Friday, 28 December 2012

New Year thoughts - on moving, resolutions for Battleaxe and Hastings

Last blog post of 2012. 

Happy New Year - and thanks for reading my blog.

Have just had a good rant about the big political things I would like to change for 2013. Read all about it on Bombastic Battleaxe.
     Well, Christmas is over. All our social initiatives went well, and I have the most evil cold.
I got some lovely presents, including several books, including a lovely one called 'Advanced Style' by Ari Seth Cohen.  It is full of stylish and/or mad old ladies in incredible outfits.  Battleaxe is not quite old enough to be totally mad yet, and I am only periodically stylish, but I hope my time will come....You can see what I mean on the Advanced Style blog.
     Philosopher got a Samsung Galaxy Tablet - he seems to like it so far.
     How much longer is it going to stay wet?  The day before Christmas Eve we discovered a little river running down the drive from under the house.  The neighbours told us it is a spring, and that it has appeared only once before in the 35 years since our houses were built.  It has dried up again now, hopefully for the next few years. I guess these must be quite common round here - it would be interesting to know how other Hastings residents manage.

2012 has been a busy year  - mostly, getting ourselves settled in our Forever Home.  
We left our Birmingham house in November 2011 (there's the lorry outside the old house), and this time last year we were living in our temporary home in Harold Road.
     I started this blog exactly a year ago, sitting in our little study, staring across the road into the doctors' surgery - literally into Dr Chisholm-Batten's consulting room if he didn't pull the blind, or watching Mr Cormorant drying his wings, perched on the chimney pot opposite.
     Despite promising our friends we would take a break from moving, being us, we had already found this house by the end of November, and had an offer accepted. The occupants were uncertain about where they wanted to move to - or if they wanted to move at all.  Most of our stuff was in store in Birmingham and Battle.   
     We eventually did not get possession of this house until 17 April, by which time Harold Road was sold - we had three offers for it within three days of it going onto the market. Then the builders moved in here.....
     This house was pretty much deconstructed, see below.  Even though we did not have to live in it, it was stressful. However, I would totally recommend the builder we used, Ross Southwood.  We went through the whole process without falling out once - he dealt with an overwrought Battleaxe with commendable diplomacy.

Then, finally, on 14 June, we moved in.  We had to do one move with one lot of men, from Harold Road, and   next thing, the lorry rolled down from Birmingham with lots of stuff we could not fit into the house........

What a lovely sunny day it was.
      The Brummie moving men sat sunning themselves at the top of the steps, looking down at the sparkly sea....
     Finally, a last van headed out of Battle with all the Philosopher's books..
     So, here we are, settled in Hastings.

New Year's Resolutions for Battleaxe?
1.  As ever, getting thinner. One thing about all the stylish old ladies referred to above - they are not fat.
 2.  As I said in my last post, for me, I would like at least one local person I can call a friend.
3. Getting a piece of writing published, or winning more prizes...

Resolutions/ideas for Hastings 2013?
1.  Let's see evidence of work starting on the pier - soon.
2.  Improve the sea-front. How about a Dotto train running along the sea-front from the Amusement Park up towards St Leonard's, and a couple of coffee places built onto the beach on decking - like in Eastbourne.  Near that new sand-pit at Pelham Beach would be good.
3.  Tackle the poor road infrastructure.  I think we are probably stuck with that daft Link Road, but they need to sort out junctions at each end of it, and ideally, press ahead with improving the A21. 
4.  Address the dog-poo problem.  And address the issue of untrained, vicious dogs not on leads. When I broke my foot in the summer I was sitting in A & E with some poor woman who had been attacked by a dog in the Country Park, and owners of little dogs must go in fear of their animals being savaged by some horrible creature.  I would still like a little dog - but...........

I forgot to mention the arrival of the third member of our little household - Digby the cat, from Bluebell Ridge. 
Given he is a rescue cat, we are very lucky to have such a gentle and loving little animal. His previous owner, who sadly died and left poor Digby alone, must have treated him very well. He gives us much innocent pleasure and is spoiled rotten.


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas...Birmingham - we prefer Hastings!

