Friday, 31 May 2013

Senior screen, pink azaleas, badger cull and too much cake!

     Not the best week really.  Weather was lovely last Sunday and Monday, and we did lots of gardening, but it has been dull, cold, wet and grey since.  I have had sinus trouble - I don't know what is causing it. It comes and goes, but never seems to clear up completely.    
     They told us on the telly last night that this has been, officially, the coldest spring since 1962, and that
Our eye-wateringly bright pink azaleas
temperatures etc. had been below average for the last 12 consecutive months..... all the time we have been living in this house. Still, the azaleas on the bank at the front have gone mad - the previous owner was very fond of pink. I don't actually like them so much - they hurt your eyes, but couldn't face getting rid of them.
     On Tuesday it was a very wet morning, so we decided to go down to the 11am Senior Screen at the Hastings Odeon.  It only costs £3.00, including free coffee, cake and a raffle!  We were astonished how popular it is - the place was full.  We saw 'The Impossible', about the 2004 tsunami.  It was watchable, but neither of us were impressed - we felt it was very superficial and overly-sentimental.  Naomi Watts as the mother was OK, but Ewan McGregor as the father was not.
     After that, we went to our current favourite, the Havelock, for lunch, before driving to Battle to view the picture sale at Burstow and Hewett.  I left a bid on a pretty, but inconsequential little painting of a 1920s Italian contessa on the steps of her palazzo with her little dog, but didn't win it - it went for £180.00, which seemed far too much for what it was.
     I have been doing a lot of desk work this week - writing a poem for the next Writers' Group competition, and sorting out the contributions for the animal anthology.  Have struggled to get the poem done - and consequently have called it 'Writers' Block'.
     Went to a Women's Institute Coffee Morning today - ate far too much cake. I am beginning to feel I will have to get into womanly arts like baking, but it would take me years to get to the yummy standard of some of the others....Then, sun finally came out and we went down to the Avocet Gallery at Rye Harbour - when we were in Berlin Philosopher took a photograph of Checkpoint Charlie with the Avocet cotton bag in the picture too, so we took the guys a copy. Stayed for lunch and then went for a short walk.
     I read that the badger cull is supposed to start this week. I am against it, even though they are a bit of a pest round here.  It seems just to be pandering to those farmers, inhumane, and like so many current government initiatives, not well thought out. I saw this picture of two badgers in the sale at Burstows.
     This is just a quick up-date - am currently planning a blog post on best local garden centres, which will take a bit of sorting out. - I like to do a new post every five or six days.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Hastings Old Town Open Gardens, garlic in Alexandra Park, and Havelock pub tiles

A nice couple of days doing local things last week.  Open Old Town Gardens were first.  There weren't that many - a few along Tackleway, and the garden of the Old Rectory B and B at the bottom of Harold Road, but they made quality viewing. Coffee at the Jerwood before the gardens.
     The first garden was modern, belonging to the new blue house you can see across the valley from the West Hill.  Very pebbly and Zen, with a lovely bower under old olive trees for sitting. The owners must have bought the trees in fully grown....  The next three were classic cottage gardens - one, in particular, Strawberry Cottage, was absolutely wonderful - a dense mass of secret nooks and crannies, little pools, weathered stone, and loads of garden geraniums.  Then finally, the Old Rectory.  Those nineteenth century vicars knew how to live. What a lovely old house and fabulous walled garden. We were also able to look at some of the rooms in the B and B part - done up to very high standard, with great big claw-footed baths in the middle of the bedrooms.  I know that is very much today's style, but call me old-fashioned, but personally I'd rather have the bath in a separate room.
    Here are some pictures of the gardens.

