Wednesday, 31 December 2014

New Year's wishes for Hastings - and 3rd Blogiversary


Hastings Battleaxe is three years old today, and shows no signs of flagging. 
     People ask me why I keep blogging. I guess because it is a writing discipline exercise and I enjoy it. Hopefully, others do too, as traffic continues to increase steadily, month after month. 
     Philosopher says these posts are getting too long. Are they? What do you think?

Battleaxe and chum at the Antiques Warehouse
     On this day in 2012 I blogged about New Year Resolutions for me, and some wishes for Hastings, so let's revisit them, and add new ones if necessary. Back then I was still a newcomer, so lets see if increasing familiarity with my new home town has made any difference.
      In 2012 I really wanted to make friends, and I am happy to say this has happened. When I was ill a few weeks ago I was reflecting on this, because they were there for me. The WI has played a big part, but other things too.
      Clearly, new friends can never replace Brummies we have known for 30+ years, but it is heart-warming to have new ones.
      Other things: getting thin. Pah, as if. Writing more? Yes, I still need to do this. Exercise more? Yes, I suppose so. There are lots of improving things I should/could be doing, so I won't bang on about them.

Wishes for Hastings
     I looked at the current Hastings Development Management Plan, but it is so long I lost the will to live. Like most people, I guess, I resorted to selfishly checking that there were no plans for a waste disposal site or suchlike horror at the bottom of our garden, and then gave up reading.
    In 2012, I was particularly worried about lack of work on the Pier, but now it is well under way, so we can cross that one off. Next was:
1. Improving the seafront
     There is another official document called the Seafront Strategy, which again, I have read. Philosopher even sent a consultation response about it.  It addresses most of the points I am concerned about, but whether anything will happen, who knows. Priority wishes:
 - Better transport along the seafront from Rock-a-Nore along to the old Bathing Pool site, both with buses, and a tourist service such as a tram or a Dotto train.
-  Better signage/information about parking, particularly at Rock-a-Nore Road. Motorists are held up there for ages in summer, which must be very off-putting.
-  Get rid of those truly terrible eye-sore public toilets at Harold Place, make a clear access route to the beach from the centre, and spruce up the horrible 60s/70's buildings, such as the one with Argos in it. It's excellent to see the fountain working, though.
-  More leisure, catering outlets along the sea-side of the front. Some has been done, e.g the little playgrounds and the beach cafe at Warrior Square, but much more is needed to increase trade/footfall. 
-  Spruce up buildings generally, e.g shops below Colonnade in St Leonard's. Pelham Place seems to be underway, which is good. There are too many empty shops round there.....
2. Dog-poo and dog control
     Hastings still must be the UK dog-poo capital. Pavements and footpaths still require eyes-down surveillance and I can see no improvement since 2012. I mentioned then that a woman I had met had been attacked by a dog in the Country Park, and now just the other week one of our neighbours had part of her finger bitten off, also in the Country Park. I like dogs very much, but better control is needed.
3. Infrastructure
     The opening of the Link Road has been delayed, which may give time to at least agree the plans for the Baldslow link from the Queensway to the A21. Currently, environmentalists are gnashing their teeth about the potential loss of yet more green space, but if something is not done, the traffic problems on the Ridge will be out of control. More and more residential developments are planned or underway all along the Ridge and the current road setup is totally inadequate.
      I know that funding for road improvement projects is usually linked to economic regeneration, i.e opening up more land for commercial development, hence the Link Road, and now the Baldslow Link, but the amount of designated commercial land round here is getting ridiculous. Just look at the acres of empty fallow land off the Queensway now, and there is going to be yet more and more, while residential development is heedlessly crammed onto any 'spare' playing field or patch of green in the more built-up areas.
      A little bit of the A21 is being improved up by Pembury, but it is not going to make much difference. Incidentally, why did they need to clear such a vast area of woodland just to build a couple of extra lanes on the side of the existing road? It looks like the Somme battlefield up there. No wonder people protest.
      It's good to see the plans to cut local bus services were largely fended off, but fare prices are too high now, and set to increase......
      Anything else? Ah yes, one new thing.....
4. No more supermarkets, including the 'local' offshoots of the big chains.
      Hastings already has more supermarkets than it knows what to do with. Locally, we have a new Aldi, which is fine, and is within easy walking distance of Ore village. The earlier Tesco was totally unnecessary and none of their promises about deliveries, traffic disruption etc have been kept.    Philosopher came back from the village yesterday with a rumour that the King's Head site will be a Sainsburys. OMG surely not!
     Trends point to declining sales for the big chains, as people shop on-line, and interestingly, return to pottering around the high streets, with a growth of independent shops, catering outlets etc.  This is a trend which Hastings must support to boost its flagging retail areas.
     An 'out-of-village' supermarket would be an utter disaster for Ore, which is just beginning a fragile regeneration. Let's hope it is only a rumour about Sainsburys. Trouble is, the Council seems incapable of standing up to these big players.

