Friday, 29 May 2015

Winchelsea Heronry and other busy birds

Last year we went for a sunny walk and a picnic around Winchelsea and along the Royal Military Canal. During our walk we spotted a heronry in the trees. As it was mid-June, it was hard to make out the chicks from the adults. This week, we went back.
    Being us, we had to get our priorities straight, and started off with a suitably civilised coffee sitting out in the garden at the Ship, at Winchelsea Beach.
Looking across the level towards the heronry

Garden at the Ship
      Next, we parked near the canal below Winchelsea, and walked along to find the herons. It was a glorious sunny day, and everything looked absolutely beautiful. Fresh greens, reflections in the water, yellow flag irises, drifts of white cow-parsley and hawthorn blossom, water lilies - fabulous. We could hear loud bird song from the reeds, which we later identified as reed warblers. I wouldn't know one if I saw one - they are one of so many anonymous little brown things.

Winchelsea from the canal

Beautiful and peaceful
Yellow flags
      The heronry is on the far side of the canal, in high trees in the wooded escarpment below Winchelsea. It is suitably inaccessible for the protection of the birds, but easily visible from the towpath. There have been previous internet posts about it, so clearly it is no secret. Neither Philosopher or myself have ever seen such a thing before. Herons return to the same place year after year to breed - I have no idea how long the Winchelsea heronry has been established, but from the large size of the sprawling nest areas, made from dead branches, I'd guess a long time.
      Here they are - the tall grey adults are easily distinguishable from the smaller chicks. We only saw two or three chicks, but more were probably hiding in the foliage. Some of the photos are a bit blurred because of the distance. Who else has seen a heronry?

Heronry actual size
First sight of the herons

Two parents, one baby

Two families visible here

Larger chick
Here are just a couple more pictures from our walk back to the car. Water lilies and cloud shadows.

     At home, our garden birds have also been busy. Followers on Facebook will have seen the somewhat fuzzy picture of the wood pecker on our bird-feeder. Here he is again. This morning we arrived home from shopping to find the garden literally crowded with baby starlings and their parents. You could have heard the squawking racket down in the Old Town. We always see a few, and have several nests nearby, but this looked like a mass fledging - the beginnings of our own murmuration?  Anyone else seen this?
Great spotted woodpecker

Starling invasion

Friday, 22 May 2015

Sandgate, Hythe, car-boots and skateboarding dog.

Last weekend our old friend +Shaun Mckenna came down to stay. He is one of the script-writers on the BBC Radio Four WWI series, 'Home Front', which is being broadcast every day for four years - the duration of the war, to mark the 100 year anniversary. 
    Many of the episodes are set in Folkestone, and apparently, in the next series, the action moves to Sandgate. Shaun had never been there, so an expedition was swiftly organised.
    Philosopher and I have visited Sandgate before, when we first arrived in Hastings, and back then, we weren't that impressed. Although it has an attractive High Street, only one antique shop had looked our sort of thing, and we had grave trouble finding a decent cup of coffee. We ended up in a very uninspiring place with sticky red carpet, smelling of Jeyes Fluid. (Can you still get Jeyes Fluid? Yes, you can, I've just Googled it. Today it is marketed as an 'outdoor' disinfectant, but is presumably the same stuff which was poured down school bogs by the gallon.)
    However, in a very short time, Sandgate has come up in the world. We left Shaun yacking in the offices of the Sandgate Society, and found an excellent new coffee place, 'Loaf', just along the street. Coffee excellent, good cake, nice loos.
Loaf at Sandgate

   Next, a prowl about. Shaun wanted to find the site of the Bevan Military Hospital, which treated over 12,000 men during the course of the war. Now, a modern apartment block occupies the site. I liked this extract from its history:

    'The central court was entirely devoted to open-air treatment, and here the most obstinate cases of septic poisoning were rapidly cured; so much, indeed, were the patients benefited by their sojourn here that whenever any of them for one reason or other were moved indoors they invariably begged, even in wintry weather, to be taken back. This open-air sea ward was sheltered from the rains and winds by a transparent roof and storm blinds, erected through private generosity, and only in the event of the most severe gale was this ward vacated.'

