Friday, 29 March 2013

Running the Hastings Half-Marathon, Good Friday Passion in Hastings Old Town

Last blog post for this month.....Easter and still no spring weather.
Earlier in the week I had to resort to writing a Bombastic Battleaxe post on spaghetti poodles to cheer myself up.
     We have made hopeful trips to the Hastings Garden Centre a couple of times, and bought a few plants, which are currently sitting outside the back door looking miserable. Still, the scones are as good as ever - see Bombastic Battleaxe. They even had a two for the price of one offer.....lots of things are on offer - even the faithful Garden Centre kitty? Poor Garden Centre, I bet they are longing for spring.
I also feel sorry for clothes shops, full of lovely summer stuff nobody can face buying.

Battleaxe runs the Hastings half-Marathon
     Last Sunday was the Hastings Half-Marathon. Last year we sat on our doorstep in Harold Road in tee shirts in the boiling sun, watching the runners sweating past in the heat. This year, further up the hill but still near the route, we went to the end of our road wrapped up in thick coats, fleeces, hats and
gloves. Shivering, we watched the runners freezing past in their thermals, any exposed knees red with cold.
     Anyway! Here I am for the second year, taking part in the race - given I am wearing thick coat and hat, it looks a bit less authentic than last year's picture.
     Then we walked down to town, past all the charity fun runners dressed as chickens etc., and warmed ourselves up with a big steak dinner at the Two Bulls Steakhouse. I see it is now ranked Number One local restaurant on TripAdviser.

Today is Good Friday.
     This morning, we wrapped up well yet again and went down to the Old Town to watch the Good Friday Stations of the Cross/Passion play/parade. Last year, carried away  by the spring weather, I did a blog post drawing parallels between the Easter story and the coming of Spring.
     This year, we were worried that poor Jesus might collapse with hypothermia.  He had bare legs and bare feet, but possibly had a jumper on under his bloodied sheet/garment, which, although he was supposed to cast it off as the soldiers drew lots for it, we noticed he firmly kept on, even on the cross.  Although, as last year, the event was impressive and quite moving, we felt not so personally struck by it this time - maybe because we knew what to expect, maybe the cold, and maybe because they had 'modernised' the script - so often a mistake, in my view. But they did have some hymn singing, including one of my favourites: 'When I survey the wondrous cross'. I wish one could get into hymn singing without having to go to church - and even if one did go to church, I would fear finding happy-clappy rather than Hymns Ancient and Modern...

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Cold week - Writers's Group. Women's Institute, Winchelsea - and Waitrose.

This post is a bit of a mixture - a busy week in totally depressing weather. Have also developed an unhealthy interest in food. Hard to believe this time last year we were basking in sun on the beach....ah well, as yet no tons of snow here like Birmingham, or floods like in Cornwall....
     Had a committee meeting of the Hastings Writers' Group, held at the home of Jill, our Chair, in St Leonard's. There were only three of us this time, all full of excellent creative ideas but without anyone to say 'hang on a moment - will that work?' Anyway, we had great fun.
      I have a lot to do at the moment, including working on the new website for the Group (oh, what a rumpus that has caused...) with some other members and local website designer Nick Weekes. He seems a pleasant, and patient bloke, but I think HWG will stretch his powers to the limit. Also, am working on the production of the 2013 charity anthology - it is going to have an animal theme. Plus, have got to finish my Crime story for group competition on Monday night.
      Went to the Women's Institute Book Group. That was also at the home of one of the members, Yvonne, at Mallydams Farm, which is part of the Fairlight Hall estate - her family live in the Hall. We had read The L Shaped Room, by Lynne Reid Banks. I first read the book back in the 60s, and loved it - still had my old Penguin copy. When I re-read it, it felt not only dated but startlingly racist and sexist. The group has a great mix of women from a wide range of backgrounds and all ages - very interesting to hear different perspectives.
       I will offer to host a meeting chez Battleaxe in the next few months - I did fear the compulsory WI tea and cakes might be a bit challenging because my baking skills are not well developed. However, was reassured to see M and S packets on the worktop when I took the cups out to the kitchen at Mallydams Farm. Yum, hot cross buns.
Grey Pett level
       I said to Philosopher that the Writing Group feels a bit like a bracing walk along a Cornish coast path- puffing up challenging inclines, scrambling over rocks, but with great views and uplifitng interludes, while the WI is like relaxing on a sunny seaside bench - well, so far. It feels like quite a good mix.
       A leisure outing - went to Winchelsea on Monday planning to have coffee in theWinchelsea Farm Kitchen - one of the snuggest places we know on a cold bleak morning, and I am very fond of their homemade Battenburg cake. It was shut, so went down to the Ship at Winchelsea Beach instead. We ate in the garden in the summer, but remembered they had a cafe in front of the bar bit. Decor-wise, it is all a bit overdone and slightly naff, but the coffee was excellent. It has a shop kept by celebrity butcher Jamie Wickens, who once ran the shop at the Farm Kitchen. We bought a selection of his prize-winning sausages. Can't say I was that struck with the four varieties we tried - the wild boar was best. Anyway, then we went for chilly walk at Pett Level. Grey and more grey, and wind to cut a body in half.

