Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Happy 4th Blogiversary - and Happy New Year!

Yes, indeed, Hastings Battleaxe has been up and running for four years!
     Us bloggers are supposed to celebrate these Blogiversaries, so let's do it.

     I won't bother yarning on about the past - here's the link to the first ever post, written on 31 December 2011, when we had only just moved to Hastings.
     Sometimes, Battleaxe wonders why she carries on. Can only be because she enjoys it. I don't make any money from blogging, and although the blog does quite well - it has had 105,500 page views - and has a band of loyal readers, it is unlikely ever to be a viral sensation. I think that is partly because Battleaxe chops and changes topic areas too much. It's partly a travel blog, partly a 'lifestyle' blog (whatever that is....), partly a fashion blog, partly about arts, food or whatever grabs her attention.
      The most viewed posts with the wider internet over the four years have been mostly local 'review' posts - antique shops, coffee stops etc., but also random accounts of treatment at the Conquest Hospital, a tour of Ore Village (now why should that be so popular?) and meeting the Queen at the 2015 WI AGM.
      So, nearly 2016!
      We've had a good Christmas - lots going on. Our friend Shaun went home yesterday, saying we had done everything required for a 'proper' Christmas - stockings, masses of presents with paper all over the floor, then turkey. Actually, ours was alarmingly stringy and tough, despite being Sainsburys finest free-range bronze-feathered etc. No, it wasn't the cooking - I have cooked enough of the bloody things. It was a ripped, muscular creature, all six-pack and sinews. I intend to complain to Sainsburys. Will report back.
       To continue - excellent Aldi Christmas pud, scrabble, jigsaws, including this 3D St Basil's Cathedral, constructed by mostly Shaun, a bit by Philosopher (who also learned and performed some magic tricks).
Paper all over the floor....

St Basil's Cathedral
     Then there was telly including Downton Abbey, and a cinema visit for 'Star Wars' at the Kino in Rye -  which we really enjoyed. I'd only ever seen the first one about a million years ago but it didn't matter.
     Bracing seaside walks - look at these waves.....

     Finally, a day foraging in the sales in Tunbridge Wells. Phew.
     Yesterday, Anna and Gareth came down - lunch was a little challenging because Shaun does not eat tomatoes or dairy, Gareth is veggie and I am still on a low-fat diet.... 
     Weather has been bizarre - still incredibly mild but very windy. It has been howling round the house in an alarming manner. At least no floods like the poor folk up North. We may get blown away, but floods will never feature. You'd need a 400 foot tsunami coming up from the sea, and the hill above us is never going to support a raging torrent rushing down.
     I don't know what the nation is going to do about flooding - I read yesterday that our defences only cater for estimated once in a hundred year events.  However, we have thousands of rivers and miles of coast - once in a hundred year events happening at different times in thousands of different places means that every year, we will have loads of floods. In contrast, apparently, Dutch flood defences are designed to manage once in 1250 year events - and they have far fewer rivers and less coast.
     Folk have to take responsibility for their own places, too. Move stuff upstairs, put the electrics half way up the walls etc. You see the interiors of people's ruined homes on telly and many of them have done nothing. It looks like they ignored flood warnings.
     Today, Philosopher was at the Jerwood and Anna and I went down to join him after a thorough scouring of the Old Town shops. Typical, Anna bought nothing but I acquired a Pear's print from the junk yard in Courthouse Street and yet another WI Presidential 60s laydees suit from Betty B Vintage.
     The waves viewed from the Jerwood cafe were incredible - sorry this photo is a bit blurry...

Whoa! Sainsburys up-date! 
     Went in today and complained about the stringy turkey and they gave me a full refund plus an extra £10 for any inconvenience suffered. No questions or quibbling. That is what I call good customer service!
Well done Sainsburys!

                                                    Happy New Year!


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Happy Christmas from Hastings Battleaxe

All ready for Christmas, done and even dusted now. Philosopher has even put the candles on the revolving jingle chime thing, ready for tomorrow lunchtime. Just waiting for our friend +Shaun Mckenna  to arrive - hope he is not stuck on the M25.
     Actually the house was quite clean anyway - we had all the neighbours round for drinks on Tuesday so all was still tidy after that.
     We've had a pickled walnut crisis - I told Philosopher not to have such a hot bath - no, really, there aren't any to be had in the whole of Hastings. Cold turkey disaster.
     Weather is horribly windy. I don't like the way it howls around the house up here... It's still incredibly mild though. Our turkey won't fit in the fridge so we have had to make a cool box arrangement for it in the garage with a crate, lots of bubble wrap and ice packs - otherwise it would get too warm.
     I have spent ages trying to upload videos properly to this blog. The last one, the the most recent post about the Link Road uploaded OK from You Tube, but I forgot to rename it so after you view it once it turns into another file with the same name - a Japanese baby or something. I don't dare look too closely in case it then turns into porn.
     I have tried to video the faithful singing Santas we brought down from Birmingham. They are nearing the end of their life - it is now ten years since they first danced and sang outside our house in Birmingham. The local kids used to love them.  Here they are on the front steps in Hastings - I hope this video is OK....