Here are Battleaxe's and Philosopher's Christmas lights. Last year we drove up here to look at our new house, and the entire road was in darkness - not one lousy light.  So this year we thought we'd show these lily-livered Southerners what for.... We also have our famous dancing and singing Santas installed, but unfortunately their motion detector is a bit knackered - they now dance and sing loudly and frantically all the time they are switched on, which lowers the tone of the neighbourhood a bit...
     This week we went on our Christmas visit to Birmingham.  Wet wet wet drive back - the A21 from John's Cross Island was closed due to floods, so we had to go via Battle - you can imagine how bad the traffic was, inching along the crowded High Street....
    We went up on Tuesday, met Grand-daughter Eve from school and took her back to her Dad's for take-away pizza. We stayed with friends Sue and Alex - next day was hectic round of visits to friends. Philosopher and I had to split up to spread ourselves as thinly as we could.
     I caught the bus to the city centre to meet friend Pete for lunch - it is well over a year since I visited....the crowds were mind-blowing.  Trust me also to be specially chosen by the the obligatory Brummie madman on the bus.  He sat next to me and yakked non-stop all the way, about did I think it was wrong of him to spend £500.00 on presents for his family.  I said it sounded very generous. Touchingly, he told me how he had been saving all year.  He was relatively OK except for disconcerting flecks of foam at the corners of his mouth....
     The centre of Brum is taken up with the huge German Market - one of the biggest in Europe, I  understand.  It was just heaving... as well as the tat stalls, surrounded by coach parties of bemused pensioners,  they had lines of wooden multi-story bratwurst and bier outlets, crowded with shrieking office workers getting tanked up for Christmas.  Here is a pic - not mine - I was too addled to get my phone out.
I did think I'd miss the Birmingham shops when we moved, but I don't. No, not even Selfridges and Harvey Nicks. If I had to do Christmas shopping in that scrum I'd never buy anything - I prefer the little independent shops we have here. The Old Town, St Leonard's, coupled with outings to Battle or Rye, is just fine, and if we want more, we go to Tunbridge Wells.
     I would like a better M & S in Hastings though - more choice of knickers. I don't buy outerwear in Marks at the moment - their fashion buyers must have had mental collapses.
     On Wednesday evening, we went out with Sue and Alex and other Sue for a Chinese meal - that is one other thing lacking in Hastings - a decent Chinese restaurant.  There may be a little paradise lurking in a side street that we have not seen, in which case I apologise to it, but so far, not. You would also expect that coming from the home of the Balti, I'd also be banging on about shortage of Indian food, but firstly, after nearly 35 years in Brum I must have eaten enough curry to fill a shipping container, and secondly, we have discovered local Gurkha cooking, which is a less greasy version of what we ate in Brum.
     We discussed what else we missed about Brum in the car.  Culture? Philosopher misses the Art Gallery, and a very splendid place it was too. We could pretend we missed concerts, theatre etc., but if we are honest we hardly ever went.... we go to the Stables here far more often. Clearly, it is hardly Stratford, or even the Birmingham Rep., but it is good fun, and just down the bottom of the road. All in all, Hastings wins easily - thank goodness, after all the hassle we have had to get here....
     For me, I do miss our friends. Of course, I can never recreate all those years of shared history with new people and I knew that when we decided to move.  Although I have met some nice folk here, I could not as yet count any of them as friends... that takes time - and effort.  This year, I have not really tried, and that's OK, but in 2013 I think making at least one friend will be on my to-do list. Friendship is not an issue for the Philosopher.  I don't think men are generally as bothered, and he is down the bottom of the sociability continuum anyway.
     Got a relatively busy time now - last night friends Bob and Alison came over and stopped the night.  They have both just been appointed Chairs of Housing Associations.  I suppose my new people-meeting plans could include me becoming involved with housing locally, but I don't think I could stand it.... On Sunday evening we are doing drinks for the neighbours. Christmas Day we have a local guy called Joe Fearn coming - Nick was his supervisor years ago back in the Midlands.  Then a quiet few days, then Tom comes to stay for about 4 days, Anna and Gareth will come down for the day etc. etc.
     I may not have time for any more blog posts before Christmas - so, Happy Christmas and a good New Year to all.  Here is a solitary rose, blooming on a sheltered wall in Winchelsea last week.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Jerwood Drawing Prize Exhibition - Battleaxe takes a view

