Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Hastings Battleaxe Blogoversary - and Happy New Year!

Yes, it's a horrible word, but in the 'Blogosphere', celebrating the anniversary of your blog's start date seems to be what you do.  Maybe because so many quickly fall by the wayside .  
     What are you supposed to do on the big day? have a cake with candles? Crack open a bottle of
champagne?  There are websites offering 'widgets' to put on your blog that count down the days until your blogoversary, but that sounds seriously naff.
     Hastings Battleaxe will have been going for two years as at 21.03 on 31 December. What on earth was I doing, hunched over the computer teaching myself how to use Blogger on New Years' Eve?
     I do know it took much fiddling about before I managed to generate my first post, which got precisely 18 page views. With currently around 2000 views per month, this blog is still small time, but traffic is still steadily increasing month on month, which is good for a 'hobby' blog.
     In December 2011 we were at the start of our new life in Hastings. We had only been living here full-time for two months.  Most people thought we were crazy - we had no friends or family here, no work ties, nothing except the belief that Hastings would be a good place to spend the rest of our lives.
     So, looking back at that first post, what has happened? I can almost feel I can call Hastings my home. Our forever house is sorted, and suits us very well. Our new neighbours are lovely, and we feel lucky to have joined such a nice little community - but their Christmas lighting practices are no different.  We have Digby the cat. I am busy with the Writing Group and now the WI, and am Battleaxing happily on both their committees. We still often rejoice at our good fortune in living by the sea, in an area with so many places to visit and walk in - I know Hastings Battleaxe reflects all this.
     On the regrets side, while I don't miss Birmingham, or our former home there, at all, I miss our friends. I have met some really nice people here, but as yet, it is too early to think of them as close friends.
     A couple of our friends in the Midlands have received bad news, health-wise, this year. I sincerely hope 2014 will turn out positively for them.
     When you move, as well as all the practicalities and the emotional wrenches, you also have to find new doctors, dentists, hairdressers etc. We now go to the surgery down Harold Road, and while I am not sure that the doctors are as good as our old lot, you can get to see one wonderfully easily - booking on-line, even for the same day. In Birmingham everyone had to ring the surgery at 8.30am, and you could never get through, and when you did, you were then subjected to some sort of 'triage' call-back system, after which you were a nervous wreck and often still without an appointment. I guess it is a toss-up. Is it better to have a good doctor you can never see, or a less good one who is readily available? I think, on balance, the latter, because often you just need antibiotics or whatever.
     Dentists? Our next-door neighbour has recommended theirs, in Bexhill, but I can't comment yet because he hasn't done anything except look in my mouth and exclaim at what he sees as the unskilled botchery of his predecessor.
     Hairdresser - grrr. I am back to square one. I mentioned that Ronni had suddenly legged it to London? Well, allegedly, it had something to do with royal 'Rootmageddon'. Kate appeared in the tabloids a few months ago with greying roots on show. She was reported as fleeing to her hairdresser, who is presumably now struggling with massively increased business. I gather that's where Ronni has gone.......
Great sale at Robert Dyas!
     Changing the subject, one of my great New Year pleasures is Sales. On-line stuff is no fun for Battleaxe, I like scrabbling through the rails. Not so much this year though - too many started before Christmas, which is cheating. Shows what a state the economy is really in. Best sale of all is clearly Robert Dyas in Hastings. Great bargains there.......
     Last year I posted my New Year's resolutions on here. I won't again, they are still much the same - am still not thin. However, like last year, I may get round to posting Thoughts on Bombastic Battleaxe. Looking at last year's rant, unfortunately things in the wider world have got worse. Our government is a disgrace.
     Can any local Battleaxe readers recommend a good hairdresser hereabouts?
      Happy New Year!


Friday, 27 December 2013

Weather gone mad - and Hastings Battleaxe M and S fashion tip.

Well, we survived the pre-Christmas Eve storm relatively OK - the wind kept us awake most of the night - at its peak, gusts bashed and bludgeoned the house so violently it was quite frightening. I gather the winds were hurricane force just off the coast.
     In the morning we had lost a fence panel and our Christmas lights were all over the place - the singing
Whoa - devastation!
Santas scattered. More storms were expected so we put them all away.  Neighbours had lost lots of fencing, roof tiles and telly aerials so we were quite lucky.
     At least we had power round here - looking at the map of power cuts Hastings was one of the only places to survive in this area, even though we had some of the strongest winds, so lucky again. We have had a few power cuts since we came to Hastings - more than in Birmingham, not surprisingly.  I said to Philosopher that perhaps we should keep a box with candles, camping stove etc, somewhere handy.
    The storm seemed to be much worse than the one a couple of months ago, but the response from Government etc has been non-existent - last time they were having COBRA meetings etc, but now there are still thousands with no power and no water and flooded out and nothing has been said on the media.     Presumably the Tory toffs are enjoying their Christmas breaks too much to be bothered. It also seemed a bit off to see the Royals haw-hawing about at Sandringham when many people had a ruined Christmas  and were suffering considerable hardship. It would not have hurt Wills and Harry to have taken a helicopter for a couple of hours and delivered a few turkey dinners to oldsters or something.
     I don't know if I have mentioned on this blog, but a couple of times in really wet weather we have a little stream that flows down to the road from under the house. We have christened it 'Hamilton Springs'. It first appeared this time last year, and the neighbours said it had only appeared once in the last 20 years before that. Well, this year it has appeared three times more, and this time it was rushing away very strongly. I took a little video of it, which I will try to post.