View of Old Town rooftops


     Next day, we went on our annual pilgrimage to the Garlic Wood at the top of Shornden Reservoir in Alexandra Park. Philosopher says he wants to go and view the garlic every year until he dies.  I can see this being a bit difficult when he gets aged and infirm - access to the garlic is along a muddy path climbing over assorted fallen trees.
     Anyway, at the moment we are still young enough to walk there from home - over the West Hill, across the railway via Grey Owl's (or Dog Poo) steps, down to Mount Pleasant Road, through the park, stopping for coffee and cake at the cafe, up into the upper park, across what we call the 'Blow-up' lawn, around the reservoir and so on. It's quite a hike - well over four miles there and then back into town. Like last year (Secret Hastings: the garlic wood), we reached the garlic almost too late - some of it was battered by wind, and some had gone over. But it was still a fine sight.  The weather was vaguely threatening, but a good light for pictures. Then we walked back through the park to town.
By the time we reached the town centre I was starving, so we decided to drop into the Havelock pub for lunch.  A while ago I mentioned that it had one of the finest tiled interiors in Britain but we had never visited it. The tiles are indeed amazing.  Scenes of the Norman conquest with Normans dressed as Vikings. The pub has been done up sympathetically.  I would totally recommend the place - clearly, I don't know what it is like in the evening, but it was ideal for lunch - a mix of office workers, old ladies, young women and geezers.  Good selection of well-kept beers and excellent food.
Garlic wood

    We went off on our travels again this weekend - to see my sister near Bedford. Had a nice time, including a concert in a barn, but the most terrible journeys there and back.  Going up on Friday it was pouring with rain and the traffic was unbelievably heavy - took us 4.5 hours for a 2.5 hour drive.  Coming back was worse - M25 blocked in both directions - took us 5 hours!

Tile pictures from the Havelock pub

Monday, 20 May 2013

Trans-seasonal dressing, Lifelong Learning, trugs...and fungus

Should Battleaxe be a fashion blogger?  No time really. Too busy with the WI, Writers' Group, having friends to stay....

     Of all the posts I've written on my other blog, Bombastic Battleaxe, by far the most popular has been the post on buying clothes for stylish Battleaxes. Trouble is, fashion bloggers just seem to hang round cat walk shows looking demented. I don't mind doing
Fashion blogger Tavi - too demented
demented some of the time but not for every day.....
      This week, on a shopping outing to Tunbridge Wells, I scoured Fenwicks, my favourite store. Trouble is, like many women I guess, I have loads of summer clothes which I wear so little each year that they could last for ever.
     Of course, I could sell the lot and start again, but what an effort...      We need clothes that can be worn for more than one season - spring, summer and autumn too, and maybe even winter. I'll do a piece on Bombastic about buying 'trans-seasonal' clothes for Stylish Battleaxes.... Another post will cover the other major annual horror - buying shoes and worse still, sandals that are comfortable enough to walk around in without socks or tights.
     Battleaxe has had a busy week - Writers' Group on Monday.  Contributions for our new anthology are coming in well now - I am leading the editorial group.  The agreed theme is animals, with some of the profits going to Hastings RSPCA Bluebell Ridge and some to PAWS: Dogs for the Disabled.
Some of my colleagues saying they don't 'do' writing about animals - they don' t like them, or they don't know enough about them or whatever. Surely, being a creative writer involves paying attention to anything and everything? I have learned much about the human world by looking at animals and their behaviour. 
     Anyway, enough people are producing contributions after application of flattery, gentle persuasion or low-key coercion. Working with Creatives is yet another new learning experience for the Battleaxe.
     Now there's another mystery.  When I was at work someone was always banging on about 'Learning Cultures', 'Lifelong Learning', and even 'The Learning Organisation', as if learning was some radical new concept that nobody had ever thought of. Management consultants made millions from flogging this guff to their gullible clients. I admit, I flogged a fair amount myself.  Trouble was, I never made millions - customers could tell from my ill-concealed cynical smirks that the product I was selling wasn't quite going to have the transformative effect on their organisations that they yearned for.
     Aren't us humans programmed to learn all the time anyway? Work-wise, the problem is that people only want to learn about things that interest them. You can bang on about 'service excellence' and not a word sinks in, but put a rumour on the office grape-vine and everyone knows it in five minutes flat.
     I am contributing my story 'The Kitten Vanishes' to the HWG anthology. It won the crime story competition a few weeks back. It is not strictly an animal story but has enough cat material in it to qualify.
Sarah page makes a trug in her workshop
      We also had a Women's Institute meeting this week.  The theme of the meeting was 'The Sussex Trug' which sounds dull but wasn't. Sarah Page, an interesting woman trug maker from  The Truggery in Herstmonceux gave a talk - she comes from a family who have been making trugs from local chestnut and willow for hundreds of years. I can see myself strolling round my garden in a floral 50s dress with a trug, dead-heading roses. They are expensive now - over £50 for a decent size one - trugs, not dresses.  Come to think if it, a decent size 50s dress, i.e with a waist bigger than 24 inches, would cost more than £50. At the WI meeting, there were also plants on sale. I bought several. My flower garden, and Philosopher's vegetables, are beginning to look good...
     This weekend had old friends Jenny and Shaun McKenna down from the Midlands to stay.  Shaun has agreed to judge the Writers' Group playwriting competition later in the year.  We went for Sunday lunch at the Ship in Winchelsea Beach. Had really excellent roast dinners and I had creme brulee with a good hard crunchy top. The pub garden is starting to look lovely.We walked round Winchelsea after lunch - it is prettifying itself in preparation for the Open Gardens day in a couple of weeks time. We went to see the gardens last year - they were fabulous.
Winchelsea churchyard