Before we get onto art, a thought about weather... Walking in the Country Park this morning, the glare of the sun on the sea was so bright I could scarcely open my eyes.  Yesterday was dark, miserable and damp, and Thursday was one of the worst days I can remember since we came to Hastings - howling raging gale all night and then all day, the house moaning and wailing like Hollywood ghosts, great soaking waves of rain just lashing out of the sky.  Philosopher was in town - he went to catch the bus back from Robertson Street and men had taken apart the bus shelter to mend it.  He was absolutely totally drenched. When we were in Birmingham, the weather was not nearly so noticeable.  Here, every morning when I draw back the curtains and look down at the sea, it is a new adventure.
     Yesterday we went to the Jerwood Gallery to view the Jerwood Drawing Prize Exhibition. Coffee first -amazing wild views from the cafe of huge waves - sheets of water pouring over the harbour arm.
     Had a good look at the drawings - a very long look by our standards, because it was too wet to go out.  I tried to photograph the ones I liked but was told off by the attendant, who then watched me beadily. I don't know why, these days, they get so worked up about photo taking. Lots of people must snap away on mobile phones - putting something in a public exhibition is now a bit like putting something on the internet. I can understand if you don't want camera flashes going off all the time so it spoils others' views, and damages priceless paintings etc., but the gallery was light enough not to need flash. However, I will, presumably illegally, reproduce one or two. I have just Googled up Jerwood Drawing Prize to see if they give a definition of drawing (see below) and was faced with pages of images, including a good few from this exhibition, so I don't feel so bad.
     The first thing that indeed puzzled me was what do they define as drawing?  I think of it as shapes and lines on paper made with a pencil or brush, usually monochrome.  However, there were lots of pictures in colour, one photograph, a thing made of a spiral bound notebook with the wire unravelled, a sculpture of large nails. some odd bits of wood, and a little heap of stones on the floor, with what appeared to be postage stamps stuck on them - I was so busy trying to avoid the attendant's eye that I nearly kicked them over.. Also, some animations on screens, with sound on headphones - is that drawing?  The Jerwood website said that the judging panel would decide what items counted as drawing - they must have argued themselves silly.
     The winner was an animation - scratchy pencil drawings of dogs and people jigging about.  It reminded me of something very strongly - the Philosopher gave me the answer - the cartoon series our kids used to watch, Roobarb and Custard.  Yes, I know they were pink and green, and this was black and white, but the jumpy effect was the same. Another prize winner was a stack of pieces of board on the floor with black circles - or were they balloons - painted onto them - eh?
     The Philosopher was a bit sniffy about the whole thing, said it was all 'highly derivative'. I was so pleased to see some items I could actually understand in one of the Jerwood's exhibitions that I wasn't too critical.
I like this pillow. It is - simply - a pillow.
 These hairs - if hairs they are - look decidedly pubic.

 This was not in the exhibition - it is the Jerwood's Christmas tree. I like the way the ends of the bits of wood are painted to resemble baubles.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Battleaxe the writer - and the Hastings Writers' Group

As last Friday was the annual Presentation evening of the Hastings Writers' Group, I am devoting a slightly more introspective blog post to my writing efforts, and to talk about what it is like to belong to the Group.
     I've been a member of HWG for a year now - I joined up even before we moved down here full-time, partly to start to meet people, and partly to progress my writing.
     I'd done an Open University creative writing course, which I didn't get that much out of, to be honest. The workbooks and exercises were good, but our tutor was a very intense, breathy poet. His cheesecloth shirts were unbuttoned to show a positively Simon Cowell-ish man cleavage (or heavage as celebrity magazines call it - heave is about right) and I don't really do intense or breathy.  I went to one day school and there were people reading out Dark, Dark, Black, Black or more like Purple prose.
     Back then, I planned to write a best-selling novel about....housing associations, of all boring things.  I have written a few chapters, but the wheels dropped off quite quickly.  Read this opening and weep:

There was silence in the Boardroom.
A fly buzzed feebly against the window, echoed by the gentle rumbles of the elderly Chairman’s snores. The muffled cries of sea-gulls filtered through the heavy blinds, half-drawn against the setting sun.
Slumped round the big mahogany table, some of the board members and senior staff of the Haven Housing Association dozed, others shuffled their meeting papers, or picked idly at the last of the dried-up sandwiches. Most glanced either hopefully or irritably at their sleeping Chairman.  Despite being briefly roused by the sight of the curvaceous Tracey’s long and shapely legs, the Venerable David Dudley had finally let his eyes droop shut. His head rested comfortably on a cushion of chins, and his snores were settling into a regular rhythm.
Fifteen minutes ago, Ian Farrell, the Haven Chief Executive, had left the Board meeting to fetch a missing paper.  As he had not reappeared, Tracey, his PA, had been sent to find him. The smart staccato tip-tap of her impossibly high-heeled Prada sandals had receded down the corridor, to be abruptly silenced by the distant banging of a fire-door somewhere in the bowels of the rambling old office building.
Fashion-conscious new board member Olivia Paradise had noted the Prada sandals earlier, and had felt a momentary flicker of curiosity.  Few people working in social housing could have afforded them, fewer still on a PA’s salary. Stylish Olivia...