Boxing Day was a complete contrast - an absolutely stunning sunny day, so bright it hurt the eyes. We emerged and went for a walk along the sea from St. Leonard's to the Bexhill Retail Park. I have had a rant about that cycle track/path before on this blog (see here) but this time we noticed that some of the unsuitable plastic grid surface has been ripped up by the sea anyway. I wanted to look in the new Marks and Spencer for some thermal vests in the sale. 
     'Thermal vests!?' I hear the squawks of horror, but these are not normal vests, oh no. When we had the neighbours round for drinks, Linda from across the road was wearing a sparkly purple long sleeve T shirt layered under her dress, which turned out to be from Marks thermal range. It looked excellent, so I went in search of more. It is really hard to find decent, well-shaped, thin layering T shirts to wear under tunics,
M and S cafe
dresses etc., and these are not only thin but warm too.
     However, typical, I managed to track down leopard print, grey, black and teal blue, but no sparkly ones left. When I looked on-line, the range seems to have disappeared. They are either £15 or reduced to £10. I would totally recommend them - if you can find any!
     Needless to say, even though the new Marks is very large, the range of clothes is still dreadful - frumpy, unflattering colours and cuts. They have paid new people hundreds of thousands to design the range, but it is no better than before. However, the new store does have a cafe with a lovely sea-view.
     Last night, the storm was back again - not quite as bad, but it broke another bit of fence, and a big tree blew down in Harold Road. Anyway, here is sunny Bulverhythe - hard to believe it was only yesterday. We are just waiting for Anna and Gareth - they are driving up from Devon.

Sunny Bulverhythe - Boxing Day

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Happy Christmas from Hastings Battleaxe - and a Google weirdness....

Just back from the Midlands. Grim drive in pouring rain. 
     Have had punishing, but very pleasant, few days of catching up with friends and family.
     On Wednesday we drove up to my sister's near Bedford and stopped the night.  As well as Pat and David, it was nice to see my niece Sara and her youngest son Joe.
     Next day we went on to Brum, and from then until Saturday lunchtime was a continuous round of catching up and eating - we are talking coffee, lunch, tea and supper with different people each day, including fetching Eve from her last day at school. She had won a prize draw with £50 worth of vouchers!  Not that she would tell us anything about it, of course. You ask her what she has been doing at school and she says 'I don't know...'. Still, I remember how boring it was to be asked such questions by grandparents or even parents.
     I feel incredibly fat and it is not even Christmas - on Tuesday, I had an enormous meal down here with the WI Committee ladies, on Wednesday an Indian meal with my relations, on Thursday another lovely meal with friends, cooked by Sue, with whom, as usual, we were staying. 
     The crowning glory/horror was a meal the next night at Carters, a very classy Moseley restaurant. We went with Philosopher's old friend/colleague Alan, who is very into Fine Dining - I have to say we are not.... Anyway, they just serve a five course set menu. No room for veggies, food faddists or allergy sufferers round there, because the ingredients included black pudding, pig's cheek, raw fish and beef.  It sounds terribly gluttonous but the portions were tiny Heston-type creations like black squid ink crackers with dots of mackerel pate foam on top. And don't forget the devilled nasturtium leaves.....
     It was fiendishly expensive. Don't get me wrong, I love my food but I can only stretch the value of any eating experience so far - swallow it down and that's it.  It seems the restaurant is getting national recognition. Fair enough, the young people who run it were very pleasant, and if you appreciate that type of experience, then that's the place for you.
     This will be the last Battleaxe blog before Christmas. Have largely done my Christmas shopping, except, would you believe, a copy of the Highway Code which Philosopher wanted - don't ask me why.
     Anyway, must get on and make mince pies - neighbours are here for drinks this evening.
     Before I finish, here is our Christmas tree.  It is a real tree in a pot we got a few years ago and which has been lurking outside ever since.  It is good to give it a moment of glory but actually it is a bit dead in the middle and the branches are too feeble to hang heavy baubles on.
     I have only taken this picture and posted it to see if Google grabs it and makes it twinkle. It happened with a picture that Philosopher took, and I see it has now happened with this. Google has apparently invaded my iphone camera roll, pinched the photo and the tree now appears twinkling on Google+. All very strange and a bit spooky. So far it is not twinkling on this blog. Oh.... yes it is....

   Have a Great Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Beautiful day at Beachy Head

Thought I'd include a bit of glorious sun at Beachy Head to brighten up the grey, wet weather we have mostly had this week.
     Hard to believe this was only Wednesday.... Having said that, this morning we were sitting outside drinking coffee in the sun at the West Hill Cafe.
     We combined a pre-Christmas trip to Waitrose in Eastbourne with a walk. It was absolutely sublime. The
Blue skies....
sky was really as blue as in the first picture, the air was fresh and clear and the sun was glittering on the sea so brightly you could scarcely look at it. There were lots of paragliders floating about - the breeze was obviously just right for them to drift over the edge of the cliffs, and then, astonishingly, to glide back up to land safely on the top again. It must have been wonderful for them, but very scary. No way would I go gliding off the edge of Beachy Head on anything....
     I've mentioned before on this blog how being up on the top of those cliffs raises my spirits - it's hard to describe, but it is like one's whole self expands and lightens. Full of hot air, I guess.
    We encountered the Chaplain, and fell into conversation with him as we walked along. He pointed out a peregrine falcon to us. He seemed a bluff, no nonsense sort of bloke, more like someone who would come and service the boiler rather than an empathetic soul who would dissuade anyone from making that final leap. But I'm sure I do him a disservice.
     Later, Philosopher and I idly speculated about what manner of Chaplain would be best to talk to each of us, if we found ourselves in that predicament. I fancied a softly-spoken grizzled ancient sage type, but knowing this area and my luck I'd end up encountering one of those beardy beery old geezers who do Jack-in-the-Green. Philosopher wanted, at the very least, a  properly ordained man of the cloth, presumably so he could argue appropriately with him.
Paragliding over the edge....
     One should not be flippant about these things. I just googled up the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team. They (women as well as men) are not ordained (sorry Philosopher), but are volunteers specially trained in 'crisis intervention'. I was astonished, and somewhat humbled, at how much they do. In an average week they deal with around 15 incidents involving  'suicidal or despondent' persons. Sadly, in most months, 2 or 3 people will jump to their deaths. 
    For us, fortunately, we could end our walk with a pint of Harveys and a nice lunch at the Beachy Head pub.
    What else? Christmas Party at the WI on Tuesday, my first event as a committee member. It was hard work, but clearly most meetings will not require so much rushing around.
     Have now finished Christmas shopping, and we had the Big Switch On of our Christmas lights a few minutes ago. As last year, our house totally out-sparkles our neighbours (most do nothing....). We have the good old singing Santas installed down the front steps - last year they sang and danced at all odd moments, day and night, but Philosopher says he has sorted them this year - kicked them in the whatsits most likely.
     We are off on our travels shortly - to see my sister in Bedford, and up to Birmingham

