Sunday, 26 October 2014

Hastings Battleaxe at the theatre, three times in a week!

Have had rather a theatrical week: 'The Perfect Murder' at the Devonshire Park in Eastbourne, 'London Assurance' at the Stables, Hastings and 'Carmen' at the White Rock.
     First, the Eastbourne outing. The play was adapted from the Peter James story by our old friend Shaun McKenna, and he kindly got us free tickets.
     We'd never been to the Devonshire Park before, and what a really beautiful old Victorian theatre it is. In fact, we had an excellent evening - had a meal at a little Italian restaurant nearby, Rosetta's, which again we'd never been to. Battleaxe would recommend this place -it was friendly and comfortable, the food was good, and reasonably priced.

     So what of the play?  You'd describe it as a comedy thriller. The theatre was full, and the play was very well received by the audience - lots of loud laughing. It is doing very well - this is its second tour this year, with a slightly less sparkling cast than the first round, which featured Les Dennis in the lead role.
     I'll have to remember that Shaun will be reading this! We had a good, straightforward middle-England evening out, and enjoyed ourselves. It was good, entertaining stuff, and I'd recommend it, but the plot did creak a tiny bit in places - probably due to the difficulties of adapting the original story. I won't give examples because that might be too spoilerish. However, Philosopher and Battleaxe are notoriously hard to please when it comes to comedy in the theatre - we sat rolling our eyes throughout the blockbuster 'One Man and Two Guv'nors' in London, while around us everyone else was rolling in the aisles.
    We should spend evenings in Eastbourne more often. Trouble is, while it is easy to drive back to Hastings later at night, the drive there takes ages through the traffic.  We need to try out a few faded grandeur hotels along the seafront and make a real night of it. I looked up the Grand, but that has far from faded prices.
     Can any readers recommend any other crumbling piles that would suit us? I've looked up Tripadviser and several say 'faded' and 'dated', which is always a good sign to me, but they have to be dated in a good way, not avocado bathrooms complete with mould and dribbling showers. The Hydro? The Lansdowne?  The Chatsworth?
     So, a few days later we popped down the hill to the Stables to see 'London Assurance', a reworking of an 1841 Dion Boucicault play by - 'One Man and Two Guv'nors' again - Richard Bean.  Oh crikey, if Shaun's play just had the odd creak, this one was dragging itself along on a zimmer frame.  I had lost the will to live with the plot well before the end.

     It was a pity, because some of the performances were the among the best, and the funniest, I have seen at the Stables. Ian Fairbrass, who played the lead role, is our neighbour's grand daughter's drama teacher, and a very capable actor he is too, hamming and camping his part up excellently. Likewise, the comedy lawyer, and Lady Gay Spanker (yes really) a cigar-smoking haw-haw huntswoman.  Those three alone, together with the Stables hard seats, ensured I stayed awake.
     Doing my research for this blog, I saw the reviews for the National Theatre production of this play. The critics all said that the play was weak, but was made a success by the performances of the big-name actors e.g Paul Eddington. It seems to me that for a non-professional theatre group, it is important to choose strong plays that support potentially weaker actors rather than hoping they will have the personal resources to lift a less strong play.
     But whatever, we enjoy our outings to the Stables - it is so handy, and we see people we know in the audience.
     So, to number three - Carmen, performed by Opera South East at the White Rock.  We have been to these before - one, Nabucco, we loved, the other, Madam Butterfly, less so.
Carmen - good programme design
     Fortunately, we loved this one. It was a lively, colourful do. The setting was simple but effective - excellent lighting, and the orchestra was in good form. There were some very strong performers, notably Gemma Morsley as Carmen, although she could have hoisted herself up into a more smouldering cleavage-type outfit,  and Mike Barber as Escamillo. The latter made a confident, bullish toreador.
    Although Opera South-East uses professional singers as principals, the rest are locals, and it was great to see Julia Bovee, daughter of one of our founding WI members, give a really belting performance as Frasquita.
    The theatre was packed, which helps at the White Rock, otherwise it is a bit echoey and barn-like. More people we knew in the audience.
    We ate supper there beforehand, and as I think I've said before, the food in the theatre cafe is good, but it is one of the most carb-laden menus I have ever seen - fish finger sandwiches with chips, deep fried scampi and chips, burgers in rolls with chips etc., deep fried onion rings and more chips on the side, treacle sponge for pudding. Does nothing for the Hastings waist-line.
    Anyway, here is Digby interfering in my efforts to photograph the programmes.....
Oh darlings, one is such a theatrical cat

