Friday, 21 October 2016

Hastings Old Town antique and junk shops

Some time ago I did a post about antique/junk hunting in St Leonard's, which continues to be very popular. Have been meaning to do the same for our other browser's paradise, Hastings Old Town, for ages. It's a big job, and this is a long post. Battleaxe and Philosopher spend many happy hours rummaging, and we know many of the shops well. I've tried to avoid leaving any out, but as we will see below, it's all a bit 'evolving'.

The Courthouse Street Yard. 'Old-style' junk rummaging.
    I think the profile of the shops is changing - from reasonably priced piles of assorted stuff - to high-end shops with much less in them. Think a tastefully 'curated' (and I use that word advisedly) display of expensive items - often featuring mid-century modern chairs, old industrial steel cabinets, enamel signs and skeletons. I guess this reflects the on-going transformation of Hastings into a desirable destination for incomers, but it's a shame for old rummagers like us.
    Let's start at the end of George Street nearest to Pelham Place and the amusement arcades.
    First, we have Coach House Antiques.  Here is owner Richard standing outside the shop. He has some nice old amusement machines on display which still work. I have always been particularly fond of the Laughing Policeman. (By the way, this is the only policeman, laughing or otherwise, you'll see round the place these days. They've all been cut).
    There is some classy antique furniture in the shop at classy prices, long-case clocks, china - and loads of costume jewellery.

    There's another nameless little place opposite, and then, past the West Hill lift, the West Hill Arcade, with several little shops which come and go. This one, the Air Raid Shelter, seems to be doing fine.

     Along George Street, we come to The George Street Antique Centre, kept by Hope and Carol. That's Hope behind the counter. This is a great place for reasonably priced little nick-nacks, china, jewellery and interesting old books.

 Opposite Butler's Gap, Butler and George - a relatively new addition. It used to be a bit enamel sign and skeletonish, but has grown much more eclectic. I need to give it some serious attention.

    Butler's Emporium is an up-market mixture of old and new. Good for presents. A word of advice here: Battleaxe always asks before taking photos in shop interiors. Don't even think about taking unauthorised snaps in this shop. I saw the owner blow some woman's  head off.
   When we first came to Hastings, Butler's was still a hardware/general store.
Nice old shelves
Remnant of its previous life as a hardware store
Old Butler's, with what is now the Clockwork Crow on the right
    Next, the Clockwork Crow. This shop has had various incarnations in recent years. It has the most fantastic, atmospheric back room, with views going right up several stories - the shop is worth a visit for that alone. Opening hours have always been a bit erratic, and when I was taking my photographs, what did I find? 'Back in Five Minutes.'...
Grrr- no.

      Quick Battleaxe nag. I just hate that. Five minutes is never five minutes, and how are you to know when the notice was put up? Shopkeepers: tell us the actual time you will be back!
      Now, we turn into the High Street.
      First, Browsers, just past the junction. This is a big shop, worth delving into. Peter in there is very helpful - they have just sold me a beautiful Art Deco dressing table for very little, and taken in my previous dressing table. Now, all I need is an Art Deco stool to go with it....
Browsers - oh look, Battleaxe's old dressing table visible just inside the door

      Next, on the same side, the Antiques Warehouse.  It's massive, a Hastings institution, with several crammed floors. One dealer in there called Mitch has particularly good stuff, with much relating to the local area.
Mitch's stall
     Opposite, another institution, Robert's Rummage. When I was talking to Robert, he said that a local photographer, Conrad Lee, had photographed him and the picture had appeared in Italian Vogue. I tracked down both Conrad and the photo, which I'm sure you will agree is lovely, and got permission to reproduce it here. Here is the link.
Robert in his shop, with thanks to Conrad Lee

     Robert also has a more up-market shop on the other side of the street, Robert's Curios, which specialises in oriental antiques - so many interesting, colourful things in there.
Robert's Curios
     Next-door to Judges, two little shops -, specialising in high-class mid-century chairs, and one currently called 'Pop-up Retro'. In the words of the owner, it's 'evolving'....
     Now, we turn off right, down Courthouse Street. Reeves, founded in 1818, on the corner, is the oldest shop in Hastings selling similar things to its early days. It's well worth a rummage. The owner, Chris Hawkins, showed me some wonderful old photographs.
Reeves today
As it was,

Very old daguerrotype
      Chris also told me how tough things are for shops like his in the Old Town just now. He said that one problem that affects the footfall is the lack of 'real' shops in the Old Town, for example Butler's changing from hardware to lifestyle as mentioned above. He also felt that people were more short of money to buy things.
Lokking down Courthouse Street
       First in Courthouse Street is Twentieth Century Funking Junk. Mick, the owner of this shop, used to specialise in mid-century stuff, including vintage Ercol. We have sold/bought a number of items from him. However, he tells me that good mid-century pieces are now harder to find, and much more expensive. He has diversified into the skeleton/weird religious object market.