Cliche bossy mannish vicaress
      On Thursday evening we went to see the National Theatre film of Alan Bennett's People at the Hastings Odeon. We left at the interval - it was just terrible. Leaden, predictable, boring and infested with done-to-death cliches. We had 'em all trotted out - bossy mannish lesbian woman vicar, dotty companion, dodgy auctioneer, sleazy film producer - puleeze.
      Friday, Eastbourne. Another freezing day - too cold for walking, so went to our usual pub, The Counting House, which is handily just next to Waitrose. Consumed vast meals and beer, and then could scarcely totter round the supermarket aisles without falling asleep on the floor. Urgent and vital things to get like marzipan miini-eggs and Heston's earl grey tea and mandarin hot cross buns....
 I do so want to get out in the garden - have all sorts of things to plant but it is hopeless...
Anyway, to cheer us up, here are some flowers from some gardens we visited last summer.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sennen Cove, Cornwall. We miss Hastings white-out...and family memories

Back from our week in Sennen Cove, Cornwall, with friends from Birmingham Sue and Alex, Anne, Sue and Graham. We go every year, walk, natter, drink and eat far too many enormous meals.
     The drive from Hastings is long - 346 miles, but interesting, down the M3/A303/A30, past Stonehenge, over the Blackdown Hills, down the Otter Valley - it feels like going on an old-fashioned holiday. The A30 carries on right to Lands End, by which time it has shrunk to a single track lane running between high stone banks, with yellow gorse and daffodils, and camelias in bloom outside the cottages. Spring is late everywhere this year, but it was better down there. It was cold, though - very cold...
Sea view - very threatening
     We had a fabulous sea view from our windows - when the tide was up, huge rollers roared and crashed onto the rocks only a few yards away, just across the little seafront road. Sennen Cove is a big surfing beach, but even the surfers were put off by the cold this year.
     The weather looks very threatening in this first picture, but actually we did OK- after the first day it was dry until the Friday, when it rained hard all day. We had some real sun for our walks, and ate pasties and sandwiches out in the open.
     However, the east wind was savage. I needed five layers of clothing on my top including 2 fleeces, thick fleecy walking trousers, long thick socks, boots, a fleece neck warmer, wooly hat and gloves - we looked like swaddled mummies. I can't remember walking in such biting cold.