    Was looking at some of our other decorations. I remember when these tree baubles were bought in the 1950s. I was very small, and after a nasty visit to a dentist in Dublin, me and my parents went to Roche's Stores to the Christmas department, and I had to visit Santa - which I hated. He scared me witless with his loud 'Ho-Ho'ing and his whiskey breath....

     My daughter also liked the little house and the church when she was little.  We'll pass them down to her. Some of the other baubles are even older - Father Christmas must date from the 1940s, he's lost all his colour.
Vintage bauble

      Many of the others date from my first marriage in the 1970's. This box came from Woolworths in 1974 - price 60p!

      Finally, here are the lights on the house - not a very sparking photo, but believe me, ours is still the most blinging display in the vicinity, and Digby preparing for Christmas.
      I have one more post to do before the New Year - Battleaxe's fourth Blogoversary.

                                    Happy Christmas to all Battleaxe readers!


Monday, 21 December 2015

Down the Hastings to Bexhill Link Road, Birmingham Christmas capers...

This morning I said to Philosopher: 'Let's drive down the new Link Road', (or Combe Valley Way as we are supposed to call it), so we did.

    Diligent Battleaxe readers will know that I wrote a blog post about this controversial road ages ago - I even won a prize for the piece in the Hastings Writer's Group journalism competition. (Now there's a thing - I have not even been placed in a HWG competition this year - first time ever...).
     The road was opened last week - the exact opening time was kept secret until the last minute to deter environmental protesters, but in fact they still managed to sit themselves down in the road in front of the VIPs. Seems a bit pointless to me, when the road is finished...
    Although the original arguments against the road are still valid, and it will have little impact on the local traffic on the sea-front route, it's here now, so we may as well use it. In fact, for us folk living near the Ridge, it is ideal to get to Bexhill, Eastbourne, Brighton etc.  Also, when we have strokes, ambulances will now at least have a chance to get us to the hospital in Eastbourne within the necessary 45  minutes!
    The traffic along the Ridge is just terrible, and the local council seem to grant permission for constant further residential development along the road, without giving a thought to the impact on traffic. As well as assorted junctions and residential roads, there are three schools, the Conquest hospital, the Crematorium and cemetery, at least one church, the Hastings Centre, two pubs, several care homes and umpteen industrial sites, all of which cause traffic hold-ups of varying severity. In some places, parking is allowed on what is quite a narrow road, for example outside St Helen's Church.
Queuing to get past parked cars by St Helen's Church
    Planning permission for another new road (the Queensway Gateway) has just been granted to join the Link Road to the A21, again amidst furious protests from environmentalists. In fact, this is the second time the road has been approved - it was thrown out on appeal, and the scheme had to be resubmitted. While I hate to see loss of countryside, wildlife habitat etc., I do believe that access to the A21 from the Ridge has to be improved - the existing junction is just ridiculous, and vehicles must emit as much pollution sitting in traffic queues as they would on a new road.
Protests against the next new road....
    It does seem a bit crazy, driving down the empty Queensway to join the Link Road past all the  sites forlornly waiting for some far-away, hypothetical developments which would miraculously create jobs. Then here's the new road, giving access to yet more fantasy-land opportunities.... However, money for these roads is secured on the promise of such development.
     The new road joins the Queensway with traffic lights. Why not a roundabout?
     Actually, I think the road will bed into the landscape quite quickly - if it doesn't sink into the marshy ground of the Combe Valley before that. The verges looked very boggy.  It follows the contours of the landscape quite pleasingly. The road is quite empty as yet, but then so, always, is the Queensway. Here is a video:

     After the excitement of the Link Road, we stopped at the Hastings Garden Centre for a soothing coffee. Battleaxe does recommend their Christmas scones. Lots of Christmas stuff left....
      I took a few photos of the tropical fish. We thought they ought to put out a charity box for donations from people who just come to look at/photograph the fish.....