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Horrors at the White Rock, then Battleaxe the writer gets a boost

I think I can safely say I have never seen anything as bad as the Christmas Crooners show at the White Rock Theatre.
    Went on a WI outing. The person who had booked the tickets had legged it up north and didn't attend. Hopefully she didn't know what we were letting ourselves in for.
    It was supposed to be a jolly Rat Pack tribute singalong with Frank and Bing thing, but instead it reminded me of one those films/plays/novels (sorry, I can't think of a single title) about sad, ageing variety artists on tours of low-rent provincial theatres. They sit in their stained vests in their dingy dressing rooms, toupee in one hand, fag  in the other, bottle of scotch on the side, and bitch on about everything and everyone.
    The curtain lifted to a discouraging screech of electronic feedback, to reveal a tatty set with a plastic Christmas tree and a seedy, bored-looking backing band, who turned out to be Bulgarian (you could not make this up...). Then on
came 'Frank', 'Bing' and 'Nat'. Three ageing blokes in ill-fitting, shabby tuxedos, trailing retro-style mikes with long wires which, by the end, were tangled into a tantalising spaghetti heap which they kept tripping over. We were longing for one of them to crash excitingly to the floor, or for 'Nat', who had obviously put on a bit too much weight, to burst out of his trousers.  No such luck. The singing was dire, the jokes corny and the choice of songs poor - too many slow and boring numbers and not enough sing-along fun. We all needed to swing into 'New York New York', or shriek along to 'My Way', or even to sing some carols, but the opportunities for audience participation were too few.
     I am obviously an innocent when it comes to White Rock attendance - some of our group produced plastic water bottles of wine from their handbags to zap up the evening. As ever with the WI, we made the best of it and had a laugh - we were sitting along the back rows of the stalls, but even so we were all conscious of the £14.50 we had paid for our tickets - and that was at a cut-price group discount.
     I just googled up 'Christmas Crooners' and indeed they do tour low-rent provincial theatres - Southsea, Cleethorpes, Hull, Buxton. Apparently they have been going for eight years. Heaven knows how - I have seen better shows in residential care homes. I guess part of the trouble is that the White Rock is such a cavernous great barn of a theatre. Things like that could do with a more intimate venue.
     Friday night was something completely different, the Annual Presentation Evening of the Hastings Writers' Group, at the White Rock Hotel. We had a record attendance - the room was packed. A real live London literary agent came to award the Catherine Cookson Cup - she only looked about 16. I expect such people to be either hard-drinking tweedy silver foxes, or savage sharp-faced women in red lipstick and little Chanel suits. But then I still expect doctors to look older than me.  The cup was won, deservedly, by Mike Walsh.
      Philosopher came and did the photos again - he was not happy with the lot he did last year, but unfortunately this year's were not much better - the lighting in that room is truly terrible.
     We also had a performance of the winning play from the competition judged by Shaun McKenna. Two pleasingly handsome young men took part, sons of Amanda, the winner. Not that I looked at them, of course.
     This year, unusually, the winners of the regular competitions throughout the year were not the usual suspects who win all the time, but a range of different people. You may have noticed that I have won a couple of times, and when the points were totted up, in the end, the winner of the shield for 'Writer of the Year' was - me.
     I have never won anything like that before, and I don't think it did me much good. Far from rejoicing when I got home it ended with a positive drama-queen storm of overwrought weeping and wailing. Heaven knows why but it involved what 'people' might now expect from me, that I was a complete fraud anyway and that the photo of me collecting my shield made me look like an over-ripe fuzzy strawberry. Poor Philosopher was not amused.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas shopping insanity - and the real Hastings BattleAxe!

Well, we've had Black Friday and today, apparently, it is Cyber Monday when we are all supposed to be buying off the Internet. That Black Friday thing is new to us Brits - just another way of getting us to dig into our rapidly emptying pockets.
     Battleaxe is sorry to sound like a curmudgeon (no, I lie, I am not sorry at all, I love it) but I am fed up of
Ant and Dec for Morrisons - yuch
turning on the telly and seeing endless Christmas adverts - generally for supermarkets, with gormless-looking people stuffing themselves with revolting-looking food - yum yum lovin' that Iceland three-bird roast.... Then if it's not food, it is beautiful young things prancing about snowy streets dressed in Christmas party clothing - or lingerie.
     I am fortunate enough not to have to face Christmas without much money. The pressure to buy and buy, and fill your house with tat, is appalling.
     Talking of insane consumerism, yesterday we drove up to Dulwich College for the Mid Century Modern show and fair - Anna had a stall there.  As well as contemporary makers like Anna there were halls and halls full of Scandi/Ercol type furniture, lava vases, 50s Poole pottery, atomic lights, orange plastic, Finnish glass - pretty much like our front room, but at ridiculously high prices. We saw telly antique experts and Jenny Eclair among the crowds - and many snappily-dressed Metropolitan persons looking to nab a little bargain for their Hoxton loft apartments.  No sorry, not nab - they 'source' stuff.
     Anyway, Anna had no seat by her stall. We said we'd mind it while she had a break, so thought we'd buy
Eric Buck stool
a stool to perch on, and then take it home with us. We casually asked the price of a nearby admittedly quite elegant 60s stool - £495! Apparently, it is Danish, designed by someone called Eric Buck. I don't think so.....
     I suppose I am the last one to talk about buying stuff when I devoted the last blog post to the troubles with my new iphone, so I'll stop now. It's working fine now, by the way.
     What else? Have just got back from the hairdressers - great trauma there, Ronnie, who has done my hair for the last three years at the George Street salon, has done a runner - taken a job in London and disposed of the salon. He has passed the business on to a girl called Eliza - she did mine this morning. I don't know what to think as yet. I feel a bit irked because it was hard to find a decent hairdresser when we moved down here, and I don't want to go through it all again. I find it hard to make hairdressers understand that I want my hair wild - it always ends up too tame.
     Have been having a relatively busy time - Tunbridge Wells to meet friends Bob and Alison. Now there's a fantastic shopping destination..... then lunch out with the WI Committee laydeez - it is good to go out with a whole tribe of Battleaxes (sorry girls but there you go). One feels less conspicuous.
     We watched Time Team about the site of the Battle of Hastings last night. Only mildly interesting for us
The real Hastings Battleaxe?
locals, apparently the real battle site might be in the road outside the Abbey wall - not actually very far from the Abbey church anyway. One wonders why have they never done a proper survey of the battlefield by the Abbey before now?  They did mention that there is a real Hastings Battle Axe - in Battle Museum, which was apparently found near where they thought the battlefield might be. They carbon-dated it - pretty inconclusive (as was the whole programme), but it is possible that it was used at the Battle of Hastings. Here it is - a rusty old thing, methinks.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Dark iClouds over Hastings....the shock of the new?

