Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The De La Warr Pavilion, and a walk round Bexhill

All this time, and I've never done a proper blog about Bexhill.
      We started with coffee at the De La Warr Pavilion. We go there so often with visiting friends who want to see it that we rarely go on our own. I know they have had massive cuts to their budget, but the standard of the service was a bit shabby. The coffee, as so often, was too weak, sticky ginger cake was not sticky, and the knife to cut it was dirty. The building is, unfortunately, also starting to look less than perfect.. Damp is seeping in, paint is bubbling, and there are rust stains on the walls.
      This is disturbing, considering it was only refurbished at a cost of millions in 2005. We were told not long ago that the contractors for the refurbishment did not deliver the work according to specification - it was skimped, hence the current over-rapid deterioration. Whatever is going on, it needs sorting. The building, designed by Erich Mendlesohn and Serge Chermayeff in the 1930s, is acknowledged to be one of Britain's  greatest Modernist masterpieces.
       What a wonderful building it is.

Mendlesohn's original drawing for the staircase - RIBA archive
Staircase today
       We looked at the current exhibition, 'I cheer a dead man's sweetheart.'  This is the last line of the dark, disturbing, but beautiful poem 'Is my team ploughing' by A E Housman. Incomprehensibly and stupidly the exhibition blurb tells us that the poem:  
       'serves as an allegory for the influence of the past and its evolving significance in contemporary painting practice.'
       Eh? Did they even read the poem? It's actually about death. We thought the show was utter rubbish and I won't waste any more words on it.
       The De La Warr specialises in contemporary art horrors. See previous blog.

       Shopping in Bexhill is worlds away from the arty ambience of the De La Warr. We always assumed the place to be full of affluent elderly, and indeed, there are many beautiful 1930s homes around the town. However, these affluent types clearly don't shop in Bexhill itself. Imagine streets lined with little shops from the 1950s. Think sewing, crafts, knitting wool shops, 'fancy linens', old-fashioned tobacconists, ironmongers, and florists dotted between junk shops and many, many charity shops. There is an indoor market which would make the market of a run-down town in the Black Country look flash. In fact the whole place is a bit like Black Country-on-Sea. Think places like Lye, or Rowley Regis, which still have Ladies Outfitters with yellow cellophane on the windows to protect the huge bras from the sun.
      In all our visits, we have found no decent coffee shops, no decent pubs either. There are plenty of old-style cafes, filled with distinctly un-affluent looking elders.
      The 'Trattoria Italiana' is fine for eating - I've mentioned it before, and I've heard good things about 'Bistro 45' but never tried it.
       However, we enjoy a browse. There are two decent women's clothes shops, 'La Loba' in St.Leonard's Road, and 'Chameleon' in Devonshire Road, and of course 'Maud's' vintage shop, also in St. Leonard's Road. Sackville Road has plenty of junk/antique shops. There is also a very up-market place, 'Era's of Style', in the old station in Terminus Road, full of French armoires, stuffed bears, distressed urns, Eames chairs and other over-priced Londonista life-style essentials. Needless to say, we don't shop in there.
       Just one last thing, to change the subject, the Jerwood have now put my piece on their website (see previous blog). They have censored it to remove any faintly Battleaxe-type material - the result is bland. Here is the link.
Who shops in here?

Original mosaics on the pavement

Nice tobacconists

I just like the name....
Mauds - worth a browse
Obviously not much demand for these in Bexhill

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sandwich and Deal - Exploring Kent

Our previous explorations have by-passed Sandwich and Deal, so we decided to have a look.
     We went to Sandwich first. Talk about a quiet backwater...... the little town is very pretty, with many attractive old buildings, but it feels as if the world has totally forgotten it.
     Once it was a busy and important Cinque port, but long ago silted up and is now two miles from the sea. The place has an impressive history. The important Roman site at Richborough is nearby. I read that the first elephant to be seen in England landed at Sandwich Quay in 1255, as a gift for Henry III. In 1457, in common with many ports on the Kent and East Sussex Coast, Sandwich was sacked and burned by the French.. In the seventeenth century it was a major embarkation port for colonists heading for the New World. In 1660, during the Restoration, King Charles II anchored in Sandwich. In the 1914-18 war Richborough Fort was a major military camp, and in 1939 the camp was used to house Jewish refugees.
     These days, celebrities are somewhat different, and of course, we had to find the home of the current media stars, Gogglebox's Dom and Steph. They own the Secret Gardens of Sandwich, and 'The Salutation'.  The house, designed by Edward Lutyens, is lovely. The  Lutyens/Jekyll gardens were badly flooded, and although we have seen Dom on telly telling us that they are now getting back to normal, we will return to visit later in the year. I bought a nice mauve drum-head primula from the little plant centre, to replace one in the garden here that has died. No signs of Dom or Steph - probably still sleeping off the night before. Philosopher said that if he lived in Sandwich he'd probably take to the gin bottle.....
As seen on TV - where are Dom and Steph?
     Walking along the street, we encountered a couple of visitors who asked us where the 'main shopping centre' was - we broke the news that there wasn't one!
     We had a coffee and a piece of coffee and walnut cake on our way back to the car. The coffee was as strong as I have ever had, and I guess they must have also boiled down the residue of the previous day's ferocious brew to a super-strong concentrate and used it to make the cake. More about that in a bit..... Here are a few pictures of Sandwich. It is hard to avoid the jokes.....

