Friday, 31 January 2014

Hastings Pier restoration gets under way

It's great to see restoration work on the Pier getting started.
     For one of her earliest posts, back in February 2012, Battleaxe wrote an impassioned piece about the apparent lack of progress on the pier project, and got into hot water for it. I've scarcely dared mention it since. Since then, things have happened. The main grant of lottery money was secured, a community share issue has been launched and work has now started.
This is what we like to see!
     This morning, we took advantage of a brief dry interlude to view progress on the Pier, and then visit the new Pier Hub which has just opened in the old White Rock Baths building just along the sea-front.  It might have been dry, but it was still virtuous of us, the wind blowing along the sea was just savage.
     So, where are we now?
     Firstly, the share issue, which was originally intended to raise £500,000. (We have bought our shares). According to the relevant website, the initiative has so far raised nearly £225,000 - about 45% of the total. This is encouraging, and the minimum issue target of £200,000 has been exceeded, which means that the share issue will be taken up. However, the rest of the money needs to be raised by April, so more shares need to be sold quite quickly.
     What does Battleaxe have to say about this? For many people in Hastings, the minimum investment of £100 is a lot of money, particularly in the current economic climate. I wonder why the minimum was set at this level? I feel sure there would be an increased take-up if the minimum was set at £50, or even £25. I have talked to many people, for example in the WI, and is clear that many people would like shares but cannot afford them. If there is some legal requirement that £100, equating to 100 shares, has to be the minimum stake, maybe more could be done to help people to club together to buy shares. The share offer document refers people who may be having trouble raising £100 to the Hastings Pier Charity website, but I can find nothing about it there.
      So, what does the project look like on the ground now? One of my original gripes was about lack of
 publicity and explanatory notices on the pier gates. This has now been rectified, with plenty of big notices and nice graphics.
Men at work....
 Better still, you can actually peer through the railings and see men at work, now apparently renewing the steel supports for the wooden decking. I do know they have been at work underneath the pier as well, restoring the underpinning supports. Clearly, the current terrible weather must be a worry. The tide was very high today, and further storm surges and gales are forecast for the weekend. Those Victorian pier builders knew their stuff - putting in just the right number of supports to enable their piers to survive the worst weather, but I also understand that even a small number of missing supports can fatally weaken the structure. Lets hope our pier copes OK.
     Having had our good peer at the pier, we visited the new visitor Hub. It seems very pleasant, light, warm and welcoming, with kids things, a model of the new pier, notice boards, a video, a pleasant gentleman to talk to us, and even things for dogs. However, as yet there are no signs! One small 'A' Board on the sea side of the building, where the door is, but nothing anywhere else. Lets have flags on the flag poles (OK they'd blow away right now), murals or bright big signs on the street side.
Pier Hub - the front....
.....and the street side - perhaps a little anonymous?
     Inside, Battleaxe would like to see more content. How about fundraising/knick-knacky stuff on sale? Lets have some Pier stickers, pencils, key-rings, bags.  Let's have reproduction historic pier postcards, reproductions of 'Hendrix on the Pier' posters etc. (I've got a tee shirt with that poster on - they must be obtainable). We could have more books about piers to look at, and more on sale. I know the thing has only just opened and it is the worst possible time of year, but later on, it would be nice to see some outside tables etc. Could they sell ice creams?
    Anyway, it's all encouraging.
    Finally, there is a BBC1 TV programme featuring Hastings Pier, 'The End of the Pier Story'  at 19.30 on Friday 7 February.
Inside the Hub

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hastings Battleaxe gets a pruning at Fairlight Hall