Making new bits of technological equipment work is far too traumatic. 
     The beautifully designed shiny new things nestle excitingly in their lovely boxes, but the experience of unpacking them is always overshadowed by a sense of dread....what will happen when the 'on' switch is pressed.
     Chez Battleaxe, I thought the arrival of Philosopher's Windows 8 computer would take a lot of beating on the trauma scale - the howling and cursing went on for weeks, and can still erupt again if anything new is tried. 
     However, this week I got a new iPhone 5s.  Philosopher is getting my 4s instead of his old one, partly because he wanted a better phone camera - and that one is good.  I have been with Vodafone so long I get very good deals, so decided to upgrade.  I won't go into the boring nerdy details of it but suffice it to say I could not download my stuff off the iCloud onto the new phone.
    After much wailing and gnashing I eventually phoned up Apple - they now appear to have located their help centres to Greece.... I guess people there must be desperate for work....and cheap.  This was Greek tragedy.  First, I spoke to Christos, who had limited English. Failing to help me after an hour, he passed me to a 'senior', somebody or other  Mikalopolous. This bloke's English was a bit better, but after spending ages explaining the problem again from scratch and trying further fruitless solutions it became disturbingly apparent that his technical knowledge was no better than mine. The icloud still refused to let fall one single drop of data, and my poor new baby phone was getting weak with exhaustion after been reset to start again so many times.
    To cut a long and boring story short, there was much screaming round the house and a disturbed night spent composing irate letters to Jonathan Ive in my head. The next day I plugged the phone in to my creaky old computer where luckily, it found a not-too-old iTunes backup to download to itself.
    Apart from the fact that my computer is so old, I could actually manage perfectly well without the cloud thing, but after so much hype of its marvels, and paying good money for backup storage, one expects it to work.
    On the technology theme, many of us hereabouts have had trouble with our broadband. It is slow at best,
BT box - how do they ever find anyone's line in here?
and apparently water has got into the cabling somewhere BT can't find, making it flicker on and off randomly. You are not talking superfast broadband here in Hastings... and 4G, forget it. We scarcely have 3G, and we have to have a special booster in our house to get a mobile signal. The other week we lost our Sky broadband and landline telephone altogether. Without the booster, which is powered by the internet, we have no mobile, so were reduced to going round to the neighbours.... Sky customer service is actually very good, but they are dependent on BT for the cabling. We were briefly connected to someone else's line by mistake - not surprising, looking at the apparently chaotic interior of this BT box.  But enough technology griping now.

     Had a nice morning today pottering round on the Stade taking photos - Philosopher is entering another Stade photo competition, this time the them is 'winter'. A bit difficult right now because the weather is very mild. I took some zany pictures too. 
     I do believe those Stade fisherpersons take a positive delight in keeping their fishing beach as messy and squalid as they can. It's a sign of their independence from the rest of us boring and conventional landlubbers. 
     You can't tell me they need mattresses, old sofas, gas fires and even a piano littered around their fishing boats and fishing clobber, but the chaos does make for good images.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Redoubt Fortress, Martello Towers, Writers' Group, Women's Institute

We went to Eastbourne and visited the Redoubt Fortress on our way to Waitrose.
     Philosopher has bought a book on Martello Towers and it mentioned the fortress, which apparently oversaw all the 74 towers from Seaford to Folkestone. We didn't even know it existed.
Redoubt fortress - Eastbourne
     It is an interesting circular structure, with a series of barrack rooms opening onto a central courtyard. It is now a military museum for the former Royal Sussex Regiment and Irish Hussars. The museum was wonderfully crowded, with cabinets full of every imaginable category of uniform and accoutrement. A nineteenth century officer could expect to have a minimum of ten different uniforms.  Shakos, pelises, glengarrys, bandoliers....   How about
Officers' sports uniform
sabrage, the art of opening a champagne bottle with a sabre....or nose clips for horses to wear in battle.... And as for the medals and decorations.... cabinet after cabinet. Some big-wigs had so many medals and fancy decorations hanging off coloured ribbons that it must have been a struggle to know what to wear.
     It was actually quite moving. All gone for ever.
     The Martello towers are interesting - there were 8 on Pett Level alone. What a massive business, building, fitting out, supplying and staffing all those towers, the fortress- and there was another at Dymchurch, the Royal Military Canal, the Royal Military road, all in preparation for a French invasion that never came. The guns in the Redoubt fortress were only ever fired once, at a passing French ship, and did not hit it.
     On Monday last week our old friend Shaun McKenna came down to stay and to judge the Writing Group play-writing competition. Jenny was unwell and couldn't come with him, which was a shame. Shaun was fantastic with the group - dished out really quite hard-hitting feedback in a way that had them begging for more. I think too he really got the message across about how the actual writing is only a tiny part of being successful - you have to hustle and get the contacts, and then sell your work to them - often much tiring and abortive effort for no result. I was very pleased how well he was received, and also that he seemed to enjoy it  - it is always a bit risky subjecting friends to things like that. My play got nowhere - at least the others couldn't think it was a fix!
     Tuesday was the AGM of the Women's Institute, and Battleaxe is now a member of the Committee.... I warned them I was bossy.... I don't know what I'll have to do yet.
     It was coincidental that Shaun came earlier in the week, because we have just said goodbye to another old friend Karol Kulik, who we also met in Turkey many years ago.
Annie Soudain, Set Aside - we have this in the kitchen
Karol, Shaun, Jenny and us were a gang in Gumusluk, and we have stayed friends. Karol now lives in Lyme Regis - she used to live in Goudhurst, and lived in Rye for a time. We took her over to Rye yesterday afternoon. They had a nice Annie Soudain exhibition at the Rye Art Gallery - we have got a couple of her prints. Karol used to paint quite a bit herself, but is now one of the leading lights behind the annual Lyme Arts Festival.
     We went down to the Old Town today for Karol to see the Jerwood - she was as unimpressed with the temporary exhibitions as we were....
     Weather has been sunny for the last few days, but now wet again....fortunately it seems to have largely cleared out my virus.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Wet, wet, The Habit of Art at Bexhill, Hastings herring festival