       Next, Poodle Yard. Of course, that's not its real name - I once found two spaghetti poodles in there, so like a dog with a rabbit hole, I always revisit hoping that another one will pop out. Needless to say, it doesn't.  It is a huge jumbled mass of total, eye-popping junk, including a graveyard for kitsch concrete garden ornaments, and one of our favourite rummaging places. It also has a good retro clothes store.
Entrance to the Courthouse Street Yard
Garden graveyard...
       Back on the High Street, on the left, Little Treasures has lost its retro identity and gone for higher end decor.  Nelson Antiques is worth a look - deals mostly in older antiques.
Little Treasures - is that an industrial steel cabinet outside?
       Further up and opposite, 20th Century Fashion and Design.  This shop is well-established, but constantly changing - every time you go in, (which is not that often, as opening times are a bit random) they have opened or closed another room in its rambling, cavernous interior. It is good for clothes and retro stuff in general, but feels a bit chilly - metaphorically and literally.

   Then, Hendy's Home Store. What can I say?  Wonderful to look at, a total labour of love, a work of art, features in umpteen up-market magazines etc., but have we ever bought anything? No.
   However, there is plenty to look at - check out the loo half way up the stairs - and the staff seem happy to welcome gawpers and browsers.

Hendy's Home Store
      Opposite, Object D'Epoch is new, tastefully and sparsely stocked, expensive and rarely open.
      I find shops like this a bit off-putting. It's a bit like designer clothes shops - one feels insufficiently cool, and there is nothing to browse through when you go in. I was almost glad it was closed.

Peering fruitlessly into Object D'Epoch. Closed when it said it would be open...
     Nearby is The Goods Depot - again, fairly new, and also closed when I passed.  More volume and variety of stock, but very much DFL orientated, I sense.

The Goods Depot
Finally, a nice little shop, Balfour and Byrom, owned by the same people as the Pop-up Retro Shop down the road. Jackie, who minds the shop, is very pleasant. Unlike some of the others I've just mentioned, I sense that these people want to make a go of selling things rather than having a beautiful show-piece.

    Oh, there's one more. If you walk down Rock-a-Nore to the end, you get to an antiques shop that has been converted from a public toilet. Interesting.
    Sorry this is so long!
    It may be the last Battleaxe post for a few days!


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Glyndebourne - Don Giovanni

Well, Hastings Battleaxe missed all the celebrations marking the 950th anniversary of the Hastings Battle, but sorry dears, we had booked to go to Glyndebourne, this time to see Don Giovanni. It was part of our 30th Wedding Anniversary festivities...

This is from the 2010 production, but it gives you the idea....
      You may remember that this time last year we saw the most fantastic production of Saul, which converted us to the Glyndebourne experience.  We knew that this year's effort was not going to be as mind-blowing - it is a revival of a 2010 production which got mixed reviews.
      This year, we made more effort with the picnic business, as the outing was part of our wedding anniversary celebrations. (The actual anniversary day was Tuesday,  not quite as festive as it could have been as I had the monthly WI meeting in the evening).  Anyway, we had champagne, M&S goodies and actual plates.  However, we are still but primitive picnic novices.  Check out this table next to us. Candelabra and all. Two men set it all with infinite care, even put the smoked salmon on the plates, and then vanished.... Where? Why?
Check out this picnic
       Don't let's forget that this is only the second level Glyndebourne, the tour. What on earth must the picnics be like at the main festival?
       So, the production. Well, it was good, but not mind-blowing. We both very much enjoyed it, and it has not put us off the Glyndebourne business, but it did have flaws.
       Moment of nerdiness. Mozart wrote two versions of this opera, Prague and Vienna. Modern audiences are used to a mostly-Prague hybrid, with substantial chunks  cut out. This production was of the full Vienna score. Most of the reinstated passages came in Act II, and goodness, did they drag out the action.  All operas (in my view) have a few boring interludes. Why bother reinstating further dull material?
        The Glyndebourne tour is designed to showcase young singers.  The young bloke playing the Don had a good voice, but was not old enough, and did not have enough stage presence for the role. Rather than the world's greatest ever seducer, he looked like a fraudulent double-glazing salesman selling over-priced windows to old ladies. Mille e tre? Non.
        Oh, the things you find on Google. Turns out the bloke, Duncan Rock, played the Don in a gay version of Don Giovanni at Heaven night club a few years ago. Apparently he is regarded as a 'Barihunk'... Well, never mind his vests and his pecs, he still didn't cut it for me.
Duncan Rock as Barihunk alternative Don Giovanni
         Donna Elvira was very good, as was Leporello.  Zerlina had a good voice and was an excellent actress.  The Commendatore, again, was not heavy-duty enough, and instead of being the usual terrifying statue, he was a floppy Halloween zombie-corpse.
         The last scene between the Don and the Commendatore, and his descent into Hell, should make your hair stand on end, but it was more like boss of double-glazing firm, en route to the office zombie fancy dress party, berating the salesman for not meeting his targets.
        Here's how I imagine the scene - Peter Mattei as the Don from the Met in 2015.  Yes, I know the staging for the tour has to be simple, but even so...