Went on a Pruning Workshop yesterday, organised by Ore in Bloom, and led by Peter, the Fairlight Hall Head Gardener. 
     I heard about it via the Women's Institute. Yvonne, who is in my Book Group, is the mother of Sara  Kowitz, the Ch√Ętelaine of Fairlight Hall. She (Yvonne) lives at Mallydams Farm on the estate. Oh, that reminds me, talking of the Book Group, we had a good afternoon this week at my place watching the film of 'The Help', which we read a few months ago. Just the thing for a wet, dank afternoon, a good movie, tea, cake, and even home-made popcorn (someone arrived with a machine!).
Fairlight Hall
     Battleaxe has also undertaken to organise a gardening group for the WI. Trouble with me, I'm a bit of a fair-weather gardener. This morning we woke up to thick fog, and dark dampness shrouding everywhere like a wet blanket. Fortunately it brightened up a bit or else I would not have emerged at all.
     The last time we went up to the Hall the weather was also temperamental - it was back in the summer, for a piano recital. It was held in the courtyard, and the wind rustled through the trees so loudly you couldn't hear the bloke play. We gave up at the interval, and had a peaceful stroll round the gardens all by ourselves.

      Anyway, about 12 turned up for the pruning.  Philosopher was somewhat outnumbered by ladies d'uncertain age - several WI types were there.  It was surprisingly pleasant out in the garden. We squidged about in the leaf mould, looking at the optimistic new buds and shoots. It was damp and romantically misty, with a very interested robin keeping us company while singing his little head off. The fog lifted, and we even had a glimpse of blue sky, but then rolled back again.

Pruning a climbing rose
     Peter really knew his stuff, and seemed a really nice bloke, so he got bombarded with questions.
    We wandered down the long herbaceous borders looking at roses and shrubs, learned how to renovate an old apple tree, including how to graft new bits on, and then moved into the massive walled kitchen garden via the many varieties in the fruit cages. We learned about espaliered peaches, figs and grape vines, and then had a look round the lovely restored Victorian glass houses.  There were loads of over-wintering scented geraniums, which interested me, because I have some also.

      Clearly, no expense is being spared in terms of renovating and maintaining the gardens. The estate is 85 acres, and Peter has a staff of four gardeners working with him.

Misty view

     The garden is wholly organic, and furthermore, they are currently
starting an experiment whereby cultivation takes place according to the phases of the moon
     I didn't realise that when you see 'Biodynamic' wine for sale, that means the grapes that made it have been cultivated according to lunar and planetary patterns as well as other organic techniques of 
composting, fertilising etc. 
      Turns out that Biodynamics was developed by Rudolf Steiner - he busied himself with a lot of stuff.  It all sounds a bit crackers to me, but it will be interesting to see how it develops.
     After a morning out in the damp, it was good to finish up in the 'Bothy' for coffee and cakes. Everything in my life seems to have cakes in it - I am getting no thinner.....

Narcissi in the glass house

A glimpse of blue sky

Monday, 20 January 2014

Antiques, vintage shops and galleries in St Leonard's - a walk with Hastings Battleaxe