Readers of this blog often say that life in Battleaxe Land seems to be a continuous round of sunny walks and cakes in quaint tea rooms. 
     Well, not this week, I can tell you. The weather has been evil. It has rained incredibly hard for long periods. At the beginning of the week 'Hamilton Springs' - the  little stream that surprised us by suddenly flowing from under the house one time last winter, made a second appearance, burbling busily down the drive and out down the road.  Last year the neighbours said it hadn't been seen for 25 years, and now it appears two years running - what does this mean? I tried to photograph it but it was hard against the light, and by the time I tried again it had dried up once more. Yesterday it was incredibly wet, and it was out there yet again.....
     Couple this wetness with still being infested with the same horrid cold/virus thing I mentioned in the last blog post, and this week has not been the best. I went to the doctors on Monday - we still go to the Harold Road Surgery opposite where we used to live before we moved in here. I did quite enjoy sitting in our little study and peering across into Dr Chisholm-Batten's consulting room, hoping that one day he would forget to draw the blind.... This time I saw Dr Till. He was rather disturbingly friendly because he had a medical student with him - much manic laughing.  Anyway, he prescribed antibiotic eyedrops and said it was a random something-or-other virus and I'd just have to be patient. Yeah well. I can function, but with no smell, no taste and fog in head. At least my eyes have improved
    For at least two days it has been so wet that I didn't go out at all - I don't like that, it makes me restless and fed up.
Anna's things
   Went to Battle one day - Anna has supplied us with a sample kit and price lists to take round any likely outlets that might be interested in stocking her range of goods.  It is not as easy as it might first appear, because she has gone for quite a high-end, cool, clean-lined minimalist aesthetic, and most house-wares/gifty type shops go for the exact opposite - all felty stuff, dried twigs, lacy bits and Cath Kidston. There is one suitable place in Battle, however, and the woman was quite enthusiastic. I had a big house-wares shop in Tenterden in mind, but heard on the local news that it has burnt down!
    Thursday evening we popped down to the Stade Hall to see an exhibition of photographs of local fisherpersons by John Cole from the Writing Group.
He'd pictured them mostly looking very cheerful - including Maggie from Maggie's fish and chip place - did I ever say we had eventually managed to get in there to eat? We had to sneak in with the Hastings Museum Society, would you believe.....
     Friday night, to the De La Warr to see a NT film re-run from 2010, 'The Habit of Art', by Alan Bennett, with one of the last performances from Richard Griffiths as a rather unlikely W H Auden.  It was very good, very funny and quite rude - probably the best NT film we have seen. The plot touched on old age and approaching death - quite poignant as we, the audience now, knew one of the lead actors would die shortly. The De La Warr auditorium made a change from our sticky old local Odeon, too. We had a nice meal in the Trattoria Italiana beforehand - definitely a Battleaxe Recommended Restaurant.
      Saturday, we went to a 70th birthday party - Shirley from the WI. Had a nice time and ate too much.
Hastings Shanty singers
      Sunday, today, oh joy, it is a sparklingly sunny day. It is the Herring Festival again - seems only five minutes since I was writing about Herrings and Cattern cakes this time last year. No cattern cakes this time, no herring eating either - they are so damn repetitious. We briefly heard the Hastings Sea Shanty Singers, including Tom Kelly, husband of WI Jan. There was supposed to be a Blessing the Nets ceremony, but the vicar had got in a muddle and gone to do the Remembrance Sunday thing instead.....
     Spent a bit of time on the Stade taking photos - there is another photography competition coming up which Philosopher wants to enter - judged by John Cole. It is a small world round here....

Monday, 4 November 2013

Hastings Half-term, Great Storm? traffic traumas, Brum again....

Last week was grand daughter Eve's half-term.
     On Monday morning we drove up to Beaconsfield Services to collect her from her Dad - yes, I said drove, and yes up the A21, even though it was The Morning After The Great Storm....a bit of an anticlimax, really. I was awake for ages in the night waiting for the roof to blow off, but our house is substantially more solid than our rackety old Victorian heap in Birmingham, and clearly the wind was not that strong anyway.
     Before we left we went down to the sea to look at the waves, which were big but not awe-inspiringly so. 
Waves at Rock-a-Nore
There was one tree blocking the A21, which was cleared away before we got there, and a few odd saplings and branches sticking out of the hedge into the road, but nothing that exciting really, and hardly any cars, so made better progress than usual.
     In the evening when we had brought Eve back I went down to Writers' Group.  It was the results of the journalism competition.  I wrote a rather dull piece about the Hastings-Bexhill Link Road, but it managed to win third prize, so I'll put it on Bombastic Battleaxe.
     Next day, we went to see 'Turbo' at the Hastings Odeon - a formulaic and not very good animated film about a super-charged snail that won the Indianapolis 500..... Yes, I know.... The cinema was packed, and Eve is not very good with crowds..... And the crowd was very noisy, possibly because the film was not that gripping - rustling wrappers, scoffing popcorn, clinking cans, talking, wriggling about.  I empathise deeply with Eve, but the difference is that  she voices her displeasure in a loud voice.
     By this time, also, I was getting a cold.....
     The next day was sunny, but Eve was feeling a bit poorly, so we just went for a a walk on the beach at Pett Level and did lots of beach combing.
Eve and Grandpa at Pett Level
 Set off for Birmingham on Thursday to take Eve back to her Mum - the traffic all the way up was absolutely horrendous, and the journey took hours and hours.  Something is going to have to happen about the state of our roads - another few years and the M25 will no longer be useable. We have been travelling around the same bits of it for around seven years now, and the traffic density increases year by year.
       We stayed, as usual, with our kind friends Sue and Alex, and, as usual, had frenzied round of catching up with friends - me with sore throat like sandpaper.......
       Came back on Saturday - we had tickets for a piano recital at the Stables - the second prize winner of the Hastings Piano Concerto Competition, but I didn't fancy sniffing and snorting all through, so Philosopher went on his own. I stayed in and watched 'Strictly'.  Lordy, that Bruce Forsyth is an embarrassment - why can't he retire?
        Today, I woke up with throat better but my eyes stuck together - eesh - conjunctivitis...... Now, in the evening,  I look like Nightmare Fright Battleaxe - appropriate for the time of year I suppose.... I just hope nobody I was with catches this particular bug.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Madame Butterfly at the White Rock, WI outing, Animal Writes