Philosopher at Lands End
As Sennen is right at the pointy tip of England, there are nearby coast paths on both the north and south coasts. Lots of villages with nice pubs in, and plenty of towns full of galleries and knick-knack shops to browse including Penzance, St Ives, Marazion, and nearest to us, little St Just.    
     One afternoon Philosopher and I ventured further afield, to Porthleven, and then to Helston, which was very run down and desolate - so many empty shops. However, we did find a very ancient and untouched pub - The Blue Anchor, which produced its own 'Spingo' Beer.
     Talking of beer, I drank quantities of it, to wash down the pasties, chips, Cadbury's mini eggs etc. etc. To my surprise, when I weighed myself this morning I had only put on half a pound - perhaps walking in the cold burns up calories.
     One day we went to visit a National Trust  Garden, Trengwainton, near Penzance. Despite the cold, the beautiful ancient magnolia trees were in full bloom, as were early rhododendrons, camelias, loads of daffodils etc.
Magnolia at Trengwainton
This was the very day Hastings had a record-breaking snowfall - abandoned cars, people stranded for hours   I was quite sorry to miss the excitement.
     As I say, we did have sun. As we often do, we walked down to a pretty cove called Penberth along a lane beside a stream lined with flowering shrubs and daffodil plantations and then puffed up over the cliffs via Logan Rock to Treen village and the Logan Rock pub for lunch. The view from the top of the cliffs over Porthcurno beach to the Minack theatre opposite is exceptional.
More Magnolia
Porthcurno Beach
 Another sunny day we caught the bus to St Just and walked the coast path back to Sennen - it is about 5 miles with quite rough ups and downs, but worth the effort.
     Every year I sit looking out of the window hoping to see dolphins, seals etc in the sea. In the comments book in our accommodation we always read how previous residents watch these creatures gambolling in front of their eyes - and even basking sharks - but we never see a thing. However, on the very last morning I was looking out while eating my breakfast muesli when a seal appeared - indeed, right in front of me. He popped his head out of the water, then rolled on his back in the breaking surf, scratching his belly with his flippers. Unfortunately Philosopher was loading cases into the car and missed him.
     Our journey home was interesting - by lunchtime we had reached Amesbury, where my parents lived for the last 25-30 years of their lives, and decided to stop. We have visited Amesbury once since my mother died in 1998. We peered at the outside of their cottage, and even spoke to Karina, my mother's carer - this left me unmoved. But this time, we decided to have a drink in the Antrobus Hotel, my parents favourite retreat. Even 20 years ago it It was a slightly faded, run-down, traditional old place, if a cut above the other squaddy-infested Amesbury bars. I was surprised to find it still going.
     More surprising still, when we walked in through the front door it was totally unchanged, if slightly more faded. The same red flock wallpaper and red carpet in the gloomy bar, the lamps with parchment shades, the heavy Jacobean style furniture, the huge black marble fire place, the same heavy, faded red velvet curtains blocking out the light. I could see my father, leaning on the bar, laughing with the barmaid as he ordered the gins. There was my mother, sitting on a red velvet banquette, clutching a dachshund, which needed 'socialising, dear, ' before it was shown - or sold.
     'Coo-ee, dear!' she'd call flirtatiously across the room to some retired Wing Commander from Boscombe Down. (By the time she grew really old she had become so keen on those old buffers that we diagnosed her with a severe case of Boscombe Downs Syndrome..).
     Yesterday, we sat by the fire in in the green painted, lighter, lounge leading off the bar - also unchanged.  I saw my baby daughter (now 36) toddling across the slightly threadbare carpet towards the garden beyond the big french windows, making for the fascinating pool with the fountain. Outside, I could see Barton, my mother's gay American best friend, sitting reading, the sun shining on his bald pate. He lived with them for several years in a strange menage a trois.
     Strangely, all this moved me to tears - I wept in the hotel, wept along the street, and wept for some miles in the car. I say strangely because my relationship with my parents was troubled - I shed no tears when either of them died....
     We got back to Hastings safe and sound - we both said it feels like home to us now. Still some piles of snow along the Ridge, but none near the house. Gas men have finished, too.
Sunset over the Sennen Cove lifeboat house

Friday, 8 March 2013

Ice age Art at the British Museum - is spring here?