    Perhaps the overstretched Hastings Conquest Hospital could just line up rows of beds on the beach?
    During our wanderings we found this lovely little house - birthplace of Hattie Jacques.
Hattie Jacques' birthplace
    Of course, the big Sandgate name is H G Wells. There was an exhibition about his work, 'War of the Words' in the High Street, and we  parked near an early home of his by the beach. In our earlier visit to Sandgate, Philosopher and I found the grand house he had built for himself, Spade House, designed by eminent Arts and Crafts architect, C F A Voysey. It is now a private nursing home.
H G Wells' first Sandgate home

Spade House, then and now

    Plenty of antique shops to visit this time too.
    We had lunch at the sea-front restaurant at the Ship Inn, which was just fine. The pub looks tiny from the front but is very long and narrow, stretching back into a new extension. I had a good scallop salad.
Ship Inn, Sandgate
     After, we headed for Hythe. We took Shaun to see the bones in the church crypt - see previous post. I'm sure them bones will inspire future creativity. We cruised the shops, and had a cup of tea and a scone sitting outside in the sun. It was all very good, particularly for me, as I had found a spaghetti poodle in the antiques centre - a rare occurence, believe me.
     Next morning, we got up early to go to the Elm Tree Car boot Sale. Shaun confessed that he wanted an old 'Viewmaster' 3d slide viewer, and we actually found one, in its original box, complete with reels of Lourdes and Rome.
     I got this Jemima Puddleduck for the garden. She is quite old, and so bad she is beyond good. Poor Philosopher had to carry her (she is heavy) and forgot where we had put the car.....
Very bad.....
Then Shaun bought me these..... published in 1960. I can't wait to read them. These are volumes 2,3,4. I've ordered the first in the series from Ebay.

    Then, down to the Old Town, and the skateboarding dog. I've never actually seen one 'live'....

    Finally, in case readers are thinking Battleaxe does nothing but wallow in the depths of the most fatuous kitsch, we went to lunch at the Jerwood, and looked at the new Ibrahim El-Salahi-Haraza exhibition. Hmm. I do try, honestly, but I'd rather have my spaghetti poodle.....

Friday, 15 May 2015

Beautiful Hastings - garlic in Alexandra Park, and bluebells

It is unusual to be able to admire beautiful bluebells and flowering wild garlic, both at their best at the same time. This year has been a little odd.
   We have a little ritual every year, visiting the wild garlic at the very top of the upper part of Alexandra Park, in the thicket above Shornden Reservoir. (Here's an odd thing. Why do so many locals refer to it as Alexander Park? It was named after Princess, later Queen Alexandra when she opened the park with her husband, later King Edward VII in 1882).
    It was a beautiful sunny Sunday. As usual, we walked to the park from home. First thing, we saw a group of people by the War Memorial, commemorating VE Day.
VE day ceremony in Alexandra Park
    Plenty of vivid green spring trees to see, but cherry blossom torn off by the recent high winds. We stopped for a coffee in the excellent eat@The Park cafe. They have greatly expanded the volume of outside seating available, which is good.
    Walked along our favourite path 'The Ride' in the Upper Park. My attention was drawn to the enormous sweet chestnut trees with multiple trunks, which must have been coppiced many years ago and then neglected.
'The Ride'

Once-coppiced chestnuts
    Last year, the garlic was good, if a little trampled. This year, it was perfect.
Path to the garlic


    In the garlic. I found a bird's egg shell  - I think it is a blackbird's.
Blackbird's egg shell

    Then, we walked up through Bohemia, and down through Summerfields Woods. Poked my head into the Walled Garden - lots of people busily working.
Busy-ness in the Bohemia Walled garden
     The bluebells in the wood were stunning - the best we have ever seen them. Why is it so hard to get a good colour when photographing bluebells? You can see here, the first photo is a good blue, but the second one is more purple.
Bluebells, Summerfields Woods

More bluebells

     Finally, down through the town, and lunch at Ada Turkish Restaurant.
     A lovely walk - Hastings at its best.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Jack-in-the-Green WI style, and then Bad Things happen