Last year we went to Opera South-East's Nabucco, and enjoyed it immensely. It was gripping, well produced, and well sung, so we had high hopes of this production of Madam Butterfly.
     We started the evening by trying the pre-theatre meal at the White Rock Theatre cafe. It was perfectly OK, and the service was excellent, but the menu was slightly crazy, perhaps designed to appeal to the larger Hastingas appetite. It offered the opportunity to 'Dine for £10 per head', and the offer included a main course and a side order. Mains were things like scampi and chips, sausage and mash, burger and chips. Sides were....wait for it, chips and mash. There was also the option of garlic bread, which we asked for as a starter, but were told that there would be 'no time'.....even though we'd sat down at 6pm.    Anyway, the food came on little wooden boards and was just fine - we'd have it again.
     We had seats in the second row of the circle. I like the White Rock, but the gaps between the rows are very small, and the rows are very long in the centre block.... A group of  incredibly ancient people staggered
slowly and painfully down the steps to sit in front of us. No sooner had they slumped, exhausted, into their seats than a couple wanted to get past them. They heaved themselves up, collapsed down again, and it happened again.... and again.... we didn't know whether to laugh or cry....
     We didn't know whether to laugh or cry over most of the production, either. It was sung in English, which sounds good, but only a very few of the singers managed to make their words audible above the orchestra. Sing it in Italian and have surtitles, I say.
      The staging and lighting were excellent - minimal but effective. Costumes - hmm. They'd set it in the twenties, and made little attempt to portray the characters as Japanese. Butterfly was sung by Elizabeth Roberts, who is a good strong big-boned English girl. Striding about in a sleeveless cotton flapper dress, she was no demure Japanese flower - she looked like she was heading off for tennis - think Betjeman's Joan Hunter-Dunn. I didn't mind her voice, Philosopher thought she used too much vibrato, but whatever was going on, you couldn't make out a word she sang.
      Some of the other cast members didn't look very Japanese either. Rather, they looked as if they had enjoyed too many Dine for £10 double chips sessions in the cafe. They would have been better draped in kimonos. At one stage a group of women attempted a tai-chi type ritual dance - it looked more like the Bums and Tums class at the Ore Community Centre....
      Pinkerton was not terribly convincing. His voice was strained, and he looked faintly down-at-heel and seedy. The best singers were the baritone, Peter Grevett, who, incidentally, played Nabucco last year, Toby Sims, bass-baritone, who was Zacharia in Nabucco, and Karen McInally, who sang the role of Suzuki, Butterfly's maid.
     Don't get me wrong though, we enjoyed the evening - and the sunset on the way down to the theatre was just incredible - like the end of the world.
     So, what else? Went on a very good day out to Greenwich with my WI book group - we went to the Queens House to look at the Tudor portraits, had lunch in the Maritime Museum, and then had a potter round Greenwich market. The weather was warm and sunny, and everyone was very cheerful.
     I have also been hawking the Writing Group Anthology ' Animal Writes' round book shops, pet shops, vets etc. Spent ages uploading an on-line checkout gizmo so people can order the book from the HWG website, and it actually works.... Today we went to Bluebell Ridge to take some copies, and stopped to look at the kitties waiting for homes.... we gave them a picture of our Digby to give them hope....
     Have put loads of stuff on Ebay too - a while ago Philosopher found moths had eaten one of his jumpers - we never had moths in Brum, so I was worried, and got down all my precious vintage clothes that I have had for years but never wear. Better sold than eaten....
     Weather has been very windy, and we are told it is going to get more so tomorrow - we have to drive up to Beaconsfield Services on the M40 to collect Eve, who is coming down for her half-term visit.

Digby 'helps' with the Ebay selling....

Monday, 21 October 2013

Winchelsea walk, wet in Rye and the Jerwood's latest exhibitions

Let's start with a nice autumn outing - the weather has been all over the place. Friday was fabulous, and we went for a lovely walk round Winchelsea.  Started off with coffee and homemade Battenberg cake at the Farm Kitchen, sitting outside in the sun.
     A couple of weeks ago I went on a walk with the WI, so I revisited some of it again, just for a short
Winchelsea sheep
     We went down the little lane through the Land Gate, past a field of very Pre-Raphaelite looking sheep. Found loads of beautiful big shiny conkers which Philosopher picked up. It is a pity there is no way of keeping them at their fresh and shiny best - they soon go dull and shrivelled. That goes for all of us, I guess.