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Hastings Battleaxe at Ore Village

Ore Village is our nearest local shopping area. It's tucked away over the top of the hill and down again from genteel Clive Vale, where we live. Writing on the history of Ore, the Hastings Chronicle says 'For the better-off people of Hastings, the Ore Valley has often been out of sight and out of mind.' Well, it's never far from our minds.

     Last year at the WI we had a very good talk on the history of Ore from local historian Brian Lawes, husband of my friend and Committee colleague Shirley, so I can draw on material from that.
     Why is Ore called Ore? Probably because the area was a source of iron ore, and traces of Roman 'bloomeries' or smelting furnaces have been found. The name 'Red Lake' survives in the village, referring to a former mill-pond or a pool produced by later iron-workings, coloured red with dissolved iron oxide.
     Ore has always been a poor area. It housed the labourers who built the grand hotels and homes in the town during Hastings' days of prosperity, and who worked on the roads and the railways. After Hastings declined in the early years of the last century, these workers fell into extreme poverty. Many of their small terraced cottages, now desirable little homes, still survive, tucked away down quiet side-streets and twittens.
Little houses in Ore

     The enormous Hastings Workhouse, now mostly demolished, was in Frederick Road. Novelist Catherine Cookson worked there as head laundress when she first arrived in Hastings in 1929, living in nearby Clifton Road. She described Hastings as 'another world, in which everything moved at an easy-going pace.' Battleaxe and Philosopher would agree.
The Workhouse
    Today, three council estates border Ore, two of which, Halton/Farley Bank and Broomgrove/Malvern Way, are in the bottom 1% most economically deprived in England.
     For us, coming from Birmingham, where vast run-down social housing ghettos still blight the lives of their residents, the Hastings estates appear very different. This must be due to their smaller size - they blend into their surrounding localities, and they also appear well-kept - no mattresses, burned out cars, trees chewed by fighter dogs. As ever, there are lots of plastic toys lying about. I'll swear, in the future, when our civilisation has died out, archaeologists will be speculating about those things. They'll ask: What were they? Fertility totems? Household Gods? Symbols of wealth? Why are there so many?
     The village centre of Ore always depended on the busy road running through it. Initially, the main turnpike from Hastings and London ran along Frederick Road to join the Ridge, but then was diverted along its present route through the village. The coming of trams in 1905 created further development of the shopping centre. The power-station that generated electricity for all the borough's trams was built in the Ore Valley, and successive, even bigger power stations provided local employment until the 1980s.
     Until 1897 Ore was outside the Hastings town boundary - its one pub, the Hare and Hounds, was very popular, and the first theatre in Hastings was established there in the 1700's. Both theatre and pub were destroyed by fire in 1867. The pub was partly rebuilt and then finally closed in 2006.
Hare and Hounds theatre - commemorative plaque
     Ore is now badly off for pubs. The Clive Vale Hotel on the corner of Alfred Road was partly demolished in 2010 and replaced with a truly horrible housing development.
Clive Vale Hotel then...
And now....
     The Oddfellows Arms is now a Tesco, despite substantial local protest. Battleaxe said she'd boycott the new store, and indeed, I have never been in it. I even had to send Philosopher in there to put up a poster about the WI jumble sale. However, we have an Aldi being built just up the Rye Road. That will be popular, and should bring more trade to Ore.
      The King's Head in Rye Road has closed. As far as I know, there is a pub in Winchelsea Road, and the Old King John in Middle Road, which always looks a bit full of daunting-looking locals. I'll venture in there one day and report back.
       The main road in Ore is dominated by Christ Church, built in 1858 in Decorated Gothic Revival style. Pevsner described its skinny turret tower as 'very naughty'. I don't quite see why. It is a handsome building, usually kept locked, but when I walked down the other day to take photos for this post the door was open. Inside, I met the Vicar, who is just recovering and returning to work after a serious illness, and spoke with him briefly. The interior of the church has painted floral designs and lettering - very Pugin-esque, but clearly needs some maintenance.

