memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for the ‘paintings’ Category

Obsessive Compulsive

The world is divided into two classes of beings – those who, on sitting down for lunch,  automatically adjust the position of their knives and forks, move their glass half a centimeter to the left and centralize their plate in some totally imagined pattern of cosmic symmetry and those who don’t.

We are not born with this disorder; we don’t think, as a fetus in the womb, I know, I might try something different this time around, I might try being an obsessive compulsive – sounds like a lot of fun!

During our childhood when our natures begin to manifest themselves this preoccupation with order is seen as a virtue – it’s called being tidy.

Then, as we grow older, our minds arrange things into compartments, the walls of which we find increasingly hard to breach.

It is known that the interaction between the two hemispheres of the brain differs according to gender. While your male brain plods deliberately from side to side, your female brain flits seamlessly from left to right and back again in a zany fashion.

To really understand OCD you have to think male, take a few paces to the end of the street, turn right between the pylon and the hedge, go along a narrow lane and you will come up against a high stone wall.

It’s on the other side of that wall.


An all-seeing God (1)

The idea behind the following little tale I shamelessly borrow from one of my heroes – Roald Dahl.

Once upon a time there lived in Austro-Hungary towards the end of the 19th century a family of five – father, mother and three children.

They lived in a country village near the German frontier, where the father worked as a customs official. The family was staying at an inn, the Gasthof Zum Pommer, with its pretty orchard of apple trees at the back. While the father went to work every day at the frontier post, the three children attended the local village school and the mother, who was very pious, busied herself around the village with good works and worshipped daily at Mass in the church.


One day the mother found herself to be expecting another child.

In those days Society and the Catholic Church in general, and her authoritian husband in particular, all conspired against her to produce babies – a task to which she was neither physically nor temperamentally suited. She was a thin nervous woman and her previous two pregnancies had ended in miscarriages. She decided to visit her friend the priest at the church and confide her fears and doubts to him. She explained about her abusive husband and trembled lest the birth should be problematic.

–          Put your trust in God, my daughter and let us kneel down and pray for the safety of your unborn child.

So she and the priest knelt in the church and prayed fervently and she derived spiritual comfort therefrom. Before she left the priest blessed her and urged her to say a novena of her rosary each day.

(To be continued)

Great great-uncle shoots tiger in cave

My great grand-mother, Annie Horsley, was born on Nov. 27th 1854 at Pallamcottah in Southern India, where her father worked as civil engineer; he held the rank of Colonel in the Royal Engineers. She was the youngest child, having one older sister and five older brothers. On  their father’s retirement at the surprisingly young age of 41 – a reorganisation of the Indian Army making many officers redundant, Annie’s mother’s two brothers-in-law, Col. William Cantis and Col. Archibald Young both retiring on Pension at the same time – the family returned to England and settled in Canterbury.

Canterbury Cathedral Large Restrike Etching by Anonymous

Canterbury Cathedral at the time when the boys were there.

All the five boys were sent to the ancient King’s School, in the precincts of the vast candle-lit Cathedral. They were contemporaries with their cousins John and Stephen; Canon Horsley recalls how they were all identified in order, in the old manner, Horsley Primus to Horsley Septimus. Of these seven boys, all but one – Canon Horsley himself – passed their working lives abroad in the service of God and the Queen, so strong was the family tradition. Annie’s eldest brother William entered the Indian Civil Service from Cambridge and after a career as forest officer served as a judge in the state of Hyderabad.

He has left a vivid memorial of himself in a series of letters from India which he wrote to his father between 1870 and 1891. The conditions of the correspondence were ideal – an affectionate son writing to a father who had lived almost the same life, and would follow every detail with interest and knowledge. There is an old typescript of the letters on rice-paper (perhaps made up for the father) which is in my brother Gamaliel’s possession, well worth reading for themselves, not merely as family records. They provide in fresh authentic detail, the raw material that Rudyard Kippling was to work up into some of the finest of his elaborately polished short stories. According to family tradition an episode from William The Conqueror – presumably the goat feeding – was furnished by Horsley’s experiences in famine relief; and many parts of the finer story The Tomb of his Ancestors – including the local setting – seem to come straight from the text of the letters. What contact there was between the men is not clear, but contact there must have been.

William Horsley was a good talker, who in later life loved to hold his hearers with tales of forest and hill. Stories of bison-hunt and tiger kill, and of his carefree days as a bachelor forest officer, on his own in his little kingdom in the Satpura hills, an un-mapped forest 200 miles from to end; and the occasion when he, along with an Indian tracker, silently pursued a wounded marauding tiger until they cornered it in a cave whereupon he entered the cave and shot the tiger.


There may be significance in the dates; Kippling settled in England in 1889; Horsley retired in 1892; The Day’s Work was published in 1894. (I have a 1st Edition of it).

William Horsley died in 1915.  A fine photograph brings before us the splendid old man. But even better is the poem in which his daughter evokes …


Tiger stories told to me at night by the fire in the library

Light, deflected from the reading lamp, falls close,

Cutting angles on the muscled hand, 

Glittering on the  glinting greying hair.

His tired eyes, wrinkled be the Indian glare,

Stare at the big guns resting on their stand …

My father´s face remains forever fixed, 

His features burnt in steel. 

