Thursday, 30 July 2015

Best shops in Battle, WI exhibition in the museum

Our neighbouring little town of Battle is always good for a wander. Battleaxe has blogged about Battle before, focusing particularly on 'Mad Cat Lady' (MCL) clothes shopping, not forgetting Tweedy Horsy Hiker (THH), Pagan Priestess (PP), and Dynasty Revival with Added Gold (DRAG - love it!) etc. Maybe I'm getting a bit MCL/PP myself. Maybe the shops have toned themselves down. Whatever it is, I no longer seem to notice off-the-wall clothes so much..... worrying.
      There are touristy tack shops in Battle, but also plenty of interesting ones, housed in attractive old buildings, either on or just off the High Street. There is ample parking just off the High Street, and plenty of pubs and cafes for taking a break.
      This time, we started by visiting the auction house, Burstow and Hewett, to view the picture sale. There were three original watercolours by local artist Annie Rae. We already have one of her big drawings of St Leonard's, and left a bid on one of the watercolours.  We like Annie's work, but she keeps a very low profile. All I could find for a link was a video of her talking about a past exhibition of her work at the Arts Forum.
      The walk from Burstow's to the town centre passes the church and the long wall round Battle Abbey. We've visited the Abbey once, with some old friends, but if I'm totally honest, I didn't find it that interesting. Loads of ruins, and the supposed site of the Battle of Hastings. No trace of the battle has ever been found, and there is still dispute about where the battle actually took place. All you see is an empty green hillside, and I found it hard to get any sense of historic resonance. Still, it's a massive tourist draw, so others must feel differently.
     The High Street runs straight from the Abbey gatehouse. Traffic is a problem for Battle, the High Street is always clogged.  Pavements are often overflowing with slow-moving elderly persons.
Battle Abbey Gatehouse
     Had a coffee in Costa before hitting the shops. Why Costa, you may ask, when there are so many independent cafes nearby?  Because I am on a low-fat diet, and could not face the temptation of Jempson's buns and doughnuts. Because I know I can get a good quality skim milk latte at Costa.
      As well as the buns and doughnuts, Jempson's has a nice outdoor seating area, but it always seems to be full of Battle's oldest citizens, and the loo is horrible.  There are other cafes near the Abbey - a bit touristy?

Pilgrim's Rest, by the Abbey. Touristy?

      So, shops.  There are few junk/antique shops, but Battle Bygones, just up from the Abbey, is worth a look.
Battle Bygones

      Nearly opposite, Farrago is one of my favourite places. It deals mostly in women's clothes, but also stocks bags, baskets, cards and some homewares. Labels are very Battleaxe friendly - Seasalt, Mudd and Water, Braintree, White Stuff, Great Plains.

       Close by, Enigma is slightly MCL/PP, but I like it for holiday clothes. Stocks Nomad, and lots of floaty silk and flowing linen - some of which is quite pricy.  It also has bags, jewels, and really funny greeting cards.
       Next, Penny Royal, a high class gift shop that also has branches in Hastings and Rye. Think Cath Kidston.....
       On  the same side, Woodcocks, a very up-market interiors shop, is worth a browse. 
       Opposite, there is Steamer Trading, a good kitchen shop with many branches in up-market towns, mostly in the South-East.
Steamer Trading
       Can't avoid mentioning the butchers just up from Woodcocks. Shame about the spelling but those Battle bangers look good.

       Slight deviation off the High Street now, to Abbey Court and Sussex Framing .  As well as being excellent picture framers the shop stocks original paintings, prints and greeting cards. Well worth a visit.
       Back on the High Street, don't miss British Design British Made.  This stocks vintage and new china, craft work, jewels, knitted things, original clothes, cards, smellies - all sourced from British makers, naturally. The stock is beautifully displayed, there are really beautiful, covetable items, but many of the prices mean that purchases can only be for special presents or very special treats.
British Design, British Made

      I always spend time in Raggs Boutique, across the street. Now, I swear that place was MCL with touches of DRAG a few years ago, but to my eye now, they have an excellent selection of women's clothes. The ladies in there are very friendly. It stocks Masai clothing, which I like a lot.  I tried on a sale Masai dress but it was simultaneously sack-like and too tight. Clever....
     Further up on the same side we have Webbs Home and Garden Store, which stocks just about everything on the planet in a really small shop. It is a branch of Webbs in Tenterden, which sadly burned down a few years ago.