Christ Church, Ore
     On one side of the Church is the War Memorial and then Winchester's Hardware Store. The Winchesters are one of the local families that give Hastings its colour.... they own Blackbrooks Garden Centre and a range of property in Ore and the surrounding area, including the scaffolding yard near our house. That yard has had its moment of fame.   According to the article in the Guardian, Hastings is in Kent. Typical.

    Ore is surprisingly well-off for facilities. As well as Winchester's, Tesco and the Co-op, it has several convenience stores, two chemists, a Post Office, a baker, a greengrocer, three charity shops, a betting shop, a butcher, hairdressers, and no less than five fast-food outlets. There will be six soon - Pizza Hut is opening.  There is also a library - small, but very sweet, and the Community Centre.
    As well as hosting all sorts of worthwhile activities, including the dreaded Zumba that Battleaxe didn't stick at, the Community Centre also has a cafe that serves a decent cup of coffee! I have not tried their food yet.

Community Centre and cafe
    Ore also has an open space, Speckled Wood. Now here's a crazy thing.  Inevitably, Speckled Wood is at risk of housing development. There are two rival community groups campaigning about it. One lot seems to want a Village Green, and I can't tell what the others want. There have been accusations of hi-jacking websites etc. etc. Why waste valuable time and energy arguing between themselves? How Hastings is that.
    There are plenty of other community activities, like Ore in Bloom, which is backed by Fairlight Hall. I did enter our garden into this year's competition, but got nowhere. Huh.
    Ore is not at all gentrified - no artisan bakeries or distressed nick-nack shops here.  There are several empty shops, and Philosopher and I were thinking what was needed. No more fast food or convenience stores. How about a Poundland Local? In Brum, we had many Asian-run pound shops featuring piles of psychedelic kitchen plastic stacked outside - we could maybe do with one of those.
    Oh - and a branch of Cafe Nero would be good. Small hope of that. 
    To finish, here are a couple of scenes of Ore, then and now.

Junction of Fairlight Road


The Old Sanatorium, looking up Rye Road towards the new Aldi. What a lot of horrible street furniture we have now.
This post has been up-dated in  August 2015. See new post here.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Hastings bonkers and beautiful. Thoughts on wild boar.

I am in the middle of writing a post about Ore Village, just up the road from us, but it is taking longer than I thought.  So here's a  few bonkers pictures from our wanderings round the Old Town, some random thoughts, and a very beautiful picture from Philosopher.
     So, where to start?  We were having coffee in our favourite Hanushka's this morning, sitting at the window, watching the world go by. By the way, they do a brilliant range of unusual fruit teas. I had quince and something-or-other this morning, and it was excellent.
Hanushka Coffee house - great for people watching
     Opposite is a shop called  'The Glass Sculptress', that sells reproduction weapons and armour. Yes, I know. It is the first day of Hastings Week today (battle anniversaries, bonfires etc.) and all the retailers are getting their goods in tip-top order.  Here is the bloke arranging arrows on the chain mail display - spooky, no?

Then on to the Stade, and today we find it full of classic cars - scarcely a week passes here without some happening or another.
     I do like vintage American cars. Here are two great examples, and a Bond Bug.

    There were lots of Morris Minors. I passed my driving test in one, the 1956 vintage Doris. No, fools, I am not that old. Doris was an elderly lady when we got her, and I passed my test in 1986, when I was in my thirties.  I was an absolute wimp about driving and did everything to get out of doing it. I said I would drive if I got a Doris, so we got one, and I did. Fortunately, I have never looked back. That car was a great character.
    Next, this wild boar hat stand has been on sale in the junk yard in Courthouse Street for months. They appear to want £495 for it. It is truly horrible. In your dreams, guys.... I like the way it is going 'Up yours' with its trotters. Do wild boars have trotters? It sounds a bit domestic.