Really creepy fungus in the churchyard...

Monday, 13 May 2013

Battleaxe goes overland to Berlin

Berlin - TV tower

Euro-jaunt: through France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany to visit Tom in Hannover, then to Berlin....

     Got back to find that in our absence a seagull built a nest right outside our bedroom window and is already sitting on eggs.... we can't leave it there - as soon as we opened the window it started screeching furiously - we would get no sleep for the next few months....
     Anyway, last Sunday morning we drove down to the tunnel - not a great start. All of Sussex were queuing to get to the Icklesham car boot, and we were held up for about half an hour. Fortunately Philosopher has a relatively high anxiety level when it comes to getting to places on time, and we had left with plenty of time to spare....
     Uneventful under-sea journey. Not much romance about that tunnel.  However hard I try to work myself up by imagining the tons of water above me, I can't summon any excitement.
      Headed off north, past Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, then, several hours in, started thinking about where to stop for the night.  I suggested Turnhout - looked an interesting town, so we went in search of a hotel - a total failure, even having asked a policeman. Drove round for ages and then gave up.
We ended up at the Holiday Inn at Eindhoven, a very affluent, high-tech, high-rise modern Euro city, where tall Dutch ladies pedal slowly past on the cycle tracks, traffic moves smoothly and silently, and the buses glide along their bus lanes. Hotel was just up the road from the PSV Eindhoven football stadium.
     Next day, we hit the German motorway network and threaded our way via a positive spiders web of intersections across the Ruhr industrial heartland, towards Hanover. Germans in shiny Audis and BMWs flashed past us at 120mph as I wrestled with the huge European road atlas.
     Tom used to work in Heidelberg, which is a longer and more awkward drive but a much more interesting city, with lovely country-side and many places to visit on the way.  This time, we passed huge chemical works and coal mines, and ex-British army placenames familiar from childhood radio programmes - Family Favourites?  Krefeld and Oberhausen, Osnabruck and Rheindalen. I visited Krefeld when I worked for the NAAFi back in the 70s. I can remember very little about it.
     German motorway service loos cost 70 euros (whoops I mean cents) and are totally automatic and astonishingly clean - the seat revolves to clean itself, the towels dispense themselves when you hold your hands towards them, sanitised hand spray squirts out at you...
     In Hannover, we stayed at the Mercure Mitte, an over-expensive business/conference hotel, but with a secure car park, and in easy reach of Tom's Physics Institute and the Hauptbanhof. The hotel was full of delegates for some International Wood Industry Convention.....
Big Bang whiteboard
     Mostly destroyed during WW2, Hanover is a pleasant if somewhat bland city, very flat, very green, partly restored, partly rebuilt. We found Tom at the Albert Einstein Institute, where he works in theiretical physics, currently on gravitational waves.  I can't begin to explain what he does, but I asked his father, and here is a link to a lay-persons explanation - Tom wrote this article himself.  In the room next to his I found a fabulous classic Big Bang Theory white board.......