It started so well. A sunny May-day Monday saw the usual massive celebrations in Hastings, the Jack-in-the Green festival that fills the Old Town and the West Hill, and a huge motorbike rally that takes over the sea-front.
     Our WI puts on a charity event 'We're Alright Jack', upstairs in the Jenny Lind pub, slap bang in the middle of the procession route in the High Street.  We do a properly set up vintage tea-room, serving coffee, tea, cakes, quiches, pizza, sausage rolls etc. from the time the parade starts at 10.30 through to 3pm.  It is hard work but good fun. As the pavements are too crowded to move, people come to watch the parade from our room upstairs, and green covered participants call in to get food and drink.
Battleaxe and the serving team
      The Hastings festival is a revival of a much older event. Keith Leech, who masterminds the event and was largely behind the recreation of our Jack-in-the-Green, came to the WI a few months ago to talk about it.  Many characters in the parade, such as milkmaids and chimney-sweeps, are Victorian in origin, others, like giants and bogies were brought in by Keith himself, the Morris dancers, squads of drummers and women in corsets have just added themselves in, but the people dressed as animals and  the huge green-covered Jack are pagan remnants. Jack is 'born' in the morning, and 'slain' in the afternoon.
     Anyway, I helped set up the room on Sunday night, which in my case involved hefting umpteen crates of vintage china out of our garage and carting them, with Philosopher's help, down to the pub before moving the furniture and laying up the room. Then there was Monday, which was exhausting, then on Tuesday a couple of us had to go back down yet again to pick up all the stuff. Of course, Battleaxe doesn't even do any baking - all the food we sold was made by our members.
     But, as I've said in a previous post about the WI, when it comes to these things, our WI women are fantastic at mucking in, and working well together. I wish I knew what makes the difference. I could write it up in a management text book and earn a packet. It makes me proud to be President. 
     Here are a few pictures..
'Jack' passes below our window

As do the dancers

...and strange creatures

....and animals

Busy tea-room

One of our more colourful customers.

     So, that was the start of the week.
     Next thing, we heard about the tragic death of Jeremy Birch, the long-serving and popular Leader of Hastings Borough Council, who had a stroke while out canvassing the previous week. I think the whole town was shocked, whatever their politics. I knew Jeremy only slightly, but he was always friendly and clearly had a passionate commitment to Hastings. He will be much missed.
     Thursday was the General Election. I am sure that Hastings Battleaxe should be above politics, but anyone who read my post about the UKIP candidate will already know that I am left-leaning. In fact, I had done (with Philosopher's help), a substantial amount of Labour leaflet delivery, and was out 'knocking-up' potential Labour voters on the day.
     Our incumbent Conservative MP, Amber Rudd, could actually be far worse. She is not a red-faced old-style Tory buffer, nor a weasly banker, nor a strident New Tory bottle-blonde woman in a polyester skirt suit. However, I felt our Labour candidate, local girl Sarah Owen, really deserved a chance. Also, I was unhappy about many things the Coalition Government did, but I won't go into that here.
    As everyone will know, the opinion polls had predicted a result that was too close to call, and in Hastings we were very confident for Sarah.
    Hindsight is easy, but looking back on my experiences on the doorsteps, the warning signs were there, but we all totally disregarded them. As well as the worrying numbers of mostly young people who were not going to vote at all, many others refused to say how they had/were going to vote. I suspect now they had gone over to UKIP but were afraid to tell us. In the event, Amber Rudd more than doubled her majority, mostly due to Lib Dems switching to Conservative, and loss of votes to UKIP.
    One crazy thing. I was doorstepping with some nice Labour ladies from leafy Surrey who had kindly come to help us in our 'key marginal'. We were supposed to give out cards which said 'It's a two-horse race, vote for Sarah' etc., but I discovered that one lady had been using her own cards which said 'Save the Badgers, Vote Labour'. I told her that this was not good. I'm sure that few people would want badgers to die a horrible cull-type death, but in Hastings people with gardens spend much time fending off badgers that repeatedly invade and dig everything up. I could imagine grizzled old Hastingas ripping up the badger cards, muttering about loony lefties and stomping off to vote UKIP!
    Finally, we should all have had a very bad feeling indeed when fate decreed that of all people, it was poor Sarah who had to pose beside Ed Miliband, in front of the mocking eyes of the nation, when he unveiled that truly awful stone engraved with his election pledges. Whoever advised him to do that should be shot. Where is that stone now?
Poor Sarah Owen (in pink jacket) stuck with this image for ever.....
   So, Thursday night and Friday morning were utterly awful as the results rolled out. I don't think even Conservatives should be rejoicing at the predicament in which the country now finds itself. Unless something drastic happens, the left and the centre have been crushed for the foreseeable future. We now have to face some crackpot EU referendum, Scottish nationalism stoked up to fever point by the Tories and the right-wing media, a massive perception of a north/south divide, and many millions of people feeling angry, powerless and disenfranchised. Despite all the Tory puff and hype, the economy is not healthy, and I genuinely fear for public services and the plight of the poor, the sick and the old.
   Our voting system is clearly in need of reform, but the 2011 referendum on proportional representation was a 'no'.
   What are we all to do next?
   At local level, how about naming the rebuilt Pier the 'Birch Pier' in memory of Jeremy and Egenius Birch who originally designed it?