      Enough of that. Let's remind ourselves of the lovely area we live in, and look forward to 2015. Today the sun on the sea was so bright I could scarcely look at it.
Afternoon in the Country Park

Country Park

Frosty morning in Bembrook Road

Looking down from the West Hill

Sun on the Old Town



Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Hastings Battleaxe celebrates - Christmas cards

Let's hope everyone has a happy and peaceful Christmas! This post is a bit late.  We have been very busy, up in Birmingham the last few days, seeing family and friends.
    I have just finished sticking our Christmas cards up in the hall. Battleaxe does enjoy getting them, particularly from people we don't often see. It is a link, however tenuous. I am not so keen on writing them - I do around 60.  It is fine when you can just sign the things, but different when you feel the need to put news as well.  I try and tailor the news to the recipient, and it takes ages.
    I read that the incidence of traditional posted cards is declining with the growth of social media, e-cards and, of course, high postage costs. This is leading to massive loss of revenue for charities. Why can't the Royal Mail have a reduced rate for Christmas cards?  Am I dreaming it or did there used to be a cheaper rate for cards that were unsealed?
    However, hand-made, hand-crafted cards are becoming increasingly popular. See my friend Jacky's blog, ScrappyJacky.
    Christmas cards have been going since 1843.  Here is the first one, commissioned by Sir Henry Cole. It cost a shilling - a great deal of money in those days.
    Cole was a remarkable man - one of those energetic, eminent Victorians who did anything and everything.  He was an artist and a writer as well as a senior civil servant. He worked on the introduction of the penny post. He organised the Great Exhibition of 1851, and used the profits of that to found the Victoria and Albert Museum, and set in train the development of the other South Kensington Museums, including raising the funds to build the Royal Albert Hall. He worked to promote employment opportunities for women. He even lived in Birmingham for a while, pursuing an unsuccessful scheme to turn sewage into concrete.
     Anyway, I'm planning a post on suffragettes in Hastings early in 2015. Here is a rather disagreeable anti-suffragette christmas card from around 1910.

     2014 marked the 100 year anniversary of the start of World War I. By Christmas 1914, organised trench warfare was still in its infancy, and nobody would have had any idea of the scale of the slaughter to follow in succeeding years. Here is a typical Christmas card sent by the troops in that period, and an example of the many hand-made embroidered cards, made by locals in France and Belgium, for the troops to buy and send home.

     While I was looking at Google to find the cards above, I found this one. I know most of us women would like a Gay Best Friend, but I've a feeling this particular Christmas wish would lead nowhere.
     Modern cards come in a dizzying variety of designs.  Call me boring, but I don't like the ones that tell you to have a 'Merry f****** Christmas' etc.  These two aren't quite as rude as that, but I like them.....

     Finally, this isn't even a card, it is an advertisement......

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Gray's Emporium Tearoom, St Leonard's, and some pre-Christmas browsing.

Well, am out and about again, browsing round St Leonard's, the town centre, and the Old Town. Pity I missed both the St Leonard's FrostFair and the Old Town Christmas shopping day.
     It was an absolutely beautiful day on Saturday, and we went for a snoop round St Leonard's. The clouds rolled back to reveal crisp blue sky and a clear, hard winter light. Philosopher and I never tire of looking at the sea - it is never the same twice. Here is the view from the seafront car-park just as the clouds began to clear.
St Leonard's seascape
     Our first stop was at Gray's Emporium, a new cafe that has opened in the refurbished art nouveau shop in Kings Road. It is lovely to see this beautiful shop so sympathetically restored. Tea and coffee were both very good, and we even had a timer on our table to time the brew of the tea! Oh, and home-made soft amaretti cakes - delicious. Pleasant staff and good loo. Battleaxe would recommend this place, and I hope it does well. They also do nice looking lunches.