St Leonard's is a browser's mecca - everything from very upmarket arty galleries to basic junk.
     We often take the route described below - it takes about half a day to do it thoroughly.  There are many other interesting shops along the way, and many charity shops, which I have not covered individually.  This post only covers St Leonard's - I will do another on the Old Town shortly. Opening times for some of these places are erratic, but you are usually safe on a Saturday.
     The walk actually starts in Hastings, because I didn't want to leave out the places on the seafront - and it is nice to have a walk by the sea on a sunny day.
     Start at the end of Robertson Street, and walk along the front past the British Heart Foundation furniture shop. You sometimes see nice bits of mid-century G plan type stuff in here.
Arthur Green's
     First, the Arthur Green's Antique Centre. Fans of Victorian shop architecture should visit this place just to look at it - it is a beautiful, original gentleman's outfitting store with all the original fittings. They have a varied stock, mostly small bits, lots of china and glass, some vintage clothes. Prices are average. The shop is in the same old hotel block that served as the set for the 2012 film Byzantium. See previous Battleaxe blog post.
     Next, there is the similar, but smaller and plainer White Rock Antiques Centre.
     That's it for a bit. The desperate can stop off at the White Rock Hotel for a coffee or pint break - the front terrace  is very popular, or alternatively cross the road and walk along the sea front, viewing progress on the pier renovation works (if any), until you get past Warrior Square. There is a seafront cafe by the loos - warm weather only - or cross the road back again.
     We tend to stop for coffee at Smiths - they do excellent food too, but the cafe does get hot and crowded. It is almost next door to our next shop - Stuff by the Sea. The name is currently just chalked on a clothes bin outside this large, inexpensive vintage clothes shop - ideal for a rummage.
      Round the corner into London Road, and up the hill.
Opposite is the large London Road Antiques Centre, with a London Underground theme. This is well worth a browse - a fair bit of reproduction stuff, but many gems as well, and prices are very reasonable. It is right next door to the  Love Cafe - popular with many, but every time Philosopher and I have been, the service has been too slow.
London Road
     Carry on up London Road, cross over Norman Road, and turn right into Kings Road, heading for Warrior Square Station. This attractive road is full of funny little shops, many of which, unfortunately, do not
stay very long. At the moment there is a new posh wine shop, a couple of galleries, a biker's shop, a high-class dress exchange, a goth/fetish shop, a nice art supplies shop and many random charity and second-hand shops.We tend to walk up the right side of the road, investigating everything of interest, and back down the other.
      Firstly, on the right, the enormous Kings Road Bazaar has been around for a long while. This is mostly full of junk, but we have found many little gems over the years, and it is always worth a poke about. Almost opposite is its higher class cousin - Kings Road Antiques. This has a varied stock and usually some interesting things - not cheap though.
     Back down London Road, and right up Norman Road. Interestingly, the bottom stretch of Norman Road going down to Warrior Square has become very Middle Eastern, with many Turkish shops and cafes. The upper stretch is becoming very arty, with its own shopping website. First, Xanadu vintage, next to the Little Larder Cafe, is excellent, if a bit cramped. (the same can be said of the cafe!). Opposite is Shop - this used to have nice retro stuff, but is now mostly gifts and high-end retro style homeware, with the delicious Michala's Cute Cakes Cafe taking up more and more room.
     We particularly like the Baker Mamonova Gallery, which has recently moved into a large new space in what was an old cinema. It specialises in twentieth-century Russian art, and many of the paintings are
Baker Mamonova Gallery
stunning. There is now also a Gallery Cafe on the premises. However, the prices are eye-watering - we'd need to win the Lottery to afford anything out of here.
     Next door, our friend Patrick Robbins has moved in, vacating his old premises at the top of the road. His new place, now called the Fleet Gallery, is bigger, lighter and very attractive. Several paintings in our house came from Patrick, but now he has moved a bit upmarket.
     As with Kings Road, shops tend to come and go, and move around a bit. We like one very high-end mid-century shop - I think it is 'Antiques on Sea' but at the moment it has no name outside, and Gensing Antiques, which is a chaotic mass of stacked up paintings, kept by a very talkative old guy. We can't go in there too often because we never come out empty handed. There is also the Hastings Antiques Centre, which deals in older stuff, the Wayward vintage haberdashery shop, and several more, including a strange junky place at the top of the road.
Gensing and Wayward
    We turn left at the top of Norman Road, and go down East Ascent at the back of Marine Court. If it's hot it is nice to have a picnic in St Leonard's Gardens. Then down onto the front, and left along the colonnade. Much of this has got a bit run-down looking. Poffley's Cafe is opposite the Azur - somehow we have never got over the loss of the wonderful Post Office Tea Room, and don't go to Poffley's, although I hear it is fine. Once past Poffley's, you reach the Arts Forum Gallery, and then a variety of little places underneath Marine Court, including the classy Burton Gallery.  Probably our most expensive piece of glass, a large vintage Mdina bottle vase, came from here.
      By this time we have usually had enough - we walk down to Warrior Square and get the bus home!
      Here a few more pictures!
Arthur Green's interior

Gensing Antiques - all those pictures!
Norman Road Street art, with a bit from Scrabbleman - it says 'I'm mad as hell'