New York Met, 2015
       They also threw food onto the stage floor, and when Donna Anna entered, she slipped right over in it and had to be helped to her feet by Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio. Dears, it was like being back in the White Rock Theatre.
        The setting was sort of late fifties - some nice clothes for the women, but the set was a rather rigid box thing. In my view it didn't allow the cast enough scope to move around the stage.
         Not many photos I'm afraid - you are not allowed to take photos in the auditorium, but I snapped this from the sur-titles board. Daily Mail? Horrors? Surely at least the Telegraph...

         Driving home, we encountered the most amazing rain storm - literally, we could scarcely see the road.  Must have been a bit difficult for the Hastings Bonfire and procession, but I gather it was dry for the fireworks. One day, we'll get there....
         This is the first of two blog posts this week - I have another, on Hastings Old Town antique shops, almost ready.
         At the end of the week we are off on holiday for two weeks - a cruise to the Middle East. Yes, I know, are we cruise people? Don't know, have never been on one. I'll let you know. Middle East? Yes,  I know. We've made our Wills.....
         Here's a new picture of the production - Zerlina and the Don - hot from the Glyndebourne site:


Sunday, 9 October 2016

Portsmouth and Southsea - such an interesting trip.

Early in the summer we spent a few days in Bournemouth, Portsmouth etc. Well, our tickets to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard were valid for a year, so we decided to go back.  We stayed in another lovely old Victorian hotel, had an interesting walk round old Portsmouth, toured the submarine, and we still have not seen everything the place has to offer.... Battleaxe would totally recommend a (long) visit to Portsmouth - there is just so much to see and do.

HMS Warrior

    First, to the Dockyard and  HMS Warrior. People say that this ship is better than the Victory, and I would agree.
      Launched in 1860, she was the pride of the British navy, the first of the armoured 'ironclads', and the largest, fastest and most powerful warship in the world. She patrolled the seas in a state of readiness for 22 years, carrying 700 men, bristling with massive guns, but never fired a shot in anger. She had a fearsome reputation as the ultimate deterrent, the eighteenth century version of Trident.
      Charles Dickens described her as:
     'A black vicious ugly customer as ever I saw, whale-like in size, and with as terrible a row of incisor teeth as ever closed on a French frigate'
     Built for both steam and sail, her statistics are staggering. The ship was protected by iron plating 4.5 inches thick, backed by eighteen inches of teak, giving her an overall weight of well over 9000 tons. Philosopher and I contemplated the huge ship floating quietly in the water, and marvelled that water alone could hold the thing up.... Eeeerr - OK. Guess how heavy the world's largest cruise ship, the 'Harmony of the Seas' is.... wait for it.....227,000 tons. Now, how does that float?
     The massive propeller had to be raised when the Warrior was under sail - this took the muscle power of 400 men. Dealing with the anchors was nearly as bad. The ship had four, each weighing 5.6 tons. Raising each anchor needed 100 men on a capstan, and could take 4 to 5 hours. The ship was clearly not into quick getaways, but she could travel at over 17 knots using both sail and steam.  Her sails covered an overall area of 37,546 square feet - imagine the effort need to hoist that lot.
     Working conditions for the men were better than in the days of the Victory. At least they could stand up below decks, even if they still slept in hammocks slung between the guns. The worst time was had by the stokers, who worked below the water line in hot, airless conditions, shovelling coal into the forty furnaces which powered the huge engines.
More room below decks - but still 18 men would live round each gun