Pretty fishes...
     We were in Birmingham at the weekend, seeing family and friends.
     Wow, the city does seem busy after our quiet provincial sea-side backwater. It seems ridiculous moaning about the traffic on the Ridge when I spent I don't know how long sitting stationery in traffic jams on the crowded bus from Moseley to the City Centre and back, then from Moseley to Kings Heath.
      Philosopher was saying that you develop a 'shell' to protect you against city life when you live there, and we have now lost ours. The City Centre felt like a blaring Hades (but it was the Friday night before Christmas!) and I didn't like it when our bus driver had to stop the bus and go upstairs to sort out some drunken lads who were jumping on the seats.... and apparently drivers don't usually even leave their cabs, just phone for the Transport Police.
     As ever, we stayed with our old friends Sue and Alex, and spread ourselves thin for a busy round of meetings with friends and family.  Still it is really lovely to see at least some of them, and as I have said before, quite apart from family, friends you have known for 30-plus years are never going to be replaced.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Christmas meal and Wreath-making with the WI

Getting a bit WI-crazy Christmassy here.  Battleaxe has been very busy, so this is quite a quick post.
On Tuesday this week we had a Christmas outing to the Fairlight Lodge Hotel, on Thursday it was Book Group, Saturday afternoon I went to a wreath-making workshop, tomorrow we have a Christmas Coffee Morning - crikey.
   The Fairlight Lodge Hotel is a funny, quirky, somewhat tumbledown old place just out of town along the Fairlight Road. It has had a long history, being once the home of the Martineau family, and most notably, Robert Martineau, the nineteenth century artist and associate of Holman Hunt.  Hunt, Millais and Edward Lear stayed at the Lodge before and after they stayed at Clive Vale Farm, where our house now stands.
    Martineau's most famous painting is 'The Last Day in the Old Home', now in Tate Britain. According to the hotel website, the room pictured is now the hotel bar, but the scene is more likely to be the Ashford home of the bloke who was the model for the man in the picture.
Martineau - The Last Day in the Old Home
     Anyway, last Tuesday sixty-one women (plus three men) descended on the hotel for our annual WI Christmas meal. The venue is very cozy, the food was fine, and the staff looked after us well.
     We couldn't afford to go out like that every year - the total bill came to almost £1000, despite paring the budget to the bone.
     One problem, the family who keep the place (who, incidentally, come from Walsall) hardly ever answer the phone. I had a real panic a few weeks ago because I could get no response out of them, searched the internet and came across a Facebook page which said the place had closed down! Turned out it was another Fairlight Lodge somewhere else.....
     The three men are threequarters of local shanty singing group the RX Shantymen, one of whom is Tom Kelly, husband of WI Jan. Very bravely, the men sang us some specially adapted shanties - we all joined in very robustly.
     Our behaviour was actually not bad - we only knocked the Christmas tree over once, and then derailed the little Christmas train in the bar.....
     The wreath workshop was good - about twenty of us journeyed out to the Village Hall at Three Oaks, where a mountain of greenery was waiting for us. We were taught what to do by Heather Goodsell, a very funny, talented woman who has been to do two talks for us at the WI.
     All of us managed to produce beautiful wreaths by the end of the afternoon, despite much gossiping, drinking tea, eating cake and speculating who will be in the Strictly final. My wreath is hanging downstairs now, by the front door.  Battleaxe was pleased with her efforts - as you know, crafty making of things is not something I go in for that often. It was actually quite easy to do - a bit prickly and hard on the fingers though.
Mass of greenery

Some of the finished products.
     We've got all our Christmas decorations up now, including the faithful Singing Santas from Birmingham. Down here, they tend to get activated by wind, badgers etc., so, sadly, they are switched off most of the time.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Spectre, Lady in the Van and Abba madness!

Had a busy cultural week - not that one could call Abba 'culture'.... nor James Bond.... and not even Maggie Smith.
    Went down to the Hastings Odeon to see Spectre. We weren't that keen on the last James Bond, Skyfall, too much inner agonising and psycho-babble. Looking at the post I wrote about it back then I read that the cinema was heaving - this time, it was virtually empty. What's more, the screen we sat in had obviously been poshed up - new seats, more leg-room and no sticky floor. Interestingly, as I've been moaning about the wet, windy weather, I also see that in back in November 2012 it was apparently worse than it is now. How quickly we forget.    
     Anyway, this was a much more straightforward Bond movie - good locations, including the brief sequence in Rules Restaurant, which Battleaxe visited a few weeks ago. I see that the restaurant was closed for three days for filming, for a scene which only lasted about 30 seconds.  Overall, though, we felt that the plot did not have the dynamic progression of earlier Bond movies, and still too much back plot. Do we really care that the arch-baddie was some sort of reincarnated Blofeld? No.
      I also didn't like Bond's tailoring. He should be wearing classic English style suits, not Italian-look natty tight-trousers and skimpy bum-freezing jackets. He only needed winkle-pickers to complete the look. Not good.
OK Bond....