Gray's Emporium - what a beautiful old shop
     Battleaxe was slightly put off writing about St Leonard's after the post on Best coffee and cafes.  The piece was taken up and published by Hastings Online Times, which is always nice, but for some totally unknown reason it then attracted an absolute firestorm of vitriolic criticism from outraged St Leonard's types who thought I had left out/misrepresented their precious caffs. Read and marvel here!  It was all so patently ridiculous and over-the-top that I couldn't even feel angry or injured, just curious to know what on earth was going on. Have these people nothing better to do?
     Just for the record, a few weeks ago we did try the cafe in SHOP in Norman Road, the omission of which seemed to be particularly inflammatory, and it was OK.... nice cake, good coffee and I'd probably go again, but I wouldn't walk across hot coals for it. Sure, St Leonard's is on the up, but it has a bit to go yet!  
     Back to Saturday, we went to visit the paintings in the Baker Mamonova Gallery - they had a little exhibition of Russian industrial art, mostly from their own selling collection.
    I liked this huge one. It was painted in the 1970's, artist unknown. Classic Soviet propaganda picture.
Cutting edge 1970s Soviet technology
    Going back to Kings Road for a moment, it must have been a very high-class shopping street in the past. The Gray's teashop is an old dairy, and further up, the shop which is now Jempson's must also have been lovely.
    Here's an old, rather poignant photo of Christmas lights in around 1910, plus a photo I took on Saturday.
Kings Road past.....

.....and present
    I like to spot quirky and creative decorations around Hastings and St Leonard's. Here's my favourite shop window: Heaven on Sea, at the bottom of Marine Court. Just lovin' that glittery Croc in the glittery pirate's chest. Ugh, I could never like Crocs.... Philosopher has a pair which he swears are incredibly comfortable, but between you, me and the entire internet, they are a total turn-off!
Glittering croc....
    Not spotted much else of note this year, apart from this wreath on a door in the Old Town. A very creative person must live in that house! I loved last year's as well.
2014 wreath

Last year's - love the birds

Monday, 8 December 2014

Rye Harbour - nature, walks and lovely cakes!

I've never done a proper post about Rye Harbour. It is one of our favourite places - so open, with amazing views of skies and water. 
Rye Harbour - space.....
     Saturday was a sunny, crisp day - the nicest day since I emerged from the Conquest, so off we went. I felt a real need for emptiness and wide horizons.
     When we first moved to Hastings I very much wanted to visit Rye Harbour, because I loved the pony books set in the village, written by Monica Edwards, who spent her childhood there. The books combined all the curry combs, snaffles, pasterns and throat lashes a girl could wish for with rattling good adventures about smugglers, ghosts, wild times at sea, and even, as the characters grew older - boys.
'Wish for a Pony', the first book in the Romney Marsh series by Monica Edwards. I had this edition - and oh, how much I also wished for a pony....
       Monica Edwards' father was Vicar of Rye Harbour, renamed Westling in the books, and the locations are all very recognisable. The vicarage where she lived is now a B and B, the village stores are still there, but unfortunately there is now no ferry across the river.
       Interestingly, it was Monica's father who conducted the mass funeral of the victims of the notorious Mary Stanford Lifeboat Disaster in 1928, when seventeen men died, virtually the whole male population of the village of Rye Harbour. Monica incorporated the disaster into one of her novels, 'Storm Ahead'. The isolated old Lifeboat House, now disused, is still a very visible landmark on the marsh.
Memorial to the men who died in the Mary Stanford disaster, Rye Harbour
The Mary Stanford Lifeboat House, far away in the distance.
      Just to digress once more, the 'Priscilla McBean', the sister boat of the Mary Stanford, has just been restored and stands in a new dry dock beside the Old London Road, Hastings.
      However, back to Rye Harbour. We have walked there at all times of year and in all weathers. Much of the marsh area is now a nature reserve, and there are hides where you can peer out at the birds on the various pools. Philosopher and I are hopeless. 'What's that bird,' we politely ask the enthusiasts, and promptly forget as soon as they have told us....
      However, one day we did see a seal at the mouth of the river. It is  also interesting to watch the gulls fly above the tarmac path with mussels, then drop them to break the shells.
      In addition to the nature, the changes in the tides are amazing - sometimes the river is just a muddy trickle, sometimes a wide torrent that laps the edge of the footpath. Then there's the beach, and the sea.
      We combine walking with visits to the Avocet Gallery and Tearooms in the village. Battleaxe has mentioned this place before, but Peter and Morgan who keep the gallery are very pleasant, they have lovely things to look at and for sale, and the cakes are just to die for - especially the upside-down cakes.
      Peter Greenhalf is a photographer and his brother Robert does woodcuts of  birds and other nature.
      We have taken many, many photographs during our visits, here are some of my favourites.
Storm brewing above the hut

Hut at high water

Sunny morning by the old wharf

Looking down the channel to the sea

Beach at low tide

Lichen and blossom
  And finally, a couple of paintings, similar views to some of the above:
Looking down the channel with Eric Ravillious
Karl Terry - looking up towards Rye


Sunday, 30 November 2014

View from The Conquest Hospital, Hastings

Well, not much view, actually. My room overlooks an inner courtyard. While the ward bays have lovely views down over a lake, Battleaxe, oh luxury, has a room on her own. I'm spending a week in the Conquest Hospital, recovering from a big operation.