     I can't possibly begin to imagine who that feisty and stylish new board member is based on... nor can I face carrying on like that for another 100,000 odd words. Quite possibly, I am not cut out to be a novelist.
     At the Writers' Group, as well as Manuscript evenings where people read out work in progress, we have hotly-contested internal competitions where we produce poems, travel writing, historical stories, stories in dialogue,children's writing, journalism etc.
     I quickly discovered that there were many others in the group who write better than me. For up-herself Battleaxe, that was a bit of a shock. Throughout my career I have churned out research reports, good practice guides, policies and procedures, handbooks and technical articles and always thought I was pretty good at it. I assumed I could readily turn my hand to any sort of writing. Tell them what you are going to say, tell them, and then tell them what you have told them, I'd say. Fine - but that doesn't work with creative writing. One needs to be a little more subtle....
     Fortunately for my tattered self-esteem, I also found that the group included plenty of  less experienced writers, who enjoy writing, and reading out their work - and people seemed to be happy to listen. Although we are a large group - over 30 members, we are pretty tolerant and accepting, which is good. However, for 2013 we say we want to get more serious and more robust in our critiques of others' work - good too, but it is a fine line to tread...
     Battleaxe also has to be careful with herself. She is used to battleaxeing, bouncing and boring to get things done her way. That won't do with the Writers' Group. Many members are, how shall we say, 'quirky', and many are quite individualistic souls who are also sensitive about their writing. I am now Publicity Officer on the Committee.... endless opportunities for getting up people's noses....
     I'm glad I'm part of the group - it has already taught me a lot about writing, and I've met interesting - and nice - people. I discover that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from all ages, and from a wide range of backgrounds.
     Still, less of this humility. To swank just a little, for a new creative writer, I have actually done OK this year:
 - HWG competitions: third place in travel writing, second place in the David Buchan journalism competition (see Bombastic Battleaxe), fourth place in the Catherine Cookson Cup short story competition;
-  winner of a Daily Telegraph Just Back travel writing competition;
-  Good Scone Guide to Hastings published in Hastings Online Times.
I also write the bits about HWG for the Hastings Observer and do the HWG blog, see below.
Anyway, here are the winners from Friday, posing with their silverware, with group Patron, author Tamara McKinley.
 Read all about it on the HWG Blog. For Me? Hmmm - perhaps next year.....

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Hastings Old Town - bonkers! Battleaxe - bonkers!

While I was taking photographs for the Shop Guide (post before this one and proving very popular), I couldn't help noticing how many truly bonkers things there are in the Old Town at the moment.
     Some are Christmas displays, some are just sort of hanging about....I snapped a selection last weekend while we were having our usual junk trawl.
     As ever, we went for a poke round in the yard in Courthouse Street - they have some really indescribable mouldy old tat on sale there. However, one day, several years ago, I found one of the china spaghetti poodles I collect lurking at the back of some grungy hut, and am constantly drawn back to the yard in the idle hope that there may be another....I know it is silly and illogical, because I scarcely ever see one anywhere. I remind myself of Punch, one of the many dachshunds my parents kept when I was a child. One time, and one time only, he saw a rat emerge from a particular hole in the garden.  From then on, as soon as he was let out, he would go and sit by the hole, staring into it, eyes glistening, tail wagging furiously......this carried on for years.  The poor chap never saw another rat.
     So, like Punch, down to the yard I go, staring hopefully about, eyes glistening.  No poodles of course, and usually no anything of interest..  However, this time we did find a crazy pottery lamp, in the shape of a pot-bellied stove, with kitsch little pans that sit on the top. It is so bad it's good...and it looks quite festive sitting by our fireplace.. and yes, I can hear friends saying: 'Typical of that mad pair...filling up that lovely new house with a load of old rubbish'.
     I'll add a picture of the sort of poodles I like, just in case anyone reading this ever sees one - please buy it instantly and let me know.  They are majolica pottery, made in the 1950s, and have 'Italy' written in black on the base. Most are sitting like these guys here, but rarer still, some are standing, begging etc.  They come in a range of colours, including floral print, and in a range of sizes.   
     Hearing me moan on about how difficult it is to find these poodles, people do say that I probably now have the world's entire stock on the shelves in my study here....I fear this may be a possibility.  Don't ask me why I like them.  Anyway, one good thing about moving to Hastings was the number of people who must be at least as bonkers as me.
     Here is just a small sample of things we saw in the Old Town.  I have no doubt there is more, even madder stuff in St Leonard's, but I have not yet photographed it.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Best shops in Hastings and St Leonards One of Battleaxe's favourite occupations, and one of the joys of living round here, because we have so many independent shops. Clothes, shoes, junk and antiques, vintage and retro, art, bits and pieces - I love them all.  Firstly, look at my Golden Rules for running successful small shops on Bombastic Battleaxe.  I found it hard to rank the shops I chose to include, so I'll just start with the Old Town High Street, and then move along to St Leonard's. Not so many there, partly because  I am leaving antique/junk places and galleries for a future exercise, but also, many shops come and go quickly. Could it be that they are not following the Golden Rules?