     Then down to the Royal Military Canal. With the WI, we struck across the level to the sea wall, but Philosopher and I strolled round to Winchelsea along the canal. There were fantastic cloudscapes, loads of swans, huge dragonflies, sighing reeds, and millions of blackberries if I had brought anything to put them in.... On the way back up to Winchelsea we found something very strange. On the sunny stones of the Strand Gate thousands of ladybirds had congregated - all different colours and different numbers of spots. They were not actually very nice - they flew into our hair and clothes.
     Saturday was terrible - wet and windy. We went to Rye because Philosopher wanted to get some mosaic
bits from a craft shop there.
     Had coffee in the lovely Edith's House - I had cinnamon scone with apple and fig jam. They have a little French bulldog. She is terribly well-behaved and stands with her head resting hopefully on one's knee, but it is no good, I don't like those pop-eyed breeds.
     Anyway, great joy, in our usual round of the junk shops I found an unusual old lucite Egyptian ashtray with scorpions embedded in it, for our downstairs toilet collection, and two spaghetti poodles - a bit damaged, but quite sweet.  Saturday night was the Hastings bonfire. Have never been, which is a disgraceful admission for Battleaxe. The rain stopped during the afternoon, but it all looked too difficult, so settled down and watched Strictly instead.
     On Sunday, we went to view the Jerwood's latest exhibitions. There were three artists. In the big room,
Basil Beattie - what is that about....?
huge abstract canvasses of staircases by someone called Basil Beattie. Here's what Mel Gooding, the guest curator has to say:

These new paintings are exhilarating: terrifically energetic, urgent and mysterious. I first saw a handful of these powerful new works in the studio a few months ago, and felt immediately that something very exciting was happening. Beattie is in full flight.

     I don't think so....
     Next, there were some black and white things by Philip Guston, which apparently 'beautifully contextualise' Basil Brush's work. Eh?
     Lastly, there was a roomful of work by Marlow Moss, who was a cross-dressing lady, looking very like Radclyffe Hall, who produced Mondrian-oid constructivist stuff. We were intrigued by a show-case full of her letters - she lived at Lamorna Cove in the 40s and 50s. The letters seemed to be principally about the difficulties of getting a bus from Penzance to Lamorna - very relevant for us last week!
     So, as so often, we emerged from the gallery unmoved, vaguely confused and faintly irritated.  I can't     summon the energy to get as worked up as I used to - my post on the Knock Knock exhibition is still one of the the most-viewed pieces on Hastings Battleaxe. These days I roll my eyes and say let 'em get on with it, but it is a bit of a pity they are poncing about largely at the expense of Hastings Council.
New spaghetti poodles - perhaps they could exhibit these in the Jerwood?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

NIght Riviera to Penzance....our anniversary

27 years we've been married.....we always like an anniversary treat. Last year it was Sorrento.
     We set off from Hastings last Wednesday. When we arrived in London we visited the Laura Knight exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery to get us into the mood for Cornwall. She painted many pictures of
Laura Knight - above Sennen Cove
the areas we visit. A few years ago we stayed in a damp studio she had supposedly used in Sennen Cove
     Next, the theatre: 'One Man, Two Guvnors' at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.  We went out of curiosity as much as anything - it has been running so long with a reputation of being so totally, knicker-wettingly  hilarious that we didn't want to miss out..... 'The evening generates the kind of uproarious laughter of which our theatre has lately been starved', wrote Michael Billington.....
     Well, my knickers stayed totally dry, and so did Philosopher's. We both found it mildly entertaining but decidedly unfunny, wooden and laboured. Some of the actors seemed plain uncomfortable in their parts, including the guy playing  the James Corden role. It has a lot of 'spontaneous' asides to the audience, and supposed 'audience' participation, which is actually all scripted with planted people. According to the programme, the play references a Commedia dell'Arte piece.  Leave it to rest in peace in eighteenth century Venice, I say.
     Still, for us shabby provincials, going to the West End theatre is always a treat, and it was a nice evening. We headed for Paddington in good heart.  Decided to take a taxi - the sleeper train didn't leave until 11.45 but the Left Luggage place closed at 11.
     All went well until Edgware Road, when the traffic ground to a halt.  We had plenty of time ... The meter was ticking upwards, but we were calm.... for a bit.  The driver took another route which involved driving further away from the station, and then ..... his exhaust pipe fell off.
     'I don' fuckin' believe this,' he cried, pulling into the side.
     'Just drive us there,' we shrieked.  He set off at a crawl with his undercarriage dragging noisily on the road, effin' and blinding all the while.
    'Drive faster!'
    'Dis is a fuckin' nightmare!'
    'Hurry up! Just get on with it!' This carried on until we arrived somewhere near the back of the station and scrambled frantically out.
     Needless to say, all was well, and there was the sleeper train, waiting. It is optimistically called 'The Night Riviera' - redolent of romance and the grand days of travel...we read an article about it in the Guardian not long ago, and were seduced.

     The only times I've been on sleeper trains were in India and Egypt.  English train sleeping compartments are....well, small. Very small. Both of us could scarcely stand in there at once, and there were big bags to cram in as well (no, you fools, the cases).  We weren't too pleased with the service, either.  Instead of a discreet white jacketed steward with a silver tray, there was a noisy, harassed woman in a navy polyester First Great Western pants suit, moaning about how she had two carriages instead of one to look after.
     The train took eight hours to get to Penzance - it must have stopped somewhere for ages, because the journey only takes five. That shows that I must have slept, because I don't remember.  The bunks were very comfortable, and the movement of the train was soothing. As we travelled down into Cornwall the train stopped more and more often, so we gave up sleep, and watched the dawn break.
    Arrived at Penzance at eight after no silver service breakfast, but instead, an unromantic microwaved bacon roll. Weather was sunny and bright.
    Our B and B, Camilla House, was excellent. Even though it says 'Accommodation for the Discerning Traveller' on the noticeboard outside, and had a few too many cushions and tassels, Battleaxe would totally recommend it. We had a really lovely big room on the top floor, with a great view across the bay.  After a brief outing to the nearby Penlee Gallery for lunch (one of our favourite places) and a walk to Newlyn, we went to sleep for the rest of the day.
Camilla House

     For the next three days we had a really good time. Weather was dry, and sunny much of the time. Lowest point was when Philosopher tripped over a bollard in Mousehole harbour, dropped his camera and the display screen broke.

We went to St Ives for the day, and even did the classic thing of eating a pasty sitting in the sun on the harbourside. The infamous pasty-robbing St Ives seagulls turned away at the sight of two steely-eyed Hastingas.
Mousehole harbour
          Visited the Tate for the first time in years - we went with our friends Sue and Alex when it first opened. We specialise in getting through galleries and museums in record time, and I think on that occasion we were
in and out before the others had finished the first room.   There didn't seem to be anything in it. Maybe we have got more used to modern galleries with acres of white wall and the odd picture or incomprehensible installation now and again, but this time it seemed better. It was an exhibition about the sea.
       Also went to Marazion - very pretty as ever.