Who will start me at 20p for the BLT?

Sandwich beacon - or should it be Beacon sandwich har har

Interesting church tower

Toll bridge

Table of tolls - 2s 6d was a lot of money in 1905

      At first view, Deal seemed no big deal..... it has a castle, built by Henry VIII, and a strange 1950s concrete pier. It is clearly a newer place than Sandwich, and was apparently a big naval port in the eighteenth century. It has usual run-down seaside resort High Street full of pound shops, charity shops and bookies, and a lot of pubs. We walked out along the pier, screwed up our eyes to see France, and then discovered the interesting Time-ball Tower, which was originally part of a Napoleonic invasion early-warning system. It then housed the Time-ball, which dropped down its mast at regular intervals to enable ships to set their chronometers. The ball still drops every hour - we saw it go.
     Found a nice old pub for lunch, and were just settling down to our butties and a pint of Shepherd Neame when we were both, simultaneously, seized with gibbering dizziness. Extreme caffeine overdose from earlier on.  It was like being in an Amsterdam coffee shop but without the laughs... Anyway, we had to sit, pale, agitated and clammy until we were able to stagger off down the street. I was actually seeing double at one point.
     So, we have explored all the towns on that top bit of the Kent coast, except for Dover itself. Neither of us were too keen on Margate, Broadstairs I liked, Ramsgate was very interesting. Sandwich we'll revisit for the gardens. Deal, probably not. Folkestone we liked. I have only blogged about Margate and Broadstairs - shame, I'll do the others some time. Next, we'll do along the top of the Thames Estuary - Whitstable, Chatham, Rochester...
Deal Pier

View from the pier

Time ball down....
Time ball up - ready to drop....
Kings Head - nice pub


Friday, 14 March 2014

Bad day chez Hastings Battleaxe

What a day.....
     It started off fine. I went down to the Jerwood Gallery in the morning to have my photo taken. A while ago they asked for a blogger who was a Jerwood member to write a piece on the current exhibition from the 'perspective of a member', and  I was chosen in my non-Battleaxe persona.  Fortunately, the last post I wrote here about the gallery was very positive, so could refer them to it. I found the task quite hard - how could being a member give you a different perspective when viewing the paintings?
      The gallery was heaving with small children, so I chose to have my photo taken with the Bratby 'Holyland', which was in a relatively child-free space. I wrote about how I'd like the Jerwood to do more to explore its local links, and I feel that the Bratby connection is an obvious place to start. In fact, this particular painting pre-dated his time in Hastings, as do the other two Bratby's in the Jerwood collection.
      Anyway, the blog will not appear live on their web site just yet.
John Bratby - 'Holyland'
      Meanwhile, a bit of background. A couple of days ago Philosopher had complained of problems with his chest.. The GP at Harold Road referred him to the Conquest for X-rays and tests. He had these in the morning, and at lunchtime after we got back from the Jerwood we had a call from the GP sending us to the Conquest because he might have a blood clot on his lung. We went straight there, to something called Ambulatory Care, part of the acute assessment unit.
       They did some tests, then we waited for the doctor, who booked him in for a CT scan. We waited for that, waited for the results, waited for the doctor again - by which time it was 6.45pm.  He was stoical. but I got horribly impatient. Anyway, the results were clear, so we were sent home with instructions to return to the GP for further investigations to be planned.
       As ever, the workings of the front-line NHS are fascinating to observe. This being an acute unit, the staff were all rushing about busily. It made a change from my last experience, in a ward in Birmingham, where the staff lounged behind their station reading 'Heat' Magazine and eating cake, seemingly oblivious to the needs of the patients.
       In complete contrast, this looked like good-natured chaos. Patients filled every space, sitting in waiting areas, lying in cubicles, being pushed around on beds. The nurses' station was covered with tottering heaps of case files, and staff seemed to appear and disappear at random, which led to:
     'Who saw Mr X?'
     'Lynne, I think.... where is she?'
     'On her break? No, gone up to the ward with Mrs Y.'
     'Where's his notes then? Val wants them.'
     'Whose notes?'
     'Mr X's I think... oh, and Mrs Z's if you can see them.'
     'Dunno - I think Hassan had them.'.
     'Anne? Have you seen Hassan?'
      'Called to A&E.'
      'Ah, here's Lynne. Have you got Mr X's notes?'
      'Hang on, I'm doing the new gentleman's bloods. Is there any gauze?  Hold your finger there, young man....  Val saw Mr X.'
      'Where's Val?'
      'Gone to Radiology with Mrs Z. Can you ask Dave for some gauze?'
      'Where's Dave?'
     And so on. They only lost Philosopher's  notes briefly, but then also lost him altogether for a bit in the wilds of Radiology. However, the staff were pleasant, and the job got done.
     I had plenty of time to wander round and explore the hospital - presumably, as we get older, we'll see more of it. Have only visited once before - when I broke my foot falling down a rabbit hole at Beachy Head. See previous post. It feels tiny compared with the vast shiny new Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham, our former 'local' hospital. Although the Conquest is probably nowhere near as technologically sophisticated, it seems friendly, reassuring and on a human scale.
Wood mouse - poor little guy
     When we got home, far from allowing us to relax to recover from the trauma, Digby the cat decided to go on a mouse catching spree - perhaps he was feeling left out. He brought a very lively little rodent into the living room for us, which he allowed to escape, and we then spent the next age trying to catch it. After much swearing and furniture moving, we cornered it, but it ran up Philosopher's sleeve. He shook it out onto the ground outside, Digby promptly pounced on it again, rushed indoors, and the whole business started once more.
      Eventually I trapped it under a glass beneath the dining room table. A pretty little wood mouse.
      We are due to go off on our annual trip to Cornwall this weekend, but if Philosopher needs further tests, we will not go.....
       To finish on a more soothing note, here are some pictures of some lovely spring 50s dresses in the window of 'Wardrobe' in Hastings Old Town, and of spring in Winchelsea.
Lovely frocks