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Appledore - Hastings Battleaxe explores Romney Marsh

What a bleak day Sunday was - dark grey clouds, bitter cold wind. Just the day to go for a trip across Romney Marsh.
Not a day for walking at Rye Harbour
     We didn't intend to - we set out for Rye Harbour, hoping for nice coffee and cake at the Avocet Gallery before a bracing walk to the sea. But of course it was shut for their winter break.  We did go for a walk, but it was absolutely freezing and not pleasant at all.
     I suggested driving out to investigate Station Antiques in Appledore, which I had read about somewhere. Blimey, talk about the back of beyond - driving mile after mile beyond Rye alongside the Royal Military Canal, with the empty marsh spread out on one side and reed-edged dyke, sheep and the steep slopes of the old sea cliffs on the other. Occasionally, motorcyclists roared past us - they clearly use the quiet, and relatively straight Royal Military Road as a racetrack.
     I don't think I'd like to live on Romney Marsh - a bit depressing. It feels so isolated. 
     Station Antiques was not bad, but nothing of interest, so then we explored the village. By this time Sunday lunch beckoned, so we tried the Black Lion pub. Not great to look at, but a very warm, friendly place with an unexpectedly long and classy looking menu - quite expensive too. We opted for the Sunday roasts, and I am not exaggerating when I say I have scarcely ever been faced with such a huge plate of food in my life. One portion would have done us both easily and still have had leftovers. And this is the Battleaxe who is supposed to be on a diet.... ugh, the agony of it. Have only lost 1.5 pounds so far.
Black Lion in Appledore
     The pub was decorated with brewery memorabilia and pub handle badges. The names reminded me of when I was married to my first husband, who was a real CAMRA buff. We used to be able to test each other on the 'Good Beer Guide'. I was particularly good on where breweries were based.... Breakspears? Henley-on-Thames. Wadworths? Devizes. Everards? Leicester. Theakstons? Masham yawn scratch bore and so on.
     Appledore itself is quite a pretty village with some pretty old houses along its one wide main street.

Nice topiary at Appledore
It looked to have a nice church as well, although we didn't look in it. Apparently the church was sacked and burnt by the French in 1380 - like Winchelsea. Looking at the history of the place, like many settlements round here Appledore was once a port - on the estuary of the River Rother, which apparently abruptly changed its course in the thirteenth century after a great storm. Clearly, whatever storms we have now are nothing....
     See also 'The Knight whose armour didn't squeak' by AA Milne.
     What other nice places are there on Romney Marsh?

Friday, 10 January 2014

Queen's Head at Icklesham - Hastings Battleaxe recommends

Just a quick note about this nice old pub, the Queen's Head: the menu is extensive, the food is excellent, the beer is good, and the bars are comfortable.  
     The other morning we went to Rye and then called in at the Queen's Head for lunch.  I had sea bream and Philosopher had liver and bacon - both excellent. I ended up ordering Greene King Abbot instead of the weaker IPA and slept for the rest of the afternoon.
     We have been on several occasions for Sunday lunch with friends. It gets very full and you have to book
Queen's Head, Icklesham
one of two sittings - it always surprises us that even when a mob of people all piles in at once the kitchen can still produce the food remarkably quickly. Battleaxe has less and less patience with places where you have to wait ages for your food.  There is no excuse for it.
     If you do have to book, don't ask for a table right by the fire - it gets too hot.
     We have never yet managed to go on a hot day and sit outside - the view across to Rye is fantastic.
     One of my favourite things in the pub is the notice in the Ladies: 'Bee swarms collected'.  How often do you suppose anyone would notice a bee swarm assembling on their apple tree, then casually drift out to the Queen's Head, call into the Ladies and see the notice just when it was needed? Or perhaps you'd see the swarm outside your house, remember where you'd seen the notice, ring the pub and ask someone to pop into the Ladies and get the number for you?  Or perhaps....I dunno.
Bee swarms?
     I think my next big blogging task will be to produce a guide to pubs and restaurants in and near Hastings - the posts I did on best shops and garden centres were both massively popular. However, I think Battleaxe will need help with this task - she would be both alcoholic and obese after personally sampling every one. I started the research for best fish and chips back in the summer, but got fed up of eating them......
     Please, Hastingas, let me know your favourites. Preferably post here as a comment, or else on Facebook, Twitter or email.