     Did lots of walking and lots of eating. For our anniversary, on Friday, we went to a nice little place in Penzance, the Bakehouse. We also ate in Wetherspoons a couple of times. Say what you like about that, but the beer is good, food is OK, it is astonishingly cheap, and it comes in five seconds.
     I like Penzance - the back streets with all the old houses are really attractive, the views across Mounts Bay are stunning, and it has all sorts of quirky shops, galleries and eateries if you know where to look.
     Back on the train on Monday - took 5.5 hours to Paddington, then across London and another train to Hastings. I must be getting a bit old. Dragging heavy cases on the Underground is no longer fun.
     I had the Writers' Group AGM that night, so had to go straight to the White Rock Hotel. Sunset was incredible......
Hastings welcomes us home.....

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Romantic Rye Harbour, stunning October weather

Just a quick round-up -we are off on our travels again any minute, to Cornwall, for our wedding anniversary. Will write more about that on our return.
     On Saturday we went down to Rye Harbour - to walk, and to take a couple of photographs to Morgan and Peter who keep the Avocet Gallery and Tearoom - one of our favourite places. The cakes there have to be the best ever, anywhere, and they always have lovely things to look at. I see they got a write-up in Coast magazine this month - well-deserved.
     The walk was very special, because by chance, we had arrived at the highest point of one of those extra-high tides - a spring tide? The landscape was transformed, and instead of progressing along a river, the boats on their way up and down the harbour channel to the sea looked as though they were sailing over a lake. When we reached the sea, Camber Sands had vanished - just a narrow strip by the dunes was left.
     To make things even more romantic, there was a sailing boat race, and there was a very unusual light - the weather was just about to crack into blazing sun.

Car boot
     The next morning was just beautiful - sunny, sparkly dew on the grass. We got up early to go to the Icklesham car boot sale, which we occasionally cruise - it is better than many, with a variety of stalls besides the obligatory endless kids plastic toys. What a nightmare that plastic stuff is. The planet will collapse under the weight of it all. We saw various people we knew, neighbours, from the WI, and coincidentally, Peter Quinnell, the partner of Claire Fletcher as mentioned in my last post, on the look out for likely bits and pieces for his artistic creations.

     By our standards, we were modest. I bought a set of Hornsea spice jars in their original wooden rack, a nice weathered old plant pot, a quantity of Doulton retro china that I probably won't keep, two avocado pear dishes and a load of drawing material for Eve, who is coming at half-term. Philosopher got a couple of books.
     Then we went down to the Old Town for Fish and chips. Saw this strange knitted bicycle - maybe a left-over from Coastal Currents?
      Weather is now wonderful and sunny. Have done a lot of gardening, planting bulbs mostly, but have also made a new flower bed.
       Philosopher has re-stained the art shed.
      Went to WI meeting last night - we iced and decorated little Christmas cakes. Cue Battleaxe to be totally useless! Still I brought my effort home and Philosopher ate it all up. I hope his cast iron stomach mechanisms are still in place from when he'd have to eat similar sticky, misshapen, grubby, much fingered offerings from our kids!

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Coastal Currents studio visits

Last weekend we went down to view some of the Open Studios for Coastal Currents.
     We were surprised how few there were this time - last year there were loads of beach huts up by Bulverhythe, for example.
Strange Coastal Currents people...

     We didn't ask anyone why this was. I think last year I commented that the festival seemed to be getting a bit up itself - I don't know enough this year, because we missed a good deal of what was going on due to holiday. Some of it looks plain weird, like these performance people - look at this...

     Anyway, first thing we went to pay our annual visit to the Hazelwood and Dent fly-press, which we gave to metal sculptor Leigh Dyer when we moved down here. See earlier blog on Battleaxe's Brummie heritage.
The fly-press looks quite happy...
     The press lives at the Incurva Studios in the Old Town, which were open for Coastal Currents, and is getting ready for its next job, stamping out bits of copper for jewellery.  That, of course, is what it was made for in the first place, which is nice.
Leigh Dyer - gothic monkey
Leigh Dwyer - wolf
     Leigh is very talented, but we were not too totally sure about his latest direction - very gothic-looking monkeys, sort of steam-punk pirate type style.... I like this wolf, though.

     After, we went  to visit another of our favourite artists, Claire Fletcher, in the studio she occupies with her partner, Peter Quinnell, along Rock-a-nore Road.
     We bought one of Claire's paintings back in 2010, at probably our lowest time during our house-sale saga, when I was also facing up to a stay in hospital and a massive great scary operation. The painting hung on the wall at the end of our bed in our old house in Birmingham, so I could see it and think about the future - our new life in Sussex.
Claire Fletcher
It now hangs in the same position in our house in Hastings. It is of a little child sitting, arm round a big dog, on the grass at the top of somewhere that looks like the Devils Dyke or Ditchling Beacon, looking across the landscape beyond, with a big blue sky full of interesting clouds. Claire specialises in pictures like this - fantasy recollections of childhood, often with seaside themes. Some of them almost make me weep, they are so evocative of the lost magic of times past.
     Peter Quinnell makes compositions of found objects in strange juxtapositions - this year he had gone in for a number featuring Barbies - they reminded me of the window displays at Retro Bizarre. Incidentally, it is now 10 years since we opened the shop. I might do a commemorative blog post.  Anyway, the found objects make the studio into a marvellous junk heap. We were really envious.....Here it is.

Lovely studio....

      Yesterday, Anna came down - she wanted to visit junk shops to find things like racks, boxes and baskets to display goods on her stalls at craft fairs. We cruised Kings Road in St Leonard's and saw an unbelievably tacky 1970s electric hostess trolley waiting for us outside a shop. It was only £15 and looks unused.  We had to have it for our retro 70s home.....Crank up the Demis Roussos and bring on the cheese and pineapple....
      Finally, there was an incredible sunset last night. Weather has been mild, but damp.