Hannover - Rathaus

     Two days later we took the train to Berlin. We should have travelled in plushy Euro-comfort at the speed of light but someone threw themselves in front of the train, and we ended up nearly two hours late, sitting on the floor in the corridor.
Our accommodation in Berlin, the Adinia Apartments Hauptbahnhof was fantastic - would totally recommend.
     What did I think of Berlin? Fascinating, and we only saw a fraction of it, and need to go again, but not quite what I expected. Much of the city is still a building site, and it felt to us that the new buildings, all international modern, do not give a sense of the city's character - you could be walking round Birmingham. I am not generally in favour of pastiche recreation of destroyed buildings, but a bit more of it would have helped. It felt like the Germans are in such a frenzy to create a magnificant, modern capital out of Berlin they are obliterating the past. Take Unter den Linden - one of the most famous streets in the world. At least half of it was a huge construction site for a new phase of the underground railway, and much was soulless modern buildings with tacky shops and chain eateries underneath.  The lindens had been replanted, but where were the pavement cafes? The fairy lights in the trees? At least the Hotel Adlon had been rebuilt - we called in for coffee. Apparently, nothing remains of the original apart from the fountain in the lobby....
Hotel Adlon
     We were astonished by the massive crowds round Checkpoint Charlie and anything to do with the Wall - again, as I have mentioned above, there is very little left now, and I sense the Berlin planners have underestimated the interest it creates - particularly among young Germans.

Trabi Safari
     Apparently 'Ostalgie' is very big in Germany, and we saw several 'Trabi Safaris' wending their way round town. We also went to the DDR Museum, which was really interesting, but absolutely heaving. We were staying up in the former East Berlin - near the very DDR-style Charite Hospital.
Museums-wise, we only visited the New National Gallery (modern art), which was peacefully empty, and the Pergamon Museum - heaving. I had wanted to see the Babylon Gate (see picture below).
     Lots of street art and hip things about.....
     Found some nice little restaurants, but oddly, we found it hard to find a decent cup of coffee.  The Belgians, Dutch and Germans all seem keen on horrible sterilised/condensed creamy stuff in their coffee rather than proper milk.
     What's with the currywurst? We called in at the Currywurst Museum in Berlin, but I lasted until our final hours in Germany to actually try one - urgh, it was terrible..........
      As always when I go to Europe, it concerns me that Britain might seriously be considering pulling out of the EU - I hope it will never happen.  What do we want to be in this country?  A decaying backwater? 

DDR building

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Spring lovelies.....Pashley Manor tulips

First bluebells of 2013 - Eastbourne, 1 May
Busy week.
     Had a good couple of days with Sue and Anne from Birmingham - a fine, sunny day walking on Beachy Head, after ride up the hill on open-top bus (free for us oldsters!) lunch in the pub and then walk down to Eastbourne. Another much colder day doing the Hastings sights and Old Town shops, followed by fish and chips from Ore. 
     They introduced us to a lethal but delicious summer drink consisting of large measure of Campari, prosecco and a dash of soda water in a tall glass.
     Only downside was lunch in the Land of Green Ginger in the Old Town.  Food great as usual but there was a group at the next table with some incredibly naughty, noisy children - called Harrison and Purdie - need I say more? Anyway, the noise level was intolerable - why are so many parents oblivious to anyone apart from their own children?  
     On Friday we dropped the Brummies at the station, then went to the Pashley Manor tulip festival with friends Bob and Alison. It was a beautiful, clear day with brilliantly bright light and fresh, clean air.  The place is expensive - £9.50 to get in and £3 for a slice of cake - but worth it. There are lots of sculptures round the garden - can so often be naff but these are lovely. Many, but not all, tulips had emerged - enough to look at and enjoy. The gardens are beautifully laid out and immaculately maintained. Pictures below.
     We all had lunch in the Bell at Ticehurst. We have never been there before - done up to the point of naffness - for example men have to pee into tuba trumpets in the Gents (see the website) - but actually OK. Then went across to Merriments, near Hurst Green.  I always thought this was another garden to view but turns out to be mostly a specialist garden centre. They have an excellent selection of unusual plants, and we will definitely go again. Bought two garden geraniums, said goodbye to Bob and Alison and drove home.
     Badgers got into our back garden the other night and dug up the lawn massively - Philosopher has taken up arms again, and been out filling in their new hole in our fence. I guess they have growing babies now in the truly enormous set in next door's garden.
     Our garden is coming on well - I hope it is not too dry for the next week because we are away in Germany.
      Here are some spring pictures - some from last weekend's walk in Alexandra Park, some from Pashley Manor. Wild flowers are doing very well this year, despite their lateness. Lots of primroses, celandines and wood anemones.