      Opposite, the high-class Saffron Gallery stocks original paintings, pottery, sculpture etc. Near there, we have the cool-looking DapperM, for menswear. Philosopher says that he'd never go in a shop with 'dapper' in the name, so we've never been. Then White Sails, another women's shop. It looks good but always seems full of the proprieter's friends, yarning busily, so have never been there either.
      Opposite, there is Shire Country Clothing. Total THH.
      Round the corner, heading for the Car Park, past the flower shop, there is the Battle Wool Shop, and what is now the Corner Shop Gallery. It used to deal exclusively with the work of  artist Stan Rosenthal - he produces bright pictures of local views, but the gallery also now stocks a range of pottery. Stan's designs are also made into lovely cushions - we have one of the Seven Sisters.
Lovely flowers
      Anyway, by now I was fed up of shops, so headed for the museum. Sorry for any shops I have missed - there are two good shoe shops and the Battle Deli, for example.
      On the way, I passed Barbarosa, the original DRAG shop from the previous post. Sorry, not for me. But look, are those Tweedy Horsy people standing outside? Red jodhpurs? What are those classy country boots called? Dubarry?

    I'd gone to the museum to photograph the 'original' Hastings Battleaxe.
    Outside, I was surprised to see a scarecrow dressed up in WI/suffragette clothes.
WI scarecrow lady
      Anyway, I discovered that this 'lady' was promoting a display in the Museum, commemorating the WI centenary, and curated by the local branch of the WI.
     (Isn't it strange that 'curated' seems to be the word of the decade? Anything can now apparently be curated. I could curate the Battleaxe collection of spaghetti poodles. Ideally, though, I'd need a celebrity 'guest curator'. The other essential word is 'sourced'. I see I have used that word above, non-ironically).
      Turns out the original Battle WI was founded very early on in the movement's history, in 1918. The modern group is called Saxonwood WI. I'd never heard of them and don't know anything about them, but they are obviously quite enterprising. Smaller than our mob, with 43 members. I don't think the WI region does that much to promote links between WI's.
      There was quite an interesting little display. Our WI was only founded in 2011, so it will be many years before our items appear in museums!



Friday, 24 July 2015

Brighton etc - Granny Battleaxe takes a trip

Granddaughter was born in Brighton, and hasn't been back since she was six, so we went for a day trip on the train. Philosopher was working at the Jerwood, so it was just the two of us.
     Getting there was an ordeal. GD's difficulties mean that she doesn't like crowds, or noise. We started off well on a nice quiet, but slow train, and things were fine until we got beyond Polegate, then the train gently stuttered to a halt in the middle of waving golden fields of barley.  It was tranquil and beautiful, with the Long Man of Wilmington looking down at us from the downs above the fields.
Long Man of Wilmington