Horrible wild boar coat hooks
    My next big nature wish is to see a wild boar in the wild. First it was badgers - we have plenty of those here. Then it was dolphins, and we saw those in Turkey last year. Apparently there are numbers of wild boar in Sussex and Kent woodlands. It is horrible to look up wild boar on Google and find nasty shooting sites. Here is one about Beckley Woods, not far from here. How can people be so stupidly barbaric?  Apparently the wild boar population is plummeting due to the disgusting yobs who think this is a good way to spend their time.... I'm not particularly sentimental about animals but this type of shooting for sport really gets to me...
Wild boar in an East Sussex woodland
I see Rye has a Wild Boar week, coming up quite soon...
    So, to finish, here is a lovely photo Philosopher took in the last days of the Indian Summer. Gone now - it's autumn and the heating is on.
How sparkly is this....


Friday, 3 October 2014

Indian Summer in Hastings

We returned from Cirali, Turkey at the beginning of the week to find Hastings basking in sunshine. According to the locals there was no rain in our absence, which means that apart from a few isolated drops, there has been no rain here since August Bank Holiday.
     I said before I went away that I was worried about our garden - well, thanks to our neighbour Angela, who must have been watering way beyond the call of neighbourly duty, everything was still alive.
     Our garden birds were very glad to see us - look at these young starlings enjoying the refilled bird bath.
Young starlings enjoy the bird bath
     It was strange to emerge from Gatwick airport and not having to muffle up in fleeces, the air was as almost as warm as Turkey. In fact, over there we had a couple of cloudy days, some showers overnight, and it was cool enough for jumpers in the evenings. On our last night, we played the final game of the Great Scrabble Tournament sitting outside Shaun's place wearing not only fleeces, but wrapped in blankets. For the record, it had been Shaun two games, me two games, but then Philosopher breezed in and won the last game.
    I just looked up 'Indian Summer' on Google. The term appears to be of American origin, but I guess must have fallen out of fashion a bit. 'Native American Summer' does not sound quite the same. In Britain, we once called this type of warm spell an 'Old Wives' Summer', even more politically incorrect. In Europe, particularly in Slavic countries, that old terminology still exists - Old Wives, Old Women, Old Ladies, Ladies, Crones, and even Witches have summers. This appears to relate to the proximity of All Hallows Eve, and also to the large number of spiders this weather brings out - the drifting fine grey hairs of webs, and the mythology surrounding the spiders themselves.  Clearly, this is the season for Hastings Battleaxe.
     Meteorologists define Indian Summer as a spell of fine weather occurring in October or November, but as usual, our media has hyped up this warm September. 'Indian Summer wreaks havoc on the High Street', screams the Daily Mail, as apparently, share prices plummet due to nobody buying winter clothes. How can shareholders be so stupid? Looking at the weather forecast, gallons of rain and cold weather are on the way.
     Having said that, I have not bought anything either. No wonder the retail economy has collapsed. Oh no, I lie. I have treated myself to a pair of Russell and Bromley tassel loafers. Very classic.
     Today has been an absolutely glorious hot sunny day here in Hastings. Philosopher and I went down to town and took a walk along the sea-front. The sea and the sky were as blue as the Mediterranean. Well, maybe not, see the picture of the Turkish sea at the end of this post. No English sea can ever quite compete with the vivid blueness of the Med. We have a gentler colour and light. In Hastings today, the sea was calm, and the beach was empty. .
Lovely day - nobody on Hastings beach!
     We had a good look at the big barge-mounted crane currently working beside the Pier, which arrived just before we left for Turkey. We expected to return to see the wreckage of the old ballroom completely cleared, but apparently it is not as easy as one might expect. Last winter's bad weather caused the ballroom to collapse further, taking the floor of the Pier with it. The crane on the barge  holds a gang of workmen in a basket, who are then lowered down to cut up and demolish the wreckage.
The crane on the barge

Lots of work going on

The skeleton of the old ballroom
     It seems that the rebuilding of the Pier is still on course to be completed in March next year, but this operation must be difficult as well as costly.

Turkish sea blue - a final memory of our holiday