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Charleston Farm House and Berwick Church - another Literary Ladies outing

WI book group outing this week to Charleston and Berwick Church.
     All ten of us met up at the excellent Middle Farm for essential refreshment stoking-up before embarking on serious stuff. Battleaxe and Philosopher used to go there when grand daughter Eve was very small. She used to love the chickens and other farm stuff. Or perhaps, looking at this old photograph, maybe she didn't love them quite as much as fond Granny remembers!
Eve at Middle Farm 2003
    Today's Middle Farm has a greatly expanded farm shop, an amazing cider shop and a great selection of plants as well as the farm, and the cafe is good too. We devoured their entire stock of cheese scones.
     Next, to Berwick Church. Have never been there before.It is a pretty little church, heavily restored after bomb damage in 1940s (Bomb? Out there? How?).
Berwick Church
     It is best known for the murals, painted in the 1940s, 50s and 60s by the Bloomsbury set, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Quentin Bell.
     This is the second church decorated by prominent twentieth-century artists I have seen recently. When we were in Cornwall we visited St Hilary Church, near Marazion, decorated by artists from the Newlyn Group, including Dod and Ernest Proctor, Norman Garstin and Harold Knight. Although I much prefer the Newlyn artists to the Bloomsbury Group, in fact Berwick Church is more attractive and interesting. Both churches had to face difficulties both with their dioceses and their parishioners in relation to the paintings, which were seen as over-ornate and un-Christian, and both churches suffered vandalism.

Paintings in Berwick Church
     The churchyard was interesting and pretty - lots of wild flowers, great views of the Downs.
View from the Churchyard
     After that, we clocked in for our guided tour of Charleston. To be honest,  The Bloomsbury Group have never really captured Battleaxe's imagination. Despite their left-wing and pacifist credentials, I get the impression that they were not very nice people. The atmosphere at Charleston must have been riven with hurt, rejection and anger running alongside the devil-may-care Bohemian freedom. Somehow, the underlying tension seemed to linger in the house, despite its bright colours and rich furnishings. It felt very cold (and indeed it was a cold day after all the unseasonal sun we have had), but there was an underlying chill about the place, and the colours somehow seemed flat.
    They clearly enjoyed decorating, and painted many of the walls, doors, fireplaces etc. as well as the furniture. There was plenty to see - pottery, textiles - all sorts of things either made, designed or commissioned by the occupants of the house.There were many interesting paintings, by artists such as Walter Sickert as well as many works by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry etc.  They seemed very fond of painting each other.
    Like many nineteenth/early twentieth century creatives and social reformers, the Bloomsberries were not short of money. As even our guide to the house remarked, it is much easier to be Bohemian and free-living if you have servants to look after things for you.
Grace, who worked at Charleston for most of her life, painted by Vanessa Bell
    I was very conscious of this when I was writing an earlier blog post about Barbara Leigh-Smith Bodichon. Although Barbara appeared to have achieved an enormous amount both as an artist and a pioneer of the Women's Suffrage Movement, she did not have to waste any energy on the basics of life - all was provided for her.
    Unfortunately, by the time we had finished the tour, it was raining quite hard, and we did not really fancy spending time in the garden. However, most of the rooms in the house had garden views, so we had a good idea of it.
    We occupied the tea-room, and ate a late lunch. 
    Not surprisingly, photographs were not allowed in the house, so here are a few pictures of the interior, and a few paintings, taken from the internet.
    It was a good day out.

Virginia Woolf - Vanessa Bell

Vanessa Bell - Duncan Grant

Angelica Garnet - Vanessa Bell

John Maynard Keynes - Duncan Grant

    I have just read that the BBC are producing a new drama series, much of it filmed at Charleston, based on the lives of the Bloomsbury Group. Life in Squares will be broadcast later this year.