Wear better suits, Bond.... this is too skimpy
     We got some cheap discount ticket offers from the Odeon - soon they'll be paying us to go - so decided to go again to see The Lady in the Van. Had been a bit dubious about it. I'm tired of boy eternal Yorkshire lad Alan Bennett, and had a surfeit of Maggie Smith doing her dowager Downton thing.  However, the film was much better than I expected. Very well acted, and an interesting back story about the heroine's life.
The Lady in the Van
     On Friday a group of us went to the White Rock to see the Abba Tribute show. It was really excellent - great fun, and several of us ended up dancing in the aisles, along with most of the audience. The band: 'Waterloo, the best of Abba' was really professional - the two girls had great voices, they had all the moves, the costumes etc.
     Only downside, the theatre was surprisingly empty. I was astonished - had expected it to be packed with Abba fans d'uncertain age. Still it gave us more room to dance.  Here's a taste of what you missed!

     It's a worry though, I can't believe the theatre would have covered its costs with that size audience. They have to heat the place, pay the band, pay the staff..... I've said before that it is hard to fill that great barn of a theatre, but it needs to make ends meet. 
     The town needs one decent size theatre.  Eastbourne does not seem to have trouble sustaining several, surely we can support one?
     Come on Hastings, we'd better use it or we'll lose it!

Monday, 30 November 2015

Chatham Historic Dockyard, and Rochester revisited.

Just back from a couple of days extending our exploration of Kent. Back in the summer we went on a trip to Canterbury, Whitstable and Rochester. We meant to visit Chatham that time, but it was too much.
     I'm glad we left the Historic Dockyard until later in the season. On a dull, blustery, damp November day, just before it closed for the winter, the place was practically empty. I've often moaned on here about the crowds at various visitor attractions, but this was the complete opposite.
     We started off with the Rowland Hilder exhibition. Since we moved down here, we have often been struck by the Kent 'Hilderscapes', oast houses, vast skies, rolling hills and bare trees, still much as he painted them. He is often dismissed as a chocolate box Christmas card painter, but his work is beautiful. Here are two examples:
Rowland Hilder
 Next, the historic warships.  
    HMS Gannet is the oldest, a hybrid sailing/steam ship dating from 1878. The ship was empty except for the custodian. A very beautiful ship and interesting, but not a lot left inside.
HMS Gannet
    Battleaxe's favourite was the destroyer, HMS Cavalier. Built in 1944, she served in the Arctic and the South Pacific. She is preserved exactly as she was on the day of her decommissioning in 1972, and once again, we had the ship all to ourselves.
     Captain Battleaxe was piped aboard by Bosun Philosopher. I went a bit transgender. Women don't star in WW2 action movies, and in any case, their uniforms are just no good. As a compromise, I channelled Noel Coward 'In Which We Serve'.  Spent a happy time barking orders down speaking tubes: 'Action Stations!' 'Prepare for Rounds' etc.  Saluting, 'Sah', 'Stand down, men!'. We peered into the empty distance from the bridge, I rang the ship's bell, and we found those great ship's phones where you wind the handle and shout 'fwaugh fwaugh fwaugh' in the teeth of the raging gale. By this time, Noel Coward had changed into Jack Hawkins in his oilskins (The Cruel Sea). Then off with the oilskins, back to Noel Coward, strolling into the wardroom for a snifter, in immaculate dress uniform dripping with gold braid.
      Being a boy, the Bosun, by this time promoted to Chief Petty Officer, was more into 'Bammerbammerbam... BLAM....POWIEEEEE....BOOM......CRUMP.'  The Radio Ops room - 'Beep....bip bip bip...beep....', 'Hisssss...Ssssst.....rrroooar'  as he found various strange dials and stopcocks.
HMS Cavalier

Captain Battleaxe takes the wheel. That big red thing is the speaking tube that communicates with the bridge.

Bam bam etc.....

The NAAFI shop

Along a passageway....
The wardroom

And while you are at it, you scurvy lot, rescrub those heads ......
      Our fun was only halted by the sudden appearance of a party of school kids. We shimmied down a near-vertical ladder to escape them, and then it was time for our tour of the third ship, the submarine HMS Ocelot.
      This is a cold war sub, operational from 1962 to 1991. You can't visit on your own, but even so, there were only five of us plus the guide on a tour meant for twenty. This is a diesel electric sub, and I was astonished at the size of the engines needed just to pump fresh air, let alone propel the thing along. The hatches between the compartments were very small - this is not a tour for oldsters! The insides were crammed with machinery and equipment, but Philosopher and I had visited another smaller submarine in the 'U' Boat pens in St Nazaire a good few years ago, so we weren't surprised by the cramped interior.
    Obviously, having company was inhibiting, but we peered down (up?) the periscope and there was a certain amount of torpedo firing, muted fwaugh fwaughing, and of course pip pip peeping round the sonar compartment.