Winchelsea Churchyard

I think this is Ford Madox Ford's House
Winchelsea doorway

Friday, 7 March 2014

Battered Bexhill cycle-way, railway moans.... and enjoying the pianists

Weather is fabulous just now - sunny and warm. Our garden is full of daffs, with camelias coming out. It's Spring!
     The other day we went for a walk along the sea to M&S at the Bexhill Retail Park. It seems strange to take a sea-side walk to Marks, generally you have to battle your way into a town centre. But don't get ideas, I have not got over my negative feelings about their clothes (the spring ranges are no better), we only went to the cafe. It wasn't just for cake in M&S either, the car needed a new windscreen wiper from Halfords.

Lovely morning by the sea
     Regular blog readers will know that I have ranted about the unsuitable cycle track along that path before, but we were a little taken aback by the scale of the re-modelling produced by the sea in the recent storms. For large stretches, the plastic grid has totally vanished, presumably carried off by the sea, great holes have been gouged in the surface underneath, and tons of rock and shingle from the beach have been dumped on the path. Can't see any cyclists going along there in the near future and I confess it was a relief to walk without fear of being run over.
     In a couple of places the shingle is spilling through the fence onto the railway. No wonder they kept on closing that stretch of line in the bad weather.

Was this once a path?
     Briefly, on that theme, rail communications to Hastings are still terrible. Unbelievably, the line to Charing Cross is still not repaired following repeated landslips. The Brighton line is dodgy as mentioned above, and to get to London you have to go via Ashford - I went earlier this week. Went to St Pancras on the HS1 - ha, that's a laugh, it was 20 minutes late because they didn't have a driver for it!  Makes you realise the drawbacks of  the plan to build HS2 to Birmingham and beyond, apparently saving a maximum of 30 minutes at a cost of £50 billion. 30 minutes? Maybe, some days, if the staff show up, the engines don't break down and the weather is clement.
     On the walk back I felt sad, once again, passing the site of the St Leonard's bathing pool. How wonderful that must have been, how enormous - 330 feet long, 90 feet wide, and unfortunately, how ridiculous, to think that a town this size could sustain such a huge pool.  Do any readers remember it?
     The recent plans to build a 'lido' entertainment complex on the site seem to have totally collapsed. Philosopher and I like old lidos - it is good to see that Brighton's lovely deco Saltdean Lido is being restored.
Bathing pool then

Bathing pool now
     Changing the subject totally, the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition is currently under way. We've missed it in previous years, but last night Philosopher and I went down to the White Rock Theatre for the semi-finals, on free tickets from Fairlight Hall via the WI. A group of us went, including a couple of our neighbours. Audience was a little sparse. It was good, but we two only stayed for three of the semi-finalists, who each played a 25 minute recital. We heard a heavy-handed Russian woman, a slightly better young American girl, and a much better South Korean bloke, who I'd guess will make the final. It started at 5pm and would have carried on until 9 - I got too hungry. Am still making futile attempts to lose weight.
     We are also going to the orchestra finals on Saturday night. I was quite surprised at the finalists' conservative concerto choices  - much Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, endless Rachmaninov, Grieg, only two Beethoven's and one Prokofiev. I hope we don't end up with all the three finalists playing Tchaikovsky Number 1.
     Stop Press: the three finalists are now announced. I was right about the Korean bloke. We will get just the one Tchaikovsky but two Rachmaninov Number 3's. Years ago I had a set of scratchy 78s of this with Rachmaninov himself playing, which I found in Brixton Market. Don't know where they went. Anyway, it's not my favourite - personally I prefer 2,  'Brief Encounter'.
     Seems like it has just been announced that Hastings is England's most musical town. Who knew?