His tired eyes do not see me,

They reveal steep wooded ghauts,

Ravines drenched in rain.



My latest painting

My latest painting.

I hear voices

I hear voices.

Human weakness

Human weakness.

Some of my latest therapy

Every evening after dinner I wheel myself to (what these days I unblushingly refer to as my) atelier. Recently I’ve been reviewing all my sketches and paintings and stuff from way back.

I touched up here, tweaked there, I snipped and pasted, trimmed off and recoloured backgrounds, heavy with the marker; it was great fun, better than having to think up a new idea.

This was a cut & paste job on  blue paper:



This was supposed a «father figure» (My dad had a beard).



Here’s (literally) cut and paste, making quite an effective colour contrast:


Here is a foray into the unfamiliar world of wax pastel. As one can see I’m a complete beginner and little control  over the medium; (I didn’t mean her neck to be that long).



This is rather a risqué little sketch for this place. Again in pastel I used lines etc. to cover up the mistakes.



This was (for me) experimental – bit of a confusion, bit of a mess, I didn’t where I was going – great fun though.



Another fast water-colour sketch:



This one originally was so bad that I did another painting on the reverse of sheet of paper (thick gummed A3 paper which can acrylics) so you get two for the price one.



So this one is on the side of the paper; it’s just a glorified doodle really but great therapy – very calming.



One doesn’t have to Tom Hanks (or Tom’anks as they say in Portugal) to understand the symbology of this one.


I lovingly repaired this one from about four years ago. I discreetly touched up the colours without spoiling the spontaneous composition.



Depends what kind of mind you have when you view this one.




this last one isn’t really a painting but a piece of cardboard which I would use at the end of each session to use up the paint – waste not want not.



Fruta da Epoca



Sweet Cherry.

Vigorous tree with strong apical control with an erect-pyramidal canopy shape, capable of reaching 50 ft. In cultivation, sweet cherries are maintained 12-15 ft in height. Leaves are relatively large (largest of cultivated Prunus), elliptic with mildly serrated margins, acute tips, petioled, and strongly veined.

I love cherries – I reckon they are just about my favourite fruit, except possibly the-perfect-peach (do I dare to eat a peach?)

Consider the cherries which are harvested in due season from the orchards of the Douro valley – red, plump, succulent, delicious.

I doubt that these will end up on the shelves of Sainsburys or Safeways like the strawberries of the Algarve that are whisked away by the waiting refrigerated trucks, throbbing in the misty dawn and driven along the hot dusty motorways of Spain and France and through the Chanel Tunnel to the London vegetable warehouses at dusk.

No, these cherries will flood the fruit markets of Penafiel and Bom Successo and each kitchen-table in the region will have a laughing overflowing abundance and children shall dangle them from their ears and youths and maidens shall dance joyously in the church-squares of the golden valley.


In the Home the appearance of cherries will be greeted by the incurious and unexpressed satisfaction of the continuance of the seasons – of course, cherries, what else? The old people will think.

Because we are not anywhere near this season, the presence of a bowl of shiny dark cherries in front of one of the old dears (brought that afternoon by a visiting daughter) drew tacit attention from some of us.

It was supper-time and the rest of us had boring old stewed apple; but not this old dear who set about her bowl of cherries with a will, spitting out stones while the cup of her curved fingers fed another one into her chewing mouth. From time to time she would lift her crouching face from the plate and glance around with a look that said: eat your hearts out, suckers and if anyone thinks that they’re going to get a bite of my cherries, well they’ve got another think coming …

Blessed are the Ungiven for they shall inherit … for they shall inherit what? … I know, for they shall inherit all the cherries!


St. Edmund's College - AMBULACRUM

St. Edmund’s College – AMBULACRUM

Here is an old picture of The Ambulacrum at my old school (from the Latin ambulare: to walk) where people would amble, saunter or stroll before mealtimes or during breaks between lessons. There was an obscure protocol concerning who could avail themselves of this privilege and when and why, the details of which have long since fled from my mind, I’m glad to say.

Walking (also known as ambulation) is one of the main methods of locomotion among legged animals and is typically slower than running and other gaits. Walking is defined by an inverted pendulum gait in which the body vaults over the stiff limb or limbs with each step. Although walking speeds can vary greatly depending on factors such as height, weight, age, terrain, surface, load, culture, effort, and fitness, the average human walking speed is about 5 kilometres per hour.

Let me just jump in here as someone who has observed walking from both points of view (can and can’t).

I can testify that walking suits people.

Locomotion makes people dynamic, whether the upright graceful carriage of an athlete or the haunchy waddle of the villager, walking makes you look good.


Not so much fun however is sitting round all day in a wheelchair watching other people walk.

To my chagrin I haven’t greatly improved the quality or speed of my walking on my frame. Always at the back of my mind is one of the (unwritten) maxims of this place: to stop is to die. Goaded on by this thought, in spite of the inherent indolence of my nature, I continue to doggedly sway across halls and lurch down corridors, sweating and stubborn … while I am thus ambulating, my mind sometimes stretches across the universe to grasp at some elusive truth … other times I focus on the matter in hand – to continue defying gravity for just one more step.

But we make progress my masters; courage my friends; keep on going for just one more step.

Don’t give up!

I leave you with a spot of oriental wisdom:

What the caterpillar thinks of as the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.




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