     The scenery palled after about twenty minutes. An unhelpful man sitting across the aisle leant across to us:
     'There's no toilet on this train.' GD's head shot up from her game. Loo anxiety is another significant factor in her personal universe.
     'I think I may need to go a little bit', she said in a small voice.
     'Not long now,' I replied robustly, hiding my anxiety. Fortunately, she went back to her game. After another five minutes or so, the train lurched into life, and crawled into the next station, Berwick. To my horror, there were about 1,000,000 people crammed onto the platform, waiting to jam themselves into our three carriages. Turned out the train in front, bound for Gatwick and Victoria, had broken down. So, worst possible nightmare scenario, massive, noisy crowd and no toilet.....
Fortunately, the hoards got out at Lewes, and our train carried on to Brighton. Even so, we were very late, and arrival at station led to immediate loo dash.
     I've been going to Brighton since I was little. My father's family all ended their days living in mansion flats in Hove. As a young child I went on the West Pier, but my strongest memories are of  dark, stuffy rooms full of old people. I would hide behind the curtains of a big bay window in what I now know to be Kings Gardens, looking wistfully out at the sea beyond Hove Lawns, stupefied with boredom, while my parents chatted to my grandmother and my great-aunt May, whose husband had supposedly been the town-clerk of Shoreham. Another more distant aunt, Audrey, lived with her middle-aged son. I was puzzled to hear my father whispering that he 'batted for the other team.' Those relatives were rather raffish - my grandmother spent her days drinking gin and gambling with her ancient companion, Benny.
     My parents also had some raffish Brighton friends. One, author and vet Buster Lloyd-Jones, lived in the penthouse in Courtney Gate, right on the sea-front.  I enjoyed visiting there, he was a kind man, confined to a wheelchair, and he always had a variety of birds and pet animals to show me.
     Two of our three children went to the University of Sussex. My daughter met her partner in Brighton, and GD was born on her graduation day. She made the front page of the Brighton Argus!
      Talking of the West Pier, my daughter and I must have gone on one of the last tours of the ruined pier, before it finally collapsed. You had to wear a hard hat, cross a narrow walkway above the waves to reach it, and the piles of guano were unbelievable. Poor pier, I'm so glad that Hastings was luckier.
The remains of the poor West Pier from the other pier - and now they are finally building the huge observation tower
      Philosopher and I thought of moving to Brighton, and rented a flat for a bit to see if we would like it.  First, Lansdowne Place in Hove, which we had to leave because the students above were too noisy, and then Rochester Gardens, also in Hove. While we had some great times in Brighton, we soon decided that living there was not for us. Too big, too crowded, too noisy, too expensive.
      So, back to our day out. We went down to the sea-front, where GD professed not to remember anything. I failed to persuade her to settle down for lunch at a nice sheltered table outside the 'Fortune of War', and also failed to tempt her to go on the galloping horse roundabout, which I love. She went on it when she was six, I have the photo, but  she now dismissed it as 'embarrassing'.
No ride on the horse roundabout for Granny Battleaxe....
      She wanted to go on the pier, but found it too crowded and noisy, which indeed it was. The whole city seemed far busier than I ever remember it being.
      However, we did go on the big wheel, which, thank goodness, was a success, and very well received.  We went round about five times instead of the advertised three, and got a good view of everything. The man kindly let us have a little pod to ourselves, so GD did not have to face up to strangers.
The wheel
Going up...or down

Crazy view of the crazy golf

Little people on the beach

      For the first time ever, poor Granny Battleaxe had to walk through the centre of Brighton, including the North Laine, without visiting a single shop - by this time, GD had decided she wanted to return to Hastings.....
Goodbye to Brighton
      Yesterday, we took her riding - Fairlight Hall have started a Riding for the Disabled initiative. GD has been on a horse once before, and quite enjoyed it, so I thought we'd have another go. It's so easy to fall for all that mystical stuff about horses and troubled young people having a deep and meaningful connection. Still, given how reluctant she is to try new things, commendably, she got stuck in and did it. Boundaries were pushed in all directions. The instructor was very friendly, and GD rode a lovely, gentle palomino pony called Daisy. It all went very smoothly, and she seemed to quite enjoy it, but not much sign of life-changing animal/human empathy....
                                                          The riding experience                                                                                                        
  Well, off to Brum today.....

Saturday, 18 July 2015

WI Centenary antics, National Theatre 'Everyman' at the Hastings Odeon, Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain.

I've already written about the right royal fuss at WI Centenary AGM - not surprisingly, I suppose, that piece is on course to be one of the most popular Hastings Battleaxe blog posts ever.
     On Tuesday we had our own Hastings Ore Centenary meeting. We decided to do a traditional WI meeting, with the Committee wearing big hats sitting along the top table. We even sang Jerusalem. I won't embarrass my colleagues by posting the pictures of us all. My hat, purchased at vast cost from a charity shop, was too big, and kept slipping down over my eyes. It wasn't my best look ever. 
      Instead, as we all wore our WI badges, here are my three - a 2015 Centenary souvenir badge, a vintage - probably 1950's - East Sussex Federation of WIs badge given to me by friend Jan Kelly, and a very old, probably 1930's, 'For home and country' badge.  The oldest badge is one of two I got off Ebay a few months ago, one to give as a part of a present to Sarah Kowitz for hosting our brilliant Centenary tea-party at Fairlight Hall. It is nice to see that the oldest and the newest badges were made by well-known  jewelers and enamelers from Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter. Both W O Lewis, established in 1827, and Thomas Fattorini, established in 1832, are still thriving today.