View from the pub

Monday, 6 January 2014

Fossil collecting with Hastings Battleaxe

Yes, fossils. One of the many odd things that has interested Hastings Battleaxe at various stages in her life. The cliffs and beaches round here, and up to Fairlight, are apparently an interesting fossil hunting area, particularly for dinosaur bones.
     I am reminded of this because of the recent large rock fall at Rock a Nore. Funnily enough, we were
Rock fall at Hastings - the aftermath
in the car park nearby only half an hour before it happened, looking at the enormous waves.
     The picture of the aftermath shows a large area of new cliff/debris exposed, which presumably will now be a mecca for fossil hunters. Rather them than me until the sea dies down a bit after the stormy weather. Those big cracks in the rock look a bit off-putting too. Presumably, by the time Mrs sensible Battleaxe ventures out there, there won't be a shred left uncollected by the risk takers.. Load of coprolites, if you ask me.
     Still, it astonishes me all these reports of foolish people going in to the sea/taking photos on jetties/taking their kids for walks along wave-tossed paths etc. What do they think they are doing? It just means the poor coastguards and life-boat persons have to risk their lives to rescue them.
     When I was at school I was given the nickname 'Fossil' after a geography field trip to Dorset. My friends were interested in finding ways of sneaking out of our hostel in Swanage in search of Boys, illicit fags and booze.. I was interested in finding ways to sneak back to Dancing Ledge or Kimmeridge Bay, in search of fossils. I did actually find a few shapeless looking unidentifiable lumps, so in hindsight, I was probably better off - my friends found no boys, lumpish or otherwise.
     Hmm, thinks, that is a possible plot for a story. Solitary nerd is left behind by her classmates who have set forth, shrieking and jeering, plastered with illicit makeup, in search of adventure. Nerd confides her passion for fossils to Geography teacher, who happens to be young, male, handsome, unhappily married - together they go to the beach, where after finding several ammonites, forbidden passion blazes behind the rocks. Nerd returns, smug, to find classmates have returned after fruitless outing. I hasten to add real life was nothing like that, our geography teachers were two elderly unmarried ladies.
     I have never been interested in serious fossil hunting with hammers, hacking things out of the cliff, or breaking rocks, but I do enjoy beach combing. These days, I am particularly fond of fossilised sea urchins, and have picked up several locally. Although two of mine came from Hastings - one found during a low-tide walk to visit the wreck of the Amsterdam - beaches near chalk cliffs are best, because the fossils are preserved in flint. They date from the Cretaceous period - around 100 million years ago.
Fossil sea urchins and a bone
     These objects have appealed to humans since the earliest days of history - they are called variously, fairy loaves, shepherd's crowns, pixies' helmets and thunder stones. Ancient people used to bury their dead with them, and more recently they were kept in houses as good-luck charms against witchcraft, and to protect the house from being struck by lightening. Perhaps I ought to get the book referred to in this article.
    Here is a picture of my sea urchin fossils, together with what is clearly a fossilised bone. I found the bone on Hastings beach. Heaven knows what creature it comes from.
      I notice that this time last year I was blogging about fossils and submerged forests at Pett Level. Odd.
     Ah well, that's it now.... Philosopher has just come in and brought me a cup of tea and the last of the Christmas cake. I have eaten it, and gnawed the very last bit of marzipan off the icing. I said yesterday that once that was eaten, the New Year regime of austerity and healthy living begins.....
     New year, new dawn. Look at these lovely sunrise pictures taken from our house yesterday.
Sunrise, 4.01.14