They even had washing machines

Part of the engine
     Next, we went to the new Mary Rose exhibition. OK, she's very old, launched in 1510, the pride and joy of Henry VIII and a pretty rare thing, but let's be honest, what remains of the old ship (less than half) is pretty much a pile of old wood. However, they have made the best of it with virtual reality projections of the crew doing their tasks, and excellent supporting exhibition areas.There   are even reconstructions of some of the faces of the crew from their skeletal remains. Most must have had dreadful toothache - decay and abscesses were the norm.
     I particularly liked the skeleton of the ship's dog.
The Mary Rose

The ship's dog.
     Our hotel, the Queen's Hotel in Southsea, is just along the seafront from the Royal Beach where we stayed last time.  The Queen's is another faded grandeur architectural gem, all marble, high ceilings, paster mouldings, huge chandeliers, massive staircases etc. The glass dome in the front foyer is particularly striking.

Queen's Hotel Southsea

Glass dome in the hotel foyer
     We had a sea view room, this time with a balcony, and a great view of the ships going in and out of Portsmouth harbour.  At this point, the ships are really close to the shore, and look enormous.  Battleaxe would totally recommend this hotel for lovers of Victorian grandeur, but they do have a lot of events - tribute bands etc., so would avoid those - very noisy I expect.

View from our balcony

Oops - that ship is a bit close
     We walked out to look at the Portsmouth Naval War Memorial, just across the grass. It is impressive and poignant, listing 25,000 dead sailors from the two world wars who have no known grave. I read that there are identical memorials in Chatham and Plymouth.
The Portsmouth Naval War Memorial
      We also found ourselves right by the hovercraft embarkation point, and watched them roaring back and forth to the Isle of Wight. Have only been on a hovercraft once - found it very claustrophobic.
Arrival of the hovercraft
       Next morning we walked from the hotel along the sea wall and fortifications of Old Portsmouth, to the area known as Spice Island at the tip. Very interesting and picturesque.

Looks a bit threatening....

View from the Round Tower

The Square Tower

Spice Island
     We saw the Saluting Platform, where Royalty, Admirals etc. stand for reviews of the fleet. Battleaxe stood there and imagined what fun it would be. Huzzah! Huzzah! The crews lined up along the decks in their immaculate uniforms, men up the masts, ships hooting, flags flying, bands playing, guns booming.
     I saluted, but in vain. All that passed was an Isle of Wight ferry, with just a couple of old geezers on deck, who gawped at me as if I was mad.
Battleaxe reviews the fleet

And the salute is returned - no, this is from the internet - Trafalgar day at Portsmouth 2005

And the boys waved from the mast spars - no, internet again.

      At Spice Island we found a multi-story boat park, and the Portsmouth fishing fleet. We didn't go up the Spinnaker tower - have to leave that for another time!
Multi-story boat park

The fishing fleet
We didn't go up the Spinnaker Tower
       We walked back via Portsmouth Cathedral - an architectural mish mash, but interesting. However, we had extreme sight-seeing fatigue by this time.

        Later, we drove to Gosport, searching for the addresses of some of Philosopher's relatives who lived there when he was little. We didn't have much success, but we ended up right by the Submarine Museum. Our seemingly limitless Dockyard tickets entitled us to go in, so we decided to call into the cafe for lunch. Curses, cafe was closed, so we ended up going round the resident WW2 era submarine, the HMS Alliance.

HMS Alliance

     Like Warrior, the submarine never actually saw action - she was commissioned just as the war ended. She has been restored to show daily life aboard, and I am really glad we didn't miss it. There was proper lighting,  sound effects, including a depth charge attack, and a burst of the deafening sound of the engines. Apparently many ex-submariners have hearing problems. Not surprising. It was all brilliant.
Meal time
Machiney stuff....
        I was transfixed by the terrifying escape hatch routine. Reaching the surface from a depth of 100 feet takes around two minutes, during which time you have to continuously blow out the air in your lungs to avoid getting the bends. Our guide, an ex submariner, had actually done this - until 2009 they had a 100 foot deep training tank in a tower at Gosport which all submariners had to practice in. I would have drowned on the spot. Seems to me, too, that it is a bit like doing escape drills on a plane - the chances of surviving are very low.
        If you go to the Dockyard, don't miss the Submarine Museum. You can get there from the main site on a water bus.
        Finally - a coincidence. Look what was setting up opposite the hotel as we left.... Hope the performing cats are doing OK!