Three WI badges....
      Anyway, our meeting was lots of fun - probably helped by a few bottles of fizzy wine, and everyone was very cheerful. I did wonder if singing Jerusalem actually lifted people's moods? As a 'reformed' WI we don't usually do it, but perhaps this has long been part of the mysterious WI winning formula.
      We also displayed our prize-winning exhibits, with our great big ribbon rosettes, from the recent South Of England Show at Ardingly. We won one first prize (that wretched Battleaxe again), for an only slightly risque creative writing piece about the invention of the Barbie doll, one second prize, for a pen and ink drawing, and three third prizes, for a knitted mermaid's pool scene, a 'Women of influence' exhibit and a wartime recipe cake. Barbie and the mermaid pool will be exhibited again at the East Sussex AGM at Eastbourne in March 2016, and the mermaid pool is also appearing in an exhibition at the National Needlework Archive later this summer.
       We came second overall from all the WIs from West and East Sussex who entered classes at the show. Most impressive.

      On Thursday night Philosopher and I went to see the National Theatre production of 'Everyman' beamed to the Hastings Odeon. A modern version of a medieval morality play about death might not be everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed it. It was directed by new NT artistic director Rufus Norris, had words by Carol Ann Duffy, and starred Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role. Some of the staging was fantastic.
      We preceded our theatrical experience with supper at Pizza Express - wow!
      The next day we went to London to see the Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain. It has been much grumbled about by reviewers but  we thought it was excellent - well worth seeing. It's all very well the critics moaning on about how the sculptures should be in the open air and not in glass cases, but how else are you supposed to organise an exhibition like that? I won't go into too much detail because I might write more about it later, but here are two examples, 'Infant' 1929, and 'Pelagos' 1946. Never mind glass cases, it is hard to convey any feeling of sculptures in photographs.
     All the times we have been to St Ives, we have never been to the Barbara Hepworth place. Will go next year.
Barbara Hepworth 'Infant'

Barbara Hepworth 'Pelagos'
 It's school holidays now, and I am on Granny Battleaxe duty this coming week.......


Saturday, 11 July 2015

Piano recital at Fairlight Hall, Bridget Riley at the de la Warr

Beautiful sun this week - the one wet day was Sunday, when we were supposed to go to Fairlight Hall for the Hastings Piano Concerto Competition winner's recital. It absolutely poured down in the morning. As the piano event involves picnics in the gardens, followed by semi-outdoor concert, anxious frissons must have been rushing round all over the place...
     Fortunately, it cleared up by about 3.30pm, and the sun emerged. We decided to leave the picnic, and just have a Pimms when we got there. We had a stroll round the gardens - very tranquil and pleasant.  As I think I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Peter, the head gardener is, or was then, very keen on a biodynamic approach to cultivation - planting things according to the phases of the moon.  I keep on meaning to ask him how it went, and keep forgetting. Some things in the walled vegetable garden were excellent, some a bit less so - our broad beans are better-looking than his, and he gave us the seeds, too. Lovely border of peonies.  Here are a few garden pictures.
Fairlight Hall

General view - clouds clearing

Huge cabbage - biodynamic?