Made In Hastings - Old Town High Street
Run by, and showcases work from, a group of local artists and makers - I particularly like painter Claire Fletcher, and potter Judith Rowe. Shop is attractively laid out, interesting to browse in and always smells nice - lavender, I think. Staff are always welcoming - usually, they are the people who make the stuff. However, some of their prices are a tiny bit high for too much impulse buying - but then, some items are serious art.


Vintage Bird - Old Town High Street
Fabulous fabrics, many retro themed. Great display. Not ideal for browsing, though

Hendy's Home Store - Old Town High Street
I debated with myself about including this - Philosopher says it is 'wholly artificial'. So it is, and it is very fogey-ish, but all our visitors really love to browse in it, and the pleasant staff always seem happy to show it off as a living museum. Don't miss the amazing loo on the half-landing. Some of the prices are eye-watering. I have never bought anything as yet, but I do hopefully fondle the lovely brushes every time I go in....

Little Treasures - Old Town High Street
Primarily vintage, but new stuff also, including lovely lampshades.  A jam-packed little shop - a bit hard to access on busy days, but always bright and cheerful, and a good range of quirky things. Very good web site.


Judge's Bakery - Old Town High Street
A Hastings institution. I am unfortunately addicted to their macaroons.  Some of their bread is a bit serious - weighs a ton and costs a bomb.

Wardrobe - Old Town High Street
Excellent vintage store and high-end dress exchange. Usually has lovely window displays. Stock is well displayed and accessible, prices are realistic.

The Lilac Room - George Street
One of my most favourite-ever clothes shops. They stock a good range of labels including Bohemia, Great Plains, Nice Things. Plenty of browsing room, lots of little things, too, jewels, purses, all at impulse-buy prices. Staff are very friendly and welcoming. No website though....

The Tablet Gallery - George Street
Hastings has many shops selling knick-knacks and gifts, but I think this is the best. As well as the owner's photographs, this little shop has the most amazing range of affordable, quirky stuff. It has things that light up,whirl, flash and jiggle, lots of sea-sidy stuff, and when I last looked, some really rude cards that are kept in 'modesty' sleeves.

The Oxfam Book Shop - Queens Road
This is the only charity shop in the selection.  Apart from Waterstones, Hastings is not at all well-off for bookshops. Boulevard Books in the Old Town is now primarily a Thai restaurant, and its neighbour, Albion Books, is unfortunately too chaotic and only sells second-hand paperbacks.  There is an even more chaotic place in London Road, St. Leonard's. Amazing stock but far too daunting. The little Oxfam book shop looks a bit run down like most of Queens Road, but it is a delight - pleasant staff and always interesting books to browse.

Nameless vintage shop - Grand Parade St Leonard's
 Just by Smiths Cafe, this shop has really excellent prices - so many vintage/retro shops are very expensive. Some of the stock is a little grungy, and the shop is a bit dark, but it is well worth foraging for a bargain.  They sell textiles and nice stuff like 70s German vases as well as clothes.

Shop - Norman Road
This is a spacious department store-type enterprise, selling vintage/retro, bags, crafts, gifts, clothes etc. It also has an excellent tea-room on site - and a toilet!  Very good selection of stuff in relaxed, comfortable environment.  Prices not the lowest but it is easy to find affordable items. Helpful staff.

Who's Wearing What - London Road
This is quite a new shop, but the owners have run pop-up shops around the area for some time.  This is easily the most 'high-end' of the shops in this list, in fact probably the most high-end in the town. It does have some really lovely, stylish, individual clothes, as well as affordable accessories. Shops like this can easily be daunting for the casual shopper. We have been in three times so far - on two occasions a really pleasant and helpful lady made us feel welcome, but one time a different person was talking with her friends and ignored us totally.

     I think that is enough for now.  Many lovely little places have been missed out because the list would get too long or I don't have the right interests - for example, there are some great dog shops, such as Barkers-on-Sea in London Road, art shops, like in King's Road, vintage haberdashery shops, angling shops, 'sumptuous' interiors shops like Roomings in George Street - I nearly included that, but I just don't do enough swags and drapes....foodie shops, and what about hardware, like Winchesters in Ore?

For May 2014 up-date, see this post.