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.