Beautiful peony

Love the shadows on the grass

     This year's soloist and winner of the 2015 competition was a young Russian, Alexander Panfilov. We saw him at the final earlier this year, and he was a worthy winner.  Panfilov seemed assured and confident,  unlike a little Korean chap a couple of years ago, who we saw at the interval, sitting by himself, looking at the garden. Presumably he was just getting himself into the zone or something, but he looked very lost, very small, and very lonely.
This year's soloist, Alexander Panfilov
     As usual, the piano was in the recital room with the doors wide open, and most of the audience sitting under big umbrellas in the courtyard. Previous years' concerts have been enlivened by wind rustling in the trees, flapping brollies, pattering rain and bird-song accompaniment. This year we had no wind or rain, but the birds, clearly attracted by the music, still sang their heads off.  I like that though. Nice programme - Mozart, Chopin, Debussy with Mussorgsky after the interval.
     However - big downside. Clearly, they have had complaints from audience members not able to hear, so this year they had amplified the music. We were sitting quite near one of the speakers, which gave us a very distorted sound - loud and tinny, with some note ranges over-emphasised.  If I want to listen to artificially enhanced music, I can do that in comfort, at home. I go to concerts to listen to the live sound of the instrument.
      It seems to me that there are choices here. They could reduce the size of the audience, so everyone can hear. They could change the venue arrangements, for example, if they used one big marquee to enclose us all, that might work. They could just leave us to lump it - the noises off are part of the informality of the event. Or they can carry on using amplification - but I don't think I'd want to go again if they do.
     Changing the subject totally, this week we have also been to the Bridget Riley exhibition 'Curves', at the de la Warr. Another beautiful day, we could have spent all morning sitting on the cafe balcony looking at the sun on the sea.
Sparkling day at the De la Warr Pavilion
      I have never actually seen any of Bridget Riley's work in the 'flesh' before, and was surprised to find I couldn't actually look at many of the paintings. They made me feel instantly dizzy and nauseous. She is well-known for optical illusion-type pop art, and the paintings seemed to ripple, quiver and heave in the most disquieting manner. I liked the more recent colour-splash curve paintings - at least they stayed unmoving on the wall, and the colours were vibrant. I asked the attendant how she managed to stay in the rooms with the wobbling paintings, and she said her eyes had  'adjusted'. I think I might have an epileptic fit or actually throw up first. 
     I was pondering how this might be a new departure in modern installation art, to create an exhibition that nobody could actually look at.
    Here are some examples of Bridget Riley's work  - from the internet, as of course you are not allowed to take photographs of the paintings. They wobble much more in the flesh than in photographs, but you get the idea.
Bridget Riley op-art wobbling paintings

Colours - no wobbling

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hastings Battleaxe gets botanical - wild flowers are difficult

It has been so hot..... last week we went for a cool walk along the Royal Military Canal, stopping for a shady picnic by the water.  During our walk, I was struck by the different varieties of wild flowers beside the path. 
     I'm not good at flowers. I can learn a name one day, and have forgotten it the next. And so many look the same, particularly little yellow vaguely dandelion-ish things - they are the equivalent of little brown birds.
     My sister is much better than me - I can remember admiring her carefully-compiled and labelled pressed flower albums. Not surprisingly, she grew into a very skilled and knowledgeable gardener.
     Philosopher and I often reflect that modern kids don't seem to have hobbies in the same way that we did. Both of us collected stamps when we were children, involving much agreeable palaver around soaking the stamps off envelopes, tweezing, licking stamp hinges (which came in little tins), arranging them in albums, comparing contents of swap books with friends etc. This article in the Telegraph is among many speculating about why that particular hobby has declined.
Stamp hinges
     But back to the flowers. Being a modern sort of person I photographed them all then tried to identify the names when I got home, not always correctly, I fear.  Why are decent pictures in flower books so rare?  This may look like a boring list but there are thirty-seven different flowers here, just on one short walk. Also, the numerous umbellifers (cow parsley family to you) are now largely over. If we had gone to the sea-shore we would have found many more different flowers, like sea-kale and yellow horned poppies.
Navelwort                                                            Willowherb
Speedwell                                                             Self-heal                                                            
Scarlet Pimpernel                                                 Dead-nettle                                             
Yellow flag                                                           Woundwort
Buttercup                                                              Foxglove
Hawkweed                                                            Marsh Thistle
Daisy                                                                    White water lily
Ox-eye daisy                                                        Corn chamomile
Hedge Mustard                                                     Shepherd's Purse
Rape                                                                     Angelica
Bird's Foot Trefoil                                                Hedge Bindweed
Wild carrot                                                            Plantain
Ragwort                                                                Honeysuckle
Sow thistle                                                            Dog rose
Field poppy                                                           Black medick
Opium poppy                                                        Red and white clover
Tufted Vetch                                                         Herb Robert
Cut leaved Cranesbill                                           Mallow

The reeds were full of electric blue damselflies. Here are a few pictures from our walk.

Navelwort on old wall

White waterlilies

Bird's foot trefoil plus bee

Philosopher, plus poppies, field chamomile and yellow rape

Tufted vetch
Blue damselfly
     To change the subject completely: you remember I mentioned in a previous post about having our staircase 'retrofitted' to its 1970's appearance. Well, it is done now, and Philosopher has just finished painting it.  Here is before and after. The new look is much lighter, and far more in keeping with the house. We are very pleased.
      That's it now.  Downstairs to watch Wimbledon with a cold glass of fizzy wine.