We visited the Ice Age Art exhibition at the British Museum this week....
Beautiful sunny spring day both in Hastings and London.
      I always like the re-designed inner courtyard of the Museum - the roof is especially striking.
     Unlike previous exhibition ordeals I have described here, the experience was almost civilised - there was no queue, and the rooms were tolerably uncrowded.
     The little things on show were wonderful - I don't quite know why the exhibition organisers felt the need to show them in conjunction with modern art supposedly inspired by the pieces - I scarcely bothered to read what Picasso thought of something or other - the pieces were fascinating on their own.
     This little woman is the oldest known object made of fired clay  - she is an incredible 30,000 years old, from Moravia in what is now the Czech Republic.
      About fifteen years ago Battleaxe went through a 'goddess' phase - I read a number of books about the Female Divine, and collected little reproduction goddess statues, a number of which I still have. As I write, a little model of the 20,000 year old  'Venus' of Willendorf sits, all vast saggy tits and tummy, on the shelf above me.  Here she is on the right of the picture, together with the more recent Lioness Goddess from Catal Hoyuk in Turkey (about 9,000 years old), and a typical ancient Middle Eastern clay female figurine, about 5,000 years old - 
     However, as time passed, the notion of the Great Mother Goddess became less interesting to me - we actually know so little about how ancient people thought, felt and viewed the world. I felt that the few available facts were being manipulated by 'Goddess' writers to fit in with their own theories about female power, and that their thinking reflected current modern preoccupations.
     I guess ancient people must have thought women's capacity to manufacture and produce other humans pretty amazing, particularly as one reads that they apparently had little awareness of the link between sexual intercourse and childbirth. Do I even agree with that? Hmmn, not sure. I can't quite see why that link is so difficult, particularly as most of the time the same orifice is used for both activities, and it is pretty obvious that no woman can get pregnant without having sex first.
     Childbirth must have been painful, scary and risky for them - fraught with danger, and with a high likelihood of mortality. Maybe people felt the need to make, and carry round, little good luck charms shaped like women who had borne many children - and survived.
     The curators of the exhibition speculated about why the statuettes of women have no faces - again, from what felt to me a modern perspective around 'sex objects'. Given that, even today, many women in the world go round with their faces hidden because of some magical belief system, I don't think we can begin to imagine what people thought about these things 40,000 years ago.....
     The animal depictions were far more life-like. No-one knows why. Philosopher wondered what happened to all the 'practice' pieces that weren't so good - the only examples we see are perfect.
     After the British Museum, we walked down to Lincoln's Inn Fields, stopping for lunch at Loch Fyne in Covent Garden. London had burst out into spring - all the office workers sitting outside eating their sandwiches on the grass, the odd daffodil....
     We went to Sir John Soane's Museum to see some Piranesi drawings of Paestum. I found the drawings a bit dull - see one ruined temple and you had seen them all. However, I had never visited the Museum before, and it was riveting - a jam-packed hoard of stuff, many stacked in slightly spooky semi-underground rooms. We do so empathise with people who collect stuff. That museum would just suit Battleaxe and Philosopher.
     We enjoy days out in London - even though the train journey from Hastings is, time-wise, no shorter than coming from Birmingham, the whole thing feels less stressful - and of course it is much cheaper. It is easy to get from our house to the station - direct bus door to door. Train is slower, but route is prettier. Charing Cross is smaller and more intimate than the cavernous concrete expanses of Euston, and is right in the centre of things.
     I went to the dentist yesterday morning - one of my real hates. We signed on with a place down in town on the recommendation of the people who lived in this house before us - given what they apparently think of us for daring to purchase/do up their precious house I'm not sure whether we should have relied on this! However, their 'recommended' dentist promptly left the practice without shaking more than a tartar scraper at us, and now we are allocated a slightly brusque Greek lady. She said I needed a filling, and she would do it straight away.
     'What about an injection?' I squeaked in horror, hearing her drill revving up in the background
     'No need' she snapped, 'You strong woman. Is only leetle.' I can't remember when I last had anything done without a faced numbed by novocaine. But actually, it was OK...
     This will be the last blog post before Cornwall tomorrow for a week. Weather has collapsed yet again, all wet and foggy today.  It's a long drive to Lands End from Hastings.
     Gas men still outside, but they are now at final stage - patching and filling the tarmac. Pavements do not look good.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Gaunt Posh, freezing cold - and many gas men

Gaunt Posh? Gaunt Steph?  Gaunt Steph Gaunt? Some hopes of that.  It is a sad fact, that as Battleaxes get older, they get more solid. Not necessarily fatter, just solid - hard to reduce. 
     See latest rant on Bombastic Battleaxe on diet truths and lies, food labelling etc.
     Our friends Sue and Alex in Birmingham are on that Fast Diet business, where you live on a very restricted diet indeed for two days a week, and eat normally for the rest of the time. At the moment, they say they feel better for it. This may be the case, but this Battleaxe would be hopeless on that regime - I get weak and bad-tempered with hunger if I don't eat regularly, and I could pack in such vast amounts of grub on the 'normal days' that the benefits of the fasting would be lost. I have just had an energetic hour in the garden, laying slabs in the spot that gets the sun last thing in the evening, to make a little 'martini corner'. No way could I do that without some proper food.
     At the moment, sipping an evening drink while watching the sunset in our corner is just fantasy. It is 1 March today, and still absolutely freezing cold - we have had no sun for days, and the north-east wind is relentless, biting and savage.
     Next Saturday -  9 March - we set off for our annual week in Sennen Cove in Cornwall, with friends from Brum. Unless something drastic happens to the weather pretty damn soon, we are going to be perished.
Gas main chaos...
Digby checks on progress
    Here, we have a road full of gas men at the moment, renewing the mains pipes. They have been here for well over a week already, and show no signs of finishing.  Every house has a huge hole outside, and the place is full of men, vans, drills, diggers, tipper lorries etc.
     Digby the cat spends a lot of time out there helping the men, inspecting the works and looking earnestly into the holes - we are a bit afraid he will be either entombed, carried off in a lorry full of earth, or run over, but what can we do....he is a cat.
     However, the men are very good  - keeping us informed - very helpful. Philosopher just said they had even offered us fan heaters for when they turn off our gas tomorrow.
     Finally, another blogging milestone achieved - in February I had over 1000 'hits' for the first time - and it was a short month too.