     My time here didn't start out well.  After my operation I was put into an incredibly noisy bay - right by the Nurses' Station, and excellent creatures though they are, the concept of whispering at night seems alien to them.
     There was a very old lady next to me with dementia who spent her time shouting 'Nine Sardines! Sardines for tea' unstoppably, interrupted by the occasional nurse who shouted down her ear 'ARE YOU IN PAIN DARLING?' 'NINE SARDINES' , she replied.
     There were people wheeled in from theatre, constant shrill  bleeping machines, miscellaneous groaning and wheezing.... and a bin at the bottom of my bed with a noisy clanging lid. Every few minutes a nurse would open the lid - clang, throw something in, bonk, and shut it, clang... By 3am I was feeling very overwrought and threw a massive screeching wobbly.  I know that's shameful... Bless the staff, this room was empty so they moved me in. With luck, I'll get to stay here.
     I don't know how you'd get any sleep in some of those beds. Mind you, many of the other patients seem so out of it they'd scarcely notice.
     I think medical care for the frail elderly is a massive  challenge for the NHS.  This ward, Gardner, is supposed to be  an acute surgical ward, but there are elderly patients in here who should definitely be cared for somewhere else. Battleaxe must be nearly the youngest in here, except for a bloke who fell off a horse and he is very poorly indeed.
     Clearly, the staff spend a disproportionate amount of their time simply ensuring that the very elderly are kept fed, clean and safe.
     The care I have received so far has been excellent.  The ward is clean, and the staff are very pleasant and efficient, if overworked.  There is a 'Matron' in charge, a bloke.  He does get involved in hands-on care rather than being shut away in an office, but clearly there is a terrifying volume of paperwork. Matron spends ages outside my room, writing on a white board full of action plans, targets, performance indicators etc. There's  another outside the staff room, full of Pathways to every outcome possible. Does all that management stuff  really make any difference? I used to think so - it was my living - I'm just so glad I don't have to bother with it any more. Being Battleaxe, of course, I am out there yapping to him....
     Mind you, I get the care I need partly because I am strong enough to ask for it. I was just up at the Nurses Station twanging my horrible compression stockings to get someone to put them on, and asking for my bed to be changed.  In fact, Philosopher makes my bed, helps me wash etc. I get my own breakfast each day. I don't know what happens if you are old and confused and don't have anyone to speak up for you. The poor staff are constantly on the go go go, trying to do several things at once.
     Someone, I think it was Jim Breeds, asked me to comment on the food. I am probably the last person to ask because I can eat virtually anything and just loved my school dinners.  They have an extensive menu of yummy school food - shepherds pie with carrots, hotpot, jam sponge and custard, macaroni cheese etc., which I am happily scoffing  my way through. I think some people complain, but then they always would. The food is hot, tasty and varied, and they are happy to provide healthy options like side salads to go with the stodge. It seems fine to me.
     Clearly, I can't post my usual photos, but here are a couple of food pictures..... Hotpot, apple crumble, roast beef and chocolate sponge.
    Someone died in here a few hours ago. They said nothing, shut all our doors and pulled the blinds down so we wouldn't see, but being me I peeped and saw the covered trolley go rolling down the corridor. Why do they keep death so secret? On a ward like this some people are very ill, and often very old and frail. Of course they are going to die. I guess many people have died in this bed I am lying in. It is part of life - we shouldn't hide it.
    So, finally, what is Battleaxe doing here?  Well, for me, it's not life-threatening, but am not going into details on the inter web. My consultant, Miss Shah, a very small, fierce and highly-regarded lady, has used a new procedure on me which she wants monitored in hospital for a week. She is very savage - makes  Battleaxe look like a babe in arms. The combination of the two of us is an absolute killer. I go to the desk, say 'Miss Shah can I please have...' and they are jumping all over the place.
    It seems a lavish use of scarce NHS resources to keep me in, but she was adamant. I get very bored - even asked the staff if I could help feed the old ones, whereupon they nearly collapsed with horror at the very idea. Methinks they could use some volunteers.
    Also, I am not totally sure Miss Shah totally appreciates quite how stretched the care on a ward like this is at weekends. Rumours go round the wards that there are only one or two doctors on duty in the whole hospital. Dunno if that's true but you don't see many. Philosopher could look after me just as well at home, except I do have these horrible drain tubes attached to my person, leading into bottles. 
    Don't get ill at the weekend, people.
    Overall, I am very pleased with the Conquest.  I had a chat with some inspector type doing an unannounced  check on our ward, and told him positive things, and that in my view people would rather have one decent local hospital rather than having spurious choices.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

V&A Wedding Dresses, Abram Games - Jewish Museum, Women Fashion Power - Design Museum.

