very interesting), but are just as happy to have non-talkers next to me.
When we made room for another cricket-lover in our row to pass by, my neighbour saw that this man had a fly button undone. We questioned if we should tell the undressed person of his condition. But the unknowing spectator had already passed by. And we could not decide what we should or should not have done anyway.
As a boy, should any of our number of males have a fly button undone, someone would introduce the words “Olga Polosky” into the conversation. Then we males would lower our eyes to see who might be the unfortunate.
Then, on the very next day, I sat down in the Underground train on my way to cricket, only to discover that three of my own fly buttons were not done up.
Fortunately I had a newspaper to cover my undress and surreptitiously managed to do up one button before other passengers might see what I was doing and think that I was an exposeur (if there is such a word).
At the station of my destination, Victoria, I did manage to do up the rest behind the newspaper as I walked along the platform.
Nowadays this would probably not happen as the trousers that I found to wear that day were probably made before the advent of reliable zip fasteners.
I had made the same journey to Lord’s for many years – Stamford Brook to Victoria by Underground, then 82 bus to Lord’s Ground.
Where I normally boarded the 82 bus is a stop where several busses stop at the same time. So it is wise to stand around the middle of them to be able to rush either way to catch the 82. This time, busses came and went, but an 82 was not to be seen. I waited for probably 15 minutes, then took an alternative bus that involved a longer walk to reach Lord’s at the other end. I asked the driver what might be holding up the 82. “It’s been discontinued, mate. The number 13 has taken its place.” So I took the 13 next day and all was well – and I hope will be in the future.

It is an accumulation of small things like these that are unexpected and define a day.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Paintings' History


I was lying in bed this morning thinking about the painting that I was working on and the history of paintings – their provenance, the history being a very important part of them.
The story about one of my own, I thought, qualified for the re-telling. 
I had come out of the war as a pilot with TB, started medicine study, TB took hold once more (there was no cure in those days), then gone to art school (The Central under artist Bernard Meninsky) and after that The Old Vic School to learn about theatre design. In the meantime I had settled in two very small Council rooms above the railway lines at Victoria Station (steam trains, then).
Cramped, and polluted by smoke, steam and smuts from the railway engines below, coupled with the dense fogs that they engendered, I gathered together bits of money and bought a wartime bombed-out house next to The Chelsea Football Ground on the Fulham Road. A developer was repairing it with the aid of a grant. He had got as far as putting a roof over the first floor.
I made the place habitable. The RAF Benevolent Association kindly paid for the carpet for stairs and landing.
Between designing jobs in the theatre and painting scenery at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, I taught myself a little more about art by painting landscapes, using a large, home-made easel and paints that I ground myself.
Being right next to the football ground offered landscape possibilities.
So, in 1954, I set up my kit on a gravel mound (where the Christie’s box now stands – or stood), and painted two 2’ x  4’ (61 cm x 122 cm) paintings of a match between Chelsea and Wolves.
One of these paintings was of Peter Sillet scoring a penalty for Chelsea at the western end of the ground. The other included what was known as “The Shed”. It portrayed a bit of the pitch, the crowd, the Shed and buildings in the background outside the ground.
The “penalty” painting I sold right away for £5 (when I had added the “ref”, who I had forgotten to include) to the electrician, then helping me repair the house.
The other painting, entitled “Neighbours on Saturdays” (football was then played only on Saturdays) I exhibited with “The Daily Express Exhibition of Young Artists”, and later in a one-man exhibition at The Gallerie de Seine in West Halkin Street, Belgravia, London. It did not sell.
Over the years that painting either travelled with me to homes around England or was put into store when I was abroad.
When moving from the country to London in 1989 it was hung on the wall of the spare bedroom/studio at the top of my Hammersmith house.
Learning that Mr Abramovich, who owned Chelsea Football Club, was keen on paintings, I sent an image of mine with a letter to his secretary, offering it at £1,000. There was no reply.
My wife Margreet’s niece was about to be married and, although her husband- to-be be was an Arsenal fan, we thought that they might like the painting as a wedding present. The wedding did not take place. So the painting remained on the wall until, in 2006, a Christie’s man saw it and asked if we might like to sell it at his auction house. Yes, we would. Off it went with a reserve of £1,000 - £1,500.
A man soon contacted me to say that he was prepared to go to (I think) £3,000 at auction so would be sure to obtain it. He would then have coloured reproductions made and would pay me for my signature on them – or some such deal.
This was good news. Now I knew that it would sell.
I then heard from Christie’s that the painting might even reach £5,000. This was even better news.
So along I go to the auction.
“Lot number 122,” said the auctioneer. “There is interest in this painting by James Page-Roberts. I can start the bidding at £2,000.”
From £2,000 it rose quickly to £5,000, when some bidders opted out. At £10,000 most had given up, except for two bidders. One was a lady, who we learned later had a Chelsea fan as a husband and wanted to give it to him as a Christmas present. The other bidder was probably Mr Abramovich’s agent.
The bidding went on, with the lady keeping her hand up until it was hers – for £28,000. Christie’s quote the price, with commission added, as £33,600. It was what is known in gallery jargon as “the top lot”.
So what happened to the painting’s pair?
I still had the electrician’s home address. So I decided to track him down.
And if I did locate the man and painting, what was I going to do? Should I tell him all? Should I offer a small or large amount for it so that I could hang it on my wall, with its fun provenance? Should I buy and then sell it, giving him ….? I didn’t really know what I would or should do. I would simply have to play it by ear if I did find it. 
So off I go to his address south of the river to a substantial house in Battersea somewhere. I rang the doorbell.
Two gay men appeared, who had lived there for more than 20 years. They had never heard of my man. Perhaps he had been bombed out of the East End of London  in the war and had been given temporary accommodation in this house and moved on.
That was the start and end of my quest for the second painting, except that I put a piece in the Chelsea Club’s Fanzine, hoping for a response. There was none.

Those are two paintings with provenance.