HMS Ocelot

Torpedo tubes

Small hatchways...


Crammed with machinery....
      We'd booked for the night at a new Premier Inn at the edge of the docks area. A bit in the middle of a building site but excellent, and only £35 for the room! As the weather was vile by this time, we stayed in - dinner, bed and breakfast only cost about £65.... Battleaxe would totally recommend.
       Next day, we revisited Rochester, and spent the morning cruising the old High Street. Totally excellent shopping experience, plus even a vintage flea market.....
       We stopped for coffee at a cool-seeming place called 'The Deaf Cat', which suffered from over-complicated menu plus too few staff syndrome.....
        Here's a final shot of the Cathedral to finish up with.
But too complicated.....

Rochester Cathedral


Thursday, 26 November 2015

Two bright days - vintage fair at the De La Warr, dazzling sun at Winchelsea Beach

After an exhausting day on Saturday at the WI Bazaar, Battleaxe enjoyed some chill-out time in two brief bursts of good weather. The Bazaar went well - it is a wonderful thing to see so many women pulling together for a common cause. When I was at work we'd have paid millions to anyone who could have told us how to get similar levels of motivation and energy. Have written about such things before...
     The weather was terrible - sleety snow and a howling gale when people should have been flocking into the hall,  but total takings were only about £300 down on last year.
      On Sunday, it was a dazzlingly bright sunny day. Philosopher and I went to Bexhill, for a bit of sun and sea on the sea-front, and then the Vintage Fair at the De La Warr Pavilion.  The fair, run by local Red Rose Vintage Fairs, was part of the Front Row Fashion event, which takes place annually.  They have a big fashion show on the Saturday night, showcasing young designers and upcycled clothes. I did think of going this year, but knew that after the Bazaar I'd be fit for nothing apart from lying like a zombie on the sofa, watching 'Strictly' with a glass of wine.
Sunny Bexhill....

Massive vintage fair

      The vintage fair was absolutely massive - filled the entire auditorium and the balconies. In many ways I don't like them that big - too much choice means I end up with nothing.
      What I really, really want right now is a classic WI President's vintage hairy tweed skirt suit, 1950s or 1960s, to make people laugh at meetings. My mother used to have a wardrobe of them, 'to wear in the show ring, deah' (she was a dog show judge....).
       I've lost weight with my gallbladder business, so now have hope of finding one in a size that will fit me, and I also won't look like the side of a house when wearing it.  A vast tweed clad bum is not a good look, even in an ironic sense.
Wanted - Presidential tweed - fur collar optional
       Needless to say there weren't any suits, but as I had tweed on my mind I ended up with a fabulous 1960s coat.  A tiny bit tight but one has to suffer for one's art.
       I tell you what drives me mad at those fairs. (Don't forget Battleaxe had a vintage clothes shop and has done many fairs, so she's talking from experience). Stallholders - for goodness sake put sizes on the price labels. Have tape measures handy. Don't cram too many clothes on your rails, making it hard to riffle through.
       Less of that. Monday was also dazzlingly bright. We went to Winchelsea Beach, and for the first time, stopped for coffee at the Winchelsea Beach Cafe.  We've always thought it looked a bit greasy-spoonish, and indeed, the fry-ups looked good value. However, the coffee was actually very good - properly strong and fresh. Views from the cafe are excellent, there is a large outside sitting area, it is right by the stairs up to the beach, and the loos are clean. No frills, but ideal for a walking or beach break. Battleaxe would recommend.

Winchelsea Beach cafe
      Went for a walk along the deserted beach, and it was just stunning. Reminded us how lucky we are to live where we do.... In a previous post I've written about natural sculptures on the beach - the wonderful forms of the sea-weathered remnants of breakwaters and groynes. Here is another picture:

Dazzling sun

Deserted beach...
     We saw these huge tractors rolling up and down the beach, carrying shingle up to Pett Level, where the beach has been washed away in recent storms. They look sinister.
      Much assorted debris had washed up onto the beach. Andy Dinsdale from the Rye Bay Beachcombing thingy is coming to the WI next year to talk about the finds on our local beaches, and we will go on a beachcombing walk with him. I'm looking forward to that. I'll send him the photo of this strange skeleton head, and this white stuff looks like the toxic soapy substance we are told to avoid?