Just back from a couple of days break in London before the unpleasantnesses of next week (see end of previous post).
   Started out in the V&A.  Philosopher had wanted to see an exhibition of  Russian theatre designs, but we started with the Wedding Dresses, which I had fancied seeing. Battleaxe would recommend it. No photographs were allowed, which is always annoying, but there are plenty on the internet. Here are a few:
Cotton - 1841. Wedding dresses weren't always white, and were designed to be worn again.

Norman Hartnell, worn by Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, 1933

Dita von Teese in her Vivienne Westwood wedding dress, loaned to the exhibition
Kate Moss - Galliano
     Then we ate in the cafe - it has to be one of the worst laid out and most crowded eateries in the UK - before seeking out the Russian Avant-garde theatre designs, which were tucked away at the top at the back of the museum - I had never been up there before. Philosopher is very interested in the radical Russian art which emerged after the Revolution, and some of the stuff was indeed wonderful:
Costume Design, Vladimir Tatlin 1915
Constructivist stage set, Alexander Exter
    The V&A is the most amazing place. On our way from the theatre section we passed through the Jewellery, which again I had never visited. It was absolutely, totally, stunning..... The gallery itself is a positive glitter palace, obviously redesigned quite recently - totally recommended for a visit.
Beautiful V&A Jewellery Gallery
     We stayed the night in the Premier Inn near Tate Modern - have stayed there before, and last time we invoked the Money Back guarantee because the room was noisy. This time it was fine - just as well, because we would not have dared ask again!
     Next day, we started off at the Jewish Museum, in Camden Town. Philosopher had wanted to see 'Designing the Twentieth Century', the Life and Work of Abram Games. Many people may not have heard of Games, but he designed some very familiar images, including the 1951 Festival of Britain logo. The exhibition was excellent.
Wartime - this poster was withdrawn because the woman was 'too beautiful'/

London Zoo

Festival of Britain logo
     We had a look round the rest of the Museum. It is well worth a visit, but felt more than a little strange for me because I am currently ploughing through the most disturbing, powerful - and brutal - novel about WW2 I have ever read. 'The Kindly Ones' by Jonathan Littell looks at the Holocaust and Nazism through the eyes of an SS officer. Hastings Battleaxe would recommend this book with a health warning - not for the faint-hearted. It drags you into an unspeakably evil, chaotic world.
      Lastly, we went down south again for my final choice, the 'Women, Fashion, Power' exhibition at the Design Museum. It was one of the most annoying and pointless exhibitions I have ever seen - just totally fatuous. It just seemed to be an opportunity for a load of luvvy women to present their favourite outfits, rather than any sort of reasoned examination of why women choose particular clothes in order to look/feel powerful. Is it about projecting femininity and sexuality? Is it about apeing men? Is it about clothes as armour? As disguise? About attracting attention?
      For example, they had a display of corsets, with no narrative or interpretation - no mention of the paradox inherent in wearing such garments. On the one hand, the constriction makes the wearer faint - not powerful. On the other hand, the constriction makes the wearer feel stronger, more grounded. A corset projects a powerfully sexual image - dominatrices, burlesque dancers - and so on. When women left off their corsets in the 1920s, they were freer - but they bound their breasts to appear like young girls....
     Another example, at the start, they had a parade of pictures of apparently powerful women. Hatshepsut in her male Pharoah's outfit - fine. Joan of Arc in her armour - fine. Then opposite, Maggie Thatcher, in her suit - fine, but next to Jackie Kennedy, the ultimate victim...
     The exhibition was designed by Zaha Hadid, and one of her very distinctive outfits was on show. But why does she choose to dress as she does? What do her clothes do for her? We aren't told.
     I felt really fired up with rage, and ranted unstoppably to Philosopher for about the next hour....
     I'll finish with a woman dressing for power who was not even referred to in the exhibition - Elizabeth I. This is the 'Ermine Portrait' by Nicholas Hilliard. For scholars of symbolism, every aspect of her ensemble conveys meaning, and yet the black and white outfit was also one of her own personal favourites.
Elizabeth I - The Ermine Portrait